Clint's in the cafeteria of their New York Headquarters with Steve when he gets the news.
'Gets the news' is perhaps not the right words. What he really means is, he overhears Agents Davidson and Panwar talk about it when they sit down at the next table over.
"Yeah, the whole thing's about to go declassified all the way down to Level Five," Panwar says. "Which is about time, if you ask me, given the nature of their latest mission. If I had any say in it, I would have declassified it months ago."
"But is the Bus okay?" asks Davidson.
"For fuck's sake," Panwar says, disbelief in his voice. "Will you shut up about the fucking Bus? Three people injured, all this information which is about to come to light, and all you care about is the fucking Bus." There's a tsking sound.
Clint looks down at his sandwich, suddenly not hungry anymore.
"Clint?" asks Steve, voice concerned and serious.
Clint considers for a few moments. He's got options, here. He could tell Steve everything, or he could take off, or he could pretend like nothing's wrong. Then he takes a deep breath, says, "I gotta go, I'll explain later, Cap," and stands up, gathering his tray as he goes.
"Let me know if you need me," Steve says after him, and Clint takes the time to give a grateful nod over his shoulder. Steve's good people, and Clint's glad to know someone has his back if he needs it.
It only takes Clint an hour before he can commandeer a Quinjet, but it's still longer than he'd like. He's barely touched down at his first destination, before he's out of the aircraft and marching straight to Maria Hill's office.
"Where is he?" he asks, barging in without knocking.
Maria Hill doesn't even look up from her computer screen. "Enter my office without knocking again, Agent Barton, and I'll demote you to Level One."
"You could try," he says, because he's certain she won't do it. Almost certain.
She looks up then, ice in her eyes, and he swallows. "...sorry?" he tries.
She studies him for a few more moments before sighing and leaning back in her chair. "How long have you known?"
"Months," he says, and tries very hard not to be bitter about it. They'd all gathered, several times, to have conversations about it. Long talks, discussions on how to proceed, that had left Clint drained and exhausted. He'd needed a lot of meditation (thanks, Bruce!) and a lot of time at the heavy bags (thanks, Steve!)--hell, get enough drink in him, and Clint might even admit to having cried. Raw, ugly sobs that made Tony's face twist awkwardly before he'd ended up calling Natasha, not having the slightest clue how to deal with another human being having actual emotions near him.
So yeah, Clint has been there, done that, and eventually had--settled. Not come to terms with it, really, but at least landed in a headspace where he's not bitter or angry about it all the time. It sits deep in his gut now, and only roars its ugly head if he thinks too long on it.
"Stark?" Hill asks.
"Where is he?" Clint repeats in lieu of answering her question, because he's vowed never to betray a teammate again.
Hill considers for a moment. "That's classified."
"Whatever," Clint says confidently. "Demote me if you want, I'm going to find him regardless. You can save us both some serious aggravation if you help me out, though."
Hill rolls her eyes then. "Melodramatics. Swell." Sighing, heavy and put-upon, she scribbles something on a small card, then slides it across the surface of her desk towards him. "Have fun with that."
"Thank you," he says sincerely, pocketing it.
"Get the fuck out of my office," she responds. Clint smiles.
It's nightfall when he arrives at his second destination. The building's security gets higher the further up he goes, but Clint's ID card gets him past every hurdle with no fuss. He's fairly certain he could have gotten in even if it had been a problem, but for once, he doesn't want to cause trouble.
He finds what he's looking for on the seventeenth floor. Phil's sitting in a chair next to a bed, back to the doorway, and something swells in Clint's heart. He remembers many instances of having witnessed this exact scene, only from the vantage point of the bed.
"I think we'd all prefer it if you would just rest for a few days," Phil is saying to the young woman in the bed.
"FitzSimmons are busting out of here in the morning," the woman pouts. Clint has seen her face before, but he hasn't caught her name. He probably could have found it if he'd gone looking. He didn't.
