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Well, Shit (He Hates Me)

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Clint Barton has a crush on Tony Stark.

 

It takes him a while to catch on, but in his defense, that’s Tony Stark we’re talking about here. Tony is the first to joke about how probably the entire world’s population is a little tonysexual , and to Clint, that makes way more sense than it probably should. Tony is a dangerous mix of charm-your-pants-off, way smarter than can possibly be good for anyone, and handsome.

 

So, at first Clint figures that he’s, just like everybody else, attracted to the genius billionaire. That’s probably just one of the common side effects that Being Around Tony A Lot has, and that’s that, it’ll pass.

 

Only it doesn’t. Pass, that is.

 

Clint catches himself watching Tony, fascinated with the way the engineer moves around. Tony does a lot of work with his hands, so of course that is a part of the engineer Clint caught himself focusing on.

 

“Your fingers are really nimble.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Uh, um, that thing you’re doing with the cables looks difficult.”

 

Tony raises his brows at Clint, then obviously shrugs it off. “Yeah, years of practice and the occasional electrical shock when forgetting to plug out whatever I’m working on made me become really good at this. These days,” and Tony grins widely, “I can tinker without unplugging whatever I want and not electrocute myself.”

 

“That sounds dangerous.”

 

“The word you’re looking for is time-efficient.”

 

“You really look like a supervillain smirking like that.”

 

“Supervillainy would look good on me.”

 

“Good thing your moral compass means you would never, huh?”

 

“Nah, the reason I couldn’t do it is that it’d be boring. Not enough worthy opponents.”

 

Tony winks, Clint laughs at the dig, knowing that Tony does not mean a single word of it, and inwardly shakes his head at himself. Nimble fingers? What the hell, brain?

 

Somewhere between getting into prank wars that become more about trying to make Tony laugh rather than annoy him (though, there’s a certain thrill, when Tony gets that glint in his eyes that promises I’ll come after you for this , too) and the realisation that while Clint is not privy to the passcodes to the workshop, Tony could’ve stopped Clint from entering his sanctum through the vents at any time but he never does (which gives Clint all sorts of emotions when he thinks about it, so he prefers not to do that) - Clint notices that he might be in deep. And when he encounters Tony asleep on the kitchen counter - the kitchen counter , what the fuck - and sees him drooling, Clint’s brain comments it with cute , and not even splashing water into the engineer’s face and watch him wake up spluttering makes the warm, fuzzy feeling go away.

 

Oh, yeah, Clint’s in deep. In deep shit .

 

He freaks out about it quietly, in private, with Natasha sending him Looks that mean she knows that something is up but will hold back from cornering him about it for now. Clint appreciates that. Honestly, he’s a little embarrassed - Tony definitely is out of his league. So far out of his league. He might as well be operating in another solar system, for what it’s worth. Clint’s just a dude who shoots arrows and leaps off of buildings a lot.

 

More often than not, he conveniently (ha, ha) leaps off of a building in a way that makes it so Iron Man is closest to catch him, too.

 

But he can do this. He’s faced all sorts of intergalactic threats, some small crush is not gonna defeat him.

 

So it’s a couple days later that he drops into Tony’s workshop through the vent again, sandwiches in tow as a peace offering and because Tony forgets to eat if you don’t put something within reach while he’s working. Tony smiles in greeting. “Good to have you back. I was starting to worry you’d taken to using the doors like a normal person,” he jokes, and Clint laughs.

 

This is good. Nothing has to change.

 

Clint will never, ever tell Tony about any of this. Because if he did, the fun might stop, and actually, Clint much rather ignores his feelings for a while than to face that possibility.

 


 

Tony Stark has lots of admirers all over the globe. This isn’t bragging; it’s true. Simple fact. Hey, Tony’s practiced his public persona, with all the shine, wine and razzle-dazzle, pretty much from age 7 and up. It’s only natural that he’s become really good at it, and that people respond to that.

 

(Even though, if anybody asks, Tony will deny that he razzle-dazzles . Sure, Bruce might have had a point when he said it-- along with Carol-- but that doesn’t mean that Tony has to like it, so there.)

 

So, admirers. Nothing new. Secret admirers, obsessive admirers, young and old-- he’s seen it all. Gotten kinda used to it, really.

 

But that doesn’t mean shit when it comes to people who don’t only like him, but like like him. To those, Tony is kind of oblivious. At best, he just denies that anybody catching Real Feels for him is possible. At worst, he’ll presume they’re smitten with his public persona, the Entertainer, or just really intrigued about what he’s like in bed.

 

He’s googled himself before, okay. There’s more than one subreddit talking about his sexual prowess, sexual fantasies involving him, or even just speculation about his genitals, and so on and so forth. The internet, man, it’s a magical place.

 

The point is, Tony is blinder than a bat to someone being honestly, seriously, really infatuated with him. Him, him. With the Tony who is a greasy mechanic, an absent-minded, forgetful workaholic, someone who forgets to shower when he’s in The Zone.

 

It’s maths, really, statistics - the chances of someone being attracted to all the less flattering parts of himself, when earth is full of better functioning adults, is near nil. Possible, since Pepper loved - loves - him, in her way, but in the end they didn’t work out, and he’s happy for her and Happy. Hah, get it? Anyways, he’s pretty sure they’re being disgustingly happy together, and they deserve that, both of them.

 

But someone liking Tony? Seriously, romantically, etcetera-- well, that’s something you have to write on something you can then repeatedly whack Tony with, and maybe, maybe he’ll get the message.

