It’s both a very good and incredibly traumatic thing that Tony’s phone rings when it does because he’d probably never have woken up if it hadn’t. The way he’s feeling now, he doesn’t think that would be such a bad thing. He aches everywhere. His head feels like post-rage Bruce is dancing a tango on his temples. And his mouth; Jesus, why does it taste like that? He doesn’t even want to think about where his tongue has been. It’s nowhere pretty by the taste of it.
Groaning, he reaches over the side of the bed – hang on, whose bed is this? – and fumbles around under a pile of clothes, finding the very expensive cellphone. He squints, eyes still pained by the heavy sunlight, to read the caller ID. It’s Natasha. How odd. She’s getting married today. Why is she phoning him?
Oh God, she’s getting married today.
That’s why she’s phoning him.
His eyes widen in panic as he realises that he, Tony Stark, is in deep, deep shit. Natasha knows eleven ways to kill a man using a teaspoon. He is not looking forward to this conversation.
He takes a deep breath and promptly chokes on his own saliva, his mouth is so dry. It’s now or never.
He presses the green button and holds the phone to his ear.
“Natasha!” he says, trying not to sound like he’s been gargling with gravel all night. It fails.
“Tony?” says Natasha, sounding equal parts concerned and pissed off. This isn’t a good sign. “What the hell happened to you?”
“Life,” he says. Smooth. He thinks he’s evaded her line of questioning. Now maybe he can find his trousers.
No such luck. Natasha Romanov isn’t the most successful spy in the history of anything ever for no reason. He can practically hear her narrowing her eyes in suspicion, and gulps.
“Where’s Clint?” she asks, coolly. Tony is becoming more desperate to find his trousers than ever. At least they’ll absorb the moisture when he inevitably wets himself in fear any moment now.
“He’s... here somewhere,” he responds, chewing his lip. It tastes like cigar, vomit and regret.
“And where’s ‘here’?” Natasha pushes.
Tony wishes he knew.
“Vegas,” he replies, truthfully. Well, she didn’t ask for specifics. God, his head hurts. He wonders if the hotel room – the hotel room! That’s where he is! – has any aspirin. He doubts it.
“What an unusual name for a hotel,” says Natasha. “Particularly for a hotel in New York, where you promised you’d be holding the stag weekend.”
Tony just wants to get dressed, find Clint and go back to sleep now. He’d hang up if he thought he’d live to tell the tale.
“Mmm,” he hums. “It’s all under control. We’ll be back on your doorstep all scrubbed and clean before you know it. Just give us a couple of hours to show the strippers out.”
Clearly, that will get Natasha less worked up. He resolves to ask Clint to shoot him in the head as soon as he finds him.
“Tony, so help me, I will murder you with a napkin as you sleep through all the speeches,” she growls. “Find. Clint.”
With that, she hangs up. Tony would be offended but he’s too busy trying to work out why the pile of clothes next to his bed is moving.
He sits up, swings his legs over the side of the bed and nudges the heap of clothes with his big toe. The clothes yelp.
“Hey!” grunts Steve.
“Steve?” asks Tony. “Why are you a pile of clothes?”
“I’m not,” says Steve, puzzled. He sounds almost as terrible as Tony feels, his voice edged with sleepless revelry and despair. “I’m Steve.”
He sits up, the clothes falling from his figure as he does so. Tony immediately looks away.
“You’re also very naked under your clothes,” he says. Steve looks down at himself and blushes.
“Oh,” he says. Then he frowns. “Why am I naked?”
Tony resists the urge to look. He thinks Steve would probably join forces with Natasha to plot his murder if he did. Instead, he shrugs.
“If only I knew,” he replied. “Sadly, I doubt I can take responsibility. Now, where the hell is Clint?”
The silence that follows is tense enough that Tony feels permitted to turn around. Steve is still very much naked, his face furrowed in a pensive expression that makes Tony very glad he decided to look after all.
“I was hoping you’d know,” says Steve, eventually. “I can’t remember a damn thing from last night.”
Steve is swearing. This is serious. Tony pulls his mind out of the gutter and focuses on the topic at hand – why can’t that topic be Steve’s biceps, because really – remembering what on Earth happened to Clint.
He can remember a few things about the previous night, but not enough to piece together a clear image. His brain stings from the effort of pulling the memories to the forefront of his consciousness. He has a vague recollection of Bruce – oh God, is he lost, too? – dancing to Indian music on a bar, of Steve in hysterics about something or another, of lots and lots of alcohol, but that’s about it. It’s almost as though Clint has been entirely wiped from his memory.
He’s about to ask Steve if he remembers anything, anything at all, when there’s a loud crash from the bathroom. Steve yelps and jumps to his feet. Tony leaps out of bed. It’s far too much physical exertion for such an early hour, whatever hour it is, and Tony feels himself swaying with the effort of staying upright. He looks at Steve, trying very hard to meet his eye, and nods, their sign to go ahead. Silently – well, not silently at all as Steve stumbles and crashes into the wall, but quietly enough – they creep towards the bathroom. Thankfully, it’s only about five steps away. It really is a very small hotel room. Tony makes a mental note which he’ll almost certainly forget later to book a better suite for his own stag do. Then he makes a mental note which he’ll hopefully remember to never get married, thus negating the need for a stag do in the first place.
Tony carefully pushes the bathroom door open. It creaks on its hinges and Tony swears under his breath. He thinks he hears Steve mutter ‘darn it to heck’, but he wouldn’t bet money on it.
With a quick shove, he pushes the door open all the way. It’s immediately obvious what caused the crashing sound.
Bruce is lying in the bathtub, wizard’s hat perched precariously on his head, a dazed expression on his face. Thor, who is wearing a ball-gown and has apparently shaved off half of his beard, is wielding the showerhead at Bruce like a weapon. The shower has, unfortunately, been turned on, and Bruce is soaked to the skin.
“What in the name of Steve’s quadriceps is going on?” Tony hisses. Steve raises an eyebrow. He looks decidedly unimpressed, which is big coming from the only naked guy in the room, Tony thinks.
“Steven, why are you not clothed?” asks Thor, not moving. He’s still spraying Bruce with the showerhead. Steve looks down at himself and makes a choked little noise before rushing out, presumably to cry and get dressed. Tony sighs. He’d been quite enjoying the view.
