Damn Avengers Initiative.
Actually, Tony's problem wasn't so much with the Avengers as it was with the situation they had gotten themselves into.
That, namely, being the problem of finding shelter after they'd essentially crushed most of New York.
Well, Hulk had done most of the crushing, but that was irrelevant.
After the big victory and victim evacuation and imprisonment of Loki and shwarma, the fatigue had really started to set in. Who could blame them? Anyone would be exhausted after a full day of kicking ass and taking names, especially if it was alien ass and, uh…alien names.
Seeing as most aircraft was currently being used to transport the injured and bring in disaster relief, Fury had denied the team transportation, stating that it was their job as heroes to "make that sacrifice for the public good".
Hadn't they already done that? For the last 72 hours? And since when were the Avengers heroes?
Fury had, at least, promised them shelter until they could be flown out, which resulted in the entire team waiting for about four more hours—it started raining, too, just to complete the shitty hand they'd been dealt—until a building was deemed safe enough to inhabit.
Tony looked skeptically at the warehouse before him. Sure, it was probably safe, but the prospect of spending one night, possibly more, in an abandoned, rusting warehouse with five other sweaty, stinky people was not exactly…appealing.
Steve, casting a sidelong glance at Tony, read all that in his expression and muttered, "Suck it up, Stark."
Tony made a face, but sighed in resignation. At least the building was still standing, and dry…Tony could deal. For one night.
"Fury flew in some supplies for you," Agent Hill said, approaching the others, followed by a truck and several more agents, "for your stay."
"He could fly a bunch of mattresses in, but couldn't fly us out?" Tony muttered, and Natasha elbowed him, following the S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives as they entered the warehouse.
Granted, the inside of the warehouse was at least cleaner than Tony had expected, though that still didn't make him any more enthusiastic about staying there. The others seemed to be biting back the same sentiment, but dutifully unloaded supplies from the truck anyway.
Mattresses, sheets, blankets, pillows…at least Fury had been a little nicer than usual.
Tony positioned his stuff nearest the door, just in case a rat decided to bite him in the middle of the night and he decided to leave, or something like that. Bruce set his belongings up near some old crates, and Thor just took a mattress and dropped it before flopping down on it. Natasha was towards the outside of their little group, and Steve had somehow managed to position himself in the center of them all, probably so he could sit up and watch them all while they slept…it seemed to be one of his over-protective-leader-looking-out-for-his-soldiers tendencies.
Tony counted heads again. Bruce, Thor, Natasha, Steve, himself…there was someone missing from this equation.
Glancing around, Tony caught a glimpse of Clint, dragging his rationed supplies on top of shipping container. He positioned the mattress, then proceeded to sit upon it and position the blankets, pillows, and sheets around him so that the whole arrangement looked strangely like…Tony grinned. The hawk was in his nest.
"Oh yeah," Agent Hill was back again, this time sans truck, "Fury wanted you all to have these, too." She dropped a stack of packages on the warehouse before turning and walking out behind the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s entourage. "Don't let the bedbugs bite."
Thor looked up quizzically. "What are these bugs of the bed? Are they very large?"
As Natasha attempted to explain to Thor the meaning of Agent Hill's phrase, Steve and Bruce curiously approached the parcels left on the floor. "They're…pajamas," Steve stated blankly, almost like he wasn't sure what to make of this new development. Tony chuckled to himself. Leave it to Fury to disregard real shelter or hygiene and remember pajamas. Really, the man was…mysterious, to say the least.
As Steve passed out the pajama packages, Tony realized a problem that Bruce voiced a moment later. "Where do we…uh, change?"
The problem ultimately resolved itself by everyone promising not to look and getting changed as fast as possible before shuffling around in awkward silence. Steve, weighing an extra parcel in his hand, was looking around confusedly, apparently searching for the absent archer. Tony cleared his throat, catching Steve's attention before nodding towards the huddle of blankets that was Clint Barton.
"Hey Barton," Steve called, causing the blankets to jump in surprise, "catch!"
At the precise moment that the package left Steve's hand, Natasha seemed to notice what was happening and shouted, "Steve! Don't!"
It happened to fast for Tony to really process it, but when the moment passed, he was left wondering if what he'd seen had actually happened.
Before the package could get halfway to Clint's position, it was pinned to the floor by an arrow, and Natasha tackled Steve—how had she gotten there so fast?—an instant before an arrow slammed into a crate behind where Steve's head had been a moment before.
An awed silence fell over the group except for Natasha, who, right after pulling Steve to his feet again, shouted, "Clint! Bad!" before lighting into Steve.
"What were you thinking?" she demanded, grabbing Steve by the front of his shirt, "How could you even think that was okay?" Steve was looking as bewildered as the others felt, and Thor, ever oblivious, spoke up, "I…do not understand."
"Second that, buddy," Tony spoke up, looking at Natasha pointedly, "What the hell just happened?"
The spy, seemingly sensing that the rest of the room was completely ignorant to the reason for her anger, sighed in frustration before releasing Steve.
"The nest," she muttered, and Tony would've smirked if not for the circumstances. So, he wasn't the only who thought it looked like a—
"The what?" Steve asked, looking a little harried.
"The nest," Natasha answered, patience wearing thin. "Up there," she clarified after receiving several blank looks, and pointed to Clint's arrangement, and Tony was damned if he didn't hear a growl emerge from the blankets and see two eyes narrow at Natasha's finger. Jesus, the man was an animal.
