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i do not own any characters found within this story. they are all owned by Marvel and whoever the hell else owns them. i make no money from the writing of this story, only the raucous and vociferous exaltations of my readers.

*crickets chirp*

anyway... yeah. not making anything.
 
Sleigh Ride
Chapter 1 of 1
Expand Author's Story Note
 

"Jesus fuck, its cold!"

"Your powers of observation are astounding," Coulson drawled from the couch, eyes never lifting away from the pad of paper he had balanced on his knee. Clint considered making a snarky comment, but it wasn't Coulson's fault that they were stuck out in the middle of nowhere, waiting for an extraction because their last mission had gone wrong even before they'd started it. "Our ride home should be here sometime tomorrow. You're just going to have to grin and bear it a little longer, Barton."

Clint couldn't help himself. "If I'm going to bare anything to you, Coulson, it would be on some sunny tropical beach. Not here, on the side of a fucking mountain, where just dropping my zipper means I could suffer frost bite in very tender places."

Coulson lifted his head and stared at Clint for several long seconds. "Oh, and that would be such a tragedy. Honestly, I think the women of the world would sleep better, knowing that they're safe from your horrible pick-up lines."

Clint frowned, arms crossing over his chest. "And just what's wrong with my pick-up lines?"

"They're old, tired, and they need to be laid to rest. There's an entire cemetery dedicated to your bad pick-up lines." Coulson stopped and lifted his head this time. Clint thought he saw a faint hint of amusement in the twist of the man's lips and the tiny twinkle in his eyes. But Clint knew mockery when he heard it. "And considering all of your pick-up lines are bad, the size of that cemetery is vast and unending."

"Ha ha, sir. Very funny. I'm not talking to you for the rest of the evening." Clint turned back to the window and stared out across the glistening snow. There was a soft chuckle from behind him.

"There is a God after all," Coulson replied quietly.

Clint resolved himself to remaining silent until the sun came up the next morning and gave his attention to the sky crowding close over the peak of the cabin. Though it had been a long time since he'd lived in the Midwest, he still recognized the tell-tale signs of an approaching storm written in the clouds. There was a heaviness to them, evident in the way they hung overhead and pressed down against the mountain. For as far as he could see, they were thick and iron grey. A winter storm was building. He was sure of it.

Even before he'd consciously made the decision, Clint was bundling into his winter gear. He could feel Coulson's eyes watching him silently, the weight of the man's stare heaving on a spot just between his shoulder blades. Clint was pulling on his gloves when Coulson finally broke the silence that had fallen over the cabin. "Surely you aren't that cold, Barton?"

Clint glanced at the other man, then frowned. "I think you need to get on the horn with headquarters and tell them they need to be here two hours ago," he replied. Before Coulson could ask him anything else, Clint tugged the door open and stepped outside.

The air was cold. Cold enough to freeze the air in his lungs. Clint hurried to pull the collar of his coat up to cover his mouth and nose. It helped cut the chill creeping into his chest, but not by much. The wind was increasing, was strong enough to pick snow up off the blanket of white covering the ground and throw it in Clint's face. He paced away from the cabin a few feet then did a slow circle in place, letting his gaze focus on the sky surrounding the cabin. It was the same shade of dark, heavy grey that he'd seen out the window. He could practically taste the snow on the air. Muttering a curse under his breath, he turned back toward the cabin and hurried for the relative warmth it offered.

Coulson was waiting by the door when Clint came in. Even though there was nothing to read on his face, Clint could see that the other man was more than aware of the approaching storm. His phone was clutched in his fingers, letting Clint know that he'd already tried to contact Fury. Clint sighed. "Barton--"

"Let me guess. We're going to be here a while?"

For the first time since things had gotten completely fucked up, Coulson looked a little nervous. "I couldn't even get reception. Whatever is coming this way, its going to be huge."

Clint stood there a moment, then sighed and turned toward the door again. "I'll go gather up some more wood. We're going to be here for a while."

~*~

It had to be the worst blizzard on record. Clint muttered a few uncomplimentary things under his breath about just how bitchy Mother Nature was as he poked at the fire they had going in the hearth. The snow had started falling shortly after night fall their first day there and, as far as Clint could tell, hadn't let up yet. The snow on the ground was deep, already piling up against the glass of the windows. They were fortunate that the door opened in, which allowed them to keep the pathway clear from the cabin to the mound that was the vehicle they'd used to get here. It was a marker by which to find the buried dirt road that someone had cut into the side of the mountain. It was also the only way in or out for anything that didn't have paws, wings, rotors, or jet engines.

