The party seemed like a good idea at the time.
Thor had seen a Party City commercial and was immediately taken by the colorful decorations and multitude of themes. He asked if the Avengers could hold such a celebration.
Bruce had kindly volunteered his upcoming birthday to teach Thor about Midgardian birthday traditions. When the others asked why he would do such an insane thing, he explained with a shrug, "Never did like my birthday much."
"But why?" Thor asked, deeply confused. "You are a good man, Dr. Banner. You should be celebrated!"
Bruce ducked his head at the compliment. "It's... complicated."
"Celebrations are not complicated. They are to be full of mirth and merriment! Come--we shall collect the decorations from the Party City!"
Which is how, a half-hour later, the Avengers, Earth's mightiest heroes, could be found wheeling a cart through a (rather extensive) party supply store.
Steve, admittedly, was kind excited about the prospect of a birthday party. He wasn't much one for the bells and whistles, but he liked having the opportunity of showing Bruce that, not only was he a valued member of the team (even if he didn't always feel like it), he was also a good friend.
Steve looked at the list in his hand as Natasha drove the cart next to him. "Okay, so we need to get plates, napkins--"
Tony appeared at the cart, arms full of plates and cup and hats and trinkets for goody bags (along with the bags themselves). They all had one thing in common: his face. Or rather, Iron Man's face. He dumped them into the cart. "Covered!"
"No," Clint said. "No. I am not wearing a hat with Stark's face on it. Not happening."
"We're not having an Iron Man-themed party for Bruce," Steve said.
"Not even the stick-on goatees?"
"What?" Natasha, suddenly interested, began to pick through the cart.
"If the party is for Dr. Banner," Thor reasoned, "then should it not be a Hulk theme?"
"No!" Bruce said. "No us-themed parties!"
"I don't know," Clint said as Natasha stuck a Tony Stark goatee to his face. "I wouldn't say no to a Stark-shaped piñata."
"Charming," Tony deadpanned. "And that's not a good look on you." His phone beeped. He took it out and began typing away on it.
Thor looked confused--he usually did when learning about Earth. "Piñata?"
"Hollow paper mâché container decorated with crepe paper. You fill it with candy," Bruce explained. "You can get them in different shapes--animals, whatever--and then you take turns hitting it with a stick until it breaks open."
Thor's face lit up. "A test of strength!"
"Well, no, I mean, it's not really--"
"We must have one of these!" Thor was excited, and there was no turning back. "Which creature would you most like to club until it yields its prize?"
Clint began to exaggeratedly point at Tony. Tony, without looking up from his phone, flipped him off. Clint grinned, as if this was some sort of achievement--to him, it probably was. Steve slapped Tony's hand down and gave him a stern look. "You're no fun," Tony said.
"We're in public," Steve replied. "We have am image to maintain."
"A degree of maturity?" Bruce offered. Natasha chuckled.
Steve leaned over to look at Tony's phone. "What are you doing?"
"Sending Fury an e-vite," Tony said. "Maybe we can get him to wear a hat."
"Tried that at the last SHIELD party," Clint said. "No dice. Told me if anyone ever came near him again with--and I'm quoting here--‘one of those stupid-ass hats' again, he'd shove it..." Clint glanced at Steve, who folded his arms at him warningly. "...someplace unpleasant."
"Is it because they're pointy?" Tony asked. "Is that how he lost the eye? Rouge party hat caught him in the face? The elastic snapped? Come on, Barton, I know you know. Spill."
"I've been trying for years to find out. Nothing. Believe me, if I knew, everyone would know."
"Which is exactly why no one tells you anything." Natasha held up green plates, and looked to Bruce for approval. Bruce quirked a smile, but shook his head. She shrugged, a silent ‘well, you can't blame me for trying', and pointed to the same plates in blue. Bruce nodded. She diligently began to collect the supplies.
"Those are boring," Clint said. "Get the cowboy ones!"
Natasha hit him on the head with a stack of cups before putting them into the cart. Clint pouted. Natasha sighed. "Why don't you and Thor go pick out a piñata and some candy?"
Both Clint and Thor brightened. "C'mon," said Clint. "Maybe they have a pirate piñata. We can pretend it's Fury."
"But why would you want to club Director Fury?" Thor asked, following Clint to the piñatas.
Clint snorted. "Why wouldn't you?"
"This may be the worst idea I've ever had," Bruce said, watching them walk away. "And I've blasted myself with gamma radiation."
"I don't know," Natasha said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "That shirt you wore last week was pretty awful."
