Clint wakes up early so he can make it to the florist and back to the Tower before Natasha gets out of bed. On most days, she’s up with the sun, but he knows that, given the opportunity, she’d sleep in today. The bad guys decided to cooperate for once so he slides into the kitchen with no sign of red hair in the room.
“Huh?” Sam asks, blinking at the roses in Clint’s hand.
Sam’s never very awake until he’s got at least three cups of coffee in him.
“Guess I’m the early bird that gets the worm,” Clint says, dropping the flowers on the counter as he goes searching for Tony’s hidden stash of sour gummy worms. Honestly, what kind of guy opens his house to a bunch of superheroes, makes them all suites to live in, and then hides the good candy?
Tony Stark, that’s who.
Clint’s manages to find the bag, holding it up, triumphant, and he turns around to see Natasha padding into the room, fuzzy purple socks on her feet. Clint grins. “Nice socks.”
She returns the smile. “Birthday present.”
That had been four months ago. Clint had found the socks even before that – not only are they fuzzy but they’ve got this special lotion in them that helps keep feet soft and smooth. Clint has a hard time holding onto presents – he likes to give them as soon as he gets them, because he likes to make people happy and he’s got a bad memory – but he’d managed to keep these hidden until the right date.
“Speaking of birthdays,” Clint snatches the flowers up off the counter and holds them out. Belatedly, he realizes that he’s got a gummy worm dangling from his lips so he quickly shoves it into his mouth and says, “Happy Birthday, darling.”
“Ooh, darling?” she asks, sashaying over to pluck the bouquet from his hands.
Natasha doesn’t know the date of her actual birthday, they’ve never been able to find it in any of the records they’ve found while dismantling the Red Room, and Clint doesn’t think it’s right for a person to go through life without getting a party thrown just for them every year. Come on, a party all about you? Where people feed you cake? And then give you shit? It’s awesome. Everyone should have a birthday party.
It had actually been March 13th that Clint came up with this brilliant idea.
He and Natasha were undercover then – Brad and Marie Johnson, a married couple living out in the suburbs. They were supposed to investigating a supposed weapons smuggling ring being run out of the gated community, and they were looking for ways to get an in with the neighbors.
Clint had been the one to decide that March 13th would be Marie Johnson’s birthday, and on the day itself he brought Natasha a bouquet of roses and then they had sex, loud and enthusiastic enough that the neighbors could pick up on it through the bugs they’d scattered throughout the house.
March 14th they had all the neighbors over for a big birthday bash that started with ice cream cake and streamers and ended with a firefight.
It had been a good mission, they’re always good when they’re successful and neither of them suffer a major injury, but he remembers how Natasha had looked happier when he gave her flowers for her fake birthday than when he threw her a party or even when Coulson congratulated them on a job well done.
Natasha always looks pleased when Coulson tells them good job even though she tries to hide it.
The fact that some flowers made her even happier than that?
That’s when Clint realized he’d stumbled upon a brilliant idea.
They’ve been celebrating Natasha’s fake birthdays for three years now, and Clint figures by the time they’re both dead they’ll have made up for all the birthdays she’s missed along the way.
“Mmm, they’re beautiful,” she says, leaning in to kiss Clint’s cheek. “I can’t believe you remembered.”
She slips into Marie Johnson with ease, and Clint finds himself falling into Brad just as easily. He snakes an arm around her waist and pulls her flush against his body. “I’d never forget your birthday,” he says, and she giggles, the sound alarming enough that Sam’s head snaps up.
“Um,” he says.
“You might want to get some headphones,” Clint says.
“Or go for a long walk,” Natasha tells him.
“We’re about to have really loud sex,” Clint says.
“Um,” Sam says again.
“It’s your birthday,” Clint says, bringing Natasha and her flowers back to her bedroom. “That means we get to do something special.”
“Like leave the lights on?” she asks, and they’re both laughing as Clint sweeps her off her feet to carry her across the threshold to her room.
