When Kate arrived outside Clint’s apartment door an alarm was blaring out a shrill staccato and black smoke seeped through the gap above the door. The unmistakeable smell of burning hung thick in the hot air.
“Oh my god, Clint-“
Kate almost tore her purse to get her copy of Clint’s key, jamming it into the lock and throwing open the door. She pulled her scarf over her nose and mouth as a cloud of smoke billowed past her. She darted inside.
“Clint!” She could barely see through the smoke, stinging at her eyes. Inside the apartment the alarm was painfully loud. “Clint! I swear to god if you passed out on the couch again I will futzing throw the mangey thing on the curb!”
Clint’s voice, barely audible over the alarm, came from the direction of the kitchen.
She rushed towards it. A patch of smoke, darker than the rest, moved towards her, until the shadow formed the shape of a hunched-over, coughing Clint. She grabbed his arm, holding him steady.
“Clint! What the hell happened? We need to get out here, the fire- wait, where’s Lucky?!”
Clint coughed again, not moving despite Kate pulling at his arm hard enough to leave bruises. “Barney, Barney’s got him. It’s okay Katie, there’s no- “ He coughed again and Kate had to fight the urge to shake him. “Not a fire. Just the chicken. Oven, see.”
“What?” Kate squinted through the smoke to see the oven door thrown open, a large dark shape filling the tiny space. “Oh my god, Clint you dumb- ugh!”
She reached up and flicked on the extractor fan over the stove. With a groan, it started whirring and the smoke began swirling upwards. She yanked the cookers plug from its socket. This time when she tugged at Clint’s arm he moved, allowing himself to be dragged into the hallway. Kate slammed the door behind them, quieting that awful alarm.
“What the hell Barton?”
Clint stood before her, wearing an honest-to-goodness stripy chefs apron, his hair darkened with black soot. He ran a hand through it, leaving a dark streak across his palm and along his cheek. He tilted his head, a frown wrinkling his forehead. “Um.” He tried a smile, “Oops?”
Kate rolled her eyes. “How you have survived all these many, many years-“
“Hey I’m not that old-“
“will forever amaze me. Also, since when do you cook chicken?” She raised a disbelieving eyebrow. “Since when do you cook anything?”
“I’m great at cooking!”
The smoke alarm blared loudly in Kate’s deadpan silence.
Clint had the decency to look rueful. “Well, okay maybe I’m a bit out of practice. But my chilli con carne was the best in the circus, ask anybody.”
“Because circuses are renowned for their high-end cuisine.”
Clint scowled. “Well, we didn’t all grow up with Michelin-star packed lunches, little-miss Richy-Rich.”
As Kate opened her mouth to retort the alarm suddenly stopped. She sighed, and said “Let’s go see what the damage is.”
Back in the kitchen, most of the smoke had cleared. The countertop was covered in a layer of soot and the whole apartment carried the harsh, carbony taste of burning. Along with the black husk of what was no longer recognisable as a chicken, the oven also held a tray of black lumps (potatoes?). There was a pan on every ring of the stove, (which Kate hadn’t even known worked). She lifted up their lids one-by-one.
“Carrots? Peas? Is that... Barton I didn’t even know you knew what courgette looked like.”
“I’m not as Neolithic as you think, hey?”
Kate poked at the green mush with a fork. “Considering you tried to boil it, I’m going to have to go with yes.”
Clint peered into the pan. “Aw, courgette.”
He glanced up to see Kate staring at him intently, her expression unreadable. “What?”
“Clint,” she asked softly, “who were you cooking for?”
“Um.” He scratched the back of his neck. Stupid cooking, making his cheeks so warm. “Er, you?”
Kate blinked slowly, a soft smile pulling at one corner of her lips. Clint watched her cheek dimple and tried not to feel like such an idiot. When he looked back up he was confused to see the frown wrinkling the space between her eyebrows. She opened her mouth to say something, but stopped herself, biting her lip instead.
