1. 2,831 cups of coffee
"Wow," Bruce said. "This coffee is really good."
Tony looked up from Bruce's laptop, where he'd been installing a new subroutine. "Are you sure that’s not the mug I was keeping mercury in?"
"I brought my own," Bruce said. "Seriously, what is this? It's amazing."
"Uh, coffee? It shows up in the drawer and goes in the machine, that's all I know," Tony said, turning back to his code.
"Dr. Banner, you're drinking a completely hand-harvested coffee from a small farm in Minas Gerais, Brazil," JARVIS chimed in. "It is a full-bodied, medium roast with hints of berries and caramel."
"Yeah, that," Tony said.
Bruce took another sip of coffee and moaned in a borderline inappropriate way, even by Tony's standards. "You changed my life today," Bruce said seriously, joining Tony next to his laptop.
"You know, I was hoping you'd say that, I spent twelve hours - oh, you mean the coffee? Jesus, I write you a program so complex that it would probably take half the CS department at MIT just to read the documentation, and you cream your pants over my coffee."
"I'm sure the subroutine will also be life altering," Bruce said consolingly.
At first, Tony didn't notice that Bruce's visits to his lab picked up dramatically during morning and afternoon, because Tony liked when Bruce came to see him. Bruce didn't cause any trouble, but he did sometimes check Tony's work, or show Tony something he was working on, or give Tony a hand with a hypothesis or a fire extinguisher, and so Tony totally missed the signs that Bruce was perhaps visiting him for something other than his charming company until the day when he walked into his lab to find Bruce already there, sitting on the couch and dreamily breathing in the steam from a cup of coffee.
"What are you doing?" Tony said.
Bruce blinked at him. "Coffee," he said, holding up the cup.
"I see how it is. You're just another in a long line of people who want me for something other than the person I am inside."
"I also want to know what you think of these p-values," Bruce offered, nodding to the laptop on the couch next to him. "The coffee was totally incidental."
"Nice save," Tony said. "Let's take a look."
Two weeks later, Bruce showed up with Thor in tow.
"Dr. Banner mentioned that your lab was most impressive," Thor said. "I have been very curious to see this place that produces such grand tools of battle."
"I do good work," Tony said. "I've got a prototype for the new repulsor, it gives off 25% less heat on takeoff, Cap suggested it after that thing where his costume got just a little bit singed."
"That was a most unfortunate incident," Thor agreed. “It is lucky that his eyebrows grow back with such haste.”
"Hey, lessons were learned and nobody died, that's a good day of science," Tony said.
"It's an... acceptable day of science," Bruce said.
"This is most interesting; I had no idea that Midgardian science required so many fire extinguishers in one location. Is it not also true that your illustrious lab has some of the very best coffee in all of Midgard?"
Tony turned slowly to Bruce, who had his hands behind his back and was looking very, very innocent.
"He really, really likes coffee," Bruce said.
"It is my favorite thing about Midgard," Thor confirmed, grinning.
"I'm going to tell Dr. Foster you said that you'd choose coffee over her," Tony said, rolling his eyes and gesturing to the coffee machine.
"She is aware," Thor said good-naturedly.
The next week, Bruce and Thor returned for coffee with Natasha.
"It's good," Natasha said casually after her first sip, and Tony, inexplicably, felt relieved.
"Your report was due three weeks ago," Coulson said by way of greeting as the door to Tony’s lab shut behind him.
"Pretty sure I sent it in," Tony said, which was a bald-faced lie, because Tony had never once sent in a SHIELD report.
"Which report am I referring to?" Coulson said.
Tony pretended to think about it. "All of them?"
“There’s that genius the New York Times was talking about.”
“If I tell you I’ll turn them in by next week, will you go away?” Tony asked.
“No,” Coulson said.
“What if I give you coffee?” Tony said. “Barton was in here the other day saying my coffee is better than sex which, honestly, I would not take personally if I were you, because he’s completely right.”
“I can’t be bought,” Coulson said.
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Tony said, pouring him a cup. “Everyone can be bought. You just have to know what to offer.”
Coulson did not look amused, but he took a cautious sip. Then another. And then another.
He turned and headed for the door. “You have a week on the report, Stark,” he said.
“Bring the mug back when you’re done!” Tony called.
Tony dragged himself down to his workshop at the asscrack of dawn - okay, at 9:00 am, whatever - and made his way, mostly by touch, towards the coffee machine. He fumbled, bleary-eyed, for a mug and groped at the button to brew a fresh pot, and realized, after a few frustrating seconds, that he couldn’t find the button.
In fact, he couldn’t find the coffee machine at all.
Because it was gone.
“JARVIS?” Tony said. “Who stole my coffee machine?
“According to my protocols, the coffee machine has been relocated, not stolen.”
“It was Barton, wasn’t it,” he said.
“And you allowed it?”
“My programming allows for other residents of the Tower to make executive decisions when it is in the best interests of my creator,” JARVIS said.
“My best interests? I have no coffee. That is literally the exact opposite of my best interests.”
“I suggest you visit the kitchen and see for yourself,” JARVIS said.
“I shouldn’t have made you so snotty and British,” Tony said on his way to the door. “I think the sentience was a mistake, too.”
“As I understand it, to err is distinctly human,” JARVIS said.
When Tony arrived in the kitchen, Clint, Coulson, Natasha, Thor and Bruce were all gathered around the coffee machine, holding cups and looking satisfied with themselves.
“This is a conspiracy,” Tony said.
“Yup,” Clint said.
“Look, everybody loves your coffee,” Bruce said. “It doesn’t make sense that we should pile into your lab every time we want some. So, it lives in the kitchen now, where everyone can enjoy it. And you have an excuse to get out of there once in a while.”
“Consider it a team bonding experience,” Clint chimed in.
“Consider what a team bonding experience?” Steve said, stepping out of the stairwell.
“Coffee,” Clint said. “Want some?”
“Sure, thanks,” Steve said, taking the proffered cup.
“See, that is how you get coffee,” Tony said. “Cap would never steal my coffee machine, would you?”
“Uh, no?” Steve said.
“Exactly,” Tony said. “It’s good coffee, though, right?”
Steve shrugged. “It’s fine.”
Tony set his mug down hard on the counter. Clint’s jaw dropped. Even Coulson looked mildly concerned.
“Fine?” Tony said. “All you can say is that it’s fine?”
Steve looked around at all of them. “Is there something special about it?”
2. 38 movie nights
“I don’t know much about computers, but it doesn’t seem right to me that he’d be able to communicate with their ships,” Steve said as the credits rolled on Independence Day. “I mean, my phone can’t even plug into my StarkTab, how could his computer work with alien weaponry?”
“There are no aliens who look like that,” Thor proclaimed with disgust.
“This is for children?” Steve asked, a little dubiously, as Scar toppled off Pride Rock.
“I am not entirely convinced this is not adapted from something that occurred once in my family,” Thor said, frowning.
“Oh, surely not,” Thor said dismissively. “This is most absurd. What woman would choose a man who sparkles in sunlight over a true warrior in wolf form? Preposterous.”
“That’s really the least realistic thing you’re seeing in this one?” Steve said dubiously.
“Lady Natasha, surely the young lady has made a grave mistake,” Thor said. “A woman of Midgard would much prefer he who battles alongside his tribe, would she not? My lady?”
Natasha snored gently.
“I’m not certain that obtaining a larger vessel will assist him in vanquishing this most dangerous sea creature,” Thor said firmly.
Clint laughed for five straight minutes.
"Thor, are you... crying?"
"I do not know how any man, woman or child could watch this film and not be overwhelmed with emotion,” Thor said, a single tear falling down his cheek. “Such wisdom. Life is, indeed, like a box of chocolates.”
“This wasn’t one of those movies that’s based on a true story, was it?” Steve said. “I mean, there’s no way that one guy did all of that. Right?”
“Yeah, I bet he will be back,” Steve grumbled.
“I fuckin’ love this scene,” Clint said as the crew stood, shell-shocked, watching the alien skitter out of their crewmate’s chest. He turned to Thor. “There aren’t actually any aliens who do that, though, right? Right?”
Thor leaned back in his seat and didn’t say a word.
“This is a most spectacular idea!” Thor said. “I would like to start one of these warrior’s clubs here in Midgard! Captain Rogers, surely you agree?”