Clint knows today’s a special day, but he doesn’t know what to do about it until he’s walking home from the park. He likes to go to the park around the corner with a frisbee and a tennis ball and play with any dogs that have been dragged out for a walk. He always asks the owners first, he’s not like creeping on people’s dogs or anything. That’s not how he rolls.
He’s just loved dogs his entire life, and it never made sense to have one. Home wasn’t safe for him and his brother, let alone a dog, and then at the circus he knew he couldn’t have one, because he had no way to feed it. He could barely get enough food for himself, and he was willing to suffer through cramped quarters and shitty jobs, but he wasn’t going to put a dog through that. And then he became an outlaw and then a SHIELD agent and he’s just never had the lifestyle for a dog.
Never in one place long enough.
Never responsible enough.
Anyways, he likes going to the park and running around with strangers’ dogs. One time a lady tried to offer him a baby to hold, but he doesn’t do babies. They’re squirmy. And fragile.
On his way back from the park on this particular day he passes a grocer that’s got fresh fruit in crates outside the store. The plantains remind him of Costa Rica, and he buys a couple knowing exactly how he’s going to celebrate the day.
He’d spent two weeks hawking fresh fruit on the street across from the bar where Natasha was a waitress during the day and a singer at the night. Clint still doesn’t understand why he didn’t get that job. He’s damn good on the piano, and his singing voice isn’t half bad. Okay, he understands why the job went to Natasha. The mark they were trying to lure was much more likely to bite on a pretty redhead than a guy. No matter how alluring Clint’s accent was.
Or how delicious his plantains were.
Present day Clint brings his plantains home and starts whipping up a batch of tostones.
He’s just finished the first fry and he’s smashing them in preparation of frying them the second time when Tony wanders through the kitchen.
“Woah,” he says, coming over to inspect what Clint’s doing. “I didn’t realize you knew how to make food that didn’t go in the microwave.”
“Funny coming from the guy who has an AI order takeout for him,” Clint says. He dumps the flattened plantains back into the canola oil to fry again.
“Fair,” Tony says. “What’s the occasion?”
“Birthday,” Clint answers, flipping the plantains over.
Tony’s face drains of all color. “Birthday? Who? Jarvis, did you forget to tell me it’s someone’s birthday?”
“It is several people’s birthdays today,” Jarvis answers, “but none related to the Avengers or SHIELD.”
Tony frowns as Clint flips the plantains onto a paper towel to cool. Clint starts making the garlic sauce. He likes his with a little less bite, but Natasha likes the sauce strong enough to fend off the vampires so Clint makes it her way. It is her birthday after all. Well, Fabiola’s birthday. But close enough.
“Smells delicious,” Natasha says coming into the kitchen.
“Good timing,” Clint tells her. “They’re almost done. And -”
“They’re served best hot,” she says. Her lips curve up in a smile. “I know.”
“Wait,” Tony says, looking between them. “It’s Natasha’s birthday?”
Natasha sprinkles some salt on the plantains as Clint pours the sauce into a little bowl they can dip them in. They bring their snack to the table, Tony following them, but he appears to give up on his line of questioning in order to pursue a new one.
“Can I try?” he asks, watching as Natasha dips a plantain in the garlic sauce and takes a big bite.
“Sure,” she says, “but you can’t scold me for double dipping, and you have to dance with me later.” She dips her bitten plantain into the sauce and then puts the rest of it in her mouth.
“Dance?” Tony asks. “Is there a party happening that I wasn’t invited to?”
“I just invited you,” Natasha says. “Make sure you brush up on your salsa. Don’t want you embarrassing yourself.”
“I’ve been practicing my merengue all week,” Clint says. “Remember our first dance?”
Their mark had shown interest in Natasha but didn’t look like he was hooked, so Clint wandered into the bar after work one day and swept Natasha off her feet, dancing with her until everyone in the bar had eyes only for them.
