By Maquis Leader
Notes: A little ficlet that popped into my head as I heard one of the Transformers movie start. Before I could change it, I wondered how Tony Stark might be really offended by the machine sounds and what his machines and ‘bots really sound like. Aided and abetted by watching Robot and Frank.
“Popcorn, who wants it?”
“Over here!” Clint held a hand up and Steve handed him a bowl of popcorn as he went by. It was hot, fresh, buttery, and better than any damn popcorn he’d ever had in his life. And that was saying something considering he’d worked in a circus.
When they’d started their movie nights, Steve had nearly spit out the microwave popcorn that had originally been in the kitchen. The next time they’d had air popped popcorn and he’d declared it barely edible. On the third night, after a particularly trying day that had included giant bees, Steve had introduced them to real popcorn, popped in a real skillet in real oil, and drenched with real butter. Chief Popcorn Popper had been added to his list of heroic abilities.
“Mine, mine, mine!” Tony scooped up a handful and shoved it in his mouth. “Nobody else ever spoils me like this.”
Bruce snorted, unsuccessfully trying to stifle a laugh around a mouthful of popcorn.
The movie started and they settled in comfortably. Tonight Pepper was in New Mexico for a meeting on acquiring something for Stark Industries, Phil was her “unofficial” escort as the purchase involved the area where Thor’s hammer had crash landed, the thunder guy and Jane were off staring at stars or something somewhere, and Natasha was… nobody was sure but she wasn’t there for movie night. Which meant no romcoms, no Oscar noms, no art or subtitles or redeeming value. Only explosions and noise tonight and yes they were being stereotypical men but they didn’t always get to watch these, thank you very much.
Bruce groaned as he saw the title. “Not one of those Transformers movies? Tony’ll be complaining about the robotics the whole time.”
“I promise to be quiet.” He made a ‘crossing my heart’ motion. “Unless it’s really fucking stupid and needs to be pointed out.”
As the title came up, there were Hollywood style studio-generated machine sounds. Grinding, whirring, and spinning noises filled the room thanks to Tony’s killer surround sound system. Clint shivered, a chill racing down his spine. Not from the sounds, but from Tony’s comment that ‘his’ machines – ‘his babies’ – were never that noisy.
Goosebumps crawled over his skin and Clint set his popcorn bowl aside to rub at his arms. Tony wasn’t boasting. His machines were not only not that noisy, they were completely and eerily fucking insanely scarily frighteningly silent when Tony wanted them to be. Or when Tony needed them to be. Or maybe when they wanted to be. He wasn’t sure there was a difference.
Watching the movie, he didn’t feel the same sense of enjoyment he usually did at badass robots blowing shit up and computer generated mayhem. How many cameras were in this room? How many in the Tower? Did Jarvis watch everything? All the time? Clint wished he’d gone to New Mexico with Phil. He was going to end up with nightmares and Phil wouldn’t be there to hold him and tell him everything was all right.
He trusted Jarvis, really. He did. Jarvis had helped locate Phil when he’d been knocked unconscious and dragged off by AIM goons. In less than five minutes Phil had been rescued and his tie hadn’t even been wrinkled. Clint had offered to buy Jarvis a beer flavored memory chip. But… then something had caused in a change in his perception of the AI and Stark’s machines.
Three months earlier
“So I said, sure I can hit a target that big, but why would I want to?”
Tony laughed as he came in for a landing at the top of the Tower. He’d offered Clint a ride and they’d skipped out on the press and their “need to know”. Steve was much better at glad handing the press. “Bigger is not always better. Don’t tell anyone I said that.”
“Your secret is safe with me.”
“Sir, Agent Barton, Ms. Potts is asleep on the sofa in the lounge.” Came Jarvis’ cultured voice over the com.
“Mrs. Stark.” Tony countered.
“Ms. Potts has instructed me to stay out of that argument, sir.” Jarvis said.
Clint was aware of an instant drop in the sound coming from the Iron Man suit. He grinned, having proof now that a lot of the noise was just for show. Tony came to a gentle hover over the landing plate and Clint let go, dropping silently beside the landing plate and unbuckling his quiver. Turning, he nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw that the robotic arm that had been added to take his quiver was extended and waiting. Clint blinked. He hadn’t heard the whirr and chirp it usually made.
Well, Pepper is asleep, and – He turned to look toward the lounge area and saw that Tony was already halfway down the walkway – most of the armor had been stripped away and the rest was being pulled off by the robotic arms. Silently. There wasn’t a single sound. Clint looked down at the walkway and he could see the machinery beneath it. Saw the arms lowering pieces of the suit to wherever they were stored.
The floor plates closed and others opened as Tony walked along the path. Mechanical arms reached out and gently removed pieces as he moved. Silently. No whirrs. No beeps. Nothing.
Clint wondered if he’d suddenly gone deaf. Only… he could hear the muted sounds from the traffic below, the occasional distant siren, and other city night noises.
Experimentally, he cleared his throat. Tony turned and made a shushing noise.
There was a gentle poke at his arm and Clint spun to find the robotic arm still waiting for his quiver. The little part he’d always thought of as the hand opened and closed as if asking for the strap to the quiver. “No…” He shook his head and clutched the quiver to his chest. For some reason, he didn’t want it to be out of reach. The arm retreated silently back into its place in the landing plate, the cover closing just as silently.
“Are you all right, Agent Barton?” Jarvis asked softly.
“Yes!” Clint barely kept from shrieking as the AI’s voice came from somewhere to the side. Fuckfuckfuck! A sudden fear welled up in his chest and refused to back down, a fear of the machines and robots that surrounded him. And the AI that ran them. Fuckfuckfuck!
