“Good job everyone! We nailed that motherfucker!”
Clint winced at the volume of the cheers he got in reply on the other end of the com but they'd earned this victory. Weeks of planning with just the right equipment and combination of teammates to down this damn boss, but it had all been worth it. Not that he cared about saving a whole continent from a giant rampaging dragon, but the loot… Oh baby, the loot it dropped was epic. He was finally getting that bow he'd been lusting after since he began playing this game.
He'd never been much of a gamer before, but after a bad fall during a mission and his third attempt at escaping his hospital bed, Tony had installed a shitload of shiny equipment in his room and explained the basics of a game called World of Warcraft. He'd been hooked in no time and still was now, a year later, even though he wasn't confined to bedrest anymore.
Members of his raid began logging off. They were from all over the world and some of them had been playing well into the night even though they had a job to go to the next day.
“Don't forget to tell me how that bow works for you,” Gryffinheart said with that posh accent of hers. “I better get some shut eye. See you next time, Hawkhood.”
Of course that was only a figure of speech. They'd been playing together from the start, when he'd answered a message in the general channel of someone looking for help to level up. Gryffinheart had been a noob just like him and they learned the ropes of the game together, becoming fast friends even though they knew next to nothing about each other.
“As if you'd let me forget,” he chuckled before she left.
“Why are you playing a girl?”
Clint jumped in his seat. He hadn't heard Natasha enter the room, much less sit right next to him.
“It's not a girl. It's a blood elf.”
“Not very manly. Who's the girl?”
His face went blank, as he'd been trained to do to avoid suspicion.
“What girl? I told you. That's a man. See, no boobs,” he pointed out as he twirled his character around on the screen.
“Don't play dumb with me, Clint. Or I will use my thighs to choke the truth out of you.”
Clint honestly debated whether the lack of air was worth the intimate thigh hugging, but the cartoony image of Gryffinheart flashed through his mind and he knew he would suffer though it for his online friend. He couldn't, in good conscious, unleash the Black Widow on her, not when Nat had both a protective streak towards her friends and a love for matchmaking on her off time.
“Do your worse,” he muttered, closing his eyes like a condemned waiting for the axe to fall.
When nothing came, he chanced an eye open.
“You really like her,” Natasha said, almost in awe.
“I resent that tone. It's not like I've never dated before.”
“I'm talking about feelings, Clint, not sex.”
“I don't even know her,” he grumbled.
“My point exactly. Jarvis, can you track down this player. What's her name? Griffynheart?”
“No! Don't!” Clint exclaimed before the A.I. could tell him anything.
Natasha arched an eyebrow at him.
“Why ever not?”
“It's just that… we're just friends, okay? We have fun and get along, but we don't even live on the same continent, and I don't… I don't want to mess this up. It's the only bit of normalcy I've got nowadays after the whole Avengers thing.”
“Fine. Have it your way. But don't come complaining to me when you're old and lonely. You'll be too ugly by then to secure any woman's interest.”
Hermione logged off but let her computer whir softly in the background as it continued to compile the data she needed for her job at the Ministry. She was relieved they'd started using modern technology or this particular task would have taken her all year. She smiled as she thought of the boss they'd just defeated in-game. They were lucky to have Hawkhood as raid leader. He was a good strategist and so obsessed with his damn bow that he had been farming potions they needed to succeed on his own. She didn't want to imagine the amount of time he'd put into it, when she only logged on for their raids nowadays and was using more pepper-up than she should to get through work the next day.
She wouldn't give it up for anything, though. She was bored with her job, nay, with her life, with the people around her who only had babies and work and gossip on their mind. Barring going to Romania to take on a real dragon, World of Warcraft had been a Godsend, giving her the adventure she craved without actually having to stir trouble or, Merlin forbid, become a dark witch out of sheer boredom.
And she got to meet people. Normal people who felt just like her. Hawkhood had been the first person she got to know when he answered her call for help. They'd leveled up together from scratch, learning the game together. He, with his quite frankly feminine archer, and her with her troll mage. Yes, she did realize the irony of her choice, but it's not like anyone else would ever know or mock her for it. And now, he was her friend, even if they would probably never meet face to face.
But she was glad for the game. It was her secret and it made her happy.
“Here. You’re a nerd,” Tony said offhandedly as he tossed an envelope his way.
Clint easily caught it mid-air but opened it cautiously. Coming from Tony, he half expected the thing to turn into a killer origami intent on world domination. He was almost disappointed when all he found inside were a bunch of tickets. That is, until he saw what they were tickets for.