He shakes his head. Now is not the time for that. He looks at Thor and motions for him to explain. Thor suddenly looks at the showerhead, realises he’s essentially drowning his friend, and hangs it back up on the wall. He doesn’t turn it off, however. Tony is glad he doesn’t have to pay the water bill of this hotel as he clearly doesn’t own it; it’s far too shabby.
“I wish I could tell you what has occurred, Tony,” Thor booms – how does he manage to boom with such an obvious hangover? Even his eye-bags have eye-bags – and Bruce puts his head in his hands.
“Can no-one remember anything?” Bruce wails. “This is a nightmare. I don’t do well in stressful situations, remember?”
“No, friend, I do not remember a thing,” Thor replies. Bruce sobs. Tony wants to punch someone. Maybe even himself.
“Keep the rage monster at bay, if you will,” sighs Tony. “We have a groom to find.”
Bruce looks out from between his fingers.
“Clint’s gone?” he asks. Thor rubs his clean shaven shin.
“This is indeed a misfortune,” he muses. Tony nods in agreement. Steve walks back into the bathroom and stands beside him.
“We should check our pockets for any signs of what we did last night,” he suggests. Tony knew there was a reason they kept him around.
“Excellent idea,” he says. Steve looks mildly surprised. Tony grins.
“Nice to be appreciated, isn’t it?” he says. “As an incredibly rich and handsome man, I’m used to it, of course. Now come on, Avengers. Empty your pockets.”
“I am not in possession of pockets,” he states, gesturing at his dandelion-coloured dress.
“Check your orifices, then,” says Tony. Thor furrows his brow in confusion, and Bruce gestures for him to ignore it.
Steve produces a hand-written note from the pocket of his jeans that reads ‘call me, Captain xxx’, followed by a lipstick stained kiss and a phone number. Tony feels inexplicably angry about this, but takes it and puts it in his wallet for evidence. From his own pockets, he takes out a business card that says ‘Peter Parker, Unofficial Avenger’. He shakes his head, confused, and files it away with the phone number.
Bruce doesn’t produce anything worthwhile from his pockets as all the contents of his purse and pockets are thoroughly soaked due to Thor’s watery self defence mechanisms. Thor won’t check his orifices in public, so they’re left with a phone number and a business card. That’s it.
Tony starts to wonder if he’ll ever get to make that best man’s speech after all.
Half an hour later, they’re in the hotel restaurant, attempting to force down breakfast. Tony and Bruce are suffering through mugs of black coffee. Steve and Thor – still in his ball-gown, for reasons Tony cannot ascertain, as they did eventually find some of Thor’s clothes in the sink - of course, are valiantly attempting full cooked breakfasts.
Tony drums his fingers on the table.
“We need a plan of action,” he says. He takes out his wallet and places their two bits of evidence on the table. He points at Peter Parker’s card. “We should call this kid first.”
Steve swallows a mouthful of bacon and eyes him quizzically.
“Why not the woman?” he challenges. Tony raises an eyebrow.
“I know it’s been a long time, Cap,” he replies. “But we have bigger fish to fry right now than getting you to fondue with a call girl. If we don’t find Legolas within the next three hours, the female equivalent of Stalin is going to make sure that none of us will be able to fondue again.”
Thor and Bruce look at each other. Steve looks at Tony. Tony looks towards God and asks him why this is his life. Well, he says ‘life’. He thinks that term is inaccurate.
“OK,” he says, slowly. He steals a piece of scrambled egg from Thor’s plate when the demi-god is busy eyeing Tony like he’s gone a bit strange. “We’ll call Parker.”
“A plan!” says Thor. “I like it!”
There is an awful sound of guts rumbling and churning, and Bruce blushes.
“Can we find a bathroom first?” he asks, sheepishly. Tony sighs. Bruce looks cross. “It’s your fault for checking out before breakfast,” he argues.
Tony rests his head on the table. He’s starting to hope that they don’t find Clint; at least that way, death will be quick and easy. Still, they have the beginnings of a plan.
His stomach starts to grumble uncomfortably. Damn Bruce. His plans always work out better.
Not all updates will be this prompt. However, my life is on hiatus today. Enjoy!
Tony is just splashing his face with cold water after having thrown up the memories of everyone he’s ever loved along with what tasted a bit like tar when he feels a hand on his arm. He swallows a throatful of bile and looks up. Steve is standing there, a look of concern on his face.
“Did you want something, or do you just have a fetish for bodily excretions?” Tony asks. Steve doesn’t show any sign of repulsion, which is worrying. Something’s definitely up.
“I can’t get drunk,” he says, finally. Tony raises an eyebrow.
“Duly noted,” he says. “I’m glad we had this talk. Now, hop to it, Capsicle. We have a peppy midget to find.”
Steve groans, exasperated. He’s still holding Tony’s arm.
“For a genius, you’re not very intelligent,” Steve states. “I can’t get drunk, Tony. How can I have a hangover when I can’t get drunk?”
“Maybe you reached your limits of sobriety,” he suggests. Steve shakes his head.
“I don’t have a limit,” he argues. “I could bathe in vodka and whisky and I still wouldn’t feel even slightly light-headed.”
“Well, no wonder, if that’s how you’re trying to get drunk,” Tony grins. Steve gives him that look, the one that means ‘now is not the time, you idiot’, and lets go of his arm.
“It’s not funny, Tony,” he says, angrily. Tony tries very hard to school his features into an expression of decorum and calm. Steve continues. “Someone must have... slipped us something. I don’t know.”
Tony nods slowly.
“Someone must have drugged us,” he agrees. Steve looks shocked. Tony shrugs again. “Vegas, baby,” he adds. Steve looks disgusted.
“Why would someone do that?” he asks, and it’s a genuine question. Bless him and his 1940s naivety. Tony resists the urge to pinch his cheeks.
“People get off on being morons,” he offers. “Now, come on. Sweetpea and Shakespeare are going to think I’ve been deflowering you. Chop chop!”
Not ten minutes later, they’re stumbling down the grubby sidestreets of Las Vegas, squinting in the sunlight reflecting from the tacky plastic signs telling them they can win $1,000,000 if they only come inside and have a drink. Tony shudders. He thinks he’ll always have nightmares about this kind of thing.
