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i do not own any of the characters contained within this fic. they are the sole property of Marvel and whoever the hell else owns them. i'm only playing with them to amuse myself. no money is being made from the writing of this story. only comments, if those happen.

if not, i get squat. no. seriously. nothing. nada. zip. zilch.
 
Winter Wonderland
Chapter 1 of 1
Expand Author's Story Note
Expand Author's Chapter Note
 

"Are you sure you've got it?" Phil asked. Stark shot him an exasperated look and carefully set aside the screwdriver he'd been holding. Phil held back the smirk that wanted to blossom at the sight of the man's frustration. Ever since the trip to Aspen, the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist had been watching both Phil and Clint with a wary eye. Phil found it amusing and did whatever he could to keep Stark on his toes. This was just another in a series of conversations over the past few weeks that had seen Iron Man looking pretty shaky.

"Of course I've got it," Tony snorted indignantly. He crossed his arms over his chest in an effort to hide his disquiet. It was painfully obvious to anyone who cared to look that Stark was not quite as comfortable around Phil as he once had been. "I've got cars waiting. One for you and your snow prince. One for me. And one for everyone else."

Phil mentally rolled his eyes and declined dignifying the man's ego with a response. "Thank you."

Those two little words seemed to loosen something up inside Stark because he reached for the screwdriver again, pointed it at Phil negligently, and gave him a look meant to be unconcerned. "Its your job to get Barton there. I've done my duty. Don't blame me if your secret plans don't pan out. From this point on, its all on you."

"I am well aware of that, Stark," Phil replied mildly. "I think I can handle Clint from here on out. Please don't be late because this is important. And, again, thank you for your help. I wouldn't have been able to do this without you."

Phil caught Tony's smile as the man turned away from him. Mission accomplished. Stark's ego soothed. Phil pivoted on one heel and made his way out of the man's workshop, leaving him to build whatever he was currently building. He'd already reminded Pepper and Captain Rogers "Seriously, Agent Coulson. Call me Steve." that everyone was expected to attend and the gathering started promptly at eight this evening. He had no doubts that Tony would be there on time. He'd told both of them they had permission to use his name and threaten bodily violence if Stark tried to get out of it.

Now his only concern was getting Clint to go along with his sudden plans for the evening. They weren't really all that sudden. In fact, Phil had been considering them ever since the last minute vacation to Aspen earlier in the month and Clint's talk about family. Or rather, the strangeness of suddenly having one again after so long living without anyone in his life. Phil had decided that he wanted to be sure Clint was never without a family again. And because the rest of the team was involved, he'd let them in on his plans.

Well... Most of his plans, at any rate.

Phil knew quite a bit about Clint, had learned it all over the course of the years he'd worked with the other man. Much of his information had come from the files S.H.I.E.L.D. had put together on their asset. That had been anything and everything public, plus a few things that weren't. But it really only scratched the surface of a very complicated man. And to anyone who looked only at that file, Clint Barton would come across as a callous, loud-mouthed, brash man who had serious issues with authority and a rampant death wish. Phil was one of the few who knew the whole story, who knew the things that could never be found in that file. That would never make it into the file.

Clint was loyal to a fault. But because he didn't trust easily, it took a long time to earn that trust. It was that loyalty that had seen Natasha joining S.H.I.E.L.D. when, by rights, she should have been dead. Phil was sure that the loyalty sprang from the fact that Clint recognized a kindred spirit in the Black Widow. It wasn't something that most people would notice, but it was there. Hidden beneath their hardened surfaces. She was his best friend, had earned his trust and his loyalty over the years. Just as Phil had. Clint was passionate about all aspects of his life, even if he never showed it. It was hard to share that passion when you were afraid that the people you were surrounded with would just up and leave at any given moment.

The file didn't mention that Clint was smarter than he let on, that he had a wicked sense of humor, or that he was more than capable of running an op. He chose not to because that was a responsibility he didn't want to have. It hit him hard when people died on the missions to which he was assigned. Phil was sure that being in charge of a mission that went wrong would do horrible things to Clint's mental balance. The file didn't list any of the hundreds of tiny things that Phil had learned just by watching Clint. By talking to him. By simply knowing him.

It was all of those little things that weren't in the file that had made Phil fall for Clint. Learning each one was like opening a gift on a day that wasn't actually a special occasion. He still felt honored and special because Clint had chosen to share them with him. Tonight, assuming all went according to plan, Phil was going to show Clint just how much he appreciated the trust that had been given him.

