Really, it served him right. He just shouldn’t have risen to the bait, because it had become a thing.
And now, looking at the empty coffee can sitting conspicuously on the otherwise empty countertop of the island in the communal kitchen… Steve was really starting to regret his actions.
The can had been stripped of its paper label and spray-painted a truly awful shade of neon orange, with blocky blue letters spelling out “Swear Jar”. There was a neatly cut slot in the plastic lid on the top, just big enough for a few coins to fit through, and a post-it note that said in Natasha’s handwriting, “Team Meeting at 8”.
Steve frowned as he got a bottle of orange juice out of the fridge, slouching against the counter and glaring at the eyesore across from him as he drank.
This was going to be so annoying.
The rules for the Swear Jar were written on a sticky note and taped to it the following day after an entirely ridiculous team meeting.
Rule #1: If you swear in the communal areas or within earshot of another Avenger, you to pay the penalty.
Rule #2: Jarvis will be overseeing any swearing that happens when they are alone, as they are not to be trusted.
Rule #3: You have to pay the penalty immediately.
The penalty varied for everyone, since they all had different amounts of money to their names and Tony could have paid to have them all killed rather than deal with it.
Bruce, as the Avenger with the least amount of actual cash of his own (Tony had strong-armed him into taking a credit card to use if he needed it, but he hardly ever used it) paid using whatever change he had in his pocket whenever he got caught swearing, which was rare. He was a chill guy, he didn’t swear much anyway, and after a month he’d only had to empty his spare coins out three or four times.
Steve was a dollar for the big swears and 50 cents for the minor ones (he could have afforded more, but even paying fifty cents for the occasional “damn” made him cranky so it worked out just fine). He had already started catching himself most of the time, but whenever he slipped his mouth got all pinched and he looked like he dearly wished to set that stupid jar on fire whenever he had to poke a couple quarters or a dollar through the lid.
Clint started at five dollars per swear, but after spending $55 the first day, it was upped to ten. He’d had to sign an IOU to Tony to get the $240 necessary after a particularly rambunctious Wii Sports battle with Thor and Steve one weekend. He tried to bribe Jarvis into actively censoring him by playing a loud beep over his swear words, but as he had no more money to bribe with, that fell through.
Natasha paid $5 per swear, but they had yet to catch her swearing. She had two swears on record according to Jarvis (he was keeping a tally), but they had both been when she was alone in the communal areas. She was keeping it very buttoned up around the rest of them, and Clint kept telling them she held all her swear words inside until she went to her room alone, and then she let them all out.
While it would have made sense for Tony to pay upwards of a thousand dollars or more per swear, given his financial status, it was actually far more inconvenient to charge him random amounts of money depending on what he had in cash in his wallet. Jarvis kept track of what he had, and every time Tony swore, Jarvis would announce the amount that would force Tony to have to go downstairs to the bank on the third floor and make a cash withdrawal for the right amount. One morning Tony swore when he dribbled hot coffee on his bare foot (he was still in his pajamas) and had refused outright to go to the bank for two dollars. “I am not making a withdrawal for two f-(“That’s another dollar, sir.”) dollars!” He had instead gone down to the lobby in his pajamas and bare feet, holding a mug of coffee in his hand, and traded the desk receptionist a hundred dollar bill for the three dollars he needed.
Thor, since he didn’t carry money on him at all, instead had to pay a menial labor chore instead, like cleaning out the fridge, or replacing the batteries in the remotes (he had large hands, doing something small and fiddly got him quite irritated). As he found that kind of thing tiresome and boring, it worked out perfectly. (By month two, Clint had to start deciding whether to do a chore or pay the fee each time, because he was really running out of disposable cash now.)
Halfway through month two, Steve hit his limit. It was a bad day to begin with, and then he already had to put money in the swear jar twice since he got up. He was harboring a serious and roiling hatred towards that obnoxiously orange jar, and when he went to the kitchen for lunch, he hit the end of his rope.
He had just gotten overzealous with the mustard for his sandwich, and a big dollop had splattered onto the bread, speckling his white t-shirt with bright yellow spots.
With a deep, deep breath, he clenched his teeth and started to count to ten.
Across the island, Natasha and Clint were passing a mug of coffee and bowl of cut fruit between them as they read a Shield briefing, and at Steve's inhale, Natasha looked up. Taking note of his tense shoulders and stained shirt, she smiled a Cheshire Cat smile and pulled the Swear Jar into view, patting the lid. “Careful, Steve.”
It was just one poke too far.
The stream of vehement vileness that issued forth from that patriotic mouth was absolutely shocking. Four-letter words were used in such violent and creative combinations that Clint choked on his coffee and Natasha’s eyes went wide. It was like being in the splash zone at Sea World, if words were water droplets.
It was only about thirty seconds or so, but it felt like a lot longer before Steve finally sputtered to a stop with a particularly vicious use of three swear words all but stacked on top of each other.
Both Clint and Natasha were wide-eyed and somewhat stunned. Then, with the briefest apprehensive pause, Natasha scooted the swear jar over. “That’ll be $27.50.”
Steve was panting, looking just a little bit wrecked, like he’d just run ten miles and had yet to recover. Clint squinted a little bit. “Really? Mr. Dollar-a-Damn over here just ran up a nearly thirty dollar tab?”
“Jarvis, how’s my math?”
“Spot on, Agent Romanoff.”
Shoulders slumping, Steve took his wallet out of his back pocket, and without a word took the lid off the Swear Jar and shoved the whole thing inside. Abandoning his half-made sandwich, he made his way out of the kitchen and went to take a nap.
