sam_storyteller: (Slash Fic)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2013-11-21 10:11 am

Avengers: If I Don't Wake Up Dead 2/4

Chapter One

***

Tony figures if someone is going after Stark Industries, which seems likely, and if they need to distract the Avengers, quod erat demonstratum, then it's probably not a corporate takeover, not anything business related. Between him and Steve, they've worked out that whatever is coming is probably a sudden strike, just waiting on the Avengers to take off after Hydra. A careful breadcrumb trail was left in the base the Avengers destroyed while freeing Steve, and Steve thinks Hydra wants the Avengers out of country chasing them down before whoever is after SI makes their first move.

"Do you suppose they think we're dumb, or just adrenaline junkies?" Bruce asks at breakfast, which they are having in Steve's room because Steve is stiff and sore and tired. Also, it's an excuse to gather on one of Tony's excellent giant Stark Tower beds to eat. Clint is sharing the foot of the bed and a plate of toast with Natasha, Bruce is pacing nearby, Tony is draped across an empty stretch of bed eating a granola bar, and Thor is next to Steve, eating from one of Tony's bags of dried blueberries. Steve, dark circles under his eyes, has his leg propped on Tony's thigh and is drinking some shake Tony gave him, which annoyed Clint for reasons he's not looking at too closely.

"We can't be dumb and adrenaline junkies?" Clint asks.

"You're not dumb," Steve replies.

"Well, Hydra seems to think we ain't that bright," Clint points out.

"Hydra is still laboring under several unflattering delusions, including the one that blondes have more fun," Tony says.

"Craven," Thor pronounces. "Any army worth fighting would not allow itself to be used as a distraction. These are foolish children."

"Yeah, but they're toddlers with Uzis," Tony says. "We can't just ignore them."

"Look, social analysis done with, this is a little outta my realm of expertise," Bruce adds, glancing at Natasha. "More your game."

It's unusual to cede leadership to anyone but Steve when he's in the room, but Steve looks battered and exhausted, and grateful to pass the baton on this one. Natasha sits up very straight, thoughtful.

"Well, we can send a decoy out, make it look like we've left the tower to chase down Hydra," she says. "But it won't do us any good if we don't know who's after Stark Industries or where. The company has plants or offices in four different cities in the US alone, and major manufacturing centers in China, Japan, and Germany."

"Do you memorize everything that way, or do you just do it with Stark Industries statistics to creep me out?" Tony asks. Natasha smiles mysteriously at him.

"Pepper could also be a target," Bruce says.

"I'm on that," Tony replies. "JARVIS upped her security detail and Rhodey's flying in to escort her around for a few days under the guise of getting some suit maintenance."

"So, let's do a target analysis," Natasha says. "And leave Steve to get some rest."

Clint goes to get up and follow the others, but she drops the plate of toast in his lap.

"You're on Cap detail," she says. Clint looks at her gratefully. He hates target analysis. It's all paperwork and statistics, two things he is especially bad at. Once, a particularly bad handler had said You're a sniper, you have to calculate wind shear and velocity and distance, how can you be bad at math? and Clint had given him a blank look, because no, he didn't calculate those things, he just knew, fuck you very much. Math is for people who graduated high school.

"Do you know what Tony put in this shake?" Steve asks, once they've gone. It's still half-full.

"Kale? Maybe?" Clint offers.

"It's. It's unique."

"You want me to disappear it?"

"Please," Steve says sadly.

When Clint comes back from disposing discreetly of the shake, Steve is half out of bed, clearly struggling with the other half. He doesn't even look frustrated; just resigned, like he's used to this, and Clint supposes that up until a few years ago (for Steve, anyway) he was. Steve spent more than half his life in a body that wouldn't or couldn't obey him. It must be hard to go back to that.

He gingerly lifts Steve's leg out of the bed, then pulls him up by one bicep and catches his weight when they overbalance. Steve grunts and straightens, muttering apologies.

"Where are we going?" Clint asks.

"Bathroom, I need to wash," Steve replies.