He found Clint on the range Tony had put in specifically for the archer's use. He could tell by the set of Clint's shoulders that the man was lost in whatever place he went to when he shot. So he stood by the door and simply watched. Watched as Clint drew an arrow and nocked it. Watched as he drew the bow string back. Watched as Clint took aim. Watched as he released and the arrow flew straight and true. It was mesmerizing to watch Clint work, to see his body move without conscious thought and do the things that it was trained to do. Phil could watch Clint all day.

But they didn't have all day today. So when Clint's quiver was emptied, Phil politely cleared his throat. The faint noise he made startled the other man and brought him out of his head, saw Clint turned toward him with a sheepish grin. "How long have you been standing there?" he asked before stalking down to the end of the gallery to collect his arrows.

"Long enough to admire your form," Phil replied. Clint's shoulders shook silently with the double meaning of his words but didn't halt him in his progress. Phil stared as he tugged each arrow free of the target, a human shaped firing dummy made of some soft material that made it easy to remove any projectiles sticking out of it. "Put it all away and go shower. I'm taking you out tonight."

Those words brought Clint's gaze his way, his eyes wide with confusion. "You don't want to spend the night in watching television?"

Phil smiled and shook his head. "No. We spend most of our nights in. I thought I'd take you out on a proper date. That's okay, isn't it?"

Clint nodded, hints of a timid smile teasing at the corners of his lips. "Yeah. I'm just... surprised. I know how infrequently you have time to yourself. I figured you'd want to just curl up on the couch and watch bad reality television. Or even one of those cheesy Christmas movies on Lifetime. That one with Jennifer Grey is on tonight and I know how much you like her."

"I've got the DVR set to record it. We can curl up in bed and watch it later tonight, after we get in. Or we can watch it tomorrow. Or any other day the rest of this week. I've taken some vacation time," Phil told the other man. Before Clint could ask him if he was feeling okay, he pushed on. "I also told the Director that he's not to disturb me. So, barring any sudden need to save the planet popping up, I'm all yours for the next week."

"Really? I get to have you for Christmas?"

Phil let the smile spread. "Yes, Clint. You get to have me for Christmas."

"Awesome!" Clint exclaimed and rushed through the routine of putting his bow away. He still took great care with it. He just didn't take as long as he usually did. When he was done, he turned back to Phil. "What do I need to put on? What are we going to do?"

"We're going casual. Jeans and a sweater are fine." He couldn't stop the chuckle that rumbled up his throat. It was unusual to see Clint so happy and excited. Of course, it was unusual for them to actually get to spend Christmas together. So Phil supposed he could understand Clint's unchecked enthusiasm. That was good. He only hoped that the other man's attitude would carry through for the rest of the night.

"Okay. Let me get cleaned up and get dressed. I'll be ready to go in half an hour," Clint promised.

Phil made a point of looking at his watch, as if he wasn't already completely aware of the time. It took effort to keep a bland expression in the face of Clint's joy, but he did it. "Half an hour will be just fine. I'll be waiting for you in the living room."

"I'll be there," Clint assured him. He finished putting his gear away and made his way to where Phil stood. The kiss he pressed to Phil's lips was full of heated promise. It took everything Phil had to stop himself from grabbing Clint and just dragging him back to their bed for a night of nothing but sex and sweat. Plans had been set in motion, though, and he had no choice but to let Clint pull away so that the night could play out as it would. Clint had barely pulled away when he tipped his head up toward the ceiling. "Hey, Jarvis! Make sure that Tony gets a copy of that. Make sure he knows its a Christmas present from me!"

"Very good, Agent Barton," Jarvis intoned. Phil was sure he heard amusement in the AI's voice and he had to wait until Clint was gone before he gave in to his urge to chuckle. Some people just liked to live on the edge.

Phil followed after Clint, pausing at the door to flick the wall switch into the off position. The lights went black and the door closed behind him with a soft click. Then Phil made his way to the rooms he shared with Clint so that he could get himself ready for the coming evening.

~*~

Clint was surprised by the limo waiting for them in the parking garage. Not so much that he remained silent, but Phil knew him well enough to know that he was trying to work out what was going to happen. Phil hadn't told him anything beyond it was meant to be a surprise. So Clint's sharp gaze was trying to find patterns and little tell-tale signs in the passing street signs and buildings. Phil was sure he'd figure it out eventually. In a bit. Once the driver finished following Phil's directions about driving around in circles aimlessly for a bit.

