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A Christmas Miracle: Getting Lucky

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The fourth Red Bull tastes more like poison than the third one did, but Clint keeps sipping with a single-minded sort of determination, because he needs to drive another four hours before he can pull over for a rest. He’s been driving for 12 hours now, and, as best he can tell, he’s somewhere in the middle of fuck-only-knows, Colorado, and if he hopes to make it to L.A. by Christmas, well.

There’s no time for sleeping.

And Natasha will kill him if he doesn’t make it to L.A. by Christmas.

It’s possible Clint ought to have left New York a week or so earlier, but he’d needed to earn enough gas money for the trip, and busking when you’ve only got a shaky-at-best grasp of chord progressions is slow business.

As it stands, he’s reasonably sure he’s got enough money to make it, so long as he doesn’t need to stock up on any more Red Bulls.

He’s so tired, it’s hard to keep his eyes open. And now it’s dark, which makes it worse.

Clint is just starting to think that maybe he should call it a few hours early when tragedy -- the very worst form of tragedy -- strikes.

He’s awake. His hands are shaking from the Red Bull, his eyes are burning but wide open, he’s hyper-aware of everything going on inside his beat up old truck and outside of it, and even then, he is completely unprepared for the animal to dart out of the ditch.

Right in front of his truck.

Clint isn’t ever going to forget the sound of the animal hitting his bumper, of the pained sound it makes as it’s thrown forward, of the scream of his brakes, of the way his voice cracks when he swears.

It was a dog. It was a fucking dog -- he hit a dog -- he will never, ever forgive himself if he killed a fucking dog.

He can see the animal lying still on the road up ahead, lit up by his headlights, and for a long moment, Clint thinks it’s dead. And then it wags its tail, a single weak little thump, and Clint is up and out of his truck without thought.

“Hey, little buddy,” he says, shaking from more than the Red Bull now. He kneels on the snowy road and doesn’t care that his knees are instantly cold and wet. The dog -- a mangy, beat up golden retriever, is panting in pain, his fur is matted with blood, and his one eye is looking up at Clint with a pleading sort of trust that makes his stomach hurt. “You’re okay -- you’ll be okay.”

The stupid dog’s tail wags harder and he starts struggling to get up, falling back down with a yelp.

“Oh god,” Clint mumbles, stripping his sweater off and carefully wrapping the dog in it. “Shh, lay still, I’ve got you.”

He bundles the dog into his car, making a nest out of any of his clothes he can find to keep it warm on the passenger seat. He blasts the heat and keeps one hand on the dog’s head, stroking his ears as he talks non-stop about how he’ll take care of him and help him get well and find his family and everything will be okay.

He takes the first turn he comes to, following the signs to Hardisty, Colorado, and hoping against hope that they’ve got a 24-hour animal hospital.

*

They don’t.

The vet’s office is easy to find. The entire town consists of one main street and a handful of roads with houses on them, and the vet is on Main Street. It’s also locked up tight for the night, and no matter how many times Clint pounds on the door and shouts for help, no one is there to help him.

In his truck, engine still running and heat still blasting, the dog is waiting, bloody and in pain, trusting Clint to fix it, and he can’t.

“Fuck, please,” he calls, pounding on the door again.

He’s startled when a car pulls up just behind his truck, even more so when he realizes it’s a sheriff’s car.

“Got a problem here?” the sheriff calls, silhouetted by his headlights.

“No,” Clint says, wondering if knocking on a vet’s office, crying, is a crime in this part of the world. “Well, I mean, sure, but not a legal problem, just a dog-related emergency.”

The sheriff is quiet for a moment, and then he steps forward, and Clint can see him better. He’s tall, broad-shouldered, muscular, blonde, and far too attractive for a small town sheriff in the middle of nowhere. He’s also frowning.

“Dog-related emergency?”

Clint rubs at his runny nose with his mitten and says, “I hit a dog with my truck and he’s hurt real bad.”

“Vet’s not open til 9,” the sheriff says.

Clint throws his hands up, aware of how pathetic he looks. He’s crying, wearing a blood-streaked t-shirt and a pair of mismatched mittens, in the middle of some tiny town. It started to snow a few years ago. It’s fucking freezing. And the only thing he can think to do is keep knocking on the vet office door and hoping someone hears him.

“I know,” he says. “But I thought… You know. Maybe this dog deserves a Christmas miracle or something.”

“Okay,” the sheriff says. “Hold on.”

He goes back to his car, gets on the radio, and Clint just bets he’s calling for backup because he needs help dealing with the crazy man clearly not dressed for Colorado in the winter, rambling and crying on Main Street.

The sheriff comes back a moment later and says, “Name’s Steve.”

“Cool,” Clint says. He kicks a bit of snow at the vet’s door. “Am I under arrest, Steve?”

Steve frowns. “No? Should you be? I mean, if you hit the dog and left it there, I’d probably have trumped some charges up or something.”

Clint’s shoulders slump. “If I’d have done that, I’d have deserved it,” he says.

“A name would be nice, though. Not for legal purposes, but just to be polite.” Steve smiles a little.

“Clint. Barton.”

Steve holds out a hand so Clint does the same, scrambling to take his mitten off before Steve can touch it, because he’s used to to wipe his nose half a dozen times. They shake hands and Steve says, “Pleasure to meet you, Clint. I’m about to swing by the station for a coffee refill and you look cold. Want me to bring some back for you?”

“Uh, no?”

Steve nods and then another car pulls up, spraying snow and parking haphazardly. A guy gets out, silhouetted in the headlights the way Steve had been, and he snarls, “What the fuck, Steve? It’s nearly 1 AM, what the fuck could be so damned important--”

Steve cuts the guy off and says, “Dog-related emergency, Buck. This is Clint. Looks like just your type. Take good care of him, I’ll be at the station if you need anything.”

And he flashes a lazy salute and a smirk and gets back in his car, driving off with a wave.

Leaving Clint alone with a guy who reminds him of an angry bear more than anything else.

“Where’s the dog?” the guy snaps.

“Uh. In my truck?” Clint says, unsure. “Are you the, uh, vet?”

“I’m not the taxidermist,” the guy snaps. And then he pulls a key out and unlocks the vet office door with it, which answers Clint’s question. “Get the dog.”

The vet storms into the office, leaving Clint alone in the snow. He opens the truck passenger door and carefully lifts the dog up, saying, “Don’t worry, just because he’s got no bedside manner doesn’t mean he can’t fix you right up.”

The lobby is still dark but there’s a light glowing from a room down the hall, and Clint follows it, finding a little exam room with a table. The doctor -- Dr. Barnes if the plaque Clint passed in the hall was to be believed -- is washing his hands at the sink, back to the door, but when he turns around, he makes an impatient sound and gestures to the table.

It takes Clint a moment to react, because… Well. He’d managed to avoid staring at the vet from the back, despite the fact that Clint hadn’t ever seen a veterinarian wear jeans that tight or have an ass that worth wearing tight jeans for.

But now, when face-to-face with Dr. Barnes’ furious, cold, and frankly beautiful face, well. Clint gets a little distracted.

“Table,” Dr. Barnes snaps.

So Clint shakes it off, mumbling an apology -- to the dog, not the doctor, because rude fucking doctors don’t deserve any sorts of apologies no matter how beautiful they are. He sets the dog down as gently as he can.

