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I've Suffered Shipwrecks

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Most people, when they break up, sort through their record collections, possibly chuck each other’s clothes onto the sidewalk, engage in soul-destroying coffee dates where they try to sort through the emotional debris, and then leave each other the fuck alone.

Clint and Natasha were never very good at acting like normal people, though, which is why they run a cafe together.

“Six espressos for table eight,” Peggy says, coming up to the counter. “I think they’re playing some form of caffeine Russian Roulette.”

Clint momentarily thinks about how if Natasha was here she’d show them what Russian Roulette really entails, but all he does is smirk and remark: “I’m not cleaning up after them”. He turns toward the coffee machine that many long hours of practice have made his bitch.

Peggy laughs, picking up the tray of paninis that Steve just put out for her. She’s a good waitress; she’s much nicer and more patient with people than either Clint or Natasha have ever been, and rakes in the tips because customers are charmed by her British accent. She’s not a pushover – her sharp shutdowns of guys trying to hit on her are pretty impressive to watch – but she’s definitely less of a bitch about serving people than the rest of them.

They’re lucky to have her, actually; her and Steve, a part-time struggling artist who rules their kitchen with puppy eyes and earnest lectures on correct seasoning. Steve is sweet in ways that Clint had forgotten people could be until Peggy brought in her best friend to interview for their cook’s position, and he occasionally worries that prolonged exposure to himself and Nat is going to end up breaking Steve in some fundamental way, but so far he’s remained cheerful and far too nice and makes a mean cupcake.

No, most ex-couples don’t open a cafe together with no experience at either cooking or running a business, but as Clint puts the tiny espresso cups onto a tray for Peggy, he honestly isn’t sure why.

=

“I’m going to start a book club,” Natasha announces, “I need your apartment.”

It’s seven a.m. and Clint hasn’t had his coffee yet, but he’s pretty sure that even if he had that sentence wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense.

“Um,” he manages, “you have an apartment. A nice one, actually. I helped Steve put together the furniture.”

Natasha rolls her eyes and puts a mug in front of him. She’s always been better at mornings than he is.

“Yeah, but there’s more space in yours. And it’s above the cafe, so catering would be much easier.”

Clint takes a gulp of coffee and decides to deal with the next problem: “do you even read books that other people are going to want to read? Because you gave a lifetime ban to that woman who was trying to read a Nicholas Sparks novel in here.”

Nat waves her hand dismissively. “That was at least half Peggy.”

“Semantics,” Clint tells her, and decides to deal with the rest of this when he’s woken up a bit more.

The windchimes over the door jingle – they’re kind of annoying, but Bruce sent them over from India so of course they were going to hang them – and Pepper Potts walks in, wearing eye-wateringly high heels and a smile far too perky for this time of the morning.

“Tony’s been up all night,” she says on an eyeroll, “so I’m going to need about five coffees and as many bagels as you can fit in a takeout bag.”

Pepper is Tony Stark’s personal assistant and is consequently basically responsible for keeping them open; Stark himself has never set foot in their cafe but he really likes their coffee and pretty much anything they bake so Pepper’s in all the time picking things up. She’s the only customer they allow to have a tab because god knows, Stark Industries is good for it.

Clint heads for the coffee machine, saying over his shoulder: “Pepper, Nat wants to hold a book club in my living room-”

Intends to hold a book club in your living room,” Natasha corrects in a murmur, attention turned to sorting out bagels for Tony Stark.

“-does that strike you as kind of invasive and unfair?” Clint finishes.

Pepper slides onto one of the stools they have at the counter while she waits, linking her fingers and resting her chin on them. “Will you take away my tab if I use the word ‘codependant’ to describe you two?”

Clint considers this, capping plastic lids onto two americanos before he moves to start steaming milk for lattes.

“You wouldn’t be the first,” he sighs. But hey, Nat had never liked his therapist anyway and Clint’s pretty sure that not going into business with her would’ve been worse for his life than whatever this is.

