A/N: I love the whole broken-family-team thing going on. And I especially love the idea that the others aren't entirely sure about what's going on between Natasha and Clint, and are a little too scared to ask. I don't know how this got so much about Steve, since I was going to hop view points, but I kinda like his fish out of water bewilderment. He probably barely understands the average modern relationship, and so has no hope of understanding special arrangements like Clint and Natasha's.
It starts with a bang.
Steve lifts his head, pulling himself out of the book he'd been reading. He thought he'd just heard an explosion, muffled and distant. A moment later comes another one, and this one is definitely some sort of blast. He can hear the glassware in the kitchen cupboards gently vibrating and chiming against one another.
With a groan, he gets up and tosses his book aside. He's halfway down the hallway when the next one comes, and he wouldn't know it if he hadn't felt the minute tremble in the floor. He's going the wrong way.
A moment later the door to Tony's lab opens and the man himself stands in the doorway.
"Am I imagining it, or is the place shaking?" he asks.
"Something exploded," Steve says. "I thought it was you again."
"Yeah, no, sorry," Tony replies. "I found the flaw in the computing sequence that was causing the secondary backwash-" He stops, looks at Steve, starts again. "I fixed the problem. No more go boom."
There is such a thing as dumbing it down too much, and Tony just took a vaulting leap over that line. Before he can find a way to politely express this- and that if Tony does it again Steve may just hit him to spare himself the effort of such politeness- there's another explosion. Something in Tony's lab, probably a glass set too close to the edge of a table, shatters.
"There it is again," Tony mutters. He moves out into the hallway and past Steve. "It had better not be that ham-fisted idiot doing his thunder god thing in the basem-"
He stops dead, both in his tracks and mid-word, and Steve literally runs into him. A moment later the reason for the sudden halt is explained.
"Doing my thunder god thing where?" Thor asks, far too casually to have heard the first part of that sentence. Steve gently pushes Tony a few steps farther into the room and moves around him.
Tony seems genuinely lost for words. He gapes for a moment, then abruptly jerks his eyes towards the discreet panel on the wall.
"Jarvis, what's going on? Since when are multiple explosions not enough of a threat to earn even a mention?"
"Actually, sir, there is no threat," the AI answers. "The cause of the explosions is Agent Barton. He's down in the shooting range."
"With those bomb-arrows? I thought I told him he wasn't allowed to shoot those damn things in here," Tony scowls, sounding remarkably like an irate father with a rebellious teenager.
"Obviously, he has chosen not to listen," Jarvis says, and Steve almost thinks there's a touch of amusement in the AI's words. Tony turns and starts towards the stairs that lead down to the gym in the basement but Steve beats him to it.
"I'll talk to him," he says in what only sounds like an offer. Sometimes Tony forgets that he isn't always wearing the armor, and that without it he's the least physically capable member of their team. And if Clint's mad, and it definitely sounds like he's mad about something, then sending down Tony to rile him up some more won't end well. He looks past Tony to Thor, passing along a silent message- do not let him go down- and gets a slight nod in acknowledgement. Then Steve turns and heads down the stairs.
"Clint?" he calls out warily, peeking around the corner. Like he's in hostile territory, he realizes, and forces himself away from the wall. Whatever's going on, Clint is his teammate, and Steve isn't afraid of him.
The air in the gym smells of cordite. A paper target is lying on the floor, shredded and discarded. There's a hole through the head and heart of the silhouette on the paper, the holes ragged-edged. Bullet holes, he realizes, eight or nine clustered together, all kill shots, all within two inches of each other. Steve gently puts the paper aside as he amends his earlier thought- Clint is his teammate and Steve isn't overly afraid of him.
Then another explosion comes from the shooting range, beyond the gym, and Steve heads in its direction. He pokes his head in, sees Clint aiming at yet another target, the head of the arrow blinking a single red pinpoint of light. Rather than startle him and risk getting shot, Steve ducks back out and waits for the next explosion, then pushes into the room.
"Hey, Clint," he says casually as he heads over to the other man. He gets a quick, unconcerned glance as the marksman pulls the next arrow out of its slot.
"Hey, Cap'n," he responds, just as casually, as if there's nothing unusual going on. As if he regularly blows up the shooting range and this is just any normal Thursday. "Need something?"
"Maybe," Steve says, a little unnerved by the blasé attitude. "Is, uh, is something wrong?"
Steve covers his ears and turns his face away as the next arrow takes flight. He counts the arrows left in the quiver- seven- during the explosion.
