Sunny May mornings in Avengers Tower do not often begin with a yell like a mad scientist seeing his creation wake from its electronic bed, quickly followed by a crash that would put an AC/DC drum solo to shame and finally topped by a crescendo of "EUREKA! I did it, I am awesome, this is FANTASTIC!"
OK, that's a lie. But the last time it happened Tony had just found a way to design a space-worthy version of the Iron Man suit, so he was allowed. It wasn't his fault Pepper wouldn't let him actually build it.
He's the only one of them not in the kitchen for breakfast, so when he crashes through the doors he gets a pre-assembled audience in various stages between asleep, awake and coffee machine: a dishevelled, grease-streaked figure in a black t-shirt and jeans peppered with burn-holes and ingrained stains; he has his goggles in his hair and he's wearing heavy gloves, for welding or something, who knows, and in his right hand is an intricate metal column of some kind which appears to be attached to a fluorescent blue lightbulb.
"I did it," says Tony, wildly triumphant, and swings the lightbulb.
It hums a very, very familiar hum, and not the kind you catch Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh with, either.
Clint drops his coffee cup.
"No," he says.
"Is that -" says Thor, standing up.
"You are joking," says Bruce.
"I want one," Tasha announces.
"Ladies and gentlemen," says Tony, and he's so fucking delighted with himself that he actually hops from one foot to the other, too gleeful to even stand still. "Allow me to present to you the world's first functioning lightsabre."
And he promptly brings it down with a swing on the couch to his right. There's a swish and a hum and a sort of sizzle, and when Tony pushes at one end of the couch it moves away from the other along the line the sabre passed through, leaving two perfectly cauterised couchhalves and a smell of burning leather.
"Oh, shit," says Steve, looking horrified.
The thing about working in either a) SHIELD or b) Stark Industries is that they do lots of things that require the participation of lots of really smart people, and one of the things that really smart people occasionally have in common is the devastating experience of not being understood by anyone around you, and also being uncool because you're smarter than a few of your peers; it's kind of weird to wake up one day in English class and realise you're half way through Nicholas Nickleby while everyone else is stuck on Spot the Dog, which, OK, more than a little cruel, but the point being made, or attempting to be made, is that lots and lots of the really smart people who work at SHIELD and Stark Industries (or both) have a certain specific thing in common, and that thing is this: Star Wars.
Well, you know, not just Star Wars. There's Trek and the Doctor and the battered Miles Vorkosigan books piled in the R&D breakroom and stuff like that, but - think, if you will, of Star Wars as the shorthand for all the stuff that these really smart people have in common, and then imagine what it means that you can just sort of say Star Wars and mean everything, and then try and picture the amount of people crowded into the mess hall for Clint and Natasha's sabre fight.
"What?" says Tony indignantly when Steve confronts him about this. "You mean there's someone else you woulda trusted to try these babies out? I mean I'd've offered you one but you didn't look like you wanted one."
He sticks his nose in the air and looks offended.
"Tony they are incredibly dangerous energy weapons that can cut through anything," says Steve through clenched teeth, "not toys..."
"I designed them to be incredibly dangerous energy weapons that can cut through anything," says Tony patiently.
"Tony, look, it's like the nuclear bomb thing and Cuba in the Fifties, this is not a joke!"
"Oh my God Steve, do you even know how many other people there are in the world who could build a fully functioning lightsabre?" Tony demands. "Of course you don't, let me tell you: NONE. I am the one and only. And," he adds imperiously, "I like Clint and Tash, therefore they get lightsabres."
"OK people, silence please," Bruce yells. "You two clear on the rules?"
They both nod, grinning like idiots, and snap their blades on. One's blue, one's red. No prizes for guessing who got which.
"Then have at it."
"In retrospect," says Tony, "maybe we shouldn't have held it in the mess hall."
Steve pokes at the remains of the giant cooker with the toe of his boot. Tony allows himself a moment of triumph: Steve is trying not to grin and failing, failing so amazingly hard. "They're incredibly dangerous energy weapons that can cut through anything," he says. "I think you'd've got this result no matter where you held the test match."
"Open sky, in a field?"
"Drop one and you'd be in Australia within minutes."
"See, that counts as awesome!"
Thank God Fury's still in Japan.
When Tony arrives on the helicarrier the next morning, the Imperial March starts playing over the PA system every time he passes through a doorway.
Tony is going to find the person who arranged for that and offer them any job they want at SI, up to and including his own.
