"Why is this necessary again?" I whine.
"Because," Natasha sighs exasperatedly, "We're going out to a club and you can't show up in a t-shirt and jeans, I don't care how rich you are."
"But I have dresses," I argue. "We don't need to be here." I glance around nervously at the racks upon racks of clothing.
"You have dresses for work and work parties," Betty corrects from behind me, holding a dress up and giving it a once-over before shaking her head and putting it back. "Those are either business formal or red carpet chic. You've never been clubbing, so that's why we're here: so we can impart our experience and wisdom onto those younger than us."
"You realize that we're not that much younger than you two, right?" Darcy protests as Jane rolls her eyes.
I give a derisive snort but allow myself to be marched off to the fitting rooms, Natasha hanging up ten dresses before going to wait outside.
I sigh as I begin undressing. To be fair, they had a point: I had never been to a club before, other than to drag my dad home, and I did want to look good, and Clint would be there, of course…
It wasn't every day you turned twenty-one.
And, hey, I was a girl, okay? I was allowed to look good sometimes. Sue me.
(…actually, don't. Dad nearly killed me the last time someone took that literally. Japanese business men don't understand sarcasm.)
"Taylor? Everything okay?"
I startle, slamming my heel back into the wall and hissing out curses before replying, "Fine, Tasha," and grabbing the first dress.
I slip into it easily enough, pushing the curtain aside and stepping out of the dressing room.
Natasha is looking cool as a cucumber, flipping through a beauty magazine until I step out. "Spin."
I do a 180-degree turn, the chiffon skirt of the dress fanning out around me. "So?"
"What do you think?" Jane asks instead of answering, her head tilted slightly, like a dog's.
"Um…" I look down at myself. "It's a bit short," I admit, tugging nervously on the hemline of the dress, which only reached about mid-thigh.
"Oh, come on," Darcy groans. "Don't choose now to be embarrassed. You're far from a nun. You really only have one thing in common with them, anyways."
My cheeks burn at that implication, but I ignore Darcy as Jane begins to speak in a gentler tone.
"Taylor, they're all going to be like that. You can always wear something different, if you'd like…"
I shake my head, letting go of the hem. "I'm good – stepping out of my comfort zone, right?"
"Good." Natasha nods. "Now go try on the next one."
I sigh and retreat behind the curtain again.
The girls picked out ten dresses. Nine of those were failures – I either looked like a hooker, a ghost, or something equally unappealing because orange, yellow, and pink do not like me.
I'm left staring at the dress at the bottom of the stack – my last hope before I'm dragged off to yet another shop for even more torture.
I slip it on quickly, finding that it was still slightly short but ignoring that as I stepped out again.
Their reaction is a bit…different.
"It's a girl!"
I roll my eyes at all of them, but can't quite keep the grin off my face. "So…what do you think?"
"Turn around and see for yourself," Natasha orders.
I turn to face the floor-to-ceiling mirror that adorned the wall behind me, and my eyes widen as I take in my own appearance.
Dress #10 is form-fitting and shows off all my curves and my legs, but not to the point of being too tight; a nice reddish-purple that has just enough blue to not look pink. It's got wider straps that come to a point where silver fastenings (that were probably for nothing more than decoration) attached it to the main dress. It ended about four inches above my thigh, but I didn't feel as exposed as I had before.
I felt…powerful. Not the dangerous type of power that came with my job description(s), but more of a 'you got this, girl!' type of power.
I felt…grown up.
And that was scary.
I swallow slowly and turn around to face my entourage with a single nod. "Let's do this."
The dress is bought and packaged, and I call Happy, who had been waiting for us to finish so he could take us back home.
"What do you think the guys are up to?" Betty asks, all of sudden, on the way home.
I shrug from my spot leaning against the car window. "Guy stuff?"
"Well, yeah," Darcy rolls her eyes. "But do you think they're trying on tuxes?"
"No, because no one's getting married," I sigh exasperatedly. "Really, this is just like my birthday last year. No big deal."
"It is too!" the SI Social Media Consultant argues. "You're legal now – this opens up a whole new world of possibilities! Nobody knows what might happen tonight."
"I'll get a little drunk, have fun with my friends, and go home." I shrug. "That's it."
