Clint stepped into the conference room and felt his shoulders relax when he saw Coulson already sitting in one of the chairs across from Fury. All Fury's summons had said was to report for a briefing on an undercover op. Clint hated going undercover; he'd rather be on a roof with his bow, or even a rifle. But if he had to go under, at least he'd have Coulson at his back. Nat was almost as good, but sometimes she got so deep in her cover that he wondered if his partner was close enough to the surface to be there for him. She'd never let him down, and it made her the best, but he was still just a bit more relaxed when he was undercover with Coulson.
"Sir. Sir," he said, nodding at each of them as he dropped into the chair next to Coulson. Coulson flashed him a quick smile, and Clint returned it, covering the leap of his heart with the ease of long practice. "What've we got?"
Fury pushed a file across the table, presumably a copy of the one in front of Coulson. "Meet Richard Hughes and Patrick Briggs," he said. The photos were of two men, white, forties, one brunet and one redhead. Briggs was the redhead. "Hughes is an arms dealer we've been keeping an eye on. He specializes in cutting edge stuff. Knockoffs of Stark Industries stuff used to be a specialty of his, but he's interested in anything that might be ahead of the curve."
"Bet he was pissed when Stark got out of the weapons business," Clint said, paging through the file. They weren't the only agency that had their eye on Hughes; he's been the subject of ATF and FBI ops as well, but no one had gotten enough dots to connect to bring him in.
"Pissed is an understatement," Fury said dryly. "He took out a hit on Stark. The offer's still out there, by the way. Ten million. He's had trouble finding a taker since Stark came out as Iron Man."
Clint smirked. "I'll make a note for my retirement plan."
"Not without my go ahead," Coulson murmured, and Clint shot him a grin.
"As for Briggs--" Fury began.
"Briggs I know," Clint jumped in. Fury raised an eyebrow and Clint rolled his eyes. "Well, not personally. Not exactly. He used to be a hired gun, not high end but reliable. The guy finally figured out that he was never going to be more than a mediocre assassin and decided to sell the reliability angle, instead. Last I heard, he was working security for the mob in Chicago."
Next to him, Coulson nodded and flipped further into the file. "He did pretty well there," he said. "Well enough that Hughes actually put some time into recruiting him. He met Briggs on a visit to Chicago to seal a deal with Briggs's boss. Hughes took a shine to him and spent the next six months convincing Briggs to come to New York so that they could work together."
"The Chicago boss was okay with that?" Clint asked, glancing down at the dossier in surprise.
"As far as we can tell," Fury said, "Chicago wasn't sad to see him go, despite the quality of the work he'd been doing. Relations with Hughes aren't exactly friendly, but no blood got spilled, either."
"Huh." Clint flipped through the file, scanning the rest of the pages. A brochure was tucked into the back of the file. Pine Lake Oasis. "So Hughes and Briggs are our persons of interest?"
"The primary ones," Fury confirmed. "Hughes lives in a gated community a couple of hours outside Manhattan; Briggs moved in with him when he came over from Chicago. They haven't left the place much since then, maybe once every couple of months. They get quite a few visitors, though. The ATF is pretty well convinced that they're using the community as their base of operations, which means any number of the residents could be involved."
Phil frowned. "Or they could be innocents being used as cover."
"Or that." Fury leaned back in his seat. "The ATF has been keeping an eye on Hughes, and they take a poke at him every now and then, but his operation has always been a specialty thing--high quality, high price, and low volume. It's kept him off anybody's priority lists.
"At least, it did until we got word that an unidentified acquisitions specialist, and I quote, 'hit it big' in New York six months ago."
Clint grimaced. "Fucking Chitauri tech is never going to stop biting us in the ass, is it? Why'd they'd wait so long?"
"My guess is, they're a professional," Fury said. "They gave it some time for things to cool down."
Coulson was frowning at the file. "How sure are we that the specialist will be selling to Hughes?"
Fury blew out a breath. "About eighty, eighty-five percent sure. ATF is keeping an eye on the other possibilities for us, but they agreed that 'alien shit' is our department, so we're taking point. Problem is, we don't know for sure when the sale will happen. Could be happening now. Could be happening a month from now. We've got to put someone in now and just," he spread his hands, "wait for it."
Clint held up the brochure. "Pine Lake Oasis. 'A diverse community of committed adults.' Committed adults, sir? Are they all nuts, or just really into porn?"
Fury laughed. "That's the place. 'Committed adults', by the way, means they strongly favor married partners, and there are no kids allowed. We think that was part of the attraction for Hughes; it's a more controlled environment than one with children running around. Since Hughes and Briggs appear to be posing as a couple, you two will be going in as recently married long-term partners to give you a point of commonality."
Clint froze, then slowly looked over at Coulson, and found Coulson turning to look at him, his expression equally blank. Clint couldn't say no. He had no good reason to say no, it would just look weird. So instead he forced a grin and waggled his eyebrows at Coulson. "Wanna play my sugar daddy, sir? I warn you, a hot piece like me doesn't come cheap."
Coulson expression cracked into a wry smile and he snorted. "You're not young enough to make a convincing trophy husband," he said dryly. "You'll have to settle for devoted spouse."
God. Devoted spouse. This mission was going to kill Clint.
"Everything you need is in the files," Fury said. "You two don't need me to hold your hands. You're moving into the community Friday morning; a van will meet you there with 'your' belongings. Our people will make sure the wardrobes contain everything you need to monitor the community, and an appropriate armory, but for discretion's sake the movers themselves will be civilians.
"First priority is unearthing Hughes' operation and getting a good monitoring grid in place," Fury went on. "Hopefully something that'll stand up if we need to pull you out and still be there later. After that, lay low, gather intel, and do not engage, at least not until that acquisitions specialist shows up. If they do, identify the tech. Once we know what we're dealing with, we'll go from there. If we get a good enough surveillance network in place and the tech isn't Chitauri after all, we might want to just let things run for the sake of intel."
Clint's, "Yes sir," overlapped with Coulson's, "Got it, boss." Fury dismissed them. Clint followed Coulson to his office and dropped onto the couch, putting his feet up. He made sure his boots hung out over the arm; he wasn't about to risk Coulson's wrath by defiling his couch.
The file contained the details of both of their covers. Coulson would be posing as Phil Hamilton, project manager for a software company. Clint would be Clint Bryan, part of research and development for a sports equipment company. According to the file, they'd met four years ago, when 'Hamilton's' company installed new server software for 'Bryan's' team.
"Well, if we've gotta play house for a couple weeks," Clint said as he read through his cover identity's details, "as least my cover is actually novel this time. I've been under as an ex-con so many times I was starting to wonder if Research was trying to warn me about something. I've never actually been arrested, you know." He looked up to find Coulson raising an eyebrow at him and scowled. "You setting me up so you had a captive audience for your SHIELD pitch doesn't count."
Coulson smiled quickly. "It's not about you, Barton. It's just that the sort of places we normally need people to go undercover. Similarly, every female Specialist has played prostitute a couple of times; comes with the territory."
"Yeah, I know. But it's been a lot more than 'a couple of times' for me." Clint sighed and flipped to the next page. "If I do well at this one, maybe I won't have to go back to school just to get a better selection of cover identities." Coulson snorted and Clint looked up, scowling. "You don't think I could do it?"
"What?" Coulson looked up from his own file and met Clint's gaze. "No, I know you could. But you'd be bored stiff. Unless you're going for a professional certification like a doctor or a lawyer, people go to college to check a box on their resume, network, and learn to think critically and logically. The class content is secondary. You don't need the first two and you already know the last." Coulson shrugged. "So why bother?"
Clint smiled. "And here I thought people went to college to experiment with sex and drugs."
"You don't need college for that," Coulson shot back, and Clint laughed.
He took a moment to commit both of their covers to memory--they'd been together for four years, he'd be expected to know all of 'Hamilton's' little details--but there wasn't much in the packet about their actual relationship. Most of the information was background on the workplace cover they'd set up for him. Clint double-checked, but no, that was it. "Coulson? Did Research give you more personal stuff? I've just got the broad strokes, here."
"No, I have the same," Coulson said. "But that's probably intentional; we've known each other long enough that the cover will be a lot more solid if we build it based on what's real than on a list of bullet points."
"Ah...what's real?" Clint asked. He kept a blush off his face with conscious effort. Surely Coulson wouldn't be so calm if--
"Places we've been together," Coulson elaborated, not looking up from his file. "Stories we've told each other. That sort of thing."
Of course. "Right. That makes sense."
Coulson looked up suddenly, his brow creasing with concern. "I know you don't normally go under for more than a few hours, but it'll be fine. We make a good team."
"Yeah, I know," Clint shrugged. "I'm not worried, not really. Just settling things in my head."
Coulson nodded. "We'll have time on the drive there to settle into the roles."
Clint made himself smile. He wasn't worried about settling in the role. He was worried he'd get too comfortable. Cross that bridge when you come to it, he told himself firmly.
When Coulson met Clint at his apartment the next morning, so that they could drive to the community together, he was wearing khakis and a long sleeved t-shirt that clung to his upper body a hell of a lot closer than his dress shirts did. A flush of heat went through Clint. They'd done undercover before, of course, but Coulson's covers tended to be professional, formal men, which meant suits. This...this was different.
Clint let himself look, because if they were going to be pretending to be married, he was supposed to. "Looking good, sir." Of course, the 'sir' was a tip off. "Phil," Clint amended.
Phil smiled at him and God, he looked way too soft in that shirt, smiling like that... "Thank you."
Phil helped him get his bags into the trunk--apparently taking a few things in suitcase in case you didn't feel up to unpacking right away was a thing people did when moving, not that Clint would know. As Clint slammed the trunk shut and stepped back, Phil put a hand on his back, then dragged it casually down to Clint's waist and gave his hip a squeeze. Clint couldn't help twitching, and shot his handler a sidelong glance.
"Don't want you twitching like that by the time we get there," Phil explained.
Clint blew out a breath. "Sorry, sir. Phil."
Phil paused, letting his hand drop from Clint's hip. "If it's too much, we could adjust the cover," he said quietly. "It...wouldn't be hard to come up with a reason a gay couple would be uncomfortable with public displays of affection."
"No, no," Clint said quickly, reaching out to touch Phil's wrist quickly. "That's not-- It's not too much. I just--" He struggled for words, since he couldn't say I'm in love with you, and I'm not sure I can handle touching you and it not being real. But he didn't want Coulson to close him out, either. "I know I don't exactly have a rep for being professional," he said finally, "but I do have rules, and maintaining focus during an op is one of them. It's just taking a minute for it to sink all the way in that I'm supposed to let go and be casual."
"Maybe a bit of...exposure therapy, so to speak?" Coulson suggested, uncharacteristically hesitant. He opened his arms and took a half step closer, shrugging once, and-- Oh. Oh.
"Okay," Clint said, proud when his voice didn't squeak. He met Phil halfway and put his arms around him carefully. Phil's hands settled lightly on Clint's back. Clint could feel a weird, strange distance between them, neither of them fully committed to the hug, and that was just wrong, because he trusted Phil like no one else, Phil had held Clint's blood in his body with his bare hands, Phil had dragged him, drugged and half conscious, through jungles. Fuck distance. Clint let out a breath and leaned into Phil, letting them press together from shoulder to knee.
Phil's touch on Clint's back grew firmer in response, until he was holding Clint properly. They were too close to the same height for Clint to comfortably rest his head on Phil's shoulder, so he turned his head a little instead, closing his eyes and pressing their cheeks together.
"Better?" Phil asked quietly. Clint could feel his jaw move.
Saying yes would mean letting go. You have weeks more of this coming, Clint reminded himself. "Yeah." He gave it another moment, then slowly stepped back, letting his hands slide over Phil's hips. Instead of dropping them back to his sides right away, he caught Phil's hand on the way and gave it a quick squeeze.
Phil squeezed back and smiled at him. Did he normally smile this much when he wasn't working? It was...fuck, it was adorable "Ready to go?" Phil asked.
"Yeah, I'm good, let's hit the road," Clint said.
They climbed into the car, Phil driving, and headed out of the city. "Okay," Phil said when he'd settled into the rhythm of the traffic. "First meeting, since that'll be the first thing everyone asks about."
"You're software guy, right?" Clint said, leaning back against the car door a bit to watch Phil as he drove. "So you're in R&D to install--"
Phil shook his head. "A project manager wouldn't be handling the install," he said. "Honestly, I probably don't know that much about the software itself. The project manager is there to herd the actual techs in the right direction, make sure they all hit their marks. On a smooth project, probably the only people in the client company to meet the project manager would be the bosses."
"So it's not a smooth install," Clint said. "Something goes wrong, and my team’s computers are down longer than they're supposed to be--"
"Days longer," Phil put in.
Clint nodded. "Yeah. And now we're behind schedule, after being promised six ways from Sunday that we wouldn't even notice the change. So I get all up in my boss--"
"The head of R&D."
"Yeah, the head of R&D's face, and he's starting to feel like an idiot because he keeps saying it's almost fixed, so finally he drags me into a meeting with the project manager--you--because he's tired of being yelled at for your problems."
"I'm already tense when the meeting starts," Phil picked up. "Because I know that something's gone wrong down in R&D, and even though it went fine in the other divisions, that one is really important. When I see that the head of R&D isn't alone, I really start to sweat, but then I get a proper look at you and all thoughts of the install are completely knocked out of my head, because you are gorgeous."
Clint opened his mouth, but no words came out. He blinked. Phil glanced away from the road, tossing him a curious look. "Gorgeous?" Clint said. "Really?"
Clint swore that Phil's ears took on a faint pink tint. He looked fixedly out the windshield. "There isn't a person in this community who'll believe me if I say I didn't just about fall all over myself the first time I got a look at you," he said. "You are extremely attractive."
Now Clint was blushing. "I-- Um. Okay. So. Meeting. You're all tongue tied, but I don't notice, because this is my chance to move my problem up the chain of command and I'm trying really hard to keep my cool."
"I managed to get my thoughts in some sort of order while you're explaining the problem, enough to ask a couple questions," Phil said.
"I don't exactly lose my temper," Clint went on, "but the more I talk about it, the more my frustration comes through."
"And the more frustrated you get, the more expressive you get," Phil tossed Clint a quick look. Clint had to smile; that was true enough. "But by the end of the meeting we think we've figured out the issue--"
"--and I say, 'Thank God, you have no idea how fucked my projects are because of this mess.'"
"And I say, 'I'm sorry. Could I take you out for coffee to apologize?'"
Clint couldn't help grinning as they laid out the story. "And now I'm the gob smacked one," he said. "Because I've just spent an hour swearing and flailing and not being very professional at all, and my boss looks like he wishes he'd drowned me instead of bringing me into a meeting with his boss and the Project Manager of this important install thing, and the super cute guy I've been yelling at the whole time just asked me on a date."
"Super cute?" Phil asked, shooting Clint a sidelong glance.
"Super cute," Clint repeated firmly. "So I say, 'Did you just ask me out on a date?'"
"And I say yes."
"So I say yes," Clint finished. For a moment they were both quiet, letting the story settle. It was a good one. "It ever actually that easy for folks?" Clint asked after a minute.
"Sometimes even easier," Phil said. There was a wistful note to his voice. "My sister met her husband in a cooking class. They both liked really spicy food, apparently."
Clint had known Phil had a sister--Angela, he thought--but this was new information. "She have any kids?" Phil raised an eyebrow and Clint shrugged. "In case folks ask about the in-laws."
Phil nodded. "Two. A boy, Kyle, who ought to be graduating college this year, and a girl, Shelby, who's just starting." He just drove for a moment. "What about your family?"
Clint dropped his eyes and picked at the seam of his jeans. "My mom and dad died in a car accident, like they actually did," he said. "But after that-- Let's, um. Let's say...no siblings, and I got really good foster parents. George and Ruth. He was in construction and she was a cook, and they didn't adopt me, but they were good people, made sure I got a decent start when I turned 18 and was out on my own." Clint fell silent. Phil didn't ask, but Clint knew he'd come up with all that too easily to have made all of it up. "Ruth was the bearded lady, in the circus," he said eventually. "George ran the muscle, the guys who did most of the set up and tear down. They weren't actually together--George was gay--but they were good people."
Phil just nodded again. "How about how we moved in together?" he asked after a moment, and glanced away from the road to check in with Clint. "I'm assuming we lived together before we got married."
"Yes," Clint said firmly. "Uh. Can we do one of those, 'our stuff migrated until we were already living together and didn't notice' things?"
"Of course. Any particular reason?"
Clint shrugged and looked out the window. "Always liked the idea, I guess. That you could be so comfortable with someone that you don't even notice your lives seeping in on each other."
"I hadn't thought about it like that," Phil said. Clint looked back at him to find that his gaze, though still trained on the road, had taken on a melancholy air. "The one time I asked someone to live with me, it felt like the asking was important. I imagined us sitting down to figure out how we were going to make it happen and I thought it would be an important milestone, that our relationship was worth putting work into it."
Except that Phil had said that he'd imagined that, not that they'd done it. "What happened?" Clint asked.
Phil's mouth took on a wry twist. "I asked, and he apologized and said that if he'd realized I was that serious about the relationship, he'd have broken it off sooner."
Clint winced. "Fuck. Sorry."
"It was ten years ago." Phil shrugged.
"So moving in just happened," Clint said, forging ahead. There were quite a few significant events they ought to have straight, still, and he was pretty sure Phil didn't want to dwell on this one, no matter how long ago it had been.
The two hour trip flew by as they tossed stories back and forth. By the time they turned into a longish driveway and slowed to a stop at the gate--electronically locked, there was no guard posted, or even a hut for one--Clint was feeling a lot easier in his skin.
As they pulled up to the gate, Clint noted a security camera, pointed to see through the windshield of any car stopped at the card reader. Showtime.
"There should be a gate card in the package in the glove compartment," Phil said as he slowed to a stop and rolled his window down.
Clint popped the glove compartment and pulled out the packet that sat atop the standard plastic folder that held the registration. Flipping it open, he withdrew the card and turned to hold it out to Phil, smiling warmly. When Phil met his eyes, he paused for a split second before his feigned casual distraction melted into new expression. It was soft, maybe even tender. Clint's heart stuttered.
"Thanks," Phil said, his fingers brushing Clint's when he took the card.
Just a cover, Clint reminded himself as Phil swiped the card and, handing it back to Clint, guided them through the gate.
The community was the kind of suburban subdivision Clint had mostly seen in movies and a handful of surveillance photos. Since they were the new couple moving in, Clint figured staring out the window, familiarizing himself with the layout and their soon-to-be neighbors, was normal and not suspicious.
It was a warm day, and a weekend, which meant there were a lot of people out and about. Several walking dogs, a few jogging, and at least one party in progress, with a good dozen people either lounging on the house's front stoop or playing a game involving plastic wickets and wooden mallets . "You ever do this kind of thing?" Clint asked as they drove onward; there were nearly a thousand people in the community and their home was a few blocks further along. "Hanging out with the neighbors and all that shit."