Steve frowned. “Seems a little unnecessarily violent.”
“Indeed!” Thor said enthusiastically.
“Maybe we should wait and see how it ends,” Bruce suggested.
“What I want to know is, how do they even set it up if they aren’t allowed to talk about it?” Steve said. “Seems like a pretty big plot hole.”
“You are actually the worst person in the world to watch movies with,” Tony said.
“Now who is crying, Hawkeye?” Thor said smugly.
“If you don’t cry when Jack lets go, you’re a monster,” Clint said, sniffling. Coulson patted his knee comfortingly.
“Did you know anybody who was on the Titanic, Steve?” Tony said.
“I’m not that old,” Steve said.
“That’s not an answer,” Bruce said.
Steve’s cheeks turned pink.
“Are we sure they didn’t get this idea from SHIELD?” Steve asked, looking a little concerned. “We don’t have the ability to erase memories, do we?”
“There are definitely no aliens who look like that,” Thor said.
3. 24 Hulk outs (19 on purpose, 5 accidental)
Bruce had never had a lot of friends.
Even before the whole green rage monster thing, he hadn't exactly been popular. After he started sharing a physical form with the Hulk, the party invitations really started to dry up.
But the Avengers were - well, they were a team, and they seemed to like him, in spite of - or, in some cases perhaps, because of - the whole green rage monster thing. He wasn’t sure if he could quite count them as friends, not yet, but - well, considering how many enemies he had, it was close enough for Bruce.
With one notable exception.
So it figured that, on their fourth mission, Bruce Hulked out in the middle of Queens and woke up next to that exception.
"Don't move," Natasha said quietly.
Bruce hadn't been planning on it anyway. He blinked into the darkness. "Are you okay?"
"I'm alive," Natasha said. She shifted, and Bruce heard the rubble around them move. Something had definitely caved in. Bruce had a feeling it was his fault.
"Uh," Bruce said. "What happened?"
"The building came down on top of us. You were big enough to get us a little bit of breathing room, but I don't know how much longer it's going to hold. It could all cave in at any moment."
Bruce let out a wheezing laugh. "That all?"
"I'm also pretty sure the building’s on fire."
"Comms?" Bruce asked.
"Mine's destroyed," Natasha said. "Yours is presumably on the street wherever you became the Hulk."
"Clearly Tony needs to test his supposedly Hulk-proof hardware a little more rigorously," Bruce said, and squirmed very slightly in place. His eyes were finally adjusting to the dark, and the rubble piled up around them was very close. Natasha was crouched against the wall of brick and crumbled concrete, as far away from Bruce as she could get. It was hot, and Bruce had a feeling Natasha wasn't wrong about the fire.
"You gonna be okay?" Natasha said, her voice impressively steady, and Bruce knew what she meant: if he Hulked out in here, their air pocket might collapse, and Natasha could be crushed.
"Yes," Bruce said as firmly as he could. "I've been in worse. They'll find us soon."
Natasha didn't look convinced. There was a long, heavy silence. Bruce took a deep breath, in through his nose, one, two, three, four, five, out through his mouth.
“Breathing exercises?” Natasha said.
“It helps,” Bruce said.
On his next breath, Bruce listened as Natasha breathed along with him.
“What else helps?” Natasha asked as they exhaled.
“I journal,” Bruce said.
“That sounds nice,” Natasha said blandly, which was always a bad sign.
“You think it’s stupid.”
There was a long pause. “I think it’s unwise to put sensitive information in writing.”
Bruce shrugged. “I mostly use it to keep track, you know, of when – when it happens. When I can, I get down stats, take my blood pressure. What I’m thinking about beforehand, the last thing I remember, where I am when I wake up.”
There was a long pause. “You don’t remember what happens when you’re the Hulk?” Natasha said slowly.
“Sometimes there are – flashes. A crushed car, a pile of bricks, somebody running – stuff like that,” Bruce said. “Sometimes there’s nothing.”
“Natasha?” It was Clint’s voice, echoing through the rubble. “Tash? You here?”
“Roof caved in,” Natasha called. “Bruce and I are together. We’re trapped.”
“Shit is on fire everywhere, are you kidding me right now?” Clint said. “I found them, guys. Tash, I’m coming for you.”
“Don’t hurt yourself,” Natasha called back wryly as there was a clatter of Clint apparently digging into the rubble near Bruce’s feet.
“Told you it’d be okay,” Bruce said, and through the smoke, he thought he saw her smile.
“The Hulk caught Hawkeye three times,” Natasha said out of the blue a month later while Bruce was hunched over a book on stem cell research on the sofa in the living room.
“Hm?” he said, shaking his head to clear the cobwebs. She was standing at the kitchen island, spooning sugar into a cup of tea.
“Yesterday. I was mostly on the other side of the block, behind the truck, I didn’t see, but Clint told me. He jumped twice, and the big guy knew he was coming, but the third time, he saw Clint falling and dove half a block to catch him.”
“Oh,” Bruce said. He didn’t remember that at all. The battle had been a blur: they’d been called in to help the NYPD deal with a pack of giant arctic timberwolves that was totally ruining a farmer’s market. He remembered hearing someone screaming, and then waking up flat on his back on Park Ave with Tony hovering over him, holding out a pair of stolen pants from Brooks Brothers.
“Thought it might be good to know,” Natasha said.
“Um, it is. Thank you,” Bruce said.
Natasha shrugged and wandered away.
“He’s getting better at taking orders from Cap.”
Bruce blinked blearily at Natasha. He didn’t know when she’d come in. He couldn’t remember giving her access to his labs, but he found he didn’t mind that she’d apparently gained it.
“The Hulk,” Natasha said. “On Thursday, in Jersey City. He listened to Steve a couple different times. He blocked off the train station so civilians wouldn’t go in while we were trying to track down the bomb, and then when it was all over and Steve told him we needed you back, he just sat down by the tracks and waited.”
“Huh,” Bruce said. “I did feel a little less sore than usual, come to think of it.”
“He’s not so bad, really,” Natasha said.
Bruce laughed, and it sounded shocked to his own ears. “That’s not a very common opinion.”
“Maybe it should be,” Natasha said.
“I remember you,” Bruce said.
Natasha was curled up on the couch with a book, a blanket draped over her legs, her hair still wet from the shower.
“From this morning?” The battle on Long Island had been brief but furious; they’d been outnumbered, but SHIELD had brought backup and Tony had tried out some kind of experimental energy shield and, from what Bruce could tell when he woke up, Hulk had really, really smashed, and everything had worked out okay in the end.
“Yeah,” Bruce said. “You – talked to him. When SHIELD showed up with tanks. He was – “ Bruce swallowed; it was hard to attribute emotions to the Hulk. “He was afraid.”
“He has bad experiences with the military,” Natasha said. “I did what I could.”
“It helped,” Bruce said. “It helped a lot, actually. I – I remember. More than usual.”
“Is that good or bad?” Natasha looked genuinely curious.
“It’s good, I think,” Bruce said. “Yeah. It’s good.”
"Uh, guys?" Tony said, his voice urgent even though the mechanization of the suit. "Yeah, I think it's gonna blow."
(Later, in their official debriefs, everybody in the room would blame themselves. Every single one of them said that Natasha would probably blame them, too.
"I knew what I was doing," Natasha would say from her hospital bed. "I made a decision to go into a room where Stark was testing a prototype. I think it's pretty clear who's to blame here.")
Bruce, behind the glass, got the warning only a split-second later than Tony, and the repulsor blew; the lab was filled with hot smoke, and Natasha was laid out like a mannequin against the wall. Before he knew what he was doing, Bruce was running out through the double set of reinforced doors even as JARVIS said, "Dr. Banner, I would recommend you wait until the smoke has cleared to enter the room - "
But Natasha was on the ground and it didn't look good and the Other Guy didn't like it either -
And that's all he knew.
He woke up hours later, hunched over a hospital bed, both of his hands wrapped around a smaller one. He straightened up slowly.
Natasha was unconscious, an oxygen tube in her nose, an IV in her hand.
"She's okay," Clint said, and Bruce turned and saw him slouched in a visitor's chair against the wall. "She was awake for a while, even. No internal bleeding, just a lot of blood loss and a concussion. She'll be fine in a few days, they said."
Bruce looked back at Natasha and blinked. "How did I get here?"
