For his thirty-third birthday, which no one should know the date of except Natasha, stop hacking the fucking system, Tony, there was a petting zoo.
Clint should have known, he should have guessed that the only reason Tony would want to know about his childhood would be to throw money at it - that's what Tony does. Injustice in the world? Better throw money at it until a giant suit made of money that shoots money at more different money appears.
Not to say that he doesn't enjoy it - Clint had a strange-ass childhood by any measure. The kind that spawned memories that would make Salvador Dali and Man Ray weep; he clings to the simple absurdity of a clown named Rodrigo explaining, in full makeup, the mechanics of sex when he tries to make other people understand his upbringing, but that's not what he means, not entirely, and most people don't need to know more.
But Tony did, Tony had, he had a thousand and one questions for Clint, about the people and place and acts, about all the times he had climbed the silks or walked the rope, about the nights on the trains and in the caravans, and when Clint had told him, sloppy drunk over warm sake on the anniversary of Coulson's death, that he'd never had a proper birthday party, Tony had been scandalized.
Tony's parties were the kind of parties that made the news, when he was a kid - his father threw money at him the way he threw money at other people, the way Tony had wished his father would throw love or time. Queen had played his tenth birthday, those were the kind of parties Tony had.
And Clint must have told him, then, what he had loved about the circus, besides the shooting at the climbing, how he had started out caring for the animals with Barney, how he had learned to ride the horses and feed the big cats. Because Tony had gotten him an honest-to-god petting zoo, the kind with a pony ride and alpacas and a goose that was too mean to feed.
And Clint had walked in on the scene, the array of animals on the front plaza of Avengers Tower, because Natasha had texted him about ice cream, as though she was innocent. They had the sense not to jump out and yell surprise, but that had equal likelihood of being because his teammates were all wrapped up in their new animal friends as it did of being because startling a master sniper was a terrible idea.
Thor was standing by the chickens, rapt at the tiny yellow babies that ran loose in the pen, as though he was trying to memorize them all, as though there existed no such miracle as a chicken in Asgard.
Bruce and Natasha were feeding the llamas, hands flat as the large, ticklish lips wrapped around their fingers and slurped up pellets, and Steve was petting a small, brown goat, murmuring softly to it.
"Not exactly lions and bears," Tony shrugged, sidling up to Clint. "But I figured, after this, we have a Carvel ice cream cake, the kind that will probably make Natasha vomit from the bourgeois decadence, it's even a Cookiepuss. And then there are presents. I got you a framed poster - it's one of the old ones from your circus days."
Tony grinned at the look of shock on Clint's face, and clapped his friend on the back.
"Purple was your color, man. And you have to like mine the best, it's the rules."
Clint just sputtered, and Tony laughed. "Wanna meet the ducks?"
Clint nodded, still a little overwhelmed, and Tony led him to the enclosure where the little puffballs were scratching at the ground, and the others came over to join them, Natasha laying a warm hand on Clint's shoulder.
"Happy Birthday," she told him, and he leaned into her touch.
It wasn't that Natasha didn't like being recognized. She didn't mind it, per se, it was just weird to see her face on the television when the Avengers were being badasses all over the world, weird to know that there were marks who were waking up to the fact that Pussy Smyth, or whatever name she used then, was actually some unknown superspy.
Okay, maybe it bothered her a little. Maybe the chat rooms and the twitter arguments and the constant speculation about the "Chick Avenger" made her slightly annoyed. And maybe she had shoved Tony away a little when he had shoved the newspaper under her nose that morning, pointing to the headline that announced she was their "Favorite Mystery Woman" which, as near as she could tell, was some kind of fluff piece in the back of the style section and they'd never met any other mystery women, so it wasn't that great an honor.
(Also, why were there constantly arguments about Tony's suit being a security hazard and what role Steve should play in the military and if Bruce was safe, but all they wanted to talk about with the "Ladyvenger" was who she was and if her outfit was too revealing and if she was creating tension in the Stark-Potts relationship. Honestly. It was insulting.)
But Tony had recovered from her dismissal, and then he had gotten that look in his eye, the kind of look he got that usually led to him disappearing into the lab and not being seen for days, while strange smells and noises wafted through the air vents, and dropped the paper on the table before wandering away, muttering to himself.
Natasha shouldn't have been surprised, then, when the new articles started appearing, about "anonymous sources" in SHIELD leaking names like "Frances Tutor" and "Jennifer Washington" who, actually, didn't exist, as her real name.
