Phil Coulson walked into his office, glancing down at the folder in his hand before dropping it onto his desk. The reports he needed were right where he'd left them, in the middle of his desk. With a sigh, he sat down, determined to get through this as quickly as possible so he could go home.
He delegated as much as he could, but sometimes security classifications meant that he was one of only three or four people who could complete the report before it got locked down, sealed, and never read again by anybody. Phil was the junior agent of those four names; there was no way he could stick Fury with the reports, not without regretting it for the rest of his career. And possibly into his retirement and next two reincarnations.
Phil didn't have an opinion on the validity of reincarnation theories, but he knew Director Fury, and if reincarnation was real, then Fury would have a way of screwing up Phil's next two lifetimes if he tried to stick him with Phil's paperwork.
At least the reports detailing property damage were already being handled by the Avengers' Public Reconstruction Resource team. All Coulson had to do was review the reports from the previous encounters with the Freedom League and add this week's encounters so the analysts could decide if there was a pattern. He looked around for his pen, then reached for the top folder.
And stopped. "Clint, get off my paperwork."
The large tortoiseshell cat was lying across all of the manila folders on his desk, tail flipping lightly on top of the pen Phil had been looking for. He pulled it out then tried to slide the top folder free. Clint rolled onto his back, feet in the air, displaying his white belly. And, incidentally, trapping the folder Phil had his hand on.
"I'm not petting you. I have work to do, which you clearly are aware of. Get off my reports."
Clint yawned and closed his eyes, still splayed on his back. Phil sighed again and tried to resist, because he wanted to go home, which he couldn't do until he'd finished his reports.
But he knew exactly how soft Clint's fur was, and -- he was fairly certain that there was a chemical reaction involved, somehow compelling him to set his pen down each and rub Clint's stomach. Like the smell of frying onions triggering an involuntary response for hunger, this display seemed to overcome his better sense every time.
Phil sat back in his chair and ran his hand down the length of Clint's belly. He felt the rumble of a purr, and pet him again despite knowing that he was only delaying what he really wanted, which was to go home. He'd even take Clint, willingly, and let Clint lie all over him and shed on his favorite suits and he'd be happy to pet Clint and share his pillow when he went to bed.
He knew that as soon as they got home Clint would ignore him in favor of hunting moths. But still, right now, Coulson had better things to do. More important things. Things which Fury would be mad about his not getting done.
Phil ran his hand down Clint's stomach, scritching his fingernails under Clint's front legs and watching as Clint ducked his head closer, in his sleep.
He made a note to consult with R&D about cat pheromones and mind control.
Coulson was standing beside the van, earpiece in his ear and shades hiding his eyes. It was, really, a simple operation -- and Phil knew the dangers of even thinking such a thing and how easy it was to jinx the entire planet to doom that way. But all they were doing was waiting for a particular man to show, and, if he was in the company of his kidnapped victim then Coulson would give the order to shoot him.
They had a three hour window when the man might or might not show, and Coulson was used to waiting. Fortunately his best sniper was used to waiting, as well.
At least in human form. Had he been in cat form, Clint would have been sound asleep for the last two hours. But Clint was a professional and his periodic check-ins had consisted of variations on "Still no sight of him. Still bored. Bow still ready. Still bored." But Phil knew Clint wouldn't have moved, still keeping a keen eye out for any sign of their man.
Phil couldn't see Clint from his vantage point, and Clint was too far away for Phil to be aware of him at all beyond the voice in his ear. He resisted the urge to give the other man a conversational opening, else they be stuck listening to Barton describe the grasslands surrounding the tiny airport in the middle of nowhere, Kansas. Phil was impressed that Clint hadn't started talking anyhow; however, he wasn't always annoying. Clint said it was because he had to keep everyone guessing.
It was one hour in to the window of the man's arrival, and Coulson was just thinking about how he'd love to have the chance to sit down for a few minutes. Then he heard Clint over the comm.
Coulson blinked. "What?" There was no code-word for the kidnapper or his victim that was anything like 'mouse.'
