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Siren Song

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The blinds were drawn.

Of course, it was daylight, so it was to be expected. Phil was more than aware that he had precautions enough to be able to walk out into the middle of the desert in the middle of the afternoon on a sunny day, but there was always going to be that underlying caution.

He knew what sunlight could do to him.

The habit made him fairly unique among SHIELD agents, he knew. Well, more than that habit made him unique, but it was a public facing indicator. Most people liked working by natural light when possible. There were any number of theories as to why he seemingly didn't.

They ranged from the rather mundane (a propensity for migraines) to the rather fantastical (lingering childhood trauma from a terrible third-degree sunburn). 'Vampire' hardly appeared in the pool. It was a testimony to day-to-day life at SHIELD that it appeared at all. Well, that, and the director almost always got into the betting pools via proxies.

What was the point knowing everything if you couldn't make it work for you, after all?

A few little quirks notwithstanding, his day-to-day life was not that markedly different from anyone at his clearance level. At least apart from those marked differences that were a direct result of his work with the Initiative. Because there was no way that could be considered similar to anything. Like found like, after all. And who better to oversee a team of misfits than another one?

It had been quite different for the first three years, though. The ones where he'd had to work a de facto night shift. Even after all this time, he was still sometimes stunned that Director Fury had done so much to accommodate him. As much as people joked nowadays that Coulson was indispensable (This was SHIELD, no one was indispensable. Least of all him.), back in '89, he'd been anything but. Not to say that he hadn't been experienced, but there were always any number of experienced mid-level agents that retained the capacity to misstep. Their survival always hinged on the degree of their missteps. By that logic, he shouldn't have survived. And even though he did, to a degree, the fact that he was still with SHIELD absolutely stunned him when he really thought of it.

For all of Fury's rationales about a 'unique skill set', the fact that Phil hadn't been dismissed or destroyed when they'd finally managed to extract him was the first indication he'd gotten that the director respected him that much. It was a gift he refused to do anything but return in kind.

He glanced at his computer clock. Almost eleven. He finished up the form he was working on and cleared off his desk, efficiently as always. Then he stood, left his office, and locked the door.

One other topic of speculation was the three hours a day that you would never find him in his office or on a scheduled appointment, barring emergencies. The spectrum of guesses on that one were much less on the mundane side (no one truly believed Agent Phil Coulson just took long lunches) and the fantastical theories were very wide-ranging (daily assassinations, tawdry affairs with high-ranking government officials for the express purpose of keeping them amenable to SHIELD's suggestions, volunteering at a preschool).

Funny enough, the few that guessed 'naptime' were the closest.

His access card was one of a very few to be able to take the elevator to a certain one of the sub-basements. And it was one of a bare handful to have access to one of the 'storage rooms'.

No, there was no coffin. But the cot there was almost shockingly comfortable. And there was a direct communication line to Fury if something unavoidable came up. But beside that, it was just him, an alarm clock, and pitch darkness until two. It was comforting to be able to avoid the most unsettling part of the day. Even he needed some sleep, after all.

It wasn't something that people tended to speculate about. But vampires do dream.

And lately, all of Coulson's best dreams had been about Clint.

There was no exception that afternoon. And frankly, he couldn't bring himself to be overly surprised when he re-entered his office, cup of coffee in hand (no, he didn't need it, but like hell was he ever going to give it up anyway), to see Barton sitting there, tossing paperclips at the ceiling. Really, he wouldn't have been surprised even if he hadn't been able to tell before opening the door. If he hadn't heard him in advance.

He refused to smile.

"I know this office was locked."

"Happy magically-reappearing-two-o'-clock to you too."

Phil sat down at his desk. "What did you need, Clint?"

"Didn't have anything else I actually needed to do, wanted to see you, realized you were about to beam into your office again, so here I am."

"You do realize I walk into my office like most people?"

"Details. Besides, that's boring. Couldn't you turn into a bat and fly in or something?"

Phil rolled his eyes. "I am not going to turn into a bat and fly down the hallways. Someone would call animal control or, more likely, decide it's a great excuse for experimental weaponry as pest control."

"Wait. Wait. You actually can turn into a bat?"

"That is actually something pop culture got right, yes. Or mist, actually."

Clint just grinned. "Can I see?"

"Absolutely not."

"You've totally used that on ops, haven't you?"

Phil frowned and thumbed at the pendant lying beneath his shirt. "Only when absolutely necessary. There are certain dangers involved."

"I guess you're the expert."

"Not how I would have chosen to become one, trust me."

Clint frowned over at him. "Is it that bad?"

He started to take his paperwork back out. Work still needed to be done. "It is what it is. Fighting against reality is completely pointless. There are some benefits. I'm not about to lie about that. And there are those who think it's worth the costs. And those who come to think so."

"I'm guessing they're not the majority?"

Phil stared absently at the form in front of him. "The majority don't have many thoughts one way or another. They lose themselves to the hunger. They revel in it and it becomes entirely about the hunt. So I suppose you could say they qualify as 'coming to think so', but there's a distinction, as far as I'm concerned."

"At least you're better than that."

"It could be me just as easily. It's a road that's always there. And it's more tempting than anything has the right to be."

"You're you, Coulson. If anyone can handle it, it's you." Of course, Clint would say that. Phil couldn't blame him. There was no way he could know the way it clawed at him sometimes, like Odysseus lashed to the mast, hearing the Sirens and wanting more than anything to break free and throw himself to his doom. The way he'd already given himself over to one temptation in Clint Barton himself and how that already indicated that there was no way he could be as strong, as unrelenting, as everyone else seemed to believe. But somehow he persevered.

"Thank you for the vote of confidence," he said, calmly. Always calmly.

"Always," replied Clint, with a note of sincerity that was only very rarely anywhere near his voice and managed to, for a while, at least, break through and drown out his incessant heartbeat and the thrum of his pulse in Phil's ears.

It made him look back up. "Be careful. If you get too earnest, you might ruin your reputation."

"You wouldn't tell anyway. Besides, as long as my reputation still has the 'best marksman on the planet' thing in there, I'll be fine."

Phil offered half a chuckle, but was otherwise quiet for a moment, not looking away from Clint. And then, he finally asked the question that had been hovering insistently in his mind ever since that sandwich. "Barton... why me? I mean, even aside from the vampirism, which should have been high on the list of deal breakers, I'm not exactly what anyone would call an interpersonal draw."

"Since when am I just anyone?"

"Valid point, but it doesn't exactly answer my question."

"Coulson. Phil. You're you. You've put up with my bullshit from day one. And with you, more than anyone I have ever met, I know for a fact that there is no way in hell you would ever give up on me. Do you know how often I can say that? Try never. Why you? Why would I even think of anyone else? I mean, I'm the one who should be asking you that question."

At the last statement, the hunger rose up inside him again, as if trying to inject its own twisted answer. He set his jaw, closed his eyes for a moment, rejecting the clawing instinct, and looked back to his paperwork. It was a while before he answered the question that was never officially asked.

"You're worth the effort." It was the best explanation he could give. The best way to sum up that he knew that Clint Barton would always be more than worth every moment he spent fighting himself. And that that made it easier.

Clint didn't say a word. But when Phil eventually glanced up at him, he was smiling. And Phil finally officially added something to the mental list he'd compiled for over twenty years of things that maybe he didn't have to give up after all.

He smiled back.