“Holy Thrall! These are tickets for the BlizzCon! Tony! You’d better run because I am going to kiss you!”
Thankfully, Tony ran because Clint was not yet so desperate that he would lust after the IronFloozy. But damn, those tickets had sold out in minutes and he’d been thinking of breaking into the place out of desperation, but Tony was just tossing a bunch of them his way.
Four tickets, to be exact. His thoughts immediately went to Gryffinheart. She’d kill for a chance to go to the convention. They always handed out goodies of their favourite game. He’d heard rumours of a Murloc pet and he wanted one soooooo bad. If he offered her a ticket, he was sure she’d come, but it would be weird right? She might be suspicious, think he was some kind of predator luring her into a trap… Had he just seen too much shit, or was he being pessimistic?
Probably the former. The solution was simple, however. If he gave her two tickets, she could bring a friend and would feel safer. Maybe it would even make this whole meeting up irl a little less awkward? Oh God, he hoped it wouldn’t be awkward. That just left him with an extra ticket. Who should he bring? A woman, obviously. It would put Gryffinheart more at ease.
“Tashaaaaa!” he called as he ran to her room. This negotiation was going to call for a lot of emotional blackmail.
Hermione couldn’t believe she was actually doing this. It was nuts. Irresponsible. So she invited Harry along, because she still didn't have a lot of friends and out of all of them, Harry was the only one who could actually blend into the Muggle world. Of course, she now realised that shouldn't have been a criteria seeing as someone with blue skin had just walked passed her and wizarding robes, even the kind Dumbledore had favoured, looked positively tame in comparison to the costumes some of the convention-goers were wearing. Harry had tried to dissuade her from meeting with a complete internet stranger in a foreign country thousands of miles away and only reluctantly agreed to come along to protect her from her own stupidity. Seeing how he was scowling and trying to melt into the decor, he was obviously regretting playing the overprotective brother.
She didn't care. She'd wanted to come here ever since she started playing World of Warcraft but if she was honest with herself, it was just as much so she could meet the man behind the Hawkhood. She might have been secretly crushing on him just a tiny bit, not that she would ever admit it to anyone, not even her best friend, because in truth, she knew nothing about him. He could very well be an octogenarian who smelled like a troll and ate kittens for breakfast. All she knew was that she had been drawn by his quick-thinking, his confidence and his subtle sense of humour. Something wizards around her sorely lacked.
She adjusted the bright yellow tee-shirt she had told Hawkhood she would wear so they could find one another in the chaos that was the BlizzCon. He had sent her the tickets in advance so she would know he wasn't trolling her about the invitation, but maybe they should have met outside. So far she'd spotted two guy wearing a purple shirt and almost made a fool of herself as she approached them.
She never would have guessed purple was such a popular colour with guys and was disheartened at not finding her friend, wondering if maybe he had stood her up, that maybe he'd seen her and left…
Clint saw her the moment he stepped into the crowded hall. Not only because of the bright splash of yellow, but because she was also holding a replica of the magic wand she used in-game. It was a nice touch, so much like her. He stood there like an idiot, rooted to the spot, because she was just plain gorgeous. There was nothing trollish about her at all and he felt guilty at being so relieved.
“What are you waiting for, Durak ? She travelled thousands of miles to see you, you could at least take the last few steps,” Natasha said as she nudged him forward, then added: “So I can leave this freak show.”
She was right, of course. As usual. His legs were like jelly as he he took one step after another, his eyes never losing sight of her, not even when she turned towards him, her suspicious gaze taking note of his shirt before a look of relief swept over her the moment she noticed his collapsible bow slung across his back. The idiots at the entrance assumed it was a prop and he hadn't dissuaded them of that notion.
“Gryffinheart,” he said with a mock bow, not sure where his apparent swagger was coming from when he felt like throwing up from sheer nerves. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
Her mouth opened, closed, opened, closed… no sound ever made it past her lips.
“She means to say likewise and that she wasn't expecting you to be so yummy-looking. I've never seen her drool quite like that before.”
“Harry! You can't just say things like that!”
And there was the voice he knew so well. He chuckled. This was a good sign and he couldn't help from grinning at her discomfort, especially when she blushed so prettily.
“I'm Hermione,” she said and bravely stuck out a stiff hand.
He took it in his, not shaking it because that would mean she could take it back, so he just held it, letting his fingers linger over her wrist and her pulse. There was no missing how fast it was racing.
“Clint,” he said, dropping his voice seductively.
“Maybe we should leave them alone? I'm Harry.”
