Phil's sitting in his rental car, gazing up at a rather sketchy looking building in a rather sketchy looking part of Brooklyn, when his cell rings.
"Hello, Melinda," he says, keeping his eyes trained on the peeling paint and aged brick before him.
"Coulson, Phil, what the hell are you doing?" There's a truly impressive amount of annoyance packed into that handful of words.
One corner of Phil's mouth quirks up. "Skye squealed, huh?"
"I have ways of making people talk."
"Yeah, your cookie making skills have come a long way." Phil's not certain, but he thinks he may actually be able to hear the sound of Melinda's teeth grinding together.
"Okay, there are two ways we can do this."
"Is one of them the easy way?" Phil says with a smile... that promptly fades away in response to the almost menacing silence in his ear.
"Yes," Melinda grates out. "The easy way involves you coming back to the bus now, right now, and me making you a batch of White Chocolate Macadamia. A whole batch. Just for you. Because I'm a nice person. Dammit."
"You're an incredible person, Melinda."
"The hard way involves me tracking you down, knocking you out, and dragging you back to the bus. And when I say dragging, I mean I will pick up your feet and let your unconscious head scrape against every awful surface I can think of. You're in New York; there are a hell of a lot of awful surfaces around you."
Phil winces. "Well, as horrific as that sounds, I'm afraid I'm going to have to risk it."
There's a huff of irritation in Phil's ear. "Phil, you can't do this."
"That's where you're wrong. I can do this. I maybe shouldn't do this, but my ability to do what I'm about to do is definitely not in question."
"Fine. Then you shouldn't do this."
"Hmm. What exactly did Skye tell you?"
"That you asked her to hack into secure SHIELD files and find an address for a certain ex-asset of yours."
"Ah, she went with the truth then," Phil says. "Good for her. But, for the record, I never used the word 'hack'. I just asked if she could find some information for me."
"Barton's current whereabouts."
"That would be the information I was looking for, yes."
"Then, if you had Skye bring up Barton's information, you should know that he's nowhere near the clearance level to know about your survival. He''s not even affiliated with SHIELD anymore."
"I'm aware." Phil's fingers tighten on his phone. "They cut him loose, Mel. Left him dangling in the wind."
"A full pardon doesn't sound like being left dangling to me."
"Yes, he was absolved of sins he had no control over committing." Phil's upper lip curls. "How magnanimous of our employers."
There's a pause from Melinda's end of the call. "I shouldn't have to say that your comments are putting me a little on edge."
Phil snorts. "I'm not going to betray SHIELD, Melinda. Or leave it. Not when everything's just getting interesting."
"That response isn't as mollifying as you might have hoped. But I suppose I'll take it. And I'll ask again, what the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Correcting a mistake."
"Coulson, I want you to think for a moment about the myriad of different things I could do to make your existence truly awful, so if you wouldn't mind adding a few details to that-"
"Do you know he asked me out once?" Phil says.
"What? Who? Barton?"
"It was a few years ago. I said no, of course, because that was the kind of person I was back then." Phil sighs. "Rules, and regs, and all that. And, honestly, I wasn't entirely certain he was being serious. Anyway, I said no, and, for a second, he looked so disappointed." Phil pauses as Barton's face appears in his mind's eye, clear as day. "Then that look was gone, and he was his usual self. He never said anything more about it, and he never asked again." Phil leans his head against the back of his seat. "I can't even begin to tell you how many time I've thought of that moment. Of what might have happened if I had said yes."
"I know it's stupid to play 'what if'," Phil says quickly. "But it's not stupid to want to take advantage of what I've been given. I've got a second chance, Mel, and I'm gonna use it."
"To have sex with Clint Barton."
"God, I hope so. Have you seen any picutres of him recently? I think his arms may have gotten bigger. And he's definitely been doing more lunges."
"Please stop," Melinda says. "You're going to ruin the lines of your suit." She sighs. "You know that you're about to blatantly disregard orders from Fury himself."
"Dammit, Phil. I understand what you're saying. I do. But isn't there someone else you could sow your second-chance-at-life oats with? Someone with the right clearance?"
Phil shakes his head. "Clint is... He's..."
"Not the end all, be all of hot guys at SHIELD, Coulson. Is Barton's ass really worth the shitstorm that you're going to bring down on yourself?"
"Mel, I'm not just interested in a pretty package to have some fun with. This is something else. This is something more."
"Great. Just great. Phil Coulson: the romantic. And if your something more turns you down?"
"Then I'm gonna need those cookies you offered."
"And if he decides that you're some alien, robot, shapeshifter thing, and puts an arrow through you?"
"Then I'll need a hospital first, then the cookies." Phil thinks for a moment. "Actually, scratch the cookies. I'm not above using his resulting guilt to finagle at least one dinner date out of the situation. More, depending on which part the arrow goes into."
Melinda sighs. Loudly. "Do you have any idea how much I'm missing my paperwork fort right now?"
"Sure. We'll go with that. Look, I told Skye that if she blabs to anyone else, she's cut off from the kitchen. But Ward's looking cagey. What am I supposed to say when he inevitably asks where you are?"
Phil smirks. "Tell him I'm making a booty call. Ooh, and if you could maybe get a picture of his face when you do, that would be awesome."
"Damn. Now I'm torn between the distaste of uttering the phrase 'booty call', and the utter joy I would receive upon making Ward think about you having sex."
"I know, right? Think it over. I have to go."
"Phil..." Melinda sighs again. "Just... Try to... Ah, screw it. No glove, no love, all right?"
"I'm fistbumping you in my mind." Phil ends the call and pockets his phone. He spends a moment, just a moment, going over everything Melinda had said. She had made valid points, but they weren't anything that Phil hadn't already thought of. He knows what he's about to do could backfire, spectacularly. He just can't quite find it in himself to care.
