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We're Starting At The End

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The first time Clint Barton meets Phil Coulson, Phil reaches a hand across the hallway and says, "Hi, I'm Phil, Phil Coulson, I just moved in across the hall. It's nice to meet you."

Clint, who's not yet had his morning fix of caffeine and can't really function on less than at least two cups of espresso, stares at Phil's too-fucking-cheery-for-7-a.m. face, and just grunts. He then walks away without taking the offered handshake, ignoring Phil calling after him, "It was nice meeting you!"

*

The second time Clint meets Phil, Clint's in the process of wrangling his broken coffee maker (oversized relic that it is) out into the hallway, and one of his wings is tangled up in the wire trailing behind him. He's flapping his wings trying to detangle it, cursing up a storm as he bumps into the doorframe. Phil sticks his head out the door across the hall and says, "Do you need help with that?"

And because Clint's cranky and mourning his coffee maker and just generally very unsociable, he snaps, "Not from you!"

Phil reels back a little, and his smile fades. "Sorry," he says carefully, then retreats back into his apartment.

In Phil's defense, he doesn't know that Clint barely tolerates humans on a good day, because he so often sees their shittiest sides on his bad days. And sure, Clint's an angel--he's good at his job, and he can bring people a little comfort, a little strength, just through a single touch--but there's only so many times a guy can inspire a tiny measure of hope in someone who's just been through a horrific ordeal, can see all that struggling, all that pain, before he starts becoming a little cynical.

*

The third time Clint meets Phil, Phil gives up on him.

Clint's coming home from a particularly long and grueling shift, and he's tired and cranky and there might be (there definitely is) mud in his underwear (don't ask). To make matters worse, he miscalculates his Blink and lands in the hallway instead of in his living room, the way he intended. It's possible the mud is distracting him. So there he is, in the hallway, feeling miserable and annoyed, when Phil's voice comes from behind him, "Hi there. You feeling any better?"

Clint spins, startled, and for a brief moment wonders if Phil saw him Blink in, but then takes in the relaxed smile on Phil's face and decides he probably didn't see anything.

"Feeling better?" Clint asks, dumbly.

"Yes," Phil says, patiently. "You didn't seem to be feeling well last time we met?" Clint tries to recall when he last saw Phil, and takes a good look at the man for the first time while doing so. Phil's wearing scuffed combat boots, jeans, an old army jacket that looks impressively soft and well-worn, and a wool hat. He's also carrying a bag of groceries, and Clint can see a container of vanilla ice cream peeking out on top. It makes him irrationally annoyed; who buys ice cream in November?

Then Clint remembers the coffee maker (which, by the way, he's still mourning; he has a new one now, but it just isn't the same) and scowls.

"I wasn't sick," Clint says.

Phil's pleasant smile falters a little. "Oh," he says. "Okay, then."

There's a faint trace of judgement in his voice, like maybe he thinks Clint is being rude. And while the assessment isn't completely wrong, it still makes Clint feel overly defensive. Bristling, he puffs up a little, ruffling the feathers of his wings and unfolding them a little to make himself bigger. Phil, of course, can't see it, but it makes Clint feel marginally better.

"If I need your help with anything, ever, which I never will by the way, I'll fucking ask," Clint snaps.

Phil's mouth sets into a hard line, and his face does a thing--shuts down, sort of--that changes his entire demeanor. It makes Clint suddenly see a soldier, and not his annoying, new neighbor.

"Whatever," Clint mumbles, and turns to unlock his front door.

"Dick," Phil mumbles under his breath, still loud enough that he clearly means for Clint to hear him.

Clint doesn't acknowledge him, just gets his door open and goes inside to get the mud out of his asscrack, and he'll deny to his--well, not dying day, it's a little late for that--he'll just forever deny that he slams the door behind him.

*

After that, Phil starts ignoring him completely. They pass each other in the hallway without Phil so much as glancing in Clint's direction, and it makes Clint terribly happy.

Really.

*

It's Thanksgiving weekend when Clint slinks into the morning debriefing and Michael gives him a look. Clint tries to shrink in on himself, and is tempted to actually hide underneath his wings, because he knows that look. He hates that look.

It's the look of someone who loves their job, and is dead set on making everyone around him feel the same way about it.

That's the problem with Michael, Clint thinks. On a regular day, talking to Michael is like having a combination of a unicorn, a rainbow, and a ball of sunshine forcibly shoved down your throat. On days where Michael gives people a look, it's worse.

Clint picks a seat almost all the way over by the wall of the big conference room, and only briefly glances back up when Natasha and Bucky sit down on either side of him, with Wade sprawling across all three seats directly in front of them. They exchange grunts in greeting, and Natasha offhandedly starts twirling her scythe around. Clint doesn't watch her; he's seen her do it enough times to trust her not to hit anything she doesn't mean to. But it makes some of the interns hilariously nervous.

When the last of the stragglers scurry in, Michael claps his hands up by the podium and looks, if possible, even happier than normal.

"Good morning, angels!" Michael says grandly, sounding far too amused with himself.

"Good morning, Michael!" FitzSimmons chirp from the back of the room. Those fuckers in Administration are always sucking up to the mid-level management, and it annoys Clint further. Next to Clint, Bucky laughs; it's barely a huff, but at least it makes both Fitz and Simmons slump down in their chairs.

"Here are today's assignments," Michael says, as clipboards appear out of thin air to land in everyone's laps. "I think some of you might find yours to be extra enjoyable!" The last bit is said with a wink at the room and an actual honest-to-God sparkle of his stupid white teeth, and Clint resists the urge to slam his head into the nearest hard surface.

"I got old people duty again," Wade complains from in front of Clint. "I don't like old people duty."

"Old people duty is easy," Bucky says, shrugging. "I'll trade ya?"

"Easy, maybe," Wade says, exchanging clipboards with Bucky, "but so, so sad! All the crying relatives, man, you know I get uncomfortable when people cry on m--wait, is this…?" Wade sits up straight and turns to Bucky, and Clint swears his eyes grow comically wide even behind his mask. "A pileup? For me?" he squeals in falsetto.

Bucky rolls his eyes. "Just read the fucking restrictions this time, okay?"

Wade folds his legs up under himself, puts his nose almost all the way down to the paper and moves his head back and forth an exaggerated manner, muttering, "Yeah, yeah, sure, sure, no kids, okay, I'm good with that, three males, one female, age restrictions, weight restrictions, height restrictions, really, ages above 30 at Reaper's discretion--aww, one pet?"

"All dogs go to heaven," Natasha mumbles at the same time as Clint, and he has to high-five her for that. That draws a small gasp from somewhere in the room. Clint's neck starts prickling as the interns stare at him, but he ignores it. He enjoys freaking the baby angels out, and there's no law that says he can't be friends with the Reapers. If there was, he's pretty sure the CEO would have put a stop to it by now.

(He briefly wonders if he can arrange it so he's there when the interns find out Steve and Bucky hang out sometimes, because sooner or later everyone learns that there's a Guardian on staff that hangs out with a Reaper, and their reactions are always, invariably, hilarious.)

"Now, there's another matter we need to discuss," Michael says, "regarding theft of office supplies from Administration. I'm sure you're all aware…"

Clint tunes him out and sniffs once in feigned nonchalance. Whatever, people can think what they want about him and the Reapers. He knows he's a good angel, regardless of the company he keeps. He looks at his own clipboard--then immediately groans in annoyance.

Wade's managed to flip himself completely around so his legs are sticking up past the back of the chair and his head is down by the floor somewhere, still leafing through the papers on his clipboard. When Clint groans, he flails an arm upwards. "What do you have to complain about?" he asks, which--hey, unfair! Clint's life can be hard too, okay?

"Phil Coulson," Clint bites out, because there's no mistaking it. Phil's name is on Clint's list, with the rune for Strength stenciled next to it, in Rafe's signature ink. "I swear to fucking God, Rafe does it to fuck with me," Clint complains.

"What's a Phil Coulson?" Wade asks.

"Good luck, angels," Michael says brightly from the podium, apparently having finished his little spiel about office supply theft, "and Godspeed!"

*

Clint leaves Phil for last, which is cutting it pretty close, but Clint's never failed a Contact before, and he's not about to start now. So what if he's dragging his feet because he knows this will suck?

Still, Clint manages to time it so that he's hanging around in the hallway when Phil comes back from--wherever annoying freaks like Phil go during the day--and manages to make it look like he was just randomly there.

Clint says, "Oh, hey, so--" and that's how far he gets before Phil just breezes by him like he isn't even there.

Frowning, Clint takes a few hurried steps to catch up with him, walking backwards next to him.

"Hey, man, uh, Phil, I just, I wanted to talk to you?"

Phil keeps walking--shit, they're just about at his door--so Clint, in his desperation to get this over and done with, throws out his wing, folding it out into Phil's path. Twitching, startled, as he hits--well, nothing--Phil's step stutters and he ends up blinking comically at Clint.

"Hi," Clint says, with what he hopes is a charming smile. He's fairly certain he just ends up looking deranged instead. "I'm, uh, my name's Clint."

Phil sighs, resigned. "What do you want?" he asks. He's got both hands in the pockets of his army coat, and his shoulders slump down, making him look--ack, kind of adorable, ew. Clint makes a valiant attempt at stopping his nose from scrunching up, and must fail completely, judging by the look Phil gives him.

"I know we kind of, uh, got off to a bad start," Clint says.

"Understatement," Phil says, blandly.

"Yeah, listen, uh, sorry. I'm really sorry. I was a total dick, and I wanted to see if we could try this whole, 'Hi neighbor' bit again?" Clint asks, and holds out a hand. One touch, that's it. Then he'll have made Contact, and he can go back to pretending Phil Coulson doesn't exist.

Phil looks warily at his hand, then at his face, and for a moment Clint's heart sinks in his chest, because it genuinely looks like he's not going to go for it. It looks like he's about to tell Clint to fuck off, and go back to completely ignoring him. But then a tentative smile breaks across his face, and he says, "Sure, I'd like that."

And Clint thinks, This is it! as Phil pulls one hand out of his pocket and--well, fuck.

Clint stares forlornly at the gloved hand shaking his.

"It was nice meeting you, Clint," Phil says, and then he's letting Clint's hand go, unlocking his apartment and stepping inside.

Clint stands in the hallway for several long minutes afterwards, because what?

*

He gets to the office early the next morning, hoping to catch Michael alone so nobody else will witness his epic failure.

"Sorry," Clint mumbles, as he places his clipboard down on Michael's desk.

"Ah," Michael says, leafing through the pages and finding Phil's name; the only name not crossed off. "Ah."

"Did you miss one?" an incredulous voice asks from the back of the room, and Clint closes his eyes and counts backwards from ten.

"Ah," says Michael again, still studying Phil's name and the rune next to it.

"Did you really miss one?" Tony Stark asks again, climbing out of his seat and practically leaping over to Clint, half-mechanical wings making noises behind him.

"I thought Rafe told you to fix those," Clint says, instead of answering Tony.

"You never miss one!" Tony says, leaning over Clint to peer at his clipboard, which is still sitting in front of Michael.

"Why are you even here this early?" Clint asks.

"This has to be your first miss ever, right?" Tony says.

"I'm going to fucking hurt you," Clint says.

"Wait 'till the other Guardians hear this!" Tony says, gleefully.

"Ah," says Michael again, and Clint leans forward and faceplants on Michael's desk, because fuck his life, seriously.

"Well," Michael says, in a tone that's probably supposed to be encouraging, "you'll just have to try again, no worries. Tomorrow's another day, after all. Or today, I guess, ha!"

Clint straightens up again as Tony heads back to his seat, wings flapping with an annoying clank-clank behind him. "Steve," Tony's saying excitedly into his phone, "Steve, Steve, Steve, guess what, guess who missed one?"

Clint takes the clipboard from Michael, Phil's row re-validated in Michael's flowy script. Michael's still got a painfully stiff smile on his face. "Thanks," Clint mumbles, and isn't at all thankful, not really.

*

Carrying two clipboards proves to be annoying. Not only does Clint keep summoning the wrong one whenever he goes to check a name off the list, but every time it happens he has to suffer the reminder of his failure when he sees Phil's name staring up at him. It makes him cranky--well, crankier than normal--and restless, because Clint never misses, and he hates seeing Phil's name and Michael's re-validation.

Clint doesn't go home after he's completed his assignments for the day, instead finding the Reapers at one of their regular joints.

"How am I supposed to touch a dude I already know?" he asks, and he knows he's sounding a little desperate.

"Welllllll," Wade says, looking up from--is he drinking his beer through his mask? "When a boy angel and a boy human love each other very mu--OW!" His entire body jerks as Natasha kicks him underneath the table.

"Shake his hand?" she offers.

"I tried. He was wearing gloves."

"Why do you know him?" Bucky asks with a frown. "I thought we don't get assigned people we know?"

"You usually don't," Clint says sullenly, going boneless as he slumps into a chair and puts his head on the table. "I, apparently do. I fucking swear, they're doing it to fuck with me."

"Slap his shoulder," Natasha suggests.

"How would I get access to his bare shoulder?" Clint asks, only raising his head when the sound of a glass sliding across the table reaches his ears. He looks up to find that Bucky's nudged a beer over towards him--where he got it, Clint doesn't know, and he doesn't care--and Clint drains half of it in one go.

"Seduce him," Natasha says, deadpan. Or maybe she's completely serious. It's hard to tell with her.

"I'm not going to seduce him," Clint says, just in case she was serious.

"Smack him upside the head?" Bucky suggests.

"Why must you always resort to violence?" Wade mock-gasps.

"Rich, coming from you," Bucky shoots back.

In response, Wade swings his scythe high over his head before twirling it around and then swinging it in a wide arc to his left.

"Jesus!" Clint swears, ducking out of the way just in time to see the scythe pass neatly through some poor bastard who was just then passing their table.

The man clutches at his chest, gasps, and then falls over. The four occupants at the table watch him crumble to the floor, before Bucky cranes his neck to look over towards the bar. "Hey, uh, call 911, I think this dude's having a heart attack!"

"I thought you guys were done for the day," Clint grumbles. He likes the Reapers well enough. He doesn't like watching them work.

"Oh, honey," Wade says. His voice is sweet like molasses, but there's a threatening undercurrent there that makes a shiver run down Clint's spine. "We're never off duty."

*

Clint's pretty drunk when he drags himself home, no closer to a solution for how to achieve Contact with Phil, and despairing over having to show up with an incomplete assignment tomorrow morning. Again. Obviously, that's when he runs into Phil again.

"Hi there," Phil says, cautiously optimistic.

Clint blinks at Phil, standing there in an oversized olive green sweater, sweat pants, and Captain America slippers (wait 'til Steve hears). He's clutching a garbage bag in one hand.

"Hi," Clint says, then has a bright idea. "Need help with that?"

He reaches quickly for the garbage bag, intending for their hands to brush as he grabs it, but to his surprise Phil flinches away, almost hiding the bag behind his back as he steps towards the wall.

"That's okay," Phil says, and his smile turns slightly strained. "I've got it. Thanks, though."

As he heads down the corridor, Clint wonders, through the alcohol muddling his thoughts, if this is part of the reason why Phil's rune is Strength.

*

"...ah," says Michael the next morning, when the clipboard lands on his desk, Phil's name still missing a strikethrough. Clint hasn't even bothered to come in early this time, certain that the news that he's failed an assignment is already all over the division. His suspicion is proven correct when he turns to look at the room, and almost everyone starts studying the walls, the floor, the ceiling--anything to avoid looking him in the eyes.

Rolling his eyes, Clint turns back to Michael.

"I'll get it done," he says, and if he's a little snippy about it, it's all Phil's fault.

"Of course you will!" Michael says brightly, and hands the re-validated clipboard back.

At the back of the room, Tony snickers, then groans when he takes one of Steve's wings to the face.

*

That evening, Clint orders an extra large pizza, half cheese, half meat lover's, and Blinks down to the lobby to meet the delivery guy. After he's gone, Clint Blinks back upstairs and knocks on Phil's door.

"So hey," he says, when Phil opens the door. "I accidentally got an extra large instead of a medium and I can't eat all of this by myself. Do you want to share?"

It's the world's worst excuse, and Phil looks nonplussed, standing there in that same olive green sweater, except this time he's wearing jeans with his Captain America slippers.

Opening the box a little, Clint tries a grin (though, once again, he's fairly certain he just ends up looking deranged). "It's half cheese, half meat lover's?"

Finally, Phil blinks a little, thankfully not saying a word about how pizza holds well in the fridge, or how even cold, stale pizza is delicious (don't judge; Clint happens to really like pizza, okay?), and just smiles. "That would be nice," he says, and it sounds like an admittance, as he steps aside to let Clint into his apartment.

"Thanks, man," Clint says. As he enters, he raises a hand to clap Phil's shoulder and maybe achieve Contact up by his neck if he's lucky, but once again Phil flinches back, this time so hard that he hits the door.

Clint immediately draws back his hand, once again wondering what Phil needs Strength for.

"Sorry, didn't mean to startle you," Clint says, grin fixed on his face even as he grits his teeth.

Phil's smile doesn't waver this time. "It's okay," he says, although Clint doesn't actually think Phil's as relaxed about it as he sounds. Closing the door, Phil leads him through the apartment, which is a mirror image of Clint's own, into the living room where something is paused on the TV.

"I was about to watch Dog Cops," Phil explains. "Do you--"

"Oh, oh! Is this last night's episode? I haven't seen that one yet!" Clint exclaims, legitimately excited now, because Dog Cops!

He sits down on Phil's couch, and practically bounces as Phil looks at him, smile turning wry. "Make yourself at home," Phil says sarcastically, and Clint at least has the good grace to look embarrassed about it; he is trying to get close enough to Phil to achieve Contact, after all.

Phil digs out a couple of plates and some paper towels from the kitchen, before sitting down at the opposite end of the couch from Clint. Clint gauges the distance between them and wishes he'd thought ahead to position himself slightly more towards the middle so he'd have a bigger chance of achieving Contact, but it's too late now.

They eat the pizza mostly in silence while Dog Cops plays, and it's a fucking amazing episode! By the end of it, the pizza box is empty and Clint's feeling uncharacteristically sociable, mood lifted in the way that only Dog Cops can do for him.

Unfortunately, Phil continues his trend of flinching away. Every time he reaches for another slice, he snatches his hand back as if burned if Clint's anywhere near the box at the same time, and Clint's starting to realize that the dude just really doesn't want to be touched.

Resisting the urge to pout about it, Clint leans back and pats his stomach. "That was an awesome episode," he says.

"It was," Phil agrees.

Clint takes the opportunity to look around the apartment a little bit. It's pretty sparsely decorated; Phil's got furniture, but no pictures on the walls or knick-knacks on his bookshelves. There are books, though; fiction, mostly, from the looks of it, as well as some comic books on one end of a shelf.

"Thanks for the pizza," Phil says.

"No problem," Clint responds, and then realizes belatedly that that was probably a hint that he should go now. Seems kind of rude; eating his pizza and then kicking him out. But Clint wants to stay in Phil's good graces, because dammit, he's getting this assignment done!

Standing up and stretching, Clint says, "Well, I better head back. See ya, Phil."

"See you," Phil says quietly, almost timidly, from the couch, and doesn't even get up when Clint leaves.

*

Michael doesn't say, "Ah," when Clint brings back the clipboard for him, which is a relief. He does, however, open his mouth when he hands it back, but Clint just holds up a finger to silence him. Surprisingly, it works.

Michael sits there, mouth hanging open for a moment, before he closes it with an audible snap.

"I'll get it done," Clint stresses, then walks over and sits next to Natasha to stop Tony's sniggering from the back of the room.

"All right," Michael says in that horrifyingly cheery voice that means he's starting the morning debriefing. "Good morning, angels!"

"Good morning, Michael!" FitzSimmons chirp from the back, as always.

Bucky rolls his eyes, turns sideways where he sits in front of Clint, and throws his legs up on the seats next to him. Looking back at FitzSimmons, he gives them a glare, casually stroking a gloved finger up and down the handle of his scythe.

Fitz and Simmons both swallow heavily, wings shivering a little, enough to send a few tufts of down flying. At the far back of the room, Clint sees Steve hide a smile behind his hand.

"Tease," Natasha murmurs under her breath, and Bucky grins at her, nasty and amused, as his one-fingered stroking turns to a full-on grip.

"I'm surrounded by perverts!" Wade sighs dramatically, before flopping down to put his head in Clint's lap.

"Mmm, yeah, just a little to the left," Clint says, as tired and deadpan as he can muster, and he's not sure but he thinks Wade blows him a kiss from underneath his mask.

