Clint trudged behind the others on the way back to base. The battle was over, shawarma had been eaten, and he was beyond exhausted but he could fake competent until they found him a bed or a cell. He wasn’t sure which way Shield would go now that Loki was captured and the battle over; if it was him it would have been a cell. It would depend on Fury and Coulson when he got back, the WSC had to be baying for blood considering they’d been denied their victory with the nuke and Loki was being hustled off the planet as quickly as Shield could manage it.
Steve split off once they arrived, heading to find someone in command so he could start helping with cleanup while Natasha steered Clint towards medical. He didn’t complain; he wasn’t sure how long he’d be able to stay on his feet once he stopped. He tried to ignore the moans of the injured as he was pushed at a bed in the corner near the isolation wards.
“Sleep, Hawk.” Natasha said shoving a gun under the pillow. “I’ll deal with the idiots and get you a few hours before they start questioning you.”
“Does Fury know you’re back?” Dr. Jones asked shoving a dark lock of hair out of her eyes and scanning both of them with sharp eyes, “When’s the last time you ate, Barton?”
“I’m heading to Fury now.” Natasha said with a snort giving Clint a sharp look before she turned to leave, “He had shawarma about an hour ago.”
“What about before that?” The doctor asked already pulling out what she needed for an IV and a pile of other medical paraphernalia.
“I have no idea.” Clint said with a shrug fighting back a shiver, “We were working double and triple shifts at Pegasus and I don’t remember stopping to eat or sleep with Loki.”
“Alright, we’ll start with an IV and see how things look after you get a few hours’ sleep.” She said handing him a stack of scrubs to change into, “You know the drill, Agent.”
“Yes, Ma’am;” Clint muttered starting to strip without a word.
The doctor watched him change noting down each injury and bruise he revealed as he piled his armor to one side. Once he had the scrub pants on she made him sit and started treating the glass cuts on his back and arms. A nurse came by and started the IV without a word avoiding looking him in the eye; he wondered who she knew that he’d killed?
Once they were sure he wasn’t going to collapse or kill them all in a sudden relapse he was allowed to sleep with a guard posted to one side. Clint ignored the lights and lack of blankets; he’d slept in worse conditions. Curling on the hard mattress he let the exhaustion drag him down.
Some unknown time later he was shook awake, Natasha looking amused at his instinctive twist to get out of the light hold. He pulled on the boots she handed him and shuffled along with the guard to the interrogation room once the IV was removed. He didn’t feel like he’d slept at all, his joints pulsed with pain and he dropped into the waiting chair he was gestured towards with little grace. He had no idea how long he was grilled on every aspect of his mind control and what he did while under Loki’s command. It seemed to be never ending.
Eventually he was brought a meal and he picked at the food trying to force himself to even have the energy to eat. Two meals later he was checked over by another doctor and put on another IV. Hours later he was shown to a locked room one step up from a cell to get some sleep.
That became his pattern for the next few weeks. He was checked by the doctors, questioned, fed, and sent back to his room. The medical tests began to take over his day as he started to lose weight. If he was left alone he’d sleep all day, a fact that was making medical nuts. He was exhausted and felt like he had the flu but nothing was really wrong with him that they could find.
Just to make things worse he started getting migraines every few days. He was in his room sleeping off the remnants of the last migraine when Natasha came to find him. She took one look at his miserable huddle and disappeared, probably to interrogate his doctors. He forced himself up and started to get dressed in the clothes she’d left next to the door; Natasha would be back eventually so he might as well be ready.
“Come on,” She said coming back in a few hours later and tossing him a go bag that he caught with a grunt, “We’re going out on assignment.”
“Where?” Clint asked tugging on the jacket she tossed him next and shouldering the bag trying to ignore how heavy it felt on his shoulders, he needed to get back on the range and gym soon.
“Stark Tower,” She said with a grimace, “Stark is offering us room and board. I’ll be back and forth on missions with Shield but Fury wants you off the grid, you’ll be working with Ms. Potts as her security until Shield has a reason to call you in.”
