A Christmas (Eve) Story
"You know I hate you right now for making me work on Christmas Eve," Clint muttered under his breath as he kept his gaze on the exit of the building from his perch on the neighboring rooftop.
"Like you do anything but drink beer, eat pizza, and watch the Christmas Story marathon."
"Damn movie's a classic Coulson. You are making me miss my yearly marathon."
"You know you can purchase the film on dvd."
"That's not the tradition. The tradition is to watch that movie over and over until you are sick of it. Then you repeat the process the next year. You are making me miss this process. Now I'm not sick of the movie and it's going to make the wait until next Christmas all the harder."
"I'm deeply sorry for your loss Clint. It's not like I'm thrilled to be here with you, well metaphorically speaking."
"At least you are nice and warm in the surveillance van. I'm freezing my ass….wait, I have movement. It's her."
"Follow her, see if you can find out who her contact is, and then terminate her."
"Got it boss," Clint replied before taking off across the roof. She was bundled up in dark clothes, but her red hair stood out, even on the dark snowy night, which made her easy to follow. She traveled a few blocks before popping into a toy store.
"Do you think her contact is in the toy store?" Clint asked Phil.
"That makes no sense. How many drug cartels do you know are run out of a children's store?"
"She's coming back out and she's loaded down with bags. Do I continue to follow?"
Clint did as he was told, cursing the mission when he nearly fell off a building by slipping on a piece of ice. Luckily, her destination was only a few blocks away.
Clint stared in disbelief as she dropped off the bags on the doorsteps of an orphanage located in a rundown building. Clint was instantly brought back to when he was 10 and he was in between foster homes. He and Barney had to stay at an orphanage for Christmas and it had been as depressing as the tv movies portrayed. He thought about the huge disappointment of no presents that morning. He had always been wary of the whole Santa thing, but that year really cemented it. And here she was, the infamous Black Widow, a ruthless killer, delivering toys to an orphanage. Clint made a snap decision, one made by his gut, and he didn't think twice about it.
He climbed down the building and jogged to catch up to her as she hurried away from the orphanage. He recognized the minute she realized he was running behind her because she stiffened, but she kept walking. It was only when he got closer did she turn around. He stopped in his tracks and stared her down. She was younger than he thought she would be, 19 maybe 20 tops. Her features were surprisingly soft and youthful, yet there was a sadness there too, a sadness that was all too familiar to Clint. It made him feel even more secure about his decision, and it allowed him to ignore Phil's pestering in his ear.
"I'm guessing you were sent to kill me."
"Yes." Clint saw no point in lying.
"What agency wants me dead this week?" Her voice was smooth and even, no trace of any emotion.
"Does it matter?"
She shrugged. "I guess not. So, what's your plan?"
"My plan was to shoot you from the roof there," he said, tilting his head to the building behind him.
"And what changed your mind?"
"That toy drop." It was the first time he saw something flicker across her face. It was too fast for him to get an accurate read on her, but he knew he must have struck a nerve. "My file says that the Black Widow is a killer with no shred of humanity. Something tells me that somebody so cold-blooded wouldn't leave behind bags of toys for orphans on Christmas Eve."
"Nothing takes away the pain of not having your parents on Christmas, but maybe a few toys will help them forget for a few hours."
"Maybe there's hope for you yet."
She responded with a cold laugh. "There's nothing left for me."
"See, I used to think that too. Then this annoying guy in a suit showed up one day, beat the shit out of me, and then offered me a job. I didn't know it at the time, but that was the day that my life changed. He said he saw something in me worth saving and I see the same in you."
"So are you going to beat me up next?"
"No, I thought I would just skip to the part where I offered you a job."
"What makes you think I want your job?"
"Because if you are anything like I was, you are tired of being a gun for hire. You are exhausted and weary of being alone in the world. You have no center and I am offering stability and a place in the world, a job you can be proud of. You will help protect people."
She eyed him for a long minute, before reaching out her hand. "I'm Natasha."
"Nice to meet you Natasha. I'm Clint."
"What the hell is this?" Natasha asked a smirking Clint, who held up a six pack of beer and a grocery bag.
"I figured you wouldn't come to my place, so I'm bringing the party to you," he replied as he pushed into her apartment without being invited.
