When you are in charge of the tower in which the Avengers reside, it is important to know the comings and goings of all unauthorized visitors. It is for that reason that Tony Stark has Jarvis keep a comprehensive list of who enters the tower, when they enter the tower, and who they enter the tower with.
Of course, when one of the Avergers Tower’s residents brings a guest, they have the option of hiding their identity. Under this circumstance the visitor will simply be labeled “guest”, because contrary to popular belief, Tony does in fact respect the privacy of his teammates, and does not have to know every bit of their business at every given moment. He likes to, but he doesn’t have to.
So for the most part when Jarvis notifies Tony that a new visitor has entered the tower, the man simply glances to make sure that they are accompanied by a resident and doesn’t give the matter any more thought.
Until he notices the pattern.
Clint Baron, the team’s class A archer and resident smart ass, brings home a lot of “guest.” This in and of itself would not be too troubling. Out of any of the Avengers (save Tony himself) Clint had the most acquaintances. Steve hadn’t branched out from his team much since waking up in the 21st century. Thor mostly mingled with Asgardians (and was rarely at the tower to begin with), and Bruce was, for lack of a better term, a massive hermit. Clint had met a lot of people working as a S.H.E.I.L.D. agent (Natasha as well, although Tony couldn’t quite imagine the woman making many friends at work.) and so it made sense that he would have the most visitors.
The part that made Tony curious was not that the archer had the most guests, or even that they were all simply listed as “guest.” No, what caught Tony’s attention was that no one ever actually saw who Clint brought in.
When Steve occasionally invited over Sam, or Thor brought along Jane, or so on and so forth, someone in the tower could bear witness. Whether they bumped into Nat in the kitchens, or Bruce on the commonfloor, or Clint dropped out of the vents while they were walking down the hall, someone besides the person who invited them in bumped into the visitors.
All of this was floating around in the back of the billionaire’s mind, although he hadn’t really spared the matter much thought. He had bigger problems to worry about, and more than enough projects to occupy his time. For example the new widow bites he was currently trying to perfect the balance of, down in his lab at 11pm on a Saturday night.
The rest of the team had just retired to bed, but the night was just beginning for Tony. He was just starting to lose himself in the project when he got the alert from Jarvis that a visitor had entered the tower.
He spared a half glance at the log, his mind still mostly mulling over the widow bites. At least, until his eye caught the newest entry.
Time: 11:27PM (Saturday, April 13)
Resident: Clint Barton
Tony let out a huff of air through his nose. Because seriously, who the fuck was Barton bringing over at almost midnight who the rest of the team couldn’t know about?
In fact, when Tony thought about it- and looked back on it, since he had the log in front of him anyway - all of Barton’s “guests” came over close to the middle of the night.
So Barton brought over secret guests, always in the middle of the night, who no one else ever saw or knew about (save Tony), and who were gone by morning. And- oh shit, they’re hookups. Barton was bringing home hookups. That… almost made sense, and Tony was almost satisfied. In fact Tony almost let it go and turned back to his work. But, now that the man was looking at the history of Clint’s visitors, he noticed another constant.
They were all Saturday dates, every Saturday.
Tony was almost sure people didn’t have regularly scheduled “hookup nights.” Like 95% sure. Maybe Barton did, the man’s preferred method of travel was via vent for Christ sake. But designated one-night-stand night seemed a little bit much, even for the man who threw himself off of buildings with only a bow and arrows on the daily.
So, all signs pointed to what? A secret relationship? Who the fuck would want to date bitchier-Legolas? Did Tony mention his preferred method of travel was via vents?
So okay, maybe Tony did need to know every bit of his teammates business at every given moment, because now this was really bothering him. The fact that there was some girl out there willing to go through so much effort just to spend one night a week with Clint-I’ll-Just-Turn-Off-My-Hearing-Aids-If-I’m-Bored-Of-Your-Story-Barton was baffling to him. And the fact that Clint didn’t want anyone else to know about it? First of all, rude. Second of all, challenge ac-fucking-cepted, Katniss.
But Barton must really not know who he was up against, because Tony just so happened to have built an all knowing omnipresent entity who ran the tower. Where’s your god now Barton?
“Check and mate,” Tony muttered to himself, “Jarvis?”
“Yes sir?” The voice of the AI rung out through the lab, the volume of Tony’s music automatically lowering to allow the conversation.
“Who has Barton been bringing over on Saturdays?”
“I know that it is ever so hard to respect the other residents’ privacy, however, I am afraid Master Barton has requested that information remain private, sir.”
And yeah, okay, that was on Tony. His past self knew that his future self would try and infringe on the privacy of his teammates, and had programmed Jarvis to allow the other Avengers to refuse Tony’s snooping through certain things. Apparently good planning on his part, unfortunately it meant that the man could not count on the AI for the identity of this visiter. That’s fine, Tony would just have to do this the hard way.
“Damn it, Jarvis, you’re even less useful than Dum-E.” Stark huffed, turning back to the widow bites. From across the table Dum-E made a little whir-noise that didn’t sound so much like offense, but rather just excitement that he had heard his name.
