Darcy walks into the kitchen just in time to see Clint back out of the fridge gleefully clutching a dubiously stained carton of Chinese food.
“Oh my god, dude, you can’t eat that. That’s at least a week – no wait, what’s today? Thursday? Clint, we haven’t had Chinese food for twelve days – oh god!”
She shrieks and makes exaggerated puking noises as he shrugs and happily shovels some orange (actually really alarmingly discolored) chicken into his mouth.
“Mrmphr—“ He swallows. “I eat gas station food. Hell, I used to work the fryer in the refreshment tent. Pretty sure nothing can kill me at this point.”
Bucky materializes (Darcy will swear later he actually materializes, like he’s been fucking beamed down from the Enterprise) behind Clint and growls “I doubt that” in Clint’s ear like the asshole he is.
Clint startles and bobbles the carton, managing to keep a hand on it but slopping orange-brown-grey sauce onto his shirt. He pivots to get his back against the fridge and glares at Bucky.
“You are a fucking piece of shit, you know that? You know how much I hate it when you talk at me behind me and I can’t fucking hear where it’s coming from, StarkTech hearing aids or not.”
Bucky just grins. “Yeah, well you know how much I hate it when you say shit you can’t back up. So I figure we’re square.”
“Oh come the fuck on, you child, all I was saying is that I have a cast-iron stomach and can eat basically everything. And have.”
“Yeah I’m sure all those fresh veggies out on the rolling plains of Iowa were real hard on your belly, kid.”
“Fuck you, just because I’m from the Midwest doesn’t mean I grew up on a farm and you know it. Besides, it’s not like you could do any better.”
“Please. I guarantee I could out-eat you any day.”
“Uh, guys?” Darcy pipes up, “Your weird sixth-grade posturing is super cool and all but can you maybe move it from in front of the fridge? I’m pretty sure I’ve already lost my appetite, but at least I’d like a Snapple or something.”
They turn twin unimpressed faces to her.
“This is important, Darce.”
“He shouldn’t be allowed to get away with running his mouth like that, doll.”
But they dutifully shuffle away, still glaring.
“Yeah, this is actually dumb. But if you want to make it interesting, why not bet on it? You should each have some decent backup to corroborate your really out-there stories, right?” She reaches into the fridge to grab her drink, pops the cap off and takes an obnoxiously long, pleased swig. “Winner gets – well, I dunno, what does the winner get?”
“Winner gets to make the loser eat anything.”
“…Yeah, I’m pretty sure you’re not actually flirting but this is actually making me uncomfortable. JARVIS, you catch all this?”
“To my infinite chagrin, Miss Lewis.”
“Great. You guys have … a week, no eating anything weird this week, because I’m sure the rest of the team doesn’t want to lose their lunches constantly, but just… think of all the stories you can, get whoever to back up the tale, and then we’ll have a party and make Tony pay for the catering. You tell your five best at the party, we judge which is the grossest or most impressive, and then whoever is the absolute best at being a middle school boy – excuse me, I mean manly man with a manly stomach – gets bragging rights. Deal?”
The glares have, not unexpectedly, turned to slightly nervous blank stares.
“Uh… deal,” says Clint.
“What’s in it for you?” asks Bucky.
“I dunno, cheap thrills, a week where I don’t have to hear you bicker, inner peace? What do you care? Is it a deal?”
He cracks a real grin, wide and delighted. “Yeah, it’s a deal.”
Instead of poofing into wherever former super-assassins go, he swaggers out of the kitchen sing-songing “I’m gonna wiiii-iiiiin.”
Clint snarls and slumps into one of the kitchen chairs to finish his truly appalling lunch.
Darcy pats him on the head as she leaves.
“Why am I having this party?” asks Tony, somewhere between petulant and actually curious.
“Because it’s Saturday night, you haven’t had the whole gang in one room for a while, and you’re getting twitchy about it. Plus I figured I could get your platonic soulmate over there—“ she nods at Bruce “—to actually enjoy himself with something this innocent. And it amuses me to make city dumbass and country dumbass over there prove how identically juvenile they are.”
“Darcy Lewis, you are truly a treasure among women.”