Natasha got invited to one of the mark’s parties that night.
Clint got dragged out behind the bar and got the shit beat out of him by the mark’s grunts.
“It was also our last dance,” Natasha says. She had no idea what had happened and when they rendezvoused at the safe house his face and ribs were a mess of bruises. She’d made him sit and ice until Coulson came to pick them up.
“Until tonight,” Clint says. “I tried to find the song we danced to, but my Spanish dialects aren’t very good. I couldn’t remember the title or any of the important words.”
“I’ll get it,” Natasha says, picking through the plantains until she finds another one that meets her criteria. She drags it through the sauce. “It is our song, afterall.”
“I have no idea what’s going on,” Tony says, “but I’m very disturbed.”
It doesn’t stop him from helping them polish off the plantains.
The night before, Clint warns the team that he and Natasha might not be around much the next day. It’s a necessary precaution, even if it’s still strange to him to have to tell people not to worry if they don’t see him for a couple hours.
Cap is a great leader, but Steve is a worrier. He’s the one who drags everyone together for team dinner every night, and if you’re not there then he sends off six ‘are you alive, is everything okay’ texts. They’ve all got suites on the same floor, and if Steve goes too long without seeing any of them then he’ll go and knock on their doors to make sure they’re still in the Tower and still okay. Clint supposes that has something to do with growing up in a cramped apartment in the Depression. You could always see where everyone was, no sense of personal space.
Or maybe it has something to do with being in WW2. If a guy wandered from the base to take a piss then he might get blow off the planet and you’d never know until you went looking for him.
Anyways, Clint understands the impulse, and he tries to respect it by being in common areas as much as possible. When he really needs some time to himself then he’ll go find a high perch, and he’ll tell Jarvis where he’s going so Jarvis can keep Steve from worrying.
Thor’s really big on everyone being together all the time, too. He says that’s how things are done on Asgard, and maybe it is, Clint wouldn’t know, but he thinks it also has something to do with the sadness in Thor’s eyes whenever there’s a lull in conversation or when he thinks people aren’t looking at him. Clint thinks exile took more out of him than he likes to admit, and now that he’s found a second family he’s determined to cling to them as fiercely as he can.
Being on the Avengers is different than being a part of SHIELD, but Clint’s learned to adjust and adapt. Which is why he gives everyone a heads up that he and Natasha are going to be absent from group activities tomorrow.
Tony waggles his eyebrows, suggesting things that Natasha would probably smack him (lovingly) for.
Any other time, Clint probably would’ve had a few jokes of his own, but tonight he just shakes his head.
When he gets back to Natasha’s room, she’s already in bed.
“No one’s going to bother us tomorrow,” he says, tossing his shirt on the floor and then pulling his pants off. “Not unless there’s some kind of world crisis.”
Natasha nods, not saying anything, but he can see the relief in her eyes. He climbs into bed with her, and they both fall asleep on their respective sides of the bed.
They don’t wake up that way.
Clint wakes up shaking, adrenaline and fear racing through his body, the last lingering remnants of a nightmare that Natasha’s pulled him out of. Her arms are wrapped tight around his body, keeping him from thrashing out, keeping him from hurting himself or her.
“Hey,” she says, soft, but there. Alive. “I’m right here.”
Clint nods, throat too dry for words. Natasha is here. She’s not bleeding out in his arms. He’s here, too. He shakes out his leg, breathing a sigh of relief when it responds. He’s still got his leg. He’s still got full function in it.
Natasha presses a kiss to his sweat damp forehead. “We’re both here,” she says. “We made it.”
Clint nods again.
Budapest started as an undercover mission.
It ended a fucking disaster.
They didn’t have the kind of covers that came complete with birthdays and childhood pets, but birthdays are a way to celebrate life, a way to say ‘way to go, making it through another year’. Budapest was the closest they’ve ever come to dying, which Clint thinks makes it the perfect birthday to celebrate.