"We need more wood," Coulson said quietly from the couch. He was trying hard not to look cold, but Clint knew better. He'd spent damn near every mission he'd gone on for S.H.I.E.L.D. working with Phil Coulson and he knew the man better than he thought most people might. Considering Clint had been brought in to the agency for his ability to notice things, it wasn't something that should be surprising to anyone. "I believe its my turn?" It wasn't actually a question, but Coulson still made it sound like one. He rose from his corner of the couch and made toward his winter gear.

"I've got it, sir," Clint said before Coulson could make it more than three steps across the floor. The man shot Clint a nasty glare, his face never even breaking its usual bland mask. It was a rare talent and one Clint admired. Then again, there wasn't much about Coulson he didn't admire. Clint stomped on that line of thought and hurried into his winter clothes. Maybe the freezing cold air would knock some sense into him.

The wind bit into his cheeks through the scarf he wore but did nothing to drive from his head the thoughts that had been plaguing him more and more during their time spent holed up in the cabin. Clint had learned long ago that the only person he could depend on was himself. He'd learned that lesson the hard way, thanks to his family and childhood. And then he'd met Phil Coulson. The man had never let Clint down, had done his best to make sure Clint knew he could count on him. Over the course of their many missions together, he'd done his best to prove to Clint that not everyone in his life would leave Clint floundering when things got tough.

Clint had, of course, waited for the other shoe to drop. But it never had. And Clint had woken up one day to realize that he'd come to expect Coulson to just always be there. And then he'd realized that some where along the way, Phil Coulson had moved right into Clint's heart and wasn't leaving any time soon. So Clint had learned to hide his attraction and affection for the man. Which made being cooped up in a tiny cabin on the side of a mountain in the middle of fucking nowhere with the man very trying.

Because Clint wanted nothing more than to push Coulson down on the couch and do all kinds of sexually pleasing things to him.

The cold was doing nothing to curb his desires. Clint muttered a few curses under his breath, including a couple Russian, German, and French, and trudged to the steadily dwindling stock of wood that was buried under mounds of snow on the side of the cabin. He was going to have to make use of the axe in the back of the closet if they didn't get rescued soon.

A new layer of snow covered the stacked logs, forcing Clint to sweep it off so that he could grab a few to take in with him. His gaze automatically went to the sky and took note of the clouds. They were still heavy and thick and impossibly grey, a sure sign that there was more snow on the way. Not that it mattered because Clint could smell the snow on the air. At the rate the white stuff was coming down, they weren't seeing rescue for weeks to come. It was hard enough hiding his feelings from Coulson on a good day. Any longer spent alone with him would undoubtedly see Clint admitting to his feelings. That was the last thing he needed. Letting go another string of curses, Clint turned with his load of wood - the burnable kind, thank you very much - and headed for the cabin.

When he rounded the corner of the cabin, it was to find Coulson waiting in the doorway, wearing his dirty dress shirt and suit pants. Clint frowned to see him without his parka, knit hat, and gloves. "What are you doing, sir? You're going to catch your death if you keep stepping outside the cabin without your winter gear on!" Clint snapped, a finger of panic sliding up his spine. He didn't think he could handle it if anything happened to Coulson on his watch.

"You were taking a long time, Barton. I wanted to make sure everything was okay," Coulson responded casually. He didn't look overly worried about the temperature. Clint frowned and motioned for him to step back into the cabin.

"I'm fine. Just catching a breath of fresh air. The cabin gets stuffy after a while. You know how I am," he told the other man. Coulson stared at him a moment, then nodded and took a step toward the open door. Then he stopped and turned to look at Clint again. There was something in his eyes that Clint couldn't read, but it felt like Coulson was on the verge of speaking. Or acting, because Clint noticed the way the man's hand twitched. As if he was forcing himself not to reach or touch. Curious.

"Barton, I--" Coulson began. But he halted his words and took another step toward Clint. It was easy to read the intent in his gaze, his blue eyes suddenly as clear as the sky on a warm, sunny day. Clint felt a growing sense of hope blossom in his chest and he found himself moving closer to Coulson. Their eyes connected and held and, for a moment, emotions bubbled up inside and filled Clint. And then the moment passed when Clint sneezed. The noise was loud and it echoed around them for a few seconds. It faded away to a soft rumbling. It all happened in the blink of an eye. Coulson stepped back suddenly as Clint recognized the rumbling sound as coming from above him. He glanced up just as the snow that had been blanketing the cabin's roof slid down and cascaded over the edge, giving him a face full of the cold wet stuff.

Coulson's soft laughter rang in Clint's ears as he shook the snow from his eyes. It was still mocking him half an hour later as Clint huddled under a blanket in an attempt to get warm.