“They want me on as a body guard?” Clint asked glancing at her in disbelief, “They don’t need a sniper working security, Natasha.”
“It keeps Shield in the loop of whatever Stark’s doing and keeps Ms. Potts protected. A win for everyone and it gets you out of this pit.” She said shoving him into the elevator.
Clint did his best to hide his wince, discretely rolling his shoulder. His joints protested most motions and the sudden blow had flared up half his body to a steady throbbing ache. Natasha was watching him out of the corner of her eye so when the doors opened he forced himself to straighten up and move out with his normal grace even if it was a bit lacking in energy.
“What’s the real reason they want us out in civvies?” Clint asked once they were in the car and moving.
“Loki’s being sent home and Stark wants everyone in attendance.” She said with a huff.
“Nice to be invited,” Clint said with a grunt hiding away a few knives from his bag on his person, even if he doubted he’d get to use them like he wanted to.
They sent off Loki with feral smiles that promised pain if he returned but Clint collapsed back into the car once the others were out of sight. He ignored the look he could feel Natasha giving him as he wrapped his arms around himself and fought to stay awake for the drive to the tower. Steve was disappearing on some great American road trip while Banner was being driven to the airport by Stark. Clint gave it six months before both of them were back in New York.
Ms. Potts met them at the lobby and showed them both to an empty floor full of guest rooms they would be using until the repairs were finished. He’d start work the next morning and he forced himself to not comment on the closets full of clothes in his size, he’d need the suits if he was going to be working at Stark Industries.
“Please let Jarvis know if you need anything at all,” Pepper said with a serious smile, “or even if you want something changed while we’re repairing things. Tony wants to give everyone on the team a room in case they need it. He’s already going a bit over board and I might need a reason to rein him back if you have any preferences.”
“Both of us tend to go for simple space, clean lines.” He said with a glance at Natasha unsure how to explain sightlines and weapons lockers to a rich CEO.
“I’ll have Jarvis show you the current designs, veto anything you don’t like or want.” She said firmly, “I know Tony will want to have dinner with you at some point but he’s on a design binge at the moment and nothing outside of an international crisis is going to pry him out of the lab. You’re welcome to order anything you’d like to be delivered for meals or grocery, just tell Jarvis. If you don’t need anything else I’ll see you both in the morning.”
“Good night Ms. Potts.” Clint said with a nod while Natasha offered a smile and a quiet, “Pepper.”
“Jarvis?” Natasha asked once Pepper was whisked away in the elevator, “Are there any weapons lockers on this floor?”
“I am afraid there are not.” Jarvis said a blue hologram appearing to hover over the main kitchen table, “Would you want them added to your floors during construction?”
“Yes, as well as panic rooms.” She said dragging the bags of weapons into the den and starting to lay everything out for a full inventory. “Take a look at what we have now; it’s our standard kit when we travel.”
“Your standard kit,” Clint said with a snort digging out his phone and starting to look for takeout options, “Most of my kit is under lock and key on base still.”
“The armory attached to the weapons testing range is stocked with a wide selection of projectile weapons if you would like to keep in practice, Agent Barton. We also have a full gym, gymnastics, and martial arts training area should you require it.”
“I’ll check that out later this week.” Clint said with a nod handing his phone over so Natasha could pick something to eat.
“Sir would also like to offer new phones and tablets or laptops as needed while you stay in the tower. The latest prototypes will be delivered in the morning for your use.”
“Um, tell him thanks.” Clint muttered stretching and dropping to sit next to the weapon covered coffee table picking up a gun starting to strip and cleaning it.
Natasha called in the order and added several extra dishes clearly disliking the little he’d been planning to eat. Clint ignored it; between the exhaustion and the migraines it was rare for him to have much of an appetite. It wasn’t like he was exercising or prepping for a mission anyway; he could skip a few meals with how much he’d been sleeping lately.