 

So, the fact that Clint likes him is something Tony is stubbornly unaware of. He’s maybe even slightly more stubbornly unaware of the fact that Steve likes him, too.

 

And, if we’re being honest, he’s not much better concerning the acknowledging of his own emotions, either. Falling in love, being in love, all that has never ended well for Tony. Best to pretend for as long as he possibly can that it ain’t gonna happen again.

 

Honestly, out of all the weirdoes that have moved into his place - he didn’t think he and Barton would hit it off as they did. But hit it off, they did.

 

And it really started on Day One. First time they really talked was after they fought together for the first time (that’s kinda backwards, but hey, most of Tony’s friends are people he hired , so the backwards part is not new).

 

New York. The day that still gives Tony nightmares, though these days he has other fun additions to his nightmarish visions. Wormholes kinda become less unsettling in the face of… all of his trauma combined. They’re in the penthouse, Thor half-dragging his brother out, Steve and Natasha (Natalie?) nodding before leaving, and then it’s just Clint and Tony, looking at each other, both exhausted, banged up and dirty.

 

“Hi, Tony Stark,” Tony eventually says, offering his hand.

 

Clint smirks at him, amused under the tiredness, and takes it. “Clint Barton. Have we met before?”

 

“I don’t think so. Just have one of those faces.”

 

Clint ends up crashing on a couch (which seems kind of stupid, yes , the penthouse got demolished, but also yes, Tony still has more extra guest rooms that are fully intact than he can count on the fingers of both of his hands), and as Tony watches him, reclining, looking relaxed but probably hyper-aware of any movement around him (damn spies), he thinks he should call Pepper.

 

Ask her what she thinks about remodelling the tower in the spirit of a super not-so-secret boyband plus the Black Widow.

 


 

Steve Rogers, as opposed to Clint, did not hit it off with Tony. In fact, they started badly, and then continued badly, all the way up to the alien invasion. Where Tony, that bastard , redeemed himself in the most heroic, self-sacrificing way he possibly could have.

 

And Steve is so, so glad that he comes out of that wormhole. That he asks if anybody kissed him. They shake hands and everything before they part, so they’re pals after that.

 

Things start to change, shift, in subtle ways, once the team has officially moved into Stark tower - or Avengers tower, because there’s the single “A” on the side, and Tony drops the name into casual conversation once, and the team (sans Thor) just exchange glances and it is quietly accepted as truth. Steve is the last one to join them. Even Thor has a room, although he is around much less than any of them, and that is counting all of the SHIELD mission Clint, Natasha and Steve get sent on.

 

It is the first time that he encounters, and Is Actually Around, Tony outside of an Iron Man setting. The man remains brash (although, Steve learns, there’s a certain tact to his brashness, some sort of odd kindness, really, in pointing out the obvious and making it into a thing that can be talked about), his humor odd, his train of thoughts impossible to follow (and that is unrelated to Steve being a man out of time, since even Natasha often shakes her head in a silent don’t look at me, this didn’t make sense to me either when he sends her a questioning look) - Tony is still all of the bad things that Steve pegged him as.

 

A show-off, a loud-mouth, someone who doesn’t know when to shut up (or worse, fully knows but willfully ignores it). But that’s not all there is to him. And the more Steve learns and sees of Tony being empathetic, generous and brilliant, the more another feeling starts blooming in his chest.

 

It’s not the same he’s felt for Bucky or Peggy, but it’s not less .

 

He starts sketching the blue holograms that seem to pop up out of nowhere around Tony in the oddest places of the building, and then increasingly sketches Tony, Tony’s hands, Tony frowning, Tony laughing at something Jarvis said, Tony clutching his coffee in the morning like a man wanting to drown himself in it.

 

There’s the feeling, and Steve honestly has no clue what to do about it.

 

Beating up bad guys is a welcome distraction, and he shrugs off Natasha’s suggested dates with a light-heartedness he doesn’t actually feel. Sometimes he wonders, if Natasha, the superspy, doesn’t see him looking at Tony. Surely she noticed? And if she did, why does she keep suggesting girls Steve should hang out with?

 

Steve, despite all of his bravado, doesn’t quite dare asking. He’s probably overthinking it, anyways. And after some time, Natasha suggesting dates to him and him rejecting it becomes almost an inside joke between the two of them, something they both pretend they’re not smiling about.

 

And if in between missions, Steve often prompts Tony to take a break from desk work, teaching him hand-to-hand combat Peggy Style, well, that’s not because he has a small crush or something, but because it makes sense, Tony knows some martial arts but less than anybody else on the team and it’s best to be prepared.

 

It’s reasonable. Even Tony agrees, so.

 


 

“Do I have a sign in front of my ‘shop that says ‘Walk-in Clinic for Your Electronic Appliances’?”

 

Steve pauses. Did Tony see through his scheme of ‘bringing broken things is the best way to spend time with Tony’? If yes, that might be a trick question. It’s little wonder that his response comes out sounding a lot like a question. “No?”

 

“Why thank you, Steve. I’m glad. Otherwise I’d have to assume I would have put that there while I was blacking out and that’s generally worrisome, almost got your first hearing aid fixed up, Clint--”

 

Tony signs something at Clint, and Steve’s ASL is rusty but he’s pretty sure that said ‘soon’, and Clint nods, giving the thumbs up in response.

 

“If you’re busy, I can come back later,” Steve suggests, and Tony shakes his head, snorting.

