"Its just something I want to do, okay guys?" Tony Stark huffed as he looked around the Avengers roundtable.
"Seriously, Tony? A hiking trip?" Clint Barton cocked an eyebrow. Tony had been going on and on about some mountain hike for a good ten minutes, and none of the Avengers looked very pleased.
"Yes, a hiking trip. Of all the people here I would think Mr. Sniper would love to go up 8,000 feet," the billionaire snapped.
"That doesn't sound like much of a mountain…." Steve Rogers mumbled under his breath, scribbling away at the notepad in front of him as he sketched something that resembled a yeti.
"Well what do you want? Everest? I can pay for that to happen you know, don't tempt me!" Tony wagged a finger at the Captain. Steve raised his eyebrows but didn't look up. "Jeeze, you guys are no fun. I offer you an all expenses paid, day-long adventure and all I get is a bunch of crap."
"I'll go," Bruce said with a shrug, raising his hand. "Hiking could be fun."
"Thank you!" Tony grinned, clapping his hands. "Bruce Banner, the coolest person in the room!" Bruce awkwardly readjusted his glasses, avoiding the annoyed stares coming from the rest of the team.
"I do not understand. It is custom to walk up mountains?" Thor asked, brow furrowed in confusion.
"Er, yes! Yes it is!" Tony answered quickly.
"Oh, don't lie to him, Tony," Natasha scolded, glaring at him before turning back to her latest Guns & Ammo issue.
"I'm telling the truth! Everyone goes camping at some point in their lives!"
"So now this is a camping trip?" Clint's lips twitched as he tried not to smirk.
"Uh, I don't want to go camping, Tony," Bruce mumbled.
"No! It's not a camping trip! It's a day of hiking!" Stark fumed. He pulled up a picture of a mountain that looked like a glorified hill. Fuzzy text in the corner of the photo read "Moose Mountain – 8,167 feet." Clint yawned loudly.
"Excellent! I have been searching to experience Midgardian customs, I shall join you for this event of hiking!" Thor boomed, a wide smile on his face.
"That's my boy!" Tony replied with a wink.
"You guys have fun, I had enough mountain climbing experiences during the war," Steve said as he flipped his notebook shut. "Just promise me you won't go ziplining off of one, okay?" The Captain's smile didn't reach his eyes; he was reliving something from long ago.
"Don't give him ideas, please," Bruce sighed.
"I'm stepping out too, my new throwing knives just came today, and I could use some practice." The Black Widow stood up, rolling up her magazine and heading for the door. She glanced over her shoulder at Clint, "You coming, Hawk?"
"Actually, I think I'm going on this ridiculous thing. I've never summited a mountain before," the archer replied. Natasha shrugged, then shoved Steve through the door as they exited.
Two hours later and Bruce, Thor, Tony and Clint were in the billionaire's private jet on their way to a remote landing strip. Stark had presented them with an arsenal of hiking gear, including hiking boots, wool socks, what appeared to be mountain climbing pants, jackets, gloves, beanies, goggles and massive backpacks brimming with food, equipped with Camelback water tubes.
"What the hell, Tony," Clint groaned.
"Ha! This has nothing to do with hell! Its gonna be freezing up there!" Tony smirked. He was way too excited. "Hurry up and change, we're leaving soon. Oh! And look!" he grabbed the beanies, "I got us each a different color! Red for me, green for Bruce, yellow for Thunderpants and purple for Katniss!"
"That is the lamest nickname," said Barton. "It's like using an arrow to the knee joke—"
"Which is funny because—"
"It is not funny. It was never funny. Do you have any idea how overused both of those are?"
"I am unsure how this will assist in the hiking," Thor's voice was muffled as he interrupted them. Clint and Tony looked to find that the Asgardian had put his beanie over his face. Bruce burst out laughing at the sight of it and the other two joined in.
"Its not a ski mask, buddy" Tony managed to get out in between laughs. Last winter Steve had jokingly suggested that Thor wear a ski mask during their holiday vacation which resulted in a hilarious Christmas card photo of the god wearing a black ski mask, his long hair fanning awkwardly out of the bottom in a little golden mane around his neck. Clint reached across and adjusted the beanie, but it was still lopsided on Thor's head and his hair was skewered across his face.
Bruce dug through his backpack, pulling out Oreo boxes, microwave popcorn and a few cans of beef stew. "Who packed this thing?"
"I made up a list of rations based on our grocery list," Tony smiled.
"Yeah, Bruce, he made a list of rations," Clint said with a chuckle.
"But…I don't understand why you would even pack microwave popcorn in the first place…there's not going to be a microwave up there…" Bruce said with a puzzled look.
"Oh shut up. I told JARVIS to do it."
"You are such a liar!" Barton laughed.
