"Alright, ladies," Clint said, hands planted on his hips. "Predictions?"
"I know not, my friend," said Thor, grin as broad and warm as the rest of him, "But if this room indeed contains a gift from Tony to celebrate the day of your birth, it shall be something most extravagant."
Bruce laughed softly in agreement, not looking up from the miniature tablet on which he was scanning the morning's news. That was a habit of his, Clint had noticed. It wasn't that he couldn't be bothered to pay attention, like Tony. He still listened and chipped in now and then. He wondered if it had to do with the whole shy guy thing - gave him somewhere to look, something to do with his hands.
The five of them were standing before a door that had been wrapped in shiny magenta paper and adorned with bright gold bows arranged in a bow-and-arrow pattern. Steve had been the one to notice it, when he'd come in for his morning workout. The door had been there before, of course, unmarked and locked, and everyone had assumed it was a storage closet. Steve had gone ahead with his workout before he went to inform Clint. The archer had made it very clear to them all that anything short of a global disaster was not a sufficient excuse to wake him up before 9 o'clock.
A short matter of minutes later, Clint had assembled his fellow Avengers, all except Tony himself, who was in Malibu for the weekend for Stark Industries business.
"Maybe it's an archery range?" suggested Steve. Clint scoffed and sent him a pitying glance.
"What?" he asked.
"I don't think you've quite grasped the Tony Stark sense of humor," Clint said. He'd heard so much from Natasha about her time spent observing Tony Stark that it was almost like he'd been there himself. He certainly considered himself an expert, compared to Steve. "It's not going to be something I actually want."
"It wasn't a bad guess," Steve insisted, a touch defensive. "Why else would you have to come through the gym?"
"But there's already an archery range next to the obstacle course," Clint pointed out, "You think I wouldn't insist on one before moving my ass in here?"
"Oh," said Steve. Then, after a pause, he muttered, "Maybe it's a second one."
"Pony," Bruce offered, pushing his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. "He's definitely gotten you a pony. Or built you a robotic one and installed JARVIS."
"Wouldn't put it past him. Nat, what do you think?"
She raised her eyebrows at him blandly, and said nothing.
"Aw, come on!" Clint cried, throwing his hands in the air, "How can you already know? It's MY birthday!" The corners of her mouth curled in a smug smile. "That's just not fair. Did you sneak in, or did you weasel the secret out of Tony? Just ‘cause he’s terrified of you…"
She looked down at her nails, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Clint.”
"I do not understand the purpose of this delay," Thor complained, "Open the door!"
Clint let out a long sigh, shooting Natasha one last dirty look. Then he reached out with two hands, tearing free a wide diagonal slash of the wrapping paper. "It isn't right if you don't rip it," he explained to no one in particular, plucking off one of the gold bows. He held it in his hand like a grenade, eyes flicking to Natasha's breasts for a fraction of a second. She gave him a look that said Try it and you'll never walk again. He rapidly reconsidered. "Here you go, Cap." Clint pressed the bow to one of Steve's (impressive) pecs, where it stuck to his fitted white crew shirt. He managed to get in a bit of a discreet feel at the same time, because hey, it was his birthday tomorrow, and who wouldn't?
"I knew this outfit was missing something," Steve said dryly, surprising a laugh out of Clint.
He opened the door with considerable flair. The lights flickered on automatically, revealing a room much larger than Clint had been expecting. The floor was padded from wall to wall, a safety net hanging some feet above it and, towering above that, a set of trapeze and a tightwire.
As the others trickled in after him, Clint was already pulling out his phone and dialing Tony. "What, no flaming hoops?" he said, in lieu of hello.
"They're locked up in the storage room," Tony responded without missing a beat. "You didn't think I was going to trust you with fire in my brand new Tower, did you?" Clint could hear grumbling in the background and the distinctive hiss of Pepper telling Tony to hang up that instant. Probably in the middle of a board meeting. Served him right.
"Fuck you, Stark," Clint said, affably.
