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well, let the drum beat drop

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They go for shawarma. It’s weird.

It’s also weirdly satisfying? Whatever, Tony likes weird; it’s fascinating, it makes life interesting and fun, and even though he really has zero intention of keeping in touch with any of the other weirdos he helped save the world with (except Bruce; Tony gets to keep Bruce because Bruce needs somewhere to do science and as a side-effect Tony gets to have deeply satisfying 3AM conversations about his next amazing world-changing plan with someone who isn’t JARVIS) the shawarma seems to have set some sort of awkward food-eating precedent.


Fury says, “We have a mission for you,” and “don’t come in yet,” and “do not even think about wandering away. All of you.” As soon as Fury hangs up, Tony decides to wait ten minutes and then zip out for some fresh air, possibly a couple of states over, just on principle, because come on, Tony Stark? Stark Industries? Iron Man? Tony has shit to do.

But then Rogers’ stomach grumbles, noisily, and Romanoff’s immediately follows suit, and Pepper happens to be wandering by at that precise moment and pins Tony with her special laser eyes of Be Nice, Or Else, PS I Love You, and so Tony says, “Pizza party!” and everyone else says, “What?”

They eat it on the balcony of Stark Tower. Tony orders in a selection that ranges from “extremely fancy” to “cheese.” Barton makes a beeline for a corner, back to the wall, and Romanoff casually drags her chair over to sit between him and everyone else. Pepper comes out for a bit and eats two slices while asking Thor about Jane Foster, which becomes thirty solid minutes of how amazing Jane is, and how smart, and how talented, and how brave, and how strong and by the time it’s over all the pizza’s gone.

Pepper leaves, and there’s no more pizza, and Thor’s already talked about Jane, and Tony suspects all of them realize, abruptly and simultaneously, that they actually have no idea what to do now. He is, in fact, pretty certain that they’re just a few minutes away from someone deciding to say something about the weather. It’s probably going to be him.

Romanoff murmurs something to Barton, very quietly, and he says something back that Tony can’t quite make out.

Bruce takes a generous swig of his water, and chuckles to himself about something. Possibly about this. Tony glares at him; Bruce is unbothered. Yes, Tony thinks, absolutely about this. He decides that Banner’s sense of humour might be suspect.

“So how about that sky today,” says Tony, and hates himself.

“What an impressive shade!” Thor says, gamely. Thor is kind of the best.

Romanoff raises an eyebrow at him. Him, Tony, specifically, not Thor, even though Thor is right there, about to describe blue.



Eventually, there is the victorious post-mission lunch at Tony’s fifth-favourite restaurant, which ends up being awkward mostly because of who shows up to it.

Nobody falls asleep into a small pile of errant lettuce (Rogers; Tony has pictures, one day the Internet will also share his joy); nobody cracks a joke and accidentally insults three quarters of the table (Thor); nobody bleeds onto the floor and then tries to surreptitiously clean it up with napkins (Romanoff, with Barton assisting on cleanup duty). It is, in fact, a perfectly acceptable meal for the first twenty minutes.

Tony orders wine and he and Rogers bicker mostly good-naturedly over whether or not he can charge it to SHIELD; Barton still snags the seat right next to Romanoff but engages in actual conversation with Thor, on his other side; Bruce cracks four smiles and makes the entire table lose it twice, and for once, all of them are together, are not actively being shot at or nearly unconscious, and are still mostly enjoying one another’s company. Mostly.

“-- the most epic of battles,” Thor is saying, which is something he says a lot when he’s finishing up one story or another, and Phil Coulson says, “Hi there,” and takes a fist to the face almost before he’s finished speaking. He goes down in a tangle of limbs and Romanoff shakes out her hand and leans over to help him back up; Tony didn’t even seen her move, she’s that fast. Barton makes the same sound he made three weeks ago when a giant robot drop-kicked him in the chest and cracked three of his ribs, and then he’s suddenly not even in the room -- through the balcony doors, outside, out of sight.

“JARVIS, dial Fury,” Tony says.

“Agent Coulson?” Rogers says.

JARVIS makes unhelpful noises in Tony’s ear and he hisses, “Override, override!” while Thor and Bruce and Rogers all leap to their feet and cluster around Phil, who accepts Romanoff’s hand and makes a rueful face at them.

“It hurts even when you see it coming,” he tells them, and Romanoff takes advantage of his momentary distraction to yank at his suit jacket and then rip open his dress shirt, buttons popping everywhere. One bounces off of Thor’s forehead and lodges in his hair, but he doesn’t appear to notice.