"Well, as much as two people can have a party. You know we have to celebrate the birthday of our Lord and savior."
"Isn't that tomorrow?"
"Okay, fine, you caught me. I don't want to spend another Christmas Eve alone. I thought it would be fun to introduce you to the joy that is A Christmas Story. Ever seen it?"
Natasha shook her head.
"I figured as much. I brought some beer and snacks. We can order a pizza in a little while. The first showing of the movie starts in 5 minutes."
"Oh, did I not tell you? It's a marathon."
Natasha wanted to shove Clint out the door, and she knew that if she really wanted to, she could. They had worked well the last year and somehow they had fallen in sync with each other. He knew when to push her and when to back off. She looked at him, messing with her tv, and she felt something tug in her. He chose to spend the holiday with her and invite her in on his tradition. He may have come in here all smiles and lightheartedness, but she was starting to get to know Clint and something told her that letting her in like this was a huge step for him.
"This storm is crazy," Clint said as he stared out his apartment window.
"What I find crazier is that you don't have any pan big enough to boil potatoes."
"What would I use it for? Do I seem like the type of guy who boils potatoes on a regular basis?"
"You are such a heathen."
"Hey, I said we could order pizza like we did last year. You are the one that wanted to do this whole traditional feast."
"I know," Natasha let out in a frustrated voice before slumping a little. "I know," she added much more quietly. "I just wanted to try it. I never had anything recognizably stable in my life and… and it's the two year anniversary of you bringing me in. I thought we could celebrate."
"You remember?" Clint couldn't keep the surprise out of his voice.
"Of course I remember, it's kind of a hard date to forget. That was a huge moment in my life and…I don't know. I wanted to commemorate it somehow."
"Hold that thought for a sec," Clint said before darting into his bedroom. He came out a minute later with a slim, neatly wrapped present. He tossed it to Natasha, who caught it easily. She looked down at the package with mild amusement and shock. It was no secret that she didn't have any spectacular childhood, so this was her first official present. She unwrapped it neatly, pulling up the tape carefully as to not tear the wrapping. She pulled off the paper to reveal a slim cd case, with Clint's jagged scrawl on the cover. "Nat's Jams."
"It's a mix of songs that you missed out on. There's a song for each year of your life. I was highly selective of what I thought were the best songs."
Natasha felt touched, an emotion she was unfamiliar with. He took his music very seriously, and a project like this, he would have dedicated hours to it. She knew all words would fall short of her feeling of gratitude, so she kept it simple. "Thank you."
"God, this sucks," Clint moaned, falling back onto the couch in their safe house.
"It could be worse."
"How could it be worse? We are snowed in, on Christmas Eve, in a country that doesn't have American stations."
"This is about A Christmas Story, isn't it?"
"Is it that much to ask to have one guaranteed day off a year? I mean couldn't we get all of the bad guys of the world to sign a contract or something that says that they will do no evil around the holiday season. This is the season that is supposed to be about peace on Earth and good will towards men."
Natasha just stared at him with one eyebrow raised.
"Yes, it's about A Christmas Story." Clint threw up his arms in exasperation.
Natasha laughed as she took a seat next to him, tucking her feet under her. "What is with you and that movie?"
Clint's face hardened for a split second before he unclenched his jaw. Natasha instantly regretted the question. "You know what, never mind. I got you a present. Do you want to see it?" She knew she was rambling, but Clint's past was always a sore subject and it was best to wait for him to open up about it, than to pester him about the details. She learned that the hard way.
She moved to get up, but he grabbed her hand to pull her down next to him. He didn't let go of her hand, instead pulling it into both of his hands. They both stared at her hand in his as he traced the contours of it.
"It was my mom's favorite movie. Not just her favorite Christmas movie, no it was her favorite movie of all time. She loved it so much that the she scraped together spare change to buy the vhs. It was a huge deal. I mean this was before the annual marathon happened. Anyways, one Christmas Eve, she had been out Christmas shopping and my dad came home spittin' mad about something. Normally he left Barney and I alone, but not that night. He started to smack Barney around and it scared me so I dived in, trying to yank my dad off Barney. I thought he was going to kill him. Needless to say, that was a mistake."
Clint paused, as if he needed to collect himself, but his ministrations with her hand never seized.