"You can shut up too, wiseass. Get changed, we're almost there," Tony grumbled, reaching for his pair of pants. Clint reluctantly put on his jacket and gloves but avoided the billowy trousers and opted to just wear his Hawkeye pants instead, much to Tony's chagrin. After Stark bitched some more, Clint decided to replace his boots with ugly black hiking boots just to get him to be quiet.
Just as with the ski mask, Thor became obsessed with his beanie, and everyone else's too. Though the god's yellow headpiece made him look like a festive homeless person, he still insisted that the rest of them wear their hats. When Bruce refused, Thor put it on for him, resulting in the green beanie going down low enough to cover's Banner's eyes. Clint quickly put on his purple one before the Asgardian got any ideas.
By the time the plane started its descent, Thor was in full mountaineering dress, goggles and all. The team was a sight to behold, from their mismatched clothing to their giant over-the-top backpacks and atrocious shaded goggles that looked like a poor attempt at sunglasses. Tony was beaming as they hit the tarmac, but Bruce and Clint suspected that he was actually trying to keep himself from cracking up at their ridiculous outfits.
"You're telling me we've been hiking for an hour and we weren't even at the mountain?" Clint growled, glaring at Stark.
"No, but now we are. Two more hours and we'll be at the top!" the billionaire sang, pressing ahead. The terrain was rough and rocky, but as they walked through the surrounding forest they couldn't help but enjoy the fresh air and the vibrant mountainside greenery. Thor was especially amused, running ahead and investigating the trail for animal tracks until the rest of them caught up with him, only to take off again. Bruce was in a good mood too and though they were breathing hard, they were genuinely enjoying their time together.
"See, Bruce? What'd I tell ya, not a soul in sight," Tony slapped Bruce's pack, nearly causing him to fall.
"Yeah, I guess you were right. Though I still don't understand why we have to carry all of this food, its deadweight."
"It builds character."
"But seriously, why did you want to go on a hiking trip?" Bruce asked as he sidestepped a large rock on the trail.
"Am I not allowed to want to climb a mountain?"
Bruce shot him a look and Tony sighed. "All right, you caught me. Wanna know the truth?" he paused for a second, as if trying to figure out how to say it. And when Tony Stark was lost for words…that was saying something in itself. "I dunno, I mean we have all of these crazy missions and wild goose chases and stuff all the time. I feel like I know you guys, but I don't really know you. I figured we needed a normal adventure, something to defeat that wasn't going to try and kill us."
Clint blinked in surprise at the sentimentality of Tony's words. "Why didn't you just say that when you announced this?"
"We're all busy. I guess I just didn't want to force anyone into it. Besides, I wasn't going to grovel at Steve's feet because he didn't want to go. That's not my style," Tony smirked.
"Thanks, Tony," Bruce said with a soft smile, playfully knocking into his friend. "This was a really nice thing to do."
"Even though we do look ridiculous," Clint chimed in. Up ahead, Thor was frozen in his spot, his mess of blonde hair sticking out wildly in the mountain wind, staring at something in awe. He had even left his goggles dangling around his neck to get a better view.
"What is it?" Bruce called, but Thor quickly shushed him. The three Avengers sped up, reaching Thor's side and staring into the forest.
"Behold, I have sighted a magnificent stag," the god whispered. Just inside the trees and elk lifted its head, munching lazily on a patch of grass.
"Uh, elk are pretty common around here actually," Bruce noted.
"Such an animal must be hunted! What horns!"
"Antlers, buddy. They're called antlers," Tony corrected.
"And no killing any elk, you need a license for that," Clint added.
"Then I must obtain one of these licenses in which you speak!"
"If you want to go hunting, I'll take you hunting. But not today. Come on." Clint tugged at Thor's shoulder. The Asgardian frowned, looking back to the elk one last time before following.
"Don't get upset, I'm sure we'll see a lot of animals on the way up," Bruce said encouragingly as he readjusted his backpack straps. The contents of the bag clunked noisily as the soup cans knocked together inside. Thor hopped forward and was delighted to find that his backpack made the same sound. He hopped again and the ground shook a little, sending a flock of blackbirds screeching as they flew away.
"Cool it, Lightning," Tony laughed. Thor responded by putting his goggles back on with a goofy grin and taking off to go explore the path again. A few apples dropped from his pack and bounced down the gradual slope.
"At least they're biodegradable," Clint chuckled as Thor's yellow beanie bobbed away.
The closer they got to the summit, the steeper the incline became until they were trekking in a wide, hilly zigzag pattern. It was like the people who made the trail wanted to draw out the suffering as long as possible for the hikers, and the unstable shale they were walking on made it all the more difficult. Tony was trying to look like he wasn't struggling, but his feet kept slipping out from under him and he almost fell over every five steps or so. Thor's superhuman abilities allowed him to get so far ahead he was almost out of sight, but his vibrant yellow beanie stuck out so sharply against the dark grey rock that it didn't matter.
"We really should have emptied these packs a little more," Clint panted.
