He lied a lot.
As a professional, and as someone taught to hide his flaws – Tony Stark knew he told a lot of lies.
He knew it was the one reason Pepper had left him: he couldn’t open up, couldn’t share himself with her, and she couldn’t take the lying, the masks and facades he cloaked around himself for protection.
He did try, but found that hiding behind stories and falsities was far easier than the truth – which hurt, cut deep and cut easily – and found he couldn’t break the habit he’d formed.
She’d left, and he’d cursed the ingrained habit of covering everything up with sheens of perfection – tough enough to withstand hard questions and gleaming enough to deter those questions.
Then came Hawkeye.
Clint Barton – tough as nails and stubborn until death – an archer who would run headlong into any battle, who would throw himself without caution into danger to save others – who was the very pinnacle of brutal honesty, who wasn’t afraid of the truth.
Hawkeye had caught on immediately, calling him out on his habit without a hint of regret in his gaze and Tony had chuckled, had brushed off the observation; but he had spent that night awake, wondering how the archer had known. He’d grown insatiably curious and had asked the next time they’d met, Barton had shrugged and said “I’m good at lying too Stark, doesn’t mean I do it”
He had attempted to stop then, tried to quell the constant urge to lie, to cover up flaws around his stubborn teammate, but found it impossible – he had to make this team believe he was perfect, infallible – he was Tony Stark: he was not allowed imperfection.
The Avengers became a permanent part of his life – another commitment for his already cluttered life and still he clung tightly to his façade – he could feel exhaustion tailing his heels each and every day, a looming shadow casting its darkness over him and without fail he pretended he was fine.
Hawkeye saw straight through it.
“Alright Stark, I’m sick of this”
He glanced up, curiosity piqued, and offered a raised brow in response when Barton closed the door to the SHIELD conference room he’d been hiding in and his teammate stepped in with clear confidence – the gait was near a prowl, as though he were being stalked and assessed by the stubborn archer – he felt oddly exposed as Barton circled the room, settling on leaning against the door he’d entered through.
“You need to stop this… Posturing… You’re doing for the team”
“I’m not…” He began, but ceased when his teammate held up a hand to forestall any argument.
“You are – shut up and listen”
Surprisingly, his mouth clamped shut, teeth clicking together softly as he did so.
Barton’s lips quirked into a grin, but it was quickly hidden by a gloved hand and when the hand dropped the handsome gesture was gone.
“You’re playing the peacock Stark – you’re flared up and ready to impress whenever we’re watching – but the minute we’re not suddenly you turn into someone who’s clearly exhausted”
He nodded, unable to deny the claim, admitting that he was indeed posturing, as Barton put it. Strangely, it felt nice to admit the truth, as though for a moment, the weight of his own design fell away from his shoulders and he could breathe.
Hawkeye returned the nod and a smile was evident in the upturned nature of his eyes: it was a nice look for the usually stoic or scowling blonde.
“So, my point is: you’re killing yourself, and I don’t like seeing that”
He took a breath and watched his teammate carefully for a moment, weighing his options “Can I speak now?”
He watched Barton consider him and his request, practically saw the decision being made in front of his eyes “Only if you tell the truth”
He nodded and ran a hand through his hair gently, attempting to gather his thoughts, to push the instinct to lie away “It’s a really bad habit” he admitted “And I know I’m posturing, I do, but… I don’t want you or the others to think I’m…” he paused here, reluctant to continue, and watched the blonde carefully “weak” he said it softly, hoping it wouldn’t be heard.
Barton laughed, but not in an unkind way “No one thinks that Stark; least of all me, and the others are more or less intimidated of you”
He raised a brow and folded his arms “I doubt that very much” he challenged, voice gaining its usual tone once more.
Again Barton laughed and this time it was joined with a shake of his head “You really don’t know do you? You can read celebrities and reporters like books but knowing your team’s thoughts puts you off kilter?” Hawkeye shook his head once more and pushed away from the door, standing in front of him, tall and imposing, heavily muscled and somehow superior, barely an arms distance away.
“You’re a technological genius, you’ve got a back-up plan for everything and you know how to manipulate people – Rogers knows you’re dangerous, that you would be more so if you were the enemy, and he admires you and your skill. Thor sees your ability to think on your feet, to always take the tactical approach when entering the unknown and thinks your ability to keep getting back up after being knocked down earns you a place in Asgard. Banner loves your work, wishes he could learn half as quickly as you do, and if you’d stop locking yourself down in this act of perfection he’d happily spend weeks without sleep working with you in a lab. Natasha knows you, I don’t know how, but I can see she thinks you’re something special” Barton paused for a breath and folded his arms, sighing softly “No one thinks you’re useless, or weak”
He remained silent, nodding as he processed the information given to him : the team saw him as smart, talented, adaptable and a little radioactive – it wasn’t a bad image.
In fact, it felt more like a compliment and he considered that maybe here, among the Avengers, there wasn’t anyone to impress.
“What about you?” He asked, wanting to know what Hawkeye, the man who saw and heard everything, the blunt, immovable force of their group, thought of him.
Barton huffed a laugh and a grin sparked across his face, changing the imposing feeling he’d been exuding immediately to something so much more human, something less stone-like. “I think you’re crazy – craziest man I’ve ever met – but I think you’re damn smart too and I like your style: even if half of it’s a show you don’t take anything from anyone – no one tells you what to do and I like that”
He couldn’t help but grin at the description – his teammate had a way of making brutal honesty sound kind, like a glowing compliment.
“Thanks” he said the grin still present “I don’t know if it helps but… Thanks”
Barton nodded, and soft smile on his face “You needed to be told – and everyone else is scared of you”
“I can’t be that scary” he argued with a laugh
“I’m a little scared of you too Stark, but not in the way you think” Barton countered, a laugh tailing the sentence.
“You’re not scared of anything” he argued, unable to hide the laughter in his own voice.
Barton raised a brow at him, a smile blooming across his face, and Tony blanched.
“Hypocrite” he accused, good humour still in his voice.
Barton snorted and it was a violent sound and he flinched slightly “What? You want me to tell the team I have a weird crush on you? I’ll do it, but only if it stops you lying”
He let his mouth fall open, snide remark about Hawkeye being scared of something long forgotten “You… you what?”
The blonde slammed a hand over his own mouth, shock evident in his eyes “That was… I thought you thought”
“Why would you think that?” shock raised the pitch of his voice.
“I don’t know!!” the archer squeaked in reply, voice muffled against his hand.
He clamped his own mouth closed and took a breath, blinking a few times as if it would help understand his situation better “This is just scaring me away from honesty you know”
Barton scoffed against the hand still against his mouth and rolled his eyes “Shut up Stark”
Silence fell between them and they both stood awkwardly, shifting their feet and refusing to meet one another’s gaze until Tony cleared his throat and his teammate’s gaze rounded on him.
“Do you want to do something about this” he asked tentatively, gesturing between the two of them, brows raised forming creases in his forehead.
Barton huffed out a breath of air and then blinked once at him “Of course I do, do you?”
He pursed his lips and unfolded his arms, no longer protecting his chest “I can only speak if I tell the truth?”
From that moment, the only lies he bothered to tell were the ones that said he wasn’t spending time with Hawkeye, and the ones that said he definitely wasn’t sleeping with him.
As one habit died, another took its place.
And he liked this one much better.