It was Satan's asshole-hot outside, the three digit atrocity blinking bright blue on the car's thermostat. Clint could've taken one of Stark's cars, or easily a SHIELD issued vehicle, but he was fond of his old Chevy. But the thing was old, really old, and not all old cars were completely reliable, sadly.
He was sweating like a whore in a church house, the cars outside shuddering in the heat that came off the black road in roiling waves. Of course they had to come in the middle of June. Of course Missy's AC had to take a crap on him. Of fucking course. "A walking shit magnet," someone once dubbed him, and he didn't have the heart nor place to deny it at that point.
He could see the state line from the top of the hill his car slowly crested over, bright slash of pale sand and outcrop of random city, first in literally miles. Las Vegas, the Sin City itself. Clint had fond memories there, good, laughable memories of alcohol and nights spent wowing showgirls with trick shots. It was nice. The conference he was hours from being forced to attend put a damper on things, yes, but Clint tried not to let that phase him too much. Thor was a good drinking buddy, Stark attracted beautiful women like moths to a flame, and everyone was itching to see how Steve tried at gambling. Clint had twenty bucks on Stark that Steve would be their secret shamrock, but Stark was convinced Steve was "too pure to even think about picking up a card." Natasha didn't look pleased that Clint was already gambling before they even got there, but Stark had quickly insisted that to truly enjoy the Las Vegas life you had to be ready for catastrophe and bad behavior.
Clint didn't plan on getting too shitfaced this time around, maybe even maintain his drinking a little bit if he could. Natasha would be there and was more opposed to it, so she'd keep him on a short leash. "No tequila, Clint," she had said, a firm hand on his shoulder and threat in her eyes. "You know how you get,"
"How does he get?" Tony piped up, sticking his face between them excitedly.
"You wanna know? You deal with him then," Natasha decided, knowing in the look Tony tried to hide that he had every intention now to get Clint drunk off of his ass when he knew he shouldn't. The guy worked in opposites; tell him it's not allowed and he's suddenly a thousand times more interested. She should've picked her words more wisely.
But drinking wasn't till well after the conference, per Fury's orders. He wanted to maintain an air of professionalism as long as he could before Vegas took its toll, apparently, and Clint didn't blame him; despite everything, they all--excluding Tony--had an image to up keep.
Clint sagged with relief when the AC of the casino hit his too-hot body, his car and bags left with the bellboys and valet. Tony had long since been inside, lost in the crowd before Fury could catch him. Natasha lingered with Thor to explain casinos and the allure of gambling, Steve and Sam--or Falcon, but Clint was trying to break himself of that habit--cozied up in a nearby Starbucks while Hill sorted out their rooms at the front desk. All that were left was Clint, desperately in need of a cold water and a coffee, and Bruce, who looked impossibly small in that too big jacket and dirty cap.
Clint didn't know much about Hulk personally, even less about the small man behind the beast. Bruce kept to himself mostly, trailing behind Tony if ever he interacted with anyone, or not there at all. It was typically the latter; very few knew Banner even existed, and it wasn't like you could bring the Hulk to one of these meetings. The thought was as entertaining as it was terrifying; massive, looming Hulk hunched over in a too small chair, growling into the mic and glaring at the very few brave enough to toss him a question. Heh. Maybe Bruce would get a laugh out of that.
Looking at him now, so damn small and insignificant and twitchy in the middle of the lobby with that wide, owlish look in his eyes, Clint decided that no, Bruce probably would not get a laugh out of that. Poor guy looked like he wanted to curl up and disappear.
"Banner," Clint called, sticking with formalities. Bruce glanced up and seemed to wither as Clint approached, focused on Clint's hand held high to get his attention before flicking his nervous gaze back down to him. "I was about to get some water, wanna join me?"
Clint watched as conflict scrunched Bruce's face into a tight, uncomfortable pucker, patient as he hesitated visibly and flashed a reassuring smile before Bruce's expression eventually smoothed out and he gave a brief nod. "Sounds good," Bruce agreed. His voice was oddly scratchy and soft for a man who turned into a raging beast when provoked, but it was a pleasant contrast.
"Cool," Clint said, grabbing his wallet. "I think there's a food court around here somewhere,"
Clint ended up getting a coffee first, and despite Bruce's modest dismissals, he bought him a water.
"I'll pay you back," Bruce insisted.
