"This is so great!" Steve Rogers enthused. "Isn't this great, Tony? Mm." He sighed contentedly at the (gloriously burdened) vision that Banner passed off to him, piled high with brown mustard and at least half a pound sauerkraut, and bit hugely. "Mmm. Sausage. I do love a good sausage."
"So noted." Tony waved and smiled suavely as he clanked down the street beside them, head tucked under his plated arm. "Right along with your love for pizza, hamburgers, root beer floats, spiced curly fries, and grilled-and-honeyed-fruit-on-a-stick. Where are you putting it all, man?'
"In my mouf," Steve said indistinctly. "Mm. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. So good. Thanks, Bruce. You're the best."
Banner just smiled slightly at him before returning to his perusal of the overflowing contents of a bargain book bin. "Surprised by Joy?' he offered.
"Got it." He swallowed. "It came in the mail yesterday."
"You can order joy through the mail?' Pepper asked, perplexed as she wandered back from inspecting a rack of stuffed toy puppies. "Is that a euphemism?'
"No. It's a book." Captain America rescued a panicked strand of sauerkraut and put it out of its misery. "C.S. Lewis. Bruce introduced us. He's been very good about helping me broaden my horizons."
"I'm sure," Pepper murmured. Thor and Barton rolled their eyes at each other in perfect commiseration as she and Jane cracked up onto each other's shoulders.
"Dead horse, ladies," Agent Romanoff said briskly. "So sayeth the Hawk, so let it be done. They're just yanking our chains now." She grinned at her partner, now slinking and sulking simultaneously along beside her in all of his leather-clad, blue-eyed, sullen-faced glory. Her partner glared.
"Most unsubtly," Thor agreed, strolling (and it could only be called a stroll) at his leisure beside his girlfriend. "Well done, Friend Steve. I had not thought you had it in you."
"THOR!" Jane and Pepper giggled furiously. Thor smirked. Steve popped in the last of his sausage, and wiped his fingers on a handkerchief that he'd retrieved from somewhere inside his spandex.
'I did catch that,' he said. "On reproving record."
"Did you," Pepper murmured. "Well that solves that question, doesn't it."
"Ladies!" Maria Hill hailed as she approached. "Dancing boys half a block ahead! Ribbons and fire and glitter, and…" She stopped in her tracks, practically hissing in alarm at the sight before her. "He's here? I thought he went back to Calcutta two days ago!'
"Hello, Agent Hill," Bruce said amiably, approaching with a faded tote of shabby books over his shoulder. "You look lovely this morning. And mildly terrified. Do I need to suit up?'
Agent Hill gurgled.
"Ah." He hefted the tote. "Alright then. And to answer your question; I was scheduled to go back to Calcutta, but my replacement there has found himself quite charmed by one of the local women, and has decided to extend his stay. My presence, therefore, is not quite as urgent as might prove otherwise, and I've decided to stay on a bit longer."
The gurgle sounded again. The street shook in sympathy; Steve craned his neck.
"Ooh!" he said with that quite charming enthusiasm. "An old-style brass marching band! Do you think they have tubas? I just love tubas!'
"What is a tuba, friend Steve?' Thor inquired.
"A most fearsome beast," Tony contributed. "Matched only in might, strength and cunning by the wily sousaphone.'
"I wouldn't call exactly call sousaphones cunning," Steve said dubiously. "Or wily. Inclined to random fits of rampagery, maybe, or neo-musical mayhem, but wily? Not so much.'
"Random fits of…" Thor's radiant eyes brightened, and his scarlet cloak swirled in anticipation as he straightened. "You don't say. Well, then!"
"It's a metaphor, Thor," Jane said, slapping his extending arm down. "You were mentioning something about ribbons, Maria?' She looked around. "Maria? Where'd she go?'
"Away," Bruce said, and heaved a sigh. A soft, sympathetic noise sounded behind him.
"I did tell you," Phil Coulson murmured. "Next time, just go right for the Nespresso."
"What kind of woman doesn't like roses?' Banner said plaintively. "I ask you!'
"You sent Maria Hill roses?' Pepper said incredulously. "Really?'
"OW!" Tony rubbed his plated arm. "Okay, that didn't actually hurt, but on the principle of the thing… OW! What the hell!"
"He sent her roses!" Pepper hissed.
"I sent you roses! Send you roses! All the time!"
"Jarvis sends me roses. You send him memos. Generalized memos. " She thwacked him again. Jane popped in the last of her fritters, silent smugness radiating.
"Why did you send her roses, friend Bruce?' Thor inquired. "Is there something we should know?'
"I thought was following the formula," Banner said. "Roses first, then the dinner invitation, then the theatre, then the moonlit walk, but I forgot to take the most important variable into account.'
"And what would that be?" Barton muttered. "The fact that she's a bitch?'
'Now, now," Banner said. "But… Yes."
"Live and learn," Steve patted his arm. "Just try not to take seventy year breaks in there while you're at it. It really does strange things to established mnemonic patterns." He paused. "You don't actually like her, do you?'
"No," Banner said. "I was conducting an experiment on potential the provocatives of spontaneous combustion."
"And you didn't take the fact that she's a bitch into account?' Pepper asked. "How'd you miss that one?
"Well, I did," Banner said. "And I didn't. I took it into account, but underestimated the impact. I overheard Agent Morrison say that she actually shredded them, right after she had them decontaminated.'
"Wow," Steve said. "That's terrible. Though, to fair, the decontamination was probably due to the new anti-imported bio protocols established in her office wing. Who knew canned tuna could evolve like that?"
"I did," Stark said modestly. "It just requires the right brand of mayo, a touch of gamma-ridden saliva, and the appropriately dark and musty environment.'
"Wait, you were the one who stuck that sandwich in the back of Fury's desk drawer?'
"Where did you get samples of my saliva?' Bruce asked. "I have many flaws, I know, but drooling on my pillow, or in general, isn't one of them.'
"Off of the main Chitauri dragon ship, probably," Steve said, and, apologetically, as his new room-mate offered him an odd look… "You do tend to bite when you're in a mood.'
"Okay, now you're just provoking them," Barton said. "Do you want them to spontaneously combust?'
"Huh?' Steve just offered him a stunningly blank and naïve look before turning back to the now approaching marching band. "Ooh! They do have tubas! Three of them!"
"This," Barton informed his partner, "is my idea of hell. For the record."
"Mm," Natasha said, and gleamed toothily at a gaggle of sighing women before turning on her partner and cupping her face gently between her palms. He muttered against her lips, but slid his hands around sh
"Nice shorts," he managed, as she nibbled on his lip and purred at him. "Did you borrow them from Pepper?'
"No," she said. "I bought them. They're all mine. Mine, mine, mine. Do you like them?'
"Take me away from all this, and I'll show you just how much."
"Not a chance," she said, her lips popping abruptly. "You're getting emotional hazard pay for this, and I'm getting danger pay for leading you through."
"You are? And… I am?'
"I'm just that good,' she said, and taking his hand, led him over to a random shooting gallery. "Here, Barton. Pop me some balloons. I want…" She glanced around, and up, and pointed at a gigantic stuffed purple pony. "That."
"You have got to be fucking kidding me!"
"You're not the only one with a frustrated childhood. I've always wanted a pony. Get me that one, and I'll use this…" She dug for her cell-phone… "To blackmail Fury into manning the celebrity dunking booth over at the corner of 110th and Amsterdam for five whole minutes. And we'll be there right on the dot, and I'll buy out the entire time slot."
Barton's eyes lit up as if it were Christmas come early.