It’s 3:46am, and after almost three days straight in the workshop, Tony has forgotten how time works again. He wonders for a moment why it’s silent until he realises that it’s dark outside and that other people have habits and routines and regular sleep patterns.
But actually, it’s not quite silent. Somewhere, on the edge of hearing, is a low, haunting melody. The rise and fall of the notes in so much silent stillness is unsettling, and to Tony, standing alone in the darkness, the mansion is suddenly dreamlike and a little strange. Tony drifts, room to room, head cocked to the side as he seeks out the source of the sound.
Eventually the music grows louder, so that Tony can pick out the notes, not just the cresting waves of the music. It’s coming from Clint’s room, he thinks, which is odd because he’s got Clint pegged as more of a Muse kind of guy, but as he pushes open the door, his life reaches a whole new level of weird. The sarcastic quip that he’s armed himself with dies on his lips because here is Clint Barton, master assassin, world’s best sharpshooter, sitting behind a cello – a cello, for God’s sake – eyes dipped, teeth gently biting his bottom lip in concentration. Tony stares, entirely unable to reconcile the image in his mind.
Clint – Hawkeye – Agent Barton – playing a cello.
And then something clicks; he remembers Pepper’s voice – “How’s the cellist? Is that still a thing?” – and he laughs out loud in sheer surprise. Clint’s head snaps up, his bow stuttering discordantly across the strings.
“You play the cello?” demands Tony incredulously, folding his arms over his chest and leaning against the door frame. Clint becomes immediately defensive, pulling the cello close.
“I’m allowed a hobby, you know. You work on cars and ogle Steve in your down time. I play the cello.” Tony narrows his eyes at the Steve comment because really, he doesn’t ogle anyone, and maybe when Steve is around he might get slightly more of Tony’s attention than anyone else, but ogling? Please. He’s Tony Stark. He’s not there to ogle, he is there to be ogled at.
“It’s just interesting,” he says, letting it drop in the face of the gossip he’s just uncovered. Clint’s eyes narrow.
“I know that smile, Stark. That is not a good smile.” Tony’s smile grows wider, and he shrugs.
“It’s my face, Barton, what do you want me to do?” He doesn’t even attempt to look innocent. He’s been told it’s not his strong point.
“Get it out of my sight, for starters,” retorts Clint, pushing the cello away from his body slightly to allow him to stand.
“Done and done,” replies Tony, pushing away from the doorframe and turning to leave. “Hey, does Coulson know you play?” He throws over his shoulder as he exits the room. “I’ve heard he’s got a thing for cellists.” He ducks around the doorway before Clint can react, and chuckles to himself. It’s cruel, but somehow he can’t bring himself to feel even a little bit guilty.
Tony notes with badly repressed childish glee the way Clint’s eyes follow him darkly from then on, as if expecting him to casually reveal his discovery to the rest of the team. To be fair, Tony has considered it, but that’s just no fun; not when he can watch them figure out for themselves – with a few helpful pushes in the right direction, of course.
Coulson turns up at the mansion one evening as Tony wanders into the kitchen to the smell of Chinese food and the sight of the whole team aside from Thor gathered around the table, indulging in food and conversation and laughter.
“Gee, thanks for the invite guys,” he grumbles, eyes on the approaching figure of Coulson. He ignores Natasha’s protests that he was in his workshop and had specifically told Jarvis not to let anyone talk to him and grabs a plate.
“Barton, R and D sent up your new bow with the discussed modifications,” Coulson says as he enters the kitchen. Clint slides off the counter he was perched on, sets down his plate and takes the case from Coulson, almost reverently.
“Just for those of us who are easily confused by homonyms,” says Tony, around a mouthful of chow mein, “Which kind of bow is that, Barton? ‘Cause you know, there’s the kind of bow you shoot with and the kind you use to play a violin, or a cello or whatever -” Tony sees the orange coming and would like to be able to say that he suavely dodged it, but it was thrown by Clint Barton and so instead it hits him right between the eyes, exactly where Clint had aimed. “Ouch,” he complains, surprised by the force a small orange can be thrown with. Clint looks like he’s refraining from sticking his tongue out. Natasha looks amused; Bruce and Steve merely look confused. Coulson looks exactly the same as he always does, of course. Tony stands, snagging the fruit bowl on the way past.
