A Gift For: inkvoices
Warnings: Implied sexytimes, mild language.
Pairings: Clint/Natahsa, Thor/Jane, Tony/Pepper, and (overt hints of Steve/Maria)
Summary/Prompt Used: Prompt: 'Tis The Season: Clint and Natasha (and the whole team) and the holiday season. Or: The Avengers celebrate Christmas and everyone gives Natasha unwarranted advise about her love life.
Authors Notes: This is the result of listening to way too much Christmas music on Pandora. Also, in my headcanon Steve is Catholic. I have no idea if this is canon compliant or not. If it's not, my apologies.
Banner by frea_o
One of the benefits - and Natasha uses that word very, very loosely - of Tony Stark's status as both Avenger and SHIELD consultant, has to be all the fun new toys he's contractually obligated to add to the Quinjets and the Helicarrier. Including, but certainly not limited to some incredibly impressive and deadly accurate heavy artillery.
Naturally, one of the downsides of having him around involves his constant habit of hacking into the Quinjet's sound system and blaring whatever genre of music tickles his fancy. Today, Tony's choice is a downright annoying rock version of Deck the Halls.
Another benefit, small though it might be, is that Clint and Natasha are the ones called upon to play with Tony's new toys.
"Can you check that rear gun again?" Clint asks.
Natasha flips a few switches and opens up a targeting computer. She fires a couple of test shots, all of them hit the mark, but she can tell their accuracy is off.
"Stark," she says, "The right rear gun's is shooting slightly to the left."
"Run it again without the targeting computer," Stark's voice says in her earpiece, "Try the manual aiming this time. Let's make sure it's not the gun."
"You want to take this one, Barton?" Natasha asks.
They run it again. Natasha drives, and Clint aims. Everything hits the mark.
"Fix your targeting computer," Clint tells Stark, reaching up and flipping the switch that retracts the gun back inside the Quinjet.
"I hear you, Katniss," Tony says. He makes a kissing noise; Natasha rolls her eyes.
They land on the Helicarrier a few minutes later. Fury wants them inside to give a report about the usefulness of the weapons. (Which they've both nonverbally agreed upon: the guns are powerful, the manual aiming is perfect, but the targeting computer is off.)
Standing up, Natasha peels of her headset and sets it aside.
"Do you have plans for Christmas?" Clint asks.
Natasha freezes. She doesn't have plans. She doesn't want plans.
"I got a cabin," he continues, "off the gird, totally secure. Big fireplace. Middle of nowhere. It's beautiful there this time of year. I thought maybe you could come with me; we could spend the Christmas holiday, just you and me."
She doesn't say anything.
"C'mon, Tasha," he takes his eyes off of the window for a split second to send her a grin that makes her stony heart soften just a little. "What do you say?"
"You said no?"
"I can't do it," Natasha tells Agent Hill. Together they step off of the carrier decks and into one of the main hallways. They turn immediately to the right and begin walking towards the bridge. "And Clint doesn't understand. He says he does but he doesn't."
"I don't understand," Maria says as they step onto the bridge. "You like him; he likes you. Even Fury can see it, and he only has one eye."
"The problem," says Natasha, "is that I don't do Christmas. I don't do presents, I don't do mistletoe, I don't do Ded Moroz, and I certainly don't subscribe to that whole "peace on earth, good will toward men" nonsense. I hold very little good will toward men." She says the last bit dryly, and it's completely to Maria's credit that she catches the sarcasm behind the statement.
"But you hold enough," Maria says as they enter the bridge. Hawkeye's already seated at the oval table, and Hill makes a very, very subtle gesture towards him with her head, as if to imply it's Clint that Natasha holds good will toward.
Natasha's not going to argue with her on that point.
Maria stops before they reach the tables. "All I'm saying is: You're so focused on margins and ledgers and owing so much to so many, that you can't see anything beyond that. Not everything is a transaction. You're allowed to be happy, Natasha."
There are quite a few things Natasha likes about Maria Hill, and her ability to totally rock the skin-tight SHIELD uniform is only one of them. Natasha appreciates Maria's candor, her willingness to disagree with Director Fury when he's making stupid decisions, her absolute commitment to the Avenger's team, and her willingness to do whatever it takes to help them save the world.
