The man in front of him was, of course, Clint Barton. Phil had done his homework. He wouldn’t have stayed alive as long as he had in this job if he didn’t know exactly what he was walking into.
Barton was young. He’d had a shitty life, but he had incredible aim and that had gotten him on Fury’s radar, which in turn, had put him on Phil’s. This was a simple job. Go, get the kid, offer him a better life.
“Who’s asking?” Barton said, without turning away from his gear. In Phil’s opinion a bow and arrow was a little outdated, but if it got the job done, he was never one to argue about appropriate weaponry..
“Agent Coulson; I’m with the Strategic Homeland...”
“You’ve got the wrong guy,” Barton said, shortly.
One of Phil’s eyes twitched. “You are Clint Barton.”
“Yeah,” he drawled, finally glancing up.
“Then I haven’t got the wrong guy. I’d like you to come in. We have an opportunity for you.”
“You don’t want me,” Barton said, as he slid elegantly to his feet.
“You have skills we think we could nurture,” Phil said. “Please. I really think you’d find it beneficial to talk to us.”
Barton stared at Phil for a full minute in what he could only assume was the same bland, inexpressive way people said Phil had of staring at them. Phil, however, was fast approaching forty and had worked for Nick Fury for fifteen years. There was very little Barton could do to put him off his game.
Of course, as soon as that thought passed through his head, Barton smiled.
It wasn’t so much a smile as a complete altering of Barton’s face from sullen and aggressive to something softer, fuller, something glowing.
There was an odd ache in Phil’s chest. His breath sounded loud in his ears.
Barton snapped his fingers and Phil blinked.
“You zoned out for a moment there, sir.”
Phil turned away and pulled out his sunglasses, slipping them on as he walked back to his car. He could hear Barton behind him scramble to catch up and allowed himself a small smile.
Phil stopped in the doorway to Fury's office and tapped lightly on the open door. Nick turned in his seat, phone still pressed to his ear, and waved Phil inside.
"Yes, I understand," Fury said and then hung up without ceremony. "There are some people I could happily do without ever speaking to again."
"Barton and Romanov are back from Budapest," Phil said. "One of them could probably help you out."
Nick grinned and then stood quickly, rounded the desk and pushed the door closed. "Drink?"
In the twenty years Phil had known and worked for him, Nick Fury had never once offered him a drink while they were working. He said as much.
"Yeah, but you're going to need one today," Nick said. "These are extraordinary circumstances." He poured two measures of brandy and set one glass down in front of Phil. "I'm raising your clearance," he continued, taking the seat next to Phil instead of the one behind his desk. "What I'm about to tell you is something only ten other people in the world know, including the President."
Phil stared blankly at Nick, waiting. "Yes, sir."
"I don't have to tell you that you're not to breathe a word of this to anyone."
"And yet you just did," Phil said, earning himself another smile. "What's going on, boss?"
Nick picked up his glass of brandy and leaned forward in his seat. "We found Captain America."
There was an odd buzzing noise in Phil's ears and he watched, without really seeing, as Nick drained his glass and set it back on the desk.
Phil reached for his own glass, surprised to find his hands were shaking, and downed the brandy in one inelegant gulp.
"Could you repeat that, sir?" He held out the glass to Fury, who smirked a little as he went to refill it.
"They found the Hydra plane on an expedition in the Arctic," Fury explained. "They found a body, which is currently being flown here for, uh, safekeeping."
"And it was confirmed that the body was..." Phill found he couldn't finish the sentence and gratefully took the drink when it was offered. He downed his second glass of brandy exactly as he'd drank the first and was pleased when Fury set the bottle down on the desk between them.
"Steve Rogers," Nick said with a nod. "Captain America."
"Sir, I think..."
"Take all the time you need," Nick said. "You're going to be responsible for him, after all."
Phil woke up to pain and a loud, incessant beeping noise.
The pain and the beeping were a good sign, he thought, since the last thing he remembered with any accuracy was Loki stabbing him through the back and then there was just random fragments of Thor and a gun and Nick... Nick had been there. The pain and the beeping implied he was alive, which was all to the good.
Natasha, on the other hand, was terrifying. She was sat, cross-legged, at the end of the bed, staring at him with a look that would make lesser men cry. Phil knew that for a fact. He’d seen it in action.
She uncurled her legs and slid up the bed in one fluid motion to straddle his waist, then reached over to pour him a glass of water.
“Drink that,” she said and Phil, following his rule of never arguing with Natasha if he didn’t have to, drank.
She settled back down, uncomfortably close to his groin for his liking, and said,
“If you ever, ever, do anything that stupid again without me or Clint for backup, I will hurt you.”
Phil had known Natasha for as long as she’d been with SHIELD. He’d been the one standing in the snow, watching Barton drop his bow and hold up his hands, listening to him plead with Natasha, trying to save her life. Phil’s orders had been very clear, but Barton had disagreed. Somehow that was all Phil had needed.
Barton had been right of course, and Phil would readily admit that Natasha was one of their greatest assets. They worked well together and when it was the three of them, with Barton, out on a mission, they were an incredible, unstoppable force to be reckoned with.
He’d just never thought that she might actually care about him.
He watched her as he continued to sip at his water, unable to think of anything to say besides I’m sorry and I’d do the same for you.
Phil was cleared for active duty exactly five months and three days after waking up. Fury told him to report the following morning at nine a.m. for his first assignment.
Nine a.m. was two hours later than he was usually at work, so Phil allowed himself an extra thirty minutes of sleep, went for a run, got dressed in one his freshly cleaned and pressed suits, and as a treat for himself on his first day back, stopped off for a coffee on the way to the office.
