Steve walked inside the building right behind the others, already feeling a little overwhelmed even though he never would have admitted it. The ‘mall’ was larger than he had expected after Natasha promised it was just a small one, and it seemed crowded to him despite the way Natasha had scoffed at Clint saying it was always busy on Saturdays. There was a steady stream of people passing them as they entered or left the mall, dozens of them even though it seemed to Steve like there really shouldn’t be that many people interested in the giant underwear store or the shoe store that he could see. The hallway they were in was huge compared to any Steve had been in before, leading to more stores down the way, and the noise of the crowd made Steve feel like going back down the road to the parking garage to hide in the car.
“Do you just have to shop here, Tasha?” Clint called suddenly, making Steve look at him in surprise.
Clint was looking around them with a distasteful expression that made it plain he was about as happy as Steve felt, which made Steve feel much better as he realized it wasn’t just him who wanted nothing to do with the place. A quick glance at Bruce made it plain Bruce wasn’t very pleased either, and Steve turned his attention to Natasha hoping they might not stay long.
Natasha turned away from the nearby display of shoes she had been inspecting, taking in the expressions on Clint, Bruce, and Steve’s faces before she pouted and walked back over to them. “You three are no fun.”
Clint rolled his eyes. “I told you that the mall was a bad idea before you made me stop, and that it’d be busy as hell today, and you laughed at me even though I was right. You can spend a day wandering around in here with Tony’s card and be perfectly happy, but we are not you and I would rather be with Fury than follow you around in this madhouse.”
Natasha blinked. “Truly?”
“God, yes,” Clint said fervently, looking around again. “I would rather polish his boots than spend the day here.” He looked back at Natasha, adding, “With my tongue, Tasha.”
Natasha giggled, hooking her arm through Clint’s as Bruce said dryly, “I won’t lick anyone’s boots, but I definitely second the motion to leave.”
“Me too,” Steve added, relieved. “Didn’t you say there were a few shops in Brooklyn you like, Natasha?”
Natasha looked at Steve, cheerful again as she agreed, “Yes, there are, and they will be of better quality than the shoes here, I am sure.”
“Then let’s go,” Clint said, not waiting for her to agree before he started to drag her back towards the nearby entrance.
Natasha looked amused as she let Clint pull her back to the entrance they had just walked through. “I will let you boys win on this, but I warn you now, I will buy you things today, and there will be no arguments when I say you must try something on!”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Clint agreed hurriedly, “just as long as we can go in small stores. I will even help you play personal shopper if you promise not to try and get me in Macy’s.”
Natasha beamed. “Done.”
Bruce chuckled, giving Steve an amused look. “Somehow, you forgot to mention that I’d have to try on clothes.”
Steve grinned at Bruce. “All I knew is Natasha wanted to buy me a few things. She thinks I dress like a grandpa.”
Bruce looked at Clint and Natasha, very amused as he asked dryly, “So to what do I owe the dubious pleasure of being turned into a mannequin? I definitely don’t dress like a grandfather.”
Steve had to agree with that, even though he didn’t comment. At some point after breakfast Bruce had changed clothes and the deep purple dress shirt and dark grey slacks he wore looked very good on him, though not as relaxed as Clint looked in his black jeans, combat boots, and t-shirt. Bruce looked much more polished, as if Clint was going out to simply enjoy himself while Bruce went to work in an office building or out to eat at a nice restaurant.
Natasha smirked at Bruce over her shoulder as she and Clint walked back out into the noisy street. “Tony gave me his black AmEx and said to have fun, and for me, picking out clothing for men is fun.”
Bruce laughed. “A Centurion card, hmm?”
“Yes,” Natasha agreed cheerfully. “I can buy everything today, and I will never get the bill.”
“The dream of every girl who loves shoe shopping,” Clint added dryly, making Natasha elbow him in the ribs while Bruce and Steve laughed.
Bruce stepped back out of the changing room in the surprisingly comfortable dark indigo jeans and very dark purple linen shirt Clint had handed him to try on, having to stop abruptly when he realized someone was waiting for him. Natasha was looking almost scarily pleased with herself, smirking and brandishing a shirt at him that was quite simply hideous, and he had the fleeting urge to walk right back into the dressing room and hide. Last time he saw her, she had been making the store’s only clerk show her the stock in the back because she hadn’t found anything else she liked for Bruce on the racks, and Bruce had hoped she wouldn’t find anything in the back, either. Obviously, he had been wrong.
“No,” Bruce said firmly, edging past Natasha and the neon green silk shirt she was holding. “I draw the line at anything that reminds me of hazardous materials, Natasha. I told you that already when you tried the warning-flare orange, remember?”
“But the cut is perfect for your shoulders!” Natasha insisted, following Bruce towards the corner of the store where three floor-to-ceiling mirrors were located in such a way as to let whoever stood in just the right place see the full view of what they were wearing.
“And the color is terrifying,” Bruce added dryly. “Try again.”
Natasha huffed and started towards the back of the store again, muttering, “Maybe the hot pink…”
“No pink either,” Bruce said, stepping into the corner where the mirrors were to look at the clothes.
Natasha muttered something else, but Bruce wasn’t really listening anymore as he stared at his reflection. He had already been sure that the shirt was cut very differently than his usual shirts, but he was still surprised to see that it showed off the muscle in his shoulders and back so well without being tight anywhere. It amazed him a bit to realize it looked really good on him, but after only a few moments he decided it looked too good. He wasn’t looking for anyone to date and he didn’t want to do any false advertising, so dressing in a shirt that made him look so good wasn’t really a great idea.
