"Barton's off this one," Tony announced as he strode into the room. As expected, all heads turned to him. Also as expected, all heads then turned to Barton.
Clint, for his part, blinked slowly, lifted his gaze from a newspaper at the speed of molasses, and replied, "The fuck, Stark?"
Tony stood his ground, he would pay for it later, but he stood his ground for now. "You are off this mission," he repeated, hoping against hope that that would be the end of the discussion. He knew better, of course, so he at least hoped to forestall the discussion with the addition of, "It's not like it's a real mission anyway. You guys insisted on coming with and I'm insisting on naming which of you I accept."
"And you don't accept a sniper?" Steve asked incredulously.
"On an op with the sole purpose of watching, waiting, and shooting people who may try to kill you?" Clint clarified. Yeah, he was pissed, and yeah, Tony should have expected this.
Bruce stared at them like they were both nuts; Tony for making such a brash declaration and Clint for arguing against his pigheadedness. Natasha focused solely on Tony himself, face impassive in the way that usually meant she suspected him of something, or possibly wished to remove his vital organs with a toothpick. Thor was thankfully in Asgard, so that avoided at least one uncomfortable conversation, but unfortunately Agent Coulson was there, right across the table, ready to make an undoubtedly bureaucratic attack.
"And why are you benching the most obvious asset for your little soirée?" he asked, one eyebrow just barely raised.
Tony slid the file over to him. The file just received from legal. The file with a single sheet of paper listing a single name from the confirmed guest list because they believed in being wasteful like that. Clint, of course, made a grab for it, but Coulson stopped him with a strategically placed arm followed by a strategically placed elbow to his solar plexus, his other hand occupied holding and rereading the missive, face impassive, pallor a shade paler than usual. He closed the file and folded both hands atop it. In as bland of tone as he could likely possibly manage, he said, "I concur."
"What?" Steve asked. "Surely you have to be joking."
"Coulson doesn't joke," Tony replied drily.
Coulson one upped him and used a tone that would make a desert feel moist when he said, "I do joke, but not in this instance, and I agree with Stark's assessment of the situation."
Of course, they had both underestimated The Wonder Twins' penchant for non-vocalized communication. A barely visible nod from Natasha was apparently their signal this time, and she lashed out against the chair where Phil sat, foot connecting solidly with the leg as Clint lunged forward and swiped not at the file, but at the agent himself, shoulders firmly in hand as he toppled him to the floor. Natasha picked up the file and held it with betraying delicacy, daring anyone else to make a move, while Clint grappled with Coulson, the fight surprisingly more evenly matched than Tony would have first suspected.
Steve put an end to it all though and pulled both men upright by their collars, separated by his bulk, and declared, "We're done now."
Coulson adjusted his tie, the only thing that appeared to be out of place, and primly sat back down at the table on the chair Bruce helpfully righted. Clint started to storm off, paused, accepted the file from Natasha, and left in the direction of his room.
Natasha rejoined the others at the table and calmly reached for the teapot to pour herself another cup. Bruce passed her the sugar and asked, "Care to explain what this is all about?"
She added a cube and looked up to him with the same placid face as before. "I wouldn't know," she said with the half shrug she tended to do that did little more than push a curl out of her eyes with the force of will alone.
Bruce frowned. "But you had the file," he prompted.
"And it is not my place to look," she replied. She took a sip of her tea and set the cup back upon its saucer before she continued, "Whatever this is involves Barton and it is his place to tell us if and when he feels the need to do so."
"And if he decides not to?" Bruce asked, likely already suspecting the answer.
Natasha reached for a pastry as though it was just another typical morning and said, "That is his decision and we are to abide by it." It was both an order and a signal that this was the end of the discussion as far as she was concerned.
For his part, Tony poured himself some coffee, grabbed a muffin from the plate, and downed both while studiously ignoring the inquisitive looks from the others. Well, inquisitive looks from Steve and Bruce, Coulson just glared at him like the situation could have been handled better which, point, but Tony also knew Clint well enough to know blunt was the way to go. He also knew Clint well enough not to be surprised in the least to find him waiting for him in his shop when he went down there a few minutes later.
