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Lighting a Candle

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“It’s perfect!”

“You don’t think it’s a little on the nose?” Natasha asked dryly, her voice echoing a little over the phone. 

“No,” Tony insisted stubbornly. “It’s great. Forced proximity plus exposure therapy.”

“Two birds with one stone may not be the right approach here,” Natasha pointed out. “They’re like a million years old, you might just scare them off.”

“It’s more efficient this way,” Tony emphasized, talking with his hands despite the fact that Natasha couldn’t see him. 

“Fine. We’ll see how it works out, but if they freak out, we put the brakes on and do it my way?” Natasha questioned. Tony could practically hear the eyebrow raise from across the city. 

“Deal!” he exclaimed. “What about Wilson? Did you invite him?”

“Of course I did,” Natasha responded. “He’s a part of the team now.”

“Yes, but he knows about our plan. And is against it. Also, I told him we weren’t gonna do it, remember?”

“Well, I’m pretty sure he’s gonna figure it out tonight,” Natasha sighed. 

“Whatever, it’s not like he’ll say anything in front of Cap’n Courage and his trusty sidekick,” Tony snorted, “He might yell at us after, but that’s no big deal.”

“If you say so,” Natasha said disbelievingly. “See you later, Tony.”

“Later,” Tony replied, hanging up.


“Hey, how’s it hangin’, big guy?” Tony greeted Thor cheerfully. 

“Hangin’?” Thor questioned, squinting at Tony. 

“Nevermind! Glad you could make it,  c’mon in, make yourself comfortable!” Tony clapped Thor on the back, then nearly fell down when Thor did the same. 

“Natasha!” Thor yelled, barreling towards where she was perched on the top of the couch. 

Tony watched for a minute, laughing a bit at Natasha’s face when she was suddenly lifted in the air and hugged. The doorbell rang again, tearing his attention away from what was unfolding in the living room. 

“Clint! Good to see you man,” Tony greeted, returning the nod Clint gave him in response. 

“I should...probably go help her,” Clint said thoughtfully, gesturing to where Thor was now gesturing wildly as he spoke to Natasha.

“Probably,” Tony agreed. 

“It’s more fun to watch, though,” Clint grinned, heading towards the kitchen instead. 

 Tony chuckled a bit to himself, leaning on the corner in front of the door and watching as Thor finally finished telling his story. He couldn’t hear Natasha’s response, but it made Thor throw his head back and roar with laughter. He lingered a bit more, waiting on the doorbell to ring again, but it still made him jump a little when it actually happened. 

“We’re here,” Barnes stated. “This is for you,” he held out a bag. 

Tony peeked inside to see a six pack of beer, as well as some snacks. 

“Oh—hey, thanks, man,” he said, somewhat awkwardly. 

Barnes nodded, face unreadable until Steve elbowed him slightly.

“You are welcome,” he said, expression unchanging. Nevertheless, Steve beamed at him and his face softened a little. 

“Well, come on in, almost everyone’s here,” Tony said hastily, after an awkward beat. 

Barnes nodded again, not waiting for him to move aside before pushing past him. 

“Bucky!” Steve hissed. 

Barnes turned around, looking lost. “I—he said come inside...” he faltered, looking guilty but confused. 

Steve immediately lost all his tension. “That’s all right, Buck. You gotta wait for people to move out of the way, okay?”

“Okay,” Bucky nodded. “Sorry,” he directed the apology at Steve, who nodded his head towards Tony. 

“Sorry, Stark,” he corrected, still looking at Steve. 

“All good,” Tony shrugged, managing a half-smile. 

“Why don’t you put this in the kitchen, Buck?” Steve suggested, nodding at the bag Tony was holding. 

“Okay,” Barnes agreed, taking the bag from Tony and heading towards the kitchen. 

“Real advanced social skills he’s got there, huh?” Tony asked lightly. 

Tony,” Steve looked reproachful. “Buck’s really trying, and he’s gotten loads better. It’s just big groups make him nervous, and....well...he doesn’t know how to act around you.”

“Around me?” Tony asked, offended.  “Why do I have to be the one he gets all weird with?” 