"My dad took off his belt, I can still hear that swoosh of leather falling through the loops. He beat me pretty bad with that belt, but the worse was my arms. They were completely swollen and red. My dad ran out of steam, like always, and passed out. My mom came home, found me and Barney in the bathroom, hiding. The horror on her face. Like I said, dad usually never touched us. But, she didn't fall apart then. She instantly got to work soothing us and tending to our wounds. She patched us up and brought us out to the couch, where she piled tons of blankets. Then she grabbed a pie she made for Christmas dinner and turned on A Christmas Story. We watched that movie, laughing, eating pie from the dish and it is the happiest memory of my childhood, which I know seems strange, but I felt safe with her there. And we just all laughed and laughed at the movie."
"How old were you?" Natasha asked, her voice as soft as she could make it.
"I was 8, Barney was 10. It was only a couple months later when they both died in the car accident. So, every year I try to watch A Christmas Story, no matter where I am, on Christmas Eve as a kind of memorial for my mom."
Natasha didn't have any profound words of wisdom for him and she knew anything she said would sound empty. His life had been shitty, same as hers, and there wasn't anything to say about it. The most they could do was be there for each other, and listen when the other was ready to open up. So, she let the heaviness surround them, but not let it weigh them down.
After a few moments, Clint snapped out of it, and raised her hand to kiss her palm. It sent a tingle through her, and his eyes were full of emotion. She knew they were dancing around the elephant in the room, but they both weren't ready, not yet. "Do I remember you saying something about present?"
Natasha jumped off the couch and went over to her pack. She dug to the bottom, where a red-wrapped present had been safely tucked between layers of clothes.
"I thought we might be stuck here on Christmas Eve, so I brought the present with me, just in case," she told him as she handed it over to him.
"That was smart. Yours is still back in the States."
She waved him off before he started to tear the wrapping off, making a mess. It revealed a thin white box. He lifted the lid and tossed it aside. He stared down at the present, eerily silent.
Natasha started to feel nervous, wondering if the gift had been presumptuous. "I know it's cheesy and you may not like it. I just noticed you don't have any decorations at your place and thought this would be nice. You don't have to put it up."
Clint looked up at her, and she was taken aback to see unshed tears in his eyes. "This is great Nat. I've never gotten a present like this."
He pulled out the picture frame made of clear glass, with the word "family" etched on the side. In the frame was a picture of Phil, Clint, and her that they had taken a couple of months ago, on a whim. They were all in Paris for a mission. They had some time off, so they did the whole tourist thing. Sometime that day they had asked a stranger to take their picture along the Seine, and it had turned out to be one that Natasha herself treasured.
"Thank you so much."
Natasha smiled and rejoined him on the couch. "I'm glad you like it."
"Are you kidding me? I love it," he laughed, pulling her into his side for a sideways hug. She curled into his side and they both stared down at their smiling faces in the picture. It was hard to believe that in three short years, they had gone from enemies to family.
"What do you think? Pepperoni or Hawaiian?"
"Ugh, you know how I feel about pineapple on pizza," Clint protested. "It's pizza. It's supposed to be unhealthy. Fruit doesn't belong on a pizza."
"You do know that tomatoes are a fruit."
"I refuse to believe that crap. The food pyramid I was raised on had tomatoes in the vegetable category."
They froze mid-conversation at a knock at the door.
"Are you expecting anybody," Natasha asked Clint.
"Like who? Santa Clause? I hate to break it to you Nat…"
Natasha rolled her eyes at him as she got up to answer the door. She was surprised to see a bedraggled Phil on the other side. "All flights are grounded due to bad weather. I figured you guys would be here."
"Is that Phil?" Clint called from the couch. "Ask him if he brought beer, because I'm not convinced we bought enough."
Phil raised his eyebrows at her and they both laughed. She moved aside to let him in, noticing that he carried a couple bags of groceries with him. He set them down in the kitchen and started unpacking the food. "I know that Clint is in love with his pizza tradition, but I figured you guys wouldn't say no to a home cooked meal."
"No complaints from me. Anything I can help with?" Natasha offered.
Phil gave her a sideways look.
"What? I'm not that bad."
"You mess up macaroni and cheese."
"I swear the directions on the box are wrong."
"No, you really are that bad," Phil responded.
"Fine, I'll be in the front room. See if I ever offer to help in the future."
