Chapter 1: Prologue: Auditionees Assemble
SHIELD RECORDS seeks five attractive male singers/dancers for new male vocal group. All applicants ages 16-22. Must have great hair. Talent not essential but desired.
NAME: Steve Rogers
PLACE OF BIRTH: Brooklyn, New York
FURY’S NOTES: Terrible dancer, okay voice. Good physique. Blond hair – needs restyling. Possibly curtains? (Will consult Maria Hill.) Wholesome, appeal to moms as well as teens. Would look good in the center of posters/album cover. Possibly gay, will investigate.
STATUS: The Pretty One
NAME: Clint Barton
PLACE OF BIRTH: Waverly, Iowa
FURY’S NOTES: Great singer/dancer. Frontman material, except a little short. Spiked hair to make him appear taller? (Again, consult Maria Hill.) Previous performing experience. Writes his own songs, will consider including one as album filler to keep him happy. Possibly gay, will investigate.
STATUS: The Talent
NAME: Thor Odinson
PLACE OF BIRTH: Norway
FURY’S NOTES: Brother Loki already a big star in Norway (came second in 1995 Eurovision Song Contest), instant European fanbase. Better physique than Rogers, skilled breakdancer. Beard – will appeal to the older teens. Probably not gay, will investigate.
STATUS: The Dancer
NAME: Hank Pym
PLACE OF BIRTH: Elmsford, New York
FURY’S NOTES: Unsuccessful.
NAME: Tony Stark
PLACE OF BIRTH: Long Island, New York
FURY’S NOTES: Father too famous, would need rebranding (Tony-S? Consult Coulson on possible nickname.) Not the most talented singer, but can dance. Has “bad-boy” potential. Most likely to cause tabloid scandal – great publicity. Also most likely to develop addiction/quit. Assign Potts as personal handler. Also assign Potts to educate on pop music, rock does not appeal to demographic. Styling – think AJ from BSB. Possibly gay, will investigate.
STATUS: The Bad Boy
NAME: Bruce Banner
PLACE OF BIRTH: Dayton, Ohio
FURY’S NOTES: Nerdy – would girls find that cute? (Coulson to arrange focus group.) Some rage issues following a mistake in dance audition, but mostly nice. Would be the best in interviews. Good at harmonies, may give lead vocals on some album tracks. Possibly gay, will investigate.
STATUS: Await results from focus group.
“I know you from somewhere,” Clint says, an eyebrow raised.
“Nope,” Tony says, and slips on his headphones.
“I know him, too,” Steve mutters, leaning in closer to Clint despite Tony’s blaring music blocking out their conversation. “Do you think he was one of those child stars? Like, from a sitcom?”
“No,” Clint shakes his head. “He doesn’t look like he’s had his mental breakdown yet.”
“I wish they’d hurry up,” Hank says, nervously tugging at his zipper. “I gotta pee real bad.”
“Hey, what did everyone sing for their audition?” Bruce asks, without taking his eyes off his Gameboy screen. The familiar theme to Donkey Kong mixed with the heavy rock Tony was blasting in an unholy mash-up of awful.
“New Kids on the Block,” Steve says.
“I sang my brother’s hit single,” Thor boasts proudly. “He came second at Eurovision!”
“I wrote my own song,” Clint says with a smirk.
“You write songs?” Steve asks, a little awestruck. Clint turns his gaze to Hank.
“What about you, Jumpy?” he asks.
“…The Carpenters,” Hank all but mumbles.
“I went for Michael Jackson, myself,” Bruce says, “I think it went well, but I messed up my moonwalk.”
Tony points to his Black Sabbath t-shirt, nods twice, and returns to his music.
"Well, I think we know which one of us isn't boy band material," Clint says under his breath.
Another half hour passes before Mr Fury calls Hank back into the audition room. Not five minutes later, he’s storming out of the building, throwing them all jealous looks as he passes.
“Congratulations, boys,” Fury says to those left behind. “Welcome to SHIELD Records.”
Chapter 2: Styling
Steve misses Bucky, the boys learn just where they recognise Tony from, and Bruce still doesn't fit a stereotype.
Steve’s parents are, for want of a better phrase, old fashioned. They're older than the parents of most of the kids at school, by at least a decade, and for them, even Elvis is too risqué. There isn’t a television in the Rogers home, although they enjoy the movies, and everything Steve knows about MTV and pop music comes from numerous nights at his friend Bucky’s.
The only reason Steve went to the audition in the first place was because he’d lost a bet to Bucky. Bucky had taught him the New Kids on the Block song only the night before. He hadn’t even told his parents where he’d gone. Being the only boy under 18, Fury needed his parents’ permission to join the band, and let his assistant (Coulson? Yes, that’s it) break the news. And he is still here. That’s a good sign.
The stylist, Maria, had placed cucumber slices over his eyes. Steve has no idea what for, but he knows how to obey orders so he keeps his eyes closed and waits. A few chairs away, he can hear Maria, Coulson and the older boy – Bruce, Steve remembers – debating dreadlocks, in an attempt to have him fit some sort of stereotype. Which one, again Steve doesn’t know, but it doesn’t seem to matter because Bruce is starting to get angry.
“Curls,” Maria announces suddenly. “Work on his interview technique,” she says to who Steve can only assume is Coulson, “maybe we can make him the funny one.”
To his left, the boy who writes his own songs is humming a tune Steve doesn’t recognise.
“Did you make that up?” Steve asks in a low voice. The boy laughs.
“It’s the Saved By The Bell theme.”
“Of course,” Steve says, and falls silent. Bucky had never shown him that one.
“Okay Steve,” Maria says somewhere above him. “Let’s take a look at you.” She removes the cucumber slices and Steve blinks twice as he adjusts to the light. He is sat in front of a large, well-lit mirror, a black cape covering his best shirt (the one his parents bought him for his 17th birthday), and through the reflection he can see the songwriter boy eyeing him over a magazine.
“Definitely curtains,” Maria says. “Which one is he?”
“The pretty one,” Coulson replies.
Steve feels a comb drag along the center of his scalp, and then Maria brushes the hair back from his new parting. It’s tough work, Steve uses gel to keep it neat. She pulls at Steve’s bangs, letting them flop over his forehead, and looks to Coulson through the mirror. “What do you think? Too Nick Carter?”
Nick Carter. Steve knows that one, Bucky had mentioned it. The songwriter boy holds up the magazine next to Steve’s face. Oh yes, Backstreet Boys.
“Yes, thank you Clint,” Coulson says, pushing his hands down. “Is there anything we can do with the whole All-American vibe?”
“Wardrobe,” Maria says. “Make a note, letterman jackets and baseball shoes.”
“Done,” Coulson says, jotting something down on his ever-present clipboard as Maria sets about trimming Steve’s bangs.
It has only been a day since his audition, and the sight of Nick Fury sets him on edge. They could still fire him and bring back the unsuccessful Hank – and why is his the name Steve remembers? – if he voices any objection to the haircut. He stays silent and hopes his mother doesn’t kill him and Bucky doesn’t mock him.
The boy Clint has no such reservations when Nick Fury enters the room.
“Mr Fury,” he calls out with impossible enthusiasm. “I have that demo tape.”
“Not now, Barton,” Fury says, barely sparing him a glance as he crosses the room. Clint turns back to his magazine. Steve can see the hint of a scowl on his lips.
Fury claps the boy with the loud music hard on the shoulder. “TJ!” he announces.
“My name’s Tony,” Tony says, eyebrow raised.
“Not anymore,” Fury says. “Unless you want to be known around the world as Tony Stark.”
“Holy shit!” Clint cries.
Coulson leans over Clint’s shoulder. “No swearing,” he admonishes. “It’s one of the rules.”
“But why TJ?” Tony asks. “My middle name is Edward.”
“I do not like that name,” Fury says, monotone. “From now on, you are TJ Rodriguez.” Fury takes one last look at Bruce, still seething in the corner and protecting his hair with his hands, and leaves the room. Steve lets out a breath he didn’t even know he was holding.
“But I’m not Latino…” Tony mutters to no-one in particular.
Clint twists in his chair. “Tony Stark?” he asks, “as in Stark Industries?”
“He’s Howard Stark’s son,” Bruce says from his corner. “I did a research project on the company at school.”
“Who’s Howard Stark?” Thor asks.
But that is something Steve does know. Howard Stark manufactures weapons. He’d been a military consultant in the Vietnam war, a war Steve’s father had fought in. He didn’t like to talk about it much.
“Aren’t you, like, super rich?” Clint asks.
“Nope,” Tony says. “Dad cut me off. I don’t get a penny of his fortune until he dies. Can’t even access my college fund without Obie’s permission.”
Clint, and sometimes Bruce, continue asking questions, about who Obie is, about what will happen to the college fund now Tony is in the band, but Steve tunes them out. He watches his hair being snipped away by Maria, and thinks of Bucky, of how much he’d laughed when Steve came home last night and told him about the audition. Of how he’d joked that maybe Steve would finally get girls if he was famous. All good-natured, of course, and Steve had laughed back, but didn't say anything.