The archer was leaning against a counter, one of his prototype arrows in hand, spinning it gracefully about his fingers. It was clear that the arrow itself was not the focus of his attentions though when he asked, "How did you know?"
Tony pulled up a stool and gestured for Clint to do the same. He didn't, but that was fair. Tony wouldn't exactly be playing nice had Clint pulled this shit on him, so he understood the reluctance. "I didn't," he replied, then amended it to, "I didn't until this morning."
"You have feelers out on us?" Clint guessed.
Tony shook his head. "I have feelers out on senators with hazy pasts that suddenly declare they will be attending one of my presentations," he explained. "Mortensen has never once been interested in attending before, and suddenly works his way to an invite when there's rumors the Avengers will be there?"
He turned and pulled up a screen that was nothing more than a list of names. "People always want to be seen at these things, steal part of the limelight, whatever. My people vet them, see if they have an actual interest in the tech, are just fanboys, or have a more sinister past."
"Your 'team' knows then?" Clint guessed. He looked resigned, less than pleased, but resigned.
"My team knows that someone arrested for solicitation and providing alcohol to minors wants an in, that's it," Tony promised. "We usually don't need that type of publicity, to say the least. I had JARVIS run a search on why the hell this guy would suddenly be interested in hanging out with the geeks. Did he have a change of heart, did he clean up his act, is there a private interest group he's working with, is he making a play for something - that sort of thing."
"And he doesn't have any of those, right?"
Tony keyed up another screen, but waited to push the final button until after he said, "Nope, but he does have a headline from a few decades ago when he not much more than an intern. Seems as though he was caught in an illicit act with a minor. Now the minor's name was withheld from the report for obvious reasons, but there was a picture that just happened to catch a kid in the background." The picture displayed bright and true and Tony winced, "Sorry, man, but I would have known it was you even without the facial recognition software."
Barton stared at the photo, black and white and grainy though it was. The not-yet-senator was in the foreground being led away from the scene, the pause of the flash of lights making his features stand out in sharp contrast. In the background, mixed with the bystanders, were about half a dozen cops and one dirty haired kid, looking sullen and pissed and swiping at a split lip as he tried to shrug off the hand on his shoulder.
The arrow stilled, and Clint sighed, or possibly just breathed deeply in preparation for his next words. "I was seventeen," he began, eyes still focused on the image. "I told Mortensen I was eighteen and told the cops I was sixteen and they let me go. They wanted me to sign all this stuff saying it was statutory and such, but one of his guys got to me first."
Tony closed his eyes against the mental image. Mortensen's family was rich and powerful even before he became a senator. Them up against a kid, even a kid like Barton would have been with all of his circus training, was not something he needed to imagine, but was likely something he would be thinking about while he didn't sleep anytime soon. He opened them to find Clint had turned his gaze to him, watching, calculating, guarded. "Shit, Clint, I'm sorry. Did they-?"
"They paid me off," Clint said, to his surprise. "I had been expecting forty bucks, fifty at the most. I mean, yeah, it was just a blow job, but even I could tell he didn't want anyone to know about it. Three hundred though, and next time our group was in town they gave me another two to warn him to stay away, that there were too many people waiting for him to fail."
Tony blinked. Opened his mouth and shut it again.
"Not what you were expecting?" Clint asked wryly. He turned to face him, not quite unashamed, and definitely still on guard even though the secret part of his little secret was flayed open before him.
Tony composed himself, reminded himself that he dealt with with board directors and congressional hearings and Pepper on a regular basis. "Can't say that I was, no," he admitted. He wanted to hug the man before him. He was not a hugger, would likely suck at being one, but was willing to try in this instance. It wasn't sympathy - no, that was a lie. He could imagine what would lead a kid, a teen, to consciously make that choice, to offer up part of himself for something that must have been more important than pride. He didn't like the options, to say the least, but he kind of really didn't like the situation as a whole and he probably didn't even know half of it yet, so there was that.