"Seriously?" says Bruce.
"Everything is proceeding as I have forseen it," says Tony, and sweeps off to find another door to enter.
"I would like," says Thor, "to take one to my father."
"Buddy, I'll give you all the sabres you want," says Tony, "but I'm afraid I'm imposing strict but flexible export restrictions, designed to stop any SI-manufactured product whatsoever from ever accidentally coming within a lightyear of your brother. Odin Allfather wants a lightsabre, he can come to the auction like the rest of the cool kids."
Thor actually laughs.
Coulson swallows hard when he sees the sabre hilts on the table in front of him and says, "I think I'm speechless."
Tony is awesome. Tony is amazing. Tony is God.
Tony grins. "This is where the fun begins," he says.
Test match two, in the actual gym this time. Clint bounces on the balls of his feet and says, "I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I soar."
"You've learned much, young Skywalker," says Tasha, "but you are not a Jedi yet."
Tony strangles a whoop in his throat. Bruce is grinning like a kid, Thor takes referee and Steve -
"Are you coming around to this?"
"It's a little awesome. A little."
Tony whoops the whoop of the justified and triumphant. Thor says, "Then begin," and gets the hell out of the way very, very quickly.
Nat feints, Clint parries, and they're off. The sabres hum and flash and flicker; Tasha and Clint dodge and move and slide across the room; there's a crackle as their blades come together, a whine when they slide close and spring apart. The blades themselves are weightless of course, and you can see the clumsiness in both Clint and Nat as they adjust to that, as their reactions rearrange, but Tony thinks it very likely that there is no one else in the world with the control and the ability to do what they're doing without hurting each other except, perhaps, just perhaps -
"OK," says Steve. "Maybe I do need to try."
He and Tasha go a few rounds, and that is a sight to behold. George Lucas couldn't have dreamt of this.
"OK," says Clint, gulping water on the sidelines. "When I grow up, I want to be Cap."
"I bet you've been saying that for forty years," says Tony.
"Thirty-seven, asshole," says Clint and the gym doors crash open like the wrath of God.
Everyone jumps three foot in the air. The lightsabres collapse; Nat's face shuts down with them. Briefly Steve looks like he's feeling tempted to try and hide the hilt in his hand behind his back.
Fury sweeps into the centre of the room and surveys them all with a look that could boil an egg at thirty paces. Whether it was laid or not.
"Gentlemen," he says. "This party's over."
Tony opens his mouth to make the obvious counter when Pepper marches through the doors behind Fury, trailing anger and Phil Coulson. Tony shuts his mouth again.
"Tattle-tale," Clint says to Phil.
Coulson shrugs. "Someone had to take steps to end this destructive conflict and bring peace to the galaxy," he says.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN, THEY'RE VIRTUALLY INDESTRUCTIBLE?"
"It's not exactly Mount Doom, is it?" says Bruce.
"Well, we could always go wake up the Yellowstone volcano," says Steve.
"Are you sure that thing even exists?" asks Clint. "I don't think that thing exists. I mean, it was a disaster movie. Jake Gyllenhaal can't outrun frostbite, and there's no volcano under Yellowstone."
"I can have a look and see," Thor offers.
There's a pause while everyone contemplates this.
"You know, I don't think we're that eager to find out," says Steve. "Thanks all the same, Thor. We'll just google it when we get home."
"I want to keep it," says Nat sulkily.
"No," Steve says firmly, and holds out a hand. She reaches to hand him the hilt, hovering over his palm.
"Tasha, unclench your fingers," says Clint.
This takes a few minutes. Eventually Steve's holding both hilts in his hands and leaning out over the pit; he pauses for a moment, then sighs regretfully and gently tosses first one and then the other into the molten steel.
Two depressing plops, and then a ghastly sizzling noise, and then a sort of gloop, and then nothing. Around them the steel works groans and grinds on its merry way.
Steve puts his hands into his pockets and sighs again. Clint grins. Everyone angles a glance at Tony.
Finally, Tony gives up.
"Hasta la vista, baby," he says.
Steve pats the railing as they leave. "Precious," he says regretfully, turning to follow the others out. "Hey Tony, you know you're not allowed to build Skynet, right?"
"I already did," Tony admits. "I was about sixteen and... well, Dad caught me with it and reprogrammed it and named it Jarvis. I think he thought it was funny."
It's all Steve can do not to fall down the stairs.