DECEMBER 23, SOUTH HILLS MALL, UPPER ST. CLAIR, OUTSIDE PITTSBURGH, PA
"There goes another one into Sears!" Steve shouted. Three feet tall, dressed in a red and green outfit with white fluffy trim, turned up shoes with bells on the toes, the robotic elf darted between rows of Land's End coats, knocking over a display of All Weather Mocs.
"Damn it, look at that. Christmas tree already decorated and pre-wrapped presents? When did the season start before November?" Tony complained, swooping in to follow the rogue elf. "There's six people trapped in a dressing room with … oh, god, those are award-winningly bad Christmas sweaters this thing's ripping through to get to them."
The elves were surprisingly difficult to take down; it had some sort of shielding that took multiple direct blasts. Even Thor had to hit one twice with Mjolnir to knock it out of commission. Someone had been paying attention and was creating Avenger-proof technology.
"Seven more in the Court of Food," Thor called over the comm. "I am blocking the doorway, but they are attempting to flee and exit the building."
"On my way," Steve said, sprinting around the upper walkway, cutting through Markman's Diamonds to catch another one heading past the Orange Julius. "Hawkeye, where are you?"
"Ground floor down by …" Clint's voice broke off in a fit of static "… the Santa Express kiddie train. Got two cornered in Sephora … Who uses all this makeup and stuff? A $380 bottle of lotion?"
"That Givenchy stuff's pretty decent, but Kanedo is much better. Real silk in the mix; the Japanese royal family has used it for years," Tony said. The elf in Sears was pretty much slag metal at the moment, so he scanned for more of the little buggers. "Great. I prefer the Elvis version of 'Blue Christmas' to this muzak shit. There ought to be a law against starting all this ho, ho, ho too early."
"Some people enjoy the holidays, Tony," Clint shot back, entering the store with his bow drawn, an EMP arrow notched. "Just because you don't like Christmas doesn't mean others have to hate it too."
"Hey, I like cookies as much as the next guy, I just hate the commercialization of it. Next thing you know they'll be opening on Thanksgiving Day and we'll get the 'little old lady tramples her grandchild to get a $1 Duck Dynasty DVD' stories," Tony groused. His face display lit up, pinpointing the locations of the remaining robots and humans in the mall. "Beside the ones Thor's having pizza with and Clint's giving makeovers, there's five more down near Macy's on the bottom level. Looks like they're rounding up civilians; I'm heading there now."
"Drive them towards the food court, if you can." Steve threw his shield, knocking the elf through the window into Hot Topic. My Little Pony shirts tumbled off a display rack burying the robot momentarily before it popped back up. "Get them together and have Clint use his EMP pulse."
"Let me get these and I'll help Tony." Clint dodged between the Urban Decay and the Bare Minerals display to avoid the darts the robots were shooting at him. From the corner of his eye, he saw some customers and sales clerks hiding behind the main checkout counter in the center of the store. Rushing forward, he corralled the two elves in the back of the store in the skin care area. "Go," he told the civilians. "Turn left and take the stairs to the exit by Bath and Body."
Once the shoppers and workers were clear, Clint readied his arrow and waited until the two robots were close together before shooting into the Philosophy rounder.
"You will be inoculated," one of them said.
"What the …" Clint began, but stopped as one of the elves toppled a series of displays. Bottles shattered and liquids mixed together, powder rising up in the air just as the pulse went off, rolling through the store, knocking out the power and the lights in a twenty five foot radius.
"Hawkeye? Report!" Steve's voice sounded in Clint's ear, but he was coughing too much to answer, sucking in dust with each attempt to breath. His eyes watered at the strong fragrances, and his nose immediately clogged up. A film coated his glasses and he ripped his whole mask off as he stumbled out of the store into the clearer air of the main concourse.
"Damn, Tony." Clint coughed between his words. "Forget the acid arrow update; just put some of those strong ass perfumes in them. They'll take out an elephant. I'm on my way."