=

Natasha’s printed out flyers for her book club and left them next to the till; Clint gets the feeling she’s planning something that she’s leaving him out of, but he hasn’t worked out what it is yet. Either way, it had better not end with his apartment getting trashed; that’s happened enough over the years.

It’s a slow afternoon; Peggy’s perched at the counter filling in a crossword and humming along to the radio, and Clint’s just gotten out of yet another heated discussion with Steve over whether they’re going either a) vegan or b) organic (they’re doing neither; Nat has opinions about things that will draw in hipsters). There’s only a handful of customers, most of whom are immersed in newspapers or kindles or each other (there’s a couple in the corner feeding each other cupcakes in a way that’s kind of embarrassing for everyone involved; Clint is pretty tempted to kick them out for being obnoxiously in love, but if they all keep doing that this place is going to get a reputation). There’s also a guy in the corner booth with what appears to be about a hundred sheets of paper spread across the table tapping away intently at a netbook, lower lip caught between his teeth. They have a lot of people coming in here to write – it’s pretty quiet, pretty cheap and reasonably classy, not to mention the free wifi – but Clint doesn’t recognise him as one of their regulars.

“Who’s the guy by the window?” he asks Peggy quietly.

She taps her pencil against her lower lip for a moment, eyes on the crossword, before providing: “he’s had six cups of green tea and isn’t very good at blinking, so I’m guessing that he’s a writer. Probably of the pretentious persuasion.”

Clint smirks despite the fact she’s not looking at him, and lets her get back on with her crossword – at least she’s given up on sudoku; all of them were terrible at it and the customers started looking anxious instead of asking for refills – while he keeps an eye on a woman toying with one of the book club flyers. He’s still not sure he should be leaving Nat unattended in his apartment with wine, strangers, and an array of hardcover crime novels and/or New York Times bestsellers. He likes his apartment.

“What do you know about this book club?” he adds.

“Knowing what I know of Natasha, I assume the first book she suggests will be The Hunger Games and she’ll make everyone beat each other to death with a novel of their choice to be allowed to attend the second meeting,” Peggy muses.

This is not entirely outside the realm of possibility.

“As long as she knows she’s the one in charge of bleaching the blood out of the carpet,” Clint sighs, and goes to see if Steve wants another coffee.

=

Natasha flips the Fuck Off We’re Closed sign (which doesn’t actually say that anymore; Steve made them a new one and left it sadly and pointedly on the counter one morning) and Peggy cheers, dumping two bottles of spirits onto the table they’re gathered around.

Irresponsible Friday Cocktails – so named because they’re all due in early for brunch on Saturday morning – have been a tradition since they first started this place and it was just Clint and Nat and a microwave in here with a cheap bottle of vodka and the last vestiges of their resentful break-up. Now it’s Clint and Natasha, Steve and Peggy, Pepper (when Tony’s got someone else to babysit him for the night), Darcy (who works in the Starbucks around the corner and is apparently taking them down from the inside) and Phil (their oldest friend who has somehow stuck with them despite all the crazy).

It’s moments like this – with the lights down low and Darcy cheerfully mixing bastardised cosmopolitans while Phil and Peggy take forks to half a leftover cherry pie – that make Clint think that maybe his life isn’t a complete failure after all.

Pepper shows up just as Darcy’s started to abandon actual measures for just pouring booze into glasses; she’s holding a bottle of absinthe that she confiscated from Tony’s Friday Night Lingerie Model Shenanigans in one hand and a takeout pizza Tony actually gave her with the other.

“Absinthe is a terrible idea,” Clint says detachedly but without much conviction. “I’m pretty sure that time Nat broke six of my ribs we’d been drinking absinthe.”

“Seven,” Natasha corrects him idly.