"Naw," Clint waved him off, finding them a table and plunking down on it. "It's on me, man,"
Clint had always been sort of grateful for subtlety. He wasn't Tony who lived and breathed the spotlight, or Steve, America's crown jewel, or even Natasha who, on the occasions that she did make a public appearance, could charm a crowd with her eyes closed. Naw, Clint slipped under the radar for the most part, and he didn't mind that. He never faired well under intense inspection anyways; it was when his shit magnet was most polarized.
Bruce was just as unnoticeable. Even without the Hulk under his skin the man made insignificancy an art. He was goddamn Waldo except lacking literally any discernible features. It was probably what took SHIELD so goddamn long to find him and rope him into this little Vegas road trip in the first place, now thinking about it. Where did Natasha say they found him? Guam, Guatemala? Clint couldn't remember, but judging by the nice brown tan Bruce sported, it was somewhere a stone throw off from the equator.
Clint watched Bruce peel at the plastic wrapper along the midline of his bottle for a few moments before gently clearing his throat. Bruce flinched and stared at Clint like a deer caught in the headlights, and Clint actually felt bad for him. Guy was way out of his element, stuck in one of the busiest, most people infested cities in America with drunk partiers on nearly every side. Clint didn't blame him for being skittish.
"This your first time here?" Clint wasn't a conversationist by any means, but hey, not too bad. Bruce shook his head and glanced back at the bottle he worried in his hands.
"No, no, not even slightly," Bruce muttered, and Clint smiled.
"You got any crazy stories to tell then?" Clint asked, nudging Bruce's chair, and he was pleased to see the smile that twitched at the edge of Bruce's mouth.
"One or two, but it was a long time ago, nearly twenty years--"
"Holy shit, pre-Hulk days?" Clint laughed, and he pretended not to notice Bruce's wince. "Were you a wild child, Bruce?"
"What? No, God no," Bruce said quickly, waving his hands dismissively. "It was the 90s, I was in college--"
"Barton, Banner," someone barked from at the end of the food court. Clint's jaw tightened and Bruce went rigid as Fury stalked over to them, but both, even Banner, had to fight down giggles of disbelief when they saw what the ever ominous leader of SHIELD wore.
Somehow, Fury managed to look like a grouchy but well dressed grandpa, tinted glasses blocking out his bad eye and ever present scowl less intimidating with the addition of loafers. He sent Clint a poisonous glare, which he coughed and glanced off under.
"You look nice, sir," Clint told a wall firmly, and Fury sneered at him.
"If you're done acting twelve, I'd like you to get your ass up and changed. No hoodies in this conference; I'm talking to you too, Banner. Clean cut, professional. Ditch the hat, shave, and for the love of God, Barton, please wear a suit. You have an hour,"
"Why are we here again?" Bruce muttered to Clint as they hurried to their rooms. Clint quirked a brow at him and stabbed the 24 button in the elevator.
"You weren't paying attention?"
"Not really," Bruce admitted sheepishly, a nervous look in his eye. Clint ignored whatever hidden meaning that might've been there and leaned against the back mirror of the elevator.
"Basically SHIELD wants to investigate some Hydra going ons, but the mayor is a publicity hungry bastard that will only take the whole Avenger's crew front and center if Fury is going to get any clearance on sniffing around the hotels. Hence, we smile for the cameras, assure we're here only to vacation, and SHIELD gets free range of every casino," Clint explained, waggling his fingers expressively for emphasis.
"Won't that alert Hydra?" Bruce pointed out with a frown.
"Exactly Fury's point, but it was this or nothing. It's not too bad of a deal, we don't even have to do anything,"
"Except deal with paparazzi," Bruce muttered unhappily, but Clint shrugged.
"I think they'll be too focused on Captain America and the dazzling Tony Stark to even notice that you existed,"
Clint was right for once. He and Bruce faded into the background while Steve and Tony took center stage, slipping out of the room after the hour of being trapped there with only a few surface level questions and maybe one or two pictures. Easy stuff, quickly ignored under the bright lights of the casino and heady mess of people.
"You plan on getting drunk, Bruce?" Clint teased though he very well knew the answer. A whole mass of people swarmed the bar where Steve and Sam took shots, a tight ring of screaming girls with Tony at the epicenter off near the craps tables, while Thor, Natasha, Clint and Bruce all sat together in their cozy little poker corner. Bruce allowed himself a soft little laugh at the comment and shrugged behind his cards.
