In retrospect, Clint should have realized that moving into Stark Tower was a bad idea.
He’d been of two minds about it from the first--or, well, three minds, maybe, because up until he was actually moved in he wasn’t even sure that Stark’s offer had been a sincere one.
He had been in the room when Stark had announced that he was renovating the Tower to give each of the Avengers a floor of their own. But Clint had been in the back corner, just where he liked to be when nothing higher was available, and people tended to forget that he was there. Which, again, was just how he liked it.
But it did make for some confusion.
“Everybody gets a floor,” had been Stark’s exact words, “because I’m sure as hell not letting teammates of mine live in shitty S.H.I.E.L.D. barracks or whatever crappy apartment S.H.I.E.L.D. is willing to shell out for.”
But in Clint’s experience, “everybody” didn’t necessarily include him.
So he hadn’t done anything. The S.H.I.E.L.D. barracks were OK, really, and anyway Clint didn’t like to presume. And even if he really was part of “everybody,” living in close quarters with that group... well, there was certainly something about that that spelled out “recipe for disaster.”
It wasn’t that there hadn’t been an appeal to the idea, and not just because "OK" was really the best that could be said for barracks living. But on balance, inaction definitely looked like the best plan. He could watch the situation as it unfolded.
In the end, it had unfolded this way: several weeks after the invitation that might or might not have been, Natasha had found Clint lounging on his bed, packed up his few things in a trunk while he watched, and hauled it away. “Moving day, c’mon,” was all she’d said.
And he’d followed, because he might not have a lot of things, but he liked the things he did have.
As soon as he’d arrived at the Tower he realized that Stark had in fact expected him. His floor, and yes, he definitely had a floor, contained two shooting ranges, three bedrooms, a kitchen, an armoury, and a living room complete with entertainment technology that Clint didn’t think was on the market yet.
Stark’s tour had concluded with an introduction to the building’s AI, and that was a little creepy but basically pretty cool. After that Stark and Natasha had left, Stark’s parting words informing him that the common area was on the 86th floor, and they’d be having dinner there that night.
So there he was, alone in his palatial--apartment? Was apartment even the right word for a space this big? Whatever it was, he was alone in it, and that was fine. He unpacked, which took all of ten minutes. After that he wandered around from room to room, trying to figure out what to do next.
In the end, he went to one of the shooting ranges and tried out the impressive variety of targets, ranging from a cartoonish bullseye to little robots that flew around and tried to dodge his arrows. So, yeah, the range was definitely in the plus column on the moving-in scoresheet.
Firmly in the negative column was the nagging reminder of dinner with everyone, and that he was, presumably, expected. Which, fine. It wasn’t that he was averse, necessarily. He respected the others--liked them even. But the devil, as ever, was in the details.
Was this the sort of dinner that one dressed up for? He didn’t think so, but looking around his own space, he realized that this was a whole different class from any he’d ever belonged to. There were different rules when you had money, Clint knew that much. But not, for the most part, a whole lot more.
And anyway, what time was he supposed to show? Tonight. That was helpful. It was five by the time Clint left the range. Was five dinner time?
Five was probably not dinner time.
If he went down now he surely wouldn’t be late. But he might be early. Probably very early.
Definitely not doing that, then.
He showered and changed, and at that point realized that regardless of the dress code at dinner he basically only owned multiple copies of the same outfit anyway. So that was one problem down.
He spent the following hour and a half trying to figure out all the things that the entertainment system would do, and definitely hadn’t exhausted the possibilities when the AI--J.A.R.V.I.S., the polite thing was to call him J.A.R.V.I.S.--informed him that the others were expecting him on the common floor.
OK, another problem down. And yet, he did not feel relieved.
When he arrived on the 86th floor it was a simple matter to follow the noise of conversation to where the others were. The place was some kind of very classy-looking amalgamation of kitchen and living room--all high ceilings and modernist beams and futuristic furniture. Clint was pretty sure there were only five people there, but the room somehow felt full nonetheless.
Dr. Banner was cooking something while Stark watched, and the Captain, Thor and Natasha were engaged in what must have been a hilarious conversation, judging by the general laughter.
Clint wandered over to the group and eventually settled on standing a couple of feet from where Thor was now regaling the others with a story about a hunt that hadn't gone according to plan. Clint felt that somehow he wasn't standing in quite the right place to be part of the conversation, but that was OK--he didn't mind being an observer. Natasha gave him an affectionate, and thankfully gentle, punch on the shoulder as he arrived, but otherwise everyone ignored him to listen to Thor's exploits.