"I knew you wanted the D," Wade says confidently.

"I'm not calling you Deadpool," Clint says back.

"Youuuuu have a thing for my imperfeeections," Wade sing-songs, and Clint shudders. He's never seen Wade's--imperfections, because Wade never takes off that mask, but from what Natasha tells him, it's not a pretty sight.

"--if you could pay attention?" Michael asks from the front. "Office supply theft is a serious matter!"

Clint rolls his eyes in tandem with Bucky, Natasha, and (probably) Wade as he tunes Michael out again, and he dimly thinks he might be hanging around the Reapers too much.

*

"So I have a new strategy," Clint says later, when they're leaving the office on their way to their assignments.

"This should be good," Natasha says.

"I'm going to knock him over," Clint says confidently, ignoring Natasha, because she's a Reaper, she's always been a Reaper, what the fuck does she know about Contact?

She rolls her eyes and hefts the scythe onto her back. "Good luck with that."

Bucky and Wade just shake their heads sadly at him and follow her down the street.

"It'll work," Clint says after them with a scowl. "It will!"

*

Clint's plan is as follows: Run into Phil--literally--knock him down, and then achieve Contact. If they fall over, he's bound to be able to hit skin on skin somewhere, even if it means knocking their heads together!

So Clint waits just inside his door until he hears Phil in the hallway. Taking a couple of deep breaths to steel himself, he flings open his door and hauls ass, sprinting out of his apartment as if he's just very, very late to something, and Phil's right there, and he has time to catch a glimpse of Phil's face, eyes wide open in shock--

--and then the world flips, and then Clint's on his back, blinking spots from his vision as he stares at the ceiling and gasps for breath.

"Oh God," Phil says in a rush, "oh God, I'm sorry, I'm--I'm so sorry, I--you startled me, I'm so sorry!"

Clint tries to regain his breath, and also registers that one of his wings is curled painfully underneath him.

"The fuck," he gets out, because what the actual fuck, nobody warned him Phil was a secret judo-karate-martial-arts kind of superhuman, which--wow! Clint did not expect!

Clint's vision stabilizes, and he looks at Phil, upside down where he's peering nervously at Clint. Yup. Phil still looks the same; he didn't randomly sprout super muscles like Jean-Claude Van Damme overnight.

"I'm so sorry," Phil says again.

"I--think I'll live," Clint says, then realizes this is a golden opportunity and holds out one hand in a slightly pathetic bid for Phil to grab it and help him to his feet again.

Unfortunately, Phil's wearing gloves again.

Clint tries not to make a face as he's pulled to his feet by a surprisingly strong grip, and then rolls his shoulders to cover up how he's shaking out his wing, tentatively unfolding it, which--ow.

"Sorry," Phil says once more. "I just--I don't, I maybe have issues with people coming at me," and he waves it away like it's no big deal that he just fucking flipped Clint over his head like it was nothing. "It's this, it's this whole army thing," Phil says.

A few pieces slot into place then: his scuffed combat boots, his army jacket, the Strength rune on Clint's clipboard.

Yep, Phil's in need of some Strength alright--though clearly not the physical type, Clint thinks (and then immediately wants to go dunk his head in the sink).

"It's no big deal," Clint says, aiming for casual and missing by about a mile.

He thinks back to the first meeting, when Phil reached out his hand towards Clint, and then decides Phil would probably be fine if he's the one initiating the touch instead of Clint. Which is kind of frustrating because it makes his job even harder, but what the fuck else is he going to do?

"Were you going somewhere?" Phil asks.

"Nah," Clint responds, and he's not limping when he goes back to his own apartment, absolutely not.

Locking the door behind him, Clint flaps his sore wing tiredly, working out the kinks and double and triple checking that nothing's broken. "Best assignment everrrr," he mumbles, slumping down on his couch and turning on the TV. Humans are dumb, and Cupcake Wars will make him feel better.

*

"How did your plan go?" Natasha says into his ear, suddenly right behind him, and Clint jumps about a mile.

"Here you go!" Michael says brightly, handing Clint's clipboard back, freshly re-validated, with a way too enthusiastic grin and a thumbs up. "Keep on truckin'!"

Clint doesn't need to look at Natasha to know she's smirking at him.

"Shut up," he says.

"Good morning, angels!" Michael says.

"Good morning, Michael!" FitzSimmons says back.

Clint hates his whole life.

*

Clint's scheming (his latest idea could work, except where would he find a trained dog on such short notice?) when there's a knock on his door. For a brief moment he considers ignoring it, but then he hears Phil's voice. "Clint?"

Clint nearly trips over his own wings getting to the door, but manages what he's reasonably certain is a casual look when he opens it. "'Sup?"

"I was wondering if," Phil starts, then gestures and tries again, smiling a little sheepishly. "There's this bar I like to go to. I was wondering if I could buy you a beer? Pay you back for that pizza? And also for uh, kicking your ass?"

Clint barks out a nervous laugh; he can't help it. "Kicking my ass? You didn't kick my ass," he says, a little more defensively than he means to. "It was hardly--I didn't even get hurt."

"Well, then I'd like to buy you a beer to make up for--not hurting you?" Phil says, but his near-smile fades a little.

For a moment, Clint wants to get in Phil's face and tell him off, lingering embarrassment still stinging him, but then he remembers Phil's face, the tone of his voice when he'd said, It's this whole army thing. Clint wonders if he visibly deflates, because he feels like he does.

"Sure," Clint says, nodding. "Let me get my coat."

*

Phil leads Clint through the streets with a sure stride, but Clint doesn't miss how he sidesteps people in passing, and while his clothes occasionally brush a stranger, he keeps his hands to himself, tucked away in his pockets, and his shoulders are hunched up. The December wind blows hard at their backs, making Phil shiver slightly, and without really thinking about it Clint brings out a wing to shield Phil as best he can. Phil's shivering ceases, but his shoulders remain tense.

It's not until they've arrived at their destination and he gestures for Clint to go inside, that Phil's shoulders finally relax. Clint didn't pay too close attention to the blocks as they walked, but he's fairly certain they're far east in Bed-Stuy. The bar is dimly lit and there's a decent amount of people scattered around, BB King on the speakers at the perfect volume. The guitar hums through the air, but not so loud you can't hold a conversation.

Walking straight up to the bar, Phil nods to the bartender; a brunette woman with a hard look on her face and intense eyes. "Hey Maria," Phil says, and she smiles at him and immediately grabs a glass.

"Hey Phil. Didn't think I'd see you today?"

"Got out early," Phil says with a shrug, as he settles onto a barstool. Clint sits down next to him and doesn't ask what Phil got out early from. "Maria, this is Clint, my neighbor. Clint, this is Maria Hill."

"Nice to meet you," Clint says, even though he doesn't like her--it's nothing personal, it's just Clint's default setting when meeting new people.

"Sure," she says back, and sounds surprisingly sarcastic. Clint reevaluates his opinion of her to 'not entirely awful.'

"Catch many new customers with that attitude?" he asks.

"Only ones worth catching," she says, and then her entire face softens as she glances at Phil.

Clint upgrades her again to 'okay I guess,' and grins at her. "I'll have what he's having."

"Ugh," she says. "Your funeral."

Phil just smiles.

*

As it turns out, Phil drinks Budweiser, which Clint's always thought tastes like piss and flies (a sentiment Maria Hill clearly shares), but he's got a job to do, so he dutifully swallows it down without a peep of complaint. Phil's gloves are sitting on the bar between them now, and Phil's fingers are ridiculously close, wrapped around his glass.

Clint tries for a casual turn, as if to look across the rest of the bar, surveying the other patrons and the interior, and slides his own hand closer in the process--but Phil twitches away. As always.

"Come here often?" Clint asks instead, wondering how long this assignment will take him.

"Occasionally," Phil says.

"Every other day," Maria snorts from behind the bar.

"Why this bar?" Clint asks.

Two very young, definitely underage, women come up to the bar and one of them giggles nervously as she orders a Cosmo. Maria stares blankly for a second, before saying, "It must be past your bedtime. Shouldn't you two be in footie pajamas in your cribs? Get the fuck out!"

"The entertainment," Phil says to Clint with a smile.

The women leave, looking embarrassed, and Maria rolls her eyes. "Please. You come here because I enable your antisocial tendencies by scaring away any clientele that could possibly be interested in getting to know you." She nods at Clint then. "This guy, though. That's a first." She addresses Clint directly. "You must really be something."

Phil looks vaguely embarrassed at that, though he tries to hide it by draining his glass. Maria just fills another and plunks it down in front of him with nothing but a pointed glare, while Clint tries to decide how to react to that comment.

"Been in the neighborhood for a while, then?" Clint asks, because Phil's interactions with Maria speak of a longer friendship than just the few weeks he's spent living across the hall from Clint.

"A while," Phil answers. "I lived over in Brownsville before I moved into our building."

"Where'd you live before that?" Clint asks.

Maria's eyebrows shoot up and Clint doesn't think he's imagining that her steps are a little longer as she walks to the opposite end of the bar.

"Uh," Phil says, fidgeting a little.

Clint gets the distinct feeling he's put his foot in his mouth. "I wasn't--I didn't mean to pry," he says awkwardly and then it's his turn to attempt to hide his face behind his glass.

"It's okay," Phil says, though something almost like a wince passes over his face. "Well, uh, I got shipped around with the army a lot, but the last place I lived before here was, uh, was a psychiatric center in Syracuse for a while."

Clint stares. He doesn't mean to, but he does. A lot more pieces are falling into place, and he flashes on the Strength rune again, still sitting unmarked on his clipboard.

"PTSD?" Clint asks bluntly, because he's not really sure how else to say it.

"Supposedly," Phil says with a shrug. "I mean, they're the professionals. They'd probably know."

Clint blows out a quick breath and shifts in his seat. "Dude, I'm sorry," he says, and finds that he means it. "That's rough." It's a little bit of a surprise, because Clint genuinely can't remember the last time he really felt for one of his assignments, the swell of human filth and the darkness they're capable of usually overshadowing whatever pity he might have been able to drag up.

"Yeah," Phil agrees.

"How long is 'a while?'"

Phil's eyes twitch a little, and he stares as if counting out days, weeks, months, Clint doesn't know, in his head. "I guess a year?" Phil says, and Clint nearly swallows his tongue.

"That's a long time," he says dumbly.

Clint had an assignment in Kingsboro Psychiatric once, though he doesn't think that dude had PTSD. Still, it hadn't been the most uplifting assignment of all time.

"I'm doing better now," Phil says, and he sounds almost nervous about it--definitely defensive, though.

It suddenly occurs to Clint that maybe Phil thinks he'd somehow react badly to this piece of information, and he almost knocks over his glass, gesturing with both hands. "Oh, no," he says, "no, I wasn't--I wasn't trying to--"

"It's okay," Phil says, talking over Clint and only twitching a little at Clint's hand movements even as he tracks them with his eyes. "I understand if--

"--I was just trying to, I was curious, but I didn't mean to--"

"--I mean, I did attack you the other day and I just--"

They both stop talking nearly at the same time, mid-sentence and tense, and for a few, long seconds they just stare at each other. Clint's frozen mid-gesture, and the awkward silence stretches on.

Phil's the first one to break; a big sigh leaving his body and his little smile reappearing on his face. It's a relief to see, and Clint follows suit, exhaling and relaxing. Chuckling a little, Phil shakes his head. "Sorry. I'm being ridiculous."

"We both are, I think?" Clint says.

A few more beats pass before Clint clears his throat. "I'm glad you're doing better," he says honestly.

Phil's smile grows, just a fraction.

Phil looks at him again, and then, very carefully, puts his hand loosely on Clint's wrist. Clint stares at the point of Contact, almost in shock, because this is it!

"Thanks," Phil says, and he sounds so fucking earnest that Clint resists the temptation to slide off the barstool and just lie down on the floor in shame.

"Thanks for telling me," Clint says, and then carefully puts his other hand on top of Phil, his movements slow enough that Phil can track him all the way.

Contact.

Contact is a curious thing. It's just a little tingle in Clint's fingers, like something leaking out of him, but in a good way. It's liquid and light; a mild sort of relief that he can will into place underneath Phil's skin.

Clint doesn't know what Strength will do for Phil. He hopes that maybe it'll make Phil a little less skittish. Maybe prevent a nightmare or two--he's fairly certain veterans have those sometimes--or maybe bring him a little bit of peace of mind. Sometimes, Contact doesn't do anything at all; sometimes people are just too damaged, or they use that whole free will thing to do stuff that is completely counteractive to whatever Clint's tried to help them out with. Somehow though, Clint doesn't think Phil will be one of those people.

They sit there for a little while, Phil's hand on Clint's wrist, and Clint's other hand resting on top of Phil's.

Phil keeps smiling.

*

The satisfied grin on Clint's face as he brings the completed clipboard to Michael the next morning, makes Bucky raise an eyebrow at him.

"Well done, Clint!" Michael praises him, signing the clipboard with a flourish before snapping his fingers and making it disappear. "I knew you could do it!"

"Wasn't an issue," Clint boasts, even though by now the entire division must know that it kind of was.

*

Clint's apartment is weird.

He's finished with his assignments for the day, he just Blinked home, and he's standing in the living room with his hands on his hips.

His apartment feels weird, and it takes him a few moments to pinpoint exactly why that is: It's too quiet.

Suddenly he realizes that he's spoken to other people, humans or angels, for several days in a row now, and it's a heavy thought. Slumping down on his couch, Clint picks up the remote and finds a rerun of CSI. (It must be old; William Peterson is on and he looks young and very clean-shaven.)

Clint cranks the volume a little just to have sounds to fill the room, and for a moment the idea of going over to Phil's strikes him. He considers knocking on Phil's door and maybe seeing if he wants to share a pizza again--but then Clint shakes his head. He achieved Contact, his assignment's done. No point in going and getting attached now. Even angels that like humans don't really get attached to them. That way lies madness, and also the high probability that at one point in the future you'll be seeing one of the Reapers collecting your friend.

Nah, Clint's better off alone.

He folds his arms, almost as if to take a stubborn stand against himself, and doesn't order pizza for dinner, just on principle.

*

The next morning, Michael has the fucking look again.

"What a beautiful morning," he practically beams, after he's done his standard Good morning, angels bullshit. "There is much to discuss today, my friends!"

"I'm surprised he didn't sing that," Natasha murmurs to Clint.

"Are we singing something?" Wade asks, abruptly sitting up in his seat. "I do a wonderful, and very heart wrenching rendition of "Send In The Clowns," you know!"

Their clipboards sail into their laps, and Wade claps his hands excitedly, palms smacking against each other with muted thumps thanks to his ever-present gloves. "Oh goodie!" he squeals, before crooning at the clipboard. "Hello gorgeous, hello lovers, that is a lot of drug dealers--"

Natasha snatches the clipboard out of his lap and replaces it with her own.

"--oooor old people duty again," Wade finishes with a sigh, before turning what Clint's fairly certain is a withering look, towards Natasha. "Why you gotta harsh my squee, girl? Always with your whole justice-vengeance-die-evildoers-die schtick!"

"Enjoy your old people," she says blankly in return.

"Fucksticks," says Clint, looking at his own clipboard in disbelief.

"Can I offer you one?" Wade says, causing Bucky to knock him off his chair with a crash.

"Ahem," tuts Michael from the front of the room.

"Sorry, pop-pop," Wade mumbles, climbing back into his seat and leaning towards Clint, lowering his voice a little. "What's wrong, snookums?"

"Fucking Phil Coulson again," Clint sighs, then holds up a finger to silence the dirty joke he knows Wade was about to make. "Don't."

Wade pouts, but for once doesn't protest. Clint looks up to find Natasha watching him with narrowed eyes.

"Repeat assignment," Natasha says, and it isn't a question.

"Yeah," Clint says, sighing. "It's not that uncommon, really, it's just--ugh."

"Pretty soon, though, isn't it?" she asks. "You achieved Contact, what, like… 36 hours ago?"

"I guess," Clint says with a shrug. "What can you do? At least he lets me touch him, now."

Next to him, Wade makes a choked sound that means he's practically tripping over himself to make a joke.

Clint sighs heavily and Bucky shoves Wade off his chair again.

*

"So hey," Clint says, gesturing to the pizza box. "Pizza and Dog Cops?"

Phil smiles this time and steps aside without hesitation. "Does this mean I owe you another trip to the bar?" he asks, as Clint strolls into the living room to get settled on the couch.

"We'll see," he says with a grin that he doesn't even have to fake.

They eat while watching Dog Cops, joking about the show during the commercial breaks and debating the merits of meat lover's versus regular pepperoni (because someone feels like all that extra meat is just a waste, which Clint thinks is definitely crazy talk). It's--nice--in a way Clint's not used to, and the uncomfortable silence that had threatened to choke Clint in his own apartment the night prior is all but forgotten.

When Dog Cops is over, the pizza is eaten, but then Crank comes on and Clint says, "Hey, good movie," and Phil shrugs and says, "Never seen it," and so clearly they have to keep watching. Phil digs out a couple of beers from his fridge and they clink their bottlenecks together as Jason Statham starts stomping on his TV.

Clint achieves Contact during the last commercial break, when Phil stands up and holds out a hand, gesturing to the now-empty bottle in Clint's lap. "Want me to take that?" he asks.

Clint hands him the bottle, their fingers brushing lightly against each other in the process. It's a barely-there touch, a whisper as the bottle exchanges hands, but Clint's fingertips tingle in that familiar way all the same.

"Thanks," he says.

"No problem," Phil says, and smiles in such a way that Clint ends up confused about who's really thanking whom.

*

"Huh. I knew it'd be faster this time, but I had a bet going you'd take at least a couple of days," Tony says, peering over Clint's shoulder as he hands in his clipboard the next morning.

"Fuck off," Clint says back, smacking Tony with both wings.

Tony stutters, shocked, and for a moment looks like he wants to retaliate, but either he remembers that his wings are half metal and would probably actually hurt, or the sudden appearance of Steve stops him. Personally, Clint thinks it's the latter.

"Hey, Clint," Steve says cordially, because that's just how Steve is.

"Hey," Clint mumbles back.

"Good to see you in a good mood," Steve observes with a warm smile, before heading towards the back of the room with Tony.

I'm in a good mood? Clint wonders, and frowns almost reflexively, but he doesn't have time to dwell on how he's feeling because Michael claps his hands together and Clint's annoyance rises in direct proportion to how cheerful Michael is. It's a conditioned response, he really can't help it.

"All right, I think that's everyone! Good morning, angels!" Michael says as Clint sits down next to Bucky.

"Good morn--"

"OH MY GOD," Wade yells over FitzSimmons, who slink down in their seats.

*

That evening, Clint Blinks into his empty apartment, and decides that this time, he's refusing to let the silence get to him. He's just going to power through this until he gets used to the status quo again, because dammit, he was fine before that stupid Phil assignment showed up on his clipboard.

Still, something's changed in him; he can feel it. Earlier, he'd made Contact with a struggling, young mother as she passed him in grocery store, and he'd felt unusually satisfied in the knowledge that he was providing her some Patience. He's found the parents who are awarded Patience almost always need it, but it seems he's always assumed the worst lately; that their Patience will be wasted, not felt, and that the kids will end up suffering as a result.

When he touched her, though, both supposedly reaching for the same jar of pickles, he'd felt something almost like optimism. Pride in his job.

"Fuck." Clint sighs and turns on the TV. He orders Thai for dinner, because he can't stomach the thought of pizza.

*

Three more days pass, and Clint grows ever more uneasy with the silence of his apartment. On the third day he nearly breaks, and has his hand poised to knock on Phil's door, but he stops himself at the last minute. Phil's probably not even there; Clint hasn't heard him come in yet.

He's still not sure what Phil does all day. He's not at home, Clint knows that much, because he often hears him leave in the morning and return in the late afternoon. He's probably working somewhere, but Clint doesn't have the foggiest idea where, and he tells himself sternly it doesn't matter--that he doesn't care.

Scoffing at his own sudden thirst for company, Clint heads out to find the Reapers instead.

If he wants company, at least he can enjoy the company of people who aren't soft, mortal humans.

*

Clint's resolve to stay away from Phil lasts until the next morning, when Phil's name is once more staring up at him from his clipboard.

"Well," Clint says.

"Why do you keep getting this dude?" Bucky asks.

Clint's wondering that too, but then he thinks about Phil's careful smile and the way he carries himself, and he says, "I guess maybe he needs it?"

"Maybe he needs the D," Wade says, and there's a dangerous grin somewhere underneath that mask as he polishes his scythe.

