Disclaimer: I claim no ownership to the Avengers, or anything Marvel related (I do own a pretty sweet Hawkeye cardboard cutout though ^^)
Clint hated the cold. It was a well-known fact amongst the Avengers (or at least it was after last winter). It wasn't even the temperature he disliked -or at least that's what Pepper inferred- but rather the layers upon layers of clothing. He hated the restricted movement. Normally, he would beg for a long term mission somewhere he didn't have to wear a parka (Coulson had once enough been kind enough to send him to Iraq undercover as a bomb-tech. That had ended well…) but now that he was a full time Avenger, he was all but grounded to the USA. Happy times.
All this ended up to one final conclusion. Clint was in the vents…again.
Tony stared up at the air vent above his work desk, an expression of deep contemplation on his features rarely seen unless he was working on his suit or any arc reactor technology.
"Sir, if I may? Agent Barton has long since fallen asleep." Jarvis piped up.
"Yeah, yeah…" Tony waved him off distractedly. When even Natasha (a good Russian girl to death, the cold barely fazed her) wouldn't even deal with Clint, Tony had to wonder what possessed the archer to set up his nest above him…above his workshop of all places in the tower.
Sighing, he climbed onto his desk and reached up, unlatching the cover and letting it hang by its hinges -specially installed for all Legolas vent adventure needs- he managed to pull himself up enough to meet the eyes of a groggy Clint Barton.
"Can I get you a coffee, or maybe some gummy worms?" he asked seriously, noting the look of pure, undiluted misery on Clint's face.
"Pepper's hot chocolate?" the archer replied back quietly, for what must have been the first time in days.
"Chocolate it is. Hang tight Katniss, I'll be back in a bit." He lowered himself back to his desk, where he hopped down and proceeded to stride to the elevator which would take him to his lady love.
The ride was short and smooth and Tony took a moment to contemplate his own hydraulic genius, before he stepped out onto the Avenger's main floor. The room had a fantastic view of New York, a gigantic plasma screen TV, three huge couches big enough to fit a demi god, a super soldier and a Hulk all at once (not that it had ever been tested) a fully stocked bar – not as nice as the stone one on the floor that had once featured a Loki sized dent or two but nice enough- and a full kitchen. The entire floor was one big hang out area, window seats ran along one wall for both Clint and Steve who liked the skyline view, a bookshelf or three stocked full of the most random assortment of books ever found outside a Barnes and Noble, a large kitchen table –specially made to hold up to Gods of Thunder- with alternating seats that barely matched and of course, the bare support beams above it all. The ceiling tiles had all been removed right before Clint moved in. To this day Pepper smiled at Tony every time she caught Clint lounging above them all.
Speaking of, Pepper was sitting at the kitchen island, a glass of what was probably water and lemon next to her and a bowl of grapes that she was methodically popping into her mouth one by one as she scrolled through her Stark tablet –like the IPad but you know, better.
"Good afternoon." Hey wrapped his arms around her from behind and kissed her sweater clad shoulder. She smelled like grapes and lemon and soap, it made him smile.
"Hello to you too." She said back, he could hear her smile.
"I need a favor."
"Of course you do." She twisted in her seat to stare up at him, posture relaxed and he suddenly wanted a cuddle, but that would have to wait. He had a miserable Robin Hood to take care of first.
"Can you make a couple mugs of hot chocolate, please?" he stressed the 'please' extra-long causing her to roll her eyes.
"Sure." She stood and was soon bustling around the kitchen. Tony helped himself to a few grapes. He was partial to blueberries himself, but grapes were good.
Soon he had two steaming mugs with marshmallows in his hands.
"Will that be all Mister Stark?" she placed herself back on her stool with the grace only a woman used to running around in ridiculous heels could achieve.
"That'll be all Miss Potts." He managed to sneak a kiss before stepping back into the elevator. Jarvis immediately took him back to the lab.
Half worried Clint may had scurried off somewhere else, he put down the mugs and clambered back onto his desk, knocking a few pens to the floor, and opened the vent cover again. Clint was still there, this time looking more alert, but no less miserable.
"Come on Legolas, hot chocolate ala Pepper is up." He ducked down and jumped from the desk, letting Clint slip from the vent with a fluidity cats could be envious of. He looked less like a man sliding from a vent and more like a panther gliding through the forest to its next meal and just as dangerous, especially when his shirt rode up momentarily revealing a gun tucked against the small of his back. Yet, this was normal and Tony didn't even blink as the man came to crouch on his desk, blinking at Tony slowly.
Tony handed his fellow Avenger the purple mug, keeping the red and gold one for himself, and sat in his spinning chair, kicking up his feet onto another table and taking a sip. Clint lowered to sit on the desk with his legs crossed and held the mug in two hands, close to his chest like he was trying to absorb the heat radiating from the ceramic.
