Title: Dinner and a Show
Rating: T (language)
Fandom: Avengers (movieverse)
Characters: Ensemble, Steve/Maria-ish, Clint/Natasha-ish
Spoilers: Takes place after the movie.
Summary:Dinner ends up revealing some underlying tension inside and outside of the team.
Notes:So, yeah, this is officially like a mini-series for me. I can't help it any longer. I love this fandom. Note, I am doing my best to be as canon as I can, but liberties will be taken. And I'm also trying to make this as standalone as I can, but I am building one on another, so reading them all wouldn't hurt (and would make me ever so happy!). Thanks to everyone reading, reviewing, hitting that favorite button and generally just being great. I appreciate it. More to come! Enjoy!
"Where'd you get that?" Tony asked, pointing a spoon at Steve's plate.
"I made it," Steve answered, assuming that it had been obvious.
"Mashed potatoes. Meatloaf. What is that?" Tony continued to prod. "Cooked carrots?"
"You made all that?"
"Yes, Tony," Steve sighed. "I did."
"Is there any left?" Bruce asked, putting his own spoon back down into his bowl of soup.
"Plenty," Steve answered. "Help yourself."
"Thanks," Bruce said, getting up from the table and retreating back into the kitchen.
"You made gravy?" Tony asked, still skeptical, but unwilling to abandon his own bowl of ice cream for a more traditional meal.
"I made gravy," Steve repeated.
"Thank you for that," Pepper said, bringing her own plate to the table and sitting down next to Tony.
"You made dinner?" Natasha asked, catching the tail end of the conversation as she entered the room.
"Meatloaf," Tony answered, as if to take the credit.
Seeing her look, Pepper said, "But if you don't like that, I think Clint is -"
"Clint's cooking?" Natasha interrupted, her eyes showing not only surprise but something akin to revulsion when Pepper nodded in the affirmative. "No. No, that's not good at all."
The three of them watched as Natasha pushed open the kitchen door, where she momentarily danced around Bruce, who was on his way back to the table with a now full plate. Right behind him was SHIELD Agent Maria Hill carrying a plate of her own.
"Thanks for dinner," she said as she sat down, she'd stayed much later than she'd intended to at Stark Tower, but no one openly objected to her presence, so she wasn't in much of a hurry to leave.
"No problem," Steve returned with a smile.
"You do know that Barton is going to burn the place down, right?" Maria said, turning her attention to Pepper and Tony. "I assume you do because you sent Romanoff in to stop him. He's not allowed near a stove without adult supervision."
"Funny, Agent Hill," Clint said as he came in with his own dinner, Natasha right at his heels. "Nothing got burnt. Relax. Kitchen's still intact."
"What is that?" Tony asked, pointing at Clint's plate, but this time instead of sounding amused, he sounded horrified.
"And that is..." Bruce said, staring at the plate now as well, completely at a loss. "...what exactly?"
"It's chicken," Clint said, clearly exasperated by all the unnecessary prodding.
"In my very limited experience with cooking..." Tony said, shaking his head. "That's not chicken. Chicken can't look like that. Can it? Is that possible?" he asked, turning first to Pepper and then to everyone else for support. "Can chicken be gray?"
"Tell them how you cook it, Clint," Natasha said, smiling as she dug a spoonful of ice cream out of the bowl she'd scooped for herself while in the kitchen supervising.
"How did that happen?" Steve asked, because he'd never seen anything like it before.
"I boiled it."
"He boiled it," Natasha repeated, smiling bigger than before. Thankful she was no longer the only one in on this particular joke.
"Why?" Pepper asked, raising her eyebrow in disbelief.
"Because it's the only way he cooks anything," Natasha answered.
"Because it's the only way I know it's done," Clint countered, as if that was perfectly reasonable.
"That's pathetic," Tony observed with a smile.
"You're eating ice cream for dinner," Clint fired back at him. "I don't think I have to take that from you. Or you," he said, turning to Natasha. "You want to tell them why I'm so careful about my food?"
"It was one time," Natasha said, shaking her head in disbelief.
"Yeah, one time when you tried to kill me."
"I've tried more than once," Natasha returned.
"I don't count those, because they were pathetic," Clint said, earning a glare for his troubles. "I'm talking about the one time you nearly did kill me with your cooking in Belfast."
"I can't believe you are still hung up on that," she sighed.