Natasha’s cover didn’t have birthday so he picked the day Coulson found them on the roof of a building, Clint holding Natasha’s insides, well, inside her body, and Natasha shooting at anyone who came through the roof access stairs, because Clint had a piece of rebar through his leg and couldn’t run to get them help.
They shower together, washing away the remnants of their nightmares, and Clint makes pancakes with Natasha standing behind him, arms wrapped around his waist, cheek pressed against his shoulder blades. They eat together, feet in each other’s laps, and then they go back to bed, stripping completely naked and wrapping themselves up in each other’s bodies.
They spend the whole day like that, touching each other, reassuring themselves, each other, that they’re still alive, that they made it through.
“Happy Birthday,” Clint whispers, when they’re finally ready to go back to sleep.
If birthdays are a reminder that you’ve lived, that you’ve made it through another year, then this might be the most important birthday Natasha has.
She kisses him then, on the mouth, because it might be her birthday, but he needs the reminder that she’s okay as much as she does.
“I need your help,” Clint says, when Tony takes his Pepper-mandated lunch break.
“Schedule booked,” Tony says around a mouthful of sesame chicken. “Arrow requests can be send to R&D.”
“It’s not an Avenger thing,” Clint says.
Tony looks up from his takeout carton, stray bits of rice clinging to his beard. “Oh. Bail money?”
“You know how to make a whole wall a movie screen,” Clint says, because as much fun as Tony guessing what Clint’s wants is, he’s never actually going to get there.
“That’s easy,” Tony says, looking disappointed even though he just told Clint he doesn’t have time for anything complicated. “What’re you watching? I can get you the new Batman movie. It’s not out yet, but I’ve got a copy. And if you throw that up on all four walls then it’s a hell of an experience.”
“Just one wall is fine,” Clint says. “I got Natasha a present.”
Tony abandons his Chinese. “A present?”
“It is not Natasha’s birthday,” Jarvis says, like he can sense Tony’s panic. Tony’s shoulders slump, relieved. “It is, however, Natalie Rushman’s.”
Tony frowns at Clint. “You’re getting her a present for her cover’s birthday?”
Clint doesn’t want to explain what they do to other people so he just shrugs and says, “When else would I give her the VHS copy of Booty Boot Camp I found at Goodwill two months ago?”
“Why were you at Goodwill?” Tony asks. “You do realizes that SHIELD gives you a salary. And that you live rent free in the best real estate in the city, right?”
Old habits die hard. Besides, you can find all sorts of treasures in thrift stores. Like the workout video. And Clint’s new favorite t-shirt. It’s purple, obviously, but it’s got a great big sun wearing sunglasses on it and it says RAD in big silver letters.
“Wait,” Tony says. “Booty Boot Camp?”
Clint grins. “Invite Happy if you want. The only rule of Booty Boot Camp is that everyone participating has to split a pitcher of sangria before we start. And another one when we’re done.”
“This is a tradition?” Tony asks.
Clint wanders to the fridge to pull out the ingredients for the sangria’s he’s making. “How else would we celebrate Natalie’s birthday?”
Tony opens his mouth and then abruptly snaps it shut.
“You think I should invite the other Avengers?” Clint asks. “Usually it’s just me and Natasha, but I’ve sort of invited you and I’ve invited Happy. It would probably hurt Steve’s feelings if we didn’t include him.”
“I’m sending a group text,” Tony says. “There’s no way I’m passing up the chance to watch Thor follow a 90s workout video.”
“Then you should invite Jane and Darcy,” Clint says. “Tell everyone they’re not allowed entrance unless they’re in an appropriate outfit.”
Tony’s fingers stop typing. “Appropriate outfit?”
“I’ve got a pair of purple spandex shorts,” Clint says. “Natasha’s got this sports bra that has more padding than any of her regular ones. We’re embracing the moment.”
“Right,” Tony says. He resumes his text.
Clint’s going to have to go out and get more shit for sangrias.
