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Glitches and Hang-ups in the Process of Adjustment

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"Come on, Nat. At least give it a try," Clint said, walking backwards in front of Natasha through a corridor in Stark Tower. They were both dressed in plain clothes, Natasha in a summer dress and black heels that clicked on the floor, and Clint in a dark red t-shirt and faded black jeans.

 

"Tony will be upset if you don't stay," Clint continued. "And upsetting Tony upsets Bruce these days, so, you know..."

 

"Don't be ridiculous. Stark trusts me about as far as he can throw me."

 

"But that was before you saved Manhattan."

 

"Before he saved Manhattan," Natasha corrected.

 

"Before you closed the portal in the precise moment that would keep Iron Man on one side and the nuclear blast on the other. He's got to thank you for that one."

 

Natasha looked like she was going to argue, but Clint cut her off.

 

"Look, I get if you want to keep your distance. But I think you could get used to these people. And if not, you could learn how they work, you know, for future reference. Oh and? Stay for one day--twenty-four hours--and I will never mention Antalya again. Promise."

 

Natasha sighed. "You'd better not."

 

With that, they made it to the elevator. The doors opened after Clint swiped a handprint.

 

"Welcome to Stark Tower, Agent Barton, Agent Romanov."

 

"Thanks, JARVIS!" Clint said. Natasha nodded at the camera.

 

The elevator doors opened to the kitchen on the 48th floor.

 

Thor and Steve were standing at the counter. Steve looked up when Clint and Natasha stepped off the elevator, but Thor remained embroiled in what appeared to be a struggle with a toaster.

 

"Hey, Natasha, Clint" Steve said. "It's good to see you! How have you been?"

 

"Doing well," Natasha answered politely. "You?"

 

"Hanging in there," Steve smiled. "Bruce has been teaching me about microwaves."

 

"Really?" Natasha asked.

 

"Yeah! Although, for now, what I'm getting out of it is that it's a transformer hooked up to a diode and a capacitor, which is in turn hooked up to some sort of microwave emitting magical unicorn."

 

"Is that so?"

 

He smiled and rotated the microwave oven by about 60 degrees; taped to the side of the microwave was a diagram with "How Microwave Ovens Work" written across the top that depicted exactly what Steve described: capacitor, transformer, diode, unicorn.[1] Then, he turned the microwave back and opened it, taking out a mug a tea.

 

Natasha stared at him.

 

"Hey, at least he didn't try to convince me that only virgins could use them," Steve continued. "That was all Tony."

 

"I believe it," Natasha said.

 

"Oh, but, please don't tell Bruce about the tea," Steve added gesturing at the mug in his hand. "He doesn't approve of tea in microwaves."

 

"I won't tell," Natasha promised. "But for the record, I don't approve either. You can't see it, but I am internally cringing right now."

 

"I'm sorry?" Steve offered.

 

"You should be."

 

"Yeah. Uh, could you not tell Tony either, please? He doesn't approve of tea."

 

"Tony's right there," Natasha pointed out. "He can see and hear you."

 

"Mm..." Steve tilted his head to look at Tony. "No he can't."

 

Natasha laughed and sauntered over to the dining table, where Tony Stark was absent-mindedly toggling a few graphs on the dining table--a dining table that apparently doubled as a computer screen, because a table couldn't possibly just be a table in Tony's kitchen. Clint had taken a seat next to him, but Tony looked for all the world like he hadn't noticed either Clint or Natasha's arrival.

 

"Tony?" Clint prompted.

 

There was no answer.

 

"Stark!" Clint raised his voice.

 

Tony jumped up in his seat, nearly falling over.

 

"Jesus!" He looked around bewildered for a moment before glancing at Clint and then Natasha. "Can't you two tone down the ninja-skills at all? I've got a heart condition."

 

Natasha raised an eyebrow. "I'm wearing heels--heels that have been clicking against your hard-wood floor. And I just carried an entire conversation with Steve about ten feet away from you."

 

"Yeah? Well--"

 

Tony's response was cut off by Thor's booming voice in the kitchen.

 

"UNHAND MY POP-TARTS THIS INSTANT, YOU MECHANISED CUR!"

 

"Thor," Steve said gently, setting down his mug and turning to face Thor. "The toaster--"

 

"Nay, captain! Do not stay my hand. I must put an end to this nonsense, for I am Thor of Asgard and this metallic contraption shall rue the day when--"

 

The toaster popped up, revealing Thor's Pop-Tarts.

 

"Oh," Thor said, plucking his Pop-Tarts out of the toaster. "I accept your wise surrender. You have been a worthy adversary, brave instrument of fire and of metal."

 

There was a silence as everyone stared at Thor.

 

"Good morning, my friends!" Thor said, as though noticing the others for the first time.

 

"Morning!" Clint said, rising from his seat and walking over to the kitchen. "Nice match," he said, patting Thor on the arm. "And you, too," he said to the toaster, petting it naturally, as though petting toasters were a daily activity for him. "Better luck next time."

 

"Will you be staying long?" Thor asked Natasha.

 

"Perhaps," Natasha replied with a polite smile. "I'll need to see how it fits into my schedule."