Clint shifted, arms crossed and arrow in motion once more. "I didn't do it often, just when we were desperate," he explained, as of that made it better, as if that excused the fact he decided he needed to go down that path.
He didn't think it was the love of sex, though Clint clearly still enjoyed the act. Something about the phrasing, about the subtle stress of how much he made from it made Tony think this was a purely financial decision. He hadn't known that growing up. Hell, he hadn't known that at any time at all in his entire life. Money flowed like the booze so readily available when he was the age of the angry young man in the photo, price never an object. He never knew what it was like to want, at least not the physical, tangible items in the world. He, or one of his people, would throw some cash at it and it would be his. He technically worked for it through his knowledge, through his studies and creations, but he built those to prove he could, and then pushed them to the side for sale when he moved on to something brighter and better.
"Circus doesn't pay much, especially when you're two dumb kids that sign a contract without knowing what it means," Clint explained, confirming Tony's suspicion. He had lost both ways - lack of finances and lack of someone to tell him when a deal could have gone better. "Food, clothing, medicine - it all adds up. Sometimes the others would help out, but Marie got sick and Barney was coming down with it and neither of them were up to a show which meant docked pay."
The arrow flung from his hands like a dart, landed dead center in the target on the other side of the room. "I knew I could make fifty that night, or steal a few bucks on my way out. That would have been enough for what we needed and then some, if I was careful. Three hundred was a windfall and I didn't know what to do with it. I hid the extra and told Barney I only got sixty; it was enough for the medicine and some new clothes, and I used the spare for the next time we got short." He shrugged again, "It's not pretty, but it's there."
Tony thought about it for a moment, unconsciously mimicking Clint's pose, arms crossed as his finger tapped against his lips. "Coulson knows?" he guessed.
Barton snorted. "I think Coulson knows what color underpants I wore to kindergarten."
Tony grinned despite the gravity of the situation. "So what do you want to do about it?" he asked.
This time, it was Clint's turn to blink. "What do you mean?" His words were slow, careful, clearly trying to parse out the give and take on what was being offered. He wasn't questioning that something could be done, he knew Tony too well for that, but he wasn't seeing the full picture, not this time. It was a rarity, and usually Tony would make the most of it, but even he knew there was a time and place for that sort of thing and this clearly was neither of those.
Tony's fingers were a blur as he stood and pulled up a flurry of screens. "Mortensen wants in; he plans on attending no matter what, right?" he asked, but didn't really expect or listen to any reply. "My guess is that he remembers the little archer boy with the fantastic lips - sorry, honey, but it's true and you have them and I feel dirty thinking about that right now, but there you have it - and plans to use that as leverage against you, or us, to get something."
And as easy at that, Clint slipped into mission mode, ignoring the less than appropriate comments with practiced ease. "What are your current, largest, projects? And what subcontractors are up for grabs?" He stepped up beside Tony and keyed in several of his own commands while he waited for a response. Their arms brushed from the proximity, shoulders lightly bouncing off of each other while they worked.
"Stark Industries doesn't use subcontractors," Tony replied, then amended, "Stark Industries only uses subcontractors when we're trying to play nice with others because we pissed them off with something else we did."
Clint's lips quirked slightly at the admission. "But you do have a history, no matter how rare, of using others," he pointed out. He scrolled through several pages of information at a truly impressive speed, stopping the flow with a jab of his finger at a specific selection. "There. Mortensen's family made a fortune in the steel industry. They were lumber barons before that, but kept the wealth going with the change of times. He'll want you to use one of his foundries, maybe make a long lasting contract for multiple jobs."
Tony frowned. It was logical, and conniving enough for a senator, but he was certain there was something more at play here. "Or what?" he prompted, preparing himself for the worst.