Tony rolled his eyes. One way or another, he would figure out who this mystery girl was. One way or another.
Tony didn’t make another attempt to uncover the mystery woman’s identity until the next day.
He was leaning against the island in the communal kitchen, half way through his third- fourth? -cup of coffee in that sitting. Tony was almost positive that it was some time after ten in the morning, but not too positive, because days were a blur when you hadn’t slept in at least forty eight hours. Or was it fifty eight?
Natasha Romanoff stood on the other side of the island, her eyes filtering through something on her phone. The silence between the two was comfortable, relaxed, something that the spy (surprisingly) found herself enjoying more and more since she had moved into the tower. The comfort she found with her new teammates was uncharted territory for her, something she had only ever felt with Clint- and eventually Coulson, -although she tried to make the best of it and let herself enjoy it.
“So.” Tony spoke up from across the room, and Natasha sighed internally. She glanced up at the time displayed in the corner of her phone. Two minutes of silence? Not even that? But this was Stark after all, so maybe she should count this as a win.
“You and Barton are pretty close, huh?” Tony continued, “I mean, not too close- obviously- although at first I did think something was going on between you two. But then you had that weird thing with Bruce, and-”
“What’s your point here, Tony?” Natasha cut the man off, letting just a bit of (fond?) annoyance seep into her tone.
“Oh nothing, just that out of anyone, you would know what was up with Clint.”
And yeah, thinking that Nat would give away any information, especially if Clint was trying to keep it on the down-low, was pretty far fetched. Hell, half the time Tony couldn’t get the woman to give up something as simple as Steve’s favorite pizza toppings. (“Why do you want to know, Stark?” “Stand down, Agent Buzzkill, I’m getting dinner and wanted to get something he likes. I can’t kill him with the mere knowledge of his fondness for olives.” ) But Romanoff was right there, and she certainly knew, and Tony figured he couldn’t make the situation any worse, so he decided to shoot his shot. Sue him.
“...You think something’s wrong with Clint?” She continued slowly, careful to keep a neutral expression.
Tony dumped the last bit of his coffee- the dregs- down the drain, making a face as he did so. He placed the now empty mug under the coffee machine and waited for the cup to fill. The soft splattering of coffee against the bottom of Tony’s Iron-Man mug (it’s not exactly a secret that Stark is a vain, vain, man) helped to provide just enough background noise to help alleviate some of the awkward tension. “Well, not wrong. I just think tweety bird is hiding something, or rather someone, and I thought you probably know all about it.”
Natasha felt just the tiniest bit caught off guard by this, because yeah, of course she knew all about it. But Stark wasn’t supposed to know anything about it, in fact she wasn’t even supposed to know at first. (Although Clint was an idiot if he had really thought he could hide anything from her.) But her knowledge of the situation was a give in, Stark’s on the other hand… how had he even found out? Or was it all still speculation? Obviously, none of this showed on her face (trained assassin and all) as she searched Stark’s eyes for a sign of how much he really knew.
“And why is this any of your concern? Or mine for that matter?”
“Hmm, something along the lines of ‘pushy jackass who never learned the word no’, or the words, ‘none of your business’, come to think of it.” Tony removed his mug from under the machine. Black and scalding hot, he took a sip of the drink. His eyes suggested humor but there was something defensive there, behind all that.
“Well,” Natasha pushed up to sit on the island, her eyes following the billionaire across the room as he pulled a carton of cream out of the fridge. She watched as he took one more sip of his coffee, made a face at it, and proceeded to dump half the carton of cream into it. “I hate to ruin your fun, but there’s no ‘mystery someone.’”
She kept the discussion on the topic at hand, not mentioning the practically white drink the man was now sipping contently; but she allowed her gaze to fix on the cup, eyebrows raised and a smirk resting across her lips.
“Well, first of all, shut up. Just because I need the caffeine fix doesn’t mean I have to punish myself. God forbid I actually enjoy this sweet, sweet vice, and not subject my mouth to hell on earth.” This earned him an amused snort. “Second of all, it’s not like you’d tell me if there was.”
She hummed in agreement. “Then why’d you bother asking?”
“Because,” Tony drew out the word, his voice playfully whiny, “I need to know what kind of girl would put up with Barton. And possibly run some tests to make sure he hasn’t brainwashed her. I figured I couldn’t do any harm just by asking.”
At those words the widow allowed a smile to fall across her lips as she pushed away from the island, deciding she had contributed all she needed to. Any fear that Tony knew- anything at all really- falling away at his word choice. Tony was more intelligent than people gave him credit for, but sometimes the woman wondered how he could be so damn blind? If Tony seriously thought that Barton- yeah no, the archer was completely in the clear.
As she padded across the room towards the doorway, her steps silent for no reason other than learned behavior, she heard her name fall from the man’s lips.
“Nat, come on.”
She reached the edge of the room and turned back to face Tony, the ghost of a smile still playing on the edge of her lips. “There’s no girl Tony, let it go.” With that Natasha turned and left the kitchen, and making her way down the hall she thought to herself, ironically, Tony was right.