Phil opens the door and exits his car. As he starts towards Barton's building, his eyes flick up and down the street. This doesn't look like a place Clint Barton would choose to settle in. Then again, Phil's not sure what such a place would look like. Some place warm, maybe, with lots of space for his archery. Phil wonders if Barton has been keeping up with his archery, then he dismisses that possibility. Of course Barton has been keeping up with it. The alternative would be absurd.
The first thing Phil notices when he enters Barton's building is the complete lack of any security measures. The second is a rather disturbing smell. Phil can't help but sniff a bit as he starts up the stairs.
With each step Phil takes, his outrage gets a little higher. Even if Barton isn't an active member of SHIELD, he was still one of the agency's top assets, and an Avenger, for goodness sake. What on earth is he doing living in a place like this?
By the time Phil gets to Barton's floor, the absence of any kind of camera or sensor has him completely disturbed. Even if Barton is semi-retired, or whatever he wants to call it, he still has enemies. Maybe the apartment itself will be more fortified, but Phil has a sinking feeling that that won't be the case.
When Phil reaches Barton's door, he takes a moment to smooth down the front of his jacket, make sure his tie is straight, and pat at his hair. He puts his hand to his mouth, huffs into it, then takes a sniff. Wishing that he had a breath mint, but feeling thankful that he hadn't eaten anything with garlic or onions for lunch, Phil raises his hand and knocks.
There's a disconcerting crash, a muffled curse, then a "Hold on, I'm comin'!" A few seconds later, the door opens revealing Clint Barton in all his unshaven, messy-haired glory.
Phil quickly takes everything in, from the tired eyes, to the tight tee shirt stretched across Barton's chest, to the loose sweatpants hanging from his hips, and down to the bare toes curling against the wood floor. Something dangerous flutters in his chest.
"Hello," he says.
Barton's eyes narrow. "Huh. Well, fuck, either I've gone completely 'round the bed, or the people I used to work for were even bigger dicks than I thought."
"The latter," Phil says. "Fortunately. For your mental health, I mean."
"Uh huh." Barton stares at him for long enough that Phil wonders if he should apologize for... well, any multitude of things, actually. But before Phil can do more than lick his lips and start to open his mouth, Barton pulls the door open further. "Come on in, if you're coming," he says, before turning around and leaving Phil standing in his doorway.
Phil doesn't have to be told twice, and he quickly enters the apartment. He closes the door, and the absence of anything more complex than a few deadbolts makes acid churn in his gut. Swallowing back his questions and concerns for later, Phil starts to take note of Barton's new habitat.
The loft is large, airy, and mostly bare. If it wasn't for the purple couch and the long bow mounted on the wall behind it, Phil wouldn't have any clue this place even belonged to Barton. After a few more steps, he sees arrow-riddled targets on a far wall. Somehow, that doesn't make him feel better.
"You want coffee?" Barton asks. He's in his kitchen, already fiddling with a slightly battered Black & Decker.
"Sure." Phil says. He moves closer but stays on the other side of the breakfast bar that delineates the space between the kitchen and the living area.
Barton frowns as he adds grounds to the filter. "I don't think I have any cream. Or milk. Or sugar."
"You like it with cream, though. Right?"
Phil shrugs. "When I can get it, but you don't have it, so it's not a big deal."
"Hmm. I could go down to... There's a bodega like a block from here."
Phil has the awful thought that if Barton goes out for cream, he'll never come back. He'll leave everything and run with just the clothes on his back. Run from what, though, he's not sure yet. "It's fine," he says. "Please. You don't have to go out."
"All right." Barton pushes a button, then turns and leans with his backside resting against the counter. He crosses his arms over his chest and levels a steady look at Phil. "So."
"So." Phil puts his hands in his pockets and tries to not fidget under the weight of Barton's gaze. It's difficult. There's a peculiar weight to those eyes that Phil has never had directed at him before.
He thinks about saying something, anything, to break the silence that's getting steadily more and more oppressive as the seconds tick by. He could make a joke about the weather or ask about the Yankees, but neither one of those things would probably go over well. He could ask what Barton's been doing lately or how he's been, but the answer to those seems kind of obvious.
So Phil waits. He'll let Barton make the next move. And, really, if anyone's going to be asking questions, it should be him. Phil will just have to do his best to answer them. And not think too hard about the ones he can't.
After another minute or two of the only sounds being the steady hiss and drip of the coffee maker, Barton finally speaks. "Are you here to kill me, Coulson?"
That's one question Phil hadn't expected. "What? No, that's... What? Why would you think that?"
"'Cause you're a dead man. And if Nick Fury pulled enough strings to keep your survival a secret, then I imagine it's not something he'd want someone like me to find out about." He shrugs. "I figure the only reason I'd have to see you would be if you were assigned to take me out."
Phil's struggling to keep from gaping at not only Barton's 'logic', but also at the rather nonchalant way he's speaking about what he's certain is his imminent demise. "Barton-"
"It's all right. I'm not gonna fight you. Honestly, I'm kind of glad the wait's gonna be over."
"You..." Phil shakes his head. "Do you... Do you mind if I have a seat?" Without waiting for an answer, Phil pulls out one of the stools tucked up against the bar and slumps down onto it.
"You okay?" Barton asks with a frown and an aborted move forward. Phil can only imagine what his face must look like.
"Not in the slightest." Phil says. "Barton... Clint, I didn't come here to kill you; I came here to see if you'd still be interested in going out with me." Phil huffs out a poor excuse for a laugh. It sounds absurd now, and he knows it.
Barton blinks and presses himself back against the counter. "What?"
"You asked me out once, a couple of years ago, after that op in Madrid."
"I turned you down."
"I remember that too."