"You stay the hell away from him," Clint growls, looking at the Strength rune, clear and strong in Rafe's ink.

It occurs to him a second later that it might have come off as terribly defensive, and when he looks at the Reapers, they're all staring at him.

"Clint," Natasha says, and she sounds surprised. Natasha's never surprised.

"Shut up," he says quickly. Too quickly, probably.

"Good luck, and godspeed!" Michael says cheerily, and Clint leaves the room so quickly he's practically levitating.

Because she is who she is, Natasha catches up with him just as he exits the lobby.

"You know," she says casually, as if Clint didn't just literally run away in the middle of a conversation, "I think it's good."

"What is?" Clint asks, against his better judgement.

Natasha smiles, then, genuine and open. It's fucking terrifying. Clint wonders if Reapers can Reap other angels.

"I think it's good that you care about someone," Natasha says, either completely unaware of Clint's discomfort (and slight fear, if he's to be honest), or ignoring it. Possibly reveling in it. "You haven't cared about someone in a long time. I think it's about time you did. I'm happy for you."

Clint doesn't know what to say to that, so he doesn't say anything at all.

Natasha walks away, still smiling, and Clint doesn't relax even a little until he's several blocks away and has to focus on work.

*

Clint knocks on Phil's door and jerks his head sideways in a Come on gesture when Phil opens.

"I'm buying," Clint says.

Phil frowns. "That doesn't seem fair," he says, but he's already pulling on his coat and hat. "You bought the pizza the last time."

"Well, then you can buy the pizza the next time," Clint says, and belatedly realizes it heavily implies there will be a next time. He clears his throat and rubs his neck, waiting for Phil to lock up his apartment. "Besides, you got me a beer. That's gotta count for something, right?"

Phil snorts as they head down the hallway, but Clint does notice how Phil doesn't keep his distance quite in the same way anymore. It's like his personal bubble has decreased just a tiny bit; like his shoulders aren't quite as tense. "One beer for the duration of that entire movie," Phil scoffs.

"Well, come get me if the sequel comes on, and I'll bring you a single beer, how's that?" Clint says.

Phil frowns a little next to him, causing a reappearance of that fucking adorable wrinkle between his eyebrows. "There's a sequel?"

"Of course there is," Clint says.

Phil shakes his head in a clear what was I thinking? way. "Of course there is."

*

Maria nods at Phil when they enter, and rolls her eyes with great exaggeration when she sees Clint trailing after him. Clint decides that he likes her. They slide onto barstools next to each other and Clint orders a Bud Light for himself and a Budweiser for Phil, because he's just that nice.

"You know, you could both get a real brew," she says pointedly, as she hands them their glasses.

Clint responds by putting the glass to his lips and taking a big mouthful, looking at Maria challengingly in the process.

"I can see why Phil likes you," she says, then wanders off to collect some empty glasses from the surrounding tables.

Clint puts his glass down and looks over to where Phil is studying the bar as if it's the most fascinating piece of wood he's seen in his entire life.

"You like me?" Clint asks, and resists the temptation to add, Like me how?

"I, uh," Phil says, and Clint notices then, the way Phil's skin has gone a little damp-looking, the way his eyes flicker back and forth, all the while remaining downcast.

Something inside Clint suddenly--twists. And he wishes he could just reach out right away, make Contact, push a little Strength to Phil right then and there, and it's probably the first time ever he's felt like this about an assignment.

"I just," Phil says, hesitating. "You're okay."

Clint smiles a little then, and can't help but tease, "How do you know? You don't know anything about me."

Phil looks a little embarrassed. "I know you didn't hold a grudge after I kicked your ass."

Clint scoffs. "Are we still on that? I told you, I told you--"

"I know, I know," Phil says, laughing, and it's the first time Clint's heard him laugh. It's an addictive sound. Clint instantly wants more of it. "Tell me something about you, then," Phil says easily.

Clint blinks. Well, fuck.

"Um," he says.

Phil almost looks smug for a brief moment. "Yeah," he says, sounding vaguely satisfied. "I'm not big on sharing, either."

Clint thinks about Phil's hand on his wrist and says, "But you told me about Syracuse?"

Phil takes a long swallow of his beer, and for a moment Clint wonders if he's upset Phil again. But when Phil puts the glass down, he smiles again. It's tentative and raw, but it's still a smile. "I guess you're just that special," he says.

The weight of the revelation isn't lost on Clint, and something twists in his chest again. For a moment it's right there, on the tip of his tongue, I'm an angel, except, of course--that would be insane and Phil would never believe him and--just no.

"I'm a janitor," Clint blurts out.

It's not a total lie; he was one. Once upon a time.

It sounds like such an insignificant detail, and Clint's not sure how to convey that it's really not. Saying the words out loud is an uncomfortable reminder of what once was, but he can't help feeling like Phil gave him something. He deserves something in return.

Clint still remembers walking through empty hallways late at night, the comforting back and forth sweep of his mop. The memories have gone slightly hazy around the edge, but they're there. Clint doesn't really like digging them up and examining them too hard. That was then and this is now, and dwelling on the past is largely useless. It was so long ago, anyway.

It feels, at times, as he's never been anything but an angel.

Phil regards him for a long moment, and Clint expects the opening he's provided him with to lead to more questions, normal questions for any two people getting to know each other. They never come, though. Clint doesn't know what his face looks like, but Phil must see something there, because in the end he just nods at him and sips his beer.

*

They shuffle down the hallway later that night, slightly drunk and closer than before.

"Well," Phil says, when they come to a stop between their doors. Clint gets the distinct feeling that Phil is about to say something significant, but Phil doesn't say anything else; just stands there in silence. The moment stretches on.

The tight feeling in Clint's chest is almost like disappointment, and he realizes suddenly how close they're standing. Closer, certainly, than Phil's ever let him.

His wings unfold on instinct, wrapping loosely around Phil but not touching him, and Clint momentarily has the absurd idea that he wishes he could shield Phil from whatever nightmares might be waiting for him in his sleep. It only lasts for a couple of seconds, and then Phil's taking a step back, getting his keys out of his pocket, and unlocking his door, still half-facing Clint.

"Well," he says again. "Goodnight, Clint."

Clint manages a tight smile, wondering when he started caring about Phil, if it happened after his first Contact, or even before that.

"Goodnight, Phil," he says, and it's not until he's in his own apartment that he realizes he didn't actually achieve Contact this time.

*

"So, uh, funny story," Clint says to Michael, rubbing his neck as he hands over the clipboard with his free hand.

"Ah," says Michael, and Clint wants to strangle him. Not that it'd do any good, but it might make Clint feel better.

"What the actual fuck?" says Tony, choosing that moment--because Tony has magnificent timing like that--to walk into the room.

Clint's wings flap out nearly on instinct, trying to keep Tony away and block his line of sight.

"No, no, no," Tony says from behind Clint's feathers. "I want to see! I want to see!"

"Good luck out there, sport," says Michael, as he hands the clipboard back.

"Sport?!" Clint sputters, and Tony uses his indignation to his advantage, darting past Clint's wings and immediately making a grab for the clipboard.

"Get the fuck off," Clint protests, trying to head towards a seat, but Tony's ridiculously strong--fucking Guardians, man--and within seconds he's got Clint's clipboard out of his hands, ignoring the heavy sigh coming from Michael's direction.

"This guy again?" It's not a shriek. Tony Stark doesn't shriek. But his voice has definitely taken on a high-pitched quality, and his mouth is doing a really complicated thing, like he can't decide whether to drop his jaw to his chest or grin widely.

"Fuck you," Clint mutters, snatching his clipboard back. This time, Tony lets him.

When Natasha, Bucky and Wade arrive a few minutes later and see the clipboard in Clint's hands, they all raise eyebrows at him. Wade makes a face, obnoxiously obvious even underneath the mask--and how the hell does he do that?--but thankfully none of them say anything about it.

*

Clint's just wrapping up his last assignment for the day when it starts snowing. It's early enough in the season that it probably won't stick, but Clint still stops, right in the middle of the sidewalk, tilts his head back, and resists the temptation to stick his tongue out like a little kid. Breathing deeply, he spreads his wings and just feels for a little--until a surly New Yorker knocks into him.

"Tourist," the man mutters, and Clint sighs and keeps walking.

*

Clint picks up two triple-shot peppermint mochas on his way home, and the barista looks on with trepidation as he immediately downs half of the first in one go. Clint doesn't even care; he loves peppermint mochas and he's far too cheap to consistently buy them off-season. He's also long since perfected the art of consuming scalding hot beverages without so much as blinking--though it could also be that he's just damaged all his nerve endings, who knows?--and between the caffeine and the snow, Clint's feeling remarkably happy.

As soon as he's able to, he Blinks into the lobby and then trudges up to his apartment, one to-go cup in each hand and his mail tucked safely underneath one arm.

Once he's at his door, he manages to juggle everything he's carrying enough so that he can get his keys out. The mail gets unceremoniously dumped on the floor just inside, and Clint's about to turn and kick the door shut, when Phil's door opens.

"I thought I heard you out here," Phil says.

Clint freezes, staring.

Looking down at himself, Phil's entire face goes crimson. "Oh. Yeah. It's the warmest sweater i've got, I normally only wear it at home."

He's wearing the gaudiest Christmas sweater Clint's ever seen. It's red, white and green, with little Christmas trees and snowflakes patterned all over. There's a sheep on the front, next to a larger Christmas tree, with a speech bubble that says "Fleece Navidad." The sheep's wool is made from some kind of cotton that actually sticks out from the fabric.

Clint's speechless. He doesn't even know what to say or how to react to this.

"Did you--did you know I was home?" Phil asks, smiling a little.

"Huh?" Clint says intelligently, still trying to process the sight of that sweater--the sweater that Phil's actually wearing!

"Is that for me?" Phil asks, gesturing vaguely to one of the cups in Clint's hands.

That snaps Clint out of his stupor, and he looks down at the cups. "Well," he says, and for a brief moment has the intense urge to tell Phil to fuck off, because his coffee dammit--but then he holds out the still-full cup. "Yeah, sure," he lies. "Though be warned, it's a triple shot."

"It's okay," Phil says. "I don't sleep much anyway."

It's said in a lighthearted tone, like it's no big deal, but it suddenly slams into Clint that he still has an assignment.

"Why don't you come over?" Clint suggests as he hands the cup over, and--damn, narrowly missing Contact. "We'll see what's on TV, order something?"

"Pizza again?" Phil asks with a smile, but he's already closing the door behind him and moving into Clint's apartment.

"If you want," Clint says, "or something else. I'm not picky. Whatever you want."

Phil glances around Clint's sparsely decorated apartment, and for a moment Clint feels naked as he realizes he's got a person in his home for--probably the first time ever? Or at the very least since he's been on the job.

"I've been having a hankering for sushi," Phil suggests carefully.

"I take it back, nothing raw," Clint says, kicking the door shut and leading Phil to the couch. "How is it you manage to zero in on like, the only thing on planet earth that I find is a culinary affront to God?"

Phil's eyes twinkle as he sits down next to Clint. "Clearly you just have no taste," he says, and then immediately changes his mind as he sips his coffee. "Actually, this is really good. Let's just have coffee for dinner."

Clint laughs as he turns on the TV, and even though he knows he's supposed to, he can't bring himself to worry about Contact.

*

They end up ordering Indian, and Clint doesn't even say anything when Phil steals Biryani straight off his plate. When they say good night, Phil pauses briefly by the door to put a hand on Clint's arm, and Clint, who's pushed his sleeves up to his elbows, is slightly surprised by the touch. It's completely out of the blue, and it should feel awkward, but it doesn't. It just feels--nice.

Phil's palm is warm and just a little dry, with some interesting calluses. Gun calluses, Clint thinks. His touch is light and tickles the hair dusting Clint's forearm.

"Thanks," Phil says, and Clint looks at his gaudy--seriously, just awful--Christmas sweater and wonders if he really seems a little bit happier, a little bit more--unburdened--or if it's just wishful thinking from so many assignments.

"It was nice," Clint says, and pushes Strength into Phil's palm, tucks it away there for safekeeping.

Phil smiles, and Clint's wings puff up behind him.

*

The next morning, the first holiday assignments go out.

"Oh goody!" says Wade gleefully.

Holiday assignments are always met with a wide range of emotions in the New York City division. Bucky just shrugs a little, while Natasha sighs heavily. The angels from Administration let out quiet groans of despair. And everyone knows that it was around Christmas that Tony almost lost his wings, so they all make valiant efforts at not looking to the back of the room, where Tony goes deathly still. Beside him, Steve silently places a hand on his back, right at the root of his wings.

Clint looks at his clipboard, at all the names staring back up at him, and for the first time in longer than he can remember, he doesn't think, What a waste. Holiday assignments always consists of a lot of Strength, Patience, Courage, and Happiness. The majority of the people Clint makes Contact with probably won't keep their Christmas cheer for very long--most seem to lose it completely by New Year's--but somehow, this year, that thought doesn't depress Clint.

"I think someone drugged me," he murmurs to Natasha.

"Oh?"

"I'm feeling optimistic about the holiday assignments."

She smiles and looks scary delighted. "Clint, are you telling me you're not going to be a glum shithead this Christmas?"

"No," he answers sullenly. "Shut up. Go away. This is awful."

"And his heart grew three sizes that day!" Bucky says with a smirk.

Clint starts plotting out his route for the day in his head, and briefly wonders why he's suddenly developed a minor sense of holiday cheer. He refuses to think too closely about it though, because if he does he'll end up thinking about army jackets and Christmas sweaters, gun callouses brushing over his skin.

*

Clint's good mood just keeps freakin' increasing as the day goes on. It's really getting ridiculous. He gives Happiness to an aging blond man out for a walk in Central Park, making Contact by simply "accidentally" bumping into him lightly, and Clint swears he can see the man's face clear up and his lips curve into a slight smile as he walks away. Clint knows that's not really how it works, but he still feels an unexpected rush of, I did that! however untrue it might be.

His good mood lasts all the way until he's jogging up the stairs in his building, having chosen to walk rather than Blink. The snow is still falling, actually settling on the ground, and Clint happily shakes big, fat snowflakes from his wings as he goes. When he reaches the last landing before the top floor, however, he comes to a sudden stop, good mood evaporating in an instant.

Phil's sitting on the top step, looking--broken.

"Phil?" Clint asks carefully.

Phil's wearing his army jacket, but his hat and gloves are missing. His hands are dangling between his knees as he leans on his elbows. His head is bowed slightly, and his eyes, staring blankly at nothing, move upwards when Clint calls his name.

"Clint?" he says, sounding almost confused.

"What's wrong?" Clint asks, not daring to move from his spot on the landing.

Phil looks dazed. "I--I was waiting for you."

Clint frowns. "Waiting for me?"

Phil nods then, slowly coming out of whatever zone he'd been in. "I wanted to see you."

Clint doesn't know how to interpret that. Instead he gestures to the step next to Phil. "All right. That's cool. I like hanging out with you, you know that. Is it okay if I sit down next to you?"

Phil's entire body is tense, drawn tight and taut like a bowstring, and Clint doesn't know much about PTSD, but he does know that sometimes people have flashbacks. He doesn't want to cause Phil any more anxiety or pain.

Phil just says, "That's fine," and his voice is even, at least. It doesn't tremble, and he doesn't hesitate, so Clint takes the last few steps two at a time, not too fast, before sitting down next to Phil.

The stairwell is cramped enough that their knees bump together, but Phil doesn't seem to mind. Again, Clint marvels at how close he's able to get to Phil now. He remembers the way Phil used to twitch away from him, and it seems like a lifetime ago rather than just a few weeks.

They sit in silence for a while before Clint asks gently, "What's really going on, Phil?"

Phil takes a deep breath, and now his voice does tremble. "Nothing happened, just--rough therapy appointment."

A few more pieces of the Phil-puzzle fall into place in Clint's mind. It's tempting to ask more about it, but Clint doesn't. If Phil wants to share more, he will, but as it is Clint's fairly certain he already knows a lot more about Phil Coulson than anyone else does, even Maria Hill, probably--and he's happy with that.

"At least it's progress," Phil says, but his voice isn't trembling anymore and there's a hint of a smile on his lips.

"Mazel tov," says Clint, and pretends he doesn't intentionally wrap his wing around Phil again, as if shielding him from whatever.

"I don't think that's the right expression in this context," Phil says.

"Psht, details," Clint says, starting to wave his hand dismissively and then instead ending up fidgeting with a loose thread at his knee; an attempt not to startle Phil with any major movements.

"It means 'Good luck,' I think," Phil says.

"I know what it means," Clint says defensively, and Phil levels him with a skeptical look. "All right, I didn't, but I do now," Clint admits.

"Not a religious man?" Phil asks, but he doesn't sound judgmental, just curious.

"Not a Jewish man," Clint says and doesn't clarify. Not a man, either, if he wants to get really technical about it, but he can't tell Phil that.

They sit in silence for a while before Phil says, out of the blue, "I was raised Catholic."

Clint leans his head on the stair railing and looks at Phil, patiently waiting for him to continue.

"It didn't take," Phil says eventually, with a slightly wry grin.

"It's good to see you smiling," Clint says.

"It's good to see you smiling," Phil says back, and Clint is startled to realize that yes, he is indeed actually smiling. When did that happen?

"So, wanna talk about it?" Clint asks, because he's not sure he'll be worth a damn as a listener, and he's even less sure Phil actually does want to talk about it, but he figures at the very least offering is something that friends do.

That thought gives him pause again, because--yes, they are friends, now. And isn't that just absolutely ridiculous?

"I really, really do not," Phil says. "That's why I have a therapist in the first place. So that I have someone to talk about all this crap with."

Clint doesn't even try to hide the fact that he's relieved. "Oh, good," he says, then adds, "though for the record, if you ever do want to, I'd be happy to listen for the same rate as your current shrink charges."

Phil laughs at that. It's a small laugh, barely more than a little rumble in his chest, but it's there.

"I'll keep that in mind," he says.

"Or, hey, I'll even give you a good deal," Clint says, hoping for more of that laugh. "I'll lower my rates, just for you."

"I feel like you're only in this for the money," Phil says, but his tone is light and teasing.

"Is there ever any other reasons to do anything at all?" Clint asks with a lopsided grin and a slight What can ya do? shrug. "Yay capitalism! Down with empathy!"

Phil says, "Ah, yes. Caring about other people is overrated, after all."

"It's terrible," Clint agrees. "Everyone should stop immediately."

"I'd like to kiss you," Phil blurts out.

Clint freezes and blinks. He's not sure he heard that right.

Next to him, Phil's gone beet red, redder than ever before, and he's averted his eyes to stare pretty hard at his hands again.

"Um," says Clint.

The moment stretches on and the silence grows uncomfortable between them, until Phil finally clears his throat and moves as if he's standing up. "Okay," Phil says, and--shit, he's leaving!

"Wait!" Clint says quickly, a little bit louder than he'd intended. It's a miracle he manages to remember that Phil doesn't like sudden and unexpected movements or touches, because his hand was this close to darting out and physically holding Phil in place.

Luckily, he remembers and doesn't actually give Phil anxiety. Phil, for his part, doesn't get up, but instead has gone stock still next to Clint. His eyes are still fixed downwards.

"Did you--" Clint breathes, then says, "I mean--yes."

A muscle jumps in Phil's neck.

"Yes," Clint says again, and he's shocked at how breathless he sounds. "Yeah. That's--that's okay. It's--more than okay, I mean, I'd like that too." He takes a moment to collect himself, and then says, "I'd very much like it if you kissed me, Phil."

Phil's head snaps up then, a stunned look on his face. "Oh," he breathes. "Oh."

Clint looks at Phil, looks at his lips, and waits. And waits. After a few seconds, when Phil still hasn't moved, Clint decides to take matters into his own hands, and--pulse rushing in his ears--he leans in and gently presses his lips against Phil's.

"Oh," Phil says again, a murmur against Clint's mouth, and then he just--melts into the kiss.

It's a sweet kiss. Phil's lips are warm, whereas Clint still carries the chill from outdoors with him. Phil, who seems to have finally gotten with the program, gently deepens the kiss before his tongue darts in to barely lick across Clint's bottom lip. It's a ridiculous scenario, sitting in the stairwell and kissing like teenagers, but something bubbles in Clint's chest, and it takes him several moments to realize it's happiness.

When they finally break apart, Phil's got a smile on his face that Clint hasn't seen before, and it's only when Phil's eyes flicker down to Clint's mouth that Clint realizes he's got what's undoubtedly an equally goofy grin on his own face. At the same time, he becomes acutely aware of the rock hard erection in his pants that apparently came out of nowhere.

