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These Are My Ways

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After

It goes like this: Marco Polo is wildly successful. Newspapers and magazines alike marvel at how Tony Stark seems to be able to turn anything into a success, even though this is his first foray into the restaurant industry. Clint gets praised and praised again. Marco Polo continues to gets small upgrades as the profit margins grow; sleeker lamps, table cloths and cloth napkins with higher thread counts, and the wait staff get a stricter dress code.

Steve sounds twice as prim and proper at the front desk as he did when they opened. Darcy and Peter learn how to say Sir a lot, and pronounce the French dishes with the R at the back of their throat. Clint starts wearing his chef's jacket and a proper apron to work, because more and more important people want to compliment the chef, and the Mayor's wife had looked slightly off-put when she was greeted by Clint in his worn Ramones t-shirt.

But the thing is, even as Marco Polo grows more and more fancy, they're still them.

So once the last guests have left for the evening and Steve has locked the front doors, they all rush into the kitchen. Darcy is practically bouncing on the balls of her feet.

"Well?" she says impatiently.

Clint rolls his eyes and tries to get away, but stupid Jane and Thor are blocking him in on one side, and Bruce on the other. He could go left, but that would take him past Natasha's meat station. Natasha is the only one who doesn't seem the slightest bit interested in what's going on as she casually leans on the counter and cleans her meat cleaver, but Clint knows her--it's a trap! And fuck if he's going anywhere near her knives when she's like this.

Clint sighs deeply and doesn't say anything--for the first time in a long time, possibly ever, he doesn't want to share. But his silence is good enough, and various cheers and groans break out around him.

"I knew he fucked the critic," Darcy crows, as Peter grumbles and digs up a twenty from his pocket. "I mean, it's Clint," she gloats.

Behind Clint, more money exchanges hands from Bruce to Natasha, and Clint vaguely considers canceling Phil's standing reservation. God forbid Phil spend enough time at Marco Polo to actually get to know these guys.

*

Before

It's barely an hour into dinner service when Steve stops by the kitchen briefly and hisses, just loud enough to be heard over the cooking sounds, "Heads up, critic at table seven."

Naturally, all the chefs take a few seconds to smush together by the door, craning their necks to peer out into the restaurant as discreetly as possible, just like they do every time a critic comes in, and Steve points him out for them. Once they've spotted their mark and undoubtedly made up some crazy theories about him to themselves, they move back to their stations. Clint, however, lingers behind for a few extra seconds this time.

Steve makes a Hmm noise in his throat.

"What?" Clint asks, walking back to his station.

"I know that look," Steve says, but he doesn't look disapproving, only smug.

Clint stares hard at his pan. "No you don't, shut up."

"Sure," Steve says, drawing out the word, but he still leaves without arguing further.

When the food critic's ticket comes in, Clint considers for a whole two seconds, before tripling the mint in his sauce.

*

First

Clint's been a sous chef at Carson's for about three years when Tony Stark enters the kitchen, using both hands to push open both doors and not giving a damn that he almost knocks over one of the waiters.

"You," Stark says, looking directly at Clint, "your food is to fucking die for!"

Clint arches an eyebrow and nods his thanks in response, barely even glancing at the man. He will happily accept Stark's compliments to the chef, but he's not going to be all fucking impressed just because some dude who happens to be worth billions of dollars liked his food.

But then Stark says, "You desperately need to come work for me," and part of Clint wants to look around for the hidden cameras.

"Because your new super secret weapon will involve my veal parmigiana?" he snarks, a little because it's absolutely fucking ridiculous that Tony Stark would be offering him a job, and a little because he can't help himself--it's just how he is.

"I'm opening a new joint," Stark says, sticking his hands in his pockets. "I want you onboard."

Next to Clint, Jan has frozen, one hand still holding onto the garnish she was busy plating. Her mouth is open and she looks from Clint to Stark and back again. Clint pretends not to notice and keeps on cooking. He's still got tickets, and this is just one big fucking joke.

"No thanks," he says, plating up said veal parmigiana and nudging Jan a little. He hates a backlog on the dishes, and she needs to get her ass in gear. "I'm doing just fine here. Going places, ya know?"

Just then Duquesne walks back into the kitchen from the storage freezer, and yells, "Enough socializing, ladies, focus!" even though Clint had never actually lost his focus to begin with.

Stark eyes the head chef, then squints at Clint from behind his purple tinted glasses. "I'll triple your salary," he says, and Clint chuckles and shakes his head as he prepares to start the next ticket.

"It's not about the money, dude."

If Stark is offended or shocked that Clint doesn't call him Mr. Stark or Sir with the awe-struck tone that most other people do, he doesn't show it. Instead he just huffs once in amusement, and counters with, "I'll make you head chef. Free reigns, and you can run your own ship."

That stops Clint dead in his tracks, and for the first time he really looks at Tony--searches his face to try to suss out the joke, looking for any clues whatsoever that this really is nothing but a gigantic prank.

Ten minutes later, he's walking out of Carson's, leaving behind a cursing and screaming Duquesne and a once-again gaping Jan. It's the first and only time Clint leaves work before dinner service is over--until Phil.

End.