Phil watched Clint, took in how he made note of where they went. Occasionally, Clint's eyes would slide back toward Phil and rest on him for just a few seconds. He didn't know if Clint felt that Phil would give him answers if he stared long enough or if he was simply trying to read Phil's face and mind. After a few moments, Clint would turn his attention back to the road and the silent guessing game would start all over again.

Eventually, though, the car began to move along the streets on a much more direct path. Naturally Clint noticed. Phil could practically see the gears turning in his head. When the car turned on to Fifth Avenue, Clint gave him a very odd look. "Tell me you're not taking me to Central Park. This is completely not the time of year for a carriage ride. And its so cheesy."

"No, Clint. We're not going to Central Park," Phil replied. Of course he'd thought about that. He'd considered renting one of those horse-drawn carriages and taking Clint for a ride. Considered it seriously for about all of five seconds. Then he'd shot the idea down because it was a complete one-eighty from what he wanted to accomplish. So he'd settled on another location and then he'd 'convinced' Stark to use his very considerable wealth and prestige to make a few things happen for him. He hadn't been disappointed. Stark had come through for him. And now, unbeknownst to the man, Phil owed him one.

"Good. Because that shit is so cheesy," Clint told him again. Which let Phil know that, secretly, Clint wanted to do that cheesy shit. He made a mental note to schedule it later and fell silent, watching as the other man's brain spun and whirled, as he grasped at the ends of leads and began knotting them together.

Clint was still trying to tie things up in a neat package when the limo turned off of Fifth and onto Forty Ninth. His eyebrows furrowed as he considered the new addition to the information he'd already gathered and he turned to stare at Phil. "Okay. I am completely lost. I haven't got a clue where we're going. Beyond Rockefeller Plaza, that is."

Only moments after he said it, the car came to a smooth halt before their destination. Phil motioned with one hand toward the window on Clint's right. The other man followed the gesture. He stared for about ten seconds. Then his eyes got wider than saucers. And his mouth actually gaped open in shock. "The Rink? You're taking me to the Rink?" Clint asked, the expression on his face one Phil hadn't seen before. If he had to put a name on it, he'd pick panic. Which was ludicrous because Clint was always calm and collected. "Why are we here?"

Phil chuffed a laugh and reached across him to push the door open. The driver hadn't left the car on Phil's instructions, something for which he was extremely thankful. This evening was going to be stressful enough without having random strangers opening doors for the two of them. A blast of chilly air filled the warmth of the car as the door swung wide. Phil put his hand out and took hold of Clint's. "Come on. You won't know why until you get out and see for yourself."

Clint gave him a look that reminded Phil of some wild thing backed into a corner, but he let Phil draw him out of the back of the limousine. Clint pushed the door shut behind him and followed after Phil along the sidewalk toward the stairs that would take them down to the rink. Phil could feel hesitation in every one of Clint's steps.

Joyous, festive Christmas music played over a public address system. The trees were bare, branches reaching silently up toward the sky. A broad expanse of black velvet stretched overhead, sewn with tiny bits of diamonds. They twinkled valiantly against the bright lights of the city. At the top of the stairs, Clint paused long enough to take in the scene before him. Though it was some distance away, the plaza's tall Christmas tree loomed over them. It shone with hundreds of lights, some of them reflecting off the ornaments while others cut a thin path through the shadows. It was centered above the golden statue of Prometheus, lending its gentle glow to the rink while standing guard over the patch of ice and its visitors. More lights ringed the rink, shining off the ice and the glass of the windows behind them.

Phil was pleased to see that everything was set up to his specifications. There were tables on the far side of the rink, to one side of the statue, in the empty place between the railing and the doors leading into the concourse. Several people stood behind them, each of them clothed in bright white jackets that chefs were known to wear. The other side had empty benches for people to sit on when not skating. There were a few people sitting there, relaxing and enjoying the view. A couple of more adventurous people were out on the ice, skating in lazy circles.