After Thor's story concluded, Rogers told an answering one about a fight he'd gotten into in Brooklyn, pre-serum. It was, apparently, one of the few fights he hadn't lost, but only due to the surprise intervention of several stray dogs.
And when he finished, Natasha told them all about a mission in Prague that had gone hilariously awry, though Clint reflected that his own recollection of the incident was somewhat less lighthearted than Natasha’s telling of it.
After that there was a silence among the four of them, broken only by Banner and Stark bickering about whatever was on the stove. Clint grasped for some kind of anecdote he could offer. He’d finally come up with one and opened his mouth to relate it when Rogers launched into a story about one of his USO tours.
Clint shut his mouth, unsure if he was relieved that he didn't have to enter the conversation or hurt that he hadn't had the chance to.
Steve’s story was followed by Banner’s announcement that dinner was ready.
Clint hung back to see where the others sat, taking the remaining seat in the middle of one side of the table. The group passed dishes around, helping themselves as they went, and even as motley a crew as this was, it put him in mind of a Norman Rockwell painting--some kind of mythic ideal that he’d assumed didn’t really happen anymore.
Clint listened in on a conversation between Natasha and Banner as he ate. He knew that Natasha was still nervous around Banner, but she hid it well as they chatted about their respective impressions of Singapore. Not having been to Singapore, Clint didn’t have a lot to contribute, but he was content to listen politely, nodding occasionally as if he were actually a participant.
On the other end of the table, Stark was engaged in an argument with Rogers about the relative merits of 1930s movies and modern ones. And that Clint definitely had something to say about, but he wasn’t sure if it was rude to turn away from Natasha and Banner’s conversation to attend to another one.
And, damnit, that was probably the sort of thing that kids just learned, that any eight year old would know without even thinking. But he didn’t. He was a fucking badass assassin and a marksman without peer, but apparently he couldn’t navigate a simple conversation to save his life.
Actually, that was almost exactly wrong. He could definitely navigate a conversation to save his life, and had in fact done so on more than one occasion. His job was usually do-able from the margins, or better yet from the rafters, but even he had to explain his presence from time to time. There had been trainings for that. Lots of trainings. But these weren’t enemy operatives or nameless civilians, these were his team. Somehow none of his training felt applicable here.
By the time his thought process had run its course, both conversations had shifted, and Clint still wasn’t sure which one he was attending to. He focused largely on his plate, eating more than he otherwise would have as cover for his total failure to say anything throughout the meal.
After dinner Clint quietly cleared the table, which provided a blessed refuge from figuring out what he was supposed to do next.
The others settled onto couches on the far side of the room as Clint continued to clean. He eyed their conversation, too far to really follow it but easily close enough to see that they were enjoying themselves. After he’d gotten the dishes into the space-age looking dishwasher he considered joining them. He probably should, but he felt drained, and the idea of returning to his floor and spending a few mindless hours on his new archery range was incredibly appealing. Clint had a lot of practice leaving rooms unobtrusively, and the skill served him well. He was pretty sure none of the others even noticed him make his way back to the elevator.
He didn’t leave his floor the next day, and yeah, he felt a little funny about that, but he did spend most of the day in the same training routine he did at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, so it wasn’t like he was shirking his duties. And anyway, if Stark hadn’t wanted him to spend all his time there he shouldn’t have provided every damn thing he could possibly need.
The next morning a priority message from S.H.I.E.L.D. arrived, and along with the other Avengers he spent the day on the banks of the Hudson, fighting weird monsters that he could only describe as carnivorous giraffes.
“That was weirder than usual,” Rogers remarked as they returned to the Tower together.
Stark seemed to pondered that. “Not really. Last week it was enormous flying chipmunks.”
“We seem to fight a lot of weird things,” Clint offered, and then silently cursed at himself. Captain fucking obvious? That would be him.
No one said anything, which only made Clint feel more like he’d managed to single-handedly kill the conversation.
Stark broke the silence after they’d piled into the elevator. “So... movie night? Steve and Thor still need to see the Godfather.”
There was general agreement as Clint stepped out of the elevator onto his own floor.