"Well, that should be interesting," Clint says. "You been thinking about the logistics of that at all?"

"Won't be the first time a washcloth and a bucket were employed," Steve says.

"You can't even get your arm over your head and you can't hold anything in one of your hands."

"I'll make do."

Clint does manage to help him hobble stiffly to the bathroom, but once there Steve just looks at the shower like it's a personal enemy. Clint eases him against the bathroom counter and turns on the water, shucking his shirt.

"Clint, I don't -- " Steve begins, but then clearly isn't sure how to end that sentence. "You don't have to...I mean, I can..."

Clint starts on the buttons of Steve's shirt, easing it down over his still-inflamed shoulder and the splint on his wrist.

"The cast is gore-tex, it's waterproof," he says. "Can you take the splint off?"

"Oh -- yeah," Steve replies, clearly out of his depth now.

"Pants first," Clint adds, stepping out of his own. He tests the water, which is at the upper edge of his own heat tolerance, and when he turns back, Steve is naked, tugging his splint off carefully.

Steve clearly has some issues being in a shower with another guy, even if it's a giant Stark Tower shower, even if Clint knows he must have shared showers in the army. Granted, that could be why he has issues; being the smallest guy in the cohort probably made communal showers pretty uncomfortable in boot camp. Steve lets his now-unsplinted hand hang casually in front of his groin as he gets in. He's not fooling anyone, Clint thinks drily. The only reason it's preserving his modesty at all is that the guy has big hands.

"Let me know if I'm hitting a sore spot," Clint says, pouring shampoo into his hands. He leans up to scrub what's left of Steve's hair carefully, avoiding the bare patches, working his fingers into the scalp. Steve bows his head and then slumps a little, the tension draining out of him as Clint presses his fingers into temple, crown, nape. He watches Clint through slitted eyes, then closes them when Clint maneuvers him under the spray to rinse. Clint tugs on his arm gently but he stays where he is, hot water beating on his skin, so Clint makes short work of soaping his shoulders, scrubbing his neck and jaw. Steve's eyes open when he lifts his hands away, and Clint's about to leave him to the rest, warning him not to use his left hand, but the look of sleepy pleasure in his eyes gives him pause.

"How're your ribs?" he asks, dumping more shower gel into his hands and lathering them.

"They healed first," Steve mumbles, and then, "S'ok to wash them," and Clint hesitantly scrubs the lather into his chest, looking for winces or flinches. There's no sign, so he crouches and works on his thighs and the one calf he can get to. Steve is passive, obedient, but he's watching again -- and when Clint straightens and turns him into the spray again, he gives an approving nod. Clint works his hands through the tight muscles of his back, kneading when he hits knots and going easy on the one or two occasions when Steve flinches.

Out of the shower, he towels down Steve's hair, fighting a grin over the way it sticks up when it's damp, and then straps Steve's splint back on his wrist before doing anything else.

"Thank you," Steve says, drying himself independently, if semi-ineffectively, with one hand while Clint dresses. He seems almost dazed by the attention, as if he's forgotten to be modest or uncomfortable. Docile, he lets Clint lead him back into the bedroom, leans on him to put on the pair of sleep pants Clint digs up, and lies down, rolling onto his side, arm extended to keep pressure off his splint.

He's so different from usual -- Clint wonders when the last time Steve had anyone to take care of him like that was, if he's ever had it. He doubts the forties were a time men did, especially in the war. Clint's had it rarely enough himself.

Steve's breathing is even and slow, eyes hazy, fair skin a little pink from the heat of the water. Clint cleans away the towels and Steve's discarded clothing, and by the time he emerges, Steve is making soft, even noises as he sleeps.

Clint, who is used to stakeouts and safe houses, settles in to watch and to think.

He's not exactly a veteran of the lifestyle but he's been around the block -- if it were a block on which sat several private sex clubs -- enough times to know that what he just saw looks a lot like sub space. He's been in it more than he's seen it from the outside, but the calm and the obedience is painfully familiar.