~*~

The tension was growing between them. Clint was sure of it. He could feel it when they spoke to one another, when Coulson got to close to him as they passed back and forth within the confines of the cabin. Coulson had tried to speak to Clint twice more since the incident under the eaves, but something had held him back both times. Instead, he'd turned conversation toward the weather and their eventual retrieval. And Clint had been left wound up and anxious. So when Coulson suggested they step outside to stretch and shake off some of the cabin fever that was taking root, Clint felt it was a good idea.

They bundled up into their winter gear in silence, then bustled out into the cold mountain air. The snow was still falling, had been for three days now, and it was growing ever higher as the hours ticked by. There were only a couple of paths to follow, so there was little real chance to get away from Coulson for more than a few moments. Clint decided that his best option was to make his way to their buried vehicle and climb up on top of it.

The snow crunched under his boots, the car shaking ever so slightly as he scaled it, treating it like a miniature mountain. Standing on the roof put him up high enough to see the entire valley around them. It was almost impossible to see the mountains surrounding them because of the falling snow and the heavy clouds that kept pressing down around them. What he could see was little more than shadows and blurred edges. The pine trees around them were heavy with their snowy covering and piles of it hugged the roof of the cabin.

Out of the corner of his eye, he tracked Coulson's path. The other man was content to walk around the cabin's perimeter, his gaze seemingly taking in everything around them except for Clint. Coulson's parka and knit hat, both company issued and black as night, were stark against the never ending expanse of white around them. Longing such as Clint had never felt welled up within him. He wanted to just come out and tell Coulson how he felt, but there had never been any indication that Coulson would accept that, the tension between them excluded. Clint didn't want to say something that would ruin their friendship. It was entirely possible he'd misread the signals between them.

God knew he wasn't good at relationships. But if he had a chance...

Christmas was coming up. Maybe he'd get lucky and Santa would leave Phil Coulson in Clint's stocking. That would be a fun gift to unwrap. Clint hadn't believed in Santa since he'd been five years old and he'd overheard his father snapping at his mother for spending precious coins on a few small things to tuck into his and Barney's stockings as gifts from Santa Claus. But perhaps, just this once, he could ask Santa for a gift. Surely it couldn't hurt. Could it? He'd been a good boy. Okay, mostly. And it wasn't as if he was asking for much. Well...

"Hey, Barton! Come on inside before you catch your death. You're already sneezing and coughing like a cold is setting in. I don't need you catching pneumonia on me or anything." Coulson's voice startled Clint out of his thoughts. He came back to the present in time to find his handler staring up at him from just beside the car. His feet moved and went out from under him and, for just a moment, Clint kind of just hovered there in mid-air. About the time he attempted righted himself, Coulson grabbed at his ankle in an effort to do the same. Then Clint was tumbling headfirst off the car and right into a snow bank.

Somehow, Coulson landed on top of him.

"You okay, Barton?" Coulson asked, that same note of amusement coloring his voice that Clint had heard after the roof had dumped a bunch of snow on his head. He stared up at Coulson to find that the man was smirking at him. His fingers slowly uncurled from Coulson's parka and Clint put them against the man's chest in preparation of pushing him off. It didn't happen. Instead, his palms took in the hard muscle underneath and he thought he'd died and gone to heaven. Coulson chuckled again and managed to gain his feet again with as much grace as ever. Clint struggled to right himself and shivered when he realized that the ass of his pants were cold and wet. Damn snow melted fast. "Barton? Everything okay?"

"Just fine, sir. Sorry about that," he muttered and stomped past Coulson.

The man's knowing chuckle followed him into the cabin.

~*~

"You're shivering," Coulson's voice came out of the darkness, reminding Clint that he was being a stupid ass idiot about this whole thing. It was a good thing that they weren't in danger of being caught by the enemy or anything. He'd be useless to Coulson. There was no way he could hold his bow long enough to make a clear shot. He couldn't even stop his teeth from clattering together.

"I'm fine," Clint got out. It wasn't very clear because his teeth were clacking away like a skeleton's teeth at Halloween. Coulson was still a moment, then he reached out and smacked Clint on the back of the head.

"You are not. Idiot." A rush of cold air hit him as the blanket lifted away for a few moments. "Come on. Let's move downstairs to the floor before the hearth. That should help warm you up."

"I'm fine, Coulson," Clint asserted. It lost some of its effectiveness when he sneezed. Hard. It felt like his brain came out of his nose when he did so.

"Quit being a big baby and get your ass downstairs," Coulson replied. He was using his Agent Coulson voice and Clint always had a hard time disobeying that voice. He made sure to heavy a deep, heavy sigh, then he climbed from the bed. The blanket came with, wrapped tightly around him in an attempt to keep the cold air from him. "This is your own damn fault, you know. You're the one who keeps going out there in the midst of this blizzard. You're the one who got snow in the face and down the parka. You're the one who soaked his pants through."