"FitzSimmons were not standing next to the device when it went off," Phil explains, but his voice is serious and worn, like he's genuinely concerned.
Clint inches further in and gets a good look at the woman on the bed now. She's got bandages wrapped tightly around most of her one arm, shoulder and torso, and some first degree burns on her chin, skin red and pulled tight. Her hair is ragged around her shoulders, singed at the tips, if not outright burned off. It's hard to tell.
"But I'll be so bored," she whines. "At least get me a laptop. Any laptop will do, I'm sure there's a signal somewhere around here that I can get into, and even if there isn't--"
Phil silences her with a stern finger. Clint's chest tightens, having been on the receiving end of that stern finger on multiple occasions.
"No computers," Phil says firmly. "I think we could all use a break anyway." The woman seems disinclined to agree and falls back against the pillows instead, sighing and closing her eyes.
When she opens them again a moment later, she looks directly at Clint.
"Uh. There's an Avenger in my room," she says.
To his credit, Phil doesn't run. He gets out of his chair and turns to look directly at Clint. A thousand emotions flit across Phil's face all at once, his mouth opens and moves just a little, a small breath that could have been Clint's name if he'd only found his voice.
"So. Hey," Clint says, and tries not to be angry. Tries not to throw out the blame he carries with him.
"How did you--?" Phil asks. "When…?"
Clint shrugs. "A while. I just. I figured you needed your space? I mean, if you wanted us to know, you could have pushed for our clearance levels, right?"
Clint's not absolutely sure, but he thinks Phil's eyes are blank. "And you just accepted that," Phil says.
Clint shrugs again; pushes down on his hurt. "Wasn't about me, sir."
The 'sir' makes Phil flinch, just a little, and the room settles into silence.
"...awkwaaard," the woman says from the bed.
Clint leans forward to look around Phil and give her a little wave. "Hi. Sorry. Didn't mean to barge in on your recovery."
"Oh, I'm fine," she says, though her pupils are blown.
"Yeah, I bet," he says, glancing at the IV drip next to her bed. "Listen, I'm gonna take off with your team leader for a while, but I'll have him back to you in tip top shape, I promise, okay?"
"Is this Avenger business?" she asks, looking alarmingly lucid and eager for someone who's probably floating pretty high on morphine. "Is Phil secretly an Avenger?"
Clint tries not to react to her casual use of Phil's name, because Phil closes his eyes, like it's an old argument.
"Agent Ward will be by in the morning," Phil tells her, buttoning his suit jacket. "I'll tell him to bring you a--chess board or something." Turning to Clint, he nods. "Agent Barton. We need to talk."
"Yeah," Clint agrees, giving another wave to the woman as they turn to leave. "It was nice meeting you. Feel better."
"My name is Skye!" she calls after them.
They don't speak as they enter the hallway, and wait for the elevator in silence. Once it arrives and they get on it, however, Phil reaches over and pushes the emergency stop, before entering an override code to prevent the alarm from going off. Once that's done, he turns to look at Clint, and Clint looks back. They stand like that, in opposite corners of the elevator, for a long time.
Phil looks good, Clint thinks. Healthy. He doesn't move with any sign of his injury. He's still got that look on his face though, like he accidentally kicked a puppy, and Clint's not even sure what his own face looks like. Neutral, he hopes. He's still trying not to be angry.
"I wanted to tell you," Phil says eventually.
"Did you," Clint says, and deliberately doesn't phrase it as a question, because it isn't one.
"When did you find out?"
"Months ago," Clint says.
"All of you?" Phil asks, not clarifying who he means by you.
Clint nods to confirm it, then says carefully, "I meant what I said, though. This was never about us. This was never about me." Because it's important that Phil understands that they understand that. Clint may carry the hurt in his gut, but there's a reason he's so insistent on pushing it down.
Phil doesn't say anything for a long while, just studies Clint's face.
"Why now?" he finally asks.