And finally, she loves that Maria tells her exactly what she thinks she needs to hear - whether Natasha wants to hear it or not.
Even if right at the moment, Natasha sort of hates it.
"Look, Clint and I...we fight and then we have sex. It's a mutually beneficial agreement. Completely symbiotic. What it's not, is a relationship. Those are bloody and messy. Love is inconvenient."
"You can't be serious."
"I'm not exactly the girl who gets the happily ever after, Hill. I'm the one who gets the knife in her thigh and the arrow through her heart."
Maria casts a sideways glance at Clint. " I wouldn't mind having one of his arrows in my heart."
Natasha gives her a dark look.
Maria just raises her hands calmly, a mock sign of surrender. "All I'm saying is: If I were you, I'd reconsider."
"Changed your mind yet?"
Natasha's back is on the floor, her legs are wrapped around Clint's body, and she has his neck locked in a relatively loose chokehold. He won't be passing out anytime soon, but he's not going anywhere either. They've been at this for the past hour and she's finally at the point where she's besting him, since he's gone a little bit crazy about improving his hand-to-hand since that whole Loki incident. Her muscles ache, and her skin is slick with sweat. "Are you seriously asking me this now?"
"Can you think of a better time?"
Yes. Never. Never would be fantastic.
"Do you think you could let go of me now?"
Natasha releases him, flopping back against the mat as he rolls off of her and onto his knees. He offers her a hand as he stands up, and she takes it.
For a few seconds, they stand there staring at each other, breathing hard.
"What do I have to do to convince you?"
She smirks. "I can think of a few things that might work."
Natasha wakes at 5:00 AM and slips out of Clint's bed. She pads over to the closet in search of a pair of warm socks.
They've been more-or-less cohabitating the same room on Clint's floor of the recently re-constructed, re-named, and re-furnished Avengers' Tower for the past few days. Neither of them have had the time to unpack, so they're living out of two matching SHIELD-issued duffle bags.
One second Natasha is rooting around in what she thinks is her duffle bag for a pair of socks, and the next second her fingers are closing around a velvet box.
Her heart stops.
She manages to conveniently - and coincidentally - avoid Clint for the next week, all the way up until the day Maria takes Steve ice skating and insists on dragging Thor, Jane, Clint and Natasha along with them, presumably so it doesn't appear to be a date.
(Not that Natasha thinks Steve would really catch the hint even if they didn't come along. It's not that he's obtuse, just suffering from a little culture shock. Besides, with the way she's arranged things, it looks more like a triple date than anything else.)
New York is freezing and covered in snow. It's not like Natasha isn't used to snow, because she once was Russian, after all, but the city is also filled with tourists and sightseers and Christmas shoppers. It's dizzying.
Thor has never really been skating before, though one of the stories he tells makes it sound like he's done something similar. It isn't too long before he figures out how to balance on the skates. Even though she babbles about the physics of skating, Jane is comically worse than he is. That doesn't matter because she just loops one of her arms through his and clinging to him for what appears to be dear life.
Natasha thinks that Thor might be one of the best things for Jane.
For example, Tony and Bruce are back at the Tower, holed up in the lab, but Jane has allowed herself to be pulled away from her still-ongoing research. Thor made dragging her away from her work look easy.
"They complement each other," Natasha tells Clint. They're staking side-by-side, close but not together.
He doesn't answer her, but she knows him. He agrees.
Clint keeps his arms crossed and his sunglasses on, but the small, almost imperceptible smile Natasha catches curving on his lips tells her that he's actually enjoying himself.
Later, when Jane is taking a break and Clint is purchasing hot chocolate, Thor skates up to Natasha and offers her an arm, which she accepts.
"My lady Jane tells me that the warrior Clint plans to gift you with a ring for the winter holiday. She also seems to believe that this is a source of distress for you."
Natasha opens her mouth to ask how on Asgard Jane knows about this, but then she mentally traces the trail of gossip: Natasha told Maria, Maria told Steve, Steve told Tony, Tony told Jane, Jane babbled to Thor. Probably. It's possible that theory is wrong and Maria just told Jane.
"I must say, I do not understand," Thor continues. "A warrior giving a lady like yourself a ring in your culture - does that not mean that he wishes to pledge his fealty to her? Would this not make you happy? I believed that the two of you held an understanding."