He watches Maria chop away at his identity and wishes Bucky was here with him, instead of these sons of billionaires and Norwegian dancers and Clint with his demo tapes.
He wishes he knew what Saved By The Bell was.
Chapter 3: Bonding
Fury issues a list of rules, Steve and Tony are forced to bond, and Thor does not like Natasha Romanov.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
MEMO: NICK FURY TO PHIL COULSON
Ensure all boys receive a copy of this list. Have them all read and sign. ESPECIALLY Stark.
1. No swearing at any public event, rehearsal, concert, or interview.
2. No partners or significant others. Fanbase must always believe they have a chance to date members. Any romantic/sexual partners, be they temporary or long-term, must be kept secret at all times, unless instructed otherwise.
3. All members must be ambiguous about their sexuality, to encourage the homosexual market. However, any members who are, in fact, homosexual, must not reveal this.
4. All band members will be assigned an official best friend. Members may socialise personally with any other member, but in the eyes of the public, will split off into these pairings. They will do interviews together, stand together in press photographs, be paired for dance routines etc. Pairings will be: Stark/Rogers and Odinson/Banner. Barton, as frontman, will conduct all non-group interviews and promotion alone. Phil Coulson will assist Barton in interview prep. Pairings have been chosen according to certain personality traits and there shall be no wavering.
5. SHIELD Records reserves the right to fire any member of the band at any time. Remaining members should not question SHIELD’s decision.
6. All members should recognise that SHIELD Records have their best interests at heart, and conflicting opinions regarding the creative direction of the group will be heard, but may also be rejected.
7. Any query not included on this list should be directed to Phil Coulson.
“Fuck,” Tony mutters as takes the pen from Coulson. He hasn’t yet signed the form, so there can’t be any punishment. And really, as Tony skims over the rules again, he thinks he shouldn’t sign at all. He should go back to college, wrestle his money back from Obie and try to make peace with his father. But that would mean Howard Stark winning, and it’s much more fun to imagine him looking on with despair as his only son and heir performs cheesy dance routines on MTV.
Steve has already signed his form and his looking over at him nervously by Clint’s side. It’s painfully obvious that of everyone in the group, Tony is the last person Steve would want as his Official Best Friend. He looks like he’s about to cry whenever Tony opens his mouth. Which would be fun for the first few weeks, he’s guessing.
From the limited interaction they’ve had over the past week, Tony can estimate that Steve would much rather be partnered with Clint, since he was the only one who apparently knew what he was doing. Tony, having heard that Bruce had been a physics major in college, would rather hang out with him, while Bruce, for reasons yet unknown, would rather be with Clint. Poor Thor just wants to talk about his brother’s Eurovision success to anyone who will listen. Tony doesn’t envy Bruce.
“Please sign the form, TJ,” Coulson says, and Tony winces at the unfortunate new name Fury has assigned him. Gripping the pen tight between his fingers, Tony adds to the list: 8. Nobody is to refer to Tony Stark as “TJ” when members of the public are not present. and signs.
“Thank you,” Coulson says, unflinching as he catches the pen that Tony tosses directly at his face. “Today is for bonding. Tomorrow, you will have your first session with Ms. Potts, and then we might actually get you guys in a recording studio. Barton, with me.”
Clint bounces up from his seat, trailing after Coulson like an excitable puppy. “Has Fury listened to my tape yet?” Tony hears him ask as they leave.
Bruce shrugs at Tony before Thor claps him roughly on the back, leading him away. And then there’s just him and Steve.
“So…” Steve says, his fingers fidgeting with the hem of his blue t-shirt.
“Yeah,” Tony replies, and that’s all they say for fifteen minutes. In that time, Tony pretends to play Snake on his cell phone (he’s the only one who owns a cell, a fact that makes Clint impossibly jealous) while watching Steve’s behaviour. He sits upright, shoulders back and knees pulled in close together. He’s just as well-built as Thor, but he looks uncomfortable about it. Like a high-school jock who really wants to be in the Mathletes. He runs a hand through his hair, once, twice, three times, trying to slick back the curtains Maria gave him. His eyes are too old for his body.
“Who’s Ms. Potts?” Steve asks eventually.
Tony shrugs, eyes returning to his game. “My handler, she’s going to teach me how to behave.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be the bad boy?”
“My idea of bad and Fury’s are clearly very different,” Tony says. “I don’t get it, no-one else needs a handler. Well, unless you count Clint and Coulson. I have no idea what that’s abo-“
“Maybe it’s because you’re already famous,” Steve interrupts.
“No,” Tony snaps suddenly. “The Starks are famous. I’m not a Stark anymore.” He sucks in a breath and rises to his feet. “I gotta pee.”
Bruce is washing his hands as Tony enters the bathroom. He catches Tony’s gaze in the mirror and grins.
“Oh hey, you’ll never guess what Thor just told me,” he says, “you know Nat Romanov?”
“Who?” Tony asks, stepping up to the urinal.
“She’s top of the Billboard chart right now.”
“As if that would clue me in.”
Bruce rolls his eyes. “The hot redhead signed to our label. Her picture’s in the entrance to the building.”
“Oh yeah!” Tony says, pulling up his zipper and heading over to the sink. “She is hot.”
“Well, Thor just told me that she was the one who stopped his brother winning Eurovision,” Bruce laughs. “Before she moved to America, she was in some girl group in Russia called The Black Widows, and they beat Loki by seven points. Suffice to say, Thor’s not a big fan.”
“You sound like you’re having fun with the big guy,” Tony says.
“I am,” Bruce admits, “he’s funny. Of course, he doesn’t know when he’s being funny, but that just makes him funnier. How are things going with Steve?”
“Urgh,” Tony groans. “How the hell am I supposed to bond with someone like him? Do you think Fury will let us swap? We could talk about science!”
“Tony,” Bruce says, “have you even tried having a proper conversation with him?”
Tony moves to dry his hands without a word. Bruce rolls his eyes again. He does that a lot.
“Give him a chance, Tony. He’s still a kid and he’s probably scared. He’s not gonna relax if you keep him on edge.”
“I promise you, we’ll have nothing in common,” Tony says. “I’m willing to bet on it.”
“Even if that’s the case, you’re stuck with each other,” Bruce laughs. “Thor and I are going out for lunch. Maybe you guys should get out of here too. Could make things less tense.”
“How come Clint gets out of this bonding crap?” Tony mutters.
“Bye, Tony,” Bruce says, and heads for the door.
“Bruce, wait,” Tony calls out. “I have to ask, why the hell are you here? I mean, I’m only here to embarrass my dad. Why’d you give up physics?”
Bruce looks down at his feet. “I was writing my thesis on gamma radiation and I messed up an experiment.”
“So, what? They kicked you out of school for making a mistake?”
“No,” Bruce says. “They kicked me out because I got so angry about the experiment that I trashed the lab.”
There’s a little shawarma place a few blocks from the SHIELD Records building. Tony walks past it every day when he leaves his apartment (and he hopes SHIELD pay him something soon, because there’s no way his dad will help him with the rent anymore, and he hasn’t been able to contact Obie in weeks) and he still doesn’t have a clue what the hell shawarma is. Neither, it transpires, does Steve, so they’re embarking on this culinary adventure together. How’s that for bonding, Fury?
“The only fast food I’ve ever had is pizza,” Steve says as they wait at their table.
“Seriously?” Tony asks. “I pretty much grew up on takeout.”
“Yeah, my mom insists on home-cooked meals every night, so I only get takeout when I stay at my friend Bucky’s,” Steve says. “And Bucky loves pizza.”
“Your friend is called Bucky?”
“Old family nickname,” Steve says as a plate is put before him.
Tony shrugs. “Who am I to judge? My old driver was called Happy.” His eyes flick down to his plate and back up to Steve. “You ready for this?”
“On the count of three,” Steve says, and scoops up his meat and salad laden pitta bread. He counts down, and he and Tony both take a huge bite.
“Holy crap, that’s delicious,” Tony says around a mouthful of food. Steve swallows before he speaks.
“I’ve never even tasted pitta bread before,” he confesses.
“Wow, you really have led a sheltered life haven’t you?”
“My parents don’t even own a TV.”
“Steve, you can tell me,” Tony says, leaning in close. “Are you Amish? Because that’s cool, but I’m pretty sure the community would disapprove of your career choices.”
“Shut up,” Steve laughs, shoving at his shoulder before taking another bite. And to his surprise, Tony’s laughing back. Bruce was right, away from the studio Steve seemed to relax. He’s still sat upright but he’s released the tension in his shoulders. His old eyes light up when he laughs. Bruce is a pretty wise guy.
“You’re not as uptight as I thought,” Tony says before he can stop himself. Luckily, Steve doesn’t seem to mind.
“I was taught to show respect to my superiors,” Steve says.
“Superior,” Tony says with a quirk of his eyebrow, “I’m not familiar with the term.”
“Of course you’re not, TJ,” Steve jokes. “You’ll be interested to hear Fury thinks you can’t sing.”
“What?” Tony cries. “Who told you this?”
“Clint saw his notes,” Steve says.