And then the social media outlets went crazy with it, picking out new names, new identities, falling further and further from her, spinning out into the land of craziness. One popular theory declared her to be Pepper Potts, remotely controlling a life-model decoy which would be on the market in a few years.
Pictures of her face started to disappear from Google, replaced by the women she wasn't, replaced by photoshops to change her hair and nose and blur her identity.
Clint finally clued her into it - she had assumed it was Fury, doing what he did, protecting them - but Clint had produced a contract between Stark Enterprises and Wast & Co Public Relations, asking them to obfuscate the secret identity of the Black Widow.
And maybe she'd never go undercover again, maybe those days were over and done. But at least she had her name. And a debt, to Tony Stark, that needed paying.
As a man who enjoyed giving people things, Tony really didn't expect anything in return - he liked the thrill he got in seeing someone get the right gift, the thing that made them happy. Maybe he was bad at birthdays and anniversaries, remembering to give gifts by appointment, but when he found a way to solve a problem, to make something better, he did. And he usually found that people wanted him around more when he did something for them, when he helped them in some way.
Natasha and Clint worked together on everything. Tony thought occasionally about renting out a chapel for them, just so he could see that their wedding was as good at it should be. Which is why it shouldn't have been a surprise when they started double-teaming him.
(And there were a lot of ways that Tony Stark would accept a double team from Clint and Natasha, but this was a way that, sadly, involved clothes and work, but they were being kind and he liked that, for whatever values of kind each of them could muster.)
Natasha started it - she and Clint were working out in the common gym, where the endurance and gymnastic equipment was, when Tony showed up to do his morning run. He wondered, vaguely, what they were doing there at 4am, but he knew that he wasn't the only one who never slept more than a few hours a night.
"We've been thinking," she said, because Natasha didn't waste time with small talk, "that you should know more hand-to-hand."
Tony shrugged. "I box, some."
"Well, yes, but if you were ever caught somewhere, without the suit," Clint said, doing some kind of weird balance beam routine that was oddly mesmerizing, "Would you be able to fight your way out?"
"Give me a box of scraps," Tony grinned, starting the treadmill, "and I'll find a way."
"I want," Natasha said, moving into stretches that made Tony's imagination go crazy, "to teach you to use a knife, a gun. Clint can help you with accuracy, I'll give you form."
Yeah, she would.
"If you want," Tony tried to keep the excitement out of his voice. "Can you teach me to kill men with my thighs?"
Natasha raised an eyebrow and grinned. "You're gonna need to lose a few inches, but sure, we can try."
"Is that a yes?" Clint asked, doing a flippy-turny dismount off the equipment, and Tony nodded.
"That's a yes."
So they taught him, little by little, to aim, to shoot, to throw, to jump and spin like he wasn't forty years old and didn't have a heart that wanted to explode.
Bruce liked Tony; he liked that the other man really and truly only cared about how smart Bruce was, about how strong he was, and not about the Other Guy. Tony didn't understand that the Other Guy really was Another Guy, but he did his best to understand Bruce, and that was worth the rest of it, combined.
When he moved into the Tower, Bruce expected reinforced walls, a kill-drop like the Helicarrier had, maybe even some kind of surface-to-Hulk missiles to protect the rest of the Avengers from bad days. He did not expect a fish tank.
To be fair, to call it a "tank" was an understatement. It was a kilotank, a gigatank, it was a whole wall, with a reef and a whole colony of angelfish and if Bruce hadn't known Pepper, he would wonder who taught Jarvis to care for them, because it was an underwater wonderland, and it was the wall between his bedroom and his bathroom, both sides of the glass somehow tinted on the inside, to prevent any Leonardo DiCaprio, Romeo & Juliet love scenes. And peeping, he supposed.
(But mostly the love scenes. Those could be dangerous.)
Tony hand waved the cost of setup and maintenance, when Bruce tried to offer to take it over, tried to at least offer to feed the fish.
"They reduce stress," Tony told him. "Fish tanks. I figured, you know, Clint gets an archery range, Steve gets an art studio, you get a fish tank. Fair is fair."
And then he changed the subject, asking Bruce about a polymer they were developing, something to replicate the helmet Erik Lensherr wore to protect himself against telepaths, which would be really helpful in fights against, well, Erik Lensherr and his Brotherhood.