He expected another guarded answer, but Clint was smiling, actually smiling, despite the admission of, "Or he will go public with my sordid past."
Tony scoffed and pointed to the news article still up in the background, hip shifting slightly to press up against the man beside him. It wasn't anything as corny as silent support except in the way it totally was. "And this little boo boo won't count against him?"
"He'll claim the arrest was in error, as proven by no charges ever being filed," Clint waved him off, but wasn't nearly as blasé as he tried to appear. His body was rigid, even in his carefully held slouch. "Even back then, he tried to claim mistaken identity and that he was just trying to get me away from another intern. It's a lie, of course, and one I can prove by describing a birthmark in a rather private area of his anatomy. He'll fight, I'll bring up his attempts at getting me to give him a hell of a lot more than a blow job, and he'll drag me and possibly the Avengers as a whole through the mud." He turned to face Tony head on and offered, honest and open and actually thinking it was a real solution, "Cut me from the team now, throw me back to SHIELD, and he'll have nothing on you, nothing on your company, and nothing on the team."
A swipe and every screen collapsed to black. "Like hell!" he declared. He yanked Clint forward by his belt loops, could feel the tension radiating from him from the slightest press of skin. "You don't go under the bus. Not for this, not ever."
"It's the sensible solution," Clint protested, arms wide as if to encompass the ridiculousness of it all - the situation, the plan, the world, whatever it was that Tony would bodily fight through and shut down if needed.
"And when have I ever gone with that?" Tony retorted. He shifted his hands from the jeans to his shoulders, slid them around to clasp them behind Clint's neck. "You stay, and not just because I really like getting laid on a regular basis. Even if we weren't together, even if you left me right now - which would fucking suck by the way, so don't do it - you stay on the team. We take this asshole down and keep him down and keep him from ever thinking of pulling a stunt like this again."
To say the look Clint gave him was doubting would be an understatement. "And how do we do that?" he asked. He didn't pull away though, which Tony took as a win, or at least the beginning of one.
"He went after you, he probably went after others. We follow the trail of payoffs and headlines and coincidental arrests of aides that took the fall for him. Then we record him trying to blackmail us, and blackmail him right the fuck back."
"That easy?" Clint asked, but even Tony could hear the hint of hope to his tone.
"It will actually be pretty damn hard, especially on this timeline," Tony admitted with a tilt of his head. He matched that tilt with a cant of his hips and added, "But I am really smart and made this really awesome AI that has already started the search for us and we will win this, right JARVIS?"
"I will endeavor as always to succeed, sir," the calming voice responded.
"And while he does that, I am going to kiss you and reassure you that I still love you and ask you not to run off over this bullshit because your past is your past and it is done and gone and, really, we all have done some things that are not exactly kosher for public consumption so join the club," he continued. He tugged lightly on the back of Clint's neck to try to get him to get with the program.
Clint leaned into him, far too much of the tightness, the tautness of his muscles and tendons still palpable and there, but brushed his lips against Tony's own warm and soft and way too quickly. "And the others? This isn't exactly the same as blowing the lab at MIT and winning an arms contract when you were seventeen, you know."
Tony stole another kiss, ran a thumb over lips that were chapped but not bruised nor bloodied like the picture he would never forget before he replied, "The others will probably storm down here in the next few minutes, or at least Cap will, and hopefully find us making out and assume all is well with the world."
He felt more than saw the smile on Clint's lips before he pulled back slightly and clarified, "I meant, I should tell them."
Tony shifted his stance again, not quite a shrug and not quite not, and felt the warmth of his lover's body against his own with the motion. "If you do or if you don't, it's entirely up to you," he promised. "We all have our secrets, I'm just trying to make sure yours stays that way with the general public; what you want to do with the team is your choice."
"You don't think that I should?" And there it was, an uncertainty that Tony did not want to hear.