"Not with neighbors," Phil said as he drove. "My family mostly socialized with the families we knew from my little league team." He slowed, peering out the window past Clint. "What house number are we at? They all look the same."
"4337. We're 4349, right?"
"Right." Phil sat back in his seat. A little better than a block later, he pulled into a short driveway, parked, and turned off the ignition. He smiled at Clint again. "Welcome home."
"Welcome home," Clint repeated automatically. Then he glanced out the window at their house. "If home is Stepford. Or Pleasantville."
Phil snorted and got out of the car, leaning down to peer in at Clint. "You had just as much say in picking this place as I did," he teased.
Clint laughed and levered himself out of the car. "Fair enough."
The driveway led up to a garage, with a short stone path branching off to the left that led to a set of three stone steps. The steps led up to a porch, which stretched across the front of the house; the front door was just right of center. Clint found himself looking up as they stopped at the front door. Yup, there was a porch light to leave on at night to welcome family home, just like in the movies.
The front door opened into a small anteroom with a coat closet on the left; the door leading into the rest of the house was open. Clint resisted the urge to reach for a weapon; he wasn't carrying, and the realtor and movers knew they were coming today, it was probably intentional. Besides, it was an inside door.
Beyond that was a central area that might or might not qualify as a hallway, considering how short it was. On the right it opened into an empty area that had to be the living room. Straight ahead was a door that probably led upstairs. Ahead to the left the short hall opened into the kitchen and, presumably, dining area. On the immediate left, next to the entry where Clint stood, was a closed door, most likely a bathroom.
It was all bare, of course, since the movers hadn't arrived yet. "I'll take upstairs," Phil said.
Clint nodded; they'd be using one of the three bedrooms as a listening station and armory-- as far as their neighbors were concerned, that room would be locked storage for materials Clint brought home from work, since his cover involved a lot telecommuting--and another as an office, so it made sense for Phil to clear that floor and check the set up at the same time. Meanwhile, Clint would clear the first floor and evaluate it from a combat point of view.
Of course, empty of furniture, it all looked great in terms of lines of sight and fighting clearance. The entrance to the garage went through the kitchen, which would make it particularly important to secure the garage. Aside from that, the only major issue was the large picture window in the living room; the rest of the windows were relatively small and easy to secure.
Phil came downstairs while Clint was standing in front of the picture window, frowning and contemplating whether he wanted a clear line of sight for himself or a furniture obstacle course for any potential attackers. "I think we'll want the second bedroom for the secure area," Phil called out, voice echoing in the stairwell for a moment before he emerged. "It's a straight shot from the stairs, in case we need quick access. How's it look down here?"
"Solid," Clint said, not looking away from the window, "except for this window. I'm thinking strategically placed furniture."
Phil stepped up beside him and put an arm around Clint's waist. "Yes, dear."
Clint shot him an amused glance. "We're in trouble if you're 'yes dear'-ing me already."
"We've got eyes on us," Phil said, his relaxed expression never slipping. He raised his hand to wave and Clint followed his gaze across the street to a woman in jeans and a loose grey shirt, on her knees by a flowerbed. She had a trowel in one hand and a pile of weeds at her hip, but she was, indeed, watching them. When Phil waved, she waved back.
"Time to meet the neighbors?" Clint asked. He could feel the heat of Phil's arm seeping through his shirt, making Clint's skin warm in response. Then more movement out the window caught his eye, a large truck rumbling up the street. "Strike that, time to meet the movers."
Moving 'their' stuff into the house was a hell of a lot more work than Clint had expected, considering that they had commercial movers to handle all the heavy lifting. Part of it was that they had to keep a careful eye on handling of the SHIELD tech, which had been marked 'Clint's office'. But even once that was safely situated, there was just so much stuff, and all of it had to be sorted into the right rooms, or placed in the right spots. It kept coming and coming, and by the time the movers closed up their van, all Clint felt like doing was throwing himself down on their new living room couch. If only it wasn't blocked in by boxes. He slid down the wall and sat on the floor instead.
Some tearing noises came from the kitchen, and a moment later Phil emerged with two freshly unpacked glasses, each filled with water. It was only as cold as the tap could make it, but Clint accepted gratefully and drained half of it in one go. He let the glass dangle from his fingertips for a moment and rubbed the tension out of the back of his neck. "Holy shit, s--sweetheart." He winced.
"Always figured you for more of a 'babe' kind of guy," Phil said dryly, eyes crinkling as he smiled. "But sweetheart will do."
"Either that or I'll give our new neighbors entirely the wrong idea about our private life," Clint said, shaking his head. 'Sir' wasn't going to be an easy habit to break, not with Phil.
"You were saying?"
Clint shrugged. "Just that I had no idea that moving house was this much damn work. Never done it before, not like this."
Phil hummed. "I've moved half a dozen times, but I don't think moving out of home and into the Army barracks or the other way around count, really. And the first couple of times were with my family. The big one was last year--I finally moved out of the apartment I was renting and into a condo of my own."
"Not a house?" Clint asked curiously. He experimented with leaning a little against Phil's shoulder. He'd always figured Phil for the picket fence type; he kind of radiated 'settled'.
Phil shrugged but didn't pull away. "No one to share it with."
The doorbell rang before Clint could respond. They turned together, Phil's arm falling away from Clint's waist and leaving a stripe of warmth behind. Clint took point automatically, and had to remind himself to look pleasant when he opened the door. They weren't likely to have attracted negative attention yet.
He was right. There were two people at the door, a man and a woman. Average height, forty-ish, him in jeans and a t-shirt and her in slacks and a blouse. They were both smiling, and he was carrying a covered dish while she was holding a six-pack of beer. "Hi," the woman said. "I hope you don't mind us dropping by. I'm Connie Friedman, this is my husband Ben, we're just across the street." She half turned and pointed at a house across the street, next to the one with the curious gardener.
"Hi," Clint said, a little uncertainly. Was he supposed to invite them in?
"Hi," Phil said, stepping up next to Clint. "I'm Phil Hamilton, this is my husband Clint," he paused to shoot Clint a little grin then. Right. Newlyweds. He felt himself blush a little, but at least that was in character. Phil's grin took on a smug edge before he turned back to their visitors. "I'd invite you in, but it's kind of a disaster in here right now."
Connie waved away the non-invitation. "No, no, we saw the moving van, that's fine. But we thought, you probably aren't in the mood to unpack, never mind find your kitchen tools and actually use them. Pizza on the first night in a new place is a grand tradition, but Ben and I thought you might like another option."
The man, Ben, held out the dish. "It's a beef stew," he said. "Maybe a bit heavy for the summer, but you've had a hell of day and it keeps, if you want to uphold the pizza tradition."
Clint accepted the pot, a little bemused, while Connie offered the six-pack to Phil. "Wine is classier," she said, "but personally I think beer goes better with stew."
"Thank you," Phil said warmly.
"Likewise," Clint added, awkwardly. He glanced down at the pot in his hands, then back up at Ben. "When can we get the pot back to you? I don't want to put you out."
"Whenever you're done," Ben said easily. "We don't use that one for much other than stew."
"We won't keep you on your doorstep," Connie said. "Have a good first night!"
After a round of goodnights, Clint stepped back and let Phil close the door. They stood in the entryway looking at each other for a moment, Clint holding the pot, Phil holding the six pack. "I really didn't think people actually did this sort of thing," Clint said at last.
Phil laughed and shook his head, then turned and led the way to the kitchen. "I'd almost forgotten what suburbia could be like. Come on, we might as well eat this. I hadn't even thought about dinner."
They unpacked a couple of bowls and spoons and ate sitting at the dining room table that SHIELD had provided. Then, no matter how much neither of them felt like unpacking, they had to secure the armory and listening devices. By the time that was done, it was bedtime, and Clint was more than ready for sleep.
Thanks to the suitcase Phil had had him pack, he didn't have to go rooting through the boxes of clothes and other personal effects that SHIELD had provided, thank God. They took turns showering, Clint going second. He padded into the bedroom and stopped short, finding Phil sitting up on the right side of the bed wearing gray pajamas, his glasses on as he peered down at his secure StarkPad. Clint's heart stuttered. Phil looked comfortable and soft and approachable, and the left side of the bed had been left free, and oh fuck, Clint was going to have to sleep in the same bed as Phil. It was king size, but still.
Phil noticed him and looked up. "Hey," he said, "It okay if I take this side of the bed? I can move over if you want."
And if he moved over, Clint would be crawling into sheets warmed by Phil's body. Oh God. "I'm fine," Clint managed. He circled the bed and folded back the covers so he could side between the sheets. Next to Phil. Think of it like a mission. Fuck, it is a mission. Mission. Except that sharing a bed on missions usually involved cheap sheets and stiff, too-heavy bedspreads, or taking turns keeping watch, or collapsing in exhaustion. Not the fresh scent of detergent and Phil in pajamas and reading glasses.
Clint waited a moment before lying down, nodding at the StarkPad. "Checking in?"
Phil nodded, tapping one last button before removing his glasses and setting them and the StarkPad on his bedside table. "Check ins are daily, since this is primarily a surveillance mission. Jasper is holding down the other end of communications."
"Cool. You need me to do anything with that?"
"No, we're done." Phil shifted to lie down. "Good night."
"Night," Clint replied, and wriggled down to lay on his back. He reached up and switched off lamp on his side of the bed, while Phil did the same. The room plunged into blackness, but Clint's eyes adjusted quickly, especially with the starlight coming in the windows. He stared at the ceiling, trying not to obsess over the soft sound of Phil breathing next to him. He wanted to turn onto his side, but the idea of turning his back on Phil felt weird, and the idea of lying facing him felt even weirder.
"You're thinking too loud," Phil muttered.
Clint snorted and turned onto his side. Facing Phil. "And here I figured you'd be happy I was thinking."
"No thinking in bed."
"Careful, sir, I might take that the wrong way."
The only response was the soft shush of Phil's breath.
Clint blinked his way into wakefulness with sunlight warm on his back and the vague sense that he wasn't alone. Focusing across the bed, he had to swallow a sudden snicker. Phil was sprawled on his stomach, hands wrapped around his pillow, face turned to the side, an actual line of drool dampening the pillowcase. He'd never done that on a mission, before. Of course, they usually weren't comfortable enough or secure enough to sleep deeply on a mission.
Clint watched him for a long moment. It wasn't creepy if you woke up in the same bed and didn't feel like leaving the warmth of the blankets just yet, right?
Some people looked younger when they were sleeping. Phil didn't, not really. What he looked like was the sort of man who belonged in a home like this, who had barbeques with his neighbors and whose most dangerous activity involved getting up on a ladder to clean out the gutters. The air of command and the years of combat training, things that showed subtly even when he was undercover, were gone. Phil asleep was a ghost of what could have been if...well, if things had been different. Clint knew Phil had met Fury in the Rangers and eventually followed him to SHIELD, but not why he'd chosen the military in the first place, or why he'd decided to shift from open fighting to a more under the radar style.
Eventually, Clint sighed soundlessly and rolled over, sat up, and swung his legs over the side of the bed. As expected, Phil was awake by the time Clint was done stretching. He blinked at Clint and scrunched up his nose adorably for a moment before reaching up and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. "Morning," Phil said, voice a bit rough from sleep. "What time is it?"
"Hang on." Clint found his watch on the nightstand; they hadn't unpacked an alarm clock yet. "7:30."
"I guess we are working," Phil said wryly, sitting up and throwing the covers back. His feet were bare. Of course they were, he was in bed. But still...Coulson toes. Clint suppressed a smile.
"You don't usually get up early, si-- sweetheart?" Damn it. "You're always in the office before me, even when I'm the first one on the range."
Phil crouched down by the suitcase he'd left on his side of the bed and started sorting through it. "For work, sure," he said over his shoulder. "But its Sunday, and this is all so domestic...I have to keep reminding myself we're on a mission."
"I know the feeling." Clint shook his head. "You mind if I grab the first shower?" The guest bathroom on the first level didn't have either tub or shower.
Phil waved him off. "You were up first."
"By about thirty seconds," Clint said, but he shuffled past Phil and out into the hall anyway. The bathroom was right next door, and they'd hung up their towels to dry overnight, rather than unpack more when they were already tired. When he was done cleaning up, he dried off quickly and then wrapped the towel around his waist and padded back to the bedroom to dig through his own suitcase for clothes. "Shower's free," he said, stepping into the bedroom.
Phil, sitting on the bed and clearly waiting, looked up from his StarkPad and...froze for a moment. Clint frowned a rubbed away a lingering drip from where it was tickling his chest. "You okay?" He glanced quickly over his shoulder, but it was just him.
"Yes, fine," Phil said quickly, flashing Clint a smile. "I'm going to shower now."
"Okay." Clint glanced at Phil again as he quickly gathered up his clothes and hurried into the bathroom. Weird.
Clint went down to the kitchen, then came up short at the sight of all the boxes. Right. No groceries, no breakfast. Not unless they wanted reheated leftover stew. Clint sighed and started unpacking the kitchen. He had a pretty good chunk of it done by the time Phil came down the stairs, freshly scrubbed and wearing jeans and a green button front shirt. Good God, it made his eyes green. "Don't you want breakfast?" Phil asked, eyeing the flattened boxes and the pile of packing paper Clint had accumulated.
"I'd love breakfast, but we have nothing in the way of groceries." Clint shrugged and filled a shelf with coffee mugs.
"Come on," Phil said, heading towards the front door, "I noticed a little diner on our way in yesterday. We can have breakfast and pick up some groceries while we're out."
There was a bit of a wait at the diner--Clint wondered how many of the customers were neighbors of theirs, given how close it was--but eventually they slid into a booth together and opened the plastic-covered menus. As usual for places like this, the breakfast menu took up two of five pages and was served all day. And...Clint flipped to the back of the menu. Yup, another page for milkshakes, smoothies and desserts. Perfect. He put down the menu and looked up to see Phil doing the same thing. They traded grins, then looked up at their waitress in unison when she paused by the table, holding a pot of coffee.
"I'm going to take those smiles to mean 'yes, coffee sounds good'," she said, chuckling as she reached for the coffee cups that had been waiting on the table when they sat. "I'm Shelly, I'll be taking care of you. Room for cream?"
"Yes for me, no for him," Clint said, already reaching for the sugar packets that were neatly lined up in a little bowl in the middle of the table, along with a dish of creamers and a bottle of ketchup.
"We're ready to order as well," Phil added.
"Efficient!" Shelly said. She finished with the coffee and set the carafe down, fishing a note pad out of her apron pocket.
They gave her their orders--an omelet for Clint, pancakes for Phil--and took a moment to doctor their coffee. Clint made his thick with cream and achingly sweet with sugar. Phil settled for a single sugar packet, his coffee otherwise black.
"We have a plan of attack?" Clint asked once they were marginally caffeinated.
"As much as I hate to say it, we're going to have to actually unpack the house," Phil said, sighing into his coffee. "We're supposed to have taken a few days off work to get settled in, we can't just leave everything lying around."
"Not to mention it doesn't make for a good combat environment," Clint agreed reluctantly. God, that was going to be a lot of work just for cover.
"After that, first priority is surveillance," Phil said. "Briggs and Hughes are our neighbors to the East, so sight lines are decent, but there aren't a whole lot of window in these houses, and none in the basements, so we're going to need to scout their schedules and find a way to get bugs inside. Hopefully they'll drop by to meet the new neighbors sometime today and we can take a shot at wrangling an invitation. Either way, while you're scouting, I'll see if I can work us into the community; we need to know if any of the neighbors are involved."
Clint nodded and leaned forward, taking the occasional sip of his coffee as he and Phil brainstormed their strategy, pausing only for a moment when their food arrived. Breakfast lasted over an hour, with all the discussion, and despite the refills on his coffee, Clint found himself sitting easier at the end of it.
They stopped at the supermarket for groceries, getting back to the house just after ten to find the woman who'd been gardening across the street when they moved in just stepping down off their porch, a Tupperware container in her hands. "Good morning!" she greeted them, pausing halfway down the walk. "I was going to see if you needed breakfast, but it looks like you're earlier risers than I am." She shifted the Tupperware to one hand and held out the other. "Ellie Randal. One L. In the Randal, not the Ellie."
"Phil Hamilton," Phil said, taking her hand, since Clint was loaded down with groceries. "And this is my husband, Clint."
Clint laughed "Are you ever going to get tired of saying that?"
"Would you want me to?" Phil asked, archly.
"I guess not," Clint said, and if there was a wistful note in his voice...well, even newlyweds knew that the honeymoon phase didn't last forever. He turned back to Ellie to find her smiling at them.
"Just back from the honeymoon?" she asked.
"Not even," Phil waved them up the walk towards the house. "We bought this place instead of going on a trip. We figured we could have a great honeymoon and wait another year to buy, or stick to a simple weekend away and have the home we wanted immediately." Phil unlocked the door and let the three of them in, leading the way to the kitchen, since the living room was still mostly boxes. "Although Clint may never forgive me for denying him Hawaii."
"Pina coladas on the beach, Phil." Clint shook his head dramatically. "We could have had it all." He set the groceries on the counter. "I hope you don't mind if I put these away," he told Ellie. "Some of it is frozen."
"Of course, I'm the one who invited myself over," Ellie said. "How long have you two been together?"
"Four years," Clint said. He grinned. "Workplace romance."
"You make it sound so sordid!" Phil protested. "My company was consulting. We don't actually work for the same business," he assured Ellie.
"And here I was imagining you two sneaking around and kissing in closets," she teased. Clint looked over at Phil and couldn't help imagining dragging him into the supply room a few doors down from Phil's office, backing him up against the reams of paper and kissing him, untucking his crisp white dress shirt... Ellie laughed and Clint realized his face had gone beet red. "Looks like there were a few closet encounters after all!"
Clint ducked his head and glanced over at Phil, hoping he hadn't screwed that up. Phil was covering his mouth with his hand, but Clint could tell he was grinning, the bastard. Phil dropped his hand. "And here you swore to me no one would ever find out about that," he accused playfully. "It's a damn good thing your boss never actually asked why we were late to that meeting."
"I'm just going to stick my head in the freezer now," Clint said, mortified.
Phil and Ellie laughed when he actually did it. Hey, there were frozen dinners to put away.
Ellie stayed another fifteen or twenty minutes, long enough for them to learn that she was a senior editor at a publishing house and lived alone, though she owned a three bedroom like theirs. "What do you think?" Clint asked, when she'd gone.
"Probably not involved," Phil said. "But it was only one conversation."
Clint nodded agreement. "Well," he said, "I guess the reprieve is over." He twisted to look at the sea of boxes occupying the living room. "Time to unpack."
"Come on," Phil said, standing and offering a hand up. "It'll go faster than you think; they won't have packed a thousand knickknacks for us, just enough furnishings to be reasonable."
"They packed a carrot peeler for the kitchen," Clint muttered, but he took Phil's hand and let his...not-husband drag him into the living room.