"Hi," Clint says, because his brain blanks out on everything else.

"Hi," Phil says back, voice rough and tinged with happiness.

Reaching over to take his hand, Phil laces their fingers together. He puts his other hand on top of Clint's and runs his fingers lightly all across the skin there. "Thanks," he says.

"For the kiss?" Clint asks, but it's getting hard to concentrate, the way Phil's fingers are caressing him.

Phil just shrugs and doesn't expand on the topic.

"So," Clint says, "I, uh--I don't…" There's no graceful way to say this. "Would it be too forward of me to ask if you--"

"Yes," Phil says in a rush.

Clint's wings flutter and quiver behind him.

*

The distance to their doors is short, yet they seem to take forever to get there, stopping every few feet to kiss again. Each time their lips meet, the kisses grow deeper, until they're making out against the wall next to Clint's door, crotches tentatively pressing together. There's a hilarious moment where they break apart only for Phil to start unlocking his door and Clint to start unlocking his, before Phil makes a gesture and stuffs his keys back in his pocket.

"No, no, fuck this, let's go to yours," he says, because Clint's already turned his key. He manages to get the door open, and then Phil's on him again. They stumble into the apartment, Clint barely remembering to slam the door shut behind them.

There's a part of Clint that quietly vows to never ever tell anyone the details about this, ever. Not that there was a great chance of that to begin with; he doesn't kiss and tell like some angels--Tony, he means Tony--do. But the fact that they're dropping clothes as they go, in a neat line from the front door all the way into Clint's bedroom, lips locked, hands roaming? That's terrible. It's like every bad romcom he's ever watched.

(Not that Clint watches a lot of bad romcoms, okay? It's just that they're on late at night and what else is he doing with his spare time? Not much. And that thought is mildly depressing, and completely out of place when he's got a nearly naked Phil right there! Kissing him!)

Forcing all distracting thoughts from his mind turns out to not be so difficult, when Phil takes a step back and pull down his boxers. Clint's mind goes blank and all he can focus on is Phil. Naked Phil. A light smattering of hair on his chest, surprisingly (sorry, but who would have thought he was hiding that underneath his army jacket and gaudy Christmas sweater?) toned abs, muscular arms and legs, and a cock that makes Clint's mouth water.

"You okay?" Phil asks, with a smile that looks distinctly amused.

"Shut up," Clint says. His wings dart out to fold around Phil, the desire to make them solid and firm and pull Phil to him overwhelming. Clint only remembers at the last second that humans tend to freak out when invisible forces pull at them, so he reaches out with his hands instead, grabbing Phil's wrists. This time, Phil doesn't so much as twitch.

Pulling Phil close to him again, Clint mouths at the side of Phil's neck, his shoulder, his collarbone. Phil's arms wrap around him and squeeze him tight, hands running across Clint's back. He shivers and can't contain his groan when Phil unknowingly strokes across where the wings attach, and his cock twitches violently.

"Erogenous zone?" Phil asks, and the bastard even sounds amused now.

"Something like that," Clint breathes, and then has to briefly let go of Phil so he can get his own boxers down and off, because for one thing, he's leaking so much precome that they've gotten uncomfortable, and for another, they'd probably get in the way during sex. Probably.

"Will you kick my ass again if I throw you onto the bed?" Clint murmurs against Phil's skin, then groans again as their cocks line up between them. His hips move forward in an involuntary grind, and his eyelids briefly flutter shut when Phil matches his thrust.

"Again?" Phil asks. Smug bastard.

In response, Clint puts his palms against Phil's chest and pushes, and then laughs when Phil falls backwards, bouncing lightly on the mattress.

"I'm tempted to make a bad joke," Phil says. "How about, 'I won't kick your ass, but I'll do other stuff to your ass?'"

Laughing, Clint crawls on top of Phil and bends down to kiss his hip. "That's terrible," he says. "Good thing you didn't actually say it."

"Good thing," Phil agrees, and then gasps as Clint bends down further and sucks the head of Phil's cock into his mouth. After that, neither of them say anything at all for a while.

*

Every hesitation Clint's ever seen in Phil's movements, every twitch of his fingers or nervous tick, seems to melt away between Clint's sheets. Phil's hands are steady and strong, growing stronger still as they run over Clint's body. His fingers stroke down Clint's forearms, and Clint throws his head back and groans.

Sucking one dusky nipple into his mouth, Phil thrusts into Clint's body and Clint can feel him smile at the shudder that earns him.

There are words bubbling in Clint's throat, but he can't vocalize them, as much as he wants to. They haven't said a word since Phil's terrible joke.

Phil's cock is hard and slick, and the slow burn of him sliding in and out of Clint makes it difficult to draw air into his lungs.

"Phil," Clint says, breath hitching as Phil finds a particularly good angle. "Phil, I--"

He doesn't know how to finish that sentence.

Phil just nods, his head bowing as he thrusts harder. Clint thinks about Phil, their first meeting, the way Phil had twitched away from him later on, and then Phil's hand on Clint's wrist even later than that--and Clint can't achieve Contact outside of an assignment, but he thinks he would do anything in order to be able to right now.

Clint's wings have been fanned out on the bed, a wide display on each side of Clint's body. With each thrust, Clint's back rubs against the sheets and that area, the one between his shoulder blades where the wings connect, is raw and brilliant, sending sparks all the way down into his toes. His wings flutter.

Clint's sure he would make quite a picture, splayed out naked with his wings fanned out, if Phil could only see them. Again, the temptation to let him see is strong, but Clint reminds himself that never ends well--plus it's against regulations. So instead, he brings them up and folds them around both their bodies.

"I got you," Clint whispers.

If Phil is confused, he doesn't show it. Dipping his head down for another kiss, Phil breathes into Clint's mouth and just says, "I know." It's so cheesy, yet Clint's heart surges.

Forget the romcom.

This is a fucking Lifetime movie.

Clint's okay with that.

*

Afterwards, Clint wants a cigarette. He hasn't had a cigarette in years, but he feels like he needs one right now. The burn. The heavy pressure on his lungs. The nicotine. (And hey, it's not like he can get lung cancer.) Clint looks up at the ceiling and feels pretty good about everything.

Next to him, Phil's tying off the condom and wiping lube off his thigh with a corner of Clint's sheet. Clint's come is on his stomach, but he's either missed it or he doesn't want to get Clint's sheets quite that messy. Either way, it makes Clint smile, and he leans over the side of the bed. Coming up with the towel from his morning shower, Clint throws it at Phil.

Phil just nods gratefully. After he's done cleaning himself up and has gotten rid of the condom, he flops back down next to Clint.

"So," Phil says, smiling. "What do you wanna do tomorrow night?"

Clint smacks his pillow into Phil's face and then they're kissing and kissing and kissing.

*

It should be complicated and shitty, dating a human.

It's--surprisingly easy.

Clint gets up in the morning and goes to the office. He spreads holiday cheer and strength and courage and patience--Natasha is starting to side-eye him. In the evenings, he goes home, and since they live across the hall from each other, he sees Phil every day. It's ridiculous. Clint's ass is starting to chafe, but it's totally worth it.

Phil fucks him in bed, out of bed, on the bedroom floor, on the couch, and one very memorable time on top of Clint's rickety, old kitchen table.

"You're fuckin' spry, for an old man," Clint teases, though it takes significant effort to find his voice right then, since he's got Phil's cock in his ass and Phil's hand wrapped around his cock and everything is just--really fantastic.

"I'll show you old," Phil growls, and he tightens his grip on Clint's dick, and Clint can't do anything but hang onto the edge of the table for dear life.

The next morning, Clint's got hickeys and bite marks all over his torso. One bruise in particular, which Phil had sucked into the skin over Clint's collarbone right as he came, dick twitching in Clint's ass, is peeking out over the edge of his shirt.

Bucky smirks and gives Clint a high five. Wade Blinks away, and when he returns he's got an actual form for Clint to fill out, with fields ranging from "Name and age of your lover," to "Size of his cock, root to tip," as well as, "Circumference of his wrist." (Yeah, Clint's not sure about that last one, either.) Clint just hands him back the form without a word, ignoring Wade's epic pout.

Natasha narrows her eyes at him and says, "I have opinions about this."

"I'm sure you do," Clint says. He doesn't give a shit. He likes Phil, is the thing! Phil's fun to hang out with, he watches Dog Cops, and he doesn't like people either, as a general rule--and Clint likes knowing that he's provided him with Strength. Clint likes getting to know Phil, and seeing what kind of person he was sent to help.

"I just hope you know what you're doing," Natasha warns.

Clint scoffs. He's just having some fun, right? Of course he knows what he's doing.

*

When Clint walks into the morning briefing the next day, he's surprised to find several of the Warriors and a Herald lined up behind Michael on the dais. The room is crowded--much more so than usual--and the only reason he finds the Reapers is because Natasha's hair and Wade's mask are like beacons in the sea of faces.

Frowning, he makes his way to them and sits down on the seat they've saved for him by leaning a scythe against it.

"The hell is going on?"

Natasha shrugs. "Beats me. They've called in representatives from most of the departments, though. Even Fury got a summon."

Clint's eyebrows climb up. "Fury did?" Natasha nods in confirmation. "Where is he?"

Bucky grins. "Probably sitting at home, laughing at the fact that they thought they could summon him to a morning briefing?"

Clint has to admit that yes, that makes sense. Looking around, he sees that there's department heads present from all the major departments, though, and even some from the smaller sections. Tony is looking uncharacteristically serious (which is still not all that serious), and next to him--is Steve standing at fucking attention?

"Good morning, angels," Michael says somberly. "As you're all aware, today's briefing is a little unusual. I'm afraid that the problem with office supply theft is still ongoing, but some new revelations has recently come to light. Unless the perpetrators are caught, we'll be forced to take action. I'm sure nobody wants to get the CEO involved, right?"

Michael's tone is not threatening, but it's a threat nonetheless. There's something in his eyes, and for a brief moment the entire room feels why Michael is one of the CEO's Most Beloved.

Natasha frowns next to Clint and subtly leans towards him. "All this hoopla over office supply theft?"

"Sir, if you don't mind me asking--what exactly was taken?" Simmons asks, with an actual, honest-to-God hand in the air.

Michael's look grows darker.

"Ink," he says.

Immediately, the room at large explodes with hushed gasps and shocked whispers. Next to Clint, Natasha has gone very, very still. On his other side, the handle of Wade's scythe thumps dully to the floor. For once, he too is silent.

"We mistakenly believed it to be a simple theft of stamps and paper," Michael explains, "but it's now been brought to our attention that it might have been a diversionary tactic to cover up for the real theft. Ink."

"Whose ink," Natasha whispers, as if she's unable to really find her voice.

"Whose ink?" Steve asks loudly, clearly not having any such issue, and the crowd's murmur quiets. Steve has that effect on people.

Looking back at the Warriors, Michael takes a step aside with a Please, go ahead gesture, and Thor steps forward.

"Both the noble Raphael and Uriel are missing ink from their personal stores," Thor says, and dude looks seriously pissed off. For good reason, Clint thinks numbly. He feels like he's had the breath knocked out of him. Rafe and Uri. Clint gets his assignments from Rafe, but he's not worried. There's no reason anybody would fuck with his assignments. However...

"Who do you guys get your assignments from?" Clint whispers, something cold creeping into his stomach.

None of the Reapers speak for several seconds. "Uri," Natasha says finally, confirming what Clint already knew.

"Uri," Bucky breathes.

"Rafe," says Wade, and his voice sounds uncharacteristically meek.

"That's not good," Clint says.

"No," Natasha agrees. "It's not."

"Departments at risk will kindly check their clipboards on the way out," Michael says gravely. "If the thief is not apprehended, and we find foul play, we will have to call in the CEO, you understand. Until further notice, no clipboard from departments at risk will leave this room unexamined."

Natasha's eyes are dark and blank. They all know the Reapers are the ones at highest risk. The Guardians, Administration, and Personnel are close seconds, but honestly, if a Reaper clipboard has been tampered with… Clint doesn't want to finish that thought.

Next to him, Wade bows his head and prays. It's not the weirdest thing Clint's ever witnessed, but it's close.

*

Clint meets Phil at what's now become their regular bar after work, and plops down on the barstool next to him with a big sigh.

"Long day at work?" Phil asks.

"You have no idea," Clint says, shaking snow off his sleeves and wings. Maria puts a Guinness in front of him, and Clint considers marrying her. "How was your day?"

"Better now," Phil says with a smile.

Clint puts his head down on the bar and groans. "You can't say shit like that. That's not allowed," Clint decides.

Phil makes a snuffling sound. "Sorry. I can be cheesy."

Maria snorts behind the bar.

"Not a word," Phil warns her.

"His nickname in our squadron--" Maria says, and Clint lifts his head instantly, suddenly interested.

"Shhh," Phil says, but he's still smiling.

"--was Cheese," Maria finishes, and cackles.

Clint looks to Phil for confirmation and grins widely when Phil sighs good-naturedly and nods.

"Maria and I served together in Iraq," he says, and Clint marvels at receiving another piece of the puzzle that is Phil's life.

"Not just Iraq," Maria reminds him, but there's something soft in her expression now.

"No, but that was our longest tour," Phil says, before turning to Clint. He reaches out with a hand and takes Clint's, and some of the tension instantly leaves Clint's shoulders. It feels odd. Comforting in a way Clint's not used to. "So what's going on with you?"

Clint sighs as he tries to find the words, because it's the least he can do, after Phil's decided to share something about himself with Clint. "Eh," Clint says, shrugging. "Someone's been stealing shit at work and the bosses are making everyone tense over it. Everyone's getting shit, and it's--yeah. It's tense."

"That blows," Phil says sympathetically. "Are there no security cameras where you work?"

"They've been talking about installing them because of the thefts," Clint says, because talking about getting the CEO involved is basically the same thing, right?

"Well, I hope it works out for you," Phil says.

Clint drains half his beer in one go and then nods as he puts it back down on the bar. "Fuck, you and me both," he sighs.

When he looks up again, Phil's got a funny look on his face.

"What?"

Smile widening, Phil reaches up with one hand, carefully and slowly so Clint will see him coming, and wipes foam from Clint's upper lip. His other hand is still holding onto Clint's, fingers laced together.

"Oh," Clint says, suddenly breathless and rock hard in his pants.

Leaning in, Phil kisses Clint carefully, right there at the bar, licking the last traces of foam from his lip and then licking into his mouth. It's not a deep or particularly long kiss, but when Phil pulls away, Clint still feels breathless, like they've been kissing for hours.

"Take that shit elsewhere," Maria barks, jolting Clint out of his reverie. "PDA? Really?" She shakes her head. "I expected more from you, Phil."

She sounds intensely disappointed. Clint really likes her.

Phil for his part just grins widely, happier than Clint can ever recall seeing him, and stands up. "Come on," he tells Clint, tugging at his hand.

Clint looks at where Maria's already busy snarking at another customer, he looks at his half-full glass of Guinness, he looks at Phil, and he wonders how he got so lucky.

Phil tugs on his hand again. Clint goes willingly.

*

Clint wakes in the early morning hours before his alarm has a chance to go off. It's unusual--but then again, he's not used to sharing his bed with someone, and he's also got crusted bodily fluids of some sort stuck to his hip. Grimacing, Clint picks it off with a fingernail and tries to process his surroundings. A bleary look to his left confirms that Phil is still here, face mashed into Clint's pillow as he snores softly. It's kind of adorable and Clint's certain he would appreciate the sight a whole lot more if his brain was even remotely functional at the moment.

Sneaking out of bed, he shuffles into the kitchen and gets coffee started. He stands, half-dozing upright, by the counter while it brews, and then drinks straight from the pot, his mouth desensitized to the scalding hot liquid after however many years of doing this exact thing in the morning. Once he's got most of the pot in him, he's starting to feel more human (so to speak), and he thinks about how Phil's in his bed. No nightmares, no anxiety. Phil's in his bed, sleeping.

It's a wonderful thought.

The shadow of the ink theft at work still hangs over him, but it's hard to suppress the bubble of joy that's found its way into his chest and is threatening to overtake him. Putting the coffee pot down on the counter, Clint steps further into the living room and watches as dawn creeps in, light filtering in between the buildings of the city. There's snow on the ground and it looks like there might even be some sunlight today.

Clint's stretching butt-naked in the middle of the room, wings flapping happily and spreading out wide, when Phil walks in. Clint turns, happy and smiling, and is about to say something dirty, maybe suggest that they go another round, when he suddenly notices the absolute shocked look Phil's wearing, and the way all the blood's drained from his face.

"...what the fuck," says Phil. "What the fuck are those?"

And that's when Clint notices that Phil's eyes aren't zeroed on his face, they're following the motion of his wings, out to the side, up and down--

Clint's speechless. He can't move, can't breathe, can't think, because Phil's not supposed to be able to see his wings, no human has ever been able to see his wings!

"What the fuck," Phil says again, still rooted to the spot, before adding, "Clint," in this pleading, desperate, confused voice that fills Clint with dread.

"Um," says Clint--and Blinks.

*

"WHAT THE FUCK!" Wade screeches, and jumps about a mile.

"What the fuck!" screeches Bucky, and Clint has a brief moment of pure terror as he catches a glimpse of a scythe--but then the Reapers recognize him and Bucky lowers his weapon.

Looking around, Clint recognizes the elegant couch Wade is sprawled out across, the poker table next to where Bucky is standing, and he realizes that he's apparently Blinked into Natasha's quarters. Clint doesn't even want to think about what that says about him--that in a time of distress, he apparently goes straight to the Angels of Death. Ugh, his life.

"What the fuck," says Natasha, from where she's come storming out from the bedroom, scythe raised, with a surprised look that seems out of place on her face.

"There's a lot of that going around lately," Clint sighs. He covers his naked crotch with both hands and wonders how badly Phil is freaking out. He'd facepalm if he didn't think the Reapers had gotten quite enough of an eyeful already, so he keeps his hands where they are.

*

It doesn't take Clint more than fifteen minutes to tell the whole story to the Reapers, and even that is longer than it should take. In Clint's defense, he's somewhat distracted by the fact that a) apparently all three of the Reapers bunked at Natasha's that night, b) Wade's wearing big, green frog slippers, and c) Natasha's almost sitting in Bucky's lap. At least Natasha had found a blanket so he could cover up.

Clint huddles under the blanket, pulls it closer around his body, and solemnly sips the coffee Wade had provided him with. He's got a feeling he might need a lot of caffeine to get him through the day.

"Clint," Natasha says gently, uncharacteristically so. "You have to go back."

Clint sips his coffee again. "I don't want to," he mumbles.

"You're giving whole new meaning to the term Walk of Shame," Bucky says.

"Motion to rename it from the Walk of Shame to the I Got Laid Parade!" Wade exclaims cheerfully.

"Overruled," Natasha grits out, then turns back to Clint to put a hand on his shoulder. It's probably supposed to be comforting, but Clint shudders anyway, wings quivering under the blanket. "It means something," she says.

"I know it means something," Clint snaps, then sighs, instantly regretting it. Natasha hasn't done anything to deserve his annoyance. "It's just… it's probably not anything good," he confesses.

"All the more reason to figure out what's going on," Natasha says. "Would you like one of us to come with you?"

Clint twitches violently, he can't help it, at the idea of one of the Reaper's scythes coming near his Phil.

His Phil.

Clint wants to put his head down and cry. He doesn't.

"I can handle myself," he says instead, but he knows the statement lacks any real heat, the trademark Barton stubbornness and snark temporarily out of commission.

"Go see that you do," Natasha says, and this time it's a warning.

Clint sighs again. Sips his coffee again. Sets the cup down on the table and gives Wade a grateful look; the man might be batshit crazy, but he knows how to make a good cup of joe.

"Thanks, guys," Clint says, though he's not entirely certain he means it. It's hard to tell.

"I want that blanket back," Natasha says.

Clint nods, and then Blinks back to his apartment.

*

The living room is empty.

"Phil?" Clint calls carefully. There's no answer.

A quick glance into the kitchen confirms it's empty as well, and Clint has a sudden fear that maybe Phil had run away screaming. But when Clint walks into his bedroom, he finds Phil sitting in his bed, covers wrapped around him, looking at Clint with wide open eyes. His face looks absolutely stricken.

"Hey, Phil," Clint greets warily.

Phil's eyes dart to Clint's wings and follow their motions again. It's making Clint terribly self-conscious and he pulls Natasha's blanket around himself, covers them up and tries to hide them.