His eyes were burning a little, but he could see the group of teenagers huddled in Wet Seal . He gave them a little salute as he ran past, flashing by the escalators and skidding to a stop in front of the Build-A-Bear Workshop. Inside, robotic elves were throwing stuffed bears dressed as Santa and Ms. Claus, reindeer with ice skates, Frosty the Snowman, and Rainbow Dash into the line of Tony's repulsors.
"Tony." That was all Clint had to say; Tony blasted out of the shop and out of range as Clint set off another pulse. The stuffing machines spun to a halt, but the field set off all the battery operated voices and music, creating a cacophony of sounds. As he came out of the store, Clint saw Tony herding the civilians towards the closest exit. One of them was a bedraggled Santa and his human elvish helpers; Santa was helping three kids who were clinging to his legs, crying for their mother who'd gotten separated from them.
"Don't worry," Clint told them. "Santa will get you outside. Hey, he knows where your house is right? So he can find your mom."
As the group sprinted up the stairs and to the outer doors, Tony landed beside Clint. "You're not doing them any favors with that Santa shtick. He's just a guy in a suit."
"Who kept them safe and protected them." Clint shrugged.
"We've got them cornered," Steve said on the comm. "But they're proving to be … difficult."
"Aye," Thor agreed. "Steve has been hit by some kind of projectile. He appears well, but could use your aid."
"On our way." Tony didn't even bother to warn Clint, just snatched him by the harness designed into Clint's suit and flew up to the second level, avoiding a connecting bridge and bypassing the elevator column. They were outside the wreckage of Hot Topics in a few seconds; windows were busted and merchandise strewn out into the hall. Thor spun Mjolnir in what used to be the front entrance; Steve was in the back corner, barring the door to the service corridor. Between them, eight of the robots were trashing the store, trying to get clear.
"Finally! A store that's not red and green with tinsel. A bit too much black, but … hey, is that an Iron Man hoodie?" Tony said.
"Might want to step back," Clint warned. Two arrows just to be sure, and the robots powered down, falling to the floor in the middle of the mess they'd made.
"Anybody want a burger? Red Robin looks like it escaped most of the destruction. At least they have fewer decorations." Tony popped his head back in after the blast had dissipated.
"You do know it's December 23rd, don't you?" Steve asked. "As in, tomorrow is Christmas Eve?"
"That's not funny," Tony said as JARVIS scanned Steve. "That would mean the Malala fundraiser is tomorrow night and I haven't done any shopping."
"Tony, it's the 23rd,"Clint agreed with Steve. "You've been living out of the workshop since just after Halloween, dude. I can count the number of nights you've slept in the apartment on one hand. Super-secret project, won't even let Pepper in, remember?"
SHIELD agents picked that moment to sweep through; Phil Coulson stopped in the doorway. "Okay, we've got a med team standing by to check Rogers over."
"Captain Rogers appears to have been injected with some sort of foreign electrical bodies. His system is creating anti-bodies at a fast rate to counteract them, but I detect a mechanical signature," JARVIS said.
"Barton, you too. You're eyes are red; let's not take any chances," Coulson ordered.
Clint went willingly for once – his eyesight was important enough not to argue about – and thank God it was just normal irritation from the particulates and the cloying smell. Steve was fine as well; the needle had contained some sort of microscopic robots right out of a bad sci-fi movie, filled with a toxin that the lab guys salivated over examining. In the end though, just like the elves, the EMP pulse had negated the nannites before they could do any harm, giving them an easy way to treat any victims. After checking on Clint and Steve, Tony waved them on their way, insisting he fly back on his own.
DECEMBER 24TH, NEW YORK CITY, 6:08 P.M. – 8:04 P.M.
"You do know we're supposed to leave in an hour, Tony?" Natasha demanded as she walked into the common room.
"Come on, it's Christmas Eve! Don't you want to open one present before we go?" Tony handed her a box wrapped in black and red metallic paper with a big red bow. "Everyone's heading off to parts unknown after we get back, so I wanted to give these out now."
"The sooner you open them, the faster we can get ready," Steve offered as way of an explanation for why he was tearing into his red, white, and blue wrapped box. "And since I know as of yesterday Tony hadn't done any shopping, I'll admit to being curious."
