"Good! Now toss it back.”
I gently send the ball back towards Bruce. We’re standing in the middle of the sparring mats, tossing a rubber ball back and forth and I’m only allowed to use my prosthetic. He said it builds hand-eye coordination.
My days are filled with this type of activity, the kind that are tuned towards adapting my new arm to the things that are necessary for efficient function in the real world.
That’s what Bruce said, anyways.
My day started with handwriting practice for an hour after breakfast, followed by lab work with my dad until about ten o’clock, then I came down to the gym to spar with Natasha for another hour, and Natasha traded places with Bruce about an hour ago.
“Good work Taylor, you’re free to go. I hear they picked up pizza downstairs.”
I clap – which is really more of a metallic clanging sound – and pick up my bag, containing my non-gym clothes and head towards the showers.
Instead of jumping in and out, I stand and let the steam soothe my skin as I stare at my hands.
My left hand: bone, flesh, and bone. It can feel pain. It can bleed.
On the same token, you have my right hand: circuits and steel and wires. It can’t feel pain or bleed.
At the start of the week, both hands matched the description of my left hand and my chest didn’t have a night light in it. Now, a week later, I have one real arm, one metal arm attached to nano bots in my brain, and an eternal night light.
I shiver, both from that realization and the blast of cold air that hits me, signifying an open door.
“Taylor? Are you okay in there?” Natasha calls out uncertainly.
“Yeah, I’ll be out in five.”
“I’ll wait in the gym.”
True to my word, five minutes later I’m wearing jeans and a band t-shirt my dad got for me. I open the door to access the main gym to find Natasha sitting patiently against the wall. Once she sees that I’ve emerged, she walks side by side out of gym and heading towards the kitchen.
“How long was I in there?”
“About forty-five minutes. Your dad was getting worried and your pizza was cooling fast. While it’s just us, are you really okay?”
“I’m fine, Tasha, really. Just contemplating, you know, this,” I use my left hand to motion towards my prosthetic, ”and this.” I wave my right hand towards my reactor.
“Alright, I believe you. But next time, instead of using all that hot water because some people,” she coughs and it sound suspiciously like Thor and Steve “use entirely too much as it is, how about you come find me?”
I laugh and nod as we arrive into the kitchen to have five pairs of eyes turned our way.
Someone shoves a paper plate loaded with cheese pizza towards me as conversation starts back up.
“Hey Taylor! How’s the training coming?” Steve sits across from me with a heaping pile of pepperoni pizza.
“Not bad, I’m just so busy. Worth it, though, if I want to do my job.”
“Good, good. Speaking of doing your job, Director Fury is coming over at three.”
I groan softly. “Well, he obviously found out. He’ll probably give a speech about liabilities and such.”
Steve shrugs with his mouth full before swallowing and smiling. “Just remember what I told you in the hospital room and you’ll be okay.”
I nod and lick my fingers free of sauce and grease. Just in time, too, because Clint appears at my shoulder and nods towards the range.
I wave to Steve and jog after Clint, equal parts anxiety and excitement.
We arrive at the range to see my bow propped against a table, accompanied by my quiver and gloves, and Clint’s bow and gear on the table adjacent to it.
I take a deep breath as I pick my bow up in my left hand, running a finger on my right hand against the bow string and shivering from the creepy lack of feel.
I nod as I set my bow on the table and strap on my quiver and gloves.
I slowly pick up an arrow and set it, careful not to let my metal fingers so much as scratch it.
I use my left hand to lift the bow and line up the target.
I pick up my right hand at a pace that made a snail look like an Olympic runner and pull back at a similar speed, carefully measuring how much force I put into my prosthetic.
“And let it go.”
A breath I didn’t know I’d been holding comes out in a half-laugh, half-cry as I see that my arrow has landed exactly where I wanted it to: dead center.
“See, told you! Your speed might be a problem, though…ah-hah! Follow me.”
Clint jumps into the vents as I shoulder my bow and follow, albeit confusedly.
About five minutes and a few wrong turns later, kicks open a vent cover and drops down.
I land in a room with mirrored paneling on one entire wall, the other three wall, roof, and floor all a matte black.
I turn to Clint with a puzzled glance.
“This is a simulation room. I figured nothing made a person move quick like sharp things headed their way. I’ll be in observation over there if you need me.” He jogs off towards the mirrored wall, which I now assume is covered in two way mirrors.
“Whenever you’re ready.” Clint’s voice crackles over the speakers in the corners of the room.
Once I’m standing in the center of the large room, I give the mirrored wall a thumbs up.
A wooded, forest-y scene – which I quickly recognize as holographic – quickly surrounds me, as do massive golem-looking robots.