"Yes. I know. I'm a fucking moron. Pardon me for trying to keep you from catching cold," Clint snapped, teeth kicking up a super fast rhythm. Coulson took hold of his arm through the blanket and pulled him toward the stairs leading from the loft to the main floor. Truth be told, sleeping in front of the fire would be welcomed with open arms because he was fucking cold and nothing he did got him warm. His own damned fault for being so idiotic lately. Not like he could help it. Close proximity to Coulson was doing weird things to his equilibrium and Clint was finding it hard to perform some of the simplest tasks because his brains seemed to have taken up permanent residence in his pants.

There was definitely more heat on the lower level of the cabin, but it wasn't enough to touch the cold that had settled deep into Clint's bones. Coulson directed him to the couch, where Clint sat bundled in his blanket while Coulson spread several sleeping bags on the floor before the hearth to create a thin bed. When the sleeping bags were in place, he headed up to the loft for a few moments, then came down with the pillows from the bed. He dropped them on the pallet and turned to Clint. "Come on. Lay facing the fire. I'll sleep behind you to keep your back warm. This should help quell your shakes."

Clint gave him a skeptical look, but he dutifully rose to his feet and shuffled and shivered his way to the sleeping bags. Coulson watched with an eagle eye as Clint settled himself on the bed, his chest facing the embers glowing red from the depths of the stone hearth. When Clint was laid out, Phil took a moment to stir up the embers a little bit and bring forth a quick burst of heat. Assured that the embers would continue giving heat through the night, Coulson put the poker down and moved around the pallet until he stood behind Clint. A second later, he was sliding into the blank spot behind Clint, his chest pressed tight to Clint's back while one arm wrapped around Clint's chest to keep him there.

It wasn't like they'd never shared a bed before. Missions had gone to shit and there had been a need to share a small space or conserve heat. Sleeping in the same bed, close enough to share body heat, was nothing new to either of them. However, Clint couldn't ever remember a time when Coulson had actually gotten this close. Testing a theory, he tried shifting away. Coulson's arm tightened around Clint and drew him back into the man's warmth.

Jesus fuck! Was Coulson actually spooning him? Was that what was happening here? Clint's mind, fuzzy as it was, tried to grasp what was going on. Tried and failed because he couldn't quite make it past the idea that Coulson might be spooning him for something other than warmth. And there was warmth going on. Between the heat rolling off the hearth in front of him and coming off Coulson's body behind him, the chill was finally starting to leave his bones.

Clint closed his eyes and snuggled deeper into the nest of blankets and sleeping bags. Spooning or not, he didn't care. He was finally warm for the first time since his spill into the snow bank earlier. He was going to enjoy it for as long as he was conscious.

Slowly, the shivering subsided and his body relaxed as sleep crept up on him. Coulson's hand stroked lightly up and down his chest, stopping before gliding past the waistband of his pants. Even in his sleepy, befuddled state, Clint knew a caress when he felt one. He wanted to respond to it, wanted to say or do something, but his body felt like lead and his brain had long ago shut down. The best he could muster was a soft sigh of contentment. And he let himself enjoy the gentle touch of Coulson's hand as it teased across his flesh.

Phil's idea was working because heat was starting to creep into his bones, edging the cold chill out so that he could fully relax. Clint could feel himself drifting toward a deep, hard sleep. Normally, he liked to sleep light. Aloof, so that he could wake in the blink of an eye if he needed to. But there was no way any of their enemies could reach them in a cabin in the mountains in the middle of a blizzard. So Clint let himself go, allowed himself to really sleep. He knew that Coulson would have his back. Figuratively and literally.

Blessed heat wrapped around him, all the way from his head to his toes. In fact, his toes felt super toasty. It was a welcome change from the iciness that had clung to them for most of the day. He sighed and snuggled down. Only to have his nose tickled by the stench of something foul. It smelled almost like something was burning.

"Damn it, Barton! Wake up! Your feet are trying to burst into flames." Coulson's voice drew him away from the welcoming arms of slumber and Clint blinked his eyes open to find that the other man was smothering his feet with the edge of the sleeping bag. He could smell the stench of burnt material, the nauseating odor lingering heavily on the air. Mingling with another potent smell. It took a moment or two for Clint's muddled brain to make sense of what his nose was telling him. Burnt material and burnt hair.

That last bit woke him up. "Shit! My foot's on fire!" he bellowed.