For long moments, they remain at an impasse, Phil staring at Clint from the bed, and Clint staring at Phil from the doorway. Finally, Clint takes a careful step towards Phil.

Phil flinches.

Clint pretends it doesn't hurt (because dammit, it's only been a few weeks since Phil flinched from him, it shouldn't feel like such a huge step backwards), but it really does. It hurts a whole lot.

"I guess we should talk," Clint says.

"Am I tripping on something?" Phil asks.

Clint blinks. "What?"

"Am I tripping on something? Am I high? Am I hallucinating, or did you seriously just fucking sprout wings and disappear?"

Clint's eyebrows go up and he exhales noisily, trying to find the right words to explain this. "Well, I didn't just sprout wings, I've, uh, I've had them for a while," he says, and maybe that's the wrong thing to say because Phil squeezes his eyes shut for a moment and makes a pained sound at the back of his throat.

"This is it," Phil says, shaking his head in disbelief. "I've gone crazy. Just like my shrinks warned me."

"You haven't gone crazy," Clint reassures him, them, "--wait, warned you?"

Phil waves his hand dismissively. "There was a--some of them have been worried that--you know what, we're not talking about me right now, okay? If I'm not crazy and not hallucinating, that means you have wings and also disappeared magically, which is impossible! I mean, what the fuck is that about?"

Clint winces and takes another step closer to the bed. Phil doesn't flinch this time, and Clint feels inexplicably relieved.

"Um," he says, "I'm an angel?" It sounds like a question, but it's really not.

Phil stares blankly at him.

Clint tries a careful smile, though--again--he suspects he only ends up looking deranged. "An angel of the Lord?" he tries again. "You know, messenger of God, hallelujah, the whole shebang?"

Phil stares blankly for several more seconds. "An angel of the Lord," he says blandly.

"That's me." Clint goes for lighthearted and probably misses by about a mile.

Phil blinks at him several times, before he suddenly curls forward and pulls the covers all the way over himself. "Wha--?" Clint starts asking, but then he can hear Phil's voice, muffled under the covers.

"An angel," Phil says. "Of course, an angel of the Lord, like that's no big deal, of course you're a fucking angel. I just fucking defiled an angel of the Lord, I just had sex with an angel of the Lord, I just committed sodomy with an angel of the fucking Lord--"

"I really wish you'd stop saying 'Lord,'" Clint says with a wince.

Phil emerges from his cocoon. "Did I defile you?" he asks, and he sounds on edge and very worried.

Clint frowns. "No, Phil. We have free will. We're not hatched from eggs. I can like dudes, the CEO doesn't mind."

Phil blows out a shaky breath. "The CEO. God. Right. There is a God. There's a God!"

"I think so, yeah," Clint says with a shrug. "At least I'm like 99% sure there is one, I mean, we never get to meet him, but all the mid-level management get our assignments from him and--"

"You're not even sure," Phil practically whimpers. "Even the angels are going on faith."

Sensing that this isn't going to lead anywhere good, Clint waves his hand dismissively. "Faith, complicated, you know what, it's a whole big thing, I can go over it later if you want, how are you doing, Phil?"

Phil shakes his head in shock. "I'm dreaming."

Clint makes a grimace that he hopes is apologetic. "Sorry," he says. "Not dreaming."

Phil takes a few deep breaths to calm himself, and then looks Clint right in the eye. "You swear, I'm not crazy? You're not fucking with me? This isn't some elaborate prank?" he asks, and he sounds so vulnerable and open that all the snark drains out of Clint. He remembers Phil carefully placing a hand on his wrist for that first Contact, and something warm wells up in his chest and takes a hold of him.

"Phil," Clint breathes, a lump growing in his throat as he crosses the last bit of distance to the bed and sits down on the edge. "Phil, I wouldn't do that to you."

Phil studies his face, and Clint wonders what he sees there. Then Phil's gaze shifts to the side, to Clint's shoulders. A hand tentatively emerges from the covers.

"Can I--can I--?" Phil asks, and it only takes a moment for Clint to catch on.

Nodding, because he doesn't trust his voice to carry right then, Clint watches Phil carefully as he reaches out, grabs the blanket, and pulls. It slides off Clint's shoulders and falls to the floor with hardly more than a whisper of fabric, and Clint stretches his wings out slowly, letting Phil track their movements.

Phil's eyes are wide and his mouth is hanging open a bit, and it's the most expressive Clint's ever seen him.

"Can I--?" he asks, and once again Clint nods. He folds his wings gently forward to put them in range of Phil's hand, and then Phil's touching him.

Clint's eyes flutter shut as Phil's fingers run across his feathers, just a hint of a touch at first, and then firmer.

"How is this possible," Phil whispers reverently, mostly to himself it seems.

Clint doesn't answer; he's busy enjoying the feeling of having his wings petted. He's not sure anyone's ever touched him like this, and he wants to cry when Phil's hands leave his wings. Opening his eyes, Clint tries to prevent his disappointment from showing on his face. The feathers feel cold and lonely all of a sudden, and Clint huddles his wings around his own body in a bid to comfort himself.

"Why can I see them?" Phil asks, eyes still on the wings. "Why now?"

Clint swallows then, because this is the difficult part.

"I don't know," he admits. "I could--I could speak to my supervisors. It might mean something. But it also might just be a glitch, I don't know. Sometimes the lines between our realities blur a little."

Phil looks like he's very interested but also has a headache brewing. "Stop," he says weakly, and Clint immediately closes his mouth.

Phil takes a deep breath and doesn't meet Clint's eyes.

"I think," he says, "I need some time."

Clint nods and shrugs, like it's no big deal, but the well of warmth in his chest has started to turn icy cold and sharp; jagged edges that cut into his lungs and make it hard to breathe. "Yeah, sure," Clint says. "No problem."

He's lying through his teeth.

"You know where to find me," he tells Phil a few minutes later when Phil, now dressed but still not looking Clint directly in the eye, heads across the hall to his own apartment.

"Bye, Clint," Phil mumbles.

Clint waits until Phil's door is closed behind him, before retreating back to his own apartment and rubbing both palms across his face.

"Well," he says with a sigh, slumping down on his couch. "That went...splendid."

*

The elevator ride up to the morning meeting seems to never end. Clint stares blankly at the elevator doors and wishes he could shut off his emotions and just go back to being cynical.

"Good morning, Clint," Michael greets him, pleasantly as always, even with the imposing presence of the Warriors behind him, and Clint's happy to see he's one of the first to arrive. It gives him ample time to talk to Michael.

"Hey, uh," Clint says, "I have a question. What does it mean if, if a human, a mortal--one of my assignments--could suddenly see me?"

Michael frowns a little. "I'm not sure I follow?"

Clint scuffs his boot against the floor. "As in, see my wings? When he hasn't been able to, before?"

Michael's frowns for a moment, brow furrowed in thought. "Well," he says carefully, "unless you broke regulation and showed him--

"I didn't," Clint says quickly, a little defensively. He's a good employee, and he's kind of hurt Michael would even entertain the thought.

"--then there could be a few reasons," Michael continues. "Do you know if he's slated for a Reaping?"

Something icy takes a hold of Clint's chest. "No. Why would that make him able to see my wings?"

"Sometimes," Michael says very carefully, "people in the Reaping pool gain--sensory hyperawareness. It actually causes a bit of an issue for Reapers sometimes."

"That can't be it," Clint says stubbornly, because he refuses to accept that's it. "What other reasons are there?"

Michael sighs and shrugs. "Glitches. Clairvoyance. Mutant abilities. There's so many things that could potentially--" He stops, an odd look on his face. "He wouldn't happen to be a Prophet, would he?"

Clint sighs. "No, he's not a Prophet."

Michael makes a thoughtful noise, and nods back at the Warriors. "Well, if you want, I can have Ward look into it for you? Hey, Ward!"

One of the Warriors turn towards them, and scowls.

Clint frowns. "He seems--nice."

Michael smiles widely, like Clint's just said something hilarious. "Oh, Ward? Don't you worry, he's a total kitten once you get to know him!"

"I'm not a kitten," Ward practically growls, and Clint's not sure, but he thinks Thor is laughing.

"Thanks," Clint says, "but I'll be fine. If it's anything alarming, I'll let you know."

"Of course," Michael says.

Clint takes a seat and tries hard to convince himself there's nothing to worry about. Phil's probably clairvoyant. That's it. He just doesn't know it yet.

There's nothing to worry about.

*

They go back to not greeting each other in the hallway.

It's awful and terrible and every time Clint sees Phil, Phil looks stressed and ashamed, like he wants to talk to or see Clint, but can't bring himself to do it. And Clint wants Phil to want to talk to him, but he's trying very hard to respect Phil's need for space, and the freaked-out look Phil's still carrying in his eyes goes a long way in helping him with that.

After the third day, Clint stops using the hallway entirely, and takes to Blinking directly in and out of his apartment. He tells himself it's easier this way, and doesn't smack his head into the wall a billion times, like he really wants to.

*

"You need a fuckin' hobby," Bucky complains on the fifth day.

"I need you to get off my fucking back," Clint bitches.

Natasha isn't unkind when she says, "He's right, Clint. Find something to take your mind off things, please."

Clint scowls and ignores her, and wonders what the fuck he's supposed to do.

Still, that night he goes out on a whim. He Blinks into an indoor range just outside the city, after it's shut down for the night. He's in luck, and finds a very complicated looking compound bow in the main office, probably belonging to one of the instructors--maybe even the manager of the place, Clint doesn't know.

For a while, he just sits at the end of one lane, bow in his lap, running his fingers over it and trying to clear his mind. He hasn't held a bow since way before he became an angel. When he finally does stand up and lift the bow, it feels weird in his hands. He never had anything this fancy back when he was still alive, and he doesn't know what some of the gadgets on the bow even do. Fortunately, he doesn't need to. He just nocks and draws.

The first arrow doesn't even make it to his target, the unfamiliar bow, the rusty muscles, the years without shooting all contributing to his spectacular fail. However, as soon as he lets the bowstring go, it's as if Clint's muscles wake up, memories buried deep under his skin making their presence known again, and something almost like excitement bubbles up in him.

The next arrow hits the bullseye.

He stays there for a long time, nocking and drawing, releasing arrow after arrow, and then retrieving them to start the cycle over again. It's a relief on him; his mind is blissfully blank, focused on nothing but the comforting rhythm of his movements and then whistle of each arrow flying towards the target.

By the time midnight rolls around, and Clint puts the bow back in its case and Blinks out, he doesn't necessarily feel much better, but his head does feel clearer.

The next morning, Bucky gives him a considering look and then quirks up a corner of his mouth, and Clint briefly entertains the notion of picking up archery again, for real this time.

*

Phil's name shows up on Clint's clipboard again a week before Christmas.

"Isn't that a conflict of interest now or something?" Bucky ponders, as his own clipboard lands in his lap.

"What is?" Tony asks, suddenly leaning in between Bucky and Clint's shoulders from the row behind them.

"Jesus fuck!" Bucky exclaims, startled.

Tony smirks. "Blasphemer."

"You're one to talk," Natasha mumbles.

"What's a conflict of interest?" Tony asks again.

"Go bother Steve," Clint mumbles, wondering if turning his clipboard over to hide it would be more or less obvious.

"Actually, I'm here because Steve's worried," Tony says. "You've been acting weird."

Clint frowns. "Steve? Worried? About me? Why doesn't he just talk to me himself?"

Tony shrugs. "I'm not his keeper. He didn't send me. He's just expressed--interest in your unusual behavior as of late, and I got curious."

Clint scowls, but since it's Tony it doesn't have much of an effect. "Is he Guarding me now?" Clint asks, and he knows he sounds grumpier than he means to.

"Can't he just be concerned for a friend?" Tony asks, and he sounds an awful lot like we.

Clint swallows heavily. "We're not friends," he says with finality.

If Tony has a retort for that, he doesn't voice it. Instead he just retreats quietly to the back of the room, and Clint pretends he doesn't feel the Reapers staring at him.

*

Clint goes to Maria's bar. The scathing look she gives him when he comes in makes it clear that Phil's at least told her something is wrong between them. Clint ignores it, though, as he sits down next to Phil and pretends he doesn't see the way Phil's shoulders tense up.

"Hey," Clint says quietly.

Phil looks straight ahead and doesn't answer.

"Phil, I--I just want to talk," Clint says.

"I think you want to leave," Maria says with determination in her voice.

"Phil," Clint says, and puts a hand on Phil's wrist.

"Hey!" Maria says angrily, but Phil doesn't pull away, and it's enough. Clint relishes in the Contact, closes his eyes briefly as he pushes the Strength in place under Phil's skin; its warmth, its goodness and perfection, flowing from his fingertips to Phil's skin, and he hopes it does something for Phil, that it won't go to waste.

"Please let go of me," Phil says quietly.

Pulling his hand back is like going from a good, warm place into darkness and cold. "Sorry," Clint says quietly.

"Clint," Phil says, a little hopelessly, voice barely above a whisper. "I just--this is a lot to take in, okay? I won't avoid you forever, I promise, I just…" He sighs and looks at Clint for the first time. "The universe suddenly got very big," he says.

Clint nods. He can understand that--or at least he tries to. "I'll talk to you later, okay?" he asks, but Phil's gone back to looking straight ahead and doesn't answer him. It's something, at least. Without another word, Clint gets off his barstool and glances at Maria, who's still scowling angrily at him, before leaving.

As he heads out the door, he hears Maria's voice, "Phil, what happened?"

Clint doesn't know what Phil will tell Maria, but he hopes it won't be a breakup story.

*

The morning of Christmas Eve, Natasha's clipboard lands in her lap and her entire face immediately goes pale.

"I'm not taking this assignment," she says loudly, standing up and interrupting Michael, who was in the middle of talking about holiday cheer.

"I, uh… I can have a look at it?" Michael offers. "After the meeting?"

"Tash, what the fuck?" Clint whispers, because Natasha has never outright refused an assignment before. Ever.

"No discussion," Natasha says to Michael, completely ignoring Clint. "I'm not taking it."

"Here," Bucky offers. "I'll trade ya."

"No trade!" Natasha says, and most of the room is looking at her now. "None of us are taking this assignment. It's fake."

Gasps are heard across the room, and Thor steps off the dais.

"Are you certain? Is this then the work of the thief?"

"It has to be," Natasha says, and hands over the clipboard.

Thor takes it, and looks down at where she's pointing. "White male, age range 30-55, at this address in Bed-Stuy, only top three floors applicable?"

Clint's blood runs cold. "White male?" he asks. "In Bed-Stuy?"

"Clint," Natasha warns, but he's already standing up, crowding closer to Thor than he otherwise would have dared, in order to look at Natasha's clipboard.

"That's my place," he says numbly.

"I know," Natasha says, and she tries to sound reassuring. "But it's fake, Clint. It has to be, okay? So don't freak out."

Thor is frowning. "I do not understand."

Clint can't take his eyes off Natasha's clipboard. "There's only two white males in that age range in the top three floors of my building," he explains. "And one of them is me."

Thor still looks confused. "Is this a problem?"

"I've been--it's one of my assignments, he's--it's just," Clint struggles to explain, before eventually settling on, "He's a repeat assignment. I just don't think he'd be up for a Reaping a week after I delivered more Strength."

"Wait," Thor says, looking thoughtful. "This is the same man you spoke of last week?" he asks. "The one who saw your wings?"

Well. Fuck.

Clint's eyes slide shut and he wants to scream at the world. Natasha sinks back into her seat as she too, realizes the implications.

"The Reaping pool glitch," Bucky says, because one of them should voice what they're all thinking. "That's why he could see your wings."

"But…" Wade pipes up, sounding more like a small child. "Ink theft," he whines. "Fake assignments. I don't want to kill Clint's boyfriend!"

Boyfriend, Clint thinks numbly.

"I shall have this verified," Thor says, voice somber, and when Clint opens his eyes again, Thor's looking directly at him, kind but serious. "You have my word, Clinton; I will not approve this assignment unless there's absolute certainty, do you understand?"

"I didn't know you Warriors cared this much," Clint says, trying for flippant and failing spectacularly.

"Does not a Warrior's heart feel love, in equal measure as any other angel?" Thor asks, and he might try to be sneaky about it, but nobody misses the way he glances across the room towards--Clint thinks they're Cherubs, and he thinks the woman looking back at Thor is named Jane. "Or a human's, for that matter," Thor adds. "I seek truth and justice, but I do not intentionally wish to cause distress where it can be avoided. So let me verify this, and try not to grieve before the battle is lost, dear Clinton."

Clint wishes Thor would stop calling him Clinton. "Sure," he says.

It seems like the whole room watches as Thor retreats with Natasha's clipboard to the other Warriors.

Clint can't look.

"Hey, uh," he says. He hasn't even checked his own assignments for the day. "I'm gonna," he says, and doesn't finish the sentence, just jerks his head towards the door. Carefully raising his eyes, he focuses on Natasha.

"Sure," she says. "Sure."

"Just, uh, do me a favor?" Clint asks. "If the assignment is--if this is--if the assignment is real…" Natasha looks like she wants to protest, but she doesn't say anything. "If this is real," Clint presses on, "I want you to be the one to do it. And I want it to be fast. Can you do that for me?"

It's an entirely unreasonably request. Reapers aren't strictly allowed to indulge the desires of other angels. Natasha doesn't nod, doesn't move a muscle, but still--Clint thinks she agrees.

Nodding at her, he flees the room. "Clint," Michael says as he passes, but Clint doesn't stop. He can't stomach waiting until Thor's evaluation is done.

*

The first place he goes is Phil's apartment. "Phil?" he calls, desperation tinging his voice as he bangs on the door, but there's nothing but silence from within.

Struggling with the morality of it for only a moment, Clint Blinks into Phil's apartment, making a harsh, involuntary noise at the back of his throat when he finds it empty.

Clint has absolutely no clue where to find Phil, and it occurs to him how little they really know about each other. Blinking down into the lobby, Clint heads out onto the streets and wonders if he can convince Heimdall to track Phil down for non-assignment related reasons. Even as the thought strikes him, though, he knows he won't be able to; hell will freeze over before Heimdall uses his gift of sight to track down non-assigned humans. Sighing, Clint goes to the only link he knows to Phil: Maria.

Predictably, she scowls at him when he enters, but Clint doesn't have time for it.

"Get out," she orders.

"Where is he?" he asks.

Maria points sternly at the door. "I don't know what the fuck happened and I don't care, but I want you out of my bar."

Clint puts both hands on the bar and looks pleadingly at her, trying to convey how important this is. "Please, Maria," he says. "Please. The dude lives across the hall from me, okay? I wouldn't be looking for him if it wasn't important, would I? I'd just wait till he came home and then knock on his fucking door!"

Something softens minutely in Maria's face, and Clint can tell she's considering it.

"Please," he says again.

Maria just looks at him for a long time, and Clint briefly considers actively trying to look more pathetic in the hope that she'll help him.

"Hey," a man says, approaching the bar, "can I get a--"

"Shut up, Delaney, I'm busy," Maria tells him without taking her eyes off Clint. Clint really likes her, and he really wants her to help him. She narrows her eyes and then sighs deeply.

"He works at a comic book store up in Williamsburg," she says, nodding her head a little. "8th and Roebling."

"Thank you," Clint says, gratitude flooding every part of his being.

"Don't make me regret this," Maria warns, scowl settling back in place.

Clint doesn't answer--can't--and instead just nods and leaves the bar. His feet have barely hit pavement before he Blinks to Williamsburg.

*

The comic book store on 8th and Roebling has big signs in front, declaring them to be holding very limited Christmas Eve opening hours, and for it to be the last chance for their Christmas sale. Clint looks at the signs and thinks that never in a million years would he have thought this would be where Phil was working.

Inside, there are comic books lining every wall, and several aisles. Action figures are on display in a case near the front, and behind the counter, Clint immediately spots Phil. He's standing next to a bald guy with glasses, sorting what looks like decks of trading cards. For a moment, Clint can't breathe, and he suddenly has a vivid sensory memory of his fingertips stroking across the rough skin of Phil's palm, of pushing warmth and light through his Contact, and he nearly chokes with the emotions that are bubbling in his chest.

His wings come up, fluttering and expanding behind him, feathers ruffling involuntarily, and the faint noise makes Phil look up.

For a moment, they're frozen, and Clint can't read the expression on Phil's face, but then Clint gathers his resolve and strides over to the counter.

"Phil," he says, and tries to keep his voice even.

A wary look is slowly spreading across Phil's face. "Hey," he says, carefully guarded.