“This is Fury’s office,” a pleasant voice says in his ear. Tony knows this is a lie; no one at SHIELD is actually pleasant, with the exception of Phil Coulson, who is apparently not dead, unless this is a robot or a doppelganger or something equally bizarre. Tony is also not convinced Fury has an office; he probably has a bunker with a million enormous firearms and minions to do his bidding.

Romanoff makes a genuinely frightening noise of frustration when she encounters Phil’s undershirt, and retrieves a knife from somewhere on her person; he stands very still and lets her toss his tie over his shoulder and slice away at the undershirt while Rogers says, “What is going on,” and Bruce taps away at his tablet because Tony is increasingly convinced he’s Tony’s platonic soul mate and he’s 100% certain that Bruce is running through a giant list of possibilities that could explain Phil Coulson, alive and well, interrupting Team Victory Lunch.

Thor says, “This is not usually how matters of life and death go for your people, is it? I thought the dead were dead, and could not return.”

“Put me on with Fury,” Tony says. “No, I’m sorry, that wasn’t actually a request, did it sound like a request?”

“Hold this,” Romanoff orders, and passes her knife over to Rogers, who is making a fascinating face and telling Thor, “Um.”

“I’m sorry, but Director Fury is not in right now,” the pleasant voice says.

There’s a booming noise and then a burst of light outside and the faint sound of screaming coming from fifteen stories below. “Thor,” Rogers snaps, and Thor casts one last glance at Coulson and leaps over the table, scattering half-eaten dishes of food all over the floor; he dives through the balcony doors and then disappears over the edge of the railing.

“I’m going to kill you,” Romanoff tells Coulson, conversationally. She puts one hand on the scar that’s been revealed, red and raised and, Tony suspects, uncomfortably close to his heart, then spins him around to check his back. “And then I might kill Fury.”

“We already had words,” Phil offers. “Did you see what he did to my Captain America cards?”

“This is Maria Hill,” a second, less pleasant voice says in Tony’s ear. “Stop yelling at my subordinates, Mr. Stark.”

“I will definitely do that once someone can tell me why Phil Coulson just --”

There’s another booming noise and the entire panel of windows explode inward; suddenly the screaming is not just coming from the street outside, but from main section of the restaurant, just visible from the private room Tony rented out. Bruce absently brushes glass from his hair and sets down his tablet. “In or out?” he asks.

Barton pokes his head through the now-empty window, upside-down. “So I was uh -- outside,” he says, casually, like he didn’t just hurl himself out of the building the moment he saw Phil, “and noticed that something that looks like a dragon and an octopus had a terrifying, man-eating baby is setting up base in Central Park.”

“Definitely out,” Rogers says to Bruce, who says, “Lovecraft, really?” looking both resigned and fascinated, and then throws himself out the window just like Thor did, skin rippling and turning green in mid air just before he drops out of sight.

Barton’s gaze flicks to Coulson, then away, then to Romanoff, then back to Coulson. They all look shaken. Tiny alarm bells are ringing in Tony’s head. RED ALERT, INCOMING FEELINGS. “Tasha?” Barton says.

“Yes, yes, Director Fury is a lying liar who lies, but it worked, didn’t it?” Hill tells Tony, sounding frustrated.

“It’s him,” Romanoff tells Barton, one hand fisted in Phil’s suit jacket.

“Hi,” Phil says again, voice quiet and calm, even as the screaming redoubles. Rogers goes for his shield, and Tony claps a hand on Phil’s shoulder and squeezes before racing for his suit briefcase, but Barton flips in through the window, advancing on Phil and Romanoff, one slow and steady step at a time.

That’s pretty much the end of that particular Team Victory Lunch.

(But not of the world! Yaaay.)


Tony likes Italy. He likes the food in Italy, he likes eating brunch al fresco on villa balconies in Italy, and he especially likes that nobody has ever tried to kill him in Italy.

Barton pokes his head over the side of the balcony and puts that last part to the test. “Hey, Stark,” he says, and Tony valiantly does not startle. He imagines this to be like -- whatever it is that can smell fear -- is there something that can smell fear? “JARVIS, look up what can smell fear,” he says out loud, and Barton gives him a strange look, but clambers over the side and looms over the table.

He’s always pegged Natasha as being the cagiest Avenger, but Barton’s regarding Tony levelly across a table in Tuscany, not saying anything, and that’s it, Tony is calling the race. Whatever, Tony can totally do awkward. Tony practically invented awkward; he thrives in awkward; bring it on.

“What brings you to my balcony?” Tony asks.

Barton blinks at him. “Classified,” he says, and then falls silent again.

“And --?” Tony prompts.