“What happened?” Dr. Barnes asked, already running careful, gentle fingers over the dog’s side, feeling for injuries. Clint is startled to see that the doctor only has one regular hand -- the other is metal and shining dully in the light.

Clint looks away quickly. “Uh. I hit him,” he says. “With my truck.” Dr. Barnes snorts and Clint adds quickly, “I was just passing through. Do you know him? Does he have a family? I didn’t see him, he ran out of nowhere.”

“Dogs don’t run out of nowhere,” the vet snaps, gently probing at the dog’s ribs.

“Can you fix him?” Clint asks. “I’ve got money.”

“Of course you do. Just leave him here, I’ve got it. Might as well get off to wherever you were going.”

Startled, Clint says, “Oh, no, I’ll stay. I’ll wait. I need to make sure he’s okay, I need to tell his family. I can’t just --”

“This dog doesn’t give a shit if you’re here or not,” Dr. Barnes says coldly. “So you’re just wasting your time. I’ve got it.”

“You’re kind of a dick, for a vet,” Clint tells him, keeping it light, because yeah, it’s true, but he doesn’t want to convince the vet not to help this dog.

“And yet, I’m not the one who nearly killed a dog tonight. I’m going to give him a shot for the pain before I get him in the x-ray. You going?”

“No,” Clint says, stubborn. “I’m gonna make sure he’s okay. I mean, I’ll wait in the lobby if I’m in the way.”

“Yep.”

The doctor walks away.

“Dick,” Clint hisses, but then he strokes the dog’s head, smiling at him when he wags his tail a little. Even bleeding and in pain, the dog’s a sweetheart. He’s also clearly had a shitty life, judging by the scarring Clint can see, by the fact that he’s half blind. “I’m gonna call you Lucky,” Clint tells him, pressing a quick kiss to the top of his head. “Just until we find your family.”

Dr. Barnes comes back and glares pointedly until Clint backs out of the room and finds a chair in the dark lobby. He can’t see any light switches, so he sits there in the darkness, waiting, waiting, waiting…

He’s not sure when he falls asleep, but when he wakes up, it’s morning, the sun is up, and there’s a kind but confused woman behind the reception desk. Someone’s thrown a blanket that smells like dog over his shoulders and left a cup of coffee on the little table beside him.

It couldn’t have been the bitchy doctor, so Clint smiles gratefully at the receptionist and then takes a sip.

*

Lucky is stable but heavily medicated, and he’s being kept for observation because he may have some internal bleeding. He’s not microchipped or registered but the sheriff is looking out for any lost dog reports, and the receptionist promises to let him know and sends Clint on his way.

He goes back to his truck, shivering because it snowed another foot and all his clothes are bloody from being used for Lucky’s nest on the passenger seat, and Clint’s a bit at a loss here. He can’t leave, not until Lucky’s all better and his family has been found.

He sits in his truck for a little while, savouring the coffee until it’s gone, and then driving down the street until he finds a diner, splurging on another cup and a slice of pie. He eats slowly, making the pie last as long as he can, and when it’s done, he finally looks at his phone.

He’s got 17 messages from Natasha, asking where he is, if he’s stopped for a rest yet, if he’s driven off the road, if he’s lying dead in a ditch, etc.

He texts back a quick, “Got hung up in Colorado, check in soon,” and then shoves his phone back in his pocket.

Clint pulls out the sum total of his funds -- a ratty manila envelope filled with fives, tens, twenty dollar bills -- and counts them up quickly -- he’s got $327 dollars. Okay. How much does a dog x-ray cost, anyway?

Probably more than $327. How is he going to pay for Lucky’s vet bills and still get to L.A. in time?

“Clint!” He looks up. It’s Steve, grinning at him from the doorway, kicking snow off his boots before making his way over to Clint’s booth. “Mind if I join you? Just on break.”

“You still on duty?” Clint asks, as Steve slides into the seat across from him.

“Nah. Wasn’t on duty last night,” Steve says. “Just… couldn’t sleep. How’s the dog doing?”

“Not sure yet.” Clint wrinkles his nose. “The vet is, uh.”

Steve laughs. “Yeah. Bucky’s not all that warm at 1 AM, that’s for sure. Or most any other time of the day. Don’t take it personally. He chose to work with animals for a reason -- he’s terrible with people.”

“As long as he helps Lucky get better, I don’t care how grumpy he is.”

“Lucky?”

“Just what I’m calling the dog until we find his family,” Clint says quickly, because he doesn’t want the sheriff to think he’s getting too attached -- that he intends to add animal theft to his list of transgressions here.

“No luck with that yet,” Steve says. “But a lot of rural places might not even notice a dog go missing for a day or two.”

“I’d notice,” Clint says, scowling into his coffee mug.

“Are you in town long?” Steve asks. “Got the impression you were just passing through.”

“Uh. Well. I was. But I need to make sure Lucky’s okay.” Clint shrugs, feeling awkward. “I’ve got to be in L.A. by Christmas, but. Can’t leave without knowing.”

“You know, Bucky’d probably be up for giving you a call and letting you know either way.”

“I’m the one who hurt him, and that’s most important,” Clint tells him. “I’m responsible. I won’t just leave him -- he’s a real good dog.”

Steve grins at him. “Glad to hear it.”

*

“It’s a pretty nice kennel, all things considered,” Clint says, because it is. They’ve set up Lucky for recovery in a large, fenced in kennel, covered the concrete floor with so many blankets, Lucky’s paws will never have to get cold, and it’s dark and quiet. Perfect for a pup recovering from wounds sustained by an absolute idiot driving a beat up old truck.

And it’s so dark, Clint’s pretty sure that Bucky the Veterinarian won’t spot him here, sitting propped up against the wall in Lucky’s kennel, stroking Lucky’s ears while the dog wags his tail at him in a drugged out stupor.

Lucky’s got a cast on his front leg and bandages covering a few spots where his fur has been shaved, so Clint’s got him carefully tucked into the blankets, leaving his tail free to wag, of course.

“You’re gonna be okay,” Clint tells him, leaning his head back and blinking sleepily up at the ceiling. “Dr. Bucky’s gonna take the best care of you, and Sheriff Steve’ll find your family -- I bet they miss you a whole lot. I know I would.”

Lucky’s tail thumps against the floor and he flicks his tongue in a sleepy, sloppy kiss against Clint’s fingers.

Wrinkling his nose and laughing a little, Clint says, “Yeah, you’re pretty much the best boy, aren’t you. I’m so, so sorry, I’m the worst, I can’t believe I hit you. I’m gonna stay until you’re all better and home again, okay? I’ll take care of you. I’ll make sure you never have to wander around by yourself in the dark again. And--”

“Aside from the broken leg and a few scrapes and bruises, he’s fine.”

Clint gasps, startled, as he snaps his head around to see Bucky leaning against the wall by the door. Lucky’s tail just wags faster.

“How long have you been there?” he asks.

Bucky lifts an eyebrow. “I could ask you the same question.”

Bucky is frowning -- what else is new -- but it looks different this time. Less furious at being awake, at Clint’s existence, at Clint having hurt a poor, innocent dog. Now he looks confused and pissed about it.

And he’s wearing scrubs. With kittens on them. What the actual fuck, Clint should not be so attracted to a guy who clearly hates him, Natasha is right, he’s a train wreck.