 

“Come on, Capsicle, you know me better than that. Lay it on me. Multi-tasking is only one of my many superpowers.” His fingers are moving, lightning-quick, not even the fact that he’s working on a tiny hearing aid slowing him down. The tech is under multiple magnifying glasses, and the speed at which Tony works is mesmerizing and really impressive.

 

Steve thinks most things Tony does are really impressive. It’s tempting, sometimes, to take all of the things he provides for granted, but he makes an effort to acknowledge that Tony goes above and beyond for the whole team, all of the time.

 

“So?” Tony prompts and Steve blinks, coming back to the situation at hand, unaware of Clint’s eyes on him.

 

“Oh, yeah. I broke my alarm clock, I was wondering if you could…?”

 

“Of course, Cap. How’re you gonna pay me?”

 

“I’ll ask Bruce to make his Carbonara for the team tonight.”

 

“Sold.” Tony pushes the chair back from the desk, hearing aid in hand, and gestures towards another desk. “Put it down over there, you’ll get it back stronger and better. Wanted to say faster , but I guess for a clock that wouldn’t be an advantage.”

 

He sends Steve a smirk, which Steve replies to with a smile, the Captain walking over to put his broken alarm clock on the indicated desk while Tony wheels his chair over to where Clint is sitting. It is not unusual for Clint to be really quiet when he doesn’t have his aids in or when they’re malfunctioning, so Tony doesn’t think any of it, smiling encouragingly and holding the small device up for Clint to see.

 

“Hold on, let me put it in for you, yeah?”

 

A nod. Tony leans in, carefully putting the device back in Clint’s ear. “There we go, our birdie has his hearing back,” he jokes, his smile wide. It dims only when Clint, instead of laughing, gives only a weak smile in return and gets up.

 

“Thanks, Tony. I’ll be off, there’s a thing I gotta do.”

 

“But I still need to fix your second hearing aid--”

 

“I’ll be back later.”

 

Before Tony has time for another word of protest, Clint is gone. The engineer frowns, then turns, meeting Steve’s gaze. “What was that about?”

 

“I really don’t know,” Steve admits, “maybe I should talk to him?”

 

“Are you asking me for permission? You’re the boss here, Steve. And if you’re asking for advice, I’m maybe not the best to ask, either. But yeah, you can go, I can look at your alarm clock now, it’ll be back where it belongs in-- ah, I see what’s wrong-- thirty minutes, top.”

 

“Right, thanks, Tony.”

 

Steve pats the engineer on the shoulder on his way out, Tony mumbling under his breath, already immersed in his work in a way that makes it look as if he didn’t feel the touch at all. It takes effort for Steve to wait until he’s outside of the workshop to exhale in a wistful sigh.

 


 

Clint saw the way Steve looked at Tony, really saw it, for the first time that day.

 

After, he starts paying attention, and Steve looks at Tony like this a lot. He’s not being subtle about it in the least. In fact, Clint can’t believe he’s never noticed it before. As Hawkeye, he’s got a reputation to uphold, for fuck’s sake, he can’t suddenly be blind to the way his teammates look at each other.

 

Anyways, Steve is crushing on Tony. Sure, Tony might not be aware of his good fortune, but hello, Steve Rogers, Captain America, the guy Tony was a fan of as a five-year old (Clint’s seen some pictures, they’re really adorable, he teased Tony for days )... Steve is a much better catch than Clint could ever hope to be.

 

Besides, Steve is one of his best friends, too. He couldn’t stand between those two.

 

Clint still drops by the workshop frequently because (he’s weak) Tony always has some fun upgrades, and just because Clint is not going to make any advances doesn’t mean he has to stop being Tony’s friend, right?

 

That is, until a week later, when “Captain Handsome” becomes Tony’s new nickname for Steve. Clint finds all sorts of justifications to not look at Tony at all.

 

Guess he can’t stay friends with him, after all. At least not… as close as they were, up to now. Hearing this, and pretending everything is fine… well, it’s hard, and a harsh reminder that Clint himself just isn’t good enough. Besides, maybe, Clint reasons, he shouldn’t hang around Tony so much. He might be getting into Steve’s way without meaning to. That would be bad, right?

 

Right.

 

He’ll just stop… going into the workshop for a while. Can’t be that hard. Chances are Tony won’t even take notice.

 


 

Tony is in a foul mood.

 

Something’s felt off for - days, at least that Tony is somewhat consciously aware of, but today is being especially terrible. Actually, today should just quit while it’s ahead, Tony glaring at his screens.

 

“Jay, what day is it?”

 

“Thursday, Sir.”

 

“Thursdays should be cancelled.”

 

“I will note it in the agenda, Sir.”

 

Yep, today is horrible. Not even the dry humor of his robot friend/butler makes things any better. Tony sighs, dropping his head into his hands, rubbing at his temples with minimal motivation.

 

“If I may ask, what is so terrible about this Thursday in particular, Sir?”

 

“Well--” Tony pauses the movement of his hands, then, very slowly, lifts his head to blink at the screens in front of him again, “--I don’t know. I feel-- I don’t know .” He huffs, frustrated at himself.

 

“Would you like to call someone?” Translating this from JARVIS-to-English, that is about the equivalent of the AI saying that this newest human nonsense is beyond him. Tony smiles.

 

“Is Rhodey stateside again?”

 

“He arrived this morning.”

 

“Bring out Shotgun, let’s visit him.”

 

“Yes, Sir. Preparing Mark 40.”

 


 

“You look tired. Isn’t it usually you say that?”

 

“I’m exhausted, Tones.”