"Well, I've regretted that," Phil says. "Saying no to you. I've had a lot of time for... reflection, recently. Most of the mistakes I've made in my life, I can't change them. But that - you - well, I wanted a do-over."
Barton blinks at him a few more times. His mouth opens and closes. He scrubs a hand through his already horribly messy hair. "Are you serious with this? You are, aren't you? You're serious."
"What? No, you... This is insane. There's no way Fury authorized this."
Phil purses his lips. "Nick Fury doesn't authorize my love life, Clint. I'm going to call you Clint from now on. And you call me Phil, okay?"
"I... I guess." Barton looks doubtful.
"Fury doesn't know I'm here," Phil says. "And, yes, when he finds out, he'll probably be perturbed."
"But that won't be on you. I want you to let me worry about that."
"Oh, okay, sure, I'll just let you worry about that." Clint rubs at his eyes. "Christ. I have gone crazy."
Phil knocks sharply on the top of the bar. "You haven't. Though, your current self-preservation skills are leaving a lot to be desired."
"Do you have any kind of security system in here at all?"
"Oh." The very tops of Clint's cheeks flush slightly. "Yeah, well, I figured..." He trails off and has the audacity to look sheepish.
"You figured that someone from SHIELD would be coming to kill you."
Clint shrugs. "Pretty much. Why make their job harder, right?"
Phil doesn't know if he wants to laugh, cry, or prove Clint right by trying to strangle him. Instead, he takes a deep breath and, as calmly as possible, asks, "In lieu of cream, I don't suppose you'd be able to add a finger or two of whiskey to my mug, would you?"
"How do you know I'm not out of that too?"
Phil raises an eyebrow.
Clint's lips twist up into a tired-looking version of his usual smirk. "Yeah, okay." He bends over to retrieve something from one of the lower cabinets, and Phil lets his eyes linger on Clint's ass. He's not exactly proud of it, but considering the dark turns their upcoming conversation will probably take, Phil decides to treat himself while he can. When Clint stands back up, he's got a bottle of Johnnie Walker in one hand. He turns around and sets the bottle on the counter, then pulls down two mugs from a shelf above his head and starts making their coffees. Again, Phil lets himself appreciate the view.
Half way through adding the whiskey, Clint lets out a sudden and unexpected snort.
"What?" Phil asks.
Clint shakes his head. He caps the bottle and, with a mug in each hand, turns around. "You really are telling the truth, aren't you?" he says as he sets one mug down in front of Phil. "About the whole going out thing."
Phil takes sip of his coffee and watches as Clint settles onto his own stool on the other side of the island. "Yes. What convinced you?"
This time Clint's smirk is a little more genuine. "Your reflection in my microwave."
Phil's eyes widen as they cut over to the offending appliance, and he realizes just what Clint must have seen. "Oh, God. I'm so sorry. I didn't-"
Clint lets out a low, warm chuckle. "Hey, don't feel bad." He tilts his head downward and looks up through his lashes. "It's nice to be appreciated."
Phil clears his throat. "Still, dirty-old-manish is not exactly how I wanted to come across here."
"Ah, Phil, I'd never call you old." Clint winks at him. Winks at him.
"Uh huh." Phil resists the urge to pull at the collar of his shirt. Having Clint Baton's attention focused on you is a force to be reckoned with. "As much as I like this flirting thing you've started, I'd like it a whole lot more if you weren't using it as a distraction technique."
A muscle ticks in Clint's jaw. "Don't know what you're-"
"Why do you think Nick Fury wants you dead?"
The easy, friendly facade falls away from Clint's face. "We're going there, huh?"
"Did you think I'd just ignore it? You're expecting someone from SHIELD to kill you; I want to know why."
"You mean you don't know?"
Phil smiles deprecatingly. "I've been out of the loop on certain matters lately."
Clint studies Phil for a moment. The corners of his mouth pull down slightly. "What happened to you?"
"Fine. What do you think happened, Coulson? I got compromised."
Clint huffs out an anemic laugh. "Phil. I got compromised. I caused the deaths of a lot of good people." His eyes drop to the mug in his hands. "Nearly took down the carrier."
Phil raps his knuckles against the top of the bar again. "Loki caused the deaths of a lot of good people. Loki nearly took down the carrier."
"Yeah, well, Loki may have been the one pulling the trigger, but I was the weapon in his hands, wasn't I? And it's not like politics and shit need to make sense or follow logic."
"My future became kind of a divisive issue for a while. Some people thought I should have been put away."
Something seizes in Phil's chest. "They wanted to send you to jail?"
Clint scoffs. "That might have been okay, actually. No, they wanted to pump me full of shit and put me in padded room." Clint's eyes are wide and very, very blue. "I couldn't have taken that, Phil. Being drugged up. Not knowing what I could trust." He shakes his head sharply.
Phil reaches out with his right arm and lets the tips of his fingers brush against Clint's knuckles. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you. To protect you."
Clint's eyes lock on that point of contact. He doesn't move his hand and neither does Phil. "Where were you?" Clint asks. "I mean, if you can tell me or-"
"I was in a coma for a while. I'm not sure how long. What I can remember from after I woke up is very... fuzzy. Eventually, I ended up in Tahiti for the remainder of my recovery and PT."
"Tahiti?" Clint's eyebrows shoot up. "Seriously?"
"It's a..." Phil swallows back the words that try to automatically crawl out. He taps on the back of Clint's hand. "It's beautiful. I should take you there."
"Moving a little fast, aren't you, Coulson?" Clint says with a grin that's a little closer to what it should be.
"Death's turned me into somewhat of an optimist."
"That must be nice."
"It has its moments. Now, quit stalling, and finish your story. You didn't get locked up. What did happen?"