"Because it seems like something's wrong," he continues when they can talk once more.
"Really?" Clint seems genuinely interested by this. He glances at Steve again. "What makes you think that?"
Steve looks down the range, at the smoking craters in the wall and what's left of the target lying in a mangled heap in the corner.
"Call it a hunch," he says dryly.
"Huh." Clint pulls the next arrow and notches it. "Sorry. Can't help you."
"Right." Steve says, and retreats. He's seen this sort of determined calm before and knows there's a volcano somewhere underneath, but considering the circumstances, he isn't sure if stirring it up is the smartest idea. He'll try again later, when the explosives have all been put away.
Back upstairs he finds Bruce has joined the other two in waiting for him, all three watching expectantly.
"He's alive," Tony says as soon as Steve appears. "Pay up."
Steve can't help the scowl as Bruce pulls out his wallet and flips out a fifty dollar bill. Before he can say anything, though, Thor is speaking.
"Is all well with the hawk?" he asks.
"He says so, but I don't-" Steve pauses as the mansion trembles with yet another explosion. "-don't exactly believe him."
"Really? What gave you that idea?" Tony asks drolly, then continues before Steve can start getting really annoyed with him. "Well, the way I see it is we have two options: we can either play a rousing game of Pin the Neurosis on the Archer, or we can call in the expert."
"Pin the neurosis…?" Steve echoes. He glances at Thor, as he always does in moments like these, because confusion loves company and it's nice to know he's not the only one that doesn't get it. Tony groans and rolls his eyes.
"Jarvis, where's Natasha?" he asks the mansion at large, apparently not feeling up to enlightening them.
"Agent Romanoff left the mansion almost twenty minutes ago," Jarvis reports, and Tony visibly falters. He clearly had not considered this flaw in his plan.
"Did she say where she was going?" Bruce asks.
"I'm afraid not."
"Doesn't matter, all the cars are lojacked," Tony says, apparently having recovered his footing. "Which car did she take?"
"She didn't. She took Captain Rogers' motorcycle."
"What?" Steve looks up at the ceiling, even though he knows it's pointless. He takes a step forward. "She took my bike?"
"Where was she before she left?" Bruce asks. He looks like he's onto something, and not remotely happy about it.
"In the gym with Agent Barton." Jarvis pauses. "When she left, she seemed agitated."
And now he's downstairs lobbing around explosives and claiming there's absolutely nothing wrong, Steve adds to himself.
"You don't think…" he begins after a moment's silence.
"Some sort of lovers' spat?" Tony finishes.
"They don't seem like the spat type," Bruce counters with a shrug.
"Yeah, master assassins don't really do things by halves," Tony agrees. "I always thought if they ever fought, it'd be an actual fight, and whoever lives, wins."
In the silence that follows comes another explosion.
"Perhaps you do not know them as well as you had thought," Thor offers. "I have seen many… lovers' spats… and this seems to be very much like them." He says 'lovers' spats' like it's in a foreign language and he wants to be sure he gets the pronunciation right.
"Without the explosions, I'm assuming," Tony says.
"No, with them," the demigod says, sounding confused by the assumption. Tony considers this.
"Well, okay," he says. "Here on Earth most people just content themselves with throwing clothes out the window and smashing windshields with baseball bats."
"Here on Earth most people don't have access to heavy ordinance and years of wetworks training," Bruce points out.
There's the sound of feet on the stairs behind Steve and they all go silent as Clint walks in. He stops dead three steps into the room, in the middle of folding his bow up, looking back at the four men staring at him.
"What?" he demands, in a tone of voice that indicates he already knows exactly what's going on. The volcano is a good deal closer to the surface now.
"Nothing," Tony says. His eyes are locked on the four arrows still in the quiver, no doubt remembering Bruce's comment about Clint's training, and he takes a deep breath, probably to go into the freeform babbling he thinks hides when he's nervous.
"There's a new Thai place that delivers," Steve cuts in, before Tony gives Clint a reason to use one of those arrows. "We were going to try it. Are you hungry?" And he stops himself there, before it's him who's babbling.
"Sure," Clint says. "Just get me whatever, I'll eat it." And he moves back, heading backwards down the stairs so he can keep a wary eye on them. As soon as they hear the door close behind him, Tony turns to the other three.
"We are so screwed."
That it's a lovers' spat is contingent on the idea that Natasha and Clint are lovers, and while this is a consensus reached by everyone who has ever seen the two interact, it's still just an assumption. It's difficult to confirm, as they're intensely private people who both know approximately six hundred different ways to kill a person, which tends to discourage questions.