He tugged out his hearing aids with a sigh as the silence took over. He rarely went without them in if he was anywhere without someone else to watch his back and it meant ear infections and ears rubbed raw from the tiny inner ear hearing aids Shield preferred him to work in. He’d have to wear his chunkier pair for the next few days until his ears healed.
They spent the rest of the night using sign language to catch each other up on the news at Shield and what had been had been happening while Clint was stuck in medical. If it had the extra caveat of meaning that Jarvis couldn’t monitor their conversation, well, that was a bonus. When spies are forced to learn a new language with potential covert capacities they tended to go as far away from the normal dictionaries as possible. They both new standard ASL and a few variations on regional signs in case they needed to portray a certain background but mostly they used their own version that drove most translators and other signers crazy.
Most of the news was general gossip, Natasha avoided listing the injured or who was killed in the various attacks and Clint didn’t ask. His access had been suspended while he was on base so he couldn’t look himself but he remembered enough from the battle and knowing the schematics of the carrier meant he knew what areas were damaged and who would have been working those spaces. She did give him the estimated dates the Helicarrier would be dry docked, Fury was pushing for renovations and improvements while it was stateside.
“I’m headed to France next. There’s talk of weapons movement across several boarders and someone got a hold of a weird looking gun from a raid that Fury wants investigated.” She said making sure to keep where he could read her lips while wrapping up the left overs and shoving everything into the spotless fridge, she at least hadn’t badgered him to eat more even if she watched each careful bite he took.
“Be careful.” Clint said hoping his volume wasn’t too loud, “We’ve both lost enough this round.”
“I need to be moving.” She said softly in way of an apology watching as he fiddled with the cleaning tools before tucking them back in the kit. “I heard the funeral for Coulson was nice.”
“Yeah, it sounded like his Sister even played. Cello at a funeral must have been brutal; she used to make Phil cry whenever he went to a concert in Portland.”
“You didn’t go.” She said with a frown.
“I found out after it was over.” He said with a shrug forcing himself up with a hiss and grabbing the bag with his uniforms, they had cleaned every weapon and tucked them away about the floor. “I’ll see you in the morning. What time do you have to head out?”
“In the afternoon, I’ll see you off in the morning before I head to base.” She said still watching him too closely for true comfort, normally her hard stares didn’t bother him but right now he didn’t want to know what she was searching for.
“Alright,” He said with a nod, turning to head into the bedroom he’d claimed earlier.
“Do you need me tonight?” She asked softly catching him before he could shut the door, offering to watch his back while he slept like they’d done on hundreds of missions in the past.
“Not tonight.” He said with a tired smile, “Go get some sleep.”
He tucked one hearing aid back in with a wince once he was ready for bed and set the alarm on his phone. He’d have to order a new alarm clock and see if Jarvis could rig things so that the lights flashed if the doorbell was rung or something. He normally used a vibrating pad under his pillow attached to his alarm clock when he was on base but that one was under several tons of rubble right now thanks to Loki.
He got about half a night’s sleep in between nightmares and dragged himself out of bed with a hissed groan. He pulled the hearing aid out and took a quick shower trying not to flinch at the painful rain of water from the shower head. Most pressure on his shoulders and back was painful since Loki and the firm needling of the expensive shower in the tower had him jerking away from the water with a curse. He scrubbed down and quickly washed his hair before stepping out of the tiled alcove with relief.
Natasha was at the mirror doing her make up with her hair wrapped in a towel. She eyed his weight loss with a frown but didn’t comment as he got dressed, shaved, and brushed his teeth. Once they were both ready for work, she in her uniform and Clint in a dark grey suit Coulson would have approved of with a handful of weapons stashed here and there.
“You’re not wearing a gun.” She said watching as he strapped a bracer of throwing knives on each forearm and covered them with his dress shirt sleeves.
“I want to see what the rest of her security looks like before I start pushing for changes.” He said with a shrug picking up the new phone that was waiting and set up identical to his old one he’d left in the bedroom even down to his backgrounds.