Peggy is watching them with sleepy eyes and her chin propped on her hand, sipping one of Darcy’s increasingly-lethal cocktails. “I wish I’d known you two when you were dating.”

“No, you don’t,” Phil, Natasha and Clint say simultaneously.

“They had their good moments,” Phil says, “and then they had all the other moments, most of which involved broken glass and me providing bail money.”

“Don’t scare Steve off,” Natasha scolds him, smacking his arm, “he still likes us.”

Steve is sticking to water, like he always does during Irresponsible Friday Cocktails, but his expression is soft and just a little teasing.

“You do like us,” Clint assures him, reaching for a slice of Pepper’s pizza while Nat goes and rummages for sugar and spoons and candles and other things to make the absinthe more fun and even more of a bad idea. “I know you have no idea why, but...”

“Less feelings, more booze,” Darcy orders, tipping the last dregs of a carton of orange juice into a glass with a liberal splash of vodka. “And no broken bones because I’m on the opening shift tomorrow.”

Clint opens his mouth to tell Darcy that maybe she shouldn’t be getting really drunk if she’s got a six a.m. start, then realises that he does too, and closes it again.

“No broken bones,” Peggy echoes, holding up her glass, and Clint clinks his against it. There are worse life mottoes.

=

It’s mid-morning and Clint is valiantly pretending not to have a hangover while he and Peggy deal with all the people who didn’t stay up ‘til three a.m. with their friends drinking cheap alcohol and eating ice cream out of the cafe freezer – which is going to need adjusting on the inventory, dammit. Brunch is fun but also kind of hellish; while they luckily attract the sort of sleepy, cheerful, please-feed-us-pancakes sort of crowd rather than the loving-couples-and-irritating-children variety there are still too many people wanting things and talking and spilling coffee everywhere.

He takes a moment to resent the fact Natasha isn’t working today, and is in fact upstairs sleeping everything off in Clint’s bed.

“Never again,” Peggy mutters, sweeping past him with plates piled with waffles. She says this every week.

“At least you didn’t spend the night in one of the booths this time,” Clint replies, on his way to delivering another order to Steve, the only person who is vaguely serene about this whole brunch situation. Peggy laughs flatly behind him.

Bruce’s windchimes tinkle and Clint glances back to see the hassled-looking writer from the other day coming in, arms full of paper. He’s probably going to end up with someone else’s hash browns all over them, but that’s not Clint’s problem.

Peggy’s gotten distracted by a table full of mimosa-drinking Sex and the City types – Bruce made him and Nat marathon it, okay, which is possibly worse than if it’d been Nat’s choice – so Clint weaves his way between the crowded tables to take the guy’s order.

He’s staring in despair at the sheets of paper scattered all over his table – print-outs covered in multi-coloured pen – but looks up at Clint after a moment, and what he sees makes Clint grimace.

“Man, you look worse than I feel right now.”

The guy’s mouth twitches, like he can’t figure out whether to be annoyed or amused, but his hair is a mess and his eyes are bloodshot and he has the look of a guy who hasn’t slept for about three days (and Clint knows that look intimately because it used to stare back at him from the mirror on a regular basis).

“Do you greet all your customers like this?” he demands.

Clint shrugs. “Pretty much. Do you want a bucket of coffee?”

Something sags in the guy’s shoulders and he nods, kneading his eyes with slightly-shaking hands. “Yes. Desperately.”

Clint smirks. The feeling is definitely mutual.

=

Their cafe was originally a battered-looking store everyone had abandoned and someone had apparently once tried to set on fire, with sad graffiti-covered boards over the windows and peeling paintwork.

The realtor had, by this point, pretty much had enough of Clint and Natasha. It had been over a month of vague wandering around dismissing properties for the slightest of reasons, non-verbal communication that confused the poor man, and bitter below-the-belt snarking at each other because the break-up was still relatively fresh. Bruce accompanied them on three days of property viewings before he declared if he had to do it ever again he was going to wind up leaving one or both of them locked in the next store’s basement. Phil point-blank refused to come with them at all, preferring instead to google potential sites and email them lists to torment their realtor with.