"You ran,” Clint said. “Behind the med transport. Through Midtown. Coulson's dealing with the PR people."
"I - the other guy ran after the ambulance?"
Clint shrugged. "What were we supposed to do with him? He showed up, which wasn't super helpful, by the way, because he just growled and took up a lot of space. And then he wouldn't let her out of his sight."
"And they let him in here?" Bruce said, horrified.
"Cap calmed him down enough to get him to walk through SHIELD without terrorizing too many agents, and we convinced them to let him in here as long as one of us kept guard. When she woke up, she had him pull over his chair and let him hold her hand and, uh - kind of patted his hair until he fell asleep."
"Oh, god," Bruce murmured, turning to look at Natasha's hand clutched between his and imagining how much the other guy's hands must have dwarfed it.
"It was pretty sweet, actually," Clint said, and Bruce could hear the grin in his voice. "He settled right down, and you came back after she fell asleep. Don't worry about it too much. I think she likes him, dude. He certainly likes her."
Bruce rubbed his thumb over the back of Natasha's hand. "Yeah," he said. "He does."
4. Seven new ties for Coulson
“Avengers, status report.”
“Lots of smoke and debris, but all clear on the first floor,” Steve said.
“Civilians are being kept back by NYPD, they were all out of the way before the building came down,” Natasha said.
“Though the scoundrel’s lair is lost, and no doubt the evidence along with it, we appear to be victorious,” Thor said, and grunted; Coulson could imagine him slamming chunks of building out of the way with Mjolnir.
“Things look good from up here,” Tony said. “I mean, other than how that building just collapsed and is now a little bit on fire. I’ve got eyes on Hulk, he’s got three goons pinned down in the alley, I’ll go down and make sure he doesn’t smash them too much.”
“Roger that,” Coulson said, and waited for the sixth Avenger to weigh in. After the silence became too much in the brightly lit mission control room at the top of Stark Tower, Coulson clicked on the comm again. “Hawkeye? Do you read me? What’s your status?”
“Yeah, I’m down,” Clint said, and Coulson sighed, partially with relief and partially with exasperation. “Not too bad, maybe – ah – yeah, definitely twisted something in my knee jumping off the fire escape when the roof caved in, or broke something, maybe, ah, definitely, fuck.”
“This is number seven this year,” Coulson said.
“What? No way, sir,” Clint said. “Not even. It’s six.”
“It’s seven,” Natasha said, sirens wailing in the background.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s seven,” Tony added. “Six was Garfield. Because of the thing with the claws and your punctured lung.”
“That was five,” Clint argued. “That was definitely five.”
“No, five was the pirates,” Steve chimed in.
“Indeed it was,” Thor said. “After your mishap with the noxious chemicals in the grand city of Pittsburgh. That was a most noble battle, though I would not recommend you adopt an eyepatch permanently.”
“I thought the pirates were four,” Clint said, a little doubtfully.
“You’re welcome to recount, but this is definitely seven,” Coulson said. “Five out of six Avengers agree.”
“You’re all ganging up on me,” Clint said, and then sucked in a deep breath. “Okay, wow, if I admit it’s seven, can somebody come pick me up or bring me some fucking morphine or something?”
“I’ve got eyes on you, I’m coming in,” Tony said, and Coulson could hear the repulsors whining in the background. “I’ll bring him home, Agent. Maybe we should stop at Armani on the way?”
“The tie can wait,” Coulson said dryly. “See you soon.”
It started after Budapest.
Budapest had gone very, very wrong for more reasons than Coulson cared to recall, but it ended like this: Coulson in the backseat of a 1995 Buick LeSabre with Clint's head in his lap, knotting his best tie around his asset's thigh.
"You should've called for backup," Coulson said, his hands pressing against the wound, blood seeping between his fingers.
"The knife didn't look that big," Clint said. Clint had been wrong.
"You're an idiot," Natasha said from the front seat, her hands tight on the steering wheel as she careened toward the safe house at what had to be twice the speed limit. A bruise blossomed under her left eye.
Something thumped inside the trunk; they all ignored it.
"I ruined your tie," Clint said, going a little cross-eyed as he poked at the tie, which was, in fact, soaked in Clint's blood. "One of my favorites."
"You'll have to buy me a new one," Coulson said. "I'm holding you to that, Barton."
"You got it, boss," Clint said, and promptly passed out.
What was important about Budapest was that Clint lived. It was a close call, and if Coulson hadn't specifically requested an extra pint of O negative donor blood (an asset with O fucking negative, come on) going into the mission, Clint probably would have bled out on the steel table in the safe house operating room. It was two weeks before they transported Strike Team Delta back to DC, and three more before Barton was cleared for light duty.
On Clint's first day back at HQ, Coulson arrived in the morning to find a messily wrapped package on his desk.
Not a bomb! read a Post-It note on top, and Phil quirked a smile. He peeled the wrapping paper off and opened the box to find a tie decorated with small cartoon octopuses. Thanks for the HAND read a second Post-It note inside the box, and Phil laughed until he started to worry he was going to cry.
He wore it the next day. Clint didn't say anything when Phil sat down across from him in the cafeteria, but he grinned, and that was enough for Phil.
Somehow, it just became a thing after that. Seven months later, after Clint broke his leg in two places jumping from a roof in Sydney into the bed of his getaway truck, he hobbled into Phil's office on crutches and tossed a snail-patterned tie into Phil's lap.
"Because of how slow I'm going to be for the next couple of weeks," Clint said, dropping down into the visitor's chair.
"Hilarious," Coulson said, and wore it three times before Clint got his cast off.
Sometime after tie #5 (piggy banks, because the bullet that had grazed Clint's temple came from the gun of a Wall Street embezzler) but before tie #6 (palm trees, "kind of like the one I fell out of," Clint said, which Coulson thought was kind of a stretch), Coulson asked, "Would you be upset if I kissed you?"
Clint blinked. They'd been staking out the office of a potential terrorist in Oslo for four hours, and had not spoken for the previous two. The question was, to put it mildly, out of the blue.
"Not at all, sir," Clint said, and then they were kissing, mouths hot in the cold car, hands reaching and pulling to expose skin to taste, and Coulson was kicking himself for the sheer magnitude of unprofessionalism he was displaying by hooking up with an asset while on a mission but then Clint's hands were in his pants and the rest of it kind of went out the window.
Two hours later, command radio'ed in: "Strike team delta, this is control, target has been spotted en route to Oslo Airport, please pursue." Natasha, who had been camped out in a bar across the street that the target was said to frequent, opened the back door of the sedan and climbed in.
"Waste of time," she said, buckling her seatbelt as Coulson pulled out of the parking lot with a screech. "We should have known he'd be tipped off." She paused, raised an eyebrow. "Ah. Of course. I spend an evening drinking cheap Norweigan beer and flirting with men named Jan, and you two get laid."
"Tash!" Clint yelped.
"What? Was it supposed to be a secret?" Natasha said.
Over the next year, Clint gave Phil five more ties and moved about half his stuff into Phil's apartment. After Clint healed from the injury that spurred tie #10 - a sprained ankle courtesy of a hired thug, "Barely tie worthy," Phil murmured as he gently wrapped an ace bandage around it, and Clint shrugged - Phil used ties 4 (chili peppers, a result of the burns Clint acquired carrying a junior agent out of a smoldering warehouse in Glasgow) and 9 (sunglass-wearing Santa Clauses, which had nothing to do with the eight stitches above his eyebrow except that it had happened on December 24th) to tie Clint’s arms to the headboard while he was asleep in Phil’s bed one rainy morning.
“This okay?” he whispered, waking Clint up by biting his earlobe.
“Gahhhh,” Clint said.
“That a yes or a no, Barton?”
“It’s a yes, sir, fucking hell it is such a yes,” Clint moaned, arching his back, his cock already visibly, mouthwateringly half-hard. Sleeping naked did have its advantages.
“Good,” Phil said, licking a wet stripe down Clint’s neck, over his pectorals, taking a tight nipple into his mouth. Clint strained against the ties, but Phil had long ago learned how to tie a knot that would restrain someone as strong as Clint.
“You ever done this during an interrogation?” Clint gasped.
“Used nonstandard restraints to maintain control of a situation? Yes,” Phil said, peppering kisses down Clint’s ribs, enjoying the expanse of skin that became easily accessible once Clint’s hands were tied above his head. “Teased someone until they were begging me to fuck them? Yes.”