“Do we have any idea where we’re going?” Bruce pipes up. “My legs are killing me.”
“You’ve only been up for half an hour,” Tony points out.
“Yeah, and I had my legs crushed by a snoring demi-god in drag for ten times that long. In a bathtub,” Bruce counters. Tony has to give him that one.
“I am truly sorry,” Thor says, an air of melancholy creeping into his thunderous tones. “If there are any means by which I may repay my debt, merely let me know, friend Bruce.”
Bruce is silent for a few moments.
“You could carry me,” he says, finally. Thor beams.
“Certainly, I can!” he agrees, and picks up Bruce like he weighs no more than a bag of sugar, throwing him over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift. It’s highly undignified and Tony sniggers. Even Steve looks like he’s trying hard to stifle a laugh.
Tony could almost forget that his balls are on the line. He enjoys the team dynamic more than he expected to, always having considered himself a bit of a lone ranger.
He could probably ponder this for a while, but he doesn’t get the chance to as he feels Steve grip his shoulder. He pushes him off.
“Stop doing that,” he hisses, rubbing his arm. “I like having four limbs.”
Steve ignores him.
“The card the girl gave me,” he says. “I need to see it.”
Tony raises an eyebrow.
“What, now?” he says. “Cap, if there was ever a bad time - ”
“So help me, Tony, if you don’t give it to me, I’ll sit on you and tell you tales of when I was a boy,” Steve says, impatiently. Tony reaches into his pocket immediately.
“I regret ever teaching you to have a sense of humour,” he grumbles, pulling out his wallet and handing Steve the lipstick smeared card. Steve flips it over, ignoring the handwritten phone number and focusing on the printed information on the other side. He studies it carefully and his face lights up with glee.
“Look!” he cries, thrusting the card in Tony’s face. Tony takes a wearied step back.
“It’s lovely,” he says. “Although they misspelt ‘pussy’.”
“No, look,” he repeats, and Tony realises he’s pointing to the building next to them. It’s a horribly dilapidated affair, windows boarded up with corrugated iron and wooden planks. A rusty sign above the partially broken door reads ‘Sandy’s Foxy Fun’. The serif font of the business card reads the same.
Steve looks at Tony. Tony looks at Steve. Thor looks at the building, his excitement barely disguised.
“Apparently, we have appalling taste in establishments when intoxicated,” Tony manages eventually. Steve nods.
“We have to go in, don’t we?” he asks, resignedly. Tony nods.
“Gird your loins, boys,” he says. “We’re going into the lion’s den.”
Thor charges in first. Tony wishes he felt more surprised.
If the building was dismal on the outside, then it’s hellish beyond words on the inside. There’s no natural light, for a start. Tony is half tempted to strip off and use his arc reactor to guide them around, making sure they don’t trip in any puddles of vomit. The wallpaper is an unfortunate mottled pattern, the colours of blood and pus, and the carpet is what Tony politely decides to term ‘turd brown’. Steve looks like he’s trying not to faint. Bruce and Thor are giggling in a corner. Tony decides not to interrupt them.
There’s a bar in the far corner of the room and Tony and Steve head towards it. The bartender, a kid of about eleven with a shock of ginger hair and a smattering of freckles across his pudgy face, turns to eye them quizzically.
“Can I help you, gentlemen?” he asks, suspiciously. Tony raises an eyebrow.
“Don’t get many customers in here before the full moon, I see,” he says. The kid squints a little. Suddenly, his face lights up with what looks like recognition.
“I’d recognise that sarcastic wit anywhere!” he cries. “You were here last night! Oh, boy, did you bring the party with you!”
Tony raises his other eyebrow. Steve takes a few steps back.
“I did?” Tony says.
“Oh, geeze, you really did,” the boy gushes. “Hey, call your two buddies over. I want to speak to them. They were fun.”
‘Fun’ is probably just about the last word Tony Stark would apply to Bruce Banner. ‘Surprising’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘unpredictable’, maybe. ‘Fun’, well, that’s pushing it a bit in his opinion. Still, he obliges.
“Hey, Hulk man, bring your godlike boyfriend over here, would you?” he calls. He can feel Bruce’s wilting look from over here, and he grins smugly.
The bartender looks at Thor, his expression one of uninhibited admiration.
“You really killed it last night,” he tells him. Thor opens his mouth to speak, but this is generally a bad thing in Tony’s mind, so he decides to take the lead.
“What is this place?” he asks. “A fine establishment to be sure, but what’s your selling point?”
The bartender – Tony decides to dub him Freckles – eyes him with that same look of suspicion he’d only just abandoned.
“We’re a drag club,” he answers, slowly, speaking to Tony like he’s a special little someone. “Only we dress up as Disney characters, not your average run-of-the-mill celebrities.” He turns to Thor again. “And you, my friend, absolutely nailed it as Belle!”
Thor looks down at his yellow dress and beams.
“I remember!” he thunders. His face falls slightly. “Alas, I do not recall any details. Perhaps you could regale me with tales of my glorious triumph!”
“Later, big guy,” he says. “Don’t forget we have an eagle-eyed bride-to-be to find.”
Freckles’ eyes widen.
“You mean the archer guy, right?” he asks. Steve nods eagerly.
“Did you see him last night?” Steve questions. “Was he with us?”
“Boy, you were really smashed, huh?” he chuckles. “Don’t remember a damn thing, eh? Well, it’s probably for the best, all things told.” Tony motions for him to continue. “Yeah, he was with you. Didn’t leave with you, though,” he adds as a pensive afterthought. Bruce narrows his eyes.
“What, he stayed here?” he asks. Freckles looks at him blankly.
“No,” he states stoically. “He left with some lanky guy in a green dress.”
Steve looks at Tony. Tony looks at Steve.
“Loki,” they both say. Thor growls. Bruce jumps back slightly. Freckles shrugs.
“Didn’t catch his name,” he continues. “He was a funny looking dude, though. Long black hair, pointy face. British, I think.”
“Asgardian,” Thor corrects. Freckles squints. “My brother is of Asgard,” Thor clarifies. Tony buries his face in his hands.