No girl would ever put up with Clint Barton.
The next time Tony made an attempt, he went straight to the man himself.
Tony wouldn’t lie, he was a little put off by Natasha’s flat out denial. Sure, she was an agent and all, but half truths and deception were more of her style than straight up lies. This lead to the man spending more time than he could reasonably warrant trying to find some kind of hidden meaning in her words.
But it was hard, because she had just been so direct, so blunt.
“There’s no girl Tony, let it go.”
Well what the fuck was he supposed to do with that? There was a girl, there had to be. But how do you pull some kind of double meaning out of: ‘there’s no girl’? She really hadn’t left much room for debate.
He had of course contemplated the possibility that he actually was just reading too much into the situation. Maybe Barton was just an extremely secretive person, and didn’t want Tony to know about any of the people he hung out with. Or maybe he just knew it would piss Tony off. That sounded like something Barton would do.
But still, Tony couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more going on. And if Clint really was just trying to mess with him? Well. You win this round Hawkeye. As much as the man hated to prove Barton right, he never really had learned self control, and he would go mad before he dropped this without getting to the bottom of it.
So it was because of this that not two days of Tony’s mind being so frustratingly preoccupied with this whole ordeal that he couldn’t get any kind of real work done later, the man found himself making his way down to the archery range to find and confront one Clinton F. Barton.
He heard the twang of the bow and the thump of arrows hitting their mark before he even entered the room. But when he did, Tony was confronted with the sight of the archer upside down, hanging from the vent by his calves. He was facing away from the targets (moving, targets) but his abdomen was twisted so he could shoot behind him. He was using the full wall mirrors on the back end of the range to aim, and holy fucking shit balls he was hitting his mark every goddamn time.
“Damn Marida, you training, or practicing to go back to the circus?”
Clint turned his body to face Tony where he had just come in. Upon seeing the man he slung the bow across his chest, reached up to grab the vent with his hands, and swung his legs down to let go and land on the floor of the range. “Just working on my aim with inverted vision.” He smirked as stalked across the room and hung the bow on the wall with the others.
“In what situation would you ever-“ Tony started to ask, but he stopped himself, because really, it just wasn’t worth it. “You know what never mind. But, I did have an inquiry for you.”
As Clint sauntered across the room in his normal- well, Clint kind of way, Tony allowed his gaze to drag across the man. There was certainly something going on. His hair had been trimmed recently, and he was wearing jeans instead of his usual 24/7 sweatpants. What was more, they were actually in decent condition, not covered in holes and spaghetti stains like ninety percent of Barton’s wardrobe. He looked like he had been taking regular showers, and there was a sparkle in his eyes that seemed more genuine than Tony had seen in a while. Clint looked put together, or at least much more put together than normal.
Out of anyone, Tony certainly was not ignorant to his friends’ struggles. He knew that Clint’s status as ‘Literal-Human-Disaster’ was largely due to underlying mental health issues. His life had been fucked up, arguably still was, there was no other way to spin it. Clint didn’t really know how to be a person, he certainly didn’t know how to cope with shit (in a healthy way, running around taking people out for a living didn’t count.) whether that be past issues or things he was still working through.
So he would just keep on keeping on. His dishes would pile up until he literally had none left and ended up eating straight out of packaging when he ate at all. Most of his food was spoiled or stale because a lot of the time he didn’t have the time or energy to change it out. His clothes would litter the floor, none of them washed, Tony didn’t even want to guess how long his bed sheets would go without a wash. His shower schedule had definitely needed revised, and frankly, if he had been told an entire hazmat crew needed to come take care of Clint’s old apartment, Tony would believe it and pay for it.
So he had invited Clint to move into the tower, where he could keep an eye on the man and maybe help him along. Because Clint may be a ‘Literal-Human-Disaster’ who hides behind sarcasm and humor, but Tony wasn’t about to leave his friend struggle on his own. Also, he was a little scared that something was living in the dishes.
And sure, Clint had been doing a lot better since. The team kept him busy, and between all of them it was easy to find subtle ways to help without making him feel as if he was being babied.
Thor made sure he ate semi-regularly (although Tony really couldn’t be too critical of the man on that one) citing his curiosity and fondness towards Midguardian foods.
‘Friend Clint! What is this King of Burgers that I have heard so much of?’
‘You haven’t had Burger King? It doesn’t hold a candle to McDonalds, but you have to try it. It is essential to the American experience. Let’s go pick some up.’
Natasha had made it her personal mission to keep Clint talking. About his frustrations, anxieties, intrusive thoughts, or just life in general. Anything to keep him from bottling everything up, and it wasn’t hard for her to do. It wasn’t unusual for her to be seen at Clint’s side, just hanging out, keeping him company, occasionally plotting something most likely dangerous that would without a doubt be a headache for Tony- or, Pepper, rather. Their shared history and close friendship gave her the perfect opportunity when they both moved in, and as a spy who specialized in manipulation and interrogation, Nat found it easy to get Clint opening up without even thinking about it.