Clint’s minding his own business, coming back from the shooting range, when he gets yanked out of the hallway and into a side room. He doesn’t know how an intruder got into the Tower, but he catches his attacker’s arm and spins, pinning his attacker to the wall.
“Oof,” Tony says, and Clint immediately drops Tony’s arm and tucks his spare knife back into its hidden sheath.
Steve sighs. “I told you not to grab him.”
Tony rubs his arm and frowns at Clint.
Clint frowns right back, because who the hell tries to surprise someone with military training? His frown deepens when he sees how crowded the little room he’s been pulled into it. Tony and Steve are here, but so are Thor and Bruce. Sam’s here too, but he’s shaking his head like he also told Tony not to try and sneak up on Clint.
It’s all the Avengers minus their most important one.
“Um,” Clint says.
“Natasha’s birthday is tomorrow,” Tony says.
“Is it?” Clint asks.
“That’s what I said,” Sam tells him. “Because I swear you already celebrated it this year. Didn’t you get her flowers?”
“That was for Marie’s birthday,” Clint says.
“Yes, and we all toned our glutes for Natalie’s,” Tony says, impatient. “But tomorrow is Natasha’s birthday. And we want to do something.”
Steve, standing behind Tony, hands clasped in front of him, nods solemnly. Clint can feel a headache coming on. SHIELD decided they couldn’t have an agent without a date of birth so they made one up for her, picking the day she officially became an agent of SHIELD. Natasha had shrugged when she saw the date printed on her forms, said the month and day were right for Natasha Romanoff even if the year wasn’t quite right.
Clint’s never done anything for this particular birthday, but he celebrates a bunch of the other ones so he figures why not.
“Okay,” he says. “What’s the plan?”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Sam says. “How do you not have a plan? How didn’t you know it was her birthday?”
Clint doesn’t feel like explaining their thing. It’s too personal, and he knows that even if he does try to explain they won’t understand.
“We should get cupcakes,” Clint says. “No, we should make cupcakes. But we have to buy the spider rings to put in the frosting. She’ll like those. And tiaras. She thinks birthday hats are stupid and that the elastic string itches, but she likes tiaras.” Clint holds his hand up, because Tony’s opening his mouth, and Clint knows what he’s going to say. “If you make any Anastasia jokes then she will kick you in the balls, and I will laugh as you drop to the floor.”
Tony shuts his mouth.
Clint makes sure to tell Natasha about the party in advance, because he knows she hates surprises. It also gives her the chance to coordinate a mission with Coulson so she can skip the party if she wants to. Which means the real surprise is whether or not Natasha’s going to be at the party they’re throwing for her.
Sam’s in charge of baking the cupcakes, because he’s the only one of them with any kind of kitchen skills. Clint is great with microwaves, Tony’s a master of takeout, and Steve had shrugged when they looked at him and said, “I grew up in the Depression,” which then sparked a discussion of how many times a person can use that as an excuse in their life. Which then led to a mini-argument between Bruce and Sam over who had to make the cupcakes, Bruce claiming that surviving while on the run didn’t make him qualified to bake for Natasha’s birthday party and Sam pointing out that just because his mother makes “bomb ass cookies” doesn’t mean he got the cupcake gene.
Sam finally capitulated when Thor offered to make the cupcakes, because while Thor is great with anything that can be cooked on a grill or a spit or even a camp stove, he struggles with the oven.
Anyways, Sam’s making the cupcakes while Thor puts up the decorations because he’s tall.
“Uh oh,” Tony says because he (mostly Jarvis) is on lookout duty. “Natasha’s early. Clint, didn’t you tell her 3 o’clock?”
“I did,” Clint says. He’s also been texting with Natasha all day so she knows they aren’t set up for the party yet. Which means she’s messing with them.
“She’s early,” Tony says. “Wilson, what’s the status on the cupcakes?”
“They’re not ready to be taken out of the oven, and they still need to cool once they’re done or we can’t frost them.”