“Delores let me in,” Clint says, doing his best to look as sweet and innocent as a man guilty of hitting a dog with his truck possibly can. “I’m very charming. And I was worried about Lucky.” The receptionist had only put up a token resistance when Clint had asked to see Lucky, probably assuming Clint had some right to be there, seeing as she’d found him sleeping in the lobby when she opened.

“I can see that,” Bucky says, and Clint deludes himself into thinking Bucky’s confessing to seeing how charming he can be. That’s totally it. “But the dog’s fine. Nothing some rest and painkillers won’t fix. He got lucky.”

“See?” Clint says to Lucky, scratching his head. “I told you that you were the luckiest dog, that you’d be fine.”

“He’s only got one eye. And he’s got a lot of bones that’ve healed, and not well enough to indicate he’d received veterinarian care for whatever wounds he’d sustained. And last night, a dick with a truck hit him. I don’t think he’s the luckiest dog.”

Aghast, Clint tucks Lucky in more carefully and snuggles him. “That’s -- that’s awful,” he says, protective. “But, see, he’s doing okay, despite all that. And soon he’ll be home with his family.”

He’s feeling a little uncertain about that. If what Dr. Bucky is saying is true, then maybe Lucky’s family isn’t the best family to go home to. Or maybe he hasn’t got one at all.

It takes half a second for Clint to make up his mind, and then he announces, “If you didn’t have a family before, you have one now, Lucky. I’ll take care of you.” He glances up a moment later, having forgotten Bucky was there glowering at him. “Uhm, if that’s okay, I mean.”

Bucky’s frown has turned into a scowl. “You want him? Why?”

“Because he’s the best boy,” Clint says, unable to understand who wouldn’t want this dog. “Because he’s in pain and he’s high as fuck and he’s still wagging his tail at me. Even when he was first hit, and he was bloody and in pain, he was wagging his tail at me. He’s just -- he deserves the best home.”

“And that’s with you. You can’t even take care of yourself, from what I can tell. You’ve been running around in a bloody t-shirt, in the middle of winter, in Colorado. How the fuck are you gonna take care of a dog?”

“You’re… not very kind, for a vet,” Clint says, looking away and feeling very small and stupid. But maybe Bucky’s right. “I guess we just gotta find his family then.”

Bucky sighs, shaking his head and pushing away from the wall. He comes over to Lucky’s kennel, unlatches the door, and comes inside, crouching beside Lucky, who’s still got his head pillowed in Clint’s lap.

“He’s a good dog and he deserves a good home,” Bucky agrees, stroking Lucky’s face. Lucky licks his hand. “Protocol is we keep him in isolation at the pound for three days, waiting for his family to claim him. If they don’t, he’s up for adoption. I’m keeping him here til the end of the day, just to make sure he’s handling the pain okay, and then I’ve got to discharge him and Steve’ll take him.” Bucky hesitates, looking up at Clint, and Clint’s never actually been this close to him before, and if he was distractingly beautiful from far away, it’s worse, this close. “So if no one claims him, and you pass Steve’s background checks, he’s yours.”

Clint feels like his entire body lights up. “That’s all I have to do?” he asks, voice a little breathy.

Sue him. Bucky is really, really close. And really pretty. And apparently grumpy as fuck animal doctors do it for Clint.

Bucky considers him for a moment, still stroking the dog lying between them. His gaze wanders from Clint’s eyes, down to his mouth, lingers for a moment, and if Bucky hadn’t made it very, very clear before now that he hates Clint with every fibre of his being, Clint would almost be tempted to think Bucky was affected by being this close.

But that was impossible.

Bucky blinks and looks away and scowls more ferociously than ever. “If you think you could pass the background checks,” he snaps, getting to his feet.

“I can. I totally can. I mean, I think I can. Things that are sealed in a juvenile record, those things wouldn’t come up, would they? I mean, they’re sealed for a reason, right?”

Bucky looks back at him, smirking a little, and fuck, shit, goddamn, smirking is a good look on him. If scowling was enough to make Clint’s heart skip a beat or two, smiling is even better.

“That’s Stevie’s problem, not mine,” he says.

And then he leaves. And doesn’t even kick Clint out. And, even better, a few minutes later, one of the vet techs shows up with a mug of coffee and says, “Dr. Barnes asked me to bring this to you?”

Clint takes it gratefully and every sip warms him from the inside out.

*

The vet office eventually closes and it’s dark and cold, so Clint ducks back into the diner, orders the cheapest thing on the menu, and eats it really slow. Eventually, the diner closes too, and then he’s back outside, and it’s darker now, and starting to snow.

Thank god for his mismatched mittens, he thinks, as he climbs into his frigid truck. At least his fingers are warm, though the rest of him is freezing. Colorado three days before Christmas is the coldest place on earth.

He drives his truck up and down main street for twenty minutes, until the ancient heater is capable of pumping out a bit of warmth, and then Clint finds a shadowy spot to park and curls up in the passenger seat with a beat up blanket he finds shoved back behind the seat.

The heat gradually fades away and he can see his breath fogging up the air. Clint’s pretty sure he’s shivering too much to sleep but eventually, he manages it.

He’s woken abruptly not too long later, when someone pounds on the window, which is too frosty to see out of.

He sits up with a yelp, and motherfucker, he can’t feel his toes or his nose or anything in between.

Shivering violently, he tries to roll down the window but it’s frozen shut so, cursing, he shoves the door open.

Bucky’s standing there, all wrapped up toasty warm in a parka and toque, and, yep, still scowling.

“What the actual fuck are you doing,” he snaps. It’s not a question. “It’s -4, you can’t sleep in your truck -- it’s not even fucking wind-proof, you’ve got a goddamned hole in the back windshield. You’re going to die and then Steve’s gonna have to spend his Christmas investigating the absolute idiot who drive into town, nearly killed a dog, and then froze to death in his own goddamned truck!”

“It’s n-n-not th-that c-c-cold,” Clint says, but it’s really fucking cold.

“You don’t even have a coat!”

“In my d-d-defense,” he says, shuddering. “I’m on my w-w-way to L.A. Don’t n-need coats in L.A.”

“You said you have money,” Bucky growls, yanking the door open further. “Get out of there.”

“I d-do,” Clint tells him. “I got t-three hundred a-a-and thirteen dollars. How m-much is Lucky’s bill?”

“More than that,” Bucky says grimly, and then he’s taking off his amazing, warm, snuggly parka and wrapping it around Clint’s shoulders and slamming the passenger door shut, herding Clint down the sidewalk.

All the houses on the street are lit up with Christmas displays, sparkling lights, inflated reindeer and snowmen. The sidewalk is lined with glittering candy canes. It looks like something out of a movie.

Bucky drags Clint to the only house on the street that’s lacking that Christmas cheer. There’s only one decoration here -- a sad, droopy looking Charlie Brown Christmas tree in the yard. It’s a small house, tidy, and Bucky pulls out a key and unlocks the door because apparently, he lives here.

“W-wait,” Clint shivers. “Where are we--”

Bucky drags him inside, locks the door behind him, and says, “Take off your shoes. Jesus, Clint, your shoes have fuckin’ holes in them, how have you even survived this long?”

While Clint is trying to kick his shoes off, Bucky disappears into the house, still cursing under his breath. He returns a moment later with a pile of clothes, taking his parka from Clint, hanging it up, and shoving the clothes into his arms. He points down the hall.

