Chapter 1: Day 1
Clint invaded Tony’s workshop (really, invaded, he’d invaded all of Tony’s spaces, the workshop, the penthouse, his bedroom, that squishy bit in the middle of his chest that he thought might be last year’s bad Chinese takeout from that awful place in LA) and crowded him up against the workbench.
“Yes. Hi there. It’s a good thing I wasn’t soldering something, or welding something, or exploding something, it might not have ended well for parts of you that we’re both pretty attached to, you more literally than me, of course, but in spirit, I’m there with you - “
Tony-babble, in full effect. Since Clint really didn’t have time to let it wind down naturally, he went for brutal efficiency, and the classic stop with a kiss. Mind-bending as always, naturally. Since Tony got so much practice wagging his tongue practically 24 hours a day, he had a well-practiced, God-given talent with it when kissing. Clint was so far gone beard burn was even a fucking turn on, he wasn’t ashamed to admit it. To himself. Privately.
Unfortunately, he actually didn’t have time, and backed off enough for Tony’s brain to start grinding again.
Tony paused in his efforts to get that mouth back where it ought to be when a thought occurred. “Wait. So. There’s a whole sentence floating on the end of that that you haven’t even started to say yet.”
Clint nodded. “Yeah. I’ve been assigned a mission. I leave in half an hour. I should be back in five days. No, you can’t go, no, you can’t know where I’m going, no, you can’t hack SHIELD to find out anyway because Coulson is on to you, he’s considering doing everything in hard copy and then shredding it creatively and setting it on fire even more creatively just so you can’t hack it.”
Tony’s eyes narrowed in disgust. “Paper.”
Clint nodded, patronizingly, and rubbed Tony’s shoulders, also patronizingly. “I know, baby. I know.”
Tony considered being offended by being patronized for all of three seconds, but, well. Archer’s hands, on his shoulders, rubbing and patting and caressing. There was really no part of this that was bad, except the leaving far, far too soon part.
“Half an hour, huh? Not enough time for a quickie, guess we’ll just have to make out.” Tony leaned in for a kiss, and when his lips were just brushing Clint’s, he said, “you be careful, you hear me, you fucking promise you’ll be careful and you come back - “
Clint nodded, “yeah, yes, i promise, so careful - “ and grabbed hold for his promised thirty minutes of epic making out.
Chapter 2: Day 2.5
Heels clicking on the workshop floor let him know Pepper was here to drag him kicking and screaming into his corporate responsibilities.
“Pep, hey, Pepper, really busy here, no time for, for, um, what am I missing, am I supposed to be in a meeting, wait, why am I asking, I don’t actually care, no, I’m not going to the meeting.”
“There is no meeting, Tony.”
Tony paused with the wrench. “No meeting.” He looked up at Pepper. “You’re not carrying paperwork, so you don’t want to make me sign things.” He narrowed his eyes. “I haven’t caused a PR incident in months. You have no cause to give me That Face, Pepper, That Face that says, “Tony, you’ve been a bad boy” because I haven’t, I’ve been an extremely good boy, I haven’t even missed a meeting.”
Pepper sighed. “You didn’t even know if you were missing a meeting.”
Tony went back to wrenching. “Not the point.”
“You’re right. That’s not why I’m here. Look, Tony, listen. Are you listening?”
“Sure, Pepper,” he replied absently.
Pepper shook her head. “No, you’re not, but maybe I can get a word in this way.” She sat (carefully, after checking for grease and/or explosives) on the unused stool at the workbench.
“Tony, I just wanted to say, be careful.”
“Sure, Pepper, I’m always careful, I haven’t exploded a prototype in months - okay, weeks - OKAY, days, really, careful is my middle name - “
“Days, Tony, WHAT did you blow up - wait. Stop. Not important, and not why I’m here. I mean, be careful with Clint.”
Tony stopped moving. “Did Natasha put you up to this?”
Pepper blinked. “Why would - no. I don’t even know why you would even ask that.”
Tony waved his wrench in the air, “She and Coulson ambushed me a few hours ago, it was terrifying, doesn’t matter, are you - are you giving me the shovel talk? Aren’t you supposed to be on my side?”
“I’m not giving you the shovel talk, and I am on your side, that’s why I’m here, I know you, Tony, you get caught up and spend your life down here in the lab - “
“Well, yes, I do that, I’ve always done that, as long as you’ve known me I’ve done that - “
“And I know it can be kind of, well, disturbing, to have your lover disappear for days at a time into a mad scientist stupor.”
Tony stared at her and dropped the hand waving the wrench madly in the air into his lap. “Pepper, you said, when we broke up, that we just weren’t working, that we needed each other more as Ms. Potts and Mr. Stark, you didn’t say I was, what, neglecting you - “
Pepper grabbed his hands so he couldn’t work himself and his wrench into another frenzy. “No, Tony, no. You didn’t neglect me. I spent too long wrangling you and you were too used to me babysitting you. We just work better this way. That’s all. I just - I just want you to be careful, OK?”
