I really need to stop waking up like this.
What hurts now?
“-lor? Taylor, you awake?”
I crack open one eye, only to clamp it shut against the harsh hospital light.
There’s a little shuffling and a few clicks. “There, that better?”
I pry an eye open to see the light has been dimmed considerably. I relax and blink both eyes a few times. “Do I have all my limbs?”
“Minus your right arm, yes.”
“Okay, so…what now?”
“You remember how the meat nicked your heart, and it wasn’t a huge problem, but we needed to watch it?”
“Well it sort of became a big problem.”
“What kind of big problem are we talking?”
“…the kind where those bandages are covering an arc reactor.”
I stay silent, waiting for my world to crash and reboot the way it did the last time someone told me this kind of news.
Nothing happens. Instead, I’m just left staring at my dad and slowly blinking a few times.
“O-kaay. So what does this mean?”
“It means I’ve made the necessary modifications to your suit, as well as installing double the emergency reactors in the tower. The team knows about your reactor, and Bruce already knows how to change them. Anybody else you want me to teach?”
“Clint? For the range.”
My dad is smirking and I send a wary glare in his direction. “Dad-“
“I was just going to say said birdbrain is waiting in the hallway with a doctor.”
“Sure you were.”
“Can I let them in now?”
My dad opens the door to reveal a food-laden archer followed by a doctor equipped with a clipboard and x-rays.
“Hey glow stick, how ya feeling?”
He just nods towards my lap and plops the tray of steaming food on my lap. “Your usual from McDonalds.”
“Yay! Look at you, feeding the invalid.”
Clint just laughs as the doctor clears his throat.
“Right, sorry doc, continue.”
“Ms. Stark, this is what your chest currently looks like.” He clicks up an x-ray. “We had to saw off ribs 3 through five and your spleen to fit your new chest piece. We-“
“Fit and electromagnet to the casing and set the piece in.” my dad and I recite at the same time. “Yes, we know. Now can we see it?”
The doctor rubs his face and sighs. “Yes, of course. Do you want anyone to step out?”
“I do still have a hospital gown on, right, Dad?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Then no, doc, they can stay.”
“Sit up straight for me.”
I stiffen my spine as the doctor begins to unpin and unwrap the bandages.
“Alright, one more layer…”
My dad holds up a mirror (don’t ask where he got it) as the final bandages come off, so I can see my reactor in full detail.
And it is magnificent.
I’ve been used to seeing my dad’s reactor for more than two years now. Seeing it light up my own chest, however, is a completely different ball game.
The re-enforced glass is slightly convex, letting the brilliant blue triangle light design add to the glow already present in the room from my dad’s reactor.
“Wow.” I breathe out, the word barely audible.
“See? Told you, glow stick.”
“Long as you still call me sparrow, hawk.”
“I knew you liked it!”
I just roll my eyes as my dad speaks up. “So how is your arm?”
“You mean my stump? Slightly numb, but okay. How’s my arm coming along?”
“It’s done. It took a little longer ‘cause I had to build the reactor, but I got it done! Ready to attach?”
“Ready to attach! I need my right arm back!”
“Alright,” my dad laughs, “Wait here and I’ll go get it and the supplies.”
With that, he pats my shoulder and jogs out if the room.
Leaving me and Clint.
I’m suddenly very self-conscious in my hospital gown.
“Do you have any idea how worried I was?”
“You run into an abandoned building with no plan whatsoever, see a bomb, and instead of running, you poke it. Then you try and disarm it with an impossible amount of time left, and get yourself hurt for it. Then once safely at the hospital, I learn they cut of your arm, and then you pass out yet again and I discover your heart if failing. Do you have any idea?”
“If you’re done, listen for a sec.”
“First, I think the ‘no plan’ and ‘heroic sacrifice’ genes are hereditary, from my dad’s side. Secondly, backup would not arrive in time – you said so, the bomb’s fuse was too short. Third, what can I do that isn’t already on the team? You can shoot better than I can, and my dad and Bruce were the brains of the team first. You tell me; why am I here?”