He dropped a holstered gun, his wallet, and concealed weapons permit into a messenger bag while raiding the desk near the window for paper and pens. Natasha rolled her eyes and added a thin Stark Pad to the bag that he pulled back out to poke at, he had no issue with technology but sometimes it was just easier to use real paper.
She saw him out, saying hello to Pepper in the lobby before heading to her own mission without a backwards glance. They’d never really done goodbyes. Clint gave Pepper a tight smile and gestured for her to lead the way to the waiting car outside when she idled like she wanted to see him run after Natasha.
“I’m sorry, but I have to ask,” Pepper said once Happy had them moving, “You and Natasha?”
“Aren’t together,” He said with a soft laugh, “Don’t worry, everyone thinks we are.”
“Are you seeing anyone?”
“I was but he… um… he died in the attack on the Helicarrier.” Clint said glancing away and took a breath forcing the emotions back, he was on a job, and he needed to stay focused.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” She said with a frown tapping something into the pad that she’d been working on since they sat down.
“Most people didn’t.” He said with a shrug forcing a smile as he changed the subject, “So what exactly where you thinking I’d be doing?”
“Mostly vetting the new people we have coming in and helping upgrade our security both in the office and at the tower.” Pepper said with a sigh, “You’ll act as a body guard for me while Happy is busy and test our security at the various factories if everything goes well.”
“You want me to break into your buildings?” Clint asked with a small grin thinking of several ways Strike Team Delta had already outlined to get into the Stark buildings on their other missions.
“If it means you can prove we need to upgrade the security; yes.” Pepper said with a sigh, hitting a button and blacking out the divider so that Happy couldn’t hear them. “I love Happy but frankly he’s not really qualified to deal with the high level threats we’ve been receiving. Tony’s made the company and himself a target with Ironman going public. I want to make sure we’re not putting our employees at risk in the process.”
“And if I said you’d have to totally revamp your hiring processes, get a completely new security team for your personal protection, revamp your security procedures and surveillance equipment to keep someone like me out?” Clint asked watching her and noting the way her posture locked into a new frame, this was the CEO, not the relaxed woman who’d been worried about him.
“Give me a list of what needs to be changed and I’ll see it implemented.” She said watching him back just as intensely.
“It’s not going to be a quick change.” He said with a sigh, “I can already list six ways to get into your offices unnoticed from when Natasha was undercover as your assistant.”
“Then the sooner we get started the better.” She said with a firm nod, “Send me your immediate concerns and we can start interviewing new security guards for the office next week.”
“Shield still wants me to go in for weekly checkups so I’ll have at least one day a week that you’ll need a secondary bodyguard. It might be a good idea to have at least two that can sub in as needed.” Clint said with a grimace, he was really coming to hate being in medical.
“Anything I should be aware of?” She asked looking concerned.
“I think they’re just making sure Loki didn’t do any damage.” He said with a shrug, “They haven’t found anything so far but they want to keep checking for a few months, magical mind control isn’t exactly something we’ve encountered before.”
“I didn’t realize you were one of the ones he controlled.” Pepper said with a frown.
“I understand if you don’t want to take the risk,” He started but she cut him off before he could finish.
“You didn’t ask to be controlled by that maniac, nothing that happened while you were under his control was your fault and neither I nor any of SI will hold it against you.” She snapped, giving him another of those piercing glances, “Did you eat breakfast?”
“Uh, no, Ma’am;” Clint said with a blink at the sudden change of subject.
“Good, we can have something brought up to the conference room while we go over the current staff and get you set up in an office.” She said with a determined nod.
Clint scrambled after her when the car pulled to a stop and they got out. He stayed two steps behind and to the left trying to shake off how much she reminded him of Phil. He had been just the same when Clint first joined Shield.
“There’s one more personal question I wanted to ask before we get started.” She said once he’d been introduced to her current security in the lobby, her secretary, and shown into a large conference room.
“I’m an open book, Ma’am.” He said earning a snort from the woman.