They were all trudging over to the last property of the day; Natasha’s boots were giving her blisters though she was refusing to mention it, Clint had a pressure headache, and their realtor looked like he was going to cry. And then they saw it; the miserable, boarded-up building stuck between a used bookstore and a depressed-looking place that sold bathroom fittings.

Their realtor made plaintive noises behind them while Clint and Nat headed across the street to look at the place – “it’s on our books, but it’s probably structurally unsound” – although there wasn’t a whole lot to see outside.

“You got a key?” Clint asked the realtor, while Natasha made her dangerous thoughtful face.

“Well,” the guy shrugged, gesturing at the wreck of the store, “no.”

Clint sighed and took a step back while Nat shrugged her jacket off, handed it to him and then roundhouse kicked the door.

The realtor made a helpless goldfish face while Clint grinned and said: “I know right, I sometimes wonder how I got out of the break-up without a fractured skull.”

The inside of the store was dark and dusty and someone had definitely taken a molotov cocktail to the kitchen area, but somehow it was perfect. Somehow.

“This,” Natasha declared, her hands on her hips while blackened dust settled on her shoulders from the disturbed air.

“This,” Clint agreed, and startled them both by kissing her.

The realtor groaned, muttered something like the commission is not worth any of this, and left them to it.

They made out for a while in the cracks of dusty afternoon sunlight spilling into the store; there was something final about it and something sad about it and somehow it was pretty awesome anyway.

“No sex, right,” Nat said after a while, pulling away.

“Please,” Clint responded, slipping an arm around her waist and pulling her away from the debris, “we’d need about twelve tetanus shots. This place is a death trap.”

“Our death trap,” Nat agreed fondly, and let Clint lead her out into the afternoon.

=

“You could call him ‘Loki’,” Peggy suggests.

“Why?” Clint asks, sipping the chamomile tea Nat keeps insisting he’ll like.

“Because it’s quicker than calling him ‘that British writer guy who can’t say please’,” Peggy explains.

“Yeah, but Loki?”

“It’s his name,” Peggy says, rolling her eyes.

Clint attempts to process this. “Why?”

“Because his parents were hippies or arseholes I assume,” Peggy shrugs, walking over to collect a tray of Caesar salads from Steve.

The guy-who-is-apparently-called-Loki is on his seventh cup of green tea, by Clint’s count, and scribbling away intently in a notebook with his face about an inch from the paper, dark curls falling around his face. He spends multiple hours a week in here, tips well if not, like, awesomely, has never attempted to hit on Peggy and is literally drinking all their green tea, and Clint is starting to view him as kind of a fixture, albeit a weird one with pretty eyes.

“My book club’s tonight,” Natasha announces, appearing from the kitchen where she and Steve have been discussing the whole vegan issue again. “So you need to find a couch to sleep on.”

“Are you doing this because you want to get laid or because you want to murder someone somewhere outside of your apartment?” Clint asks her. “Because I seriously don’t think you want to discuss the literary merit of whatever Oprah’s been recommending.”

Natasha shrugs. “Maybe I want a new hobby.”

“You’re a martial artist, you crochet, and you can mix two hundred and seventeen different cocktails,” Clint tells her. “Which actually makes me wonder why we didn’t open a cocktail bar, now I’m thinking about it.”

“Tips would be better,” Peggy observes on the way past.

“Because I’d castrate the first guy to try and put his face in my cleavage,” Natasha points out.

Clint blinks. “Well, that’s a mental image.”

Across the cafe, Loki absently reaches for his teacup, only to find he’s already drained it. His look of distress is so pronounced it’s kind of hilarious; Clint turns to boil some fresh water for him.

“Can I come to your book club?” he asks.

“You can read?” Natasha feigns surprise.

