Burned – Ch. 2
The fundraiser was in full swing when Tony finally managed to pry Steve away from his fifth tipsy rich widower looking for a night with an American hero. It was painful to watch how stiff he went as the teasing touches and flirting got bolder and bolder. Bruce was stuffed into a corner with another scientist discussing string theory so Tony left him to it.
“Seen Legolas yet?” Tony asked, handing Steve a scotch glass. “Don’t worry, it’s club soda with lime.”
“The last two I got from the bar were rather foul.” He said with a grimace, taking a tiny sip and then a larger one once he had tasted it. “Thanks. Clint was at the bar last time I looked.”
“Not now, I was just there.”
“He’s over by the far wall.”
“Let’s go visit our shy duckling.” Tony said with a grin, tugging Steve along after him. Clint watched them approach for a moment before going back to scanning the room.
“How’s tricks, Merida? We might have to get you out more often if you dress like that.” He said with a leer. “Having fun?”
“This scene isn’t really my idea of fun, Stark.”
“Well you seem to be getting around. I’ve talked to ten different women and four men gushing over your witty conversation and good looks.”
“I sincerely doubt that.”
“I’m trained to make as little impression as possible. Ask them what we talked about, what my name was and they will have no idea. Just that they talked to a guy of average height who’s blond and wearing a suit. That description fits half the room.”
“Right, spy.” Tony said with a huff. “You’re at a gala filled with every high profile millionaire, well to do actors or actress in the country and you’re worried about being recognized. You need to loosen up a little. Relax and have a drink.”
“At least I didn’t invite international jewel thieves to the party or bartenders that try to roofie their superhero guests.” He said pushing away from the wall. “And I don’t drink.”
“Already taking care of it.” He said, his entire demeanor changing as he moved, a sudden smile lighting up his face and making him look years younger as he moved from group to group, schmoozing his way through the crowd like a pro.
“What exactly is a roofie?” Steve asked in shock, watching the archer move through the crowd.
“I’ll explain it later.” Tony said with a sigh. “At least we know they don’t work on you now. Win, win, right?”
Clint made his way to the thief he knew only as Tatiana, giving her a blinding smile as he asked her to dance. They slid onto the dance floor perfectly in stride. They kept the comments light and innocent until they were pressed against each other and moving.
“Funny seeing you here.” She murmured in his ear, pressing a teasing kiss to his neck.
“Somehow I doubt you were on the official guest list, Tatiana.” He said changing the tempo of their dance and forcing her to give a quick hop to catch up.
“Planning to toss a girl out of the party for window shopping?” She asked, turning in a quick spin and forcing him to change to a sudden gliding quick step.
They spun in the small space available, easily darting between and around the other dancers who gradually began making way for the couple. She was being showy and drawing attention just because she knew he hated it. He flashed her a feral smile, all teeth and promise of pain before he threw her into a dip and let the tranq dig into the back of her neck.
He pulled her upright and walked her off the floor, smiling and waving off assistance until he could hand her over to two of the undercover agents wandering room. Not bad for a few hours work. One international jewel thief, several small time pickpockets, one heiress that was stealing jewelry off of the men she danced with, one ex of Stark who had intended to cause a scene and a bartender trying to roofie an American Icon.
Thankfully the rest of the night is just a handful of drunks and one small fight over someone’s ex-lover which he let the other agents handle. Clint keeps the mask up, wandering about the room making small talk and wishing he could drop the act. Without Coulson in his ear keeping a steady stream of distraction from the inane chatter or Natasha mirroring him on the other side of the room leaving every man in the room panting after her he was fighting to keep the light smile on his face, to keep the bitter, biting tone out of his voice. God, he was tired, tension coiled his back and shoulders tight.
He found his own way back to the tower once Sitwell cut him loose. Ditching the tie and jacket, he hopped up on a counter and let himself indulge in a small craving for having a mission go exactly right for once. The rest of the team wandered in as he finished setting up his plate. He snagged a fruit fig newton and left the plate on the counter, wandering to grab the water he had left in the living room area earlier that day. He bit into the cookie with a happy hum.
“Midnight snacks?” Steve asked eying the plate left out.
