Day 8

Title: Day 8
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Marvel/Avengers
Rating: PG
Pairing: Clint/Coulson
Disclaimer: Not my characters. I wish they were mine. I definitely don’t get paid for this.
Summary: Clint and Coulson differ somewhat about how to celebrate Christmas
Notes: Written during my 12 Ficlets in 12 Days in 2013 project for smokeycat_430

Ever since Coulson came back, Clint was willing to let him call the shots. Honestly, even before, he’d called the shots, just now Clint didn’t argue with him about them. He was so glad just to have the man back, he was willing to let Coulson do whatever he wanted. And what he wanted was to celebrate Christmas. Stockings and egg nog and some damn elf on a shelf were all he’d talked about for a week until Clint finally took hold of his shoulders, kissed him so hard the world went black around them for a few seconds, and then said, “Fine. We’ll do Christmas. Whatever you want.”
But he hadn’t thought that this was what Coulson would want. For Clint, Christmas meant putting a fake log in a fake fireplace, hanging fake icicles on a fake tree, and putting fake cranberry flavoring into a very real alcoholic drink. For Coulson, apparently, Christmas meant waking up at five-fucking-thirty in the morning and hiking two hours through snow to find the perfect Christmas tree.
“I can’t feel my feet, Phil.” His voice was muffled by the balaclava covering his face except for his eyes.
“Baby it’s cold outside…”
Clint stopped in his tracks, snow up to his shins, and lifted his head. He pulled down part of the balaclava to expose his nose and mouth. “You do know that song’s about date rape, right? Are you luring me out here for some perverted purpose?”
Coulson paused with him and turned, a smile on his face, cheeks rosy from the cold. “Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree.”

“Are you going to answer me in song lyrics the rest of the day or are you going to stop playing around and tell me why the hell this hike was necessary?”

“You know why. We’re out here to find a Christmas tree.”

Clint swiped at his nose quickly, as if wiping it would go unnoticed, as if wiping it would make it stop running. Neither of those things came to pass. With some difficulty due to his thick gloves, Coulson took a handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it over. “That’s the only one I brought.”

Clint tried to use it conservatively, but his nose was running not just from the merciless cold temperature or the biting wind. He wiped his nose, massaged his chapped nostrils, and then pulled the black balaclava back over his nose and mouth to keep them warm. He coughed into the fabric and felt his nose start to run and tickle already. Clint cleared his throat and tried to think about Christmas trees. “There are tree lots on every street corner back ho--in the city.” He’d almost said ‘home’ which, in the grand scheme of things would have been accurate. But he hadn’t really ever called any place home. The circus had always been on the move and his work with S.H.I.E.L.D. took him all over the globe. He did have a room at Avenger’s Tower, but he pretty much stayed exclusively at Coulson’s place these days, as if worried that if he turned his back on the man, the senior agent would disappear again.

“It’s not about the end result, it’s about the journey.” Coulson turned back around and continued walking.

Clint took the opportunity to rub his gloved hand against his nose. “Well, so far, I’ve gotta say the journey sucks.”

“You’re just saying that because you don’t feel well.”

“Oh good. In all your excitement to go trudge through snow for hours, I thought maybe you’d forgotten.” He tugged the damn balaclava down again and ran his wrist against his tickling nose. He was starting to wonder why he was wearing it to begin with, if he was going to have to keep pulling the bottom part of it down to take care of his nose.

“It’s just a head cold, Barton. You’ve dealt with worse things before breakfast. Hey, remember that time you got caught in an explosion on your way out of a helicopter and landed in the hospital for a week with a concussion, a broken leg, and three cracked ribs? That was worse than a little sneeziness, right?”

Clint considered for a moment. “At least the hospital was warm.”

He really was losing feeling in his feet. Not to mention the intense tickle that kept playing in the back of his nose and throat. He needed badly to sneeze and all this talking meant either having the balaclava down with cold air gushing against his throat, irritating it all the more, or containing his breath and germs behind the fabric where it was moist and hot and made his cheeks go redder than they should. This was beyond miserable. And he was done trying to pretend otherwise just so Coulson would feel good about this painfully festive adventure.

“H-hold up,” he said, stopping as the tickle rose sharp and prickly in his nose. He rocked with one breath in, out, and another in again. Then he pitched forward. “Errschhhhh!” It wouldn’t have been so bad if that had been his one and only sneeze. But, as seemed to be happening with cold, he couldn’t ever have just one sneeze at a time. “Ehhrshhhhhhh! IHitchhhhh!

When it seemed that three was all there would be for the moment, he took a deep breath in and out, then wiped his nose with Coulson’s hanky. He discovered that sometime during that fit, he had leaned back against a tree to steady himself.

“Looks like you found it.”

Clint blinked in confusion and pulled the fabric back up over his mouth and nose. “A hadky?”

“No, our tree.” Coulson gestured to the specimen before them, and Clint pushed off from it to give himself some distance and a good look at it. “Here, take the other end of this saw. It’ll go fast with both of us.”