“Bathroom,” he says shortly. “Go put those on. All of them.”

“S-surprised you’re not making me s-strip for naked s-snuggling,” Clint grumbles. “You k-know. For warmth.”

“Go,” Bucky snaps.

Clint does.

There are three layers of warm, cozy shirts and sweaters in his arms, as well as some flannel PJ pants that feel fantastic once he kicks off his jeans and pulls them on. He’s still shivering, but his toes are beginning to defrost, which is a painful but relieving experience.

He makes his way to the living room, intending to thank Bucky for the warm clothes and promise to get a room at the motel by the highway, but stops dead in the doorway.

Bucky’s on his knees beside a wood burning fireplace, coaxing the flames that are licking away at a piece of wood he’s just added. His face is lit up in the warm glow, he’s wearing a flannel shirt with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows and beat up old jeans. There’s a real Christmas tree in the corner but no one’s bothered to decorate it beyond an old star on the very top.

There’s no possible way that Bucky can be real. Clint’s fallen into some weird, holiday-themed fantasy. He’s probably freezing to death in his truck right now and just dreaming all of this.

The tree probably would be decorated if he was dreaming, though, because who the hell gets a tree and leaves it bare?

“You don’t have any pets,” Clint says, for lack of anything else to say. “And, uhm, your wife -- girlfriend --”

“I’ve got three cats,” Bucky says. “They don’t like strangers.”

Clint snorts a little. “Kinda like you?”

Bucky ignores him. “And no wife or girlfriend or husband either. Sit down. Drink your hot cocoa. It’ll be warm in here in a minute.”

Clint’s already feeling warm -- a little overly warm, really, because Jesus, Bucky’s got more muscles than a vet ought to have.

But there’s hot chocolate waiting for him on the table, with little marshmallows floating in it, and if he’s gonna die dreaming about this, what a way to go.

Clint curls up on the sofa and sips at his hot chocolate and says, “Uhm, thanks. I can probably get a room at that motel, I totally won’t go back to sleep in my truck after I’m done this hot chocolate, I promise.”

Bucky gives him a look, clearly not believing a word out of his mouth, and says, “Use that afghan on the back of the couch. You’re still shaking.”

There is, indeed, an afghan on the back of the sofa, one of those heavy knitted ones with the holes in it and the ugly colours of yarn, and he pulls it around his shoulders greedily.

The fire is roaring now and Clint can feel it even from across the room. Bucky gets up, dusts his hands off, and says, “I’ll get you a pillow and blanket. No use giving Steve a suspicious death to investigate over Christmas.”

Clint opens his mouth to argue, but he’s the warmest he’s ever been, and the fire, the afghan, the sweaters and flannel pants -- he’s sleepy and the idea of crawling back into his truck makes him want to cry.

“Thanks,” he says softly instead. “I’ll find a place tomorrow, I swear.”

“How long you intending to stay?” Bucky asks him casually, opening a chest and pulling out a thick, warm blanket. “Thought you had someone waiting for you in L.A.”

“Natasha,” Clint says, cradling his mug and blinking slowly at the firelight. “My best friend. We have a job and I can’t be late.”

“But you’re still waiting around here on a dog that’s not even yours.”

“Priorities, Barnes,” Clint mumbles, struggling to keep his eyes open. “I have them.”

“Uh huh. Sure you do. You’re a disaster is what you are. Don’t know how you managed to survive this far on your own.”

Clint wants to argue, wants to comment on how the edge in Bucky’s voice is softer now, but he’s sleepy and he’s warm and the next thing he knows, someone’s easing the mug out of his hands and sighing.

“Just sleep,” Bucky says, quiet. “Figure the rest out in the morning.”

“Your butt looks real good in kitten scrubs,” Clint tells him around a yawn, letting Bucky nudge him until he falls sideways on the couch.

“Jesus,” Bucky laughs, still soft. And then he’s smoothing a blanket over Clint and the amazing afghan and Clint’s falling asleep and it’s the sweetest, warmest sleep he can remember having.

*

He wakes up with a calico cat curled on his chest, staring at him with bright, judgy eyes. One of her ears is ragged from frostbite.

“Hey there,” Clint mumbles. “Heard you hated people. Don’t seem so grumpy to me, not like--” He reaches out to pet her and she swats at his hand and leaps to the floor, stalking away in a huff. Clint laughs. “Okay, maybe a little like Bucky.”

“I’ve been talking to Steve,” Bucky says suddenly from the doorway, and Clint jumps.

“Oh, hi, good morning,” he says, feeling awkward and rubbing at his hair. It’s standing up like crazy, he just knows it is.

“Hey.”

Bucky’s wearing pajamas. It’s like each time he goes to get dressed, he thinks ‘what’ll make Clint the most inappropriately attracted to me?’ and goes with that option. Super soft sweats riding low on his hips and a long-sleeved sleep shirt that’s a bit big and hanging off his non-metal shoulder? Bare feet? Fuck.

Also, he’s holding a spatula. And the whole place smells like french toast. And Clint totally must have died in his truck last night and gone to heaven.

“So, Steve. Told him you nearly got yourself killed last night and might need money. He’s got a few odd jobs you can do for the station. It’s the big town Christmas festival tonight.” Bucky smirks. “Might just pay enough for Lucky’s vet bill.”

Clint’s eyes light up. “Really? That’s amazing! I’ll do anything, especially for the sheriff’s department, because that means it’s probably all legal stuff. Can’t see the sheriff wanting me to give blowjobs for cash, right?”

He laughs. Bucky cocks his head a little like he can’t quite figure Clint out. “Right,” he says, after a beat of awkward silence. “I made breakfast.”

He retreats back into the kitchen and Clint buries his face in his hands and groans, wishing he wasn’t such an awkward excuse of a human being, for once in his damned life.

Bucky’s kitchen is small, cozy, with a little breakfast nook, a little table by the window overlooking the snowy backyard. There’s a different cat munching on some kibble by the fridge and it looks up and hisses before going back to its meal.

“Your cats are pretty antisocial,” Clint says, sliding into a chair at the table.

Bucky hums in agreement as he slides a plate of french toast on the table. “All three of them were brought to the clinic by people who found them near death somewhere, either frozen or hit by cars. No homes, no families, no personalities that made them very attractive for families.” He shrugs. “I got the space for them.”

“Kinda make a habit of bringing home strays?” Clint asks, as he pours too much syrup on his french toast. “Like me?”

“You’re the first human stray I’ve brought home,” Bucky says with a small, crooked quirk to his lips that just might be a smile.

“Well,” Clint says, mouth full of french toast, pointing with his fork. “You made an excellent choice bringing me home. I’m way too awesome to freeze to death.”

“Sure you are,” Bucky agrees, sounding sarcastic as he takes a sip of coffee, but Clint sees the smile he’s hiding behind the mug. “I’ve gotta get to the clinic but Steve’ll swing by to pick you up around 10, that okay?”

“Sure, sure, sure,” Clint chirps, not at all anxious about apparently being left alone in Bucky’s adorable little house. “Or I could come hang out at the clinic. You know. If you want.”

“Nah,” Bucky says. “Just stay here. Don’t steal anything. Relax. Stevie’s real excited to have someone around to help out for the next day or two, so.”

He gets up, clearing the table around Clint’s plate, which is still piled high with french toast he’s determined to finish.

Bucky leaves a short while later, after setting out an extra jacket, hat and scarf for Clint to use.

