Fatigue – Ch. 4
Clint gave himself three days to recover before he forced himself to get up and check in with his team at Stark Industries. The men and women he’d brought in were a mix of retired soldiers or various agency cast offs that were used to the demands a high profile workplace could put on them. They’d stepped up and covered his position seamlessly and he wrote up notes to add to their files later to commend them for anticipating the need of covering for every position.
He’d had basic coverage arranged for when he traveled to the different facilities or the few times he’d traveled with Pepper but those had dried up quickly as his health continued to decline. Not even Pepper had flat out confronted him when he’d barely managed his job after a miserable trip to Greenland but he’d found his meetings out of the country quietly rescheduled before he’d even recovered enough to do it himself.
Now they’d stepped up again and he couldn’t fault them. For all they knew he had terminal cancer and Pepper was letting him work out his last days, he thought with a snort. He might have to consider stepping down if thing continued to backslid. He scheduled a meeting that afternoon with a sigh ignoring the waiting messages on his Stark Pad as the car pulled closer to the office; it looked like most of the department had tried to contact him at least once while he was laid up. He waived away Nancy when she went to get up and locked himself in the office once he arrived.
“Yes, Agent Barton?” Jarvis asked bringing the lights up and turning on the computer as Clint shed his coat.
“Would you say that the security teams could function without me?” Clint asked not bothering to soften the question.
“While they would still need occasional guidance, I believe they have shown they can operate at an optimal level without constant review.” Jarvis said cautiously.
“Yeah, I thought so too.” Clint said with a nod, “I’m sending my resignation to Shield and will offer Pepper the same if she wants it. I’m afraid I’m going to start making mistakes or putting her in danger if I stay on as her bodyguard.”
“I am sorry to hear that, Agent Barton.”
“Thank you, Jarvis.” Clint said with a sigh, “I’ll make the announcement to the teams this afternoon. Shield’s already written me off so I don’t expect much backlash from them at least.”
“Might I offer a slight variation on your plans?” Jarvis offered tentatively starting to rearrange Clint’s schedule while he unloaded his messenger bag.
“What are you thinking?”
“While you may believe you’re no longer fit to serve as Ms. Potts bodyguard, you are perfectly suitable to continue as the head of her security team, a position you’ve already been managing for the last six months if not longer.”
“Maybe, however a security head needs to be at the office.” Clint said with a snort, “Lately I’m barely dragging myself in. I have to be realistic, Jarvis, I’ve been steadily declining for the last year. What if it keeps getting worse? I’ve got to prepare for that.”
“Dr. Utahan wished to speak with you at your earliest convenience. Would you like me to schedule an appointment for this afternoon?”
“Why not,” Clint said with a bitter laugh, “Make it after the meeting with everyone here. I’ll head out to the hospital after we get everyone calmed down.”
The rest of the day he spent on paperwork making sure whoever replaced him would be up to speed on every aspect of his position. He cleaned out his desk and tossed the small box of protein bars and smoothie mix from his stash in the kitchen. The staff was eying him uncertainly but he didn’t bother trying to sooth any of them, they’d find out the same time as everyone else. By the afternoon meeting the office was in an uproar, the fussing and chatting only falling silent when he entered the conference room.
“Thank you for coming everyone.” Clint said giving the room a tired smile, “This should be a short meeting, I just have a few announcements I wanted to tell everyone at the same time so no rumors would be running wild.”
“As you’ve probably realized I’ve been sick recently, the fact is that they don’t know what’s causing it yet. As of today I’m resigning my position with Shield and will be offering the same to Stark Industries.” He waved away the rush of comments and shock continuing once the room fell silent, “The fact is that I don’t trust myself to keep Ms. Potts safe as her bodyguard, some of you are going to have to step up and take over that responsibility. Talk amongst yourselves and tell Nancy if it’s something you’d like added to your schedule.”
“When will your last day be, Barton?” Nancy asked meeting his eyes firmly.
“When I can find a replacement;” Clint said flatly glancing over everyone gathered, “It’s been an honor working with all of you. You’ve exceeded my expectations in every way and I hope you continue to do your duty with the diligence and honor I’ve seen in the last year.”
With a nod he headed out ignoring the rush of conversation and the voices calling out for him to wait. He was already ducked into the tiny emergency elevator and headed to the garage by the time they reached the hall. He ignored the waiting lines of cars and caught a cab outside the building to the hospital. The ride was short and he’d barely relaxed before he tossed some money to the cabbie and forced himself out of the car.
He’d never liked Doctors or hospitals thanks to his abusive childhood. Doctors meant questions he couldn’t answer unless he wanted an even worse beating when he got home. At Shield they just wanted the agents at their top physical condition so they were the best they could be; the crippled agents went to desk duty and eventually disappeared with only the line of gold eagles on the wall in the main offices to note their passing from the halls. Now, no one cared what he told the doctors or even if he went but it still was hard to force his feet down the stark white hallways filled with that antiseptic scent that never quite left Hospitals.