 

“I guess I can leave you to sleep it off or something--”

 

Rhodey snorts, shaking his head. “You fly all the way out there and don’t blurt out the problem in my doorway? No way, dude. Come in. That’s an order.”

 

Tony gives his best friend a look that hopefully conveys ‘you are aware I’m wearing a high-tech suit of body armor and you can’t force me to do shit, right?’, but steps in anyways, the armor opening up around him as soon as the door’s closed - and then Tony’s hugging Rhodey tightly.

 

“Glad you’re back in one piece, Rhodey.”

 

“Me too,” comes the reply, Rhodey hugging Tony back. They stand in the hallway like that for a couple moments before Rhodey nudges him. “Want some coffee? I’m having some.”

 

“It’s like you don’t even know me,” Tony jokes, and Rhodey rolls his eyes, lips quirked into a smile.

 

“So how’s it going with Carol?” Tony asks, innocent enough, having trailed after Rhodey into the kitchen. James gives him a look from under raised brows, then gives a slight headshake.

 

“You know she’s on this extended space mission. Before she left, we decided we’d take a break.”

 

“You’re giving her space.”

 

“I’m too fucking tired for your puns,” Rhodey complains, but Tony doesn’t take it too heart, since he’s laughing too. “But, yeah, I guess. We’ll see where we’ll both be at when she gets back.”

 

“Okay, I’ll lean out of the window here and say, from the way you look and sound when you talk about her, you’re gonna tell her that it’s okay for you to share her with space.”

 

“Pretty much.”

 

“If you want, I can give your baby some deep space upgrades--”

 

“Thanks, Tones.” They share a smile, Rhodey offering a fresh cup of coffee which Tony takes without hesitation (his ‘ I don’t like to be handed things ’ tick never surfaces around Rhodey, which is nice).

 

“Maintenance?”

 

“Did it myself. Lila helped out. But yeah, I’ll come around yours, let you check her out again.”

 

“Are you just doing this because you know I’m worrying?”

 

“Yeah. Lila and me got the maintenance under control as long as we don’t need to replace parts. We don’t really have the materials for that.”

 

Tony smiles into his cup, nodding. “Smart girl. She could take up your suit after you.”

 

“I really hope she doesn’t,” Rhodey says, although good-naturedly, “but she’d have the qualifications in both of our books.”

 

“Definitely.”

 

Rhodey sheperds Tony into the living room, where they both sit down on the couch and lapse into a companionable silence. Which Tony probably should’ve been suspicious of, in retrospect, since Rhodey doesn’t even finish his coffee before he puts his cup down and leans forward, giving him a serious side-eye.

 

“So, spill. Who is it?”

 

“Who is what?” Tony asks, displaying a nonchalance he definitely doesn’t feel, half-heartedly hiding behind his coffee cup.

 

“The person you’re mooning about.”

 

“What? Rhodey. Honeybear. Sweet cheeks, come on, that’s crazy talk, I don’t moon.”

 

Rhodey gives him a look (which Tony knows as the ‘alright lemme educate you’ look), folding his hands. “Okay. You turned up here, obviously stressing about something. It can’t be work, since you’d have spilled that before setting a single foot inside. Me and Pepper are both on ‘is Tony dying more than usual this week’ watch, it’s her turn, and she didn’t ring the alarm, so that can’t be it. Since being in here, apart from talking about the suit, all you did is ask about my girlfriend and drink coffee. Conclusion?”

 

“Don’t say it.”

 

“You’re mooning.”

 

“I am not. Mooning. At all.”

 

“Right, let’s say I believe that,” Rhodey allows, his tone alone conveying that he Really Doesn’t, which has Tony pouting, “what’s the problem?”

 

When Tony opens his mouth, he fully intends to say ‘nothing’. Instead, what comes out is “Clint probably hates me. Wait, what did I just-- what--”

 

Rhodey smiles, shaking his head but patting his friend on the shoulder. He recognizes that look - that is Tony feeling betrayed by his own mouth. It has happened before, and it’s really for the best to just give him a couple moments to process it.

 

“So, the person you call Birdbrain is the person you’re crushing on? Tones, I have some news to you about the pulling of pigtails.”

 

“That it’s harmful to propagate the idea that someone who is willfully and physically harming you is showing affection in a really messed up way?”

 

“Yep. And that it doesn’t work. I’ve seen you be smooth, you gotta do better than make Robin Hood cracks if you wanna get the message across that you like the guy.”

 

Tony stares at Rhodey, then leans forward, staring at his cup of coffee. “--shit.”

 

“Hey, now. Don’t worry. I’ll give him the shovel talk, it’s gonna be fine.”

 

But Tony doesn’t react to the light joke, a frown appearing on his face. “No, Rhodey, I’m-- I’m fucked in the non-fun way. He doesn’t-- I’m pretty sure he actually hates me. Or just doesn’t wanna hang out with me, which, same difference, he has been actively avoiding me, I never fixed his second aid, I think he just got a new one instead, and I mean, that’s saying something right there, that he can’t even stand being in a room with me long enough to--”

 

“Tony, stop. Stop it.” Rhodey takes Tony’s (empty) cup of coffee from his hands, puts it down, and very lightly slaps his friend’s cheek. “No. Okay? He doesn’t hate you. Because if he does, I’m gonna have to come over and kick his ass for continuing to live in your building.”

 

“Uh, of course he can live in the tower, he’s got a floor--”

 

“Tones. If he hates you, I will come over and kick his ass . Because he’s not allowed to hate you while you show him nothing but generosity and friendship, okay?”