They have separate bedrooms, although as Tony has repeatedly said that doesn't really prove anything. They don't really treat each other differently than they treat the rest of the team, but that could just be because they've had years to perfect their act while at SHIELD. They don't touch each other all the time, as lovers generally do, or look at each other, or have a special language aside from the one most partners tend to develop. If they are sleeping together, that's all it is.
Steve understands chivalry has died a hard death and feminism dances on its grave. But he is a product of his time, and back then, a good man didn't treat a woman like she was just some well-trained dog, who would come when he called and stayed out of his way when he was busy. Not that he's doubting Clint here- Clint Barton is a good man, one of the best Steve knows, if for no other reason than how hard it had to be for him to hold on to that after everything he's seen and done. No, the big difference these days is in the women. Natasha sometimes reminds him of Peggy so much it hurts to look at her. Steve figures if Peggy had been born in this enlightened age, he would have found himself in a position rather similar to Clint's. If the two assassins really are lovers, then the relationship is set at Natasha's speed.
The two are well-matched, in Steve's opinion, not just physically but emotionally. He would be shocked if they weren't lovers, both of them stubbornly believing it's only about the sex because neither believes in anything more than that. On the other hand, he also doesn't believe it to be any of his business. Clearly, whatever they've got going works for them, and that they're satisfied with it is all Steve cares about.
Except, of course, now they're not happy with it. Or each other, apparently. Which unfortunately means that, as the unofficial leader of this grab-bag of lunatics and killers, Steve has to check and make sure they'll be okay working with each other. He's not looking forward to it.
Natasha gets back at about the same time as the delivery. She brings it in, in fact, and tells Tony she gave the delivery boy his credit card number to pay.
Now that she's back, Clint's absence is more noticeable, more pronounced. It's not that he and Natasha are joined at the hip or anything. They just always seem to be keenly aware of where the other one is without ever actually looking, and are always doing little things like moving over to make room or passing the salt without a word being said.
Steve sorts out the food, passing it off to each person and giving Thor the bag, still half-full, when he's done. In that time, the containers he'd set aside for Clint magically disappear. Steve takes it as a good sign. Some people make a show about it when they're angry. Clint just seems to be trying to keep his distance, which makes it a problem that Steve only has to deal with eventually, rather than right now before the pointy objects start flying.
"Someone needs to have a talk with her," Tony says after Natasha leaves to eat in the other room, and Steve knows, without even needing to look up, that the other three are all looking at him. Because clearly his earlier actions have declared him as the only one insane enough to try to have a talk with a pissed-off assassin.
"I'll do it," he says brightly, as if he has any say in the matter, and heads out after her.
Natasha's in the den, feet tucked up under her as she sits on the couch. She looks small and defensive, nothing at all like the strong confident woman he knows. He sits at the other end and watches silently as she turns on the TV.
"Jarvis says you took my bike," he says while she skips through the channels. It seems the best way to open the conversation, by reminding her that she owes him in some small way.
"Sorry about that," she says. "I would've asked but I forgot. I wanted to clear my head."
"Huh." Steve watches the show she lands on for a minute, something about the zombie apocalypse the people of this era are so convinced is coming. "Feeling better?"
"I was feeling fine," Natasha tells him. "I just need to get out, sometimes. I'm not used to staying in one place for so long."
Steve huh's again and looks at his food. Failing so miserably at talking about it had been much easier with Clint.
"It's just that, Clint's been in a kind of bad mood all day, and Jarvis said when you left you looked upset," he says.
"Really?" Natasha asks, frowning. "I seemed upset?"
Steve decides right there that he's in way over his head. He's a soldier and, more recently, a superhero, not a psychiatrist, and only a professional is going to make any sort of progress with either her or Clint.
"Not anymore," he says. After a moment he points towards the kitchen. "I'm just gonna… eat in there, if that's okay."
"You don't need my permission, Captain," Natasha says, and Steve flees, feeling remarkably like he just barely escaped with his life.
"Well done," Bruce says to him.
"Those two need professional help," Steve mutters as he pushes Tony's feet off a chair and sits down.
"That was a decade ago, Steve. They're beyond help now." Tony shifts so he's sitting in his chair properly.
Steve wonders if it makes him a bad leader that he thinks that about all of them.
Three days later the icy silence carries itself over into a mission, where Steve finds himself chattering too much just to fill the dead air. It's not that their fight or whatever is affecting the mission or their performance. Hawkeye is perhaps a little less ironic than normal, words clipped and mostly toneless, but other than that there's no noticeable difference. Except the others can hear, in the silence between communications, the quiet menace the hawk and the spider are aiming at each other.