He tugged him closer again, this time to rest his forehead against his own as he spoke what he saw as an underlying truth. "For better or worse, we are a family. A highly dysfunctional, incredibly lethal family, but a family. We will not judge you for things you needed to do to survive and to help others survive, but we will be there for you now when you need us. The Avengers can go their separate ways, hell, the two of us might eventually break up when you figure out how fucked up I am, but we will still be there for each other no matter what. You will never wonder where your next meal is coming from or if you'll have a roof over your head so long as we're around, and you will never, ever, not have us at your back."
"Why, Stark, that was almost sweet," Barton mocked, but his shoulders had relaxed just that tiny bit more, and he was holding as much as being held.
Tony made a show of making a face as he agreed, "I know! Can we get with the kissing now? Or even the comfort sex? I'm okay with either, really." He blinked with false innocence and earned a smirk for his efforts.
"How about the kissing?" Clint suggested, and proceeded to do just that. This time it was more than a brush of lips, there was a lingering taste, a heat radiating from the touch of skin. He pulled back, but only just, and whispered, "Because Cap is totally watching from the doorway and would probably not appreciate the show."
"Hmm..." Tony pretended to think about it. He then pushed Clint towards the couch in the corner and said, "Let him watch. Eventually he'll run away and we can get to the good stuff."
Clint laughed and leaned in for another kiss and Tony let himself get lost in it. Clint hadn't lived the perfect life, but neither had Tony. They were both fucked up in different ways, and both made up for it in others. They would be there for each other, they would defend each other, and they would kick the ass of anyone who tried to stand in their way.
So while JARVIS churned away in the background, and Steve's retreating steps echoed up the stairs, Tony let himself have a moment. The past sucked, the future was uncertain, but now was his and his alone. Clint tumbled them both down to the worn cushions of the couch, and he amended that thought slightly: the moment was theirs, and that's all they could ask for.
He then didn't really think at all because he was surrounded by life and strength and hands that were nearly as insistent as the tongue that won entrance into his mouth, not that he was really fighting it in the first place. There was a hint of cold air as his shirt was rucked up, and then more when Clint managed his fly with one hand, and then the hand that had just started to warm his back slid down to cup his ass instead. He kept up with the kissing throughout, giving as good as he got, his own fingers digging into cloth and grazing along flesh and then helping to get the constricting fabric of his jeans out of the way before he tugged down Clint's without much ceremony or resistance.
The sensation of flesh on flesh, hard heat brushing against hard heat was almost too much and he knew he made a noise he'd probably deny later. He shimmied down, as much as to give himself a breath and a distraction as to enjoy the view. He nipped and licked and tickled and enjoyed the sight of his partner squirming and throwing his head back in out and out laughter. That laughter changed to a gasping moan when he swallowed him nearly whole. He licked and he sucked and he slurped and he held down the hips that thrashed up to meet him while he pressed himself against the coolness of the couch and tried not to end things far too soon.
Clint, of course, had other plans. Maybe he wanted to prove he wasn't damaged or something, which was just stupid considering Tony knew all about the whole doing dangerous and possibly unintelligent things in his youth and he didn't even have the altruistic excuse of trying to feed a brother or surrogate family with his efforts. Then again, and this was just as likely if not more, maybe Clint was just as horny as he was. He wasn't going to use words like "touch starved" or "emotionally stunted" which were probably valid as well, but they both grabbed onto each other, held each other tight, gripped that much more if one of them tried to pull away.
Clint dragged him upwards to kiss him again, one strong hand positioned just so at the small of his back. Tony was then silently grateful for just how damned prepared assassins tended to be and he figured out just where Clint's other hand had wandered off to when the almost cold touch of a lubed finger pressed against his entrance. "This okay?" Clint asked, voice a breath against his ear.
"Hell yeah," Tony grunted, and had to actively try not to impale himself on the offering.
Prep was probably way too short and nowhere near thorough, but Tony never was a patient man, and soon enough he was sliding his own gelled fingers over Clint's length and positioning himself above him. He kept eye contact as he slid down, knowing how important a line of sight was to his lover, but he couldn't help the way his eyes fluttered shut and his head tilted back when he could slide no more and was so very stretched and so very full and the pressure was so very right.