“I knew you were the right man for the job,” Tony says and Sam rolls his eyes. “Alright, someone needs to go detain Natasha. Any volunteers?”
“I’m making cupcakes,” Sam says, suddenly much more interested in his task.
Thor casually tugs down the streamers he just put up. “Oops,” he says. “Guess I’m busy, too.”
Steve takes a deep breath, hands going to his belt. “I got it. How long do I need to stall for?”
Tony checks his watch. “It’s 2.”
“An hour?” Steve puts his Captain Face on. “Okay. I can do this.”
“Together we can,” Clint says. “Except, you know, without the we.” Clint offers up a bright smile and then, as soon as Steve’s headed downstairs, he whips out his phone.
Cruel, he texts.
His phone dings a moment later.
It’s my birthday. I’m allowed to have fun.
Clint chuckles and goes to make sure there are enough spots for them to sit in the living room. They’ve got two couches, and they could pull the kitchen chairs in, but, “Hey Bruce!” he calls. “Wanna help me move some furniture?”
“Sure,” Bruce says, quick, like he’s afraid if he doesn’t have a job then he’ll be sent to help Steve stall for time.
The cupcakes have been cooling for ten minutes when Clint sends his next text, How’s Cap doing?
Took me to get coffee. Got flustered when I asked him if it was for any special occasion. I think he’s trying to hide the fact that it’s my birthday from me.
Clint laughs and refuses to tell anyone what’s so funny when they ask.
“Should we hide?” Tony asks, after they’ve gotten the text saying that Steve and Natasha are on their way up. “And then jump out when the elevator opens?”
“You want to surprise someone who keeps a minimum of five weapons on her at all times?” Clint asks.
“Five?” Thor asks looking impressed.
“All times?” Tony asks.
“All times,” Natasha answers, striding into the room.
Everyone but Clint startles, and Tony points an accusing finger at Steve. “You were supposed to warn us.”
“We took the stairs,” Steve says. There’s a bit of sweat on his forehead. “We raced.”
“Of course you did,” Tony says. He motions towards their display of tiaras. They’re all on little pillows that have been embroidered with their initials. That was Pepper’s contribution, because she couldn’t get any time away from SI. Apparently there’s a hostile takeover happening this week. Pepper had offered a merger, but she’d been laughed out of the office for being a woman so she’s found an alternate way to get the company.
Natasha told Clint that was a perfectly good reason not to come to the party. Clint did make sure to get Pepper a tiara and told her to send Natasha a selfie of her signing the acquisition paperwork while wearing the tiara. It’ll probably end up being Natasha’s favorite present of the day.
“We need the proper head gear before we can start this party,” Tony says. He picks up the tiara from the Tony pillow. It’s red with gold rhinestones, naturally.
“Better or worse party than the Chitauri?” Bruce asks with a smile.
“I haven’t gotten to shoot anything yet,” Natasha says. “So I’m going to hold onto my decision for now.”
“Was shooting things a requirement?” Tony asks. “We can arrange that.”
“Let’s start with cupcakes,” Steve says. “And then presents.”
“Cupcakes?” Natasha asks. She pauses long enough for Clint to put her tiara on her head and then she’s in the kitchen, searching for the promised cupcakes.
“с днем рождения,” Steve says as she lifts up her first cupcake. He says the Russian phrase with confidence, but there’s a bit of doubt in his eyes, like he’s not quite sure he got it right.
“Thank you,” Natasha says, patting his cheek.
After they’ve stuffed themselves full of cupcakes they pile into the living room for the best part of the day – presents. It was Thor’s idea for them to wrap all their presents in the same paper and not sign their names to them so Natasha can guess who gave what.
She picks a slim, rectangular shaped present as her first. She’s careful with the wrapping paper, using her nail to lift the tape so she doesn’t tear the paper. Clint cranes his neck to see what she’s unwrapping.