Clint shifts on his stool, but he still doesn't pull away from Phil's touch. "A bunch of bullshit. I had to jump through a lot of hoops to prove who I was. Prove my loyalty. And at the end of it all, I was still demoted. I got booted so far down the food chain most of the maintenance workers had a higher clearance than me. Fury said I'd have to earn it back." Clint snorts. "Do you believe that shit? Me, a Level 7 agent, the best shot in the world, a fucking Avenger, and he wanted me in at the kiddie table. I don't think so. I told Fury he could stuff his Level 1 clearnace up his ass, and I left. But I figure I've still got all that Level 7 shit in my head, right. And it's not like I was a saint before I started earning a government paycheck. I could be a threat. A big threat. And it would make sense for Fury to want to eliminate me. So..." He shrugs, like what he said was just nothing. Like oh well, what can you do?
Phil kind of wants to throttle him.
"I see," Phil says, trying and failing to keep a check on the seldom used temper that's flaring up. "So, what you're saying is, your current place with SHIELD, or lack thereof, is because you were too stubborn and prideful to accept what the Director offered you? Clint, you could have been half way back to your previous clearance by now." Phil watches as Clint's face goes eerily blank, and he realizes that he maybe should have been a bit more dliplomatic with his word choice. "I mean-"
Clint snatches his hand away from Phil's, and his stool scrapes against the flooring as he stands up. He takes his mug over to the sink and dumps the rest of its contents. "Finish your coffe, and get out."
"No." Clint turns around and rests his hands on his hips. He glares down at Phil. "On second thought, stop drinking my damn coffee."
"No!" Clint surges forward and slams his fist down on the bar, just narrowly missing the hand Phil still has outstretched. "You... You don't know anything! You were dead. Nat was gone. Oh, yeah, they made sure to send her off on an assignment right quick so there would be no 'undue influence'. Sure, I still had some friends at first, or at least people who seemed friendly, but those dried up once my new status became apparent. I was alone, Coulson. All alone."
Phil's okay with anger, and rage, but the pain he hears in Clint's voice might just be the end of him. "Clint-"
"And as for being stubborn and prideful... Sometimes your pride and the clothes you have on your back are the only things you get to keep in this world. You probably don't understand that, and, whatever, that's fine. But I know what it takes for me to survive, and giving up more of myself to that place wasn't it."
"So instead you came here and started counting out the days until your demise?" Phil scoffs. "That's what you call surviving?"
"Maybe my head hasn't been in the best place," Clint concedes, "but I've been free. I've even helped some people with some stuff. I'm not useless."
"Of course you're not. I never implied that you were."
"Fury did. SHIELD did."
"You don't understand," Phil says.
"That right? Well explain it, Coulson." Clint throws his arms out. "I'm right here. Explain it. Tell me what I missed. Give me one good reason why the hell I should have prostrated myself to people that treated me like that, huh? Just one."
Phil takes a deep breath. He hates himself a little, but it's nothing compared to the animosity he feels towards the organization he's pledged himself to. "Because it was another loyalty test."
Clint looks like Phil just slapped him. "What?"
"They wanted to see how far you would go to stick with SHIELD," Phil says softly.
"What?" It's almost physically painful, watching Clint's face crack and the emotions that play out afterwards.
"The demotion would have lasted just long enough for them to see how committed you really were to the cause. They would have let you languish for a while, months, maybe a year or so, before they were satisfied. Then they would have picked you back up, and dusted you off, and made you a favored son again."
"You can't be serious." Clint laughs. There's just the slightest tinge of hysteria to it. "No, of course you are. Of course you're serious. Fucking spies. Fucking paranoid-ass spies." He turns around and rests both his hands on the counter. He ducks his head, and Phil watches as a tremble goes through his shoulders.
There's one more thing Phil has to say, then he'll probably try and slink out, tail firmly between his legs, because there's no way Clint could ever want a member of SHIELD in his home. Not even him. Now now. "If Fury wanted you dead, you'd be dead. He doesn't play those kinds of games. And he knows you're not a threat. You're a good man, Clint."
"You are. You're an Avenger. You're a hero."
Clint shakes his head. "I'm not-"
"I've seen the footage, Clint. You are a hero. Don't ever try to convince me you're not." Phil pauses for a moment. "If you wanted to go back to SHIELD, I could-"
"No." Clint faces Phil again and runs a hand over his eyes. They're tinged in red and brighter than they were before. "Oh, no. Those... Those bridges are pretty well burned." This time Clint's laugh sounds genuine. "Or did you miss the part about me telling Fury where he could stick his demotion?"
Phil blinks a few times. "I thought that was hyperbole. You really-"
"To his face."
"Looked him right in the eye."
Phil snorts. He quickly covers the lower half of his face with his hand, but that doesn't stop another undignified noise from escaping. With an almost Herculean amount of effort, he schools his face into something hopefully resembling his regular expression. "How was it?"
Clint grins. "Scary. And satisfying. Very satisfying."
"I can imagine."
"Yeah. I'm not gonna go crawling back. Even if they'd let me. I don't think I could trust them. Any of them."
Phil nods. "I understand. I..." He contemplates telling Clint about disappearing muscle memory, and restricted files, and the suspicions that have started to gnaw at him late at night. But Clint has had enough of SHIELD's problems. "I'm gonna go," he says, standing up.
Clint looks startled. "What? No."
"Yes. Thanks for the coffee."
"Phil... Aw, come on, I didn't mean you. You, I trust." Clint scrubs a hand through his hair. "I know I told you to leave, but that's just 'cause you pissed me off. I didn't mean it."
"Well, that's good to know. But I'm still with SHIELD."
"Yeah. And?" Clint cocks his head to one side. "So's Nat; I'm not about to cut ties with her. Steve joined up, but I've still got his number in my phone."
"I know you think..." Phil pauses as his mind connects something for him. "Steve? You're talking about Captain America, aren't you? You call him Steve?"