“Well it’s a damn lie,” Tony insists. “I can sing, I just don’t sing pop music.”
“Then why are you in a boy band?”
“I have my reasons,” Tony says, and he falls quiet. Steve’s company may not be entirely bad away from the studio, but he’s already talked about his dad once today to Bruce, and that was one time too many for Tony. Steve, to his credit, doesn’t question Tony further. He takes a sip of his coke, turns back to his meal, and only stops to brush the annoying curtains out of his eyes.
“You know why I’m here?” he says at last. Tony waits. “I lost a bet. Bucky and I had a wager on who would be elected Spring Fling Queen, and the loser had to go to the audition.”
“I bet he feels pretty dumb now you’re actually in the band,” Tony says.
“He just laughed a lot, really,” Steve admits. “And then he got angry because he could have used it to get dates. I haven’t told him about Fury’s ‘no girlfriends’ rule yet.”
“I think Clint might be the only one of us who actually wants to be in this band,” Tony says. “Maybe Thor.”
“Yeah, I wanted to join the army after graduation,” Steve says. “But dad was against it, so I applied for some art schools. I should probably withdraw my applications.”
“I’d hold off on that just yet. Our single could bomb.”
“Oh man, I think Clint would actually cry.”
Wow, I didn't realise just how dialogue-heavy this chapter was until it came to posting. Oops.
Chapter 4: Clint's Tape
Clint and Coulson drink coffee, and Maria Hill knows Coulson too well.
“Has Fury listened to my tape yet?”
Coulson walks a few steps ahead, shoulders set straight, head high, and hands clutching tight at his clipboard. He doesn’t turn at Clint’s question, just starts up a set of stairs as Clint buzzes around him like a persistent fly.
“I hope you don’t feel uncomfortable with this arrangement,” Coulson says, blatantly attempting to change the subject. “You will have plenty of time with the other boys, but you’ve performed before and they haven’t. We need to give them time to adjust and gel with each other.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Clint says, waving his hand. “The tape, Phil.”
“Please, call me Coulson,” Coulson says, and if that was a joke, it’s not evident in the straight set of his jaw. He pushes open a door. “In here.”
He leads Clint into a sparse, tiny office space. Two chairs, one behind a desk and the other in the far corner. A kettle, two empty mugs and instant coffee sit on top of a small refrigerator behind the desk. Three bookshelves are filled with perfectly stacked demo tapes, all lovingly labelled by hopeful wannabes (poor Hank Pym is amongst the names), while the fourth and final bookshelf is brimming with glossy magazines. Most have Natasha Romanov on the cover. Well, she is SHIELD’s only global superstar to date. A green iMac dominates most of the small desk, the rest full of stacks of files and paperwork, teetering precariously against the iMac monitor.
“Take a seat,” Coulson says, gesturing to the far off chair. “You can pull it closer to the desk, just make sure you don’t block the door. Coffee?”
Clint nods, and drags the chair into the centre of the room. His eyes remain fixed on the demo tapes as Coulson flicks on the kettle and spoons coffee into the two mugs.
“Don’t concern yourself with those,” Coulson says. “They’re all rejections from Mr Fury. I’m a little behind in writing rejection letters and sending them back.”
“Oh,” Clint says quietly. “And mine…”
“Isn’t there,” Coulson says. The kettle flicks off and he pours the boiling water into the mugs, before stirring in some milk. “We signed you, didn’t we?”
“So Fury has my tape, then?” Clint asks, an eager smile spreading across his face as he takes the coffee from Coulson. “Because we’re in the recording studio in a few days, and I need to know which one he likes best for the debut single.”
“Clint…” Coulson begins.
“Plus, you know, Bruce is supposed to be good at harmonies, so I’ll need to work one out for him,” Clint continues, setting his coffee down without taking a single sip. “And we don’t have a lot of time to teach it to the other guys.”
“Clint,” Coulson says again. “We’ve brought in Darcy Lewis to write the single.”
Clint’s face drops from excited to furious in the blink of an eye. “That hack! Why?”
“Darcy wrote twenty-six of all the songs that got to number one last year,” Coulson says. “It’s guaranteed success.”
“But...” Clint splutters. He seems to have lost the ability to formulate sentences when he just yells “no!”
Coulson takes another calm sip of his coffee, as if a hissy fit from a neglected ‘artist’ is something he has to deal with every day. Which it is. “Think of it this way,” Coulson says finally, “Fury is doing you a favour.”
“How do you figure that?” Clint spits. “I thought the whole reason he chose me was because I’m a songwriter.”
“And what good will that do if you don’t have fans?” Coulson says. “Look, we let Darcy write your first song. Maybe even your first three singles. We establish a fan-base. Then, we make an announcement that your next single was written by you, and the fans go absolutely crazy.”
Clint raises a sceptical eyebrow. “Is that really Fury’s plan, or are you just saying that to make me feel better.”
“The latter, but don’t worry,” Coulson smiles. “I have a lot of influence over Fury on these things. I’m sure I’ll be able to talk him round.”
Clint tucks his feet in down the side of the chair, picks up his coffee and cradles it in his hands. “You’d do that?” he asks in a small voice. “Why?”
“Fury’s not listened to the tape yet, but I have. I play it in my car.”
They’re silent for a moment, Clint quietly sipping at his coffee while Coulson rummages in one of his drawers. He emerges with a notepad and pen, and drops them down on top of his clipboard. “Now, I have to think of a name for you guys. Suggestions?”
Three hours and fifty-six band name suggestions later, Maria Hill knocks on Coulson’s office door.
“Clint’s needed,” she says in that clipped tone of hers.
“What’s going on?” Clint asks.
“Wardrobe fitting,” Maria says. “You have your first photoshoot tomorrow.”
Coulson huffed, and flipped over a few pages on his clipboard. “That’s not on the itinerary,” he says, getting up to stand beside Maria on the other side of his desk. “Tomorrow was supposed to be a meeting with Fury followed by a dance session, and then Tony has his session with Pepper.”
“Change of plan,” is all Maria says. “Speak to Fury.” She turns back to Clint. “Head back downstairs with the others, I’ll be there shortly.”
Maria waits until Clint’s footsteps disappear down the hall, before she turns to Coulson, arms folded across her chest. “Christ, Phil.”
“What?” Coulson says, eyes dropping to his shoes.
“I’d have thought Rogers was more your type,” Maria says, and Coulson can tell by the twitch of her lips that she’s holding back a smug grin.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Coulson says matter-of-factly. “Fury asked me to work with Clint, I’m just doing my job.”
“Sure you are,” Maria says, and she is full-on smiling now, “and the fact that he’s hot and young with a great voice means nothing to you.”
Coulson smiles back, because it’s not like he keeps anything from her. The only person who gets more out of him is Pepper, but she’s more useful for post-breakup drinking than good-natured teasing. “Now, I didn’t say that…” he says, eyes flicking up to meet Maria’s. She laughs.
“At least you’re not crushing on Tony Stark,” she says, nudging Coulson with her shoulder, and takes her leave. Coulson returns to his seat, pulling open the bottom drawer of his desk and digging out his Walkman. He slips the headphones over his ears, hits play on Clint’s demo tape and pulls the stack of paperwork towards him.
Chapter 5: The Name
The boy band gets it's name, Bruce is throwing a party and Tony meets Ms Potts.
The change of plans, it transpired, was that their choreographer had been reassigned to work on Nat Romanov’s latest music video.
“So until Fury assigns us a new choreographer, dance practice will have to wait,” Coulson says, looking down at his ever-present clipboard. “The photographer will be here at noon, and one of these photos will be the cover for your first single.”
“So stop messing up your hair, Rogers,” Maria orders, pulling out her comb yet again.
“Sorry,” Steve mutters, feebly attempting to flick his bangs out of his eyes.
Clint relaxes at the back of the room, feet up on the low coffee table and hands resting on the back of his head. He smiles whenever Coulson’s eyes flick up from the clipboard to him, and three times out of ten Coulson smiles back. Maria, when she’s not fixing Steve’s hair, gives him a curious look, while Bruce, to his left, nudges him slightly and mouths “are you in trouble?”
Clint shakes his head and turns his attention back to Coulson. “What are we supposed to do for the next hour?”
“I’m glad you asked that,” Coulson says. He walks over to Clint and Bruce, Maria, Steve and Tony following, and hands Clint a list. “Here is Fury’s shortlist for band names.”
Clint’s eyes quickly scan the sheet. “Only one of my suggestions made it,” he says with a pout.
“Sorry Barton,” Maria says. “But we thought ‘Clint and the Guys’ wasn’t fair to everyone else.”
“That’s saying nothing of ‘Barton and the Others’ and ‘Hawkeye and the Rest’,” Coulson adds, with a hint of the same laugh Clint heard when he first suggested them.
“Hawkeye?” Thor asks from his spot on the floor by Bruce’s feet, where he’s been busy writing a letter home. “I do not understand.”
“That was my stage name as a kid,” Clint says, “I used to be on a kid’s variety programme when I was nine.”