“Where’s that, then?” Freckles asks, interested. “Norway?”
“It is not of this world,” Thor begins. Bruce pokes him in the rib and his eyes widen. “I mean, yes. It is of Norway. A fine land, to be sure.”
“Right,” says Freckles slowly. His concerned gaze lingers on Thor for a moment before turning back to Tony. “Anyway, your friend’s got a great aim,” he says. “Scored more highly in darts than anyone we’ve ever had in here, and he only threw four times. Whatever his career is, he’s got to be wasted. He should go professional.”
“I can assure you, his talents are much appreciated,” Steve says haughtily. Tony pats his elbow reassuringly and Steve fixes him with a disapproving look.
“Did you see where he went with this British guy?” he asks. Freckles shakes his head.
“Thought he was Norwegian?” he says. Bruce groans. “Anyway, can’t help you there. Turned my back for a moment and they’d left by the time I’d made you your martinis. You didn’t follow them. Something about bros before hoes, if I recall correctly.”
Tony really hopes he doesn’t. He sighs. Steve rubs the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.
“What sort of time did they leave?” he asks. Tony is thankful that at least one of them knows what questions to ask. Freckles stares at the clock on the wall behind them absent-mindedly.
“Not sure, to be honest,” he replies. “Must have been between twelve and one, though. No later than that.”
Steve looks despairing. Tony empathises.
“Thank you for your time, sir,” he says.
“Any time,” Freckles beams. “Oh, and big guy,” he adds, looking at Thor. “We’ve always got a slot needs filling here as a performer. If you’re ever in the neighbourhood, give us a call.”
Thor looks like he’s just won the lottery. Bruce has to physically push him out, hands in the small of his back, which isn’t an easy feat for a guy half his size. Tony and Steve follow.
When they’re outside, they take a few breaths of the slightly less vomit filled air. Steve looks pensive.
“At least we know how we came to be in such a state,” he muses. “If Loki was there, you can bet he had something to do with it.”
“My brother?” Thor booms. “You believe he contributed to our merry manners?”
“Merry?” Tony repeats, disbelievingly. He shakes his head. “Yes,” he finishes. “This has got your brother written all over it.”
Thor furrows his brow. Tony makes a mental note to remember that Thor is essentially five years old.
“This does not please me,” Thor states.
“Hey, I’m not over the moon about it either,” Tony sighs. He takes out his cell-phone and taps in Pepper’s number. “I’m just going to make a quick call. You three should sit down, you look like shit.”
“Three words come to mind,” Steve replies. “And they are ‘pot’, ‘kettle’ and ‘black’.”
“You old men and your obsession with tea,” Tony shoots back, and he stalks off before Steve can retort.
When he’s confident he’s out of earshot, he presses call. The phone only rings twice before Pepper answers, sounding incredibly tired.
“Tony?” she yawns. “What do you want? I’m in a meeting.”
“What, at - ” Tony looks at his watch. 9:30am. No wonder he feels like death. “ – at the asscrack of dawn?”
“Yes,” Pepper states. “The meeting you were meant to go to, but sent me in your place so you could live it up in Vegas. How’s that going, by the way?”
There’s a pause, and Tony turns on the charm.
“Pepper!” he cries. “How I’ve missed your dulcet tones. It’s like music to my ears, you know - ”
“Tony,” she says, warningly. “What do you want?”
“To talk to you, of course!” he responds. “Your sing-song voice brightens even the darkest of days. Have you lost weight, by the way? I can hear it from here - ”
“I had to take a bathroom break to answer this call,” Pepper sighs, ignoring him. “If I don’t get back in there within the next five minutes, they’re going to think I ate some bad sushi. I’ll ask you again. What do you want?”
Tony chews on his lip.
“We lost Clint,” he says, eventually. Pepper lets rip a string of swearwords that would make Tony blush were he not already used to hearing that sort of thing from her. He holds the phone away from his ear until he can hear the line go quiet again.
“How on Earth did you manage that?” she asks, furious.
“Vegas,” Tony answers, miserably.
“That is not an excuse, Tony Stark,” she says.
“Would it help if I talked dirty to you?” Tony asks. He hears her count to five under her breath, something she’s taken to doing a lot recently. Tony thinks there’s a slight chance this may be because of him.
“I can categorically and honestly say that no, it wouldn’t,” she says.
“Oh, Pepper. You know how I love it when you refuse,” growls Tony. She swears at him again, and he sighs. “We’re looking for him as we speak,” he says.
“Well, good luck with that,” Pepper says flatly. “He’s due to walk up the aisle in eight hours. You do know that if you mess up this wedding, Natasha will make sure your body is never found?”
“She’ll kill me so hard that I die a death,” Tony agrees. “Look, we manufacture some of the security cameras on the Vegas strip, right?”
“Yeees,” Pepper acknowledges. “What, do you want me to hack into them? Because that’s really more your area of expertise. I just make you look good on paper.”
“I look excellent in the flesh as well,” Tony says. “And sort of. I need you to look at the camera images captured between midnight and 1am around my location. I’ll send you the co-ordinates. It’s important, Pep. We think Clint’s with Loki.”
“You couldn’t have mentioned that first?” Pepper hisses.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing,” says Tony. “Can you do it? Please?”
He hears her groan in exasperation.
“You’re saying ‘please’. It must be serious,” she sighs. “OK. Fine. I’ll do it. But it’s going to be clumsy as hell, so if I get caught hacking into something I shouldn’t be hacking into, you’re the one that’s going to do jail time.”
“Oh, Pepper, I wouldn’t last ten minutes in prison, not with my figure,” Tony responds. There’s a moment of tense silence. “Thank you,” he finishes. “Really. And I won’t say it again, so I hope you heard it.”
“I did,” says Pepper. “Just working on processing it. Look, I really have to go now. Text me your location and I’ll let you know my progress, or lack thereof.”
“Great talk,” says Tony, pressing the button to end the call. He feels simultaneously weightless and as heavy as a tank of lead as he walks back to rejoin his three comrades.
Except there are four of them. They’ve been joined by a skinny little kid – he can’t be more that 5”4, which is tiny. Tony is thankful for this – with rumpled brown hair, wearing a bright red long-sleeved top and obnoxious skin-tight blue trousers.