"We really need to do something about this," Iron Man mutters to him. Steve silently agrees, but shakes his head anyways, because the last thing they need is this lunatic running around trying to fix what he doesn't remotely understand.
"Focus, Stark," he says, and follows his own order.
Not even ten hours later, as he's heading down to the kitchen to get some food as step three in the post-mission relaxation plan, Steve passes Tony in the hallway listening in on an argument in the room beyond. The words flying around in the other room sound a little like Russian and a lot like gibberish.
"Tony," Steve says, warning and scolding in one, and wonders when he became the house dad.
"It's Polish," Tony reports. "Why does he even know Polish?"
"Why do either of them know Polish?" Steve asks, not able to help himself. Tony snorts.
"She's Russian," he says, as if that explains everything. "He's American, and normally, Americans only know two languages- English and tourist, which is English spoken very loudly and slowly."
"Perhaps she taught him so they could have private conversations without worrying about eavesdroppers," Jarvis chips in, startling Steve. He looks up at the ceiling- he can't help it, he's too used to looking at people when they talk to him and Jarvis' disembodied voice always sounds to him like it's coming from above.
"Jarvis, what are you doing?" he asks. In his experience, the AI rarely initiates or butts into a conversation. If it's talking now, it's because Tony was talking to it already.
"Running a translation program."
Steve looks at Tony.
"We missed it," he says, either misreading or ignoring his meaning. "By the time I got here they were already just swapping insults. A lot of insults. Gotta love those Slavic languages."
In the other room, the argument hits its pitch and ends abruptly in surly silence. A moment later a door slams.
"Well," Steve says philosophically. "At least they're talking to each other."
Perhaps it's his outdated view of the sexes, or perhaps the air of quiet menace Natasha wears like an armor as opposed to Clint's more laid-back manner. It could be as simple as first impressions, where Natasha had been on her feet and talking like a soldier and moving like a cat, while the first time he'd met Clint the marksman had been unconscious, the second time almost sheepish and apologetic and still trying to find himself after Loki's mental invasion. It could be that he sees Clint more as a marksman, a distance killer, and not as much a fighter like Natasha. Whatever the case is, Steve tends to view Clint as the less intimidating of the two.
So when they have another one of their multilingual arguments a few days later- during which Bruce turned an interesting shade of red, because he apparently understood at least a few parts of what was being said, and wouldn't translate no matter how much Tony bugged him- Steve gives Clint a few minutes' head start before following him down to the gym.
"How about going against something that can fight back?" he offers, when Clint all but beheads one of the sparring dummies. He gets a disdainful snort.
"Not a good idea, Captain," he says, and Steve wonders if he'll ever be just Steve to him. "Wouldn't be a fair fight."
Steve knows what he means but chooses to misunderstand it. Sometimes, a guy just needs to vent, and dummies and paper targets won't do for the sort of focused, honed rage Clint is capable of.
"I promise to go easy on you," he says, and the other man goes very still. A moment later he looks over, thoughtful, then gives Steve a terrible, angry smile.
Steve stops worrying about not hurting Clint somewhere around four seconds in. Instead he focuses on keeping himself alive. Because Clint- and Steve always knew this but somehow didn't really appreciate it until this moment- is a trained killer. He doesn't fight. To compare fighting to what he does is like saying an elephant can fly like an eagle, for a short while at least, if dropped from a high enough ledge. Steve spent his life learning how to defend himself from bullies, fought against what was essentially a higher grade of bully in Hydra. Clint on the offense is an entirely different breed of animal. He doesn't aim to intimidate, or even to win. His aim, very simply, is to not be the first to die. Second is acceptable, if that's what it takes, but not the first.
It's no wonder he prefers to look at the world through a scope, Steve thinks a little while later, while he's watching Bruce wrap gauze around Clint's torn hands and bloodied knuckles. He can get the job done without getting too close. Up close and personal is exactly that.
"Feeling better?" he asks, and Clint glances at him. One eye is already turning a lovely shade of purple. He's good, but Steve is far from a pushover, and when it had become apparent Clint wasn't playing by any rules Steve had started fighting dirty too.
"I'm not," Bruce says, snaps really, sounding dangerously annoyed. He has opinions about being the team medic, Steve knows. He takes the welfare of people he cares about too seriously, and doesn't trust himself to keep a cool head when it depends so heavily on him. It really doesn't help matters when two of his teammates beat the crap out of each other for no apparent reason.