Tony barks out a laugh, and Steve shoots him a disapproving look. “Which suggestion was yours?” Steve asks, peering over Coulson’s shoulder.
“The Avengers,” Clint says. “I always wanted to name my first solo album The Avenger, but now I’m in a group…”
“It’s not very boy band, is it?” Bruce says. “Maybe it’s the ‘The’ part.”
“Asterisks are big right now, since *NSync,” Coulson pipes up. “Let me try something.” He snatches the sheet from Clint and, balancing it on the clipboard, scribbles out The, replacing it with a little star. He underlines his work and hands the list back to Clint.
“All in favour of *Avengers?” Clint asks, drawing a star in the air with his finger.
The photoshoot is as generic as Clint would have expected. They’re all styled exactly according to their stereotypes, with Steve in his letterman jacket, Tony in black t-shirts and jeans, and Bruce in his perhaps inaccurate status as “the funny one” (Thor was much funnier, albeit unintentionally) wearing a bright yellow shirt. As the shortest, Clint and Bruce stand slightly forward, letting perspective do its work, but Steve is at the center of every shot. There’s a lot of pointing at the camera, a lot of Thor as the big dancer guy throwing his arms wide to show off his biceps, a lot of flipping between sultry pouts and cheeky smiles, and despite Clint having seen every single one of these shots recreated by every single boy band out there, it doesn’t hit him how exhausting and tiresome the photoshoot actually is until it’s all over and he just wants to sleep for a week.
As the photographer is packing up his equipment, and Tony is furiously scrubbing off his make-up with a face-wipe, Fury strides into the studio, a distinct click of heels on polished wooden floor following him. Clint lifts his head as a tall woman with strawberry blonde hair, a tight, red suit jacket and skirt and the most impossible heels he’s ever seen passes through the doorway. Fury mutters to her, sharply jabs his finger in the direction of Tony’s back and rolls his eye. Clint hasn’t yet worked out if the eye-patch over his other eye is a necessity or a fashion statement.
“Listen up!” Fury calls out, and Thor freezes with a sandwich half-way to his mouth. Only Tony doesn’t turn to face him. “Rodriguez!” Fury tries again, and when Tony still doesn’t turn, he all but screams “Tony!”
“Thank you,” Tony replies, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “What’s the hubbub, Chief?”
“See?” Fury mutters to the mysterious woman. “That’s it for this week,” Fury tells them. “Coulson has copies of a demo for your first single. Learn it. Practice. We’ll be in the studio on Monday.”
“Sweet!” Tony cries, snatching one of the tapes from Coulson. “¡Adiós!” he adds in an over exaggerated Spanish accent, and makes for the door.
“Not so fast, TJ,” Fury says, hand halting Tony by pressing against his chest. “This is Ms. Potts,” he gestures to the woman beside him. Tony’s eyes grow comically wide at the sight of her.
“Would you like to follow me, Mr Stark,” Pepper says, and turns on her heels to strut out of the door.
“¡Olé!” Tony mutters in Steve’s direction before following her out. Clint swears that he actually sees Steve blush. Fury is next, his mouth pulled into a tight scowl.
A moment later, and Bruce is by his side, slipping the demo tape into his satchel. “So, are you doing anything tonight?” he asks.
A mischievous grin teases Clint’s lips. “Are you asking me out, because you know that’s against at least two of Fury’s rules.”
“You wish,” Bruce says around that quiet laugh of his. “No, I figured, since we have the weekend off, how about a movie night? Steve and Thor are already in.”
“You’re not sick of the sight of us all?” Clint asks.
“If we’re going to be stuck together all the time, it’d help if we were all actually friends,” Bruce says. “It’d be nice to hang out away from all…” he waves his hand in the vague direction of Steve and Thor, “…this.”
“Sure,” Clint says with a smile, because Bruce seems like a genuinely cool guy, and he’s over 21 so there’s bound to be alcohol in his apartment.
“Great!” Bruce grins, and hands over a slip of paper. “This is my address. Thor’s getting there for seven, Steve has family stuff until eight, so turn up any time between then.”
Bruce claps him on the shoulder and leaves, closely followed by Thor and Steve, who offers Clint a quick wave. The photographer is next, and finally Maria, whose eyes flick between Clint and Coulson one last time before she disappears behind the door.
“So, movie night,” Coulson says as he passes Clint his tape. “Sounds fun.”
“You know about that, huh?”
“Bruce asked me to pass the message on to Tony,” Coulson flashed his identical slip of paper with Bruce’s address scrawled across it. “What movie are you taking?”
“I don’t know,” Clint says with a shrug. “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, maybe. I like archery.”
“Plus, there’s-“ Coulson begins.
“-Alan Rickman,” Clint finishes for him. “Maybe I’ll take Die Hard instead.”
Coulson chuckles. “Whatever you do, make sure you take this,” he says, and he taps the cassette tape in Clint’s hand. “I know you want to do your own stuff, but Darcy’s written something perfect for your voice and for our market. I think you’ll like it.”
“Sure,” Clint nods. He turns the tape over in his hands as Coulson heads for the door. “Hey,” he calls after him just as Coulson’s hand wraps around the doorknob. “Do you really listen to my tape in the car, or were you just humouring me yesterday?”
Coulson looks back over his shoulder. “I wasn’t humouring you,” he says.
“Well,” Clint begins. He rocks on his heels, trying to remain settled despite the sudden infestation of butterflies in his stomach. “What did you think?”
“I like it,” Coulson says, his voice earnest. He lets go of the doorknob and turns fully to face Clint. “My World’s my favourite, but I think you need another verse. Possibly a key change.”
“Noted,” Clint says, grinning.
“You also might want to try writing something up-tempo,” Coulson continues. “If you want Fury to release your songs instead of Darcy’s, you’re gonna need to write something other than ballads. One ballad single release per album is the rule. Unless it’s a Christmas album.”
“Right,” Clint agrees.
“Hey, if you’ve got some free time before you go to Bruce’s,” Coulson begins, but he cuts himself off abruptly. “Never mind.”
“What is it?” Clint asks.
“I was going to ask if you wanted to grab a coffee and talk about it, but then I realised that sounded like I was asking you on a date which would be inappropriate,” Coulson said, babbling.
“I have no objections to coffee,” Clint cut him off. “But you’re paying.”
Chapter 6: Movie Night
Everyone goes to Bruce's, Clint and Thor get drunk, and Steve hasn't seen Robocop.
Pepper Potts. Sweet Jesus, Pepper Potts.
Tony had been kept behind at the SHIELD offices until 7:30, locked in a small office with Pepper Potts and all her heels and hair and attitude, and he was terrified. Because Nick Fury stood behind him for the entire session.
And Pepper was efficient, so efficient that after one meeting Tony was ready to hand control of his remaining money from Obadiah over to her. This was despite the fact that Tony barely listened to a word she said. He was too busy contemplating the perfection that was Pepper Potts. A weaker-willed person would be flattered by Tony’s admiration, but Pepper just made him stay even later for not paying attention.
He’d dashed over to the shawarma place he’d visited with Steve to inhale some food and two coffees, taking in the schedule Pepper had arranged for him. On Mondays, he had an hour’s education in modern pop music. Wednesday afternoons were dedicated turning Tony Stark into TJ Rodriguez (and how would they do that exactly? Did he need an accent?), while on Thursdays, Steve would join them, to make sure Tony wasn’t scaring him into quitting.
Clearly, they didn’t know Steve very well. A tamigotchi would make him nervous. The poor, sheltered soul.
He makes it to Bruce’s apartment just after eight, and the first thing he sees is blond hair.
“Rogers?” Tony calls out. “Why are you outside?”
“Don’t laugh,” Steve mumbles. Tony mimes zipping his lips closed, and lightly bites the inside of his cheeks to stop himself smirking.
“Everyone I know lives in a house,” Steve continues. “I don’t know how to use the intercom for an apartment complex.”
Okay, this kid had to have grown up in a cult. Or a pod or something. Luckily for Steve, Tony’s too mentally exhausted from an afternoon with Pepper and Fury to laugh, and Steve’s slowly reddening cheeks kills off any residual amusement.
“Bruce lives at 8B, yeah?” Tony asks. Steve nods. “Just press the button marked 8B, tell Bruce we’re here and then let go.”
“But how do we get in?”
Tony holds back a sigh and pushes down on the button with his thumb. “Banner, open up.” The door buzzes, and the lock unclicks. “Voila!” he says, pulling the door open and ushering Steve inside.
“Thanks,” Steve says as they take to the stairs. “You probably think I’m such a loser.”
“You’re not the one who was held hostage by Fury for hours for behavioural lessons,” Tony replies, keeping his tone light. Steve may have seemed like the type to be genuinely hurt by Tony’s unique brand of sarcasm, but he was also built like the ultimate high school jock and could probably snap Tony like a twig. Best to sound genuine for now.
“Oh,” Steve says. They climb the next two stories in silence, then, outside Bruce’s door, Steve confesses, “My parents don’t know I’m here. I told them I’m staying at Bucky’s.”
“We’ll make a rebel of you yet, Rogers.”