And for a few minutes, Clint doesn’t know what to do with himself. He half wants to try starting a fire in the fireplace but god knows, he’d probably burn the place down.

So instead, he wanders the main floor of the house, avoiding the upstairs and Bucky’s bedroom, because Bucky’s grumpy enough without having actual cause to be so angry. And he ends up studying the sad, bare Christmas tree.

He finds tin foil in the kitchen and sits himself down in the living room and a few hours later, he’s covered the tree in garlands made of folded bits of foil and little silver arrows.

*

“We don’t get many animals at the pound here,” Steve says apologetically. “So sometimes, especially at Christmas, we end up using the kennel area for storage. You sure you don’t mind cleaning it out for Lucky?”

“Dude, no,” Clint says, bouncing on his feet and looking around the cramped, messy kennel area at the back of the sheriff’s department. “It’s so much better than the alternative -- Lucky’s too pretty to go to jail.”

Steve smiles. “We wouldn’t put him in a holding cell, but I see your point,” he says. “After you do this, we’ll transport Lucky over from the clinic, and then see about putting up some Lost Dog posters to find his family.”

“Sweet,” Clint says, but it doesn’t sound sweet at all. He swallows down his feelings, though, because he’s an expert at that, and goes about organizing the various boxes and debris that have been shoved in the sheriff station’s single kennel.

Lucky arrives after the kennel has been cleaned and swept and stocked with cozy blankets and a nice doggy bed, and Clint carries him carefully out of the squad car. He helps him onto the bed and makes sure his food and water are nearby, and that his pain medications are stashed carefully out of the way.

Lucky looks a little sad and lonely, probably because Bucky’s got him in one of those plastic cones, so Clint decides it’s time for a coffee break anyway and crawls into the kennel to keep him company, stroking his ears until the pain medication takes effect and he falls asleep.

It’s hard to leave Lucky there all alone, but Clint’s got to help Steve out as best he can to earn enough money for the bills and to somehow still get to L.A. in time, so he hasn’t got a choice.

Natasha calls him as he leaves the kennel, and he answers with a distracted, “Hey, I’ll be there by Christmas, I swear.”

“You should have arrived by now. Are you on the road?” she asks. “You haven’t been checking in. Where are you?”

“Uhh. Colorado? Still?” He winces.

She’s silent for a moment and then says, “You know how important this is for us, please, please tell me you’re not going to fuck it up.”

“I told you! I’ll be there! I just… got hung up.”

“What could possibly be more important than--”

“Nat, I hit a dog.”

She’s quiet for a moment and then sighs. “Is it okay?”

“He’s getting better. But I couldn’t just leave him, Nat, I--”

“I know. I get it. Please just… you need to be on the road by tomorrow, Clint. Okay?”

“I know! I will!”

“Do you need money? You can probably catch a flight in Denver.”

“Nope,” he says, just like he’d said when she’d offered to fly him out to begin with. He’s a little less confident this time. “I got this.”

“Okay. Okay. Just… I’ll see you on the 25th. Right?”

“Absolutely.”

He swears under his breath as he hangs up, but he can still totally make it on time. Right?

He has to.

*

The thing about Hardisty, Clint learns, is that Christmas is a very big deal. The festival starts with a parade, which only consists of about eight floats, but it’s a very small town. The highlight of the whole thing is the Santa float at the very end and that, much to his secret delight, is where Steve stations him for the evening.

Because they lost the annual fitness competition back in the fall, the sheriff’s office is responsible for the Santa float, which means Steve’s dressed up as Santa himself and still grumbling about how Tony and his firefighters cheated at the competition. And Clint… gets to be a fucking elf.

It might be the highlight of his year.

He’s got a green tunic, red and white striped leggings that make his legs look fucking amazing, little curled shoes with bells on the toes, and a droopy elf hat. One of the deputies had painted candy canes on his cheeks and used a bit too much glitter along his cheekbones and his job is to throw mini candy canes to all the children gathered along the parade route while Steve waves and ho-ho-hos. Two of the deputies are dressed as reindeer, and the other one is a scowly and clearly reluctant Mrs. Claus.

And Clint couldn’t leave Lucky behind, that was for sure. The dog was too sad, too lonely, too pathetic in his cone and his cast. So Clint had taped a pair of antlers to the cone and loaded him up into a wagon he’d found at the station and trucked him down to the parade float and placed him on board.

When Steve had given him a look, Clint had just said innocently, “It’ll help him find his family, right?”

Steve had laughed and let it go.

Christmas had never been a big thing for Clint. Growing up, there hadn’t ever been any money for much of a Christmas, and after his parents died, none of his foster families had ever cared enough. At the circus, Christmas was just a time to get wasted.

But this? Sitting on the side of a flatbed truck beside Santa, dressed like an elf and tossing candy canes to children, while Christmas music blared out of the truck stereo? Winding their way through the snowy streets of a sleepy little Colorado town?

This is probably the most magical thing that’s ever happened to him. And he’s getting paid for it.

By the time they make their way to the end of the route and climb down off the float, Clint’s cheeks hurt from grinning. He isn’t even cold, thanks to the heaters that some kind soul had stashed all over the truck, which is awesome because he doesn’t think his elf shoes would do much to keep out the chill.

They head into the arena for the Christmas party, and Clint pulls Lucky along in his wagon. Once Steve is set up on his big throne and the kids start lining up, Clint goes to his own station a short distance away, where his guitar and a comfy chair are waiting for him. Some deputies are off painting faces, others struggling to make balloon animals, but after Clint mentioned his awful ability to play guitar and sing, that’s what he was assigned to do.

He had warned everybody that he wasn’t very good, but considering the deputies are currently struggling to make even the most basic balloon poodle, he figures actual talent isn’t what they’re looking for.

He starts enthusiastically strumming a mangled version of Jingle Bells and swarms of children run at him and start singing along with far more enthusiasm than melody.

It’s amazing.

Clint plays every Christmas song he knows before he starts launching into new ones he makes up on the spot, and by the time the DJ and dancing part of the party starts, his voice is feeling a little rough.

The children dart off as soon as the overhead lights dim and the party lights and disco balls start swirling on the dance floor, and Clint adjusts his hat, makes sure Lucky is still sleeping soundly, and wonders what he’s supposed to do now.

“I lend you to Steve for one day and look what he’s done to you.”

Clint looks up with a grin, seeing Bucky standing not too far away, leaning back against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest like he’s been there a while. He’s wearing a Christmas sweater with a goddamned reindeer on it, like he’s got any room to talk about Clint’s elf outfit.

The sweater is doing amazing things for his arms and shoulders, but Clint doesn’t notice.

“You’ll never manage to convince me that you didn’t know exactly what Steve was going to do with me when you called him this morning,” Clint tells him with narrowed eyes, still grinning. “Besides, I look awesome.”

He wiggles his toes, bells jingling, and Bucky laughs. Clint doesn’t think he’s ever seen him laugh before, and it’s so different than his usual guarded scowl, Clint can’t help but stare a little.

He comes closer, dropping down to sit beside Lucky’s wagon, and saying, “How’s this little guy doing?”

Clint shrugs. “Humiliated because someone made him wear a cone, but otherwise okay. I didn’t want to leave him at the station, he looked so lonely.”

Luckily sleepily wags his tail and Bucky tries to stand his drooping antlers up to no avail.