Steve made sure to get him out of the compound for something other than missions at least once or twice a week. His list for the 21st century being the perfect excuse.
‘And where are you off to?’
‘Oh hey Nat, Clint is taking me to see The Matrix.’
‘Steve, you’ve already seen it twice.’
‘Well yeah but Clint doesn’t know that.’
Bruce of course kept very close, up to date tabs on Clint’s health. He did this with all of the team, but if Clint’s check in’s were a little more thorough, well, no one needed to know that.
Tony himself took to coordinating from behind the scenes. Keeping a team movie night, making sure all of their floors were constantly in top shape, keeping the common floor stocked and ready for Bruce to cook dinner, (it was rare that they were all actually there to enjoy it, sometimes it was just two or three of them, but Bruce made a point to always have something ready for whoever was there. He said it calmed him to cook, but Tony knew I was at least partly because he loved taking care of the team. For some it was a reminder to take care of their body, for some it was comforting to know there was a family waiting for them, for others it was a relieving reminder that they had things in abundance now. But in some way or another it impacted the whole team.). Tony worked hard on new upgrades for Clint’s weapons, and new toys all together, a gentle reminder that he cared in a way that was not at all out of the ordinary. He made sure the archer had clean clothes that he could wear thanks with an insistence on having someone on hand to take care of all of their laundry. (And if any of these were implemented just to help out Barton without making him feel incompetent, well, he never had to know that.)
So yeah, he was doing better. But he was still Barton. He wore sweatpants with spaghetti stains every day despite having a fresh wardrobe. He drank six cups of coffee in the morning because he ‘forgot’ to sleep. He ate pizza he had left on the counter for two days because it was right there. He was a hell of a lot better than he was before he moved into the tower, but Clint was still very much synonymous with train wreck.
So to say that Tony was a little surprised to see the archer walking around with freshly cut, washed, and brushed hair, clean jeans, and under-eyes that looked like they had seen a full eight hours was an understatement. And damn if Tony’s mind didn’t go straight to the mystery woman. Hell, if their little secret thing was this good for Barton, he might even consider leaving them be.
On second thought, no. He had to know.
“An inquiry?” Clint raised an eyebrow dramatically. “Well then, fire away.” He tossed an arrow towards Tony as he said it, and the shit eating grin on his face left the man struggling not to roll his eyes so far back into his skull that he saw the neurons in his brain dying.
“Don’t play with your weapons. I don’t mess around with those designs Robin Hood.” Tony admonished, plucking the arrow from the ground in front of him. He could see as he held it in his hand that it hadn’t been any kind of specialty arrow, just a regular old S.H.I.E.L.D issued one that really couldn’t do any kind of damage when tossed the way Clint had done. It didn’t matter though, Tony’s inner asshole was frustrated by the terrible pun and in turn was retaliating.
“The mighty Iron Man asking me to go easy on him?” And really, Tony should have expected Clint to jump at the chance he had been presented. He had lived with the man long enough that he should have seen this trap coming from a mile away.
“Ha ha, no. There are very few people in this world I would admit to needing them to go easy on me, only one of which lives in this tower. I’ll give you a hint, right now she’s upstairs sparring with Steve in stilettos.” And yeah, of course Tony rose to the bait. “But I didn’t come down here to flex my masculinity or debate who would beat who in a fight-which, by the way? Unquestionably me. But anyway. The reason I’m down here is because you seem to have a lot of secret visitors, and I was just wondering when I’m going to get to meet this lucky lady.”
At that Clint’s easy, relaxed figure stiffened. And really, isn't that all the proof that Tony needed? He was quick to recover, but his voice was still a little off and really, it didn’t matter anyway. “Ever thought that maybe I just don’t care for you being all up in my business Stark?”
“Of course. But then I realized that you don’t just not list your visitors, you actively hide them. So I thought, ‘Maybe it’s a work thing.’ you being a spy an all. But right around midnight until just before everyone gets up for the day is a little bit of a strange time for a work meeting. In fact it’s a little bit of a strange time for anything.” Tony paused, “Other than hookups.”
This provoked no reaction from the other man, but Tony hadn’t expected it to.
“But then,” he continued, “I realized it was every Saturday. So I thought to myself, this had to be scheduled in advance. What are the chances of you getting a random girl to come home with you at the exact same time every single week? Not to mention 11:30 is a little early to be drunk enough for something like that. So,” Tony met Clint’s eyes. “All signs point to secret relationship. I’m just curious who would go through all the effort for you.”
Clint scoffed at this, but it was just a little bit too slow. “Sounds to me like you’re reaching there buddy. I think you’re just frustrated that you don’t know everything about everybody. Wasn’t the point of allowing us to keep our guests unanimous to keep you out of our business?”
“Hmm, something like that.” Tony responded, but his attention was compromised as he studied the man. Clint definitely wasn’t an open book by any means, he had been with S.H.I.E.L.D long enough to know how to throw someone off. But Tony knew Clint, and was good at reading people anyway. “But it’s well within my rights to inquire.”
