[interval I: bruce]
"Right," says Bruce as the spotlight flickers and dies with a sad whining sound and a few weak sparks just as Tony launches into Hotspur's "My liege, I did deny no prisoners," monologue in scene three. The auditorium shutters into darkness and silence, until Phil's resigned sigh breaks the pause.
"Sorry?" Bruce offers, calling down from the rigging. "That was—I'll fix that."
He can imagine Phil running his hands over his face. "Every time," Phil says. "Every time. It's like—are you doing this on purpose? Is Fury behind this? Is this some sort of passive-aggressive way of telling me that I am going to go over budget? Because: I know."
"Um, actually," Bruce answers, "the circuit just shorted. I think—I mean, I can fix it. Probably. No, definitely. I mean. Yes. I can."
"Right," says Phil. "Everybody take five."
"Are you sure," Phil begins once they get out into the lit hallway, and Natasha says, "shut your mouth, Coulson."
"Cleopatra is an iconic—"
Natasha clicks off the power button on her walkie-talkie and shakes her hair free of her headphones. "I told you when I took this job. I am not. playing. a lead. So unless you want Steve in a toga—"
"All right, all right," Phil cuts her off before she can finish, shuddering. "Please desist from putting images of a cross-dressing Steve in my mindplace, thank you. Oh—is Barton back yet?"
The redhead checks her watch. "He lands in an hour. I'm going to meet him at the airport. Do you think you can manage to keep Bruce from setting the place on fire while I'm gone?"
Phil shoots her the kind of Look he usually reserves for Tony and Renee on Mob Wives. "I am actually your boss, you know," he reminds her, and Natasha grins.
"Sorry. Do you think you can manage to keep Bruce from setting the place on fire . . . boss?"
He sighs. "I'll allow it," he says as a loud bark of laughter comes from the direction of the water fountain, where Tony and Theodor—oh sorry, he goes by Thor now (thanks, Tony)—are soaked to the bone, for reasons Phil does not care to explore. "Go, before it's too late."
But when he turns back to look at her, Natasha is already gone. From the water fountain, Tony shouts, "Hey, Coulson, check this out," just as Bruce comes sprinting in from the auditorium crying frantically, "No Tony don't, the fountain is—"
Phil looks up at the ceiling as the water fountain rips loose of the wall as if his infantile employees had strength and thinks to himself, dryly: this shit would never happen at the BBC.
[interval II: clint]
Natasha meets him at the airport, screaming, "No, I said we wanted black widows, what the fuck am I going to do with tarantulas? What sort of Duchess of York is dressed with tarantulas?" into her cellphone. She looks exactly the same as she had the last time he'd seen her.
Her dark red hair hangs loosely around her face, shorter than he remembers, but she still favors pencil skirts and button-downs that leave little to the imagination. Natasha has both always and never cared about her appearance; she dresses as a form of psychological warfare. She reminds Clint of an assassin: all stealth and no fingerprints.
"Don't you hate it when they send you the wrong kind of poisonous spider?" he asks by way of greeting as Natasha hurls her Blackberry into her purse with a snarl of disgust.
She looks up at him and given him a hard smile, the only kind Natasha Romanov ever gives, and stamps a sharp kiss onto his mouth. "Well, well, Clint fucking Barton. Welcome back, asshole. You look . . . tan."
He grins. "California plus UV rays equals irresistible toast-colored skin."
"That's not what I—oh, fuck you. Is that all your stuff?"
"I only packed my prettiest dresses. I wanted to impress you."
She rolls her eyes. "Well, let's go then, Princess Diana. And I hope you brought your game face because the stage is a fucking catastrophe."
[interval III: clint]
She fills him in on the drive from the airport: Phil's repeated and failed attempts at staging Antony and Cleopatra, Bruce's continued desperate incompetence at lighting, and the ever-burgeoning ego of Tony Stark, Shakespearean Actor.
"Phil has given me costumes and stage management, finally," she tells him, "but frankly, I could give two shits about the set, so."
"Hence the 2AM weeping into my answering machine."
"I was not weeping, douchebag." She cuts him a glance out of the side of her eyes. Clint knows that look, and the snap judgment that comes with it. Back when they were sleeping together, it had meant: undress. He's not really sure what it means now.
Natasha pulls into the hotel and lets the valet open the door for her. "Room 211 with the luggage," she says, handing the boy a fifty-dollar bill. Clint flicks his sunglasses off the top of his head and follows her inside to the bar. He relaxes against the booth and feels his shoulders loosen; it is his sixth summer staying in Room 211 of the Westin. It's probably the closest thing Clint even has to a stable home.
"So what's my budget this summer?" he asks after ordering a whiskey. "I heard they fired Whedon, so it's got to be at least a little more enormous."
She shakes her head. "Oh, that's the other thing," she says flatly. "Think you can do it with whatever you've got in your pocket?"