Clint shrugs. "Or Cap. But he sometimes gets kind of twitchy if you do that in public." He leans forward and a dangerous glint comes into his eyes. "Stay, and I'll tell you all the Steve stories your little fanboy heart can handle."
Phil is not amused. "I don't know if Captain Rogers would appreciate you-"
"I've seen him in his boxers."
"You have not. When?"
Clint grins, thoroughly pleased with himself. "Stick around and find out. It wasn't anything salacious, though. Get your mind outta the gutter."
"My mind wasn't in the gutter," Phil says primly. He swallows. "But it might be now, though."
Clint laughs delightedly. "Okay, being around you without any kind of hierarchy is going to be awesome. Now you have to stay."
"What would you have done, if you'd been around when I was getting dicked over, huh? Would you have let it happen?"
Phil bites back his initial, knee-jerk response and lets himself think over the question for a few moments. "Yes and no. You would have had to appease the higher ups, but I would have figured something out. Convinced Fury to handle you a different way, or, barring that, find a way to let you know everything was going to be alright in the end."
"You would have looked out for me?"
Clint nods. "You may be part of SHIELD, Phil, but it doesn't own you. You're still your own person. A good person. A person I've missed." Clint's voice cracks and he ducks his head. "Missed you a lot."
Phil breathes in slowly. "I've missed you too."
Clint looks up, his eyes as close to pleading as Phil's ever seen. "Stay?"
"All right." Phil glances around the apartment. "On one condition."
"Dinner?" Clint asks with a smile.
"No. Promise me you'll invest in some better locks. Maybe a camera or two. If not for your health, than for my peace of mind."
"Oh." Clint rubs the back of his neck. "Yeah. I guess I could... Or I maybe I'll just move into the tower. Well, once I get all this Russian stuff squared away."
"The tower?" Phil shakes his head. "Russian stuff?"
"Tony's tower. I've got a floor there. And I may have, kind of, run afoul of the Russian mob. A bit."
Phil feels a muscle above his left eye start to twitch. "How does one kind of run afoul of the Russian mob?"
Clint shrugs and manages to look disturbingly innocent.
"You know what," Phil says, "I don't think I want to know."
"Ignorance can sometimes be bliss," Clint says sagely.
"Uh huh. You'd tell me if you need help?"
"Aw, as much as I love watching you be all badass, I think I can handle this myself." Clint rubs at the scruff on his chin. "I was trying to stay on the down low, didn't want to draw too much attention to myself, but if you're right, and I don't have to worry about any shadowy assassin-types punching my ticket-"
"I am, and you don't."
"Then maybe I need to figure out a long term solution. Maybe it's time for them to learn who they're really dealing with." There's a promise of mayhem and violence in the smirk on Clint's lips and the glint in his eye. Phil doesn't think anyone should look so attractive when they're being menacing.
"If you go on a bloody rampage in the middle of New York could you at least try and keep it quiet? You don't have SHIELD to clean up behind you anymore."
"Who needs SHIELD," Clint scoffs. "I'm an Avenger, remember?"
"You said it yourself. I'm a bone fide superhero."
"I don't think I used the word 'super'."
"It was implied. I have my own action figure." Clint grins, and there's something in the crooked quirk of his mouth that has Phil's heart missing a few beats. "Have you seen my action figure, Phil?"
Phil thinks of the unopened box he has stashed in the safe at the back of the closet in his main apartment. "Maybe. I think I might have, you know, caught a glimpse of one. In passing."
"Oh. In passing, huh?"
"Yes. In passing. Maybe."
Clint chuckles. "Okay We'll go with that." He makes a face and tugs at the hem of his tee shirt. "So, I'm kind of mess right now."
"I don't know, you pull off unkempt rather well. A shower might be a good thing, though."
Clint stares at him. "I meant mentally and emotionally."
Phil stares back. "Oh."
"Are you saying I smell?"
"I would never."
"Right. Anyway, I may not be the best company right now, if you still want to do the whole dinner thing." Clint ducks his head and looks up through his lashes again. It's somehow even more charming than before.
"Ah." Phil seriously hopes the heat he feels in his cheeks isn't translating to an actual blush. Wouldn't that be embarrassing? "I would still like to do the whole dinner thing. A lot. But, if we don't do it tonight... I'm stationed on the Bus right now, so I don't really have a lot of leeway when it comes to free time."
Clint frowns. "That might make this kind of difficult. If you're interested in more than just one dinner, I mean."
"I am. Very interested. In all I can get." Phil realizes he's leaning in towards Clint. He clears his throat and rights himself. "That is, of course, if you're-"
"I've wanted you for years, Phil." Clint says simply. "I tried to get over you, tried to forget, if I'm honest, especially since... you know, the whole death thing. Thought I was doing pretty good 'til you showed up again."
Phil swallows. "I'm going to be selfish, and say I'm glad the forgetting thing didn't take."
"Can I be selfish and ask if you're planning on spending the night?"
"You don't think that's moving too fast?" Phil finds himself leaning in again.
"Did you not just hear me use the word 'years' when describing how long I've been interested in you?"
"You did use that word, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I did," Clint says. He starts to take a few shuffling steps around towards Phil's side of the bar. "And if your time with me is limited right now, we should probably take advantage of what we can get." He shrugs. "I'm just trying to be practical."
Phil shuffles forward a bit himself. "You're saying we should sleep together for the sake of practicality?"
"Makes sense, doesn't it? It could be weeks, months even, before we see each other again."
"Not months," Phil says quickly. "You and are are far too smart and resourceful for that."
Clint grins and takes another step, putting him within Phil's reach. "Well, there is something I might be able to use..." he says, trailing off mysteriously. "But still..."
Phil takes another step, and somehow manages to keep his hands to himself. "Still..."