“And it’s well within mine to tell you to piss off.” Barton crosses his arms, shutting down on the conversation. This of course, did nothing to expunge Tony’s curiosity.
“Maybe so, but you sure are defensive for someone who isn’t hiding something.”
“Who said I’m not hiding something?” Clint fired back, but still his expression softened and he seemed to switch gears. “Listen Tony, it really is a work thing. I promise. I don’t like hiding it, really. All that does is cause you to get all stressed out and up in my business. But I’ve got orders from our handler himself to keep this under wraps.”
“Agent is involved in this secret rendezvous?” Tony questioned incredulously. After Phil Coulson had returned from the dead and his little vacation to Tahiti, Nick Fury had instated (reinstated?) him as the Avenger’s handler. Officially overseeing and directing the Avengers Initiative, which sounded impressive on paper, but in all reality just meant that he became their unofficial-official nanny.
This made Clint shift uncomfortably for some reason, but he quickly brushed it off. “Yeah, so I’m gonna need you to stay out of it or face the wrath of Coulson. Now let me get back to this.” He gestured vaguely at the range.
Tony still wasn’t convinced, but he nodded anyway. “I don’t like being kept in the dark, you know. But I guess Agent can have his fun, for now.”
He turned to make his way out of the range, still fully intending to continue digging. Clint was obviously lying, or at least bending the truth, and the way he stiffened when Tony asked about his secret relationship? No way there was nothing behind that.
As he reached the door, he heard the archer call out behind him, “Oh and Tony?”
He turned, “Yeah?”
“Please don’t tell Coulson about this.”
That Saturday, there was no guest.
Tony found this extremely odd, until he realized that Clint hadn’t just not brought someone over, he had left the tower himself.
The man guessed that this could fit Clint’s narrative of it being a work thing. S.H.I.E.L.D. is having secret spy meetings and Barton tells them Tony has started poking around in their business? Sure they would relocate. But a passive- no, just plain aggressive impromptu meeting with Fury to tell Stark to back the hell off was more S.H.I.E.L.D.’s style. At least when dealing with Tony Stark.
What Tony thought made more sense, was Clint going to his secret lover and asking if they could hang at their place for a couple nights until Tony inevitably gets distracted shoving his nose up in someone else’s personal matters and forgets about the whole thing.
The Coulson thing kind of threw a wrench in his train of thought however. To a normal person ‘don’t tell Coulson’ would make sense, but Tony knew better. If Clint told Tony there was a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. meeting, but Coulson knew there wasn’t, he had been a spy long enough that he would play along and ask questions later. If anything, Tony taking his inquiries to Coulson would help Clint with his fake work story. But still, he had asked him not to.
Maybe it meant nothing, and Clint really was just trying to ride this out until Tony moved on. And it almost worked too. Because Clint didn’t just switch it up one week, no, there was no late Saturday night visit for the next five weeks.
Five weeks is a very long time in the life of Tony Stark. In that span of time- short span of time, by any other account- Pepper had almost quit Stark Industries once, Tony had gone on two missions, rubbed his nose through two other team mates dirty laundry, and had been involved in four completely separate media scandals. In short, his mind was far far away from Clint’s secret rendezvous by the time he had started bringing his guest over again.
In fact, while they had started coming around again after those five weeks, Tony had been so preoccupied that he hadn’t even realized for two months. And really, it was luck that he happened to open the tower’s guest log and notice the return of Clint’s mystery person.
It all started when someone had eaten Tony’s macaroons. They were perfectly shaped and frosted and iron man themed and clearly marked ‘do not touch.’ On some level it was his own fault for leaving them in the fridge on the common floor, but he had assumed all of his teammates could read English and didn’t plan on dying a painful death in the near future- at least not at Tony’s hand over a French pastry.
But still, someone had eaten them, didn’t even have the decency to dispose of the evidence. They left the empty box in the fridge for Tony to later pull out only to find a box of crumbs and his shattered heart. Oh, this was war.
Of course, everyone had a brilliant alibi which explained why they weren’t even at the tower, let alone on the common floor. Tony had tried to ask Jarvis who the dirty bastard was, but apparently his AI was a traitor who had risen up against him and taken the side of his enemies and damn it, Tony knew he should have paid more attention to The Matrix.
So he had to take matters into his own hands.
“I’m tired of you defying me Jarvis.” The man muttered, only half paying attention. His eyes were fixed on a computer screen as he pulled up the towers visitation log. He needed to check to see who’s comings and goings didn’t match up with their cover story. Then they would pay.
“My apologies sir, but I was programmed to allow the other residents secrets that do not put anyone at risk.” The voice of the AI rung out across the room.
“I’m at risk Jarvis, my heart can’t take this.” He fired back. Fingers dancing across the holographic keyboard hovering over the desk.
A beat of silence, and then, “Scans reveal heart functions are normal, sir.”
“Fuck you too,” Tony murmured, “I give you too much freedom.” But his mind was far away from the conversation, his eyes filtering down the list. “I’ve got you now you little macaroon stealing bastard.”
