Download Links: mp3 | m4b
Clint finds the lamp under a wad of greasy napkins in the dumpster behind Lenny's Seafood Hut. It's crusted with crab bits and reeks of Old Bay, but it looks exactly like the magical lamps in his childhood storybooks and cartoons. He boggles for a minute, then tucks it in his backpack and continues digging.
He finds it again a half hour later, sorting through his pack in the shade of the pier. There are fanciful curlicue inscriptions along the brass spout, dents ringing the bottom, and a trickle of brown sludge hardened down the side. When he hauls on the lid, it doesn't budge. It's just a piece of junk, he tells himself, even as he balances it on his knee, careful not to touch it in any way that could be mistaken for 'rubbing.' In this moment, it's as magical as he wants it to be. Sheltered from prying eyes, Clint steals a moment to let his gaze and his thoughts wander, out under the Pacific and all the way to Hawaii, where he emerges covered in seaweed, his aching legs trailing tuna nets and telecommunication cables.
Deciding to rub the lamp feels like defeat, but he's still hungry and mostly empty-handed; it's time to get moving. He dutifully turns his thoughts to resale values and tugs out a napkin, wets it with spit, and scrubs at the sludge until it breaks loose.
Okay, he seriously wasn't expecting the genie.
Smoke hisses from the spout, sounding as ill-tempered as Ms. Mesmira's cobra. He shoves the lamp off his legs and scrambles back, cool sand slipping into the waistband of his jeans and one sneaker skidding free in his haste. The smoke shifts with the breeze, spreading and thinning. Clint stares, thinks he sees subtle pastels, a stripe of glitter where it touches a sunbeam spilling between the planks overhead. For a moment there are narrow shapes like fingers, and eyes—too many to count, before they dissolve again. Clint holds his breath and braces himself for anything.
The smoke coalesces to reveal a short, 30-something white guy with a slightly receding hair line crouched on the sand, wearing a dark business suit and a pissy scowl.
"Really?" Clint can't help saying.
Frigid eyes land on him, take him in with a dismissive glance, and turn away. The genie picks up the lamp, lips curling in disgust at its condition. One finger runs along the dented base, and Clint holds his breath, expecting to witness some kind of magical restoration spell. But the dents remain. The genie sets the lamp down on a mound of sand, straightens his jacket, and surveys the locale.
Clint is suddenly self-conscious about the shitty, tar-mottled beach, the garbage-strewn boardwalk, and his small nest of shells and dried seaweed, secreted between two wooden pillars. So he does what he always does when he's off balance; starts running his mouth.
"A little short for a genie, aren't you? What happened, you shrink to fit?"
That cool attention snaps back into focus, pinning Clint like a bug. "I'm a Genie Class 8, Division 6, Level Orange, and I'm exactly the size I need to be. And you would be the juvenile delinquent who shoplifted me from an antiques shop."
"What? No! I found that lamp in a dumpster. I swear!"
The genie's eyes narrow, and Clint squirms. But then the genie nods, tension easing from his shoulders. "You're correct. My apologies, Mr. Barton."
"What?" Clint says, pitched even higher. "How do you know my name?"
"Would you believe magic?" he says, dry as a dust storm, and it takes Clint a second to realize the genie has a sense of humor.
Clint grins and relaxes a bit himself. "Okay, cool. Then that means I get to make three wishes, right? And you have to grant them, no matter what they are?"
The genie's lips turn up a single degree as he says, with patently-fake politeness, "Technically, yes. However, there are limitations. I can't resurrect Marilyn Monroe for a one-night stand; I can't make you forty feet tall without also giving you a terminal pituitary gland defect; and before you ask it, no: you will never be King of the Himokonday, an advanced society living in the Horsehead Nebula. But within the parameters of this reality, yes; I will grant you any three wishes."
"Then I want my dog, Lucky."
The genie stares at him, clearly deciding he's stupid. "Are you sure you don't want to think it over first? You only get three, and there's no wishing for more."