Clint shrugs, scratches his chin a little. "Heard you're about to be declassified. Figured I'd beat the rush."
That draws a vague chuckle out of Phil, and that sound--Phil's laugh--it's enough to nearly drop Clint to his knees. He feels the corners of his mouth try to turn down and he has to take a deep breath to calm himself, because he was going to play this cool, but he can't.
"I missed you," he confesses, trying to be casual about it and failing spectacularly.
Phil makes this little, broken sound, and says, "I missed you too," and then Clint's crossing the space between them and kissing him.
In the years since the battle of New York, and the months since he'd learned of Phil's miraculous recovery, Clint thought he'd been doing fine. Now, with Phil's tongue in his mouth, Phil's hands gripping his biceps, Phil's body pressed against his, it feels like finally being able to draw breaths he hadn't realized he was missing.
"So hey," Clint says when they take a break from each other, foreheads leaning together. "I heard you have some time off. Was gonna see if maybe you wanted to do something."
Phil laughs, a slightly teary-sounding chuckle that makes Clint smile. "If I wanted to do something," Phil repeats in disbelief. "Only you, Barton."
"Call me Clint, please," Clint says. "I missed it."
"Clint," Phil says. "Clint. Don't call me 'sir,' Clint."
"Sure thing, sir," Clint says, and then laughs at the indignant huff from Phil.
"You're insufferable," Phil says, and kisses him again.
"Yet you married me, sir," Clint mumbles into the kiss, which just makes Phil reach up with both hands and cup the back of Clint's head, as if it were physically possible to get them closer together.
Eventually Clint has to pull out of the kiss, because someone is bound to be waiting for the elevator somewhere, and he's starting to get hard in his pants, and he's still fighting off faint traces of anger, trying to bleed in at the edge of his vision. He really doesn't want to be angry. "Come on, Phil," he says instead, taking Phil's hand in his own and squeezing it before letting go. "Let's get out of here."
Phil looks like he wants to protest for a moment, before nodding in agreement. "Where are you taking me?" he asks as he starts the elevator again.
"Away," Clint says, looking at the display as the elevator descends.
Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Phil smile.
The safehouse isn't really a safehouse anymore. Hasn't been, since the World Security Council started getting more meddlesome with how SHIELD spends its budget. But it's still standing, still isolated in the woods. They arrive around noon, and Clint doesn't hesitate to nudge Phil through the door. Raising an eyebrow, Phil looks around the small space. "Have you been up here?" he asks.
Clint shrugs as he sets about starting the generator and pulling aside the curtains. "Someone had to take care of this place."
"I would have thought Director Fury would have gotten rid of this by now," Phil remarks, almost casually as he wanders over to the little stove in the corner, testing the knobs.
Clint hesitates over how much to reveal, because he hasn't seen Phil in so long, but in the end decides this is his husband, and they're here, and everything else is just details. "He tried to," Clint says. "He was going to. But it's mine, now."
Phil turns in obvious surprise, unguarded in a way he isn't with anyone but Clint, and it makes Clint smile. "You bought this?"
Clint shrugs a little again; grabs the lapels of Phil's suit jacket and pulls him closer. "I had to do something with all that hazard pay."
Phil's eyes narrow a little, but there's a smile tugging at his lips. "Why here?"
"The memories," Clint says.
Phil's laughter is little more than a sharp exhale of breath against Clint's face, and Clint remembers their first kiss in this cabin, bruising and desperate, so many years ago. "Sentimentalist," Phil accuses.
"Yeah. My, my, how the tables have turned," Clint murmurs and kisses Phil.
"I have to be back in two days," Phil says.
"I'll have you back with your team in four," Clint promises, and it makes Phil pull away with a groan.
"Clint," he warns.
"Four days," Clint says, irritation building in his chest. "Four days, Phil. You owe me four days. It's the least you can give me, after--everything."