Coulson sat back and pulled the corner of the sleeping bag to stare down at Clint's foot. "Well. Not anymore." Cool air hit it and made the burn on his foot actually, well, burn. Clint hissed and turned what he expected were wild eyes toward Coulson.

"How the fuck did that happen?" he asked, drawing his leg up close to his body so he could inspect the foot in question.

Coulson gave him a dry look. "Well, last time I checked, you weren't Johnny Storm so you couldn't just spontaneously flame on. I would imagine an ember or spark from the fire place landed on your foot."

Clint shot him a glare. "No shit, Sherlock." It was too dark to see what kind of damage had been done to his foot. He could see the damage done to his sock and he wasn't happy about it. There was a crispy-edged hole in the thick, warm socks. He reached for his pillow and his blanket, rose to his feet, and headed for the stairs.

"Barton?" Coulson's voice followed him up the steps.

"I'm plenty warm now. I'm going to go sleep in the bed. I don't want to wake up a used fucking match stick in the morning."

Clint could still hear Coulson's laughter as he huddled in the cold bed, foot throbbing and muscles shivering, and tried to go back to sleep.

~*~

Christmas Day came and they were still stuck in the damn cabin. He was starting to hate the fucking cabin. There was nothing to look at but wood walls, which meant there were no shiny decorations or twinkling lights or brightly wrapped presents. There was just hewn wood of the walls and the stone face of the hearth. He wanted to go home and stand in his shower for a week, assuming he had hot water to last that long. Just thinking of the tiny shower in the cabin was enough to make him start shivering again.

Clint tried hard to hold back the sneeze that was building, but it was a losing battle. The best he could do was turn his head and sneeze toward the door. Stupid cold. Muttering a curse under his breath, he pulled the blanket tighter around him and stared sullenly at the fire burning in the hearth. The flames were dancing and crackling merrily, as if mocking his misery.

To add insult to injury, he was starting to doubt that Coulson had been trying to feel him up that night before the fire. The man hadn't tried anything else in the days following and Clint was starting to believe that he'd imagined the whole thing. Had he? He knew that the tension was still there. It had, in fact, grown exponentially with every day they were confined to the cabin. And yet, Coulson hadn't made any further plays for Clint. And the only reason why Clint hadn't been walking around with a perma-boner for days now was because he'd been too damn sick to do anything but shiver and cough and sneeze.

"I've got some soup for you," Coulson said as he came out of the small nook that doubled as the cabin's kitchen. There was a camp stove in there that he'd been using to heat their meals. He was carrying two bowls, one in each hand. Everything they'd eaten since they'd gotten here had come from a can and Clint was starting to miss real food. He was willing to kill for a nice steak. Coulson set Clint's soup in his lap before settling down with his own bowl. It looked like Coulson had something with beef in it. Clint glared angrily at the broth in his bowl.

"Something wrong, Barton?" the other man asked a few moments later, when Clint still hadn't started ladling the soup up.

"Fuck this shit. This has to be the worst Christmas I've ever had. And I've had some really shitty ones. I was in the circus, after all." Clint leaned forward and set the bowl down on the wooden table before the couch. He could feel Coulson's eyes on him the entire time. "I want to sleep in my own bed. I want some steak. I want fries. And a baked potato. And I want garlic bread. And a burger. And some chili. I want to be anywhere other than here."

Coulson sighed and set his bowl down, too. The corners of his mouth were pulled down in a frown. "I'm sorry that this has been such a horrible experience for you. I didn't think you'd mind being stuck here with me. Obviously I was wrong."

Clint had been all ready to let go every ounce of his frustration in a verbal assault. But the tirade fled in the face of Coulson's words. "I never said I minded your company, Coulson. I'm tired of staring at the same four walls. I'm going stir crazy and I was looking forward to actually having a Christmas off. I was going to get a tree and decorate it. This is... This is not what I was expecting."

The other man looked at him. "I understand that. But I was hoping that having me around would at least make this situation tolerable. I made a mistake in my line of thinking. I apologize."

Clint blinked at him in confusion. Not that it was hard to confuse him at the moment because he was completely fuzzy-headed. "What are you talking about, Coulson? I wouldn't have been able to handle this at all if not for your company," Clint told him when he finally realized what Coulson was implying. The man stared at him as if he didn't believe him. And that was the exact moment that Clint's brain to mouth filter decided to cut out on him. He said the first thing that came to mind. "I've been doing my best not to tackle you up against the wall and fuck you senseless because I didn't think that you'd welcome the overture."

It was Coulson's turn to blink. For the first time since Clint had met him, the man had seemingly been rendered speechless. "Barton, are you..." Coulson paused and shook his head. "Clint. Are you telling me that you feel something for me?"

