Phil's so focused on the mission report from Agent Hart, he barely even registers it when someone speaks to him.
"Agent Coulson," Davidson says as they pass each other, and Phil nods distractedly. "Merry Christmas."
"Hm?" Phil looks up, but Davidson has already turned a corner. The hallways are practically deserted, and Phil sighs as he glances at his watch and realizes that it is, indeed, Christmas.
It's probably time to call it a night then. Agent Hart's report can wait until morning. Phil considers his options. Going home is not one of them--what would be the point in that?--but he's been meaning to check out the new diner that opened a few miles down the road. The Music Box is fairly remote as far as SHIELD facilities go, but it's one of Phil's favorites because its location means he can do shit like that; take a drive and grab something to eat if he wants.
He's just passing the empty holding cells, already wondering if they'll have chimichangas, when a voice says, "Merry Christmas."
Phil stops, then takes two steps back to look into the holding cell he was just passing.
A young man sits against the wall, one corner quirked up in a careful grin.
"Uh," Phil says intelligently. "Merry... Christmas?"
"Unless you don't celebrate Christmas, of course," the man goes on. "In that case, carry on. And good night."
Phil frowns. "Are you waiting to be interrogated?"
The man shrugs. "I dunno man, I think they might have forgotten about me."
"Who brought you in?"
"Uh, Nick Fury?" the man says. "Big, black dude with a kinda singular death glare?"
Something stirs in the back of Phil's mind then and his shoulders almost slump downwards in frustration as he remembers Nick cackling about his latest recruit--the one with the flawless aim. "You're Clint Barton," he says.
Barton nods. "That's me."
Huffing, Phil digs out his keycard and goes through the motions to get the cell door open. "All right, get out. I'll have a chat with the Director. He sometimes likes to do this to new recruits. Says it builds character."
The door slides open, but Barton doesn't move. Instead, his little grin fades. "Maybe I need to build some character."
"Build it after the holidays," Phil says, hands gesturing impatiently for him to get up and leave the cell. "I'm sure you got better places to be than a SHIELD holding cell."
Something flickers across Barton's face, but it's gone before Phil can really process it. "Not really," Barton says. His face isn't giving anything away anymore, but Phil still thinks he understands. SHIELD does prefer recruiting people of a certain--background.
"Come along, then," Phil says, gesturing again, and this time Barton climbs to his feet. "I'll buy you some food."
Barton frowns as he steps out of the cell. "Why?"
Phil shrugs. "It's Christmas."
"I'll handle Fury," Phil says easily, leading Barton down the hallway towards the exit. "We have an--understanding."
Barton looks vaguely impressed, like he can't quite believe there's anyone who'd dare go directly against Nick Fury's orders. "Who are you?"
Phil gives him his blandest smile. "I'm Agent Phil Coulson," he answers easily, tapping his badge that declares his newly attained Rank 5. "It's nice to meet you, Agent Barton."
Barton smiles, like getting called Agent has just made his day, week and whole year. "I'm not an agent just yet, Agent Coulson."
Phil has to chuckle. "If Director Fury recruited you? Trust me, you are."
The little diner does have chimichangas, and they split an order over two dressing cups (chipotle for Phil, ranch for Barton) while waiting on their burgers. It's one of the best Christmas dinners Phil's ever had.
Phil doesn't look up from his desk when Barton enters without knocking, even though he's sorely tempted to glare.
"Knock, knock," Barton says, rapping his knuckles against the corner of Phil's desk.
"Unless this is about the Rio mission, Agent Barton, I don't have time," Phil says, finding another glaring error and irritably marking it with his pen.
"You still here?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" Phil asks distractedly.
"I dunno," Barton says, "I just figured that's a thing people do on Christmas, take some time off, you know?"
Phil glances up briefly to smile a little at Barton. "I don't have time to take time off."
Peering curiously down at the paperwork in front of Phil, Barton frowns. "What are you working on?" he asks.
Phil sighs in frustration, only mildly annoyed that Barton is sticking his nose in his business--but his clearance level is high enough now it doesn't matter, at least not for this. "Finance reports," he explains. "We had some issues with a recent op, regarding the destruction of public property."
Barton grins. "At least it wasn't me, this time."
"Which I appreciate, Agent Barton."
Barton hovers uncertainly for a moment, before saying, "Can it wait, though?"
"In theory, yes," Phil agrees. "But why put it off?"
Barton doesn't answer, and eventually Phil looks up at him again. Barton's wearing a frown Phil's never seen on his face before.
"One day," Barton says, "I'll get you a real Christmas present. A stack of paperwork is a shit substitute."
