[interval i: clint]
"This is just like Budapest," Natasha decides, three weeks in when they are still at the theater at ass o'clock in the morning and punchy on beer and chicken shawarma.
They are sitting in a desert of sawdust and broken glass, discarded wood and strewn nails. Two days ago, Bruce had accidentally set the fire alarm off when one of his light fixtures exploded, and the entire set had gone up in flames. He insists that the light had been working the night before, but—well, given his track record . . .
Anyway, they're rebuilding the whole thing. Hence the shawarma and the lack of sleep.
Clint raises his eyebrows. "You and I remember Budapest very differently," he says. "Because what I remember about Budapest is waking up in a jail cell, thinking that I had broken into the Kremlin and seduced a foreign dignitary."
Natasha rolls her eyes. "Which will teach you not to go drink-for-drink of absinthe with a family of Russians," she says, as if it should be obvious. "But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the show we saw the first night, the production of 'Opera Ball.'"
Clint frowns. He really doesn't remember much of the Budapest trip, because they'd gone to meet Natasha's adoptive father and the entire week had been essentially one long drinking binge. But it comes back slowly, in flashes—"They were all dressed as ducks, right?"
"Didn't we hate it?"
She shrugs. "Well, yes. But the production value was great."
Clint leans back on his elbows. "Not inspiring a lot of confidence here, Tash."
Natasha shakes her head. "That's because you're an idiot," she tells him flatly. "Look. Bruce is terrible at basically everything, but he's not this terrible." She gestures to the wreckage around them.
"I heard that," says Bruce's voice from the catwalk above them.
"That's wonderful for you," Natasha calls back, but Clint sees just the tiniest hint of a smile on her lips. She's always been a bit of a sucker for the hopeless cases. "What I'm saying is, there is a certain theater company on the other side of town that is putting on their production the same week we are. It would behoove them to have ours go belly-up."
Bruce drops suddenly onto one of the shavings piles. Clint isn't sure if it's on purpose or not. "Wait wait wait," Bruce says, shaking sawdust out of his hair, "you mean . . . sabotage?"
"But isn't Theo . . . sorry, Thor's brother the art director of that company?" Clint asks. "Why would he try to hurt his own brother's play?"
"They don't call Leonard 'the God of Mischief' because he doesn't like to fuck with people," Natasha says dryly.
"They are pretty competitive," Bruce admits, scratching his chin in thought.
Clint sighs, leaning back on his elbows. "Seriously, this is why I only come back here in the summers. You people need lives."
Bruce looks toward Natasha. "So . . . what's the plan?" he asks.
Most of the cast and crew go to Marvel's Pub after rehearsals to blow off steam, but Phil usually refrains. He doesn't like to spend that much time around his charges—that is, employees.
Sometimes, however, the draw of getting super, super, shit faced drunk appeals too much to resist, such as today, when he has no set, no lighting, and the threat of getting kicked out of his venue for being a massive fire hazard.
He had tried convincing the fire department that it was his cast, and not his set, that was the fire hazard, but it hadn't made much of a difference.
And to top it all off, before the end of rehearsals, Natasha had walked up to him, dropped the last of her designs into his lap, and said, "Hey. I quit. Here are the designs; don't let Darcy tell you that she doesn't know how to sew, because she is a liar. Jane too."
"What?" Phil had asked, dumbstruck. "You're—what?"
"Yep," Natasha had told him, almost cheerful, for her. "Got a better offer. Costumes and a lead role."
"But you hate acting!"
"Yes," she'd agreed, and given him a Look that was clearly supposed to mean something, and then gone.
Now Phil is staring down into his drink and trying to figure out how to tell his cast that their costume designer has abandoned them to work for fucking HYDRA, that stupid fucking cast of juvenile delinquents.
Jane and Darcy are sipping Bloody Marys. Well. Phil says 'sipping.'
"I'd say 'fuck her,' but I'm afraid she'll appear out of nowhere and kill me," Darcy says darkly into her cup.
"Shhhh, she can probably hear you thinking it," Jane hisses.
"What are we going to do?" Phil asks.
Nick turns his head so that he can meet Phil's gaze with his good eye. "On the other hand, this really frees up some funds, now that we don't have to pay her salary."
Phil really hates Nick Fury.
"Dude, you have the tact of like, a set of hairy balls," Darcy says.
"Darcy," Jane scolds.
The brunette shrugs. "It's totally true. Nick Fury, if you were a blowjob—"
"Just stop it right now," Jane says, her tone sharp. "Nick. I'm sorry."
The one-eyed man shrugs. "You don't pay me to be tactful, Jane. You pay me to keep your company from going under. If I don't take the initiative, I can't do that."
"She didn't leave us totally fucked," Phil reminds them. "We have her designs, and they look pretty simple, compared to what she usually comes up with. At least there are no live animals involved in any of them."
"Fucking bears," mutters Jane.