Clint just gives a small laugh and puts a hand on my chin, gently forcing me to look into his beautiful, soulful, endless-
“Are you listening?”
-eyes. Right, conversation. “What?”
“As I was saying, you have a lot of things we wouldn’t have without you. I can’t shoot any better than you-“
“-you mean you couldn’t. We don’t know now.”
“-and you are part of a threesome of brains from the start.” Clint finishes, completely ignoring my interruption.
“You lost an arm. So what? Steve lost his entire life to ice. Bruce lost his peace of mind to an accident. Thor lost his brother to madness. Natasha lost her sense of trust to the mistreatment of others. I lost the trust of others because of Loki. Your dad lost part of his heart in Afghanistan. You’ll do what we all did: overcome and be stronger for it. You’ll learn how to shoot again, and you’ll be in a lab in no time. So if I hear you ask why you are on the team ever again, do I have permission to slap you?”
“For what? Taylor, you better not be doing anything I wouldn’t do.” my dad say suspiciously, poking his head back into the room.
“You do a lot of things, dad.”
“Like making you an arm. Ta-DA!” He enters the room, holding out an metal arm that looks exactly like on the holograms.
“Cool! But, um, how does it attach?”
“Through clips and suction cups. A small nano bot gets attached to your brain stem to conduct movement like a regular arm.”
“Doesn’t that mean brain surgery?”
“Nope. Just flip over, I numb the injection site, shave a little hair, and inject this.” He holds up a big syringe filled with a shiny, silver, metallic liquid.
“Are you sure?”
“Yep. But first, we attach the arm. Let me see your stump.”
I wriggle my stump and roll up the sleeve of the hospital gown for my dad to pin back.
I hold out the stump and shiver as my dad slathers on a cold gel, and it tickles.
“Sorry, sorry, but it’s completely necessary.”
I nod and make a ‘carry on’ gesture with my left hand.
My dad finishes applying the gel and supports my stub with one hand as he reaches for my arm and brings the end of the arm up to the end of the stub.
“This might feel like pins and needles for a minute, but it’ll pass. Ready?”
He touches the arm to the stub, pushes, twists, and locks. With a few clicks, I have a new arm. For now, though, it’s just a deadweight attached to my shoulder. It’s a little heavy and bulky, but it’s better than not having an arm.
“Now, I should warn you that the injection site and stub will burn for a minute, will that be okay?”
“Well,” I sigh, “Without the injection, I have a deadweight. With it, I have an arm. So…yes.”
My dad nods. ”Okay, flip over.”
I roll onto my stomach, forever grateful I slipped on sweatpants.
I wince as a small needle pricks the skin at the base of my head. “Can you feel this?”
“Okay, here comes the razor.”
I can hear the buzz and hum of the razor as I lost about two square inches of hair at the back of my head.
“Ready for injection?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be.”
The only thing I feel on the back of my brain is a slight pressure as I assume the needle pierces my skin. Then nothing for about five seconds.
Then oh how it burns.
The injection site and my left shoulder feel like someone stabbed a hot knife in them. And twisted. And ow, owowowow.
Eventually the pain fades and I’m left panting with tears streaming out of my eyes.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Are you okay?” my dad’s voice is almost a wail.
“Yeah, I-yeah, I’m good. You weren’t kidding about the burn.”
“Sorry. Want to sit up?”
My dad hooks an arm around my back and hoists my shoulders up.
And then I notice the room is vacant of a certain archer.
“Clint? He left as soon as the tears started. I don’t blame him, I would have followed if I could. Now can you wiggle your fingers on your right hand?”
I focus on the fingers on my left hand and try and move them in a twitching fashion.
And they do.
I manage to clench then unclench my fist and then flex my elbow.
I lift my hand up to give my dad the ‘ok’ signal.
We both laugh with glee.
And for the first time in what feels like a millennia, I give my dad a right-handed high five.