She cocks her head up and puffs out her chest a little. “Indeed I am. Now go, shoo, eat something innocuous and not too heavy. It’s almost time for the boys to be boys.”
The (extended) gang eventually makes its way to the giant cluster of smushy couches and chairs in what Tony calls the “lounge” and what Darcy calls “bigger than my childhood home.” Thor and Jane are curled up on an oversized, overstuffed chaise longue, and he’s laughing softly as she explains the contest to him.
“I must say, I have had many such competitions with my boyhood friends.” His smile turns mischievous “—but they were, by and large, held when we were still boys.”
“Yeah, well, this dumbass ain’t growing up anytime soon,” retorts Clint, hooking a thumb in Bucky’s direction.
“Pot, kettle,” retorts Steve.
“Oh, but Captain, shouldn’t you be an impartial observer in such a serious contest?” snarks Natasha, widening her eyes in fake innocence and actually batting her lashes. “The honor of two of America’s noble service veterans lies in the balance!” Her voice is breathy and high, and for some reason this makes Sam, behind her on the couch, laugh so hard he’s doubled over, silent tears streaming down his face.
“You are all weirdos,” intones Rhodey from behind the bar.
“Yeah, yeah, alright, settle down.” Darcy walks into the middle of the cluster of seats and puts her hands on her hips. “I feel like I should have like a really trashy ring girl outfit and round placards.”
“You probably should,” says Bucky, just as Clint snarks, “I wouldn’t complain.”
Natasha and Steve smack them each upside the head.
“Whatever, you dorks. Now, rules –“ she makes a silencing gesture with one hand. “Yes, rules, don’t give me that look, Clinton. Rules. No category repeats. You eat one bug, you’ve eaten all the bugs. Nobody cares about subsequent bug eating. We’ll give you prompts for every category. Each round is judged by everyone in the room that feels like voting that round. You get more votes if your whatever is grosser. No sexual innuendo – this is just about food. Food ish things. Things you ate. Oh, and uh, if for some reason either of you ever indulged in cannibalism, do not tell us, no matter how funny it is. Or if it was a sex thing.” She shakes her head. “Um. Maybe I should stop reading Hannibal fic on Tumblr. Whatever. First one is grossest food you have willingly eaten and enjoyed. Round one – FIGHT!”
Bucky waves an imperious hand at Clint. “All you, cornpone. Age before beauty.”
“What? How does that even make sense, you are literally like ninety—you know what, fine. Fine! So when I was a kid—“
Tony cuts him off. “Oooh, yeah, sorry, forgot to tell you about the other rule. No rambling carny or war stories. Three sentences max.”
“Seriously, Barton. You do drone on.”
“FINE. Pigs feet and Kool-Aid pickles. Preferably washed down with Orbitz, which I’m still pissed I can’t get anymore.” He gives a weird, nostalgic smile.
Tony and Bruce each make horrified faces and the rest just stare at Clint in incomprehension and mild disgust.
“What the hell is Orbitz?” demands Bucky.
“Ugh, don’t ask,” replies Bruce. “It was this … not a soda, more like artificial juice gone wrong, with little bubbles of some kind of gum in them? Not chewing gum, but more like an artificial preservative.” He shudders a little. “It was, happily, not very popular.”
“Well at least we can all agree on the rest of it being gross? A little uninspired, but gross.”
Clint bristles, but actually keeps his mouth shut.
Bucky is smirking so hard his cheek muscles must be getting a workout.
“Oatmeal with lard,” he declares.
“Oh my God!” squeaks Jane. “Are you serious?”
He shrugs. “I was hungry, and it was food, and I was damned tired of plain oatmeal and all the damned beans. Back me up, Stevie.”
Steve purses his mouth like he’s tasting something sour. “I never liked it near as much as you did, you weirdo. I will admit that you and I both ate it, though. But for pete’s sake I wish you’d stop calling me ‘Stevie.’ I’m not twelve, you know.”
Bucky’s grin is unrepentant. “Suck it up.”
Darcy butts in with, “Ok, that’s one truly horrifying 90s/white trash afternoon snack vs. delicacy of the Depression. Raise hands for Clint…” She turns in a slow circle, counting. “And now raise hands for Bucky.”