Bruce finally let his gaze drift down to the jeans after several moments and then his eyes widened as he blushed very red. The jeans clung to every inch of him from his waist down, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination and in fact making the muscle in his thighs and calves look even more obvious than it did when he was in his boxers. Even his crotch was outlined more snugly than he would like, making it evident that he dressed to the right if anyone bothered to look, and he had no doubt that if he wore those jeans anywhere in public, people would look. He would likely be hit on before he made it five feet, and he had no doubt that he’d get more than a few catcalls like he did when he was in college when he went for a run around the campus in his gym shorts. He had enjoyed it then and had fun dating girls bold enough to give him their numbers, but he hadn’t done anything like that since long before the accident that created the other guy.
Bruce didn’t bother to think a moment longer before he blurted, “Clint!”
Clint moved out of the nearby racks of clothing with several more pairs of jeans, grinning as soon as he saw Bruce. “Oh yeah, that’s more like it!”
Bruce felt his face heating up even more. “Why, exactly, did you think I might want jeans this skin-tight?”
Clint looked surprised. “But I gave you the right size! They’re supposed to be snug, but still comfortable.”
“They’re surprisingly comfortable,” Bruce admitted, and Clint’s immediate smug grin made Bruce have to fight down the urge to strangle him, the other guy stirring slightly in the back of his mind before Bruce managed to stifle his annoyance. He wasn’t angry, not really, just exasperated with Clint and wanting to shake some sense into him, and after only a moment the other guy faded to the back of his mind again. “They are not decent, though,” Bruce added just a bit sharply, frowning at Clint. “I would never wear anything this revealing in public.”
“I think they look really good on you,” Clint countered as the store’s only clerk joined them. “And there’s nothing wrong with wearing them in public, I have a few pairs of them myself.” He turned to the man who had just walked up, asking, “How do you think Bruce looks in those jeans, Jay?”
Jay was taller than Clint with bright blue eyes and blond hair that brushed his shoulders, and he looked very good in his well-fit dark grey suit pants and vest with a pale blue dress shirt and a lavender tie. “He looks great,” Jay agreed easily, giving Bruce a blatantly inviting look as he admired Bruce’s body. His gaze flicked to the mirror to check out Bruce’s ass after a few moments and then he added feelingly, “Very nice, Bruce. I’d do you in a heartbeat.”
Bruce let out a strangled little laugh at the way Jay’s gaze strayed back to the mirror to blatantly stare at his ass, sure he couldn’t possibly blush any more. Men had checked him out before, even propositioned him, but it had been a long time since a guy as good-looking as Jay had done it. Well, except for Tony, but Tony seemed to flirt with his friends like most people made small talk, and Bruce didn’t take him seriously. “Thank you, but I’m not interested.”
Jay met Bruce’s gaze again, looking amused as he said, “Can I give you my number, in case you change your mind?”
Bruce felt a surge of annoyance at that and looked away as he rubbed at his face, taking a moment to get himself under control again before he looked back at Jay with a polite smile that was a little forced. It had always bothered him when anyone didn’t take no for an answer about sex, whether he was the one saying no or not, and ever since the accident his reaction to it had gotten harder to hide. “I appreciate the compliment, but no. I’m really not interested.”
Jay’s eyes widened. “You’re straight?!” He threw up his hands. “No, never mind, of course you are, all the hot men are straight or taken.” He gave Clint an exasperated look like he was part of that problem, but Clint just grinned.
“It’s the way of the world, Jay,” Clint said cheerfully, patting Jay on the shoulder.
Natasha returned then with another shirt in hand, one that was actually a dark grey color that Bruce liked, though the fact it was made out of fishnet made it something he’d never consider wearing. Bruce hoped it was meant for Clint, but he had a sneaking suspicion Natasha would try to get him to wear it, which was not happening even if she begged.
Steve walked out of the changing rooms then, distracting Bruce from Natasha’s latest choice in clothing. Steve was wearing a pair of faded vintage jeans that fit closely without being tight and a white t-shirt with the classic Abbey Road Beatles picture on it, along with the Doc Marten boots that Steve had gotten at the first shoe store they stopped in. The overall effect of the outfit made Steve look his age finally, the almost painfully geeky clothes he had worn that morning replaced by something relaxed that still fit Steve’s friendly, laid-back personality, and Bruce really had no idea how Clint had done so well even as it annoyed him a bit that Clint hadn’t really done the same thing for him.
Steve was blushing very red as he said, “I like these, Clint. I think they’ll do fine.”
Bruce pointed at Steve, giving Natasha and Clint both a dirty look. “Alright, why does he get to be comfortable, and I got dressed up like a rent boy?”
Jay laughed. “You definitely look sexy, Bruce, but nothing like you sell your ass.” He grinned suddenly. “Though if you ever decide you want to, I promise I’d let you top.”
Bruce felt his face heating up darker again, his annoyance building a little more, but he didn’t have a chance to say anything before Steve did.
“There’s a lady present, Jay,” Steve blurted, scandalized. “Have a little respect, please!”
Jay looked at Steve and then said slowly, “Sweetie, I’m very sure Miss Tasha has heard it all before.” He let out a little laugh. “And said much worse, I know. I’ve heard her.”
“I don’t care what she does, a gentleman doesn’t talk like that around a lady,” Steve said, frowning. “It’s wrong.”
Jay stared at Steve in surprise for a moment and then asked wonderingly, “How are you real?”
Clint laughed and patted Jay’s back. “I told you, Jay, he’s the ultimate Boy Scout.”
“They kicked me out for kissing a boy on the cheek,” Jay said, making a face.
Clint smirked at Jay, eyes sparkling. “I never wanted in, too many rules.”
“I was a Boy Scout,” Bruce said dryly. “Eagle Scout, actually.”