He bumps her hip with his slightly harder than necessary as he grabs the green tea. “Is this that thing where we have to hang out with people who aren’t each other.”

“One of our therapists said it would be a good idea,” Natasha shrugs.

That probably says it all, really, so Clint carries the fresh pot of tea over to Loki, who doesn’t thank him but does give him the slightest of real smiles, one Clint kind of involuntarily returns.

=

Darcy and her girlfriend Jane live in a cluttered apartment full of whiteboards covered in spidery equations, scattered scientific journals, half-drunk mugs of coffee, and empty Pop Tart boxes. Jane’s a physicist and very sweet but utterly incapable of taking care of herself without someone reminding her when to sleep, eat, and step away from her laptop.

She lets Clint in with a vague smile, her dark hair a mess and with an afghan Clint is pretty sure he and Nat knitted that winter they were starting the cafe and trying not to kill everybody wrapped around her shoulders. It’s obvious she’s in what Darcy generally calls ‘equation hibernation mode’, where she’s there in body but her brain is somewhere else entirely.

“Hey,” Jane says, enveloping him in a hug that smells of espresso. “It’s good to see you, Clint.”

“You should come be a crazy scientist in the cafe sometime,” Clint tells her. “Steve cooks things with actual nutritional value and stuff.”

“Yeah, Jane will stick to Pop Tarts,” Darcy announces, coming to relieve Clint of the beer and pizza he’s brought as thanks for having their couch for the night. “Come on, it’s shitty romcom night.”

“Really?” Jane asks.

“Well, you’re too out of it for a decent shitty sci-fi night,” Darcy explains. “And it’s no fun watching Star Wars without you twitching indignantly anytime anyone does anything.”

This is how Clint finds himself two hours later watching 27 Dresses with a grinning Darcy and a half-asleep Jane, sipping his third beer and eating leftover Starbucks muffins that Darcy wasn’t contractually allowed to take from her workplace but did anyway.

“We need to get you laid, Clint,” Darcy announces while James Marsden and Katherine Heigl make out onscreen.

Jane makes a mumble of agreement.

“No,” Clint protests, “no, it’s Steve we’re trying to get laid. Remember?”

“We’re trying to work out if Steve has any form of sexual or romantic interest in anyone,” Darcy corrects.

“I’m doing the graphs,” Jane adds.

Sometimes Clint thinks that maybe all of them have too much time on their hands.

“Yeah,” Clint agrees, “but we’re not trying to get me laid. I do fine.”

“You have a creepily codependant relationship with your ex-girlfriend and periodically sleep with my hot co-workers,” Darcy corrects. “Which is cool and all and also awkward; you should really have called Peter back. He did this whole angsty pretentious photo series thing.”

Clint pretends to be really, really interested in the movie until Darcy huffs and mutters this isn’t over.

=

Sunday mornings are for hangovers so the cafe is declared a child-free zone so their clientele can read the newspapers in peace or, alternatively, lay their head on the table and wish for death while wrapping everything in bacon. Pepper’s already been in for coffee, pancakes, and a couple of Nat’s hangover cures that they can’t legally sell to people but which it’s probably fine to feed to Tony Stark.

Peggy’s in charge of charring everyone’s breakfasts because she claims that being British enables her to get everything to just the right level of burned-but-just-about-edible, which means Steve ends up waiting tables with Clint or Natasha on Sundays. He’s stupidly and unfailingly polite and charming and ends up cleaning up better on tips than the rest of them put together, due to the fact he’s both beautiful and adorable. Clint imagines that through hangover-blurred eyes he looks something like salvation.

Clint is just preparing another jug of coffee to go around with refills when he hears Steve fumble with a stack of plates behind him. This is pretty much an unheard of event, since Steve is as steady-handed as they come; as he turns he can see Peggy has poked her head out of the kitchen.