Tony blinks. Steve clears his throat.
“Tony,” he says. “This is Peter Parker.”
Peter scrunches up his nose.
“I prefer ‘Spiderman’,” he says.
Tony sits down. He would kill for a gin and tonic right now.
“Sorry,” Steve says. “Spiderman, then. Tony, Pete – er, Spiderman saw us last night. He thinks he might know where Clint went.”
“Oh,” Tony grunts, lying down and curling into a ball. “I’ll be with you momentarily. I’m just going to kill myself first.”
Bruce throws his shoe at him. Tony regrets being born. He sits up again and fixes Peter – he won’t call him Spiderman, that’s just ridiculous – with an icy glare, which Peter returns with a haughty gaze that only angsty teenagers can perfect.
“Talk,” he orders. Peter begins.
I have been ill. I am still ill. Hence the lateness of this chapter and the possible (probable) presence of mistakes. I apologise, but hope you enjoy it anyway.
Tony tries to listen. He really does. But this Peter Parker kid is talking and talking and all Tony hears is hot air and nonsense, all spoken in one of those voices that’s not quite broken, and Tony has to resist the urge to rip out his eardrums and throw them at the boy’s feet.
Steve fixes him with an odd glare.
“What do you think, then?” he asks. Tony shrugs.
“I think that we need to get this kid some growth hormones,” he responds. Steve clenches his fists.
“I meant about Loki,” he explains, the weary air of patience he usually carries wearing thin. “I take it you weren’t listening?”
“I may or may not have tuned out,” he admits. “But on a positive note, I think I might have an idea of where to go next.”
Peter Parker is probably the bitchiest kid Tony has ever met. The walk to their next location on their whistle stop tour of sobriety is only three blocks away, and Peter complains the whole way there. Even Thor is starting to get irritated, if the way he’s singing Asgardian hymns to drown out Peter’s whinging is anything to go by.
Tony brings his parade of hungover superheroes to a halt outside ‘OJ’S Diner’. Steve raises an eyebrow. Thor just looks hungry.
“Why are we here?” asks Bruce. “I mean, one of my main philosophies in life is to never say no to pancakes, but we’re meant to be finding Clint.”
“Look, it’s just a hunch,” Tony says. “But I was thinking.”
“Makes a change,” says Steve under his breath. Peter sniggers and Tony tries very hard not to snarl at him.
“Look,” Tony tries again. “You’re Loki, right? You’ve just kidnapped this drunk guy and presumably you want to get some sort of information out of him.”
“Do we know if that was his motivation?” Bruce asks. Steve shrugs.
“It seems likely,” he says.
“I like pancakes,” offers Thor.
“Me too,” Peter agrees.
“Anyway,” continues Tony, doing his best to ignore everyone else. “I figured that hey, Loki’s a smart guy. He knows that he’s not going to get much out of Clint, the state he was in. Guy probably couldn’t even remember the name of his fiancée. So what if Loki decides he needs to sober Clint up a little?”
“But why here?” Steve asks, and Tony’s gratified to see that he appears to be taking him seriously, unlike the others. Bruce is reading the menu in the diner window.
“24 hour coffee drip,” Tony replies. Steve nods slowly.
“So you’re thinking that Loki took Clint here, fed him enough black coffee that he could form full sentences again and then took him somewhere to interrogate him?”
“That’s exactly what I’m thinking, Cap,” Tony says. “Also, I’m starving, and this place does breakfasts that are even greasier than Peter’s face.”
He doesn’t even try to hide the smirk on his face as Peter furrow his brow furiously.
Inside the diner, Tony and Steve sit together continue to work on their plan for finding Clint. Any other motivations Tony may have for insisting on this seating plan are buried deep beneath a layer of professionalism.
Bruce and Thor have other ideas. They are single-handedly working their way through every item on the breakfast menu. It isn’t until Thor ends up with almost an entire ice cream stuck in his beard that Steve snaps.
“Do you want to find Clint before he inadvertently leaves Natasha at the altar or not?” he hisses. Bruce looks at him, wide-eyed and covered in crumbs. Thor chews thoughtfully on a four layer bacon sandwich.
“Yes,” he answers eventually.
“Then maybe you could help us,” Steve continues.
Thor nods, ashamed.
“My apologies,” he says, his voice almost at Midgardian levels of quietness. “I just love bacon.”
“We all do,” deadpans Tony.
“I don’t,” pipes up Peter. Tony shoots him a withering glare. Peter sticks his tongue out. Steve bangs his fist on the table and Tony wishes he could say he hadn’t felt even slightly aroused by that.
“This isn’t about bacon!” Steve cries. A passing waitress looks at him strangely. Steve, as usual, doesn’t notice. He never really seems to take in other people’s perceptions of him, Tony thinks. “This is about finding our friend,” he continues. “Look, we all made a mistake last night. We let our guards down, and Clint suffered because of it. We have to find him.”
Bruce looks uneasy. He puts down his pancake.
“Natasha will kill us if we don’t, and not with kindness,” Tony adds. “Probably with napkin rings, actually. Or origami swans.”
“Thor,” he says. “Loki’s your brother. You know him better than any of us. Do you have any idea where he might go?”
Thor chews on a piece of fried bread thoughtfully.
“I can honestly say that I do not,” he responds. “My brother is notoriously difficult to understand. All the things I thought I knew about him may well be untrue.”
Bruce pats him on the shoulder.
“Anything you could tell us would help,” Steve presses.
“We’re sort of desperate,” Tony clarifies. “Like, Kim Kardashian desperate.”
“I do not understand that reference,” says Thor. Steve says something that sounds like ‘that makes two of us’. Tony and Bruce exchange knowing glances.
“Look, the big guy doesn’t know,” sighs Peter. He pushes his now empty bowl of porridge away from him and stands up. “Are we done here? ‘Cause I actually have some useful information, remember?”
Tony narrows his eyes. He can’t remember this kid having said anything useful in the entire half hour since they’ve known him, but then again, he hasn’t really been listening.
“Give me a minute,” he says.
He signals to a bored-looking waitress with his cheque book. Steve looks embarrassed. The waitress approaches their table.