Jay laughed. “Of course you were, gorgeous.” He looked at Clint. “I’m going to go get a pair of those jeans in black from the back room. Bruce may not like them, but his girlfriend will love me when she sees him in them.”
Clint grinned. “Great, and grab two more of those shirts, too. He hasn’t complained about it, and it looks great on him.” He looked at Bruce. “Any color preferences?”
“Dark colors,” Bruce said, deciding not to bother arguing with them even though he simply would not be wearing the jeans, ever. “Maybe dark grey?”
Clint looked back at Jay. “Midnight blue, really dark green, something like that.” He smirked suddenly. “And a maroon one, for sure.”
“I’ve got just the thing,” Jay agreed with a smirk of his own, looking at Bruce for a moment before he said cheerfully, “I’ll be right back.” He walked quickly away.
Clint glanced at Bruce and seemed to know Bruce was about to ask why maroon was important because Clint looked quickly at Steve and asked, “Were the Boy Scouts even around in your day, Steve?”
“Yes, the Scouts started up when my mother was a kid,” Steve said with a wry little smile.
The question reminded Bruce that Steve was from the forties, and it made him wonder suddenly how much of their conversations Steve really understood. Fury had kept Steve as isolated as possible, and Steve hadn’t had enough time with them to learn very much about the world yet, so Steve surely didn’t have much knowledge about the modern world to go on. Even ordering lunch might be a bit of an adventure for Steve, who likely wouldn’t recognize half the things on the menu after growing up fairly poor during the Great Depression, and Bruce made a mental note to pay more attention so he could help when Steve seemed lost. Clint had been doing it, but Bruce figured Steve would need them all to help him, at least for a while.
“I actually was a Boy Scout for a while,” Steve added, “but then they kicked Bucky out for fighting and I never went back.”
Bruce had read enough about Steve to know who Bucky Barnes was, but he hadn’t known that they were friends as children, which made him curious. “What was Bucky fighting about?”
“Me,” Steve said, looking away as the smile disappeared. “It was always because of me.” He looked back at Bruce, adding, “I was a weakling with asthma barely half the size of other kids our age, and I had been sick and cooped up indoors so much that I didn’t know a lot of things normal kids did. Bucky could always get along with anyone, but when we were kids Buck got into trouble pretty much every day for beating up guys who were pushing me around.”
“Until you were the one who protected him,” Natasha pointed out, giving Steve a surprisingly gentle smile. “Then everything changed.”
“For a few months, yeah,” Steve agreed, trying and failing to smile at Natasha.
“You said you liked the jeans, Steve?” Clint said then, changing the subject abruptly.
Steve turned his attention back on Clint, nodding and looking relieved. “Yeah, they’re nice. Much better than jeans were in my day, or even the trousers I’ve been wearing.” He seemed to remember something, adding, “And the shirt too. It’s really comfortable.”
Clint smiled at Steve. “Go grab your stuff then, and just wear that today. Jay’ll give us a bag for your old stuff when he comes back.”
“Okay,” Steve agreed with a grateful little smile, and then he turned and went back to the changing rooms without another word as the other three watched him go.
“I didn’t mean to upset him,” Bruce murmured, looking at Clint again finally.
“Nothing you did, man,” Clint said easily. “And he can still hear you, so he knows that.”
“Ears to match your eyesight, I guess?” Bruce asked, surprised but no longer trying to be quiet.
“Better,” Clint said with a laugh. “Just figure that if you’re anywhere close he can probably hear you, even if there’s a wall or two in between.”
“That I did not know,” Natasha said, looking surprised and annoyed. She punched Clint’s shoulder, adding, “You should have told me! I would not have asked that he go into the mall at all!”
Clint blinked. “What does it have to do with us being stuck in a mall?”
“I thought the mall was noisy,” Bruce pointed out, amused at the way Clint’s eyes widened. “I’d imagine going downtown is little short of torture for him.”
“It’s not that bad,” Steve said, walking back out of the changing rooms with the plaid shirt and khakis he had been wearing that morning. “It’s not painful or anything, just really loud.”
Bruce smiled at Steve. “I’m sure you won’t have to worry about it for much longer, Steve. The comm units that Tony and Clint have been working on should be able to block out traffic noise for you when you wear one.”
Steve looked at Clint, surprised. “The comm blocks noise out?”
“It can,” Clint agreed, looking surprised too until he suddenly grinned again. “Yours will, for sure. JARVIS is already on it and says it’ll be easy to make two comm units for you to wear instead of the usual one.”
“I haven’t told JARVIS anything about the city noise bothering me, though,” Steve said, looking confused. “How would he know already?”
Clint tapped his ear. “I’ve got my comm in today to test the range and the reception in various buildings, and JARVIS can hear everything I do. He’s been mostly quiet except for giving me directions a couple of times to get us to Tasha’s favorite shoe store earlier, but he’s been listening anyway and just said he’d have a noise-canceling prototype ready for two of the R&D whiz kids to fabricate in an hour, and should have a set ready for you to test by tomorrow morning. He can do all kinds of audio filtering, and it’ll be easy for you and him to decide on how much you really want to hear. JARVIS would hear what you didn’t, so he’ll make sure you know about anything important.”
“Wow,” Steve said, eyes wide. “That sounds amazing.”
“And very useful,” Bruce agreed, wondering if there was any way to develop a comm that would be convenient for him and stay on the other guy, too. He didn’t bother to try to carry a cell phone anymore, mostly because he had gotten tired of buying a new one every time the other guy broke free, but one of Tony’s tiny comm units might be something the other guy would tolerate if he could just figure out how to attach it to himself in a way that wouldn’t break when the change happened. He had already dismissed the idea of wearing one in his ear like Clint did because anything that fit in his ear normally would just fall out soon after he changed, but there had to be some way to do it. The comm wouldn’t do any good for the other guy, of course, but it would be nice for Bruce to wake up with a way to call for a ride home instead of being naked and alone with no idea where he was.