Phil stills a little, and his eyes search Clint's face. Clint knows he's scowling now, because god fucking dammit, he just got Phil back, he doesn't want to let him go again so soon. He's been patient, he's been waiting, and he only threw like three hissyfits in the process, because he knows that what Phil's doing is important work, so he deserves this one, little reprieve.
"Did you at least tell the Director where we are?" Phil says with resignation, and there's definite guilt in his voice.
"What, like he doesn't know anyway?" Clint scoffs. He starts to lean in for a kiss again, but Phil hesitates, and Clint freezes, lips hovering just shy of touching Phil's. "What?"
Phil swallows. "We have a lot to talk about, Clint."
Clint sighs. "We do."
"I have some apologies to make," Phil says.
"You do," Clint agrees.
"But first," Phil says, words slow to leave his mouth, "I think I would like my ring back?"
Clint leans heavily on Phil, sticks his nose in behind Phil's ear and breathes him in. "What makes you think I still have it?" he says. "Maybe I sent it to be cremated with your body. Maybe I buried it at Arlington."
Phil doesn't answer, he just reaches into the collar of Clint's sweater and fishes out the chain hanging around Clint's neck. There, hanging next to the dog tags that read Coulson, Philip J., is a plain gold wedding band, identical to the one Clint wears on his left hand.
"Oh, right. That ring," Clint says, trying for humorous.
Phil doesn't look amused. He looks pained.
"Okay," Clint says, "Let's talk."
By the time it's dark outside, they're mostly talked out, and curled up in bed, fully clothed.
"When did you start wearing it?" Phil asks, one finger tracing across the band on Clint's finger.
"After," Clint says, and doesn't specify.
Phil huffs. "Obviously after. I thought it interfered with your grip though?"
"I got new gloves," Clint explains.
"I thought you hated full gloves," Phil says, and Clint's leaned back against Phil's chest and can't see his face, but he can practically hear the frown in his voice.
"I wanted to wear the ring," he says simply.
They fall into silence for a while, and Phil's fingers continue to trace patterns over Clint's ring, over the back of his hand, over his forearm. Phil's wearing his own ring again. Clint had noticed when he put it on, the tan line was gone, faded from months without it.
"Just so you know, I'm still mad at you," he says, because he needs to acknowledge it. Hiding it makes it worse.
Phil nods. "I know."
Clint doesn't ask about Phil's mission, the one that apparently just landed his teammates in the hospital, because he knows it'll all be declassified shortly, anyway. Phil doesn't ask Clint about his life with the team, because he's probably been able to follow it without even trying.
"So what is this?" Phil finally asks. "Really."
Clint shrugs. "A vacation."
"A vacation," Phil says in disbelief.
"Sure," Clint says, and doesn't say everything he wants to say, like, I missed you, or Enough was enough, or I heard your team got injured and I knew you'd feel guilty about that and I couldn't stand the thought of you working your way through that guilt all by yourself.
Phil leans down and kisses the curve of Clint's ear. "Thank you," he says, and they both know he hears Clint loud and clear anyway.
Clint clears his throat, feeling awkward.
"I mean, I heard where they put you up for recovery, and I know this ain't exactly Tahiti, but…" He trails off.
"Tahiti is a magical place," Coulson says, and sounds almost teasing. "This is different. There's nowhere I'd rather be."
It's starting to get a little too emotional for Clint, who turns in Phil's arms and leers at him. "I brought lube."
Phil puts his head down against Clint's and laughs.
Phil's suit has scorch marks on the sleeves.
Clint takes his time peeling Phil out of it, kissing each patch of skin as it is revealed.
"I didn't bring a change of clothes," Phil murmurs.
"I brought enough for us both," Clint says easily, licking across Phil's belly, towards his hip. They've always been able to borrow each other's clothes; Phil's shirts stretch a little extra across Clint's broad shoulders and arms, and Clint's pants pinch ever so slightly around Phil's waist, but they're mostly the same size.