"There is always time for gifts," Thor agreed, tearing into his own red and silver box. Bruce was more tentative, eyeing the green paper with a decidedly cautious look.
"Seriously?" Natasha said. No one asked exactly how she opened hers so fast. Knives were a specialty of hers. She held up a black hoodie with the official SHIELD logo and a t-shirt that had Coulson Lives! on it. Since news had leaked about Phil's single man stand against Loki, he'd become known as the hero of New York and almost as popular as the other Avengers. "Hey, this is warmer than the official sweats," Natasha said as she put on the hoodie.
"Oh, good God, where did you get that?" Phil asked, rolling his eyes as he came into the room. "I can't believe Fury allowed those to be licensed." He deftly caught the package Tony threw at him. "Actually, I need a moment. We've got a problem."
"AH!" Thor shouted excitedly. "The yellow pocket monster! Darcy has shown me this Pikachu's stories. An excellent tale of adventure and battle." He took out his 3X sized Pikachu hoodie and promptly wrapped himself in it, spreading out the matching tee. "I love it."
"Jane and Darcy have presents too," Tony assured him.
"Okay," Bruce turned over his own bright yellow sweatshirt and his black t-shirt. "Explain?"
"The hoodie is a minion," Clint jumped in. "The Big Guy loves the Minions and he's a serious Brony. He'll love the Rainbow Dash shirt."
"The old folks are slowing us down," Tony teased. "Come on, Capsicle and Agent. Open your boxes."
"I get it," he said, laughing at the Iron Patriot hoodie and the small t-shirt with the Human Torch emblazoned on the front. Since they'd retired Iron Patriot and brought back War Machine, Rhodey often joked that no one could wear red, white and blue as good as Steve. And everyone always told Steve he looked like Johnny Storm.
"Oh, I don't have these. Thanks, Tony." Coulson's face lit up as he took out his Captain America hoodie and limited edition Pop! Cap figurine made only after the Battle of New York. Then he returned to his normal, unflappable stare. "But we have an issue. JARVIS, bring up the video and pictures, please."
"But Clint didn't open his present yet," Thor protested. "I would bet on an Iron Man coat if anyone wishes to wager."
"Sorry, I left Clint's upstairs," Tony grinned. "I'll give it to him later."
Thor opened his mouth to say something else, but Natasha nudged him and he closed it again.
"This video went up on YouTube less than an hour after the fight last night," Coulson began. Grainy cell phone footage of the mall showed Clint stumbling out of a destroyed storefront, pausing to cough before he turned and ran. His face was clearly visible in the lighting of the nearby Yankee Candle store. A second video followed of Clint firing arrows into Build-A-Bear, complete with a close up Cecil B. DeMille would be proud of.
"And the pictures have already hit the tabloids. Here's the cover of tomorrow's NY Post," he continued.
HAWKEYE REVEALED! NOT A BODYGUARD AT ALL! Clint, saluting at the camera in the midst of the wreckage, was most of the front page, along with a selection of previous pictures of Clive Burton, Tony's erstwhile bodyguard cover.
"Well, shit." Clint slumped down onto the couch. "So much for anonymity."
"Hey, look on the bright side," Tony suggested. "You can dance with me now without causing a fuss."
"Oh, yeah, that's going to happen. I told you that was a one-time thing." Clint shook his head. "Guess that blows my undercover work."
"SHIELD has a contingency plan in place; we've already released a statement to the media stating you are proud of your place on the team and value your privacy, but you'll need to do some media appearances soon to mitigate the damage." Coulson seemed completely unperturbed by the development. "It was bound to happen, so we're prepared."
"Oprah might come out of retirement for an exclusive," Tony said. "Hey, that's it! We'll give a joint interview about how you saved my ass so many times and look all sexy in your suit. Pep can have a line of Hawkeye merchandise ready to roll. Then Vanity Fair? Or GQ. Men's Health. Yeah, that'll work."
