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Phil Coulson Does Not Bake (and The Avengers Do Not Shop At IKEA Anymore)

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Pepper Potts had held a lot of jobs for Tony Stark over the years, but only if you counted the unofficial ones. Personal Assistant and CEO, those were jobs she held for StarkIndustries. Girlfriend didn't really count as a job, neither did nanny, baby-sitter, scapegoat, whipping boy, or unofficial therapist.

Avengers Marriage Counselor was not, under any circumstances, being added to that list.

“Explain this to me,” she said.

“Well-”

“And explain it to me like you'd explain it to Thor.”

“Okay,” Tony said.

“A drunk Thor,” Pepper said.

There was a long pause. “I don't have words that small,” Tony said. “I can, I don't know, make up one of those pictogram things, you know, the ones that come with IKEA furniture?”

“How would you know what comes with IKEA furniture?” Pepper asked. “You would get hives just stepping inside an IKEA.” There was a long, drawn out silence. “Tony.”

“What.”

“You didn't.”

“You can stop talking now, this has nothing to do with what I'm calling about, this is why I dislike talking to you, there's always something-”

“You went to IKEA?”

The silence was telling.

“You. Went to IKEA.”

“We've established this, yes, can we please move on now?”

“What possible reason would you have to go to IKEA, Tony?”

There was a long, drawn out inhale, and Pepper regretted the question before he even started talking. “Because Steve likes to do things as a team that don't involve explosions or potential injury to people's spinal columns, so sometimes he makes us all do things, which would be fine if he let me chose what we should do, it's my city, after all, my money, I know how to have fun. But no, he insists that we, I don't know, trade off on choosing what to do, and some elderly woman on the subway told Thor that he could get loganberry jam at IKEA, and as it turns out, Thor considers loganberry jam to be the best thing ever.”

Pepper cut him off with brutal efficiency. “Why was Thor on the subway?”

“Thor loves the subway. Loves it. He'll ride around all day down there if we let him, and sometimes, honestly? We let him. Clint goes with him occasionally, records the whole thing, it's... It's like performance art, except none of the performers know that they're performing, so it's extra delicious.” Tony paused. “I put my foot down on spending hours riding around in the subway. No. Not a chance. But some nice old lady started talking to Thor in Swedish, and hey, Allspeak, so they were bestest buddies by the time they got to the Lincoln Center stop. And she somehow convinced him to go to IKEA.”

“And now Steve's not talking to you? What did you do in IKEA?” Pepper asked.

“Nothing, Pep, try to keep up, you're the one that brought IKEA into it, and really, if you haven't heard about the meatball incident, I'm under an NDA, so yeah.”

Pepper dropped her head into her hands. “Tony.”

“Yes?”

“Why isn't Steve Rogers speaking to you?”

There was a beat of silence.

“I swear I will hang up this phone, Anthony Edward Stark. I have a company to run, and I don't care about your problems anyway. So let's be clear here. Why is the nicest human being on Earth currently refusing to speak to you?”

Tony sighed. “You know how I have a small habit of occasionally sending Steve to the store for products that might not, in the purest technical sense, exist?”

“Oh, God,” Pepper said.

“Well, I may have gone a little too far.”

“Which means you've done something horrible. Tony. What did you do? What did you do to the kindest, most decent, most honorable man you have ever, and will ever meet?”

“When you put it that way, it just sounds bad,” Tony said.

“TONY!”

“Fine, fine! So you know how I, well, would occasionally stretch the truth about the existence of certain goods just to see if he'd try to get them for me?”

“You mean, how you'd make up fake jingles and sometimes boxes so you could lie to his face? Yes, I'm aware. I'm also aware that I told you to stop doing that.”

“Pepper-”

“No, seriously, I'm not sure why you think that gaslighting the poor man is acceptable, but-”

“Pepper, he knows I'm lying. He knows it. He looks me right in the face, and every feature he's got, every blink, every twitch, every poker tell in the world is screaming that he knows I'm lying. He has no poker face, Pepper. He knows I'm lying. He's just too polite to say it. Which is why I had to keep, you know giving him more evidence. And then when he came home and gave me a box of prunes or something, or bopped me on the head with a bag of coffee beans, that was our little bonding ritual.”

“The bonding ritual where you deliberately lie to him and send him on a wild goose chase that involves humiliating himself in public on your behalf?”