“Poor Cap,” Clint said sympathetically, reaching across the counter and folding up the two pieces of bread and ignoring the glob of mustard running down one side.
“You are eating a mustard, lettuce, and cheese sandwich.” Natasha commented with minor disgust.
Clint just shrugged. “Free food.”
Once the Swear Jar started to get full about three months in, the coins weighing it down and compressing the paper money inside, Clint raised the question, “So what do we do with the money once the jar is full?”
Bruce had the reasonable and perhaps slightly self-serving answer of, “Whoever swore the longest time ago gets to keep it.”
So, Rule #4 was born, and it seemed the promise of money to fill his absolutely empty wallet was a better motivator to Clint than having to write out another IOU. (Tony was keeping the IOUs in a drawer in his lab with a stack of fives, tens, and twenties, with no intention of calling them in.) Dollar signs flickered in the archer’s eyes, and he gave the jar a very thoughtful look before miming zipping his lips shut and throwing away the key.
“You think Clint might actually win it?” Natasha asked later in the week, flipping through a Guns & Ammo magazine on the couch while Tony pilfered a large stack of snacks from the communal kitchen to squirrel away in his lab.
“He has literally everyone ahead of him to win before he does, and we all know he’s gonna crack and drop the silence routine before long. ASL swears count too, Jarvis and Steve said so. I might win, though.”
Natasha grinned, watching Tony unpack all but one baggie of fruit snacks from a box and sticking the box back in the cupboard. “Don’t wanna have to put any more money in the swear jar?”
Tony shook his head and opened a box of granola bars. “Oh, it’s not that. I checked yesterday and the jar is almost full, like really close. Person that swore longest ago gets the money, yeah? Bruce swore the other day when he burned half his eyebrow off in a minor explosion in the lab, and you swore this morning when you stubbed your toe getting coffee. Clint might be on day four of his vow of silence, and it may be hard to believe, but according to Jarvis, I am the person that swore the longest time ago, and I want to win that money.”
Natasha’s expression was slightly disbelieving and her voice flat. “Tony, you’re a billionaire.”
He scoffed and waved his hand (and a package of Goldfish crackers) at her. “Oh, it’s not about the money. It’s because Barton wants it.”
She couldn’t help it, she laughed. He grinned at her approvingly.
“Tony that is awful. You determined to win it just so Clint can’t have it?”
He shrugged and looked absolutely unrepentant, now sticking packages of Fruit Gushers and yogurt-covered pretzels and raisins in his pockets. “I never claimed to be a saint. But if I do win it, Pepper gets to pick the charity we donate it to, so it’s fine. My halo might be held up by my horns, but it’s there.”
Shaking her head, Natasha went back to her magazine and Tony loaded all his snacks up in the front of his t-shirt, creating a pouch like a kangaroo to carry it all down to his lab.
When Steve came into the kitchen half an hour later, to find only one bag of his favorite fruit snacks in the huge box in the cupboard, Natasha had to cover her mouth with her hand to stifle a laugh when he swore, went red in the face, and violently jammed a dollar into the Swear Jar.
“I am pleased to announce that the winner of the contents of the Swear Jar is… Thor.”
Steve and Bruce politely clapped for Thor as he hoisted the jar into the air with triumphant yell, while Clint pouted. With a grin, Natasha turned to look at Tony, who was looking a little grumpy as well.
“No jar for you?”
“Apparently I swore at the coffeemaker in my sleep last night.” Tony said in a snappish voice. “I don’t think it counts, but Jarvis disagrees.”
“Come, my friends,” Thor wrapped an arm around Tony’s shoulders, holding the jar in his other arm like a baby. “This is the first time I’ve had Midgardian money at my disposal, I shall treat you all to a night of revelry.”
Clint was looking a little shifty-eyed as they all headed for the elevator, and poked Tony in the back of the head. “About those IOUs…”
“Don’t worry about it, Barton. I’m gonna shred them and use them for confetti next time I feel like celebrating.”
Clint was obviously a smart person, because he narrowed his eyes suspiciously at Tony. “And when might that be?”
“When I need to dodge a meeting with Fury and you volunteer to get me out of it.”
Clint groaned and rolled his eyes, but he shook on it. It was a better deal, really, than owing Tony $1460 for his overuse of the word $%#@.
A mud wrestling show, twelve rounds of skee ball, a walk around the pond in Central Park, enough cotton candy and and hot dogs to kill a horse, and a midnight showing of “The Princess Bride” were what Thor counted as revels on Midgard. Everyone was exhausted yet still a little twitchy with sugar rush by the time they all collapsed in their beds around two in the morning.
Several hours of sleep and a few pots of coffee later, the team unanimously voted to call it quits with the Swear Jar, though they did harbor some fond memories of the experience, even Steve (Natasha had needle pointed one of his particularly amazing phrases from his outburst on a pillow, he kept it under his bed).
The Swear Jar wandered through the Tower after that, being used for different things. Tony used it for awhile as a snack holder before Clint stole it to use as a popcorn bucket. Thor took it to Asgard to show his friends, then Natasha took it when he got back and used it as a stool to reach something on top of the fridge. It came back from Bruce a little bit suspiciously dented, but he wouldn’t say why. Steve was even caught looking fondly at it once, sitting on the coffee table in the communal living room with the remotes to the TV and other devices standing up inside it.
He didn’t get annoyed anymore when someone made a language joke, merely rolled his eyes and pictured a neon orange coffee can, and was grateful that he’d never have to poke another dollar bill into it.