Steve chafed in the suit. He knew the clothes he normally wore were considered stuffy to the rest of the team, but at least they were comfortable. This three piece monstrosity was supposed to be fancy and flattering and all the things Tony wanted him to be, but instead he was just out of his element, flash in all the wrong ways. It was too tight, too hot, too slick. He was going to kill Tony Stark for making him wear it.
It heartened him a little to see just about everybody else looking about as uncomfortable. Bruce kept tugging at his collar and grimacing. Thor had flat out refused all manner of Earth dress attire, claiming his finery was much more elegant. Even Clint was fidgeting in his suit. Tony and Natasha were the only people who looked truly comfortable in the dress clothes.
"Alright, that's it. If we have to do this stupid award thing, I'm going to be comfortable while doing it." Clint said, pulling off his tie. He turned and walked towards the elevator that would take him back upstairs, back to the bedrooms where their own clothes were.
"The mayor and reporters will be here any minute! Where are you going?" Tony called after him. Clint flipped up his middle finger but gave no other sign of listening. Steve took a few steps backwards.
"Rogers, don't you dare follow him!" Tony warned, pointing his finger. Steve shot him an apologetic shrug before trotting after the other man. Bruce was hot on his heels.
Clint was right. If they had to sit for the press, they could at least be in their own clothes, Tony's fashion sense be damned.
"Oh my god that was grueling." Bruce sighed as he collapsed into a chair in the kitchen. The others followed him, dragging and whining and dramatically sighing. It hadn't gone well. Probably would never go well. Not everybody was meant to answer questions on the spot. And they definitely weren't all political enough to deal with state officials.
"I hate the press." Clint mumbled, falling hard into the chair next to Bruce. Natasha smiled indulgently.
"It wasn't so bad."
"I don't talk to people. That's your job," he said.
"Your Earth commoners are very inquisitive." Steve realized they probably should have explained the reporters to Thor before the press conference. They could try again for the next one. If there would be a next one. Steve kind of hoped the debacle that was this press round was the last they'd have to go through.
"Hey, at least we got an award. It's all shiny! I can put it in the trophy case." Tony was still in his suit, handing out glasses of fine scotch as if that whole afternoon was routine. Steve took one, even though the alcohol couldn't affect him, and noticed with interest that Clint turned it down. He got himself a glass of water instead. Natasha side eyed him and they argued silently for a minute before she backed down. Clint didn't drink and Clint didn't back down, not even to Natasha. Steve filed that tidbit away for later.
"We should not have accepted. My position stands, Tony." Thor crossed his arms and glared at the other man after downing his drink in one swallow.
"Awards are nice. I like them. I'm not giving it back."
"We should not rejoice in the victory over Loki. Many people lost their lives."
Steve sat down next to Bruce. This argument had started hours ago and the press was already running with it. He really didn't want to hear it again. Bruce grimaced next to him and tipped his drink back. Natasha pinched the bridge of her nose and sat down in another chair, forming a small circle with the group. Clint took a great interest in the fine crystal of his water glass. The four of them remained silent, hoping the fight would end soon.
"We saved a lot more than we lost. I propose a toast. To beating the bad guys." Tony held up his glass. Steve and Bruce followed suit, but nobody else seemed particularly eager to take part.
"Your 'bad guy' is my brother. My family mourns his actions. As should yours."
"He isn't really your family though, is he?" Steve tensed, hoping against hope Tony didn't mean what he said with that comment. "And in my family, we learn from our losses and celebrate our victories. Celebrate being the big thing."
"I will not disown Loki for his actions. He is still my kin." Anger flashed in Thor's eyes. Tony was undeterred.
"Not asking you to disown the guy. Just take a little pride in what you did." Tony didn't get it.
"I will not rejoice in his downfall. He is my brother."
"He's adopted, though, right? So he's not really your brother. It isn't like he's real family." A glass shattered against the wall leading to the dining room, expertly missing both the portrait of Howard Stark and Pepper's prized Warhol piece. The fine crystal crumbled and slid down, scattering tiny shards of glass everywhere.
The argument stopped, briefly, as all but Natasha turned in surprise to stare at Clint. He had overturned his chair. His muscles were taught with uncontained rage. He didn't say a word, just stormed out of the room, chest heaving and fists held stiffly at his side. Natasha stared at her hands and shifted uncomfortably, but she did not follow. Steve tried to catch her eye but she wouldn't look at anybody. He got up and followed Clint. Somebody had to go after him, to make sure he was okay. If she wouldn't go, he would.