Darcy sighs, and takes another swallow of her drink. "I can sew pretty okay. I mean, I'm no Natasha, but I can probably make a fairly decent imitation if I follow her instructions. How hard can it be?"
Jane stirs her ice miserably. "You know how in the Hunger Games, Katniss's dress fake-burns off and reveals another dress, and everyone thinks it's badass and impossible?" she asks.
"Yeah . . ."
"Natasha once called that 'grade school stuff.' Have you ever seen the inside of her Red Room?"
Nick frowns. "What's the Red Room?"
"Her workshop at home. It's looks like what would happen if a torture chamber and Reese Witherspoon in 'Legally Blonde' had a baby."
Phil pours himself another beer. "Everything is terrible," he declares, "and I'm going back to school to get a fucking business degree."
[interval ii: tony]
Fuck Steve, man. So the dude can drink three Irish Car Bombs and still win at darts. So what? That's what Tony wants to know. He's still stupid. He's like a fucking Boy Scout.
"Asshat," he mutters under his breath.
"Who-o-ah," says Steve's roommate Bucky, grabbing Steve's arm as he lurches toward Tony. "Easy now, Cap."
And that's another thing. Captain America? How the hell did stupid Steve get that stupid fucking nickname? Like he was just soooo perfect in military school that all the guys looked up to him and thought he was the all-around American Hero, well, fuck that. Tony went to Harvard at age twelve. So what if Steve has the perfect body and a chiseled chin and likes to help old ladies across the street. Tony invented self-aware robots.
"What is your problem, Stark?" Steve asks, shaking Bucky off. But he doesn't look like he's going to attack anymore, because of course he doesn't, because he's just sooo decent that he doesn't want to let things get out of control.
And that's the real fucking problem, isn't it, because Steve Rogers is Mr. In Control, and that is so. fucking. annoying. Steve Rogers just has it all together and Tony is a hot fucking mess and he just wants to punch the Boy Scout off that stupid handsome face.
"My problem?" Tony asks, even as Happy and Rhodey leave off their pool game to come stand behind him, half as back up and half as preventative measures. "My problem? You're like a six-foot-infinity Abstinence-Only Posterboy!"
"First of all, it's the only way to guarantee safety," Steve snaps. "And sorry I'm not a five-foot-eightwhore."
"I am not a whore!" Tony cries, then reconsiders. "Okay. I am a little bit of a whore." Then he brightens. "But only because everyone wants a taste of my awesome." He pauses. "I wonder if I can market that. Maybe Stark Industries should start investing in condoms."
Rhodey snorts from behind him. "I'm sure Obadiah would love that business plan," he says quietly.
"Obadiah can suck it," Tony replies, suddenly cheerful. "Anyway, it's my company. And anyway, investing in safe sex is investing in our future. Never let it be said that Stark Industries doesn't care about its people."
Steve huffs. "Stark Industries doesn't give a shit about people," he says snidely. "It's a fucking weapons developer."
Happy touches Tony's wrist in warning, but it's too late, because he's already throwing the punch.
[interval iii: steve]
The hit comes from nowhere and takes him by surprise; he goes down. But he gets right the fuck back up, because this has been coming a long time.
"Easy boys," Bucky says, but Steve ignores him, because it is time. It's time to knock the smug bastard off his fucking pedestal, who does he think he is, anyway? Like just because he's a billionaire genius he can walk all over people, lording it over their heads that by some freak twist of nature he learned to read six months out of the womb?
Steve's not sure how they get outside, but they do, he and Tony rolling around on the ground as he tries to get a fucking hit in, but Tony's like a little spider monkey, clinging to his back. He doesn't weigh anything. Tony is—objectively—an attractive guy, but he's a nerd, for all his bravado, and he's little. He's not built, like Steve. He didn't go to military school, like Steve. He doesn't know how to throw a punch like Steve.
So as soon as he shakes him free, Steve socks him one, and Tony hits the ground hard. He sits there for a moment, dazed, and Steve brushes his hands off, because there. He's won. It's finally—
But Tony, the fucker, gets up, kind of to Steve's surprise because he's bleeding out of his nose and one of his ears and this is clearly not a fight he can win. But Tony is grinning anyway and Steve is like: okay, if that's how you want it.
"You're losing," Steve reminds him, and Tony's laugh is raw and rough when he says, "No shit,you're like the Iron fucking Giant."
But he hits Steve anyway. Steve will have a black eye in the morning and he's pretty sure he's bitten a chunk out of his tongue, but he's still coming off better than Tony.
"Dude," he says after a few minutes, hesitant, "give up."
Tony is breathing heavily, hands on his knees. "No."
"You're not going to beat me! Look man, I'm not even trying to rub it in, you're just . . . kinda little."
Tony leans up against Marvel's wall. "Yeah. I can see that, Captain Obvious."
Steve comes to rest beside him. "So why the hell are you still fighting?"
Tony doesn't answer, but spits blood onto the cement. Steve waits. After a few minutes, Tony says, "We're not."
"A weapons developer, dickwad."