"I want to feel a whole lot more, sir, if you take my meaning," he replied. Apparently it was the right thing to say because Coulson smiled at him. There was a moment of silence between them, a few ticks of the clock where they stared at one another. Clint got the distinct feeling that Coulson was studying him. All the while, the tension that had been there for days grew thicker and heavier. Clint could feel that they were on the verge of something huge.

"I think, Clint, in the face of your admission, you can start calling me Phil," the other man told him even as he closed the distance between the two of them. The first touch of Phil's lips on his was hesitant and soft, barely a real kiss as the other man felt his way around the situation. Clint sighed and invaded Phil's personal space, slipping his arms around the other man's shoulders so that he could pull him in close for a hungry kiss.

The moment their lips meshed together for that kiss, the tension that had been building around them for days snapped and allowed a flood of emotions to come rushing forward. Clint felt like he was drowning and that Phil was his only anchor. The kiss went long, their tongues getting involved in a silent battle for dominance. And they only pulled back when the need for air was greater than the need for each other. But they were only apart for the few seconds it took to fill their lungs again. Then they were back at one another like horny teenagers under the high school bleachers.

By the time they got around to eating their meal ("Not a very romantic first date or dinner, is it?" Phil only half joked.), their meals were ice cold. Not that Clint really minded.

~*~

Two days after Christmas, they were awakened by the sound of jingling bells. Clint dragged himself form the warm nest of blankets in order to stumble down the stairs to the first floor. The snow had stopped falling the day before, leaving the snow deep enough to pile up against the lower half of the window. Squinting out into the daylight, Clint was surprised to find a furry nose nearly pressed against the remaining expanse of glass. There was a crunch of snow, then a knock sounded on the door a moment later.

"Hey, Coulson? We've got company," Clint called casually. Coulson was on the steps two seconds later, weapon in hand. He gave Clint a nod to let him know he was ready. Clint opened the door and stepped back so that Coulson had a clear shot from where he stood.

The man standing in the doorway was wearing a thick parka, a red knit hat, scarf, gloves, and boots made for the sub-zero temperatures of the mountains. Snow white hair peaked out from under the hat, a beard and moustache in the same color covering the man's upper lip, cheeks, and chin. "You boys ready to get out of here?" the man asked.

"And you are?" Coulson asked.

"Director Fury sent me. He also told me to tell you that you owe him a bottle of hundred and fifty year old scotch. And he hates moldy cheese," the man replied cheerfully. Clint flicked his gaze Coulson's way long enough to see the other man nod his head. Clint motioned for the man to come in. Now that he knew there was no danger, he wanted to shut the fucking door before he froze his dick off.

"You're our way off this mountain?" Phil questioned. The man nodded his head even while removing most of his winter wear.

"The snow's blown over. For now. There's another storm on its way. We don't have much time to get off this mountain before the snow starts up again. I've got the sled and a team of reindeer. I can get you down to a lower elevation where S.H.I.E.L.D. issue transport is waiting for you. But we need to hurry."

"Barton." Coulson began, but Clint was already on his way back up to the loft.

"I'm on it, sir. I'll be ready to go in ten minutes."

"Ten minutes is good," their rescuer told him.

Clint made quick work of getting dressed, putting on his heaviest clothing, then began to systematically gather up all of their gear and pack it for the journey. He knew without having to even ask that Phil was doing the same with any of their provisions on the lower level. Within five minutes, Clint had gotten their bags packed and deposited next to the door. Their rescuer wordlessly took the bags out and stowed them in the sled while Clint went to help Phil with the rest of their stuff. By the time ten minutes were up, Phil and Clint were bundled in their winter gear and climbing into the man's sleigh.

"Might want to make use of your goggles. You're going to need them because the snow's going to fly," the man warned a second before cracking the reins. The reindeer shook their heads and started off down the snowy slope. Clint was horribly thankful for the heavy duty winter gear he and Phil had with them. The wind whipped across his cheeks and snow flew into his face as the sleigh practically flew down the mountainside. He was suddenly thankful for the thick fur throws that had been resting on the back seat of the sleigh. There were three of them, one that went across their backs and one to cover their chests while the third rested across their legs. He felt, if Natasha could see them, she'd tell them it was like something straight out of Dr. Zhivago. And then she'd laugh her ass at them and call them weaklings for letting a little cold get to them.

The weight of his bow case against his knees was an enjoyable thing. As was the weight of his weapon under his parka. Even better was the press of Phil's leg (Clint was fairly sure he could call him Phil now after all that had happened) along Clint's. The furs were heavy and wouldn't allow for a very fast draw. But, to be honest, anyone out on the mountain when it was cold enough to freeze the balls off a penguin had to be utterly insane. He didn't think they were likely to come under attack. Maybe. Even so, those touches were a welcome reassurance considering he was more than positive there was something funny about the man who was currently speeding them down the mountain side in a bright fucking red sleigh.