Phil was right, though: unpacking wasn't that bad. Partly because they didn't know what was actually in the boxes, which made opening them almost interesting, and partly because word seemed to have gotten out into the neighborhood that they were taking visitors. The doorbell rang repeatedly, drawing them away from the boxes in favor of shaking hands and accepting food. No one really stayed to chat once they saw the sea of half-opened boxes and paper, and Clint quickly lost track of names. It quieted down about dinnertime, though Clint wasn't sure if that was because their neighbors were having their own meals, or if they just thought it was an appropriate time to give the new folks some peace.
"Not that I mind the free food," Clint said, pulling an actual roast that someone had brought out of the oven where he'd left it to keep warm during the string of visits, "but damn, these people are nosy. In the city I never worried about what my neighbors thought of me, beyond keeping quiet after eleven so they didn't call the super on me. Here, I think you could fart a little louder than usual at two a.m. and people would be speculating about your diet the next day."
Phil snorted as he pulled some salad mix out of the fridge. "Look at it this way, if nosiness is typical, no one will worry too much about why we're asking so many questions and angling for invitations."
"Yeah, but they're also going to be watching every move we make." Clint dished some roast up onto two plates, leaving room for Phil to place a little pile of greens and drizzle some dressing over top. "We're novel, which makes us extra interesting. If they watch too closely, we're going to have to wait and let it die down before starting surveillance. Even I can't pass off watching the neighbors' house with binoculars as being security conscious."
"There are worse missions to have extended," Phil said. He scooped up both plates before Clint could reach for one and turned to take them to the dining table.
Clint paused, looking after him for a moment. Then he got a couple of water glasses down from the cupboards. "Not arguing with you there. Nice bed, nice hours, and now free homemade food." He brought the water over to their seats and set it down before sliding in his place. Phil was already cutting into his food. "Am I, uh, playing the newlywed bit okay?"
Phil looked up quickly, a piece of roast on his fork suspended halfway to his mouth. "Yes, of course," he said quickly. He lowered the bite a bit. "I'm sorry if I haven't been giving enough feedback, it's just been...good. Nothing to comment on." Phil smiled quickly.
"Okay." Clint bent his attention to the food. It was good, nothing fancy, just a beef roast with gravy, but Clint was used to frozen dinners and meals that involved three ingredients or less. Eating something like this always made him wish he'd learned how to cook properly. About halfway through, he paused, pushing a bit of roast through the gravy. "Hey, Phil?"
"Mmmm?" Phil raised his eyebrows enquiringly, mouth full.
Clint waved his fork at the food. "You ever learn to cook like this? From your parents or," he shrugged, "whoever?"
Phil swallowed and took a sip of water. "They got the basics into me before I moved too far away. How to make a decent steak, how to bake a piece of chicken, which vegetables to start cooking when, that sort of thing. But I don't usually bother; the kind of hours I give to SHIELD, I usually want to spend my downtime on other things."
"You?" Phil asked.
"Nah," Clint took another bite before going on. "When we were little, Barney usually fed us out of cans and boxes. At the circus, the roadies did most of the cooking; I kept in good with them and they kept me fed. After that..." He shrugged. "And now there's the cafeteria."
"I'm not sure what the cafeteria serves counts as food."
Clint flashed Phil a smile. "There's decent stuff to be had. You just gotta know which days are safe for what, and who's working the kitchen."
"Inside information." Phil narrowed his eyes and stabbed his fork in Clint's direction. "This explains why you've never delayed a mission with cafeteria-related distress. It's one of the great mysteries of SHIELD, you know. Even Nick kept us back, once."
Clint snickered. "Take nothing for granted, always scout ahead." Clint raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that in basic training?"
"To be fair, it's been awhile since Nick went through basic," Phil shot back, and then joined Clint in a chuckle.
It only took a few more bites to clear his plate, and then Clint leaned back and stretched for a long moment. Easing down from the extension, he looked across the table at Phil to find him shaking his head, but an inquiring look got no response.
"Should we finish unpacking?" Clint asked. They had mostly finished the living room and master bedroom, despite the interruptions, but the office upstairs hadn't been touched. It wasn't critical, but considering that both of their covers were meant to spend a lot of time working from home, it did need to be done. But God, Clint was not in the mood.
"No," Phil said, standing and gathering up the dinner dishes. "Well, we should corral the garbage, but after that I think we can leave it for the night."
Clint got the glasses, since Phil didn't have enough hands for those and the dishes both, and followed him into the kitchen. They bumped into each other a little as they scraped and rinsed the plates and glasses--including several from their various visitors--and fit them in to the dishwasher. "I didn't think the kitchen was this small," Clint grumbled as he bumped into Phil again. He took a step back and raised his hands.
Phil laughed and settled the last glass into the machine and closed the door. "We'll get better." He smiled softly. "I remember watching my parents cooking together. The house we had when I was a kid was only a little bigger than this. They moved around each other so smoothly, I wondered if they had a superpower of some kind." Phil shot Clint a slightly sheepish smile. "I guess ten years of marriage will do that, though." He stepped over to Clint and put a hand on his hip, turning him away from the counter and guiding him out into the living room.
"Kind of thought ten years of missions was the same thing," Clint said lightly. He dragged his feet a little. Maybe he didn't want to deal with the boxes and drifts of paper. Maybe he liked how Phil's touch firmed up to urge him along.
"I'm sure if the dishes mutated and started attacking, we'd smooth right out," Phil said dryly, and Clint snorted.
The detritus of packing was quickly dealt with, and then it just seemed natural to sink down onto the couch together. The TV wasn't hooked up yet, so they both ended up on their StarkPads, checking in quickly before moving on. Clint pulled up a book he'd been reading. The rhythmic tap and swipe of Phil's fingers told Clint that he was playing a game, though he'd silenced the device.
The book was good, but Clint couldn't help shifting and squirming on the couch. He felt so damned formal sitting upright, like he was in a meeting or something.
"Oh, for the love of God," Phil said, looking up from his game at Clint. "Turn and lean against the arm; you'll never relax otherwise."
"The couch isn't that long."
Phil rolled his eyes. "Barton."
"Fine," Clint muttered. He turned to lean against the arm, bringing his sock feet up off the floor. He paused, then tucked his toes under the edge of Phil's thigh. Phil patted his foot and went back to his game.
Clint looked down at his book. He wiggled his toes and bit back a grin when Phil's hand gripped his ankle in warning.
Phil was drooling onto his pillow again when Clint woke up. He'd already been asleep by the time Clint came to bed the night before, curled up on his side with one hand tucked under his pillow, but he must have rolled over during the night because he was face down just like the previous morning. Clint was tempted to lie still and see how late Phil would sleep if he wasn't disturbed. Unfortunately, Clint's bladder was already demanding a trip to the washroom.
He eased out of bed, but of course Phil was turning onto his back and blinking up at Clint by the time Clint got to the end of the bed. "Time?" Phil muttered, rubbing his eyes.
Clint glanced at the clock on the bedside table. "Five to seven."
"Beat the alarm," Phil muttered.
Clint smiled. "Yes, s-sweetheart, you did."
Phil uncovered his eyes and glared up at Clint. "You weren't supposed to hear that."
"Too late," Clint said cheerfully. Since Phil was up, Clint went to the dresser to retrieve clothes. As far as the neighbors knew, he was going to work today, which meant a button front shirt and slacks. In reality he was going to be crawling around on roofs, installing surveillance equipment and scouting Hughes' and Briggs' house, which meant clothes that were easier to move in. Fortunately, a t-shirt and his tactical pants would fit under the business casual outfit pretty easily.
He showered, shaved, and got dressed, calling out that the bathroom was free when he was done. "Thanks!" Phil called back, and Clint headed downstairs to get the coffee going. Muffins, courtesy of Ellie, made for a decent breakfast. Clint finished two and was partway through a third before Phil came down stairs, wearing dark pants and a soft grey sweater that clung to his upper body. Clint stared while Phil went and filled a coffee mug from the carafe Clint had brewed.
Phil turned and leaned against the counter. "Are any of those muffins for me?"
Clint rolled his eyes and picked up one of the nine remaining muffins and threw it at Phil, who caught it without even sloshing his coffee. "I've only eaten three out of a dozen," Clint said, pointedly popping another piece of muffin into his mouth. "And you're welcome to join me at the actual table."
Phil chuckled and brought muffin and coffee over to the table, sitting across the corner from Clint. "So, installing the surveillance today."
Clint nodded and swallowed. "I'll make like I'm going to work, then park in one of the other quadrants of the community and come back on foot, approaching Hughes' place from the south. If I stick to roofs, it shouldn't be hard to stay out of site. Nobody looks up."
"Keep an eye out for maintenance people," Phil reminded him. "I don't think we need check-ins, but keep your comm active."
When they were done with breakfast, Phil walked Clint to the door like he often did when he was seeing him off on a mission. But this time, after Clint opened the door and glanced back, Phil stepped in close and kissed him. Clint closed his eyes and leaned into it, but it was a quick kiss, almost casual. "Phil?"
Phil smiled. "Have a good day at work."
Clint nodded dumbly, and turned to head down the walk to the car. One of their neighbors, Mrs. Treadwell, waved as him as she passed by, walking her dog. Of course. Cover for the neighbors. Clint made himself smile back and half jogged the rest of the way to the car.
Faking his departure to work and coming back to Hughes and Briggs' house was just as easy as Clint had expected it to be. There were eight houses surrounding the one of interest, if Clint wanted to cover all the angles, including the three across the street and the one he was sharing with Phil. He spent an hour on each house, finding spots that gave good angles on doors, windows, and approaches to Hughes and Briggs' place and wiring up discreet cameras, each equipped with a secure wireless transmitter and a long life battery. He'd have to replace the batteries if the cameras had to run more than a week, but considering how easy it was to place them, Clint wasn't worried.
It all went so smoothly that he was able to put the 'work' clothes back on and drive home more or less openly at just about the hour an ordinary person would be returning from work. "Hey, Phil, I'm home," Clint called out, glancing around to see if they'd gotten any more visitors.
"Upstairs!" Phil called back, his voice echoing through the stairwell. "We're alone. I'm just typing up some notes before I lose the details."
Clint took a moment to lose his shoes and the button front shirt and slacks before padding up the stairs. He was a lot more comfortable in t-shirt and tac pants. At the top of the stairs, the door to the room they'd designated as an office was open, and Clint could see neatly filled bookshelves, filing cabinets, and the edge of Phil's desk where there had been only haphazardly placed furniture and boxes that morning.
"Damn, you got a lot done in here," Clint said as he stepped into the room.
"It's all an illusion," Phil said, turning from where he was sitting at the desk. He was wearing his glasses, and something about the thick black frames softened his face. Clint found himself smiling as walked over and half sat on a filing cabinet arranged next to the desk. "The cabinets are all empty," Phil said, "and I didn't really look at the books, just shoved them onto the shelves."
"It's a pretty good illusion." Clint flicked his eyes over the notes on the screen. It looked like personal information on one of their neighbors. "I take it you had more visitors today."
"Lots of them," Phil confirmed, paging up through the document to show Clint the multiple pages of close-spaced notes. "Including a couple repeats. Fewer of the curious and general well-wishers and more of the gossipy type, which is good for us even if I have heard more than I care to of Mr. Martin's bathroom habits."
Clint shot him a horrified look. "Please tell me you're kidding." Phil shook his head. "With that as a lead in, I hate to say this, but--give me the run down over dinner?"
Phil nodded. "We still have food from yesterday, and you've been climbing around on roofs all day. Go ahead and grab a shower while I heat something up."
"Are you saying I stink?" Clint gasped and pressed a hand to his chest.
"Only of the most virile masculine musk, I assure you," Phil said, deadpan.
Clint grinned and hopped off the filing cabinet. "Down to the kitchen, wench!"
Phil laughed and waved Clint out of the office. He went, pausing at the door after Phil had turned back to the computer, and watched for a quiet moment as Phil worked. Maybe it was the relatively low risk nature of the assignment. Maybe it was the environment, so casual and comfortable that it was hard to keep their guards up. Maybe it was their cover identities; God knew it was easier to maintain one if you didn't constantly drop it and put it back on. But whatever it was, Clint liked the way Phil had been talking to him since this op started.
Showering only took a minute, but even though Phil had had his notes to finish, he was already dishing up food onto plates by the time Clint got downstairs. "How long do you think we can stretch this welcoming committee thing out for?" he asked, taking the plate and glass Phil handed to him and leading the way to the dining table.
"Sadly, I think it's pretty much run out," Phil replied. "Only two new dishes today."
"Damn," Clint said. One of today's dishes was lasagna; from what Clint remembered, there was enough of it in the fridge for a couple days. "I'm going to miss actual home cooked food when it's gone."
Phil sighed. "Me too." They dug in and just ate for a few minutes, quieting the first pangs of hunger.
Eventually Clint drained his water and got up to fetch each of them a beer instead. "Okay, so how are we going to go through this?" he asked, sitting. "Geographic?" Clint's lips quirked. "By food gift?"
"Geographic will do," Phil said dryly. "You've already met Connie and Ben, who brought the stew that first day, and Ellie Randal. She's immediately west of them, directly across the street from us. Mr. and Mrs. Treadwell are west of her, they've got a bit of green space to their west. Apparently that was a big selling point the place; they have a good sized dog."
Something clicked, and Clint nodded. "She came by while we were unpacking, too, and I saw her on the street this morning, walking her dog."
Phil chuckled softly. "Something tells me Mrs. Treadwell is one of the neighborhood gossips. She stayed for lunch. She's a housewife; her husband is vice-president of a construction company.
"Across the street from the Treadwells, and our neighbors to the west are Miles and Alexandra Pine. They work together at a public relations firm; I haven't actually met them yet, Mrs. Treadwell told me about them. I suspect we won't see them until the weekend, since they both work out of the office full time.
"To our east are Hughes and Briggs, of course. East of them is Gabriel Mendez, who's foreman for a longshoreman crew. Him I did meet; he's on medical leave with a broken ankle at the moment." Phil paused to take another bite of lasagna.
"Mendez lives alone?" Clint asked.
Phil nodded, then swallowed. "He's seeing someone, though. Seemed a bit envious of us newlyweds." Phil smiled and Clint just shook his head, smiling back. "Across from Mendez are Tom and Mike Anthony. They're brothers, not partners, but they're important; they're responsible for security for the whole community."
"That's a coincidence," Clint commented. "A couple hundred houses and security happens to be kitty corner to our persons of interest?"
"It is convenient," Phil conceded, "but not proof of anything."
"So that's most of the immediate neighbors. What about the folks behind us? To the south."
"So far, just the couple whose place is directly south of Hughes and Briggs," Phil said. "Alana and Isaac Foster. She's an engineer, he's a computer programmer."
Clint smiled. "Well, that explains the forest of antennas on their roof. Good cover, but damn, did I have to watch how I moved."
"Anything that would interfere with the equipment?" Phil asked, frowning.
Clint shrugged. "I don't think so, but who knows how all that shit interacts? I picked a spot that seemed out of the way of it, anyway. Completely aside from interference, anyone with that many antennas is occasionally going to end up on their own roof."
"We'll keep an eye on the feed," Phil said.
"Any of the neighbors comment on Hughes and Briggs?" Clint asked, finishing up his dinner and leaning back in his chair. The bottle of beer dangled from his fingers.
"Almost all of them." Phil shrugged when Clint raised his eyebrows. "We're the second gay couple to move into this particular block, of course they're going to let us know how comfortable they are with the first one. Or uncomfortable, though there weren't actually any of those."
After a moment's thought, Clint shook his head, laughing briefly. "The second gay couple," he repeated, "and both of them only posing as couples. If we weren't here specifically for Hughes and Briggs, it'd be twice as funny."
"At least we're actually gay," Phil said, though his eyes crinkled at the corners with amusement.
Clint gestured at him with his mostly empty beer bottle. "Bi, you mean-- You keep your personal life pretty close to the vest, sir, but I know you've dated at least one woman. I kind of crashed the date, but she was definitely a woman."
"I suppose bisexual would be more accurate, strictly speaking," Phil said. "But I'm generally more attracted to men."
Clint was tempted to ask what his type was, but...well, he already knew that it wasn't Clint. Ten years and Phil had never so much as taken a second look. He swallowed a sudden wave of melancholy.
Phil put his drink down on the table, straightening up and looking at Clint with concern. "Are you okay?"
Clint gave himself an internal shake. "Yeah, yeah, I'm good." He was tempted to blame the beer, which he hadn't even finished, or the hour, but it wasn't even ten at night yet. Instead he rubbed the back of his neck, shot Phil a sheepish look, and just shrugged.
Phil smiled and shook his head. Standing, beer in hand, he headed for the living room. "Come on," he instructed Clint. "We've got downtime, more or less. We should enjoy it."
After a moment, Clint followed. He tucked himself up on the couch, toes nudged under Phil's thigh again, and let the inanity of the TV drift over him.
Clint woke to a murmur of sound and a sense that something was missing. He opened his eyes quickly, not sitting up, and realized that he was alone in the bed. No Phil drooling onto his pillowcase. Clint rolled onto his back and sighed before turning his head to check the time. Eight o'clock. They were both doing the 'working from home' thing today, since they had surveillance footage to review.
Rolling out of bed, Clint padded over to the door and tilted his head, but he couldn't tell if the murmur of sound was conversation or television. He opened the door and shouted, "Phil! We have company, or is that the TV?"
"Radio!" Phil shouted back. "Come downstairs and talk like a normal person."
Clint grinned. "I'm not a normal person!" There was no response that he could hear, but then, muttering wouldn't carry all the way up the stairs. He cleaned up quickly and threw on jeans and a purple t-shirt before jogging down the stairs.
Phil wasn't in the kitchen this time; he was sitting on the couch, glasses on, a coffee mug in one hand, leaning over an actual newspaper. The radio was playing through the TV. Clint took a moment just to look at him. It could almost be an ordinary morning, a routine morning for two people who could leave work at five and have quiet breakfasts together without worrying about emergency calls and go bags.
Shaking his head at himself, Clint returned to the kitchen for his own coffee.
Settling on the couch beside Phil, Clint accepted the sudoku puzzle that was held out to him and worked his way through it while they caffeinated themselves. When the mugs were empty, they looked at each other, and then briskly folded away the newspaper pieces and headed for the stairs. "I'll walk you through the set up," Clint said, "and then I'll take first shift going through the footage."
"Sounds good," Phil said. He pulled up a chair and absently nudged his glasses, settling them more comfortably. Watching the screens intently as Clint narrated camera locations and angles, Phil was an odd combination of casual Phil and Agent Coulson; Clint kept slipping between 'sir' and 'sweetheart'. Phil didn't call him on it once in the hour it took to acquaint him with the initial surveillance network.
Clint's first shift on the monitors was just about done when the doorbell rang. He quickly paused the playback, checked to ensure the live feeds were still recording, and padded over to stand at the top of the stairs.
The sound of Phil's footsteps floated up to Clint, and then the click-creak of the door opening. "Mr. Anthony," Phil said. "How can I help you?"