"Why do you hate the cold so much? I mean, I get the layers, they're never fun, but still…You seem especially dedicated to the hatred."
Clint sighed, shoulders slumping, somehow looking incredibly small which was odd because despite the man's shorter stature –compared to Thor and Cap, everyone was a Smurf- he never seemed small, his attitude and dry wit seeming to make him larger than life, the same way Tony's own sarcasm and genius did with him. So to see Clint curling into himself like a scolded child was a little painful to watch.
"Come on buddy, talk to me. You've got us all a little worried." So he was pushing, he knew being pushed could go on either side of the spectrum. He just hoped it was a good push and not one that ended with him pinned to the wall with some kind of office supply. Maybe leaving out the stapler wasn't such a good idea.
Clint finally looked up, and in the lighting of the lab, Tony saw the bags under his eyes and that made worry spike in his gut, but he pushed it down. Clint, of everyone, hated being coddled.
"I don't like the cold, what's to tell?" he finally took a slow sip of hot chocolate.
"Yeah, but why? I mean, there is a reason behind every hatred, right? I mean…I hate war mongers, because I've seen first-hand the evil behind it." Obadiah in a suit…about to crush him…
Clint sighed again, the weight of the world bowing his shoulders, his ankles crossing tighter, legs tense, shoulders slack in comparison. He was a great example of an oxymoron if Tony had ever seen one.
"When I was a kid…after I was in the foster system…" he shook his head, shaggy hair flipping from side to side, eyes squeezed shut and he looked so young it made Tony physically ache. He took in a shaky breath and let it out before starting again, "There was this family. They were…well, they never hit me or any of the other kids, so I guess they were one of the good families…but one of the older boys, he was six years older than me, bigger than me too and he loved that…It was the first big snowfall of the year and I was running late because the buses were held back. I didn't have a great jacket, no scarf and my gloves were thin. I remember I had a sweater on underneath and had pulled the hood up, it didn't do a really great job. I was walking slow because of the snow and it was getting dark really fast. I made it back to the house, and I tried knocking on the door but no one came. I tried and tried…finally that kid came. He opened the mail slot and I just remember seeing his eyes and his mouth. He was smiling and his breath stank and he just closed the mail slot again and walked away…I was outside all night, a neighbor finally saw me around three in the morning when they let out their dog. I don't really remember, but they must have called the cops because I never saw that family again and all I remember is waking up in a hospital and being told that I was going to a new family."
Clint's voice had gone raw by the end, hands gripping the mug between them so tightly either the mug was going to break or his hands were. Tony had watched his knuckles go whiter and whiter as the story went on.
He finally tried to meet Clint's eyes when the archer looked up, all he got back was the broken stare of a boy who's been hurt too many times and a man who didn't know how to trust because of it.
"I still have nightmares about that, about the cold…feeling like I was going to die slowly in the cold, losing feeling in my fingers and toes and imagining losing all of them…That's not something you forget, that kind of terror…"
Tony stood up slowly, recognizing the ghosts in Clint's eyes. The archer watched him with those hawk eyes he was so famous –or infamous- for. Tony didn't say anything, hot chocolate having long since gone cold for the both of them.
"Yeah…I get that." He was surprised, but not really, to hear how choked his own voice was. Barely holding himself together, because all Tony could imagine was a tiny, innocent Clint left out in the snow all night by himself and it made him want to throw up, the billionaire leaned over the desk and wrapped his arms around the smaller man. Tony remembered what it was like to just want someone there, someone to understand what it felt like to be abandoned or ignored. He remembered how much he just wanted a hug from someone, so he felt like he mattered. Maybe it was something you never grew out of as a human being, because Clint shook for a moment, tense and unsure what to do, before he wrapped his arms around Tony in turn and held tight.
They didn't say anything, Tony just held the archer the way neither of them had been held. Tony knew his reactor hummed with warmth, just slightly above body temperature, so when he felt Clint lean his forehead against the device it wasn't much of a surprise.
They stayed there in the lab, sharing body heat and comfort and the next morning, when Tony revealed that he needed to go back to Malibu for a few weeks and was in need of a temporary bodyguard –Happy was suspiciously on a family holiday- well, there were a few shared smiles when Clint was packed and on the plane –ready to fly it himself if the pilot was even a minute late- within the hour.
A/N: So this is my belated Christmas present seeing as I had no internet/computer while on vacation (oh, thank you Disneyland for having me and my completely insane family for a few days...I'm sure the concentration of weird was very...well, something) Anyways, I hope you guys liked this as it was my first (posted) Avengers piece. Merry belated Christmas and happy New Year! Welcome to 2013!