Clint grinned at Steve and then at Bruce, oblivious to Bruce’s thoughts as he said, “I gave Tony the idea by asking if his tech team could make something like an ear monitor, but he’s been running with it like he does with everything else, and the comm units are at the point now that we can stay in contact as long as we’re within about five miles of the tower or the suit.” He paused and then laughed. “Well, okay, JARVIS just said the range will be much farther than that. Tony had a brainstorm on the way to SHIELD and figured out a way to route the comms through cell phone relay towers to boost the signal.” He paused again and then rolled his eyes, looking away from the others. “Yes Tony, you are the smartest techno geek I know, now stop snooping! … No! Pay attention to the meeting. … JARVIS, make him stop listening to us, please.” He paused again and then grinned. “Thanks, buddy. Try to keep him on track, if you can.” He laughed again. “Save me the transcript. I’ll read over it tonight.”
Jay breezed by them with an armload of clothes that looked like more than two shirts and a pair of jeans to Bruce, but he didn’t bother to point that out. He was afraid Jay might retaliate by finding even more.
Jay was smirking and looking very pleased with himself as he walked towards the front of the store and asked, “Was that everything, Clint honey?”
“Yeah, Jay, thanks,” Clint replied cheerfully.
Natasha smiled, looking very amused. “Phil is surely getting fed up with Tony by now if he has his comm to play with. He has likely been muttering to JARVIS half the morning.”
“Probably,” Clint agreed, grinning at her as he moved to offer her his elbow. “Shall we, milaya? I believe there’s a fancy shoe store just down the street screaming your name, and then I vote we head for Peter Luger’s.”
Natasha beamed, taking Clint’s elbow. “Oh yes, let’s!” She still had the fishnet shirt in her other hand, and Bruce resigned himself to having it end up in his closet, too. It wasn’t as if his closet were small, after all, so there was more than enough room for a few things he would never wear.
Steve didn’t say a word as he followed Natasha and Clint towards the counter near the front of the shop, which was already piled with clothes even before Jay added his armload to it, and Bruce moved to follow them before he remembered he had left his own clothes in the changing room. The skin-tight jeans were comfortable, so much so that he’d almost forgotten he was wearing them, but he definitely didn’t want to go out in public in them.
“I have to get my clothes, I’ll be there in a minute,” Bruce said, turning away to walk quickly back to the changing room he had been using.
“No hurry, Jay’ll be a few minutes ringing all this up,” Clint agreed easily.
Bruce snorted softly in amusement as he walked into the changing room, muttering to himself, “I’m sure he will.”
He started to take off the jeans as soon as he had the door closed, hoping Clint and Natasha would let him ‘forget’ to get them even before he happened to see the price tag hanging from the right-hand pocket and realized how very expensive they were. He shook them out and folded them neatly onto the bench before he reached for his own comfortable slacks he had bought in a tiny suit shop in Brazil, sure that he didn’t even want to know how much they had already spent on clothes and shoes that day even though he knew Tony would never miss it. He was very sure that Tony would get a kick out of seeing his money had bought so many things for them to enjoy, and he had already decided that he wouldn’t argue if Tony wanted him to try on a few things so Tony could see the new clothes. Bruce had a feeling that Tony’s favorite part of being rich was the fact he could buy his friends anything and everything they wanted, and Tony seemed to love seeing them use or wear something he bought or made for them.
Bruce was about to unbutton the shirt when he stopped, debating with himself for only a few moments before he began to tuck it into his slacks instead. He did like the fit of the shirt, and Clint and Natasha had both obviously liked it as well, so there was really no reason to take it off again. The tag hung from the sleeve, easily removable while he was wearing it, and Clint would surely enjoy seeing that Bruce liked the shirt he had picked out so much he wanted to wear it now. It was more form-fitting than Bruce’s usual shirts, but not in any way that would bother him, so he thought he could live with the extra attention the cut of the shirt might draw. He would spend most of his time in Stark Tower, after all, and few there would bother one of Tony’s friends.
Bruce folded his own shirt neatly and then left the changing room with it, leaving the skin-tight jeans on the bench inside as he headed for the counter, where the others were waiting. Steve was looking shocked as he watched the numbers flash on the screen at the register while Jay efficiently scanned things and bagged them up, while Natasha watched Jay’s every move as if to be sure all that she wanted in the bags would be there. There were already two full bags on the counter, and the pile left to scan would probably take two more, so Bruce decided not to even look at the total as he waited by Clint for Jay to finish what he was doing.
Clint had his phone out texting, and a glance at the name at the top of the screen was enough to tell Bruce he was talking to Phil, which made him smile as he went back to watching Jay. Clint and Phil had been surprisingly professional about their relationship whenever Bruce saw them at SHIELD, but he had seen enough in the privacy of the penthouse they all shared to be very sure that Clint and Phil were deeply in love. They were subtle about their feelings even at home much of the time, but seeing Clint stretched out on a couch with his head in Phil’s lap after Tony gave Steve and Bruce the tour the day before had been enough to make their devotion to each other plain. Clint and Phil had both been oblivious to the world around them while they just gazed into each other’s eyes, Phil idly playing with Clint’s hair with one hand while Clint held Phil’s other hand against his chest.
Jay finished filling a third bag and started on the fourth, grinning a bit as he looked up at Bruce and teased, “So you’re keeping the shirt?”
“Yes, I think so,” Bruce replied, smiling even though he was blushing slightly again.
“Good, it looks wonderful on you,” Jay said with a wide pleased smile as he looked back down to keep scanning things. “Perfect cut for your build. After working so hard for that body, you should show it off a little.”