“Sorry to be a bother,” begins Steve. She blushes slightly and Tony rolls his eyes.
“But did you see a tall guy in green last night?” Tony finishes. The waitress’ eyes linger on Steve for a few seconds before she turns to Tony.
“Probably,” she says. “We were busy last night. Don’t remember the details of all our happy customers.”
“Oh, you’d remember this one,” he says. “Real tall, black hair, dressed up like a sadomasochistic leprechaun. He had a friend with him, a peppy midget, goes by Clint.”
The waitress narrows her eyes.
“Are you playing some kind of game here?” she asks, resting one hand on her hip.
“Not at all,” Steve assures her. “But we lost one of our friends last night and we’re kind of at a loss as to how to find him.”
The waitress’ harsh glare softens at the genuine look of concern on Steve’s face, and she rests both her hands on their table. Tony doesn’t miss how she angles her bosom towards Steve. Steve does.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I don’t think I saw anyone of that description. I’ll be sure to let you know if I do, though. You’ll have to give me your number, of course.”
She’s looking directly at Steve, who blushes and looks down at his orange juice. Tony has to try very hard to resist the urge to pinch his cheeks.
“He doesn’t have a number,” Tony interjects. “Guy once mistook a calculator for a cell phone. Wondered why no-one would answer his calls for a month. Thanks for your help, though. We’ll be sure to leave a tip.”
The waitress gives him a thin-lipped smile and looks at Steve once more, who deliberately doesn’t meet her gaze. She sighs.
“You kids have fun looking for the lost midget,” she says, tearing a piece of paper off her notepad and leaving it on the table. Thor looks at it like it might explode. She rolls her eyes and walks away.
“That’s the bill, big guy,” Tony says, digging into his pockets for enough change to cover the cost of their breakfast. “You can pay for your own,” he says to Bruce, who is making his way solidly through a cheese omelette. Bruce shrugs and produces a $20 bill from his pocket.
Tony looks at the bill. The waitress has conveniently forgotten to charge Steve. Tony narrows his eyes. He decides to leave the waitress a tip after all, writing ‘he was out of your league anyway’ on the back of the paper when none of the others are looking.
“Look, as fun as this is, can we please leave now?” Peter asks. Tony pokes him.
“I just paid for your breakfast,” he says. “You’re not in control here.”
“All right,” acquiesces Steve. “We’ll get going.” Peter sticks his tongue out at Tony. Tony flicks a crumb at his nose.
“But my pancakes,” objects Bruce.
“Take it with you!” Tony suggests, only half seriously.
Bruce looks down at his plate. There’s a mountain of at least twelve pancakes on it. There’s no way he’s going to be able to take it with him.
Thor sighs. He picks up the plate and shoves all the pancakes, bar one, into his mouth. Bruce wordlessly takes the remaining one. Steve looks horrified. Peter is clearly disgusted.
“My pancakes,” Bruce repeats, his voice barely more than a whisper.
“Thor’s pancakes now,” Tony corrects him. “Now then, ladies first. After you, Peter.”
“So I was thinking,” Peter is explaining to Steve. “That Loki guy has a pretty distinctive look, right?”
“That’s one word for it,” Tony cuts in. Thor looks at him warningly. The effect is somewhat diminished by the fact that he’s wearing a jam-stained dress and has bacon in his beard.
“Anyway,” Peter carries on. “I thought that someone was bound to notice him in all that green leather get-up.”
“Ten points to Gryffindor,” says Tony. Peter clenches his fists.
“My point is that if I saw them on the midnight baseball game screen, someone else definitely would have, and maybe - ”
“Midnight baseball game screen?” Tony interrupts. Steve facepalms.
“He did explain this earlier, if you remember,” he says through gritted teeth.
“Tony wasn’t listening,” Bruce reminds him. “Long story short, Peter and his girlfriend go to check out some kitsch baseball game at midnight and they have one of those screens that films the audience, right?”
“I am familiar with the concept,” Tony says.
“Right. Well, about halfway through, this weird man comes on the screen, sitting next to this short drunk guy with a bow and arrow. The announcer says something like ‘and the odd couple award goes to’-”
“He said ‘and here’s little and lanky’,” Peter corrects him. Tony sticks his middle finger up. Steve closes his eyes and exhales slowly. Thor picks a bit of bacon out of his beard and eats it.
“OK, sorry. He said that. Anyway, as soon as the guy in green realises he’s on the screen, he grabs the other guy’s hand and makes a run for it. Security chase after them, thinking that he’s got something to hide, but they don’t manage to catch them. Peter here chases them for a good while – you know, with his spidey powers he’s pretty good at that – but eventually loses them. He overhears us talking about it, decides to help us, then eats porridge at a diner with us. It’s a classic tale.”
Tony digests what Bruce has just said.
“So, why did you let me drag you to a diner?” he asks.
“We thought you had a plan!” Steve replies.
“Well, I did,” Tony agrees. “But it wasn’t a very good one.”
“I know,” says Peter. Tony grits his teeth.
“It wasn’t very good,” he says. “Because it was excellent. Now, come on. Where did you last see them before you somehow managed to lose them in streets rendered almost empty by the late hour?”
“They went into a takeaway,” Peter answers. “And yes, before you ask, I can remember where it was. I can even take you there, if your old legs will carry you that far.”
Tony flicks him on the ear. Peter yelps. Steve walks away, pinching his nose between his thumb and forefinger, and sighs.
“Tony’s not old,” he says. Tony is about to thank him, when Steve continues. “He’s 5 years old.”
Peter pulls a face and Tony does the same. Bruce is still complaining about the loss of his pancakes.
Tony thinks that Clint probably doesn’t want to be found.
The takeaway is mercifully only a short distance away, which means Tony only has to listen to Peter witter on about some bint named Gwen for ten minutes or so. He’s able to tune out the majority of the kid’s ramblings due to a couple of texts from Pepper that require immediate attention – she’s scoured the CCTV footage from the area and come to the shocking, entirely unforeseen conclusion that Clint and Loki went to a takeaway.
“Why would your brother take him here?” Bruce asks Thor, who is carrying him over his shoulder like he weighs no more than a feather or a whisper. Thor looks at the almost derelict building in front of them and shrugs, making Bruce hiccup.