"I--" Clint starts, and doesn't know how to continue. "Can we talk?"

Phil glances at his coworker, who's now looking at them both weirdly. "Uh, I'm working."

Bald Guy shrugs. "It's quiet, and we close at noon anyway, Phil. You can take off."

"I need to sort these," Phil says, holding up some sort of superhero trading cards, and it's so obviously a flimsy excuse. Clint feels a little bit bad for pushing, but there's an unsettled feeling at the pit of his stomach, and he can't let Phil out of his sight.

"It can wait till over Christmas," Bald Guy says with a shrug, looking from Phil to Clint and back again.

Phil doesn't look particularly grateful, but still says, "Thanks, Jasper."

"Can we go home?" Clint asks, without specifying which apartment he means. He's struggling to keep calm and knowing that the desperation he feels inside is dangerously close to pressing to the surface.

Maybe that's a good thing, because Phil finally looks at him, really looks at him, for what feels like the first time since before he could see Clint's wings, and nods. "Yeah," Phil says. "Okay."

*

It takes way too long getting home. Clint flags down a taxi, instead of Blinking them both, like he's tempted to. He doesn't want to freak Phil out more than necessary, though, and Phil's looking concerned enough as it is. The ride is made in silence, and it's not until they've trudged all the way upstairs and the door to Phil's apartment closes behind them, that either of them speak.

"So," Phil says, eyes darting back and forth, like he doesn't really want to stare at Clint's wings, but can't help himself.

Clint fans his wings out a little, slowly, just a touch, letting Phil see as much as he wants. He doesn't know how to explain this. He doesn't think he can, even if regulations didn't explicitly forbid him to.

"I just," Clint says, shaking his head, hoping, praying, that Natasha's assignment is fake. It has to be. "It's been kind of a shitty day," he says finally. "I just needed to see you."

He expects Phil to react badly. That's it? A shit day?

But maybe there's still something in Clint's eyes or his voice or on his face, or maybe Phil just remembers sitting on the stairs, waiting for Clint. In any case, he doesn't say anything, doesn't kick Clint out; just carefully approaches Clint and then slowly, very slowly, puts his arms around him.

Clint releases a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, and without even thinking about it, his arms come up and he hugs Phil back as tight as he can. Phil hooks his chin over Clint's shoulder and strokes one hand tentatively up his back, to where his wings begin. That area is so sensitive, and the sensation is grounding.

"Thanks," Clint mumbles into Phil's shoulder, without clarifying exactly what he's thanking Phil for.

Phil responds by lifting his chin off Clint's shoulder, moving his head back just a little bit and kissing Clint carefully on the lips.

It's--unexpected.

Clint doesn't want to say it feels like his heart skips a beat, but--yeah, that's what it feels like.

"Um," Clint says when Phil pulls back, and then instantly realizes he should probably have responded to the kiss, since it would hopefully lead to more kissing. He's missed kissing Phil.

"What's going on?" Phil asks seriously, instead of kissing Clint more. Clint thinks that's terrible, and he would much rather kiss more than think about why he's here in the first place. He wants to crawl inside Phil and forget about everything else.

"Like I said," Clint says carefully, pushing all thoughts of Natasha and Thor and clipboards from his mind, "it's been kind of a shitty day, and I just…" He sighs, forces himself to find the words. "I miss you," he confesses.

One of Phil's hands strokes up Clint's back by his wings again, and a ghost of a smile spreads across his face. It's hesitant and a little confused, but it's there. "I miss you too," Phil says. "There's just." He swallows. "There's a lot to process."

"I'm still me," Clint offers desperately. "I'm still the same guy."

"Cranky in the mornings, generally doesn't like people, lives on coffee and takeout?" Phil asks, and it startles a laugh out of Clint. It's a little bit hollow, but he nods.

"Yeah," Clint says.

"An angel who doesn't like people," Phil says with a small headshake, and a minor note of panic creeping into his voice again. "That's who I--that's who I--"

Phil's words stutter and he stops talking abruptly, but Clint gets it nonetheless. He suspects he feels much the same way.

"Please don't freak out again," Clint says, carefully dipping his head in.

"I'll try," Phil mumbles nervously, but his lips are already touching Clint's again.

*

Phil's bed is really big. Probably king sized. It takes up most of the space in his bedroom, and his mattress is like a fucking cloud; Clint should know, okay?

Phil's got Clint spread out on his back in the middle of the bed, eyes roaming over Clint's body and the wings that are fanned out around him, and he looks--hungry. And amazed. All at once. Every time he strokes his hands across Clint's body, palm running along his flank, his cock, his thigh, more of the shadows disappear from his eyes. When he gets two lubed fingers into Clint's body, Clint's eyes flutter shut for a moment, and when he opens them again, Phil's bent down closer, heat in his gaze.

"You okay?" Clint asks, breath hitching as his hips lift off the mattress, trying to help Phil find that spot, that good spot.

"Yeah," Phil nods, "yeah, I'm--I'm good."

Clint gets a hand around his cock, jerking himself off slowly as Phil opens him up, and it's good. It helps keep his mind off things, because Phil's here, Phil's here with him, and for a little while, Clint wasn't sure he would be again. It's still only early afternoon, but for every hour that goes by without Natasha showing up, Clint's hope grows.

Phil's fingers scissor in Clint, and he adds a third, and Clint focuses on pushing every work-related thought from his brain, focuses on the here and now. The stretch feels nice, and Clint's cock leaks precome onto his stomach. His wings flutter, and Phil's eyes dart to them almost as if on reflex. Phil's own dick is hard between his legs, head swollen and dark red, but he's not touching himself.

"C'mon," Clint says with a note of impatience, letting go of his cock to grab for Phil's hips, "I'm ready."

Phil doesn't protest; Clint knows his limits, and knows what he can take. He pulls his fingers out of Clint's body and reaches for a condom on the nightstand, before freezing, fingers hovering uncertainly over the little foil packet. Clint locks eyes with Phil and nods in confirmation to the unspoken question he sees in Phil's eyes. Once again, Phil doesn't protest, just trusts Clint, and Clint aches with it.

Phil pulls his hand back to grab more lube instead, getting his cock all slick, before positioning himself at Clint's hole. When he sinks inside, Clint lets himself moan loudly, almost startling in the quietness of the room, because this? This, he's missed a lot. More than kissing, even. And Clint wants to let himself enjoy it.

Panic is starting to creep into Phil's eyes for a moment, but then he smiles shakily down at Clint. A slightly hysterical sound escapes him, before he seemingly gets himself under control again.

"I'm fucking an angel," Phil says dumbly, though whether his disbelief is in panic or amusement, Clint can't tell. Phil seems to be doing okay though, all things considered.

Clint grinds his hips upwards, flutters his wings again, and loves the way Phil's soft bed feels against his spine. His cock rubs against Phil's happy trail, and when Clint gyrates upwards a second time, Phil meets him in a downward motion, causing all sorts of delicious friction in a lot of spots that makes Clint's vision blur. It's good enough, Clint laughs a little, peppering light kisses along the curve of Phil's ear.

"Don't freak out," Clint reminds Phil gently, then brings his wings up to wrap around them, just like he'd done the first time they had sex.

Phil breathes long, steady breaths even as his hips continue slowly moving into Clint's.

"Phil?" Clint asks, and Phil's eyes sharpen, focusing on Clint. "Fuck me," Clint says.

It's as if something loosens in Phil, and his hips pull back and snap downwards with a force that Clint, quite frankly, was not expecting. There's a twinge in his ass, but in the best way, and then Phil's fucking him in earnest, hard cock sliding in and out of him and making Clint see stars behind his closed eyelids. Clint's not even sure when his eyes slid shut, but they clearly did at some point, and he has to force them open every now and then, just because he wants to see.

"Clint," Phil mutters, leaning down further and putting all his weight on his elbows. He pushes his face against Clint's neck, noses up behind his ear and mutters, "Clint," again.

"Yeah," Clint says, nodding like his neck's broken, because Phil's found a particularly good angle, and his thrusts are relentless.

Not for the first time in his career, Clint wishes he could offer unauthorized Contact. He wishes he could summon up some Strength, some Courage, some Peace, and push it under Phil's skin, tuck it safely away where it could hopefully do some good. He runs his fingertips down Phil's bicep and pretends anyway.

"Fuck, you feel so good," Phil says, and then he's practically lifting Clint off the mattress, in order to get an arm around Clint's upper body.

"Hng," Clint grits out as one of Phil's hands presses directly between his wings and then rubs at the spot there, as best as Phil can manage with his hand trapped between Clint and the mattress. His wings start flapping, and it's embarrassing and silly and Clint could absolutely not stop it even if he wanted to.

"Erogenous zone?" Phil asks smugly, and they both remember their first time. Clint's eyes almost roll back in his head as Phil continues rubbing, fingers pressing into Clint's sweaty skin.

"Oh fuck," Clint says, because he never wants Phil to stop rubbing that area, and Clint's dick clearly agrees with that as it starts leaking everywhere. The pressure is electrifying, tingling through Clint's entire body, pleasure coiling inside him as every muscle he's got is tensing up. Their bellies get sticky with precome and Clint feels like his balls might combust if he doesn't get to come soon, and everything is fucking amazing.

"Clint, I--" Phil says, and then just keeps on saying Clint's name, like a prayer.

Clint's having a hard time thinking straight; says, "Uh huh," and his hips move up to meet Phil's on the next thrust just as Phil's hand moves minutely to the side to rub directly over where Clint's right wing meets his shoulder, and that's it.

Clin's orgasm starts in his toes, and then rushes through him, racing up his entire body until he feels like every nerve ending he's got is exposed to the world and just overflowing with pleasure. His eyes screw shut and he dimly registers the wet feeling of his come between them, and then Phil's hands move to his legs, pushing them back and pushing them apart as he continues thrusting into Clint and just takes.

"Come on," Clint pants out, mostly for Phil's benefit because he's still riding his orgasm high, and he's sure his words come out slurred. "Come on, come in me, come on, Phil."

Slurred words or not, it seems to work. Phil's hips slap against Clint's ass just once, twice more, then, before they stutter and still. Phil's cock is buried deep in Clint, and Clint can feel it pulse. When he opens his eyes, Phil's face is stuck in an adorable grimace of clear pleasure, eyes screwed shut and mouth slack, and something's expanding in Clint's chest; something warm and tender.

Finally, Phil slumps down on top of Clint and exhales noisily against his chest. Clint stretches out his wings and wraps them around them both again, feathers resting carefully against their overheated skin.

As their breathing slows down and Phil starts to soften inside of Clint, Phil swallows.

"Clint," he says, voice hoarse and hesitant. "Clint, I--I think I…"

He doesn't finish the sentence, and Clint doesn't ask. Instead he kisses the top of Phil's head and holds him tight to his chest, cradling him with his arms and wings, and for the first time ever, wishes he was a Guardian so that he could always watch over Phil.

*

When Clint opens his eyes next, it's dark out. Disoriented and confused at first, it takes him a moment to recognize the warm body next to him and register the soft sound of Phil's light snoring. Phil's on his side, facing Clint, and Clint's one wing is spread over him, like an extra blanket. Clint's heart does a funny flip-flop thing in his chest as he takes in the relaxed expression on Phil's face.

Glancing at the clock behind him on Phil's nightstand, Clint's heart nearly leaps into his throat, and something like tentative happiness rises in his chest as he turns back to face Phil. They've been asleep for a long time. It's past midnight. It's Christmas Day, and Phil's still here, still alive and snoring softly.

"Phew," Clint whispers against Phil's temple, as he leans in for a gentle kiss. Phil's skin is warm and dry under his lips, and he keeps on snoring peacefully as Clint closes his eyes in relief.

When he opens them again, his blood runs cold in his veins.

Natasha's standing behind Phil, feet firmly planted in the small space between the bed and the wall, scythe in her hands.

Clint tries to speak, but he doesn't have words; he can't make a sound. Natasha's face shows no emotion, and Clint knows that's when she feels something the most.

For a long time, they just look at each other, and the distance between them feels like miles.

"But," Clint finally gets out, still whispering so as to not wake Phil, "the day's over."

Natasha speaks slowly and carefully, and not without sympathy. "An Angel of Death," she says, repeating words Clint dimly recalls Wade speaking once, "is never off duty."

To his horror, tears well up in Clint's eyes, and a thousand impulses race through him: he wants to gather Phil up and sob, he wants to jump in front of Phil and protect him with his body, he wants to scream and curse Natasha and the CEO and the whole fucking Garrison, because fuck them for demanding to take Phil from him.

"It can't be," Clint protests weakly, even though they both know it can. Clint trusts Thor; he wouldn't have sent Natasha if they weren't absolutely certain.

"I'll make it quick," Natasha promises. "Painless. Brain aneurysm in his sleep. He won't even wake up."

Clint looks away then, because he knows she's just doing her job, he knows that Reapers can never not do their job--but right then, he can't stand the sight of her anymore. He focuses instead on Phil's face, still peaceful and relaxed in sleep. "I'm sorry," he whispers, the lump in his throat making it hard to get the words out.

Then, because he knows anything else would be futile, Clint carefully shifts away from Phil's body, lifting his wing gently off him. The bed is suddenly cold, empty since they'd both curled up on Phil's side, and for a brief moment Clint wants to Blink as far away as possible, to not see--but he has to be here.

"For what it's worth," Natasha says, as she raises her scythe, "I'm really sorry, Clint. I wish I didn't have to do this."

It's the only time Clint's ever received a direct apology from Natasha for anything, and he wishes he could fully appreciate it. Given the circumstances, he's unable to.

Her scythe cuts through the air as if in slow motion, blade whistling faintly in the silent room. Clint wants to close his eyes, but he can't; he's frozen, unable to move and unable to breathe. His heartbeat is so loud in his ears, it's deafening, and this is bullshit, it's total bullshit, because why would he give all that Strength to Phil if it was wasted, why would he--?

And then everything happens very, very fast.

Natasha's scythe, instead of cutting cleanly through Phil like normal, bounces off him, and blinding light fills the room. The air sings at Clint, and on instinct he covers his ears with his hands and his body with his wings, trying to protect himself, because it's really fucking loud and bright and what the actual fuck?

Phil jolts awake the second the scythe bounces off him, skids off his skin like it was titanium and the scythe was rubber. His eyes are wide open and his mouth is gaping in shock or pain, Clint can't tell, and then Phil just--keeps jolting. His entire body shivers and shakes and raises off the bed, and behind him, Natasha's staring wide-eyed, scythe dropping uselessly to the floor. Phil's back arches, and then… then they just sort of--burst out of him.

Clint's mouth runs dry.

Wings.

Phil has wings.

They spring from Phil's back like cracks of light through the darkness, spreading and growing, until Phil collapses forward on his hands and knees on the bed. His wings are bright white, the bright white of the interns, Clint thinks numbly, and he has no idea how to process this. (Because seriously, what the actual fuck?)

Natasha, thankfully, recovers faster than him. As Phil gasps for breath, disoriented and confused, and as Clint tries to process what he just witnessed, Natasha simply puts her hands on her hips as a smirk spreads across her face.

"Well," she says, and sounds unreasonably smug about it. "I've never actually created an angel before. That was fun."

*

Nobody speaks for a long while afterwards, and the silence is only broken by Phil's panting. Clint is still searching for words, searching for a way to process what he just witnessed, because--Phil didn't die! Natasha's scythe couldn't touch him. And Phil's an angel?

Phil's wings move, in perfect sync with Clint's thoughts, spreading and unfolding tentatively. Like they're stiff, new, awkward.

"Clint?" Phil croaks out, and he sounds absolutely terrified.

"Easy," Natasha soothes, hand still on her hips and smug look still on her face, and Phil's head snaps around so fast Clint's surprised he doesn't give himself whiplash in the process.

"Who are you?" Phil asks, sounding faint.

"My name's Natasha," Natasha says, still smiling, but Clint suspects that in the dim light of the room, shadowed by the wall and with her dark wings in the background, she presents a far more intimidating picture than she realizes. At least she's let the scythe stay where it fell on the floor.

"What the--what the hell," Phil breathes, and then he must see his own wings out of the corner of his eye, because he does a panicked half-spin on the bed, like a dog chasing its tail. "What the hell!" he exclaims.

Clint's at his side in a second, steadying him with firm hands. "Phil, it's okay," Clint says, because he's got to say something. Truth is, he has no clue if it is okay, because he's never witnessed the creation of an angel before, and he doesn't have that many clear memories of his own, truth be told. He has no idea what the protocol is for these cases.

"What is happening to me?" Phil breathes, eyes wide open.

"You're an angel," Natasha says casually from behind him, though she's picked up her scythe and is polishing it casually, so Clint places a hand on Phil's cheek to keep him from turning around.

"What--" Phil says, barely more than a whisper. His eyes have gone blank. "Am I--"

"I think so," Clint says quickly. "I think you might be an angel, yes."

Phil swallows heavily. "Am I dead?"

That's a complicated question, and Clint tries very hard to feign a casual shrug, because this is a whole lot of stuff for poor Phil to process. "Well," Clint says, though he should probably have led with something else, because it's like all the fight goes out of Phil all at once. He just sinks into Clint's arms, knees sliding apart on the bed as his back curls forward.

"Oh my God," Phil moans. "I'm dead."

"But you're also sort of not," Clint says desperately.

There's so much he wants to explain all at once, how most angels really love their job, how nothing really has to change, and he thinks about all the job benefits he's never even really cared about before, but Phil might. The promotion tracks, the company picnics, the annual softball game against the Missouri state division (which Clint hates because Samael is a cheater), and Clint suddenly realizes--there's a whole world he gets to share with Phil now! He feels happiness and hope blossom in his chest, and Natasha must realize it because she gives him a smirk over Phil's shoulder.

Lifting his head, Phil--who seems to have calmed down just a fraction--frowns at Clint's happy face.

"What are you so happy about?"

Which is the exact moment Thor (literally) thunders into the room with his hammer raised high, yelling at the top of his lungs, "Fair Lady Natasha, do not let harm come to this man, for he is an--"

And just then Thor notices the bright white wings attached to Phil, and he stops all his noise immediately. "Oh," Thor says. "Nevermind. Hello, Phillip Coulson."

Phil's jaw is hanging open.

Thor takes in the scene and then suddenly clears his throat and looks away. "I came to inform you that while we discovered the Rune to hold true, we also found Phil Coulson's name on the Recruitment list. This prompted a closer investigation, and we have since uncovered the sneaky thieves who have been giving out fake assignments. I am to bring all of you back to headquarters at once, where all shall be revealed."

Clint frowns, because Thor's still not looking at them, just staring randomly at the walls and ceiling.

"Thor?" he asks. Phil is still looking stunned.

"Psst," Natasha says with a leer. "You guys are still naked."

Clint rubs a hand across his face and sighs.

*

Thor leads them all into one of the bigger conference rooms in headquarters, where there are multiple people gathered already, despite the seriously late hour. It means that some of them--most of them, even--are probably only there to gawk, because Clint knows that for instance, Guardians? Wouldn't be involved in this. Yet here they are. Steve just grins as they enter, while Tony gives him a huge thumbs up. Clint flips him off in return.

"Is that Captain America?" Phil asks faintly, to nobody in particular, barely audible even in the relative quiet of the room. Steve must hear anyway, because he goes bright red. Phil never gets an answer to his question (though obviously, the answer is yes; Clint remembers Phil's Captain America slippers and wonders if Phil's brain is overloading yet), because just then, Thor holds up a hand to get everyone's attention. As if they weren't all looking that way anyway.

"Dear friends," Thor says to the crowd. "I'm ashamed to admit, we committed a grave oversight in our investigation of this thievery, for it was Phillip Coulson's name being forged in lies all along."

Clint's confused now.

Thor sighs deeply. "My friend, Clinton Barton, your repeated assignments to deliver Strength to Phillip Coulson," and there's a strangled sound from Phil, and fuck, "were not, as it turns out, authentic. They did not come from the noble archangel Raphael. Instead, the perpetrators of this crime were my own love, Lady Jane, and her companion, Lady Darcy." Thor sounds mournful as he gestures, and two other Warriors nudge Jane and Darcy forward. Jane immediately latches onto Thor's wrist, and Clint doesn't think anyone in the room misses the fact that Thor allows it. The other woman, the one who must be Darcy, rolls her eyes at Jane before she looks defiantly at Clint, and--

"Wait a fucking minute!" Clint not-squeaks in outrage. "Aren't you a fucking Cherub?"