Tony searched her face for a long while, not knowing what he was searching for. Truth, maybe, but he didn’t know if he’d recognize it. He hadn’t even known that Pepper was, whatever she was, about his workshop time, he was never good at this emotional interaction shit, no one ever told him what he was supposed to know. He just kept getting it wrong and no one told him how to do it right.
Finally, Tony decided he wasn’t going to figure it out and nodded, just wanting the conversation to be over. He was tired and confused and Clint had only been gone less than two days.
“OK, Pepper. I’ll, I’ll be careful.” He pulled his hands out from under Pepper’s. “Will that be all, Ms. Potts?”
Pepper stood. “Yes, Mr. Stark.”
Tony poked the wrench at - whatever the fuck he’d been working on, he didn’t even know anymore, while listening to the sound of Pepper’s heels clicking fade away.
Chapter 3: Day 3
Tony stumbled into the kitchen after a sleepless night, sleep lost to the understandable loneliness of no Clint beside him, and to the unexpected obsessing over Pepper’s incomprehensible warning. He still wasn’t sure if Pepper had gotten fed up with him sciencing it up in the lab and was just hiding it from him or what. In any case, he needed fucking coffee.
What he got was a face full of Good Morning, Captain America. Seriously too fucking early. At least Bruce was there, too, with his herbal tea and morning scruff and determined laid-back dude ‘tude to disperse some of the tension.
Tony retrieved his coffee and plunked himself down at the table across from Captain Morning Sunshine and his oatmeal.
“Good morning, Tony,” Steve said.
“Morning, I’ll give you. The rest, I’m still running tests on,” Tony grunted.
Bruce smiled sympathetically, “When is Clint due back?”
“Two more days, but it’s a secret fucking mission. Anything could go FUBAR and who knows how long it’d take then.”
Bruce only nodded, because really, there was nothing any of them could do about it one way or the other.
Steve cleared his throat. “Uh, how are, you know, things with you and Clint? Everything… okay?”
Tony blinked at him, because what? “Yeah? Uh, thanks for asking? Or, really, why are you asking?”
Steve blushed. Really, he was so much like a big, super-enhanced puppy, it killed Tony every time. “Well, I mean, I just - wanted to know? I worry, you know. We’re, we’re a team and tensions between members of the team can compromise the mission.”
“Not to worry, then, Steve. No tensions here. Not between these two members, anyway. I can’t speak for anyone else, but who knows what kind of tensions Natasha is hiding under her super-secretive, super-spy cap?”
Steve shook his head, because he was determined that Tony wasn’t going to ramble his way off the topic and out of the conversation. “I just mean that I’m worried that if something happens between you and Clint, that the team may suffer for it.”
“Nothing is wrong between me and Clint. Clint and I are fine, what the hell, Cap - “
“You’re not always careful, Tony - “
“What is it with everyone and wanting me to be careful lately, what is this I don’t even - “
“I’ve read articles and seen footage on the internet - “
“You and your goddamned footage - “
“ - and you don’t always treat the people you’re with very respectfully - “
“Everyone I’ve ever been with knows what they’re getting, give them enough respect to let them own their own choices - “
“ - and I don’t want you to do that to Clint, he’s my friend, all right?!”
“I’m not doing anything to Clint except what we both want, you sanctimonious asshat!” Tony turned to Bruce for support. “What is this, I don’t even - “
Bruce threw his hands up, “Whoa, I don’t, I don’t really want to get into this.”
Tony screwed his face up into what he was pretty sure was a very good impression of an internet meme, all WTF and txt speak. “Seriously? Both of you?” Tony grabbed his coffee and tossed off, “Thanks for the support, Bruce,” over his shoulder as he stalked back to his workshop.
Chapter 4: Day 4
Tony was waving his wrench threateningly in the general direction of his workbench, but not even pretending to get any work done, when JARVIS interrupted him.
“Sir, Colonel Rhodes is requesting entrance to the lab.”
“Let him in, JARVIS.” Tony flung the wrench away, instantly cheered. Finally, someone to be on his side.
“Rhodey! Cupcake, cream puff, honey bunch, to what do I owe the honor? Wait, let me guess. The military wants my suits, why do they keep asking, I keep saying no, it’s simple enough, no means no, there are seminars and everything they can attend to help them understand that.”
“Well, they always want your suits, I just use it as an excuse to hang out with you these days, but no, that’s actually not why I’m here. I had leave and I thought, hey, I haven’t filled my yearly quota of fucking crazy shit, I know, I’ll go hang out with Tony for a while, that’ll have me set until 2024, easy.”
Tony laughed, free and easy and relieved that Rhodey was here to cheer him up. “Crazy, I can do crazy, it’d be easier if Clint was here, he’s on a mission, or we could all hit the town to risk our lives in wildly dangerous ways, there’s no adrenaline junkie like a circus brat turned super-secret super-spy, but while he’s out, we’ll just have to stay in, because I don’t want to be unreachable if he needs me.”
Rhodey smiled at that. “Look at you, all keeping the home fires burning. Guess everything’s still roses and kittens?”
“Ugh, you know I’m allergic to cats, Rhodey.”
