Coulson's Scrapyard lies a couple of hours outside of Chicago. They stop by on the way to Nebraska, even though it's a little bit out of the way. They could use his opinion on this, and they can't accurately describe the etchings on--whatever the fuck they'd found--over the phone.
Phil stands in the doorway when they get out of the car, leaning heavily on his cane.
"You know," he says, "one day you're going to have to learn to do this on your own."
Natasha smiles at him, as widely as Natasha ever smiles. It doesn't reach her eyes.
Clint's grin does, however.
"We can," Clint says cheekily, pushing past Phil and into the house. "But where would be the fun in that?" He makes sure to step through several of Phil's devil's traps on the way in, because Phil's nothing if not suspicious.
"It's faster this way," Natasha says.
"What makes you think I'll even help you again?" asks Phil. Clint ignores him and makes a beeline for the fridge. By the time he's dug out a beer, Natasha's handed over the thingamabob to Phil, and sat down on the couch. Phil's still standing in the doorway, already entranced by the etchings.
Exchanging a smug look with Natasha, Clint snorts.
Yeah. Phil will help them. He always helps them.
It takes Phil the better part of an hour to reach his first Huh moment.
(It's the moment where he goes "Huh," and first gets a vague idea about where to start researching.)
"Huh," Phil says, and Natasha's lips purse, like she's trying to hide a smile.
Clint's on his second beer. "Took you long enough," he grouses good-naturedly.
"Make yourself useful," Phil orders, still not looking up from where he's got the book open on his desk. Pointing a finger towards the biggest shelf in the room, he says, "Third shelf down, green spine, Volume five. Most of this looks like ancient Greek, but it's also got symbols reminiscent of Sanskrit. Fascinating."
"Admit it, Phil," Clint says easily, while going to the shelf to find the right book. "You'd be bored without us."
Phil doesn't answer, instead scribbling furiously on a notepad.
It's very anticlimactic. The artifact holds an ancient spirit, but the spirit is still trapped. By nightfall, they've not only figured all this out, but Phil's found a way to safely destroy it without releasing the spirit.
"We sure about this?" Clint asks as they all head down to Phil's anti-supernatural bunker (because it's better to be safe than sorry, and destroying the artifact in the bunker seemed like a better idea than smashing it on Phil's livingroom floor). "Can't we just like, bury it or something?"
"That always works out well," Even though Natasha is walking behind Clint he can practically hear her roll her eyes.
"It just seems too easy, is all I'm saying."
Natasha huffs out a breath. "I don't mind easy."
Phil stumbles a little on a step, bum leg wobbling on the uneven wood of the stairs, and Clint's hand shoots out on reflex, grabbing Phil's elbow to stabilize him.
Phil freezes, just for a split second. "Thanks," he says.
"I got you," Clint says back.
"Get a room," Natasha says.
It is actually that easy to destroy the artifact, and they do get a room.
They always get a room.
"This can't keep happening," Phil says, even as he pushes one of Clint's thighs back and to the side, for better access to Clint's body.
Phil is between Clint's legs, looking down at him. Clint struggles to keep his eyes open, struggles to keep Phil in place, struggles to keep his emotions in check. He feels exposed and on display. "You keep saying that," Clint says, gasping as Phil starts thrusting lightly, "yet you keep inviting me into your bed."
Something softens in Phil's expression. "You're a hard man to resist."
Clint waggles his eyebrows and grips his own cock with a still lube-slick hand. "I'm a hard man, you say."
"Awful," Phil groans.
Clint pushes his ass upwards, meets Phil's trusts to take him deep, and says, "You're a--"
"Don't say it," Phil warns.
"--hard man, too, it seems," Clint finishes.
"I'm going to gag you," Phil says, and Clint might be into that, but Phil just grabs him by the shoulders, leans down, and kisses him instead. Clint laughs through his orgasm.