“Oh, god,” Clint groaned, and his legs fell open. Phil sucked a mark into the skin of Clint’s upper thigh. “You’re gonna kill me, sir.” His voice was husky with sleep and sex, and Phil pressed him down into the mattress. He reached up to toy with one of Clint’s nipples, still wet with his spit, and smiled at him.
“Not planning to kill you,” Phil said. “Not today, at least.”
“Nothing hotter than fucking somebody who might one day have to eliminate you,” Clint said, twisting his hips to try to get his dick closer to Phil’s mouth.
“It does add a certain je ne sais quoi,” Phil agreed, and licked the tip of Clint’s cock, then pulled back and blew on it softly.
“You’re an asshole, you know that?” Clint said, sweat building at his temples.
“I’ve been told once or twice,” Phil said, cupping Clint’s balls with his free hand. He listened for Clint’s chuckle, then took the head of Clint’s cock into his mouth, swirling his tongue around the taut flesh.
“I want – fuck – Phil,” Clint gasped, and Phil let Clint’s cock pop free and looked up at him blankly.
“I want – I – Christ, take your fucking clothes off, I swear to god,” Clint said, his chest heaving, and Phil smiled.
“I will,” he said, but didn’t, and instead reached up to the bedside table and pulled out the lube. Clint strained his neck to try to kiss Phil as he passed by, but Phil pulled back. “No, you don’t.”
Clint growled, and Phil felt it go straight to his cock. Lube in hand, he leaned in and gave Clint one lingering kiss, and Clint kissed him back greedily, tongue wet and probing. Phil pulled back and smiled at him, then slid down the bed, fingers scraping lightly over Clint’s shoulders, arms, sides – Clint shivered, goosebumps rising – down to his ass and thighs, and then he slowly circled Clint’s hole and took the head of Clint’s cock into his mouth at the same time.
“Ah, fuck,” Clint cursed, bearing down toward Phil’s finger, but Phil just swirled his finger lazily, mouthing Clint’s cock at the same speed. “I want – I want to feel you inside me like right fucking now.”
“Now?” Phil said, continuing his agonizingly slow teasing.
“No, I was thinking we’d get up and go on a mission first, criminy, Phil, yes, oh my god – “
Phil slipped his finger in all the way to the second knuckle in one slick motion, finding that spot inside him, and Clint’s toes curled as he arched his back and gasped. Phil eased a second finger in slowly, opening him up a little at a time, sucking lazily at the flushed tip of Clint’s cock.
“You look beautiful like this,” Phil said. “Absolutely gorgeous. I could tease you like this all night.” He tongued at Clint’s cockhead, his fingers slowly easing in and out.
Clint moaned. “God, sir, not all night, fuck, I want you to fuck me, I want your cock– oh,” and Phil slipped a third finger in, stretching Clint open for him.
“You have such a dirty mouth, Barton,” Phil said.
“You fuckin’ love it,” Clint said, grinning, his muscles bulging as he pulled on his restraints. “Take your goddamn clothes off, Phil, you’re way too dressed for how many fingers you have in my ass.”
Phil couldn’t argue with that. He peeled off his undershirt and briefs, instinctively taking his cock in his hand and beginning to stroke himself, with quick, efficient strokes.
Clint groaned loudly. “Fuck, I want to touch you,” he said, his eyes following Phil’s hand as it slid up and down his shaft.
“You’re a little tied up, actually,” Phil said. “Your hands feeling okay? Not losing circulation or anything?”
“I literally do not give even a single shit,” Clint said, biting his lip and squirming as Phil palmed himself.
“As your handler, I’ll have to be concerned enough for both of us,” Phil said, sliding a hand up Clint’s arm and twining his fingers with Clint’s (warm, well-circulated) hand, then met Clint’s eyes and smiled, watching Clint watch him.
“Sir, if you’re not gonna fuck me, I’m pretty sure I can find a handler who will,” Clint said.
“I offered you to Sitwell, but he wasn’t interested.” Phil climbed back onto the bed and lined himself up so that he was hovering just above Clint. He leaned down and bit Clint’s shoulder very gently, then dragged his teeth along Clint’s collarbone. Clint twisted, bringing his hips up to meet Phil’s so their cocks bumped, but it wasn’t enough.
“Christ, you bastard, you’re doing this on purpose,” Clint whined, trying to pull Phil closer with his legs.
“Of course I am,” Phil said calmly, close to Clint’s ear, positioning the head of his cock right at Clint’s entry and just holding it there, steady, teasing, pulling away when Clint shifted toward him.
“Fuck you, oh my god, fu – please, Phil, please fuck me right now,” Clint said, wrapping his legs around Phil’s back. “Jesus, I need you, I need you right now please just fuck me.”
“And there’s the magic word,” Phil said, and slid into him slowly. Clint threw his head back and moaned, and Phil had a feeling this wasn’t going to last long, not with Clint totally pliant underneath him, already making noises like that. “I like having you tied up, Barton. Easier to keep track of you this way.”
“Other handlers just check in by cell,” Clint said, matching Phil’s rhythm, their bodies sliding together, slick with sweat.
“Want me to touch you?” Phil murmured into Clint’s ear.
“Yes, god yes,” Clint said. “Yes please.”
“You’re a fast learner,” Phil said, leaning back so he could wrap one hand around Clint’s cock.
“My trainer has good methods,” Clint said, arching up into Phil’s hand, and Phil could feel the sweat trickling down his back, and Clint’s eyes were shut tight and he was splayed out on the bed and he trusted Phil to tie him up and give him what he wanted, and Phil could hardly stand it.
“Come for me,” he said, stroking Clint’s cock faster, twisting slightly at the head, the way he knew Clint liked it, thrusting quickly. “Come for me all tied up, you have to come for me before I’ll let you go - “
“Oh, god,” Clint said, “oh God,” and he came, hot and spurting onto his own stomach, and Phil wrung his orgasm out of him until Clint’s taut muscles relaxed into the bed. “Damn,” Clint said, grinning lazily up at Phil.
“What are you smiling about?” Phil said, pointedly pressing into Clint. “I’ve still got you tied up. I could keep you here all day.”
“I wouldn’t mind that,” Clint said, and Phil dug his fingers into Clint’s hip and thrust once, twice, three times more and then came, spilling into Clint’s hot, tight body and pressing fingertip bruises into Clint’s side before collapsing next to him on the bed.
“You would eventually,” Phil said, reaching up to untie Clint’s right wrist from the head board.
“I hope this didn’t fuck up your ties,” Clint said. “I put a lot of thought into those, you know.”
“They’ll survive,” Phil said, releasing Clint’s wrist and kissing the inside of it softly, right against the veins. Clint watched him as Phil untied the other one, kissing it just as gently. Clint wrapped his finally-free arms around Phil and pulled Phil close, touching all of him he could reach, kissing his neck and tucking himself up against Phil.
"Fuck, I love you," he murmured into Phil’s neck, and fell asleep almost immediately.
Phil was never the same.
When Phil walked into his office a few months later to find a tie laid out on his desk when he knew for a fact that Clint was on a mission in Juneau, the world tilted under his feet. He grabbed his secure phone and hit speed dial one.
"Hel - "
"Status," he barked, but his grip on the edge of the desk loosened; Clint was alive and alert, he sounded okay, but he clearly wasn't, not when there was a tie, a tie meant he was hurt, and when had it happened, why had Coulson not received a report? "Agent, answer me, what is your status?"
"Whoa, whoa, Phil," Clint said. "What's going on, are you okay?"
"Am I okay?" Phil said. "Of course I'm okay, you're the one who's not okay!"
"Who said anything about not okay?" Clint said, sounding truly baffled.
"There's a tie," Phil snapped.
"Oh, Jesus," Clint groaned. "I forgot about the time difference, I thought I'd have time to call you before you got in. Fuck - did you look at it?"
"Of course I - "
"No, did you really look at it?"
Phil had not really looked at it. He reached into the box and pulled it out.
It was covered in huge, pink, veiny penises.
"Oh," Coulson said.
"Happy Sexaversary," Clint said.
"That's not a real thing," Phil said.
"It's totally a real thing. Look, I saw the tie, I knew I'd be out of town so I had it shipped, and I thought you'd remember that it's been a year since - "
"I didn't realize we were keeping track of the day you first sucked my cock," Phil said.