“I notice you didn’t say anything about the roses, though, don’t think I missed that because I didn’t.”
“I can neither confirm nor deny.”
Rhodey laughed. “Happiness, Tony, it looks good on you.”
Tony grabbed a screwdriver and poked at the dismembered bits of what may at one point have been a toaster, determinedly exuding a palpable air of powerful genius at work just so Rhodey wouldn’t get the mistaken impression that he was overcome with besotted shyness. It would be embarrassing for Rhodey to be so very, very wrong, Tony had to spare him that.
“Well, buddy, I’m glad one person in this tower thinks so, the only person who hasn’t sat me down for the shovel talk so far is Thor, and he’s off in New Mexico with his fair lady, probably when he comes blowing in on the wind for his poptart fix he’ll sit me down over a couple of brown sugar and cinnamon pastries and threaten my manly bits with his hammer. That - sounded less filthy in my head.”
Rhodey quirked an eyebrow. “Tony, nothing sounds less filthy in your head.”
“Yeah, okay, you’re right.”
“So, I guess Clint’s friends have been giving you the obligatory ‘hurt him and I’ll hurt you’ speech? I bet Natasha makes world-class ball-crushing threats.”
“Are you kidding? She and Coulson teamed up and ambushed me, it was terrifying, I’m still shaking. Steve cornered me over his morning bowl of oats and sunshine and shiny patriotism to berate me over youtube footage and fucking Gawker articles and my lack of respect for my previous partners, even though he was fucking frozen then and knows nothing about any of them. Bruce didn’t even back me up, so much for science bros before hos, and to top it all off, even Pepper got into the act. Like, isn’t she supposed to be on my side? But no, she’s all ‘You disappear into your workshop, Tony’ and I still don’t even know if she’s mad about that and just not telling me and instead giving me the ‘we just don’t work together’ talk.”
Rhodey hesitated. “Tony, man, I mean, maybe they just have some valid concerns.”
Tony whirled on him. “What?”
“Well, you guys are on a superhero team, for God’s sake, if things go bad they potentially go very, very bad, with explosions and fiery, messy death optionally included.”
“So, what, now even you don’t think I can manage an adult relationship?”
“All I’m saying is that I’ve known you a long time, Tony, and you’re infamous, you are infamous, okay, for your antics, all right? You’ve got a lifetime of habits to deal with, here, and your backsliding or relapsing or whatever is something that people might have valid concerns about, okay?”
Tony… didn’t say anything, just sat at his bench staring at Rhodey with a look that Rhodey didn’t think he’d ever seen on his face. Something about the way Tony’s shoulders were slumped, just a little, made it look like something had gone soft and wobbly in the middle of him.
“Man, I’m not saying I think you - “
Tony shook his head, “No, Rhodey, it’s okay, I get it. I’m just going to get back to work on this, this, this thing, this toaster thing, whatever it is, uh, you should extract Steve from the gym, get him out, show him some more of modern New York, he can’t live in the forties forever.”
“Tony - “
“No, really, I’ve got to work on this, go, play with Steve, you boys have fun, buy him an ice cream or something.”
Rhodey sighed and left Tony to brood as magnificently as only a Stark could.
Dummy chirped up at Tony, holding out the wrench he’d tossed earlier. Tony took it and scritched him behind one of his joints. “Thanks, Dummy. JARVIS, make a note, check Dummy’s joints for metal fatigue.”
He poked at the toaster thing a little more, waited for it to do something interesting, and sighed. “Isn’t anyone going to give Clint the shovel talk? Or is it all on me?” He dropped the wrench again. “JARVIS, I’m just going to go to my room, now. I’m… really tired.”
Chapter 5: Day 4.5
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Tony sat on his bed, wrapped up in a blanket (he stole it from Clint’s room. It’s the one Clint likes to turn into a nest on Sunday mornings, with coffee and croissants on a tray and trashy pulp mysteries on the nightstand. He wears reading glasses because he sees better from far away. The blanket smells like him, and wrapping himself tightly in it, Tony thinks it feels almost, but not entirely, unlike one of Clint’s hugs. But it’s what he’s got to work with).
He stared out of the window, not really paying attention to the view but it was something to do while he tried not to think, or tried to think, he wasn’t sure which would be a better idea right now (Tony started retreating to his wide-open, windowed spaces to think after Afghanistan. He loves his workshop/lab/cave when he’s working, but when he’s thinking too hard to do anything but think, he needs light and space and air, or he starts to smell water dripping down stone walls).
If he were thinking, he’d have to think about how everyone he cares about, everyone he’s close to, everyone he’s known since he was young and bright and unscarred by battery acid and Pashto accents thinks he’s helpless to stop himself hurting the people he loves (why are they still around if he keeps doing everything wrong? Wouldn’t it be easier to tell him what he’s supposed to do instead of watching him flail for the right combination of socially acceptable behaviors and sighing in disgust and disappointment every time he got it wrong?).
