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Kicking and Screaming

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Coulson trudged out onto the playing field -- miles away from civilization so they didn’t accidentally break anything fragile, like New York City -- with a bright red kickball. Avenger’s baseball was bad for the surrounding countryside.

“All right,” he said, firmly no-nonsense. “Team captains today are: Bruce Banner and Peter Parker. Pick your teams, for a game of kickball.”

“What is kickball? Is it like golf?” Thor wondered, eyeing the ball. Coulson had sudden images of Thor using his hammer on the field, and was glad that, for the most part, the ball was extremely durable. Special design. Even the Wolverine could have played, if he’d wanted to.

“It’s kinda like baseball,” Peter volunteered. “Only the ball rolls on the ground instead of being thrown, and you kick it instead of hitting it with a bat. I want Mr. Stark.”

“And unlike in soccer, outfield can catch the ball with their hands,” Bruce said, thoughtfully. “If you’re taking Tony, I want Steve.”

That was smart, Coulson thought. Steve and Tony bickered enough when they were on opposing sides. Putting them on the same side, outside of a combat situation, and they’d end up yelling at each other for days about strategy and battle plans, and other ridiculous things. Fury, Coulson decided, was not punishing the Avengers with this mandatory team building stuff. He was angry with Coulson for reasons Coulson hadn’t discovered yet.

Refereeing the Avengers was like trying to sell portable heaters in hell.

“If you get Cap, then we get the other super-soldier,” Tony said.

“Mr. Stark!” Peter protested. “I’m supposed to pick!”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Fine, go on then, pick. Just pick Bucky.”

Peter scowled at Tony. Coulson wasn’t going to admit it was kind of cute. “We need Clint,” he said.

“We do?”

“You need good aim for kickball,” Peter said firmly. “Clint, c’mon.”

“I got good aim, kid,” Bucky protested, looking offended. Really, the two of them were close to matched for rifle, although Clint was better with improvised thrown weapons. Like bottles. And keys. And once, another teammate.

Bruce raised an eyebrow, then, casually, “Then prove it. We’ll take Bucky.”

“Bruce!” Tony protested. “You can’t split me and Bucky up! We’re like peanut butter and jelly! Green eggs and ham!”

“Bonnie and Clyde?” Bruce suggested. “Sorry, Tony. All’s fair in love and kickball.”

Peter eyed the remaining Avengers. “Uh. Natasha?”

“Say it like you mean it, kid,” Tony advised.

“Natasha,” Peter repeated.

Natasha didn’t even bother to get up, doing that thing with her eyebrow and jaw that suggested the lines of battle just got redrawn around her.

Bruce smirked. “Thor.”

“Going for the brawn versus brains this time, I guess,” Clint said.

“Then you’re on the wrong team,” Natasha said.

“Aw, Nat, that was painful. I’m hurt. There might be actual tears.”

“For them,” Natasha said, and she took a sip of her smoothie through a straw before putting it aside and lazily wandering over to Peter’s side.

Peter chewed on his lip.

“We could use another enhanced person,” Natasha suggested.

Peter nodded. “Vision.”

“Oh, sure, you’ll listen to her advice, but not mine?” Tony complained.

“Perhaps if you had structured your advice as such,” Vision said, “rather than simply assuming our captain would take your suggestion.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Tony said. He pointed at Bruce. “Your team is going down, Green Machine.”

“You keep saying that,” Bruce remarked. “And we’ll take Wanda.”

“What is this, split up the couples night?” Rhodes asked. “I’m all for it, you go on with your bad self, Bruce.”

Wanda floated over to join her teammates. She landed daintily on the ground just behind Bucky’s shoulder.

“And we’ll take Colonel Rhodes,” Peter said.

“And I’m last, why’s a brother always last,” Sam muttered, but he went to join Bruce’s team, high fiving it with Steve.

“If I say I want a nice clean game, I don’t suppose any of you will listen, right?”

“Probably not, no,” Natasha commented. “That’s really not, you know, what we do.”

“I don’t even want to know what you do, Agent Romanoff,” Coulson said. “Captains-- try not to kill anyone or break any small cities, you know the drill.” He fished out a coin from his front pocket. “Call it, Mr. Parker.”

Peter didn’t even bother to call it; he flicked his hand out and grabbed the coin right out of the air with a bit of sticky goo, dropping it into Tony’s hand. “Tails, we win.”

“You are a bad influence on a sweet kid,” Coulson chided. He wasn’t sure if he was directing that comment toward Natasha or Tony. It didn’t matter, it applied to both.

“You’re just now figuring this out?” Tony asked. He scooped up the ball and tossed it at Bucky with a challenging smirk. “I assume you’ll be the pitcher. Come on, team, let’s work out our batting order.”

Coulson shook his head a few times and went to stand guard halfway between first and second base. “As always, my word is law, unless you want me to suggest to Fury that we need a full time Avenger watching the Fridge.”

Guard duty was demeaning and boring, except when it wasn’t. None of the Avengers wanted that.

“I’ll kick first,” Rhodey said, patting his leg brace with a smirk. “They always underestimate just how much power you put in these babies.”