He took a moment to enjoy the sensation, hands drifting down to brace themselves on Clint's massive arms, and could feel a tension of a different sort, the force withheld within them. Clint was giving him time to adjust but was so very close to thrusting, to pressing up and grabbing Tony bodily and moving him just how he wanted him. He was never one to leave his lovers wanting, and so pushed with hands and arms and legs and lifted himself slightly, only to slide right back down again.
The sound that escaped them both would have been embarrassing had there been anyone around to hear it, or care, but instead just served as confirmation that they both wanted this, maybe a little too much, and that they were about to take as much as they were going to give. He shifted slightly, repositioned his legs in the little space available atop the couch cushions, let Clint grip him by the waist while his own hands teased sensitive nipples, pressed against muscle and bone to piston himself again and again, pleasure pooling and building and fighting to break free.
He held on for as long as he could, knowing that this was about Clint and control and that actual, real, pesky sensation called love, but he was close, so painfully close far too soon. Clint was apparently closer though, because he gripped him tighter, thrust harder, rhythm thrown off for a good minute or more before he stilled and came with a strangled shout. Tony swore he could feel the liquid filling him, knew he could feel it dripping down his thighs when Clint pulled out despite his best attempts to hold him in place, but then there was a hand on his cock, pumping him relentlessly and sending him higher and farther and threatening to shred him to pieces even while the hand on his hip kept him grounded and whole.
His release, when it came, was a reassuring bliss, ecstasy and warmth, and somehow, through the haze, he realized that Clint had never let go of him, even as his own fingers had twisted the faded purple shirt his lover wore into a unrecoverable mess. He leaned forward, pressed his sweaty forehead against another before he dipped down for a lingering kiss. His own shirt was sticky with sweat and other bodily fluids, his jeans were still wrapped around one calf, sock dangling above the shoes they had kicked off to the side in their haste for something determinedly more than kisses, and the only thing he could think to say was, "Hey."
It was enough though, because he felt the smile against his own lips before Clint countered with an equally coherent, "Hey yourself."
Tony shifted, laid himself out atop the really comfortable cushion he currently occupied, released his grip on the ruined shirt to wave ineffectually in Clint's general direction while he tried not to think about how, eventually, they would have to make their way through the others to clean up and grab a change of clothing. "I'm just going to lay here for a while, 'k? You know, while JARVIS does his thing? So I can do my thing and we can do our thing and take that bastard down, that kind of thing?"
The hands around him tightened just a bit before they relaxed again, and then he felt the press of lips atop his head. "Thank you," Clint whispered. "For doing your thing."
Tony didn't say he was welcome or any such nonsense, he just wrapped himself around him that much more and promised, "Always."
The next night, when Mortensen wormed his way into Tony's presence, not noticing the shit ton of guards around him, not noticing the bland smile he received for his efforts, Tony handed him the data file full of money trails and past trysts and coverups and the thousand and one ways his stock and life savings were about to tank. "We're done here," he said with forced boredom.
Natasha swept up beside him in a dress nearly as deadly as she was herself and grinned in a way any smart man would be afraid of. "This way, senator," she said, red nails like talons cutting into the sleeve of his tuxedo. "I believe your car is waiting for you."
Tony was not at all surprised when he felt a different presence at his back and heard Steve's low tones ask, "Anything I should know about?"
He shook his head and tucked his hands in his pockets, twirling the tiny stone arrowhead he kept there. "Not my story to tell," he shrugged.
"Fair enough," Steve agreed. He spared one last glance at the retreating senator, and then another at the shadowed balcony far in the back of the room, and nodded.
Tony followed his gaze and quirked a smile, knowing that Clint would see it, even from the distance. They had each other's backs, in this as in all things in life. The past might not pretty, for either of them, but the future had the potential to be gorgeous.