A beat of silence, and Pepper rubbed her forehead. “Well, when you put it like that it just seems like a bad idea,” Tony said at last.

“Yes. That's because it is, Tony. It's a horrible idea, it's not a bonding ritual, it's a hazing ritual, and you're an asshat.”

“Okay, I'm going to let that slur on my character pass, Ms. Potts, but I want you to know I'm hurt.”

“I'll take that under advisement, Mr. Stark. So, you were telling me about your horrible, horrible mistreatment of a kind and compassionate man?”

“You're making this very difficult.”

“I'm glad. I am going to hang up if you don't get to the point.”

“The point IS-” Tony said, his voice getting high and fast the way that it did when he'd really made a mess of something, usually involving the media, the government, or the laws of physics. “Well, I was having trouble convincing him anymore, he just was patting me on the head and going, 'good try,' so I decided I really had to do something big.”

“Oh, God,” Pepper said, digging in her bag for her Tums.

“So I may have come up with a fake cookie brand, hired an advertising firm, had them mock up a full scale advertising campaign, radio, print, television, the works, there might have been billboards, and I bought ad time during Steve's favorite shows and now he's not talking to me.”

Pepper stared down at the Tums, and then threw them in the trash and opened up her bottom desk drawer. Scotch it was. “You... Hired an advertising firm.”

“Yes.”

“And bought ad space.”

“Yes.”

“For a fake product.”

“Fake cookies, yes.”

“For the sole purpose of convincing Steve Rogers to ask for them at the grocery store.”

“Yes.”

“And now he's not talking to you.”

“Yes.”

“Tony, you're lucky he didn't get a RESTRAINING ORDER. I would've gotten a restraining order and we used to sleep together, Tony! Are you out of your mind?” she shrieked.

“Well, since we used to date, Pepper, you know I am!” Tony snapped back. “I just need to fix this! That is what I want! I am aware that I am crazy, and do stupid shit when I'm bored, so can we not focus on that and instead look for something more concrete to do about solving the problem?”

“Tony, you have crossed all sorts of boundaries, of course he's mad at you, you're making fun of him-”

“That's not why he's mad.”

Pepper stopped. “Wait, what?” she said at last. She dumped a healthy measure of scotch into her empty Starbucks cup. She deserved it at this point.

“That's not why he's mad,” Tony repeated.

“Why is it that listening to you explain something is so much worse than just experiencing it?” Pepper asked. “All right. Why is he mad, Tony? And remember. Small words. Drunk Thor words.”

Tony sighed. “Because he went to the store to ask for the cookies and the store manager burst into tears, because apparently her whole week has been one long string of people asking for the non-existent cookies, and she's tried everything, but hasn't been able to find a way to order them. Because, well, they don't exist, and Steve figured that out somewhere between patting her on the back and fetching her tissues, and he came home and he was very mad.”

Pepper put her head in her hands. “You accidentally created consumer demand for a non-existent product while trying to tease Steve.”

“Yeah. That... Seems to be the case.”

“You are a punishment for something horrible that I did in a past life, Tony.”

“That's kind of mean, Pepper.” He sighed again. “Anyway, he said that it was fine as long as my jokes were only affecting him, but now I've caused problems for other people, and that's 'not acceptable.'” Pepper could almost hear him making finger quotes around the words. “Then he said that he was angry with me, and until he got over that, it was probably best if we didn't, you know, speak to one another.”

“So you just have to wait for him to calm down,” Pepper said.

“He says he's not speaking to me again until they're commercially available.”

Pepper's stomach dropped. “No.”

“Pepper...”

“No. Absolutely not. StarkIndustries is not going to go into the food business so that Captain America will speak to you again. No. There's no chance-”

“I started the paperwork today to set up a small company-”

“Son-of-a-bitch!” Pepper tossed the coffee cup in the trash and just grabbed the scotch bottle. “Tony-”

“It's going to be under the Maria Stark Foundation,” Tony said, “you know, like the Paul Newman thing, anything we sell, the proceeds will go to charity. It'll be fine.”

“I'm on the board of the Maria Stark Foundation!”

“Yeah, me, too. You missed the last meeting.”

“No, I- When was that?” she asked.

“This morning.”

“Tony-”

“No, seriously, just a head's up, we're making cookies. Commercially.”

“So that Steve Rogers will speak to you again.”

“Companies have been started for worse reasons.”