"Phil," Clint said quietly. The man's voice pulled Phil from his thoughts and he turned to stare directly at Clint. The look on his face didn't bode well, sending a touch of doubt sliding down Phil's spine. "I don't know what's going on here but maybe we should just--"

"There they are!" Stark's voice exclaimed loudly, drawing every single eye their way. Clint froze the way only he could, his eyes barely moving as he took in the expectant faces turned toward them. Natasha and Pepper were on the ice, still as statues though both had been filled with fluid grace only moments before. Dr. Banner and Thor stood by one of the tables, obviously in the middle of sampling whatever food was spread out on it. Tony and Captain Rogers were side by side, likely in the middle of some kind of debate if the look on Steve's face was anything to go by. Happy was on one of the benches by himself, bent over and working his feet into skates. "Its about damn time. Now let's get this party started. I don't want to spend all night out here."

"Stop being such a drama queen, Tony," Pepper called from the ice. Her voice was an even mix of pleasure and annoyance "You enjoy doing this and you know it."

"I'm still traumatized from seeing them kiss in Aspen a couple weeks ago," Tony replied, though there was little actual snark in his voice. Hmm. Curious. Phil was willing to bet Stark was less traumatized than he'd led them to believe.

Pepper shot Stark a look that held a warning in it, then she turned a broad, brilliant, genuine smile toward Phil and Clint. "Don't mind him. He's just crabby because he didn't come up with this idea on his own. Come on, you two. Get down here and join the party."

"Party?" Clint asked softly.

"Yes. For you. Because I want you to understand just what you mean to me," Phil replied. He nudged Clint with his elbow, pushing him toward the stairs so that they could join the others. "Everyone else is here because they're family and they mean a lot to you. I want them to understand how much you mean to me."

He watched as Clint's gaze slid around the rink, as it landed on and considered each and every person there. He watched when that same sharp-eyed stare came to rest on him, intent and considering. For a few seconds, the uncertainty remained. Then it faded as Clint's usual brash swagger reasserted itself. He'd learned a long time ago that Clint's swagger was a defense mechanism that hid the man's insecurities from the world. Phil wasn't sure what was going on, but he gave Clint a look that said he would find out before the night was over. Clint's cocky grin made an appearance, just as bright and blinding as Pepper's smile from earlier. Phil wasn't sure if that was meant to throw him off or if it was just typical Clint.

They made short work of the stairs before making their way toward the other side of the rink where those who weren't on the ice were all gathered. Upon approaching the entry to the rink, he saw Clint pause for just a moment, then the man's shoulders squared and he stepped out onto the ice. There was a moment where it looked as if Clint was going to go on his ass, but it passed by almost too quick for anyone to really notice. Clint's steps were sure and steady as he crossed the expanse of the rink toward the opening on the other side that would allow him to exit out into the standing area. Phil followed him, matching his pace to Clint's so that his feet didn't slide on the slick surface.

There was a table set up on this side that held mugs and pitchers of beverages. There was egg nog that, based on the smell rolling up out of a lone cup at the back, was laced with rum. Stark's doing, no doubt. A couple of electric ewers had hot chocolate and spiced apple cider. Phil watched as Clint fetched himself a steaming cup of hot chocolate and sprinkled some mini marshmallows into the mug. Then he moved to settle down on a bench. He lifted the mug and blew across the top before he took a sip. "Clint?" Phil asked, retrieving a pair of skates from an attendant in the corner. "Aren't you going to come out and skate?"

"I'm just going to sit here for a little bit," Clint replied casually. There was a tenseness to his shoulders that belied the casualness of his voice. Phil sighed and picked up skates in Clint's size, then moved to settle on the bench beside him. He watched as the man glanced briefly at the skates he held, then they shifted to watch as Natasha and Pepper flowed effortlessly and fluidly across the ice. Something was most definitely going on.

"You know I got Stark to put up the money for all of this," Phil began. He knew just how much Clint liked to annoy Tony Stark. If he passed up on the chance to do so here, Phil was going to start worrying. "He's mentioned to me that he doesn't ice skate. I'm sure it would disturb him to no end if everyone but him got out on the ice and enjoyed the skating. Happy is getting ready to join Pepper and Natasha."

"I'm good, Phil," Clint replied, voice vague and distant.

Phil blinked at that. He'd never known Clint to pass on an opportunity to show up Tony Stark. He held on to the sigh that came bubbling up. He was reminded of the trip to Aspen and how Clint had turned introspective at the mention of Christmas traditions. He'd been out of the room when Clint had slipped away, so it had taken him a few moments to realize that the other man was outside. And he'd been worried. Just a little bit.