“Thanks for coming in.” Dr. Utahan said with a grin gesturing him to a chair. “I’ve been looking over your last results and I’d like to try a new drug regimen with you.”
“Still no diagnosis?” Clint asked raising an eyebrow.
“Not definitive but excluding the unusual situation you found yourself in I believe I’ve narrowed it down to the most likely. If we ignore the situation then you had a major stressor happen, followed by several days of severe stress and effort that shocked your system. Since then you’ve had muscle aches and pains, flu like symptoms, weight loss, migraine headaches and sensitivity to pressure, light, and sound. If we ignore the unusual cause of the stressors I’d say you have either Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia.”
“Currently there isn’t a definitive test to show CFS but we can test for Fibromyalgia, so far that’s coming up negative but there are a few more tests that can be run.”
“How do you treat that?”
“Much as we have been; muscle relaxers for the really bad days, massage, physical therapy if motor function or strength seems to be affected. Thankfully you seem to have no issues with balance or day to day activities so we can take physical therapy off the list for now.”
“Could that be an issue?”
“CFS can be progressive; it’s a disease that just starting to be studied in any real depth so there’s little research to lean on. Fibromyalgia is a little more well-known and while chronic tends to stay at certain levels once treatment starts with flair ups depending on stress and activity levels.”
“But you think it’s CFS.” Clint said taking the papers the doctor handed him, pamphlets on the two diseases.
“That would be my best guess, honestly.” Dr. Utahan said handing over several scripts as well, “Try these for a month. If there’s no improvement we’ll start testing again.”
“Alright,” Clint said with a nod, standing and shaking the man’s hand, “Thanks, Doc.”
He should have been surprised but he almost was expecting it. Lola sat on the curb with Phil waiting leaning against the passenger door like he hadn’t once threatened Clint with castration for doing the exact same thing. He was tempted to keep walking but frankly he’d used up the last of his energy and fucks for the day.
“Phil,” He said coming to a stop a few feet away gripping his handful of papers tighter as the breeze kicked up.
“Clint, I hope you don’t mind. Pepper mentioned that you might need a ride.” Phil said opening the door and glancing at him with a hopeful expression.
“I need to stop by a pharmacy.” Clint said climbing in with a sigh and letting Phil close the door.
“Let me take you to the tower, I’ll run them out and get them filled for you.” Phil said once he was in and starting the car.
“Whatever,” Clint said watching as Phil raised the roof back into place, “Do what you want.”
He set the prescriptions between them on the dash and Phil stuffed them in a pocket so they wouldn’t slide about. He read over the pamphlets while Phil drove trying to force his brain to work, he was too damn tired to deal with this right now. The car hit a pothole and he couldn’t stop the whined gasp as he entire body flinched. Phil cursed as he slowed and tried to avoid any more bad spots but the damage was done.
Clint counted his breathes and leaned back, closing his eyes and trying to force his muscles to unclench. Phil muttered an apology but Clint had no energy left to talk, he curled in on himself hugging his ribs ignoring the motion of the car the best he could. He had no idea how long the drive was actually but it seemed to go on forever before the car finally shut off and Clint forced himself to sit up, clutching his messenger bag to his chest as he fought with the seatbelt.
Phil opened his door and Clint looked at him for a long moment before slowly climbing out hissing as his joints and muscles protested the change in position. It was getting increasing hard to concentrate on what he was doing, a fog taking over his mind as he shuffled to the elevator. Phil watched him with concern looking like he wanted to help but didn’t know what to do. They got to his floor and Clint shoved the bag into a chair pausing when he realized that Phil had followed him in. What did he need again? Right the prescriptions, Phil had said he would get them, what had he done with his papers?
“I put your pamphlets on the kitchen counter.” Phil said uncertainly hovering to one side with a frown marring his normal smiling face, “I’ll take your prescriptions to the pharmacy but I’d like to come back if that’s okay?”
“I don’t want to sleep with you.” Clint said struggling out of his coat and the sweater underneath, just the thought of someone holding him made him flinch; sex was out of the scope of reality right now.
“I was thinking I could stay in the spare bedroom,” Phil said with a wince, “I just don’t want to leave you alone tonight. I think you need someone here in case something happens.”
“I’m fine.” Clint says tiredly shuffling into the bedroom and tossing his things to one side, “Stay if you want but I’m going to bed.”
“Alright,” Phil said watching Clint from the door way.
“Jarvis, help Phil if he needs anything.” Clint muttered moving into the bathroom to at least brush his teeth before he collapsed.