If he were thinking, he’d have to think about the way Clint’s eyes crinkle when he’s laughing at one of Tony’s endless rambles that half internet meme, half mad scientist swagger, and all manic energy. He’d have to think about the day (which is apparently inevitable) when Clint would stop laughing at him and start sighing and huffing and wishing Tony would just go away (he doesn’t want to see Clint stop making the crinkly laughing faces he loves so much and start making the lined, frowning faces he lived in before Coulson dragged himself out of a private room in the back of SHIELD medical and ripped Fury three shiny new assholes over his (“goddamned vintage!”) trading cards).
“JARVIS, excluding the two outliers (Pepper and Clint, always special, those two), calculate the average length of my personal relationships from age 21 to present.”
“Seventeen days, sir.”
“OK, and during my relationship with Pepper, what was my weekly percentage of time spent in the lab?”
“Sir, disregarding the period after your return from Afghanistan, your weekly percentage of time spent in the lab has been a consistent average of 65% from the moment I was activated and able to begin keeping records. You have maintained this average regardless of your personal relationship status.”
Tony blew out a breath. “OK, that’s… that’s not so good. I don’t - I don’t know how to change that.”
The lab was the closest thing to consistency he’d ever had - it was the place he could go to run the numbers, the math that was always in his brain. When he couldn’t work out the math, it started taking over, cutting a recursive loop into his brain tissue until he was drowning in numbers and couldn’t speak English anymore, only equations.
And how could he prove he could remain monogamous? It was like proving a negative, it couldn’t be done, he could just keep not fucking anyone else but the only proof would come when he was dead and hadn’t fucked anyone else and then it was too late to say “I told you so.”
He wrapped the blanket more tightly around himself.
Seriously you'd think I was allergic to punctuation, the way I avoid ending a sentence until absolutely necessary.
Chapter 6: Day 5
Clint came through the door, the mission having ended on fucking time for once, hunting Tony down like a Stark-seeking missile, and finally finding him, not in the lab for once, but actually in his bedroom, sitting on the bed and watching the city and looking “Holy shit, have you slept at all?”
Tony looked up at him, dark circles and baggage and smile so plastic and PR-approved it hurt to look at. “You’re home, that’s awesome, on time too, that hardly ever happens, I’ve been thinking of overhauling the clocks at SHIELD, there’s something obviously wrong with them if they can’t manage to keep to the same time the rest of the planet uses and of course I’ve slept, it’s been five days, I’d’ve passed out by now if I hadn’t slept, just, it might have been a few days ago is all and - “
Clint sat on the bed next to Tony and latched on to his mouth like the last five days hadn’t passed and they’d never stopped making out in the workshop. Tony wrapped himself around Clint like a remora, hands mussing up that spiky hair and thumbs brushing over Clint’s temples to his jaw, tongue tangling with Clint’s until he felt like Tony was trying to absorb him through his skin, osmosis or something.
But then Tony pulled back, and dropped the bomb.
“We need to talk.”
“What, no, I vote no on talking and yes on making out, then I plan on tucking you in to this bed and sitting on you until you sleep.”
Tony stood and started pacing, mouth already running at full Stark ahead, “No, no, no making out and no nap time, this, this needs to be done now, or we’ll just… keep going until the inevitable happens and I am not letting the inevitable happen, I have seen the inevitable and it is not pretty, OK, there are no crinkles when the inevitable happens and I need crinkles, OK, even if they’re not mine anymore I need you to keep crinkling.”
Clint laughed at him, “Tony, what are you even talking about, you’re so tired you’re delirious - “
Tony pointed at him, “That, that, I need you to keep doing that, and you won’t keep doing that if we keep doing this, it is inevitable, and I can’t do that to you, so we have to stop, now, it’s only been a few months, right, you, you can’t be too attached yet, you’re still in the fun phase where everything is endearing and cute and ridiculous so we have to stop now while you can be mad for a while but not hate me and keep, keep doing that crinkling thing. You’ll find someone else to crinkle for even if it’s not me and, and, and I’ll get to see you crinkle for them so that’ll be okay, I’ll be okay with that, and I’ll just - I’m just going to go to the lab for a while, and when I come out again, we’ll be normal, right, we can do that? We can totally do that, we’re adults, we save the world, this is, this is nothing. So. OK. I’ll just be going now.” And Tony spun and nearly tripped over his own ridiculous feet and retreated to the lab and away from Clint as fast as he could manage.
Which wasn’t very fast, since he hadn’t slept in nearly a week or eaten a substantial meal, but fortunately, Clint was so stunned by his boyfriend breaking up with him (probably, that, that was a lot of ramble to parse) that he didn’t even move.
“What just happened?”
Chapter 7: Days 5.25 - when the fuck ever, Tony stopped counting
Tony (carefully, be careful, don’t fall, be in control) sat at his desk as the glass walls of his lab went dark, and (carefully, careful, don’t, stop shaking) laid his hands on top.
“Well. That just happened.”