As a rule, Clint doesn't second-guess his impulses. They've gotten him into a lot of trouble, but kept him out of a whole lot worse. "My first wish is to have my dog back." Now that the reunion is a possibility, Clint feels a long-unacknowledged ache building, crushing his lungs by millimeters. "He's my best friend. And he'll keep me warm at night," he adds, feeling pressured to justify his wish.
"Do you even know if he's still alive? Because I already told you, I can't reanimate the dead."
Clint hesitates. It's only been a month, so…probably? Why wouldn't he be? But Trick Shot had been out for blood when Clint and Barney ditched the circus. And the thought that Trick Shot could have done something to Clint's dog in retaliation….
The genie's mouth tightens in a wince. "I'm sure he's fine. I'll get started on the paperwork now." He materializes a briefcase out of a fresh puff of smoke. Wire-rimmed spectacles emerge from his breast pocket and slide onto his nose as he settles cross-legged on the sand and pulls a ream of paper out of the briefcase. He begins muttering to himself, "DE form 54929-B Animal Location, to start with. Which also requires form GS-4206-R, and amended form K-6902-B90E Proof of Ownership, of course. Triplicate, yellow copy goes to the bursar to be notarized—"
Clint looks around, half-expecting to find a jeering camera crew shouting that he's just been punked. "Paperwork? This isn't a joke; you're really filing paperwork just to grant a wish? What happened to 'magic'?"
"Magic is a heavily regulated industry, especially when it's being used in the service of non-magical entities. Do not underestimate the amount of red tape it takes to get anything approved by the council; they're sticklers for procedure, and there's no rushing them. You should make yourself comfortable; this will take a while."
Clint huffs, but settles back against the pylon to wait. The beach is pretty empty, but Clint wonders if anyone looked, would they see him bickering with a man in a business suit, or would he look as nutso as Mouthwash Joe, the coot who throws empty beer bottles at people outside the gas station. As far as Clint can see in either direction, the waves are doing their usual thing, crashing and reforming, leaving lines of seaweed to mark their progress up the beach. Thrilling. Clint starts keeping count, reaching 100 before he gives up.
"Hey, genie," he calls, and then frowns. "You know, I can't just call you genie, that sounds lame. Should I call you Gene? George? Abdul the Great?"
"You may call me Phillip." The genie keeps scribbling away at a sheet of pink paper. When he's satisfied with it, he holds it up and releases it to the breeze, where it drifts for a moment before dissolving in a wisp of smoke.
A genie named Phillip. Clint's life, what even? "I thought you'd be taller. And more impressive. Also foreign."
"My name and appearance are tailored to the expectations of the wisher. This is what's most appropriate for dealing with you." He says it like Clint is a major inconvenience to his day.
Annoyed, Clint says, "Nope, you're way off base on this one. Like, showed up at the soccer field wearing hockey skates. In July."
"I didn't say I intended to fulfill your expectations; rather, to manage them. Wish granting is a time-consuming process, and my time is not something I like to squander. Therefore, my goal is to be someone the wisher would find most intimidating. For you, that's not going to be an enormous man wielding a scimitar, is it?"
The last time Clint’d seen The Swordsman, the man had been spitting threats, heavy blade swinging as he chased Clint down the alley outside the bank. Clint had stolen the getaway car, leaving Trick Shot and The Swordsman high and dry as sirens approached. He’d heard they were on the lam after that, probably in South America by now. Clint shrugs to hide his discomfort at the genie's accurate assessment.
"No, for you, it has to be someone with a power you can't fight—a government agent, a bureaucrat. An unimpressive office worker named Phillip who can condemn you to the foster care system with the stroke of a ballpoint pen."
Clint's balls try to retreat inside his body. Only seven more months before that threat becomes meaningless, but that's seven months he can't afford to get caught.
The genie stares Clint down. "Wishing is serious business, Mr. Barton."
"Whatever," Clint says, mouth moving on autopilot. "I'm gonna call you Phil."
"You can call me whatever you want, as long as you let me get this paperwork done."