“No, they really have not.”

There was a pause. “He's really mad, Pep,” Tony said.

“Tony, it happens. People get mad at you, sometimes.” She paused. “Like, me. Like, now.”

“He doesn't.”

She paused. Sighed. “No. He really doesn't. Okay, Tony, what kind of cookies are they?”

“The advertising campaign for Cosmic Cookies was deliberately vague. It was adorable, though, it was kind of retro, a little cartoon astronaut meeting aliens and forging intergalactic peace by offering them cookies.”

“Wait, that's what we're talking about? I've SEEN those commercials.” She paused, admitted, “They're really cute.”

“I know. So we've got packaging and an ad campaign and consumer demand,” Tony said.

“Wonderful.” Pepper reached for her computer mouse and gave up halfway there. This was going to be a monumental headache. “So you have nothing.”

“I have a giant pile of cash and a newly minted company, Pepper. I'm not sure what else I could possibly need.”

“Well, to start with, Tony, you need a recipe.”

“That shouldn't be that hard. Right?”

“Spoken like a man who considers the instructions of a Betty Crocker cake mix to be as confusing as an alchemical treatise on how to turn lead into gold.”

“I can bake.” He was trying for confidence and ended up sounding threatening.

“Tony, you forgot the eggs. You tried to make me a cake and forgot the eggs. There were four ingredients, and you forgot one.”

“I didn't forget, Pep, I didn't have eggs. I skipped that step.”

“How'd that work out for you, Tony?”

There was a pause. Pepper put her feet up on her desk. “Not so well,” Tony admitted. “Look, Pepper, it's fine, it'll be fine, we'll deal with it, I just need to hire a chef and put some R&D behind it-”

“And that's how you got yourself into this mess to begin with, Tony,” Pepper said, cutting him off. “No hiring people. No putting a rubber stamp on the paperwork and expecting that throwing money at the situation will make it better.”

“It always has before,” Tony pointed out.

“And has Steve ever been impressed when you throw money at a problem?”

“He deeply disapproves of this as a solution to my problems,” Tony said, like a student reciting a very hard learned lesson. He ruined the effect by adding a long, pained groan. “Peeeeeeeeeeepper.”

“You want to fix the situation with Steve, Tony?” she said, picking up the bottle of scotch. “Then fix it. You. Not a hired chef. Not a team of highly focused marketing gurus. Not the Foundation. You.”

“I'm not good at fixing things, Pepper.”

“You're the greatest engineering mind of your generation, Tony. Hell, maybe of all time. Fixing things is what you do.” She grinned. “Good luck.” Before he could start whining again, she just hung up on him and tossed her phone into her purse. It was ringing before it even hit the leather, but she just leaned way back in her chair and considered the bottle of scotch.

She deserved the rest of the day off for this nonsense.

*

“There are so many ways this could be bad,” Natasha said from the door of the kitchen. She crossed her arms over her chest. “Tony, Bruce, didn't we have a discussion about science being done in the place where people eat?”

“We're baking,” Tony said. He was wearing lab goggles and a bright red apron that proclaimed “Baking is Science for Hungry People.” He was also leaning over a bunsen burner, a small object held in metal tongs as he thrust it into the flame. It flared bright blue, and he checked a timer. “Needs less sugar.”

Bruce had an identical apron and goggles, but was wearing his over a lab coat. He swirled a pale blue liquid in a flask, staring at the particulates inside as they fell out of solution. “It's true, we are,” he told Natasha. “Less butter, we need a higher ratio of proteins to fats.”

Clint was wearing the chef's hat that Bruce had gotten him for his last birthday, a bright purple monstrosity that clashed with his apron. “Gotcha,” he said, making a notation on the whiteboard that was leaning against the cabinets. “Thor?”

Thor was at the kitchen table, a glass of milk in one hand and a cookie in the other. There were electrodes on his forehead, and Coulson was sitting in front of a monitor, his attention split between it and the printer that was spitting out an unending scroll of paper. He flicked his pen against the data as it printed, eyes narrowed. His jacket was folded on the chair next to him, and his shirt sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. He glanced up, and gave Thor a stern nod.

Thor popped the cookie in his mouth and chewed, eyes narrowed. “More ginger,” he said at last. With a sharp nod, he reached for his glass of milk and drained it in one long swallow. “Another!”

Coulson glanced up from the scroll of his information. “Generally,” he said, his voice deadpan, “more spiciness.”