“And I was hungry,” Barton says, and grins, unexpectedly. Usually he only looks like this when he’s standing on a roof, shooting things. “Coulson directed me your way.”

Tony looks at Barton, and then at the menu open on the table, and then back to Barton. “By all means,” he says, and gestures across the table. There is a rustle of fabric, followed by a waiter shaped blur, and a second chair, a napkin, a full set of cutlery, and a chilled glass of water appear in its wake.

Barton sits down and makes a big production of shaking out his white linen napkin and smoothing it over his lap, giving Tony the side-eye the whole time. “What brings you to Italy?”

Tony flips through the menu one-handed, and then taps at it with a finger without bothering to check where he’s landed. “Velvety lemon tarts,” he says. Tap, tap, tap. Barton’s facial expression does not change. After a beat, his eyebrow raises slightly.

“Are we about to have a ridiculous-reasons-to-be-having-lunch-in-Tuscany-off? This is the vibe I’m picking up on, here. Pro tip: your entry is not gonna stand out from the crowd if it’s Reason Redacted.”

“I’m on a mission,” Barton offers. Freely! “Or I was.” He looks briefly, intensely frustrated. “We salvaged what we could once a crowd of small children took one look at me and start shouting ‘Arrow Man! From the TV!’. So now SHIELD gets to re-evaluate my field status. It’s gonna be fun.”

“Yeah, that sounds like a barrel of fun. What’s the decision timeline?”

“It depends.”

Tony resists the urge to turn his hands into claws of frustration. He flashes a smile that’s all teeth. Barton either doesn’t notice, or does and feels secure enough about his own aggressively toothy grin not to reciprocate. He eyes the menu until Tony wordlessly hands it over.

Tony says, “I’m ordering you a tart.”

Tony says, “The lemon is obviously the tart flavour frontrunner, but there’s also one with dark chocolate that makes grown men cry.”

Tony says, “Lemon or chocolate, Barton?”

Barton nods noncommittally and glances over his shoulder. At no point does he indicate that he intends to, at this time or in the immediate foreseeable future, answer the question.

“Both it is!” Tony says with forced cheer.

There’s a familiar blue burst of light that Tony is almost excited about, except it’s not just Thor who appears next to the table, but Thor and Loki. The two of them are all dolled up in their caped mythical glory, except not, because they both look like hell warmed over, poured into a bottle, and given a liberal and extended shake. If Tony’s not mistaken, the hemline of Thor’s cape was either recently on fire, or is about to ignite. Thor glances around and immediately spots Tony and Barton, whereupon his face makes an expression of genuine surprise.

Clint’s whole face tightens.

“Oh hey,” says Tony.

“It is good to see you, Tony Stark, Clint Barton,” says Thor, in a way that suggests it is not good at all, and he would actually have much preferred hanging out with mass murdering supervillains without anybody noticing.

“I meant,” says Tony, helpfully, “oh hey what the fuck.

They sit. Tony can’t actually tell where they got the chairs from, even though he hasn’t looked away once. Loki grins eerily at them throughout Thor’s explanation (“-dire necessity, to defeat a growing darkness the like of which even Asgard has never known! … And then we required great sustenance-”), or at least he does until the antipasto arrives. The waiter sets the platter down with professional flourish, and Loki’s smile slips away. Thor trails off.

“Will you be joining us, gentlemen?” says the waiter, apparently unfazed by the afternoon’s Asgardian developments.

Thor looks at Tony, who looks at Clint, who has gone the kind of still that Tony is beginning to associate with subsequent bursts of devastating violence. Oh the things you pick up hanging out with your assassin friends. His mother would be appalled.

Across the table, Loki seems to recall that he meant to be menacing. Manic leering resumes.

“Try the lamb,” Barton grits out. “It’s really great.”

Thor gives the Shakespeare-in-the-Park equivalent of “sorry, dudes” meets “thanks, guys,” and then Tony spends the rest of an afternoon in Tuscany mediating a luncheon. If pressed, he could probably figure out why this is happening, but like a lot of Tony’s life, the surreality of the situation mostly takes over. Why? More like, why not. This is how Tony’s life goes: why not.

He snaps a picture. Send to: contacts bundle: [avengers assemble].

are you serious, texts Bruce, immediately.

And then, several minutes later, from Steve: What’s

Tony is an excellent multi tasker. And okay, yes, he is even better at a single-minded, relentless focus at the expense of all other projects/relationships/bodily requirements. But multi tasking is definitely his second best task execution type. Splitting his attention between mediation and increasingly incredulous under-the-table IM conversations is practically the most responsible thing to do, given his, like, talents as a person.