She repeats her pivot and mouths some numbers silently.
“Ok, round one goes to Clint with six votes. No, Jane, you don’t get to vote twice, I don’t care how grossed out you are. Sgt. Barnes, you’d best rally for the next round.”
“Hey how come you use his rank? I never get called by my rank!” objects Clint, who is sulking in a corner of the nearest sofa like a five year old.
“OK, soldier, tell us -- what is your actual military rank? Like, the last rank you got before you joined SHIELD?”
Clint blinks. “Uhhh.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. And I’m not calling you ‘Agent’ because Tony gets confused easily.”
“Hey, I resemble that remark!”
“Yeah, yeah, can it. Anyway. Round two, grossest thing you ate on purpose – for a meal, not a dare -- and didn’t like. And none of your fussy ‘sushi isn’t food’ crap, Barnes.”
“Look, seaweed is just not for eating, ok?”
“Lard,” hisses Jane in reply.
Darcy flaps a hand at each of them. “Sssh. Storytime. You want to start, Barton?”
“Part of me wants to tell this story about this super gross plate of home fries I got once in this town outside Branson, Missouri, but I’m not sure it counts. So I guess… ramen burger made with horse meat?”
“What the hell is a ramen burger?” demands Bucky.
“It’s a hamburger but the buns are made from fried ramen noodle patties.”
“Seriously, that gets you?”
“Well I know horse isn’t that bad—“ Pepper makes a distressed noise and takes a healthy swig of her wine as if to wash the idea away. “—but that’s just not right.”
“Your provincialism is not charming, James,” snarks Natasha.
“I gotta say, that doesn’t actually sound that bad,” says Tony.
“Oh, it was this crazy little concept restaurant that was trying to do ‘Mongolian fusion,’ so the horse was marinated in fermented mare’s milk,” Clint says, totally deadpan except for the triumphant glint in his eyes.
There is a heartfelt collective groan.
Bucky outright glares at him, before making the kind of faces that indicate he’s trying to come up with an appropriate response to this.
Finally his eyes light up. “Casu marzu” he declares triumphantly.
Steve, Pepper, and Tony all gag.
Thor looks at Pepper curiously. “A delicacy of some kind?” he asks. “I know your palate is refined, so it must be well-regarded.”
“Maggots” hisses Steve. “God-damned maggots.”
Natasha fans herself in mock shock. “Language, Captain!”
“Oh, no, he earned that one,” says Bucky with a wince. “I’m still not even sure how we got served that shit, as far north as we were, but…” He shudders.
“At the risk of actually losing my dinner over this, what the hell is it?”
“Cheese,” spits Tony. “Cheese with actual honest to god maggots in it. On purpose.”
Jane lets out a hitching kind of gasp and looks like she’s going to cry.
“There was a little town between two of our targets in Italy and we had only a few hours in between so we stayed there for the night in some old codger’s barn. They were so proud to be able to feed us a real delicacy, and when they presented it on this beautiful painted platter we couldn’t say no, now could we?”
“You could see them moving,” moans Steve, his face buried in his hands and his breath coming fast like he’s trying to keep from puking.
“They uh… they left the maggots in for the protein.”
Jane blanches and hauls herself out of the chaise, sprinting for the corridor. Sam follows a little more sedately behind her, his fists clenching and his face studiously blank.
“I hope he holds her hair for her before he blows chunks himself. Ladies first and all that.”
“Shut up, Tony,” Pepper, Natasha, and Steve chorus.
Darcy is taking deep breaths through her mouth, pale but still standing.
“Well I think you automatically get the round for making people actually hurl. Goddamn that was gross. Any objections?” she asks Clint with an eyebrow quirk.
“Nope. Shit, that was actually the grossest thing I’ve ever heard of.”
“It’s actually quite piquant when not actively infested,” Natasha remarks casually.
“Thank you, Agent Romanoff, for reminding us all what a terrifying stone-cold badass you are” Rhodey says as he settles into the couch next to her.
She grins at him sunnily. “No probs.”
They all shift uncomfortably as they wait for Jane and Sam to reemerge from the bathroom. Tony goes to make everyone another round of drinks, and the amount of stomach-settling tonic and ginger ale that is suddenly present in every cocktail is unsubtle.