"I told you, call me Mike," an unfamiliar voice said. Mike Anthony--one of the brothers that ran the community's security. "You mentioned yesterday that your partner would be home today; is now an okay time to talk about the neighborhood watch?"
"Of course, of course."
Clint stepped back from the top of the stairs, letting Phil jog all the way up them. "Hey," Phil said when he reached the top, his voice soft and warm. "Are you at an okay stopping point? The Pine Lake security liaison is here to chat."
"Yeah, I'm good." Clint took a moment to shut and lock the door into the surveillance room and armory, then followed Phil back down the stairs.
Mike Anthony was a tall, narrow kind of guy, which surprised Clint. He'd been expecting someone more on the muscle side of the spectrum. Still, when he shook Clint's hand, his grip was strong and he definitely had gun calluses. "Mike Anthony," he introduced himself, shifting the folder he had under one arm to his hand when he was done shaking. "But just Mike is fine."
"Clint Bryan." Clint looked around, smiling at Phil in the process. "Uh, living room okay?"
"Dining room might be better," Phil said, touching Clint briefly on the lower back. "If that folder is something we should all be looking at at the same time, anyway."
"Ah, yeah, that makes sense." Clint shot Mike a sheepish grin and let Phil herd him over to the table. They each took a chair. "Phil said you were security? Is everything okay?"
"Oh, yes, no problem," Mike said quickly. "And my compliments on the move in, by the way. Normally I hear from neighbors after those things, complaining about gouged lawns and damaged mailboxes and blocked driveways. Not a whisper from the Pines after yours, though."
"What about Mr. Hughes? Or Mr. Briggs?" Clint asked.
Mike frowned and shot Clint a look, then laid the folder on the table, looking down at it as he opened it. "What about them?"
"Did they have any problems with the move?" Clint leaned forward casually, his arms folded on the table, and tilted his head as if trying to get a look at the contents of the folder. Really, he just wanted to invade Mike's space, maybe make him a bit nervous. "They're our neighbors on the other side, right?"
"How'd you know that?" Mike asked, looking up. He'd smoothed the frown out, but it wasn't totally gone.
"Mrs. Treadwell came by for lunch yesterday," Phil said.
Mike mostly relaxed, giving Phil a friendly nod. "After lunch with Mrs. T, you can probably name everyone on the street."
"And some of their pets."
The three of them chuckled. "Okay," Mike said, scooting his chair closer to the table and gesturing for them to look at the papers he'd spread out. "I know that we're a gated community, and a lot of people assume that means that we don't need things like a neighborhood watch, especially since we don't have kids to watch out for, but the group that Tom and I run is as much about community pride and respect as it is about security. We have a private company that runs the gate and the border cameras, but things like vandalism inside the community, poorly maintained sidewalks, unsightly building projects, those are things that we need to monitor ourselves."
He paused and looked at Clint, so Clint nodded like he wasn’t laughing inside. "I can see that."
"Right? Now, this is a map of the neighborhood." Mike selected one of the pieces of paper and unfolded it into a map that covered half the table, laying it over the other papers. Phil leaned forward, casually resting one hand on Clint's shoulder and rubbing absently at the curve where Clint's neck met his shoulders. Clint leaned into the touch, though he kept his eyes fixed on the map. The next time Mike looked up, his gaze took in the touch and another layer of tension went out of his shoulders.
The watch recruitment pitch was actually really helpful completely outside of maintaining their cover. Mike knew everyone's typical work schedule, who had pets, who stayed up late and who got up early, and while he only gave a handful of examples to explain that they'd need to know what was normal and what was out of place, they'd get access to all of that information if they participated. It was reason enough to sign up, even if it meant fewer opportunities to sneak into Hughes and Briggs' home.
Mike beamed with satisfaction when they agreed to sign on and took down their contact information and schedules with an eager hand. "I'm glad to see you're so open to being involved," he said as he packed up his papers. "Not everyone is willing to give up even one evening a week; you'd think they'd have a little community pride. Anyway, we're having a watch meeting Saturday afternoon; I'll have copies of all our policies and procedures and background material for you then."
Clint and Phil got up and walked him to the door. "Thanks so much for coming by," Phil said, shaking Mike's hand. "This has been a really productive morning."
Clint managed to hold back his snicker until the door closed behind Mike. "Productive is right," he said, quirking an eyebrow at Phil. "There's definitely something going on with him."
"I'll call a background check into SHIELD," Phil said, getting out his phone. "Then lunch?"
"Sounds good, but then it's your turn on the surveillance footage."
Clint got more neighborly leftovers out of the fridge while Phil called in the background check. Lunch was quiet but comfortable, the two of them mentally working through the information Mike had provided and fitting it into the frame of the mission. They were cleaning up--with substantially less bumping into each other, Clint was pleased to note--when the doorbell rang.
They traded a glance. "Bets on new visitor versus a repeat?" Clint murmured.
Phil snorted as he dried his hands on a dishcloth and headed for the door. Clint stayed in the kitchen, scraping off the last plate and fitting it into the dishwasher along with the casserole dish they'd emptied. He heard the front door open, and then Phil: "Connie, hi! I hope you aren't looking for your pot, we haven't quite worked through the stew yet."
"No, that's fine you hang onto it," her voice floated into the kitchen. "How are you two settling in?"
"Well," Phil said. "Come on in and see. Clint!"
Shutting the dishwasher, but not turning it on yet--the two of them didn't produce that many dishes--Clint made his way into the living room. Connie had taken one of the chairs and Phil was sitting on the sofa, so Clint sank down next to him, casually slinging an arm across the couch behind Phil's shoulders. Phil leaned back into the curve of it. Clint smiled, then nodded in greeting. "Hey Connie. Thanks for the stew, by the way. It was really good; Phil and I have been dreading the day the food everyone brought runs out, since neither of us is much of a cook."
She chuckled. "I might have at least a temporary solution for that," she offered. "It's actually why I dropped by; I'd have called, but I don't have your phone number."
"We don't have a landline yet," Phil said, a little apologetically. "Both of us have cell phones for work, so it didn't seem like a big priority. But the guy should be coming on Thursday."
"Oh, it's no problem, I'm just across the street," Connie smiled. "I just know some folks don't like unannounced visitors."
"We don't mind visitors," Clint said easily. The more people visited, the more opportunities they had to get a read on their neighbors.
"How about being visitors?" Connie asked. For one horrible moment, Clint thought they were going to be asked to go door-to-door or something. "Ben and I host a community barbeque every Wednesday during the summer, we'd love to have you there tomorrow. It's potluck, but you can just bring a dessert from the grocery store, or a big tub of deli salad or something."
Clint looked over at Phil and found him looking back at the same moment. Their eyes met, they nodded, and when they turned back to Connie, the "We'd love to" came out in unison. Her friendly smile took on an amused tilt. "How long have you two been together?" she asked.
"Four years," Phil said.
"But, to be honest, it didn't take long for us to end up on the same wavelength," Clint added. "Much to the despair of my best friend."
"He doesn't like Phil?" Connie asked, raising her eyebrows.
"She likes Phil just fine," Clint said, "but apparently since Phil and I met, she doesn't much like me when I'm without Phil."
Phil frowned and turned a little toward Clint. "This is Nat?"
"Yeah," Clint confirmed. "Apparently, when we've been apart too long," on a mission with a different hander, "I start...moping."
Phil's eyes lit up as he caught where Clint was going, and he smiled suddenly, amused and somehow, maybe, a little pleased. "Oh, this would be what's happening on the other end of those text messages, wouldn't it?"
Clint laughed and ducked his head. "Apparently." The text messages in question tended to start with Clint bitching about what the handler was doing wrong--which, to be honest, usually boiled down to 'not being Coulson'--and rapidly progressed to... Well, Clint called it banter. Nat called it flirting. Who knew what Coulson called it.
"And here I just thought you couldn't stand the idea I was paying attention to anyone else," Phil teased.
"Nah, I just couldn't stand the idea that I wasn't with you." Clint was trying for flippant. Judging by the way Phil's expression softened, he missed the mark.
"You've always been there when I needed you," Phil said.
Thought that was my line, Clint thought, but before he could get the words out a small movement caught the corner of his eye and he turned to find Connie watching them, her hand pressed to her chest. "Um. Sorry," Clint said to her, pulling away from Phil a bit.
"I feel like I should be apologizing for intruding," Connie said, patting her chest as she gave an awkward laugh. She stood and brushed her hands down the front of her pants. "You'll be at the barbeque, though?"
"Yes, of course," Phil said. He stood and walked her to the door while Clint stayed on the couch.
When Connie had gone, Phil came back to Clint, leaning against the back of the couch and looking down at him. "You really miss me when we're on separate missions?"
Clint shrugged and poked at a crease in his pants. "I wasn't kidding about the being on the same wavelength thing. Don't get me wrong, I can work with other handlers just fine. But I've got to explain every little thing. They don't get how I think, the angles I see from. You do."
Phil was quiet for a moment. "Jasper and Melinda have started complaining I talk too much when I'm on mission," he said. Clint looked up and raised his eyebrows skeptically. Phil laughed softly. "I guess I miss the way you talk to me, like we'd be chatting even if we weren't on mission, and I end up filling it in myself." He straightened up and patted the back of the couch, sighing. "Time for me to take a turn at the surveillance screens."
"Want company?" Clint offered.
"You really want to go back to the screens after hours at them?"
"Didn't say I was going to look at the screens, said I was going to keep you company."
So while Phil reviewed the new footage from that day--Clint having spent the morning catching up on the previous night--Clint sat on the filing cabinet next to the computer and bounced a rubber ball off the door jam and tried to fool Phil with tall tales and the latest conspiracy theories. By the time they crawled into bed together, Clint's face hurt from smiling. It was so much like one of Clint's bitch sessions in Phil's office back at headquarters that moving from the office into their evening routines and then crawling into their bed sent a physical pang of longing through Clint. It could work, this proved it could work...if only Phil wanted it.
Lying on his side, Phil asleep next to him, Clint traced the lines and planes of Phil's face with his eyes. Phil deserved to have someone who would be there for him, who would chat with him, who would give him someone to come home to. Maybe he wasn't looking to get the last from Clint...but Clint could provide the first two until Phil found someone that he wanted to give him all three.
Clint made it through an hour of tapes the next morning before he started feeling like he was going to twitch right out of his skin. "Go find a range or a gym and do some light training," Phil finally ordered--or maybe it was demanded, because he sounded a lot more like an exasperated spouse than a superior officer. "We can tell people work called you in for a meeting if anyone even notices. Which they won't, because no one here knows our fictional work schedule. And get a dessert on the way back, for the barbeque."
So Clint spent an hour at a gun range--not as good as working with his bow, but better than staring at screens--and another two hours at the local gym before dragging himself back to the house, soaked with sweat but infinitely calmer. Phil came downstairs when he heard the door slam and shook his head when he got a look at Clint. "It's a good thing I didn't need to tell anyone you'd gone to work," he said dryly. "Feel better?"
"God, yes," Clint said. He dragged his sweat soaked t-shirt over his head. "Forgot to bring a change of clothes with me, though."
Phil was staring when Clint got himself out of the shirt. Then he blinked and smirked. "You going to strip down right in the front hall? Might end up giving the neighbors a show." He nodded to the picture window in the living room. The sight lines didn't go straight through, but someone at just the right angle might catch a glimpse.
Clint grinned. "Took you two entire seconds to come up with that line, Phil. You're slipping."
"We're both going to be slipping if you don't clean up the sweat you're dripping all over the floor," Phil shot back. Clint could swear there was a touch of pink on his ears, but he headed into the kitchen and Clint lost sight of him. "The background check on Mike and Tom Anthony came back," Phil called from the kitchen. "Meet me in the living room when you're done showering and I'll fill you in."
So Clint mopped up the sweat with a towel and took a quick shower and sipped from a water bottle, sitting on the couch next to Phil as he brought up the Anthony brothers' file on his StarkPad. Their shoulders pressed together when Clint leaned in to flip to the next page.
The connection wasn't obvious; neither of the brothers had ever been arrested, none of the federal agencies had ever started a file on them, and they had no known associates in common with either Richard Hughes or Patrick Briggs. They'd been two of ten 'security liaisons' at Pine Lake Oasis for two years before Hughes even moved in. But their combined income had gone up by $100,000 a year just two months after Briggs arrived. The increase was fully reported on their income tax, spread out over intermittent consulting jobs, gambling windfalls, and a variety of gifts, but it always came out to $100,000.
"The SHIELD analysts outdid themselves on this one," Clint said, skimming the financial report. "They put all this together in less than 24 hours."
"It was marked high priority, but yes. It's good work." Clint and Phil traded a quick smile; sometimes knowing you worked with the best professionals in the world was its own reward. "It makes sense for Hughes to recruit the local security liaison into his operation; the Anthonys can help him arrange meetings and transport for times when the chance of observation or interruption is minimal. They can keep an eye out for competition or law enforcement, and they're an excellent character reference. I do wonder if they know exactly what product Hughes and Briggs are moving, though."
Clint checked his watch. "We can do a little more digging at the barbeque this evening," he said. "We've got about an hour; we should secure the house, in case the Anthonys decide to look into us, and head on over."
They were, apparently, a little too prompt, because when they arrived at the barbeque, the only people there were the Friedmans and Mr. and Mrs. Treadwell. Clint and Phil left the pie they'd brought on the table designated for desserts and settled in to have their ears talked off by Mrs. Treadwell, since Connie and Ben were still finishing up preparations.
The next couple to arrive were Terry and Toby Lang, whose house backed onto Miles and Alexandra Pine's, southwest of Clint and Phil. Terry was blonde and very petite, just clearing Clint's shoulder, which made her something like five foot two. Toby wasn't much taller, and his hair was so blazingly red that Clint might have thought it was dyed if it weren't for the fact that he was just as blazingly freckled. They approached Clint and Phil arm in arm and nodded politely when they introduced themselves, not offering to shake hands. They didn't linger long after introductions
"Don't mind those two," Mrs. Treadwell said when they'd taken themselves off to chat by the smoldering grill. "They're no good at small talk. Get her going about money or him going about intellectual property law and they won't stop until you beg for mercy, but I swear they couldn't tell you what color the sky was without looking up--they've got no attention to spare for anything but work."
Clint looked over at the couple, who seemed to be chatting with each other just fine. "They seem to have plenty to say to each other."
Mrs. Treadwell chuckled. "It would seem like it, but if you wandered over there, it'd be a monologue about home improvement or the complete inability of their clients to complete proper paperwork."
Clint and Phil exchanged a look; both of those topics sounded like good ways to drive off a known gossip by boring her to tears. But there wasn't any reason to say that. "They didn't seem to bring a dish," Phil commented leadingly, instead.
"They'll have brought an entree to warm in the oven, inside," Mrs. Treadwell said quickly. "They do know their food. Last week they brought..." and she was off, comfortably rattling off the events of the previous week's barbeque.
Clint mostly tuned out, keeping an eye out for new arrivals instead. Ellie Randal arrived next, then Gabriel Mendez, then Tom and Mike Anthony. When Clint caught sight of the next pair to wander up the Friedmans' driveway and into the yard, he made sure to keep his gaze casually curious and his shoulders soft: Hughes and Briggs had arrived. Turning back to Phil and Mrs. Treadwell, Clint wondered if he should make a point of their arrival, since their status as a fellow gay couple was meant to give them something in common.
As it turned out, it wasn't necessary. Mrs. Treadwell spotted Hughes and Briggs a moment later and lit up. "Oh, Richard and Patrick are here! Would you like me to introduce you?" Clint had to give her credit for asking, though she looked like she was ready to drag them over by the ears if they refused.
Phil followed her gaze briefly to their targets before smiling back at her. "That would be very kind of you," he said.
Mrs. Treadwell beamed at him for a moment before ushering them over, leaving her husband staring bemusedly after them. "Richard," she called out as they approached Hughes, who was just setting what looked like a homemade fruit salad down on one of the tables. "Patrick. I don't believe you've met your new neighbors." Hughes and Briggs turned toward Clint and Phil with polite smiles. "This is Phillip Hamilton and his new husband, Clint Bryan." Clint smiled wryly and wondered when he'd become 'Phil's new husband' to Mrs. Treadwell. Of course, she then proceeded to introduce Hughes and Briggs as "Richard Hughes and his partner, Patrick Briggs", so it wasn't like it was particular to him and Phil.
"It's good to meet you," Phil said, smiling and holding out his hand.
"Welcome to Pine Lake Oasis," Hughes responded. The handshakes went around for a moment between the four of them. "Bit of a coincidence that the two of you ended up next door to the two of us, isn't it?"
Clint laughed, and Phil put on a sheepish expression. "Not so much," he said. "We'd been looking at the community in general, even had our realtor check into two houses a few streets away from here, but when this house opened up, well..." Phil shrugged and reached out to take Clint's hand.
"What Phil's not saying," Clint jumped, rubbing his thumb over the back of Phil's hand, "is that while he had decent enough neighbors, before, mine turned into assholes once Phil started staying over regularly." Clint scowled. "Apparently me being gay was okay in theory, but actually seeing me walking around with a guy was too much for their tender sensibilities. Having you next door was an attractive feature after that."
Briggs winced. "That's shitty," he said, "and I've been there, man. When he found out I'd been seeing Rick, my boss at the time made it pretty fucking clear it would be nice if I'd find another job."
"Damn," Clint said. "What'd you do?"
"Took Rick up on his offer," Briggs said wryly.
"Pat was in Chicago at the time," Hughes explained. "I'd asked him before to move to New York and work with me, but he swore up and down that loyalty was a big thing in his company and he couldn't just leave."
Briggs snorted. "Apparently loyalty only goes one way in Chicago."
"I take it you don't miss the windy city?" Phil asked. He smiled. "I'm a Chicago native myself, even if I moved to New York twenty years ago."
"Only the pizza," Briggs said.
"Oh God, you've gotten him going on the pizza," Hughes moaned. "Excuse me while I flee the conversation." He gave Briggs a warm look and an elbow squeeze before heading over to the Anthony brothers.
"I take it you're a fan of the deep dish?" Phil asked.
"You say that like it's not a given." Briggs narrowed his eyes. "Aren't you a true Chicago son?"
Phil laughed. "Maybe not. I...prefer the New York version of pizza."
"For shame!" Briggs shook his head sadly.
"Maybe," Clint said, grinning. "But it's a good thing--could have been a deal breaker for me."
"A deal breaker?" Phil arched an eyebrow, and tugged Clint around to face him, leaving Briggs a bit on the sidelines. "This is the first I'm hearing of it."
Clint reached out and hooked his fingers into Phil's belt loops, giving them a bit of a tug. "Well, it wasn't an issue, was it?"
"No," Phil conceded. "But maybe this talk of deal breakers is making me insecure."
A shiver went through Clint. "Well, I guess I better reassure you then," he murmured, pulling Phil's hips against his with his grip on Phil's belt loops. From there it was only a short gap to cross to bring their lips together.
Phil's mouth was soft and warm under Clint's, and okay, maybe this only point of this was to get in with Briggs and Hughes, but...he was still kissing Phil. Time to live in the moment.