The tallest guy Clint has ever seen is standing in front of the counter; he has what can only be described as a mane of golden hair tumbling around his shoulders, an attractive scruff of stubble, and a smile that could make a statue weak at the knees. Clint blinks a couple of times to clear the haze of god-like gorgeousness clogging up his vision and looks sideways to see that Steve’s eyes have practically fallen out of his head and his mouth is just slightly open, cheeks flushed.

Well, that answers a number of questions.

Looking back to the guy, Clint finally notices that he has an extremely small baby in a ridiculous hippy-like sling tied across his chest. The baby is fast asleep and in a star-patterned romper suit and the whole thing is stupid adorable.

“We don’t let kids in on Sundays,” he has to say, and Steve turns reproachful eyes on him.

The guy looks thoughtful. “She’s asleep,” he points out. “I could leave if she awakens.”

At some point Clint’s going to investigate whether all the random British guys showing up is a secret conspiracy to drive him crazy, but for now he looks from where Steve’s eyes have turned into hearts like the lovestruck people in all that anime Darcy makes him watch to say: “alright, but sit with your back to the windows, we don’t want everyone coming in here.”

The guy graces them with a broad, white-toothed smile that makes Steve’s knuckles tighten on the countertop before he goes to sit at a table in the corner with his tiny charge.

It’s really, really tragic, Clint reflects, that Steve is the kind of guy you can’t mock for this kind of thing. Instead, he makes a mental note to text Natasha about this in a minute, and goes to deliver coffee to the customers.

=

Loki has been sitting and writing in their cafe for hours and hours and Clint still has no idea if he’s writing some kind of conspiracy diary or is secretly a spy stalking Natasha from her complicated past in Russia or is actually writing a book. He feels at the very least they all deserve some kind of acknowledgement in whatever it actually is; he’s started ordering in twice the amount of green tea they usually have just to keep up with Loki’s demand.

It’s getting to the point where Clint can anticipate when Loki’s going to need a fresh pot of tea just from how fast he’s writing at any given moment, which he tells himself is nothing but him getting really really good at his job.

“So,” he says, leaning a hip against the side of the booth Loki’s staked out as his, “are you an actual writer or the sort of guy who has to write here because all the utilities have been cut off in his apartment?”

Loki rolls his eyes, but Clint is keeping the tray with his teapot on it just out of reach, holding it hostage until he gets a response.

“I’m an actual writer,” Loki tells him, and Clint is kind of starting to like the way everything he says comes out condescending. “I have published novels.”

“Anything I’d have heard of?” Clint asks.

Loki shrugs. “I’m surprisingly popular in Australia.”

“So, when I’m sticking stuff in my Amazon shopping basket, I’m looking for Loki...”

“Laufeyson.”

“Bless you.”

Loki gives him his favourite bitchface, which actually might beat Nat’s for sheer bitchiness.

“And that’s your actual name, not, like, a pen name?” Clint adds. Loki nods, still looking pissed. “Did your family hate you or something?”

Shutters slam down on Loki’s expression, sharp and sudden. “My family is complicated,” he grits out.

Momentarily, Clint thinks of wet dark roads and policemen dripping apologies. “Isn’t everyone’s,” he mutters, but he puts the pot of green tea on the table like a truce.

“You’re needling him,” Natasha observes when he gets back to the counter. She’s playing Angry Birds with vicious precision having already filled in all the gaps in Peggy’s crossword with ballpoint pen.

“You’re not actually running a book club,” Clint shoots back.

Natasha rolls her eyes. “First you needle. Then you bone. It’s your pattern.”

“I don’t have a pattern,” Clint protests, something unexpected and defensive leaping in his chest.

“I think sometimes you forget that there isn’t anything I don’t know about you,” Nat replies, a twist to her mouth, and she heads for the kitchen as Steve pokes his head out with piled plates.

Clint bites the inside of his mouth and looks away from her back to find Loki is watching them, expression entirely unreadable.