Afterwards--after Phil has come as well and they tangle together in Phil's covers and Phil's kissed the last remnants of laughter from Clint's mouth--after all that: Clint strokes his hand across the scar on Phil's leg (one of the scars on Phil's leg) and says, as casually as he can manage, "We're headed to Nebraska."
"Mm," Phil says noncommittally, and doesn't pull his leg away from Clint's fingers.
Clint gathers his courage and asks, "Wanna come? Could be fun."
Phil snorts. "Yeah. Sure. Me. Go back in the field. That'd be the day."
Clint shrugs and doesn't see the problem, but doesn't push it.
"See you around," Clint tells Phil the next morning, hefting his duffel bag over his shoulder and skipping off Phil's front porch towards the car.
"Take care," Phil says, raising his coffee cup in a salute, before limping back inside the house.
Clint stuffs his bag in the back, then slides into the passenger seat.
Natasha looks at him, then scoffs as she turns on the engine and pulls out. Clint considers grinning at her, then changes his mind.
"If you got something to say, say it," Clint says, gritting his teeth.
"The sex noises, I can handle," she informs him. "The emotions, I can't."
"Tough titties," Clint says, when what he should have said was, What emotions?
Oh well. Natasha would know he was lying, anyway.
Clint doesn't believe in fate. He doesn't. Hates the concept of it, even.
Yet he can't help but feel that some cosmic power out there wanted him and Natasha to meet.
Natasha is like an extension of his soul; she's part of him. They work together seamlessly. They trust each other. They depend on each other.
He sometimes tells people--people he trusts, people like Phil--that he found her. The truth is, he's not sure if he found her, or if she wanted to be found. Or maybe she found him.
It's hard to tell. It doesn't really matter, anyway. Their first kill together, the first time they lit a pile of bones on fire and their eyes met through the flames, Clint felt a sense of belonging that he hadn't felt since--maybe Barney. Probably not even then. They understand each other. Their mutual hatred of the supernatural, the losses they've both suffered, the things they've been through. Other hunters might only understand a fraction of it.
Phil doesn't get it either, but Clint thinks Phil's the one who comes the closest.
Phil thinks he used to fuck Natasha. Hell, Phil might still think he fucks Natasha from time to time.
Nebraska gets nasty. It's a possessed scarecrow that takes two more lives before they manage to stop it, and Natasha gets her arm sliced open for her trouble.
Clint patches her up afterwards. His stitches aren't as neat as hers, but they're good enough, and the cut's at such an angle that she can't take care of it herself.
"That'll do ya," he says, snipping the thread and finding a light gauze to cover it with, protecting the new stitches from dirt and dust.
Natasha watches him with those intense eyes of hers. She's down to a tank top and booty shorts. Out of the corner of his eye, Clint can see the swell of her breasts as she breathes.
"Do you ever think about it?" she asks.
Clint focuses on taping the gauze in place, then pulls off the latex gloves and doesn't meet her eyes. He shrugs. "Not really."
It's not a complete lie. He has thought about it. Way back when. But...
"Not anymore," she states, as if she plucked the thought from his brain.
Clint looks at her. She's smiling at him, and he's not sure what to make of it. Slowly, she leans forward and kisses his forehead with a gentleness he's not used to seeing from her. It's unsettling. It also places her cleavage right in his line of vision.
"Weirdo," he mumbles.
She pulls back. "You're my family," she says. It's the grandest declaration of love he's ever heard fall from her lips, and it's so big it feels like it's going to crush him.
He swallows heavily. "I'm going to take a shower," he says.
"I'm going to take painkillers," she says, and slumps back onto her bed, carefully not to lie on her injured arm.
After Nebraska they do a standard salt and burn in South Dakota, because they were practically in the neighborhood anyway.
After that, they kill a ghoul in New Mexico and a succubus in Utah. Then they make the long drive all the way to Florida to deal with a whole neighborhood full of possessed kids.
It's probably the biggest job they've ever taken, but they don't lose any of them. When they hand the last little girl over to her parents, the mother practically attaches herself to Natasha like a squid, hiccuping her thanks into Natasha's hair over and over. Natasha looks awkward.