Clint isn't sure that's what he should call it. He's known subs who are kept for the purpose of being spoiled -- bathed, dressed, indulged -- and while it's definitely submission, it's not common, and honestly Steve doesn't seem the type. It feels more like Clint just played them into a little scene where he's a service sub and Steve is Sir, but Steve clearly didn't know that was happening and Clint didn't either, and he's never heard of a Dom hitting sub space. Then again, it ain't like he's been reading textbooks on this stuff.

Clint hasn't...done that, submitted to anyone in that sense, since it all went down with Loki. He wasn't sure he could and he didn't want to freak out in the middle of a scene with a stranger. He still isn't sure he can. Even if it's possible he just did.

One of the first people he ever did it for said, "You do what you do out of love. You serve because you love to serve or because you love your master or both, but it has to be at least one of those two, or you won't get what you need."

He may not love service anymore. He can't tell. But he does love Steve, in the way soldiers love each other at the very least.

He considers it the entire time Steve sleeps. Clint is good at that, at turning things over in his mind during stints in a sniper's nest or on surveillance. It's a meticulous, if not always methodical, dissection of everything attached to a specific problem. His main conclusion, by the time Steve begins the minute muscle shifts that generally signal waking -- Clint has watched a lot of people sleep -- has nothing to do with his own dilemma. Mainly he's decided that if Steve went to sleep in any kind of altered head space, he's probably not going to realize when he comes out of it, and Clint will need to be a little Dom-y, maybe, to ease the transition. Which frankly he sucks at, but whatever, he can rise to the occasion.

He ignores what's going on in his own head, puts it on a shelf and turns the label to the wall.

Steve's eyes open, immediately awake as he fixes his gaze on Clint.

"This looks a little weird," Clint says warily.

"Nah," Steve replies, shoulders hiking a little as he pushes himself to sit up in the bed. "You're on duty, I know how it is."

"You should get up, move around a little," Clint says, and Steve shoots him an amused look, like it's funny, Clint trying to boss him.

"Think I'll do a lap around the penthouse," he agrees, climbing out of bed before Clint can help. "You should check in with the others, see if one of them wants to spell you. Tony'd probably like that, he likes an excuse to sit around being a genius."

Clint feels a strange level of rivalry with Tony right now, and he honestly isn't sure why. Tony could beat him at pretty much any game he'd care to name, except darts.

"I don't mind," he says.

"Well, as long as you don't," Steve agrees. He looks good -- more color in his face than before, smiling, the pain lines around his eyes easier. Clint trails after him into the penthouse, then wanders over to say hello to Pepper while Steve pokes around in the kitchen.

"Clint, hi!" Pepper says, sounding pleased to see him. She always does; Clint isn't sure why. Maybe Tony talked him up, though that makes no sense either. "How's the invalid?"

"Clean and paid for," Clint says absently, a phrase his mother used to use about him and Barney when they were being well-behaved. Pepper laughs.

"I'm glad to hear it. Everyone's been worried. It isn't often Captain America gets decommissioned."

"Yeah," Clint replies, glancing absently at the kitchen. "He was a hell of a sight when he came in."

"So I hear."

"Tony talk to you at all about what's going on with SI?" Clint asks, and then realizes nobody else is around. "Where is everyone?"

"I'm on double-bodyguard when I leave the building. I managed to talk Tony out of sending a remote suit with me everywhere; he just wants an excuse to test the new movement programming."

"Little callous of him."

"I'm sure he fears for my life, he's just a very capable multitasker. Anyway, Tony and Bruce are in the workshop, and Natasha went up to the Carrier with Thor."

Steve limps into the living room, carrying a bottle of beer. "No trouble for you yet, Ms. Potts?"

"Not on the Avengers account, at least not this week," she says with a smile. "Just the usual gossip magazines, corporate raiders, labor disputes, budget crises, and prima-donna coders."

"Better you than me," Clint says.

"On the other hand, the might of a global megacorporation is mine to wield as I wish," Pepper says, a gleam of power-mad glee in her eye.

"Try not to crush the working classes too badly," Steve advises. He hands the bottle of beer to Clint, who pops the top and passes it back. "Thanks."