"You don't compromise the nest," Natasha continued, "unless you want to leave with only half your body parts."
There was a pregnant silence before Tony blurted, "So you're telling me Sockeye up there actually builds a fucking nest at night?" Natasha shot Tony a venomous look that told him all the horrible ways he would die if he didn't shut up.
Tony paused a moment longer before shrugging and shaking his head, and heading back to his mattress. The group disbanded slowly, confusedly.
The rest of the evening was spent in tense silence.
Tony was awakened at around 2 a.m.; why, he didn't know. The warehouse was dark and silent, except for a sniffling noise that Tony dismissed.
He gradually became aware of a warmness to his right and turned his head to discover Steve Rogers very close to his face, fast asleep. Tony couldn't remember when—or if—either of them had moved, and under a different set of circumstances Tony would've pronounced the situation very awkward, but at the moment he was just too comfortable, so he pushed the notion aside and promised himself that he'd make up for it later by teasing Steve about sleeping.
That is, until he turned the other way and found that Thor had somehow moved himself to Tony's left, effectively sandwiching the billionaire. Then the whole situation just turned very weird. Since when was Tony everybody's teddy bear?
Looking for a distraction, Tony decided to zone in on the sniffling sound, try to figure out who it was coming from and if they were within shoe-throwing range.
Banner was snoring, and it wasn't Thor or Steve.
Natasha didn't seem like a very deep sleeper, so if it was her, she would've likely woken herself up by now. That only left one option…
Sitting up, Tony peered through the dark. Yup, sure enough: he could make out the vague outlines of Clint and Natasha on top of the shipping container. That was when he became aware of another sound. Whispering. Straining his ears, Tony tried to make out what Natasha was saying.
It was something in Russian, and Tony gave up five seconds into it. Still, he needed a way to get himself out of his awkward situation, so he decided to get up, making his way over to the "nest".
Climbing on top of the shipping container, Tony approached cautiously. Sure, he'd pretty much taken to heart what Natasha had said earlier, about the whole "don't compromise the nest" thing—he didn't want to end up like the pajamas—but he also hoped he was a little bit safer right now, because Natasha was up here and hopefully she'd be able to restrain Clint long enough for Tony not to become a Stark-kabob. Hopefully.
Natasha broke off her mutterings as she noticed Tony's approach, and shot him a warning look. "Not now," she mouthed, before turning back to Clint.
For the first time, Tony took in the whole situation. Clint, no longer nestled in the blankets and clad in nothing but boxers—Tony supposed the whole pajama thing hadn't really worked out after…earlier—was sitting hunched over, Natasha's hand resting on his left shoulder. He was sniffling loudly, and Tony realized the other's shoulders were shuddering. Holy crap, the no-emotions-tough-guy-arrow-sharp-shooter-nest-guy was crying. Clint Barton was crying.
"G'way, Tony," Clint muttered, surprising both Tony and Natasha.
Swallowing thickly, Tony made his choice. "No can do, Cockeye," he replied, sitting and dangling his legs, like Natasha, "you've got me awake now, so I guess I'll stick around."
"F'koff." Clint growled, running an arm across his eyes. Natasha shot Tony a pleading look. He motioned to her and they both rose, retreating a distance before Natasha whispered tersely, "What the hell do you think you're doing, Stark? Are you suicidal?" Tony's lips quirked before he frowned and responded, "Why don't you tell me what the fuck's going on? Barton doesn't do—" Tony gestured vaguely towards Clint, "—this."
Natasha sighed, fixing Tony with a "God-I-hope-you-know-what-you're-getting-yourself-into" look. "Stark, if you had someone take out your brain and play with it, making you hurt and kill the people around you, the people you care about, how do you think you would feel?"
When Tony remained silent, Natasha nodded. "A 'nest' is his…'safe place'," she confided, eyes flashing, "that's why you don't compromise it in any way. It's like making a personal threat."
Tony nodded, uncharacteristically serious, before asking, "Why are you telling me all this?"
"Because if you breathe a word of it to anyone else, you're the easiest to knock off."
Tony gulped. "Gee, thanks."
They stood in silence for a while, glancing back to where Clint was hunched, hiccupping, trying desperately to hold it together and failing.
"So what's happening now?" Tony finally asked, and Natasha bit her lip.
"He feels compromised," she sighed, "he's feeling really guilty about what happened when…you know, and there's…something else. Something Loki did to him, but he won't tell me what. He doesn't feel safe."
It was as if Natasha suddenly realized how much she'd said, and she glared at Tony, suddenly defensive. "So, got any brilliant ideas?"
Tony glanced from Clint to his mattress, which was rapidly being taken over by Thor and Steve, and grinned. "Yeah."
Tony shifted and somebody to his left groaned. He honestly wasn't sure who it was, or exactly where they were, but he was too tired, too comfortable to really care.
It had been kind of a lot of work, this. Waking the other Avengers and dragging their mattresses together. But, Tony had to admit, it had definitely been worth it.
Once Natasha had managed to coax Clint down from his perch, he'd claimed the middle of the mattress-blanket-sheet-pillow-Avenger pile, and everyone else had just kind of settled around him. Normally, Tony would complain that this was all a little too touchy-feely for him, but at the moment…yeah, this whole "cuddle" thing was nice. And it made Clint stop sniffling, which was a plus.
Maybe they'd have to invite Fury to join them next time.
Because oh yeah, they were definitely doing this again.