"I forgot how convenient that is," Phil says, one hand sliding across Clint's bicep, even as his hips lift off the bed in a faint thrust.
Clint raises his head then, briefly, to catch Phil's eyes. "I thought you hated borrowing my clothes. You were always bitching about preferring your suits."
"Well," Phil says, and looks a little sheepish. "You don't know what you--nevermind." He interrupts himself, looking supremely embarrassed, and Clint wonders if the sentence was supposed to end with, got until it's gone.
Clint studies Phil's face, looks at the emotion in his gaze, and his heart swells. "I know what you mean," he says with a smile, as he unbuckles Phil's belt.
It's been far too long since Clint's had anything in his ass, but he still welcomes the stretch and burn as Phil sinks inside.
"Jesus," Phil breathes, "Jesus."
"Do you really want me to make a 'call me Clint' joke?" Clint asks, hands on Phil's hips and holding him still. Deep breaths to relax and adjust.
"I've missed your dumb jokes," Phil says, and fuck--that makes Clint laugh.
"Oh fuck," Clint gets out, clenching around Phil and making him shudder. "I've missed your dumb jokes!"
"My team doesn't understand me," Phil says, smile warm as he looks down at Clint.
"Don't bring up your team while you're inside me, please," Clint says fondly, and Phil leans down to mouth along Clint's collarbone. "That's--that's better," Clint breathes, laughter giving way for heat in his belly. "Okay, okay, move."
Phil does move then, slowly at first, but faster as Clint adjusts.
"You're not allowed to be dead again," Clint says, reaching between them to jerk himself off as Phil finds a particularly awesome angle.
"You don't want me to bring up my team while I'm inside you, but my death is okay?" Phil shoots back, sweat appearing on his forehead.
Clint has to laugh again, because he can't do anything else.
"I love you," he says.
"Love you," Phil says back, and something slots back into place in Clint's soul, making him whole again.
They spend most of their second day fucking on every available surface. Clint wakes Phil up with a blowjob. They rut against door sometime between breakfast and lunch before they collapse in a heap on the floor. They spend hours in bed, until the sheets are gross with sweat and other bodily fluids. The air in the cabin gets heavy with the scent of sex, and Phil smiles more than he did the first day.
"You're wearing me out," he mumbles into Clint's neck sometime in the late afternoon, before pushing Clint's face down on the small table.
Clint braces one leg against the chair, pushes his ass back on Phil's cock to take him as deeply as possible, and tells him, "Keep up, old man!"
He's sore and well-fucked, but he doesn't want to stop. Luckily for him, Phil doesn't.
Later they eat canned ravioli at that same table, exchanging occasional smiles.
"I hope you're feeling better," Clint says in the evening, tentatively.
Phil's own smile falters a little. "I hope you are, too," he says in return.
Clint prods at the sore spot in himself, thinks about the months and months of waiting, of knowing and doing nothing, and finds that the bitterness there is quieting down. Settling into a fading soreness, instead of this volatile flame.
The third day, Clint wakes up to an empty bed. He finds Phil at the nearby lake, about half a mile east. He pauses to take in Phil's figure, standing at the edge of the dock and looking out across the water. Beautiful, Clint thinks, and then immediately wants to slam his face into a tree, embarrassed with himself.
"Hey," he says instead, as casually as he can manage, as he approaches Phil.
"Hey yourself," Phil says, greeting him with a faint smile.
They stand in silence for a while, before Phil taps his foot against the wood. "Your doing?"
Clint shrugs. "I go swimming sometimes."
Phil looks at him. "You come here often?"
"At least once a year," Clint answers honestly. Once a year, like clockwork. Like always.
"Around mid-June, maybe?" Phil hedges.
Clint looks away. "Maybe," he says.
He still remembers the first anniversary he'd spent here alone. Too little time had passed since New York. He'd been too raw and broken, the echo of Loki still in his mind and his heart still broken in his chest. He'd stayed for a week before he realized Natasha wasn't coming to get him, and his options were to pull himself together or die of alcohol poisoning, isolated and alone.