"Mouse. Five o'clock...my five o'clock. On the ground by the runway."
Clint sounded focused. Almost too-focused, Phil realised. He said, "Keep your eyes open for the plane, Hawkeye."
"I am! Just.. there's a mouse." And now the focused tone was slightly..whiny.
"Ignore it," Coulson said, sharply.
There was a moment of silence. Then, "There's no sign of the plane, no other sign of anyone approaching, the kidnapper isn't here yet and mouse."
"Remain in position, Hawkeye," Coulson said, wanting to rub his forehead.
"I am in position! I haven't left my position, I'm not going to leave my position, and there's no sign of--" He cut off, and Coulson felt himself tense, despite himself. He knew perfectly well what was happening, and he bit off a reprimand to Clint.
"Focus, Agent Barton," was all he said.
There was another pause, then in a very petulant tone, Clint said, "He's gone."
Phil inhaled deeply. "I'm sure there will be another mouse. After we take care of these kidnappers."
"Oh, I won't care then. Hey, there's a plane. Should be here in a few minutes. Can I shoot them out of the sky?"
Phil rubbed his forehead. "Please don't."
"You never let me have any fun, you know that?"
Sometimes Phil wondered, why me?
The Avengers were spread around the main living room of Avengers Mansion, in varying degrees of 'relaxing.' Steve was settled in a chair, reading, while Tony was on the floor at his feet, lying on his stomach and paging through a virtual display of schematics. Phil wasn't sure, exactly, what Tony was working on, but half the time things blew up before Coulson was ever responsible for them, so he didn't pay it much attention.
Thor was talking to Clint about the soccer match they'd had bets on, and Phil was pretending to ignore everyone from behind an e-reader, while actually watching them all. Mostly Clint.
Clint was frowning at Thor and shaking his head, and Phil wondered if he was trying to change the rules again about who had to pay up and under what circumstances. Phil could have told him that Thor had figured him out long ago, but didn't. It was more fun this way.
Clint was waving one hand and Thor was frowning, now, when suddenly Clint's head whipped around and he tensed. Thor was on his feet instantly, hand on his hammer. Steve and Tony looked over, and even Tony was making as if to stand up, when Phil shook his head.
On the far wall was a small red dot. Behind Phil, Natasha was sitting in a large chair, holding her hands together: hiding a small laser pointer. She flicked it to one side and Clint's head snapped after it; Thor, Steve, and Tony watched as Clint suddenly leapt, slapping his hand on the wall.
Missing the dot, of course. Natasha slipped it down, and Clint followed as she wove the red point of light around the wall, up onto the ceiling and down to the floor. He'd watch it go, jumping after it when it got close enough -- or when it zipped over Steve's head, or Tony's foot. Then it paused on the back of Clint's hand, and he froze. A second later it vanished, and Clint looked up, slowly.
"I hate it when you do that, you know," he said casually.
"And I hate it when you tell my girlfriend that I like raw fish. I had to eat sushi because of you." Natasha gave him a bright smile. "And no, I was never going to bring you some. It stinks, and I had to kiss her after she'd been eating it."
Clint rubbed his nose, looking almost guilty. He glanced around the room, and Phil saw that Tony had flopped back down to his tablet, and Steve was eyeing them but slowly returning his attention to his book. Thor was still standing there, gripping his hammer.
"Where has the red dot gone?" he demanded. "The hunt is not over, is it?"
Clint gave Natasha a pleading look, and Coulson stifled a laugh.
"Don't hit my walls with your hammer," Tony warned, not looking up. "It's just a spot of red light, you can't kill it."
"And yet, we shall hunt until we are victorious!" Thor proclaimed.
Clint just jumped onto Thor's back, and used his vantage to propel himself upwards, to the ceiling, where Natasha had shone the laser pointer.
When he fell, bringing down the bookcase with him, nobody blinked. Coulson went back to staring at his newspaper and wondering idly the chances of getting a transfer.