This had to be Hermione's +1, he realized after a moment.
“Oh no,” Hermione said as she broke eye contact with him for the first time, staring instead at Natasha who was shaking this Harry's hand with an amused smile at whatever he was saying. “You brought a redhead. Oh Merlin, no. You brought the ultimate redhead. That's it, that's his kryptonite. I'm never seeing him again.”
Clint cocked his head in confusion until he realized their friends were leaving arm in arm without even a backwards glance.
“Well, I'm not going to pretend I'm upset about it,” he said with a grin at Hermione. He was too used to speaking his mind with her to mend his ways just because he now had her in front of him. He enjoyed seeing her blush though.
“You're a terrible flirt,” she chastised but looked far from upset, so he knew he was taking little to no risk guiding her towards the heart of the convention with a hand at the small of her back, tucking her under his wing so to speak.
Talking was easy, flirting even more so. This was turning into a grey level quest and he didn't even care because the reward would be more than worth it. He was already thinking of a million excuses to go to the little island she lived on, or how best to convince her to visit again. Maybe he could get Tony to give her a plane or something. All he knew was that he didn't want this day to end.
“If your hand gets any lower, Clint, we might get thrown out for indecency.”
Clint took that as an invitation and squeezed her bum, making her shriek… as well as the whole room. He was good, but not that good.
“What’s going on?” Hermione asked as she got on her tiptoes to look over the heads of the crowd gathered in the large hall.
She must have smelled it as soon as he saw the billowing black smoke quickly filling the room, because they both turned around to pull the other towards the exit. They only made it a few steps when the doors slammed shut in front of them.
“Fuck,” Clint muttered.
“Is that normal?”
“Not when there’s still people inside, no.”
“What about the other exits?” she asked, then coughed.
Clint scanned around the hall but all other exits were similarly shut. The room was a large one but whatever was burning was creating noxious fumes and the sprinkler system wasn't activating. That, plus the doors keeping them prisoners seemed like too much of a coincidence. Someone wanted them to burn them alive.
“Closed, same as here,” he said before reaching for the bow on his back, the reassuring weight of it settling in his hands like a security blanket.
Hermione raised a brow at him but didn't comment. It was strange how unafraid she seemed while most everyone else was panicking, screaming and pounding at the doors, or running around like headless chickens. Did she think this was a show, another game? The way she herself was aiming her wand as if she was her mage character and could actually do magic made him wonder if maybe she wasn't a bit touched in the head. He knew she was too perfect to be true. He knew it.
“Stay close to me. I’ll get us out,” he told her.
Crazy or not, he still liked her and wanted to keep her safe.
“With your little toy bow?”
Clint shook his bow once, enjoying the surprise on her face when it folded out into its full size.
“If you have explosive arrows like in-game, it might just work.”
“No. Left them at home. Didn’t think I’d actually need them on a date.”
“A date, eh? Bit presumptuous of you,” she said, but her tone told him she was actually quite pleased.
In answer, he shot his arrow into one of the sprinklers, setting it off. And then another, and another, until he was out of arrows. He hoped it would be enough to either stop or slow down the progress of the fire.
“You're an actual, real archer,” Hermione said with a laugh that turned into a cough again.
“We should get down on the floor, more oxygen,” he told her, pulling her down with him.
“How long until someone gets us out of here?”
Clint grimaced. He was surprised no one had already. In a place this big, during such a huge event packed with people, they should have had emergency teams just waiting on hand. He checked his phone but there was no signal and he wondered if that was part of the elaborate sabotage too.
“Your silence is very telling,” Hermione said, tears rolling down her face, not because she was afraid but because of the acrid smoke stinging her eyes. She was just as fearless as she was in game. Reckless, some would say, but he liked that about her.
“Right. No choice then,” she said and aimed her wand replica at the closed doors.
He was about to tell her it wouldn't work when she muttered something under her breath and the doors blasted off their hinges. That… was not a coincidence. He did not believe in coincidences. Not to mention Hermione winked at him and spirited her wand away. He sprung up and helped her to her feet, keeping her close to whisper in her ear.
“You're an actual, real mage.”
Yeah, now he could see why she'd found it so funny.
“A witch, actually, but we'll get to that soon enough,” she replied and kissed his cheek before pulling away and taking his hand to exit with the rest of the shocked convention-goers.
Clint grinned. Now, he didn't even have to worry about the whole superhero stuff with all the secrecy and danger it entailed, not after what he'd just seen her do… and hide. He found himself the perfect girlfriend. Him. Will wonders ever cease?