The little girl clings to her daddy's neck and he's got tears in his eyes when he hugs Clint with one arm, not willing to let his daughter go. "How can we repay you?"
Clint scratches his neck a little. "Well," he says, feeling like scum, because saving lives isn't something they should charge for, "we could do with a full tank of gas. That's all."
The dude buys them a full tank of gas and a pre-paid Visa so they can tank up three more times.
"There's a possible job up in Wisconsin," Natasha says, handing over a conspiracy rag. She's circled one of the articles. "Haunted house."
Clint nods and throws the magazine in the back, before fiddling with the radio. "Might as well go there, then," he says.
Natasha nods. They both know what's between them and Wisconsin. "Might as well."
She drives them straight to Phil's.
Clint doesn't give her any dirty looks, and she doesn't give him any shit.
"Hey, Phil," Clint says, grinning at him as he walks past. "Don't mind us. Just travelin' through."
Phil's gaze slides from Clint to Natasha, who's stopped in the hallway. She doesn't avert her eyes, but instead meets his look head on, calm as you please and completely shameless about it, too.
"No job going on?" Phil asks, with a slight quirk of his eyebrow and an impatient tap of his cane against the floor.
"I'm going to go into town," Natasha says, carefully putting her bag down on the floor. "We need supplies. We're headed to Wisconsin tomorrow."
"Okay," Clint says.
"I'll be gone maybe a couple of hours," Natasha says.
"Okay," Clint says.
"Call if you need me," Natasha says.
"You're not subtle," says Phil.
Natasha laughs as she closes the door behind her; a dry and amused clucking sound that makes Clint shake his head.
He looks at Phil and feels awkward, all of a sudden. "We don't have to, uh," he says, "I mean, just because we normally--there's no reason we have to--I don't expect anything."
"Shut up," Phil says, and reels him in for a kiss.
They fuck in the kitchen, because they can, and because Clint gets off on the concept of being bent over the kitchen table.
Phil uses a chair to support his bad leg and doesn't seem to mind so much otherwise. They make a lot more noise than normal, too.
Well, Clint does.
"I will gag you," Phil threatens again, panting against the sweaty expanse of Clint's back.
Clint doesn't hold back, just presses his cheek to the worn surface of Phil's kitchen table and continues making broken sounds. "That's it," says Clint, grinning. "Talk dirty to me, baby."
"I don't know why I put up with you," Phil breathes, but his thrusts are relentless and strong. He pushes himself up, and Clint knows he's watching his own cock disappear in and out of Clint's body.
Clint smirks. "I can think of at least one reason why," he says.
"Shut up," Phil grits out, and comes in Clint's ass. He's always telling Clint to shut up.
"Never gonna happen," Clint gasps, and comes on the floor.
They fuck again later, locked away in Phil's room. Clint's quieter now, and Phil's thrusts are slower. Clint appreciates it; he's vaguely sore.
Phil's eyes flutter shut and he puts his arms around Clint, rapture written on his face.
"Phil," Clint whispers.
Phil doesn't answer, and Clint wriggles a little, ass clenching around Phil's cock.
"Phil," Clint whispers again.
"What?" Phil asks, eyes opening to meet Clint's gaze.
Clint's mouth runs dry.
"I--" he starts and wants to finish that sentence in a thousand different ways.
"We think the job in Wisconsin is a haunted house," he says instead.
Phil's hips never falter in their gentle rhythm. He groans and Clint's fingers skid across Phil's shoulders. "Good to know," Phil says, "I don't care. Come on, I wanna--make me come." He sounds impatient.
Clint pushes him off and onto his back, so he can slide down the length of Phil's body, get rid of the condom, and suck him off. Afterwards he jerks off against Phil's hip, Phil's hand closed encouragingly over his. Clint doesn't bring up anything that's not related to hunting after that.
When they leave next morning, Phil follows Clint onto the porch and pushes a small charm into his hand.