“Truly these cheeses are the finest I have ever tasted in Midgard!” cries Thor, after a particularly trying lull in conversation. “Have you ever had the like, my friends?”

“Best ever,” says Clint, voice flat. He hasn’t touched the cheese.

is barton going to shoot loki in the face, says Bruce.

happening?? says Steve.

Tony points out that they haven’t even gotten to the lemon tarts yet, which was the whole purpose of his pilgrimage in the first place.

“Oh, a recommendation from the great Man of Iron,” purrs Loki, around a mouthful of grilled salmon fillet. “Prepare thyself, Thor, he has infamously fine tastes. They must be delicious.

Do, says Steve.

you, says Steve.

Loki grins again. His eyes are wide and bloodshot and tired, and there is a streak of brownish green at his temple that Tony is completely prepared to declare alien blood. The net effect

“Loki,” sighs Thor.

Don’t do anything stupid, Tony. Do you need backup? says Steve, typed with a speed that suggests he has arrived at Stark Tower, and Bruce now has a phone in each hand.

Bruce adds, But we’d have to bring in SHIELD.

got it covered for now lovelies, replies Tony. if anyone gets drunk I will take pictures.

Nobody does get drunk, and eventually even Thor is full. He announces that it is time he escorted his brother back to Asgard.

“Thor,” says Clint, just before Scotty beams them up. “You got this?” It isn’t clear whether Clint is referring to Loki, or the ‘gathering darkness’ that threatens Asgard. Whatever Thor’s understanding, he gives Clint a small smile.

“I believe so, my friend,” says Thor. “Until we meet again.”

When they’re gone, Barton slips on his sunglasses and says, “Thanks for having my back,” and Tony thinks, Is that what happened?

His phone pings. There’s a text from Romanoff that says, :).


The less said about awkward team dinner number five, the better. Suffice it to say, it involves a puff pastry danish, a dark alley in Prague, three wisdom teeth and a toe bone, Spanish assassins, a plaster bull, a real live bull, Nazi treasure, awkward, stilted bonding over tragic pasts while trapped in a drain pipe, and sixteen hours Tony will never get back and does not want to think about, thankyouverymuch. And a whole lot of drinking?

Just, like. Not enough. Just really not enough drinking.


Natasha returns to the abandoned basement/makeshift safehouse at a quarter past two in the morning, and distributes dry cinnamon rolls.

“We’re going off the grid,” she informs them.

“Uh, I’ve been off the grid,” says Tony. “I don’t like it there.”

Steve frowns. “For how long?”

“For as long as it takes to get out of the country undetected,” she says. “Or until SHIELD manages to extract us.”

“Ugh, urban camping,” Tony says, and Natasha flashes him a brief smile before settling back down in the shadows. This is probably right up her alley. This is not Tony’s alley at all; give him truths and explosions any day of the week; skulking through the darkness is not what he thinks of as a good time. Particularly not when he’s tired and sore and spent most of the day fighting heavy metal hitters. Turn off the lights, kids, bury your food, there’s evil automatons in these woods.

No, really, actual evil robots, and the metal bastards are not kidding around. See: Cap’s dislocated shoulder, or Natasha’s bruised knuckles and stiff posture, or the new dents in Tony’s suit. They don’t know who built themselves a small army of extremely irritable robots, but Tony is second in line - Natasha already called first spot, shortly after clawing her way back up a partially collapsed elevator shaft - for punching this individual in the face.

Tony also really wants to have a long, detailed conversation with the guy about how to make evil automatons. Because what he’s seen in action coupled with what he’s guessing is under the hood needs to be dissected, by him, as soon as possible. Mastermind commentary optional but preferred.

“Do you think our mad scientist will be less likely to tell me all about his toys if I sock him in the jaw first?” Tony wonders. He mimes fisticuffs. “That’s what you’re good at, right, Captain?”

Steve glares at him, and opens his mouth, but then closes it again.

“Unless you have a better idea,” Tony says, and it’s a dare to get angry, but without any real heat. Steve is usually pretty willing to shout at Tony -- one of the things they never show you in the old news reels and the comic books is this: Steve has an epic, epic temper, especially when he’s going around being Steve, rather than Captain America -- but right now he seems to understand that Tony’s not really committing to a genuine argument, and looks just as tired as Tony feels.

“You … could sock him in the jaw afterward,” Steve says, half-heartedly brushing at the crumbs on his lap.

“Yeah, but by then Natasha might have already got him, so maybe it won’t matter.”

They sit in silence for a few minutes, picking at the stale cinnamon buns. Something explodes outside, illuminating the basement, briefly, and Tony discovers they are all making the same face: exhaustion, with a side-order of “what now.”

“Knock knock,” says Tony.