Still, they were in public, so the kiss had to be relatively short. Clint let his eyes fall shut and flicked out his tongue for just a quick slide over Phil's lips before he pulled back. Phil's mouth closed briefly around Clint's bottom lip as he withdrew and fuck, Clint couldn't help the wash of heat that went through him, his dick threatening to harden. He knew he was slightly flushed, but Phil just smiled.
Glancing around, Clint realized they were alone and huffed a laugh, leaning his forehead against Phil's. "We seem to have lost Briggs."
"We're not trying to hook him just yet," Phil said, putting his hands on Clint's hips and brushing another brief kiss across Clint's mouth. "Just dangling the bait."
"You dangle pretty good, s-sweetheart." Clint flushed and rolled his eyes at himself.
Phil chuckled and gave Clint's hips a squeeze before moving him back a step. "Come on. Time to mingle."
Mingling was easy, since he and Phil were the interesting new element in town. Clint watched the crowd as they circulated. Everyone mixed pretty well, no real signs of tension, although he noticed that whenever someone had been chatting with Mrs. Treadwell for a little too long, it was usually the same person who interrupted the conversation--Gabriel Mendez interrupting chats with Ellie, Ellie interrupting the Langs, the Langs interrupting Tom, and so on. Clint hid a smile in a cup of Dr. Pepper and wondered if he and Phil would eventually be worked into the discreet system.
Alana and Isaac Foster arrived just before Ben started taking orders at the grill. Clint hadn't seen too many black men whose skin was actually black, rather than brown, but Isaac Foster was definitely one of them. Alana almost looked pale next to him. The two of them went immediately over to the Treadwells and exchanged what looked like warm greetings.
By that point, there were sixteen guests at the barbeque, which filled the two picnic tables and left a couple of people standing or perched on the Friedmans' porch steps. Despite some discreet maneuvering, Clint and Phil ended up at a table with Ellie, Gabriel, and the Fosters, though they at least had a decent eye line to Hughes and Briggs.
In the end, it was for the best, because the conversation that Hughes and Briggs were having with Terry and Toby Lang was...intent. Very focused. And Tom and Mike Anthony, also at the table with them, were studiously Not Listening. Clint draped himself over Phil a bit in an attempt to get a decent angle for lip reading, but he just couldn't keep his attention focused enough, not with four people at his table intent on making conversation. In the end he had to settle for keeping half an eye on Hughes, Briggs, and the Langs.
The barbeque broke up a little before nine, which seemed early until Clint remembered that most of these people had nine to five jobs to go to in the morning. He and Phil waved goodbye to the Friedmans and crossed the street with their arms draped comfortably around each other's waists. They kept silent for the short trip, and Clint found himself breathing deep and smiling, enjoying the moment: Phil's arm around his waist, good food, and the certain knowledge that no one would be calling him away.
Which didn't mean that it would last forever, of course. Phil took his arm from around Clint to let them into their house, and Clint barely had the door shut behind them before Phil was calling into SHIELD to get a complete background check on Terry and Toby Lang.
When he hung up, Clint said, "I take it I'm not the only one who thought there was something odd about their conversation with Hughes and Briggs?"
Phil chuckled. "Definitely not. Did you manage to read any of their conversation?"
Clint shook his head. "No, I couldn't focus without drawing too much attention to us at our table. But it's early; if I'm quick I might be able to get over to their place with a parabolic mike."
"Good call," Phil said briskly. He cast an evaluating eye over Clint. "Don't bother changing, you'll probably be less suspicious if you're just 'heading over to the park' that their place fronts than if someone catches you in tac gear."
"Heading to the park with a listening device?" Clint said wryly, but he headed for the stairs to get the gear anyway.
"If you can't see them coming in time to ditch the mike, you deserve to get caught," Phil called after him.
Clint didn't answer until he came back downstairs, sticking out his tongue in lieu of a verbal reply. Phil just laughed and waved him towards their back door.
Clint did put the parabolic mike--partially disassembled--into a canvas shoulder bag for the walk there. Yeah, he could see someone coming in time to ditch it, but why take the risk until he actually needed to pull it out and use it?
The Langs' place was kitty corner to his and Phil's to the southwest, so it wasn't a long walk. There weren't any convenient bushes and he'd only look suspicious lurking in the shadows anyway, so he sat down on the curb facing the park, his back to the Lang's house, and a curb-side recycling bin to his left to partially screen him and provide a convenient location for the mike if he needed to ditch it. Clint didn't look behind him, just assembled the mike in his lap, popped the ear buds in, and pointed it under his arm behind him.
"...another client, Toby," Terry was saying. She sounded impatient.
"He's not just another client," Toby said. "For one thing, he pays twice as much as all your other clients put together. For another, there's his merchandise."
"That doesn't mean he gets to call me up and demand that I cancel all my other appointments for him."
"It kind of does," Toby said. "Especially when you consider that he has that merchandise."
Terry scoffed. "He's not going to shoot me. He needs me to keep things running smoothly."
"And if you're the one throwing a wrench in the works, you think he won't find someone else to make sure all the numbers line up nicely? You think there isn't another accountant who can do what you do, considering the pay you get?"
There was a long silence. Then Terry sighed. "I don't like feeling like a lackey."
"A lackey wouldn't be paid as much as you are. It's reasonable for Mr. Hughes to expect some special considerations in exchange for that kind of money."
"I know. I already agreed to clear my schedule tomorrow, remember?"
"I know, Terry. I just didn't want you to go over there in a mood and get liquidated."
A snort. "'Liquidated.' This isn't a movie."
"You're right. A movie wouldn't have an accountant in it at all. So why'd he need emergency accounting, anyway? Things usually run like clockwork over there."
"Hmm. He's negotiating with a new supplier. New fees and considerations and penalties and mark ups to consider. And it's a specialty item."
Clint perked up, but from there it devolved into financial gobbledy-gook and all he could do was let the mike's built in recorder take it down and hope the SHIELD analysts could sort it out later. He sat there until they went to bed, around eleven, and then packed up the mike, stretched his legs, and headed back to the house.
Coming in through the back door, Clint stepped into the living room and smiled to see Phil on the couch in his pajamas and glasses, working on something on his StarkPad. He looked up and though he didn't exactly smile, his expression relaxed into something welcoming. "Clint. Everything go okay?"
"Smooth as silk," Clint said. "The Langs are definitely working with Hughes and Briggs. Well, Terry is, but Toby is in the know. Apparently Hughes is a rather demanding client, especially when he's negotiating with a new supplier."
Phil's gaze sharpened. "Our acquisitions specialist?"
Clint nodded. "Gotta be. Apparently this new supplier has a 'specialty item'."
"If they're negotiating, the meet can't be that far out." Phil frowned. "We need to get that tape to the analysts."
"I'll get it transferred to digital," Clint said, chucking a thumb toward the stairs.
"No, I'll do it." Phil stood, flipping the cover of the StarkPad shut. "You've been out all night. Have a shower, get ready for bed, and we should be about ready at the same time."
Clint fought down a flush. "Sounds good."
He wasn't sure going to bed with Phil, no matter how innocently, was ever going to fail to put that quiet warmth in his belly.
Clint reminded himself to slow his pace, rather than picking it up, as he rounded the corner on his usual jogging route and entered the last stretch before he got home. Two days past two weeks since he and Phil had moved in, eleven days since he'd recorded Terry Lang's complaints about doing the accounting for Hughes' new partner, and they still hadn't seen any definite sign of the meet. Not unless Phil had found something on the tapes while Clint had been jogging. Clint took a deep breath and reminded himself not to speed up again.
Ellie was out in her garden again. She usually was, although the way she always sat up and waved at him as he jogged up to his door made him wonder if that was a new habit. Today he slowed and walked the last few strides, which usually invited her to say hi.
"Morning, Clint," she called out, on cue.
"Morning, Ellie." Clint walked in a circle as he cooled down. "Phil come out to get the paper?"
"Yup. Scowling something awful, too. Work not going well?"
Clint sighed and scrubbed a hand through his sweat damp hair. "I guess not. I was hoping his messages this morning would have good news."
"Maybe a sweaty husband will ease his mood," Ellie teased.
Clint laughed. "Depends on how I got sweaty," he said, waggling his eyebrows.
Ellie snorted a laugh and waved him off, bending back to her gardening.
There was a towel hanging from the coat rack just inside the door, as always. Clint toed off his running shoes and quickly toweled off the worst of the sweat before heading up the stairs. He found Phil hunched over the monitors and walked up behind him, resting his hands on Phil's shoulders and squeezing. "No luck?"
"You know there hasn't been," Phil muttered. After a moment he straightened up and leaned back into Clint's hands. Clint started rubbing the knots out of his shoulders and neck. "I'm beginning to worry that we've missed the meet completely."
"We can't have!" Clint protested. "We've had constant surveillance on them since we arrived, and thanks to the Langs, we know they didn’t finalize terms before we got here."
"Constant surveillance, but not complete surveillance," Phil said darkly. "Two weekly barbeques and a housewarming party, and still no invitation inside."
Clint's hands stilled. "I'm sorry. I know I'm not the most charming guy."
"What?" Phil twisted to look up at him, displacing his hands. "Clint, no, I wasn't blaming you. Not any more than I'm blaming myself, anyway. Hughes is just too damn cautious, that's all."
"I could still break in," Clint offered. He'd offered before, though.
"No, we can't risk tipping them off," Phil said, as expected. He stood; Clint stepped back to give him space and admired the movement of Phil's muscles as he stretched and rolled his head to worked out the kinks from poring over the recorded video from the night. "On the up side, I'm pretty sure Alana and Isaac are also working with Hughes and Briggs."
"Something on the tapes?"
Phil shook his head. "Connie and Ben were over the other morning for coffee, and they were complaining a bit that Isaac does free tech support for Hughes all the time, and she didn't understand why he wouldn't do the same for her. She got the feeling that he thought cleaning a virus off her system was beneath him, and he must be doing something a lot more interesting for Hughes and Briggs."
"Maybe he just likes them better," Clint said, playing devil's advocate.
"Except that Gabriel Mendez says that Alana visits them just as often," Phil returned.
Clint had to grin. "What, did he tell you that over tea?"
Phil gave Clint a look. "He was borrowing--"
"A cup of sugar? Please tell me it was a cup of sugar."
Clint blinked. "We have a hacksaw?"
"Standard supplies for a garage, according to someone at SHIELD," Phil said. "Or maybe they just expected us to need to get out of a pair of handcuffs. Anyway, he came over to borrow it, and we got to chatting."
"Gossiping." Clint grinned. "You as bad as Mrs. Treadwell. No, worse. It's the face."
Phil pursed his lips "Alana Foster," he said firmly, "is an engineer, not a computer tech, so whatever she's doing there, it's not free tech support."
"Well, that is good to know," Clint said, easing up. He'd gotten the lips. "Has she been over there in the last two weeks?"
"Gabriel wasn't that specific, but I don't think so." Phil rubbed at his forehead. "I just wish we could get in there and be certain."
Clint blew out a breath, scratching at the sweat drying on his ribs. "Listen, I'm going to have a shower and think. There's gotta be some way we can get them to let their guard down."
"Yeah, alright. I'm going to make coffee."
"Coffee will only wind you up."
"Yes, dear," Phil said dryly, bumping Clint with his shoulder as he stepped past him into the hallway.
Clint chuckled and turned towards the master bathroom. He undressed, tossed his sweaty clothes into the hamper, and absently adjusted the shower curtain and water temperature. Phil would make the coffee anyway, of course, and he'd have at least one cup in him by the time Clint got downstairs, and then he'd lie awake, trying not to twitch and disturb Clint, because he hadn't done anything physical to get it out of his system. It was the sort of pattern you only noticed when you lived with someone, when you spent days in a row with them, in every sort of situation. Clint had already known Phil's working habits, his worried habits, and his focused habits, but he'd never had a chance to get to know Phil's relaxed habits, before.
Stepping into the shower, Clint closed his eyes and ducked under the water to wet his hair. Of course, it helped that Clint had always spent a lot of time watching Phil. He is an expert in Phil-quirks. Maybe, now, he might even be more of an expert than Fury. That's something he’ll get to keep, even after they've left here and he doesn't get to kiss Phil or rub his shoulders anymore.
Clint stopped in the middle of scrubbing shampoo through his hair. "Huh," he said aloud as he realized exactly what it was they needed to get an in. Quickly, he finished up his shower and pulled on a t-shirt and jeans.
When he padded into the living room, he shook his head to see the mostly empty coffee mug set on the corner of the coffee table nearest Phil, who was reading something on his StarkPad.
"Not reports again?" Clint dropped down onto the couch next to Phil.
"Just a novel." Phil flipped the cover shut. "How was your shower?"
"Productive." Phil arched an eyebrow and Clint rolled his eyes. "I think I figured out how to get Hughes to drop his guard."
Phil set the Pad aside and leaned towards Clint. "Do tell."
"We invite him and Briggs over for dinner, and then we act really, really coupley," Clint said.
"Isn't that what two barbeques and a housewarming party were for?" Phil asked, frowning. "It didn't work then, why would it work now?"
"First, we didn't see much of them at any of those events, because they were group things," Clint argued. "Second, we were busy playing polite guests at the barbeques and even busier making the event run smoothly when we were playing host. This will be a friendly, relaxed dinner in our own space. If Hughes looked at us before and saw anything other than a newlywed couple, this dinner will show him that we were just playing it safe in mixed company. In our own home, with no one around but another gay couple, we'll be relaxed and he'll see that we're nothing more than we seem." That and Clint would be letting his guard down at strategic moments. Hughes would believe they were in love because he'd be seeing it for real.
"Hmmm." Phil considered. "It could work." Clint beamed at him. "When should we invite them?"
Clint shrugged. "Tonight? It's meant to be a casual thing, we should be casual about it. We can set a date if they're not available tonight, but if Hughes is suspicious, I bet he'll want a more focused look at us."
Whether or not Hughes was suspicious, he and Briggs were available for dinner. Phil hung up the phone, concern abruptly creasing his brow. "Phil?" Clint prompted.
Phil looked at him, his expression turning sheepish. "We have nothing to eat. Or cook."
"Your turn to go to the store," Clint said automatically.
Phil snorted and shook his head, but he didn't argue, just got up and went into the kitchen to see what they had on hand. Clint went upstairs to take his turn grinding futilely through the eternally unhelpful surveillance recordings. Between two weeks of monitoring and the neighborhood watch security briefing, they had everyone's routines down to a science; now it was just endless scanning for anomalies.
Of course, reviewing the tapes and preparing dinner didn't take all day; by the time Phil was ready to start cooking dinner, Clint was vibrating with impatience to just get started already. He perched on the couch and flipped manically through TV channels until Phil walked up to him and took the remote out of his hand. "Clint. You need to calm down. Hughes will never relax if you're this wired."
"No pressure," Clint said automatically, then scrubbed his hands over his face. "Sorry. Too much time to think on this op. Maybe I should go for a run, burn it off."
"No, that's outside your normal routine, and they might notice. I've got another idea." Phil took his hands and pulled him up off the couch and led him upstairs and into the bedroom. Clint almost made a crack about burning off energy, but it caught in his throat. Phil spread out a towel on the bed and got out a bottle of body lotion. "Take of your shirt and lie down," he said, gesturing to the towel. "I'll give you a back rub."
Clint's mouth went dry. "I don't usually do back rubs," he said blankly.
"Much to the despair of SHIELD's physical therapists," Phil said. "They do have proven therapeutic properties, you know."
"Never needed one before."
"Well, we haven't got a range or time for you to run." Phil paused and looked down at the bottle he held. "If it's too much contact--"
"No," Clint said quickly. "That's not a problem with you." Phil looked up at him, and Clint suppressed a blush. "You're right, I need to let go of the tension." He pulled his t-shirt over his head and clambered up onto the bed, lying down on his stomach.
"Is it okay if I straddle you?" Phil asked. "It'll be easier to reach."
Clint closed his eyes and took a deep breath as subtly as he could. "Yeah.” The bed shifted and Clint felt Phil's knees by his hips. The cap of the bottle clicked and there was a wet sound. Phil warming the lotion, probably. The way it sounded...Clint couldn't keep his dick from stirring. Then Phil's warm, lotion-slick hands pressed into Clint's shoulders and a soft, breathless sound escaped him.
"It's okay," Clint managed.
Phil paused for a moment, but eventually took him at his word. His weight shifted, and then he was leaning down on Clint, hands kneading the muscles of Clint's shoulders and back, alternately forcing the tension out and soothing with long, soft strokes. Clint concentrated on breathing and tried not to worry about how hard he was getting, because that would only put the tension back into his body.
"Phil?" Clint said quietly, when Phil reached his lower back.
"I think I gotta take a page out of Nat's book if we're going to make tonight work. Instead of playing, I need to put my head in a place where I'm really living the cover."
Phil was quiet for a while. "Can you do that?"
"After the last couple of weeks, I think I can," Clint said. "If it won't throw you off."
"It won't," Phil promised.
"So, uh, there's something I have to practice saying before Hughes gets here," Clint went on. His heart rate picked up. He wondered if Phil could feel the pounding in his skin.
Clint kept his eyes closed. This wasn't a cover tonight, he told himself. Tonight, it was real. "I love you."
Phil paused so briefly Clint might not have noticed it if he hadn't been paying such close attention. "Okay," he repeated, and Clint told himself that feeling wasn't his heart falling.
"You better go finish dinner," Clint said letting lazy arousal into his voice. "Or we're going to get distracted."
Another pause, and then Phil chuckled and swung himself around so he wasn't straddling Clint anymore. His hands left Clint's back with a long, slow stroke that was decidedly more sensual than the rest of the massage had been. "I suppose it would be bad manners to leave our guests waiting at the door," he said.
Clint pushed up onto his elbows, but didn't roll over just yet. "We could always invite them in," he teased.
Phil ran his eyes slowly over Clint. "I'm not the sharing type."
Clint suppressed a shiver. "Good to know."
Phil went downstairs, and Clint rolled onto his back and let out a sigh as he took the pressure off his rigid cock. He didn't touch himself, just lifted his arms over his head and gave a long slow, stretch. He lay there until his erection subsided, and then he checked the time. Twenty minutes to go. Time to get dressed.
They were home, and casual, but also expecting guests, so Clint settled for black jeans and a purple button front shirt that he knew pulled a little too tight across his chest. When he went downstairs he stepped up behind Phil and put his arms around his waist and rested his chin on Phil's shoulder.
"If you distract me, I'm going to burn something," Phil said warmly. He seemed to be sautéing something in pan.
"It's just a garnish, right? We can do without it." Clint rubbed his nose against Phil's neck. He smelled good.
"What if I burn myself?"
Clint smiled. "I'll play doctor."
Phil laughed, but the doorbell rang before he said anything. Clint peeled himself away and went to get the door. Hughes and Briggs waited on the porch. Clint smiled and stepped back to open the door wider. "Hi! Come on in, Phil is just finishing up in the kitchen."
