For @copperbadge: Sounds like you could use some cheering up this week. :)
Most days, being a superhero did not pay off. He’d been chased through probably twenty miles of tunnel, managed to drop his last nine arrows down an open manhole (who just leaves manholes open?), and it was only by the grace of his fingertips that he hadn’t gone down after them. He’d forgotten to go grocery shopping, he had a headache from somewhere south of hell, and he was almost hungry enough to share a bowl of Kibbles ‘N’ Bits with Lucky and call it a night.
“Happy freaking birthday to me,” he grumbled as he trudged up the stairs to his apartment. By the time he realized that his keys had apparently gone the way of the arrows, he didn’t even have enough frustration left in him to swear. He dropped his head forward, hitting the door about ten million times harder than he’d meant to, and jerked away with both hands over his forehead.
He definitely didn’t think anyone could blame him for being a tiny bit slow to react when his apartment door opened by itself, but he did manage to have a knife up by the time the interloper leaned around the doorway.
Natasha quirked an eyebrow at him. “Is that a sharpened butter knife?”
Clint glowered at her and slid the blade back into his boot – one of only three, but his count, that hadn’t ended up buried in some guy’s thigh, or washed away in Shit River. “I had to improvise,” he defended. “Why are you in my apartment?”
The other eyebrow quirked up to join the first. “Why are you not in your apartment? Also, you smell like sewage.”
She tipped her head to the left to examine him, and maybe he was projecting or something else that the group home counselor would have said was unhealthy, but he was positive she could see right through the smarting mark on his head and read his mind. Without a word, she stepped back to hold the door open and gestured inside with one hand.
“I’ll get you a beer.”
“Don’t have any,” Clint muttered. He had about half a bottle of Nat’s shitty vodka somewhere, though he’d used the whiskey for antiseptic the week before.
“Good thing Jan knows how to throw a party,” she said. Her smile softened slightly and she gestured in again. “Though Tony thought jumping out and yelling ‘surprise’ was a smart idea for all of twenty-two seconds.”
Clint shuddered just imagining the heart attack he would have had if he’d opened the door and yelling had been the result. He was suddenly grateful that he’d lost his keys – he’d forgotten all about Stark’s threatened birthday party, and he was more than a little surprised that everyone else had apparently remembered. Now that he was paying attention like an ex-assassin and current masked superhero with poor apartment security and lots of enemies should be, he could hear the faint chatter of about half a dozen people and the subtle clinking of forks on plates.
He glanced at the door and then over to the elevator. “Maybe I should just go get some chips or something.”
Natasha shrugged. “If you want. But your meatballs will probably be cold by the time you get back.”
Clint’s stomach emitted a loud snarl, and his mouth instantly flooded with saliva. Nat might have been kinder than most people gave her credit for, but she still laughed at him as he stood rooted to the spot, doing a good impression of a meatball-zombie.
“Please tell me they’re not those bullshit fancy meatless-meatballs or whatever Pepper had A Thing about,” he begged.
“Nope, they’re the cheap frozen meatballs you get out of a bag and dump in the oven.”
He could have kissed her. He definitely did moan, “My favorite.”
His apartment had been cleaned, and it smelled like Pinesol and sweet sweet processed meatballs fresh from the oven. Every lamp he owned had been moved into the living room, which had apparently not been enough, because there was an Iron Man suit standing in the corner and glowing like a six-and-a-half-foot art deco lamp.
“Surprise?” Tony offered, from the kitchen, and Holy Patron Saint of I’m never letting you live this down, was wearing a bright yellow apron liberally splashed with hearts and smiling sunflowers, a matching pair of oven mitts, and a lime green party hat.
“Why are you like this?” Clint blurted out with a laugh.
“Laugh all you want,” Tony said, setting down a tray of freshly cooked previously frozen guaranteed delicious meatballs so he could point at Clint with one bemittened hand. His eyes transferred over Clint’s shoulder and he nodded faintly. “But I’m leaving this here when I go. You can thank Jan.”