Phil's not sure how to respond to that.
Barton doesn't say anything else, just leaves Phil's office with a sloppy salute.
It's not until he's finishing his preliminary report and finds that they've got leftover money in the budget that the idea strikes him. He handwrites the memo to Nick to get the importance across, and Nick approves it without a fuss. Phil didn't think he would object anyway, because Nick would pretty much always like a bigger budget for weapons development, but he wanted to make sure.
After that, all Phil has to do is wait, and he doesn't have to wait long. About a month after Christmas Phil gets asked to sign off on a four-man mission to Seoul, and he only pauses briefly, hand hovering over the paper, before making a note in Barton's file: Recommended weapon: Recurve bow. He's already seen what R&D came up with, and he hopes Barton will like it. He doesn't write Happy belated Christmas, Barton, because that would be completely obscene and insane--but a part of him is tempted to. Satisfied, he sends the paperwork on.
He's not there to see it himself when Barton gets the news, but Agent Morris tells him all about it.
"Fuck yeah," Agent Morris laughs. "The man looked like he was going to crap himself, he got so excited!"
Phil's bland smile never wavers, but secretly? Secretly, he's very pleased.
Clint shoots out of his seat when Phil kicks the door in, and immediately places himself between Phil and the target.
"Okay," Clint rushes out, "okay, okay, I know--this looks bad."
Phil doesn't lower his gun. "Step aside, Agent Barton."
"Coulson, she wants to come in," Clint says, his arms spread wide and his feet planted firmly on the floor in a bid to provide as much cover for the woman behind him as possible. "She wants to come in!"
"I'm sure she does," Phil agrees, because he can think of at least fifty different reasons why the Black Widow would want inside access to SHIELD. "Step aside, Agent Barton. I won't be telling you again."
"Phil!" Clint cries, desperate now. "Phil, please, I know you okay, you know me, you know I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't have a good reason--"
Phil shoots him in the leg.
Clint drops like a sack of potatoes, a startled yell escaping him before he can help it. Phil aches and silently curses Clint, but Phil's gun still doesn't waver--it remains pointed at the redhead in the corner. Her eyes remain on Phil, and he can't help but wonder what she's playing at. Slowly, she gets to her feet, but her arms hang loosely at her sides as she looks at him. Her hair is tangled around her face and there's a smear of dirt along her forehead. She looks defeated.
"Don't," Clint breathes from the floor, "please, don't."
Phil prepares to pull the trigger again, when the Black Widow speaks.
"Killing me won't do anything except make me dead," she says.
"Might save some lives in the future, though," Phil shoots back.
"Recruiting me might save more," she says.
Phil's going to strangle Clint Barton with his bare hands.
"Recruiting you?" he asks in disbelief, and he really wants to take his eyes off her just so he can glare directly at Clint. "Seriously? Recruiting her?"
In his peripheral vision, he can see Clint clutch at his leg. It's a flesh wound, not serious, but despite the absolute seething anger he has against Clint right now, Phil still feels like scum.
"Phil," Clint says again, voice sounding strangled and tight. "She gave us--she gave us things, Phil. She gave us everything."
Phil narrows his eyes at her.
"Everything," Clint repeats. "The Veselov family. Operation Crystal Clear. Phil, she gave us Joe Batista!"
That is a surprise. The tension in the room has reached a peak, and Phil studies the Black Widow carefully, tries to glean anything from her face, but the only thing he keeps coming back to, over and over, is how tired she looks.
"Please," Clint begs again. He's said that word a lot in the past few minutes. Phil's never heard him beg for anything before.
Phil starts counting favors in his head. He still comes out on top, but he suspects this will use them all up, as well as any remaining goodwill Nick might still have leftover.
"Agent Barton, please pick up your weapon," Phil says.
For a moment, he thinks Clint will object again, but something must be evident in his voice, because Clint's response is to push himself to the side a little and pick up his gun. Phil knows he'd prefer his bow, but Clint leaves one hand pressed against the gunshot wound. Bracing his back against the wall, Clint raises the gun and trains it on the Black Widow.
"If she moves--if she even looks at us wrong, you shoot her. That's an order. Do you fucking understand me, Agent Barton?"
Finally letting his gaze drift over to Clint, Phil sees the way Clint's shoulders lower just a notch and the twitch of his mouth. "Thank you, sir," Clint says.
Phil makes a frustrated noise and turns away while he reaches for his comm link. "Base, this is Agent Coulson. I'll need an extraction and a medic standing by for Agent Barton. I'll also need a transport team. We're bringing a prisoner."