"Our contribution to dinner," Hughes said, holding out a bottle of wine. "Phil said steak, right?"
"Right," Clint confirmed, taking the bottle. "Thanks."
"Shoes on or off?" Briggs asked. His eyes slipped down, checking out the pull of Clint's shirt. Hughes noticed and put a hand on Briggs' back; he shot Hughes a quick smile.
Maybe he and Phil were actually the less genuine of the two gay couples on the block. "On is fine." Neither man was wearing a jacket--they were just next door--so Clint led the way toward the kitchen and dining room. "Phil, can we invade your sanctum?"
"It's hardly a sanctum," Phil called back. The three of them stepped into the archway between kitchen and dining room just as Phil removed the pan from the stove. He smiled at them quickly, the expression lingering a little on Clint, before returning his attention to the pan, which he proceeded to drain over the sink.
"Richard brought wine," Clint said, lifting the bottle.
"Rick is fine," Hughes interrupted. He slipped his hands into the pockets of the khakis he was wearing. His white dress shirt fit perfectly.
"Thank you, Rick," Phil said as he sprinkled whatever had been in the pan over a salad bowl. He set the pan down and turned to face them properly. Clint handed him the wine and Phil appraised it for a moment before shooting Hughes and Briggs a sheepish smile. "I don't actually know anything about wine; I'm just going to have to trust your judgment here."
Briggs laughed. "I told you not to worry about it," he told Hughes. "Rick is a wine snob," he confided to Phil and Clint.
"In that case," Phil said, picking up the salad bowl and moving into the dining room to set it on the table, "I'm glad you brought your own. You'd judge us terribly for what we'd put on the table." He brushed his hand over Clint's hip on his way back.
"In my defense," Clint said, turning to smile at Phil quickly, "the wine didn't come out of a box. I did manage to get a bottle."
"Depending on the bottle, that really doesn't help," Hughes said, flashing a grin.
"I've given up," Briggs said. "I just stick to beer; keeps me out of trouble."
Phil plated steaks, potatoes, and green beans as he spoke. "Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor," he said, looking up quickly.
"Yes, dear," Clint murmured and Phil snorted, shooting an almost apologetic glance at Briggs and Hughes for the inside joke.
"Okay, I think these are ready," Phil announced. He looked down at the four plates, at his hands, and over at the table. "I didn't think this through."
Clint laughed and scooped up two plates, leaving the other two for Phil, and led their guests over to the dining table. "We don't entertain much. Things were a little crowded in our old place, because I just moved in with Phil. It was a city apartment, and the place wasn't really designed with two people in mind."
"You didn't move somewhere larger?" Hughes asked, pausing to let Clint and Phil decide who would be sitting where.
Phil and Clint sat next to each other on one side of the table, leaving the opposite side for Hughes and Briggs. Better to keep an eye on them, but also more opportunities to show off their own relationship. Everyone sat.
"We didn't really plan on moving in together," Phil said. He opened the wine while the rest of them picked up their utensils, but left it to breathe for a moment before pouring. "I just woke up one morning and realized it'd been weeks since Clint hadn't been there beside me."
"And then I decided that it would be romantic to move into a place together--to really have a place that was ours--for the first time after we were married." Clint let himself blush. It wasn't hard. "So we stuck it out in the apartment for awhile longer."
"I kind of wish we'd had the chance to do it slow," Briggs said. "But when my boss let me go, all I wanted to do was get out of town. Rick had already had the house for a couple of years by then. But I do my best to put my stamp on it."
"You've stamped it just fine," Hughes said, tossing Briggs a look. "Or do we have to have the discussion about the baseballs again?"
"Baseballs?" Clint asked.
"Signed baseballs," Hughes confirmed. "He collects them. In glass cases."
Suddenly Clint grinned. "Coated to reduce UV exposure? Archival quality mounts?"
"You?" Hughes' eyes narrowed. Then he abruptly grinned back. "No. Phil. What is it?"
"Captain America merchandise," Clint said, cackling.
Phil gestured with his steak knife. "I'm not embarrassed about that," he spoke over the laughter.
Clint let the laughter fade and looked over at Phil, feeling the warmth bloom in his chest. "Yeah, I know." He didn't set his utensils down, but he did lean over and brush his lips over Phil's cheek. Phil turned his head to meet him for a proper, if quick kiss. "Truth, justice, and standing up for the little guy," Clint said against his mouth. Then he kissed Phil again, because his mouth was right there, and Clint was allowed, and he wanted to.
Phil kissed him back for a moment before turning to Briggs and asking about the baseball collection. The rest of the night went like that, lots of conversation over the food, and lots of touching Phil, or Phil touching Clint. A gentle brush of fingertips over shoulders on the way to the bathroom, a hand on a thigh when one of them leaned over a bit, Clint tucked into the curve of Phil's body when they settled on the couch in the living room, Hughes and Briggs facing them in armchairs.
They finished the bottle of wine, and broke out a six-pack of beers as well. Clint didn't know if it was the alcohol or if the plan was working, but Hughes and Briggs definitely relaxed as the night went on, until Clint returned from a trip into the kitchen for water while Phil was in the washroom to discover that their guests had appropriated their place on the couch. They smirked at Clint, half draped over each other now, but when Phil came back and found Clint in an armchair, he sank down to sit at Clint's feet, his head resting against one knee, rather than take the other chair, which was too far away to even hold hands.
It was past eleven when Hughes glanced at his watch (for the third time in an hour) and finally sighed aloud. "I'm sorry, but we should get going. This one," he patted Briggs on the thigh, "is awful in the mornings if we're up too late. Not even for the sake of courtesy will I endure his morning crankiness." Briggs, who was definitely drifting, gave Hughes a little shove, but didn't contradict him.
"No worries," Clint said, his fingers idly tracing patterns over the back of Phil's neck. He suspected Phil was drifting, too.
But no, Phil stirred at that and straightened up. "Let me walk you to the door." He climbed to his feet and hovered while Briggs and Hughes patted their pockets to make sure they had their house keys. When they all moved towards the door, Clint got up and joined them, sliding his arm around Phil's waist when they came to a stop at the front door.
"Thanks for having us over," Hughes said. "It was fun."
"Thanks for accepting," Phil started.
"Yeah, we needed someone to pop our dinner hosting cherry," Clint broke in, then let out a startled breath when Phil elbowed him. "Ow," he said, pouting at Phil and laying his head on his shoulder. Phil just looked at Hughes and rolled his eyes, getting a grin in return.
"You should come over sometime," Briggs said suddenly. "Let Rick educate you on wine and see if you can find the fake in my baseball collection."
Phil smiled. "Just say when."
Briggs looked at Hughes, who shrugged and turned back to Phil. "Tuesday?"
"It's a date," Clint replied, but his words were muffled by Phil's neck.
"I think I need to put this one to bed, too," Phil said dryly. "Let us know if we should bring something? After all, if you're providing the wine, the standard gift is off the table."
"I'll call," Hughes promised. He and Briggs departed, leaving Phil and Clint in their entryway, Clint still tucked into the curve of Phil's throat.
"Mission accomplished," Phil said, his hand settling at the small of Clint's back.
Slowly, Clint straightened up. Mission accomplished. He swallowed a sigh. "Thanks to my brilliant plan." Possibly the way he was blinking sleepily blunted the smugness, if the amused curve of Phil's mouth was any indication.
"We need water and sleep." Phil turned Clint in the direction of the stairs. "Neither of us normally drink this much."
"Couple of lightweights," Clint muttered as he padded upstairs ahead of Phil. "A glass of wine and two beers each and we're done."
"That's not a bad thing," Phil said. When Clint would have gone for the bedroom, Phil put his hands on his hips and guided him into the bathroom instead. They each kept a water glass there, and he made them each drink one full glass. When they left the bathroom, Phil brought a half a glass of water and four ibuprofen with him. He set them on the night table and answered Clint's inquiring glance with, "In case of hangover."
Clint nuzzled into his pillow. "You're a good husband," he muttered.
Phil paused, then laid down next to him. "I'd like to be," he said, so quietly Clint almost didn't hear him.
"Are," Clint insisted sleepily, and drifted off.
Clint had sort of expected a little awkwardness after their dinner with Hughes. Sure, they'd been playing house for better than two weeks by that point, but "I love you"s and nearly making out on the couch were a step beyond that. Surely there would be some second glances and some hesitant moments where they tried to shuffle back into maintaining cover while maintaining professionalism at the same time.
Instead, he woke up Wednesday morning spooned up behind Phil.
Normally they fell asleep facing each other. Clint was still facing his usual direction, but sometime during the night Phil had turned onto his other side instead of his stomach, and now Clint was plastered against his back, nose brushing the nape of his neck and feet tapping together. He had morning wood, too, but even though Phil woke up while Clint was still trying to figure out how to quietly pull away, all he did was snuffle a little and mutter, "Need ibuprofen?" like it was any other day. Well, any other day with a potential hangover.
"I'm good," Clint murmured back. "Just need breakfast. Bacon."
Phil hummed, and Clint got up, and when Phil came downstairs he stepped up behind Clint and put his arms around Clint's waist like Clint had done the night before. And that was the new normal for the next three days.
It was the same Tuesday, the day that they were having dinner at Hughes' and Briggs' place. Clint woke up spooned up behind Phil, and got up, and showered, and made coffee, and got a casual kiss on the cheek when Phil took the cup out of his hand. "Coffee thief," Clint accused, but he'd added sugar and cream to Phil's preferences, not his own. Phil took a sip and hummed loudly with satisfaction, which was his way of saying he knew that, too.
They each grabbed a pastry out of a box of Danishes and settled on the couch together, Phil watching the news, Clint in his customary spot with his toes tucked under Phil's thigh and Phil's hand absently rubbing his ankle. Clint wondered if talking about tonight's op would break them out of the bubble they'd been in the past four days, but he'd always been the rip the band-aid right off type, so he finished licking the last of the Danish glaze off his fingers and said, "So, how do you want to handle dinner with Hughes tonight?"
Phil muted the news but didn't turn it off. "First priority is planting bugs in secure places. We're going to be observed almost every moment we're there, which means we won't be able to tuck surveillance devices away in sockets or electronics, so we'll take the low visibility bugs. And given that we might not have another opportunity, I'm inclined to bring all of them and place them whenever a reasonable opportunity arises."
Clint frowned, then felt it melting away despite himself when Phil moved his hand from Clint's ankle to his calf, rubbing at the tension there. He shot Phil a Really? look--using a leg massage to ease Clint's reservations was dirty pool--but didn't pull away. "Doesn't placing a lot of them increase the chances they'll be discovered? Fury wanted the surveillance stable."
"I think they'll be fine, as long as Hughes isn't given reason to be suspicious he's being watched," Phil said. "R&D outdid themselves on the design. Here," he lifted Clint's feet away from his thigh and stood, setting Clint's feet back down on the couch himself rather than just letting Clint move them. He half-jogged up to the armory and came back down a moment later with a plastic box in his hands. Clint lifted his feet and Phil casually tucked himself underneath them. "The circuits are completely transparent," he said, opening the box, "and they're imbedded in a clear, matte polymer film." He looked up and grinned briefly. "It's actually really easy to lose one if you're not careful."
Phil lifted something out of the box, holding it between thumb and forefinger. Clint actually had to squint to see that there was something there even when Phil tilted it to catch the light, it was so thin and clear. Turning it, Phil showed Clint the edges, which were uneven. "The ragged shape is meant to both avoid triggering pattern recognition in and to give it a shot at being mistaken for a scrap of tape if it's found," Phil explained. "No one has found one yet, so we haven't been able to test the tape disguise, but I like the idea."
Clint flashed Phil a grin, well aware of the other man's penchant for clever gadgets. "How do we get them to stay in place?"
"Pressing on the center activates both the bug and the adhesive properties," Phil said. "I'd demonstrate, but these beauties are unfortunately single use; once placed, you can't recover them without basically destroying them." He replaced the bug in the box.
"Okay, so planting bugs first. But I do get to snoop, right?"
Phil snorted as he leaned forward and set the box on the coffee table. "Of course you do." He settled back into the couch and started rubbing Clint's feet again. "If you get the chance. We should be able to arrange a 'bathroom break', at the least, but given the likelihood that their operations are based in their version of our unfinished basement, we should see if we can find an excuse to check out the kitchen and possibly the cellar. If Hughes is a wine aficionado, he must have one."
"We could bring wine to put away?"
Phil shook his head. "Even if we hadn't already set ourselves up as not knowing wine, etiquette would indicate drinking it with dinner. And we can't have him show you the collection -- you need to be alone."
"We'll have to see what comes up," Clint said. He leaned back over the arm of the couch and stared up at the ceiling for a moment while Phil continued to rub his feet absently. "I'm going to miss this place when we're done."
"I would've thought you were looking forward to it," Phil said. "Normally this much inactivity drives you up the wall."
"Don't get me wrong, not being able to work with the bow sucks beyond all telling." Clint closed his eyes and just enjoyed the warm strength of Phil's fingers on his feet. "But this is a life that was never an option for me, never even close enough to be a dream. Having a taste of it has been...nice, but kind of sad, too. There are things that come with this that I'd like." Phil's hands on his feet, Phil blinking awake from the other side of the bed, Phil pressed up against his back as he cooked, Phil's kisses, Phil's laughter, Phil in sweaters and jeans and pajamas and a robe, straight out of the shower.
They were quiet for a moment together. "My dreams of a life like this were nipped in the bud pretty early," Phil finally said, and there was something in his voice that made Clint open his eyes and sit up. He was looking down at Clint's feet, his fingers still for the moment. "I was sixteen when I came out to my family. My dad flipped out, gave me an earful of what life was like for 'fags,' and shipped me off to military school to 'straighten me out.'" Phil looked up at Clint and offered a small, wry smile. "I lost my virginity in military school and signed up for the Army rather than go home when I graduated, so I don't think that worked out quite the way he expected."
"I think this the part where I'm supposed to say 'I'm sorry,'" Clint began. "But I'm not sorry, because I wouldn't have met you otherwise."
Phil laughed. "Or you could point out that the Army wasn't the best place to escape homophobia," he said. "Which is why Nick's SHIELD pitch basically consisted of, 'These fuckers have more important things to worry about than who you're dicking in your off hours.'"
This time it was Clint's turn to laugh. "He always seems to know the right buttons to push." Nick's pitch to him had been 'If any of my people betray you, come to me and I will put a bullet between their eyes personally.' Clint paused, unsure of his next question, but when the silence stretched out Phil tilted his head and nodded encouragingly, so Clint went for it. "Did you ever reconcile with your father? I know you're in touch with your sister and her family, but..." he trailed off and shrugged.
"I did, actually," Phil replied easily. "My parents had told my sister that we'd argued, but not about what. When she found out why I'd been sent away, and why I never came home on leave, she started working on them. It took a few years, but my father finally unbent enough to write a letter inviting me home for Christmas. I almost didn't go, but Nick convinced me I'd regret it if I didn't try."
"I'm glad," Clint said.
"Any particular reason you're so invested in my relationship with my parents?" Phil asked curiously.
Clint shrugged. "I always imagined you with the happy, shiny family life. It's nice thinking someone out there has it. Even if your dad had to deal with some prejudices, he loved you enough to get there eventually."
"My reconciliation with my father aside," Phil said, "if 'happy, shiny family life' means what I think it does, that hasn't been what I've had -- or what I was after -- since I went career in the Army."
"What do you think it means?"
"House in the suburbs, white picket fence, husband or wife and 2.5 kids," Phil rattled off and okay, yeah, that had been what Clint was thinking of. "I know my career path hasn't been as eventful as yours, Clint, but that life would drive me just as stir-crazy as it would you. I want to be the guy who makes the world make sense again when a magical hammer falls to Earth. I want partners I trust with my life. I want to be the guy who hands Research and Development a brand new energy weapon to reverse engineer and turn into invisible bugs and new power sources and invisibility cloaks." Phil shook his head and laughed softly. "They're still working on the invisibility cloak, but prototypes are pretty impressive."
"You don't want the happily ever after? The growing old together?" Clint asked.
Phil met his gaze. "Who says I can't have those things? This is a dangerous job, but it's not a death sentence. Most agents actually retire or are invalided out of the field rather than killed. Just because my happily ever after involves even more paperwork and trying to stop a certain range master from convincing impressionable probies that Paleolithic weapons are better than modern ones doesn't make it any less happy."
Clint caught his breath at the suggestion that he was there in Phil's happily ever after. They were still looking each other in the eye, Phil's hand resting lightly on Clint's foot. For a moment, Clint thought maybe he should say something. He wasn't sure what, though, and while he scraped about for words, Phil smiled softly and dropped his gaze. "But first," he said, "we have a dinner to get through."
Hughes had requested they bring dessert, so the two of them found what seemed like a simple recipe and made apple pie. It had to be hard to screw up apple pie, right? Okay, so they had to make it twice, but they had a respectable pie in the end, so whatever.
The bugs fit easily into their pockets. It was harder to hide the fiber optic camera and electronic lock pick Clint was bringing in the hopes that one or the other would get them past any secure doors for firm confirmation that Hughes and Briggs were running the operation out of their home, but eventually they secured the first to the inside of a belt and tucked the other into Clint's back pocket and hoped it would be taken for either keys or a wallet.
Thus equipped, they went next door and knocked. Briggs was cooking when Hughes answered, so he entertained them with his wine collection. For a moment, Clint thought the whole operation was a bust, because Hughes took them through the kitchen and into the garage and down the stairs into the basement without hesitation. But when they got to the bottom of the steps, they discovered that the basement had been divided. The wine cellar was on the right. On the left was what appeared to be a plain wooden door with an electronic lock. Clint made sure to stick a couple of bugs on the walls.
"How much did it cost you to finish the basement?" he asked as they stepped into the wine cellar, glancing around as if taking in the construction details.
Hughes glanced up at him. "More than I want to admit." He huffed a laugh and shook his head. "But the community association won't let you put a shed up anywhere visible from the street, and this lot doesn't have a back lawn, just a front one. So it had to be the basement."
"Your contractor did a good job," Clint said. "It's-- Holy shit, that's a lot of wine." There wasn't just one rack of wine bottles, there were six, all but one of them full. Hughes just laughed and starting pulling bottles off the rack and giving them the rundown of the wine details and where he'd acquired the bottles. Clint hadn't known you could auction off bottles of wine, but apparently you could, because Hughes had gotten a few of the more expensive ones that way.
Briggs called them up to dinner eventually. Neither Clint nor Phil looked at the other door on their way back up the stairs, but they exchanged a glance as they stepped into the kitchen and Clint knew finding a way back down would be the dance for the rest of the evening, even more so than the casual swipe of bug-laden fingers over mantelpiece and door jam and coffee table.
Unfortunately, Hughes was an excellent host, and the evening quickly spun away, opportunities dwindling by the moment. First they finished dinner, then dessert. Phil managed to make it upstairs to plant a few bugs there by feigning an urgent need for the bathroom while the downstairs one was occupied by Hughes. Eventually they moved into the living room for coffee, Clint just about resigned to finding a way to come back. But when Hughes lifted the remote and turned his TV to a music channel, Phil perked up. "Satellite?"