“I want to take a look at – something – thanks – I’ll just keep it – “ Get a grip, Barton! Jarvis won’t kill you in your sleep! Oh, fuck, why did I think that?
He hurried into the lounge, away from the landing plate, the walkway, and most importantly, away from the machinery lurking just beneath it. The last pieces of armor had been removed and were being put away as he caught up with Tony. “You ever worry, you know, that you might lose an arm or something?”
Tony looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. “No.”
“Before you got it perfected, did you test it – “
“Shh!” The other man held a finger to his lips and shot a glare at him.
Watching Tony scoop Pepper from the couch and cradle her gently to his chest, Clint wondered if Tony had ever tested the robotics that removed the suit or had he simply stepped up and expected them to work correctly the very first time? How could he have been sure they wouldn’t rip his arm off instead?
Even after showering and knocking back a beer, Clint couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling – his eyes kept searching for hidden cameras that he’d never though to look for before now. Not finding wasn’t as soothing as it should have been. When Phil had come up from deflecting the press, Clint had practically ambushed him for post mission comfort sex with a side of extra cuddles. If Phil had thought his archer was being needier than usual, he didn’t comment on it, merely spooning around him and stroking a hand gently up and down Clint’s spine.
It hadn’t helped. The image of silent robot hands reaching for him waited every time Clint closed his eyes. He finally fell asleep after counting Phil’s steady breaths for an hour.
He dreamed the walls were crawling with machinery and circuitry, robotic arms reaching out to grab at him, no sound but the pounding of his heart. Of running down a hallway past his friends and hearing their screams as they were torn apart by the silent machines. Phil stepped out of a doorway, eyes red and laser sharp, and lifted a robotic hand to clutch at him. Tony’s head was propped up on a ‘bot, smirking and saying these are my babies. He ran into a dead end and turned to find the way back blocked by one of the Iron Man suits. It raised a hand and ribbons of wire shot from its palm, wrapping around Clint and holding him in place.
“It’s your turn, Agent Barton.” Jarvis said softly.
The floor opened and mechanical arms came up, silently, so silently. He screamed as they latched on to his arms and began to pull.
Phil had been there to shake him awake and hold him close, murmuring that it was only a dream.
It was only a dream, but it came back too often. And Clint no longer let the robotic arm take his quiver. Not that it would do him any good if Jarvis or the ‘bots or mechanical arms turned against them. But it made him feel better anyway.
“Are you cold, Agent Barton?”
Clint jumped, startled out of his thoughts by Jarvis’ soft voice. “What?”
“I noticed you’ve been rubbing your arms for some time and your skin appears to have developed cutis anserine.”
“Say goose bumps, Jarvis.” Tony admonished. “No ten dollar words tonight.”
“I’m good, just – this movie’s not that great.” Clint shifted his eyes from the screen as a robot or whatever it was attacked a group of people.
“It sucks.” Tony agreed.
“It reminds me too much of the Chitauri.” Steve rubbed the back of his neck. “Alien machines attacking New York? I’m not ready for that yet.”
“Maybe never?” Bruce agreed. “Hey, how about Fight Club? Steve, have you seen it yet?”
“No, what’s it about?”
Tony laughed. “Fight Club! Only we can’t talk about it!”
“That’s the first rule of Fight Club. We don’t talk about it.” Bruce tried and failed to look serious.
Steve looked confused, but assumed he’d figure it out once he’d seen the movie. “Do we need more popcorn first? Or can we talk about that?”
“Hell yes, we can talk about that.” Tony held out his empty bowl. “I’ll go on a beer run while you pop some more.”
“Since you asked so nicely.” He took the bowl and headed to the kitchen.
“Come on, Hawk, help with the beer.” Clint obediently got up from his chair and followed Tony to what Pepper called the liquor cave.
“Domestic? Imported?” Looking over his shoulder at Clint, Tony raised his eyebrows.
“Dr. Banner doesn’t like the darker beers.” Jarvis volunteered as Tony’s hand hovered over a German beer.
Clint shivered. “Anything, doesn’t matter.”
“Shouldn’t wear short sleeves in here.” The other man handed him two bottles of Budweiser. “You okay, you’ve been pretty quiet. That movie was craptastic and you didn’t mock it even once.”
“Too easy.” He shrugged. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure.” Tony grabbed two more bottles and led the way back to the door. It opened silently as they approached.
“The first time you used your robots to take off the suit, weren’t you worried?”
“That they might, I don’t know… take off more than the suit?”
“No.” There was genuine confusion in the dark eyes. “They’re careful. Like I’ve said a million times, they’re my babies. At least a million times, right Jarvis?”
“Hypothetical math is not my strong suit, sir.” The AI’s voice was absolutely not snarky.
“Your babies?” Clint bit his lip and leaned in close. “But what if they throw a tantrum?”
Tony looked genuinely offended. And speechless for a change. “Are you drunk?” Nearly speechless.
“I’m programmed not to throw a tantrum, Agent Barton.” Jarvis answered for his creator.
“Right.” Clint forced a smile. “I forgot for a second who I was talking to. Stark tech, right?”
“Damn right.” Tony smiled. “And because you’re a good friend, when Jarvis takes over the world, he’ll be nice to you. But not like he will to me. ‘Cos I’m his creator, right Jarvis?”
“Of course, sir. I have a marble statue already designed to celebrate your brilliance.” The smooth voice assured him. “Agent Barton is your friend. I’d be happy to include him as well.”
Chills ran down Clint’s spine.