"For the last fucking time," Tony snaps, "this isn't my fault."
There are quite a few things Tony would willingly take credit for—most a direct result of his machinations, yes, but some just associated with him by assumption, based on merely circumstantial evidence, like the time Loki tricked Thor into sinking Mjölnir to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and they blamed it all on him.
No matter how completely awesome it would be to control the weather, though, it isn't Tony's fault high summer decided to take a boiling shit on the island of Manhattan, and it certainly isn't his fault Avengers Tower happens to be a mound of rubble at the moment after last week's alien invasion and they've all had to relocate to Stark Mansion in the interim.
Of course, because the powers that be seem bent on making their lives a living hell, the city's entire power grid goes out the third day they've moved in.
They're gathered in the basement, coolest place in the house, and it still feels like they're about to be roasted alive. Natasha and Clint are splayed out next to each other, backs pressed against the linoleum tile. Natasha's eyes are closed and Clint's staring at the arches of the ceiling. Bruce is folded in the corner with a flashlight and an advanced nuclear physics book, shirt untucked. Steve is struggling to help Thor rig some fancy magic shit with his cape.
Even JARVIS can't help—he'd be running on the Mark VIII's reserve power alone, and trying to pull anything on a large scale even with an arc reactor in place would deplete the energy so fast it wouldn't even be worth it.
"In fact, this never would have even happened if municipal government had just listened to me and installed arc reactors where I'd told them to," he continues mulishly. "Fucking Bloomberg."
"Stop bitching," Natasha says, drawing her vowels out lazily. She flips over onto her stomach. "It'll just make your blood pressure rise."
"Clean energy is supposed to be a priority in this country," he says, ignoring her.
"Just hearing you yell is making my head swell," Bruce says, flipping a page in his book.
"Fuck it," Natasha announces before Tony can formulate a suitably offended response. She jumps to her feet and starts taking her shirt off, a scenario that matches up so uncannily with several dreams he's had that Tony's brain boggles a little.
He hears Steve make a soft choking noise in the background. Thor blasts his cape clear across the other side of the room with a gust of hot air.
Tony glances at her askance. "Not that I don't appreciate the view—quite the contrary, actually—but, um, to what end are you undressing? Just so we're clear."
Natasha unbuttons her pants. "I'm trying to stay cool. At this rate, we're all going to end up with heat stroke." She shakes her head at the look on his face. "Keep your dick in your pants, Stark. You've seen me in more compromising positions than this."
"Right," Tony says, mouth dry.
She strips down to a rather Spartan set of black underthings before lying on the floor again. Tony falls back onto the couch and attempts to utilize what little self-control he possesses in an effort not to stare.
It doesn't work, but not for the reasons Tony's used to. Natasha is a gorgeous specimen, to be sure, but his eyes don't catch on her hips or the delicate bone of her clavicle, but on the mess of scar tissue marring the smooth skin of her back.
"What is that?" he blurts out. "Is that from—?"
"Budapest," she confirms, tilting her head up to meet his gaze.
"When we found her," Clint says, eyes still glued to the vaulted ceiling, "they'd already fucked her up pretty bad."
"Got to me in time, though," Natasha says calmly, always so calm, with an air of someone who has long made peace with herself and her demons. That, more than anything, brings Tony down from the excess energy that's threatening to consume him, all twitchy hands and no outlet in the foreseeable future.
"Well," he says, grabbing the hem of his undershirt, "we're all in this together." He peels it off and tosses it behind the sofa, then gets to work on his pants, his bare skin sticking to the leather.
Bruce is bending over the back of the couch a second after Tony finishes shedding clothes, their faces inches away from each other, sweat beginning to gather at the roots of his hair.
Bruce's shirt's unbuttoned all the way now. Tony waggles his eyebrows. "Is this a proposition, Doctor?"
Bruce holds his flashlight up and looks amused. "My batteries died," he says.
Tony sighs, heavy and long-suffering. "I see. Yes, Bruce—you have my permission to use the arc reactor as a personal reading light."
"If it's too much trouble," he starts drily, but Tony waves it off.
"If you want to ruin your eyesight even more by reading in the dark, then by all means—"
On the other side of the basement, Thor seems to have finally gotten his suspended cape-fan to work. All it really does is stir the still air, puffs of dust rising in the corners of the room from the force of its flapping, and then Tony can't stop sneezing.
"Thor," Steve says with alarm. "You should probably turn that off now."
"I am not quite sure how to proceed," Thor replies, puzzled. "Our tutors on Asgard focused mainly on wielding the magic, not ending it—"
"Oh, for God's sake," Natasha says, scrambling to her feet, hands on her hips. "Couldn't you have called some rain outside instead of doing—" she makes a vague gesture at the cape, "this?"