“I’ve never liked this fruit bowl here,” he says, “I’m going to send it to Pepper. So it can’t be used as a weapon against me.” Natasha rolls her eyes, well aware of the steady stream of presents that Tony has kept sending Pepper simply because he can’t work out how you’re supposed to interact with someone if you still respect them after you sleep with them. He backs out, noting Coulson’s eyes following him impassively. The man is a complete mystery – emotionless until you put him near Captain America or, apparently, cellists.
“Behave, Stark,” Coulson orders as Tony leaves. It’s a common enough thing for Coulson to say, but it’s plain that this time it clearly means ‘shut your mouth about my secret boyfriend’ and Tony grins and winks.
“Nah, I think I’ll pass,” he replies. “Tried behaving once, wasn’t for me.”
Phil Coulson has no idea what possessed him to ever actually talk to Pepper about his life. She’s just so disarming; after five minutes in her presence it had felt impossible not to chat, and within fifteen they’d been laughing like old friends. And he’d told her about Clint. Well, she’d received a highly edited version, at least – “Yeah, there’s a special someone. A cellist.” – and Pepper had assumed that it was a she and he’d just rolled with it. He’s fairly sure he’s not allowed to be dating Clint, anyway, so he’s always used the assumption of gender as a sort of protection against discovery. But trust Tony Stark to find out. Trust Tony Stark not to realise the importance of secrecy.
Phil knows Clint is here, in S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters somewhere, and if there’s one thing he’s learned about the man over the past year, it’s the kinds of places he goes when he’s upset. So he wanders around, eyes on the ceiling, trying his best not to bump into everyone around him. Eventually, in one of the storage warehouses, he sees the silhouette of a figure perched on a metal rafter, one foot tucked up to his chest and the other swinging gently below him. He glances around and, finding a service ladder, begins to ascend. Of course, the ladder will only take him so far, and there comes a point where he’s standing looking along the metal rafter upon which his boyfriend is currently sitting and wishing he had some kind of a safety net. But risking his life walking along a rafter is actually fairly low-down in the list of Things Phil Coulson Would Willingly Do For Clint Barton, and so he takes a deep breath and sets out.
It shows just how deep in thought and worry Clint is currently brooding that it’s only when Phil is already part-way across the rafter that he looks up. His eyes widen, and he pushes himself to his feet with ease and a frustrating amount of grace. He strides towards the point where Phil is slowly making his way across.
“Phil, Jesus, what are you -” Phil doesn’t let him finish.
“Relax, circus-boy. I may not be able to do a handstand up here, but I’m perfectly capable of walking.” Despite this claim, Clint reaches Phil and pulls him close, holds him tight as though afraid he will fall. Phil wraps his arms around Clint’s waist in return, smiles slightly at the surrealism of their current position.
“You’re insane,” Clint mutters into his ear. He snorts.
“I wouldn’t have to be hanging around so close to the ceiling if you didn’t do it first. Seems to me like you’re the crazy one.” Clint laughs, and Phil can feel it reverberating low in his chest. There’s a comfortable pause before either of them speaks again.
“What happens if Fury finds out?” Clint asks, and suddenly he’s more vulnerable than Phil has ever heard him before. Phil knows that Clint’s greatest fear is being left behind, and the thought it might be him that does it hurts him physically; he’s been kept awake some nights thinking just what he’d do in just this situation. And the answer is always, always the same.
“Either he deals with it, or he tries to stop us,” Phil replies, stomach clenching at the feel of Clint’s muscles tightening slightly under his hands. “So either everything’s fine, or I punch Nick Fury in the face and hand him my badge and my firearm.” Clint pulls back, brow furrowed, and gazes intently at Coulson, eyes searching his face as though for signs of truthfulness. Phil stares back, steadily.
“Seriously?” asks Clint, eventually.
“Seriously,” Phil affirms. Punching Nick Fury in the face also features on The List. Clint smiles a small smile that Phil knows is just for him, and runs a finger along his cheek.
“I love you,” he says. Phil brushes his lips against Clint’s, brief and gentle, still painfully aware of the floor, several meters below him.
“I love you too. Can we get back to solid ground now?” Clint grins and raises an eyebrow.
“The short way?” he asks, glancing straight down at the ground. Coulson quirks an eyebrow, expression deadpan.
“I’ve always appreciated the longer, scenic route,” he says. “But if you’re impatient, I can meet you down there.”
Of course, the universe has a way of disregarding Coulson’s schedule, so what should have been an evening of lying entwined with Clint turns into a mad rush to scramble jets and gather the Avengers together over reports of strange attacks in Chicago. This has, inevitably, left him in a bad mood.