"Well, I thought it was worth commemorating," Clint said, and Phil could hear that cocky grin a continent away. "Look, it was stupid, I should have realized you'd worry, I know the ties are only - "
"I wasn't worried," Phil said smoothly.
"Uh huh," Clint said.
"I was concerned about the status of an important SHIELD asset," Phil said.
"Right," Clint said. "Sure."
"And now that I've ascertained that said asset is intact, I'll be getting back to work."
"Love you too, sir," Clint said, and hung up laughing.
The first year of living in Stark Tower was, to put it mildly, tough.
First there was the whole "Coulson's dead" thing, a period of time that Phil didn't remember (he was, mostly, dead) and which Clint had never mentioned, but which Natasha confirmed had been Very Bad.
Then there was the whole "oh Coulson's NOT dead" thing, which involved a lot of physical therapy appointments and paperwork and definitely no tears on Clint’s part, no sir I am not crying, you not-dead asshole.
And then, of course, there was living with the Avengers, which had its upsides (team bonding, great coffee) and its downsides (the complete lack of privacy, Tony Stark). Phil hadn’t planned on moving in at all - Tony had invited him, but Clint never said a word and Phil didn’t want to have to put him in the weird position of having to explain that he’d gotten used to sleeping alone, so Phil took what he could get and crashed in Clint’s room at the Tower once in a while but mostly went back to his safehouse in the Bronx so they wouldn’t have to talk about it.
Phil was very, very good at not talking about things. It was part of what made him such a good spy.
And then, one day, he went back to the Bronx and all his stuff was gone: his suits, his Captain America collection, his favorite pillow, even his toothbrush. He considered calling for security, but the number of people who could have broken into a SHIELD safehouse and survived was extremely small, so instead he got in a cab and went to Stark Tower.
“Welcome home, Agent Coulson,” JARVIS said while he rode the elevator.
“I caught that, JARVIS,” Phil said.
“Forgive me, sir. I may have misspoken.”
Phil rolled his eyes. Clint’s floor was empty - strategically, Phil thought - and Phil began to open closet doors and peer at bookshelves, and, yeah, there it all was: Phil’s Rangers mug mixed in with the knickknacks on the coffee table, Phil’s books lined up on the shelves, Phil’s ever-expanding tie collection hanging neatly in the closet. Phil’s stuff mixed in with Clint’s, like it had always been there. Like it was natural.
Clint was waiting in the doorway; Phil had heard him approach. “You could’ve just said something, you know,” he said, his head still in the cabinet where Clint had carefully stored the box containing his trading cards. “If you wanted me to move in.”
“I thought you knew,” Clint said.
“I don’t like to assume things,” Phil said, turning to face Clint and crossing his arms.
“You were happy to assume that I’d be into bondage, but you don’t want to assume that you can get out of a shitty safehouse in the outer boroughs and move in with me? Where do you draw your lines, Coulson?”
“Apparently you draw yours somewhere after stealing everything somebody owns,” Phil said.
“It wasn’t stealing. It was relocating.”
Phil sighed. “I can’t believe I live in Stark Tower.”
“You get used to it,” Clint said, and grinned. “There’s some fringe benefits. Tash is here. Thor’s always down for video games. Tony’s got good coffee.”
“If I ever find Stark in this apartment, I can’t be held responsible for my actions,” Phil said.
“Noted,” Clint said.
Clint sounded like he was being strangled, and Phil woke up reaching under the bed for his handgun. As he jammed the clip in and rolled over, he assessed his surroundings. In the glow of the light from the window, he could see Clint sitting up in bed, a silent, horrible scream on his face. Phil’s heart slowed down, and he set the gun down on the floor next to the bed.
“Clint,” Phil said, and gently touched Clint’s shoulder, not wanting to startle him; it looked like he was still trapped in a dream, struggling to find his way to wakefulness. “Clint, I’m here.”
“You’re dead,” Clint said, and he batted Phil’s hand away.
“I’m not,” Phil said. “Hey. Look at me.” He tipped Clint’s chin up, and Clint blinked one, two, three times, the gears turning in his head, his subconscious receding.
“Oh, god,” he choked, and wrapped his arms around Phil’s neck and hung on too tight.
“I’m here,” Phil said, and they held each other in silence.
“So, now you’ve seen it,” Clint said later as they laid on their backs, hands tangled together, knowing they wouldn’t sleep any more before the sun came up. “Nightmares. All the fucking time. Vivid as fuck. New.”
“Since I died?” Phil said.
“Since my mind was taken over by an alien,” Clint said. “Jesus, Coulson, not everything is about you.”
Phil could tell he was only kind of joking.
“You know what I said, after I came out of it?” Clint said, and Phil tensed, because Clint had never really said much about his time as Loki’s mind-control minion. Phil had read the official report, as well as Natasha’s off-the-record comments, and he’d felt sick to his stomach for hours afterwards and vowed to never, ever ask.
“What did you say?” Phil said.
“I mean here I am, Natasha’s got me tied up in case I’m not actually myself yet, because you know, I almost killed her, I’m still half outta my mind, and I – you know what I said? I said, Jesus, how many ties do you think Coulson’s gonna expect for this one?” Clint laughed harshly. “That’s when she told me you were dead. It’s probably a good thing I was restrained, let’s put it that way.”
Phil squeezed Clint’s hand harder.
“How do you handle it?”
Phil looked up. Steve was drinking some kind of green smoothie and frowning. Outside on the deck, Thor was flying around and throwing various fruits - apples and pears, mostly, but Phil could see a cantaloupe waiting its turn - into the air, and Clint and Tony were seeing which of them could hit it first: Clint with an arrow or Tony with a miniature handheld repulsor prototype. Clint, Phil noticed proudly, was holding his own against the repulsor, even with his knee still in a brace and his crutches forgotten by the door.
“Handle what?” Phil asked.
“Lots of therapy,” Phil said, and went back to his report.
Steve snorted. “No, I mean - how he gets hurt all the time. How do you deal with seeing someone you lo - someone you care about, being in danger? And being - being reckless?”
Phil followed Steve’s gaze back to the balcony. Tony had just caught an orange with an arrow straight through it and was looking at it with an expression of faint disgust. “Clint’s not actually that reckless,” Phil said. Steve raised an eyebrow. “I mean, he is. But truly reckless agents don’t make it to level seven. Clint’s - unpredictable.”
“But don’t you worry? I mean - I mean obviously you know he can take care of himself, and he’s good at what he does, but - doesn’t having feelings for him - doesn’t that get in the way?”
Phil considered his answer. He had a feeling a lot of people would be pissed if word got out that he’d screwed this one up.
“It does, sometimes. But when I thought I was going to die, on the helicarrier? I was glad I wasn’t going to die with Clint not knowing how I felt,” Phil said finally. “Even if that made it harder to go.”
Steve watched as Tony blew up a watermelon on the balcony. Thor blinked, surprised, bits of watermelon dripping down his chestplate, and Clint howled with laughter.
“We’re not really talking about me and Clint, are we,” Phil said gently.
“Not really, no,” Steve admitted.
Phil smiled and went back to his report, reaching up to run a hand absent-mindedly over his tie, number seven this year, patterned with handcuffs.
5. 31 late night meetings
The first time Tony ran into Steve in the middle of the night, Tony was naked.
Tony figured nobody would be awake, because according to JARVIS it was 4 am and that was a time that normal people were sleeping, and all of his teammates were normal people. Well, Thor was an alien, so that was weird. Oh, and Bruce had his time of the month. And Natasha was a stone-cold assassin, which did not get any less scary even though he'd now seen her flossing. And Clint was the type of guy whose weapon of choice hadn't been in style since the 17th century. Oh, and Steve was a superhuman who had kind of been born in 1918. Okay, so none of his teammates were normal people. Tony was quite possibly the most normal of all of them, and Tony had never been the most normal anything. Huh.
Still. It was 4 in the morning. Everyone else should definitely have been asleep.
"Oh," Tony said when he walked into the kitchen to find that Steve was definitely not asleep. Steve was, in fact, leaning against the kitchen island, a cup of tea in one hand and a book open in the other.
Steve blinked. Tony glanced down at himself. Yep. Still not wearing any clothes.
"Hi," Steve said.
"I didn't think anyone would be up," Tony said, walking to the pantry.
"Me neither," Steve said.