Bruce didn’t know what to say to that, mostly because he didn’t work for the muscles he had, so after a moment he said instead, “It’s very comfortable.”
“Comfortable is good too,” Jay agreed with a soft laugh, making short work of the rest of the clothes on the counter before he looked up again, smiling. “You’re next, Bruce.” Bruce’s eyebrows rose in surprise, wondering what Jay meant for an instant before Jay grinned and added, “Your shirt. I can’t scan it with you over there.” He lifted the small hand scanner he had been using, letting Bruce see the rather short tether it was on.
Bruce smiled wryly and moved around the counter. “I thought those things were all cordless now.”
“This one is too,” Jay agreed, amused as he reached for Bruce’s arm as soon as he got close enough, urging Bruce closer until he could get the tag to the scanner, which beeped obligingly. Jay laid the scanner on the counter, opening a drawer to take out a pair of scissors as he added, “The boss lady just doesn’t trust me not to lose it while she’s off on one of her long lunches that turn into afternoons in bed with her boyfriend.”
Bruce chuckled, holding very still while Jay snipped away the tag and trying not think about how close Jay was to him. “Does she leave you alone here often?”
“Oh, I’m not alone,” Jay said, laughing as he stepped back with the scissors. “There’s a beefy guy in the back watching the security cameras.” He looked up at the camera in one corner of the room, waving to it as he added with a suddenly simpering smile, “And I love you!” He turned his back to the camera again, smirking at Bruce. “Jimmy’s a bonehead, but he won’t let anyone hassle me.”
Bruce smiled, still amused as he moved back around the counter. “At least you’re safe. Working a shop like this alone would be dangerous, I would think.”
“Not in this neighborhood,” Jay disagreed, smiling as he put down the scissors and turned towards Steve as he picked up the scanner again. “Your turn, sweetie.”
Steve smiled despite his blush, moving around the counter and turning to offer Jay his side so he could get to the tags on his shirt and the jeans. “Brooklyn’s always been nice.”
“During the day, yeah,” Jay agreed with Steve, quickly scanning both tags and then putting the scanner down to get the scissors. “Around the apartment buildings south of here can be kind of iffy at night, but you can pretty much walk around anywhere in the Heights without worrying you might get mugged.” He dropped the scissors back on the counter, adding, “There, all done.”
Steve smiled a little wider, looking relieved as he moved back around the counter to stand by Natasha again.
Clint tucked his cell away and grinned at Jay. “You sure you got it all?”
“Every bit of it,” Jay agreed, grinning. “Time to fork over Tony’s card, honey.”
Clint dug out his wallet, flipping it open to take out the black card that Natasha had been carrying until she got tired of it being in her bra, passing it to Jay as he said cheerfully, “Add yourself a nice tip on there too, Jay. Make it an even hundred, you were awesome.”
Jay beamed. “You’re such a sweetheart, thank you!” He quickly typed the tip into the register and then ran the card and offered it back along with a receipt long enough that Bruce was fairly sure Clint and Natasha had thrown things into the pile that he hadn’t noticed. “Here you go!”
“Thanks,” Clint said, tucking the card and receipt both into his wallet and putting it away before he reached for the bags, grinning as he offered the first two to Steve. “Half of these are yours, so make yourself useful.”
Steve accepted the bags easily, smiling. “Of course.”
Clint took one of the others, passing the last bag to Bruce before he grinned at Jay. “See you next time, Jay. Have fun spending that commission.”
“I will,” Jay agreed cheerfully, grinning. “Have a great day, honey.”
“We will,” Clint agreed, heading for the door with Natasha at his side.
Steve smiled and nodded to Jay. “Good afternoon.” He walked quickly after Clint and Natasha without another word.
Bruce smiled at Jay and then followed the others out onto the shady sidewalk, trailing along behind them as they walked towards where they had parked the Mustang. He was sure that he and Steve now owned at least twice as many clothes as they had that morning, and he had a sneaking suspicion that Natasha and Clint still weren’t done with either of them. Clint had been a surprisingly willing and knowledgeable shopping assistant, finding Bruce and Steve clothes they liked and would enjoy while Natasha picked out things that were more flashy or revealing, sometimes both. Natasha’s tastes seemed to run towards things she obviously wanted them to wear so she could enjoy looking at them, but Clint already seemed to have a good grip on what Steve and Bruce actually liked and had found them clothes that fit their personalities as well as they fit their bodies.
Bruce didn’t usually like shopping, and hadn’t really been out in public without feeling like he was endangering everyone he saw in years, but after spending the morning in three different stores he was finally relaxing anyway. He was with two very capable SHIELD agents and Captain America, and for the first time in a very long time he felt reasonably safe letting himself just enjoy the day.
Steve was in the back of the shoe store that Clint had shown them to, a small one that seemed to be fairly exclusive and catered mostly to expensive tastes, which suited Natasha to a tee. She had left the others alone long enough to find herself three pairs of boots, but then she had turned her attention on outfitting Steve and Bruce with better footwear, and an hour later they were still trying on shoes. Clint had taken over helping Bruce shop, and Steve was starting to wish things had gone the other way again like they did in the last store. Steve had learned at the first shoe store they stopped at that day that Natasha was very opinionated about shoes, and what he might think he needed or wanted seemed to have little to do with what he actually got. The only exception so far had been the Doc Marten boots, which had earned him a pleased nod from Natasha when she caught him looking at them.