"You never know when we could need something to eat," Tony snapped, breathing heavily.
"We have enough food for a week, Tony," Bruce groaned.
"Just shut up about the food already, we're almost there."
"You said that five minutes ago," Clint hissed,
"Well excuse me for not wearing my suit that could give me the exact arrival time," Tony retorted.
A cold wind started to blow as they came to the final stretch, a small gravelly hillside away from the summit. Small boulders littered the face, creating an apocalyptic-looking atmosphere. They met up with Thor and the four heroes paused as they took in the sight of their final challenge, their breath misting as they rested.
"It shall be a race!" Thor shouted suddenly and took off running straight up the slope, ignoring the continued zigzag of the trail.
"Dammit, Thor!" Tony called after him before breaking into a run himself.
"Shit," Clint swore, clutching his backpack straps and started after them.
Bruce stood for a moment longer and watched in amusement as Tony faceplanted into the ground a few times as he attempted to sprint. Clint was swearing fluently now, cursing every time he took a step and nearly sliding all the way down the slope. "I love you guys," Bruce chuckled under his breath and began the ascent in a slight jog.
By the time Bruce had gotten halfway up the three Avengers in front of him had evened out as they approached the top. Their beginning speed had fizzled miserably and now they couldn't muster anything faster than a speedwalk.
"You are…no match!" Thor breathed.
"Take off those goggles and I'll give you a match," Tony snapped hoarsely.
"We all know I'm winning this," said Clint.
"There is but mere steps to the finish, and I am winning!" the god beamed.
"Dude, you're dead even with Clint, if anyone is winning, its me."
"You guys are delusional, I'm in first," the archer panted.
"Actually it looks like you're all even. Why don't you finish together?" Bruce called up from behind them. Tony replied with an unsatisfactory hand signal.
"IN THE NAME OF ASGARD!" Thor bellowed suddenly and threw off his backpack, sprinting for the summit.
"OH NO YOU DON'T!" Tony screamed after him, dropping off his own pack and running after the Asgardian with a look of determination. Clint smirked and wordlessly mimicked the billionaire and it became an all out sprint, though all of their legs were on fire and their bodies were screaming for them to stop.
A cloud of dust and debris trailed after the three as they neared the sturdy wooden sign labeled "Moose Mountain Summit," an unspoken understanding passing through the three of them that whoever touched the sign first was the winner.
As Thor began to pull ahead, Tony glanced at Clint, who nodded. The two jumped at the same time, landing on the god and tackling him to the ground. Clint and Tony took off again in a dead sprint for the final surge. They rammed into each other and tried to shove each other down but neither fell. Then, moments before they finished, something slammed into them so hard Tony saw stars. They slammed to the dirt and skidded until they rammed into the sign.
"I thought you two above cheating," Thor spat dizzily from on top of them.
"You bitch," Clint growled, wincing at the pain in his shoulder from hitting the sign.
"Hey look, you guys finished together anyway!" Bruce called happily as he came up behind them. He dug around in his pack, pulling out a camera. "Picture time!"
"Take a picture and I'll kill you," Tony seethed.
"I'd love to see you try," the scientist sang as he took a photo. "Now get up and smile so I can get a real one."
After numerous groans and curses, the three heroes stood up and brushed themselves off and turned to get a picture. Tony and Clint's beanies were now matching the lopsided style of their Asgardian comrade, and all three of them were sporting streaks of dust and mud from their race. Thor smiled widely, Tony put on his I'm-just-doing-this-for-the-camera grin and Clint wore a smirk as the shutter clicked.
"Perfect!" Bruce laughed, pocketing the camera.
"All right guys, let's eat," Tony announced. And so they sat together, munching on apples and chocolate Pop Tarts while Thor dug out beef chunks from his can of cold stew. The biting wind turned their faces pink and made their noses runny, but they continued to have their summit picnic anyway, surrounded by the gorgeous scenery of the fields below that were blanketed in wildflowers, framed by the peaks of craggy hills and shale outcroppings. The sky was bright blue above them and the air was sweet, filled with laughter and the warm sounds of friendship as they chatted about supervillians and Asgard and how Tony needed to learn how to pack properly.
"Next time, we should climb that one," Clint pointed to a nearby face that looked at least twice as high as the mountain they were sitting on. The three others murmured in approval.
"And maybe next time, one of you will be able to beat me," said Tony.
"Yeah, except I won," Barton replied with a grin.
"We must tame the Everest, that way my victory will be indisputable," Thor waggled his plastic fork at the two of them, beef broth trickling down his chin.
"If we're gonna climb Everest I think we're gonna need to teach you how to wear a scarf," Bruce chuckled.
"I know of scarves!" Thor protested. They all laughed before looking out at the beautiful scenery around them, knowing it was almost time to leave. And though Moose Mountain was a small mountain, barely escaping the shadows of its neighbors, the four friends felt as though they had climbed Everest, and that was all that mattered.