Bruce jumped into the talk, lost himself in it, but when he went to bed that night, he watched the school of fish swim through his wall, and imagined that, just for a moment, his heart rate slowed into a state of relaxation.
It wasn't that Thor didn't understand Midgardian culture. Yes, there were some strange things about it, some taboos he thought were, honestly, nonsense, but in the large picture, he only had to be told once that he was to wear pants indoors, that he should not touch strangers without permission and also he should not ask for permission, and Thor, leave those nice ladies alone, come on, we're getting pastrami.
He was not slow of mind, he was just of a different world, and required different instructions than the others.
Even Steve, who was 70 years out of his depth, still understood some of the social mores that escaped Thor, still knew the rules of decorum at their solemn funerals, understood the plethora of cutlery at meals.
Still, Thor found that, outside of his teammates' explicit instructions, his best clues as to how to behave and converse came from the media the others consumed, stories about the valiant Busters of Ghosts, and John of Clan MacLean, who fought bravely as Volstagg, and with no foot coverings.
There were some he did not understand, mostly the ones with talking animals who wore clothes, as he had not encountered any such creature in the nine realms, not even his nephew Sleipnir, the best of horses.
Tony had been, if not cruel, slightly unkind in the face of Thor's ignorance, leading the insistent requests that he "pipe down and watch the movie."
(Unlike Steve, who patiently answered Thor's questions, even when they were silly ones like, "Why would a mouse want to have a street paved in cheese, is that not wasteful?" and sometimes he even had to flag down Bruce, who could explain it to both of them.)
Thor felt out of his element more often than not, trying to navigate the customs of his adopted world, but he muddled through with a smile and a good humor, as he seemed to have no other choice, and when the others asked him to observe a film, he joined them. He often thought, and sometimes mentioned to JARVIS that, if he had the ability, he would consume more media. He just did not know how to go about finding the appropriate forms of entertainment- his few attempts at searching the internet had simply led to naked people copulating, and that was confusing in its own way.
And so when he came back to his rooms after a protracted stay in Asgard, where he had been taking his turn in caring for his brother (who was recovering slowly but surely, finding his balance as time wore on) Thor was surprised and pleased when JARVIS talked him through a new menu in his television, one that contained a catalogue entitled "Tony Stark's Guide to the Twentieth Century."
The movies and shows were numerous, and JARVIS had been programmed to explain the cultural significance of each of them, or point Thor to relevant resources.
This surely represented a large investment of Tony's time, and Thor was thankful for the caring his friend exhibited, even if it manifested, at times, as ridicule.
Bruce approached him with he was having breakfast, and shoved an old, yellowing folder into his hands.
"What's this?" Tony asked around a mouthful of Lucky Charms.
"The- my serum," Bruce said. "I worked from the original Stark-Erskine papers on the vitarays, and, I mean, I don't know. Maybe you'll get something out of them."
Tony considered handing the folder back, but his fingers didn't seem to want to unclench.
"I don't have the clearance--"
Bruce shrugged. "You gonna tell Fury? I'm not."
He set about pouring himself a glass of juice as Tony stared at the folder.
"Thanks," Tony said, and Bruce grinned.
"Least I could do. And by the way - have you read the paper today?"
Tony shook his head, and Bruce grinned.
"Check it for your name."
Tony tapped the screen built into the kitchen table, calling up the Bugle. He hated when they wrote about him without his consent, but it was the price of being Tony Stark, of being Iron Man, of all the things he wanted to be, and all the things he was.
The article Bruce was referring to was a small one, and Tony imagined that, if he had a physical copy of the paper, it would be tucked somewhere at the back of the front section, between letters to the editor and ads for whatever people who still bought newspaper ads thought they could sell.
It seemed that, to the great befuddlement of meteorologists, that areas of great strife, where there were civil wars and infighting between the people and their governments, freak electrical storms had started to form, and there had been fires in seemingly unoccupied areas.
Tony had some idea that if and when he hacked the SHIELD database, he would find a fair number of those fires had hit suspected terrorist bases, far too many to be coincidence. And he guessed that, if he looked at legacy satellite feeds, they might have large concentrations of StarkTech, the kind that could be disabled by electrical strikes or damaged by fire.
Damn, Tony had the best roommates.
The first time Steve looked at his bank account after he work up, he almost vomited.
It was actually mathematically impossible for the amount of money he sent home, and the interest on his account, to have gotten as big as that number, but there it was, all those zeroes.