“The Very Embarrassing Book of Dad Jokes,” she reads, lips curving up in a smile. She puts the book back on the coffee table and gets up to give Steve a hug. “Thanks,” she says. She gets her next present on her way back to her spot on the couch.
This is a bigger rectangular box, and Clint’s eyebrows aren’t the only ones to go up when she gets the box open because even he can recognize a pair of Louboutins when he sees them.
“Your idea or Pepper’s?” Natasha asks Tony.
“She picked them out,” Tony says as Natasha turns them over in her hands. “I, uh, altered the design a bit. Be careful there, the heels have blades that come out of them. Literal killer heels.” He laughs a little to himself, but abruptly cuts off when Natasha hugs him too.
“Thank you,” she says.
She gets a collection of tea from Bruce and a collection of spiders preserved in amber from Sam. Thor gifts her with an Asgardian forged circlet, and she takes off her tiara and lets Thor put the circlet on her instead.
After the party’s over and clean-up’s done, Clint finds himself in the living room again, Natasha stretched out across the couch, her head on his shoulder.
“This was nice,” she says.
“I’m glad. Honestly, I was a little worried.”
“Oh?” She lifts her head off his shoulder to look at him.
“I know what Natalie and Marie and all them like,” he says. “I’m not always sure I know you.”
Which is silly, because Natasha is a cover. A more complicated and long-term cover than any of the others, but still not Natalia. If Natalia is even who she really is. It hurts Clint’s head to think about it too much. All he knows is that he loves every version of herself that she shares with him.
“You did good,” she promises. She presses a light kiss to his cheek. “Thank you.”
Clint remembers his birthdays growing up. His mom would scrounge up a cake or a little present; once, she took him to the diner and let him get a piece of pie, with ice cream on top.
One year Clint asked for a puppy, because that’s what all the kids in his class said they asked for for their birthdays. His mom had cried, and Clint never asked for a birthday present again.
His first year in the circus, Barney stole him a Hostess cupcake and stuck a candle in it.
That had been the last birthday someone celebrated for him.
It was long before he started celebrating his birthdays himself. Life as the World’s Greatest Marksman wasn’t always safe or stable, but he always made sure he got himself a cake or a slice of pie to celebrate the year he was born. And once he signed on with SHIELD he made sure he bought a giant ice cream cake and brought it to the break room every year.
This is the first year he’s celebrating his birthday at the Tower, and he spends close to an hour in the bakery deciding what he should get. Cupcake tier? Cannoli collection? Triple layer triple fudge chocolate cake?
“Sir, can I help you?” the salesgirl behind the counter asks.
He can’t help his laugh. “I’m not a sir,” he says. “I’m just a guy looking for a cake.”
“Birthday?” she asks.
“Well, the person you’re buying a cake for, are they a chocolate, vanilla or red velvet person?”
“I like chocolate,” he says, and he can see the moment she realizes he’s buying his own birthday cake, because her smile falters.
“Oh,” she says, visibly pulling herself back together. “You can sample a few kinds if you want.”
He’s tempted to buy the first cake on display and leave, but then he reminds himself that there’s no shame in buying himself a birthday cake. And it’s definitely worth taking the time to get one he’ll like, because he’ll probably be eating it for a week.
He goes with a triple layer chocolate cake with chocolate and mint frosting. It’s like a Girl Scout cookie except in cake form. He’s tempted to buy two of them, but he manages to restrain himself. There’s always next year.
He whistles on his way back to the Tower, and he treats himself by taking the elevator instead of the stairs.
When the elevator doors slide open the common area is surprisingly empty, but Clint just shrugs to himself. The less people here when he cuts open his cake, the less people he has to share with. He thought Natasha at least would be here, though. She’s good at remembering things that are important to him.
He shrugs off his feelings about that and presses a couple candles into his cake. He digs through Tony’s drawers until he finds a lighter, and he lights the candles one by one. Ten isn’t the right number but any more than that and the wax will melt onto his cake and ruin the top layer of frosting.