“Need to get your own if you’re hungry. I only got out enough for me.” Clint said with a small grin, pulling himself back up onto the counter. The others quickly pulled out bags of chips and such and settled in to munch.
“Is that seriously all you’re going to eat?” Tony asked eying the small plate with three fig newton’s, four triscuits, and a handful of small cheese slices.
“It’s not a treat if you eat a ton of it, Stark.” Clint said with a sigh, eating a cracker and twisting the lid off his water one handed.
“Are you watching your weight or something?”
“Nah, I just eat a lot of crap on missions so when I get back I like to try and make up for it a bit.”
“You don’t get to eat the local cuisine when you travel?” Bruce asked, he was in the middle of making a rather large sandwich on rye. “That was my favorite part of traveling, trying so many different foods and dishes. India was great for that.”
“It depends on the mission. Sometimes we go in and infiltrate a drug den and then we have to go completely local, eating the food, shopping, the whole bit but most of my ops are being stuck on a roof or up a tree watching what’s happening below for days while munching on MRE’s.”
“So do you cook much?”
“Some. Natasha normally makes me cook when she’s in town. Most of the time I get by on take out or diner food on the road between missions. Lately Shield’s been too busy to let us drive anywhere, those are normally the better trips.”
“Wait a minute, why do you keep calling me Stark? You’ve been living here like three months.”
“And in three months I’ve only been here like six days. Sorry, if I’m not used to calling you by your first name.”
“Six days?” Steve interrupted. “That can’t be right.”
“I have no idea what you guys think I’ve been doing but I’ve only stayed the night in the tower twice before this week. The rest was rushing by between ops to drop off clothes and pick up weapons.”
“That can’t be right. Back me up, Jarvis, you’ve done other meals with us right?”
“Once or twice between missions.”
“Sir, I can concur that Agent Barton has only spent roughly six days in the tower. In truth the time is closer to five.”
“Rounding, Jarvis. It’s a human thing.”
“So you’ve been working non-stop for three months? Doing what, nonstop wet work?”
“Not really. I also got sent on two inspection runs, those are really low key.” Clint said polishing off his last piece of cheese and chugging his water. He washed the plate quickly and put it in the drainer, ignoring the chip bag that Stark was waving at him.
“So why are you not joining the team for meals the last few days? I know you haven’t had anything delivered. You’re not a food hoarder or bulimic or something that we need to know about?” Clint froze for an instant in gathering up his coat and tie before turning back to Stark.
“Excuse me?” He asked, voice low and steady. Natasha would have already been pulling a gun, Coulson already reaching to pull him into a lock as his expression went smooth, almost polite and friendly. Bruce and Steve were frozen to one side, eyes wide in shock, unsure if they needed to intervene or not.
“The perfectly arranged food, everything in fours; It’s a symptom of eating disorders. And you saved that water from earlier so you hate to waste things which could make you a hoarder. Which is it?”
“Neither.” Clint said, forcing his body to be loose and fluid as he turned and made his way to the elevator to the private floors. If he looked like a prowling leopard more than a human man, well, maybe next time they will understand when he bites back.
He is precise and careful when he gets to his rooms. Carefully undressing and returning each item to the boxes and bags they came out of. Precision and control is everything in his world. It’s the one thing he has had taken away from him over and over again. The one thing that makes him what he is. You can’t be the best marksmen in the world without precision and control.
That’s all the food had been, letting himself have a few small moments of control, a few moments to enjoy something small. The tower was not home, it was not safe enough to let his control go without someone watching his back. He wanted to scream and throw things but he forced himself to change into a pair of shorts and tank top. He walked out into the carpeted living room, forcing himself to be still and centered before he started flowing through the opening motions of a Tai Chi sequence. He had no idea how long he practiced, alternating between stepping practice and basic Tai Chi sequences until his entire body was heavy and loose. When he finally stilled, the room around him was full of sunlight.
Another night without sleep, he thought, making his way to the bedroom and taking a quick shower. He needed to get a better handle on things than this. Gripping the back of his neck harshly, he forced himself to breath as he considered what he had to do for the day. It had been Coulson’s way of snapping the archer out of a bad headspace or pulling him down from an intense mission focus. Somehow it just did not work the same when Clint did it.