The streets are eerily quiet when they arrive; there’s no signs of attacks, or violence, or the strange lights that had been reported. Then again, there’s no sign of any people, and not just on the street – the shops are empty, the windows frame only unoccupied rooms.
“Everyone on your guard,” mutters Coulson into his earpiece. Steve takes over, quietly directing the team and subsidiary military forces down different streets, and there’s silence as they spread out save for the fall of their footsteps. Coulson remains where he is with Bruce, who – along with a small team of S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists – is setting up some portable instruments. After several minutes, the silence becomes unbearable, and it’s Tony who breaks it.
“I’m up high and I’ve got nothing,” he says over the comms, deceptively loud in the blanket of quiet over the city. “Now what, Cap?” There’s a moment’s pause.
“Dr Banner, anything you can give us?” Coulson turns to look as Bruce replies, hunched over a small computer screen.
“Getting some odd readings here, but I’m going to need a few minutes to take a look.” His hands are already flying over a keyboard.
“You got it, doctor,” replies Steve, and orders radio silence and vigilance until Bruce has something for them.
Tony lasts a whole forty-five seconds before the desire to talk apparently overwhelms him, and his voice crackles slightly across the comms.
“So, Coulson, you and that cellist still have a thing going? Still makin’ sweet music?” Phil is glad Tony can’t see his face because there’s an uncharacteristic flash of anger passing across it. He fights to keep his voice calm as he replies.
“Get off the comms, Tony, eyes on the skies.” He thinks of the evening he should be having – a cold beer, and warm kisses, bare skin and delicious friction. He struggles not to add a resounding ‘fuck you’ to the end of his order; it’s bad enough that he has to spend his evening like this, but it’s made ten times worse by the fact that Tony has decided to knowingly rub his face in it.
“Oooh, testy,” remarks Tony. “And don’t worry, Agent, JARVIS is lending me a hand, I got this covered. Men can multi-task too, you know.” He falls silent and Coulson prays that’s the end of it, but it’s only a brief respite. “Hey, did you know Clint is a musical man? Maybe you two should get together at some point, talk about cellos –” there’s a dull clanking noise that Phil takes a moment to identify; he smiles as he realises it was the sound of an arrow on metal.
“Stark, listen to Agent Coulson and stay off the comms,” orders Steve. Yes, Phil thinks, Listen to Agent Coulson, just this once, please. But Tony’s not about to break the habit of a lifetime, especially since he’s got a tendency to speak up around Steve, like a kid trying to impress his elder.
“You know, Cap, I would, I really would, but I’m undergoing some friendly fire here – I thought musicians were supposed to be sensitive, thoughtful people, not idiots with bows and arrows.” There’s a second metallic clunk and Phil rubs his eyes, wearily. Some part of him hopes that Fury finds out about his relationship with Hawkeye, and soon, because he’s imagining how much younger he’d feel if he could lie in every morning and not trail around after superheroes trying to get them to play nice. Just as he’s about to butt in again, this time with some four-letter words he might later regret, Bruce speaks up.
“Uh guys? We’re picking up unusual readings – what I’m looking at seems to indicate the presence of a Casimir-Polder force, which shouldn’t be possible at anything more than a quantum level.” There’s a brief pause before anyone speaks.
“Which means what?” asks Steve.
“Sorry. The Casimir effect could be used to produce a locally mass-negative region of space-time, and it’s been theorised that the negative effect could be used to, say, stabilise a wormhole to allow travel at speeds greater than that of light -” Bruce seems to realise that only Tony will understand what he’s trying to say, and seems to mentally take it down a level.
“There’s a type of energy which suggests either time travel, or travel from another area or dimension of space.” There’s a disbelieving pause.
“Time travel,” repeats Steve, incredulously.
“Theoretically,” confirms Bruce. “All I know is there’s odd energy readings hanging around.” He pauses. “Levels seem to be spiking again right now –”
“I take it that’s not a good thing,” remarks Steve, voice grim. Phil looks up at a slight noise to see a soft golden light floating mid-air, steadily growing brighter. He slides his gun out of his holster, flicking off the safety.
“I guess not,” he agrees.