Phil woke up, slowly, knowing even before he was fully awake that he had nowhere to be. It was a rare day off which hadn't been disturbed by the ringing of a phone, which meant that Phil could stay in bed for as long as he wanted. The sun was beginning to stream in through the window, and pressed up against his side was the heat of a sleeping body.
Phil turned his head and pressed a kiss to Clint's ear, nuzzling slightly, but not causing the other man to so much as stir. Phil kissed him again and ran one hand down Clint's arm. Clint shifted, still sound asleep, and a moment later Phil felt Clint's chest begin to rumble softly.
Phil closed his eyes and let Clint's purring send him back to sleep.
Phil sat down at the table, a plate of pancakes in one hand and the New York Times crossword in the other. The mansion was quiet except for the ever-present hum of machinery; even Stark technology couldn't get rid of every sign of the machines in their lives. Phil didn't mind, he just appreciated it when he could get the kitchen to himself, take his time with breakfast and the crossword and not have to fight anyone for the last cup of hot coffee.
He spread the folded newspaper on the table and picked up a pen in one hand, then picked up the syrup in his other hand, dousing the pancakes liberally. He'd workout later, burn through the calories easily enough. He had few vices, but real maple syrup and a high stack of pancakes was one of them.
He turned back to his paper and found Clint lying on top of the crossword. Phil poked him with his pen. Clint blinked and began washing his front paw.
He could see some of the clues underneath Clint, and some of the puzzle, but the open squares he could see weren't the clues he could read. Phil picked Clint up and dropped him on the floor.
As soon as Clint's feet hit, he was leaping back up and lying down on top of the newspaper. Phil picked him up again, and again Clint leapt back up, landing squarely on the puzzle. Phil looked at his pancakes and coffee, knew how quickly they would get cold. He cut a bite of pancakes and started to lift the fork to his mouth, and there was a black furry head in between his fork and his mouth, nose poking at the pancakes.
"You can have your own plate," Phil told him.
Clint licked Phil's pancakes. Then he jerked back, wrinkling his nose.
Phil smiled. "You know I use maple syrup. And you know you don't like it."
Clint tilted his head, as if he couldn't even hear Phil, and licked again. Again he recoiled, and again he searched the forkful of pancake, looking for a suitable spot.
Phil had his reasons for dousing his pancakes in syrup. Most of them involved protecting his pancakes. He waited patiently, holding his fork out while Clint searched for a place he could safely eat without coming into contact with the syrup. Why he didn't just try the plate of pancakes, Phil didn't know. But hundreds of meals just like this one had taught him that Clint preferred to steal the food Phil was actively eating. When Phil asked him about it when Clint was in human form, Clint would always just laugh and not answer.
Natasha told him that before S.H.I.E.L.D. and Phil, Clint would do the same to her. She also told him that she didn't need Clint returned, thank you.
When Clint had determined that the pancake on Phil's fork was completely inedible, he sat down -- butt on the newspaper -- and looked at Phil. Phil ate his bite of pancake unrepentantly. He cut another forkful and Clint moved in again to investigate.
The entire stack went the same way, taking Phil three times as long to eat as it should have, and he didn't get a single clue filled in on the crossword. He did get to drink his coffee unmolested, because he actually didn't mind if Clint drank from his mug. Somehow that made it unappealing, yet it was another thing Clint wouldn't, or couldn't, explain when he was in his human form.
Phil just resigned himself to still not getting to do the crossword and left the paper for Dr. Banner. When he left the plate and empty mug in the sink, he turned, tripped over Clint, and walked out of the kitchen.
Clint ran through his legs the entire way down the hall and up the stairs. Phil just thought about how nice it would be to be in charge of a team of a dozen rookies, clueless and annoying and never doing a single thing correctly.
It might be relaxing.
Phil stormed into Tony's lab, Clint dangling from where Phil had him by the back of the neck. He held Clint up, glaring at Tony.
Tony looked up, pushing his wielder's glasses up onto his forehead. He looked from Clint, to Phil, and back again to Clint. "Do I want to ask?"