(lab lockdown three days = 76% probability Clint will confront him - left gauntlet repulsor needs recalibration, operating at 6% efficiency deficit compared to right - lockdown five days = 45% probability of confrontation - Dummy’s joints due for replacement, probability of metal fatigue cracks approaching 86%, unacceptably high - probability he’ll never kiss Clint again, never rub out the shoulder stiffness from holding the string back on his bow, never see him blearily stumble to the bathroom at seven in the morning again = 100% - check reactor wall for neutron breakdown damage, presenting symptom diffuse chest pain, damage probability = .00001%, new element absolutely compatible with reactor design, data insufficient - lockdown seven days = 30% probability of confrontation, acceptable probability.)
“JARVIS, lockdown, verbal permissions from me only.”
“There is food and water and shit down here, right? I won’t starve to death locking myself in here, not that humans can starve to death in a week, it takes a little longer than that, but dehydration, that could be a problem, but fuck, I have a sink, it’s fine, I’m not hungry anyway, I can’t fucking imagine being hungry - “ (probability of being hungry enough to choke anything down in the next 24 hours = 6%)
“The workshop is adequately supplied with the basic necessities for a one month period, sir, though I wouldn’t recommend trying it. I don’t imagine Agent Barton would allow it.”
Tony snorted. “Agent Barton is most especially not getting in here. No overrides, no Coulson, no nothing, JARVIS.” (probability of Clint attempting to circumvent lockdown, day one = 15%, day two = 95%, day three = 75%, day five = 47%, day seven = irrelevant - point of greatest vulnerability, taking into account Clint’s training and infiltration preferences = air vents)
“JARVIS. Make sure the air vents are included in the lockdown.”
If JARVIS weren’t such a self-contained computer program, he would have sighed. “Very well, sir.”
“Dummy! I think it’s time we replaced your joints. You don’t want to lose your grip on your fire extinguisher the next time I set myself on fire, do you? No, great, good, let’s - let’s just get to work.”
Chapter 8: Day Some-Fucking-Time (there's Before Clint, After Clint, and for a while it was Good, and now it's Not Good Anymore)
After JARVIS informed him of Clint’s sixth attempt to break into the lab, Tony assumed he’d been in the lab as long as he meant to to let Clint get over the initial instinctive reaction to rejection and start seeing the situation as logically as Tony was. Tony would, eventually, realize how wrong he was about that, but that was his own fault for not being more specific with JARVIS. JARVIS told him every time Clint tried to break in. He didn’t tell Tony he tried to break in several times a day. Really, he shouldn’t expect a computer program to do anything but take him absolutely literally when it was expedient for said computer program to do so.
Also, there was mysteriously no alcohol in his lab, a problem he felt needed rectifying ASAP.
So Tony stumbled out of his lab, squinting like Mole Man, and vaguely considering maybe even stealing some of Thor’s pop-tarts, those would probably go well with a bottle of something high proof, or at least give him something to chew on while he’s waiting for the latest toaster thing to do something interesting and running yet another diagnostic on the arc reactor. All the tests he’d run so far showed no neutron damage, but his chest was still fucking hurting, so obviously something was wrong with the thing. Not that he really gave a fuck.
Tony was rummaging through the cabinet, hoping there were some brown sugar and cinnamon pop-tarts left, when what to his wondering eyes should appear, but a great hulking Asgardian.
“Man of Iron!”
Tony banged his head against the cabinet door. “Thor, man, hey, sorry for raiding your toaster pastries here, I just wanted a snack - “
“Truly, you Midgardians possess unparalleled talents in confectionary, and these are the pinnacle of the delights this world has to offer.”
“Man, remind me to take you to La Notre one of these days - “
“And I am, as always, delighted to share my bounty with you, my friend.”
Tony paused. “Well, in that case, big guy, do you have any brown sugar and cinnamon hiding in here?”
Thor reached over his head and pulled a box of the desired pop-tarts from the back of the top shelf, just slightly beyond Tony’s ability to reach.
“Thanks, big gu-AACK!”
Chapter 9: Day Still-Fucking-Sucks
That had to be Natasha’s arm choking him out, and how on earth had he forgotten her delightful warnings from however fucking many days ago? Oh, that’s right, he hadn’t forgotten, but he was trying to do the right thing here, he was trying to keep from hurting Clint, so what the fuck was her damage?
“Lady Natasha!” Thor boomed, because Tony still hadn’t gotten around to teaching him about indoor voices. “Why are you accosting the Man of Iron so?”
Natasha threw a withering glance at Thor. “He knows why.” She jerked her arm a little, just to make Tony squirm. “I told you, didn’t I, Stark, what would happen if you fucked around with Clint? I know you think you’re terrified of me, and you should be, but just wait, Stark. Coulson’s the one you really need to be looking out for.”
Steve came running into the kitchen, following the sounds of Thor’s bellowing because it didn’t sound like Thor’s normal yelling and more like Thor was pissed.
“What is it, Tho - whoa! Natasha, put Tony down!”
Natasha didn’t even bother looking at Steve. “Stark knew the consequences of his actions. It wouldn’t be much of a deterrent if I let him get away with it unscathed, now would it?”