Clint raises an eyebrow, patting his pockets theatrically. "Sure. The Bubblicious I bought at the airport will definitely be as secure as nails."
But he's already thinking about how to build a set without tools, without wood, without anything. He can maybe—if he only—and if he does that thing with the—
Natasha grins, feral, as she watches his face. "It's good to have you back, Clint," she says, and they clink their glasses together.
"My liege, I did deny no prisoners," says Steve, and manages to look both grim and pleased at the same time. "But . . ." he looks down at his hands and sighs. "I remember, when the fight was done, when I was dry with rage and extreme toil, breathless and faint, leaning upon my sword, came there a—" the auditorium fills with the sound of Steve's teeth grinding, "—a certain—" his voice twists with annoyance and becomes heavy with irony, " . . . lord."
"Oh, for God's sake," says Tony from backstage, "just spit it out, already. There's another, like, forty lines in this monologue. At this rate I'll be asleep or ear-raped by the end of it."
Steve relaxes out of Hotspur's military stance and glares over stage right. "'Ear-raping' doesn't exist, Stark," he growls.
"It will if you don't pick up the pace!" Tony shouts back.
Phil straightens out his eyebrows with his thumbs. "Boys," he says in a warning voice, "seriously, I am begging you here, can we just get through one scene without heckling?"
Tony emerges from stage left, hands in the air as if surrendering. "Heckling? Who's heckling? I'm giving him acting notes. It's constructive. Rhodey, Happy, back me up here—"
"Constructive? You're like a nagging wife except I didn't choose to marry you!"
Thor leans over the back of his chair and drops his head so that he is looking at Phil upside-down. "Hey boss, you think we should just stage the fight scene and let them kill each other? It'll be our most realistic premiere ever." He pauses. "Also it would be awesome."
Betty pauses highlighting all of Lady Mortimer's parts and glares in reproach over at Thor; Peggy, still dressed as Lady Percy, grins.
"We should give them guns," she suggests.
"Swords," Thor disagrees.
"You two are terrible," Betty scolds. "Can you imagine poor Bruce trying to light all that blood without too much glare in the reflection?"
"I'm quitting," Pepper's voice says into his ear from the stage manager's box above the stage. "Seriously, I can't take it anymore, working here is like slowly drilling a hole into my head."
Phil drops his head against the chair in front of him several times.
"Tony, stop giving Steve acting notes. Steve, ignore Tony, you know he's an idiot. Now let's just get through this, please."
The light on Steve flickers a couple of times. "Sorry!" comes Bruce's voice. "Sorry, sorry. It's okay now. It should be okay now."
Phil looks at his watch. "Okay, fuck it," he announces, "everyone go home. Let's call it a day."
"You're over budget," Nick calls from his office as Phil walks passed.
"No I'm not," Phil yells back without stopping. "I'm not over budget because we don't have a budget, we have a black guy with an eye patch that hemorrhages all over the stage floor whenever we so much as spring for coffee!"
"Tony buys in bulk from Starbucks!" Nick shouts after him, standing in the doorway as Phil gets into his car. "From Starbucks, Phil!"
He pulls his door shut and slams his head against the wheel so that the horn sounds. "You deserve this, Phil," he tells himself. "This is what you get for going to art school."
[interval IV: steve]
When everyone has gone, Steve stands in the middle of the stage and waits. After a few grunts and flickering light, Bruce calls down, "My lord, these letters are for you." He sounds like he has a tool in his mouth.
Steve thinks for a minute, then says, reverently, "I cannot read them now—o gentlemen, the time of life is short! To spend that shortness basely . . . were too long if life did ride upon a dial's point, still ending at the arrival of an hour. And if we live! We live to tread on kings! If die, brave death, when princes die with us!"
He frowns, walking towards the front of the stage and looking out into the empty audience. "Now for our consciences, the arms are fair," he promises, and means it, means it, "when the intent of bearing them is just."
There is the sound of Bruce clapping against a light fixture. Then the technician swings down off the catwalk and slides down one of the pillars onto the stage. He lands heavily. "Seems right to me," he says. "Sounded good. Was the light too bright?"
"Just a shade blinding," Steve tells him regretfully. He wants to tell him it was perfect, but, well. He's morally opposed to lying.
Bruce sighs, rubbing his dirty hands on his pants. "Damn it. Okay. I can fix it. I mean, I can probably—well, you know."
Steve claps a comforting hand on his shoulder as they walk towards the door. "I really think you're getting better," he says, and it's not a lie, but maybe a bit of a stretched truth. "Really."
Bruce brightens. "Thanks, man," he says. "Need a ride home?"
"Nah. I came on the motorbike."
He watches Bruce hop into his car and pulls his helmet over his head. "Now for our consciences, the arm are fair," he repeats to himself, trying to find the right weight of the words. "When the intent of bearing them—when the intent of bearing them—when the intent . . ."
Nick Fury looks at the expenses book and the empty petty cash drawer and draws doodles of killing the entire company with paper clips.