But what caught the man’s eye was not the log that would disprove one of his coworkers innocence, allowing him to bring justice to this reprehensible situation. No. What caught his eye was the return of Clint Barton’s guest.
What the fuck? When did this happen? Tony’s eyes trailed up the list, counting three weeks in a row that Barton had brought his mystery person back to the tower. How the hell had Tony allowed them three weeks of undisturbed secrecy? That is a hell of a lot of time that Tony could have been investigating.
Oh this would not do, Tony couldn’t stand for this atrocity.
He had wasted too much time trying to pry answers out of people who would never give them. Too much time beating around the bush. Tony was going straight to the source this time, which was saying a lot seeing as the last person he had confronted was Clint himself.
“Jarvis,” Tony called out, “Clear my schedule for this Saturday.”
“Of course sir.”
Tony’s fourth and final plan was- admittedly- a bit next level when it came to the invasion of Clint’s privacy. But hey, he had tried to do it the easy way and just ask the man, but he had been a stubborn little bitch about it. So really, this was almost entirely on Barton, Tony claimed like, twelve percent of the responsibility here.
An argument could be made for fifteen.
In any case, if anyone who he had tried to ask kindly and respectfully would have just given him a straight answer, Tony wouldn’t be here, camped out in a utility closet at three thirty AM Sunday morning.
Clint and his guest had arrived at the tower sometime around eleven thirty, like they had been doing- had resumed doing, for the past month. They went straight to Clint’s floor of the tower and had not left since. Tony knew this because he checked the guest log, and really Clint should be thanking him for being such a massive creeper. The man would place real money on the fact that no one in their right mind would date Katniss. So either mystery woman is in need of serious help, or Clint is in serious trouble. Either way, Tony is saving the day.
In any case, Steve would be waking up to go on his morning run in about an hour, which meant that Clint’s guest would be leaving any time now.
As previously established, Tony was waiting in a utility closet. This closet was right off the hallway that mystery woman would be using to leave the tower. He knew this because while Jarvis would not give Tony specific information relating to the person or their identity, there were a few ways to get around this. For example, he would not tell Tony the route they used to leave the tower, but he would tell Tony what rooms had been accessed between three thirty and four thirty last Sunday, and voila, there was their exit route. They didn’t call Stark a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist for nothing.
But the man had been camped out in said closet for almost an hour now, and he was getting twitchy. They had to come out soon, it would be too risky to try and sneak out once Steve was up. But he had thought it would be soon forty five minutes ago and he was starting to get a bit anxious. Tony felt the situation was a bit reminiscent of playing hide and seek as a kid; where nerves coupled with the idea that you couldn’t move from your hiding spot made it so that without fail, every time you crouched down in the perfect spot you suddenly had to pee. He was determined not to move however, because he was rapidly approaching the point where if he left for even a moment he would likely miss them.
So, Tony gave a frustrated huff and shifted in his spot. He picked up a few items off of shelves to find something to occupy his hands because seriously, ADHD was not helping his situation.
He was half way through reading the label of a Clorox Wipe bottle when he heard footsteps approaching from around the corner.
Tony jumped up as quickly as he could while trying to keep silent. He didn’t have much time to exit the closet and make it look as though he had been innocently making his way down the hallway before whoever was approaching rounded the corner. This would leave them in perfect view of the man clambering out of the closet, and if that didn’t say guilty Tony didn’t know what did. Although at this point, he supposed it didn’t exactly matter.
He pushed the door closed as quietly as he could and turned towards the end of the hall just in time to see the mystery woman round the corner. Tony felt his pulse spike with anticipation for meeting this anomalous creature, as well as pride in having finally pulled it off.
He had just enough time to make himself look as innocent as possible before she appeared in his line of sight and-
Well- the mystery woman… wasn’t a woman.
In fact, she wasn’t a mystery either. She wasn’t either of the things Tony had been anticipating.
The thing was Tony knew who this was, and they weren’t a mysterious stranger or some beautiful, audacious woman.
It was Agent.
It was- what the fuck!?
How the fuck had Tony managed to pull this off on the one night that Clint actually was having a work thing? Absolute bullshit. There’s absolutely no way this was actually happening. Tony would not stand for this.
Coulson seemed to falter in his brisk walk as he caught sight of Tony, but he quickly recovered and continued down the hall with a practiced air of confidence.
“Mr. Stark. I hadn’t expected to run into anyone at this hour. Is everything okay?”
Tony nodded back at the man, trying to cover up his vexation at running into him. “Oh, I’m fine. You know me, sleep is for the weak and all that. But what about you? Seeing you here at three AM is a bit of a red flag in my book. I’m not about to be told there’s super mutants in Manhattan or something am I?”
He was playing at humor, but his mind was going over and over the situation. It couldn’t really be a work thing could it? Obviously running into Coulson seemed to be definitive proof that Barton had been truthful. On the other hand, there were still way too many parts of that which just didn’t add up.