Anyway, everyone had thought he was dead - they should have liquidated his assets and given them to his survivors.
"My dad never believed it," Tony told him, when Steve came to him for advice on what to do with the millions he was suddenly in possession of. "He never thought you were dead. Your grandmother turned the account over to him, and he made some choice investments in Stark Industries and Microsoft and a little hamburger stand called McDonald's. You're set."
Steve blinked. He didn't know how he felt about all of this - not only was he apparently obscenely wealthy, he hadn't earned a damn cent of it, and he had no idea how to feel about the corporations that did.
"What do I do with it?" he asked Tony, who laughed gently.
"I'll get you a meeting with Pepper; she's an ace at this."
Steve shook his head. "Thanks, I just - I don't even know where to start."
"You want me to take care of it?" Tony's eyes were kind, he knew about money and all that. "We can donate and invest and - how do you feel about a foundation?"
Steve dropped his head to his hands. "Do whatever you want, just give it to people, please, people who need it."
Tony made some notes. "I can do that."
Which was why, three weeks later, Steve was only vaguely surprised to be signing papers to incorporate the Captain America Foundation for Underprivileged and At-Risk Youths.
"We're starting small," Tony told him. "Two scholarships, $20,000 a year each."
"For kids?" Steve looked up from scrawling his name for the thirtieth time.
"The James Barnes Memorial Scholarship for young men who want to serve their country in a non-military sense- it requires a sponsor and an action plan - and the Peggy Carter Memorial Scholarship for young women who want to study and serve abroad. I'm working it up with legal, but, yeah. Should be going in time for the next round of college admissions in the spring."
Steve was rarely prone to fits of emotion, but he couldn't help himself - he felt the tears brimming in his eyes, and scrubbed at them with the back of his hand.
"You're too much, Tony."
Tony grinned and thumped Steve solidly on the shoulder. "I'm just enough, really," he grinned. "We hope to be able to compound the interest and gain more donors, maybe partner with the Xavier school in the future, but that's all still to come. There's a five-year plan in your packet there. Ask Pepper if you get stuck."
"And how much of your own money did you throw into this?"
Tony shrugged. "A bit. It's a good cause, and I get to be the boss of you."
"You will never be the boss of me."
"Give it time."
Steve shook his head, still swallowing around the grateful lump in his throat, and went back to writing his name on the papers.
The package was large and flat, wrapped in plain paper, butcher paper, with his name scrawled on it. Someone had left it on his bed, right on the foot of it, on top of the towel he threw there carelessly this morning and Pepper didn't pick up because she was his girlfriend and not his maid, as she liked to remind him.
Tony ran a hand along the package - he had never been the patient type, never been the one to wait the way Clint and Natasha try to teach him (bide your time, Tony, wait until you have the shot) - so he tore the corner of the paper, revealing the object beneath.
It was a painting, the kind that Steve made when he was restless or couldn't sleep, dabs of paint on a canvas, telling not the story of the image but the story of Steve's own wanderlust.
It was the Avengers, in their street clothes, sitting in the living room and laughing - and they were all them, somehow, they were all recognizable and alive and Tony would never know how Steve did that, how he could go out and kill a man with the edge of his shield and then come back and create these vibrant scenes because the man Steve was and the man Captain America had to be were so disparate sometimes.
There was a note on the back of the canvas, in Steve's precise, sloping handwriting.
You don't have any pictures of your family. I'm no photographer, but I thought this might at least be a good reminder that we care about you.
Tony smiled, and looked at the walls of his room, which were a deep, russet red - there weren't any photographs in there, not even of him and Pepper, which might be kinda weird for a normal human, but Tony spent his time in his lab, not in his bedroom, so he'd never noticed before.
He thought for a moment, canvas bare in front of him, before he decided what he would do with it.
Tony marched into the television room, the room the team tended to congregate, with a hammer and a level and a determined look in his eye, a canvas tucked under his arm. He spent a few minutes making marks on the wall, asking JARVIS to measure, before he placed the nail, and hung the painting - it needed a frame, but he could get it one - on the empty wall behind the couch.
He stepped back to admire it, and even though he was alone in the room, he knew he wasn't alone in the tower, and he was pretty sure, in the most cheesy and embarrassing of ways, which he would never say out loud so no one named Steve had better ask him, that he wasn't ever going to be alone again.