 

"Well, I hope you do. It is good to see you, and I would love to stay to exchange hearty tales of intrigue and battle, but I am afraid duty awaits, as I was scheduled to speak to my brother shortly."

 

"Don't worry about it," Natasha said. "It was good to see you too, Thor."

 

Thor bowed politely before stepping out of the room, munching on both Pop-Tarts at once.

 

"So, how has the super-spy business been going?" Tony asked Natasha, breaking the silence that Thor left in his wake. "Jab anyone with needles?"

 

Natasha smiled at him. "Are you sure you want an answer to that?"

 

Tony's eyes widened. "... Okay, why don't you make yourself at home, I'll just go down to my lab to science with my science buddy and--"

 

Bruce chose that exact moment to burst into the kitchen and walk straight towards Tony. He was clean shaven and a few water droplets from his damp hair had settled onto the pressed, purple shirt that looked identical to the one he had shredded in the battle with the Chitauri two months earlier.

 

"Tony! What did you do to my desk?" Bruce asked.

 

"I have no idea what you're talking about!" Tony said.

 

"My desk is drowning in a ball pen, which is in turn in a blanket fort in my lab. Please explain."

 

"It wasn't me!" Tony said.

 

"Tony, I know it was you."

 

"Um..." Tony said. Then he came upon an idea. "You didn't come in to lab this morning! Consider it a punishment for your laziness."

 

"It's 10AM. We finished setting up the simulation at 4AM, after working on the model non-stop for three days, at least fourteen hours of which were wasted following one of your so-called 'short-cuts'." Bruce made quotation marks with his fingers around 'short-cuts'.

 

"Really?" Tony frowned. "Oh right! In that case, consider it a reward for keeping me up for three days with your brilliant science." He waggled his eyebrows at the word 'science'.

 

"You were sleep-building again, weren't you?" Bruce asked.

 

"What makes you think that?"

 

"The slit distance for the phased array is off about 200 nanometres from what would give you phase conjugate amplification. No way you'd miss that if you were awake."

 

Tony narrowed his eyes. "Phased array? Phased array, phased array... Hang on, do you mean this blanket fort is equipped with laser guns?"

 

Bruce raised an eyebrow. "Why do you think I was so sure it was you who made it?"

 

"Why didn't you say so earlier?" Tony gestured wildly. "I have to see this. I can't believe I made a blanket fort equipped with laser guns and I don't even remember!"

 

Bruce gave a long-suffering sigh. "I can. I can believe it just fine."

 

Tony smiled at Bruce and then grabbed him by the elbow and forcibly dragged him out of the kitchen.

 

"Well then," Steve said. "Welcome to Stark Tower."

 

"Indeed," JARVIS's voice came down from the ceiling. "I apologise for interrupting, but Mr Stark appears to have left for Dr Banner's lab. Expected time before his re-emergence is currently 15 hours 48 minutes, with a root-mean-square deviation of 1 hour 17 minutes. In the meantime, I would be happy to show you around the tower and answer any questions that may arise."

 

"Thank you, JARVIS," Natasha said.

 

"Well, I've got to go work out," Steve said. "It was great seeing you, and I'm sure JARVIS will take care of you guys."

 

"Good seeing you, too," Clint and Natasha replied.

 

"So," Clint said, after he'd left. "Feeling better?"

 

Natasha raised an eyebrow at him.

 

"Oh come on, they weren't that bad."

 

"Rogers reheats his tea," Natasha said, lowering her voice. "In the microwave."

 

"You'll live," Clint said, patting her back.

 

FIN

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[CODA, because I don't like stupid-Thor and my head-canon is that Thor knows what he's doing when he trash-talks electronic appliances.]

 

Later that evening, after Clint and Natasha had retreated to the floor they were sharing in the tower, but two hours before Bruce and Tony were expected to re-emerge from the lab per JARVIS's predictions, Steve and Thor sat next to each other at the dining table, playing umsátrinuleik, a game that would be best described as an Asgardian variant of go, with pieces hovering in a three-dimensional board.

 

Several weeks earlier, the resident science geniuses had learned about the game and created the board for it, using, as Bruce had explained, some sort of magnetic levitation. The board had taken them six days to make, although in the process of it, they had both apparently become masters of the umsátrinuleik--nobody but Thor could defeat either of them, and Thor had two hundred years of experience--so perhaps that accounted for much of those six days.

 

"Thor," Steve said. "Do you mind if I ask a question?"

 

Thor grabbed a piece from his pile and gestured for Steve to continue.

 

"How much of this fish-out-of-water business you've got going on is a performance?"

 

Thor smiled and placed his piece. "I could ask you the same thing."

 

"Humour me," Steve said.

 

"There is much in this realm that genuinely confuses me," Thor said, looking down at the pieces in his hand. "Magic works differently here from any other world I've seen, and the discrepancy can be frustating at times. I have, however, played ambassador on enough realms to know how to use my confusion in a way that is endearing, rather than presumptuous."

 

"Thought so," Steve smirked.

 

"Are you certain? Had I been truly out-maneuvered by every instance of Midgardian magic I encounter, I would perhaps have given the same response."

 

"I know," Steve smiled. "But we're playing the same game, and it takes one to know one."