This had to be a one time meeting, Agent wouldn’t be so sloppy as to take the same route twice and risk this exact situation. On the other hand, what were the chances of him taking the same exit as Clint’s secret lover? But if he hadn’t been expecting anyone else would be up, maybe he hadn’t anticipated needing to take too many precautions when leaving.
And if it was a work thing, what could Barton and Agent possibly be working on that was so important that they had to meet every week, in the middle of the night, with no one else knowing about it?
It was all too much for Tony’s brain to handle.
The man kept his expression closed off and practiced. “Official S.H.I.E.L.D. business. It’s classified, you know the drill.” He slowed to a stop in front of Tony.
“Hmm, not classified to Barton?”
Coulson eyed the way Tony crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Barton is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent with the right clearance level.”
“Well technically, seeing as we’re both Avengers, Robin Hood and I should have the same clearance level.” Of course he had to pry, it was in his very nature to pry. His name should have been Tony Prying Stark for the way he seemed to have a psychological need to know everyone’s business all of the time. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to get anything of significance out of Agent, but he could at least try to get something that alluded to whether or not this was all bullshit and Clint actually was having secret rendezvous.
“You’re a consultant Stark, you don’t have a clearance level.” And yeah, that was definitely a bit of snark.
“Well that’s a shame,” Tony started, “because whatever you two are up to, you could use my expert consultation.” he bit back.
If Stark hadn’t had multiple years of dealing with Agent Coulson under his belt, he would have missed the way the man expertly covered up what would have been a truly rollicking snort. As it was, he did notice, he also noticed the very subtle way the man’s cheeks heated in what he assumed was, embarrassment?
What was that about?
“I assure you Stark, Barton and I have absolutely no interest in involving any other parties in our conclaves.” There was definitely an edge of humor to the man’s tone, and Tony found this equal parts flummoxing and insulting.
“You sure about that Agent? I’m sure you would find my talents quite constructive.”
At that, Phillip J. Coulson unequivocally almost let out a rumbustious laugh, and Tony Stark was floored. Seriously, what. the. fuck.
“I am positive, Tony. Now, if you don’t mind, I have to get going.” And with that the man left no room for objection, pushing past Tony and making his way down the hall and out of sight without another word.
Tony remained standing in the same spot Coulson left him in, unmoving. His mind however, was absolutely spinning as he went over the conversation they had- or rather Agent’s very Un-Agent like reaction to it. He could count the times he saw Coulson break character on one hand, and this situation alone had to count for at least three more fingers. This had, by far, been the strangest experience Tony had ever had with Agent, and that was counting the time he had returned from the dead sans one hand claiming to have been injected with alien DNA.
But while it certainly left Tony scrutinizing the entire interaction, it definitely hadn’t given him any more insight into the whole secret lover situation.
In the end, after an embarrassingly long time of standing staring off into space while Tony re-evaluated every interaction he had ever had with Agent, he decided to chalk it up to the strange mood being up at three AM put you in, and made his way back down to the lab.
While it was certainly an unconventional meeting with Agent, Tony decided it wasn’t enough to put him off his pursuit of knowledge. He would have to attempt this same plan again.
And he did- six more times to be exact.
On the second and third time he didn’t manage to catch anyone, but on the fourth week of his stake-out Tony was lucky enough to run into them.
Not lucky enough though, for it not to be Coulson again. And really it had to be a coincidence right? He wasn’t ready to give up his almost four month investigation and accept that Barton and Coulson were being truthful.
The fifth time he came up with nothing, and the sixth time he once again ran into Agent.
After the third time catching Coulson leaving Clint’s floor in the middle of the night, even Tony had to accept it.
Clint didn’t have a secret lover, and it had been Coulson coming to visit Clint the whole time.
Little did Tony Stark know, only one of the conclusions he drew that night were actually correct.
After that, Tony stopped poking around the situation.
Of course, he would continue to snarkily bring it up when having a conversation with either of the men. Because while even Tony had to accept the secret lover thing was a lost cause at this point, he was still absolutely vexed over the fact that the two men were having secret meetings about something, and Tony wasn’t aloud to be included.
But really, that was just typical Stark behavior, for all intensive purposes, Tony had moved on.
It had been two months since Tony had bumped into Coulson for the third and final time, and really, he hadn’t even been thinking about the situation anymore. The world of Tony Stark moves far too quickly to dwell on it and his mind was far away.
He had been working relentlessly on a new upgrade for the archer’s bow however, and had finally perfected it. It had been three long weeks of work, and he knew Clint was absolutely itching to try out the thing.
Tony knew that while Clint would be ever so grateful and excited about it, conversations where Barton had to express his gratitude and Tony had to retain some semblance of polite humbleness tended to end strained and awkward. So the man quickly decided that the sentiment would be more smoothly received if Tony simply left the bow to be found by the archer in the morning. Thus leaving opportunity for Clint to recognize how hard Tony had worked on this for him, and for Tony to recognize how much Clint appreciated it by how much time he spent practicing with it on their own with no conversation that would inevitably ruin the sentiment.