 

“But I--”

 

Rhodey ignores that feeble attempt at protest, talking right over Tony. “If at any point in time your team decides you’re not good enough anymore? Fuck them. Okay? You deserve better, and I’ll always have your back.”

 

Tony nods, though he’s looking at his hands now - a common reaction to too much emotion as far as he’s concerned. “Yeah, I. Same to you, Rhodey. You know that, right?”

 

“Of course. Listen, my advice? Instead of wallowing, you try and talk this over. Ask Barton what’s up.”

 

It’s really good advice Rhodey is giving him.


Tony doesn’t follow it.

Chapter Text

Clint manages to make maybe three steps out of the office before he feels his neck prickle in a way that indicates he's getting glared at. The archer pauses, considering to just ignore it, pretend he didn't notice and keep walking - but from experience, that action brings with it a risk of getting kicked in the head, or getting his legs kicked out from under him. Turns out, Russian spies don't like being willfully ignored.

 

"Natasha," he says, and turns around.

 

"Clint," comes the answer, and Natasha steps out of the corner she's been leaning against, and sure enough, she's glaring.

 

Oh boy.

 

"Are you gonna smack me?"

 

"And give you time to prepare by announcing my attack? No. Explain to me why you'd ask for a solo mission overseas?"

 

"They-- Fury needed a sniper."

 

"SHIELD has many snipers."

 

Clint gives her a sheepish look, reaching up to rub at his neck. "Yeah."

 

"You asked him to give you a mission you could run alone. As far away as possible."

 

"Sorry, Nat."

 

"Don't apologize. Explain to me what has you wanting to run off to Kurdistan."

 

Clint is not particularly surprised that Natasha has definitely heard all of that conversation. They're spies, and they know not to expect to keep secrets from each other for very long. "I just need to get away."

 

"And why is it so important that you go alone?" Without me?

 

"Listen, Nat, it's-- it's personal. I just need to figure this out for myself."

 

There is a beat of silence, then Natasha nods. "I changed my mind, I do want to smack you. Meet you on the mat in ten."

 

"Aw, Nat."

 

Resistance is absolutely futile.

 


"You're not telling me the real reason," Natasha somehow manages to say in a completely calm tone, even as she accompanies the words by various jabs, blocking Clint when he switches up to offense and using the brief opening to throw him off his feet. Clint throws his weight to the side, landing on his feet instead of face-down on the mat, not unlike a cat.

 

"No," he admits, and catches Natasha around her midriff.

 

Some SHIELD personnel are gathering to watch them spar, both of them going back and forth for a while, their fighting a fluid exchange, graceful and easy between the occasional hit accompanied by a grunt.

 

"So you're not going to tell me," Natasha says, low and dangerous, her lower arm pressed at his neck, and Clint grins, almost-but-not-quite apologetic.

 

"Nope."

 

Natasha narrows her green eyes at him, and the punches become more forceful, the kicks coming faster and with more intent. Clint gives as good as he gets, until she lands a punch directly in his solar plexus, hard enough to suck all the air out of his lungs. He goes down with an oomph, and Natasha gives him no chance to recover, following it up with a hand pressed to his throat.

 

If you were an enemy, this would be a knife. This fight is over.

 

"I will find out eventually," she says, and Clint smiles, a little lop-sided.

 

"You know, I'm sure you will."

 

Natasha doesn't look pleased with that, but she gets off of him, draws Clint up by way of offering a hand, which he takes, and then they're both standing. The grip on his hand is tight to the point of it being painful, but Clint returns her look calmly.

 

"Take care of yourself in Kurdistan."

 

"Of course."

 

"It's probably safe to assume that whatever this is, you're being an idiot about it."

 

"Probably."

 

Natasha exhales deeply. In her, that is the equivalent of an exasperated huff. Clint just continues to smile at her in this slightly lop-sided way of his. Really, Natasha doesn't need to make him having emotions her problem. Some time away, some getting chased down by thugs, and maybe he won't think of Tony all the time.

 


"It's kind of funny that I of all people would bring it up," Bruce begins, "but there seems to be a lot of tension around here lately."

 

Natasha almost snorts. "You do seem like the most relaxed person in the tower right now."

 

"Funny, right?"

 

"A little."

 

"Any idea what's going on?"

 

"The only thing I know for sure is that Clint's being an idiot."

 

"If that has an influence on this situation, it's impressive, considering he's being an idiot a couple thousand miles away from New York."

 

"Tell me about it. But no, I don't really know what's got the boys in turmoil."

 

As if on cue, Steve walks into the kitchen, obviously freshly showered. He pours himself some orange juice, then drops into one of the chairs at the counter, where he seems to contemplate the glass of OJ intensely. Bruce and Natasha share a look.

 

"Hey, Steve," Bruce says.

 

"Hi," comes the reply, Steve at least making the effort of lifting his head and plastering an unconvincing smile onto his face.

 

If Natasha's eyebrows would climb any higher on her forehead, they'd disappear into her hairline. "What's up, Steve?"

 

"I, uh. Nothing."

 

"You are a terrible liar."

 

Steve blushes a bit at that, pulling his shoulders up in a shrug. "I don't know, Tony's been in a really bad mood for the last week. He's been a little off for a while, but a week ago it really took a downward spiral. Don't really know what to do... he's been snippier than usual."

 

Again, Bruce and Natasha exchange a glance.

 

"Don't worry about him being snippy," Bruce says, his voice gentle, "Tony has his phases, he'll come around."

 

"Yeah, I don't know, it feels like there's more to it. Almost as if he hates me."