Phil gave Clint a slight shake. "He's yours if you want him," he ground out.
Tony looked at Clint again. Clint wasn't trying to get free, paws hanging in the air forlornly. Tony shook his head slowly. "Steve said I'm not allowed to have pets."
It was impressive how Tony managed to sound like Phil was the crazy one.
"Then tell me you can build a cage or something. That he can't get out of."
Tony grinned, then stifled it quickly, looking studiously. "A cage that can hold a cat. A cat which knows where I sleep, and can shoot me in the ass from a thousand yards when he's in his other form." Tony shook his head. "I think cats can teleport."
"They can't teleport. They are, however, extremely annoying and I have had enough," Phil said. "I'm either going to shut him in a kennel, or I'm going to put a collar on him and give him to the pound."
The threat was hollow, and Phil knew that Clint knew that. A collar was serious -- he couldn't transform if there were a collar around his neck, not without choking. The collar wouldn't give and Clint could easily kill himself if he tried to change with a collar on his neck. Collars were used to keep criminals under control, keep them in one form or another, and had been used by cultures in the past to contain and control a group of sentient people and own them, as slaves and pets.
Phil and Clint had had the conversation before, alone in the dark, and Clint knew perfectly well how Phil felt about anyone putting a collar on Clint, in jest or in earnest. Which meant he was perfectly free to use it as a threat, since Clint responded by ignoring him. Like now, when he was still being held up in the air by the scruff of his neck while Phil tried to foist him off on Tony.
Clint gave a pitiful little mew.
"I'll tell Fury you submitted your reports complete and on time for a week, if you keep him down here with you for an hour," Phil offered.
Tony's eyebrows went up. "Either he's being incredibly annoying, in which case no thank you, or you're planning something that I want to know about, in which case I want to come and watch. We can lock him up in the Aston Martin."
Phil turned Clint towards him, and Clint gave him the saddest eyes Phil had ever seen. Since last week. "It's a deal. Open the car door."
Clint twisted in Phil's hand, bending his body into a shape that was, Phil knew, physically impossible, and he dropped out of Phil's grip. He ran, disappearing underneath one of Tony's workbenches. Phil ducked down and looked, and two green eyes glared out of the darkness at him.
Phil just stood up and walked out. He heard the click-hiss of Tony's arc welder kick back on as he let himself out, shutting the door behind him with no sign of Clint following him.
When he got upstairs, Clint was lying on the bed in human form, naked and draped over the suit Phil had laid out. Phil looked pointedly at the hole Clint had chewed in the sleeve. Clint just waggled his eyebrows, and looked down at his naked body.
"It's going to take a lot more than sex to make me forgive you," Phil told him.
"I don't mind having a lot of sex with you," Clint said. "As much as it takes."
"You're so generous," Phil said, dryly. Clint beamed at him, leaning back on his elbows and spreading his legs out across the bed. "Could we please not have sex on the suit you've already tried to ruin?"
"I suppose," Clint said, and he tugged the suit out from underneath him. While he was half on his side, Phil stopped resisting the urge and stepped forward, smacking his hand down on Clint's bare ass.
Clint looked over his shoulder at him, then wriggled at him.
"Not if you like it that much," Phil said, shaking his head. Then he pulled his shirt over his head and dropped it on the floor. Clint just waited for him, wriggling his ass again, hopefully. Phil took the rest of his clothes off, then climbed onto the bed. "This does not get you out of replacing my suit, you realise."
"What suit?" Clint asked, as he lowered his head onto the pillow, relaxing and spreading his legs as Phil moved in-between them.
Phil made a note, again, to ask R&D about cat pheromones and mind control. There had to be something. Clint smiled over his shoulder as Phil put his hand on Clint's back. Well. Maybe there was something.
The next time Phil dangled Clint in front of Bruce, pointing out that medical science agreed that having a pet kept a person more relaxed.
Bruce just told him that he was pretty sure they meant dogs.