“I cannot rightly say,” he answers. “My brother’s methods are often beyond my logic.”
“Maybe he just really wanted some duck in hoisin sauce?” suggests Peter. Tony shudders.
“Not from here,” he says. “You want to stay away from anything that once walked in that place. Looks like they fry things in the blood of their enemies and the tears of orphans.”
Steve looks at him.
“You’ve never been here,” he says.
“No,” Tony agrees. “But I did some research on the way here.” He holds up his phone. “Read some reviews of the place. Six people claim to have got food poisoning from here. One person thinks they might have died. Two people have thanked them for helping bump off a rich relative with their crispy chicken, which is shocking. I’d have gone for the beef if I wanted to assassinate someone.”
Steve’s face is blank. Peter rolls his eyes.
“As fascinating as this is,” he says. “We’re not here for today’s special. Let’s ask about your friend.”
Tony scowls as they follow him inside.
The man behind the counter shakes his head. Tony thrusts the grainy CCTV image on his phone closer towards the man’s face and he recoils slightly fearfully.
“I didn’t see them,” he repeats. Tony hears Steve sigh. He decides to turn the interrogation up a notch. He takes his pair of glasses out of his blazer pocket – it’s a miracle they didn’t get crushed in whatever ruckus occurred last night, and Tony is incredibly thankful for small miracles such as this – and puts them on, putting his phone in his pocket instead and placing both palms on the counter. He leans closer to the man, who visibly shudders.
“My astonishingly erotic appearance is clearly visible to the naked eye,” says Tony.
“Oh God,” says Bruce.
“Odin cannot help us now,” mutters Thor.
“But what the naked eye cannot see, my good fellow, is that I am also a man of considerable wealth,” Tony continues. The man swallows. Tony takes a step back and gestures around the interior of the takeaway. “Look at this place,” he says. “It looks like a bad sauna. I mean, I would come to this place if I wanted a scorching case of herpes, not a delicious pancake roll. You might as well have a sign outside that says ‘half price potentially lethal food poisoning’, because damn, I haven’t seen clapboard ceilings like that since my first nightmare as a child.”
The man hangs his head. It’s an almost imperceptible movement, but it’s a sign.
“I used my grandmother’s inheritance money to buy this place,” he says. “You’re right. It’s a dump. But you know, my grandmother worked as a convenience store clerk. She didn’t leave me a lot.”
“And I get that, man, I do,” Tony presses. “Which is why I’m going to make you an offer that you can’t refuse, unless you have some sort of problem with your frontal lobe.”
The man’s eyes widen and Tony leans even closer, conspiratorial.
“This will never work,” Peter mumbles. Tony ignores him.
“I personally guarantee that I will pay for a complete revamp of your little establishment,” Tony promises. “I’ll make it all shiny and spick and span and hey, if you still want to give people food poisoning then that’s your gig, I’m not a health inspector, but it’ll be out of choice, not necessity.”
The man licks his lips eagerly.
“What do I have to do?” he asks. Tony reaches into his pocket and takes out his phone again, showing the man the CCTV image once more.
“Tell me where my friend went,” he replies.
The man’s eyes dart nervously from Tony to the rest of the group, who are standing a few metres behind him. Tony knows how it must look. He’s being backed up by a man in a dress who’s carrying a rather tired looking man in rumpled clothing, a skinny teenager with eyes that have seen death and told it a whiny love story and a man with abs of steel and a face full of regret. It can’t look professional.
“I can’t tell you that,” the man says. Tony narrows his eyes.
“Why not?” he asks. The man swallows hard, Adam’s apple bobbing in his skinny throat.
“He told me I couldn’t.”
“’He’? You mean the tall guy in green?” Tony forces out a bark of laughter that he hopes conveys nonchalance. “He’s all fart and no shit. Won’t follow through.”
“The other guy,” says the man. Tony turns around to look at the others and sees Steve’s eyes widen.
“Clint?” Bruce says. The man shrugs.
“Didn’t catch his name,” he says. “Just sold them some noodles and chicken chow mein and then they left.”
“And where did they go?” Steve asks again. He takes a few steps forward until he’s mere centimetres behind Tony. Tony holds his breath. “You have to tell us. Please. Our friend could be in trouble.”
The man shrugs.
“He seemed fine,” he says. “They both did.”
“I give it three hours if they had the chow mein,” Tony mutters. Steve prods him. Peter sniggers.
Suddenly, Thor pushes past Tony and slams his hands on the counter. The man jumps.
“I have had enough of this Misgardian folly,” cries Thor. “You will tell us where my brother and friend Clint have gone or I will tear this pathetic shed apart, piece by piece.”
“He really will,” says Bruce, nodding.
The man inches backwards until he’s pressed against the wall. Thor raises his eyebrows impatiently and the man lets out a strangled sob of fear.
“The airport,” he says.
Tony’s blood runs slightly cold. Steve puts his head in his hands.
“Well, fuck,” says Peter.
“Quite,” agrees Steve, glumly.
“I’ll have my people call your people,” says Tony. “It might be a bit of an abusive call, though. My people don’t like it when their friends go missing and other people are too cowardly to help out. They’re funny like that.”
The man releases another sob-like noise and Tony shakes his head as they troop, disheartened, out of the takeaway.
“Come on, guys,” Steve sighs. “If we make it to the airport in time, maybe we can ask around, see if anyone saw what flight they caught. It’s not over yet, all right?”
Tony finds his optimism at once both inherently endearing and irritating. Clint’s gone, and that’s that. They’ll almost certainly find him eventually; they have a worldwide organisation of spies and secret agents on their side and the world is getting smaller every day, but he won’t make his own wedding.
Tony wants to vomit. This whole bachelor party was his goddamn idea. He should have been prepared for this.
“It’s totally over,” Peter mutters.
“Shut up, Spidercock,” Tony hisses.
“Hey! If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even have got this far,” Peter counters.
“We would eventually!”
“How? You wouldn’t have known where to look!”
“We would. I have people. Friends. Unlike you.”
Steve tsks. Tony feels momentarily guilty.
“If we want to find Clint, we’re going to have to work together,” he says.
Tony has never found a prospect quite so unappealing in his life, and he once had to clean up the vomit of an entire stag party.