Clint looks at him, then gives Steve a careful nod, and wisely doesn't say anything.
A few days later, when Clint has had time to heal a little so he doesn't look quite so much like a flyer for prevention of domestic abuse- thank you, Tony- three of them go out for a drink. Because Steve is a social wet blanket- again, thank you, Tony- he isn't invited and so doesn't know about the little outing until he gets the phone call.
"So the idea was," he says, grunting as he tries to open the car door without dropping Tony, "to take him out and get him drunk and hope he spills his relationship woes?"
"If that was the plan, it did not work," Thor says. He sounds very amused.
It's a small sign of foresight on Tony's part, that he thought to ask along one of his two teammates who can't get drunk- although Thor technically can get drunk, it just requires more alcohol than most bartenders are willing to give any three people. It would have been much more impressive if he'd thought to ask along the one who not only can't get drunk but can also drive.
"Doesn't Stark have someone who normally drives him around?" he demands, exasperated, as he drops Tony gracelessly into the back seat.
"Yes," Thor says. He shifts his hold on Clint- who isn't unconscious like Tony, but merely extremely uninterested in the world around him, and keeps looking at his left hand like he's constantly surprised to find no drink in it- and produces Tony's cell phone. It looks tiny in his hand. "He asked that I call him."
Steve looks at the phone. A year ago by his reckoning, phones were big heavy black things that could be used to kill a rhinoceros, if it came to that.
"Yeah, I probably would've just called me, too," he mutters.
Clint gets stubborn when they try to put him in the back seat next to Tony- on Tony, technically, as the billionaire is flopping around like some sort of boneless fish and snoring. He puts up quite a fight, considering he has more alcohol than blood in his veins, and because they don't want to hurt him by trying to force him Steve manages to convince Thor to surrender the front seat.
"So what did you talk about?" he asks once they're on the road. He's keeping a careful eye on Clint, who doesn't seem to be coping well with being in a moving vehicle.
"At first, the Man of Iron's woman, Pepper." Thor spares a fond glance towards the man currently drooling on his shoulder. "He speaks of her as though she is a goddess."
"I've met her. She is." Steve glances at Clint again, trying to tell if he's actually turning grey or if it's just the poor lighting. "She's put up with Tony for, what, eight years now?"
"Ah, a most remarkable woman," Thor agrees, carefully pushing Tony over so he's leaning against the window instead. "Then they played the table game."
"Pool," Steve corrects. There's a pool table in the mansion rec room. He's actually kind of disappointed he missed that- it would have been interesting to see Clint's aim and innate knowledge of how things move pitted against Tony's head for numbers and math.
"And then they began some drinking game," Thor continues. He frowns briefly. "I did not understand the rules, but I believe the hawk won."
Steve looks over at the miserable huddle of a man in the other seat, then back at the blissfully snoring Tony. He's not entirely sure he agrees with that.
Ten minutes later, when they're in a gas station parking lot and Clint is emptying his stomach onto the curb because he just couldn't wait the extra four seconds to make it into the restroom, Steve leans on the car next to Thor- Clint had chased them away with evil glares and a knife he pulled from God knows where between heaves- and says, "Next time Tony suggests something like this, don't let them go."
Thor just looks at him, a droll look that Steve imagines he himself wears anytime someone tries to tell him to get a handle on his team, he's their leader isn't he, why can't he control them. In the car, Tony gives a sleepy snort and mutters something about transducive elements.
The next day, after all those involved have recovered from their hangovers, Clint heads back down to the gym.
When the first explosion rattles the mansion, Steve merely sighs, puts his book aside and turns on the TV. He keeps skimming channels until he finds something loud and boring and leaves it playing as he goes back to reading.
Sometime around three in the morning, wearing only a pair of sweatpants and a wide-eyed look of exhaustion, Clint pads down the hallway and stops at Natasha's door. He doesn't need to knock.
"Sorry," he says vaguely when she opens the door, eyes focused on the horrors of years past. He wraps his arms around himself like he's cold. "You know. For that thing."
Natasha considers this. Then she considers him. Maybe it's a sign that he retained his humanity better than she did, that the nightmares still hit him so hard.
"Next time you'll know better," she says, and doesn't close the door when she turns away.
There's only a little bit of distance between them, when she wakes up the next morning, Clint curled on his side away from her. She lies on her back and listens to him breathe and smiles to herself, just a little, then shifts over until her shoulder is gently pressing against the line of his spine.
And all is right in the world once more.