"I would have worn something more in the neighborhood of clothing if I'd known," Tony said, carefully selecting a glazed donut out of a half-empty box of mixed Entemann's. Someone had been taking all the chocolate. He had a feeling it was Natasha, not that anyone would ever call her on it.
"Doesn't matter to me," Steve said, turning back to his book.
Tony took a large bite of donut. "Yeah, you were in the army. You've seen worse."
Steve snorted. "Much worse."
“It’s just that I was in the lab, and there was like a tiny explosion, actually I wouldn’t even call it an explosion, JARVIS called it an explosion but I think that was an exaggeration, and there was a very slightly hazardous, minorly combustible fluid in it and JARVIS said I needed a shower. I disagreed, so he had Dummy douse me and steal all my clothes and then I said some rude things about his servers and that, I’m guessing, is why he didn’t tell me someone was in the kitchen.”
“Very astute, sir,” JARVIS said.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Steve said, chuckling.
There was a silence. Tony chewed. "You stay up this late a lot?"
Steve shrugged. "Sometimes."
Steve held up the book. "50 Shades of Grey. Clint says it’s one of his favorites.”
"Clint said that, huh?" Tony said. "Well, enjoy. What are you reading next?"
Steve shrugged. “Not sure yet, I just started this one. I take suggestions - got any ideas?"
"Popular Mechanics," Tony said confidently. “Back issues. I’ve got ‘em all on digital copy, just ask JARVIS and he’ll show you how to access them on any StarkTab or computer.”
“Not that that doesn’t sound interesting,” Steve said, “but I’m still figuring out how to use the TiVo.”
Tony shrugged and popped the last piece of donut into his mouth. “Well, whenever you’re ready, that’s my suggestion. I think I’m gonna go put some clothes on and maybe go to sleep or whatever. You should think about that too, I heard a rumor that it’s the middle of the night.”
“I’ll consider it,” Steve said. “See you later, Tony.”
The second time, Tony was pissed.
He and Pepper had been arguing all day. They’d always argued - Tony couldn’t remember for certain, but if he had to guess he would say that their very first conversation had been an argument - but in the months since they’d broken up, their normal nickering had been angrier, colder. Tonight, Pepper had told Tony that he was being selfish and Tony had told Pepper that he didn’t give a fuck and then Pepper had said, calmly, that she’d talk to him some other time, and Tony had thrown his prototype StarkPhone across the room and learned that it was not quite as shatterproof as he’d thought.
So, all in all, it had been a pretty bad night.
All he wanted was to get a cup of coffee and get back to work, and thanks to those coffee-machine-stealing bastards who called themselves roommates, he had to go up to the kitchen. He should have just bought another coffee machine.
“Fucking stupid,” Tony muttered to himself as he stepped out of the elevator, jamming his back-up phone into his pocket.
“What was that?” Steve asked from the kitchen table.
Tony blinked. “Oh. Hey. I didn’t see you there,” he said blankly.
“Yeah, I tend to blend in,” Steve said dryly. “You okay?”
“Me?” Tony said. “Of course I’m okay. Are you okay?”
“Uh,” Steve said. “Yeah. But I wasn’t the one standing in the middle of the kitchen cursing at myself.” He held up his spoon. “I was just having some ice cream.”
“You were just - of course you were,” Tony said. “Can’t go to bed without dessert. Seriously, how old are you?”
Steve shrugged. “28 or 96, depending on how you’re counting.” He said it casually, and Tony was suddenly very aware of how alone he looked at the kitchen table.
He considered pulling out his phone. It was only 9 in Los Angeles. If he called Pepper and apologized, she’d probably talk to him.
There was a clatter as Steve dropped his spoon into his bowl.
Tony sighed. “Got any chocolate?” he asked.
Steve looked up, and Tony caught a look of surprise before it morphed into a smile. “Sure,” he said, pushing back from the table. “We’ve got everything, this place is pretty much a grocery store. Hey, you watch the Dodgers game earlier?”
“JARVIS told me they crushed the Giants,” Tony said, leaning against the counter as Steve opened the freezer and pulled out a carton of Ben and Jerry’s.
“Crushed isn’t even the word for it,” Steve said, tossing Tony a spoon. “They demolished them.”
Tony grinned as Steve talked excitedly about the last time he’d seen such a great blowout, which had been in 1940, and pretty soon it was 3:45 in the morning and Tony had been talking about nothing with Captain America for hours and they’d eaten almost an entire carton of ice cream between them and sure, some of them had supersoldier metabolisms, but even that didn’t excuse it.
“I’m gonna regret all that ice cream in the morning,” Tony shot over his shoulder as he yawned his way out of the elevator at his floor.
“Your physique will recover. Night, Tony,” Steve said as the elevator doors shut in front of him. Tony collapsed into bed, pulled a pillow to his chest, and fell asleep almost immediately. It wasn’t until much later that he realized he hadn’t called Pepper back at all.
“So ‘fetch’ is in fact a popular slang term?” Thor said, frowning as he and Clint walked to the elevator the next night.
“Oh, yeah,” Clint said. “This was the movie that started it all. Everyone says fetch.”
“How strange,” Thor said. “I do not believe I have ever heard it used.”
Tony snorted and turned to Steve, who had been quiet for most of the film. “Even I’m not mean enough to get Thor to start using fe - oh.” Steve’s head was tilted back on the couch, his mouth was open, and he was fast asleep. Tony nudged him with his elbow. “Hey, Sleeping Beauty.”
Steve snored slightly.
“Gross,” Tony said. “Come on, I’m not gonna carry you to bed. Steve.”
Steve startled, and blinked at Tony. “Wha?”
“You’re asleep,” Tony said. “And you’re drooling.”
“‘M not,” Steve mumbled. He rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes.
“Stayed up too late last night?” Tony said.
“Maybe,” Steve said, shrugging.
“Well, I’ll be sure not to keep you up again,” Tony said quickly, and stood up to leave.
“No, I didn’t mean - it was fine,” Steve said, yawning. “It was nice, actually. I, uh - I don’t sleep as much as most people. There isn’t usually anyone else up. So it was - nice. Yeah.”
“Oh,” Tony said. He backed away toward the stairs. “Sure.”
“G’night, Tony.” He stood up and stretched. Tony blinked as Steve’s white t-shirt lifted up to reveal a pale sliver of stomach.
“Night,” Tony said, and tried not to bolt up the stairs.
The fifth, sixth, and seventh times were totally accidental. Tony didn’t sleep normal hours, and Steve didn’t either, so it was only natural that they ended up seeking each other out when the rest of the Tower’s inhabitants were in bed. Tony would have asked any of the Avengers to come down to the workshop and test out the new comms, Steve just happened to be the only one up. And undoubtedly Steve would have asked anyone to explain what “hashtag” meant when he finally discovered Twitter one night at 2 am, but Tony had been passing through the lounge, so it fell to him to explain #ThrowbackThursday.
It just kind of happened. It’s not like Tony was doing it on purpose. It wasn’t, like, a thing.
“I wasn’t implying it was, sir,” JARVIS said mildly as he pulled up a map of the tower that showed where each of the Avengers were at all times. Steve, for the record, was in the gym.
“Whatever,” Tony said.
The Gawker incident was all JARVIS’s fault.
“Sir, might I suggest that you take a break to get something to eat?” JARVIS said, sometimes between Tony’s 13th and 14th straight hour bent over the designs for Natasha’s Widow’s Bites. They’d shorted out during a battle the day before against some guy who could control magnetic fields, and she’d set them down on his desk after their debrief and informed him, firmly, that they would not do so again, and considering he’d nearly blown her up last month, he kind of owed her one.
“Is it time for breakfast?” Tony asked, squinting down at the mechanism attached to the third relay and wondering if he could make it just a little bit smaller.
“It is almost midnight,” JARVIS said, “though I am sure you could find something resembling breakfast in the kitchen should you desire. Agent Barton’s supply of children’s cereal was restocked just this morning.”
“Of course it was,” Tony said. “Half an hour, remind me in half an hour.”
“I would recommend you consider taking a break now, sir,” JARVIS said.
Tony tilted his head. “Any reason in particular, or are you just trying to throw me off my game?”
“Captain Rogers has just entered the kitchen,” JARVIS said. “He’s hardly left his personal quarters all day. If I may be so bold as to make an observation, I believe he might appreciate some company.”