Natasha quirks an eyebrow. "An understanding?"
"Did I presume incorrectly?"
Not exactly, but Natasha isn't quite sure she wants to try and explain the term 'friends with benefits' to Thor. It might end badly.
Thor's expression suddenly grows serious, "He has not insulted your person, has he, My Lady Natasha?"
She shakes her head, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Believe it or not, Natasha actually likes Thor, and she respects him a whole hell of a lot more than she does, say Tony. Well, respects his opinion a lot more. Tony is only helpful if you can speak science and sarcasm fluently.
Thor has a such a noble manner about him that, once she became used to it, makes Natasha feel oddly secure.
"Has he besmirched your honor?"
Again, she shakes her head.
"Because if he has, there is no place in all the nine realms where he can hide from a warrior of Asgard."
"That's not necessary, Thor."
"Then what offence do you hold against him?"
"I don't hold any offence against him," she says finally. "Sometimes people just have...things that they have to work through."
"Well," Thor says, "if he does anything of the sort, please make sure he understands that I will not stand for it. I consider the warrior Barton to be a dear friend, but I would be exceedingly cross if he hurt you."
Were he anyone else, Natasha would have said something about her ability to take care of herself, but this is Thor, so she says, "I'll let you know if I need you to defend my honor."
He lifts her gloved hand to his lips and presses a kiss against her knuckles. "Your wish is my command, my lady."
"What are you doing for Christmas?"
"Oh, God," Natasha's doesn't look up from the report she's filling out. "Not you too, Cap'n."
"Tony's been hounding you?"
It's not 'hounding' so much as it is straight-up harassment. "You could say that."
"Sorry," Steve says, sitting across the table from her. "I think he's trying to make sure that nobody's spending Christmas alone."
"How admirable." Natasha doesn't look up from her papers.
"So what are you doing for Christmas?" Steve asks again.
Her pen freezes on the paper, mid-word. She hasn't told Clint yes to the whole cabin thing, and she's even more against the idea now than she was before when there wasn't a silver engagement ring hiding with his socks.
It's not a lie.
Because even after spending an unrealistic amount of time explaining to Maria and not Clint why she can't spend her holiday with him, Natasha goes to the cabin with Clint anyway.
She has no reason for this other than the simple fact that she'd rather be there with him than in the Avengers Tower, where it looks like Christmas itself exploded all over the walls, the windows, and the bookcases. There's a tree on every floor and mistletoe and poinsettias everywhere and...it makes Natasha want to throw up.
The first day is actually bliss. Clint cooks for her, he massages her feet, and he kisses her beneath the sprig of mistletoe dangling above the doorway.
She's completely fine when she's not thinking of a certain piece of jewelry she happens to know is still in Clint's possession. (She couldn't help but check after they arrived; she slipped her hand in his bag under the pretence of bringing their luggage to the bedroom.) When she does remember that her not-quite-boyfriend has an engagement ring in his bag, her stomach twists into a tight knot.
Killing a man with her thighs, Natasha Romanoff can handle. Holy matrimony? That makes her nauseous.
The absolute irony of Natasha's decision to go with Clint comes in when they have a grand total of one day to themselves before a message comes through a secure network.
The message, of course, is that New York is about to get attacked by aliens.
On Christmas Eve.
They spend the next hour driving through the snow until they reach the rendezvous point Maria sent them, where they get on a Quinjet and fly up to the Helicarrier.
When all is said and done, Natasha's suit is ripped, blood is dripping from a gash above her left eyebrow, and she's covered in dirt.
She's a complete mess. Hawkeye doesn't look any better.
"C'mon," Tony says as they regroup. "There is officially one hour left until Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day, Stark Tower 2.0: Avengers Edition is just around the corner, and Pep tells me there's plenty of food left over from the party the aliens crashed."
To Tony's credit, there is plenty of food, but a huge quantity of food by any normal human's standards is merely an average portion when a demigod, a super-soldier, and four other famished superheroes are factored into the equation.
Pepper also somehow manages to find spare clothes for everyone, but not until after dinner is through, so the Avengers eat Christmas dinner in their complete costumes, spandex, capes, suits and all - except for Bruce, who manages to find a shirt.
There's one empty seat at the table, and when asked, Tony says, "It belongs to someone who couldn't be there with us today. Phil."