"I did not even think of that," Thor says contritely.
"Clearly," she says. "Also, knowing you, you would've drowned the entire island in two minutes."
Thor considers this. "You are probably correct."
The cape spins on in midair, cheerfully oblivious.
Later, after Natasha's wrestled the thing into submission and locked it upstairs in one of the closets, more reluctant parties start shedding clothing as well. Clint's got his shirt off, and Bruce is down to his boxers, one of Tony's spare arc reactors in hand. The rest are littered around the basement as makeshift light bulbs. Steve's still fully clothed, because he's a party pooper—he's next to the flat-screen TV, systematically making his way through a massive pile of food from the fridge before it goes bad.
Watching Thor slide out of his battle armor is something of a riveting exercise, like being spectator to a particularly involved game of cricket—except that, you know, Tony's actually interested in this. Like all things Asgardian, there seems to be a ritual for it, too. Thor does a bit of loud chanting when he lifts his breastplate off, and then hooks it carefully over the handle of his hammer. The chainmail gets draped over that. The unbuckled belt, gauntlets, and greaves are laid aside.
"You were wearing all of that," Clint says flatly, "and you've still got regular clothing on underneath."
"It is Asgardian tradition," Thor says, as if that explains everything, and then shucks his shirt and britches.
Asgardian tradition apparently also dictates that demigods don't wear underwear.
Thor sits down cross-legged, naked as the day he was born—though Tony has his doubts, since he's pretty sure Thor came out of the womb in full battle regalia. "You're very hot," Tony comments.
"We all are, are we not?" Thor says, misconstruing his words. "It is almost a hundred and seven degrees in your Midgardian Fahrenheit outside."
"That's not false," Natasha says, voice wry. She walks around him in a circle, whistling appreciatively.
"Thor, you look like someone—picture-stored you," Steve says, blinking.
"He means Photoshop," Tony translates lazily, arms hooked over the arm of the couch, and Bruce lets out a low chuckle.
"What's this?" Natasha asks, and when Thor twists around Tony gets a good look at a long scar running from Thor's shoulder down to his abdomen, thick and wiry. It looks old, and Thor's face goes a little dark.
"It is a lengthy tale," he says quietly.
Bruce closes his book, scoots in on Thor's right, and the rest of them settle on the floor to form a crude, lumpy circle, in various states of undress: Natasha lies down on her stomach, hands propping her head up, and Clint sit in between her and Bruce, his pants still on. Steve sits closest to the couch, gallon of milk in one hand and a stack of ham and cheese sandwiches on a plate in front of him, white shirt drenched translucent with sweat.
Tony makes a wide gesture and says, "We've got all the time in the world."
As it turns out, Thor sustained his scar when he was overcome by the Warrior's Madness during a duel on some planet that Tony can't pronounce. The war between the two worlds was in its death throes by then, and Thor had been called upon to battle the other side's fiercest warrior in a trial by combat.
"Once it was over, I started cutting down my own men in a blind rage," he says, staring at his hands. "Sif stood fearless before me and struck a mighty blow across my chest with an enchanted blade. I lost much blood. The healers had to work seven days and seven nights to close the wound."
"Were you awake the whole time?" Steve asks.
"No," Thor says, shaking his head. "The healers were able to induce in me a deep, artificial unconsciousness akin to my father's Odinsleep."
The mention of artificial sleep, of course, sends them spiraling on a long tangent about how that shit even works, Tony and Bruce vainly attempting to pump Thor for more details about Asgardian magic so as to theorize about it in terms of science before remembering that it's more Loki's area of expertise, if the Aladdin-style flying cape experiment in the broom cupboard upstairs is anything to go by.
It also turns out that Clint remove his pants because he once fucked off to Vegas and got so wasted that he had someone tattoo an actual hawk on his right calf.
"Thanks, traitor," Clint says, after Natasha divulges this crucial piece of information with much relish.
"Cry more," says Natasha.
"I wanna see," Tony whines, and Thor concurs with a booming, "I too wish to see Clinton's permanent body art." Somehow Steve gets roped into it as well, and then Thor's got Clint in a gentle chokehold as Steve pulls his pants down and—
"I do not understand," Thor says.
"I maybe should've mentioned," Natasha remarks, examining her fingernails. "It's a cartoon baby hawk."
Bruce is shaking with silent laughter and Steve just kind of stares at it for a second before letting Clint go and chuckling into his palm.
Tony leans in closer to inspect it and nearly gets a heel to the nose. "So you haven't tried getting it removed—why?"
Clint sniffs and retracts his leg. "It has sentimental value."
"If you say so," Tony says doubtfully.