"Thank God," Phil mumbled.
Natasha returned to the couch, pulling a throw blanket over her feet. "What part is it?"
"They just got finished with the parade, so they'll be going to the mall soon."
"Ugh, I hate the Santa part, he creeps me out."
"He scared me as a kid," Clint agreed. "I've never really gotten over that."
Natasha got so drawn into the movie, that she barely noticed Phil walk by them on his way to the bathroom. It was only after he came out and cleared his throat that she looked up. He stood there, a pink razor held in the air. He didn't say anything and his face was unreadable.
Natasha and Clint glanced at each other. She shrugged, not seeing any way out of it. He seemed to agree.
"So, is this a good time to tell you that Natasha and I have been romantically involved?"
"How long?" Phil asked evenly.
"Six months," Natasha answered.
Phil studied them for a moment or two. He let out an exasperated sigh. "I hate doing paperwork this time of year, so you two are going to come to me in three weeks to tell me that you have been involved for four months. You're going to tell me that you waited so long because you wanted to make sure that it was serious before you decided to fill out the paperwork."
"That seems reasonable," Clint said slowly.
"We can do that," Natasha agreed.
Phil's face relaxed and small smile graced his features. Natasha could tell he was happy. "Okay, now, do you guys want garlic in your mashed potatoes or not?"
-I hate this.
-At least you have Phil. I've got two junior agents who refuse to call me anything but Ms. Romanoff.
-I guess you have a point. Phil refuses to get drunk with me, though.
-I've told you, you need to mix him fruity drinks that mask the alcohol. He's a sucker for any drink that would normally have an umbrella in it.
-That would require me learning how to make them, and I fear my street cred would be ruined.
-Didn't that happen already when you cried during Up?
-Hey! I thought we weren't going to talk about that again.
-Sorry. So, what part of the movie is it now?
-He's about to get his mouth washed out with soap.
-That's one of my favorite parts! Mongolia sucks.
-When you get back, we'll watch it together. We will have our own private Christmas Eve next week.
-That sounds nice. I love you.
-Love you too. Be safe.
"Hey Clint, the marathon is about to start in a few minutes. Do you want to come out and watch it with me?" Natasha asked the huddled figure lying in the dark in bed.
"I'm not in the mood right now. Maybe later."
Natasha wanted to pester him more, but she knew that that didn't always work with him. It had been hard for him to recover from the Battle of New York and, more importantly, the death of Phil. She had tried helping him by talking to him, letting him be, and forcing him to take time off. She had been learning it was a process. Some days were good. Some days, like today, were bad. She couldn't fix him, but she could be there every step along the way. She ordered a pizza, hoping the smell would entice Clint, before settling in on the couch and turning to the marathon. As the familiar music and title sequence came on, she couldn't help be calmed by it. Somewhere along the way, this movie no longer was just about Clint's tradition, it was theirs, and she found comfort in that.
About halfway through the movie, Clint came shuffling out. He lay down on the couch, putting his head in her lap. She pulled a blanket from the back of the couch and threw it over him. She ran her hands through his hair tenderly, conveying to him that she was here for him.
They watched in silence for about an hour, before Clint spoke up, his voice hoarse for disuse. "I'm tired of people leaving me."
Her heart throbbed at the pain in his voice. He sounded like a child. She wanted so badly to tell him that she would never leave him, but she imagined Phil would have said the same thing and look what happened there. "I know. I'm tired of it too."
"That's why I want a family."
"We are family, Clint."
"No…" Clint paused. "I want us to have kids."
There was a heavy silence before Natasha could bring herself to speak. "What?"
Clint rolled over so he was looking up at her from her lap. "I want a family. All of this has made me realize that all we have is each other and this job. I want something more and I know Phil wanted that for us. He warned me once that the years would catch up to me and that all I would have to show for my life was a file with successful completed missions. I don't want that."
"Are you saying you want to quit?"
"I don't know. It's not like we need the money anymore. We could join The Avengers full time. This all has just made me realize that life's too short. What do you think?"
"Honestly? I've never thought about it before."
