"Okay, so that's a cross in same-time. Now go back to your planes and see if you can switch it up so you've got one leading, like this. They're both still spinning forward at the same speed but one's a half-rotation ahead of—perfect, that's it! That's split-time. Man, you're a natural."
Thor grinned at the compliment and kept spinning his improvised practice poi while Clint mimed the motion he wanted him to imitate.
"Now whenever you're ready, try the cross again—that's okay, that happens. Just find your rhythm again," Clint reassured Thor when he attempted to cross his wrists too zealously and whacked himself in the shoulder. "Try—you got it! That's the move, that's a two-beat weave. Dude, are you sure you haven't spun before? I feel like I'm looking at a ringer, here."
Thor laughed and shook his head. "Truly, it is my first time spinning the poi. I suppose my many years wielding mighty Mjolnir have prepared me well for this art." He shuffled his feet in a 360° rotation, without losing the pattern of arm movement keeping the weights in orbit.
"I'll say," Clint grinned. "Now just imagine, instead of socks with oranges in the toes, you're spinning fuel-soaked wicks, big balls of fire whooshing past your head all fwoom-fwoom-fwoom-fwoom—"
"Barton," Coulson snapped from behind him, and Clint spun to look.
Coulson's eyes narrowed as he looked at Clint, barefoot in the middle of the corridor outside the commissary, and at Thor, happily twirling Clint's stretched-out socks. "What are you doing?"
"Teaching the Norse god of thunder how to spin poi. What are you doing?"
Coulson sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Put the lesson on hold; I need to borrow your student. Thor?"
Coulson gestured down the hall. Thor separated his hands so that the planes of rotation flanked him once again and slowed his wrists, letting the flying oranges wind down until they lost their momentum and hung limply at his sides. Coulson waited for him to hand them back to Clint before turning on his heel.
"And keep your shoes on when you're at work, Specialist," Coulson called over his shoulder as Thor fell into step beside him. "You're not the Hulk."
Clint groaned and sat up. He fumbled for his phone, knowing the caller was Coulson by the ringtone (Coulson's own angry voice shouting "BARTON" and the roar of an explosion—a disturbingly easy recording to obtain, it turned out). "I'm really sorry about this," he said, then thumbed at the phone to answer it. "Yeah, boss?"
"Where are you?" Coulson asked.
"Come up to the ballistics lab; Stark needs you to test something."
"No, two weeks from Thursday." Clint could hear Coulson's eyes rolling. "Yes, now."
"Roger that," Clint growled, but Coulson had already ended the call. "I'll be back as soon as I can," he promised, and headed for the elevator.
When he reached the lab Tony made him stand in view of a high-speed camera, in front of a backdrop striped with evenly spaced distance markers. Clint pursed his lips as he examined the set-up. "On today's episode of Mythbusters, the role of Buster will be played by me?"
"Pretty much, yeah," Tony grinned, and handed Coulson some new kind of armored vest.
"Hooraaaaay," Clint whined faintly.
Coulson brought the vest to Clint and helped him to put it on, hugging his torso below the arms to adjust the straps. Clint started to grin smugly, then frowned when he felt something tickling the roof of his mouth. He sucked and probed at his teeth with his tongue, worrying at the hair trapped next to his upper right canine.
Coulson looked up at him and sighed. "What's wrong with you this time?"
"There's something embarrassing stuck in my teeth," Clint muttered, keeping his lips as closed as possible.
Coulson's eyes narrowed like he smelled bait and knew better than to rise to it, but Clint blinked at him guilelessly (the thing was, Clint was always guileless when he chagrined Coulson; it was the honesty that made it work—well, honesty and timing) and he asked the question anyway: "What have you been eating?"
Clint waited for Tony to take another gulp from his extra-large 'Good Morning Sinners' mug before answering.
The spit-take was glorious; too bad the camera wasn't on to capture it.