Darcy pushes her glasses further up on her nose and puts up both her tiny fists, glaring at Clint defiantly. "Okay, Mister, listen up! First of all, Cherubs are fierce, okay? Secondly, I know what you're thinking, and if you're envisioning a fucking bow and arrow, you're thinking of those baby-faced Putti assholes." Darcy raises her chin. "I am a fucking Virtue, thank you!" she finishes primly.

"Like Bruce the Muse?" Tony asks with a frown.

"I've told you not to call me that," a rumbly voice says from somewhere to Clint's left, and Tony snickers.

"Whatever," Darcy says with a dismissive hand gesture. "Just because you assholes can't see the Potential in people…"

"Hey, fuck you, I deliver Inspirations to people all day long," Clint says, offended now.

"Yes, but that doesn't mean you see Potential," Darcy says with the Duh going unspoken, but still clearly heard. "And let me tell you, buddy, you and little Sprout-A-Wing there? You have Potential coming out of your bottom, okay?"

"Not one word about bottoms, Tony!" Steve snaps. Clint can't see Tony's face, and he's not keen on looking, but there's no comment forthcoming, thankfully.

"What about free will?" Clint bites out, feeling betrayed and hurt.

"What do you mean, 'What about free will?'" Darcy scoffs. "You both still got yours intact! We can't force feelings on people, Clint, don't be a dumb-dumb okay? We merely do our best to set people up in convenient situations, and then see if their Potential will come to light!"

"Um," Phil says carefully. It's the first time he's spoken since the revelation that he originally was Clint's assignment, and Clint can't look at him, not yet. He's not sure what he'll see on Phil's face. Still, when he speaks, he sounds--calm. Curious. Not angry, and not panicking. It's something, at least.

"And what exactly," Phil asks, "is our Potential?"

Darcy lets out an appalled sound. "Seriously? How thick are you guys?" She looks at them expectantly, and when nobody answers her, she throws her hands out. "Love," she says, her voice taking on a slightly-too-high-pitched quality.

Clint doesn't know how to respond to this information. Beside him, Phil's stock-still as well, and Clint can hear him breathe in the silence. He's not sure what their faces look like, but Darcy's own expression suddenly softens, and she tilts her head, as if talking to small children.

"Aw," she says, and for a terrifying moment Clint thinks she might actually physically reach out and pinch their cheeks. "Sweethearts. You've both got so much Potential for Love, it's practically leaking out of every orifice you got, okay? And you don't even know it. Sure, it was buried under about fifty gazillion layers of horse manure and trauma and one really interesting incident at a circus in Iowa, but believe me--it's there."

Her face gets very serious for a moment, and her eyes slide from Clint to settle on Phil's face. "I know it's hard to believe. I know what you've been through. But don't think, even for a second, that you're not worthy of love, no matter what's in your past, okay?"

Phil doesn't respond, but Darcy smiles a little again, a gentle and kind smile that offers reassurances to them both. Clint tries to find words, but before he can actually manage any, the doors burst open with a crash.

"Where are they?" Rafe thunders as he storms into the room, wings terrifying and massive and unfolded behind him. His voice is deep and rumbling, his words a growl, and he stands taller than nearly every other angel present, only equal to Thor. It's as if the very air molecules part to accommodate his presence in the room, and Clint fights the urge to cower before him. Goddamn, some of middle management is fucking terrifying.

Spotting Darcy and Jane, Rafe takes one giant step to reach them, and Jane makes a weird hiccup-y sound and moves closer to Thor. Darcy, however, stands her ground and rolls her eyes as Rafe gets right in her face. He has to hunch over to get on her level, and his teeth are bared--yet she doesn't so much as flinch when he yells at her. "This has got to be the most thoughtless, arrogant--"

"Yeah, yeah," Darcy says, and Rafe gets a hilarious look on his face. Clint's fairly certain he's never been stood up to before in his life, much less interrupted mid-sentence.

"How dare you--" Rafe starts, and then Darcy interrupts him again.

"Listen, buster, we were just doing our jobs, okay? In case you've forgotten, we have express permission from the CEO to do whatever it takes to complete an assignment, unless it interferes with the rules of the mortal world or another angel's mission!"

"You stole my ink!" Rafe thunders. "Little child, do you have any idea the damage you could have caused?"

"But we didn't," Darcy says, rolling her eyes and sighing. "Besides, if we knew he was nearing recruitment anyway, we probably wouldn't even have bothered. We'd just have waited until he was hired."

"Nobody ever knows that, not even the Reapers find out until--" Natasha starts saying, but Darcy interrupts her.

"I know, I know! I'm just saying, it would have saved us all the trouble, am I right?"

Even though she has a point, nobody looks amused.

"And what of Uriel's ink?" Rafe demands.

"Oh, relax about it, it was just to cover our tracks," Darcy says with an eyeroll, waving her hand and making an ornate jar appear in Rafe's hands. He tucks it away in his pocket even as he continues fuming. Darcy just continues talking, as if it was no big deal. "It didn't hinder your missions, it didn't do any harm, and I got my mission done. I don't see the big deal. You need some anger management, friend."

The vein in Rafe's forehead might actually pop. He opens his mouth so wide, Clint expects the resulting yell to deafen everyone in the room--but before Rafe can unleash whatever verbal assault he was planning to, Sera's voice comes from the back of the room.

"Rafe," she says gently.

This time, Clint does cower and bow, as does everyone else. As head of the entire tri-state division, Sera is a whole different level of--well, everything. She has to be, to keep that many angels in check.

She doesn't so much walk, as glide into the room, and even Phil seems to instinctively know that this is someone not to be trifled with. And yeah, she's definitely not. Sera is on a different level. If Rafe is terrifying, Sera is beyond words; a monstrosity, a behemoth, not in size but in presence alone. Her wings fucking glow and she has an actual, legitimate halo, okay? Clint would be super impressed if he wasn't scared shitless.

"M-Ma'am," Rafe stutters, bowing.

"Such nonsense," Sera says pleasantly, waving her hand in an oh, stop it gesture. "Always with the stupid bowing thing. I don't know why the CEO insists on these protocols. They're completely useless."

"Ma'am?" Rafe asks, and he sounds confused. Clint's just trying to be invisible and resisting his instincts to Blink as far away as possible, because frankly he's scared of existing near Sera.

"Now, I understand there's some sort of problem? Office supply theft, I was told?" She sounds distinctly amused, like maybe there's the possibility that someone had given her wrong information, because she couldn't possibly have been asked to make a field office visit for such a frivolous reason.

Jane lets out a rush of breath all at once. She takes a step forward, but still retains her death grip on Thor's arm and hand. "Ma'am, I'm so sorry, I'm--I'm so sorry, we, we just, we were trying to help these two with their Potential." And she gestures at Clint and Phil, which makes Clint want to shake his head and mouth NO NO NO at her, because suddenly Sera's intense eyes are upon him. He only barely manages to resist full-blown panic, and doesn't at all break out in a cold sweat as her gaze moves over him. "And then," Jane continues, "this one, he, uh, he was in the Recruitment pool, which, I swear we didn't know, I swear it, we would never have--!"

"They stole my ink to accomplish their task," Rafe says, anger still in his voice even though his volume at least has been taken down several notches. "Assigning him to Clint. Over and over and over."

Sera looks from Phil to Rafe to Jane and back again, and then purses her lips and nods thoughtfully. Her dark hair shimmers with the movement. "I see," she says.

"Ma'am," Thor says, and steps forward to stand next to Jane. "If I may?"

"You may," Sera says.

"I am Thor, ma'am. I was in charge of this investigation," Thor says, bowing deeply, though his fingers tangle with Jane's even as he does so. "I uncovered the truth behind the thievery--but that also means I saw the truth in the motive. I believe Jane and Darcy acted in good faith. I do not condone their actions, but I would wish them no punishment either. Their methods have brought no foul consequences, on this realm or the earthly one. But they have brought about a joyous union of these two blessed souls."

He gestures to Clint and Phil, and Clint wants to sink into a hole in the ground. He wishes everyone would just fucking stop pointing him out to the super fucking scary seraphim lady, especially in the context of talking about his maybe-boyfriend.

"I see," Sera says again. "And I am certain you plead for mercy for these thieves out of entirely altruistic reasons." She looks pointedly at where Thor and Jane's hands are linked, and Thor at least has the good grace to look embarrassed. Jane twitches, like she wants to hide behind him.

"The affection I hold in my heart for Jane does not change my evaluation of the case," Thor says, and if Sera is surprised to find someone stand up to her, she doesn't show it, which--damn. Her poker face is even better than Phil's.

"I should hope not," she says. Thor nods at her, and then looks reassuringly at Jane.

Sera falls quiet then, even as her eyes continue moving from angel to angel. Clint swallows, and it seems horrifyingly loud in the sudden silence of the room. Even Darcy doesn't seem to have a snappy comment ready, which is--odd. At least it means she has some self-preservation. (Seriously. You don't fuck with seraphims and keep your wings.)

The silence goes on for so long that it becomes uncomfortable. Clint's quietly almost-hyperventilating and is just wondering if he's going to pass out from oxygen deprivation when Sera finally speaks.

"Well," she says. "I can certainly agree that this is a more serious theft that it would initially seem." Rafe is halfway to puffing himself up again, when she tilts her head, halo tilting with the movement as well. "However," she says, and Rafe visibly deflates, "there's something to be said for the determination with which it was executed. Very ballsy."

Darcy's eyes nearly bug out of her head as Sera says ballsy. "Yeah?" she asks, one corner of her mouth carefully tilting up.

Sera leans in towards her, and Darcy looks like she might either giggle hysterically in admiration, or throw up and pass out. Maybe both. "I understand your motives, and your Thor makes some good points in his rousing defense of you and your colleague. But I still trust this was a one time exception. Any repeat incidents during your assignments will have dire consequences. Do you understand?"

Darcy's tentative half-smile falters, and her bottom lip quivers a little. "Yes, ma'am," she says.

Rafe looks constipated, but he doesn't dare argue with Sera.

"Come, Rafe," Sera says, and Rafe obediently goes to her side. "While I'm here, I might as well get a sitrep on your end of things, hm?"

Rafe looks like he's about to soil himself, but he still manages a nod. Turning and gliding towards the exit, Rafe following a step behind her, Sera looks briefly over her shoulder. "Congratulations on your--union, angels," she says, and it takes Clint a moment to realize that she means him and Phil. When he does realize it, he's instantly mortified, and his face must be beet red, because it feels like it's on fire.

By the door, Sera lingers briefly, listening. Tony's wings make a faint clank-clank sound as they vibrate. He's staring straight ahead, a small bead of sweat on his forehead.

"Fix those," Sera tells him. "They're noisy."

"Yes, ma'am," Tony mumbles, and then both Sera and Rafe are gone.

*

The silence that follows Sera's departure is awkward, mostly because whenever she leaves a room, it's always as if the remaining occupants are left in a vacuum. The silence is broken when a woman steps forward, and Clint recognizes her as Melinda May, head of Administration. It's a little jarring, because he hasn't really seen her since his own Orientation, and he hadn't even noticed she was in the room.

"Phil Coulson?" she asks, and Clint finally dares to look over at Phil, who turns to Melinda. "I can imagine this is all very confusing for you. I realize it's very late, but if you'll come with me, I'll explain everything and get you set up."

Phil turns his head and looks back at Clint then, and Clint tries hard to read the expression on his face. He doesn't see any panic. Definitely confusion. On instinct, Clint reaches out a hand towards Phil, then snatches it back. "Clint?" Phil asks.

Clint looks at Melinda, then looks back at Phil and nods. He remembers his Orientation, remembers being scared and confused, and he really wants to make Phil understand that everything will be fine. At least he hopes it will be. And he thinks Melinda has a better chance of soothing Phil than he does. It's her job, after all. "I'll find you later," he promises. "It's okay."

Phil gives Clint another look that he can't quite interpret, and then follows Melinda out of the room. Clint watches until the last feather of Phil's wings disappears around the corner--and then suddenly becomes aware of how every eye in the room is on him now.

"Oh, come on," he mumbles, feeling terribly awkward and exposed, standing in the middle of the room by himself.

Out of the corner of his eye he can see Tony grin widely, clearly winding up to say something undoubtedly inappropriate, and his wings make a grinding noise as they lift--and then the doors burst open again as Wade practically leaps through them, skidding to a stop in front of Clint.

"Did I miss it? Is it over?" Wade asks on a squeal, scythe in one hand and a stuffed bunny in the other. What really draws Clint's attention however, are the pastel pink pajamas with a neon green print he's wearing over his bodysuit.

"Is what over?" Thor asks, frowning.

"Cliiiint," Wade whines, gesturing to where Clint's still taking in the eyesore of Wade in his sleepwear. "His big, gay love? New angel boyfriend? Did I miss it?"

"You missed it," Natasha confirms. Clint looks around; nobody else seems perplexed by Wade's outfit, and he supposes that he shouldn't be either, because it's Wade, but--come on, now, really?

"Are those little Christmas trees?" Clint asks. "On a pink background?"

"Hey," Wade says defensively, "do I come into your home and criticize your wardrobe? No? Didn't think so."

"We're not in your home," Clint says, frowning.

"Where'd they take your boyfriend?" Wade asks, instead of responding to Clint's comment.

"Administration," Clint says, feeling a little bit lost for what to do in the meantime, waiting for Phil. It's creeping up on 2 a.m., and despite having slept away most of the day, he feels bone-deep tired. "I guess I'll go down and wait on their floor until he's done."

It's as if the entire room moves as one then, closing in on him and it's--pretty creepy, actually. "Come on, son," Steve says, placing one large hand on Clint's shoulder. "We'll buy you a drink."

And everything about that is just absofuckinglutely ridiculous; Steve's like a decade younger than Clint, okay? He doesn't get to call Clint son just because he's been an angel for longer.

"It's like 2 a.m.," Clint says, feeling very uncomfortable with all this attention.

"Aw," Darcy says with another headtilt. "That's cute; you think that matters."

Tony shoots a blinding grin at Darcy, like she's his new favorite person in the world, and Clint's getting a really bad feeling about this.

*

Dawn's creeping over the horizon again by the time Clint drags himself up the stairs of his building, too buzzed and sleep-weary to trust his Blinking. He's not sure how big the risk of Blinking is in this state, because the rumor that Wade once Blinked into a wall and got stuck could be just that--a rumor--but he doesn't want to chance it. So he's walking, all old-fashioned like and everything. When the door to his apartment finally closes behind him, Clint has momentarily forgotten all about Phil in his desperate desire to curl up in bed and sleep for approximately a week.

Naturally, that's when Phil shows up.

"Gah!" Clint exclaims, jumping more than he'll ever admit to when Phil Blinks directly into his path.

"Well," Phil says quietly, looking around. "That was a trip."

Once he realizes he's not actually dying from a heart attack, Clint takes in Phil's appearance. He looks very tired; maybe not quite as haggard as Clint, but then again Clint doesn't think Phil's been out drinking with Tony fucking Stark all night. Despite the dark circles under Phil's eyes, though, he looks--well, he doesn't look like he's freaking out. At all. There's a slight smile on his face and everything.

"You look better," he comments, because tired or not, it's the truth.

"You don't," Phil remarks, and then holds out a hand. Clint takes it without really thinking about it and lets Phil lead him to the bed.

"I was waiting for you," Clint mumbles, as Phil helps him out of his clothes. When Clint's in his boxers and t-shirt, Phil pulls aside the covers and helps Clint underneath them.

"Were you waiting for me in a brewery?" Phil asks, but he sounds--amused?

"Could have been," Clint replies, because he's honestly not quite sure where the hell Tony had Blinked them. All he knows is there was a lot of booze, and it's really a miracle he's not completely wasted. "I'm mostly just tired," he explains. "And--and worried about you."

Phil straightens up, and Clint's first instinct is to make a whining noise at the back of his throat. Putting distance between them is just no good! But Phil just undresses himself down to boxers and t-shirt as well, and then crawls under the covers with Clint, wings folding carefully out of the way so he can slot himself as close to Clint as possible.

"You don't have to worry about me anymore," Phil says, and yeah--Clint's not imagining things, Phil definitely sounds happy.

"You okay?" Clint asks. "May explain everything to you?"

Phil nods, head against Clint's shoulder. "Yeah. It's weird, but--apparently I'm an angel?"

Clint frowns. "You're not freaked out?"

There's silence for a long while, long enough that Clint closes his eyes and just listens to Phil breathe, quiet puffs of air against Clint's chest, warm through the thin layer of his t-shirt. It's comforting, and the steady rise and fall of Phil's chest makes something hard and tense unfurl in Clint's stomach, like he's learning to relax for the first time. It's not until the sound of Phil's voice jerks him awake that Clint realizes he was half asleep, and he rubs a hand over his face, trying to keep up the appearance of having stayed awake the whole time.

"It's a lot to take in," Phil says, and for a moment Clint has horrible deja vu. Fortunately, before his pulse has the chance to do more than briefly spike, Phil goes on, "but I kind of like it."

Clint gets out from underneath Phil and pushes himself up on one elbow, tentative relief in his chest. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," Phil says, nodding. "There's--I can help people." He looks almost shyly up at Clint. "Like you helped me?"

All of a sudden, Clint feels terribly embarrassed. "Listen," he says, "listen, I, I wasn't just hanging out with you because of my job, I--"

"I know, relax," Phil interrupts him, and his eyes are so blue and kind, it almost makes Clint want to cry a little, if he was prone to such things. "I also know that's not exactly how it works. Ms. May was very thorough in explaining everything to me. Even if she was vaguely terrifying doing so."

Clint smiles a little, then, remembering his own Orientation and how scared he'd been. "Yeah. There's a lot of that going around our department."

"Anyway," Phil continues with a shrug, "from what I understand, nothing much needs to change. That sounds pretty good to me. I'd--I'd like to keep seeing my therapist, at least."

"Yeah?" Clint asks, thinking about the look on Phil's face the day he was waiting for him in the stairwell.

"Yeah," Phil says. "Just in case. And they said that was fine."

Of course it's fine. Clint wants to snort when he thinks about how many of the angels have their own therapists on speed dial. "That's pretty good," Phil continues. "I mean, they said I could even keep my job at the comic book store if I wanted, as long as I get my daily assignments done, and if I don't want to work in the field, they have--other departments."

"Yeah?" Clint asks, sinking back down onto his pillow. "Where'd they try to send you?"

"The Reapers," Phil says, which makes Clint jerk upwards again so fast he almost sprains something. He likes the Reapers; they're his friends, and they do an incredibly important job--but he never ever wants that for Phil.

"I declined the offer," Phil says easily, and Clint breathes a big sigh of relief. "You seem happy with that decision?"

"With you not being an Angel of Death? Yeah, I'm--yes, very happy with that decision," Clint grits out, and he can't help it--he has to. Reaching out, he pulls Phil closer and into a kiss that lingers. "You deserve good things, Phil. Reaping is a tough gig. Ask Nat sometime."

Phil doesn't comment on that, and Clint doesn't wonder what kind of man Phil used to be, to get offered a position as a Reaper. He knows what kind of people Natasha and Bucky once were, and he doesn't need to know anything more than that. It speaks volumes by itself.

(He doesn't know what kind of person Wade used to be, and he's fairly certain he never ever wants to know.)

"I requested to start in Administration," Phil says, though his arms come back around Clint.

"Good choice," Clint says back, lips still close enough to Phil's that he can feel every exhale Phil makes. "And everything else?"

"What about everything else?" Phil asks.

Clint shrugs a little; runs a hand up underneath Phil's shirt and splays his fingers out over Phil's belly. "The rest of the stuff. Angels. Everything."

Phil captures Clint's mouth in another long, deep kiss, his tongue sliding sensually alongside Clint's as both of his arms tighten around Clint's torso. "It'll work out," Phil says. "I have someone to guide me through it, after all."

"May said she'd help you?" Clint asks before he can stop himself, and then instantly wants to eat his entire fucking fist because oh my God how dumb is that?

Phil laughs, that wonderful laugh that might just be Clint's favorite sound in the world, and Clint suddenly doesn't mind at all that he just stuck his foot in his mouth, because Phil is laughing. Unrestrained and free, and it's a fucking beautiful sound.

"I--" Phil says, and then his jaw snaps shut so fast it makes an audible sound.

Clint blinks. "You what?"

"Nothing," Phil says, looking happy as he practically pulls Clint on top of himself. "Tell you later."

Clint's still so sleepy and his brain isn't really firing on all cylinders, but he's got a pretty good idea anyway.

Phil brings up his wings to make a little cocoon around them, and Clint snuggles down further into Phil and the covers, and allows himself to really bask in the happiness of it all, for the first time in what feels like forever.