Clint tries to stay quiet after that, but with Phil busy working, there's nothing to take Clint's mind off the gnawing badger in his stomach. He scoops up Phil's lamp and buries it under a mound of seaweed, then heads topside in search of food. He manages to steal a cup of fresh, salty fries out from between an oblivious couple making out on a boardwalk bench. Unfortunately, the fries have ketchup drizzled all over them, but they're the hottest meal he's had in days, so he scampers back under the pier with his prize clutched to his chest.
Phil is still working, and Clint looks down at his fries with something that feels uncomfortably like guilt. Reluctantly, he extends the cup and offers a few to the genie. Phil reaches out, fingers unerringly finding the cup without needing to look—badass, Clint thinks—and pulls out a large handful of ketchupy fries.
"Hey," Clint protests, but when he looks into the cup, most of the fries are still there, and all traces of ketchup are gone. Okay, mind-reading genies are kind of awesome. Phil bites at the fries sticking out of his fist and licks salt and grease off the back of his thumb, somehow managing to look fastidious. He's pretty alright, for a smart-ass suit. Clint shoves some fries in his own mouth and grins.
The sun sets with an explosion of orange and red, bursting from under the low-hanging clouds for a grand Ta-Da before bowing out behind the horizon. Likewise, Phil finishes page after page of legal documents with a flourish, before submitting each to the never-never via smoke portal or whatever. It's every bit as impressive as the first time because, hey, magic, right? But it's seriously monotonous. And cold. March isn't known for warm nights, even in Southern California, and with the sun down, the damp ocean breeze is turning chilly.
Good thing Clint's got a personal genie to handle this.
"Hey, Phil, if this is gonna take a while, how about magicking up some warmer clothes?"
Phil looks up, blinking owlishly through his glasses. "Is that your second wish? Because that's a whole different regimen of paperwork." He reaches for his briefcase, but Clint throws up his hands.
"Never mind! Not a wish. Not even wishful thinking." Clint wraps his arms around his chest, tucks his fingers under the hem of short sleeves, and leans harder against the wood, stimulating nerves to simulate warmth.
Phil stares at him for a moment and then shrugs off his jacket, revealing a crisp white shirt that practically glows in the twilight. He tosses the jacket at Clint, who lunges to keep it off the sand.
"Won't you get cold?" Clint asks like an idiot. Gift horses, mouths, he reminds himself.
"Magic." Phil twiddles his fingers as though casting a spell, and even though Clint knows Phil's fucking with him, the genie never cracks a smile.
"Thanks." Clint pulls it on before anymore body heat dissipates. It's wool, silk-lined and warmed-through, and buttoning it closed makes him feel like he's playing dress-up in his father's clothes. That memory apparently makes Phil smile, and Clint rolls his eyes and tells him to shut up.
The yellow glow of the offshore oil rigs dots the horizon. Clint brings his knees under him and settles back to watch the surf, the waves traveling a thousand miles from Hawaii, only to smash themselves to pieces on this coast. If Clint learned how to swim, how long would it take to get there? It would have to be faster than walking the ocean floor.
Phil doesn't seem to notice the fading light, moving through forms at the same brisk pace. But little ticks have appeared in his professionalism, as though shedding the jacket meant shedding the stick up his ass, too. Phil has rolled up his sleeves, loosened his tie, and started biting the end of his pen. Clint even catches him running his fingers through his hair, which sends the disheveled strands tumbling down over his forehead just so, and oh fuck. Suddenly Phil is every Hot Professor fantasy Clint's ever had. He looks like Harrison Ford and Cary Grant rolled into one rumpled suit on a lousy beach in the dark, and it’s doing killer things to Clint's libido. Keep it to yourself, he thinks firmly, and goes back to watching the waves.
The boardwalk lights shut off eventually, their reflections vanishing between one cresting wave and the next. The tourists are long gone, and Barney's pickpocket buddies with them. Even the cops have finished patrolling by now. And every time Clint tries to engage Phil in conversation, the genie huffs, "Do you want this wish granted or not?" adorably grumpy and attractive in really inconvenient ways. So it's quiet, and boring, and without meaning to, Clint dozes off.