Tony sighed and stood up. “You’re a meddler, you know that? I didn’t design you to meddle.”
“I beg to differ,” JARVIS said, as Tony shut the workshop door behind him.
Steve was staring into the freezer mournfully when Tony got to the kitchen.
“Looking for something?” Tony said, trying to act like he’d just wandered into the kitchen at random and not been sent there by his interloping AI.
“Oh, hey,” Steve said, shutting the freezer door quickly. “Not really.”
“Uh huh, that’s why you look like the freezer did you a personal wrong,” Tony said, leaning against the counter. “Spit it out, Cap, what’d you want? Maybe we can order it.”
“We’re out of ice cream,” Steve said, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly.
“Man, you and your ice cream,” Tony said. “Seriously, you are like an eight year old. Do I need to start making sure you eat your vegetables before you get dessert?”
“I didn’t get a lot of ice cream growing up,” Steve said. “I guess I’m kind of making up for it.”
“You better watch your waistline,” Tony said seriously. “Rocky Road’ll go straight to your thighs.”
“Well, my thighs are safe tonight,” Steve said. “We’re clear out.”
Tony looked at his watch. “Let’s go get some, then.”
“What?” Steve said. “It’s almost midnight.”
“Yeah, and we live in New York,” Tony said. “You ever had gelato?”
“What, that pretentious Italian stuff?” Steve scoffed. “I think I’m good with ice cream.”
“They sure got the name right, you’re American through and through. Come on, it’s good, and I know a place that’s still open.”
Steve looked at Tony curiously. Tony was pretty sure Steve didn’t have x-ray vision, but at the moment, it felt like he did.
“Let me get my ball cap so I can go incognito,” Steve said, and Tony grinned.
“This is incognito?” Tony said as Steve pulled his cap low over his eyes. “Man, with that thing on, you could be anybody who’s 6’4’’, totally ripped and hanging out with Tony Stark.”
“Some of us try to fly a little under the radar,” Steve muttered as they stepped into the small gelato shop.
“Mr. Stark! Buona sera!” Stefano boomed from behind the counter as Tony shut the door behind them. Stefano reminded Tony a little bit of Thor, if Thor had been an Italian American raised in Queens.
“Buona sera, Stefano,” Tony said. “This is my friend Steve.”
“Piacere di conoscerla, Captain,” Stefano said courteously. “I had no idea that you two were…” He waved his hands in the air in what Tony could only imagine he thought was a meaningful but discreet manner.
“It’s not - “ Tony began, just as Steve said, “Oh, I’m afraid you’re mistaken - “
Stefano looked amused. “I see, I see. It’s just that normally, Mr. Stark, when you come after hours, it is with a - “
“Steve wanted to try gelato," Tony interrupted. "He’s never had gelato, isn’t that crazy?”
“Never?” Stefano cried, effectively waylaid. “Well, you’re in for a treat, my boy!”
Stefano began reciting the many advantages of gelato over ice cream, and Steve leaned in and muttered to Tony, “Did they open just for us?”
“We’ll leave something nice in the tip jar,” Tony promised. “Pick a couple of flavors to try, we’ll get out of here and they can close up.”
They ate their gelato on a bench across the street at Washington Square Park, watching New York City’s nighttime crowd wander by in high heels and expensive polos.
“You bring your dates here,” Steve said, licking at his chocolate cone (“A cone?” Tony had said with horror when he’d pointed at it. “Do you want sprinkles too?”).
Tony shrugged. “Stefano doesn’t talk to the tabloids. I think he used to be mafia, I don’t know, I don’t ask, but he’s good people. Plus, the gelato’s great.”
“He thought we were on a date,” Steve said.
“I never said he was smart,” Tony said, because diversions. Steve snorted and used the balled up napkin in his hand to wipe at some of the ice cream dripping down the side of the cone.
“What’s that flavor you got? Chocolate chip?”
Tony snorted. “Hardly. It’s stracciatella.”
“It’s, uh. Vanilla drizzled with melted chocolate.”
“So, chocolate chip,” Steve said wryly.
“But way, way classier,” Tony said. “You want a bite?”
“Sure,” Steve said.
Without thinking, Tony scooped a bite of gelato onto his spoon and held it out. Steve leaned forward, grinning, and wrapped his lips around the spoon. Tony tried not to stare as Steve licked his lips and tilted his head thoughtfully.
“Chocolate chip,” he decided, and Tony laughed.
“All right, you caught me,” Tony said, spooning the last of his gelato into his mouth. They both sat back on the bench, the chill from the gelato fading in the summer night’s heat.
“Thanks for bringing me here, Tony,” Steve said after a minute, twisting the napkin between his fingers. “I really - it was nice.”
“Hey, you want ice cream at midnight, I’m your guy,” Tony said, and Steve grinned at him from under his eyelashes, and Tony thought, wildly, that if his life were a movie, Steve would lean forward and kiss him, the bill of his cap hitting Tony’s forehead, his lips cold and chocolatey.
But Tony’s life wasn’t a movie, or at least, if it was, it wasn’t that kind of movie, and so instead Steve threw his napkin in the trash can next to the bench, stood up, and wiped the back of his hand over his mouth.
“Want to head home?”
“Sure,” Tony said. “I’ll race you.”
“Unless you have a suit, I think we both know how this is going to end,” Steve said, grinning.
“I”m not weighed down by the extra calories of a double scoop,” Tony said, and took off running in the direction of the Tower, grinning as he heard Steve burst out laughing behind him.
Tony didn't even make it a full step into the kitchen the next morning before Clint burst out, "Have a good date last night?" He was smirking from behind a laptop; next to him, Bruce chomped on a piece of toast and peered over his shoulder.
"Uh, I didn't have a date last night," Tony said, not even pausing in his trek to the coffee machine.
"Gawker thinks you did," Clint said.
“Wow, Gawker? That’s basically the Bible,” Tony said. “In that they’re both full of creative stories written by people with a specific motive.”
“Not this time,” Bruce said.
“Yeah, you’re busted,” Clint said, turning his computer around so Tony could see it. There was a picture of Tony and Steve on the bench from the night before, gelato in hand; Tony was grinning, and Steve looked like he was rolling his eyes. The headline read: “Your boyfriend Tony Stark is stepping out on you with your other boyfriend Steve Rogers.”
Tony swallowed hard and pushed back from the countertop. "Cap wanted ice cream, I know a place with ice cream, we ate ice cream. The internet is full of crazy people."
"Yeah, this is totally the internet's fault,” Clint said, rolling his eyes. “How dare anyone look at pictures of two people sharing ice cream at midnight on a park bench and assume they're on a date. That is nuts. What is this country coming to?"
“And it gets worse,” Bruce said.
“Or better, if you’re me,” Clint said, grinning. He clicked to a different tab and Tony felt the bottom of his stomach drop out.
“Oh, fuck,” he said.
“Yeah, that pretty much sums it up,” Clint said.
In the picture, Tony was holding his spoon out, and Steve’s mouth was wrapped around it. Steve’s eyes were closed, but Tony’s were wide and - yeah, he was totally looking at Steve’s lips.
“It seems like the media hasn’t found it yet. It’s just posted on some teenage girl’s blog,” Bruce said.
“Coulson sent it over, because SHIELD is fucking terrifying,” Clint added.
“It’s not that bad,” Tony said, which was a lie, because even Tony, King of Denial, could see how bad it was.
“It’s pretty bad,” Bruce said, taking a bite of toast.
“Yeah, sorry dude,” Clint said cheerfully.
“He wanted to try my gelato! What was I supposed to do, say no?”
Clint raised his eyebrows, then turned to Bruce. “Hey, Bruce, can I have some toast?” He fluttered his eyelashes, opened his mouth wide, and leaned toward Bruce’s toast.
Bruce narrowed his eyes and crammed the rest of his toast in his own mouth. “Get your own,” he said around the crunchy, too-large bite. Clint shoved him, and Bruce shoved back, and there were a few seconds where the kitchen was in serious danger of suffering a slap-war-turned-Hulk-out until Bruce got in a particularly well-placed smack across Clint’s cheek and Clint yelped, “Ow, that one had some green behind it!”
“You started it,” Bruce said, unconcerned.
Clint turned to Tony. “See what I’m saying? That’s how a normal person hand-feeds food to their bro. They don’t.”