He was well aware of the opinion that most employees of S.H.I.E.L.D. had where he was concerned. Phil Coulson was little more than a corporate machine, a robot without thoughts or feelings of his own. Or, if he did concern himself with anything, it was for the job. For the mission. Most of them hadn't been around the business as long as he had, hadn't lost as many friends and co-workers as he had. He cared. He had feelings. He just kept them to himself because he'd learned early on in his career that such displays did no one any good. He'd learned that the best defense was that mask of blandness he wore each and every day. That mask kept everything locked away inside. Kept him from breaking when everything was going to hell and he needed to remain strong.

For a long time, he'd been the emotionless automaton to which he'd been likened. Nothing had touched him. Not a damn thing. Not until a cocky, smart-assed, snarky sniper with a penchant for one of the most archaic weapons on the planet had come into his life. Clint had showed him that there was a time and a place for his bland side. And there was time and a place for his emotions. Barton had managed to pull them from him time and again. Clint had done it without an ulterior motive, without thought of personal gain. Hell, for a while, he hadn't even known he'd done it.

Clint was one of the most amazing people Phil had ever met. He gave of himself fully and never asked for anything in return. He loved Phil, did it unconditionally and had done so for years. He'd never pushed Phil for anything more than friendship, had hardly believed it when Phil had let him know he wanted more. And it had never been an issue between them at work. Of course they'd let Fury know what was going on. But they'd played it low key when on duty so that no one was the wiser to their changed relationship. And it wasn't something Phil had had to bring up or even explain. Clint had just gone to work the next day without acting as if anything was different.

He had an innate intelligence that most people didn't see. They looked at his file and saw an uneducated soul who happened to be lucky enough to shoot really well. He'd gotten his G.E.D. upon joining S.H.I.E.L.D., had practically sped through the required courses while absorbing everything he was taught. He'd excelled specifically at maths and sciences, though Phil hadn't been surprised in the least. The man had lived through a great deal, had over come so much. There was nothing he could do that would make Phil any prouder of him than he already was.

He knew Clint inside and out. This behavior was just odd, even taking into consideration Clint's strange sense of humor. Clint was in your face and fearless. In some cases, he was down right reckless. So his every action from the moment they'd arrived up until now was confusing and Phil simply didn't understand it. He turned to Clint and looked him in the eye, let his confusion show through. "What's going on here, Clint?"

"Nothing. I just don't feel like skating right now," he said, eyes and tone of voice clearly communicating that he was trying to stall and evade.

"Liar." Natasha's voice carried to them, tone low and husky and filled with laughter. Clint lifted his head to shoot her a death glare. Seeing as this was Natasha, she smiled and ignored it. Her skates made a faint shushing sound as she came to stylish stop before them at the edge of the rink. Little sprays of shaved ice rose up as she did so, her blades cutting into the frozen surface. "Clint doesn't know how to skate, Phil. That's why he's doing his best bench warmer impersonation."

"You're a traitor," Clint muttered at her. She laughed again, this time loud enough that it could be heard echoing around the rink. It was a real, genuine laugh and it drew the eye of everyone there toward them. Clint muttered a few choice words in Russian that would have earned him a slap from anyone else he'd said them to. From Natasha, the normal reaction would have been severe bodily harm. She was in a good mood, however, and simply answered him with another laugh. Before Clint could say anything else, she skated off to rejoin Pepper at the center of the rink.

"You don't know how to ice skate?" Phil asked softly, acutely aware of the attention everyone was paying them. Clint's gaze caught his and held for a few moments, then slid away to look again at the skates.

"No."

His answer, given so quickly and so tersely, made Phil blink at him. More than once. "How is that possible? I mean, you can hang halfway off a rooftop and shoot someone in the eye without looking while doing so. But you can't skate? At all?"

"Nope," Clint shook his head and sipped his hot chocolate again. "I'm good. I'll just sit here and guard the hot chocolate. No one will get past me."

Phil gave him a look. "Seriously. You don't know how to ice skate?" His question earned him a shake of Clint's head. "You grew up in Iowa. I would think that would be the perfect location to learn how to ice skate."