"Stark Industries. We used to, before . . . but we don't have anything to do with military shit anymore."
Steve frowns. "Before . . . what?"
"My Dad," Tony says, and then passes out.
[interval iv: darcy]
"Seriously, you have gotto get your own place," she tells Bucky, sighing under Tony's weight. Steve had gone in ahead to unlock the door, and they are dragging the unconscious Tony between them. "I'mtotally not having sex with you in an apartment with two other dudes longing homoerotically after one another in the next room."
"Aw, c'mon," Bucky says as they get into the elevator. "It's just one dude. Tony's passed out."
"He's probably dreaming coma dreams about getting all up in Cap's business," Darcy says darkly, and Steve clears his throat.
"Uh, I'm actually in the elevator," he points out, and Darcy shoots him a glare. Bucky and Steve are College Bros who never branched out, and Steve is the only one left who doesn't realize that the back-and-forth with Tony is just their "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" way of flirting. But like: they work in a theater company. Being straight is weirder than being gay.
Military men. Darcy just doesn't get 'em.
"That's great for you, Americana," she says. "You're also the elephant in the room making it impossible for me to get laid tonight."
"Look, Darcy, I don't know why you think that—"
"Steve," Bucky interrupts gently, "I know you're sure that you're not into Tony for his sexual prowess, and that's fine, but could you maybe just nod and agree blindly to what my girlfriend says? Just this once? Because otherwise there's totally no way I am getting any."
Darcy snorts. "Too little, too late, bucko."
Bucky slumps. "Not fair," he mutters. "How come Steve'smarital problems are keeping us from enjoying ourselves?"
"They're not marital—"
"Because all I'll be able to think about is all the many ways that Steve is going to fuck this up when Tony wakes," Darcy says. "Because Tony's going to be all AHHH I WAS SO DRUNK, did I kick your ass? Bet I did! and then Steve going to be like, No Tony, you didn't, let's not talk about how adorable you were lying on my bed, and then Tony's going to be like, Obnoxious Comment, and Steve's going to be like, I'm Offended, and really all he should have done is shut his stupid mouth and offered the boy breakfast."
"Seriously, Darcy, I am not attracted to—"
"Well, yeah, but we can only do so much for them," Bucky reminds her, in that stupid logic voice of his. "If Steve and Tony want to play the Sexy Banter game forever . . ."
"It is not sexy bant—"
"Meanwhile never asking why Tony freaked out about the weapon thing," Darcy says smoothly, talking over Steve. The blonde falls silent, because duh he wants to know. "All of this could have been avoided if Steve had just bothered to pay attention to current events and knew that four years ago, Tony's Dad was taken by hostiles in the Middle East and died out there, and that Stark weaponry had been what was used against the convoy, and that ever since, Tony refuses to have anything to do with weapons in his company."
Steve is quiet. Good, Darcy thinks. Why are boys so fucking stupid? She'd totally be a lesbian if she were more interested in vaginas and less attracted to Bucky "Handsome-Face" Barnes.
"Oh," says Steve.
"Moron," says Darcy.
[interval v: bruce]
"And we're sure this is a good idea?" Bruce asks Clint out of the side of his mouth.
Clint raises his eyebrows. "I am absolutely never sure of anything with Natasha," he murmurs dryly. "Just go along with it and assume she'll bail you out of jail."
"I feel terrified," Bruce says, "and awesome."
They are in a warehouse that Natasha had inexplicably brought them to, where at the door two heavyset men had talked to her in Russian. She had then disappeared into a back room, and left Clint and Bruce with the heavyset men, who are not speaking to them. They have guns in holsters on their sides, and did Bruce somehow fall into an episode of The Sopranos?
When Natasha reemerges, she kisses the cheek of a short, fat man with a gun on either side of his hips and a thick cigar in his mouth. "Dasvi-daniya, Uncle Anton," she says. "Spaseeba."
"Remember, you get caught, you take the fall," Uncle Anton says, and Natasha rolls her eyes.
"Who are you talking to?" she asks. "Do I ever get caught?"
"What about that Budapest thing?"
She makes a pfft sound. "I handled it, didn't I?"
"Still. The Kremlin, Natasha?"
Natasha shrugs and kisses him again. "Papa Ivan and I are ambitious," she says cheerfully. She walks towards them. "Right, let's go. I'll have the stuff delivered by the time we get home."
Clint has gone pale. "Natasha," he hisses, "it's not possible that I actually broke into the Kremlin, is it?"
She cuts him a look. "Really want to know?" she asks, and Clint looks like he's going to be sick.
"I fucking hate you," he hisses.
Bruce most definitely does not want to know.
"Are we going to jail for this?" he asks, and then adds hurriedly, "you know what, never mind. I'm probably safer the less I know."
Natasha grins. "I'm starting to like you, Banner," she says, and Bruce wants to be above flattery, but he's not, so he flushes red and cracks his knuckles.
"This is the most badass thing I've ever not known I was doing," he says.