Natasha stared at them. At the piles of egg shells and the coating of flour all over everything and the scales and flasks and mortar and pestles, at the bags of supplies and the bowls of freshly ground spices and the three empty cartons of milk in front of Thor, and backed carefully away.

“Baking,” Tony insisted.

“Of course,” she said.

“Kind of a scientific baking,” Bruce said, stripping off his thick yellow gloves and running a hand through his curly salt-and-pepper hair. Flour rose from him like a cloud.

“I see,” she said.

“Cookies!” Thor said, grinning. He looked like a chipmunk, smuggling half a dozen cookies across the border in one cheek.

“Cookies,” Coulson agreed, the faintest smile on his face. He went over the scroll of paper, his pen flicking like a hummingbird's wings.

“Clint?” Natasha asked, because he was her last bastion of stability in this nuthouse, the one person that she always trusted to give it to her straight, no matter what. Of course, right now he was wearing a chef's hat and stuffing cookies into his pockets like he was stocking up for winter.

“We must formulate the perfect cookie recipe so that Tony can win the heart of the fair prince,” Clint said, scribbling some weights and measures on the white board. He had about six different colors going all at once, but he seemed to know what each one meant. There was also a “CB + PC” with a heart around it in the bottom corner. The handwriting looked more like Phil's than Clint's.

“Ha. Ha.” Tony said. He was making a series of scribbled notations on the table top with a marker. Natasha hoped it was dry erase.

“Sir,” Jarvis said, “The cookies have reached optimal levels of baking. You ought to remove them immediately.”

He popped up. “New batch!”

“I really do need more information than that,” Natasha said. She wandered over to where Tony was pulling out a steaming tray of cookies out of the oven. The kitchen was immediately filled with a warm, spicy scent that made her mouth water. She leaned around Tony, and he blocked her attempts at helping herself with a spatula. Natasha arched an eyebrow. “You want to go a few rounds, Stark?”

“Just a hint,” Clint said, from the whiteboard, where he was drawing little doodles of the Avengers in their aprons, “you do not want to go a few rounds, Stark.”

Natasha blew him a kiss. “Flatterer.”

“You'd break a nail or something, and then there'd be hell to pay,” Clint pointed out.

“True.” Natasha watched as Tony filled up a wire cooling rack with cookies. “Now-”

“Seriously, Romanov, this is a goddamn scientific procedure,” Tony said, and he said it with an amazing amount of dignity considering that he was wearing a bright red apron, two giant pot holders shaped like turkeys and a smear of something that looked like molasses running down his neck. “It requires ninety-six seconds of cooling before the cookies are considered done.”

She waited, because he was in one of those manic states where it was a hell of a lot easier to humor him than fight with him. Most of the time, lacking any patience for his stupidity whatsoever, she just went to find Steve. Who was, she had noticed, conspicuously absent.

Natasha glanced at Clint. She arched an eyebrow, and he shook his head. 'Don't ask,' he wrote on the board, and erased it as soon as Tony turned to offer Natasha a single cookie on a plate.

“Now?” she asked, taking the cookie.

“Now,” Thor told her. He poured her a glass of milk.

Shrugging, Natasha bit into the cookie, and her eyes went wide. The cookie was dense and chewy, its yielding interior wrapped in a firm crust, golden sugar melting on the tongue in advance of the burst of spice and the rich, deep flavor of blackstrap molasses. Natasha blinked down at the cookie in her fingers. “That's... Good,” she said at last, surprise creeping into her voice.

“It's not good,” Tony said, eyes glinting. “It's scientifically sound. Chemically balanced. Mathematically perfect.”

“It's missing something,” Natasha said and for an instant, Tony's eyes got narrow and dangerous and she determined that she could still take him, but probably, she should cut the love sick puppy some slack. “Even so, it's the best cookie I've ever had,” she added, and Tony relaxed, and so did everyone else in the room.

“Of course it is,” he said, but he looked relieved. “Let's do this. That's what we're going with.”

“This isn't a commercially viable recipe,” Clint said, studying the weights and measures that were written across the board.

“Don't care, compromise later, for now, I have made cookies, and they are fucking delicious,” Tony said. “Bruce, let's do this.” He pointed a finger at Clint and Thor. “Out.”

“What?” Clint asked, glancing up.

“You are a cookie thief. Out.”