She considered him for a moment, taking in his concerned expression and the way the heat of the kitchen was making the band-aid on his jaw peel away. “Clint... why were you cooking for me?”
He leaned back against the counter, shrugging. “I dunno, to say ‘thanks’, I guess? For putting up with me? You’re one of the best things in my life and I wanted to do something, because... I’m not good with words, and you’re rich and buying you something seemed silly. And well, I did used to be pretty good at cooking, and you deserve good things, Kate, because you are good, and good people should have nice things and... I really wanted to do this for you.” He was rambling, why was he always rambling? Wrap it up, Barton. “I thought I could do this, at least, for you.” He looked at the disaster that was his kitchen and sighed. “Guess I screwed that up. Classic Clint Barton.”
He felt a soft touch on his chin and looked up to see Kate staring at him. She moved her palm to his cheek and rested it there.
“You dummy. You don’t have to do anything like this for me. You know that right?”
He put his hand over hers, squeezed. “Yeah but I wanted to.”
She smiled, and it was the sweetest thing he’d ever seen. “Thank you. That’s... Thanks, Clint.” She pulled her hand away and he tried not to feel disappointed. His hand dropped to his side and he didn’t know what to do with it. He shoved it in his pocket.
“Yeah, well, no need. I didn’t manage to cook much of anything.”
Kate grinned and the tension fell away with the arching of her eyebrow. “Good thing you’ve got a superhero to fix this disaster.”
Clint found himself grinning back, teasing. “Thinking pretty highly of yourself there, Hawkeye.”
“Not me, doofus. A disaster of this magnitude needs specialist superpowers to rescue.” She pulled out a drawer and held up a menu triumphantly. “Lucio’s wizardry with cheese and tomato is the only thing that will save the day!”
He laughed and rolled his eyes, pulling off his apron and throwing it onto the counter. “And you’re the one who’s always telling me to eat something other than pizza.”
She skipped to the phone. Her voice begged innocence, “I would never do that because pizza is the food of the gods. It’s basically its own food group.” She dialled without looking at the menu. “Hi, it’s Kate! Yeah, the usual for me and- yes Clint will have pepperoni because he is still incredibly boring.”
“It’s a classic for a reason!”
“Brilliant. See you soon.” She hung the phone on the wall and enjoyed the scowl on Clint’s face.
“It’s not boring, it’s delicious. And it’s better than your concoction.”
“Beef meatballs, tuna, extra onion. I call it the ‘Hawkeye Special’.”
“I do not agree to have my name on that monstrosity.”
“Our name. And too late, it’s stuck.”
Clint pursed his lips. “So much for a secret identity.”
The pizza arrived ten minutes later. He sank down on the couch and turned on the DVR. The Dog Cops theme tune was just starting as Kate flopped down at the other end and swung her legs around so that her feet were resting in Clints lap.
“Hey, where am I supposed to put my pizza?”
“S’your problem. You shouldn’t be so comfy.”
“Nerf-herder.” She smirked and threw a meatball at him. He laughed, caught it and threw it back. She scowled and ate it.
He watched her for a moment before saying “Kate, I’m sorry this evening didn’t turn out as I wanted.”
“We’ve got pizza and the whole season of Dog Cops. I think I’m good.”
“Yeah but we always do this, it’s nothing special, is it?”
“You saying you don’t like pizza and Dog Cops?”
“Clint,” she spoke slowly and clearly, face open and intent, “I’m saying that this, right now? I’m good, Clint. I don’t need anything more than this. I’ve had a lifetime of fancy parties and swanky dinners. But this is where I want to be. Do you want to be anywhere else?”
“No! No, I guess not, I-“
“Good, then shush. The episode’s starting and I can’t hear Sergeant Whiskers.”
She turned to face the TV, but Clint watched her a moment longer.
She was right, he thought, as he bit into a slice of pepperoni, Sergeant Whiskers on the screen and the gentle weight of Kate’s legs across his lap.
He was right where he wanted to be.