"Oh, God, it will be a mob scene tonight," Bruce said. He was actually planning on going because he felt so strongly about helping girls get an education in Pakistan; he'd spent some time in the area where Malala lived and was shot, so he had a connection to the cause. "The vultures will be circling."
"Screw 'em," Tony declared, a hint of heat in his voice. "On all fronts. The best offense is a good offense. Let's get dressed to the nines and walk that carpet like we own the damn thing. Which I do, since I own the whole fucking hotel."
"Turn the tables on them and use it to get publicity for Malala," Natasha urged. "When they shout questions, answer with her name."
"Easy for you to say," Clint mumbled. "You get to go in with Pepper as Natalie."
"Don't make me kick your ass," she shot back.
"Fine, fine. I'll go put on my penguin suit and play nice." Clint stood. "But if there's an Iron Man hoodie on the bed, I'm wearing it instead."
Tony, of course, could get dress in five minutes and look like a million dollars; Clint, clad only in his boxers and black socks, stood in his closet – well, the closet of Tony's guest room which is where some of Clint's clothes seemed to have ended up now that he was pretending to only halfway live in the penthouse – and looked at the two tuxedos that someone had bought for him. He'd slicked back his hair and put on what Nat's under eye stuff that made the dark shadows disappear because, yeah, he was vain enough to know there'd be pictures. After a good five minutes of indecision, he went with a little eyeliner too. Hey, Tony wore makeup to these things. As he stood and stared, Nix wove around his ankles, sensing his hesitation, and he absently bent down and picked her up.
"I'll send you in my place, huh?" He scratched in just the right spot behind her ears to make her purr loudly.
"Forget those." Tony hung a garment bag on one of the protruding hooks. "I was tired of looking at those poorly tailored rags. This should fit better."
Clint should be used to Tony's habit of buying things and never asking by now, but, truth be told, he was a little miffed that there hadn't been a hoodie waiting when he got upstairs to shower. "A tuxedo? Wait, tailoring takes time and planning. I thought you forgot Christmas, thus the last minute buys yesterday."
"I told JARVIS to take care of it after the whole bomb thing three months ago. Been sitting in my closet for a few weeks." Tony shrugged, not bothered at all. "Come on, quit stalling. Oh, and here. Cufflinks." He pressed a Tiffany box into Clint's hands.
"We've talked about this, Tony," Clint warned, but it was only half-hearted. Tony showed he cared by spending money and Clint really didn't want to go down that rabbit hole right now. They were working just fine the way they were, friends with benefits who were happily ignoring anything else they might be.
"Get dressed." Tony smacked Clint lightly on the ass; Nix hissed. "Before I decide to take you in a manly fashion right here on the floor of the closet."
"Sir, the limo is leaving in fifteen minutes," JARVIS warned.
"Right, let's go run the gauntlet with bed head and me smelling of sex." Clint couldn't help but smile. Tony had no qualms about sex anytime, anyplace. Good thing they were sharing a ride with Steve, Natasha, and Bruce or Tony would put the privacy divider up and remind Clint just how good he was with his mouth.
"It'd distract from the whole Hawkeye revelation, that's for sure." Thankfully, Tony didn't push it and Clint didn't have to summon up his reserves of common sense to say no.
The tux, a handmade Brioni that probably cost far too much, was actually a very dark blue, a notched tab lapel with a silky accent. The slim pants were just shy of indecently tight and yet he could move without binding – probably some secret fabric Tony ordered in case Clint had to kick ass – and, speaking of ass, the pants cupped his snuggly, not to mention showed off the family jewels in the front. The shirt was crisp and clung to his body, never pulling across any of his muscles. And the jacket looked like it hugged his shoulders and waist where the single button tightened it in, and yet there was room for a gun holster and plenty of give to draw his weapon.
"Damn," Tony said when he saw him. "Don't make plans for after. I've got ideas for how to ring in the holiday. Midnight. You and me. I'll give you your present then." Taking the jewelry box from Clint's hands, Tony popped it open and took out the platinum arrow shaped cufflinks and helped Clint put them in.
"I thought this was the present," Clint complained.
