Tony Stark didn't have a lot of friends. He had followers, hanger-ons who brown nosed and told him how great he was. Then there were the ones who looked down upon him, but needed him – board members, rich women who ran charities and every damn person at SHIELD. No, he had only two real friends – Pepper and Rhodey – and he'd damn near come close to blowing it with both of them more than once. The big fight with Rhodey in Malibu. Trying to date Pepper. He really had no clue why they still came around after everything he'd done.
So it came as a big surprise when Clint Barton first appeared on his radar. They'd met twice before the battle in New York; once after the fiasco of Hammer's presentation at the Expo, and then when Tony attended a debriefing with Fury that was really more like a dog-and-pony show. Neither time was more than a nod and a few words. So seeing him in action on the street and the rooftop was a hell of a surprise. When the rest of the team had slowly moved into the tower, Clint had been one of the last to come, and he'd stayed separate from the rest, rarely being seen by the others. Tony joked that the hawk was a solitary bird who needed his space, but mostly he'd understood more than any of the others the kind of psychological mindfuck Clint had been through. Clint didn't need to talk about it with well-meaning people; he had to heal and remember just how strong he was.
What Clint needed, Tony knew, was someone to poke him, to needle him out of his self-imposed exile. Clint Barton was a smartass, and it takes one to know one. So Tony did what he does best; he broke into SHIELD's computers and read every single file on Clinton Francis Barton, no matter how classified. Every disciplinary action, every mission report, every order for transfer to a new handler. Clint had a real problem with authority and, damn, Tony started to really like the guy as he read more and more. Armed with knowledge, Tony knocked on Clint's door one evening, being generally all-around obnoxious by refusing to go away until Clint actually answered.
"Thai food tonight. I ordered enough for the big green guy and a small army. You're a Mets fan, right? Steve's a Dodgers guy. I need someone else in my corner." He kept talking, wandering into the spartan area, giving Clint no room to argue. "I ordered the really hot curry, going to watch Steve turn red when he eats it. You should come."
He kept it up after that, little things, involving Clint in the life of the tower, never mentioning that son-of-a-bitch wannabe godling. Each week was a different name – Katniss, Merida, Robin Hood, Errol, Legolas – and a different game or movie or take-out cuisine. Clint was resistant at first, leery of Tony's motives, but soon it became clear that the only thing Tony wanted was someone to toss sass back at him, and Clint began to respond to the overtures. First time, he'd wandered into Tony's lab, met Dummy, and ended up playing with the robots for a bit before he left, never once even acknowledging Tony's presence. Then, he'd show up from time to time, tinker with some new arrow design that Tony conveniently left out on a work table; sometimes he'd simply fold up on the couch and watch a movie from Tony's extensive collection. Tony would never have pegged Clint as a lover of Hong Kong productions, but after Kung Fu Hustle and Detective Dee and the Secret Flame Tony found himself distracted from work to watch the lyrical beauty of the scenes, even if there were freakin' subtitles. Then it became a tit-for-tat; Tony would cue up a movie and have Jarvis start it when Clint sauntered in, and Clint started leaving DVDs on the counter, more than likely one of those terrible SYFY made-for-TV movies, and the game of one-upmanship began in earnest.
Clint started it with the sushi; eel and octopus and sea urchin. Bruce loved it, and Tony ate it to show that he wasn't afraid of anything. Tony retaliated with haggis, and Clint came back with Rocky Mountain Oysters. Everyone but Bruce dropped out of the game fast, leaving the three of them to see just what were the limits of their adventurous tastes.
Food, movies … and then it was sports. Clint dragged Tony to Mixed Martial Arts Tournaments; Tony flew them to Vegas for the big prize fights. Tony rooted for Liverpool, and Clint picked Spain. They double teamed Steve on the Dodgers and refused to pick a Manning. They'd watch the weirdest sports when they were bored between assignments – Clint particularly loved to make Tony sit through curling.
But, best of all, was the fact that Clint could give Tony a run for his money when it came to his smart mouth. Clint hesitated at first, unsure; their first real targets were bad movies or boring games with terrible umps. Quick and fast, like lightning, they'd throw out zingers about the actors or the athletes, riffing off of each other. The big breakthrough was when Clint, early morning sleepy before his coffee, snarked at Tony, "Just because you spent the night in the lab doesn't mean the rest of us don't have lives." From there, it was on. Sometimes Natasha would have to threaten to kill them with a spoon to shut them up … but she always had a ghost of a smile when she did.
Tony Stark didn't have a lot of friends. He had a team who stood by him and put up with him. He had Pepper, the woman who ran his life and ignored his worst excesses. Rhodey was his conscience, the moral surety to his chaotic sense of right and wrong. And Clint? Clint was his "just as fucked-up as Tony" partner-in-crime. And, somehow, that was worked out perfectly for everyone involved.