The fighting begins immediately, and fiercely. Whatever these things are, they’re fast; almost too fast to see. It’s not until the first one falls, dead, that Coulson gets a glimpse of what they actually look like. Crouched low on animal-like hind legs, they’re wearing basic armour that looks to be made out of some kind of hide; in their hands they wield small guns which emit soft pulses of the same yellow light which had accompanied the creatures’ arrival and which are more powerful than appearance suggests. Phil sees a soldier’s arm torn off by a glancing blow.
It’s not long, however, until the Avengers and the S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives seem to be gaining the upper hand and there are strange, mammalian bodies littering the streets. Phil glances around, and thinks for a second about the people of Chicago; he assumes they’re not all dead, ripped to pieces by this new and savage weaponry, and realises that they need some way of finding them. He peers around and, catching the attention of three dark-clad soldiers, gestures them over.
“We need to take one alive,” He informs them brusquely, “so I’ll shoot, you contain. Got it?” They murmur their affirmatives and the small group sets out across the street in search of their quarry. It’s upon them more quickly than they had supposed, swinging down from a first floor balcony. Phil sees the dark shape of the thing moving towards him and lets off a shot – but the creature’s foot impacts with his stomach and the bullet flies wide. He’s thrown backwards and hits the concrete with a sickening noise of grinding bones and bruised flesh. The air is knocked out of his lungs along with the gun from his hand. He opens his mouth, tries to find the breath to order the soldiers to shoot but not kill – but he’s saved the trouble when he hears a whispering noise followed by a fleshy ‘thunk’. The creature rears back, scrabbles uselessly at its haunches, and pitches backwards, gradually stilling aside from a small twitch in its fingers. Sedative in the arrow head; just another incident to add to the long list of the times that Clint has saved his life. Phil silently thanks God that Clint has a habit of listening to what he’s up to over the comms.
He gestures weakly to the soldiers and they go about securing the creature. For his part, he lies back and tries to remember how breathing works. He’s saving the excitement of working out whether anything is broken until later. But in seconds, of course, Clint is by his side.
“Phil? Phil, look at me, are you hurt?” Phil’s eyes meet Clint’s and he tries to smile. Don’t know, he thinks, haven’t got to that bit yet. Nevertheless, he manages a small shake of the head. Clint doesn’t believe him for an instant, and starts checking the older man for injuries, briskly and efficiently.
“Can you feel this?” he asks, prodding and poking. “Does this hurt?” Phil’s relieved by the fact that after Clint’s inspection his hands come away mostly clean; he’s scratched and a little torn up, but his hands don’t show signs of any major bleeding.
“I think you’ve broken your left arm,” Clint informs him gently. “Don’t move it okay? We’ll just stay here until the paramedics arrive.” Phil nods, still somewhat breathless, and then his eyes flick over Clint’s shoulder. The man snatches his bow, fits the arrow to the string and releases it in breathtakingly quick succession, barely glancing over his shoulder. His arrow, of course, meets its mark.
“Help the others,” Phil manages to wheeze at him. He nods slightly towards the men guarding their captive. Clint’s eyes darken, and Phil knows he’s about to criticise the ability of the men, but he’s interrupted by the arrival of Tony, hovering close by them.
“Alright, loverboys, there’s a time and a place,” he admonishes teasingly. Phil groans.
“Get on with your job, Stark,” he growls.
“No can do, big man, we’re all out of things to fight. It’s okay that you didn’t notice. I know you were a little busy staring into Agent Barton’s eyes, and let’s face it, he does have beautiful eyes.” Clint’s hand twitches towards his quiver for an arrow, but Phil stops him by placing his right hand on Clint’s knee.
“Call the paramedics,” Clint bites out, and turns away from Tony, settling himself cross-legged next to Phil, who lets his head fall gently back. He could really use a day off.
Phil wakes in a bed that he immediately recognises as not his own, and after only a few moments observation, identifies as one of those in the S.H.I.E.L.D. medical wing. His left arm is in a white cast from the elbow down, and everything else aches intensely. He takes a deep breath before he tries to sit up. He manages, but it’s an effort not to cry out as every muscles protests. He’s alone in the room, a fact that disappoints him more than it probably should. He sees his phone lying on the bedside table and – slowly, painfully, tremulously – reaches for it. He hits the first number in his speed dial.
“Phil? You’re awake?” Clint answers almost instantly, before the first ring is completed.
“Yes,” Phil confirms. “Almost wish I wasn’t, though.” He thinks he can hear Clint running on the other end of the line.