When he turns back to Clint, Clint has given up all pretense and is all-out grinning at the Black Widow. She's smiling carefully back.
"Don't look so pleased with yourselves," Phil warns them. "You've still got to convince Director Fury."
"I can be persuasive," she says. Phil isn't sure if she intends to sound comforting, but if she is, it's not working.
"Well," Clint says with a wince, "this has been an awesome week."
Rolling his eyes, Phil kneels down and starts working on a tourniquet, using the straps of Clint's uniform. The wound is barely bleeding; Phil's a good shot.
"You mad at me?" Clint asks.
"Eyes on the target," Phil reminds him without looking up, even though he's quite certain Clint is still watching the Black Widow carefully.
Clint chuckles. "I'm guessing you won't be getting me a present this year?"
"I already got you a bullet, what else do you want?" Phil grumbles.
Clint laughs, and the sound is so sudden and so bright that Phil's fingers slip a little on the straps. "Was that--was that a joke? Agent Coulson, you continue to surprise me!"
Phil doesn't say anything else, just finishes his tourniquet. When he looks up again, the Black Widow is watching them with a curious look, like maybe she's wondering what the hell she's getting into.
Phil's vaguely wondering the same thing.
"This is a terrible idea," Melinda warns him as she hands over the little flash drive.
"Be quiet, please," Phil says, because it's difficult to breathe all of a sudden, and he doesn't need her lectures.
"I'm just saying," Melinda continues, undeterred, "do you have any idea the favors I had to call in to make this happen? If any of this gets back to Fury, he'll have both our asses."
"Let me worry about Fury," Phil says. He doesn't say, Nick owes me a big one, even if I don't know why. He doesn't say, Nick will cave if I ask what really happened in Tahiti.
Melinda is quiet after that, but she doesn't leave the room. Part of Phil wishes she would, but part of him is intensely grateful for her presence.
He plugs the little flash drive into his projector, and then is suddenly unable to blink as Clint's face appears on the big screen.
"Your boy looks good," Melinda comments.
She's right. Clint does look good. He's smiling and there's no shadows in his eyes. No trace of Loki.
Phil knows Clint is able to fake happiness--he's done it before--but not for this long. Not to these people. There's something about the relaxed set of Clint's shoulders, the way he looks at each person in the room, that tells Phil he trusts them. The same way he trusts Natasha.
The same way he--used to trust Phil.
Phil's entire body aches, and he unconsciously reaches for his chest, fingers tracing the shirt right above his scar.
The Avengers are gathered around Clint, and they're all talking and laughing. There's no audio, but they're clearly listening to something Thor is saying--a warrior's tale, probably, because there's a lot of gestures and mimicking weapons being swung. Pepper is handing out presents, and she's just dropped one in Bruce's lap, before heading over to Clint.
Clint unwraps his little, blue present distractedly, still paying attention to Thor, but when he opens the box and sees what it is, the smile slides off his face. The watch isn't new. It's very old, in fact, first given to Phil by his old drill sergeant in the army. He'd been a bastard, and he'd pushed Phil harder than anyone else--and in the end, he'd handed Phil that watch and called him a good man.
Phil thinks it's time someone else held onto it.
Clint stares for a long while, and eventually the others must notice, because Thor stops gesturing and people start looking at him.
Phil sees Clint's lips move as he looks up, and stares at each person in turn. Who is this from? Clint asks. Who gave me this? he asks again, Where did you guys get this? And then he gets agitated, when either nobody answers, or nobody gives him an answer he likes.
Climbing to his feet, Clint's chest rises and falls with his breath before he disappears, box clutched tightly in his hand. The others look confused and talk amongst themselves for only a few seconds, before Steve and Natasha both get to their feet as well and follow him.
Clicking the feed off, Phil pretends his eyes aren't wet.
Melinda pretends she doesn't see it, and just says, "Wheels up in ten minutes, boss."
"Thank you, Agent May," Phil says, and he's surprised at how even his voice sounds. Melinda nods, and as she's about to leave, he adds, "Thank you, Melinda," because she really needs to understand what she did here today, what she did for Phil, and how much it matters.
"Merry Christmas, Phil," she says, a small smile on her face.
Christmas Day is almost over when Phil gets to The Music Box, and he goes straight for the detention level, steps unconsciously slowing as he approaches the right cell.
"This looks familiar," Phil says, and he tries to sound so casual about it, but his heart is hammering in his chest.
Clint looks at him from where he sits leaned against the back wall in the holding cell. "We can't keep meeting like this, sir," he groans.