The first thing they are greeted with as Tony opens Bruce’s door is Clint Barton attempting a keg stand. Thor happily holds on to his ankles while Bruce stands in the kitchen, head in his hands.
“I thought this was supposed to be movie night,” Steve says to Tony as Thor cries out “Friends!” and drops Clint immediately. Clint, to his credit, manages to land on his feet, but not without choking on the beer he was guzzling.
Thor claps his hand on Tony’s shoulder and gives him a warm smile. “Come, I have something of great excitement to show you!”
“No!” Clint cries, and flops dramatically onto the sofa. “I can’t take it!”
“What’s happening?” Steve asks Bruce.
“You know how I told people to bring their own movies?” Bruce begins.
“Bruce had Robocop,” Clint cuts in. “All I wanted was to watch Robocop.”
“Robocop?” Steve whispers.
“Thor decided to bring a tape of his brother’s Eurovision performance,” Bruce finishes.
“So much glitter…” Clint moans. “My survival instincts told me to get wasted.”
“Yeah, Bruce,” Tony says, “I didn’t expect you to be the kind of guy to have a keg.”
“Oh, I’m not,” Bruce replies, “I don’t drink much. One, two drinks a night at the most. Thor brought the keg too. And Clint’s probably drank half of it already.”
Tony raises an eyebrow. “Thor brought the keg.”
“You live on the eighth floor.”
“There isn’t an elevator in this building.”
“Indeed, it was quite a test of my strength and perseverance,” Thor boasts proudly, “but such strength is required for breakdancing.”
After Tony and Steve arrive, all pretence of movie night goes out of the window. Clint declares Bruce’s VCR tainted by Eurovision, and that the residual camp energy would destroy Robocop. Bruce gives Steve the tour of the apartment, probably just to give him more time to prepare himself mentally for drunk Clint and Thor, while Tony makes a start on the keg. Of course, his excessive drinking had been one of the reasons Howard had stopped bankrolling Tony’s college education, but it wasn’t like a drinking problem at the age of 20 would be considered unusual in the world of music. And Tony could drink this entire keg to himself and only come out half as drunk as Clint currently is.
He isn’t sure whether he should have been ashamed or proud of that fact.
Things get a lot more exciting when Bruce offers Steve a drink.
“I’ll just get a Coke,” Steve says.
“You can have beer if you want,” Bruce says. “We won’t get you into trouble.”
Steve mumbles something that Tony, just a few feet away and raiding Bruce’s fridge, barely catches. Bruce doesn’t seem to either, when he asks Steve to say that again.
“I’ve never drank beer,” Steve repeats.
“You haven’t?” Clint yells, practically exploding in excitement. “Dude!”
“Tonight is your rite of passage, my friend,” Thor agrees.
“You don’t have to,” Bruce says to Steve, and Tony’s glad he’s done it. Not only would Tony saying it make him sound like a hypocrite, but, you know, caring about someone else’s welfare was not a very Tony Stark thing to do.
“No,” Steve insists, straightening his back with his jaw firmly set. “I’m not a child. I want to try it.”
“Yeah, Bruce,” Clint teases, “and why don’t you stop being such a wuss and join in too? I call drinking game.”
So, I Never is the worst drinking game to play with Steve Rogers. Tony could have told them that. They’ve gone around the circle three times, and Steve has taken one sip. One. And that was only because Clint got so frustrated with his plan failing that he asked, “I have never breathed” to ensure everyone drank. The face Steve pulled at the taste of beer was worth it, though.
“I’m sorry,” Bruce mutters, himself having only taken a few sips of his drink. Steve gives him a half-hearted smile back.
On the other hand, thanks to the game, Tony is swiftly catching up to Clint in alcohol intake. This could end dangerously.
“Okay, my turn,” Clint says. “I have never been with another guy.”
Everyone but Steve drinks. Clint eyes them all. “Okay, spill.”
“It was just a kiss,” Bruce begins.
“Me too,” Tony says. “College frat party.”
“Same,” Bruce says.
“Didn’t you guys go to the same college?” Steve asks, and Tony’s eyes widen.
“I remember curly hair,” he says slowly, “and the letter B.”
Clint is laughing so hard that, if Thor’s voice hadn’t been so loud, nobody would have heard it.
“I have been with my brother Loki,” he announces.
“What?” Tony cries. Clint does a spit-take. Bruce’s mouth falls open. Steve’s face is devoid of colour.
“Yes, I have been with Loki to many places,” Thor continues. “We enjoy travel.”
Bruce leans forward. “No, Thor. Clint meant… sexually.”
“Then I was mistaken,” Thor says. “I apologise for drinking.”
Tony hears Steve let out a breath he’d been holding, which he immediately sucks back in when Clint announces, “I’m thinking of sleeping with Coulson.” A silence settles over the room, and it holds for at least a minute. More than once, Tony sees Thor open his mouth to say something, but eventually it’s Bruce who breaks the tension.
“He’s got my demo tape,” Clint says, “and he’s totally hot for me. If I fuck him, he might finally get Fury to listen to it and we don’t have to record this piece of shit Darcy’s written for us.”
“I enjoy Darcy’s song,” Thor says.
“You’re not serious,” Steve gasps. “You can’t sleep with someone just to get ahead.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Clint says. “It’s not my fault you’re so frigid.”
“I’m not frigid,” Steve snaps, and Tony is taken aback by the fight in his voice. “I just think that sleeping with someone should be important and special, not a bargaining tool.”
Clint laughs, “So you’re not a virgin?”
Steve pauses, and then gets to his feet. “I better get to Bucky’s. Bruce, thanks for tonight.” He slams the door behind him so hard that a book falls from Bruce’s bookcase.
“Alright, I’m cutting you off,” Bruce announces, taking Clint’s glass away from him. “You’re going to drink some water, then you’re gonna go in the spare room and sleep this off. And tomorrow, you’re going to apologise to Steve.”
“You can’t tell me…”
“Don’t make me angry, Barton,” Bruce threatens. “You won’t like me when I’m angry.”
Clint scowls and staggers into the kitchen. Bruce takes Tony’s arm and drags him towards the door.
“Go find him,” he orders. “He shouldn’t be wandering the streets alone at this time of night.”
“Have you seen the size of him?” Tony replies. “He can take care of himself.”
“He’s upset, and he’s angry, and probably needs a friend.”
Tony sighs. “Fine. Okay, I’ll talk to him.” He turns the handle on Bruce’s door. “Did I really make out with you in college?”
Bruce smiles. “If you did, you’re one lucky son of a bitch.”
Tony doesn’t have to look far. Steve’s sitting on the steps outside Bruce’s building, staring at his shoes.
“Hey,” Tony opens with, then stands awkwardly with his hands in his pockets. He’s not usually the comforting type.
“I kissed Peggy Carter,” Steve says. “She’s like, the hottest, smartest, most amazing girl in the whole school, and I kissed her.”
“You don’t need to prove yourself to me,” Tony says, taking a seat next to him. “Barton’s just a douche when he’s drunk. Most of us are. He’ll feel terrible about it in the morning. And you can exact your revenge by making lots of noise through his hangover.”
“You’ve been drinking, and you’re not being a douche,” Steve says.
“I have a much higher tolerance for alcohol than Clint does,” Tony tells him, nudging his shoulder with his own. “But when I get wasted, I’d make Clint look like a saint. And Bruce has rage issues, which is probably why he doesn’t drink much. I guess Thor’s the exception that proves the rule.”
“So you’re saying I should just forget about it,” Steve says.
“No, but you shouldn’t worry about it,” Tony replies. “Besides, it’s pretty cool that you’re a virgin. You still have so much to look forward to.”
Steve huffs out a laugh. “Thanks, I guess.”
“Come on,” Tony says, dragging Steve to his feet. “I only live a few blocks away. You can stay on my couch.”
“You’re not just doing this because Fury ordered you to be my friend?” Steve asks. “I know you wanted to trade for Bruce.”
“That was dumb, I have nothing to teach Bruce,” Tony says, as they set off walking down the street. “You, however, have not seen Robocop. And Clint has got me really wanting to watch Robocop, so we’re going back to my place to eat pizza and watch Robocop. Any objections?”
Steve shakes his head. “Okay then. Will I like Robocop?”
“It’s a cop, who is a robot. What’s not to like?” He catches Steve’s smile in the glow of a street light, and Tony has to give Fury his due, he made a good call on this one. He still hates TJ Rodriguez, though.
“Do you think Clint was serious, about Coulson?” Steve asks.
“No,” Tony says. “If he was serious, he wouldn’t have told us about it.”
Chapter 7: The Song
Bruce has to look after all the hungover boys, and Tony hears *Avengers' debut single for the first time.
Oh god, I know it's been so long. And it might be ages again. I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year, so I've spent all my free time preparing for that. I'm going to try and do another update before November, but if I can't I'll start to update again regularly come December.
I would like to apologise in advance for the truly horrible lyrics I'm about to inflict upon you.