"The white one with the blue paisley?"
"That was one of mine!" Tony said sulkily.
"Ah," said Natasha. "That explains it."
"It's an Etro!"
Natasha raised an eyebrow at him. She went back to picking out napkins.
"Yeah, well, the Other Guy kind of ruined the shirt I was wearing. So I just grabbed the first thing I found," Bruce said with a shrug. "I didn't care what it looked like."
"So you borrowed one of Tony's?" Steve asked, dividing the cart between Iron Man stuff and actual Bruce's-party stuff.
"I don't know if you've noticed, Cap, but I go through clothes pretty quickly."
Steve chuckled. "You know, I had noticed."
Clint returned, looking triumphant, with a multicolored bull piñata. "Figured we'd go traditional." He bumped Natasha with its nose. "Olé."
Thor held in his arms quite possibly every type of candy the store sold. "We could not decide," he explained. "So we partook of them all."
Bruce rubbed at his face. This really was the worst decision he had ever made.
The party itself was pleasant. Bruce's apartment was tastefully decorated (clearly Natasha's influence, but he suspected Steve helped), save for Clint's rainbow bull and Tony's insistence that Bruce's cake have a photo from the Times of the Hulk throwing a taxi at a couple of AIM goons.
"Really?" Bruce asked upon seeing it. "You're serious?"
"What?" Tony asked. "It was a good day."
"I don't even have pants on in that picture!"
"There's a newspaper box there. You're fine." Tony sat him down at the table and stuck an elaborately-bejeweled plastic crown on his head. Bruce looked around the table to find the others had all worn party hats--even Natasha, who shrugged at his surprise. Clint had worn two, giving himself horns, and Tony had worn an Iron Man hat. Thor had broken the elastic on his, but Natasha pinned it to his head, and now he was happily teaching Steve (who was tugging uncomfortably at the elastic of his own hat) an Asgardian drinking song for the occasion.
It was a ridiculous scene. Bruce couldn't help but start laughing. He saw the rest of the team's questioning looks. "I'm sorry," he said, shaking his head. "It's just... this is the first birthday in a long time that I've actually enjoyed."
They spent the rest of the afternoon eating far too much food and talking loudly over each other and teaching each other celebratory songs they had learned over the years--though Clint ended that last one rather quickly. "I don't know any songs, but did you hear the one about the girl from Nantucket?"
"I have not!" Thor said, interested.
"Hey, piñata time!" Steve said, cutting Clint off before he could start. He picked up a stick that had been covered with the same sort of colorful paper as the piñata and held it out for Thor. "You first, big guy."
"Should not Dr. Banner--?"
"All yours," Bruce cut him off. Thor grinned and eagerly accepted the stick. He stood up and began to square up his target.
"Wait!" Natasha picked up a bandana, stood on a chair, and tied it around Thor's eyes. "There." She hopped down.
"What is this?" Thor asked, head snapping from side to side.
"You do it blindfolded," Natasha explained.
"Because it's hilarious," Clint said, holding up his cell phone to record everything. "Also, we get to spin you around until you're sick."
"This does not seem fair."
"Sort of the point," Natasha said. She turned him around a few times before pointing him at the piñata. "Okay, go."
Thor swung the stick hard and missed. Clint laughed. Thor huffed, and tried again. The stick swished through the air, making the piñata sway slightly. Thor grumbled. He swung the stick like a baseball bat. It swept under the piñata, clipping a leg and causing it to spin in a lazy circle. Clint was still laughing, while Steve was trying to sound encouraging. Thor gave it one last try. Another miss.
In a fit of anger, Thor threw down the stick, and ripped the blindfold off, and held his hand out. Bruce stood up. "Thor, I don't think--"
"I will not be made a fool of by a children's game!" Mjölnir careened through the air. Thor caught it and swung--hard. The piñata exploded, showering candy everywhere. It would have been a spectacular show, had Thor's hammer not ended up embedded in the floor... of the apartment below.
They all stood and stared at the damage, bits of crepe paper fluttering around them like multi-colored snowflakes. No one said a word.
Finally, Tony said in a quiet voice, "Nobody tells Fury."
A week later, video of The Piñata Incident had gone viral, the team had been severely reprimanded, and an organization-wide memo had been sent out.
"You had to put it on YouTube, didn't you, Barton?" Tony asked, watching Clint test out his new bow.
"Of course." Clint loosed another arrow at the target. It cut through the air and hit his copy of the memo dead center. "On the bright side, that Justin Bieber video isn't the most popular video of all time anymore."