"I can't believe I survived," he returned.
"Young love," Tony sighed, shaking his head at the two of them and earning a chuckle from everyone else at the table.
"Are the two of you going to need another fraternization briefing?" Maria asked, with just tiniest hint of a smile to indicate she was teasing.
"They have briefings?" Tony asked, extremely interested and entertained by the thought.
Bruce honed in on something else entirely. "Another?" he asked. "How many have you had?"
"Three," Natasha answered.
And at the same time, Clint's answer was, "Seven."
"Seven?" Steve repeated, sounding shocked.
"I'm surprised it isn't more," Maria said with a shrug.
"It might have been eight," Clint said, thinking it over. "No, seven. That was... that was something else."
"Out of curiosity," Tony began, "what constitutes fraternization in SHIELD?" When the only answer that yielded were cold glares, he persisted. "I feel I need to know, so I can uphold the moral integrity of your organization. While here, it's almost my responsibility, no... my obligation to enforce these rules. So... out with it."
"Moral integrity?" Pepper asked.
"Really, Tony?" Steve asked, equally as bemused as Pepper.
"It's not what you think," Natasha said smoothly, unbothered by the conversation because she knew that's what Tony wanted.
"I don't know," Tony said. "I've got a lot of thoughts. Are you sure it's not what I think?"
"SHIELD doesn't like it's agents to get overly familiar," Clint tried to clarify, but that answer only made Tony's smirk widen. "That's everything from talking about personal matters to calling each other by our first names."
"And that's it?" Tony continued to prod. "That's the only reason you two have ever gotten called out? Using each other's first names?"
Seeing that Clint was starting to visibly bristle, Bruce took it upon himself to try and diffuse the situation. "A lot of work places have guidelines... standard practices and procedures..."
"Good point," Tony said. "Perhaps there is a handbook? Obviously, you two need to be monitored. As your leader, I'm going to have to ask Natasha and Bruce to switch seats. No more sitting together. It's for your own good."
"Leader? Really, Tony?" Steve asked, shaking his head and not even bothering to look up from his plate this time.
"You want to lead," Tony replied casually, "get your own building."
The only person who moved at all was Clint, who twisted slightly in his chair, catching Maria's attention but seemingly no one else's.
"Um," Maria said, clearing her throat and catching both Clint and Natasha's attention. "You both know about tomorrow?"
"We'll be there," Natasha answered for the two of them, giving her a firm nod. Clint didn't answer, but he didn't object.
"Good," Maria said, a look of relief passing across her face. "Grieves is..."
Whatever Grieves was, Clint didn't care. Tossing his fork and knife onto his plate, he gathered his things and said, "I'm done," as he pushed his way back into the kitchen.
Natasha and Maria both stood up at the same time, stopping only to stare one another down, before following Clint into the other room. Maria only got there first because she was closer. Natasha, right on her heels, slammed the door after her with a bang.
"Well then," Tony said, wiping his mouth with his napkin as he pushed back his chair in an attempt to follow.
"Whoa there," Pepper said, taking him by the arm and holding him in place. "No. Not this time."
"It's my kitchen," Tony argued. "I can go into my kitchen. I don't need an invitation to my own kitchen."
Pepper shook her head at him, knowing his only real desire was to eavesdrop on whatever it was that was about to happen.
"I'm not sure that's our business," Bruce offered, albeit weakly. It was pretty clear that it wasn't just Tony that wanted to know what was going on in there, but Tony was the only one willing to admit it.
"Let's just finish dinner and..." Steve agreed, but the words died off.
Clearly, almost as if he'd been in the room with them, they all heard Clint yell, "Grieves is a fucking insult, that's what he is."
"You're right," Tony said, finally pulling his chair back into place. "I'm fine right here."
The next bit was muddled, as all three of SHIELD's highly trained agents began to argue at once. No one left at the table even feigned interest in their food any longer, but instead openly turned to stare at the door, picturing the scene unfolding behind it.
"Enough," Maria barked. "Agent Barton you will report to the ops center right now. That is an order."
"Who is going to make me?"
"Don't," was the short, full, warning he received in return.
"Is that why you're here?" Natasha interjected. "To make him comply?"
"I'm here to remind him that he's still an agent of SHIELD," Maria answered.
As Maria said it, Tony looked over and caught Bruce staring back at him. It was shaping up, much like they'd imagined it, would after all.