"We were raised together. Lived and loved and fought and learned. He may not be my blood, but he will always be my brother." Thor and Tony continued their argument as Steve walked out. Steve knew Tony didn't understand the ramifications. Still, he was glad it was Thor explaining it and not him. He was angry enough.
He wandered the hallways aimlessly for about five minutes, not entirely sure where to check. Clint's bedroom was empty. As was Natasha's. He was thinking of heading to the armory when Bruce stopped him outside of the training room.
"Check the roof," he said.
Steve found him just where Bruce said he would be. Clint was sitting on the uppermost ledge, legs dangling over the side and hands braced against the rough concrete. The height of it all terrified Steve, but he climbed the maintenance ladder, crawled along the edge, and sat down, his back against the wall just below Clint. It wasn't too bad if he couldn't see exactly how high up they were.
They were quiet for several minutes, each one stretching on longer than the last. He wanted desperately to speak but time had taught him it was best to wait when it came to Clint Barton.
Clint slid off the wall and sat heavily next to Steve. He rested his elbows on his knees and looked down at the roof. Steve mimicked his position.
"He had no right to say those things about Loki," he said. Steve honestly wasn't sure which he Clint was talking about. He waited. "Just because he's adopted doesn't mean he isn't family."
"Of all of us, I wouldn't have expected you to be the one to defend Loki."
"Not defending Loki. Just agreeing with Thor." Steve knew there was more to it. There was something deeper bothering him. Clint never reacted like that to anybody, not for anything.
He waited. He picked up an errant pigeon feather and played with the soft down. They just sat. After a few minutes, Clint moved a little closer and took the feather from his hands. He held it up and let the wind catch it and carry it away.
"I spent some time in an orphanage, y'know. Just a couple of years before we just ran away from it all, but we spent all that time just wishing somebody would adopt us, me and my brother. That we would belong to somebody. That somebody would want us. But nobody ever did." It was the most Steve had ever heard out of Clint, and certainly more personal than he had expected.
"I grew up in an orphanage. Over in Brooklyn. It's not there anymore." Steve hadn't ever purposely kept that from anybody, but he couldn't exactly recall sharing the information with them either. "I don't have a brother, though."
"Neither do I; not anymore." Steve wanted to ask what had happened but he knew better. He'd learn about it when Clint was ready for him to and not a moment sooner.
"It was a nice orphanage. They were good to me there. Never got adopted, either." He was quiet for a minute, trying to decide how much to share. Clint didn't say anything, so he plowed on ahead. "I never met my father. I don't remember much of my mother. The orphanage… I think I was about five? Six maybe? It's all I can really remember at this point. I was too little… before." Clint laughed, just one stuttering sound that could have been a cry. Except Clint Barton never cried. Not in front of people like Steve.
"I remember my birth parents." It wasn't a good memory, Steve could tell, and he didn't push it. They fell quiet again. Steve sorted and filed and assessed the little bit of information he'd just learned.
"I never even had the chance at an orphanage." Natasha spoke, startling Steve out of his reverie. She'd changed from the slinky dress to more comfortable jeans and a t-shirt, the clothes he'd grown accustomed to seeing her in. She sat down heavily, weary, and rested her head on Clint's shoulder. He pushed against her, planted a kiss to the top of her head, and then leaned back against the concrete.
Clint remained quiet, but his posture shifted ever so slightly when Natasha took his hand in hers and twined their fingers together. He melted into her and held on for dear life. Steve wished he had somebody he could be with like that. She sighed and spoke, staring intently at their interlocked hands as if they held all the answers in the universe.
"My parents died in a fire when I was very little. I was pulled from the flames by a man who worked for a government program designed to spit out assassins. The person I was died in that fire. Sometimes I wish I knew who she would have grown up to be." Steve knew she wasn't sharing that information for Clint's benefit. Clint already knew. He nodded his thanks, and she returned it.
"Yeah, we had a chance at a family at least. People who wanted us. Could have been great." Steve said.
"A mother who would bake cupcakes after school." Clint suggested.
"A father to play ball with." Steve added.
"Somebody who'd kiss a scrape and make it better." Clint's voice cracked.