"Can't live without our 5,000 channels," Briggs rolled his eyes. At himself, it turned out. "That's my fault; I can't bear to miss a soccer match and American TV hardly shows any of them."
"And the community association doesn't object to the dish?" Phil asked, leaning forward a bit.
"Have you seen Alana's place?" Hughes said. "If they can have that many antennas, we can have a dish."
"Yeah, but the antennas are thin and clustered," Phil pressed. "The dish really catches your eye, and you wouldn't want it near any other transmitters. Where did you put yours?"
Hughes and Briggs both tried to describe the location, but Phil doggedly played dumb until Hughes finally blew out an exasperated breath. "Look, let's just go outside and look at it, okay?"
"Sorry," Phil ducked his head even as they all stood. "I'm like this with directions, too."
Clint stood as well, but he knew his cue when he heard it. "I'm going to use the bathroom, if that's okay? I'll join you folks in a minute."
"Sure, you know where it is," Briggs called out as the three of them filed out the door.
"Thanks." Clint followed them as far as the front door, since the downstairs bathroom was right next to it, and actually ducked in for a moment, just until he heard the door close. Quickly setting his watch alarm for 5 minutes--about how long he figured they'd give him before someone came looking--and raced through the kitchen and down the garage stairs to the basement.
Clint hooked up the electronic lock pick to the key pad and started it running while he examined the door for anywhere he might slip in the fiber optic camera. The lock pick's full program would take seven minutes to run, but there was a chance it would ping earlier. In the meantime, he had nothing to do but try the camera.
The door itself wasn't wood, of course, no matter how ordinary it looked. A few good raps with his knuckles and an experienced ear confirmed for Clint that it was a steel security door. And from the shape of the frame, he was betting on a steel frame, too. He ran his fingers around the edges and over the hinges, looking for a place to start a gap, but there was nothing promising. He glanced at his watch: three minutes. Putting his hands on his hips, Clint ran his eye over the barrier again. The door was secure, and he didn't have time to check the walls. That left the baseboards--unlikely--or...Clint looked up. It was a drop ceiling. But how much of a drop, and what was behind it?
"Only one way to find out," Clint muttered to himself. He crouched, took a deep breath, and jumped. His hand, upraised, nudged a section of ceiling tile aside. On his second try, his fingers tapped a strut on the way down. "Third time's a charm..." This time he got his hand around the strut and dangled for a moment until he could get his other hand up.
Carefully pulling himself up until his head poked into the ceiling, Clint grinned. The space was only about a foot high, and it was secured, but the steel was a grid work, not a solid barrier. An impressively dense grid work, but not dense enough to keep a fiber optic camera out. Letting himself down to hang from one hand again, Clint used the other to plant a bug inside the ceiling, then undid his belt and worked the camera free. He checked the timer as he raised the camera. One minute.
Just as he raised himself back into pull up position, a vibration went through the house. Door slamming, he realized. They others were already back inside. Quickly, Clint switched the camera on, stuck it through the grid work, and waved it around for a second before snatching it back. Whatever footage they got would have to do. He lowered himself, pulling the ceiling tile over so that it would fall into place when he dropped. His landing was silent and he yanked the electronic lock pick off the still-secure lock, wincing at its beep of protest.
Cramming both devices into his pockets, Clint quickly padded up the stairs and listened at the kitchen door for a bare second before throwing caution to the wind and slipping inside. The kitchen was empty, but there was no time for relief. Clint peered around the corner and into the hall area that stretched past bathroom, front door, and into the living room. He could see Briggs' back from here. Hopefully Phil wouldn't have let Hughes standing facing Briggs. Clint darted down the hall, eased the bathroom door open and slipped inside. He took the time to flush and wash his hands, which were dusty and smudged from his pull up exercise. Glancing over himself in the mirror, he brushed a bit of dust and ceiling tile flake off of his clothes before stepping out. He left his belt, undone to retrieve the camera, deliberately a couple notches looser.
Clint stepped into the living room and everyone looked over at him. Phil's face immediately creased in concern. "You okay?"
"I hope it wasn't my cooking," Hughes said, but his eyes had narrowed a hair.
"No, I'm just..." Clint paused. "Um. Sore. Had to reapply some medication...after." He looked over at Phil and forced a bright blush.
Phil's concern turned smug. "I can't really say I'm sorry."
Hughes chuckled. "Say no more. Really."
They all laughed, and the evening went on.
After another hour or so they made their excuses and returned to their own home. "Sore?" Phil asked as soon as they were inside.
Clint rolled his eyes. "Did you want me to insult his cooking and say I had the shits? Besides, now we know for sure he and Briggs are actually together. Intel, Phil. Intel."
"Speaking of which, I'm sorry I couldn't give you more time," Phil said. He sat on the couch and took off his shoes and socks, squishing his toes in the carpet for a moment. "Even I can only play so dumb about how satellite dishes work. Did you get anything?"
"Not sure yet." Clint joined him on the couch and laid the lock pick and the camera on the table. "Didn't manage to crack the lock, but I got about three seconds of camera footage through the security grid in the ceiling."
"Hopefully the footage is good," Phil said. "Either that, or we got a decent surveillance grid in there."
"I planted every bug I had," Clint shrugged. "No telling if that's good enough."
Phil nodded. "We should go upstairs and check both." Neither of them moved.
After a moment, Phil sighed and looked over at Clint. "Shower," they said in unison, and then laughed. "Rock, paper, scissors for first shower?" Phil suggested, raising an eyebrow.
Or we could share. The thought flickered through Clint's mind and he had to fight down a blush. "Nah," he said aloud. "You take it. You can warm up the tile for me."
Phil shot him a look that Clint would have said was heated if it wasn't for the way he chuckled as he levered himself up off the couch. "I'm not going to argue. I also wouldn't object to having a coffee to drink when I get out, since we've got work to do yet."
"Yeah, right," Clint scoffed as Phil left the room. He leaned back against the couch and closed his eyes. Except that the first image that popped into his mind's eye was Phil, pink from the hot water, smiling that surprised, soft, happy smile when Clint handed him the coffee. Almost without meaning to, Clint found himself headed into the kitchen. It wasn't like filling the coffee maker and turning it on took a lot of effort.
When Phil finished his shower and left the bathroom, dressed in his pajamas, Clint was waiting for him, leaning against the wall across from the bathroom, coffee mug in hand. Phil saw it and smiled wryly. "Did you make that just to tease me?"
Clint held it out. "Made it for you, actually." He shrugged, but didn't look away from Phil because...yes, there was the smile, just as tiny and sweet as Clint had expected
"I didn't actually mean for you to make coffee," Phil said, but he accepted the mug anyway.
"I know." Once he was relieved of the mug, Clint pushed off the wall. "My turn to shower."
Phil stopped him as he passed with a quick touch on his wrist and brushed a kiss across his cheek. He was gone down the stairs before Clint finished registering the touch. Ducking his head, he brushed his fingertips over his cheek and stepped into the bathroom. He found Phil waiting with a coffee for him after, and okay, yeah, that was pretty nice.
Freshly scrubbed and caffeinated, the two of them moved into the surveillance center they'd set up in the spare room and started turning on screens and activating bugs. To keep energy low and reduce the chance that the bugs would be detected in a sweep, they transmitted in bursts and only when pinged from the master program. Phil ran a coverage analysis, pinging all the bugs, running the feedback through a pre-set program, and compared the results against the floor plan of their own home, which was on the same design as Hughes' and Briggs', while Clint downloaded the data from the fiber optic camera's on board memory.
"Coverage is pretty good," he reported. "We're missing a couple corners in the kitchen and dining room, and we've only got isolated spots in the garage and basement hall, but otherwise it's solid. How's the footage look?"
"Let's find out." Clint waited another few seconds for the video to finish converting--the compression necessary to store it on the camera itself didn't lend itself to immediate playback--and then opened the file.
The first few seconds were a blur of movement and gray metal, presumably the security grid. Then it slipped between the metal bands and panned from side to side. It was a little quick, but--
"That's definitely storage," Phil said. "And I think I saw a Hammer Industries logo go by. Can we slow it down?"
"Sure." Clint adjusted the playback settings and restarted the video. The two of them leaned toward the screen. Phil's hand settled on Clint's knee, an unconscious brace. On the screen, they had an awkward overhead view. The camera's field of view didn't reach to the floor, but it didn't matter--most of the storage was on racks against the walls. Formed steel boxes dominated the room, and there was definitely a Hammer Industries logo, and something that Clint was sure was the bottom left corner of an AIM logo, and even an old Stark Industries logo, from back before Tony (or, rather, Pepper) had done a corporate image overhaul to help distance them from weapons development. "Tony's not going to like that." Clint murmured.
"I don't like the look of the robot on display on that table," Phil said, his lips pressed into a thin line. Clint redirected his attention and realized that what he'd taken for a pair of treads also had some sort of mount projecting out of the top. "Just about any personal weapon can be mounted on those treads and advanced, aimed, and fired remotely," Phil explained. "Top speed is the same as a fit man at a dead run. They're still at the proof of concept stage, which means there sure as hell shouldn't be one here. Someone has a leak somewhere."
Clint winced. "On the up side," he offered, "I don't see anything that looks like Chitauri tech, and it sure wouldn't come in a custom box."
Phil nodded sharply and turned back to the surveillance analysis, closing out that program and bringing up the control on the bugs. "Let's see what our neighbors have to say." He flipped on the bugs and for a moment they both froze as a loud moan echoed through the room. Then Phil dropped his face into his hands, shoulders shaking with laughter, and Clint couldn't help but join him.
"Looks like they won't be saying anything for awhile," Clint managed. Just then, Hughes' voice rang out: Fuck, yes, harder!
"Wishful thinking," Phil shot back. "And yet we still have to listen."
Listening to someone else have sex was remarkably uninspiring, at least to Clint. He kept glancing over at Phil, catching his eye, and breaking into snickers again. "If ever I needed proof I wasn't a voyeur, this is it," Clint sighed, leaning back in his chair.
"I never needed proof of that," Phil said. He shot Clint a sidelong glance. "You've always preferred being right in there, stirring up trouble."
Clint arched an eyebrow. "Trouble? In bed?"
"In hearts," Phil said, and then his face did something strange and he abruptly sat up and poked at the surveillance feed. "I think they're winding down."
Clint studied the curve of Phil's back for a moment. "So they are," he agreed eventually.
There were a few minutes of indistinct sounds, then: "If that's what having guests over inspires, we should do it more often," Briggs said.
Hughes sighed. "We probably shouldn't even have had guests this time."
"Oh, relax. I've never seen two men more married in my life." Clint felt his ears heat. Briggs went on. "They're exactly what they seem. Now you can stop obsessing about our new neighbors and give the go ahead for the exchange."
"I haven't ever seen you actually excited about a transaction." Hughes sounded amused.
"Yeah, well, a transaction has never involved alien technology before," Briggs shot back. Clint and Phil exchanged triumphant grins. "So when is it?"
"Friday, okay? Friday."
They kept listening until there was only the sound of sleep-heavy breathing, and then Phil switched the bug into passive mode. "Three days," he said.
Clint nodded "Three days." Three days left in the mission. Three more days in suburbia. Three more days being married to Phil.
Pretending to be married. Pretending.
Friday morning they still didn't know the exact time of the meet, despite taking shifts at the surveillance since Tuesday, sleeping when Hughes and Briggs were sleeping. It was all Clint could do to go for his usual morning run when he knew that the acquisitions specialist could arrive for the meet at any time, but Phil had reminded him that they couldn't afford to deviate from their habits now. Hughes had already delayed the exchange once because of them, they didn't need to arouse his suspicions again. So Clint went on his run.
He didn't stop to chat on his way back, though, instead going straight back into their house. He grabbed the towel off the hook by the door and dried himself off as he headed up the stairs. "I'm back," he called up to Phil.
"Nothing yet," Phil called back.
Clint stepped into the surveillance room to find Phil sitting there in his pajamas. His hair was still askew from bed. Clint chuckled and dropped a hand onto Phil's shoulder, rubbing a little, his thumb stroking over the back of Phil's neck. "I'm having a shower and then you're going to take an actual break."
Phil groaned and rolled his shoulders. "I know I need one. They haven't said a damned word about it."
They continued not saying a word about their meeting, or anything else related to their business, until nearly four o'clock. Clint was downstairs getting fresh coffee for both him and Phil--they'd started listening together around one--when he looked up and out the kitchen window and saw a car pull into Hughes' and Briggs' driveway. He watched as a willowy brunette woman wearing a black pantsuit and silver heels at least four inches high got out of the driver's seat. He wanted to yell up to Phil, but held his tongue; these windows weren't all that sound proof, and she wasn't very far away.
The brunette circled to the back of her car and opened the trunk, from which she extracted a briefcase and a duffle bag with a shoulder strap. The way she leaned into the strap said the bag was heavy, though she never faltered once striding up the walk on those spike heels. When she stepped into the house, Clint hurried up the stairs, coffee abandoned on the kitchen counter.
The doorbell was still chiming through the surveillance when Clint slipped back into his chair. "New player is a woman, brunette, black pantsuit, high heels, carrying a briefcase and a duffle bag," he murmured quietly as Hughes said something to his partner.
"Alana and Isaac Foster came in through the back door about five minutes ago," Phil replied, just as quiet.
"Thank you for coming," Hughes said, and both Clint and Phil shut up. "I'd like to take business downstairs, if you don't mind."
"Of course." The woman's voice was crisp.
The quality of the sound deteriorated as they moved out of the area of overlapping sensors and into the patchy surveillance they had managed on their visit to the wine cellar and Clint's rushed investigation. The bug in the ceiling picked up the beeping of the electronic keypad, though, which meant they ought to be fine for any discussions.
"Introductions, please," the woman said when the door had clicked shut behind her.
"Richard Hughes," Hughes said. There was a brief pause, possibly for a handshake. "This is my partner, Patrick Briggs. Alana and Isaac Foster will assist me with inspecting the merchandise and determining its veracity and confirming that it is appropriate to the negotiated price."
"There will be a fee associated with the delay from our original schedule."
"The delay was necessary to ensure complete security," Hughes said stiffly.
"Admirably cautious," the woman said calmly. "But, as the meeting is taking place entirely within your territory, you are entirely responsible for ensuring security. If you were unable to resolve this in advance of the original date, then you are responsible for the compensating the delay."
There was silence for a moment. "What sort of fee?" Briggs asked.
Another moment of silence, though Clint suspected the bug was missing some whispering. "Very well," Hughes said, sounding considerably less cordial. "We'd like to examine the merchandise now."
A moment later a loud clunk echoed through surveillance, followed by the hiss of a zipper.
"It's damaged," Alana Foster said.
"I was quite clear that I was selling a portion of a Chitauri aerial platform," the woman said scornfully. "Did you think it got to be a portion through peaceful disassembly?"
Clint felt a spike of cold go through him. He exchanged a look with Phil. Black market Chitauri tech had been all small pieces until now, the largest being the gun Sitwell had recovered. Even a portion of an aerial platform was an order of magnitude above that.
"And which portion is this?" Alana asked.
"I am not an engineer. But based on video footage from the battle and my own expert, we believe this is the power core--uncompromised, we were rigorous in checking for explosive potential--and central flight stabilizers."
Clint let out a low whistle.
"Mr. Hughes mentioned you had a control element as well," Isaac Foster said. Phil swore under his breath. Clint reached out and put a hand on his knee, squeezing briefly.
"I believe I have a control element," the woman said. "I have not confirmed this." A series of clicks came faintly through the bug. Her briefcase, if Clint had to take a guess. "It took a great deal of investigation to identify this component. This is reflected in the price, of course. But the ultimate determination was that it is a neural interface. I believe it can be used to control the platform."
"Assuming any of the receiver infrastructure survived." Alana sounded distracted, probably examining the platform core.
"Is the neural link functional?" Isaac asked.
"It does not appear to be damaged."
"That's not the same thing as functional," Hughes pointed out. "I'm not going to buy it if it doesn't work. We're not collectors here, Ms. Crichton."
"You are welcome to test it," Ms. Crichton replied.
"Oh, please tell me they aren't that stupid," Clint said softly.
Phil snorted. "I'd be more concerned about the level of their greed."
"Mrs. Foster, how does the aerial platform look?" Hughes asked.
"As advertised," Alana said. "Most of the controls appear to be wired into this portion, as well. The platforms would have to be lightweight, and from what I saw, the upper portion was largely the framework and support for the rider. Assuming the platforms were guided by neural link and not by a control panel, which seems likely given the reports on the Black Widow's hijacking process, then it's possible it could still receive from the neural link."
Clint moaned. "I really wish she hadn't said that. Why couldn't the damn thing have just been broken?"
"We're going to need to test it," Hughes said.
"I wish he hadn't said that," Phil said grimly. "R & D have several neural links, but the tests we've run suggest the input is incompatible with the human brain. We're not sure if use will result in catatonia or something worse, but putting one on is the last thing anyone should be doing."
Isaac was speaking. "Alana and I should be available for...technical support, should it be necessary."
Clint nodded at the computer. "You want to bust in there?"
Phil paused, then nodded sharply. "Gear up."
"Sounds like I'm up, boss," Briggs was saying as Clint unlocked the weapons locker. He swore under his breath and quickly passed a hand gun and a tranq gun to Phil before slinging a quiver across his back and snatching up gun and bow, one in each hand.
"They're worn on the back of the neck," Ms. Crichton said as the two of them left the surveillance room and raced down the stairs.
"Shit shit shit." Clint burst out the front door, barely registering Ellie's startled glance and wide eyes as he raced over to Hughes' place. His boots hit the front porch just before a loud whine and a series of sharp cracks rang out. "Fuck fuck fuck!" Clint's boot slammed into the door and he raised his gun, tracking across the living room while Phil stepped up next to him and covered the kitchen area.
"They must still be downstairs," Phil said, pacing towards the kitchen.
They were just about at the door to the garage when another loud crunch and squeal sounded. "What the fuck was that?" Clint asked, covering Phil's back as they advanced into the garage.
The basement door exploded in a cloud of wooden shrapnel. Clint grabbed Phil and spun, putting his back between Phil and the flying debris. "Hawkeye!" Phil shouted. "Can you secure that?"