There was no opportunity to speak, so Clint couldn't discuss his disquiet with Phil. He simply kept his eyes on the scenery around them, doing his best to track any possible danger lurking in the trees surrounding them. The reindeer were swift and the sleigh cut across the frozen ground almost as fast as a car moved. Clint was pretty sure he heard their driver calling out to his team occasionally over the rush of wind. One or two names might have flown back to him, but he was sure that he hadn't heard them correctly. So he ruthlessly ignored anything he might have heard from the driver and concentrated on how good it was going to feel when he was finally able to take a hot shower.

By the time they made a small village at the base of the mountain, the sky was heavy with clouds again and darkness was threatening. Clint's ass was sore and he was ready to burrow into a pile of goose down comforters and sleep for a year. But it wasn't to be because the gear needed to be unloaded from the back of the sleigh and transferred to a waiting four wheel drive vehicle. Which meant more sitting on his ass.

Clint made short work of their gear, shifting it effortlessly between the sleigh and the trunk of the rental car that had been waiting for them. He stowed a few things in the front seat, things that needed to be within close, easy reach. He wasn't sure how long they'd be in the car or what kind of trouble they might find and he wasn't about to take chances now that it was possible there might actually be something between he and Phil.

He waited for Phil by the car, leaning his ass up against it while trying to look casual about it. That was hard to do when the wind was biting and cold and all he wanted was to curl up in one of the furs on the sleigh and get warm again. It was hard to look like a badass S.H.I.E.L.D. agent when you were freezing your balls off.

Fortunately, Phil wasn't one to dither. Within five minutes, he was cutting across the snow-covered ground with a couple bags in hand. Clint climbed into the car on the passenger side, making sure to kick the snow off his boots before putting them down on the floor before him. He was just closing his door when Phil opened his and did the same thing. Once they were inside, Phil turned the key in the ignition and the car came purring to life. He took his gloves off and adjusted the heater.

"What's the plan, sir?" Clint asked, all business. Phil shot him a look for a moment.

"There's a town a few hundred miles from here with a working airstrip. There's a jet waiting for us there. Nick gave me a few particulars before letting me go with a couple of bags of snacks." At Clint's stare, one corner of Phil's mouth curled up in a half-smile. "Nick. The sleigh driver."

Clint watched Phil for a good long time, waiting for him to start laughing at the joke or something. The man said nothing, only returned the look with a questioning one of his own. Clint finally shook his head. "There's no way."

"No way what, Barton?" Phil questioned quietly.

"His name is Nick. He drives a red sleigh pulled by reindeer. Don't you find that a little suspicious, sir?"

"In case its slipped your attention, we were stranded on the side of a mountain in a blizzard. There was no way we were getting that car out. We had no other way down the mountain. Director Fury sent an agent capable of getting to the cabin." Phil's voice was patient and steady, as if he didn't see the strangeness that surrounded both their rescue and their rescuer.

"He's a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent?" If there was a note of disbelief in Clint's words, Phil chose not to comment on it.

"He is. He's been with us for years." That seemed the end of the discussion because Phil turned to face forward and put the car in gear. It had finally warmed up and they were ready to go. But then Phil shifted it back into park and turned to face Clint once more. This time, he looked a little less certain of himself. "Barton, about what happened in that cabin..."

"What about it, sir?" Clint asked, keeping a neutral tone to his voice. Phil stared at him a good long while, then sighed and slumped. Just ever so slightly. Like someone had let the air out of him or something.

"So that's how its going to be from now on? Okay. Good to know." Clint could hear a hint of dejection in the man's voice. He reached out and laid one hand on Phil's arm.

"It isn't going to be like that at all. Not if you don't want it to. I wasn't sure where we stood. I didn't want to assume that you'd want to continue any kind of relationship with me once we got back to the real world," Clint told him. He glanced around at their surroundings, his eyes going back to the mountain they'd just spent nearly a week on. "All of this... Its like one of those horribly cheesy Christmas movies that Lifetime or Hallmark runs. I've been crazy about you for... well, ever. I just figured you'd never want anything to do with me."

"I assure you, Clint, I want everything to do with you. To you. Nothing would have happened in the cabin had I not been sure about that." There was twinkle in mischief in Phil's eyes as he said that. Clint smirked and dropped his hand to Phil's knee. Phil laid his hand on top of it and squeeze Clint's hand. "Its probably only going to be nothing but trouble for us, but I'd really like there to be an us. I'd like there to be an use for a good long time."