"Somebody to take care of us when we were sick… a cool hand, a backrub, whatever we needed." Steve had vague memories of his mother actually doing that for him. It was one of the things he had missed the most.
"Somebody to sing us to sleep at night when we had bad dreams." Natasha sighed wistfully.
They fell into a companionable silence. Clint relaxed, bit by bit, with Natasha sitting there. She used her free hand to play little finger games on his knuckles, to trace the scars on his arm, and eventually she slid away from him just enough to reach up and kiss him softly on the cheek. He turned and rested his forehead against hers and whispered something Steve couldn't hear. Probably in a language Steve couldn't understand either.
"I'll let the expert take over," Steve cleared his throat and started to get up, suddenly thrust out of his sense of belonging. Clint's hand on his arm stopped him. He sat back down when Clint tugged, just a little, just enough to get the message across.
"Stay," he said. So he did.
Tony never really got it, Steve knew. It had taken Pepper an angry phone call to get the point across, and he had apologized, but Steve could tell. Tony didn't truly understand, but then Tony didn't really know 'family' in the traditional sense either. They all had family issues, but Steve and Clint and Thor, they were coming at it from a completely different place than Tony and Bruce. And Natasha, she got it, but her trauma was so different she couldn't even compare.
So in an attempt to keep the peace, they set up movie night. It was clear Tony was extending the olive branch when he suggested they watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Clint loved the fellowship, the loyalty. And the archery. Steve loved the underlying message, the comparison to the war he'd just left. Thor liked the fantasy. And it was rife with references for Tony to use for years to come.
It was just so long. And they were all so tired already. The music was so relaxing and the voices of the actors so soothing. The room was warm and quiet and dark and nobody meant to fall asleep, not really, but it just… happened.
He jerked awake, again, and glanced around him. Bruce was still attempting to appear sitting up in the corner of the other couch, his arms stretched out beside him along the back, but his head had fallen back and he wheezed with each exhale.
Clint was propped against Bruce with one leg on the arm of the couch and the other braced on the floor. His face was turned into the pillows, any pretense of paying attention long ago dropped.
Natasha was curled on top of him, making him her living body pillow, with her ear pressed against his chest and her curls in his face. She was making soft snuffling noises in her sleep and occasionally her muscles twitched and her body jerked.
Thor was somewhere on the floor, but Steve didn't want to move enough to find out where. He was far too comfortable, although he wasn't sure when Tony's knees had ended up in his face. He just couldn't bring himself to care.
The movie kept going, Frodo and Sam getting lost while trudging their way towards Mordor, and he was just drifting back to sleep when the sound cut off. He opened his eyes to see Clint with the remote in hand. He caught the other man's eyes and Clint lifted a finger to his lips.
With the hum of the video now gone, Steve was able to decipher the snuffling sounds Natasha made. They were whimpers and her face was contorted in fear. He'd never seen her scared and it was unsettling. Steve saw her begin to shake. So this was a nightmare. His usually ended up in cold sweats and screaming. Clint dropped the remote and wrapped his arms around her tightly, singing softly into the deep red of her hair.
"But my dreams
They aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be.
I have hours, only lonely.
My love is vengeance
That's never free."
Steve had never heard Clint sing. Didn't know he even could. His voice was quiet, deep and rough, but beautiful.
He'd stopped after just that bit of chorus, but it was enough to bring Bruce blinking out of sleep. He glanced at the two against him and his hand came down to rest on Natasha's head. He shifted a little, giving Clint some more breathing room, and rested his head on the couch pillows.
The knees in Steve's face fell abruptly and he looked over to see that Tony had woken up as well. He was just watching the other couch, taking in the scene, and in the process had turned to his side and lowered his legs. Steve rested an arm on Tony's thighs, pinning him there. He was warm. He didn't want Tony to move.
He was going to ask Clint to keep going, wanted to hear the rest of the song, but Natasha beat him to it. She didn't move, never opened her eyes, but she was awake.
"Whole song, neshama sheli," she mumbled. Clint chuckled and complied, the unconventional lullaby leading them all back to a more restful sleep.
It wasn't cookies and it wasn't a ball game. It wasn't the cool hand on a fevered brow or a kiss to make it all better. But it was all they had. The comfort they needed. And it was the best lullaby he could have asked for.