 

If Clint was here, Natasha thinks, he'd spew his drink all over the table hearing these words out of Steve's mouth. Then she blinks. Wait a minute.

 

"A week ago, you say?"

 

"Yes," Steve confirms, brow creased in mild confusion. Natasha nods.

 

"It's not you."

 

"Huh?"

 

"He's not in a mood because of you, and I know he doesn't hate you, Steve. You have a training session later, right? Talk to him."

 

"I, um, I guess."

 

"If you don't," Natasha says, leaning forward, "I will make you regret it."

 

She walks out of the kitchen before Steve or Bruce have formulated a response to that.

 

"Somehow," Bruce says, "I don't think she means she'll beat you up."

 

Steve has to laugh at that. "You know, I think you're right."

 

Five minutes later, Bruce's phone beeps with a message.

 

I figured it out, it says. From Natasha. There's an emoticon at the end rolling its eyes.

 


"Focus," Steve says, and then promptly lands a kick that brings Tony to the mat again.

 

"Crap," Tony says, with lots of feeling, and accepts Steve's hand, letting the other pull him to his feet again.

 

"What's the matter, Tony? You're distracted."

 

"Nothing's the matter."

 

"Really." Tony braces himself - and promptly lands on the mat again after the next selection of punches. "You gotta admit you're normally not that easy to get off of your feet."

 

Briefly, Tony closes his eyes, then opens them again, pouting at Steve. Steve's lips twitch, as if he was trying to suppress a smile, and not being all that successful about it. "Don't worry about it, Captain Handsome. I just got my head elsewhere--"

 

As soon as he's on his feet, Steve tackles him, and Tony tries to use the supersoldier's weight and momentum against him, but he's not quick enough - they both go down, and it takes only a brief tussle before Tony is raising his hands, palms outward. "Okay, I give up! Surrender! White flag! You win!"

 

He's breathing heavily, but Steve, who's basically lying on top of him, looks fresh like a summer breeze. Of course. Somehow, that's really annoying to Tony.

 

And that's when they both pause. Steve notices, almost absently, that he's close enough that it would only take a little movement to kiss that goatee, potentially see what beard burn would feel like...

 

Tony's expression is carefully blank, breaking the moment by tapping Steve on the shoulder. "Hey, let me up."

 

"Oh, yeah, of course, sorry." Steve blushes a little, getting up hurriedly and offering his hand to the engineer, which the other accepts. And then they're both standing, and silently staring at each other, Tony with a little frown, Steve feeling his cheeks warming up.

 

"Okay, what was that?"

 

"Geez, Tony..."

 

"Listen, I know that look. You were about to kiss me."

 

"Yeah, I guess I was."

 

Tony takes a step back, throwing his hands up in the air. "Why? Why would you even think about that--?"

 

"I like you, Tony."

 

It is actively painful, seeing the disbelief on Tony's face. "You like me?"

 

Steve feels his chest contract, reminds himself to keep breathing. This is not... Tony is not taking this well. "And you just called me Captain Handsome, so I thought--"

 

"That what? I wanted to climb you like a tree?!" Tony takes another step back as Steve visibly flinches, shakes his head. "No, I'm sorry, that was-- harsh, give me a moment, I--" The engineer takes a breath, rubbing a hand over his lips. "I'm really sorry, Steve, it's just-- you're my friend, you're a great team leader, and you are handsome, but you catch me at a bad beat. Worst timing, probably."

 

"Yeah?" Steve prompts, as Tony falls silent, and Tony draws his shoulders up.

 

"Yeah. I'm, well, I'm kinda-- I mean, there's someone I like, and I don't think they like me, and so, there's that."

 

"If it makes you feel better, I'm in the same boat."

 

Tony chuckles, pulling a face. "That was terrible, Rogers. But, seriously, you-- you deserve better."

 

"Better?"

 

"Yep."

 

"I think that's a decision I can make for myself."

 

"Uh-huh," Tony says, his tone of voice implying he doesn't really trust Steve's judgment on this, "but we butt heads on everything, Steve. Even our friendship-- our friendship takes so much work. I think, I mean, I feel like that's not a good basis for a serious relationship. Some casual sex, sure--"

 

"Really, Tony?"

 

"--but, see, I think if you meet someone who's good for you and with you, then it's, well, it's gotta be easier. Calmer, in a way. I just-- I really appreciate you're my friend, I can't, I can't see this working out as anything else."

 

Tony looks as pained as Steve feels, and isn't that kind of backwards? That Steve finds himself, in this situation, and wanting to comfort Tony?

 

"Hey, Tony, it's alright, okay? We're adults. I can take no for an answer."

 

"Yeah, but I feel like a piece of trash for being the one that says no," Tony replies, his tone of voice joking - but somehow, Steve is pretty sure that Tony just uses that tone to hide how serious he is about this.

 

"Alright, that's enough. We're still friends, Tony, we will stay friends, and our training isn't over."

 

"Seriously?"

 

"Seriously."

 

"Fine, I guess it's fair you get to punch me some more after that."

 

Steve laughs, wondering how anybody in their right mind could Not Like This Man Back. It seems utterly impossible to him.

 


When Steve checks his phone after the training session, he's gotten a new message from Natasha.

 

Sorry, it says, with a sad face at the end.

 

Steve shakes his head (he never knows whether Natasha uses these emoticons ironically or not), and types back it's fine, we sorted it out.

 

- Want a date? I know a couple girls and boys.