At some point in the afternoon, hunger overtakes heat as the main source of discomfort. Tony breaks out a bunch of lukewarm beers and bottles of wine, and they tuck into the food that Steve hasn't had a chance to inhale yet: Natasha tosses a huge salad with homemade vinaigrette, Bruce uses a match and the old gas stove in the main kitchen to scramble a truly frightening amount of eggs, and Tony manages to hook an arc reactor up to an ancient oven so that Clint can bake the shit out of everything in the freezer.
"Look at you, Cap," Tony says later, when they're lying around in food comas and Tony's got a delicious buzz going from a couple of beers too many. Steve makes a noncommittal grunt and twitches a hand with what could pass as acknowledgment. "I can see the steam coming out of your ears."
"I'm fine," he mumbles into the floor.
"You really don't want to draw this out," Tony cajoles. "Take your clothes off. I promise, you'll feel better."
"I'm starting to want you to make me," Steve says, and Tony rolls his eyes.
"We could play strip poker," he suggests, and Clint shakes his head so fast Tony's eyes blur.
"Not a good idea, Stark."
"The last time we tried that, half the tower got blown up because Clint thought you were cheating," Natasha reminds him.
"In his defense, I was cheating," Tony admits.
Clint jabs an accusatory finger in his direction. "I knew it! You cocksucker," he says, and dips his spoon into the pan of peach cobbler.
"We'll do blind man's bluff," Tony says magnanimously. "Since you're so concerned about foul play, Clint, Thor can deal. The guy's already in his birthday suit."
He ventures upstairs to locate a deck of cards while Bruce explains the basics to Thor. "So the player with the highest card emerges victorious," Thor's saying when Tony comes back. "It seems simple enough."
"The betting is the interesting part," Tony says, tossing the pack at him. "In this case—the subject of Steve Rogers' overdressing is of particular note. Too scared to play, Captain?"
Steve, being Steve, rises to the bait beautifully. "You're on, Stark."
Bruce ends up completely naked first, a resigned expression on his face when his boxers come off. Thor thumps him on the back and says something about unabashed nudity and the bonds of brotherhood, which brings a couple of unsavory thoughts about Thor and Loki to mind that Tony would really rather not think about.
Steve loses his shirt the same round Natasha has to take her bra off and Clint his briefs, because Tony is awesome and has a great poker face. They get stuck for a while on what's definitely a tramp stamp on Clint's lower back, a garish cupid tattooed right over the swell of his ass. Tony spends a couple of minutes mining that for all its worth before turning to catch an eyeful of shirtless Steve.
His skin is smooth and pale and flawless in the light of the arc reactors, unmarred by scars or stretch marks. (Of course: the super-soldier serum.) Tony kind of wants to reach out and touch it. Steve catches Tony staring and looks down, bemused, like he still isn't used to being healthy and strong, is half-expecting to wake up one morning suffering again from the laundry list of physical ailments he was born with. Tony's seen the file.
"What?" he asks, almost defensively. "Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing," Tony says, forcing his eyes elsewhere.
"Can we continue?" Natasha asks, blowing over the neck of her beer. She swings her legs, feet battling casually with Clint's for airspace, and raises her eyebrows at the glances he keeps throwing Steve's way. "Keep your dick in your pants, Stark," she reminds him. She licks the back of the card Thor hands her and sticks it on her forehead.
"Oh, I plan to," Tony says, grinning, and wins the next round with the jack of clubs.
Natasha sighs and drops the last of her underwear. Steve, gentleman that he is, averts his gaze as he unbuttons his pants.
Tony has no such qualms. "Natural redhead," he comments, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiles. She makes a face at him and sits down next to Clint again, steals the rest of his cobbler.
To Tony's immense disappointment, Steve isn't actually wearing red, white, and blue panties. The white boxer-briefs he is wearing, however, leave very little to the imagination.
"And then there were two," Tony says, taking a new card from the deck in Thor's hands.
"You sure you aren't cheating?" Steve asks suspiciously.
He presses a hand to his chest and looks wounded. "Maybe you should just admit this is something you aren't good at," he retorts. "You couldn't bluff your way out of a paper bag, Rogers."
Steve slaps the card Thor gives him on his forehead (three of diamonds) and gazes at Tony with a level of wide-eyed earnestness he usually reserves for old ladies that need help crossing the street.
Tony winces sympathetically. "You should probably fold, Cap. It'd be easier for all of us."
"I'm not going to fold," Steve says. Beads of sweat trickle down his face and he flicks a curl of damp hair out of his eyes.
"Well, then," Tony says, "we're done here, aren't we?"
He plucks his card off his head and looks down at it—three of spades.