“Kick it away from Wanda,” Natasha suggested.

“Or, alternatively, kick it right at her face,” Clint said. “Her magic’s good, but she still flinches when you go for the headshot.”

“Solid strategy,” Tony agreed. “Uh, let’s avoid beaning Bruce. No one needs a repeat of the baseball fiasco.”

“You kick second, Mr. Stark,” Peter said. “Then Hawkeye, Miss Widow, Mr. Vision, and me last?” He glanced around to check and make sure all the adults were onboard with his plan.

In the outfield, Thor had put himself out in the outfield, along with Wanda, while Steve took up position behind home plate, Bucky was pitching, as Tony had suggested, and Sam floated around infield. Unless someone bunted, there wasn’t going to be a lot of work for an infielder, so it was probably just laziness. And Bruce was at the shortstop position.

“All right, Avengers. Play ball,” Coulson hollered. Reminded himself that Tahiti was a magical place and if this ended in his death (again) he wouldn’t be surprised.

***

As Rhodey had predicted, Bruce’s team pulled in when Rhodey stepped up to the plate. Rhodey was hamming it up, too, limping a little. Tony was hard-pressed to conceal his smirk. He’d have thought Bucky, at least, would have some idea of Rhodey’s power -- Tony bounced most of his upgrade ideas off Bucky -- but no, Bucky actually rolled the ball straight down the center, fair and true, if perhaps with a little more oomph than your average fourth-grader.

It had to be one of those specially reinforced balls, because if Rhodey had kicked something made out of builder grade rubber that hard, it would have exploded on contact. Instead, the ball made a satisfying whoooong noise and sailed nearly straight back to Bucky, but on the left side instead of the right, and about hip level.

Which meant all of Bucky’s blind spots, where his wrist wasn’t quite as flexible.

Rhodey didn’t bother to look, just took off for first base at his somewhat faster than human normal pace; those braces, if he was pushing the capacitors, could carry him along at a brisk thirty miles an hour. Not as fast as a super soldier, but Rhodey’s muscles and skeleton didn’t have the extra reinforcing needed for that kind of speed.

He held at first, since Wanda recovered the ball and zipped it over to Bruce -- she didn’t even throw the damn thing, just used her magic to push it around -- who stood guard over second base.

No one really wanted to be the first person to plow into Bruce.

Tony stepped up to the home plate, scuffing at the dirt and rubber, testing the feel of it, and shot a grin at Bucky. “Gonna treat me right, sugarplum?”

“Yeah, you wish, dollface,” Bucky said, and this time, when he rolled the ball, it did a weird swerve, just at the end of the path. Just like when playing pool, Tony could calculate rate and spin and angles, and as soon as he saw the little wobble in the ball, he knew just which way it was going to curve.

He wasn’t quite Hawkeye -- he couldn’t predict exactly where the ball was going to go after he kicked it, but he managed to kick it, anyway. The ball surprised him by shooting up as much as out, and that was all Tony saw before he took off running.

Rhodey was already clearing second and headed to third when Tony got hit in the lower back by the ball so hard that it almost knocked him off his feet. “Out!” Coulson yelled from the sidelines.

Tony whirled around to see Bucky smirking at him, those pouty lips practically taunting him. “You heard the man, sugarplum. Go siddown.”

“Okay,” Tony said, smiling sweetly. “I’m going to give you that one. Dollface.” He strode back over to his team and dropped onto the bench. “Sonovabitch,” he muttered, “I’m gonna be pissing fucking blood.”

Vision held out one maroon hand over Tony’s back, light. A tingle of heat passed between his skin and the synthoid’s fingers. “Your internal organs appear to be intact,” Vision reassured him, so earnest as he always was.

Hawkeye took his turn, and, as promised, just about put the ball right through Wanda’s head. Rather than catching it, or even blocking it with her magic, she dove to the ground to avoid it, letting it roll unfettered, out into the far end of left field, bringing Rhodey home to score, and Clint to an easy, laughing second-base position.

Natasha stepped up to the plate, no bravado or fuss. Some kind of communication seemed to sizzle in the air between her and Bucky. Tony was too far away to see if Bucky played any tricks with the ball, but Natasha’s kick connected solidly and sent the ball soaring upward, directly over Bruce’s head.

Bruce leaped up to catch it, brushing the ball with his fingertips. Which might have been okay, except that Thor decided to go for the ball as well, and they collided mid-air like twin boulders being smacked together.

“Safe,” Coulson declared, because throwing one’s teammate instead of the ball didn’t count.

Hulk turned around and glared at Coulson for it, who prudently took a step backward.

And while that was going on, Hawkeye stole third. And then home.

Natasha gave them a thumbs up from her position at first base.

Vision should have been an easy run -- his calculation abilities were vastly superior to even Tony’s -- but he seemed too curious about the way the ball moved, or the puffs of dirt that rose up around it, or something, to properly gauge his kick. Three strikes, and then Vision was taking his place on the bench beside Tony.

“Guess we need to work on your hand-eye coordination,” Tony said.

“My hands caused no issues,” Vision said solemnly.