“Happy birthday!” Jan said as soon as Clint turned to face her, looking like she was ready to burst. “I really want to hug you, but you have been out doing things that got you a little too close to a sewer. Air hug!” She announced and crossed her arms over her own chest, squeezing hard and twisting side-to-side.
It looked like a really nice hug, and Clint was even sorrier about the damned sewer. He looked between his bathroom door and the piles of warm meatballs, and made a noise that he normally would have blamed on Lucky, but Lucky was on his back in the middle of the living room, shamelessly soaking up the belly rubs from Thor and getting his muzzle petted by Steve.
Natasha pushed past him to the kitchen, piled a dozen meatballs on a purple plate with the Hawkeye symbol stamped in the middle, and nudged him away with one finger. “They should be cooled down by the time you wash your hands. Go!”
Clint eagerly took the plate, leaned over, and lipped one of the meatballs right off the top. He tried to smirk at her, but was too busy sucking air in around the molten mouthful as she pushed him toward his bedroom.
Despite orders to the contrary, Clint had devoured the plate of meatballs before his shower, and he felt less likely to gnaw someone’s arm off by the time he made it back to the living room. A long folding table had been wedged between the couch and the bar, and it looked like Jan had dumped the entire Hawkeye section of Party City on top of it. It was cheesy, and stupid, and perfect. He stood in the doorway for a second to just look it over – they were all pretending that he wasn’t staring at them, and that was what good friends were for when you just got off of a Hell Week leading into Nightmare Night. Lucky was up on his back legs so he could have his front paw on Tony’s lap and was doing his damndest to get at the mountain of meatballs in the center of the table.
“I’m not feeding you,” Tony told the dog seriously, but his hand was wrapped around Lucky’s ribs to rub at his belly. “Seriously, have I ever fed a single thing in your entire life? Why don’t you go to climb in Steve’s lap? He’s a dog person, and I know for sure that he’s fed you at least once tonight.”
“That was just a treat, Tony,” Steve protested.
“He said the word treat,” Tony told Lucky, which just got him a messy kiss across the cheek and Tony leaning comically sideways in the chair to in a vain attempt to avoid it.
“Just push him away,” Clint suggested, stepping into the living room and climbing over the couch to get the open chair.
Tony gave him a frankly scandalized look, but turned back to Lucky to say, “You’re not getting anywhere with this. I am immune to canine flattery.”
“Not all canine flattery,” Natasha muttered, and for some unfathomable reason, Steve blushed and kicked her under the table. Natasha neatly dodged, and held an open beer out for Clint, so cold that it had mist curling out of the neck and droplets running down the sides.
“I love you,” Clint told her very seriously.
“I know,” she answered.
He swallowed about half of it before pressing the cold bottle gently to his forehead and rolling it back and forth. This was the life – why did he not have a million roommates again? He set the bottle aside and looked down to realize that what he’d mistaken for plates were actually large plastic painter’s pallets with little cups of “paint” set around the edges. There was a bright purple cup of paintbrushes sitting opposite his beer, and a stack of napkins with the Avengers Assemble cartoon Hawkeye at his elbow.
Jan leaned forward to explain, but Clint just shoved his finger in the yellow paint and licked it off – spicy mustard, the kind he got at Chinese restaurants and poured over everything.
“Or you could just do that,” Jan finished, laughing. “It was Steve’s idea.”
“This,” Clint said, snagging a meatball off the pile and a paintbrush, “Is the best birthday idea ever.”
Jan nudged Tony, who was still not-really fending off Lucky’s affectionate begging. “And you wanted to bring wine,” she scoffed.
Clint had three painted meatballs stuffed in his mouth when Jan climbed out of her chair and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. She leaned over to press their cheeks together and squeezed hard, rocking him gently side-to-side.
“’appy meathba’ ‘ay,” Clint corrected, but he reached up to squeeze her wrist and leaned back against her.
Maybe he was just imagining it or something, but it seemed like his headache was gone.