She noticed Clint deflate a little and she quickly continued, putting her hand on his head. "That's just because I never let myself. I was trained to think my sole purpose in life was to serve the Red Room. Then, I was just trying to survive. When you came along, I never imagined myself having somebody in my life that I cared about, someone I could call family. It's always seemed like I was tempting fate by being happy. But, maybe, there is something more out there for us. It's something we should talk about."
"Yeah?" Clint asked hopefully.
"I swear to Thor, I am opening presents with or without you guys in two minutes," Darcy exclaimed.
"Why do you swear to me?"
"Because Captain Tightpants over there, told me to stop taking the Lord's name in vain, so I switched gods."
"I merely asked that if you kept swearing at the rate you were going, doesn't it take a little of the force out of the words?" Steve defended himself.
"Can you children pipe down? Some people are trying to watch a holiday masterpiece," Tony yelled from his place on the couch.
"Oh come on, what you miss this time, you can catch again in two hours," Pepper called out.
"Fine, we can open one present, but it has to be in here and the tv doesn't go off. I will compromise by turning the volume down."
Natasha and Clint shared a glance over Tony's firm voice. Of all things to bond with Tony on, it was A Christmas Story. Apparently his love for the move rivaled their own. But it was nice, because this was their first Christmas adding new people to their traditions. Clint had been worried that he would hate spending it with the others. They had gotten off the elevator to find Tony already parked in front of the tv and the two of them didn't hesitate depositing their presents before joining him on the couch. That's how they had spent most of the evening, sharing their favorite moments, and making fun of everybody else.
Everybody filed in and Pepper took on the role of handing out presents. She picked out one for each. When she handed Natasha her present, he noticed it was the one from him. Similarly he got the one from her. They both agreed to open their presents with everybody else; if they were going to do this whole being a part of a team thing, then they were going to dive in head first.
"Okay, one at a time. Let's just go around the room. Tony do you want to start?" Pepper asked.
Tony didn't waste another moment before shredding the wrapping paper, revealing a thick volume with a scientific title that Clint couldn't decipher.
"I thought you and I could discuss it once you are finished. It goes along with that theory about quantum entanglement what we were talking about a few weeks ago," Bruce offered quietly.
"Nothing says friendship like textbooks about advanced scientific theory." Tony's genuine smile, though, counteracted his sarcastic words.
"Natasha, you're next."
Natasha took her time unwrapping the present, just like all those years ago. She was meticulous in not tearing the paper, much to the annoyance of Tony. She opened the small box and her face lit up with a genuine smile. Clint smiled back, knowing he did well. She held up the necklace for everybody to see, the small golden arrow glimmering from the Christmas lights.
"Thank you," Natasha whispered to him.
"That's enough with the googly eyes," Tony commented. "You're turn, Katniss."
Clint ignored Tony's latest nickname for him and turned his attention to the present on his lap. He tore off the paper, finding a small box. He lifted the lid and unfolded the tissue paper. His heart stopped. Nestled in the paper was a green, little onesie emblazoned with the words "Daddy's Little Avenger". He glanced up at Natasha, whose eyes were expectant. She read the question on his face so easily.
"I went to the doctor today. She confirmed it. Turns out I didn't have food poisoning."
"What's in there?" Steve asked.
It was only then that Clint remembered that he was in a room full of people. Not just any people, but his new family. He quickly leaned forward to give Natasha a quick kiss, whispering hurriedly, "I'm so happy." He then pulled the fabric out and showed it to the crowd. There was brief pause, before the room erupted in happy congratulations. He and Natasha were swallowed up in hugs and congratulations.
Phil came over, grasping Clint into a tight hug. When he pulled back, he never saw the man happier. "You made the right call."
Clint was transported seven years ago when Phil had chewed into him about his decision, and questioning whether he made the right choice in saving Natasha. Thinking of all the time that passed and everything that one decision led to, he couldn't help but agree. "Yeah, yeah I did."
A/N: I hope you like this! I love the chance of writing fluff, I just hope it wasn't too fluffy there, especially towards the end. I know it might be considered a little OOC, but I really liked the idea of showing this progression, and Christmas is the epitome of fluffy, happiness. As you can tell, I love A Christmas Story and it's a holiday tradition in my family. I'm sorry if you either don't like it (I know the movie can be polarizing) or haven't seen it. I thought it was just a fun thread to tie the story together. I really hope you enjoyed this. It might be a little rough around the edges, all mistakes are mine.