Clint shrugged in answer. That's when Phil understood. Clint's inability to ice skate was somehow related to his father. Phil sighed and gave a nod of his head. He would let Clint keep that secret to himself. If he ever told that story, it would be in his own time. Phil reached out and took Clint's hot chocolate out of his hands. "Well, then. Its time you learn how." The steaming drink was replaced with the pair of skates Phil had picked up. "Go on. Boots off. Skates on. You're going to get out on that ice tonight. Even if it kills one of us."

"I don't know if this is such a good idea, Phil," Clint said quietly.

"Of course its a good idea. You have natural grace and balance. You can fire an arrow at people and things on the fly. You can master ice skating." Phil bent down to unlace his own boots, fingers working deftly. He watched out of the corner of his eye, waiting for Clint to follow suit. The archer's hands stayed stubbornly in his lap. Right. It was time to bring out the big guns. "You know that you'll never hear the end of it if Stark finds out you can't actually ice skate."

Clint's hands twitched in his lap, the only sign that he'd actually heard Phil's words. They stilled only a moment later, fingers limp between his thighs. Then he heaved a sigh that lifted his shoulders up toward his ears. It came out as a gust of foggy air, thin white mist pluming around his face as he accepted the inevitable. "If I fall on my ass and he makes a crack about it, I will shoot him with an arrow and then I'll let you sleep on the couch," Clint warned.

Phil didn't bother to suppress the chuckle that shook his shoulders.

Clint's dextrous fingers made quick work of the laces on his boots. They were removed and pushed under the bench before he worked his feet into the boots of the skates. The blades brought his knees up a little, made him look like he was sitting in a child's chair. By the time Phil had his skates laced into place, Clint was done and studying his feet intently. No doubt his mind was already working on how to balance on the thin blade of metal. Phil smiled and stood up, giving Clint the chance to actually see how one balanced on their skates. Phil offered his hand. "Come on. You'll get the hang of it in no time."

And he did.

After a brief, skeptical look, Clint put his hand in Phil's and let the slighter man pull him up. His ankles wobbled a bit, then locked when he found his balance and settled all of his weight on the blade. When he was sure that Clint could manage without help, Phil took the few steps there were between the bench and the rink, put one foot onto the ice, and pushed off with the other. He turned to watch Clint, turned so that the other man could see how it was done.

Clint wobbled at first, his feet unsteady on the new terrain. But he adapted quickly and those wobbling strokes soon leveled out to become steady and even. There were a few errors and Clint faltered, but he caught himself quickly and adjusted his position to compensate for his mistakes. After fifteen minutes, it appeared to anyone who didn't know better that Clint was simply rusty from years of not having skated at all. When he finally closed on Phil, Phil offered him a knowing smile. "Next time, I'll teach you how to play hockey."

"You play hockey?" Clint asked, obviously surprised.

"I did. When I was younger. How do you think I learned how to skate?" Phil took a few gliding steps ahead, then pivoted around so that he faced Clint. It was a simple thing to keep moving forward, even though wasn't facing forward. "My mother hated it. She didn't think I was big enough to play hockey with the other kids. She was worried I was going to get hurt. I channeled a lot of my adolescent emotions into hockey."

"How come you never told me this before?" Clint asked, his posture easing as he gained more confidence in his abilities.

"It never came up," Phil returned. He put on a little bit of speed, skating a little faster. Clint put on speed to match, keeping up easily with Phil. He smiled at the other man. "I knew you would be a natural. You already have grace and balance. You were worried for nothing."

"I didn't want to make a fool of myself in front of everyone," Clint muttered. Phil understood. Clint was good at his job, but seeing as almost all of the other Avengers were enhanced in some way, he felt like he had to fight to keep his place on the team. To him, that meant showing no weaknesses. He didn't really want anyone to think he was weak in any manner. It was ridiculous because there was no one on earth who could do what Clint did. But he always pushed himself to be better than the others. There was no way he'd not extend that to his ice skating skills.

"I doubt you're making a fool of yourself. But if it will make you happy, I'd be perfectly happy to make a fool of myself in front of them for you." With those words out of his mouth, he spun to face the right direction. But not before he saw the confusion on Clint's face. Phil smiled to himself and put on a touch of speed so that he could put distance between the two of them. So that Clint could have a little bit of time to himself to consider Phil's words.