Everyone is silent for a moment, before Tony continues, "The cellist finally decided he needed to meet the parents."
Steve sits at the head of the table and, devout Catholic that he is, crosses himself before he blesses the meal.
And everyone, Tony Stark included, lets him.
Natasha's not sure about that whole 'God' thing, for many, many good reasons, but this is Steve, who happens to be Captain Freakin' America. It's not weird when he does it. Quite to the contrary, Natasha thinks it would be weird if he didn't.
In the same way, after the meal has ended, Steve pulls out a worn leather Bible and reads Luke 2 aloud. And everyone shuts up and listens.
Natasha thinks it might be because he's Captain America, but she suspects that it's more because it seems like the thing to do. It's Christmas. Still, he get's to that part about 'peace on earth and good will towards men' and she has a hard time resisting the urge to shake her head at the ridiculousness of it all.
Natasha's on her third glass of spiked eggnog when Thor crashes onto the couch beside her. He's back in his civvies, which for Thor means a plaid flannel shit and low-slung jeans, but now he's accessorized with a lopsided Santa hat. He swats at the white ball of fluff on the end until it's out of his eyes and gives her a smile.
It looks better than the weird winged-helmet thing Natasha's seen on more than one occasion.
"My Lady Natasha," he says gallantly, "I dare say you have - as you Midgardians say - 'cleaned up well'."
Natasha gives him a smile and takes another sip of her drink. Pepper gave her a dark red dress and a string of pearls, and even though Natasha's barefoot, she still feels just the right combination of sexy and elegant.
"Do you still hold Agent Barton out of your favor?"
"He was never out of my favor, Thor."
"If you say so."
Natasha watches as his eyes track Jane as she walks across the room to join Bruce and Tony at the bar.
"Tell me about Jane." She's not sure what she expects Thor to say, thinks it should be something about Jane's beauty, some grand tale that is somewhat true, but embellished and poetic. She expects pledges of true undying love and how the moment he saw her he knew she was the one.
Thor swats at the dangling ball of cotton again. "Jane is earth."
Natasha is quiet, and he continues in a soft, thoughtful tone. "She is solid ground beneath your feet and the sky bursting open above your head. She's the freshness of a torrential downpour, and the blistering sun on the hottest day. She clings to you like dirt beneath your nails, but no matter how hard you try she is under your skin and there she will stay, because she is your home, your family, the family that chose you. She is light and beauty and kindness; she is the greatness and the strength of the universe; her laugh puts music to shame and her smile rivals the sun. She is firelight and she is fire; she is tenacity and fierceness and courage. She found a poor boy cast away from all he knew, and she helped him become a man. She is my dearest friend and my closest ally, and without her I..."
His voice catches and Natasha understands what she never could before.
She's read Thor's file, skimmed the few pages of it that SHIELD has, and she knows that he was only on earth for three days before he broke the bifrost and was unable to return. She knows that Jane kept looking for him, but she passed that off as the yearnings of a scientist desperate to prove the merit of her life's work.
But there is more to this story, there has to be, because there is deep emotion in Thor's voice, emotion the average person wouldn't expect from an Asgardian whose specialty is smashing things with a huge hammer.
She finishes her eggnog in one large gulp.
Tony slides up to her later, a confection from the bar topped with a silly blue umbrella in one hand, his own tumbler of scotch in another. As he hands over her drink, Natasha fleetingly considers the pros and cons of using the paper umbrella to stab him in the eye.
"Y'know," Tony says, "Pep's my best friend."
Natasha blinks at him. Why is he telling her this?
"I mean, she drives me nuts, but she sticks around and she's all I've got. Although, I suppose Bruce could really give her a run for her money if he wanted to, but she seems to be happy enough with the position. And I buy her a whole lot of shoes. And fruit baskets - without strawberries, of course - "
Come to think of it, snapping his neck would be easier and less bloody. "Stark, are you drunk?"
She gives him a look.
"I'm not terribly drunk." He sighs, and with his drink, he motions to Clint, who's seated at a piano playing the prettiest arrangement of Jingle Bells Natasha's ever heard. "Look, Barton's been...mopey lately."
"And that's my fault?"
"The odds are in your favor," Stark says. "Look, I don't pretend to know what it is exactly, that the two of you have going on, except that something is, because Jarvis is an excellent source of information."