Clint's later trips have always been more cheerful. He never wants the primary memories of this place, their place, to be alcohol and anger.
Phil nods at Clint as if reading his thoughts, and they settle back into silence for a while.
"I know people think I made a mistake," Phil says after a long while, and his words sound measured and careful. He squints into the sun. "Picking my team."
Clint waits for him to go on.
"People think I should have picked seasoned agents. A complete team of field operatives and specialists. Instead I've got… Well, they're not--conventional," Phil says.
"Neither are we," Clint shrugs, and thinks about tripping over Mjolnir in the common areas of the Tower, meditating with Bruce or singing karaoke with Tony. "Conventional is boring."
"I didn't make a mistake," Phil says, and he sounds vaguely defensive. "I didn't."
Clint nods and says, "I know."
"There was no way we could have predicted the outcome of our last mission," Phil says, voice growing more firm. "There were too many variables, and despite her inclination to approach things in an untraditional manner, Skye followed my orders to the letter--"
Phil stops talking abruptly, and Clint gives him time. The thought process is blatantly obvious: Skye followed Phil's orders to the letter, Skye got hurt, Phil feels directly responsible for Skye getting hurt.
Phil huffs out a small chuckle, but he doesn't really sound amused at all. Shaking his head, he says, "What a dumb thought," and Clint's not sure if Phil's talking to himself or not.
It's just too gloomy.
Rolling his eyes, Clint lifts a hand and without further ado, shoves Phil into the lake.
Phil comes up sputtering, "Jesus fuck that's cold!" and Clint considers it a victory that he got a cuss word out of him.
"Vacation!" Clint crows, hands in the air.
"You're such a child," Phil chides, grabbing the edge of the dock and hoisting himself out of the water. Clint dances away just in time as Phil tries to grab for his ankles.
"You love me anyway," Clint says.
"I do," Phil confirms, pulling his soggy shirt over his head. Clint smiles and admires all that soaking wet Phil right in front of him, and thinks Phil sounds happier. More relaxed. Finally.
That evening, they fuck slowly, face to face. Phil's hard inside Clint and Clint's hard between their bodies, and this is everything. Clinging to Phil's biceps, Clint breathes deeply and doesn't want this to end. His throat is tight with emotions, and the hurt inside of him is all but gone.
He opens his mouth to say something, but can't find his voice.
Phil looks at Clint, gaze intense and full of heat, and seems to understand him just fine, anyway.
The four days go by too quickly. Clint tries not to let anger and bitterness seep back in as they leave the Quinjet and prepare to go their separate ways. Steve's waiting for him at one end of the hangar, and someone who must be Agent Ward is waiting for Phil at the opposite end.
"You gonna be okay?" Clint asks, reminding himself once more than this isn't about him, not really.
"I'll be fine," Phil assures him, which Clint interprets as, I'll be better once everyone's out of the hospital.
Clint nods a little and scrapes one boot on the tarmac. "I'll see you again?"
Phil startles a little at that. "Of course, Clint, of course you will! This will be declassified in a matter of days. Tops. And then I will see you again, Clint."
Clint smiles, lopsidedly. "Wasn't sure, sir."
Phil leans over and kisses Clint, right there in front of SHIELD personnel and God and everyone. "I'm not leaving you again," he says firmly.
Clint smiles. "See that you don't. I'm technically still a widower on paper, and there's honestly only room for one Widow on my team."
Phil rolls his eyes, but he's smiling fondly as he turns away and starts walking towards Agent Ward. "Take care, Agent Barton," he calls.
"It's Hawkeye now, get with the times," Clint calls back.
Phil just throws one hand in the air, waving over his shoulder, his wedding ring visible on his finger. Clint smiles wider, because he's an Avenger and Phil's team will be okay and he has his husband back. Things will be just fine.