There's no one in his office when Agent Coulson returns from lunch, but that doesn't stop him from lecturing as he opens his inbox.
"You can't just drop out of the ceilings on top of people, Barton. We've had this talk before. You shouldn't even be in the ceilings to begin with."
There's a small scraping sound from above and then one Clint Barton drops down in front of his desk. "Don't knock it 'til you've tried, Phil."
Coulson doesn't bother looking away from his screen. "I'm not saying you don't enjoy it, Agent Barton. Just that it's an inappropriate use of SHIELD time."
Barton rolls his eyes and drops into the chair opposite. "Come on, boss. Haven't you ever wanted to go somewhere where no one could bother you?"
"That's what home is for, Barton."
"No offense, sir. You live in the Avenger's Mansion. People call you our babysitter. You don't get time off from work."
"Are you asking me if I regret accepting my position as liaison to the Avengers?" Coulson glances away from his computer in time to catch the other man catapult a paperclip into his ceiling. Barton meets his gaze with a half-hearted shrug.
"Is that what I said?"
He resists the urge to roll his eyes and maybe throw something at Barton and instead returns to the message he's typing to Agent Periman that yes, he is required to fill out and turn in all 76 pages of Form 4247-B and no, the fact that his cat had supposedly licked the whole packet into oblivion was not a valid excuse because that form should not have left HQ at all and cats were banned from the premises since Loki's last "visit."
"Do you need something?"
He sends an email to Agent Ishikara ("If your partner fails to bring me Form 4247-B by the end of the week I will allow Tony Stark to appropriate your car for robot experiments." Except not really, because he is a consummate professional and has no need to make such obvious threats.) as Barton folds more paperclips into projectiles.
Clint launches another paper clip into the ceiling.
"If there's something you want you're going to have to verbalize it."
"Do you regret accepting your position as liaison to the Avengers?"
They're his words, thrown back to him almost verbatim, and even though he's been expecting this conversation to happen at some point--and soon--he's still thrown by Clint's bluntness. (He really shouldn't, not after all these years, but Clint is always finding new ways to surprise him, intentional or not, even if Phil doesn't allow himself to admit just how often t happens.)
It takes him too long to formulate his response, and he can see the shift in Clint as he finally answers.
"If you're asking if I regret having to move out of my apartment, where I lived with my partner and could have regular uninterrupted sex, to live in a bedroom in the Tony Stark Ego Pad where I am no longer allowed to have private life, the answer is yes. I regret it more than anything I have ever done in my life and I wish I had the foresight to have insisted that I be allowed to maintain a permanent residence away from the rest of your psychotic team mates.
If you're asking if I regret accepting a job where I get to spend the majority of my time with superheroes, including Captain America, or if you're asking if I regret getting involved with you, then the answer is absolutely not. Besides," he says, turning back to the growing number of emails in his inbox, "someone's got to look after you."
"You are such a fan boy."
"Don't tell Stark."
A paperclip bounces off his screen. "Come on, don't you think I owe him one for not hassling us?"
"I'm pretty sure he hasn't even realized we're married yet."
"He's a genius--"
"--billionaire playboy philanthropist who just so happens to be more concerned with following Captain Rogers around like a starstruck teenaged girl than he is with noticing anything about my personal life."
"You're just jealous."
"Of Captain Rogers?"
"Of Stark. You know he's going to be the one to tap that. It breaks your heart you'll never get a chance to deflower the national treasure."
"And that's as far as this conversation is going."
"Yes sir, boss-man."
The next few minutes are spent with Coulson forwarding and replying to messages, pausing every so often to glare at Barton for embedding paperclips in the space above his head. Barton takes this as permission to instead launch them at his head.
That lasts all of three seconds and two paperclips.
"Do you need something?" Coulson repeats, confiscating the paperclips and stowing them in his drawer before returning to work.
"Sometimes I just need somewhere, you know..." Barton waves an arm. "Away."
"Yeah. You know. From...people."
"You want to get away."
"So you go in the ceiling."
He doesn't seem to understand that despite all the years they've known each other, Coulson still has trouble following some of Barton's stranger trains of thought. Barton's a sniper, so the height of the ceilings, certainly makes sense. But SHIELD also has a very nice, very empty roof. There are several trees large enough to climb in the courtyard. And Coulson knows for a fact that Barton can and will sneak onto the helicarrier without being detected.
(Of course, the aftermath when Fury discovered Barton had been frightening enough to scare him into good behavior for a month, so it was perfectly understandable that the incident had never been repeated.)
"So you go into the ceiling because..."
"Because there isn't anyone there. It's...nice. Quiet."
And then Phil understands.
For all the times that Clint has been the life of the party, there have been just as many (if not more) times when he's needed to be as far away from it all as possible. He has more than his share of demons, and even now there are days when he makes Stark look like a gung-ho team player if you know how to read him (and oh does Phil know how to read him). But more than that, Clint's never had to interact with people when he hasn't wanted to. On the field, he sits in his nest and waits for a call. Off the field he's always been free to come and go as he pleases. And while Clint can be outgoing and friendly, it's only ever on his terms that he opens up.
Phil is used to a steady stream of people coming in and out of his office (and life) at all hours. Even if he doesn't like it. Clint isn't. (Although it isn't as if he has an office for people to visit in the first place.)
"If you're doing it for quiet, then that means you can stop dropping down onto the new recruits."
"I didn't say that was the only reason."
No matter what Clint will claim later, Coulson absolutely does not laugh at that.
"You could come up there with me, you know."
"In the ceiling?"
"It would ruin my suit."
"You do have a field suit."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
"Do you really have to ask?"
(He doesn't, because they both remember the first time that Hawkeye ever saw his handler as anything more than just a regulation-citing paper-pusher.)
"As generous as your offer is, I'll pass."
"Consider it a standing offer--"
"Barton, get out."
"Love you too, sweetie."
Three weeks, one mission gone so horribly pear-shaped it no longer resembled a piece of fruit, ten dead agents, and three days of non-stop meetings and paperwork later, Phil finds Clint.
"Okay, I need some quiet."
"You said it was a standing offer."
And that is how Phil Coulson, Agent of SHIELD and Official Avengers Initiative Liaison, finds himself climbing into the ceiling at his workplace. Clint is saying...something, but he can't really focus on the words. All he can think about is how nice it is to not have anyone banging at his door demanding something. Other than Clint's voice, it's quiet. He closes his eyes and concentrates on his heart keeping time to the low cadence of whatever story Clint's telling him.
He must have fallen asleep at some point because he had been sitting up but now he's lying down. It takes a moment for him to remember where he is. It's quiet and he feels relaxed. He'd forgotten how nice that feeling could be.
He turns his head and there is Clint, staring back at him, albeit upside down. He's grinning and he presses a quiet finger to his lips before kissing him.
There are voices below them, and Phil thinks he recognizes Steve and Stark but he really doesn't care because they can't find him up here and he is finally free to kiss his husband without being interrupted with paperwork and meetings and disasters.
He reaches for Clint because it's been too damn long since they've been able to do this without the world deciding to end. But Clint's already pulling away with a shit-eating grin and before Phil can move to stop him, he's moving and light invades, chasing the moment away.
And then Clint drops out of sight and Stark screams.
So much for quiet.