Inspired by a prompt on be_compromised: how others view the relationship between two of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most lethal assets, and what they in turn might make of that interest - especially the inevitable betting pool. Somebody commented that "Clint would totally troll the pool." And yes. Yes, he would.

One-off, with echoes bouncing off my personal head canon but no direct relation to other pieces.

The Pool

By Alpha Flyer

Steve opens the door to yet another newcomer - Banner. As usual, Bruce seems rather self-conscious in that endearingly bumbling way he has, the one that makes his hulk-outs seem so utterly out of character.

Steve points over at Sitwell, who holds the bank tonight.

"Pool's at two hundred bucks a pop," he says, clapping Bruce on the shoulder. "Expecting fireworks tonight, everybody. Two hundred good for you?"

Bruce blinks and swallows, as if he's doing a calculation in his head, but then he just nods and pulls out his wallet.

"Precise timing, five minute increments, starting at twenty-two hundred hours. Pool closes at two am, or as soon as a homerun has been achieved."

Everyone knows that the QuinJet, the one that will bring Agent Romanoff back from a three-week assignment in Moldova, is due in at 21:45. With check-in protocols and taking into account the sheer size of the helicarrier, 22:00 is the absolute earliest Romanoff can be expected to be in her room.

Barton's been out decimating a drug cartel in Cali since before she left for Chisinau, so in total it's been five weeks since S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most (in)famous partners have been in the same part of the world. If ever there's been a time when evidence of the nature of their relationship could be validly gathered, it's tonight.

And if ever there has been a vantage point from which to do it, Steve's room is it - he shares a wall with Natasha. Steve, in fact, is the main reason the "yes," "no" or "when" pools that used to be the mainstay of helicarrier gambling stopped, like, a week or so after New York. The furious blush he sported looking at the duo during morning briefing, the first day Barton was onboard after that, gave the game away pretty comprehensively, and the 'no' side of the pool evaporated.

Steve has gotten a lot more sanguine since then, it must be said. Continued exposure to the 21st Century, and all that.

Barton's place in Manhattan, where he usually stays given his anti-social tendencies, has been rendered temporarily uninhabitable. Someone stepped on the fire escape outside his apartment while the security features were activated, and S.H.I.E.L.D. is still doing cleanup; he's been bunking in Natasha's since his own return. Once the news spread that he was in residence, it took Steve about half an hour to achieve pool quorum.

Bruce shuffles all the way in and places his bet - 22:25 hours, which causes Sitwell to raise his eyebrows.

"Really? That fast?"

"It's been five weeks," Bruce shrugs, gives Steve one of his small soft smiles and heads over to the dresser, where Maria Hill has set up several bowls of nachos, salsa and guacamole. There's also a tray of Nanaimo bars for people with a sweet tooth, plus a pot of coffee and a two-four of beer. Steve knows how to throw a party.

They can hear someone moving around in the room next door now; must be Barton, because the sounds of the E-Street band and Clarence Clemons' sax start to vibrate in the metal walls. The man is nothing if not predictable when it comes to his taste in music. (Luckily, Steve likes Springsteen.)

Helicarrier accommodations are not overly spacious and Steve calls it full at twenty, sending a couple of junior agents away with a moue of disappointment. At 22:00, he orders silence.

The waiting begins. It doesn't take long.

22:05 Hours: Sound of a door opening, the timbre of a male voice followed by a female, the "thunk" of what may be a suitcase or duffel being dropped on the floor. A long moment of silence follows, during which a couple of the female support staff sigh softly, and a little enviously.

22:12 Hours: A shower is being turned on. Bruce looks worried about something – maybe he has overestimated the forces of nature on which his bet was based? But Hill places a consoling hand on his arm.

"Don't fret yet, Doctor. The showers here have a very nice pulse feature. Quite stimulating, in fact."

Bruce just looks at her, his mouth opening and then closing again.

22:15 Hours: The shower is turned off. Bruce bites his lower lip.

22:16 Hours: A sudden squeal. A female squeal, followed by a giggle. Wait. The Black Widow squeals? Those with times after 23:00 on the books exchange worried glances, while Hill makes a note in a black book that doesn't seem to have anything to do with the pool.