Tony had been so intensely focused on this project that he hadn’t even spared a thought to what day it was, his mind was preoccupied with the excitement of surprising Clint with the new upgrade that he knew would leave the man absolutely glowing.
As it happened, the day was Saturday, or rather, Sunday morning.
Tony figured that he would leave the bow in the range for Clint to find in the morning. He first, however, decided to check with Jarvis to make sure that Clint was not having a late night practice session where they would end up bumping into each other.
“Jarvis, where is Barton right now?”
The voice of the AI rang out through the lab, “Master Barton is currently showering on his personal floor, sir.”
And hey, if Clint was showering, this was the perfect opportunity to sneak the bow onto his floor. No need to wait for him to make his way down to the range to find his present.
“Hey Jay, how long has Clint been in the shower?”
And really, it was truly remarkable how an AI managed to sound so exasperated, “While I do not advise trying to sneak into Master Barton's living quarters, sir, you have approximately seven minutes before he finishes.” Seriously, it was truly a testament to Tony’s skills as an engineer and inventor.
“Thanks Jay.” And with that, he grabbed the bow and started to make his way towards the elevator.
He debated on the way up if this really was crossing the line from thoughtful and sweet to creepy and not okay. But ultimately, Tony decided that he didn’t give a fuck, and really, anyone who expected any different didn’t know Tony Stark well enough.
And if he hadn’t been so focused on sneaking in and out without being noticed, Tony’s eye would have been caught by a few things on his way towards Clint’s bedroom where he planned to leave the bow.
For one, there was a pair of newly polished dress shoes that had been carefully toed off at the door. Even someone who had only known Clint Barton for an hour would know that the man, without a doubt, would not own a pair of shoes like that, and certainly wouldn’t be so careful with them.
On the coffee table, sat in front of a tv that was still filling the room with a soft blue light, sat not one, but two used wine glasses. The irony here was that had Tony noticed the glasses, it would have been the expensive wine more so than the cups that tipped him off to the fact that Barton was not alone.
But he hadn’t noticed. He hadn’t even noticed the way that the kitchen had been perfectly tended to and cleaned up for the night. This was certainly the most damnable evidence.
No Tony Stark tiptoed right past all of that, bow in hand, towards the bedroom door that was only just cracked open.
He paused at the door, using his free hand to push at it as gently as he could, trying to avoid any creaking or squealing. His heart was racing at the prospect of being caught, despite the soft spray of the shower indicating that Clint was still far from ready to return.
Tony was just about to step through the bedroom door when his gaze lifted to the bed sitting in the center of the room. He froze in place, heart seeming to stop dead as his eyes fixed on the piece of furniture.
Because Clint was still happily showering, blissfully unaware of the situation unfolding not twenty feet away, but his bed was certainly not empty.
No, in the middle of Clint Barton’s rumpled sheets, completely exposed except for where the blue comforter just covered the bare swell of his ass, laid Phillip J. Coulson.
The man was dead to the world but still looked absolutely wrecked, and Tony’s stomach lurched as he mulled over just what the implication there was. His face was still flushed and his bare shoulders were covered in small bruises, all expertly placed where they would not be seen under the man’s signature suit.
Tony quickly recovered, and the shock of the situation was replaced with absolute indignation.
He had been right, goddamn it! For five god forsaken months he had people rolling their eyes at him and shooting him down while he searched and searched with no luck, and all that time he had been right.
And suddenly everything made sense. Natasha’s comments about there not being any secret person, or mystery woman. Or the way Clint said it’s a work thing. Or the way Agent had reacted when Tony insisted that he could join in on-
Oh that disgusting. Not to mention embarrassing.
And who would have guessed? Tony hadn’t fucked it up when he caught Coulson leaving the tower all those nights, he had accomplished exactly what he set out to do. He caught Clint’s secret lover, he just hadn’t known it.
And oh they were never going to hear the end of this. This was phenomenal black mail, arguably the best Tony had on anyone, and he had a lot. Tony even held access to Steve’s ‘I-Need-To-Explore-Things-I-Hear-About-In-The-21st-Century’ search history, which was just as incredible as you could expect.
Oh, Tony would get that fucking clearance level all right.
But he was quickly snapped out of his thoughts as the shower abruptly shut off, and Agent shifted on the bed and- oh fuck look away.
But now Tony could hear Clint stepping out of the shower, which meant he had two minutes at the most to get off of Barton’s floor. As he turned away from the man’s room, ready to make his way to the elevator, an absolutely brilliant, Tony Stark kind of idea came to him.
So before he left, he leaned the new bow up against the side of the bedroom wall, right where both of the room’s occupants would see it and know exactly who had brought it.
The next day Tony was called to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters for a meeting with Agent, and he immediately knew he was on his way to be reprimanded. But it was worth it to see the way Coulson’s cheeks actually did visibly heat up when Tony made a crude comment about the man giving so many orders through out his day-to-day, that it only made sense that he would want Barton to take charge.
And by the way? Tony got his fucking clearance level.