The day that Steve (the final holdout) moves into the newly-renamed Avengers Tower, three supervillains thoughtfully throw them a housewarming party that involves a lot of actual fire. By the time it’s all over, it’s four in the morning and the only thing Tony wants in the world is a shower, Pepper, about five bowls of breakfast cereal, and his bed, in that order.

Pepper is back in DC for the weekend, but the other three things are totally attainable, and once he’s clean he takes the elevator to the tenth floor, which he’s designated as Common Team Area of Awesomeness. It has a kitchen full of ridiculous cereal selections and he is going to chow down on whatever takes his fancy: the breakfast cereal of righteous supervillain ass-kickery.

Bruce is already there when he arrives; he’s sitting on the counter with a plate of something healthy-looking, absently swinging his legs and letting his bare feet hit the side of the counter with a dull thump every few minutes. He also has his tablet open to something that makes Tony forget he was ever tired in the first place; he makes a beeline for Bruce and makes grabby hands until Bruce is forced to put down his food in order to defend himself.

Natasha walks in on them twenty minutes later, hair still damp from her own shower. By this point they’ve migrated to the table and are having an animated discussion about the pros and cons of adamantium, because once more, with feeling: Bruce is the best.

“I once met a man with adamantium grafted to his bones,” she says, and sits down with Bruce’s abandoned plate of -- again, Tony isn’t sure what it is, but hey, he’s seen the looks people give his protein shakes; he is not one to cast stones re: healthy food choices, desirability thereof. Which reminds him, cereal, except wait --

“Adamantium on his bones?” Tony says, and then, “Are you wearing yoga pants?”

She is. Thor arrives right in the middle of the ensuing debate about whether or not guys with adamantium skeleton grafts would wear yoga pants (general consensus: probably, yes). He’s wearing jeans and the sleeveless vest thing that he wears into battle, and he’s seeking poptarts.

“Any variation will suffice,” says Thor, “although the sort with many coloured sprinkles would be most prized.”

Tony waves him over to the appropriate cupboard and there is a small lull in conversation where everyone watches Thor deftly utilize the toaster. Poptarts secured, Thor directs his attention to peering over Bruce’s shoulder at the tablet.

“What does this diagram indicate?” They tell him, and it clearly blows his mind. “Armour worn inside a man!” he cries. His eyes are big. His smile is large. “Would such a man still wear external armour?”

“Or yoga pants?” says Bruce, and Natasha makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like a laugh.

Thor leans against the table; it creaks alarmingly. “Tell me more,” he says, very seriously, and Clint shows up once the mostly sincere discussion about the structural feasibility of metal-covered bones has devolved into a completely sincere argument about acceptable superhero costumes. He’s sleepy-eyed and about as relaxed as he ever gets; there’s a pillow crease winding its way up the left side of his face. Thor gives him a poptart, Bruce shifts over, and Clint sits down on the floor, leaning against Natasha’s leg and munching contentedly. Tony’s never seen him that low to the ground barring a loss of consciousness.

Tony has three bowls of cereal. Steve shows up with the sun, fifteen minutes later. If he is surprised to see everyone gathered around a metaphorical campfire, he does not say as much. “Good morning,” he says to the room at large, and heads for the oatmeal.

“Make bacon,” Natasha suggests, in a manner that indicates it’s less a suggestion and more an order.

“Make bacon, Rogers,” Clint immediately seconds, from the floor. Steve abandons the oatmeal and starts to rummage through the freezer.

“How did you sleep, dear,” Tony says.

Rummage, rummage. Steve peers around the open freezer door at them. “There are six kinds of bacon in here,” he says.

“That’s the bacon freezer,” Tony explains.

“It is literally full of bacon,” says Steve.

Natasha gives Tony an approving nod.

Tony looks around the room and then pulls out his phone. “What are you doing, Stark,” Natasha says, a warning note in her voice, but Tony says, “Shhhh” and opens the camera app. In the moment directly preceding the click, Thor grins, having caught on to this particular technological ritual early. Out of the corner of his eye, Tony sees Steve have an apparently automatic, unconscious reaction to the general atmosphere of “picture happening now”: large, friendly smile, all his teeth. Four packages of bacon in his hands.

Send to: contacts: [potts, pepper; coulson, agent]

“That’s great, guys,” he says, brightly, while they’re still blinking in the aftermath of the flash. “Now one where everything is going to end in tears and rubble and millions in property damage.”

They oblige. The Avengers are in situations where that’s legitimately the case often enough that they make it look very convincing.

Send to: contacts: [fury, nick].

“Awesome,” says Tony, and then, “Bacon! Chop chop!”