It was probably that Peter was so tiny -- the guy looked like a high school sophomore, and he acted even younger most of the time -- that people were constantly underestimating his strength, but he was stronger than Steve and Bucky put together, could go toe-to-toe with the Hulk, and no one wanted to destroy the planet enough for some friendly fighting between Thor and Spider-Man.

Tony shaded his eyes with his hand, watching the ball disappear somewhere way, way past homerun territory.

Nat didn’t even run. She just strolled around the bases. Tony was almost positive that she was, in fact, doing a classic ballet walk.

“Four to zero,” Coulson announced, “with two outs.”

Tony and Clint took the opportunity to teach Vision some classic trash-talk. And the game went on.

***

It wasn’t going to be the other team that beat them, Bucky decided, getting up to pitch (well, roll, but whatever), but instead, it was going to be metabolism.

Early on, Steve had tried to call for a snack break, which Tony had point blank refused to allow, arguing that the game went on until all nine innings were played, or the team captain conceded. “You can play a man or two down, if you need a Snickers that bad,” he’d said.

Bucky’s stomach rumbled.

It wasn’t that they couldn’t go long stretches without food, but between Thor, Hulk, Steve, and Bucky, they were all used to a sort of grazing pattern unless it was an emergency. Eight thousand calories a day minimum took time to eat.

Bucky was about ready to eat home plate, if this went on much longer.

They had to fight for every out; the score was ridiculous. Eighty-three to seventy-nine, with Tony’s team coming up to kick. (Not that it was Tony’s team, technically it was Peter’s team, but somehow, it had come down to some challenge of wills between Steve and Tony. Again.)

At least it was the ninth inning.

And going on hour five of the game. For some kindergartener shit, the game had gotten cut-throat.

“Swing batter batter batter,” Steve chanted, squatting in his catching position.

Which really put him a lot closer to Tony’s ass than Bucky felt entirely comfortable with.

Tony took his sweet time getting up to the plate, too, stretching and twisting his spine to loosen up. He even leaned way down to touch his toes, stretching his calves, and if he thought Bucky would buy that it was an accident that the position showed off that glorious ass for Bucky, then he was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Which did not mean that Bucky did not take full advantage of the tactic to ogle his boyfriend’s ass.

Finally, Tony shook out his legs and stepped up to the plate. “All right, let’s stop lollygagging around and play this game!” he announced cheerfully. And then, just as Bucky was winding up to roll the ball, he said, “Winner gets to top!”

Well, that… did not go well. Bucky’s aim was completely off. “Ball,” Coulson called.

Asshole,” Bucky muttered, and from the brilliant, gleaming smile Tony directed his way, it did not go unheard. Steve threw him the ball back and Bucky wound up to roll again. More like bowling than baseball. Really, a stupid game, all things considered.

This time, at least, Tony didn’t say anything, just waited for the pitch. It was Natasha who piped up with, “Ethiopian for dinner?”

Bucky finished the roll. “Yes, please, I’m fuckin’ starving, her--” Tony’s kick hit him in the chest and he scrambled to catch it, but didn’t quite grab it, a fact he was going to blame on metal-slick fingers and that was his story, he was sticking to it. He floundered, captured the ball, rolled, and… “Safe!”

“Come on, Buck, get your head in the game,” Steve yelled, because of course he did.

Bucky whirled and stomped back to the pitcher’s mound. He got there and popped one shiny metal finger in Steve’s direction, which got hoots and cheers from, well, pretty much everyone. Couldn’t say he was shocked, either.

“If you kick that ball at my face again, Clint, I am going to hurt you,” Wanda threatened from outfield.

He didn’t. Clint fucking bunted it, and then Steve overcompensated his throw, blowing past Tony as he went ‘round second base, headed for third.

Clint was fucking singing, that’s what he was doing, too… some song Bucky’d never heard before. “Around third and headed for home, it’s a brown-eyed handsome man, anyone can understand, the way I feel--” he crooned.

Bucky caught the ball, went to throw it to Steve to get Tony out, at least, but-- where the hell had Steve gone off to?

Tony touched home and did a little dance that involved entirely too much hip-swinging.

Natasha struck out. Thank Christ.

Bucky went to roll again, and-- something cold and wet splattered against his face. What the-- he peered up. It was evening, and the sky had gotten a lot darker, although he’d missed that as the field’s lights had gone on. And cloudy, apparently.

“It’s rainin’,” Bucky reported.

“Kickball,” Clint intoned, “is a simple game. You throw the ball, you kick the ball, you catch the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes… it rains.”

It started to rain harder. Tony’s tee shirt was sticking to him, obscenely outlining his chest.

“Game called on account of rain,” Coulson said. “Parker’s team wins.”

Steve immediately started to argue that they hadn’t had their last at-base and Coulson held up one hand. “I’m not debating with you, Captain,” he said. “I am calling the game. You lose.”

Ignoring Steve’s ranting, Tony strolled up to Bucky, that smirk on his lips making it clear that he knew exactly what the rain was doing to his clothes. He slid a hand down Bucky’s chest. “Good game, Slugger. Ready to pay up?”

Bucky tugged Tony in for a kiss, hot and wet and dirty. “Play ball,” he said.