As Clint showered the Hudson water and pseudo-giraffe blood out of his hair, he considered the movie night proposal. He hadn't seen the Godfather in ages. Maybe J.A.R.V.I.S. would clue him in when they were actually watching the thing. It was seriously a haphazard way to plan--nothing like the reliable order of a mission. Granted, his missions rarely followed the plan past the first twenty minutes, but they at least started at a specified time, damnit.
He was a little too tired to make practice on the archery range appealing, and anyway, he was wildly overdue to inspect the place for alternative exists. Stark hadn’t done too badly at that, with two stairwells and three elevators and obviously all the windows, but there were always other ways, and better to know them in advance. And more fun anyway.
He lost track of time exploring and mentally mapping out air vents, maintenance shafts, and other interstitial spaces in his general region of the tower. Once he felt confident that he knew the major options for getting around within the walls and ceilings, he made his way down to the common area, and found an opening onto one of the beams near the ceiling of the main room.
The lights were down, and the movie seemed to be about halfway through. Clint got comfortable.
When the movie ended and J.A.R.V.I.S. turned the lights back up, Natasha turned to smile at him quickly enough that he realized that she’d known he was there, probably the whole time. Bruce followed her gaze and gave him a wave, and the others offered similarly casual greetings, like he’d just arrived late and taken an extra seat on the sofa.
“Whaddaya think, Clint? Godfather II next?”
Why Stark was asking him, Clint had no idea. But it did sound like a good idea, so he called down an uncertain “sure.”
“Popcorn?” Rogers offered, returning from the kitchen. Clint grinned, and Rogers tossed a freshly popped bag up to where Clint was perched.
Ok, maybe moving in hadn’t been the worst idea.
Clint still mostly kept to himself after that, outside of missions. But he also made a habit of dropping by the common room, if not unobserved then at least in a position from which he wasn’t really expected to make conversation.
And that was good. Better than, good, really, it was pretty great. Because he did like the others. And observing was a lot like the team bonding that Fury had wanted out of their shared living conditions. Watching them, seeing their reactions and their relationships with one another--that did teach him a lot about who they were and how they’d react in battle. It didn’t make him one of them, but, well, what was going to do that?
After about three weeks of that blissful equilibrium, it all came crashing down. He was minding his own business--ok, technically minding the others’ business from above--when Banner of all people demanded that he join the rest of them for dinner at a restaurant downtown.
Clint accepted, because there really wasn’t another polite thing he could do. I’m afraid I can’t make it, I have to skulk around the ventilation shafts tonight probably wasn’t going to cut it.
So he’d joined Banner at the elevators, waiting for the others to get their act together and head out.
“So... the up high thing, not just for combat, huh?”
“Uh... I guess I just... like it.” Crap. He sounded like a five year old.
Banner didn't offer a reply, and Clint scrambled for something else to say. Questions were good, he was pretty sure, but nothing appropriate came to mind. How's the rage monster thing going for you might work for Stark, but it wasn't going to work for him. Eventually the silence had lasted too long, and Clint realized that anything he said at that point would look like grasping at straws. So he just stood, hoping that he looked content with the quiet.
The walk to the restaurant was almost as bad. And since when was walking complicated? But somehow he wasn't sure where in the group he should be, and kept feeling as though he was walking too fast or trailing along behind. He wasn't really part of Thor and Banner's conversation about Dr. Foster, nor could he quite integrate himself into Stark's argument with Natasha and Rogers about a tactical mishap in their last mission.
They were probably halfway to the restaurant when Natasha dropped back to walk beside him. “You’ve been quiet.”
“So, feeling awkward, or plotting their deaths?”
“Mostly option one.” And he probably should have been embarrassed that he was being that obvious, but, well, it was Natasha, so what were the odds he could have hid it from her anyway? Besides which, it was a little bit of a relief to have it acknowledged.
“I would have backed you up either way, for the record.”
He grinned, and they walked side by side in silence for a little while, before Natasha spoke again.
“Look at them,” she nodded in the direction of the others. “Poor-little-rich-boy who went to college at 14 and never had a friend he didn’t suspect was in it for the money,” she started, counting on her fingers as if she were making a list. “Scrawny reject of a kid who still misses half the conversation because he’s 70 years out of date. A guy who’s pretty much human nitroglycerin, and knows it. And then there’s Thor. Honestly I really don’t know about Thor.” The admission seemed to bother her. “I cannot get a read on that man. But given what we know about his family... I'm sure he's got issues of his own.”
“Not really following you, Nat.”