"Are you trying to tell me you want to date me, Phil?" Clint asked, shit eating grin on his face.

"Maybe date isn't the right word. We aren't impetuous teenagers anymore. How about we call it what it is? I want to have a relationship with you, Clint Barton. If that's what you want." Phil gave Clint's hand a squeeze and turned to face the road. The engine shifted into gear easily.

"Yes, sir. That is exactly what I want," Clint replied. "Especially if that relationship comes with a healthy dose of you and I rolling around in the sheets naked."

"As much as you want, Barton."

"Yes, sir. Anything you say, sir." Clint turned to look out the window, take one last look at the mountain that helped fill his Christmas wish this year. Movement caught his attention, prompting him to focus on the bright red sleigh parked a short distance from the rental car he was sitting in. Nick, their rescuer, was climbing into the sleigh but paused to turn back toward Clint. Their eyes met across and the other man winked at him, then laid a finger along side his nose. In the next second, he took his seat in the sleigh and flicked the reins at his team of reindeer. The sleigh disappeared into the darkness and Clint was left wondering.

~*~*~*~*~

"You're not kidding, are you? You actually started seeing one another because you got snowed in on the side of a mountain?" Pepper asked, smile pulling her lips up and eyes shining with mirth. Clint might have once taken offense at someone being amused by his misfortune, but he'd grown out of that long ago. Not to mention, Pepper was a really fun person to be around and she'd proven herself a good friend. So instead of getting pissed, he nodded his head and took a sip of his hot chocolate.

"It was literally the least romantic thing to ever happen to me. And yet, somehow, we hooked up. The cheesiest Lifetime or Hallmark Christmas movie ever," Clint confirmed. Pepper started laughing. Phil smirked into his mug a moment, then looked up at them.

"Anything that could go wrong pretty much did," he replied. His glance flicked Clint's way. "Clint got a face full of snow. He fell off our car into the snow."

"Only because I was trying not to throw myself at you," Clint added. "And then I got sick. There was no hot water unless we brought snow in and melted it by the fire. Do you know how long it would have taken to get enough water for a bath that way? I figured I'd just suck it up and deal with it. Then Phil felt it was his duty to feed me soup to try and get me healthy again. Sadly, it didn't work. I just ended up giving him my cold."

"You made it up to me," Phil reminded him. Clint grinned at that, then glanced down into his mug.

"I'm empty. And I think I want a refill. Anyone else?" He rose from his seat with a fluid grace that spoke to hours spent training in the gym with Natasha and Steve. Phil felt a swell of pride at the man's innate ability to be distracting without even knowing he was doing it. Truth be told, Phil could spend the rest of his life watching Clint move and he'd be happy.

"I've still got some tea, but thank you, Clint," Pepper declined with a smile. Clint nodded and turned his gaze Phil's way. Phil offered up his mug.

"Another cider, please," he requested. Clint nodded and took the mug from him, then turned and headed for the kitchen to get their refills.

"He makes you disgustingly happy, doesn't he?" Pepper asked. Her question drew Phil's gaze away from the man's ass as it worked under his jeans. Phil nodded and sat back in against the couch.

"He does. He can be infuriating and frustrating, but he's also loyal and faithful and absolutely amazing in bed," Phil confirmed. Pepper's smile turned a touch more knowing. She set her tea down on the table beside her and gave him the full weight of he stare.

"There's something you're not telling me. What is it?" She barely lifted her voice past a conspiratorial whisper. Phil had no problems answering her question because he knew his secret was safe with her.

"You cannot tell Clint," he warned. She nodded and edged forward in her seat just a little bit. Phil cast a glance toward the kitchen to be sure that Clint wouldn't accidentally overhear them. The words to a Christmas carol floated out toward them, assuring Phil he had time. "We were never actually stranded in that cabin. I sent messages to Director Fury telling him to postpone transport until further notice. Clint didn't know that we had a way to contact base."

Pepper's eyes widened slightly. "Why on earth would you do that?"

"Because I knew there was something building between us, but Clint wasn't going to act on any of his urges unless he was given the perfect opportunity. For a while, I thought I'd misread the situation. But he finally made a move and here we are all this time later. Still going strong and getting ready to get married." Phil gave a soft smile at that last part. Pepper's smile was something sweet.

"And what about the man who drove you down the mountain? Was he really a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent?"

Phil glanced toward the kitchen again, taking a moment to relish Clint's singing voice. It was something worth relishing. Then he glanced back at Pepper and, with a wink, laid a finger against the side of his nose.

That was all the answer she was going to get.

 
Chapter 1 of 1
 
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