“Hey, now,” Clint said, trying to look insulted, and it was not going to work because there were in fact cookies in his pockets and wrapped in napkins and tucked away and Natasha was certain that if she checked his workspace she'd find some kind of hiding place. Clint never passed up food, especially good food.

Natasha of all people recognized the signs of a hunger filled childhood.

“C'mon, boys,” she said, pulling electrodes off of Thor's forehead. He made adorable faces as she did. “Time to work off some calories with the Wii. Or pass out on the couch and snore. One of those two, I don't much care which. You both look like dorks during either of those activities.”

Thor went from being depressed about removal from the magical land of cookies to being excited about playing with the Wii in about three seconds. Clint made a scoffing noise under his breath, but he was already pulling off the chef's toque and dusting flour off of his arms. “Bowling or tennis?” he asked Thor.

“Boxing!” Thor boomed.

“Oh, boy, that is going to go poorly,” Tony said, already measuring flour out by weight. “Never mind, having to replace the television is a small price to pay.”

“You should get insurance,” Bruce said, smiling as he tried to get a smear of what looked like butter off of his glasses.

“I tried. As it turns out, my carrier considers things Thor does to literally be an act of God. I argued that there was a difference between an 'act of God,' and an 'act of A god,' but they were not buying it.”

“Only you would have to have this argument, Stark,” Coulson said, already in the process of putting his jacket back on. He adjusted his tie. “I've got appointments this afternoon.”

“Blow them off!” Tony told him.

“Appointments with the regional management of IKEA.”

Everyone in the room winced.

“Yes, that's how I feel as well. I'd make you all come along to the meeting and suffer, but then, well, you'd all be in the meeting. Which is the opposite of what we want to have happen here.” He gave them all a look. “Please. For the love of God, do not cause any more trouble this week.”

“I make no promises,” Tony said, leaning over to study Clint's notes.

“Leave the taser,” Clint said.

Coulson's lips quirked in a smile, and Clint got a light kiss on the lips on his way out the door. “You taste like cookies.”

“I am delicious in my natural state,” Clint agreed. “C'mon, big guy, but I will not be happy if you end up clocking me.”

“Neither will I,” Coulson said to Thor, who nodded, taking the warnings with all due seriousness.

“You ought to learn to duck,” Thor said to Clint.

“I am shooting your ass next time we're in the field, I should learn to duck, what the hell is that?” Laughing, Clint lead the way out of the room.

Natasha fell into step with Coulson. “Where is our Star-Spangled Man with a Plan?” she asked, pitching her voice low.

Coulson glanced back over his shoulder, making sure that Tony wasn't on their heels before he answered. “Down at the Met Museum of Art,” he said. “Sketching. He'll be home when he's worked things out.”

“Uh-huh,” Natasha said, and she was always proud of herself when she managed to make that simple agreement into about twelve syllables packed with innuendo. “The only way that particular problem is going to get worked out is if Stark stops pulling Cap's proverbial pigtails and starts tugging something else.”

“Classy, agent, classy,” Coulson said, but he was struggling not to laugh.

“Of course, sir.” She patted him lightly on the arm. “Good luck with your meeting. I shall do my utmost to make sure Clint makes it through game time without major amounts of brain damage.”

“I appreciate that.”

*

“Where are the cookies?” Tony asked.

It was mostly a rhetorical question. Clint was sprawled on the dining room table, one arm thrown over his face, his pants unbuttoned at the waist. He was surrounded by empty wire cooling racks and crumbs. He groaned, not moving. “No more cookies,” he whimpered.

Okay, so Tony's first mistake had been letting the cookies out of his sight, but he honestly thought that since the batches were done and cooling it would be fine to move them out of the kitchen and into the dining room to cool while he and Bruce tried to cut through the sugar, carbs and fats with a nice salad. Okay, so Bruce had eaten a salad. Tony had eaten leftover Chinese. The end result was, they'd left the damn cookies unattended for like half a hour, which was apparently twenty-nine minutes too long.

“Where. WHERE are my cookies?” Tony repeated. He poked Clint in the side of the head with a spatula. “There were cookies. Now there are not. What have you done?”

“I'd think that's self-explanatory,” Natasha said, shaking her head. “My God, Clint, you're going to end up with diabetes at this rate.”

He flung one arm in the air. “Totally worth it,” he said, stabbing at the air before his arm came back down. “Ugh. Totally. Worth it.”