“You think they’re judging you every minute. They’re not. They’re way too busy judging themselves.”
Clint thought about that for a few paces. “Not sure that helps.”
Natasha nodded. “Fair enough."
They walked the next couple of blocks in companionable silence. As they reached the restaurant and the others preceded them inside, Natasha leaned close to speak into Clint’s ear. “Do me a favor though, at least talk to Tony about the training stuff he set up for you. He will not shut up about it.”
So once they were seated, Clint resisted the impulse to bury his head in the menu, and instead tentatively spoke into a lull in the conversation. “So, um, Stark, the archery range is great. Thanks.”
Stark’s face lit up. “I figured you’d appreciate a challenge. Hit any of the target bots yet?”
“Uh, yeah, pretty much all of them. You’re not that good, Stark.” Damnit, he was being ungrateful. “But they are a hell of a lot better than what S.H.I.E.L.D’s got,” he added. “There was one time I almost missed.” That was true. For some values of “almost.”
“See, I’m going to have J.A.R.V.I.S. keep track, because you can’t be as good as you think you are.”
“It’s not even really fair--the range is perfectly climate controlled, no wind.”
Clint considered that. “Actually, that’s true. Can we get some really big fans in there or something?”
“Really big fans,” Stark scoffed. “I’ll do you one better.”
“Really high tech fans.”
“They... probably will have to be big,” Banner drawled. “To work as appropriate simulations of weather conditions.”
Stark glared at him, and Clint was just glad not to be on the receiving end of that look. Banner, though, seemed unfazed.
No one spoke for a moment, and Clint tensed, prepared to sink back into his usual uncomfortable silence. But Rogers, ever prepared, lept into the breach.
“Accurate weather conditions really would be useful. And anyway, we should train together more often. Clint, I was thinking that we could work out some drills so we can practice coordinating with your archery. I never really worked with an archer before, but you’re incredible.”
And that was definitely something Clint wasn't prepared to respond to, but luckily Stark intervened.
“Hey, this is a social dinner. No work talk.”
Clint caught Banner’s skeptical look, which was probably the reason that Stark added “...other than the interesting kind.”
Rogers put up both hands in a gesture of amiable surrender. “Ok, ok. So, what movie should we all watch next?” Clint couldn’t help but admire the younger man’s strategy. If there were any subject able to take over the conversation, that particular fight would definitely be it. And sure enough, it did. The rest of dinner was taken up with debates about the relative merits of various classics.
Which definitely could have been worse. A lot worse. Actually, this was on towards best case scenario.
By the time the check arrived and was dispatched by Stark’s absurdly discrete credit card, Clint was firmly entrenched in defense of The Sting as the next film to be shown at the Tower, and he was wearing down Banner’s conviction that it ought to be something out of Hitchcock’s oeuvre, and Stark’s insistence on Star Trek IV.
The conversation ended without reaching a consensus when Rogers stood to leave, and as they headed out the door and started down the block, Clint realized that he was again at a loss for how to join the new conversations struck up as they walked. He ended up in step with Thor, but could think of nothing to say. He wondered if that was rude, but decided that it was probably OK. They walked in silence, and Thor didn’t seem bothered by the lack.
When they arrived at the Tower and piled into the elevator, Stark hit the button for the 86th floor. “Mario Kart tournament--who’s in?”
Out of habit, Clint was already in the process of leaning in to jab the button for his own floor. Stark took the opportunity to smack him on the shoulder. “Come on. What are you, too cool for us?”
Surprise must have registered on Clint’s face, because Stark’s expression softened a little, and Rogers clapped Clint on the back.
“You would be a worthy opponent in Mario Kart,” Thor judged.
Clint had never actually played Mario Kart, but it did kind of sound like fun. “What the hell,” he muttered, “why not.”
Bruce smiled that earnest, shy little smile of his, and Natasha quirked an eyebrow in what he was pretty sure was a gesture of approval.
“I still get to be Bowser, though,” Stark asserted as the elevator door opened and they walked out together.
“If I get stuck as Princess Peach again someone will pay,” Natasha added.
“Can I be Luigi?” Clint asked. “Luigi’s one of the drivers, right?”
“I’m sure you can be Luigi,” Rogers assured him as they all settled comfortably into the living room, game controllers in hand and chips and beer at the ready.
So OK, it was possible--just possible, mind--that moving into Stark Tower had been a decent idea after all.