Phil doesn't have a response to that. He wants to, badly. He wants to make a witty comment, keep snarking with Clint like the old days, but he just fumbles out his keycard and goes through the fingerprint scan and retinal scan to get the cell door open.
"Took you long enough," Clint says, but his voice is mild. There's blood under his nose, blood on his lips. The bruising from his black eye has spread across his cheek, purple and yellow and angry, and something tightens in Phil's chest.
"I could say the same thing about you," Phil says. "Melinda thought you'd come find me back in February."
Clint shrugs. "Didn't--" He stops himself, before shrugging. "Didn't want to believe it, at first."
Phil pauses in his movements. "And now?" he asks carefully.
"Kinda hard not to," Clint says with a bitter grin. Then he seems to shake it off. "So. Director Fury approve of this little jailbreak?"
"Director Fury can go fuck himself," Phil says bluntly, because they both know that if Nick really didn't want Clint to leave that cell, he wouldn't be able to leave that cell.
"Why, Phil," Clint says, mockingly, as he gets to his feet. He's staggering a little. "While under SHIELD surveillance and everything. 'm gonna hafta see about getting those security tapes later."
"Sure," Phil says, holding out his hand to catch Clint as he wobbles towards him.
"I mean it," Clint clarifies, leaning heavily on Phil for support. "I know Dottie who's head of security here."
Phil feels his eyebrows go up against his will. He gets a vague sense of deja vu as he leads them towards the exit. "Dottie?"
Clint nods. "Yeah, Dottie. She's been with us for like, I dunno man, fifty years or something. She's a tough, old broad, tell ya that much, but she loves me. She'll totally hand over the tape if I ask nicely."
"I don't think so," Phil says, shaking his head.
"Absolutely," Clint insists, then mimics Phil, "'Director Fury can go fuck himself. Director Fury can go fuck himself.'" He laughs. "Gonna set it as my ringtone, Phil. Ringtone."
His words are slurring, and Phil sighs. "Do we need to go to the med bay?"
Clint snorts. " 'm fine, sir. You should see the other guy."
"I did see Director Fury," Phil says, nodding. "Though I'm fairly certain he didn't look this bad."
Clint makes a dismissive sound. "'Tis but a scratch." Then, after a beat, "It's good to see you again, Phil. I don't even fucking care what happened, I am just so fucking glad you're not dead."
Phil's chest tightens again as he thinks about Tahiti, and he presses a kiss to the side of Clint's face. "Me too," he answers, and for the first time in a long while, he really means it.
"Best Christmas present ever," Clint sighs. He tastes like blood when his lips touch Phil's, but Phil doesn't care.
"Okay, okay, okay," Clint's voice says in Phil's ear, excited in the way only Clint gets. "You ready?"
"I'm ready, but also very afraid for my safety," Phil deadpans. Something that sounds like firewood crackling reaches his ears, and he's curious. The temptation to peek has been great, but he's dutifully kept his eyes closed as Clint had asked.
"Okay, open your eyes," Clint says, and Phil blinks to adjust his vision. Then he stares.
"Tadaa!" Clint says.
The Christmas tree is like something out of a postcard, and there's an honest-to-God bearskin rug in front of the fireplace--and there's a real fire going, too.
Phil looks around to make sure they're still in Clint's part of the Tower, and--yeah, there's the targets on the wall, the popart Godzilla poster on the wall, and Clint's ugly-ass welcome mat by the door.
"Did you do this?" Phil asks, eyebrows rising as he looks back at the picture-perfect Christmas decorations.
"Yes," Clint beams, then immediately amends it to, "Well, Pepper helped." And yes, that makes more sense.
"I thought we agreed on no Christmas this year?" Phil says.
"No, no," Clint explains, pulling Phil to the bearskin rug, "we agreed to no gifts this year. On account of last year's fiasco." Then he considers. "And the one before that."
Phil thinks about Tony's tantrum when they'd brought in electronics of different brands. "They weren't so bad," Phil says with a shrug, enjoying the memory of how the vein in Tony's forehead becomes visible when he's angry.
"That's only because your bar is set at bullet to the thigh, Phil," Clint reminds him incredulously. "Anyway, it's Christmas Eve, and I wanted to have a nice evening," he pulls Phil close, "with my--you," and Phil stifles a laugh as Clint kisses his cheek, "relaxing in front of the fireplace--"
"Clint, we're not having sex on a bearskin rug in front of the fireplace," Phil says, even though the thought is making him hard in his pants.
Clint actually pouts at him. "Why not?"