“I sincerely doubt that, Agent Barton, and please call me Pepper.” She said with a grin, her eyes darting to the clearly visible black hearing aids he was wearing, “No, Jarvis mentioned that you were using hearing aids and I wanted to see if you needed any adjustments made to the office or your rooms that would help?”
“No, Ma’am.” Clint said suppressing a sigh and fighting to keep his tone polite; too many people assumed he’d be at a disadvantage because of his hearing disability. “I need to pick up a new alarm clock and humidifier since mine were destroyed in the attack and get Jarvis to flash the lights if there’s a call or visitor when I’m not wearing my hearing aids but the rest of the time I’m perfectly able to do my job. I read lips at a professional level as well.”
“Good, I just wanted to offer. If you want I’m sure Tony could look into water proofing your hearing aids or enhancing them if you need it.” She said with a nod dismissing the subject, “So what do you think of the potential hires we have listed?”
“Personally, I’d eliminate anyone that doesn’t have some kind of military, government, or police back ground unless they have extensive training to replace it.” Clint said watching as Jarvis cleared the list down to about twenty applicants, “You want someone who’s used to being in a state of constant readiness, not someone looking for a comfy desk job. Do you scan the incoming packages and mail?”
“They’re scanned in the mailroom before the mail is delivered.”
“Have Jarvis scan them again before they hit your desk.” Clint said firmly, “I’ve been on several operations where we tagged or incapacitated people using envelopes left on their desk.”
“Yes Ma’am, we also need to look at what you’re wearing and see if we can add a few weapons.”
“I’d rather not carry a gun.” Pepper said with a frown.
“You don’t have to but I’d like you to at least have a hair stick or bracelet that you can stab an attacker with or use to get out of a restraint if you have to. Natasha uses them on all her missions.” Clint said with a small grin, “We can raid her go bag at the tower and see what suits you best. If not a Taser is more effective than most people think.”
“Fair enough,” she said with a nod, “Do you think I should be taking self-defense classes?”
“That or just working out regularly,” Clint said with a shrug, “Most of the issues people have in a crisis is dealing with the adrenaline crash once things calm down a bit. Sometimes things happen fast but mostly it drags on and you wind up exhausting yourself. You need endurance more than anything.”
“Alright, I’ll talk with my personal trainer and add a few more sessions a week.” She said with a frown.
“It doesn’t have to be anything drastic.” Clint said, “You’re already in pretty good shape, you probably just need to add more cardio and strength training.”
“Can you jog for an hour if you had to?”
“Yes;” She said looking relieved.
“If you can do that you can sprint for five or ten minutes if you were forced, that’s enough to get away if you need it.” Clint said with a nod, “I can coach you in a few ways to get out of holds and some self-defense but mostly you should be concentrating on getting out of the line of fire if you don’t intend to carry a weapon. Your bodyguards are there to keep you safe so you need to get out of the way and let them do it.”
“And if I don’t?” She challenged, “If Tony needs me where I am?”
“Then it’s my job to make sure your security is up to the challenge of staying at your side.” Clint said making a few notes on his Stark Pad, “They’re first goal is going to be getting you out of danger but if they can’t they’re to take out the threat with as much prejudice as needed to make the area safe.”
Clint resisted the urge to rub at his eyes as the meeting wrapped up. He’d picked at the food offered but really didn’t trust his stomach right now. He was shown to his new office and left to review the files of the current employees. He opened a side window on the computer and logged into Shield database running the various names and aliases of both the new and current employees. Several pinged back with immediate notes from Shield for various warning flags or potential problems.
He hoped Pepper didn’t freak out when he presented her with the fact that several of her science and research department employees were known moles for various organizations and two of her security team had records for criminal arrests or domestic violence charges or notes on multiple calls to their homes for noise complaints that pointed to domestic violence. He noted those names to see if they could get an agent or counselor from Shield to meet with the wives and in one case the husband, they might refuse but at least the offer for a way out was there.