“Any luck finding his family?”

“Nope,” Clint says. “Maybe he was a stray!”

“It’s possible.” Bucky looks at Clint now, taking in his elf hat that keeps getting in the way of his eyes, his tunic, his striped leggings, his curled shoes. He grins a little, reaching up and flicking the bell on the tip of Clint’s hat. “I didn’t know you played,” he says, jerking his chin at the guitar.

“Oh, not well,” Clint tells him, wrinkling his nose. “I’m really bad at it. But tourists in New York aren’t real particular when it comes to giving buskers a dollar or two, and it’s a good way to get some gas money.”

“That the gig you’ve got in L.A.?”

“Oh god, no. No one would book me for this, are you kidding?” Clint grins and starts strumming Stairway to Heaven, though it’s barely audible over the Rocking Around the Christmas Tree that the children are thrashing to on the dance floor. “I do performance archery. I’m real good at it.” He shrugs because modesty is for people who can’t hit a target at 40 feet with their eyes closed.

They are having a conversation and it’s weird because Bucky is clearly making an effort. Clint wonders if it’s the elf outfit, if that’s somehow caused Bucky’s heart to grow three sizes to become a real human being who actually goes out of his way to try to have a normal conversation with someone.

“I’m on to you, you know,” Clint tells him, his fingers tripping up over a simple chord progression. He just carries on.

Bucky looks up at him, eyebrows quirking. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. You’re not as much of an asshole as you want people to think you are.”

A bit of tension in Bucky’s shoulders relaxes a little and he smiles. “Are you sure?”

“Yup.” He punctuates the word with a transition into Bohemian Rhapsody. He’s really bad at it. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t keep making sure I’ve got coffee. And you’d probably have let me die in my truck last night. And I’d probably have deserved it, after hitting Lucky the way I did.”

Bucky considers it for a moment, scratching Lucky enough to make his butt wiggle, and then he says, “Or maybe I just like you.”

Clint’s fingers stumble and his guitar makes an awful, tuneless jangle of mismatched chords. “What? Me?”

Bucky shrugs with a self-deprecating smile and gets to his feet. “Got a bit of a thing for hopeless blondes -- you and Lucky both.”

Clint’s mouth is hanging open, it’s very unattractive, even with the glitter and the candy canes and the elf hat.

Bucky isn’t looking at him anyway, he’s scowling off into the distance, and says, “Gonna go get you a drink, you sound like you could use it.”

And then he ducks into the crowd and disappears like a coward, but Clint can’t blame him for it. He’s sort of feeling a bit like a coward himself.

*

Santa gets to take a break after all the children get their gifts, and Clint corners him in the skate sharpening booth where he’s hiding. He’s discarded his hat, beard, and big red coat and is throwing back a quick beer.

Clint kicks the door shut, points an accusing finger at him, and says, “Bucky said he liked me, what the fuck is that about!”

Steve blinks at him over the lip of his beer bottle, takes a sip, and says, “That makes sense.”

“Makes sense?” Clint asks him, shrill. “In what universe does the super hot small town veterinarian like the walking human disaster who ran over a damned dog?”

“It probably helped that you nearly broke down the vet office door when you found out it was closed, that you sacrificed every piece of clothing you own to keep the dog warm in your truck, that you fell asleep in his lobby after he was an ass and kicked you out, that you charmed your way into the kennel to check on the dog, that you were so determined to make sure the damned dog was okay, you tried to sleep in your truck. And he did mention how stupid you look in your t-shirt, running around in the snow, in mittens that don’t match.” Steve shrugs. “He’s got a type. Animal-loving hopeless cases. Plus, you’re dressed like an elf, Clint.”

“I do look pretty good in these leggings,” Clint says faintly. He doesn’t quite know what to do with this information.

Steve claps a hand on his shoulder and says, “Listen, I know he can be gruff, especially at 1 am when faced with an injured dog, and he’s pretty used to assholes just dropping hurt animals off at the front door, if they bother to bring them in at all after they get hit. We get a lot of people driving through, especially around Christmas.” He crosses his arms, beer still in one hand, and studies Clint for a moment. “You don’t have to overthink it. I mean, you’re in town for what, another day or two? That’s probably the only reason he bothered to mention liking you. He’s not much for commitment.”

Clint throws his hands up. “And what am I supposed to do with that?”

“What do you want to do?” Steve asks, like it’s that simple. “I mean. He sent me a picture of the tree, Clint. It was a nightmare just convincing him to let me leave that there, and the only reason he gave in was because the cats liked it. And now you’ve got it shining and done up.” He shrugs, looking uncomfortable for the first time. “And you’ve got him here. Bucky hasn’t given a shit about Christmas, not since we got back from our tour overseas. But he’s at the town Christmas festival, and he’s got Christmas decorations in his house, and I even caught him smiling a little while ago. So you’ve already done enough. It’s a goddamn Christmas miracle from where I’m standing.”

Clint huffs out a breath, puffing up the bell at the tip of his hat, but Santa’s break time is suddenly over and he’s got no more time to convince Steve that there’s nothing about him that’s a Christmas miracle.

He goes back into the arena, feeling a little panicky and anxious, and the feelings only intensify when he gets back to his station and Lucky’s cowering, whimpering, and a furious guy is standing beside him, holding his collar tight enough to choke him.

“What the fuck,” Clint snaps, ready to punch the guy in the face. “You’re hurting him, who the fuck--”

It’s not very elfish language.

The guy, who is easily as tall as Clint, who’s pretty tall himself, spins around and Lucky yelps when his collar is yanked. “You the asshole to blame for fucking up my dog?” he snarls, gesturing at Lucky -- at the cast, the bandages, the cone.

“Your dog,” Clint says, suddenly feeling sick. “I -- well, I mean, he ran out in front of my truck.”

“Because he’s a goddamn idiot,” the guy says, rolling his eyes. “But I’m not paying for this shit. You shoulda just left him.”

“I should have -- what? He was hurt, I couldn’t just leave him,” Clint cries, torn between wanting to shove this guy as far away from Lucky as he can, and also acknowledging that Lucky has a family. Clint had been deluding himself into believing that he got to keep him, but he can’t, not if Lucky’s got a family already. A shitty as fuck family. But he’s pretty sure the law isn’t on his side here.

“I ain’t paying for it,” the guy snarls, tearing the cone off Lucky’s head and yanking him out of the wagon. Lucky tries to catch himself, but his front leg is in a cast, and he falls to the ground.

And there is no fucking way this guy is walking out of here with that dog.

Clint has half a second to come up with a plan that involves killing this dude and grabbing the dog and making a run for it before his fist comes into contact with the guy’s jaw, snapping his head back. He’s big though, so he just stumbles back one step and then comes at Clint, grabbing him by his elf tunic and yanking him up off his feet.

“You’re gonna regret that,” the guy hisses, and they’re gathering a crowd of horrified parents and their festive children and the guy’s about to slam his fist into Clint’s gut, he can feel it. He goes to brace himself and then there’s a metal hand gripping the guy’s shoulder and Bucky is there, looking furious.

“Rumlow,” he says, cold. “Didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Saw my dog in the goddamn parade,” the guy -- Rumlow -- snaps. “Came to get him back.”

“He’s not taking Lucky,” Clint pants, shoving at him and yanking himself free, before scowling at Bucky. “No way that’s happening.”