He has no idea how much time has passed when he wakes up, but his stomach is devouring itself like a pack of starved hyenas, and his muscles ache from shivering. He should head back to the house—Barney's probably wondering where he is. But he feels even colder when he realizes he can't take the lamp with him. Barney would find it, no matter how hard Clint hid it. He would find out what it was when Clint refused to sell it, and he would take all the wishes for himself. There's no hiding place safe enough to stash it—not in the half-room he and his brother are sharing in a squatter house on Leopold. Even his nest under this pier gets tossed every couple days.
There's just no way to hang onto it, not under Barney's suspicious brand of protection.
Short of staying on this beach until the genie finishes, there doesn't seem to be a solution. Clint finally digs out his day's ration—an energy bar from that carton Barney swiped from the drugstore downtown. Clint had decided to save it for Lucky when he made his wish, but that was hours ago, and Phil's stacks of paper don't look any smaller. How much longer can a wish even take? he wonders ungraciously.
Phil pauses in his filing and looks up, as though Clint said those words aloud.
Oh. He did. Fine, he'll roll with it. "Well?"
"The average completion cycle for wish granting is two years, assuming there are no conflicting wishes or reality-based hitches."
Clint's stomach cramps hard.
"Of course, that allows for multiple delays caused by typos and internal clerical errors. Personally, I have a reliable wish fulfillment rate of only three months. I'm very good at what I do." Phil beams, as though Clint should be reassured at the news.
Two years? Hell, even just three months? How long is that in dog years, he wonders, bordering on hysterical.
"I am, however, a bit backlogged." Phil's brow creases with sympathy. "Unfortunately, everything is going to take twice as long for you; I'm still processing the forms for my last wisher's wishes. He was supposed to drop me off at an antiques shop, where I could get this work done in undisturbed seclusion, but instead I've got two wishers back-to-back and no time to do the filing. I'm sorry."
"That's not how wishes work," Clint grits out. "That isn't fair. You can't make me wait six months to see my fucking dog, or for any other wish I make."
Phil holds out his hands, palms up. "I'll admit the system is byzantine at best. But on the bright side, I've found that most wishes are more valued if they come with a certain waiting period. You humans seem to take pleasure in the anticipation."
Clint rips open the energy bar and shoves half in his mouth, chewing viciously. His body rebels when he swallows, but he forces it down anyway. It leaves his throat raw and swollen, his eyes watering as he blurts, "Is it too hard a wish? I mean, should I give up on Lucky and ask for something easier?" He has to finish with this lamp tonight; there's no holding onto it. If he has to make a series of lousy wishes right now, so be it. Phil is looking at him like he doesn't understand, so Clint tries again. "Are there any wishes you can grant me here and now? Without all the paperwork?"
Phil sets down his pen and appears to think about it for a moment. "That's an interesting question. The whole concept of wishes is predicated on the use of magic. But if there's something you wanted that didn't require magic, and that in no way conflicted with the laws of the governing reality, then I suppose it would be at my discretion whether to grant it on the spot or proceed with the usual legal channels."
Phil pauses, looking at Clint closely. Clint doesn't know what he's supposed to say; he's pretty sure that meant 'Yes,' but his mind is completely blank as to what to wish for.
After a long silence, Phil asks in a soft voice, "Is there something you want from me, Mr. Barton?"
And suddenly there is a thought forming in Clint's brain, and it flies past his lips before he realizes what he's going to ask. "A kiss," and oh crap, he hopes the moonlight washes out his blush.
Phil frowns, and Clint cringes at what an asshole move that was. It's probably not allowed. Or Clint is probably forcing Phil to do something he doesn't want, just so Clint can indulge some fucking fantasy. God, if that's what he's doing, Clint would rather skip it. But Phil taps his chin and then nods. "I can do that."
"Your wish meets the criteria as described; non-magical and adhering to the laws of reality. It is now at my discretion whether or not to fulfill this wish, and I have decided to grant it." He files his papers in the briefcase, closes the lid, and sets the lamp on top. And then he crawls forward, closing the space between them until Clint feels small and trapped.
"You don't have to…."
Phil shushes him, sits down and curls an arm around his shoulders. Clint tries to stay stiff, embarrassed to want this from a stranger, especially one powerful enough to swat him out of existence. But his body leans into Phil's heat, his head tilts back to hold Phil's gaze, and Phil kisses him, easy as that.