 

- no thank u... a friend would be nice tho

 

- Fine, Rogers. I'll get you vodka and ice cream.

 

- will u paint my nails too

 

- Don't push it.

 

Steve snorts at that one, and when Tony sends him a questioning look, only says, "it's a girl's night, sorry, Tony."

 


"So, what you're saying," Bruce says, slowly, "is that Clint likes Tony, and Tony likes Clint, and they're both convinced the other hates them?"

 

"A little dramatic, but I guess you can put it like that," Natasha replies, refilling Steve's glass with vodka and handing it to him. He downs it in one go, as he did the other four, and returns to his chocolate ice cream.

 

"Kinda feel like I'm in high school with all this gossip," the blond says, still stone cold sober, of course.

 

"You kinda are," says Natasha, smiling sweetly at him.

 

"What I don't understand," Bruce interjects, "is why we're talking about this at all."

 

"Because both Clint and Tony are idiots," Natasha explains, "and I need at least one reasonable adult to give me input on this. That's you, by the way."

 

"Really? Because I was not the gossipy kinda guy in high school. More science nerd."

 

Natasha doesn't bother responding to that beyond raising an eyebrow at Bruce, then stealing a bit of ice cream off of Steve. "The real question is, what are we gonna do about them? Because so far, the only thing could think of is to lock them up together until they either see reason or start eating each other."

 

"Creepy."

 

"Thank you."

 

Steve shakes his head at his teammates. "They're adults. They can figure this out on their own."

 

"Don't get ahead of yourself, Steve," Bruce interjects, mildly, "I'm the reasonable adult here."

 

Natasha rolls her eyes at the both of them. "Both of you are useless. Let's talk about setting Steve up instead."

 

Steve groans around a mouthful of chocolate ice cream. Bruce laughs.

 


"You know that Clint's on assignment in Kurdistan."

 

Tony looks up warily, frowning at Natasha. "Is this a trick question? And also yes. Unless you wanna accuse me of hacking government files again, in which case, what, I've no idea what you're talking about--"

 

"He needs you."

 

For a moment, Tony just opens and closes his mouth like a fish in slow motion. Natasha manages to suppress her amusement, but it's a close call. "--he what?"

 

"He needs support over there. You're the best choice. I know you made upgrades to your supervelocity armor..."

 

"How? How do you know that? It's just not fair, I wanna know your spy secrets, too, but no--"

 

"...so you can be over there fastest out of all of us. JARVIS has the coordinates."

 

"What is happening right now, I don't--"

 

"Just go."

 

Tony blinks. "I mean, I guess I can be there in an hour flight time, but--"

 

"Thank you." Natasha crosses the distance between them, kissing Tony on his forehead. "Good luck."

 

"I'm-- thanks? You're welcome? What?"

 


 

"Hi, Rhodeybear!"

 

"I'm not gonna like this, am I?"

 

"Is that any way to pick up the phone? Really, I am hurt--"

 

"Yeah, yeah, I love you too, Tones. Now spit it out."

 

"I'm on my way to Kurdistan."

 

"Oh, no."

 

"Oh, yeah."

 

"You're already halfway across the ocean, aren't you." Rhodey doesn't even phrase it as a question. He knows Tony too well.

 

"Better late than never?" It doesn't take that much imagination for Tony to be able to visualize his best friend facepalming. He, too, knows Rhodey pretty damn well.

 

"Tony, if you go off to get hurt in a warzone, I will hunt you down and spank you--"

 

"Wow, listen to that, for once it's not me making things weird!"

 

"I am warning you--"

 

"I can feel the love, truly."

 

"Please watch yourself, you idiot."

 

"I'm a genius."

 

"Sure. Sometimes."

 

"Hey!"

 

"Watch. Yourself."

 

"I will. Call you when I fly back."

 


Clint takes the stairs two steps at once, his mantra a simple one of fuck fuck fuck fuck. He shouldn't have been made like that. This is bad. He's gotta get out of here quickly. ASAP. Natasha will kill him when he gets back with another bullet wound just because he Insisted on taking this mission on by himself. He slams the door of the safe house - more like a safe apartment, but whatever - behind him, drops his sports bag with a heavy thump.

 

And promptly forgets all about hurrying, freezing in place at the sight before him.

 

"Tony?"

 

"Tasha said you needed me."

 

"That's what she meant with that text..." (For future reference: it's hard running from something that can follow at Mach 5.)

 

"So, what's up, you look, uh, frazzled."

 

"Ah, the safe house might be compromised..." Clint trails off, blinking at Tony. "You're oddly... tall."

 

"Actually, I'm floating a couple inches above the ground," the engineer says, waving vaguely at his feet. "New generation of camouflage armor. It's pretty cool."

 

"Huh. Yeah it is. I really can't tell you're wearing it, apart from the floating thing, I guess..."

 

Tony preens a bit, because he can't help himself, then coughs. "Yes, so. Help? What, uh, do you need me to do?"

 

"Honestly, I... the mission's pretty much over."

 

"Huh."

 

"Yeah."

 

"Well, okay then, because there's another thing I wanted to ask you." The armor around Tony shimmers to life, then Tony's face is gone behind a faceplate - and reappears again, the armor opening up around him, Tony stepping out. Now he's at usual Tony-height again, Clint observes, thinking aw, brain at himself for how... stupid that thought was.

 

"Maybe you shouldn't walk around without armor here--"

 

"Not a question I wanna ask you while wearing armor," Tony says, shaking his head, "why've you been avoiding me?"

