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Clint is terrible about paperwork.

Not terrible in the way that Tony is, negligent and messy; not terrible in the way that Bruce is, forgetful and scattered; not terrible in the way that Natasha is, handwriting so tiny and precise that it's almost impossible to read, and then she switches to Cyrillic and Phil sighs and pulls out an old magnifying glass. His Russian is fluent, of course, but he prefers not to have to use it on reports for missions that have taken place entirely within the continental United States.

No, Clint is terrible in an entirely different way. He does his paperwork; Phil watches him sometimes, sitting at the dining room table when the others are all sparring or on combat drills or anywhere where they won't disturb him. He fills in all the numbered blanks at the top of the page, name, location, date, and then the time, down to the second, because Clint always knows the time to the second. His handwriting is unexpected, straight lines clean and dark against the page, and it's only after watching him three or four times that Phil notices his knuckles white against the pen and realizes just how hard he's gripping it.

It's when he gets to section ten, the mission summary itself, that Clint stops writing, all the header information filled out and ready to go. Phil's watched him then, too, tapping his pen against the table and then discarding it in favour of his fingers; whispering words to himself, then stopping, staring at the ceiling and back down at his report, running his hands through his hair and tugging on the short strands that stay trapped between his fingers.

Clint always starts his mission reports early, and yet Phil never sees them.

That's not entirely accurate; he never sees them in an official capacity. Sometimes, though, after Clint has given up on the reports and disappeared into the basement where Phil knows he'll find him taking target shots hours later, he goes into the dining room and finds the crumpled remains of two or three half-finished reports in the recycling bin.

He's wondered before if maybe this is hard for Clint. He's spent most of his life just trying to survive, trying to stay hidden and manage to cope, and it's not a very conducive environment to learning. Phil wants to be understanding if that is what's going on, but whenever he retrieves the balled-up reports from the garbage, they're always neatly-written and well-summarized, at least until they cut off abruptly in the middle and Clint crosses out most of the words with a thick, angry line.

Fury notices, after a while, that the completed mission briefs Phil submits to him don't contain reports from Agent Barton. Is he giving you trouble, he asks, and Phil shrugs it off as just another one of the Avengers' many quirks, no need to worry, sir. Fury asks, Do I need to schedule a meeting? and Phil shakes his head, no, I'll speak to him. There's one last parting shot across Phil's bow before he leaves, a calm statement issued with folded hands and a look full of expectation. Agent Coulson, I assigned you to the Avengers Initiative because I assumed you could keep them all in line.

Phil promises again to speak to Agent Barton and leaves in a hurry. Fury's office door closes behind him, but he could still swear he feels that gaze against the back of his neck as he walks away.

He waits, because he's not sure what might be a good time for this kind of conversation. He's used to having work-related conversations with Clint in his office (once, they had one in the break room; that's not a mistake Phil ever plans to make again). Serious conversations happen elsewhere – on the shooting range at midnight; in the bedroom in the early morning, fuzzy with the last remnants of sleep; over the comms on a mission meant to last sixteen hours that turned into thirty-four. Phil's learnt by now how to have those talks, that Clint needs time and space and an escape route, that he needs to repeat himself without pressure, that he needs to line up all his phrases in his head before he says them. It still takes Phil's breath away when he does it, because the sheer amount of effort Clint puts into saying what he means is a side of him Phil never used to see.

He's not sure what kind of conversation this one is, and so he waits.

In the meantime, he turns in mission brief packets the same way he always has. Fury's stare is a little more significant every time.

Finally, he decides, to hell with it, pulls the latest few crumpled-up balls of mission report from the recycling bin in the dining room, and takes them with him down to the basement.

"Let's talk about this."

Clint sees what he's holding up, the papers with the wrinkles smoothed out just enough for recognizability, and rolls his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, I'll write another one or something. Fury getting on your ass about it?"

Ignoring the question, Phil says, "I'm not asking you to write another one. What I am curious about is why you didn't write this one." The report he's holding isn't completed, but everything that's been written makes perfect sense, is efficiently-phrased, is good. Clint's good at this.

Instead of answering, Clint turns back to his target and puts nine rapid arrows through it. It takes less than thirty seconds, and then he's fired nine more, and Phil blinks, afraid that if he keeps his eyes closed for too long he'll miss another round.