"With your genes, you'll probably do much more than that," Natasha points out. "And you're telling me that Clint's gonna be there, and you're both gonna be drunk, and you're not going to take the chance to jump him?"
I feel my cheeks heat up again as I glare at her, hissing out a breath from between my clenched teeth. "No."
"Why not?" Betty interjects. "It's been three years – I've known couples that were married after that long."
"Shut up," I hiss. "Can we please stop discussing my sex life? Thank you."
They drop the topic – for now, anyways – and did they really think I didn't the bets being established?
The rest of the ride home is pretty quiet, save for the occasional nail tutorial being suggested (and shot down).
We arrive at the Tower in no time, and I tip Happy even though I don't need to before we make our way into the back entrance of the lobby so as to avoid the press sharks.
"Good afternoon, ma'am," Jarvis greets us. "Sir asked me to inform you that Misters Barton and Odinson, Dr. Banner, Sergeant Barnes, Captain Rogers, and himself have gone shopping for their attire for the party and should return around six o'clock this afternoon."
"That's three hours away!" Betty exclaims. "How long does it take six guys to get clothes?"
"You've never been clothes shopping with my dad," I quip. "Or Steve, Bucky, and Thor, whose measurements, I'm sure, are impossible."
"Thor is a bit hard to clothe," Jane admits as we all crowd into the elevator, pressing the button for Natasha's floor. "But I don't really mind either way."
I roll my eyes at her. "Subtlety is not your strong suit."
"It never was."
Forty-five minutes later, we're all lounging around Natasha's living room with a bad horror movie playing and pints of Ben & Jerry's are being passed around.
"Shouldn't you be watching your girlish figure if you want to fit into that dress?" Betty asks innocently – also hypocritically, because she was digging into her Cake Batter ice cream and her dress was just as tight as mine.
I ever-so-eloquently flip her off, plopping down with my own container of Brownie Batter Core. "See, why can't we just do this all night? Why can't all my birthdays be like this?"
"Because you need to live a little," Jane stresses. "And this is coming from the world's biggest introvert. Even I've been clubbing once or twice, mainly in college."
"You're older than I am?" I try.
"Only by eight years," she counters. "You only turn 21 once."
"And you have to celebrate!" Darcy whines. "I purposefully didn't do anything in January because I wanted to celebrate with you."
"Come on, cupcake, please?" she rolls over to give me her best puppy-dog eyes. You'd think that after living with her for almost a year and a half, I'd be used to them by now.
And you'd be wrong.
"Alright, I'll give it a try. Just stop looking at me like that," I huff. Darcy gives a whoop, flinging her spoon in the air before scrambling up and running off towards the bathroom.
I exchange confused looks with the other three, but Darcy bursts back into the room with a gigantic container of nail polishes.
She sets the boxes down and almost immediately starts unpacking little glass bottles. "Come on, we've got work to do."
Three hours later, the movie is over and the ice cream is all gone, but we've all got pretty nails.
Natasha went for an odd black and white combination, but she explained that if the club had black lights, they'd glow in the dark.
Betty went with a pretty copper color that complimented her eyes with gold dots on the upper edge of her nail; we hadn't been allowed to see her dress yet – she went shopping a few days ago, privately – but Betty knew what she was doing, so we all just went along with the flow.
Jane's nails were a vibrant, electric blue with a blue glitter topcoat that nobody expected of her. Our soft, meek little Jane was capable of bold statements and colors? Although, she did slap Thor once, a few years ago, so…
Last, but never least, Darcy had painted her nails an outrageous neon orange – it was bright, sure, but it matched both her dress and her personality, and the bottle said it glows in the dark, so that would be fun.
Personally I hadn't added any color, just a clear coat of polish topped with some tiny, adhesive rhinestones that made my nails sparkle in the right light.
"Madams, Sir would like me to inform me that everyone has arrived back from their excursions and are on their way up."
"Cool, J," I grunt from where I'm painting my toes with a silver glitter coat. "We're all decent."
"I don't think that'd stop them, either way," Natasha quips, and I pause to roll my eyes before going back to my toes.