"Nope. Super-secret project, remember?" Tony said, tugging on his sleeve and pulling him out of the room. "Sooner we get there, the sooner we get back."
"That's for me?" Clint asked, surprised. Months of work, big tarps hiding it, and Tony's latest was for him?
"Yep. Now scoot."
Natasha noticed the new tuxedo immediately and waggled her eyebrows at him, a sign of her approval. Stomach flipping over and over, Clint was distracted by Tony's parting shot, wondering exactly what was sitting in the workshop and just how over the top it was going to be. Once Tony had bought out Disneyworld so Thor and the Hulk could spend the day with Mickey Mouse; who knew what bug he'd gotten and worked on for so long?
The limo stopped and Natasha patted his knee. "You'll be fine. Think of it as an op."
The flashes were blinding and the shouting started before he put a foot out of the car.
"Hawkeye! Over here!"
"Why the disguise?"
"Clint, are you sleeping with the Black Widow?"
"See, nothing to worry about." Tony leaned forward and spoke into his ear to be heard. "Smile for the cameras."
Clint felt fingers slip something heavy into his pocket; he patted the shape and recognized a key. "Tony?"
"179 horses, dynamic damping controls, purrs like a kitten," he answered with a grin. "With some custom modifications of course. Faster speed, stabilizers, auto quiver with a 60 arrow cage, and, of course, anti-grav thrusters."
"It flies?" Clint turned his head, Tony's excitement infectious and he grinned back. "Good God, Tony, I'm supposed to make small talk for hours now?"
Tony leaned in close and whispered, his breath sending tendrils of desire down Clint's spine. "Then you might not want to think about what I'm going to do to you on that bike to christen it."
Cameras snapped constantly, capturing every second as they went inside.
DECEMBER 25TH, NEW YORK CITY, 1:07 A.M.
Clint's hands slipped on the handlebars, sweaty and slick as he kept himself upright; Tony's hands covered them, mixing their fingers together. Closing his eyes, he rode the waves of pleasure with each of Tony's thrusts. The smooth leather of the seat rubbed along Clint's aching cock as he rocked back to meet Tony who groaned, tensing and coming with a low gut and sigh.
"Not going to mess up the new leather," Clint said. As soon as Tony pulled away, Clint pushed up and turned, taking the two steps to lean against the workbench. Before he could touch himself, Tony crowded against him, kissing him deep and dirty as his hand circled Clint's cock. With only a few lube slick slides, Clint tumbled into his own orgasm.
"Merry Christmas to you too," Tony said with a laugh. "Going to be tough to top sex on a flying bike, huh?"
"You haven't seen my gift yet, bucko," Clint replied. "Wasn't easy, you know. You have everything and you buy things as soon as you think about them. So, I got you something you can't buy."
Tony cocked his head. "Hit me Legolas."
"Security codes rescinded for floor 87. I've seen to the relocation of your belongings, Agent, per your request," JARVIS answered.
Tony stepped away, his back stiff, face gone cold. "You're moving out of the Tower?"
"What? No." Clint punched Tony lightly in the arm. "Idiot. I'm moving in with you."
For a second, something flickered across Tony's face then his mask was back in place. "Wait. You're moving into my penthouse is a present how? You get a killer view and a bathroom to die for. What do I get out of this arrangement besides a cat that hates me?"
"What you need is someone to give you grief and laugh at you when you believe your own bullshit." Clint crossed his arms over his chest and ignored the fact he was messy and naked. That summed up his and Tony's whole relationship.
"Takes a smug bastard to do that," Tony replied. "You think you're up to the task?"
"Try me," Clint challenged.
Tony's lips were about to close on Clint's when JARVIS interrupted. "Sirs, I'm sorry to interrupt, but Agent Coulson is in the elevator and he's very agitated. He instructed me to show you this."
The cover of the National Enquirer projected from the main screen. IRON MAN & HAWKEYE'S SECRET AFFAIR! Year long relationship revealed! Barton's free ride as a 'kept man'! The headlines screamed over a picture of them on the red carpet from earlier.
"Oh shit," they both said at the exact same time.