Bruce tries to stick to his morning routine, but it’s difficult when there’s a giant, snoring Thor sprawled over his living room floor. He gulps down a glass of water, pours himself a bowl of cereal and sets himself up at the one chair at the dining room table that his phone cord will stretch to. He calls Jane as he eats, listens to her excitement over her latest research, and tries to swallow down the sadness as he remembers Saturday morning study sessions in the coffee shop below their old apartment. Thor stirs as Bruce is saying his goodbyes, and the next item on Bruce’s list (a shower) is delayed by Thor’s many questions about his “lady scientist friend”.
After showering, Bruce changes into a t-shirt and sweats and returns to his phone, this time calling Tony.
“Is he okay?” Bruce asks as Tony grunts hello.
“He was up at six am, doing push-ups,” Tony groans. “That’s not natural, Bruce.”
“So he stayed at your place,” Bruce says. (“Interesting,” he mutters to himself.)
“What was that?” Tony asks.
“Nothing,” Bruce says. “Why don’t you guys come back over today? We can practice the song.”
“Do we have to?”
“Yes, Tony,” Bruce laughs. “And if it gets too unbearable for you, we can embarrass Clint with the antics of Drunk Clint.”
He hangs up, runs a hand through his still-damp hair, and prepares himself for the most difficult part of his day. Clint hasn’t left the spare room, except to vomit in the early hours, since Tony and Steve left the night before. He cracks open the door, and Clint is shirtless, lying on his front and head buried beneath the pillows. If he was Tony Stark, he’d make as much noise as possible and drag Clint up from the mattress. But Bruce is a good guy, so he sits on the edge of the bed and lightly shakes Clint’s shoulder.
“Get off, bro,” Clint groans from underneath the pillows.
“Up,” Bruce orders, tearing the pillows away from his head.
“I’m suffering,” Clint says.
“So you should be,” Bruce says. “What do you remember from last night?”
“We played some kind of game, and there was Eurovision, and lots and lots of beer…”Clint slurs.
“So you don’t remember anything you said, to Steve for example?”
“Okay,” Bruce shrugs, and heads for the door.
“No, wait!” Clint cries out, then winces at the volume of his own voice. “What the fuck did I do?”
“Long story short, you said you wanted to sleep with Coulson so he’d convince Fury to let you write the songs. Steve was shocked. You called him a frigid virgin.”
“Shit,” Clint mumbles. “What do I do?”
“Not my problem,” Bruce smiles, “but think of something quick, he’s on his way over.”
Bruce closes the door a little louder than usual. He might be a good guy, but teasing Clint is fun.
When Tony and Steve arrive, they’re laughing. Bruce raises an eyebrow, adding this to his mental list of Interesting Tony and Steve Behaviour, and grabs Tony by the elbow. Steve continues into the apartment, as Thor asks him what is causing such merriment around a mouthful of Pop-Tart.
“Steve stayed at your place,” Bruce says, leaning in close to Tony.
“Yeah, I told you this.”
“Why didn’t you take him to Bucky’s?”
“Because my place is closer,” Tony says.
“And that’s the only reason?”
“What are you getting at? You’re the one who said if we have to be friends, we should try actually being friends,” Tony pulls his elbow from Bruce’s grip. “He’s cool.”
“Interesting,” Bruce mutters again, as they head inside.
When they reach the living room, Clint and Steve are already talking in the kitchenette, Thor unsubtly trying to eavesdrop as he makes himself another Pop Tart. Eventually, Clint holds up his fist, and after a moment of confusion, Steve bumps it.
“Barton!” Tony cries. “Still want to fuck Coulson?”
“Don’t listen to drunk me,” Clint says, “I’m a slutty drunk.”
“I didn’t feel any of that intoxicated lust coming my way.”
Clint laughs. “Even drunk me has standards, TJ.” Bruce is the only one who notices Clint’s deep, steadying breath when Tony looks away.
Somewhere around Thor’s fifth Pop-Tart, conversation changes to all of Clint’s embarrassing behaviour to Thor’s Eurovision tape. Clint looks like he’s having convulsions when Bruce brings up the sparkly cod-piece Loki wore, but when Thor mentions that Nat Romanov represented Russia, he’s diving to the television searching out the VHS tape. Bruce wrestles him away and sits him on the couch.
“Not now, Barton. We have to practice.”
“The song? We’re supposed to be in the studio next week, it would help if we knew what we were singing.”
“Can I just get drunk again?” Clint moans.
“It’s not that bad,” Steve says, quietly.
“It has a jaunty beat,” Thor agrees.
Tony shrugs. “I’ve not heard it yet.”
“Seriously?” Clint laughs. “So you haven’t heard what you have to do? Suddenly, I’m enthusiastic about this song.”
“Steve, explain,” Tony says, his voice low.
“There’s a rap,” Steve answers, suppressing his own giggles. “By TJ Rodriguez.”
“Oh shit,” Tony mutters. “Why does it have to be TJ?”
“Because one of the lines is I’ll give you latino lovin’ till the end of the world,” Clint says.
“I’m not even latino!” Tony screams.
They all gather around Bruce’s hi-fi, Tony reluctantly so, as Bruce slips the tape into the deck. Thor grins widely as the opening piano riff plays. It begins as a ballad, the imperfect but soft voice of Darcy Lewis floating through the speakers as she sings Clint’s first lines.
I loved you from the start,
You shot an arrow through my heart,
Now I hope your love is true,
Because I’m bleeding out for you.
“Oh god,” Clint drawls. Steve shushes him. Another voice, Darcy again, singing in harmony, joins in. The voice that’s supposed to be Bruce.
But baby, don’t you see,
You belong here with me,
The world may be against us,
But I’m the guy you can trust.
“I’m not sure what this song is even supposed to mean,” Tony says, before a synthesised drum beat kicks in, the tempo picks up, and five different layers of Darcy’s voice sing together.
I will fight for your love till the end of the world,
I will save your heart from terrors untold,
I will avenge all your pain, battle through snow and rain,
Just to keep you by my side.
“Okay, this is the bit where we sing a line each,” Bruce says, reading over the lyrics on a sheet. “Steve first.”
Let me shield you from the memories of the loves you had before.
I will be the stronger man, and I will love you more.
“My turn!” Thor cries, singing along with the tape for his line.
I’ll scream louder than thunder that you are my girl.
“And now everyone,” Bruce says.
Together we can take on the entire world!
“Is this song about love or the apocalypse?” Tony snarls.
“Shhh…it’s your rap after the chorus.”
Everyone falls silent, unmoving, apart from Tony who edges a little behind Steve’s body, as if trying to hide himself in Steve’s shoulder and protect himself from the horrors of mainstream pop music as Darcy starts to rap.
Baby, you and me are meant to be together,
From now until forever, till the twelfth of Never,
The fight may be upon us, an army we will face,
And it’s time to start the battle, time to start the chase,
I’m TJ Rodriguez, the T stands for tender,
Wanna feel you in my arms with your hips so slender,
My heart you’ve captured, my mind you’ve whirled,
I’ll give you latino lovin’ till the end of the world.
Bruce, Clint and Thor break out into applause, Steve joining in after a moment, and all the colour drains from Tony’s face.
“Well?” Steve asks.
“I’m gonna go jump off the fire escape.”
Chapter 8: The Mistake
Darcy is a troll, Phil is in a panic, and Clint doesn't like pretentious art students.
Oh god, where did the humour go? I promise it'll be back next time. This is why I shouldn't write while I'm sick. And sorry about infrequent updates. I'm afraid that'll be the case for the considerable future. Only got this part done today because I was off sick from work.
“Darcy, it’s Phil at SHIELD Records.”
“Hey! Hold on, I’m fighting a Pokebattle.”
“Darce,” Coulson sighs, cradling the phone receiver between his chin and his collarbone. “I think we have a problem.”
“Holy shit! My Charmeleon is evolving!” Darcy yells. “Okay, shoot.”
“How sure are you that this song for *Avengers will be a hit?” Coulson asks. “Because Thor’s just had to carry Stark into the studio in a fireman’s lift.”
“Rich kids got no taste,” Darcy scoffs.
Maria sidles up next to him, hands him a coffee, and angles her head near to the receiver. “I’m sorry to say,” Coulson says, “but I don’t think it’s your best work.”
“Are you kidding me?” Darcy splutters. “That shit is as hot as the flames of hell! Brotherhood Records were sniffing after it for Mystique & Rogue!”
“Really?” Coulson asks, pulling off his shades. “Mystique & Rogue wanted this specific song?”
“Yeah! I mean, gender pronouns changed blah blah blah, but I’d already sold the rights to SHIELD.”
“Okay, if you’re sure,” Coulson sighs, “but can we at least change the T stands for tender?”
There’s a long pause on the other end of the line. Maria frowns at him, her coffee raised half-way to her lips.
“What did you say?” Darcy says eventually.
“Um…the T stands for tender.”
“Oh my god!” Darcy cries, before descending into an uncontrollable fit of giggles. “No, Phil. Oh my god no.”
“Darcy, what have you done?” Maria snaps down the line.
“Oh this is awesome. That’s not the song!”
“What?” Coulson yells.