The elevator dings and out walks Dad, Thor, Bruce, Steve, and Bucky, all chattering intensely about something.
"Hey," I greet. "Where's-"
Something moves out of the corner of my eye and the couch bounces suddenly it's new load. Thank god all the couches in this place are reinforced. "I should've known," I sigh, turning to face Clint. "Hi."
"Hi yourself," he grins. "Pretty nails."
"Thank you," I grin, batting his hands away. "No touchie, or they'll get smudged later."
"I see how it is," he sighs dramatically, drawing his hands back. "I get no love."
"You can touch later," I huff.
"Just your nails?" he asks innocently, and my cheeks burn as I cuff him over the head.
"So sorry to interrupt this touching moment," Dad says, not sounding all too apologetic, "but we have 45 minutes until we wanted to be at the club and I figured the ladies needed time to get dolled up."
"We're not getting 'dolled up'," Natasha corrects. "We're going to look like badasses when we're done."
"I look forward to it," Dad grins before turning on his heel and walking back into the elevator, the rest of the guys following him and Clint disappears back into the vents.
Natasha is the first to break the silence by getting up. "Alrighty then, come on. We've got clothes and makeup to put on."
We all scatter into the various rooms on the floor to change, each one of us grabbing our respective garment bags and before going off to change.
I slipped into my dress with little trouble, amazed that I managed to zip my own dress up – with only mild contortionism.
I do all the necessary adjustments, tugging and untwisting where necessary, before giving myself one last check and stepping back into the living room.
"You look hot," Darcy praises from where she's digging through her bag, probably for her makeup kit. "If I weren't straight, I'd totally be all over you right now."
"I'm going to take that as a compliment," I muse as I grab the shoebox containing my heels before ducking into the master bathroom.
Because Natasha, like everyone else in the Tower, had an enormous bathroom, we were all able to do our makeup at once.
"You look like a million bucks," Betty mutters from where she's putting on her mascara.
"So I've been told," I laugh as I pick out a foundation. "Although Darcy was a bit more brash."
"Did she hit on you again?" Jane asks, entering the room behind us. "I told her not to do that."
"It's not like it's the first time I've been hit on, by girls or guys," I point out. "I'm used to it."
"Yeah, it's only been what, twenty years?" Natasha teases, having entered silently.
I startle slightly, the eyeliner pencil slipping and creating a wild line on my eyelid. "Damn it, Natasha," I swear, grabbing a makeup removal pad. "Knock."
"Sorry," she apologizes, coming up next to me with her own makeup bag and taking out all the necessary materials for smoky eyes.
I just sigh and return to tracing my eyes.
It takes the next forty minutes us all to get our makeup and hair perfect, even though the most complex piece of makeup is Natasha's (perfect) smoky eyes.
I sit down on the massive bed and take my heels out – four inch monsters, a dark eggplant purple with thin straps from ankle to toe, studded with small purple rhinestones. I get them on with a practiced ease – I've been wearing heels since I was twelve or so (don't judge) – and stand to give myself a moment to adjust before walking out to meet the others, who have by now gathered in the living room.
I'm not the only one that cleans up well.
Natasha's keeping with her black-and-white theme in a short, black-and-white diagonally striped dress with one studded, thin white shoulder strap and black heels. Betty's wearing a backless copper glittery dress, a network of crisscrossed straps forming a pseudo-back. She's wearing copper flats – lucky. Jane's wearing a traditional electric blue halter-top dress and some matching platform wedges – nothing fancy. Darcy, then, is her complete opposite, neon orange dress, nails, and heels – I'm pretty sure she was trying to blind everyone.
But hey, that's Darcy for you.
"Are we ready?" Natasha asks the group as a whole.
Confirmations come from all over the room, so Natasha leads our little posse – we click like a swarm of angry crabs – into the elevator and down to the lobby, where we're meeting our male counterparts.
My breath stutters when I see my boyfriend. It always does that.
He's wearing a light grey t-shirt with a black leather jacket and black jeans, along with Converse that matched his shirt. His hair is freshly gelled – spiked up a little, but only in front, in an almost half-faux-hawk look.