"I don't think that would be the greatest idea," he said, face pinking when the whole table laughed. Clint sat back with a smile.
"Not even a sip?"
"Not even a sip,"
Clint was either buzzed or in a very good mood, as it was hard to distinguish between what was friendly banter and honest flirting. He pretended it was only friendly and downed another gulp of his beer to ignore how much he was starting to like the way red fit so nicely on Bruce's face.
"Clint, you're up," Natasha reminded and Clint squared her with an even stare.
"I'm gonna put all my money in," he decided, shoving his pile into the middle of the table. Natasha folded with a shake of her head and Thor wisely followed suit. All that were left was Bruce and Clint.
"You think your hand is better?" Clint challenged, leaning into Bruce's personal space. He had to be a little drunk; no sober man, save Tony, would willingly occupy the bubble of such a short fuse, but Clint was feeling lucky and just a bit risky that night.
Bruce quirked a small smile that Clint couldn't quite read and flipped his cards. "I think so,"
"Literal fuck," Clint whined, tossing his cards in. Bruce's eight and queen tromped Clint's ace and jack, and a distinct look of pride shone in Bruce's eyes as he drew the massive pile of chips into his corner.
"You owe me a beer," Clint said sourly.
"Why do I owe you anything?" Bruce laughed softly and Clint glanced up from his pitiful hunched over position on the edge of the table, eyes wide and pleading.
"Because you're mean and I'm not drunk enough for this,"
Tony swooped in suddenly, dropping his hands on Bruce's shoulders and leaning in close to him despite the warning look Bruce shot him. "Hell no, if anyone is going to ruin you, it's going to be me. Bartender, get this man your best tequila," Tony called to a very frazzled looking boy handing drinks off to the side. Natasha sighed loudly and glared at Tony.
"You're dealing with the inevitable shit storm that's on the horizon, Stark, remember that," Natasha said, and Tony stuck his tongue out at her.
"You're no fun," he decreed, and she maturely ignored him. Clint should've executed his good decision making then, but he was already a little drunk and high off the energy buzzing in the air. People flanked them on every side, save the small circle cleared around Bruce for safekeeping; they were thriving, constant movement and bursting with shared vitality, a sort of mob mentality sucking Clint under and goading him into shot after shot of tequila.
It was a disaster at the first sip.
The night blurred into one indiscernible blob, a few random pinpricks of scenes popping up here and there--someone handing him a bow, Thor downing keg after keg of beer and still going strong, the fresh, clean feel of twenty bucks in his hand, and the soft, pleasant warmth of a girl's lips on his own--that eventually dimmed under the strength of his massive hangover and bruised body.
Holy fuck, he couldn't remember a headache this bad. His whole body pulsed in pain and he groaned pathetically from his position on the floor. Why he was on the floor he literally could not remember, but someone was kind enough to leave him a pillow and a glass of water which he drank thankfully. He popped the pain pill placed next to him and shoved himself to his feet, teeth grit and eyes squinted in a mixture of pain and a bad mood. He saw his reflection in the glint of a nearby mirror and recoiled at the sight of his split lip, bruised jaw, baggy eyes; he looked as shitty as he felt.
"Good morning, Agent Barton," Natasha said cooly, and Clint clicked his teeth at her.
"Please, Nat, I'm begging you, bite my ass," Clint growled, refilling his water and sipping it bitterly. Natasha blew the steam off her coffee with a calm expression and leaned against the counter.
"How much do you remember from last night?" Natasha asked placidly. Clint thumbed the rim of his cup and stared at the wall, trying to think. He must've done something wrong. Natasha had that look on her face and was doing the Can You Remember Where You Fucked Up questions, and their shared suite was oddly quiet for eleven in the morning. But try as he did, he couldn't recall anything too horribly cringe worthy from his messy memory.
"I got nothing," he said, shrugging.
"Try, Clint," Natasha murmured, and he realized then that she was watching him apologetically. "It would be a shame if you couldn't say sorry correctly,"
"Sorry? What do--oh. Oh fuck." It came back to him in snippets, poorly placed puzzle pieces that made a sloppy and hardly tangible picture, but it was just clear enough to make him wither in horror.
Soft, pleasant warmth of a girl's lips on his own. It wasn't some forgettable girl he kissed last night; God no, that would've been too damn easy.
He kissed Bruce.