"Get some sleep," Phil murmurs, pressing a kiss against the top of Clint's head.

Clint wants to say something sweet in return, but the truth is, he's already drifting.

*

Clint swims back into awareness slowly. Sunlight is streaming in through his windows, and when his vision clears, he sees Phil standing on the floor of his bedroom, carefully stretching and testing his wings. The brightness of them is striking, and Clint resists the impulse to squint in order to look directly at them. They're so new.

Phil watches over one shoulder as he folds them out, forward, stretches them to their full wingspan and then tucks them neatly along his back again, and he's so beautiful that Clint feels like he can't breathe.

He must make some sort of noise in his throat, because Phil's head comes around, and he smiles when he sees Clint sitting up in bed.

"Hey," Clint says, folding his arms over his knees and leaning on them.

"Hey yourself," Phil says quietly.

For a moment, they don't speak; they just look at each other, before Clint smirks and looks at Phil's wings. "I see you're familiarizing yourself?"

"They're--they're something, all right," Phil admits, walking over to get back in bed next to Clint. "It's strange to think nobody can see them. They feel so real to me."

"They are real," Clint reassures him. "And I can see them just fine."

Phil nods a little and then reaches over to take Clint's hand, lacing their fingers together. It doesn't escape Clint's notice that this is not the first touch Phil has initiated since he became an angel, and it makes something happy and light trickle inside Clint. "Ms. May told me that's why I could see yours. Because I was in the Recruitment pool, and close to getting drafted."

Clint nods, sensing there's more.

"But," Phil says, and Clint feels momentarily vindicated, "that's not why you came to me yesterday."

Clint stills and has to look away for a moment. "No," he admits. "It's not."

Phil's fingers tighten around his own. "You thought I was going to die," he says.

"To be fair, you're technically a little dead right now," Clint says, going for the joke because it's the only way he can deal.

Fortunately, this time it seems to work. When he raises his eyes to Phil's face again, Phil's smile is back in place.

"I'm not going anywhere, Clint," he says, and then leans over to press a kiss against Clint's lips.

"Well," Clint mumbles into Phil's mouth, "at least the whole angel-human relationship thing isn't a problem anymore."

"And thank the heavens for that," Phil mumbles back, arms wrapping around Clint and pulling him down.

Clint laughs. "You're part of the heavens now, Phil."

"And they call me cheesy," Phil says delightedly, and then flips them over so he's on top, chests pressed together under the covers of Clint's little bed.

"Want to see a trick?" Clint asks with a grin.

"Sure," Phil says, "what kind of--" and then his eyes roll back in his head and a full-body shiver goes through him that even Clint can feel all the way down to his toes, as Clint rubs two fingers persistently between Phil's shoulder blades.

"Jeez," Phil says when Clint pulls back a little. "No wonder you like that."

"Right?" Clint asks, and then dives in for more kisses.

Phil's body hasn't changed in the last twenty-four hours, wings aside. He's still Phil, he's still got the same calluses, the same scars--but there's something different in the way he moves now. Like a burden has been lifted from him now that the stress surrounding the whole angel business is out in the open. Clint revels in the certainty with which Phil moves now, pushing up Clint's shirt and one palm sliding down to cup Clint's rapidly hardening cock through his boxers.

Phil's hands are warm against Clint's skin, and they move without hesitation. Clint thinks about the way Phil would flinch away from him when they first met, and thinks about everything they still don't know about each other. Clint thinks maybe one day he will tell Phil about what he remembers from his own pre-angel days. Thinks maybe it's time to share his life--and death--with someone else.

Phil pulls him out of his thoughts, grounds him, by insistently pulling at Clint's underwear. Once he's naked from the waist down, Phil wriggles out of his own boxers. For a moment, Clint feels like he's had the breath stolen right out of his lungs, because Phil's dick is hard and beautiful between his legs, bead of moisture gathering at the tip, and Clint is almost bowled over with the knowledge that he got to keep this--he got to keep Phil. It's enough to give him pause in his movements, and he almost wonders if he should ask for a moment to collect himself.

(And seriously, when did he become such a sap, anyway? Clearly, this is Jane and Darcy's fault.)

Thankfully, Phil's clearly willing to take action, where Clint keeps getting tripped up on all these ridiculous emotions, and he gets them both out of their shirts to where they're both fully naked. Phil turns his head to watch as his shirt passes right through the wings, fascinated, and then looks sheepishly back down at Clint.

"Sorry," Phil says. "It's just--it's pretty cool."

Clint looks at Phil and the wonder written on his face, and suddenly can't make a sound. He grabs Phil by the shoulders and pulls him down, aligning their cocks and rolling his hips upwards.

Phil groans in his ear and then turns it into a long, slow lick up Clint's jawline. "Clint," he says, and his voice is suddenly hoarse and raw.

"Phil," Clint says back, wriggling one hand between them so he can flick a finger over one of Phil's nipples. "Did you want something?"

"Yes," Phil pants. "Yes, yes."

"What is it?" Clint puts his mouth right nearby Phil's ear and rolls his hips upwards again. "Tell me. You have to tell me."

"I want to fuck you," Phil says.

Clint grins, open-mouthed and happy against Phil's lips, before wrapping both legs around Phil's waist. "What are you waiting for, then?"

Phil makes a sort of croaking noise in his throat as Clint reaches between them to grab both of their dicks in one hand. His eyes slide shut as he pushes himself up on his elbows, and Clint can't stop looking at him, at his face, his five o'clock shadow, the slight sheen of sweat that's started to appear by his temples, the curve of his pristine wings visible over his shoulders.

"Clint," Phil says, and it sounds almost like he's pleading. Using one strong hand, Phil pries Clint's legs from around his waist, but before Clint gets to ask him why, Phil just slithers down his body and sucks Clint's cock into his mouth.

"Oh Jesus fucking fuck," Clint breathes out, startled, and then his own eyes close against his will, because Phil's tongue is doing stuff to his cock that should be illegal in every realm. Phil's got this thing he does, where he lays his tongue flat against the underside on each upstroke. At the same time, the enthusiasm with which he bobs his head up and down is making Clint see stars.

"That feels so fucking good," Clint tells him, because Phil seems to like his voice, and he likes making sure Phil knows he's appreciated. Phil's response is to suck harder, one hand braced against the inside of Clint's thigh to hold his legs splayed open, the other near the dip where Clint's thigh meets his crotch, the thumb rubbing closer and closer to his perineum. It's already building faintly in his balls, Clint can tell, and he squirms a little on the bed. Heat surges in him when Phil's hand on his thigh clutches against his skin and pushes him back down to hold him still, because wow that's hot, and Clint groans, "Phil, God--"

Phil pulls off Clint's cock with a wet sound, giving the head a thorough lick with a flat tongue in the process, before nuzzling further down, underneath Clint's balls.

All the air rushes out of Clint's lungs at the first swipe of Phil's tongue across his hole, and Clint reaches down to hook his hands behind his knees and pull his legs further apart and up. He feels exposed, on display, but Phil seems to love it; he makes an appreciative noise as one of his hands reaches up to grab Clint's dick where it's leaking against his stomach. Phil's tongue darts out again, licks firmly and wetly across the pucker, and Clint resists the urge to squirm, because every nerve ending he has is on fire.

Pressing inwards, Phil's tongue feels like a furnace against Clint's ass, and when Clint groans, long and deep in his chest, Phil's hand loses the tentative rhythm he was building up on Clint's dick. "Phil," Clint whines, because this is torture and he never wants it to end.

He's wet now, wet from Phil's tongue pressing into him and licking across his ass and making him come apart at the seams. Phil's wings bristle and puff up, and Clint wishes he could reach them; wishes he could grab them and hang onto them. One of Phil's thumbs comes up to swipe at Clint's cockhead on each upstroke, and it's like a coil springs loose in the pit of Clint's belly, heat licking out into every vein.

"Stop," he tries, and finds that the word is barely audible, his voice refusing to carry it. "Phil, stop, I--"

Phil pulls back a little, tongue pressing and catching wetly on the rim of Clint's hole for a moment, but before Clint can even breathe a sigh of relief, Phil just keeps going up and up and then he says, "Keep talking to me," before he's suddenly sucking Clint down to the root again.

It's a suckerpunch. Clint can't breathe, and his skin is tingling. He lets go of his legs, clutches the sheets and opens and closes his mouth, tries to sort out his thoughts, tries to form words, and he's not even really aware of what he's saying. He doesn't think he's any good at dirty talk, but Phil told him to keep talking, so that's what he does.

"It feels good," Clint says, and then has to clear his throat and try again. "It feels so fucking good, I love your mouth, I love it; you do this thing with your tongue," and then Phil goes and fucking does it, the bastard, "oh, fuck, like that!"

Phil reaches down with a finger and gets the tip carefully worked into Clint's ass--just to the first joint--and light spots dance in Clint's vision. He's teetering on the edge, and it's the most amazing agony.

"Phil, I can't--you have to, I'm so close, I'm gonna, you have to stop, you have to fuck me now," Clint gets out, and then can't decide whether to be relieved or maybe just raise a commemorative flag for what feels like the bluest balls in history, when Phil takes away both his mouth and his finger.

"Terrible idea," Clint mumbles, throwing one arm over his eyes as the edge of orgasm slowly slips out of his reach.

"Shhh," Phil soothes, finding Clint's lube in the bedside drawer, and then it only takes a few seconds before his finger is back.

"Actually," Clint breathes, legs falling apart again, "great idea. Yeah."

"Best idea ever," Phil agrees, and quickly works a second finger into Clint.

Clint inhales through his nose and exhales through his mouth, and focuses on relaxing. It's not difficult; he's already loose and pliant, and when Phil leans down to mouth across his chest, tongue darting out to flick across his nipple, Clint nods.

"Okay, okay," Clint says quickly, "I'm good."

Like before, Phil doesn't question him, but trusts him to know his own body's limitations. The fat head of Phil's cock against his asshole makes something jolt inside of Clint, a sharp thrill of anticipation that races up his spine and out to his wings.

"Do it," he orders, and a smile spreads across Phil's face as he pushes into Clint's body.

Clint's entire body trembles, and he has to force himself to keep his eyes open. Phil's wide-eyed and smiling above him, and Clint reaches around to touch that spot, the one between Phil's shoulderblades.

"Oh my God," Phil groans as his eyes squeeze shut and his hips snap forward. He bottoms out, which drags a groan from both of them, and then laughter rumbles through him. "If you keep doing that, this will be over really fast," he warns, opening his eyes again to look down at Clint with amusement.

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Clint says cockily back, because he knows how good it can feel, and he fucking loves that he gets to be the one to teach it to Phil, that he gets to be the first person to do this to Phil. Determined, he spreads his fingers and then strokes towards where wing meets shoulder. Phil's hips jerk back and snap forwards again, and then, as if realizing that he might as well keep moving, Phil's fucking him.

Clint clenches around Phil's cock in his ass and uses a fingernail to lightly scratch at the skin between Phil's shoulderblades, and Phil shivers, and it's fucking amazing. Clint wants to reach down and jerk himself off, but can't quite find the focus to, because he wants to make Phil come, he wants to see Phil's face as he comes undone inside him, around him.

He wonders if Phil's even aware of how his wings are drooping down, more and more as he loses himself further in Clint's body. As Phil leans heavily on his elbows, locked in place on each side of Clint's torso, his wings touch the bed, and it's like they're covered with a blanket of feathers. Bringing his own wings up further, Clint covers them the rest of the way, and then it's just the two of them; lost in what feels like a timeless bubble. His fingers stroke across Phil's skin on an instroke, and there's tiny pearls of sweat on Phil's forehead.

"Come on, Phil," Clint murmurs, voice hitching with each thrust Phil makes inwards. "Come on, come on, I love it when you come in me."

Phil makes a whimpering noise, and Clint lightly scratches a fingernail directly against the root of his left wing, his other hand stroking across the feathers of the right--and then Phil bottoms out with a rumbling groan, like gravel in his throat. His hips twitch slightly against Clint's ass, and Clint embraces him then, wraps his arms around him and holds him through his orgasm.

Phil's wings move minutely, long feathers sheltering them from the outside world.

Once he stops twitching, Phil trails kisses along Clint's collarbone, and then steals a kiss. "Jesus, Clint," he breathes, and Clint grins.

"Have fun?"

"Jesus," Phil just says again, and then pushes up on one elbow so he can reach down and grab Clint's dick again, and--hallelujah, the commemorative blue balls flag will have to wait for another day, it seems.

Clint groans and his ass clenches, Phil still inside him, still hard, but softening. Phil's hand is firm and still a little slick with lube, and Clint shifts, wishing Phil could get hard again immediately. As if reading his mind, Phil pulls his hips back just a little, then pushes inwards again, cock just hard enough to follow his movements. It makes Clint's eyes fall shut as he chases his orgasm. His ass is slick now, so slick, Phil's come and lube easing the way, and Phil's thumb presses against the underside of Clint's cockhead.

Clint moans, because he'd been so close before and he can feel it now, feel himself rushing back towards it, as Phil speeds up his strokes, adjusts his pressure as Clint shifts, and someone must be making noise because Clint can hear it, and he's reasonably certain it's him.

"Close," Clint grits out, because he's right there, and then Phil pushes as far into Clint's ass as he can. It's not quite the same because he's going soft, it doesn't stretch Clint, he doesn't get as deep, but it's still somehow perfect, just perfect--and then Clint tumbles over the edge, falling into orgasm as pleasure rushes through him.

Wetness splashes on his stomach and his jaw clenches so tightly it hurts, and when Clint finally stops spurting, there's sweat running down his temples and he’s not sure he'll ever be able to open his eyes again.

He comes down from his orgasm slowly, noting with a mild sense of detachment when Phil finally slips out of his body. He's not sure what Phil uses to clean him up, but from the feel of the fabric, he guesses one of their shirts. It doesn't do a very good job of mopping up the moisture, and there's still stuff leaking out of his ass, but Clint can't bring himself to really care, floating on his orgasm high and just being very content in general.

It's not until Phil lies back down with him, pushing his way into the crook of his arm, that Clint opens his eyes again. He moves his head just enough so that he can lean down for a kiss, before putting both arms around Phil and hugging him tight. Phil kisses his mouth and kisses his chest and then settles down against his shoulder.

"Does that wing thing," Phil asks against Clint's skin, "does it always feel like that?"

Clint manages a smile. "Feel like what? Good? Yeah, pretty much."

Phil sucks a ghost of a hickey into Clint's skin, before shaking his head a little. "No, I mean, what happens if I touch another angel there?"

"Like casually?" Clint asks, and Phil nods.

"Nothing much," Clint says with a shrug. "It's not like an instant pleasure button or anything, if that's what you're thinking."

Phil's silent for a few moments. "I have to admit, that's what I was thinking."

"It's more like--well, the first time you touched me there, you thought it was an erogenous zone, right? You're not wrong. It's like that. You could in theory bring anyone pleasure by touching them there, but it's really when you're already about to get freaky that it gets really good."

Phil nods a little and looks like he's mulling it over. "I have a lot to learn about being an angel I guess?"

Clint smiles. "Good thing I'm here to guide you," he says, smiling.

Phil smiles back and agrees, "Yeah. Good thing."

Clint turns his head to look out the windows, the city lazy and bright in the sunlight. He doesn't know what time it is, but the sun has started to take on a slightly orange hue.

"Merry Christmas," he tells Phil.

"Merry Christmas," Phil says back.

Another few moments of silence pass, before Phil speaks again, sounding stunned and awestruck. "I can't believe Captain America's an angel. I'm going to be working with Captain America."

*

Clint taps his foot impatiently on the sidewalk and shivers against the cold. Wrapping his wings around himself, Clint scowls at the snow falling from the skies and shivers again.

Phil's shuffle is more of a run than a walk, but it's still a shuffle, wary as he is of slipping on the icy sidewalk. "Sorry, sorry, sorry!" he says, as soon as he's close enough to be heard without shouting.

"No, no, that's fine, I'll just stand here and freeze my wings off," Clint says, throwing his arms out and making a face. "Why didn't you just Blink?"

"I did," Phil says, looking a little embarrassed as he reaches Clint. "I ended up a block away. I didn't want to risk miscalculating again."

Clint nods and considers; Phil's only been an angel for a little over a month, and Clint vividly remembers how his own early days of Blinking were. (Hint: They were bad.)

"Fine," Clint decides. "Acceptable apology. Give me a kiss and let's head inside."

"Why didn't you just go on in without me?" Phil asks, leaning over to peck Clint on the lips.

Clint mumbles and looks away, and Phil laughs. "Are you serious? Clint, Maria's not still mad at you."

"That's what you think," Clint says sullenly, but he's already pulling open the door and gesturing for Phil to go ahead.

"You're adorable," Phil says, before heading inside. Clint's surprised to find the others already there, crowded around the biggest table, and he waves at them before following Phil. Maria is standing behind the bar looking a lot less grumpy than normal, and appears to be busy drinking Jasper under the table via tequila shots.

"Happy birthday, Maria!" Phil says with a smile, and hands over their present. Clint is only mildly disappointed when she doesn't tear into it immediately; with some help from the Guardians, they'd found her a beautiful antique hourglass--Phil had assured him she'd love it--and he's curious to see her reaction, even if she hates his guts. "That's from both of us," Phil explains.

Maria's eyes glide from Phil to Clint, and Clint does a little wave, expecting to see the usual scowl appear on her features. It never comes, however; instead Maria just narrows her eyes a little at him before nodding.

"Thanks, guys," she says. "Your friends are already here."

Clint looks back towards the big table, where Wade is double fisting glasses of cheap wine.

"That one is fucking weird," Maria says with a suspicious frown.

"Tell me about it," Phil says with a rueful shake of his head. "They're good guys, though."

"They're practically angels," Clint says, because he can't resist, and Phil elbows him in the stomach.

"Well, have a seat, guys," Maria says, putting aside her present so she can fill two glasses with beer and hand them over. "I'll be right there; I just have to win this drinking contest first."

"This hardly seems fair," Jasper slurs against the bar.

Clint and Phil don't stay to witness the final blow to Jasper's dignity, just head towards the table, where the Reapers are in the process of getting terribly drunk with Maria's friends (several of whom also seem to know Phil).

"Hi, gorgeous," Wade says, and even behind the mask it's obvious that he's batting his eyelashes.

"Hi yourself," Clint says, sitting down in one of the two chairs Natasha's saved for them, between herself and Wade.

"I wasn't talking to you, move over, I wanna sit next to the new boy in town," Wade says, and forcibly pulls Phil down next to him, throwing one arm across Phil's shoulders. "Well, hello, hunka hunka rugged meat," he purrs, which--that doesn't even make sense!

"Nope," Clint says, snapping his fingers. "Absolutely not. Bucky."

Bucky laughs and forces Wade to swap seats with him. Wade whines temporarily, but then quickly gets drawn into a bizarre conversation with another one of Maria and Phil's old army buddies--Clint thinks his name might be Blake?

"Thanks," Phil says, looking relieved.

"So how are you adjusting to the--job?" Natasha asks with a little twitch of her lips, mindful of all the humans present.

"It's good," Phil says honestly. "I enjoy Administration, and my coworkers are nice."

"Good coworkers are important," Natasha agrees. "Speaking of good coworkers, I have your thingy."

Clint's intrigued as Natasha leans to the other side and pulls out a large, flat box from next to her seat. "Thingy?"

"Oh good," Phil says, but instead of taking the box as she hands it to him, he just places it directly in Clint's lap. "Merry belated Christmas."

Clint blinks at the box. "It's Maria's birthday, not mine," he says. "Also, it's February."

Phil shrugs, looking quite happy with himself. "Someone told me you might be interested in this."

Curious now, Clint opens the box, and his jaw drops when he sees what's inside. The recurve bow is a shiny black with purple accents along the handle, and without really thinking about it, Clint reaches out and runs his fingers carefully across it.

"Holy shit, Phil," Clint whispers. "This is--thank you."

Phil just laughs. It's music to Clint's ears.

Clint looks at Phil then, really looks at him, and searches his face. Phil's kind eyes stare back at him, and Phil's smile is warm, lines at the edges of his mouth and faint crow's feet at the corners of his eyes. Phil looks happy.

"You okay?" Clint asks, just to be sure.

"I'm good," Phil replies, and Clint believes him.

Leaning closer, Phil nudges Clint's arm a little, and then whispers into his ear.

"Hey, stop me if you've heard this one, okay? So, two angels, three Reapers, and a whole bunch of clueless humans walk into a bar…"

Clint looks at Phil and smiles.

End