"Oh, I only punch up, which at this point means mainly the leaders of mid-sized countries and guys like Tony but without his charm."

"You think any of them…?" Steve asks.

"Not my job to think about that -- that's what I have all of you for."

"We'll make sure they never get as far as you," Steve says. "Whoever they are."

"I know." Pepper stands and pats Steve's cheek gently. "You still look pretty hard done by, Steve. Just remember nobody's expecting anything from you until you're better."

"Can't be better soon enough," he replies ruefully. "Clint's looking after me, though, I'll be back on both feet in no time."

Pepper shoots Clint a look, equal parts amusement, curiosity, and encouragement. "I'm glad. If SI can help out at all, let me know. Otherwise, I should probably get to my two o'clock."

When she's gone, Steve eases down into a chair and takes a deck of cards out of his pocket.

"Blackjack?" he asks with a grin.

***

That afternoon, the Avengers converge on the penthouse living room in a mob, Thor and Natasha landing outside at the same time Bruce and Tony barrel their way up from Tony's workshop. Clint, alarmed, is halfway out of his seat before Bruce says, "Wait! Stay there! You want to see this."

"See what?" Clint asks, still concerned.

"We have built a revenge machine," Tony announces. "Two, actually."

"A revenge machine," Steve says ominously.

"A pacifist revenge machine," Tony offers. "A revenge robot, really, and you know, there are laws of robots, robots can't hurt people -- "

"Tony…"

"It's fine, Cap, I've been keeping an eye on him," Natasha says with a reassuring smile. Clint knows that "Natasha is in charge" does not necessarily automatically mean "Nobody will be horribly murdered" but in her defense she only horribly murders the deserving.

Now, anyway.

"What's this all about?" Pepper asks, coming into the room. "Tony, I left a meeting with a Chinese distributor who is still angry over something you did ten years ago to see whatever this is, so you'd better hope our economic survival doesn't depend on China. Which, I have to inform you, it does."

"Pfft, one distributor, there are billions of people in China, someone's going to want to get into bed with Stark Industries," Tony replies. "Sit, light of my days. Who wants to fly the Quinjet?"

Clint raises his hand, because he is a Quinjet pilot, thanks. Tony tosses him what looks like the product of a Wiimote and a Starkpad getting stuck during sex.

"Here's how this goes down," Bruce says. "Clint, that's going to remote-fly the Quinjet to Latveria."

"Of course it's Latveria," Clint sighs.

"One of my suits will be flying escort with JARVIS at the wheel," Tony adds.

"As soon as we pass over international waters, we're pretty sure someone's going to hack Stark Industries," Natasha says. "Probably the first thing they'll do is put up a firewall to keep Tony out as long as he's not local."

"Not a literal one," Thor says to Steve, who looks aghast. "That was my thought too."

"It's a digital barrier," Bruce says. "But it's a pointless one if we have physical access to the SI servers. Which are…" he gestures at Tony, who whistles and points at their feet.

"In a super-secret hidden server farm below Stark Tower."

"Why are your company servers underneath Stark Tower?" Clint asks. This seems like madness to him.

"Initially, the Tower was just a cover to build the server farm. Usually they're out in the sticks somewhere where land is cheap, but Stark Industries likes to be different. We need talented people working there, and it's hard to lure good IT professionals to rural Idaho, as Google has discovered."

"So this is, wait -- " Clint frowns. "This is all about hackers? They wanted you out of the country so they could hack Stark Industries? Steve got the shit beat out of him for corporate espionage?" he demands, looking at Steve.

Steve shakes his head. "Correct me if this is wrong, Tony, but don't you keep the Avengers classified archives in the same computers that you keep the Stark Industries stuff?"

"Got it in one," Tony says. "Our files, email, shared server, Thor's J-pop collection he thinks I don't know about -- "

"I am not ashamed of my love for The B'z," Thor says, crossing his arms.

"The point is, the hackers are possibly after Stark Industries specs and diagrams, but because that server is hypersecure, it is also where the Avengers'...everything is kept."