 

Aw, crap. Clint worries his lower lip, considering denying that he did anything of the sort, considering telling Tony that he's just been busy, considering laughing it off.

 

"Steve," he says instead, blurting it out, really.

 

"What?" Tony looks confused.

 

"Steve," Clint repeats, takes a breath. "Steve likes you. I didn't wanna get in the way."

 

Rapidly, Tony's expression closes off after Clint's gotten a brief glimpse of him looking decidedly unhappy. Aw, crap. "That's very noble of you and all, but I find it kinda weird that nobody bothered to ask me for my opinion here--"

 

"You started calling him Captain Handsome."

 

"Seriously?! Why does everybody take that as a come-on? I don't flirt with people by calling them Captain Handsome!" Tony gets right up in Clint's face, an irritated glint in his eyes. Clint lowkey expects he's gonna get punched. "Clint, I actually--"

 

The sound of glass breaking has both of their heads whip towards the window, a grenade rolling towards their feet.

 

"Aw, crap," says Clint.

 


Clint finds himself between Iron Man and the floor, the both of them surrounded and covered by heavy rubble.

 

"Hey," he taps the side of the helmet, just to make sure he's got Tony's attention. "Claustrophobia an issue?"

 

"Thank fuck that's a no. Although I really don't like caves."

 

"Is this really so different from a cave?"

 

"The ceiling falling on our heads? Yes it is."

 

"Right."

 

"It's a ceiling, Clint."

 

"Totally different from a cave."

 

There's a pause.

 

"Just to be clear, when you said the safe house might be compromised, what you meant was that we might be shot at or otherwise attacked any moment?"

 

"Pretty much."

 

"Maybe lead with that next time."

 

"Hey, I kinda did."

 

"And you'd be kinda dying if I hadn't made it to the armor and then to you in time. Which I only could do because the armor was right behind me--"

 

"But you made it, and I'm fine. Don't worry about me."

 

"That's honestly so aggravating. I feel like I understand Pepper so much better right now."

 

Clint rolls his eyes, idly poking at a piece of rubble. "So, can you get us out of here?"

 

"Not sure I could, and right now, I don't wanna risk it," Tony replies, sounding pinched, "too many civillians... they're scrambling to leave the building right now. If I move, and the attackers have eyes on us, they might just decide to do worse. Plus I might accidentally get you crushed under rubble."

 

"Right. So we're stuck for the moment."

 

"Seems that way."

 

There's a moment of silence. Clint wonders if it's weird that the position he's in feels kinda, well, compromising, Iron Man above and all around him. And Tony is in the suit. He's gotta distract himself before he gets a weird boner. "So, what did you wanna say, before we got interrupted by a grenade?"

 

The faceplate retracts, Tony meeting Clint's gaze. "I'm holding up about a half ton of rubble, and you wanna have a heart to heart?"

 

"I can think of worse things we could be doing."

 

Clint bites his tongue as soon as the words are out of his mouth, but Tony-- Tony actually laughs. Huh.

 

"Okay, yeah, that's a good point, but it's just-- if we have a heart to heart now, and I inevitably make things awkward, there is nowhere you could go. You can't even take a single step away from me."

 

"Awkward doesn't scare me. I've been through much worse cases of awkward before..."

 

"I bet that sounded much better in your head."

 

"Yeah, it did. But you're stalling."

 

"Pushy," Tony grumbles, exhaling deeply. "Alright. I was about to tell you that it doesn't matter whether Steve likes me, because-- I mean, I like him, but as a friend, you know? So, that sucks for Steve, but it means you not talking to me was extra sucky of you."

 

"Are you still stalling?"

 

"Shut up." Tony pouts, half-heartedly glaring at the archer, then briefly closes his eyes. "I mean I guess I was about to tell you that I like you. Just like a high schooler, probably. That 'who likes who' stuff feels like it would belong in high school, not that I know, I kinda spent most of my teen years at uni-- and you're not saying anything. What did I say? Now I made things super awkward. I'd give you some space, but there is no space and you can't say I didn't warn you, because I did--"

 

Clint opens his mouth, but getting a word in edgewise is impossible, Tony is not pausing for breath. Well, I did always wanna try to shut him up like this.

 

He leans up, pressing his lips to Tony's in a chaste kiss.

 

The angle is awkward, neither of them can move much, Clint reaches one hand up but all he can feel is cold metal under his fingers instead of a warm body, but Tony's lips are warm and nothing else matters, it feels fantastic. Clint likes to claim he isn't the type to wax poetry, but kissing Tony for the first time - even when that first time is with the both of them stuck under a pile of rubble - feels like it should be accompanied by angels singing. Falling rose petals. The whole nine romantic yards. Maybe a violin playing. Someone singing a love song in Italian, in reference to Tony's heritage...

 

When he draws back, Tony's expression is easiest to be described by the adjective shocked. His brown eyes are wide, his mouth open, and there's no word coming out of his mouth. Clint attempts a weak kind of smile - and then there's a sound above them that sounds a lot like--

 

"Wait a minute, are those repulsors?" Tony's entire face lights up. "Oh, I know who this is. We're saved!"

 

Clint huffs an amused chuckle, lowkey despairing over how adorable Tony is when he looks happy. Which he does, right now. Probably not because of the kiss or anything, so Clint shouldn't get his hopes up too much, but still. The rubble above them shifts and moves, until the big piece right above their heads gets lifted - and Tony looks up into Rhodey's displeased face, smiling widely. "Rhodeybear!"

 

"You," James Rhodes says, glaring at Clint.

 

"Aw, crap," Clint says.