Steve had three more pairs of shoes he wasn’t sure he’d ever wear already, and Natasha had ordered him to wait right where he was so she could have someone get another pair she had seen in his size, so he was waiting patiently while she and a salesgirl went in the back to get something. He was actually kind of glad for the chance to sit in the back and just relax in a comfortable chair in the shoe store’s tiny lounge he was sure was meant for their richest clients, listening to Clint and Bruce talking quietly with a smile. They were discussing the pros and cons of Peter Luger’s, which seemed to be the restaurant where they were going to have lunch, and so far it seemed to Steve that Clint was winning. Everything Clint had pointed out as his favorites on the menu sounded pretty good to Steve, who was starving after a long morning of shopping.
Natasha returned with a box in hand, taking out one shoe as she said cheerfully, “Try this on.”
Steve obediently started to take off his new Doc Marten boots yet again as he said, “But I don’t need two pairs of dress shoes. I don’t even know where I would wear one pair.”
“You will have need of dress shoes,” Natasha said confidently, smirking as she pointedly held out a dark brown shoe out to him, dropping the box that held the mate onto the small table at Steve’s left. “Every man who owns more than one suit should have an appropriate pair of shoes for each of them. For now, you will begin with a nice black pair and a brown pair.”
Steve set his boot aside, accepting the shoe from Natasha as he pointed out, “I don’t own a suit.”
“You will,” Natasha repeated, smirking still as she folded her arms to watch him try on the shoe. “I spoke to Tony after it was a certainty that you would both be coming home, and Tony called his favorite tailor to make an appointment for you and Bruce. Tony will take you both for fittings on Tuesday, barring any unforeseen circumstances.”
“I should have known you already had that covered,” Steve said with a wry smile, untying the laces on the supple leather shoe and then putting it on.
“Yes, you should,” Natasha agreed smugly. “You will be stunning in a properly-fitted suit, and I have already spoken with Tony about what I think might be most suitable.”
Steve looked up from tying the shoe, wary even though he was still amused. “I have the feeling I should be scared.”
“Of course you should,” Bruce agreed, walking into the small sitting area at the back of the shoe store to take a seat in the chair across from the one Steve was sitting in. Bruce was also wearing new shoes, a pair of what he had called boat shoes that Natasha had turned her nose up at but that Bruce said were very comfortable. They looked comfortable to Steve, but all efforts to get Natasha or a salesgirl to stop looking at the fancier shoes and help him find something similar for everyday wear had failed. “We both should,” Bruce added dryly.
Clint followed Bruce in and flopped down in the chair on Steve’s right, looking very amused. “When Phil and I moved into the tower with Tony, I owned two suits,” he said cheerfully. “I bought one off the rack at a place in London when Tasha wanted dinner in a fancy restaurant to celebrate finishing a job, and the other is a Dolce suit Phil conned Fury into paying for when I had to play bodyguard one time.” He smirked. “I have seven suits now, and I can’t even pronounce who designed most of them. Tony has a thing for one-of-a-kind suits, and his tailor brings in the very best for him and his friends.”
Steve’s eyes widened. “I don’t need seven suits. I don’t even need two. I’m just a guy from Brooklyn, not a millionaire. I don’t have to impress anyone unless we’re working, and then I have a uniform.”
“You never know, you may need the suits, Steve,” Clint said, amused, and then he reached over to pat Steve’s knee. “Even if you don’t, just go with it anyway. Let Tony have his fun and then put the suits in a closet when we get home, and that way no one will have to watch Tony pouting at you because he found you the perfect suits and you ruined his day by refusing to let him buy them for you.”
Steve sighed, sure that Clint had already noticed that Steve didn’t want to upset Tony if he could avoid it. “You play dirty.”
Steve hadn’t had the chance to talk to Tony very much at all, but he was already sure that Tony was someone he wanted to know a lot better than he did. He couldn’t put his finger on exactly what it was about Tony that interested him, not yet anyway, but he planned to enjoy getting to know Tony well enough to figure it out. At first he had thought it was the fact Tony reminded him of Howard, even looked enough like him to be his older brother, but even after only a day he was already sure Tony wasn’t really very much at all like his dad, and Clint had made a few comments that left Steve thinking the Howard he had known had changed after he was gone.
Bruce chuckled softly as Clint grinned at Steve and said, “Yep, but now you’ll to accept the suits, won’t you?”
“Yes,” Steve agreed, smiling wryly. “I owe him that much.”
“We all do,” Clint agreed, nodding with a smile. “What I had before I met Tony was better than anything I had ever known before, but looking back now I’d never go back to it.” His smile went a little bit crooked. “Phil is the kind of man who prides himself on the fact he will always do whatever it takes to be the best at his job, so he stays pretty busy. I love that about him, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t have the same talents he does so I’m pretty much useless to him while he’s in his office. I used to spend most of my days with nothing to do except work out and shoot targets, but then we got the call to go help Tony, and all that changed. Tony gave Phil and me a home that we love, and gave me a purpose when Phil’s working and I’m not on a mission. Instead of just lurking around the office every day while I wait for Phil to have a few minutes to grab a meal, now I spend most of my days with Tony actually accomplishing something.” He shrugged slightly, looking down at his left hand where he was rubbing the tip of his thumb against his wedding ring as he added much more softly, “I never knew how much I needed that until I had it. Makes me feel like I’m useful for more than how good I am at killing people.”
Steve reached over to put his hand on Clint’s back, making Clint look at him as Steve smiled and said, “You’re a lot more important than you realize, Clint. It’s easy for me to see that you and Phil are the glue holding together—“ He hesitated for an instant, unsure if he should mention the Avengers or SHIELD in some shoe store, even in a back room, so he changed the wording slightly. “—well, the whole team. I appreciate what you do, but I appreciate you too.”
“Same here, and not only because without you, Tony wouldn’t be alive,” Bruce agreed quietly, making Clint look at him quickly as Bruce smiled and went on. “And he told me that himself, Clint, it’s not just a guess. I don’t think you realize how important you really are to his peace of mind. Phil’s job means that he can’t always be there for you or for Tony, and I’ve gotten the distinct impression Tony would rather move in with Fury than be alone for any length of time.”