Dad was wearing a deep red long-sleeve button down with lighter, more worn jeans and red Vans; Bucky had a red, long-sleeve t-shirt on with holey, washed-out jeans and a black vest; Steve essentially copied his look, except his shirt was blue; and Bruce – who I knew wouldn't be doing much tonight but came along because it was my birthday – was wearing a light purple t-shirt with tan jeans and a black denim jacket. (He exuded 'cool professor'.)
And they all froze when they saw us.
I'm the first to break the silence, clicking over to stand in front of Clint. "Hi."
"Hi," he stutters. "You look…amazing."
"Thank you," I grin, then look around at the other couples in the room – Betty was kissing Bruce, Jane was laughing at something Thor said, Steve and Bucky were looking awkward as ever, Natasha smiling at my dad…
I blink and the smile's gone, Natasha's looking suave as I'd ever seen her. That was odd, my subconscious whispers. I might be seeing things.
I snap my head back over to Clint, who was giving me an amused look. "Where were you?"
I shrug. "What did I miss?"
"Only everyone else leaving."
I look around again to find that we are – other than the receptionist – the only ones still in the lobby.
"Everyone else is in the limo," he continues, holding out a hand. "Come on, birthday girl."
I blush and take his hand, intertwining our calloused fingers as he leads me out the door to where the shiny black limousine was waiting. Clint even held open the door for me, and I didn't complain.
Tonight really was special.
The club we were going to, which Dad had picked out a week earlier, was called Mission NYC – good food, good music, good alcohol, low creeper factor; the perfect introduction into the world of nightclubs…or so Dad said.
The limo pulls to a stop, and Dad quickly gets out, opens my door, and escorts me inside, cutting a swath through the crowd of cameras, Clint and Natasha just behind us with everyone else trailing them.
Dad had reserved us a table for twelve: me at the head, and then clockwise it was Natasha, Dad, Bruce, Betty, Jane, Thor, Darcy, Steve, Bucky, and Clint, who was to my left.
We're all seated in a matter of moments, and a waitress immediately comes over to hands out menus. I scan down the drink menu, recognizing the harder drinks – scotch, whiskey, vodka, and the like – because they were what my dad and Natasha drank; other than that, I was lost.
I purse my lips and look at my dad for help.
He gives me a helpless look. "Unless you want to drink scotch or a martini, I'm really no good." He shrugs. "Sorry."
I sigh and turn to Natasha, raising an eyebrow. She nods, studies me for a moment, then decides, "You're getting a Mai Tai. Rum, lime juice, Polynesian liquor. You'll love it, trust me."
I shrug again and pick up the menu again to order my food.
When the waitress shows up again, I order a Mai Tai, Dad gets a Rum & Coke, Natasha orders a Cosmopolitan, Bruce orders a ginger ale, determined to stay sober; Betty ordered a Mudslide martini, Jane ordered a Lemon Drop martini, Thor ordered a pale ale (which was apparently the closest thing we Midgardians had to mead), Darcy took a leap of faith and ordered a dirty martini, which looked both incredibly strong and tart as hell; Steve and Bucky both went for flavor over alcohol content, Steve ordering a Screwdriver while Bucky went for a Hurricane. Clint ordered a Long Island Iced Tea, which sounded incredibly potent.
Once the drinks are served, Dad speaks up before anyone can drink. "I'd like to propose a toast…"
I groan internally. No, please…
"I'd like to propose a toast," Dad repeats, meeting my eyes with his own, a mischievous glint held within them. "To a brilliant mind, a wonderful person, and a badass businesswoman…"
"Not to mention a beautiful girlfriend," Clint interjects, and my blush just darkens.
"An amazing sibling," Bucky adds with a dramatic wink in my direction.
"The best teammate anyone could ask for," Steve adds with a grin.
"And a good kid, even though she technically isn't a kid anymore," Dad concludes. "Happy birthday, kiddo. Cheers!"
"Cheers!" Everyone echoes, clinking glasses together before taking a sip of their respective drinks.
"You'd think you guys planned that," I mutter around the rim of my glass – after almost chocking on the first sip, of course.
"Nah, we're just that good," Darcy scoffs. "Duh."
I shake my head, poking at the cherry garnish on my drink as the waitress comes back around with our food.