Tony looked to Bruce for support, but Bruce shrugged. “He’s right.”
Tony dropped his face into his hands. “I’m so, so fucked.”
“Yup,” Clint said. He snapped his laptop shut and headed for the stairs, humming something that sounded suspiciously like “You Got It Bad”. “You’re welcome for the heads up.”
“I didn’t say thank you,” Tony called after him, and Clint just waved over his shoulder as he bounded up the stairs.
Bruce patted Tony on the shoulder. “You want to talk about it?”
“I would literally rather pull out my own fingernails,” Tony said.
“Thank god,” Bruce said, and went back to the coffee machine.
Tony was definitely, 100% going to talk to Steve. They were going to be adults about this. They were going to talk about what was going on between them - if anything was going on between them - and move forward from there.
He just had a thing.
“A thing,” JARVIS said dryly.
“Yeah, a thing, a thing called managing a multi-billion dollar company and being an Avenger,” Tony shot back, pulling his goggles off his forehead and squinting down at the (hopefully) indestructible comm link he was creating for the Hulk. “Anyway, who asked you to play creepy computer matchmaker?”
“Your well-being and that of the rest of the tower’s occupants is my sole concern, sir,” JARVIS said.
“Well, if you want to show your concern at this moment, have Dummy get a fire extinguisher ready,” Tony said, lighting up the world’s smallest blowtorch. “This is either gonna work, or it’s gonna explode.”
“That seems to be a theme around here, sir,” JARVIS said tiredly.
“You need to stop avoiding Steve,” Clint said.
“Oh my god, he will not fucking Falcon punch, I swear the button is bro - what?” Tony said, pausing in his effort to mash all the buttons at the same time.
“You heard me,” Clint said, shooting a bolt of lightning at Captain Falcon. “You’ve been avoiding him ever since the thing. You know. Your date.”
“I’m not - okay, first of all, it wasn’t a date, and second of all, I’m definitely not avoiding him, what the hell gave you that idea?”
“Earlier today when he walked into the kitchen, you totally freaked out. Oh mother of fuck, Thor, you’re totally cheating," Clint cried, throwing his controller at the ground.
Thor shouted back, "A son of Asgard never cheats! It is your own fault for choosing to play as Pikachu when Donkey Kong is obviously superior. And you did in fact freak out, friend Tony."
"Don't break that controller, Robin Hood, you think it's easy to fix tech from 1996?" Tony said. “And no, I did not freak out. How did I freak out?”
“Seriously?” Clint said. “He walked into the room and you picked up a cantaloupe and said, ‘Hey, wanna go shoot arrows at fruit?’”
“It was quite clearly a thinly veiled excuse to escape our dear Captain’s company,” Thor agreed. “Though admittedly enjoyable.”
Tony tossed his controller down as he was eliminated from the game. “Don’t you two have anything better to do than gossip like a couple of high school girls?”
Clint shrugged and adjusted the pillow propping up his leg. “Maybe we’ll stop gossiping once you stop being a dumbass.”
“Now, Clint,” Thor said, frowning, “This is a challenging situation for Tony.”
“Thank you, Thor,” Tony said. “See? Herbal Essences is on my side.”
“Oh, certainly not,” Thor said boisterously. “No, you must talk to Steven and resolve this immediately. Hawkeye, you are defeated! Donkey Kong is triumphant once again.”
“You two are the worst,” Tony said.
“Before you continue this mature and fascinating conversation, I feel I should inform you that Captain Rogers is in the elevator en route to this floor,” JARVIS said.
“That’s my cue,” Tony said, standing up quickly.
The elevator dinged and the doors slid open, revealing Steve, dressed in civvies and holding a brown paper bag.
“Too late,” Clint singsonged. “Another round?”
“If you wish to be bested yet again, I will not deny myself the pleasure,” Thor said.
“Doing some shopping?” Tony said, nodding at Steve’s bag and leaning against the counter. Smooth, he thought.
“Yeah,” Steve said. He reached into the bag and pulled out a bunch of bananas, a bottle of orange juice, and a box of donuts. “We were out this morning, and Natasha was not happy about it. How was your - “
“Aw man, this level sucks,” Clint whined from the couch, his busted knee propped up on a pile of cushions.
“Surely you jest!” Thor shot back. “This cloud-filled world is by far the best of all those in which this collection of warriors can fight!”
“...day?” Steve finished.
“Oh, you know,” Tony said. “Worked on my debrief, did some target practice - “
“With fruit,” Steve said dryly. “I saw.”
“Right,” Tony said.
“I don’t think I want to play another, actually,” Clint said loudly. “Thor, wanna fly me down to my floor? Coulson’s taking a nap, we could totally freak him out.”
“I like this plan,” Thor said. He set down his controller and replaced it with Mjolnir, then leaned down so Clint could clamber onto his back. “Onward!”
“See you guys later!” Clint called, winking very unhelpfully at Tony as Thor opened the door to the balcony. Tony watched them fly away and thought about how best to get Clint back. Toilet paper his room? Program a robot to follow him around and repeat everything he says? Tell Coulson about the thing with the banana in Times Square? He’d work on it.
“You know, I’ve been around for a while, but sometimes I still can’t believe how much things cost at the grocery store,” Steve said, unloading Bruce’s favorite brands of tea from the bag. “I was going to get one of those candy bars that Thor likes, with the salted caramel? And it was four dollars! Now, I understand inflation as much as the next guy, but four dollars for a bar of chocolate seems like - “
“Hey, do you want to go to the opera?” Tony interrupted, because now seemed like as good a time as any, in that it was a terrible time.
Steve blinked, halfway through putting a carton of milk into the fridge. “What?”
“It’s Don Giovanni, not one of my favorites, you know, a little too much 'punishment from the depths of hell' for my tastes, but I’m guessing you haven’t seen it so you’ll probably be able to stay awake - you know, loud Italian singing, people in outfits that cost more than a private school education, too much champagne - “
“I know what the opera is,” Steve said. “But why are you asking me to go?”
“I have tickets,” Tony said. “They come in the mail, and sometimes JARVIS reminds me to use them.”
There was a crease between Steve’s eyebrows. “So - you want me to use your tickets? I’m not sure I’m really interested, but Natasha might be - ”
“Okay, wow, this is not going well,” Tony said. “Which is weird, because generally I’m really good at this, you know, dinner, drinks at the Met, maybe I should have bought flowers, should I have bought flowers? You don’t seem like a flowers kind of guy - “
“Are you asking me on a date?” Steve said.
“I think so,” Tony said. “Maybe. If you say yes. If not, then no, I was just offering you free tickets to the opera.”
Steve chuckled. “Tony, I don’t want to go to the opera.”
Tony nodded. “Got it. No need to say more, Cap, business as usual, time to start working on pretending this never happened - “
“ - but I do want to go on a date with you,” Steve finished.
“ - and I’m sure within a few years I’ll be able to look you in the eye without - oh,” Tony said. “You do?”
“For somebody so smart, you’re kind of an idiot sometimes,” Steve said, coming to lean against the counter next to Tony. “Yeah, of course I do. I’d been planning to ask you myself, but you kept running away from me. I was starting to think I had the wrong idea.”
“Yeah, that was me being an idiot. So, I thought I understood what was going on here, with you and me, but then there was this thing on the internet, you wouldn’t understand - “
“Oh, that Gawker article?” Steve said. “Yeah, that was funny. I didn’t realize we were being so obvious.”
“Okay, so am I the only one who didn’t know that was a date?” Tony said, exasperated.
“Uh,” Steve said. “Yes.”
“Great,” Tony said, “Wonderful, fantastic, look, can I kiss you now?”
“I don’t know, what number date is this?” Steve said, and Tony grabbed him by the back of the neck and kissed him.
Tony pulled back before things got to the point where he ended up naked in the kitchen again. “You were going to say yes, right?”
“Yes,” Steve said. “Definitely. I was going to say yes a lot, in fact.”
“Was that innuendo?” Tony said, sliding an arm around Steve’s waist. “I can’t believe Captain America knows about innuendo. That’s a no on the opera, though?”
“How about just dinner?” Steve said.
“Perfect,” Tony said.
Tony and Steve whirled around to see Clint and Thor grinning at them from the balcony.
“Can we come back in yet? Coulson won’t open the window,” Clint said.
“I hate you,” Tony said.