Steve shook his head. “Look, we’re all angry with Tony, alright? I told him that I was worried about the effect this could have on the team, but that doesn’t mean you can just assault him - “
Clint came jogging into the room, JARVIS having alerted him that Tony was out of the lab and under threat from Natasha in the kitchen, just in time to hear that little gem coming from the Captain.
“What in the actual fuck is going on around here? Natasha, get your hands off of Tony.”
Natasha was well-versed in all of Clint’s various tones and moods. This one said “one wrong move from any-fucking-one and I’m going to start ripping people’s spines out, and I don’t care who gets in my way.” She let Stark go and backed away, quick and smooth, hands up to show no threat.
Tony sucked in a couple of great, whooping breaths to get oxygen back in his system and clear the black spots from his vision, and looked up to see Clint. Clint was lined and frowning and yelling, everyone was yelling and he was so fucking tired and he actually felt the snap, somewhere inside him that he couldn’t even name, but he couldn’t take this anymore.
One more deep breath, and then, “Fucking motherfucking fuck, what do you fuckers want me to do? All I hear, all fucking week is how I’m not good enough and how you all expect me to fuck up, even Pepper and Rhodey, and you’re all right, okay, I did the math, math doesn’t lie and it doesn’t say one thing and mean another and it doesn’t expect me to figure out what you all want without giving me the equation and statistically, you’re right and I would inevitably fuck it up, probability of 62%, that’s unacceptably high so I did the only thing I could because I can’t be the one to make Clint stop laughing and I’m still wrong.”
Tony sucked in some more air, having used up all of it yelling himself half-sick, and covered his face with shaking hands, muttering to no one in particular “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, someone just please tell me what the hell to do…”
Clint got to him first, since everyone else was gawking particularly idiotically, and tucked Tony’s face into his neck and rubbed a hand up and down his spine, whispering “hey, ok, it’s ok, it’s all ok…” and glared at everyone who was still fucking staring, and said, “The rest of you, the fuck out, right the fuck now.”
Once the kitchen was deserted, he got back to the business of bringing his frantic boyfriend back down off the ceiling, or scraping him up off the floor, he’d pretty much emotionally exploded everywhere, and Tony was still apologizing, and Clint just would not have this shit.
“OK, OK, what’s 987 + 610?”
“1597,” Tony answered automatically, then hiccuped. “What?”
“Good, OK, 1597 + 987?”
“Seriously, what the - “
“Come on, answer the question - “
“2584, I don’t under - “
“Now 2584 + 1597”
“Are you getting me to recite the Fibonacci sequence?”
“Well, I’m trying, work with me here, we’re about as high as I can figure it out on my own, I need your math brain to do the rest.”
“OK, OK, 4181 - “
“Keep going, that’s right.”
“6765, 10946, 17711, 28657,” and with each number, sure enough, Tony was breathing easier and calmer and making Clint a little less scared.
“There we go, that’s better.”
“Are you actually rocking me back and forth like a little kid?”
“Yeah, I totally am.”
“OK. Just making sure.”
“Hope that’s OK, because it’s been a shit couple of days, and really, I could care less about dignity right now.”
“No, no, it’s pretty good actually. Let’s just, just keep rocking for a while. I can go with that.”
Chapter 10: Day 7 - Clint Gets Really Pissed Off
“JARVIS, tell the assholes to assemble in the goddamned living room. Make sure Pepper’s there too. Get Rhodey on a video link where ever the hell he is. It can wait until Pepper’s available, if she’s busy.”
“Yes, Agent Barton.”
“I’m going to get Tony to his room and put him to bed. Just… let me know when they’re all in there.”
Clint started towing Tony along, as best he could since Tony refused to remove his face from Clint’s neck. “Come on, baby, it is so, incredibly past your bedtime. You should have let me tuck you in for that nap two days ago, you wouldn’t be so wiped, come on, follow the leader, that’s it.”
Tony shook his head in his hiding place. “Wasn’t two days ago, I’ve been in the lab for a week. Haven’t you been sleeping?”
Clint snorted. “Tony, no, it’s only been two days - “
“No, I did the math, 47% probability of attempted lab breach by day five of lockdown, so I decided on a week, and JARVIS said you’d attempted six infiltrations, that’s six days, close enough - “
“For god’s sake, I tried to break in four times yesterday alone - “
Tony paused. “Four in one day?”
“I didn’t account for that in the math.”
“No shit. No offense, baby, but your math has been kind of shit for this whole thing.” Clint finally shuffled them both through Tony’s bedroom door, and got him settled on the bed.
Tony sniffled, and nodded. “OK. I’m going to admit, just this once, that my math may have been slightly off.”
“I’m only human, I can’t be right all the goddamned time.”
JARVIS interrupted this very special, unprecedented admission. “Agent Barton, the Avengers and Ms. Potts are assembled in the living room as you requested. Video uplink is being established with Colonel Rhodes right now.”
“Thanks, JARVIS. Tony, I’m going to go rip all our friends new assholes, hope that’s OK.” Clint turned to leave, but Tony grabbed his wrist to stop him.
“Look, Clint, about Natasha and Coulson… don’t be too hard on them.”