"I will go to the ops center when I'm assigned a handler that isn't a piece of shit," Clint snapped back.
"You've already rejected the entire roster."
"I told them who I wanted," Clint said, his voice finally evening out.
"That is never going to happen," Maria assured him, lowering her voice as well, but her tone still full of bitter edge.
"Well then, I guess my next mission is going to have to wait."
"You're being unreasonable."
"And you're -"
"Clint," Natasha interrupted, "I said no."
As the kitchen went silent, the dining room erupted into a fit of whispered questions and answers.
"Said no to what?" Steve asked, leaning closer to Bruce for clarification.
"Do you think he was serious?" Bruce asked Tony.
"Natasha as his handler?" Tony returned, answering the other two with his own question. "No. That's a terrible idea."
"Not if it's who he wants," Pepper argued.
Just as that was sinking in, Maria's voice carried over from the next room. "Tomorrow morning. Nine o'clock. You will be in the ops center, ready and willing, or so help me, I will come here myself and drag you back. Are we clear, Agent Barton?"
"Good," Maria said, but Clint pushed open the door so quickly everyone at the table jumped and set about pretending to eat again.
Not that he noticed. He hardly saw them. Clint's face was a perfect mask of indifference, but he stormed past them all and out of the room without saying a thing or even slowing down a little bit.
A few second passed before Maria followed him, calmer than Clint, but just as agitated.
"Ten years," Natasha said as she stepped into the dinning area, halting the other woman in her tracks.
"I'm aware of..." Maria began, throwing her hands up in frustration.
"He worked with Phil for ten years," Natasha pressed.
"I know that."
"So you just expect him to get over it? To change? Just like that?" Natasha asked, her eyes never leaving Maria.
"There isn't time for him to... adjust."
"He needs distance."
"He needs to do his damn job," Maria fired back at her, before looking at the table of people around them. Everyone dropped their eyes, pretending rather hopelessly that they hadn't heard the entire exchange. Everyone but Tony. Meeting his gaze, Maria dipped her head in acknowledgment. "Thanks for dinner."
"No, thank you," Tony said with a genuine smile as she left.
"Excuse me," Steve said, getting to his feet and following Maria out the door.
After they'd left, Tony turned his attention to Natasha, who was still staring moodily at the door.
"What?" she snapped when she realized he was looking at her, but Tony only smiled tightly and shook his head. When it was clear he had nothing to say, she left.
"Well," Tony said to the only two people still at the table, Bruce and Pepper. "We should do this more often."
"Hold the door, please," Steve called, just catching Agent Hill in the elevator.
She looked surprised, but pushed the button and waited.
"Sorry," Maria said after the doors slid shut on the two of them. "You shouldn't have had to have seen that, Captain."
"I've seen people argue before," Steve assured her. "And, I have a name. It's Steve."
"I know you do," she said, sounding defensive at first, before tacking on, "Steve" at the end in a nicer voice. "But I meant -"
"You meant that it was SHIELD business. Not ours."
Maria smiled tightly and gave him a small nod.
"May I offer you my opinion?" Steve asked after a moment's pause. Maria, so taken aback by the question, gapped at him and nodded. "I realize I'm speaking out of turn, and I may not know Clint as well as you do, but he's not ready."
"Really? With all the subtle screaming he did, in my face, I'd have never figured that one out on my own. Thanks, Cap."
"I'm not trying to be condescending..."
"You're failing then."
"...but," Steve continued, "push and he's going to push back."
"Sounds like you know Barton well enough."
"Maybe not," Steve admitted with a smile, "but I know people. Turns out they haven't changed much over the years."
"If it was up to me," Maria said with a reluctant sigh, "he could have all the time he wanted. But it's not up to me and he waived the counselor so... time's up. I don't have to like Barton to know he's useful. And, truthfully, I wouldn't be here if SHIELD didn't need him as much as they do."
"And if we needed him, too?" Steve asked, broaching the subject as gently as he could. "Here, Agent Hill. If we needed Clint here? Then what?"
"That is way above my pay level," she answered with a smile.
The elevator doors opened with a ding and Steve reached over to hold them in place, gesturing for Maria to go first.
"Aren't you getting out?" she asked, momentarily confused when he stayed behind.
"No," he admitted. "Just came along for the ride."
She smiled and nodded her head.