Natasha stares at him blankly.
"Let's just say that I know Cupid over there purchased a certain piece of jewelry, one traditional presented whilst down on one knee."
He smirks. She'd really like to smack him now. "My point, la femme Natasha, is that you're not surprised to know that slings'n'arrows over there has said engagement ring, but you're also not wearing the one ring to rule them all, so I'm thinking you said no..."
"He hasn't asked."
Tony nods, sipping at his scotch. "And when he does?"
"It's none of your business, Stark."
"'Course it's not," he says. "Nothing that goes on under this roof is my business. I was just wondering if we should start remodeling your floors. Y'know, if you were wanting to start cohabitating."
"Suit yourselves. Just remember: You break his heart, Agent Romanoff, and I'll break your legs. Or, I'll have Pepper do it. She's sort of taken to him now that she's realized he can really make that baby grand sound...grand."
And with that confusing statement, Tony saunters away.
"Ma'am," Steve says, "I'd be honored if I could have this dance."
If he hadn't already spent the past three songs dancing with Maria, Natasha probably wouldn't accept. But it's Steve, and she kind of has a soft spot for him.
She has a soft spot for all of them; she just hasn't been able to admit that yet.
Plus, Clint's taking a turn with Maria right now, and Pepper's dancing with Tony. Jane is curled up on the couch next to Thor, who's playing with her hair, but she's engaged in deep conversation with Bruce.
"There was this girl once," Steve says when Natasha finally settles down and lets him lead. "I promised to take her dancing but..." He trails off.
Natasha knows how to read people, and Steve is easier than most. Underneath all that patriotism and desire for justice, Steve just wants to protect people, to help them. He would never willingly abandon anyone. More than that though, Steve is a boy who once loved a girl and accidentally abandoned her.
He's from another time, and sometimes his present and the world's past don't always line up the way they should. Still, he's perceptive almost to a fault, and he's seen enough, seen so much that's different from so many, that the wisdom in his eyes is unmistakable.
"She, uh, she meant a lot to me," he continues, "And I lost her because, well, we just ran out of time."
Natasha is quiet. She's pretty sure she knows what he's getting at, anyway, and she's pretty sure it has just about everything to do with the archer dancing with Agent Hill.
"I suppose what I'm saying, Ma'am, is that you never know when your time might run out."
The song ends, and Natasha steps back. "Thanks for the dance, Cap."
"Tasha." Clint's out of his uniform, but his slacks and his sweater are both black. He doesn't have to ask her to dance; she slips into his arms with ease.
They've danced before. Undercover, naturally, but still, it's not exactly a new experience for them.
Out of the corner of her eye, Natasha sees Maria approach Steve. Bruce and Tony switch places.
"I'm sorry things didn't work out like you planned," she says softly, not sure if she means it.
Clint grins at her and pulls her closer, "This part did."
Natasha's still awake at four in the morning, leftover adrenaline preventing her from nodding off to sleep. JARVIS turned the lights and the music down around an hour ago, and everyone dropped off one by one, like they were all teenage girls at a slumber party. At least, that's how Maria described it before sleep claimed her as well.
Thor and Jane are cuddling on one of the long sofas, Tony and Pepper seem somehow able to do the same on a shorter couch, Steve is stretched out on a pile of blankets and throw pillows on the floor in front of the fireplace, Maria is nestled in a huge plush armchair, and Bruce slipped off to his room before everyone else started dropping like flies.
Clint sits next to her. Both of them have their backs against the front of the couch Thor and Jane are currently occupying. Natasha's just drunk enough to let her head rest against Clint's shoulder.
"I still don't get it," she says as she stares up at the twinkling lights on Tony's tree.
"Get what," Clint murmurs against her hair.
"Christmas," she says. "December 25th. It's not the birth of a Savior or the day a jolly hero breaks the laws of physics and flies around the world dispensing comfort and joy to all. Those are all myths people perpetuate to keep the money coming into their pockets. Christmas is commercial. It's a charade for children." Just like love.
"You're such a cynic," he says.
"The term is 'realist'," Natasha tells him.
"Or 'Scrooge'," he counters, but then his voice changes. "You know you don't owe me anything anymore, right, Nat?"