He remembers that his mother used to tell him to make a wish before blowing out the candle or two she’d produce for the occasion of his birthday, but Clint’s never found much use for wishing. Thinking things doesn’t make them happen. Thinking things and then blowing out a bunch of candles doesn’t make them happen either.
Now, he thinks of something good that happened this year for each candle he blows out.
The Avengers Initiative, he thinks and then draws in a breath.
“Woah, woah, woah!” someone shouts.
Clint spins around, cake knife in one hand, lighter in the other.
Tony, who had been rushing forward, skids to a stop and throws his hands up in the air. “I come in peace,” he says.
The other Avengers are right on his heels, and Clint catches sight of Natasha smirking over Tony’s shoulder.
“Um.” Clint puts the knife back down on the counter. “Hi.”
Natasha’s outright laughing at him.
“Hi,” Steve says. “And Happy Birthday.”
“I think the wax is about to drip on your cake,” Sam says.
“Shit.” Clint whirls around and thinks a bunch of happy thoughts and blows out his candles and then plucks the candles out before they can do any damage. “Thanks.”
Natasha picks the cake up off the counter.
“Woah,” Clint says. “What’re you doing?”
“You’re going to want to do presents first,” she says, putting the cake in the fridge.
“I’m a billionaire,” Tony says. “You think I don’t get all my friends birthday presents?”
Clint shrugs. He’s learned it’s better not to expect things. Speaking of expecting things – he looks around. Sam, Steve, Natasha, Tony, Thor, and Bruce are all here but, “Kate couldn’t make it?” he asks. Kate Bishop’s a kid he’s been mentoring. She’s going to be a better shot than him one day. If she isn’t already.
Bruce opens his mouth to say something, but Steve elbows him in the side and then smiles at Clint like that isn’t suspicious at all.
“Right,” Clint says.
“Come on,” Natasha says, grabbing Clint’s hand and dragging him into the living room. There’s a pile of lumpy wrapped packages, and he hesitates for a moment before Natasha gives him a nudge.
He picks up the first one, something that looks pillow shaped but when he rips the paper off it’s not a pillow. It’s dog food. Clint turns to Natasha, eyes asking a question he’s afraid to voice and she nudges him with her boot. He picks up the next wrapped package.
It’s a leash.
“Is this a joke?” he asks, looking at the dozen other presents. He won’t be able to handle it if this is a joke. He –
“Kate?” Natasha calls. “You’re up.”
Kate opens Clint’s bedroom door, and she brings along with her a dog.
Clint’s frozen in place. His mouth is open but there aren’t any words coming out.
“His name is Lucky,” Natasha says, quiet, steady at his side like she always is.
“You won’t believe how we got him,” Kate says.
“Can I keep him?” Clint asks. He drops to his knees with a loud thump and a bit of pain, and the dog comes bounding forward. “He’s got an eyepatch. Will he answer to Fury?”
“He’s yours,” Natasha says. “We fought some Russians for him.”
“We obviously kicked ass,” Kate says.
Clint opens his arms for the dog – his dog – Lucky – and laughs as his face gets slobbered all over. Natasha got him a dog. Natasha and Kate took on a Russian gang to get him a dog. The best dog.
Only – Clint looks over at his shoulder at Tony, willing himself not to get his hopes up. “Can he stay in the Tower?”
“Of course,” Tony says. “But don’t think you’re going to recruit me into walking the thing. I don’t do exercise, and I don’t do responsibility.”
“We’ll walk to the park every day,” Clint tells Lucky. “I’ll teach you how to fetch boomerang arrows. They’re awesome because they come back to you. So you won’t even have to move. Are you hungry? We’ve got birthday cake.”
“Clint,” Natasha says. “You can’t give cake to a dog.”
“Good point,” Clint says, already halfway to the kitchen. “I’m sure I’ve got some leftover pizza.”