A while later, once the mess was cleaned up and the experiment completed (successfully, in that the armor worked and Clint was not reduced to a second mess in front of the high-speed camera), Tony caught up with Clint and Coulson in the hallway.
"Seriously," he asked Clint, walking backwards so that he could watch their faces as he talked, "you and Natasha? What, did they give you, like, a Bronze Star Medal for that?"
Clint chuckled and glanced down at the floor. "Naw. Tasha's a pussycat, if you know how to stroke her."
Tony froze and Clint nearly walked into him. He looked up at his face, finding him ashen and wide-eyed, and hurriedly continued. "—Is what I would say, if I were interested in playing your sophomoric games of chest-thumping hegemonic masculinity, which I'm not! Treating women like trading cards and giving kudos for conquests, how dare you, and boo-hiss patriarchy, and . . . she's not really behind me, is she?" He glared at Tony, tension slowly easing out of his shoulders.
Then Natasha cleared her throat.
"Ohshit," Clint muttered, turning past Coulson (his eyes discreetly shielded from the impending carnage) to face her. She blinked at him slowly, her face cold. "I love you?" he ventured.
Natasha snorted and ruffled his hair before smacking him upside the head and continuing past them down the hallway.
Tony waited for her to disappear around the corner before letting out the breath he'd been holding. "Medal of Honor," he corrected his previous statement, and Clint winced deeper than he had at the slap.
Coulson's unimpressed "Nice work, Specialist," didn't help.
Clint quietly poked his head around the edge of Bruce's office door. "Psst. Bruce."
Bruce looked up at him over the edges of his glasses and his flatscreen monitor.
"Can you do me a huge favor?" Bruce frowned, and Clint pushed farther into the room, waving a hand dismissively. "It's nothing bad, I promise."
Bruce leaned back in his chair, watching Clint approach.
"I wrenched my neck a little while ago," Clint began, gesturing at his neck-shoulder area.
"How?" Bruce asked.
"Doesn't matter. The point is, there's a joint, or a spot in my back, that wants to crack, I can feel it, but I can't make it go. I've tried everything I can think of on my own, with no luck, and it's starting to really bug me. Will you help?"
Bruce sighed. "What do you need me to do?"
"Here," Clint said, beckoning, then turned his back. "Come stand behind me. If you can support my shoulder with one arm—like that—and stick your other elbow—right there. Now if you don't mind, I'm gonna wrap my other arm around your back for support, pardon me. Then I'm gonna want you to crank my shoulder back towards you, on three. Ready?"
Bruce adjusted his stance slightly, preparing to take Clint's weight. "Ready."
"One . . . two . . ." 'Three' turned into an animalistic moan as Bruce hauled Clint's body into his own and the tension in his back dispersed with a satisfying crunch. "Hnghunghuhohhhhh . . . that's the spot."
Then Bruce cleared his throat behind him (and why did people keep doing that? At least when Coulson wanted Clint's attention he just said something, none of this phlegmy false politeness), and Clint opened his eyes to see Coulson standing in the doorway, squinting dubiously at Clint and Bruce, pressed back to front, Bruce's arm around Clint as Clint moaned and panted and sagged against him and Clint . . . really didn't care.
Bruce, on the other hand, apparently did care, because he dropped Clint like a bag of rocks and went back to his desk, blushing. "I was just helping Agent Barton to crack his back," he said as he straightened his trousers before sitting down, looking pointedly at Coulson.
"Thank you, Bruce," Clint called from the floor. "I'm sorry I embarrassed you."
Coulson closed his eyes and brought a hand to his forehead, massaging his temples with middle finger and thumb. "You know we have a physiotherapist on staff."
"Really?" Clint asked as he pushed back up to his feet, stretching.
"Yes." Coulson lowered his hand. "Don't you have work to do?"
"Dunno," Clint said with a grin. "You're my superior officer, you tell me."
"Hey Coulson, check this out."
Coulson turned to look where Clint was pointing, which turned out to be . . . up a tree. He frowned. "What about it?"
"Are those coconuts ripe?"