"Goodnight, Agent Hill."
"It's Maria," she returned. "If I'm going to call you Steve, you can at least call me Maria. Or Hill. Whichever."
"Fair enough," he allowed.
"All right," she said. "Goodnight, Steve."
"Goodnight, Maria," he returned, smiling as let the door go.
After dinner, and the show, Bruce returned to the lab to finish adjusting the equipment for an experiment he planned on running the next day. Twenty minutes passed before a subtle movement in the reflection of the monitor he'd been using caught his attention and, turning on the spot, Bruce jumped back in surprise.
"Sorry," Clint said from where he sat, high above the lab, on one of the equipment cabinets.
"Sorry?" Bruce repeated. "What are you doing up there?"
"Reading," Clint answered, his eyes still on the book he held out in front of him.
"Oh, yeah," Bruce shrugged. "Of course. That's normal."
"Didn't mean to startle you."
"Then you should have said something when I came in," Bruce said, almost angry.
"How about there is no next time?" Bruce offered as Clint closed his book and quickly made his way down. "How about next time you just sit in a chair?"
Clint nodded, his eyes sweeping across the wide bank of windows.
"Were you hiding?" Bruce asked.
"More like avoiding," Clint admitted as he leaned back against the nearest counter.
Clint nodded and Bruce found himself imitating Clint, his eyes sweeping the hallway as he leaned back in his chair.
"She stood up for you," Bruce offered after a long pause. "With Hill, after you left. She... she took your side."
"I know," Clint said with complete conviction.
"So why avoid her?" Bruce persisted. "I kind of assumed the two of you were..." he trailed off, noting the change in the other man's stance. "...whatever it is you want to call it. Not my business. But she doesn't strike me as the type of person anyone can avoid for long."
"You have got that right."
"So," Clint conceded, "I just needed some time to cool off. Gain some perspective. She's got her reasons and they're probably really good ones. I'm not going to fight her, it's her decision, but it's just... I don't know. It's disappointing."
"I'm not going to pretend we didn't all hear what was said, but, given your, um... closeness... would you really want her doing that? Calling all the shots?"
"There is no one I trust more."
"I don't doubt it," Bruce said, shaking his head, "but I don't think you're understanding exactly what I meant. What I should have asked was, do you think that's fair?"
Clint crossed his arms and frowned.
"Is it fair of you to ask Natasha to be in that position?" Bruce asked. "A position where she might potentially have to cut losses and never look back. Leave an agent behind. Make a tough call. She'd be responsible for you, completely, good or bad."
"And I'm a risk now?" Clint asked.
"To her you might be." Clint pushed himself off the counter and walked back and forth a few times. Obviously hearing that he was a potential liability had not been the right thing to say, Bruce thought. "Just put yourself in her situation," Bruce suggested, earning a curt nod for his efforts.
"I didn't know you were a psychologist."
"I took a few classes," Bruce said with a shrug, this time earning a laugh.
"You're right," Clint admitted after a few minutes more of mulling it over. "You're right. She's right. I'm wrong. That's nothing new. Guess Hill was right as well. It was never going to happen. Part of me just... if it's someone I know, someone I trust, I don't have to think as much. I can just do my job and not second guess every little thing. Part of me doesn't want to do that any longer."
"You've got a lot of doubts?"
Clint didn't answer. He didn't trust himself to answer. He'd already said too much.
"That's normal," Bruce said, as if he had answered him. "You had to have taken some classes yourself. Psych one-oh-one is pretty much standard in college, right?"
Clint laughed as if he'd been told a joke, but if he had, Bruce didn't get it.
"Oh," Clint said after a pause. "You're serious? I have no idea. I didn't go to college. You might be the first person to ever assume I had," he said, laughing again. "I never even finished high school, Bruce."
"I didn't..." Bruce stammered, honestly at a loss. He hadn't meant to be offensive, and then, realizing Clint was still smiling, that he hadn't been, Bruce relaxed. "Why did you drop out?"
"Wasn't for me," Clint answered, and Bruce knew that even if he had been amused by the assumption, that was the last answer he'd be given. They were getting too close to talking about particulars, and Clint didn't do particulars very well.
"And shooting people with a bow and arrow was?" Bruce asked, because he had to ask something.
"Everyone's got a calling," Clint smiled.
"Well, we know yours wasn't to be a chef."