"Useful for haunted houses," he says. "Prevents a lot of binding spells to the house. Wouldn't want you to get trapped in there."
Clint looks down at the charm in his hand. "Cool," he says. "Thanks."
Natasha breezes by him, holding up her own charm in the process. "Nice work, Phil."
Phil smiles a little, and Clint's chest is doing a complicated thing. It's this little flip-flop that makes his breath hitch for just a split second. It's barely more than a brief stutter.
"Take care," Phil says, then heads back into the house, his cane making the floorboards creak.
Everyone finds the hunting life differently. Everyone has their own story. Clint watched Barney burn to death on the ceiling, along with his last remaining hope of a life where petty crime would be his worst sin. Natasha was raised into the life and couldn't do anything else even if she wanted to. They met on the trail of their common enemy. They don't have much besides each other, bad memories, and a mutual desire to watch the light flicker out of yellow demon eyes.
Clint wonders why Phil got into it.
Clint wonders why Phil left the field.
They never talk about it.
It's getting colder and Clint bitches and wishes every job would take place in the southern hemisphere. Natasha puts up with his complaints and doesn't make a single joke about stopping by Illinois so Clint can warm up, even though Clint knows she wants to.
They walk into Phil's place two weeks before Christmas and finds an intimidating black man with an eyepatch sitting at Phil's kitchen table.
"Who the fuck are you?" Clint asks without preamble, because Phil's got very few friends, and fewer still that he lets into his home like this.
The man leans back in his chair and his eye glances at Phil.
"These the two you were talking about?" he asks, and Clint's blood runs cold.
"You tellin' tales out of order?" he inquires of Phil, and if his voice is icy it's nothing more than Phil deserves.
"I was just--" Phil says.
"Don't care to hear it," Clint says.
Next to him, Natasha's still glaring at the one-eyed man. He doesn't seem intimidated at all, just annoyed. "We'll finish this conversation later," he simply says to Phil, his tone leaving little room for discussion.
Last time someone spoke to Phil in that tone on his property, it didn't end well for them. Phil had seen to it personally. This guy, though, this guy merely gets a nod and a slight smile. Like he's someone Phil knows. Like he's someone Phil trusts.
"It's polite to knock," the man says as he passes them. "Didn't your mothers ever teach you manners?"
Neither Clint or Natasha rise to the bait.
"What do you need help with this time?" Phil asks, with gentle exasperation.
Clint scowls. Natasha pulls out the newspaper she'd been saving since Oklahoma. "Want your opinion on this. Also could use some phone backup."
Clint doesn't go to the fridge; he goes to the liquor cabinet. He stays up late, going over all the information from earlier, flipping through more pages in Phil's heavy, old books. When he finally drags his ass upstairs to sleep, he goes left instead of right at the top of the stairs.
"If your morning boner touches me, I'll cut it off," Natasha mumbles sleepily when he curls around her.
"There's the Tasha I know and love," Clint mumbles back at her.
Illinois is fucking freezing. They get out of there as soon as possible, and go to Missouri. From there, they take a job in Maine, which is even colder.
They spend Christmas in a hotel in upstate New York, and exchange small gifts. Natasha gets Clint a new watch--nothing fancy, just one to replace the one he broke that past summer, when a merman tried drowning him in Lake Michigan--and Clint gets her a new knife. Natasha absolutely loves it, and he doesn't have the heart to tell her he only got her another one because he had absolutely no clue what else to get her.
"There's a job in South Dakota," she says when they're gearing up to move on.
"Is it urgent?" Clint asks.
Natasha shrugs. "Define urgent. Rumors of a werewolf. No proof yet, though."
"Then let's swing by Arkansas on the way there," Clint says. He doesn't have any specific job in mind, he just wants an excuse to go around Illinois. There's always something shady going on in Arkansas, though. Fuckin' Arkansas.
Natasha squints at him, but doesn't comment.
In March, Phil calls.
"Everything okay?" Natasha asks, because Phil never calls them.