Lucky?” Rumlow sneers. “This dog ain’t got a name. He’s a piece of shit dog that’s only good for keeping the crows and magpies out of my chickens, that’s all.”

Lucky -- the same dog who tried to get up to lick Clint’s face after he’d been hit by a truck, who hadn’t let any of his injuries stop him from wagging his tail, is hunched up on the floor as small as he can make himself, trembling. He hasn’t bothered trying to get up from where he fell, and Clint is going to destroy this guy.

But first, he needs to take care of his dog.

He kneels down, crouching protectively over Lucky, cradles his head and strokes his thumbs over Lucky’s ears and says quietly, “Don’t even listen to him, Lucky. You’re a good dog -- the best dog -- and he’s not taking you home, never again.”

Lucky flicks a small lick against his palms and then Rumlow makes the worst decision of his life and goes to kick Clint out of the way.

His foot doesn’t connect, because Bucky’s yanking him back and Rumlow snaps, “That guy stole my fucking dog.”

Bucky says, in that same quiet, deadly tone, “Now, that can’t be right, Rumlow. Last I heard, you’re banned from owning any sort of animal at all, for at least another four years, after Steve busted up that dog fighting ring of yours. So this dog -- Lucky -- he ain’t yours. Is he?”

For a minute, it looks like Rumlow’s going to push the issue, and Lucky must be really good at keeping the crows and magpies away, but then he rolls his eyes and yanks out of Bucky’s grip with a huff and says, “Dog’s not worth it.” He storms away.

Clint’s hands are shaking, not with fear, but with the need to tear Rumlow into little pieces. He tries to calm down because Lucky’s still trembling, and Rumlow is a piece of shit who isn’t worth scaring his dog over.

Because Lucky is Clint’s. He doesn’t give a fuck what Steve’s background check says.

“Hey,” Bucky says, soft, dropping into a crouch beside Clint and studying him, even as he strokes Lucky’s back soothingly. “You okay?”

“Gonna kill him,” Clint says, keeping it conversational, while he gently fits Lucky’s cone around his neck again. “Wanna be my alibi?”

Bucky laughs, reaching up and tugging Clint’s elf hat out of his eyes. “Sure I will. Whatever you need.”

Clint looks up at him, eyes wide and mouth trembling with fury. “Rumlow won’t get to have him, will he?”

“Rumlow’s banned from owning any sort of animal -- including chickens. Steve’ll probably head out to his place in the morning, seize any animal he’s got on his property, serve him a warrant or two for breaching conditions.”

“Good thing I cleaned out that kennel,” Clint says, letting out a tight breath. Lucky struggles to sit up, leaning heavily against Clint.

“Wanna get Lucky home?” Bucky asks, still stroking Lucky’s back. “He could probably use a bit of quiet, after that.”

Clint could probably use the quiet too.

*

After lighting a roaring fire in the fireplace, Bucky pulls out a bedraggled but cozy dog bed and sets it right in front, so Clint can lay Lucky there. Seemingly fully recovered from his anxiety earlier, Lucky happily wiggles his butt and curls up and gazes adoringly at Clint while Clint sits beside him and pets him.

“He’s a really good dog,” Clint tells Bucky, who snorts with amusement and pats Lucky on the head. “If I had to put up with Rumlow the way Lucky did, I wouldn’t be half as sweet as Lucky is.”

“That would be a shame,” Bucky says, going into the kitchen.

Clint has changed into some flannel PJs, and he sits beside Lucky in front of the fireplace, letting the warmth seep into his bones. He’s tired and he’s achy from a day spent doing odd jobs and then being an elf, and he’s sleepy as his adrenaline after the Rumlow incident crashes.

He’s hugging his knees to his chest and staring into the flames and Lucky is snoring softly by the time Bucky comes back with hot chocolate, complete with little marshmallows.

“Definitely not as much of an asshole as you wish you were,” Clint tells him with a smile, as Bucky settles in on Lucky’s otherside, with his own mug of hot chocolate.

“Shut up and drink it,” Bucky says, but Clint sees him hide a smile in his own mug.

It’s quiet and soft and the little foil arrows on Bucky’s Christmas tree catch the firelight and shine.

“You should have a TV,” Clint says. “We could watch Charlie Brown discover the true meaning of Christmas or whatever.”

“I don’t believe in the true meaning of Christmas,” Bucky confesses.

Clint looks at him and says, “Me either.”

There’s a moment there, as Clint sets his mug aside and strokes Lucky and his fingers accidentally tangle up with Bucky’s, already there, that feels a little heavy, a little intimate. Bucky’s gaze locks with Clint’s and everything is warm and soft in the light of the fire and Lucky is snoring and it feels important.

Clint’s an expert at running from important moments, but before he can open his mouth and ruin this one, Bucky links his fingers with Clint’s and says, “You taking Lucky with you when you go?”

Clint squeezes Bucky’s fingers and says, “You willing to cover for me if I fail the background check and have to grab him and run from the long arm of the law?”

Bucky smiles, slow, and his gaze lingers on Clint’s lips and he says, “Already told you. Anything you need.”

And fuck it, Clint decides. He licks his bottom lip and Bucky’s gaze goes a little heated.

Clint might not believe in Christmas miracles, but this, this is easy.

He leans closer and Bucky tips his head up and they meet in the middle in a soft, chocolatey kiss, Lucky still sleeping stretched out between them.

It stays soft for a moment or two, sweet enough to make Clint’s toes curl in the heavy wool socks Bucky lent him.

He could do this all night -- slow, careful kisses, roaring fire, snoring dog --

And then Bucky slips a hand around to the back of his neck, tilts Clint’s head back just a little, and sucks on his bottom lip and grins around the needy, accidental noise Clint makes, and suddenly it’s not soft and sweet at all anymore.

Bucky pulls away just far enough to nudge Clint’s cheek with his nose and murmur, “You’re getting glitter all over me.”

Clint pulls back and looks at him and grins because Bucky’s face is shining in the firelight. “Looks good on you,” he says, clearing his throat when his voice comes out much rougher than he meant it to.

“C’mere.”

Bucky tugs at him and together, they manage to crawl around Lucky, who doesn’t even wake, and then they can get much closer -- close enough to tug at flannel pajamas and lick and bite at all the fire-warmed skin they uncover.

Afterwards, when Clint’s knees are sore but the rest of him feels fucking amazing, Bucky drags his afghan off the sofa and wraps them both up tight in it, and Clint falls asleep tucked up against Bucky’s chest, warm in the firelight.

*

He wakes up the next morning to Bucky kissing his way down Clint’s chest, which is already liberally marked up from Bucky’s mouth the night before. He’s got no complaints, though -- feels like waking up with Bucky’s mouth on him might be his favourite way to wake up -- and afterwards, he tries to help Bucky make breakfast.

After he burns the first pancake, Bucky kicks him out of the kitchen and takes over and Clint takes Lucky out instead.

They eat. And then they tumble into Bucky’s bed and only surface a few hours later to shower.

After Clint’s gone down on him in the shower, while Bucky soaps up his hair, Clint hums, “You don’t have to work today?”

“Clinic’s closed,” Bucky says, fingers running through Clint’s hair. “It’s Christmas Eve.”

“How convenient,” Clint says with a bright grin.