"But it's still hacking," Clint says. "Hacking is what got us here."

"Look, I'm sure in addition to hacking they got a kick out of torturing an Avenger," Tony snaps. "What do you want? I'm not the one who planned it, I'm trying to fix the problem."

Clint holds up his hands. Bruce taps Tony on the shoulder, then makes a slicing motion across his throat.

"Sorry, this is -- stressful," Tony says. "My point is, once you get the Quinjet far enough away, we're expecting an extensive digital attack on Stark Tower. Bruce and I are going to handle that with some of my staff, they're already down there getting prepped. What we want to do is work out where the hack's coming from, and send them a message."

"This is where the revenge robots come in?" Pepper asks.

"You remember how I jump off high things and the suit catches me?" Tony says.

Pepper just gives him a look. Clint hears Steve stifle a laugh.

"A-ny-way, that gave me the idea for the Frontloader," Tony says, setting his Starkpad down and drawing a hologram up out of it. It looks to Clint like an old Looney Tunes missile, fat in the middle with a pointy end. When Tony taps it, it splits along the long seam, opening up like a coffin. "I might actually sell it to the military eventually. You fire this baby at a target -- "

He demonstrates; a tiny animated man runs around crazily in the hologram, until the Frontloader swoops down, scoops him up, and locks him away in a move so brutally efficient even Clint blinks at it. He looks at Steve, who seems concerned.

"Tony, tell me this isn't going to chop anyone in half," he says.

"Only if they struggle," Tony replies with a shrug.

"Tony -- "

"Seriously, no, it's not going to chop anyone in half. Here's my idea. While they're trying to hack my secure servers to gain access to our personal data, we trace them back to their origins and fire as many Frontloaders as we need at their HQ. Each of them has a clone of JARVIS with limited intelligence, so each Frontloader has a specific target once we know who they are. For that, we have this: the Frontloader Optical Executor, or F.O.X., which is a tiny flying camera that shows them where to attack."

"The fox leads the hounds. That's almost clever," Natasha remarks.

"I'm still working on an acronym for H.O.U.N.D. that'll work with the Frontloaders descriptively, but if I need help I'll give you a call," Tony replies.

"So…" Steve screws up his mouth, thinking. "We're going to pretend to leave town so the bad guys can try and break in, and when they do we're going to sic your robots on them."

"More or less."

"I like that. I'm surprised, but I do," Steve admits.

"And because of F.O.X. we'll get everything on film," Bruce adds. "I'll cut you a highlight reel."

"When do we do this?" Clint asks, because while they've all been jabbering about whatever, he's been learning how to remote-fly a Quinjet, which is awesome. Tony can take this controller back from him over his cold dead body, which would take considerable effort he's pretty sure Tony won't bother expending.

"Now, if you want. Well, not NOW, but very soon. The Frontloaders are finishing production. Limited run of ten to start with but I figure if there are more than ten, we'll just scoop up the ringleaders," Tony says.

"I'm sure it'll be a very pleasant experience for them, being locked inside a tiny flying prototype," Bruce drawls.

"What should I do?" Steve asks.

There's a moment of blank silence.

"Sit down and watch?" Tony offers gently. Clint's been basically staring at Steve all day, but now he remembers the others haven't. The still-unhealed scratches on his arms and face, the bright green bruising around his eye, the splint on his arm and the careful way he moves all make him look slightly pathetic, and very much like someone to be cared for. Clint wonders if he inspired the same kind of feeling when he was a little guy, a strange mixture of proud defiance and subtle vulnerability.

"But I could…" Steve looks around.

"With all due respect," Bruce says, "you're still not a hundred percent."

"Yeah, but I -- "

"We want to do this for you," Tony says.

"As a gift," Thor adds.

"A gift of violence and mayhem," Natasha nods.

"I'm not actually that big a fan of mayhem," Steve says.

"That's why the Frontloaders capture rather than dismember," Tony replies. "I could have programmed them to dismember."