=

Steve is starting to look like he’d actually like to have one of those tequila shots Darcy and Peggy are lining up along the counter.

“His name is genuinely Thor,” Nat is explaining to Pepper and Phil, “and his biceps are about the width of my thigh. And his hair looks like he should be doing Herbal Essences commercials.”

“Also he has the world’s smallest baby,” Peggy adds over her shoulder. “Like, she’s tiny. And not Thor’s, so I have no idea how he acquired her, but she’s very cute.”

“Can we change the subject yet?” Steve asks. He’s pouting, actually pouting, arms folded across his chest.

Clint is slicing limes for this particular Friday’s stupid idea and watching Steve’s embarrassment with something like glee. It’s nice to have all this shifted onto someone else for a change. Not that anyone else is aware that Natasha is doing her equivalent of teasing him about their resident crazy author, but Clint is aware of it, and that’s enough.

“I think the whole thing is awesome,” Darcy decides loudly. “You should text me next time he’s in, I want to come ogle.”

There’s a dull flush spreading across Steve’s cheekbones that Clint’s never seen before.

“He let Steve hold the baby,” Peggy puts in. “It was adorable.”

Pru,” Steve corrects, scowling.

Pepper’s biting her lips together and looking much too delighted.

“So, you guys are starting a betting pool, right?” Darcy adds. “You know, how long will it be until Steve fucks the blonde sex god with the baby.”

Steve gets up and stomps into the kitchen where he starts rattling pans noisily and sounding generally pissed. Darcy makes a guilty face and gets up to go apologise.

“Yeah, but maybe not in front of Steve,” Natasha calls after her.

Phil’s looking doubtful. “Put me down for six months.”

“Gosh,” Peggy remarks, “that’s actually quite optimistic.”

Nat rummages around behind the counter and straightens up, holding the rock salt.

“This is a terrible idea,” Phil says without any effort to stop this all happening.

“Most of our ideas are,” Clint agrees, and holds his wrist out to Natasha.

=

A week later, Clint comes downstairs from his apartment and unlocks the cafe to find a) a new postcard from Bruce, finally, and b) Tony Stark asleep in one of the booths.

He thinks about it for a moment, and then goes to put some coffee on. “Does Pepper know you’re here?” After Tony responds to that with a groan, Clint changes it to: “do you know you’re here?”

While Tony attempts to peel his face from the tabletop Clint reads Bruce’s postcard. It doesn’t say anything helpful like when he’s coming back from fucking India, or if he and Natasha are, you know, him and Natasha, but he seems to still be alive and fairly cheerful and keeping his anger and various other personality disorders under control, so Clint is pleased for him anyway.

“Seriously,” he says, when Tony’s managed to get himself upright, “does Pepper know you’re here? Because if she doesn’t I am telling her right now so she doesn’t beat me to death with Louboutins.”

Tony makes a face, squinting at him. “She’ll beat you to death with the Choos, she likes the Louboutins too much.”

Clint sets the biggest coffee mug they have down in front of Tony and digs his cellphone out of his jeans to ring Pepper.

“I’m going to kill him,” she says, sounding annoying and frantic and relieved all at once. “Seriously. He is dead.”

“I’ll pass that along,” Clint promises, and hangs up as Steve arrives.

“Why is Tony Stark here?” he asks.

“He broke in last night while hammered,” Clint explains.

Why?” Steve asks.

They both look at Tony, who is slumped over his coffee like he’s considering just trying to drown himself in it. He’s wearing the remains of what looks like a really expensive tuxedo, and it has to be noted that however he got in, the cafe doesn’t have a scratch on it.

“I think I misplaced the strippers,” is all Tony has to say for himself, and he looks so forlorn that Clint goes upstairs and finds a pair of sunglasses for him.

Tony stays slumped and possibly comatose in his booth while their morning customers start trailing in. No one even looks twice at him, and Clint fleetingly wonders if Pepper’s just going to leave Tony here as punishment.