Sam and Jane re-emerge from the bathroom looking slightly the worse for wear but more or less human. Jane curls back up on Thor’s lap where he begins to gently pet her hair. Sam wedges himself back behind Natasha and gracefully falls over until his head is pillowed on Steve’s lap. Natasha makes herself comfortable against Sam’s legs and props her feet up over Bucky’s shoulder where he’s sitting on the floor. He rolls his eyes and makes an exaggerated gesture to get her feet out of his face but slumps a bit so she’s got a more comfortable perch.
Darcy shakes herself a little, takes a fortifying sip of her gin and tonic, and continues.
“Ok, well, I had other rounds planned out but I think I maybe underestimated both of our contestants, so let’s just skip to the end before this ends up with me making a puke angel like in Pitch Perfect.”
Bucky and Steve wince. Natasha blinks once. Everyone else looks at her blankly. “It’s a movie. Nevermind. Anyway. Final round, to the victor goes the spoiled food, $120,000 question. What is the grossest thing you’ve ever served someone and also had to eat yourself?”
“Shoe leather,” groans Bucky.
“My fucking shoe,” Clint blurts at the same time.
Tony smacks his forehead. “Seriously? All this for a tie?”
Darcy lets out a frustrated whine. “Oh come on. Both of you?”
“Regardless of what Mister – excuse me Sergeant Depression – over there thinks, circus life was poor and shitty. When Barney and I had to eat, we had to eat. I had shoes I had outgrown and it was at least some texture, so.”
Clint looks expectantly at Bucky, who is shifting minutely where he sits.
After a few seconds of staring bemusedly, Clint’s eyes light up with glee.
“So how about you, Sarge. Who got your shoe leather?” His grin is predatory.
“I’m not sure that’s really relevant.”
“Well, no, actually, it might help figure out if one of you gets bragging rights,” says Darcy.
Bucky sighs like he’s a teenager who knows he’s about to get grounded.
Steve squawks and sits bolt upright, jostling Sam, who pokes him in the stomach and mutters, “Knock it off.”
“And uh, also, sorry, Natashenka”
She shrugs. “Hey, I knew you hadn’t magically found cured meat squirreled away somewhere.”
“Buck!” Steve yelps. “Seriously?”
Bucky frowns and scrubs a hand over his face. “You needed something in you that wasn’t just wilted cabbage and water. I figured if I stewed it long enough it would do something. Add flavor or nutrients or something. And I just used the tongue, since it didn’t have no polish on it.”
Steve collapses back on the couch, looking both betrayed and kind of touched. Sam pats his knee absently.
Natasha reaches her hands out and gives Steve and Bucky each a single pat on the head. “There, there.”
Everyone else is staring openmouthed at them.
“Well!” says Darcy brightly. “That was… as weird as you guys usually are, but with an extra side salad of weird! So uh… good job. The winner is literally nobody because this was my worst idea ever. I declare you to be officially tied in the realm of horrible things you eat.”
“And you’re also both banned from the kitchens in the tower. Even with leftovers. I’m setting you up your own kitchen that ONLY YOU WILL SHARE.” announces Tony.
The entire room cheers, except for Bucky and Clint, who are sporting nearly identical almost-pouts (and Jane, who has fallen asleep.)
“Who wants to drink until we forget all of this ever happened?” asks Darcy. Thor opens his mouth to roar his approval, but looks down at Jane and instead thrusts his fist into the air triumphantly.
“Or,” suggests Rhodey, “instead of running the risk that we’ll feel like throwing up for the rest of the evening and most of tomorrow, we could order some really great pizza and some 7-Up and decide to forget this ever happened.”
“Seconded,” says Pepper.
“Huh. Point. All in favor?” Darcy quickly counts the hands that have shot up. “Ok, motion carried. Pizza and nice fizzy soft drinks it is.”
(They order three dozen pizzas. Bucky keeps slipping pieces of pizza onto Steve’s plate. Natasha steals half of them.)
(Tony sets up a kitchen just for the grossout twins and has it officially declared a biohazard zone.)
(And they all lived happily ever after.)