He heard Phil talking to Jarvis before he pulled his hearing aids out silencing the world, Phil would do what he thought he needed to no matter what Clint did. They’d done this for years, Clint would trudge along his path while Phil flitted about trying to prevent disasters that might or might not happen. He’d stay the night because Clint might need him, even if he had been missing for the last year.
Clint changed and went to bed not bothering to see what Phil was up to. He took his pills meant to help him sleep and curled under his light blanket. He’d have to talk to Phil in the morning but for now he couldn’t think anymore.
“How can I help you Agent Coulson?”
“In our apartment Clint had a blanket he loved, Sherpa wool on one side, velvet material on the other. Can you ordering him something similar? His was purple but any color would be fine.” Phil said sliding off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves with a frown.
“Is this what you are thinking?” Jarvis asked projecting a website that was selling exactly what he was talking about.
“Yes, can you order one and have it shipped? I can pay for it but it’s a light blanket that shouldn’t put too much weight or pressure on him while still being very warm. Clint loved the one I got for him years ago.” Phil said with a sigh looking over the prescriptions and Clint’s paperwork, that blanket has been destroyed in the battle along with their apartment.
“I shall place the order. If you wish I can call Master Barton’s prescriptions in for you and have them delivered?”
“Thank you, Jarvis.” Phil said putting the papers down where Jarvis could scan them, “Is there a computer I can use to do some research?”
“There is a laptop in the living room that Master Barton rarely uses.”
“Why are you calling Clint, Master Barton, exactly? He rarely liked being called Mr. Barton; I doubt the Master will go over well.” Phil asked booting up the laptop and settling on the couch to do some research, typing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome into the search engine and starting to sort through the results.
“He requested that I no longer refer to him as Agent given his retirement from Shield this morning.”
“He retired from Shield?” Phil repeated fumbling for his phone and checking his messages, no one had contacted him to let him know that fact.
“I assisted him in submitting the necessary paperwork and it was sent to Assistant Director Hill as she has been his contact at Shield recently. He also submitted a similar packet to Stark Industries however Ms. Potts wishes to talk to him next week before making any changes.”
“I wasn’t aware that he was retiring.” Phil said with a sigh putting his phone away and going back to his research. “He’s too young to retire easily, Clint never liked being idle.”
“I’ve been monitoring Master Barton’s finances and he could easily retire and live off his savings if he continued to stay in the tower as an employee of Stark Industries. Even if he only worked as a consultant he would be able to live modestly elsewhere in town if he wished.”
“That doesn’t mean he still doesn’t need something to do with his time.” Phil said with a sigh, thinking of his own reduced hours since his return.
“Miss Potts is planning to offer him a position with a flexible schedule tomorrow when he arrives at Stark Industries. It would allow him to work for the tower as needed and continue his work with the security teams when he is well enough to go in.”
“Who’s been assisting him with the day to day things?” Phil asked trying to picture Clint working outside of Shield and finally pushing the image of a frail Clint in a dimly lit office out of his mind, “I know you said he’s not this bad on good days but he was barely able to string two words together by the time I got him back to the tower today.”
“You may wish to research ‘Fibro Fog’ or confusion associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Both diseases report issues with confusion or an inability to concentrate.”
“It’s part of his illness,” Phil muttered tapping at the computer and frowning at the handful of medical journal articles he was able to find.
“It generally manifests when he’s over extended himself in some capacity, that afternoon or the next day is often much worse because of the effort he expended.”
“Who is helping him?”
“Master Barton has refused assistance outside of my limited abilities.”
“You are anything but limited, Jarvis.” Phil said with a snort, “I’m sure Clint would have been hospitalized at this point if he’d been on base. You’ve helped tremendously.”
“Thank you for saying so, Agent Coulson, however I’ve found myself rather helpless in how to improve my services to ease Master Barton’s pain.”
“That’s where I’ll come in, I think.” Phil said coming to a decision and shooting a message to Hill and Fury, copying Pepper on the email with a small smirk. She would make sure everything stayed legal at the very least.
“Miss Potts is aware of my… resurrection?” Phil asked tentatively hoping he didn’t have to wake the CEO up to explain his email.
“She was informed this afternoon when Sir returned to the tower.” Jarvis said stiffly, “She asked to arrange a meeting with you in the morning. I’ve added it to your schedule if you wish to check.”
“I’ll speak to her whenever she wants, Jarvis. I never intended to hurt anyone with this.” Phil said shoving off the couch and moving to pace by the windows, “Only a few people realized we were together, Jarvis. I’m sorry I had to lie to Pepper about who I was seeing but it was classified since anyone we were investigating or tracking might use the relationship against us in the field.”
“I understand, Agent Coulson, however Miss Potts may need that explained when you see her tomorrow.”
“I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of explanations needed tomorrow.” Phil said with a sigh, silencing his phone when it started to ring and turning it off. “Do me a favor and block any calls from Shield and Director Fury until tomorrow.”