Phil's touch is light and unhurried, nothing like those quick fucks with guys and girls in the hay trailer, or those few guilty gropes with his brother's girl while Barney was out scoring them booze last week. For the next few hours, Phil is all his, and the thought makes him clutch at Phil's shirt and pull him closer, determined to make this wish last just a little longer.
Phil's hand cards through Clint's hair, gentling him. He trails a kiss over Clint's cheek and then returns to Clint's lips, and he isn't pulling away; he's staying right there. Clint moans and opens his mouth, breathes in Phil's hot breath, fireworks tinged with salt spray. Phil seals their mouths together and licks at Clint's tongue, and the heat warms Clint down to his toes. Phil's whole body gives off heat like a bonfire, and Clint wonders vaguely if he always runs this hot or if he's doing it for Clint's benefit.
He loses track of time, of his entire body, eyes closed and holding onto Phil for support. Phil murmurs soothing words in Clint's ear, kisses him and strokes his neck, snuggles him like this isn't just Clint's pathetic fantasy. Clint can't forget, though. His hands stay where they are, digging into Phil's back, unwilling to press for more in case he oversteps the bounds of his wish, this gift Phil has decided to grant him.
There's a grey hue to the sky when Clint stops nuzzling Phil's throat. He's still hungry, always hungry, and hard as a rock, but more than either of those, he's tired. He looks up and flushes at the impossibly fond expression on Phil's face, and fuck his heart for beating faster at that sight, seriously.
Clint releases Phil's shoulders and makes himself say, "Wish granted."
Phil smiles as he pulls away, and Clint shivers with the next chill breeze, already regretting letting Phil go. Phil looks even more rumpled, creases in the cotton shirt, his hair wavy where Clint had twined his fingers. Secretly pleased, Clint looks around and spots a couple surfers paddling out into the waves. His stomach drops. If it's already dawn, he's missed his shift babysitting their meager possessions. Barney will kill him for staying out all night; he can't afford to stall any longer.
Phil crawls backward toward his briefcase, the depressions made by knees and palms filling with sand, erasing his tracks. Clint looks at the lamp and knows he has to leave it behind. "What uh…what should I do with your lamp?"
"You still have one more wish."
"Yeah, but after that. You said there was an antique shop?"
Phil frowns, his relaxed smile of a moment ago sliding away. "On the Coastal Highway, just past Jamaica Avenue. Does this mean you're ready to make your final wish?"
Clint nods, and Phil settles back on his heels, giving him the time he needs to get the words exactly right. It's a long time before Clint can get it out. "I want to see you again. That's my wish." He leaves it vague, not wanting to hear a 'No' just because he went for specifics. He'll leave the details up to Phil; he seems pretty good at handling the details so far.
Phil looks nonplussed for a few seconds, setting aside the lamp and fussing with his briefcase. He shuffles through a stack of forms before looking up with the kind of regret Clint is painfully familiar with. "I'm afraid a wish like that will take longer than 6 months. Maybe years."
Clint shrugs. "It'll be a nice change to have something to look forward to."
"I'll make sure your wish is granted. Both of them," Phil says, voice thick. When Clint crawls forward to shake his hand, Phil pulls him forward so Clint falls against his chest. He cups his hand behind Clint's head and presses Clint's face into his neck. "I promise, Clint. And forget the antique shop; take it to the pawnshop on Russell. Don't settle for less than $200."
Clint nods once, takes a snuffling breath, and pitches forward as a breath of warm smoke dissolves around him, his empty palms and fingers sinking into cold sand.
Phil and his briefcase are gone. Clint picks up the dented old lamp, still with a bit of brown sauce on the lid and inexplicably warm to the touch. Phil's wool jacket sits lightly across his shoulders as Clint picks up his backpack and heads for Russell Street, the lamp cradled in the crook of his elbow.
One month later, Clint spots a familiar animal rooting through a trashcan behind a pizza stand.
"Here, boy," Clint calls, his smile so wide it hurts, and Lucky woofs.