"No ranking of suits in poker," Natasha says helpfully, which doesn't sound right to Tony but he's a little too tipsy to protest, and he has no problem with ties, anyway. "Neither of you wins, which means both of you lose, which means—off with your clothes, boys."
Tony steps out of his boxers and flops onto the couch again. Steve stares down at his briefs for a couple of seconds before sliding them off.
All things considered, Captain America has a pretty fabulous ass, all tight muscle and more smooth, golden expanses of skin.
He's still shit at poker, though.
Steve goes a little red and mumbles something about workplace harassment when he notices all of the staring.
"Whatever," Tony says loudly. "Don't think I didn't catch you checking us out earlier."
To his surprise, Steve doesn't protest.
By early evening, Bruce and Tony have singlehandedly come up with forty-seven different ways to solve (or at least minimize) the current energy crisis. Tony's also composed several strongly worded emails in his head to the mayor's office for good measure. The lights flicker on for a bit at seven but go out half a minute later, and—Jesus, it's been an entire fucking day of this, and Tony's had enough.
"Fuck the public decency laws," he says, brushing crumbs off his lap and standing up. "I'm putting on the tiniest Speedo I can find in this goddamn house and taking a dunk in the closest body of water. Whoever wishes to join me is, of course, welcome."
Which is how they end up in the Central Park pond kicking turbid water at each other, Steve standing on the sidewalk in a pair of what look like Natasha's bike shorts and feeding leftover bread to the birds.
The grid finally comes back up some time around ten, after the sun's gone down and Thor's dunked them all way too many times to count and Steve nearly dies of mortification when a ranger comes by and lectures him about domesticating wild animals. They trudge back to the mansion and lie out on the grass behind the main gate, warm and wet and tired.
When Avengers Tower is semi-inhabitable again and they move back into their respective floors, they seem to individually come to some sort of unspoken understanding. It's just little things, like Natasha walking around the house in nothing but a tiny slip, and Clint rolling out of bed in his boxers to make coffee for everyone, and Bruce meditating nude in the yoga room. Thor gets a new cape and lounges in the common areas with his junk hanging out all the time, which should make Tony feel inferior, but he's too busy appreciating how eye candy levels have skyrocketed to care very much.
"Did something happen while you were away?" Coulson asks, after he walks in on Steve and Tony sparring (read: Steve beating Tony's ass into the ground, god damn it) in the gym, most of their clothing lying in a pile on the floor next to a bench press.
He taps the mat twice and Steve lets him go, reaches a hand down to help him up. Tony grabs a towel and wipes at the sweat dripping down his neck, the corner of his mouth coming up. "Why do you ask?"
"No reason," says Coulson.
"We joined a nudist colony," Tony whispers conspiratorially. "Don't tell Pepper, or Fury—it'd be terrible PR." Steve squawks a couple of half-hearted protests and Coulson blinks twice (which is pretty much his equivalent of running away screaming) before turning on his heel and walking out the door.
Steve shakes his head at Coulson's receding back. "Was that really necessary?" Tony makes a run at him while he's distracted—a minute later, Steve's got him in another painful position against the mats, his forearm clamped tight over Tony's collarbone as he struggles fruitlessly to buck Steve off.
"You're not even trying, are you?" Tony says, breathing hard through his nose.
"If I was, you'd probably be dead," Steve tells him, even sounds apologetic about it, which is unspeakably annoying.
Tony rolls his hips and Steve stares down at him with vague apprehension.
"What are you—?"
Tony twists his leg in between Steve's and rubs upward with his knee, and—ah, there. Steve gapes comically before jumping off of him, stammers out a string of nonsense in the time it takes Tony to pin him down. "Say uncle," Tony says sweetly, flashing his teeth.
Steve wrinkles his nose. "That was dirty."
"Don't hate the player, hate the game," Tony cackles, even though this makes absolutely zero sense in context. "You're too straight-laced, Cap. Think outside the box."
"Okay," Steve agrees, and fucking grinds up so hard Tony can almost feel the wind get knocked out of his chest—and then they're rolling around on the cushioned floor, a tangle of sweaty limbs and errant fists. At one point, Tony swears his teeth catch on Steve's bicep.
"Is this sparring or foreplay?" comes a voice from the door. Natasha strides in with a duffel bag and starts setting up an elaborate obstacle course of balance beams and parallel bars and still rings on the other side of the gym.
"Must there be a difference?" Tony bites out, right before Steve finally wrestles him into a triangle choke. "Hey—I give up! I give up. You win. I'm done."
"Thank you," Steve says, unclenching his thighs and collapsing back against the mats. "Same time tomorrow?"
Tony pulls himself into a sitting position and laughs, blinking afterimages out of his eyes. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, it's a date."