Thor and Pru turn up, Thor wearing his customary far-too-handsome grin, and Pru wearing something in pink that should be hideous and is in fact cute. Clint’s pretty indifferent when it comes to babies and he knows the smallness of them freaks Natasha out, but they’ve agreed in this one incidence Pru is okay and can be their honorary cafe mascot, at least until Bruce comes back and reclaims the title he never wanted in the first place.

Steve brings Thor his breakfast and blushes at him and is generally socially incompetent and lovely; Tony slides Clint’s sunglasses down the bridge of his nose.

“Do you have some kind of bet on for those two?” he asks when Steve’s gone back to the kitchen.

“Of course,” Clint replies.

“Put me down for a thousand bucks on them being married by this time next year, would you?” Tony puts his head back down on the table. “And tell Pepper I welcome her murder shoes.”

=

Clint is never, ever listening to anything that Darcy and Natasha and Pepper and Peggy think is a good idea ever again. He’s not exactly hungover – definitely not by the newly invented Tony Stark scale, anyway – but he’s feeling distinctly fragile. He woke up in Nat’s bed this morning with only a dim recollection of whatever last night entailed, and is consequently dressed in the random assortment of his clothes that are still in her apartment that Darcy poured him into before slapping him on the ass and sending him off for his shift.

Loki’s got his netbook for a change and the constant tapping is starting to set Clint’s teeth on edge. He’s clearing the table from a particularly obnoxious group that have just left; a draft from the door sends balled-up napkins falling all over the floor and he bends down to retrieve them.

There’s a choking sound from behind him.

When he straightens up and turns Loki is staring at him. “You’re wearing women’s underwear,” he says blankly.

“They’re only Nat’s,” Clint shrugs. “I’m out of clean underwear.”

Loki is continuing to stare at him like he’s grown an extra head, which is rich coming from a guy called Loki.

“It’s not a big deal,” Clint tells him. “I’m sure loads of exes who work together also wear each other’s underwear. Natasha’s always stealing mine.”

“...and how long have you been broken up?” Loki asks, chin propped on his hand. His expression is a mixture of amused and judgemental.

“Three years next month,” Clint replies. “Oh, that reminds me, we’re having the anniversary party here. Want to come?”

Loki looks absolutely horrified. “No.”

Clint shrugs. “Your loss.”

He takes the dirty plates through to the kitchen and dumps them in the dishwasher before collecting the sandwich and fries Steve’s just made for him and carrying them through to the cafe for his lunch break. There are loads of free tables, but after a moment’s thought he goes and sits opposite Loki.

Loki’s eyes get very wide. “What are you doing,” he hisses.

“Do you ever eat?” Clint asks; he’s too tired for tact, and it’s never worked with Loki in the past. “Like, you never eat here and you’ve got that skinny dying-of-consumption-in-an-attic-for-your-art look.”

Loki glowers at him. “I am not dying of consumption in an attic,” he snaps, “you obnoxious little man.”

Clint is actually shorter than him, so he just takes a massive bite of his sandwich instead of protesting, and reaches for Loki’s notes. Loki tugs them away.

“Why can’t I look at them?” Clint asks. “Is your book filthy? Sociopathic? Are you like Bret Easton Ellis?”

The look Loki gives him speaks volumes.

“What, Natasha is pretending to run a book club in my apartment, I can know about literature. Maybe you’re more like Palahniuk?”

“Your relationship with your ex is far from healthy,” Loki sniffs.

“You are in no position to pass judgement on ‘healthy’,” Clint shrugs, and shoves the plate of fries over. “Have one.”

“I don’t want one.”

“This is great,” Clint sighs, conversational. “We should do this more often.”

“This is harassment.”

“You’re the one who brought up the fact I’m wearing panties.”

Loki glares at him some more, but reaches for the fries. It feels weirdly like victory.

=