Clint studies Phil's face for a moment, then shakes himself like a dog and sidesteps Phil completely. "There are take out menus on top of the fridge and some cash in the second drawer to the right of the sink. Why don't you order us some grub, and I'll take a shower."
"That sounds expedient," Phil says. "But, I'll pay. It'll be my treat."
"I want to. I'm asking you this time, remember?"
Clint smirks. "Old-fashioned."
"Polite. Besides, considering I'm the one out of the two of us who's still gainfully employed-"
"I'm gainfully employed."
Phil blinks. "Do I want to know? It's not illegal, is it?"
Clint puts his hands on his hips. "I want you to know that if I didn't have a criminal past, I would be very offended by that question."
"If you didn't have a criminal past, I probably wouldn't have asked it."
Clint glares at Phil. Phil shrugs.
Clint snorts. "I work for Stark Industries."
"You what? Since when?"
"Pepper found me like an hour after I left SHIELD."
"An hour?" Phil sighs. "Jarvis."
"She offered me a job as some kind of security consultant. I thought it was charity at first, kind of like my floor in the tower, but I've done some training with their guys and found some pretty glaring holes in their systems. It's not a bad gig."
"Working for Tony Stark? Not a bad gig? How have you not skewered him yet?"
"Aw, he's a pretty okay guy once you get past the bluster," Clint says. "Plus, he pays me a ridiculous amount of money. Like an obscene amount of money."
"Oh. Well. Good for you."
"It's way more than SHIELD paid me."
"That's... That's great."
"Yeah, my bank account hasn't had that many zeros in it since I went legit."
Phil tries to turn the grimace he's developing into something more smile-like. He's not sure it takes. "Does this conversation have a point?"
"Not really. Just, I'm kind of loaded."
"Oh? I wouldn't have guessed."
Clint shakes his head and looks amused. "What I'm trying to say is, don't think you have to take care of me, Coulson. I'm doing just fine on my own."
"Except for the whole waiting to die thing, right?"
"Geez, how long are you planning to harp on that?"
"Until I'm done being terrified at the risks you've evidently been taking."
Clint moves like a ghost, and Phil barely has time to do more than widen his eyes before he's right there in front of him. One large, warm palm cups Phil's jaw, holding his head in place as Clint presses in for a kiss. It's light and quick, over before Phil has time to process exactly what's happening. Clint pulls back, and Phil's left standing there with tingling lips and a probably gobsmacked expression on his face.
"Sorry," Clint says, his voice low and husky, "I didn't want to get too close until I had a chance to bathe, but-"
"It's okay. I didn't mind." Phil licks his lips. "I don't mind. Come here."
Clint laughs. "Order us some food, Phil." He winks, then turns around walks towards the back of the apartment.
Phil's eyes drop down to focus on the sway of Clint's ass until a closed door cuts off the view. He then uses one hand to grab onto the breakfast bar and puts the other up to his chest.
"Jesus Christ," he breathes out. Phil gives himself a few minutes as he alternates between a shocky elation and a crazed giddiness. When he's done, he takes a deep breath, straightens his tie, and goes in search of the take out menus. The first he comes across is from a Chinese place a few blocks away, if Phil's mental map is right - and Phil's mental map is always right. A couple items have been circled in purple ink, and Phil orders those, which the exception of beef and broccoli. Phil knows what Clint's like when he eats beef and broccoli.
With the food ordered, Phil settles back on his stool and waits. He can hear the shower running, and he shamelessly occupies himself by thinking increasingly lewd thoughts about the shower's occupant.
A sharp knock on the apartment's door brings Phil out of his thoughts. He automatically travels across the room, but as he's opening the door something in his head switches back on, and he reazlies it's far too early for their food to be arriving. By then it's already too late, and Phil is staring up at an unamused, one-eyed face.
"Shit," Phil says.
"Having fun, Agent Coulson?" Fury asks.
"Depends." Phil swallows. "Are you asking as my boss, or as the guy I once broke out of a jail cell in Guatemala?"
A muscle ticks in Fury's jaw. "I don't know what you're talking-"
"Oh, you still don't remember? Yeah, you were pretty drunk from that whole thing with the monkey and the strippers."
"Oh, you want to play it like that, huh?" Fury scowls down at him.
"No," Phil says, "I don't want to trade on our decades of friendship or those years in the Rangers where we saved each other's asses on a pretty regular basis. But if you're here to do what I think you're here to do, then, yes, I will play it like that."
"And what, pray tell, do you think I'm here to do?"
"Warn me away from Clint."
Nick studies him for a long moment. "Would it work?"
"Hell no. Sir."
Fury exhales, and he seems to shrink about an inch. "Well that's just great. No, really, that's just wonderful." He peers at Phil. "You gonna invite me in?"
"Invite me in, Phil."
"Don't think so."
"Dammit, Cheese, the conversation we are about to have is not one that should happen in a hallway. Invite me the hell in."
"It's not my place."
Fury's nostrils flare. "Please."
Phil's about to say no again, but there's something in Fury's face, in the honest, pleading tone he put in his voice, that has him standing back and ushering him in.
"Don't make me regret this, Marcus," Phil ignores the baleful look he gets, and asks, "How did you get here so fast? Have you been watching me?"
"No. You, I didn't think I had to watch. Barton's the one who's been under surveillance."
Phil goes very still. "Why?"
"Because the man is a menace," Fury hisses. "It's like he oozes some kind of trouble-attracting pheromone or something. He can barely cross the street without causing a four car pileup." Fury leans in close to Phil and lowers his voice. "Do you know that damn fool has gotten himself involved with the Russian mob?"
"I had heard something about that, yes."
"The fucking Russian mob!" Fury throws his hands up and stalks halfway across the room. "Of all the... boneheaded... stupid ass..."
"You've been trying to look out for him," Phil says slowly.