The airport is a fifteen minute cab ride away, and Tony reckons it must be the most uncomfortable cab ride in history. The five of them squash into the back of a three-seater, much to the chagrin of the cab driver, who is only appeased when Tony promises to pay any fines that may arise from the criminal offence. He’s getting pretty fed up of paying people off. This ranks as one of the most expensive days in recent memory and Tony has nothing to show for it except a sore ass and a permanent frown line. He does, however, get to spend the fifteen minute journey pressed quite firmly against Steve, so he reconciles this and makes inner peace with himself.
They practically burst out of the cab when it finally pulls over after what seems like a lifetime of awkward silence and Steve leads the charge to the airport entrance. Thor is still carrying Bruce in an approximation of a fireman’s lift. Peter grabs the hem of Thor’s dress nervously in an attempt to avoid getting lost.
It’s a mad rush through crowds of hungover bachelors and tired bachelorettes fresh from hen and stag dos to get to the airport check-in desk, but they finally make it. Panting and breathless from the short but stressful race, Tony slams his phone down on the desk, startling the woman, whose name badge reads ‘Tessa’.
“I need help,” Tony manages to say between ragged breaths. Tessa raises an eyebrow.
“I’m sure security would be delighted to assist you,” she replies smoothly, picking up a walkie talkie radio. Steve’s eyes widen in fear and he pushes Tony out of the way.
“No, no,” he says. “What my friend means to politely ask is whether or not you could possibly help us? You look like you could.”
Tessa flushes. Tony rolls his eyes. Peter does the same. Tony fidgets. He’s pretty sure Steve doesn’t even realise he’s charming the pants off people half the time. It doesn’t make him any less jealous when it happens.
“That depends on your query,” Tessa says. Steve takes Tony’s phone from him and leans forward slightly, showing her the phone.
“We’re looking for these two men,” he tells her. “We think they came through here a couple hours ago and it’s really important that we know where they went.” Tessa looks uncertain. “The one on the left is getting married later today,” Steve adds. Tessa’s face crumples into a sympathetic wince.
“I’m afraid I haven’t seen them,” she says, and she sounds genuinely regretful. Steve looks crestfallen. Tessa bites her lip. “Let me ask Stella,” she says. “She worked the overnight shift. I’ll be right back.”
She leaves, and Steve turns to Tony.
“Nicely done, tiger,” says Tony. “You have her eating out of your hand.”
“I’m just being polite,” Steve replies, blushing slightly.
“Don’t be ashamed,” Tony continues. “to use your raw animal magnetism to get by in life. How do you think I became so successful?”
“Sold your bullshit on the black market?” suggests Peter. Steve puts his head in his hands. He looks like he’s about to scold them when Tessa returns with a petite redheaded woman. They both look slightly giddy with excitement.
“Tell them,” Tessa urges the other woman. Stella beams.
“I saw them!” she says. “And the best thing is that they’re probably still here. Their flight doesn’t depart for another hour. They’ll board in half an hour.”
“Their flight?” Bruce pipes up. “Where were they going?”
“New York,” Stella answers. “The British guy booked it all, paid for the flights and everything.”
“I did not know my brother had access to Midgardian funds,” Thor says. Tessa looks at him oddly.
“He’s Norwegian,” Tony explains, hurriedly.
“That explains it,” Stella nods. “He didn’t really seem to know what to do. Couldn’t work the swipe card.”
“Norwegians have swipe cards, Stella,” Tessa says.
“Well, whatever. He was obviously from somewhere far away. Further than Britain.”
“I don’t know if Norway is further than Britain.”
“Ladies, thank you,” Steve cuts in. “You’ve been really helpful. Now, is there any way we can go and see them before their flight departs?”
Tessa looks at Stella. Stella looks at Tessa.
“I’m afraid not,” says Stella, apologetically.
“It’s against airport policy,” adds Tessa.
Steve sighs. Tony grins. He knows what’s coming. Steve might be naive, but he’s not stupid. He knows the effect he has on women and he knows how to use it to his advantage.
It’s just a shame he doesn’t know the effect he has on Tony.
“That’s a pity,” Steve says. He turns away from the girls, who both look at each other, panicked. “Thanks for your help, anyway. We’ll leave you to get back to work.”
He takes a few steps away from them. Tessa squeaks and reaches out to grab him. Steve turns around again, and Tony’s pretty sure that no-one else notices the gratified, self-satisfied smile that tilts the left corner of Steve’s mouth, the small smirk he gets when he gets what he wants. You have to know it’s there to see it, Tony thinks.
“Wait,” says Stella. She looks around her, checking that no-one’s eavesdropping, and lowers her voice. Tony has to strain his ears to hear her. “We can escort you up there ourselves. Pretend you’re booked on a flight but you’re a little late, something like that. We can probably only take two of you though, max.”
Steve beams, and it’s charming and utterly disarming.
“Are you sure?” he asks. Tessa smiles benevolently.
“Totally,” she nods. “I mean, your friend’s getting married! That’s a big deal.”
“It is,” Steve agrees. He looks at Tony. “Do you want to come with me?” he asks.
Thor clears his throat.
“Should I not be the one to accompany friend Steve?” he asks. “I am, after all, Loki’s brother.”
“You’re his arch nemesis right now, and you’re wearing a dress,” he states, flatly. Thor looks down at himself and nods, conceding.
“You make a good point,” he acquiesces. “Then I agree. Friend Tony should also go.”
“Let’s get this show on the road,” she says.
Steve grins back at her, and Tony’s heart does that irritating fluttery thing again. He doesn’t like the flirty looks she keeps giving him. Not that he’s going to say anything.
He links arms with Tessa. Stella takes Steve’s arm, and the four of them head towards departures.
“Good luck!” calls Peter from behind him, and Tony turns around to look at the kid. There’s not a hint of falsity on his face. Tony nods.
“I’m gonna need it,” he calls back. Peter grins.
“No you won’t,” he replies.
Tony thinks they might be referring to two different things, but pushes that thought to the back of his mind. They’re close to finding Clint now, and he has to focus on that, or Natasha will have his balls for breakfast.
He’d quite like to keep his balls intact. He girds his loins and makes his way, heavy-hearted, to departures.