"I guess…" Steve looks around again, then eases himself down into one of the living room couches. Tony and Bruce both beam as they link up the television screen to the FOX camera and the Quinjet controller.

It takes about an hour for them to get everything in place, during which Steve falls asleep. When he's still asleep after they've eaten dinner they have a brief awkward conference about whether to wake him (along with some old-man-nap jokes from Tony) but just as they're trying to decide he wakes on his own, snorting and startled like he's not sure where he is. Clint, along with the others, politely ignores his bewilderment until he's fully awake and lucid.

"We're ready to go," Bruce says gently. "You'll see everything up on the big screen. Tony's already down in the server room waiting to block the hack."

"And on radio," Tony's voice echoes through the room's surround sound. "Soon as I've rerouted the hackers to a decoy, I'll come up to help JARVIS pilot the Frontloaders."

"And eat popcorn," Clint adds. "He was big on the popcorn."

"I heard that," Tony's voice calls. "You ready for a show, Cap?"

Clint is genuinely happy to see Steve smile. "Sure."

"Okay, Ricky Bobby, fire it up," Tony says.

"Really, Stark?" Clint asks, as he opens up the throttle on the Quinjet and lifts off. "Talladega Nights? That's what you're going with?"

"Well, Cap started watching movies made after '43, I keep having to go more obscure with my references to confuse him," Tony says. "JARVIS?"

"Iron Man is pacing the Quinjet, sir."

"Bruce, I'll give you the high sign when they hit us," Tony says. Clint, focused on piloting, watches the camera feed from the Quinjet as it soars over New York, heading for the Atlantic. Natasha settles in next to Steve and pets his hair.

"I can wake you when things get interesting," she offers.

"No, thanks. It's just…" Steve gestures to his splinted wrist. "Everything's trying to heal a lot faster than it can. Takes it out of ya."

Clint listens to their murmured conversation as he pilots. If he were in the jet he'd be more focused, he never gives less than his entire attention when he's got passengers, but it's hard to take this little controller that seriously.

Which is why he doesn't see the missile before Iron Man's radar spots it.

"We have incoming," JARVIS announces, right as Clint yells "OH FUCK ME -- " and the Quinjet explodes. The last shot from the quinjet camera is of Iron Man pinwheeling off towards the water. Clint drops the pad as if it's going to explode. On the screen, the Quinjet's position over the eastbound gulf stream winks out.

"JARVIS, play dead," Tony yells over the speakers.

"Iron Man is 'down'," JARVIS confirms. The Iron Man helmet cam shows murky blue water. "Standby mode, sir?"

"Yeah, just keep me out of the Mariana Trench or whatever."

"That should be fairly simple, as it is on the other side of the world."

"Don't get smart with me, Commodore 64, we all just virtually died."

"Well," Clint announces. "Sure am glad you had me remote-piloting that, Stark."

"And we have hackers, so be quiet now," Tony replies.

"Tony, you need a hand?" Bruce asks.

"Once I switch them to the dummy, you can play with them if you want."

Clint glances at Steve, who is utterly pale, lips bloodless. He's staring at the empty ocean where the Quinjet was.

"You okay there?" he asks softly.

"How did they get an anti-aircraft missile?" Steve asks, looking at him. "How did they -- I just don't -- " he looks up at Clint. "If we'd been on that thing you'd all have died. I'd have gone back...down again."

Oh. Oh.

Steve looks back at the screen. "Would you get me a glass of water, please, Clint?"

"Sure," Clint says, heading for the kitchen. He gets a nod from Natasha as he goes, which is perplexing.

In the kitchen, Clint calms his own nerves by carefully, deliberately taking down the glass, putting some ice in it, adding some of the filtered water from the fridge. By the time he returns, his hands aren't shaking and Steve looks less like he's about to pass out.

"Thank you," he says to Clint, sipping the water, and then calls, "Hey Tony. I changed my mind."

"About what?" Tony asks, sounding irked and impatient.

"Mayhem is okay," Steve says.

"I knew you'd see it my way," Natasha beams.

Chapter Three

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