When Clint finishes, there are thirty-six arrows in the target and no more left in his quiver, so he puts the bow down gently and says, to the target, "I'm not a fan of busywork. I do my job."

"This is part of your job," Phil points out.

"New York won't collapse if I don't file my SITREPs on time."

"Or at all. That's not what I'm asking."

Clint says, quietly, "So get to the point." He doesn't mean it angrily, probably doesn't mean it at all, Phil thinks, but he's a master of defensiveness and this is just another way to push against the edges of something tight and uncomfortable.

"Why don't you ever finish them?"

One hand reaches out and wraps protectively around the bow; the other makes an abortive gesture over Clint's shoulder, reaching for the arrows that aren't there. Phil watches his fingers tighten on the riser of the bow until they're bloodless, index finger tapping out a rhythm Phil can't catch, watches his eyes dart around the room until they settle on the door, and Phil steps to one side so that there's a clear path.

They don't always make it through an entire conversation before Clint needs to escape. Phil hasn't yet learnt all the whys behind that, but he knows enough to make sure there is always a way out.

"Those ones aren't put together right."

What that means, Phil cannot fathom. "They look fine to me."

"They aren't right. The – the words don't measure properly. And that one – " he takes one of the sheets out of Phil's hands, folds it up smaller and smaller as he talks – "too many marks, I couldn't – too many mistakes."

Phil files away the 'mistakes' to deal with later and says instead, "Measure properly?"

Clint nods. "It doesn't sound right. It's… uncomfortable. Sounds wrong."

He skims the line, trying to hear the words in his head. "Why?"

"Syllables aren't even. Words just don't count out right. Rhythms."

Phil pauses, thinking of the patterns Clint taps with his fingers, is still tapping even now, against the bow and the papers in his hands. He thinks about the way Clint evens things out, even numbers are better than odd, and the way he says the important things twice. He thinks about the poetry Clint uses when he can't derail his thoughts any other way, Wordsworth and Coleridge and Frost, and the way the words fall into rhythmic cadences in his mind as he says them to himself.

He thinks maybe he's starting to get it just a little.

The phrasing doesn't matter in the slightest. They're just field reports, just a way for Fury to be held accountable to someone. He knows that won't mean anything to Clint, though. Peace of mind to ordinary people means going to sleep at night with doors locked and protection at the ready; to the Avengers, it means having one another to rely on; to Phil, it just means having his paperwork turned in on time; and to Clint, peace of mind is this, the sorting of his world out into small, evenly-spaced fragments, the ability to measure and control.

Control is important. Phil can respect that.

He wonders, absently, if this would be easier for Clint in Cyrillic. Instead, he asks, "What if I write them?"


"What if you debrief me orally after missions and I write the reports?"

"'Debrief you orally,' huh? Like the sound of that. But you're not doing my work for me, Phil."

"One of us has to."

"Yeah. I'll do it. It's fine. It's fine."

It's fine. Phil thinks maybe this is the part where he takes a step back, trusts Clint to know what he needs and what he's capable of doing, remembers that he's not the only one who knows how to look after himself.

So he does, literally; steps back and levers a warning look in Clint's direction. "On my desk by noon tomorrow, Barton," he says, "or it's Fury you'll be dealing with, not me." An idle threat and one he's given so many times by now that they both grin a little at it, but Clint gets it. Phil trusts him to deliver.

"I'm going to bed," he says. He is, but the statement is as much a reminder to Clint that sleep exists as it is a report on his own plans.

"I'm… gonna stay down here a little while, okay?"

Phil wants to ask if Clint's all right, but he already knows the answer. Both the one he'll get from Clint ("I'm fine, I'm fine,") and the one he sees himself (fingers tapping on his bow, twitching with the need to nock and draw; jaw set in an expression of determination; tired eyes).

He knows enough to back away, but not without pausing to run his fingers through the messy hair and rest them there for a moment, enough pressure to be calming, enough gentleness to tell Clint the things he won't yet say aloud.

Clint ducks his head and grins. "Tomorrow, Phil, I promise," he says. "Go to sleep."

Phil goes, and in the morning, there's Clint asleep at his side with his face tucked into Phil's shoulder, and there's a report on his desk that actually contains pertinent information for Director Fury, and there's even still coffee in the coffee maker.

It's a pretty good day for them both.