Fury glares, but he doesn't deny it. Instead, he says, "I stuck a couple of agents on his ass. They're no one he knows - older, close to retirement. I thought I was giving them a cushy gig, but of course that's when I also thought Barton still had an ounce of self-preservation left in him." He shakes his head sharply. "Coulson, that man doesn't need a handler; he needs a nanny."
"He thought you were going to try and kill him."
Fury rears back a bit. "Pardon?"
"He thought the reason he was allowed to walk away from SHIELD was because you were planning on black bagging him."
"Well, shit," Fury says after a few moments. "That does put things in a new light, doesn't it? He thought-"
Nick snorts. "Of course he did. Of fucking course. Did he tell you what he said to me before he left?"
"The little shit." One side of Fury's mouth ticks upward. "Right to my face, too."
"Hmm. You handled him poorly."
Fury sighs. "My hands were tied, and my influence is not what it was. And I had someone else who needed it more than Barton did."
Phil frowns. "You and I are going to have to have a talk sometime soon."
"I know. And I'm not looking forward to it."
Phil pushes aside the little ball of dread that never seems to fully go away anymore. His problems can wait; this needs to be taken care of before Clint runs out of hot water.
"You could have let him know I was alive," Phil says. "Let him see me. That might have been enough to get him to stay."
"No," Fury says flatly. "That wasn't an option."
"Because it wasn't. I'm not getting into this with you right now, Coulson."
"Then what are we getting into?" Phil puts his hands on his hips. "What are you doing here, Nick? What do you want?"
"I want Barton to stop taking stupid risks with his life."
"Oh, trust me," Phil says, "he and I will be having a long conversation about that."
"Good. And while you're having that long conversation, why don't you slip in a little something about him coming back to SHIELD? Now that you're out of your bag, feel free to use yourself as a carrot; I don't give a shit. I want him back."
"That's not going to happen."
"How the hell do you know that? Have you already asked him?"
"Yes, I did. He said no."
"Ah!" Nick holds up a finger. "But that was when he still thought I wanted him dead! Set him straight, and ask again."
"Actually, I asked him after I cleared that up."
"Dammit. Then how about-"
"He doesn't trust you. He doesn't trust SHIELD."
"He trusts you. He wants you. If he comes back, he can have you."
"I'm going to choose to ignore how incredibly creepy that just sounded, and say that Clint is going to have me regardless of where he's employed."
"Not if I keep you and your team on the other side of the damn planet, he won't."
"Tony offered to make me a flying motorcycle," Clint says.
Phil and Nick both flinch and turn - almost in unison - to find Hawkeye warily watching them from the other side of the room. He's dressed in relatively nice jeans and what looks like a soft, plum-colored sweater, but it's the bow in his right hand, the arrow in his left, and the quiver hanging off his hip that has most of Phil's attention.
Phil clears his throat. "That sounds horrifically dangerous."
Clint shrugs. "No more dangerous than anything else Tony builds, I suppose."
"Wow," Phil says. "We are going to have a long conversation about risks, aren't we?"
"That's not really your place anymore, is it?"
Phil cringes at the coldness in Clint's voice. Before he can say anything to try and soothe the situation, Fury decides to speak.
"Barton, Coulson here tells me that you have been laboring under some misconceptions." Fury takes a step forward, but freezes when Clint nocks his arrow. "Son," Fury says, holding up both his hands, "there are no outstanding orders on you. I swear. You've had a protection detail since you left, but that's it."
"Protection detail?" Clint's eyes narrow. "What for?"
Fury rears back. "Are you shitting me?! What for?" He looks at Phil. "What for, he says." He looks back at Clint. "The fucking Russian mob, that's what for."
"Oh. You know about that, huh?"
"See, this, this is why I made you deal with him most of the time," Fury says to Phil.
"I'm very confused," Clint says, though the tension running through his frame seems to ease a bit.
Fury opens his mouth to say something, but Phil cuts him off. "Clint, Nick is here to ask you to come back to SHIELD."
"Um..." Clint blinks a few times. "Seriously?"
"You've sulked long enough, don't you think?" Fury says.
Clint stiffens again, and Phil somehow resists the urge to cover his face with his hands. "Poop with knives," he mutters.
"Nothing," Phil says.
Clint frowns and swings his gaze back to Fury. "What level would I be, if I came back?"
"Level 1," Fury says. "That's non-negotiable. Unfortunately."
"But you'd be able to work your way back up quickly, right?" Phil says, glancing at Fury for confirmation. "Like I told you."
"Fuck that," Clint says. "No deal."
"No." Clint shakes his head. "I'm an Avenger now, and-"
"So you think you're too good for SHIELD, is that it?" Fury says, his eye narrowed to a slit.
"No. I think I'm too tired for SHIELD. Tired of the lies, and the secrets, and the bullshit." Clint finally lowers his bow all the way, and he puts his arrow back in his quiver. "Nat's the spy; I'm just a security consultant."
Fury stares at him for a moment. Clint stares back. Then Fury says, "Security consultant. For Stark, correct?"
"And he pays you well?"
Clint shrugs. "In a couple of years I should have enough saved up for this little island in the Carribiean I've been eyeing."
"Huh. Do you love your country, Mr. Barton?"
Clint squints and glances at Phil. Phil lifts his shoulders just slightly.
"Yeah," Clint says. "Sure. I mean, I don't walk around with a giant A on my forehead or anything, but-"
"How about Earth? Do you like Earth?"
"It's all right."
"And I assume you want it to stay all right?"
Clint sighs. "You could also assume that I'd kind of like for you to cut to the chase."
"Work for SHIELD pro bono. Volunteer your time and skills." Fury smirks. "For the good of your country and whatnot."
Clint's brow furrows and he's silent for a moment. "You have my attention; now tell me the catches."