Bruce stared at him. “That's not possible,” he said. “There were seventy-two cookies, a double batch. That's... Six dozen cookies. That's a fatal dose.”

“Is there such a thing as a fatal dose of cookie?” Natasha asked him.

“No, because puking kicks in long before you can kill yourself that way.” Tony poked with the spatula again. “You didn't eat them all. Where are they?”

“I didn't even eat that many,” Clint mumbled. “Thor ate most of them. He's under the table.”

“BETRAYER!” the table thundered. “VILE FIEND!”

“Sorry, man,” Clint said, rolling over and only Bruce's hand on his side kept him from rolling right off the table and onto the floor. “If I'm going down for this, I'm taking you with me.”

Tony glared at Natasha, who'd shown up to steal a cookie and his fried rice. “I thought you had them under control.”

She blinked slowly, her long lashes fluttering against her cheeks. “I'm sorry if you were stupid enough to think that I would bother,” she said at last, and yeah, Tony deserved that one.

“Thor,” Tony said, leaning over. “Where are my cookies?”

“They were delicious, friend Tony. Truly worthy of the Gods.”

“Give them back,” Tony said, driven beyond reason and straight into handing out eviction notices.

“No, no, do not give them back,” Bruce said. “C'mon, buddy, up we go, let's get out from under the table, it's a little worrying having you under there.” He crouched down, his lips twitching with an unspoken smile. “Even for you, that was an impressive caloric intake. Let's...” He paused, and it wasn't a good pause. “Why are there empty jam jars down here? Did you... Did you dip your cookies in jam? How many jars of jam did you eat, Thor?”

Tony paused, and rubbed his forehead. “Jam?” he asked, not because he wanted to ask, but because, yeah, this was going to be bad, wasn't it? Thor on that much sugar was going to be an absolute nightmare. The kind of nightmare that resulted in major structural damage to the tower. Again. And if he was going to be paying the contractors for yet another repair, he should at least know WHY.

Not that it made it any better, and he certainly didn't look forward to explaining the 'why' to anyone else, but knowing the 'why' made it easier to make up socially plausible lies.

“All of them!” Thor sounded very pleased with himself, which was normal for Thor, and Bruce looked kind of pained, which was normal for Bruce.

“Yeah, buddy, but, uh, that's not a number, that's a qualifier-”

“We had six jars,” Clint said, as Natasha grabbed his arms and hauled him into a sitting position. He managed to get his legs towards the side of the table, and she stepped between his knees. He slumped forward onto her shoulder with a yawn. “Now, I'm assuming we have none. I think you can do the math.”

“That's not math, that's an abomination. You ate six jars of jam. And about a hundred cookies.” Bruce buried his face in his hands.

“That's, like, a Wednesday for Thor,” Clint pointed out. He swatted Tony's spatula away from his cheek. “Poke me with that one more time, Stark, and I will feed it to you.”

“Yeah, not feeling particularly concerned,” Tony said. “I don't think you can move without puking.”

“I regret nothing,” Clint said. He draped his arms over Natasha's shoulders and leaned his face into her neck, trying to snuggle into her. She had a faint, amused smile on her face, as if Clint were a small fluffy creature that she was considering keeping.

Patting him lightly on the head, she explained, “The regret always comes later with you.”

“Lies,” Clint said, burrowing against her shoulder. She stroked his hair, shaking her head.

“I regret letting all of you move in,” Tony said, reaching down to help Bruce haul Thor out from under the table. He was sticky with dark patches of jam and wearing the sort of beatific smile that he usually reserved for truly heroic attempts at getting drunk. “Don't. Touch. Anything,” Tony told him, trying to sound stern. “Shower. Now.” Thor, without missing a beat, reached out to hug him. Tony wasn't quite fast enough to avoid it.

“Your cookies are truly magnificent!” Thor said, hugging Tony hard enough that Tony's feet left the ground.

“A common sentiment,” Clint said against Natasha's shoulder. She bopped him on the head. “Ow.”

Bruce, shaking his head, was under the table, collecting mostly empty loganberry jam jars. One of them still had a cookie jammed in there, and Natasha reached over and snagged it. She took a bite, and froze. “Bruce? This is it.”

Bruce glanced up. “What?” Wordlessly, Natasha broke off a piece, dipped it in the jam and handed it over. He took it with a slight frown, and popped it in his mouth.