Clint looked a little surprised but he smiled, wry and amused. “I’m not sure he’d go that far, but yeah. Being alone for very long these days is bad news for Tony.” He shrugged slightly. “I know exactly how he feels, so I don’t let it happen if I can help it.” Natasha reached out to stroke Clint’s hair, and he looked up at her with a soft smile, taking her hand in his to kiss her knuckles lightly before he released it again as he looked back at Bruce. “Tony’s not the only one who’s had enough of being alone, so he and I do well together. I know how he counts on me to help him keep it together, and I’m not going to ever let him down, but that’s not the only reason we’ve gotten so close. He and I, we get each other, and that’s not something either one of us has ever had a whole lot of before.” He paused, obviously debating something, and then added, “He’d really like it if you would hang out with us too though, when you haven’t got something better to do. Tony considers us all as his family, and he will do anything for you if you just tell him how he can help. So will I, for that matter. Me and Tony, we both know what it’s like to be alone in the world, and we don’t want you feeling that way anymore, Bruce.” He looked at Steve, his blue-grey eyes warm and gentle as he added, “And the same thing goes for you, Steve. Both of you have people who want your company and consider you family.”
Natasha nodded, murmuring, “I will not be around as often as I might like because work takes Pepper and I far from home much of the time, but Clint speaks for me on this as well.” She looked down at Clint, smiling softly. “And Phil, I am sure.”
Clint smiled at her. “Of course, milaya.” He looked at Steve and then at Bruce as he added, “Phil is the one who taught Tash and I what it’s like to have a real family that loves us and accepts us as we are, and he didn’t hesitate to welcome Tony into what we have when I realized nothing else would save Tony from himself. As far as Phil’s concerned, you were part of the family from the moment you agreed to join the team, Bruce.” Clint looked at Steve with a slightly wider smile. “And you were stuck with us before you even woke up. Tony grew up feeling like you were family, and Phil’s your biggest fan, so they weren’t about to let you deal with Fury alone.”
Bruce smiled. “I’ve gotten the feeling that Phil is the heart of your family.” His smile widened slightly as he corrected himself, “Well, our family.”
Clint smiled wider at Bruce, obviously pleased. “Yeah, I’m sure none of us would be here without Phil. I was so far out of control when I met him years ago that I was up for termination, but Phil took me in hand and showed me how to, well, be a man.” He smiled wryly. “And I’m not talking about sex, we’ve only been sleeping together a couple of months. I mean the fact that he took on being my boss even though he knew that I shot the guy I worked for before him, and then spent the next six months teaching me how to put aside my anger at all the people who had taken advantage of me and start living my life by a set of rules I could feel good about.” He grinned. “Which were really all his rules, but it only took me a year or so to realize that totally works for me.”
“And because Phil saved you,” Natasha added quietly, smiling at Clint, “you were here to save Tony from his pain.”
Clint smiled up at Natasha. “I didn’t save Tony alone, but yeah. Everything I am is because of Phil, and I know Tony feels the same way.” He settled back into his chair a little, patting his thigh as he said, “Now sit down, I’m tired of craning my neck.”
Natasha sat down on his knee, looking amused as she kissed his cheek and then said teasingly, “And one day you will have the balls to admit Phil is your dom, at least among family.”
Clint made a face at Natasha. “I’m not going to admit it because it’s not true. I won’t argue he’s the boss of me, but it’s because I want it that way, not because of some sex game we’re playing.”
Steve understood just enough of what Clint and Natasha were talking about to know better than to ask questions, especially since he felt like he already knew more than enough about Phil and Clint’s private life, so he changed the subject, hoping to learn a little more about Phil instead. “I guess Phil doesn’t have any other family?” Clint and Natasha both looked at him quickly, surprised, and Steve added, “Besides you, I mean.” He smiled. “Us.”
“Just Fury,” Clint replied with a pleased smile, “and they aren’t blood kin. They fought in Operation Desert Storm together and have been watching each other’s backs ever since, though sometimes Fury’s idea of watching Phil’s back has nothing to do with Earth logic. Phil doesn’t have any close family anymore. His parents were killed in a car accident when he was five, and he ended up with his dad’s older brother and his family. He had an aunt on his mom’s side that he was a lot closer to, but she was running his parents’ dairy in Vermont alone and social services thought his uncle’s family was a better environment for him because they had two kids about his age, so he had to live with them even though they didn’t really want him. Phil was allowed to spend summers with his aunt, but she died when he was in Ranger school and he’s considered himself alone in the world ever since, except for his cousin Sharon that he talks to once in a blue moon.” He paused and then added, “He still owns the dairy farm his aunt ran, but he hasn’t been there in years. He made a deal with a neighbor to let him use the pastureland and all the dairy equipment, and the guy takes care of the house for him.” Clint grinned suddenly, obviously amused. “And every once in a while Phil gets a box of cheese, which I think is his favorite part. They’re aged in the cellar of the house he grew up in and made from the milk of cows that graze land his family has owned for a hundred years, and every bite makes him think of the best parts of his childhood. He loves the stuff so much that he practically throws a party when he gets a new box.”
Natasha giggled. “I had wondered what was in the boxes he gets every few months. He is very protective of them.”