Fury shrugs. "Your access to SHIELD facilities and files would be limited. Any information given to you would be on a need-to-know basis only. There would be no sharing of secrets with your bestie or your bf. You will still go where I tell you and do what I tell you, but you would be a civilian, so you would not be subjected to the hierarchy that a regular agent would be."
Clint looks at Phil.
"It's an interesting proposal," Phil says. "You would be a consultant, along with Stark and Banner."
"And Thor," Fury says, "if he'd ever come back and sign his damn paperwork." Fury works his jaw a few times, then takes a deep breath. "Clint, I... I'm... I'm sorry for the way things worked out for you. I'm sorry that I couldn't give you support after... after what happened. But you are needed. I need you."
Clint's eyes drop to the floor but Phil's stay focused on Fury so he clearly sees when a hint of triumph shines through the contrite mask he'd put on.
"He'll think about it," Phil says sternly. He raises both eyebrows and meets Fury's scowl head on. "Now, if you wouldn't mind contacting the agents who are holding the poor person who's supposed to be delivering our food, Clint and I have a dinner date to start."
"Fine," Fury says. "Fine." He points at Clint. "You, think about it." He swings his finger around to Phil. "You, I'll deal with later."
"I look forward to it," Phil says. He motions towards the door.
After one last annoyed huff, and a customarily dramatic swirl of his coat, Fury heads towards the door. Phil follows close behind.
When they get to the door, Phil leans in and lowers his voice. "I honestly can't tell if you're plotting because you're working an angle or if it's just a natural reflex now, like breathing."
"Careful," Fury says. "And make him see the light, would'ya? Ask him again, but maybe sex him up first. Get him all post coital and pliant, and then you could-"
Phil takes great pleasure in slamming the door in Fury's face. He turns around and almost runs right into Clint.
"Don't ninja me in your own apartment," Phil says with a wheeze. "I'll make you wear a bell."
Clint grins and he looks Phil up and down. "I'd like to see you try and put one on me."
Phil blinks a few times as his mind goes to an incredibly inappropriate place. He shakes his head. "Fury's plotting something."
"Of course he's plotting something; he's breathing, isn't he?" Clint crosses his arms over his chest. "So, what do you think?"
"I am a little biased. If you came on as a consultant, I could request you. I'm not saying we won't spend time together if you don't, but we could spend more time together if you did."
"More time together does sound like a good thing." Clint smiles, but it fades as fast as it appears. "Was he telling the truth about the whole me being needed thing?"
"SHIELD does have other snipers. Good snipers. In fact, there's one on my new team. But you're Hawkeye. The best of the best. Of course we're going to need you."
Clint takes in a deep breath. "You are going to be amazing for my ego."
There's a knock on the door that stops Phil from saying anything else. He opens it a bit more cautiously this time, but the only person on the other side is a rather terrified looking young man holding their dinner.
"Here," the guys says, shoving the plastic bag he's carrying at Phil. "The scary, pirate guy already paid for it. Please don't call us again." He spins around and runs towards the stairs.
"Aww, delivery guy," Clint says, staring mournfully at the bag he takes out of Phil's hands. "I liked that place."
"Sorry." Phil follows Clint back to the kitchen and gains a deep appreciation for that pair of jeans. "But you did say you were going to start living in the tower."
"Yeah, after I take care of that whole Russian mob thingy." Clint deposits the bag on the counter and flaps one hand around.
Phil sighs and reclaims his stool at the breakfast bar. "Are you sure I can't-"
"Nope." Clint gets a couple of plates out of a cupboard.
"You don't even know what I was going to-"
"Phil." Clint turns around and gives Phil his full attention. "It is really good to know you're not dead."
Phil ducks his head. "Yeah, well..."
Clint chuckles, puts a full plate in front of him, and hands him a fork.
Phil sighs again. "You're not really going to ride around on Tony Stark's flying motorcycle, are you?"
"Phil, shut up and eat your dinner so we can get to the sex part of the evening."
Phil shuts up and eats his dinner.
Clint does take care of his Russian mob thingy. Phil doesn't ask - he's just happy that Clint managed to stay out of the papers - and Clint doesn't tell - anything beyond mentioning that he has a new dog, and he hopes Phil isn't allergic - though the next time they see each other, he still has a few fading bruises.
He's also astride a flying motorcycle. It's bright purple. Phil can't look directly at it.
Phil ignores Melinda's snickers and the kids' excited whispering - including Skye's "Holy shit, is that Hawkeye!" - and approaches the mechanical monstrosity hovering a few feet over the Pennsylvania airfield where the Bus is currently parked.
"Hey, baby," Clint says, a shameless grin firmly in place, "can I give you a ride?"
Phil puts on his most disapproving frown. Clint's grin gets bigger. He sets the bike on the ground and clambers off.
"So," he says, "I guess I should have asked if you wanted to keep this a secret or-"
Phil grabs two handfuls of leather jacket and pulls Clint in for a kiss. Somebody wolf whistles. He's pretty sure it's Mel.
"No hiding then?" Clint says as he grabs some air.
"No hiding," Phil says. "In fact, you might find me shouting how I feel from the rooftops occasionally."
Clint smiles sweetly. "I'll be right there beside you crowing about how lucky I am."
"And I'll be up there too," Melinda says butting in and looking not the least bit sorry for it. "But I'll be hanging over the edge. Vomiting."
"Thank you for your input, Agent May."
"Anytime, Agent Coulson. Barton... nice bike."
"See, Phil, Mel likes the bike!"
Phil closes his eyes and shakes his head as he gets a sudden flash of the kind of havoc a May/Barton team up could wreak. When he opens his eyes, Clint's face is right there with a smile playing on his lips and a line between his brows.
"Having regrets, Phil?"
"No," he says. "Not anymore."