Once we're all finished eating (but by no means done drinking), the club kicks the party into high gear. I allow Darcy to drag me onto the dance floor as the music kicks up, even though I can't dance – normally, anyways.
I have to admit that despite all my earlier complaining, I was having the most fun I'd had in…a while. At least. I couldn't really remember.
Anyways, being drunk was awesome. Somewhere, in the currently tiny sober and logical part of my mind, I knew tomorrow morning was going to suck. But right now, I didn't care. I was feeling freer than ever, and I was really happy – and giggly, if Darcy (who was also extremely drunk) was anything to go by.
Bucky and Steve, although sober, were braving the dance floor, and Steve's lack of dancing experience was evident, while Bucky was somehow tearing it up with swing dancing; Dad was…somewhere…no doubt with a busty girl or three on his arm. Natasha had melted into the shadows in the back of the room, and was no doubt giving someone a creepy feeling. Bruce and Thor were still at the table, and I think they were trying to hold a conversation. Jane and Betty were together, wherever they were. Clint was…I didn't know.
I find out.
After a few hours – I think it was around 11:30? Time was fluid – Darcy ditches me to find her ex-boss, stumbling off into the crowd. I turn around to slam front-first into Clint, in a tight enough spot so that we were pressed flush together.
Now, I should probably mention that my boyfriend and I had experienced major body contact before – we'd been pressed back to back in many battles before, but that was when we were both running too high on adrenaline to realize what we were doing.
This was different. It felt like every single contact point between us was on fire, and for some reason that thrilled me.
This was new.
"Heyy," I slur, grinning wide. "Fa'cy seein' you 'ere."
"Hey," he breathes. "Can – can I kiss you? Puh-leez?"
"I don' see why not," I mutter. Without further ado, Clint presses his lips to mine – the kiss is sloppy and wet, nothing like any of the kisses we'd shared over the years. It tasted like alcohol – lemon and lime and rum, sweet and sour and tangy all at once.
I loved it.
I set my drink down, wrapping both arms around his neck as he does the same to my waist, both of us pulling the other closer as we deepen the kiss, tongues exploring each other's mouths.
Clint is the first to break the kiss, pulling back just a few inches to look at me, his pupils blown wide and his irises dark. We're both panting heavily, but it takes me a moment to realize that.
"What are we doing?" Clint breathes, his voice lacking slur and gaining a husky quality, his warm breath hitting my skin and leaving goosebumps.
"Whatever we want," I return. "Whatever happens, happens," I declare, feeling daring – although that could just be the fact that Clint was still pressed up against me and we were both thoroughly drunk.
"If you're sure," Clint purrs deeply – I can feel it in his chest – before smashing our lips together again, running his tongue along my lower teeth.
Somehow, we end up stumbling out of the club and back into the limo, never breaking contact once. The ride back to the Tower seems shorter than it is, mainly because Clint's lips and teeth have found the tender skin on the side of my neck and attacked without mercy.
The limo stops with a jerk, forcing us reluctantly apart. We stumble, still drunk and with no morals, into the side entrance of the Tower and then the elevator.
"Your place or mine?" Clint mumbles into my mouth before moving to the soft skin just above the neckline of my dress.
"Yours," I gasp. "I have – a roommate-"
He quickly punches the button for his floor before backing me against the wall of the elevator, his mouth finding mine and his hands squeezing my hips as I run my hands under his shirt, rubbing my fingers against his chiseled chest and abs, hardened by a more than a decade of hard-core training.
The elevator dings softly and we stumble onto his floor, Clint pausing briefly pausing to shed his shirt, socks, and shoes before scooping me up and carrying me reverse-piggy-back style until I was pressed against his bedroom door.
Clint breaks contact to look me dead in the eyes, his grey eyes blown wide and bloodshot, like I'm sure mine were. "Are you sure you want to-?"
"I'm sure," I groan softly, my heart throbbing against my ribs as blood flowed to new places. "Just – please-"
Clint needs no further invitation as he kisses me deeply, opening his bedroom door and walking me backwards again.
My back hits his mattress just as his fingers find my dress zipper and mine find the waistline of his jeans.
It's all a blur from there, but I remember it feeling amazing.