"Proves nothing," hisses Evans, who'd put down 23:30 on the grounds that the two partners would probably want to talk for a while before getting down to business. He's known them for a long time, and still can't quite wrap his mind around the development that has brought them all here. Still, he starts chewing his fingernails in order to stop himself from shouting out "slow down, folks!" Two hundred bucks is not an inconsequential sum of money after all, and it's probably a good thing that Steve made everybody leave their smartphones by the door.

22:20 Hours: The sound of something large landing on something soft. Like a body on a S.H.I.E.L.D. issue bed. McMahon, who is sitting on Steve's bed, shifts involuntarily and the mattress squeaks - very similar to the sound that just emanated from next door. There's little doubt as to the authenticity of what they heard, and a couple of groans come from around the room as people check their watches.

22:22 Hours: The squeaking becomes rhythmic in nature, and people are starting to exchange glances. Evans is blushing furiously, Miyazaki wipes a bead of sweat off his forehead, and Hill starts to lick guacamole off her fingers with somewhat more intensity than the matter requires.

22:25Hours: A loud moan (Romanoff…!) can be heard from next door, followed by an enthusiastic "oh, my God, Clint - yesyesyes!" If Barton makes a sound, it's drowned out by the staccato refrain of Springsteen's I'm on Fire.

Steve shakes his head, then shrugs. He certainly didn't expect the show to be over this quickly, but it means he can have his place back that much sooner, maybe even get some sleep. Although … maybe next time they should put in for number and timing of repeat performances? He floats the idea to enthusiastic nodding among those who like a second chance.

"How'd you know?" Hill asks Bruce. "I mean, they wasted no time whatsoever."

Besides, this isn't the first time Bruce has won the pool.

"I'm a scientist," Bruce replies modestly. "You work with the facts as they present themselves. You should study this guy, Nate Silver? Impeccable methodology."

People are a bit reluctant to leave; there's still a lot of food. After another half hour or so of conviviality, even Evans seems to have gotten over his loss. Besides, everybody likes Bruce and seeing him so pleased is generally considered a Good Thing.

Bruce goes over to Sitwell to collect his winnings, self-effacing as usual – almost apologetic - before heading back to his own digs. (He does have a floor in Stark's tower, but sometimes he hangs out on the carrier just for the company – special dispensation from Fury since he seems to have that Hulk thing pretty much under control when there aren't any Norse gods around.)

23:55 Hours: A panel in the ceiling in Bruce's room opens. Two feet in soft-soled shoes emerge, soon followed by the rest of Agent Clint Barton, fully dressed in black sweat pants and a grey T-shirt that says "Wrecking Ball Tour 2012" on it in funky lettering.

He drops down on the floor, soft-footed as a cat, without so much as a thud.

"How much this time?" he asks Banner without further introduction.

Bruce gives him a sated smile.

"Four thousand," he says. "With what we put in for my bet. Enough for six months worth of penicillin, plus disinfectant and dressings."

Clint nods, clearly pleased.

"Great. I hear Schneider is going to Colcata next week; he can drop the stuff off at the orphanage."

Bruce takes note of the proposal with a nod – not a betting man, Schneider, not that it would matter really - then remembers his manners.

"Sure appreciate your enthusiasm for fundraising, guys. And how is agent Romanoff?"

"Exhausted," Clint sighs, rolling his eyes. "Crashed practically as soon as she hit the bed. She texted me from the QuinJet - why we set the time so early. Almost strangled me when I did the bouncing thing."

He jumps up, gripping the frame of the air vent with callused fingers, and pulls himself up with ease. But before he closes it and heads back to where he came from, he sticks his head back out.

"Anything else?"

Bruce takes a deep draught of the beer he took with him from Steve's room.

"Oh, yeah. Steve's thinking of introducing an additional category for next time - repeat performance. You think you guys could give him something to … emm … advance his thinking in that direction?"

He has the grace to look a wee bit self-conscious, but Clint just grins back at him, a feral gleam in his eyes.

"I'm sure something can be arranged."