"There are limits to how sappy I will let myself get in your presence," Phil teases, then adds, "also, I'm old and my back would appreciate it if we didn't."
"You're not old," Clint says, but even as he's saying it he's walking Phil backwards in the direction of the bed. His own erection is rubbing against Phil's crotch. "If you're old, that would mean that so am I--and I'm at the pinnacle of my youth, thank you."
"A spring chicken, even," Phil mumbles, catching Clint's lips in a deep kiss as his knees hit the foot end of the bed.
"Bird jokes, yay," Clint says sarcastically, then pushes Phil back onto the bed.
They get naked in record time, because neither of them have the patience for anything else at the moment. Clint's boxers catch on the head of his cock when he pulls them down, and Phil's mouth waters a little as it bounces back up towards the tight muscles in Clint's abdomen.
The fireplace is making it nice and toasty in the room and when Clint lies down next to Phil, his skin is pleasantly warm. Phil digs the lube out from the bedside table and hands it to Clint. "I like watching you," he says in explanation.
"You're lazy, more like it," Clint says back, but his tone is teasing because they both know it's not true.
Getting on his hands and knees, Clint braces one shoulder against the mattress as he gets his fingers slick and then reaches behind himself. The first finger goes in easily, and Phil lies sideways so he can both see where Clint's breaching himself and Clint's face as his eyes flutter shut in rapture.
"You look so good doing this," Phil says, and Clint's mouth falls open a little.
When Clint's slid a second finger into himself and worked it in and out a few times, Phil steals the lube and slicks his own cock, getting up to kneel behind Clint. Heart pounding in his chest, Phil slides his index finger in next to Clint's digits. Clint's warm and slick inside, and Clint moans then, a rumble from his chest that makes Phil's dick jump a little.
"Phil," Clint whines, attempting to pull his hand away.
"Not yet," Phil warns, leaning down to press a kiss to Clint's back.
Clint doesn't protest, but his breath is coming faster now, hitching a little with each inhale. It's a little awkward, their fingers together in his ass, but they make it work, stretching the tight ring carefully until Clint's thighs are trembling.
Finally Clint pulls his fingers out, nodding against the mattress. "Okay," he says impatiently, "enough already, get in me."
"Bossy," Phil remarks, but he does as Clint tells him to, grabs his cock and presses inside at the same time as he slips his finger out.
"Oh my God," Clint moans--and just like always, that voice, that voice which he only uses during sex, does remarkable things to Phil's body. Something tightens in his groin and his dick twitches on the way into Clint's ass, and Phil has to grip Clint's hips tightly just to remain upright.
"Come on," Clint urges, "come on, come on, come on, Phil, come on!"
"You're so," Phil breathes, bottoming out, "fucking impatient!"
"Uh huh," Clint says. Every word is a hoarse rasp. "Fucking impatient, that's me, come on, fuck me, Phil, fuck me."
Phil's a resilient, stubborn man, but there is no part of him that can resist that order, given by Clint Barton, in that voice. As always, there's a part of him that's hesitant, that tells him to go slowly at first, but when he pulls his hips back, Clint's ass follows him greedily, trying to get Phil's dick back immediately, and then, well--Phil's done trying to resist.
It's over embarrassingly fast after that. Phil sets a brutal pace that has Clint make the most ridiculous sound with every thrust, and the only surprise is that it's Clint who comes first, spilling over his own fist onto the mattress. The orgasm that builds in Phil's balls feels like it punches out of him, and leaves him gasping for breath. His eyes squeeze shut and there are bright sparks behind his eyelids as his entire body trembles, held in place as his world narrows down to the heat of being inside Clint. Something tumbles from his lips, he thinks--Clint's name or a curse word or a prayer, maybe--he can't think straight at the moment.
When he stops seeing double, he finds he's collapsed on his side. Clint's peering at him from across the bed with sex-lazy eyes and a dopey grin, one hand resting on his arm.
"So," Clint says, "I kind of lied."
Sleep is pulling at Phil, but he resists it. Clint's tone tells him whatever comes next isn't anything serious, but he still gets nervous when Clint says he lied. "Lied about what?"
"I got you a present," Clint says, and he looks nervous now.
Phil frowns. "Clint, we said--"
"I know, I know," Clint says quickly. "We said no gifts. But it's only one."
Phil is suspicious. "Just one?"
"Just one," Clint agrees.
"And it's nothing big?"
Clint narrows his eyes in consideration.
Then, procuring it seemingly out of nowhere, Clint places a small ring box on the mattress between them and pushes it carefully towards Phil. "Well," he says, eyes watching Phil the whole time. "Define 'big?'"