Clint looked up just in time to see the ragged, broken base of a Chitauri flight platform slam into Hughes' car, skitter off the metal with an ear splitting screech, and slam into the garage door. It made a hell of a dent. "Got it, sir." Clint let go of Phil and dropped his gun, whipping a grappling arrow out of his quiver instead. The grappling head collided with the platform with a clang and engaged. Clint drew the cord over to the car, smashed the window, opened the car door, and secured his end of the grapple around the top edge of the door just as the platform took another run at the garage door. It yanked the car door forward. The hinges groaned and when the platform bounced back from the garage door Clint could see light where the nose of it had punctured the metal. Clint grabbed for another grapple, then hit the deck when a high pitched whine and a weird coughing sound was followed by a spray of tiny, glowing spheres around him. They burned trenches into the car and splashed against the concrete floor, flecks of them making hot points on Clint's pants
"What the hell is going on?" Clint demanded. He pushed himself up into a low crouch just behind Phil, who had taken cover by the rear corner of the car, aiming the tranq gun towards the basement stairs, where Patrick Briggs stood, his posture rigid, his eyes open but vacant. In his hands he held something a little like a leaf blower with a narrower nozzle. And an apparently endless supply of tiny glowing spheres. Fucking Hughes and his fucking high tech specialization.
"Looks like testing that neural link didn't go so well." Phil cleared his throat and called out, "Patrick Briggs! I'm with the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division. Put down your weapon and we can resolve this."
Another spray of burning spheres was the response. "That never works, sweetheart," Clint said dryly.
"I live in hope," Phil said.
"I do love that optimism." The car door's hinges groaned again as the platform took another run at the garage door. "But I think I better deal with this thing before it bursts out into the street." While Clint secured a second grappling arrow, Phil took a couple shots around the back of the car, but none of the tranq cartridges hit home.
"Richard Hughes!" Phil tried this time. "Rick! It's Phil, can you hear me?" There was no answer.
"If Briggs is being this free with that gun, they might be dead," Clint said.
"I'm aware of that, Clint."
"I-- Fuck!" The aerial platform tore through the garage door with a squeal of torn metal, coming up against the grappling tether with a jerk that yanked the car door and the mirror, to which Clint had secured the second line, half off. Clint nocked another grappling arrow and hit the garage's door open button just as the pieces of the car let go. Door and mirror went flying toward the hole in the garage door, catching for a moment as the rising of the door narrowed the ragged space. The mechanism gave a tortured rumble as the twisted metal hit the tracks, leaving a gap only a couple of feet high. The car door was already turning, bending the edges of the hole and getting ready to slip free. Clint swore again and dove towards the tiny gap at the bottom of the garage door, shoulders hunched against another spray of burning spheres.
Rolling through the space, Clint came back to his feet just in time to duck as the car door tore through the garage door. He fired the grappling arrow just as the platform took off and found himself jerked off his feet, the line still secured to the bow. "Not your best idea, Clint!" He shouted as he was lifted into the air. Of course his weight wasn't enough to bring this thing down--they'd carried more than twice his weight easily during the battle.
Gritting his teeth, Clint disengaged the grapple line and went as limp as possible as he hit the ground, the hard bulk of the quiver knocking his breath out of him. Still, he managed to snatch up an explosive arrow and fire it after the rapidly ascending platform. It struck home and detonated a moment later, blowing the platform into chunks of metal.
"Oh shit, don't hit a person," Clint breathed, staring as glowing metal rained down on the suburban street.
Front lawns seemed to be the saving grace, most of the debris coming down on the grass or the asphalt. It was a workday, so there weren't really any people out-- Ellie. Clint sat up and glanced around frantically, finally releasing a breath when he spotted her safe in the shelter of her porch.
"Clint!" Phil's voice rang out. Clint twisted around to see Phil jogging out of Hughes' garage. "You okay?"
Clint levered himself to his feet and waved. "Little banged up, but okay. Briggs?"
"He stepped out of cover to follow the platform," Phil explained. "Managed to tranq him. A team is incoming, but we need to check on Hughes and the others."
"Alright, let's go," Clint said, nocking a standard point arrow and nodding.
Phil led him back into the garage, passing by Briggs' unconscious body on the way. The neural link was still on his neck. "Shouldn't we take that thing off?" Clint asked as they descended the stairs.
"It's still active, and there are obviously embedded directives running," Phil said. "Removing it right now could do more harm than good. We'll have to keep him sedated and restrained until medical can check into it."
"I just hate to think of him being walked around like a puppet." Clint swallowed hard and paused when Phil did the same, looking back at him, his expression soft.
"We'll figure it out." Phil promised. "For now, we need to make sure he has something to come back to."
Clint blew out a breath and nodded sharply. They stepped off the last step. The steel security door was twisted half off its hinges. They had to climb over it into the room. At the back, Alana Foster was crouched over Isaac, her hands pressed to his abdomen. She looked up and spotted them, wild eyed. "You have to get help! Isaac's been shot."
"A medical team is incoming," Phil assured her. Clint stepped past him to secure the rest of the room.
Ms. Crichton and Hughes were both sprawled on the floor, unconscious but visibly breathing. Clint felt a little of the tension ease out of his shoulders. Several of the wooden crates had been knocked to the floor, and there were two more weapons like the one Briggs had been carrying laying half in and half out of the packing material.
"I'll stay here," Clint said, slinging his bow over his back and nodding to Phil. "You better get out on the street before our neighbors start picking up souvenirs."
Phil grimaced and secured his weapon. "My favorite part."
Maybe ten minutes later a medical team pounded down the stairs, a couple of agents on their heels to provide security. The medics climbed over the twisted door; after checking with Clint, the agents took a minute to cut the barrier away. Clint stayed long enough to make sure Isaac was taken care of and the room secure, and then he formally handed watch over to the security team and went upstairs to find Phil.
There were two agents securing and cleaning up the evidence of the Chitauri tech in the garage, but no sign of Briggs. Securing him would have been priority, though. He was probably already on his way to headquarters. Another dozen agents dotted the street. A cordon was already in place, stretching down past their house to contain all the debris; Clint found Phil at the far end of it, surrounded by their neighbors. They caught sight of him as he approached and a chorus of voices called out his name. He broke into a quick jog and stopped next to Phil. The Langs and the Anthony brothers were conspicuous in their absence from the crowd, given that everyone they'd met was there, along with a few new faces. "The others?" Clint asked Phil.
"It's covered," Phil assured him.
"Clint?" Ellie Randall looked at him, her hands twisting together in front of her. "Are you also with--?" she glanced quickly at Phil.
"SHIELD," Clint filled in. "Yeah, I am. Are you okay? You were outside when that thing came down."
She laughed, high and thin. "Me? You were dangling from it!"
"And I'm betting you haven't seen a medic yet," Phil murmured.
"Give me a break, sir," Clint said, quirking a smile, "back up has only been here for a few minutes."
"Sir?" Mrs. Treadwell said, frowning. She looked between Clint and Phil. "Was everything a lie?"
Clint opened his mouth to say 'A cover', but Phil touched his elbow and he paused, looking over at the other man. Phil smiled at Mrs. Treadwell, "We were as honest as we could be, ma'am. The details might have changed, but we shared a lot of our lives with you." He looked around at the rest of the group. "With all of you. You're good people, and that's precisely why Clint and I do what we do: because we want you to be able build communities like this."
Clint smiled at Phil. "What he said."
Their neighbors managed to chuckle at that.
"So I guess you'll be leaving," Connie said. She and Ben were leaning against each other, and while he couldn't seem to look away from the clean up, she was determinedly looking at Clint and Phil instead.
"Yeah," Clint admitted. "We've got--" he stopped himself from saying 'other homes' "--another home to go back to."
She nodded, but didn't argue. Clint hid his disappointment, instead nodding goodbye and turning away from the group. The medics were bringing Isaac out of the house, so he headed back that way. To his surprise, Phil came with him. "No more damage control?"
Phil shook his head. "Better for someone less involved to handle that. It just didn't seem right to disappear without acknowledging what we built here."
What did we build here? Clint wanted to ask, but the clean up team was signaling Phil, and one of the medics was signaling Clint, and...life went on.
After living for three weeks in suburbia with Phil, Clint's apartment somehow felt too small and too big at the same time. It was half the size of the house--less than half if you counted the garage and basement--and yet when he sat on the couch the walls felt too far away. He kept sitting down with his back to the arm and his feet on the cushions. He kept making too much coffee, and then drinking it all and lying in bed and staring at the ceiling.
Sunday at dinnertime, he stood looking into his near-empty fridge for almost twenty minutes before all but slamming it shut. "Fuck this." He snatched his keys up off the kitchen counter and grabbed his jacket off the back of the couch and headed for the door. When he swung it open, Phil was standing on the other side.
"Oh...are you headed out?" Phil asked, shoving his hands into his pockets. He was wearing blue jeans and a gray shirt and a battered leather jacket and Clint had never seen any of these particular clothes before, which meant they were Phil's clothes, not chosen by wardrobe. "Clint?"
"No," Clint blurted. "I'm not going anywhere." Phil glanced at his jacket and the keys. Clint shrugged. "I was going to find you, but you're here, so now I'm not going out anymore." And oh, there was that surprised, soft, happy smile again.
They both stepped into Clint's apartment and shed their jackets. "Coffee?" Clint offered.
Clint busied himself at the coffee maker while Phil leaned against the counter and watched. "My apartment is too quiet," he said.
Clint paused. "Mine too."
Phil sidled along the counter, closer to Clint. "When I said I was as honest as I could be, I meant it."
"I--" Clint voice cracked, and he had to swallow. He abandoned the coffee, hands splayed flat on the counter, and looked sidelong at Phil. "I was maybe a little too honest."
Phil hand closed around Clint's wrist and he tugged until Clint turned and let himself be pulled in, until their heads were tilted toward each other, lips hovering. "No more practicing," Phil said.
"No more practicing," Clint agreed. He brought their lips together for a long, sweet kiss. For a moment it was familiar, and then Phil's thumb brushed Clint's jaw and his mouth relaxed and the kiss deepened and grew hungrier. Clint's hands went to Phil's hips and he pulled them together, leaning into the kiss, nothing held back now. When at last the kiss broke, he gasped, "I love you."
Phil moaned and kissed him again, hard but quick. "I love you, too. Can we go to bed now?"
Clint laughed and leaned his forehead against Phil's. "Yes, dear," he teased.
Phil stepped away, catching Clint's hand in his and pulling him towards the bedroom. "Don't 'yes, dear' me," he said. "You haven't spent every morning for three weeks watching the object of your dirtiest fantasies come in from his morning run flushed and breathing hard, his sweaty clothes clinging to every body part--every body part, Clint."
"Maybe not," Clint grinned. "But I have spent all day watching him lounge around in sweaters that make me want to rub my face into his belly and pants that send me into throes of indecision about which view to exploit--front or back." They stopped just next to the bed and he let his eyes trail down to Phil's ass, which was very nicely cupped by the jeans he was wearing, and just left them there as Phil turned so that he could enjoy the bulge his cock made in the denim, too. Then he trailed his eyes slowly up Phil's body until their gazes met.
"Jesus, get over here already," Phil breathed, and they reached for each other at almost the same moment, tugging at clothing and kissing and rubbing hands over warm skin and struggling to get naked without letting go of each other. Finally Clint kicked away the last sock and they tumbled into bed together.
Lying on their sides, Clint caught Phil's mouth with his own, sliding his tongue along Phil's. Moaning, Phil cupped Clint's ass in one hand, tangling their legs together as he tried to press their hips closer together. Thrusting a little, a wash of pleasure went through Clint when his cock brushed Phil's. He let the kiss shallow and then end, lips clinging together for a moment before he turned and nuzzled at the line of Phil's jaw. The air was growing heavy with the salt-musk smell of them and Clint breathed it in deep.
Phil's throat vibrated under Clint's lips when he hummed his pleasure, his hand tightening on Clint's ass. "Has anyone ever told you that you smell good?" Clint murmured, flicking his tongue out to taste Phil's skin.
Laughter was a funny bob in Phil's throat. "Not that I can recall." He arched, pressing even closer.
"You do." Clint obliged the unspoken request by grinding against Phil, their bodies growing sticking with sweat and precome.
"Fuck, closer," Phil whimpered.
Clint rolled them so that Phil was on his back and Clint lay on top of him, his thighs splayed so that his knees were outside Phil's. His weight pressed Phil into the mattress, but Phil seemed to like it, reaching up and pulling Clint down into a messy kiss. Phil's hands ranged up to Clint's shoulder blades, then slid slowly down the planes of his back, the stroke firm, solid. "You like my weight on you?" Clint asked.
"Yeah." Phil looked up at him, tongue sliding over kiss-swollen lips and leaving them shiny. "You going to roll me over and fuck me into the mattress properly?"
Clint groaned and gave him a quick, hard kiss. "Next time," he promised. "This time, I've decided I want to appreciate the front view."
Phil raised his eyebrow. "Oh?" Clint grinned wickedly and sat up, shifting until his ass was cradled by Phil's hips, the eager jut of Phil's cock brushing against Clint's crease. Phil's eyes darkened and he curled his hands around Clint's hips. "Oh."
"As an added bonus," Clint said, rocking a little, "you get to enjoy the sight of me panting and sweating properly."
"That does sound like a nice bonus," Phil murmured, sliding his hands around to squeeze Clint's ass again.
Clint leaned over to get lube and a condom out of the nightstand, dropping them on Phil's chest with a grin. "I'm going to be doing all the work in a minute," he said. "Make yourself useful."
Phil laughed as he opened the lube. "I'll show you useful."
There was something weirdly hot about watching Phil get his fingers slick, even though it was pretty awkward and mechanical. Lube dripped everywhere, sloppy like Phil never was, and Phil carefully coated his fingers, getting ready to put them inside Clint, and Clint could just see the tip of his tongue poking out as he concentrated, and it shouldn't have been hot, but it was.
Clint let his eyes close when Phil pressed the first finger into him, enjoying the feel of his body opening. "Yeah," he sighed. "Just like that." While Phil carefully finger-fucked him, Clint drew a hand down his chest and curled it around his cock, stroking almost idly.
"You trying to rush me?" Phil said hoarsely, pressing a second finger against Clint's entrance.
"Mmmm, no," Clint said even as he rocked against Phil's fingers and moaned when the tip of the second breached him, then slowly buried itself alongside the first. "Just thought you might appreciate a bit of a show." He opened his eyes and caught his breath at the sight of Phil, flushed and wide-eyed, hungrily drinking in the sight of Clint. Slowly, Clint drew his hand up his cock and rubbed his thumb over the head, smearing the bead of pre-come that had gathered there.
"Fuck." Phil pushed his fingers deeper into Clint and twisted, a movement that had Clint rocking eagerly between his hand and Phil's. "Fuck," Phil repeated, pulling his fingers from Clint.
"I didn't say stop," Clint complained.
"More lube," Phil insisted, fumbling with the tube again. He got his fingers so wet this time that there was a distinct liquid sound when he thrust three of them, this time, into Clint's ass. "God, I think I could get inside you right now."
"Let's test that theory," Clint said, plucking the condom off Phil's stomach and tearing the wrapper open since Phil's hands were wet with lube. He had to turn, sadly losing Phil's fingers, to get it on Phil, but that was quickly done and soon he was back in position, rising up on his knees under Phil's hot gaze. Clint gave Phil a filthy grin as Phil's cock nudged against him, rubbing against the blunt head a bit, teasing. "What do you think? Am I ready?"
"Clint," Phil said, and there was just a thread of familiar exasperation in his name and oh, Clint was going to ruin that tone of voice for himself, just ruin it, because he let himself ease down then. He moaned as he felt himself stretch to take Phil's cock, heat crawling up his spine and spreading through his body with every inch that sank inside him. He could feel sweat beading on his skin and fuck, yes, he wanted that, wanted to sweat for Phil. Clint sank down the last little bit, his ass coming to rest in the cradle of Phil's hips, and when he relaxed his thighs, sitting instead of holding himself up, his weight pushed Phil's cock just a little bit deeper inside him and he moaned, feeling it rumble up out of him from deep in his chest.
Clint opened eyes he hadn't quite realized he'd shut and met Phil's gaze. "Good?"
"Yeah," Phil said hoarsely. He ran a hand up Clint's chest, palm sliding smoothly over sweat-slick skin, and brought his fingers back to his mouth to taste
"Fuck, that's hot," Clint squirmed, breath hitching when it stirred Phil's cock inside him. "You like the taste?"
Phil let his fingers slip from his mouth. "Among other things." He reached out and wrapped his hand around Clint's cock. Clint gasped, hips jerking, letting Phil's cock slide out of him a bit and then taking it back inside. Clint moaned and moved again, rising up this time so he could get a longer, harder thrust of Phil's cock back into him as he sank down.
"God, I love that," Clint panted, lifting himself faster this time and dropping down harder, picking up the pace as his body relaxed around Phil's throbbing cock.
"Faster," Phil urged, moving his hands to Clint's hips to help him move. "Fuck yourself on my cock."
"Jesus, yes." Clint put his hands over Phil's on his hips and held on as his head fell back and he rode Phil, gasping every time Phil managed to thrust up just as he thrust down and their bodies came together with a slap of skin and a jolt of extra sharp pleasure. He clenched down on Phil as he rose up, then went loose and liquid for the drop back down, pounding Phil's cock hard into his ass, full and hot and solid inside him.
Clint’s thighs started to burn with the effort, but fuck, he wasn't going to stop, wasn't going to even slow down, not when he had Phil stretching him open. Instead Clint moved one hand to his cock and started stroking, moaning as the pleasure seemed to bounce back and forth between his hand on his cock and Phil's cock in his ass.
"Just a little more," Phil urged, fingers pressing hard into Clint's hips. "Yeah," his hips slammed up and Clint cried out, hand tightening on his cock. "Yeah," Phil repeated, pulling Clint down as he did it again, driving deep into Clint and then groaning, back arching, as he came, cock throbbing and pulsing inside Clint.
Clint ground down against him, jerking his cock faster as Phil panted below him. "Almost there," he grated out.
"Here," Phil's hand wrapped around Clint's and together they drove him over the edge, shuddering, his ass spasming around Phil's slowly softening cock, his come striping Phil's belly.
Clint slumped down over him, after, heedless of the mess. Phil let him catch his breath for a moment, gently stroking the back of his neck. "Come on," Phil said eventually, "time to clean up."
"Yeah, 'kay," Clint muttered, stirring. Carefully, he disengaged and disposed of the condom, then sprawled back on the bed while Phil retrieved towels to mop up with. Phil's touch was firm but gentle when he cleaned Clint up, and Clint could feel a smile curling his lips as he watched Phil wipe away come and lube. Mostly lube, Phil had gotten the better part of the come.
Clean up complete, Phil crawled into bed next to Clint and put his head down the same pillow, faces close enough for their noses to brush." Don't you have your own pillow?" Clint teased, because there were two pillows on the bed.
"Been thinking about sharing yours for awhile," Phil said, smiling sheepishly.
Clint tangled their fingers together. "Any time."
Clint tucked his toes under Phil's thigh and grinned when Phil's hand automatically settled on his ankle. "Or then there's this one," Phil said, using the remote to flip to the next image. It was a floor plan. "Top floor of an eight story building, fifteen hundred square feet, full kitchen." He looked at Clint.
"Sorry, babe," Clint said, pausing to enjoy the pleased flush that still pinked Phil's cheeks whenever Clint called him that, "they all look pretty good to me. The only feature I really want comes included." He nudged Phil with his toes.
"Sap," Phil accused fondly.