The sudden conversational whiplash blindsides her. She focuses on the lights twinkling on the Christmas tree. "Where did that come from?"
"Just something I've been thinking about for a while. I just want to make sure you know that on that mental list of debts you have, that place in your brain where you're constantly keeping straight what you think you owe the world as payment for your sins. You don't owe me anything."
His words play in her head for the rest of the night.
When the sun starts to rise, Natasha and Clint step outside. It's windy and chilly so she wraps one of Tony's blankets around her shoulders and stays close to Clint.
"I know you found the ring." And that's all he says.
Her first instinct is to bolt.
But all she can hear in her head are Steve's words about running out of time, Tony's well intended ramblings about Pepper, Thor's soft musings on Jane, and finally, Maria saying: "You're allowed to be happy, Natasha."
"I did," she says finally. "I found the ring."
"And - not that I'm asking right now, because I'm not, but - if I was going to - ask you, that is...would you be -"
She cuts him off. "I don't know."
They look at each other. It's a long look, filled with thousands upon thousands of things they could say, and thousands more things that they'll never say.
Here's what Natasha knows: Happiness to her is practically a foreign concept. But if she had to describe it, if someone held her at gunpoint and asked for Natasha Romanoff's definition of happiness, she would say without a second of hesitation, 'Clint Barton'.
It's entirely possible that this makes her just as crazy as the rest of the world.
"Maybe," she says, "Maybe we could take a different step forward. Make this mess of a relationship a little less mutually beneficial and more...committed."
"You asking me to go steady, Romanoff?"
She wraps her arms around his neck and kisses him. It seems like the logical thing to do. Clint's hands go to her waist. They don't - contrary to popular belief - spend a lot of time kissing, and when they do, it's not generally in a romantic context.
Which is unfortunate, Natasha thinks, because this is actually quite nice.
They break away only when Tony pops his head outside and yells, "Hey guys, it's Christmas! Santa came!"
Forty-five wrapping paper filled minutes later, Natasha sits with Clint's gift for her in her lap. It's way too big to be the ring she found, so that's a relief. (She thinks.) Still, her fingers pick at the comics page of the Times that he used to wrap it.
Jane and Thor are in the kitchen making pancakes, Clint is investigating the new tricked-out arrowheads Tony gave him; Bruce has already started pouring over the book Pepper gifted him. Steve and Maria are sitting on separate ends of a sofa drinking coffee. Tony is playing with the remote-controlled helicopter he got from Steve, while Pepper sits beside him with her feet on his lap and a touchscreen tablet in her hands.
Nobody's watching her.
With her heart in her stomach, she opens the box.
Natasha's been given gifts before, pretty jewelry from a mark, flowers from an admirer, a gift basket from Tony Stark. None of them have ever been this personal.
The ballet shoes are redder than her hair. She holds them in her lap for a few glorious moments, running her fingers along the soft ribbons. Ballet is her safe space, her hiding place, and Clint knows this. Ballet is where her body can be beautiful instead of lethal.
Her throat feels tight and her vision blurs, but she is a spy and a damn good one, so she makes her face neutral.
She feels Clint's eyes on her, and she glances up to meet them. Natasha mouths the words "thank you", and he grins.
He comes up to her later, after pancakes and orange juice and bets on whether or not Steve or Thor ate more. The floor, couches, and chairs are covered in wrapping paper and ribbons that will have to be picked up later, but Natasha thinks they're just lucky that nobody's knocked over the tree yet.
Thor and Jane are laughing in the kitchen while they do the breakfast dishes. On the sofa, Steve and Maria have managed to scoot a good two feet closer to each other. Bruce has moved back into the living room and he and Tony are speaking science. Tony has tied a sprig of mistletoe onto the helicopter and is trying to fly it over Steve and Maria's heads.
Clint presses a kiss to her temple as his arm snakes around her shoulders.
Okay. Maybe she's finally coming around to the whole 'comfort and joy' malarkey. Maybe Christmas isn't just Santa and spending. Maybe it's not trees and toys and candy canes. Maybe Christmas is this: them, all suffering from their own unique brand of dysfunctional, but suffering together. And maybe she doesn't have to believe in peace on earth or joy to the world in order to believe in them. Maybe someday Clint will offer her that ring and she'll accept. Maybe.
But for now...
"Merry Christmas," Natasha says.