“I made that tape as a joke for you and Maria!” Darcy says, still laughing. “Remember, when we were talking about lame-ass metaphors in song lyrics.”
“Stop laughing!” Coulson warns.
“I can’t believe you thought that was the real song!” Darcy continues. “Didn’t Fury say something?”
“Fury doesn’t listen to demo tapes!” Coulson practically screams. He’s fully aware that the eyes of the entire studio are on him, and that his coffee is dangerously close to spilling over his hand, but he can’t stop himself.
“This is the most beautiful thing that’s ever happened to me,” Darcy giggles.
“Darcy! Where. Is. The Tape.” Coulson says through gritted teeth.
“I dunno,” Darcy says, and he can hear the shrug in her voice. “Sent them both together. Probably in your office somewhere. Laters!”
Coulson slams down the receiver, whipping around to face Maria and splashing coffee over his shoes. “Find that tape.”
“Phil, there are literally thousands of tapes in your office!” Maria says.
As Maria dashes away, Coulson sets down the mug on a table, and steadies himself against it, leaning all his weight down on his palms and taking in deep breaths. Fucking Darcy Lewis.
“Hey,” a now-familiar voice sounds behind him. “Is everyth-“
“Clint!” Coulson exclaims, turning with an almost manic grin on his usually stoic face. “Clint! Yes!”
“Yes…Clint,” Clint replies.
“How soon can you teach the others some backing vocals for My World?”
“I don’t know…maybe an hour?”
“Good, do it.”
“Barton, we’re recording your song.”
Working at SHIELD Records, Coulson did a lot of pacing. The frequency with which he paced was so high now that he was considering giving up on all other forms of exercise. He paces now, in the corridor outside the recording studio in the basement of the building. He can’t go up to his office, see Maria frantically throwing his well-organised tapes around the place, and he can’t go in the studio. The studio means answering questions, admitting he made a mistake. Phil Coulson doesn’t make mistakes.
But he thinks he’s made one now.
He closes his eyes as he walks, willing himself to see only dark but picturing Clint’s disbelieving, hopeful, wonderful face as Coulson decided to use his song. A mistake. No act should be given so much creative freedom early on. Even Nat Romanov didn’t get to make any of her own decisions until her third album. This was how a diva was born. Clint would expect every *Avengers song to come from his pen and his piano now, and the mistake was Coulson would not be able to bring himself to say no.
He’s an idiot. A stupid, careless idiot with a raging hard-on for a 19 year old boy with a pretty face and a prettier voice.
Coulson doesn’t say anything as he re-enters the studio for the recording. He stands in the corner, hidden in the shadows, as Clint lays down the piano track. He stumbles over the keys on the first few attempts, flexing his obviously nimble fingers, which are shaking. And god, Clint’s nervousness is making Coulson feel sick. He’s an idiot.
After the piano, Clint gets a break while the rest of the boys record their vocals, so Tony (and Steve, who Coulson notes with surprise looks a little more confident in his own skin when Tony’s around) can go for his lessons with Pepper.
Clint grabs himself a can of Coke while the others fumble with headphones behind the glass. Coulson keeps his eyes straight ahead, focusing on Bruce’s yellow shirt and trying to concentrate on what the hell stereotype they can make him fulfil (was The Smart One common in boybands? He’d ask Maria), until he senses another figure in his personal space. His eyes quickly flick over to see Clint slumped against the wall next to him, idly flicking at the pull tab of his can.
“I fucked up,” Clint mutters.
“Come again?” Coulson whispers, as four harmonised “oooh”s fill the room.
“On the piano, I fucked up,” Clint says. “Bet everyone thinks I’m such a loser, can’t even play the damn piano right.”
“You’re not a loser,” Coulson says, and he can’t help himself, he has to lean in closer to conspiratorially whisper, “It took us three days once just to record one song for Peter Parker, and even then we had to autotune.”
“Peter Parker can’t sing?” Clint asks, with the hint of a smile.
“Not one note,” Coulson says, “but he’s cute. Cute sells.”
“Huh,” Clint huffs. Before Coulson can decide how to interpret that, they’re interrupted by Tony throwing his headphones at the glass.
“This is bullshit!” he yells into the microphone, and one of the technicians lowers the volume. “We’re just singing fucking vowel sounds. Where are the words, Barton?”
“Tony,” Bruce says, “we get to sing the final chorus.”
“Does the chorus have words?” Tony snaps.
“I don’t understand what was wrong with the old song,” Thor says to Steve, in what he probably believes is a hushed tone, but few things are hushed when Thor’s around.
One of the technicians presses a button and leans into a small desk-mounted microphone. “Would you prefer to do your rap, TJ?”
Tony pauses for a moment, then claps his hands together. “Let’s take this from the top, people!” he says, and stoops to pick up his headphones.
As the piano track starts up again, Clint turns his head to Coulson.
“Hey, can I buy you a drink later?” he says, flexing those nimble fingers again. “Just to say thanks, for, y’know, using my song.”
“You’re nineteen,” Coulson replies automatically, his eyes still focused on Clint’s fingers. Yeah, keep telling yourself that, Phil. “Besides, I’ve been told what you’re like drunk. You are, in Tony’s words, ‘a sassy-ass bitch.’”
“Fine, a coffee.”
“You don’t have to do anything,” Coulson says. “You’ve got us out of a pretty tight spot today.”
“Yeah, but I want to.”
He needs pacing space again. “Okay, sure,” Coulson rushes. “I just need to see Maria.” And he’s walking again.
“What the hell?” Coulson cries, jumping back as he opens his office door to find Maria buried under what can only be described as an avalanche of tapes.
“It’s not here,” Maria says from her cassette tomb. “I checked through every shelf, every drawer, every cupboard. No Darcy demo.”
“It has to be,” Coulson says, crouching down to flick through tapes himself. Oh look, Hank Pym’s demo. “Every single tape in SHIELD comes to this office.”
“Oh, I think I know what’s happened,” Maria says, “I bet you were so busy mentally undressing Barton that you sent it back with a reject letter by mistake.”
“This isn’t funny, Hill!”
“It’s kinda funny,” Maria says through a laugh.
“No, it’s not,” Coulson groans. “If someone else out there has that demo tape, then there’s no way we’re getting it back, and there’s no way Darcy can send us another copy before Fury comes in tomorrow. Not from New Mexico.”
“What have you got them doing now?” Maria asks.
“A song of Clint’s,” Phil mumbles. Maria launches a demo tape at his head.
“You idiot!” she cries. “What were the two things Fury told you when he put us in charge of *Avengers? What were they?”
“No ballads until single four,” Coulson says.
“And don’t give them any creative freedom. But what was I supposed to do, Maria? It was Clint’s song or Darcy’s parody.”
“Darcy’s parody! Always go for Darcy!” Maria says. “You can’t be blamed for Darcy!”
“Look, it’ll be fine,” Coulson says, rubbing his brow. “I’ll make Clint’s song the B-side, Fury won’t care as long as we have a good A-side.”
“But we don’t have an A-side.”
“I’ll think of something.”
By the time Coulson and Maria have finished filing all the tapes back (though, not according to Coulson’s strict categories), the recording session is over for the evening. Coulson picks up his coat, his keys, and his sunglasses, and opens the door to find Clint waiting, twisting the corner of his plaid shirt around his finger. Maria passes Clint with a quick goodbye, and winks at Coulson over Clint’s shoulder.
“Hi,” Clint says, “are you ready?”
“Ready?” Coulson asks. “Oh, yeah. Coffee.”
They walk to a coffee shop near Clint’s apartment. It’s one of the more run-down areas of town, but the joint itself is pretty charming, with rmis-matched old furniture and bookcases filled with battered old books covering the walls. Coulson sits, feeling a little out of place in his suit amongst the students in their berets and oversized knitwear, while Clint goes to the counter. There’s a guy a few tables away who Coulson is quite certain is sketching him.
“So,” Coulson begins as Clint sits opposite him, setting a cappuccino in front of him and a black coffee in front of himself, “do you come here to write your songs?”
“No, man, I come here because it’s cheap,” Clint laughs. “I can’t stand the people who come here. They think if they drink coffee and talk about Oscar Wilde all day, that’ll make them true artists. Pretentious assholes.”
“I quite like Wilde,” Coulson says.
“Yeah, but that’s different,” Clint argues, “you’re an adult.”
“Well, thank you for that.”
“No, I mean,” Clint begins, “It’s just that you have the life experience to back up your opinions and stuff.”
“Trust me, I don’t have that much.” He takes a sip of his cappuccino, and realises there’s a reason why this place is so cheap.
“Sometimes I think I’m too young to write songs,” Clint says into his coffee. “Well, write them and have them mean something.”
“Your songs are fine,” Coulson says. “They’re good.”
“No, they’re not,” Clint says. “That’s why I’m glad you picked My World. It’s the only one that means anything.” He looks back up, directly into Coulson’s eyes, and no don’t do that you are too intense to be nineteen. “Everyone who’s heard it thinks it’s a love song but it’s not. It’s about my parents.”