"Everything's fine," Phil replies, and Clint doesn't comment on how Natasha has put him on speakerphone.
"Then what do you want?" she demands.
"I just--I hadn't heard from you for a while," Phil says, and he sounds hesitant. "I wanted to make sure that--that--"
"We're fine," Natasha says, and hangs up on him.
Clint loves her fiercely, and he tries giving her a grateful smile. She rolls her eyes and sighs in clear annoyance. "You're fourteen fucking years old, I swear," she groans, and throws the phone at his head.
Clint could have ducked the throw, but to be honest, he probably deserves the bump on his head.
The one-eyed man finds them in April.
They walk into their hotel room, tired and covered in plasma from their latest hunt, neither of them as aware as they normally would be. Natasha spots him first, and the miniscule intake of breath is enough to alert Clint. One-Eye seems unconcerned with how fast they draw their weapons, just sitting there on Clint's bed--fucker--with a stupid grin on his face.
"Get out," Clint says, aiming an arrow at the man's remaining eye.
"I think you'll want to hear what I have to say," the man says.
Nick Fury, for all that he gives the impression of being a man of action over words, sure can talk a lot.
They tell Fury they have to think about it.
They tell him they need time.
They don't tell him that they're not ready yet, if ever. They've got unfinished business to attend to.
Fury says he understands, and leaves behind a Colt. As a gesture of goodwill, he says.
Clint's always preferred his bows to his guns, but this? This is something else.
They take turns carrying it. Clint doesn't think he's imagining things when he notices how Natasha stands a little taller, holds her head a little higher, whenever the gun is tucked into the small of her back. Clint can feel it too; how right the gun feels in his hand, how comfortable it feels near his person.
After that, they increase their efforts. They take care of a demonic possession in Kansas, a phantom car in Louisiana, two haunted houses in Montana, a devil dog in Texas, and a zombie in Colorado. They only stop when they need to, to hustle money or restock, or when work dries up for a little.
In July they go back to Illinois.
"Long time no see," Phil says, sitting on the top stair leading to the front porch.
"Love what you've done with the place," Clint deadpans back, squinting at how the paint's peeling off the outer walls of the house.
Phil struggles to his feet, leaning heavily on his cane, and Clint doesn't offer to help him this time.
"I'm going to get pizza," Natasha says, and she burns rubber peeling out of the lot. The silence that's left once the roar of the engine is gone, is deafening and awkward. Clint fidgets.
"So," he says eventually. "How long have you been in?"
Phil tilts his head. "In what?"
"Fury's secret organization," Clint says.
Phil stares. "Clint, I'm not part of that. I never was. Fury is an old friend of mine, that's it. That's all there is to it."
Clint snorts. "Sure." But there's still something in the way that Phil's face just--falls--that makes something twist in Clint's gut, and think--maybe...
Silence settles between them again.
"Wanna fuck?" Clint asks.
Air rushes out of Phil's lungs, like an almost-laugh, or like he was holding his breath. "I got a new bed," he says.
Phil's new bed is nice. Phil takes his time opening Clint up. It's been a while, and they're still tentative with each other.
Natasha comes back when Phil's still only two fingers deep in Clint; they can hear her clomp around downstairs, intentionally loud to alert them of her presence, and the faint smell of pizza drifts to their noses. They restrain their moans and stay right where they are. Not even this pizza--not even real deep-dish pie--can get Clint out of bed at the moment.
He doesn't mean to say it, but he does anyway. "I missed you." It just sort of falls out of his mouth.
For once, Phil doesn't tell him to shut up.
"I have a question," Clint asks later, when they're dozing in bed, sated and sweaty, pizza forgotten.
"I... have an answer?" says Phil, uncertainly.
Clint hesitates. "Why did you do it?"
Phil doesn't pretend that he doesn't know what Clint's talking about.
"I know it wasn't my story to tell," Phil says, "but like it or not, the world's filling up with people who can't be matched. I don't like the thought of the two of you out there. Alone." He pauses. "Adrift."