The music shifted from something new and modern to one of the old classics. Bing Crosby came over the PA, his smooth voice crooning its way lazily through White Christmas. Almost as if it was some kind of sign, thick flakes of white began drifting down from the sky, falling in slow spirals toward the ice. It landed on every available surface, painting white spots on people and benches and stairs before melting away into nothing. The air had more bite to it and the temperature had already started dropping. The falling snow felt like a good sign, like the Fates were giving Phil his approval. It felt like things had come full circle.

Clint caught up at him just as Bing Crosby was finishing up. Phil had a moment to hear the beginning of Andy Williams before the other man was already asking questions. "What did you mean by that? Why would you make a fool of yourself in front of everyone ?"

"Well, I suppose it can be considered foolish only if things don't work out the way I'd like them to," Phil replied absently. He could feel Clint's gaze boring into him, trying to decipher the meaning of his words.

"What's going on here, Phil?" Clint asked him. Phil came to a stop near the middle of the rink. The snow was starting to come down harder, the flakes even thicker and bigger than before. Clint stopped before him and watched him as he considered his words. He wanted this to be as perfect as was actually possible. The music switched again, Andy Williams dying away to the sultry purr of Eartha Kitt. Phil sucked in a deep breath, then reached into his coat pocket to draw out the wrapped gift he'd stashed in it before leaving Stark Tower.

"Open this." Phil carefully settled the brightly decorated gift into Clint's box. He saw the man's eyes go wide and he frowned.

"But it isn't Christmas yet, Phil. We said we wouldn't open gifts until then," Clint whispered, gaze locked on the gift sitting in his palm.

"This is and isn't a Christmas present. Don't argue with me. Just open it," Phil instructed. Clint's eyes lifted to his face so that he could stare at Phil intently for a few moments. Then he brought up his other hand so he could slowly peel back the paper that Phil had wrapped the box in.

Clint's fingers were careful with the metallic purple paper that covered the gift inside. A petite bow in purple and silver, one that sparkled and glittered in the light, rested on the top of the gift. When Clint had the paper free, he folded it in half and tucked it into his pocket to leave a black leather box resting on his palm. The lid flipped up to reveal a very plain band nestled in the depths of purple velvet. Said band was a buttery gold, just the slightest hint of braiding trimming the edge. It was so faint that it was almost non-existent. There were no stones set in it, nothing inscribed on the interior of the band. It was just gold.

Clint's eyes, wide as saucers, lifted to his. "Phil?" he asked quietly.

"Marry me." It was a plain and simple request to go with a plain and simple band. But the setting was as perfect as it could be. They stood at the center of the rink, in the shadow of the giant tree and its hundreds of winking lights. Eartha Kitt was begging Santa Baby to bring her lots of amazing gifts. And snow was falling around them, the flakes big and wet and pristine. The only thing that would make it even more perfect was if Clint said yes.

"I'm not the easiest person to live with. Are you sure you want me?" he questioned, voice low.

"Do you want me to get down on one knee? In front of everyone else? I will. I will go down on one knee and propose to you like that."

"No, Phil! God! Don't do that. I'd never get you back on your feet," Clint shot back, his voice teasing. Phil shot him one of his looks. Clint shook his head. "You're serious, aren't you? You really want to marry me?"

"Yes, Clint. I'm serious. I really want to marry you. I love you." Those three little words came out so easily, even though he and Clint didn't share them very often. It wasn't that they didn't care. It was just that they'd left it unstated but understood that they cared deeply for one another. Phil'd come to realize that he needed to say it. That he needed to make this permanent. For them both.

Clint glanced around to find that everyone was watching them. He saw big grins on both Pepper and Natasha's faces. There was curiosity from Thor and a faint smile from Bruce. Steve looked both serious and happy all at once. And Stark... Stark looked stricken. Clint turned back to him with a wicked grin. Then he handed Phil the box so he could tug his gloves off. "In that case, my answer is yes."

Phil smiled and slid the ring from the box. It fit Clint's finger perfectly. He brought the ringed finger up to his mouth so he could lay a quick kiss on it. Then he pulled Clint in closer, pressed their lips together, and kissed him for all he was worth. The kiss was greeted with the muffled sound of clapping.

"Aw, hell. I think I'm going to be sick," Stark's voice rang out, pulling them apart.

Clint grinned at Phil like a madman. "That is music to my ears. I'm going to enjoy making his life hell."

"Me, too, Clint. Me, too."

 
Chapter 1 of 1
 
The Story TraeSE 0.19.0 created by Echtrae Cuinn ©2007-2022
 

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