“Look, Clint, I-“
“They died when I was a kid,” Clint continues. “I spent my life flitting between foster homes or being raised by my brother.”
“Your song won’t be the single,” Coulson blurts out, before Clint can get into the specifics of his dead parents and goddamnit, Coulson was a sick, sick person for admiring how beautiful he looked when his face was so open like that.
“I’m sorry, Clint. We needed a song today and you were our best option,” Coulson rushes out, keen to get this over with quickly, but definitely not painlessly. “It can still be a B-side, and if Fury likes it enough we can put it on the album, but SHIELD has a policy that a first single can never be a ballad.”
“Okay, well can we make it the second single,” Clint suggests, “or a double-A-side?”
“No ballads until single number four,” Coulson repeats.
“Well, there must be something you can do,” Clint begs, his coffee long-forgotten. “You said it was good!”
“It is!” Coulson insists. “It’s better than good, but rules are rules.”
“Can’t you break the rules?”
“No. I’m sorry.”
“Isn’t there any way I can convince you?” Clint asks, and okay, that is a leg rubbing against Coulson’s own. That is a vulnerable young man coming on to him to get ahead in his career. If that didn’t make Coulson feel like a sleaze, the fact that a part of him didn’t want Clint to stop definitely did.
“Clint, don’t…” Coulson warns.
“It’s okay,” Clint whispers. “I don’t mind.”
“You should mind,” Coulson pushes his chair back. “Please, don’t do this. Don’t ever do this.”
“I have to go.”
He’ll be pacing a lot tonight.
Chapter 9: The B-Side
Fury hears the song, Clint is angry, Steve is stressed, and Jane Foster is coming to visit.
So I wrote this part immediately after a minor operation. Let's see if it shows. Also, I'm not cheating you out of what happens with Clint and Coulson in this chapter, that's coming next.
And sorry it's so dialogue-heavy. This part kinda needed to be.
“So what do you think?”
“This is the song Darcy sent?” Fury asks, arms crossed and lips set to a scowl. “It’s not like her usual work.”
“I’ll admit, sir, the lyrics are a little diff-“
“Not the lyrics, Coulson,” Fury interrupts. “It’s too damn slow.”
“Oh, that,” Coulson laughs nervously. “Well, this is obviously the B-side.”
“What?” Clint cries, but Fury pays him no attention.
“Yes sir,” Maria adds quickly. “We decided to get the B-side out of the way on day one so we can focus entirely on the single for the next few days.”
“Good thinking, Hill,” Fury says. “And the single? What’s Darcy given us?”
“Yes, about that,” Coulson says slowly. “We’ve been doing some demographic research, and…Maria?”
Maria’s eyes dartfrom Coulson to Fury and back again, and suddenly she explodes, “cover versions!”
“Cover versions are in right now,” Coulson agrees.
“They’re guaranteed hits,” Maria nods.
“Okay, so what are we covering?”
There’s a long, uncomfortable pause. Maria and Coulson glance nervously at each other. Bruce can see Clint’s fists clenching in anger (a familiar notion.) To his left, Tony looks entirely disinterested. Then, from his right, Thor proudly boasts, “My brother Loki’s hit Eurovision song.”
“Yes!” Coulson says, leaping at the opportunity. “We’re doing an English language cover of Loki’s song.”
“My brother sang in English,” Thor says. “He thought it would make his message more universal.”
“There is no way I’m singing that glitter-encrusted monstrosity,” Clint seethes, his voice low and his eyes narrowing, like a hawk focusing on its prey.
“Our session musicians are already working on sexing it up,” Maria says. “Taking out all the camp and making it more R’n’B. Same lyrics.”
“Do we have clearance to cover it?” Fury asks.
“Loki is my brother,” Thor says. “He will allow it.”
“How about Stark?” Fury says. “Can we write in a rap for him?”
“Excuse me, Mr Fury,” Bruce pipes up, seeing Tony’s eyes widen in horror. “We have already tried. There’s no way of doing so while still keeping the song under four minutes.”
“Then carry on,” Fury says, leaving the room.
“This is bullshit!” Clint yells.
“Cool it, Barton,” Coulson says calmly, turning himself to leave.
“I don’t believe you!” Clint rants, storming after him. Maria rolls her eyes and goes to make coffee.
“I must call father,” Thor says, giddy with excitement. Bruce watches him go, smiling, Something about Thor’s boundless optimism has a calming effect on him. He’s a good Official Best Friend.
“I’m gonna get a soda,” Tony says. “Steve, you want?”
Steve, who at that moment had been staring at the wall, lost in thought, blinks himself into comprehension. “Umm…sure.”
Alone with Steve, Bruce examines what a curious creature he is. Sure, he has the build of a typical jock, but the look ill-suits him. He carries himself like his body doesn’t belong to him, like he has it out on loan.
“Doing some damn good staring there, Rogers,” Bruce says, nudging his shoulder.
“Sorry,” Steve replies, and glances down at his feet. “Clint looked upset.”
“Concern for Clint, you must have forgiven him.”
“I’m still at high school,” Steve says. “If I held a grudge over everyone who was a douche to me, I’d be in prison.” Then he shrugs. “And he bought me donuts.”
“How?” Bruce asks, shaking his head.
“How…did he buy me donuts?” Steve says, looking at Bruce like he’d grown a second head or turned green or something.
“No, how are you so normal?” Bruce laughs. “This is showbusiness.”
“You’re normal,” Steve says.
“That’s because you’ve never seen me angry,” Bruce says. “I hope you never will.”
“Besides, I don’t think you can call a kid who’s never had a TV normal.”
“Fine, you’re not normal,” Bruce jokes. “You’re a freak! A well-adjusted, likable freak!”
“Thanks, I guess,” Steve chuckles.
“Peggy’s lucky,” Bruce says, and with the shift of Steve’s shoulders, he knows he’s made a mistake.
“Who told you about Peggy?” he demands. “It was Stark, wasn’t it?”
“Well, yeah, but-“
“What did he do? Call you up so you could both laugh at me?”
“What? No. Steve, he called me up, yeah, because he said you’d been telling him that Peggy was the most perfect creature you’d ever seen, and he thought it was cute.”
“Cute, like we’re children.”
“No. Look, Tony? He’s not exactly a one-person guy. He doesn’t get what it’s like to be so into someone that you think about the sound they make when they laugh or whatever. I think he was envious.”
“It’s not my fault Tony Stark only thinks with his dick.”
“Why, Mr Rogers,” Bruce says, unable to hold back the mockery, “I do believe that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you swear. Listen, Tony only told me about Peggy because he likes you. He thinks you’re interesting. Trust me, if he was talking shit about you, I’d have already done something about it.”
“Hey, Steve, check this out!” Tony cries, rushing over with their sodas and a sheet of paper. “These lyrics of Loki’s are fucking crazy! The All-Father’s eye never saw me? What the hell does that mean?”
“I don’t know, Tony,” Steve replies. Then a pause. “Can I come over to your place tonight?” he asks suddenly.
“Sure, but why?”
“Well, you said I needed to watch Pulp Fiction, and after singing this, I think we need movie night.”
“You want to watch Pulp Fiction?” Tony grins. “Tonight, I enlighten your life. Banner?”
Bruce shakes his head. “My friend Jane’s coming to visit.”
“So bring her,” Tony says. “And we’ll ask the other guys. Pulp Fiction must be enjoyed by all.”
“If you keep Clint off the sauce,” Bruce agrees.
“Rogers!” Maria calls.
“Thanks for saving me from the perils of rap,” Tony says after Steve leaves.
“You owe me.”
“Hey, is the kid okay? I saw him blowing up at you just now,” Tony says.
“You shouldn’t call him a kid,” Bruce says, “and yeah, he’s fine.”
“He’s pretty stressed,” Tony says. “He’s got his finals coming up, and Fury hasn’t found him a tutor to catch up on all the school he’s missed.”
“Yeah, so I was thinking,” Tony continues, “since you and I are science bros or whatever, we could maybe tutor him. Y’know, in the science.”
“How charitable,” Bruce says.
“No charity about it,” Tony replies. “Any excuse for science.”
An hour passes and Clint still hasn’t returned. But then, neither has Coulson. Bruce begins to grow impatient. He doesn’t like waiting, waiting makes him irritable, and that’s dangerous for him. Usually, he would meditate, but Tony would laugh, and Thor’s very loud excitement about the song is too distracting. Eventually, he slips outside to call Jane. He’d use his cell, but it’s a hot day and he’d been cooped up in the studio all morning, and the fresh air on the half-a-block walk to the nearest payphone does his irritation a world of good.
He catches Jane just before her next lecture, and fills her in on the change of their plans. Then he fills her in on Tony Stark (well, TJ Rodriguez. He hasn’t told Tony he’d have to use his pseudonym all night yet) and Jane laughs. Really, he wanted Jane all to himself, she was the only friend who’d stayed in touch since he got kicked out of college, and their last movie night left a lot to be desired. Still, if things got crazy again, he’d just send Jane in the direction of Thor.
On the walk back, Bruce reads Loki’s lyrics in full. He starts to think Darcy’s prank song was a better option.