“I’m coming.” Phil realises he has no idea what time it is, no idea what Clint might have been doing or who he might have been with, and feels a small tendril of guilt unfurl in his stomach. But the guilt is pushed down at his desire to see Clint.
“Could you –” he starts to frame his question, but breaks off abruptly as he remembers where he is. Clint seems to pause in his movement.
“What do you need?” He asks, softly. Phil closes his eyes, shakes his head slightly despite the fact that Clint can’t see him.
“Nothing,” he murmurs. “Nothing, it’s fine. It can wait.” He holds up his left hand, tentatively wiggles the fingers. Pain radiates up his forearm and he stops.
“Phil.” Clint’s voice is low, demanding and authoritative. “Tell me what it is you want.” A shiver passes up Phil’s spine and the first thing he thinks is ‘you’. But that’s not what he’d been thinking of asking. He clears his throat, blinks rapidly.
“I wanted some music,” he admits softly. Clint playing the cello is Phil’s favourite thing. The music is breath-taking – awe-inspiring and calming at the same time. And the way Clint looks while he plays – the way his brow smoothes over and the tension leaves his face and muscles, the way his whole concentration is on the instrument – to Phil, that’s even more beautiful than the music itself. He’s asking a lot, he knows – Clint is private about his hobby, and there’s the added danger that the rest of the team will put two and two together and their relationship will be revealed. But right now, it doesn’t matter to him. It’s been a long, hard day, and everything hurts and he’s lonely.
“Sure,” Clint agrees after a brief pause. “Of course. I’ll be there soon.” Phil replaces the phone, leans back into his pillows wearily. He should find out about Chicago, about whom or what they’ve managed to capture, but right now he can’t bring himself to care about the three million or so missing American citizens, nor a possible invasion of the earth. Right now – for once – he’s concerned only about himself and Clint. It would probably feel good if he wasn’t lying in a hospital bed feeling the effects of being thrown bodily onto solid concrete.
It’s only ten minutes before Clint arrives, his cello case slung across his back. He props it up against the wall – less careful than usual – and is swiftly at the bedside. He places a soft kiss on Phil’s forehead.
“How do you feel?” he asks, concern in his eyes. He takes the hand that isn’t encased in plaster, and Phil intertwines their fingers, squeezes gently.
“Like some creepy alien body-slammed me onto a concrete pavement,” he admits, with a smile. Clint smiles as well, presses another gentle kiss to Phil’s lips which he readily accepts, breathing in the familiar smell and revelling in the warm, sweet breath of his lover. He makes a small noise of discontent when Clint pulls away.
“I thought you wanted music?” Clint asks in amusement. Phil sighs.
“Music. Yeah, I did ask, didn’t I?”
Clint chuckles, fetches his cello and removes it from his case, holding it reverently. He sits, rests the neck of the instrument on his left shoulder, its body between his legs. He runs his fingers along the wood, already oblivious, and picks up his bow. There’s a moment of silence and then the music starts to flow – a small, low trickle that rises up to fill the room, to swirl around the two men and settle in deep pools between them. Clint’s face is focused, his eyes staring at what his fingers are doing, but also somewhere further away. Phil lets his eyes close, feels the notes wash over him. It’s almost as though they take some of the pain and tension with them as they pass through him and he feels himself relaxing, slowly.
Clint loses himself in the music, pours everything into the well-worn melody that’s one of his favourites. Every run of notes, every crescendo and every quickening of the tempo is Clint speaking to Phil. He’s never been good at talking, and he hopes that Phil understands this different language. He paints the words ‘I love you’ in the air with melody, leaves them there to be read.
After long minutes, the music fades away into silence, and neither moves. But then there’s a small noise and Clint’s expression becomes resigned even as he looks up, and sure enough, Natasha and Steve are hovering in the doorway. In the corridor outside, Tony leans against a wall with a smug grin on his face.
“Sorry,” murmurs Steve, as he catches the look on Clint’s face. “We didn’t mean to interrupt. Natasha, Tony, let’s go.” Clint can see that they could read the words, too – they could see everything that Clint had given to the music.
“It’s fine,” he says, gruffly. They know now. That’s that. Hesitantly, they enter the room, move to Phil’s bedside and ask him how he’s feeling, how long he’ll be here. They briefly discuss their mission; Steve informs Phil that under interrogation the creature he captured has revealed that the people of Chicago were taken as part of some kind of power play between worlds, that they’re unharmed and already there are plans in place to get them back. Perhaps Clint should have said these things, but he can’t see them as important.