The last thing Clint wanted to do with the little feeling he had left in his fingers and the little energy he had left in the rest of him was to work a saw. But the cold medicine had said no heavy machinery and a handsaw was definitely the opposite of that. So he knelt down opposite Coulson in the wet, cold snow and started the rhythmic push and pull of the saw, stopping only a few times to sneeze some more.

Carrying the tree back was actually harder than cutting it down. There was tree sap to worry about and it was easier to pause while sawing than it was to pause while carrying half of a large pine tree. He sneezed into his balaclava one too many times and, once Coulson agreed to stop for a moment, Clint pulled the whole thing off in frustration. Without it, the cold stung at his face, cheeks. He tried to pretend it wasn’t getting to him, but he was sure Coulson wasn’t fooled.

By the time they reached the car, Clint’s nose was running freely and sniffling did no good. He stuck around long enough to get the tree up onto the roof of the car, but he left Coulson to tie it down, preferring instead to sit in the passenger seat and shiver from his wet jeans, shoes, and socks. He shoved his feet up against the heat vent, but the car took a long time to warm up.

He curled up on himself, crossing his arms over his chest, didn’t talk to Coulson once during the entire ride back to the city. He used the man’s handkerchief, but only because he had to. By the time Coulson put the car in park, the handkerchief was beyond any usefulness it might have had, and Clint stuffed it in his pocket.

To get this misery over faster, he helped Coulson carry the pine monstrosity up the stairs and into the elevator to the top floor. Coulson had a Christmas tree stand out and ready, and they managed to slide the trunk into it then tighten the bolts securely before Clint’s strength gave out entirely.

The Avenger collapsed, coughing, onto the closest thing he could find: the living room couch. He buried his face in a couch cushion, hugging it to him. He wanted a tissue box. He wanted more Dayquil. He really wanted a tissue box.

Clint must have fallen asleep. It had been maybe noon when they’d returned to Coulson’s apartment. But when he opened his eyes again, the room was dark and the semi-translucent curtains over the window showed nothing but a black void outside. Inside, there was a warm yellow glow of a Christmas tree decorated with clear lights. And there was a golden glow of a crackling fire in the fireplace on the wall across the room from it.

Coulson squatted in front of the fire, adding another log to the ones already in there, crackling and burning. He must have heard Clint sniffle, because he immediately turned his head just in time to see Clint sneeze again.


“Bless you. Cold?”

Clint nodded. “You dow I hab a code.”

Coulson laughed. “Yes, I’d noticed. I meant, are you cold? I’ve got a blanket and a pretty good fire going over here.” He held out an arm. “And I did a load of handkerchiefs while you were asleep. They’re all clean and pressed and—”

Clint was beside him, hand out. “Give.” He made a pathetically wet snorfling sound into the handkerchief’s folds and leaned into Coulson as if the man were a tree. A blanket was wrapped around his shoulders and also around Coulson’s then a strong arm pulled him closer. Instinctively, Clint burrowed into Coulson’s side for warmth. He hated to admit it, but this was the best he’d felt all day.

Coulson reached down and started rubbing his feet through thick, soft socks. Dry socks. Clint looked at them, frowning. They looked like creepy, bloated peppermint candy canes. The fuzzy white and red striped socks were not anything he remembered owning, let along putting on. Coulson must have done it when Clint had been asleep. Which meant he really must have been asleep.  

“Feeling better?” Coulson asked, one hand rubbing up and down Clint’s upper arm, the other massaging his feet.

“Would have beed dice to feel this good all day.”

Coulson didn’t meet his gaze, staring into the fire instead. Silence between them filled the room, choking them both until Coulson finally burst forth with, “I’m sorry. I just wanted everything perfect to make up for…” His words caught in his throat, and he stopped. “I’m sorry,” he said again.

And Clint knew what that sorry meant. It was a sorry Clint was sick. It was a sorry for making him trek through the snow. And it was a sorry for faking his death, emotionally manipulating the Avengers into forming, and making Clint bawl his eyes out at a fake funeral.  

huh…” Clint cupped a hand to his face, bringing the handkerchief with it. “Hershoohhh! K’Shuhhhh!” Feeling the hand rub circles over his back as he straightened back up, Clint took a deep breath and blew his nose. When he finished, it felt noticeably less stuffy and he could breathe just a little through it, enough to detect the smell of fresh pine in the room. Definitely better smelling than that fake stuff from a can.

Clint watched the fire for a minute, as one of the logs gave way and was split in half from fire, the charred black ends collapsing. Then he looked over his shoulder at the tree, with lights reflecting off its evenly spaced and color-balanced ball ornaments. This was Coulson. The stack of handkerchiefs all folded the same direction. The two stockings hanging from the mantle at identical angles. The elf staring at him mischievously from the bookshelf where it sat nestled between a hardcover copy of A Christmas Carol and a volume of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This was all so undeniably Coulson.

“Look, Barton, if you want, next year we can just get a tree from one of the lots down the street. Or we can get one of those fake ones with the lights attached so all you have to do is plug it in. Whatever you want.”

Clint thought about all the things he wanted. The list was longer than he’d have thought it would be. But right there at the top was for Coulson to be happy. “I wouldn’t change a thing,” Clint said at last and tilted his head until it rested against Coulson’s.