“Are you fucking kidding - “
“No, look, they were your friends for years before we even met, they were just doing their friend duty, it really wasn’t a big deal. I figured they’d threaten me, Pep and Rhodey would threaten you, everything’s rainbows and nothing hurts. But then Pep and Rhodey were saying the same things, and Steve was going on about team dynamics, and Bruce didn’t say anything, and I just realized that everyone thought I wasn’t good enough, and if the people who’ve known me the best and longest think I couldn’t do this, then it’d be safer to stop trying.”
Clint knelt on the floor to look Tony in the face. “Tony, babe, those people in there should know you well enough to know better, and if that fails, common goddamned courtesy should have told them that it was none of their fucking business. That’s why I’m going to tear them shiny new assholes.” He kissed Tony on the forehead.
Chapter 11: Day 7.25 - Avengers Assemble! For an ass-chewing, that is.
Clint entered the living room to find a mostly penitent and shell-shocked group of superheroes and civilians, the exception being Thor, who was just confused.
“Let me see if I understand this right. All of you, every last one of you, decided that my delicate sensibilities were in such danger that, let me repeat, every last one of you had to terrorize and threaten my boyfriend. And not one of you, goddamned superheroes every last one of you, noticed that, hey. Tony’s actually fucking terrorized! The people he lives with, works with, fights with, the closest thing he has to fucking family all systematically let him know that none of them think he has the ability not to hurt the people he loves. And now you’re goddamned surprised that he nearly had a nervous breakdown in the fucking kitchen?”
Clint broke off shouting and scrubbed his hands over his face. “My fucking Christ in a hairnet, this is the pinnacle of human perfection, meant to be responsible for saving or avenging the entire goddamned planet. Bring on the zombie apocalypse, because we are fucking fucked.”
Pepper cleared her throat. “Clint, really, we were… I just wanted to help him. Tony gets - so caught up in things, and he forgets the rest of us are here - “
“Stop, Pepper. You’re the only other one here who’s been able to see him trying. He tries so hard, Pepper, nobody ever taught him what he’s supposed to do, so he figures it out as he goes, and sure, sometimes he gets it wrong, what the fuck, do you expect him to be perfect? He’s Tony Stark, not Santa Claus.”
“Yes, he tries, but then he disappears, for days, into his workshop - “
“So do I! I disappear into five day missions where Tony can’t follow and can’t help! At least when he’s in his workshop I can go down there and make sure he’s still breathing. Tony doesn’t get to drag me out of my workshop when it’s on the other side of the planet and so classified I shouldn’t even know where I am.” Clint cut his hand through the air and shook his head, “That’s all irrelevant anyway, because that’s my and Tony’s business, no one else’s. If that was one of the issues between you two, well, no offense, but that was between you two to deal with, and it’s really not anymore.”
Rhodey decided to interrupt at this point, which, really, was not his brightest idea ever. “Look, Clint, Pepper and I have known Tony forever - “
Clint pointed an accusing finger at Rhodey. “That’s exactly my fucking point, Rhodey! He figures of all people, you know him inside and out and if you don’t have any faith in him, how the hell is he supposed to?”
Rhodey, finally, looked like he got it. “That’s not what I meant, Clint. I was trying to say that I could understand why other people would have concerns, if all they really knew about Tony’s lovelife was youtube footage and internet gossip. I never meant that I didn’t think he could hack a relationship with you.”
“Well, fuck, Rhodey, maybe you ought to tell him that.”
Rhodey nodded. “I will. I’ll call him - later, Thor said he looked like stir-fried crap, okay, he said he looked 'most unwell and fearsomely exhausted,' tomato, tomahto, I’ll let him get some rest before I attack him with a conversation about our feelings. Right now, I’m not even supposed to be on this uplink, so I’m gonna sign out.” He nodded at Clint and the other Avengers, looked amused for a moment at the depths of hangdog Steve had managed to descend in the last few minutes, and the screen blinked out.
Coulson decided to speak up, since Natasha was still exercising discretion as the better part of valor. “Clint, Natasha and I - “
Clint barely bothered to glare at them. “Save it, Phil. Look, you and Natasha are my oldest friends, and Tony wants me to go easy on you, because he says you were just doing your friend duty, and OK, pretty much what he says goes right now, but I’m still wrestling with the fact that Natasha put her hands on Tony with intent. Since I’d have already killed anyone not in this room who pulled that stunt, it’s messing with my headspace a little.” Coulson nodded. “Out of curiosity, though, what did you threaten him with?”
Coulson had the good sense not to even smirk. “I told him if he broke your heart, I’d run him through with a pitchfork and twirl his intestines up like spaghetti. He smiled and said OK.”
Clint blinked, and nodded. “OK, pretty good, succinct, descriptive, gory, and my gut kind of hurts just thinking about it. Save that one for Natasha’s next boyfriend.”
Then Clint turned on Steve and Bruce. “And now, you two get to explain what the actual fuck you were thinking.“ He crossed his arms and glowered at them. “I’m waiting with bated breath.”
If Steve’s face got any droopier, he’d probably turn into an actual basset hound. “I think Colonel Rhodes’s comment about internet gossip was directed at me.”