He silently packs away his cello, tries to slip out without being noticed, but Tony is still nonchalantly leaning against the wall of the corridor, and smirks at him as he exits the room.
“Nice playing,” he comments. Clint’s fist tightens around the strap of his cello bag. He casts a dark, sidelong glance at Tony and tries to simply leave, to walk away, but Tony pushes away from the wall and stands in front of him, ready to make a joke or a snarky comment.
“Leave it, Stark,” Clint hisses, and surprise registers in Tony’s face at the genuine anger in his voice.
“Woah, calm down there Barton. It’s not a big deal. Now you just don’t have to go sneaking around anymore.” Clint’s breath intensifies and he clutches onto the cello bag like a lifeline, forcing himself to stand still.
“You expect me to thank you? Is that it, Stark? Like you’ve done me a god-damn favour. You really never think about the consequences of your actions, do you?” Tony holds his hands up in a placating gesture, but Clint doesn’t let him get a word in. “You wanted everyone to know about my relationship with Phil? Well, congratulations. But when one or the other of us is turfed out on our ass by Fury, I hope it’s you that suffers. I hope you’re in a sticky situation and you could use a sharpshooter, or that without Phil around everything goes to pot. I hope at the moment, you realise that with your stupid, childish games, you’ve ruined someone’s life.” This time he doesn’t let Tony stand in his way; he pushes past him violently, slamming Tony into the wall with his shoulder. He might be over-reacting. But guilt is pooling in his stomach already; he knows he’ll be the reason that Phil Coulson loses his job, a job that he loves. And whether or not Phil says that it’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make, Clint will never believe that he won’t regret that decision one day.
Tony’s shaken when he enters Coulson’s room once Natasha and Steve have left. He doesn’t knock, merely walks towards the chair by the bed, recently vacated by Clint, and takes it. He rests his chin on his hands and looks up at Coulson.
"Sorry,” he says, faintly. There’s a note of faint concern in Coulson’s expression, perhaps since apologising is something that Tony doesn’t do often. “Barton was right, I didn’t stop to think about what I was doing and well – I’m sorry. I guess I already said that, huh?” He sits back, rubbing his temples, then stands abruptly. “Yeah, sorry.” He sticks his hands in the pockets of his jeans and leaves. He can feel Coulson’s eyes on him even after he’s out of sight.
Waking up to Nick Fury standing at the end of one’s bed is an experience no mortal man should have to go through, but it is one that Phil Coulson undergoes a few days later. He only just manages not to let out a string of startled expletives, but he definitely lets out an embarrassingly terrified noise. Fury smiles slightly.
“Agent Coulson,” he says in greeting, “And how are we feeling today?” Phil takes some time to think about this question, wiggling his fingers and taking a deep breath.
“Better than yesterday, sir,” he replies, “still not wonderful.” He scans Fury’s face for signs that he’s come here to confront him regarding his relationship with Clint, but the man is a closed book. There’s a silence, and Phil wonders if it’s as tense for Fury as it is for him. Eventually Fury sighs, and moves to take the seat at the head of Phil’s bed.
“What kind of a man do you think I am, agent?” Phil’s thrown by the question, and blinks uneasily.
“One with a job to do, sir?” he offers. Fury lets out a small laugh.
“That is true, agent. But what I am not, is the kind of man who would fire any good agent because of what he or she does in his spare time.” Fury regards him steadily with his one good eye. Phil drops his gaze. Fury stands. “Just think about that, agent,” he suggests, and leaves.
Phil is actually trembling slightly with relief; he had not realised until this moment how scared he’d been about what might have happened when this moment came. For all his bravado, and for all he was prepared to do practically anything for Clint, it would have been a hard thing to do, leaving this job behind. A smile spreads across his face.
There’s surprisingly little resistance when he discharges himself – presumably, having worked with the Avengers, the medical staff are simply surprised that he stayed as long as he did. He dons a suit – struggling to wrestle his shirtsleeve over his cast, and eventually succeeding only with a pair of scissors and some choice swearwords. He appropriates a car and a driver, and heads towards the mansion. He doesn’t usually drop in on the mansion unless he’s got a solid, work-related reason, but to hell with it. He needs to see Clint and maybe punch Tony, for causing all this trouble, and then probably forgive him. At some point.