His eyes went wide. “That's it.”

Tony, prying himself free of Thor, glared at them both. “What're you-” he said, before Natasha shoved a bite of cookie into his mouth. He chewed, swallowed. “Huh,” he said, blinking. “Jam.”

“Jam,” Thor said, pounding him on the back. “The spicy bite of the cookie, the pure sweetness of the jam, and a creamy glass of milk. No greater reward exists for a weary warrior with an empty belly.”

Tony stared at the remains of the cookies. “Huh,” he repeated. “Bruce?”

“Yeah, let's go rework the numbers,” Bruce said.

“Just make thumbprint cookies, you dumbass,” Clint said, half asleep against Natasha's shoulder.

“Explain,” Tony demanded.

“Take dough. Squish it down with your thumb to make an indentation. Dump jam in hole. Boom.” He pried open one eye. “Death by delicious.”

“That's a good tagline,” Natasha pointed out.

“Most people prefer not to have death mentioned when they're eating cookies,” Bruce said. “It's... It's kind of a thing.”

“Most people live very boring lives,” Clint said. “That is not a problem we have.”

“What, just because the Norse God of Thunder was hiding under the dining room table to steal cookies that the owner of a fortune 500 company made so that Captain America will stop being mad about the fact that he's been making up food products for months?” Natasha asked. “You think that qualifies as 'not boring?'”

“Maybe,” Coulson said from the doorway. “But I'm more concerned about the fact that an international secret agent and the second deadliest woman I've ever met has her hands on my lover's ass.”

“It's a nice ass,” Natasha said.

“Wait, second deadliest?” Tony asked. “Who the hell is the first?”

“You've never met my mother.”

*

“Tony?”

Tony rolled his head to the side. “Mmmph?” he managed, and oh, wonderful, drool, that was attractive. He straightened up, trying to shake off the fog. “Mashasiah?”

Steve caught his shoulder. “Hey,” he said, his eyes dancing. “What're you doing sleeping in here?”

“I sleep-” Tony struggled upright. “Where ever I want. Workshop, couch, floor, kitchen, where ever.” He shoved a hand through his hair, blinking rapidly. “It's my tower.”

"Yeah, but why are you sleeping in the rec room?" Steve asked, grinning down at him.

"Oh, I must've fallen asleep. There was an epic Wii battle. Natasha versus Coulson. Winner took Clint."

Steve choked on a laugh. "How'd Clint take that?"

"Made himself a sign that said 'booby prize', perched on top of the entertainment center and shot paper clips at various asses. Natasha may have thrown the last match, it's hard to say." He paused. Looked at Steve. “Hey. You're talking to me.”

“Nope,” Steve said, grinning. “Just checking to make sure you're still alive. You were making the most horrific noises.”

“I was snoring, I'm sure,” Tony said, fumbling for the coffee table. “You were in the Army, I'm sure you've heard a guy snore.”

“I have, and that was still unique. Jarvis was very concerned.” Steve glanced up. “Weren't you, Jarvis?”

“Indeed, sir,” Jarvis deadpanned. “Sir, the container you're looking for is under the blueprints.”

“Right. Right, thank you.” Tony flicked them aside. “Right. Great. Raritet container, Coulson brought them back, apparently IKEA is talking to us again. The infographics guy may get a goatee they're so happy with us right now. Which is, you know, fantastic, one big happy family, all that.” He yanked the cover off and held it out to Steve.

He blinked, and sank down onto the couch next to Tony. “What're those?”

“Cosmic Cookies,” Tony said. “Or, they will be. I wasn't really willing to wait for the whole thing to play out, because it's going to take a while.” He handed Steve the stack of pages. “Without the jam, they're going to be sold in specialty stores as a first foray into consumer retail. Pepper signed the paperwork with Marcy Donaldson to sell the first batch at her supermarket; she's sorry she cried on you, by the way, she sent a card. With the loganberry jam, they're part of our settlement with IKEA, they'll sell them there exclusively.”

Steve stared at the cookie as he took it out of the box. “We're... Selling cookies?”

“Who's this we?” Tony asked, letting his lips quirk up in a smile because, hey, Steve was talking to him. “Well, okay, there's a new non-profit I set up under the Maria Stark foundation, we'll sell stuff, see if we can turn a profit, if we can, and if there's one thing I'm good at, it's turning a goddamn profit, and if we do, we'll put it to good use. I've spoken to the Met, and we've set something up to endow memberships and classes for low income students, so that's what the cookie money is going to.”