Clint rolled his eyes so hard they should have fallen out of his head. “No shit, Steve.”
“I was just… there’s always all this gossip about Tony, and all the people he used to sleep with, and those people are always telling stories to reporters about how he treated them, and I just worry about the team, and if all the pressure to produce technology for SHIELD and his company and to save the world and pressure from the media always speculating about when he’s going to screw up might be too much for him and he might backslide because if everyone in the world expects him to screw up there’s no incentive for him not to. And, I know we didn’t get along at first, but I was wrong about him, he’s a really good guy, and he doesn’t deserve all that. It all just - came out really, really wrong.”
Clint pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to remind himself that really, Steve was just a kid in his twenties and still had no idea how the modern media worked.
Bruce spoke up then, “And I… was a coward. I should have told Steve to cut it out, but I, I’m really not good with conflict, and I just, backed down instead of standing up for Tony. I’m sorry, it was selfish of me.”
Clint nodded. “OK. OK, Steve, first rule, someone has to teach you about modern media consumption and why not everything the television tells you is true. Natasha, I think you’d be perfect for that.”
Natasha glowered, but went back to her statue impression, figuring since Clint could definitely have come up with much more painful vengeance, discretion was still the better part of valor and she was going to try to stay under the radar.
“Bruce, as for you… man, I get your issues. But eventually, you’re going to have to learn to trust us as much as you want us to trust you. Don’t apologize to me. Apologize to Tony.”
Clint rubbed his hands over his face.
“Master Archer, I have a question.”
Clint sighed. Give him credit, this was probably the longest Thor had stayed silent since he’d met him. “Yeah, Thor?”
“What is this ‘shovel talk’?”
Clint snorted, then laughed. “It’s, uh, it’s pretty much exactly what Coulson said. It’s called the shovel talk because of this show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer - we’ll watch it later, but basically a person’s friends threaten that person’s significant other with gory, painful death if they should break said person’s heart. It’s supposed to be a way to demonstrate your concern for your friend’s well being, but this time, it obviously got out of hand.” Thor nodded his head, obviously puzzling over the whole thing, but Clint was confident he’d get it all straight eventually. OK, yeah, there was probably a Buffy marathon rapidly approaching in all their futures, but fine, whatever, Steve needed to catch up on modern slang anyway, it’s a wonder he could comprehend what anyone said to them, since modern Americans mostly spoke pop culture and internet-ese more than English.
Clint turned back to Steve. “And you know, Steve, you’re right about the pressure on Tony. Fury always wants new and better toys, and of course SI needs the R&D department to be on its A-game, and there’s nothing we can really do about the media, they’re gonna say whatever they’re going to say. But Tony is obviously exhausted, and you know, I haven’t actually slept in two days. So right now, I’m going to go take a nap with my boyfriend, and when we wake up, we are getting on his kick-ass private jet and going to Malibu for a week.” Clint looked around at the others. “Pepper, Coulson, SI and SHIELD are just going to have to deal with their own shit for the next seven days.” Pepper and Coulson looked a little pinched, but both nodded agreeably enough.
As Clint headed back to Tony’s bedroom, he heard Coulson offering to show Thor the relevant Buffy episodes, and laughed.
Chapter 12: Day After Clint Isn’t So Much Anymore and Time Really Is All Wibbly-Wobbly
Tony woke up, smelling Clint’s blanket, which he expected since he unrepentantly stole the thing, and feeling archer’s hands rubbing out his shoulders, which he totally didn’t, since he broke up with his boyfriend over a week (or maybe it was two days) ago.
“So, I’m guessing my completely undignified screaming nervous breakdown in the kitchen was not, in fact, a nightmare?”
“No, baby, that totally happened. You even cried in front of people.”
“Way to be reassuring.”
Clint laughed. “To be fair, there might have been a little eye leakage on my end as well. Plus I totally did the comforting, shushing, back-rubbing, rocking thing to make you feel better, I should get bonus points for that.”
Tony yawned, “Mmm, yeah, all the bonus points you want.”
Clint brushed a hand over Tony’s cheek. “You need to go back to sleep, but when you wake up for real, we’re getting a real meal into you, then we’re getting on your jet and heading to Malibu for an uninterrupted, unreachable week of vacation.”
Tony tried to stir, and protested, “A week, I can’t be out of touch for a week, R&D will fall apart, and Fury’s tech addiction withdrawal might actually kill him, and then where will we get another one-eyed pirate for a boss, I can’t exactly pick them up wholesale like Bruce’s pants, you know - “
Clint rolled his eyes, because even half-dead from exhaustion, Tony just couldn’t stop rambling, and pulled out the ultra-secret weapon. Tony’s eyes rolled back in his head, and he grunted, “ngh, no fair, you know the hair thing puts me out every… time… “
Clint grinned, and kept playing with Tony’s hair. “Whatever helps me keep up with you, genius.” He gave Tony a feather light kiss, and whispered, “I love you.”
Tony, mostly unconscious, sort of puckered his lips in Clint’s general direction a little and breathed, “love you too.”