Clint feels vaguely uncomfortable admitting it, but he says it anyway. "Nat 'n me, we're never alone."
Phil doesn't have a response to that.
They catch Yellow Eyes in September, just as the Pennsylvania leaves are turning pretty colors of fiery oranges and reds. Or rather, he catches them.
It takes Natasha a full day to track Clint down after he's nabbed from the men's room of the diner they've stopped at. By the time she finds him, Yellow Eyes has got him by the throat, feet off the ground. The rain's coming down in droves. He's lost a worrisome amount of blood, he's soaked to the bone, and he's so oxygen-deprived he's seeing spots.
Natasha stabs Yellow Eyes in the back and Clint goes tumbling to the ground, desperately sucking in lungfuls of air. Yellow Eyes smacks Natasha away. She hits the ground hard, rolls several times, and is still. Yellow Eyes laughs and doesn't notice that she's already slipped the Colt to Clint.
"I have plans for you, my children," he hisses, turning back to Clint.
"Change of plans," Clint says, and shoots him between the eyes.
They sit on the bed in their hotel room afterwards, shivering, arms wrapped around each other and not caring that they get blood on the sheets.
"You're not allowed to leave me," Natasha orders, sternly. Her voice doesn't tremble.
"I'm never leaving you," Clint promises. It's a promise he can't keep and they both know it, but dammit, he can try.
They cling to each other some more, bleed some more, and Natasha pulls on the short strands of his hair, as if she's making sure he's really there. Clint's throat hurts.
"What do you want to do?" he asks, thinking about Fury, and she knows immediately what he's referring to.
She hums in the back of her throat. "Let's talk about it later. Right now, I wanna get the fuck out of this shithole."
Clint nods into her shoulder, fingertips white where they're pressed into her skin. "Where do you wanna go?"
Natasha laughs, because it's either that or crying, and they're not the kind of people who cry. Not anymore.
Phil comes limping out from the garage next to the main house when they pull up, grabbing the cane that's been leaning against the door.
"You guys okay?" he asks, because even though they'd called him from the road and he knew what to expect, apparently their various bruises and scrapes is a bit of a sight.
Clint shrugs and tries not to wince at how it pulls his sore muscles. "Nothing a little r 'n r won't fix."
Natasha snorts and smiles. It reaches her eyes, this time.
"How 'bout it?" Clint asks Phil. "Got it in ya to put up with us for a few days?"
Phil smiles as he limps his way completely into Clint's personal space and kisses him, right out here in the open.
"Is this a thing now, like officially?" Natasha asks. "Am I gonna have to put up with this?"
Phil doesn't answer. Clint doesn't either. They're busy.
They spend three days doing nothing job-related at all. It's like a vacation.
They help Phil around the house during the day, and steal his popcorn and occupy his couch during the evenings. Clint spends every night in Phil's bed; Phil spends every night in Clint's body. Every morning he runs his hands over the scars on Phil's bum leg, and kisses the morning breath from between his lips.
Clint says, "I like your new bed," and, "Let's not get up yet," and, "Come on, Phil, come for me, come for me, wanna see you come."
Phil still doesn't tell him to shut up.
On the fourth day, they call Fury.
"Nifty gun," Clint says in greeting.
"More toys like it, where that came from," says Fury.
Clint glances over at Phil, sitting at the kitchen table and peeling potatoes for tonight's dinner. At the stove, Natasha's busy heating and oiling the griddle. It feels like family, and it makes something in Clint's gut twist. He thinks about Phil's fingers on his skin, Natasha's fingers in his hair, and there's warmth in his chest.
Adrift, Phil had called them.
Wrong, thinks Clint.
He asks into the phone, "Got room for one more?"
Fury chuckles down the line. "One more?" He doesn't sound surprised at all.
Phil raises his eyes from his potatoes and looks at Clint. Clint smiles without really thinking about it. Phil smiles back.
"Yeah, one more," Clint confirms. "Me and Nat--we're not alone."