Note to self: talk to dad about simulation bots, because this feels like overkill.
I exhale quickly as I buzzer sounds, signaling the start of the fight.
I barely have time to notch my first arrow before one of the bots rushes towards me, and I duck and roll before popping up and lodging the arrow in its head.
I jump and suction myself to the ceiling via glove as Robot 2 roars towards me, and drop boot-first onto its head with a satisfying crunch.
I land again and instantly do a back-handspring to avoid Robot 3’s whirling blades, before launching my own knife at its neck.
I use the momentum from the throwing movement to do a spinning kick towards Robot 4’s gut before kicking its casing off my foot.
Robot 5 is barreling towards me, so I drop and slide baseball style into the gap between its wheels and rely on the bots inability to turn quickly as I smash my palm into Robot 5’s head.
Robot 6 is the only one left, and Robot 6 is about a foot long and wide and about a foot and a half tall. I can’t just rush it head on because it darts behind me, leaving me open for attack. I’ll have to use my bow, it dodges knifes and kicks as well as punches.
My eyes widen as a plan forms. I holster my knife as I sprint full speed directly towards the opposite wall, jumping at the last minute to attach myself the where the ceiling meets the wall. I detach as I kick of the wall and flip through the air, twisting in mid-air as I notch an arrow and fire at Robot 6, who was currently on the ground, staring up at me until an arrow shaft protrudes from the top of its head.
Another buzzer signals the end to the simulation as the hologram disappears and Clint emerges from observation, running up to hug me and spin me, not unlike how a boyfriend would.
Stop it, Taylor…
“Good job! How’d your arm feel?”
I blink up at him as I realize I had forgotten all about my reason for being here, the speed at which I moved my prosthetic.
Clint just laughs and claps me on the shoulder. “That tells me all I need to know. Director Fury awaits, he’s downstairs with everybody else. Coming?”
“Obviously. Just let me change first; tell them I’m coming.”
Clint nods as I follow him out into the hall before splitting off towards my room.
Five minutes later, I’m dressed in a dark green long-sleeved sweater and gloves, in order to hide my arm, and the same dark jeans.
Once I enter the living room, I join the team by plopping onto a particularly cushy couch before nodding at Fury to begin.
“What’s this I hear about one of you having a prosthetic?”
I blink in surprise – you mean he doesn’t already know? – And cross my arms protectively as my brain begins stuttering for a reply, but luckily I don’t have to because my dad beats me to the punch.
“I wouldn’t know, Nicky, what do you hear?”
“One of you idiots – probably a Stark – crashed into an abandoned warehouse, found a bomb, did not wait for backup, tried to disarm it, and got themselves blown up, and they are now missing a limb. In this world, the word prosthetic is synonymous with liability. We can’t have entire limbs failing in battle, giving an enemy time to sink in a knife or fire a bullet. Whomever got the prosthetic better speak up now, because that person is no longer an Avenger, effective immediately!”
I whimper softly and duck my head as my dad jumps to his feet to protest, but Steve – normally following orders to the millimeter – is already standing, his fists clenched and trembling.
“With all due respect, sir, I disagree. The Avenger with the prosthetic is a selfless, brave hero, and I have a feeling that if you boot them, you’ll lose all of us. And here’s another thing: quit bossing my team. You appointed me leader, and I take threats to the safety, health, well-being, and happiness of any of my team seriously. If you threaten my team again, we will have a problem, Director or not. Am I clear?”
During his rant, Steve had steadily stepped closer and closer to Director Fury, so that when the last word was said, the two men were nearly nose to nose, both bristling and making inhuman growling sounds.
I quickly glance at the rest of my team, all of which – even Natasha and Clint – are on their feet, tense and staring at Fury with fiery eyes, just taunting him to dare and boot me off the team.
“Rogers, stand down. That’s an order, as is this: reveal the one with the prosthetic. Now.” Director Fury’s voice is oddly calm, lower than usual. He has one fist clenched and the other holding his gun, which is not holstered.
The team shifts into action, both slowly and all at once at the same time. Steve tenses and reaches for his shield, which was propped against the couch, not once taking his eyes off Fury. Bruce is shaking from the effort of holding in the Other Guy, his eyes fully green. Natasha readies her own gun and I can hear the safety click off. Clint snaps his bow to full length and nocks an arrow. My dad slowly – as if not to scare a cornered animal – pulls me behind him.
“All of you, stand down now!”
“Stand down or you’re all out of a job!”
“We are not scared of you Fury.” Surprisingly, my voice is calm and steady as I speak for the first time.
“Well you should be. All of you, fired! Mr. Barton, Ms. Romanoff, don’t bother reporting tomorrow.” He storms out of the room, leaving us all shocked and two of us jobless.