The mansion is eerily quiet; night is just falling and there are surprisingly few lights on. Phil lets himself in, and listens. At first he thinks the place is empty, but then he detects – almost at the edge of hearing – the faint sound of conversation. He trails after the noise and is surprised to see the entire team in one room, quietly sat in front of the bright explosions and loud gunfire of an action movie. He smiles at the sight of all of them – Bruce, who’s not really watching, but sits with his laptop; Tony, who’s sprawled across the sofa pretending that he’s not painfully aware that Steve is next to him with his arm on the back of the sofa so it’s almost like it’s round Tony’s shoulders; Natasha, lying on her stomach on the floor with her chin in her hands; and Thor, who’s leaning forward in chair staring intently at the screen. But it’s Clint who catches his eye – sitting as he is on the floor, back against the sofa, looking forlorn and barely paying any attention to the movie. Phil assumes that Fury has not yet spoken to him; Clint looks miserable enough that it’s safe to assume that the still believe it to be only a matter of time before one or both of them are out of a job. Despite Clint’s obvious anxiety, it’s such a peaceful and almost domestic scene that Phil debates about whether he should interrupt or not – but in the end the decision is easy, since he can’t stand to see Clint sad when there’s no reason. He clears his throat; Steve is the first to turn.
“Agent Coulson,” he exclaims. “You’re better?” Someone pauses the movie and they all turn to look. Phil shrugs a shoulder.
“Near enough,” he replies, slightly mollified by the attention. Clint is already on his feet, but stands his ground, looking worriedly from his teammates to his boyfriend. Phil, who’s had enough of secrecy, holds out his hand towards him, beckons him over with a small smile. “As you were, I just came to steal away Clint.” Tony sniggers, dirtily, and Steve cuffs him around the head. Clint really looks at him them – at his smile and the fact that he’s wearing his suit – and Phil can read the question in his eyes. He nods almost imperceptibly, and that’s all Clint needs. He crosses the room in a few long strides and buries his face in Phil’s chest, fingers fisting tightly in his shirt. Phil pulls him close, shuts his eyes and breathes in his scent. After a few seconds he gently pushes Clint back so that he can see his face, runs a thumb along his cheekbones. Clint is blinking rapidly and Phil notices that there are tears in his eyes.
“Smile,” he whispers, and Clint does. “Everything is fine.” He ignores the fact that he’s being watched by four superheroes and a master assassin, Phil does what he’s wanted to do since he arrived; he brings his lips to Clint’s, and kisses him. He kisses him properly like he’s only ever been able to do in private – runs his tongue teasingly along Clint’s lower lip, smiles into the kiss when Clint’s tongue pushes back against his own. They break apart after only a few moments, when Steve awkwardly clears his throat, but each is smiling.
“When did that happen?” Bruce asks. Clint glances over at the doctor, who’s wearing a bemused expression behind his glasses, and laughs out loud. Phil takes his hand.
“Let’s get out of here,” he suggests. Clint looks ready to agree, but Tony interrupts.
“Or you guys could, you know, stay? We’ll watch the movie and I’ll order pizza, or something.” He’s looking right at Phil while he speaks and Phil rolls his eyes.
“Pizza does not count as a form of apology, Stark,” he admonishes, but there’s a faint note of amusement in his voice.
“Not even close,” agrees Clint. Tony raises an eyebrow.
“Even if I get ice cream too?” Clint narrows his eyes, and glances at Phil, who shrugs a shoulder.
“It’s a start,” he relents, and lets Clint pull him towards a sofa. He sits, hooks his arm around Clint as he curls up at his side, and lets the movie roll over him, though he’s not really watching. He’s watching Clint, who has a small smile on his face now rather than a small frown.
“I love you,” he whispers. He doesn’t say it enough.
“I love you too,” replies Clint, taking Phil’s hand in his own and holding it tight, his thumb swiping gently back and forth across his knuckle. Either the exchange is quiet enough that the others don’t hear, or they pretend not to. Either way, Phil is glad. But he’s got one more thing to say, one more promise to make. He tilts Clint’s head towards him with gentle fingers, and their eyes meet.
“I’ll never leave you,” he says, solemnly. “No matter what, I’ll never leave you.” Clint nods, once. And that’s all Phil needs. He doesn’t need to hear the words or have the promises made to him. Because he’s already heard them in the music Clint plays for him. It’s all words tuned to perfect fifths. He smiles, softly, and turns back to the movie, letting the loud noise and bright colours wash over him. Here, with Clint and all the people he’s responsible for, this is home.