Steve switched his stare to Tony. “Well, okay,” he said, his lips curling up.

“Could you please eat the damn cookie, you're killing me here,” Tony said.

Laughing, Steve popped it in his mouth. His eyes went wide, honest pleasure breaking over his face. “That's good,” he said, covering his mouth so he could say it. He swallowed. “That's really good. Did you-” He grinned. “Did you make these?”

“Pepper wouldn't let me hire a chef. The kitchen is a bit worse for wear,” Tony said, relaxing. He took a cookie. Bit into it. Yeah, they were just as good the sixteenth time around.

“I can imagine.” Steve reached around him and snagged two more, ignoring the way that Tony batted at his hand to protect his bounty. “Why'd you go to all that trouble?”

“Because you weren't talking to me,” Tony said, giving him a look.

Steve nodded. Tossed the cookie in his mouth, hummed as he chewed and swallowed. “Now, where'd you get that idea?”

Tony was so stunned that he let Steve take the whole container this time. “Because you said you weren't going to talk to me until the cookies were commercially available?”

“Oh! Oh, yeah, that.” Steve ate another cookie, and made a face as he considered. “I was lying. It's pretty funny, isn't it?” He grinned at Tony.

Tony stared at him. “What?”

“It's really a pain when someone lies to you and makes you go through a lot of extra effort and then just laughs about it, isn't it?” Steve said, munching a cookie.

Tony froze, a cookie halfway to his mouth. Slowly, ever so slowly, he turned to look at Steve. Steve gave him a wide, innocent grin. “These are really good cookies,” he said.

“You...” Tony ran a hand through his hair. “You...”

“The phrase you're looking for here is, 'played me,'” Steve explained. His eyes were dancing. “As in, yes, as a matter of fact, I did play you.”

Tony knew his mouth was hanging open and couldn't find it in himself to care. “What- What-” He slumped backwards. “That's- I-”

“Have another cookie, Tony. You made a lot of them,” Steve said.

“But you don't HAVE a poker face,” Tony said, staring into space. His mind was a complete blank. There was one of those drinking birds in there, bobbing along. It was a nice little drinking bird. Tony decided everyone was getting a drinking bird for Christmas. Or, maybe, just because. Because he was that kind of a guy.

“It would appear that I do.” Steve put a companionable arm around Tony's shoulder and gave him a squeeze. “It's not your fault, really, I don't use it often. But as a matter of fact, I DO have a poker face.” He popped a cookie in his mouth, grinning. “Tony?”

“Meh?”

“It's a really good poker face,” Steve said, innocence personified.

Tony stared at him. “Fuck,” he said at last.

“Language, Tony, really.” Steve was laughing at him. It was so clear that Steve was laughing at him.

Tony opened his mouth. Closed it. Opened it again. “ Well, shit,” he said at last, and then he burst out laughing, his whole body shaking with it as he slumped back against Steve's arm. Steve's laughter joined with his, a bit lighter, a bit warmer, but no less real.

Steve held up the container of cookies. Tony took one. “They're really good cookies, Tony,” he said. “Thanks.”

“For what?”

“For going through all that trouble.”

Tony didn't look at him. “I did a good job,” he agreed, crossing his arms over his chest. “I am a man of many talents. Surprising depth and myriad facets.”

“You've also got cookie crumbs in your beard.”

“Part of my charm.” Tony didn't bother brushing them away. Steve did it for him.

“Movie?” Steve asked.

“Yeah, okay.” Tony leaned back, closed his eyes. He let Steve pick the movie. He was going to be asleep before the opening sequence, anyway.

And he was just fine with that.

*

To: Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD
From: Phil Coulson, Agent of SHIELD

Re: Avengers Initiative
Attached file: Classified, Level 7: The Avengers/IKEA incident (172 KB)

Renovations will take an estimated 4-6 weeks. They have agreed to sign damage waivers in exchange for the right to market the affiliated items as “Approved by Thor.”

Thor has agreed to approve of said items if they will give him jam.

Stark has agreed not to block the shipments of jam if you agree to let him market Avengers cookies for charity.

I've agreed to continue as the Avengers' handler. If I found you've kept copies of those pictures, we will have words.

Sorry, sir.

-Phil