Clint grinned at her. “Phil loves that cheese. He used to run out in a few weeks whenever he got any, but when he got the last box he ended up telling Tony the whole story because Tony’s curious as a cat and wanted to know what could be so special about a box that weighed maybe five pounds. Once Tony knew he had a cheese room put in next to the big pantry below the penthouse, and then he made a deal with the farmer that works Phil’s land to buy a third of all the cheese he produces off Phil’s land. The dairy guy has five kids and needs the income, so Tony had Chef Hannah try a few of the varieties they make and last I heard she was planning on ordering all she could get. Stark Tower just might end up being the only place you can get that cheese pretty soon, which would make everyone involved happy, I think. I never had better blue cheese than what comes off Phil’s farm, and the American and sharp cheddar cheese is awesome too.”
“I think everyone likes cheese,” Steve said, smiling at Clint.
“Not everyone,” Natasha said, amused. “I am not a fan.” She reached over to poke Steve’s shoulder. “Now put on that other shoe so you can walk around to see if it will do. I’m hungry.”
“Yes, do,” Bruce agreed, amused. “Breakfast seems like it was a very long time ago.”
“Only because it was,” Tony said cheerfully, breezing into the room and sitting down in the chair to Bruce’s left with a wide, smug grin as he took off his sunglasses. He had been home already to change and was wearing black jeans and a bright pink t-shirt that said ‘Don’t hate me because I’m fabulous.’ in silver glitter paint, a dove grey suit jacket thrown on over it that Tony had left unbuttoned, and battered old boots instead of his tennis shoes. “I’m all done for the day and starving, so where are we going?”
“Peter Luger’s,” Natasha said brightly, beaming at Tony. “Are you going to shop with us later?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Tony agreed, grinning widely. “What’re we waiting on?”
“For me to try on the other one of these shoes,” Steve said, amused. He gestured at the shoe already on his foot, adding, “I don’t think I need them, but Tasha insisted.”
Tony leaned to look more closely at the shoe Steve was wearing, and then looked at the box next to Steve on the table before he settled back into his chair again. “Buy ‘em anyway,” he said cheerfully, smirking. “If you decide you don’t like them, they’ll fit Phil, and he’s always killing another pair of shoes on the job.”
“Sounds great,” Steve agreed, glad to be taking off the dress shoe he had on instead of his other boot even though the shoe seemed perfectly comfortable to him.
“Works for me, too,” Clint added quickly, patting Natasha’s hip. “Let me up so I can get Sandy started ringing us up. By the time Steve gets that shoe off and his boot back on, she can be done.”
Natasha bounced up, still beaming. “Perfect! Take the box, then she can ring that up too.”
“Way ahead of you.” Clint got up and then headed for the front of the shop, picking up the box on his way by it as he asked, “You get everything you liked, Bruce?”
“Yes, the clerk has them,” Bruce agreed, amused.
“Awesome,” Clint said cheerfully.
“Hurry up, Steve. I am hungry.”
Steve looked up at Natasha, amused to see she was standing with her hands on her hips, looking cheerful despite her words. “I am.” He looked back down at the shoe, slipping it off of his foot and then reaching for his new boot to put it back on, though he was hurrying as much for himself as for the others. He had started getting hungry hours ago, and felt like he could eat half a cow all by himself.
“Nice boots, Steve,” Tony said, making Steve look up while he tugged the laces tight.
“Thanks,” Steve said, pleased. “I found them at the first shoe store we went in earlier. They’re really comfortable, and seem sturdy, too.”
“And they look good,” Bruce pointed out, smiling at Steve.
Steve blinked and looked down at his boot, tying it and then settling his jeans back over it as he let out a soft laugh. “Well, yeah, I guess.” He looked at Bruce again, smiling wryly. “I got them because they look like they’ll stand up to a lot of wear.”
Bruce chuckled softly as Tony grinned at Steve and said, “They will, but they do look good on you. Doc Martens are a really good brand.” He lifted his booted foot to show his own boot to Steve. “I’ve been wearing these since I was seventeen, and they’re still going strong.”
Steve looked at the boots, which were battered and worn but still had plenty of life in them, then looked back at Tony. “When was that, though?”
Bruce snickered, looking amused as he looked expectantly at Tony. “Yes, Tony, when was that?”
“Half my life ago,” Tony said with a soft laugh.
Steve’s eyebrows went up in surprise. “You’re thirty-four? I would have guessed twenty-five.”
Tony beamed at Steve. “You’re my favorite. I just decided.”
Steve blushed and was suddenly feeling warm all over as he smiled at Tony, but he couldn’t think of a thing to say.
Bruce looked very amused as he asked Tony dryly, “The way to you heart is lying, hmm?”
Tony just beamed at Steve for a few more moments before he turned his head and smirked at Bruce. “Steve doesn’t lie. He’s too honest.”
Bruce looked at Steve, still amused as he asked, “And how old would you say Clint is, Steve?”
Steve thought about it a moment and then guessed, “Twenty-four?”
Bruce laughed and stood, moving to pat Steve’s shoulder as he said with a wide smile, “The ladies do love you.” He headed towards the front counter, sounding very amused as he said, “Tony’s thirty-five, and Clint is at least thirty.”
“You didn’t have to tell him!” Tony called after him, pouting.
“You’ll survive,” Bruce called back, sounding like he wanted to laugh again.
“You’re still my favorite,” Tony said, looking at Steve again as he stood up. He paused, and then admitted, “Well, except for Phil and Clint, but that’s a little different.”
Steve stood, wryly amused as he admitted, “Peggy teased me a few times about how bad I was at guessing someone’s age.”
Tony threw up a hand. “Oh no, nuh-uh! I don’t want to hear that. Quit while you’re still my favorite. I like the idea of you thinking I’m your age.” He headed for the front of the store, calling, “Sandy! I’m starving, so are we done, or are we done?”
“You’re done, darling!” Sandy called back, laughing.
Steve smiled and grabbed the dark brown dress shoe he had just taken off, and then he quickly followed Tony. He was starving too.