“You’re not that...straightforward. He doesn’t really know what to make of you, I guess. It’s fine, Tony, he’s still working on it,” Steve insisted, looking every inch the boy scout Tony knew he was.

“Whatever,” Tony rolled his eyes, sighing dramatically. “I’ll sit at the other end of the table for dinner, and then we’ll just watch the movie, there’s not too much social interaction for me to throw him off with.”

Tony,” Steve warned, crossing his arms and heading towards the dining table. 

“Fine, fine,” Tony groaned, following him. “I promise to play nice with everybody’s favorite assassin.”

Hey,” Natasha protested, lightly jumping off the couch and sliding into the chair next to Steve. 

“Sorry, sorry, second favorite!” Tony corrected at Natasha’s expression. 

“Damn right,” Natasha muttered, looking slightly mollified. 

Thor came over as well, not wanting to be left out of the conversation. 

Clint wandered out of the kitchen a couple minutes later with a beer, shooting a grimace Natasha’s way. 

The doorbell rang again, and Tony jumped up to go answer it. Steve waited a few seconds, then slipped away, disappearing into the kitchen. 

“Wilson!” Tony grinned. “Finally made it, huh?”

“Sorry, man,” Sam laughed. “I was a little late leaving and there was more traffic than I thought.”

“Skies full? Big pigeon event going on tonight?” Tony asked cheekily. 

“You know, I think I woulda been on time, I just kept missing it, cause you said a nice-looking building, and—”

“That’s enough, boys,” Natasha interrupted, clearly amused.  

“Whatever,” Tony scowled, sticking his tongue out at Sam as soon as Natasha turned back around. 

“I saw that!” she called. 

Shit.

Tony dropped into the chair next to Clint. “Ok, so I thought for tonight I’d make a really big, fancy meal, all by myself,” he started. 

“Please tell me you decided against it,” Sam interrupted, making a face.

“Well...yes, I did. It was just a thought, but it turned out it was gonna be a ton of work,” Tony complained. “So, I just ordered Chinese.”

This was met with some overdramatic sighs of relief as well as a cheer from Clint, who basically lived on takeout. 

The food arrived fairly soon after that, interrupting Natasha and Sam’s argument over whether or not a hot dog constituted a sandwich.

“It’s bread with a filling in the middle. Sandwich.” Natasha stated, taking a sip of her beer. 

“That’s not how it works! Is a bagel with cream cheese a sandwich?”

“Is it stacked?”

“It doesn’t matter! I mean—sure, yeah, it is.”

“Ok, then yes.”

“It’s not a sandwich! And neither is a hot dog, that’s completely—”

“Anyone wanna help carry?” Tony called over from where he was taking food from the delivery guy. Thor and Steve got up to go help him, and Sam and Natasha turned their attention back to bickering. 

Tony scanned the table as they walked back over, trying to figure out a way to make sure Barnes and Steve would have to sit next to one another. He finally settled on a plan, but before he could put it into action, Steve slipped into the seat on Bucky’s left side. 

“Well, that was easy,” he murmured to Natasha, grabbing the chair next to her. 

She nodded. “Well, they always sit next to each other, right?”

“I guess,” Tony frowned, thinking it over. “I can’t believe I never noticed that. So I guess, like half of tonight’s plan is totally unnecessary.” He pouted a bit, voice still lowered so the others couldn’t hear. 

“Usually they sit on the couch with some of us,” Natasha reminded him, grabbing the container closest to them. “We gotta shift them to the loveseat somehow.”

“That’s true,” Tony brightened up, spooning lo mein onto his own plate.

“Besides, I’m sure the movie will be very...eye-opening for the both of them. In terms of...society’s views on different...things,” she trailed off, giving Tony a meaningful look. 

“That’s the idea,” he grinned widely, stealing a piece of shrimp off her plate and getting his hand slapped for it. 

She rolled her eyes and turned back towards the rest of the group, listening in on Sam and Clint’s conversation without skipping a beat. 

“Of course cereal isn’t considered a soup, you goddamn—!”