And then, forty minutes later, after Bucky lazily jerks him off, while they’re stretched out in bed and naked and needing a shower again, Clint’s eyes fly open and he says, “Oh holy shit, fuck, I am so fucking dead.”

Bucky blinks at him sleepily. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s Christmas Eve,” Clint says shrilly. “I need to be in L.A. by morning!”

“Oh.” Bucky blinks again. “Right. Okay. I can drive you to Denver, it’s 40 minutes.”

“I haven’t got money to fly,” Clint says, eyes wide. He’s scrambling out of bed. “I’ve barely got enough to cover Lucky’s vet bill, not to mention his adoption fee, and --”

“Calm down,” Bucky says, rolling his eyes fondly and throwing some clothes at him. “You never had to pay Lucky’s vet bill.”

Clint gasps and clutches the clothes to his chest and says, “Did I pay Lucky’s bills with sex?"

“No!” Bucky laughs. “Jesus. Go shower, I’ll book you a flight.”

Clint checks his phone and has 37 messages from Natasha. He dashes off a quick, “Boarding a flight asap” response and then jumps in the shower.

He’s still damp but dressed when he stumbles downstairs to find Bucky just closing his laptop. “Figured you’d want to leave Lucky here,” he says. “Flying in his condition won’t be the best thing, and you’ll have to come back for your truck anyway, right?”

There’s an unfamiliar note of uncertainty in Bucky’s voice but Clint is distracted and hurried, so he just nods and says, “Yeah, sure, of course.”

He kisses Lucky on top of his head and Bucky’s already got his car warming up outside.

The drive to Denver takes 40 minutes and they are at once the slowest and the fastest minutes of Clint’s life. All too soon, however, they’re parked outside the airport and Clint’s undoing his seatbelt.

“Thanks,” he says, still rushed and distracted. “For everything.”

“No problem. Booked you a one way flight, wasn’t sure you’d be coming back.””

Clint finally catches the strange note in Bucky’s voice and squints at him. “Course I will. Take care of Lucky for me?”

“Of course.”

“Don’t scare off any other travelers passing through. And don’t let Rumlow get him.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “Rumlow was arrested this morning for breach of conditions.”

Clint grins. “This day gets better and better.” And then he leans across the console, grabs Bucky by his scarf, tugs him close and kisses him hard. “I’ll see you when I get back.”

“Sure,” Bucky says, still uncertain, clearly trying to hide it. “You’re gonna miss your flight.”

“The fact that you got me on one at all is a goddamn Christmas miracle,” Clint says with a breathless, wide smile. “I’ll see you.”

He hops out of the car and has to run to make it through security in time, but he takes off 48 minutes later, and makes it to L.A. just in time.

It’s not until he lands that he realizes he never got Bucky’s phone number.

*

It’s nice to have his bow in his hands again, and Natasha only teases him for a little while before she helps him cover up the marks Bucky left on his neck.

They perform at a fancy circus-themed party at a Malibu mansion, the kind filled with people Clint wouldn’t hang out with if he was paid to. He and Natasha perform after the acrobats but before the dancing dog act, which is good, because dogs have always been Clint’s weakness.

It’s a good gig and it pays a whole lot, and it’s good to be back in the swing of things. He and Natasha have performed their archery/knife throwing act together for so many years, it’s seamless by now -- and the twist, when Natasha goes from damsel in distress to the one in charge of the knives while Clint’s the one strapped down never fails to get cheers from the audience.

After their act, Clint waits while Natasha changes out of her skin-tight costume, because it always takes her longer than getting out of his vest takes him. She’s hidden behind a screen and he knows she can take care of herself, but he likes to wait around because a lot of times, audience members think that she’d be open to them dropping by for an aftershow special, and Clint’s presence usually convinces them to give up on the idea before it gets too messy.

“I didn’t think you were going to make it,” she tells him, still ducked behind the privacy screen.

“Told you I would.”

“Don’t even pretend that it wasn’t a miracle you got here at all. I know you. And there was a dog involved.”

“A dog and a super hot vet,” Clint agrees. “I think you’d like him.”

“The dog or the vet?”

“Both.”

She’s quiet for a moment, before appearing with her back to him so he can help her with a zipper. “You going back?”

“Have to,” he says. “I left my dog. And my truck.”

“And your boy?”

He shrugs as she looks at him pointedly over her shoulder. “Not my boy,” he says. “But maybe.”

“I’ve got a few meetings set up for us while we’re in L.A.,” she says. “You okay staying for that?”

Clint scowls because meetings are Natasha’s thing, not his, but he can’t really abandon her after barely making it here to begin with. “Of course,” he says gruffly.

*

It’s a long, boring few days of meetings, booking gigs for the next year, negotiations with management companies, and Clint hates every minute of it. He’s also getting twitchy, because he promised Bucky he’d come back, and has no way to tell him why he’s been delayed.

Natasha’s the one who finally rolls her eyes at him and says, “Why didn’t you look up his vet clinic and call him there?”

It’s a good idea. Pity Clint hadn’t thought of it himself, and now, they’re already standing in line at security in LAX, so what’s the point?

When they arrive in Hardisty, it’s nearly midnight and all of main street is shut down, the entire town gathered there for some reason, and it’s not until the fireworks start going off that Clint realizes it’s New Years Eve.

He leaves Natasha at the upscale Motel off the highway and makes his way to Bucky’s house and wonders if Bucky really expected him to come back -- if he’d really even wanted him to.

Steve had said that Bucky didn’t like commitment, after all, and Clint’s brought significantly more baggage with him this time.

Everything he owns, in fact.

When he gets to Bucky’s place, he sees that someone has strung lights up in the trees in the front yard, and even hung a few strings along the eaves. The house almost looks as lit up and Christmassy as the rest of the houses on Bucky’s street. There’s even a wreath on the door.

He knocks and can’t help but grin even though he’s feeling nervous, because he can hear Lucky barking crazily inside.

He starts to worry that Bucky might be down at the fireworks, and then the door swings open and Bucky’s there, looking rumpled and annoyed and wearing a snuggly sweater.

Bucky just stares at him like Clint’s the last person he expected to see on his doorstep, and Clint says, “You’re not down at the fireworks.”

“Didn’t want Lucky to get scared,” Bucky says, which is silly, because the whole sky is lit up in shades of blue and gold and Lucky couldn’t give a shit, too busy wiggling like crazy and trying to hop up to lick Clint’s face. “Didn’t think you were comin’ back,” he admits finally.

“Course I came back,” Clint says. “Left my truck here. And my dog. And I missed you. Happy New Years?”

“How long you stayin’?”

Clint shrugs and tries to tone down his beaming smile because he’s not all that sure of his welcome just yet. “A while? I got nowhere else to be. Brought everything I own -- even Natasha. You’ll like her. I think you’ll like her. I mean, I hope you’ll like her. She’s a little scary, but --”

“Clint,” Bucky says, relaxing finally, smiling slow and shy and a little sweet.

“Yeah?”

“Get in here.”

Bucky tugs him in by the front of Clint’s sweater, catching him when Clint stumbles over Lucky, and kissing the laughter right off his lips.

“Steve says you’re a Christmas miracle,” Bucky says, after he’s kissed Clint breathless.

They stumble into the house together and Clint kicks the door shut as they do. The wreath tumbles to the ground

“Could say the same about you,” Clint says.

The fire is already burning and Lucky barks happily at him and it’s the best holiday season he can ever remember.

 

The end.