"You're quite welcome, birthday boy. You weren't supposed to open it until tomorrow, you know. How’d you like the bow--"
Clint hung up.
"Explain this," Thor requested, gaping up at the contraptions.
Clint shrugged. "I grew up in the circus." He pretended not to notice Steve turning towards him in surprise. "Guess Stark thought it'd piss me off." Or, he thought, Tony had known in advance just how much he would love it. He looked over at Natasha, expecting confirmation that she'd recommended it to him, but she was too busy shaking her head in exasperation.
"Thor means explain what it is, idiot. I don't think they have big tops in Asgard."
Clint clapped a hand to his chest in mock-surprise. "Harsh!" he gasped melodramatically, "It's bad manners to insult a guy on his birthday."
"I call them like I see them," Natasha said flatly.
He gasped again, this time adding a backwards stagger for emphasis, "Baby, why do you have to be so cruel?"
"Call me baby one more time," she threatened, "and I'll break your jaw so badly you'll be eating nothing but pureed prunes for months."
Clint's lower lip began to tremble theatrically.
Natasha raised an eyebrow.
Whilst the two of them were at it, Bruce looked up from his tablet to explain what a circus was to Thor, Steve chiming in with the occasional detail. They'd all learned after a day or two that it was best to just leave the pair of assassins to it when they got like this.
Of course, none of them realized that this amount of banter was out of the ordinary for Clint and Natasha. Most of the time, it was Clint who did the pestering, and Natasha didn’t bother rising to the bait. She only ribbed him like this when he was stuck in SHIELD medical, after she’d finished berating him in rapid-fire Russian for whatever stupid, reckless thing he'd done to land himself there. In this case, it was something she’d carried on doing, even weeks after, because Loki had left Clint injuries of a different sort, and Natasha was the only one who always remembered they were there.
"And you are skilled in this art, Clint?" Thor interrupted them.
"It wasn't my exactly specialty, but I'm pretty damn good, yeah."
"Is modesty your specialty?" Natasha muttered under her breath. Clint shot her a shit-eating grin. Steve was watching their interaction, a small crease between his pale eyebrows. Clint hoped he wasn’t going to pull Natasha aside for a lecture on team morale or something equally corny. He just didn’t get it, didn’t understand how much she was helping Clint by treating him like this.
"Then you must demonstrate for us!" Thor said.
"The trapeze is much more impressive with two." Clint glanced back at Natasha. She was an even better acrobat than he was, but she'd broken her wrist in the fight against Loki and his alien army. It was healing well, but she was hardly going to risk recreational aerial acrobatics while the bone was still mending.
"You could teach me," Steve suggested. Clint thought he was offering out of politeness - he seemed like the sort of guy who would - until he saw the bright-eyed enthusiasm on Steve’s face. He doubted there were a dozen people on Earth capable of saying no to that excited puppy-dog look, and he certainly wasn't one of them. Besides, it wasn't often a guy had a chance to teach Captain America how to do something. What with the super soldier thing, Steve would probably be better at it than him in a matter of hours, and Clint wasn’t sure he'd even be able to hold it against him. Not if he kept making that face.
"Sure thing, Cap."
Clint had seen Steve smile a few times, since they'd all moved into the Tower, but never like this. Those had been perfunctory half-smiles, closed-lipped and polite. Turned out, when Steve smiled for real, it was downright goofy, all top-teeth and crinkles around his closed eyes. It made Clint want to make him smile more often.
"Fan of the circus?" he asked.
Steve laughed, shaking his head. "Am I that obvious?"
"Yes," Natasha said, her eyes flicking between the two men and narrowing almost imperceptibly when they met Clint's. "You're very obvious."
It would never cease to amaze him, how Natasha could read him like a book, how she always knew exactly what was thinking, sometimes even before he knew it himself. "How about you boys stay down here and play, and we'll come get you when breakfast’s done.” She linked arms with Bruce and Thor, “Come on, you two are going to help me cook." With that, she steering them out, leaving Clint and Steve alone to test out the trapeze.