The meeting went well. Everyone was exceptionally well behaved, even Stark, and at nine-thirty Phil took the files Fury held out to him, smiling his thanks, and walked out of the conference room heading back to his office.
At one p.m. he ventured out to find some food and stretch his legs. There’d been remarkably little contact with the team since the meeting and if truth be told, he was suspicious. He tried a couple of the training rooms and the lab, but both were empty. He tried the range next and was pleased to see that Barton could still be counted upon to be where he was supposed to be.
“Captain’s orders,” Clint said, when Phil mentioned the lack of people trailing through his office to bother him. “Steve sent an email. I think it was just supposed to go to the five of us, but he’s still getting used to whole computer thing.”
Phil was torn between delight that Captain America - Steve - was looking out for him and irritation that he was being coddled.
“I don’t need to be wrapped in cotton wool, Barton,” Phil said and sighed as Clint shrugged.
“I told him that, sir.”
Phil straightened his shoulders and gave a determined nod. “Do you know where Captain Rogers is now?”
The look on Clint’s face said he knew exactly where Rogers was, but he was loath to tell Phil.
“Barton?” Phil snapped and it was Clint’s turn to sigh.
“He’s with Tony,” Clint said. “In his old quarters.”
Phil gave a curt nod and turned to leave, but froze as the implication of Clint’s words hit him.
Steve Rogers was in his old living quarters - a room which was no bigger than Phil’s office and amounted to a bed, a desk and a wardrobe - with Tony Stark.
“Tony and Pepper broke up,” Clint was saying, but his voice sounded very far away. “And Steve has been a lot happier since they started fuc...”
Phil cleared his throat loudly to drown out Clint’s words and turned back to face him. “Please don’t,” he said, hating the strangled sound his voice made. “You’re talking about my childhood hero. I don’t want to think about him...”
“Having sex with Stark,” Clint said and he was grinning now.
“Having sex with anyone,” Phil said.
“Really?” Clint said, stepping closer. He suddenly sounded a lot more serious. “Because most of us thought you had a pretty big boner for him.”
Phil rubbed his hands over his face. “This can’t be happening,” he said. “I do not have sexual fantasies about Captain Rogers. I admire him. He makes me want to be a better person.”
“Well,” Clint said, looking oddly smug, “he makes Tony want to be better too. Which is why they spend so much time practising, I guess.”
Phil groaned and lowered himself carefully into the nearest chair, ignoring Clint’s laughter, which was now ringing in his ears.
“I don’t understand why I have to wear this?”
Phil looked up from his food to find Clint standing opposite his desk, holding a tie.
“It’s a press conference,” Phil said. He sat back and smiled slightly. “It was Stark’s idea.”
“It’s a stupid idea,” Clint said.
Phil shrugged. “You’re free to tell him that. I have already voiced my strong objections.”
Clint waved the tie at him again. “Why do I have to wear this though?”
“Because I don’t want anyone to be able to recognise you,” Phil said. He got to his feet and rounded the desk to take the tie from Clint. “When was the last time you wore one of these?”
“Um,” Clint said, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling, “I have never worn a tie.”
“Exactly,” Phil said. He waved his hand, beckoning Clint to turn towards him. “Come.” He lifted the collar of Clint’s shirt and looped the tie around his neck.”
Clint raised an eyebrow at him. “Sir, I may not wear ties, but I know how to...”
“Yeah, yeah,” Phil interrupted. “Quiet.”
He finished tying the tie, trying to ignore the way he could feel Clint watching him. They were standing far closer than usual. Phil glanced up and caught his eyes for a moment, then looked back at the tie.
“There,” he said. “Perfect.”
“Perfect,” Clint echoed, and before Phil knew what was happening, Clint tilted his head slightly and kissed him. It was soft and quick, really just a brush of their lips, then Clint was stepping back away from him.
“If you could forget I did that, I would really...”
Phil grabbed hold of Clint’s tie and pulled him back, until they were pressed together, chest to hip. He slid his hands up over Clint’s shoulders and smiled as the look on Clint’s face changed from surprise to satisfaction.
“No, I don’t think I will be forgetting, Barton,” Phil said and leaned in to kiss him again.
It had been a hell of a day. Phil hadn't had a moment's rest in 26 hours and now he was on his way to his final debrief. It was with Clint, which served the dual purpose of being short and allowing them to go home immediately afterwards.
This thing between them was still relatively new, but they'd fallen into an odd routine and Phil had to admit, it was the happiest he'd been in a long time.
He heard voices as he approached his office. Clint's low murmur mixed with Stark's higher-pitched rambling. He slowed his steps automatically, curious as to what Stark was even doing in his office when he and Rogers had both been done with their debriefs three hours ago.
"I'm not messing around," Clint was saying and Phil could tell he was irritated. "I've known him longer than any of the rest of you. None of you get a say in what happens between us."
Phil stood up a little straighter, ready to push the door open and tell Stark not to interfere in his private life, but Tony was talking again. Phil edged closer, tilting his head until he could see Stark leaning forward towards Clint in his seat, forearms braced on his knees.
"I know we don't get a say; I don't care what you do or who with. I hope you're very happy." Tony's fingers were working in mid air, moving rhythmically as he spoke. He probably wasn't even aware of it. Phil's eyes focused on that and the tone of Tony's voice as he added, "I'm just saying, if you do anything at all to hurt him, ever... I will hurt you back, a hundredfold."
Phil stepped back quickly, stumbling a little as he retreated down the corridor and leaned against the wall.
Tony Stark had just...
The sound of quick and sure footsteps broke him out of, what could only be described as a daze, several minutes later. Tony was striding towards him and shot him a grin and a wink as he passed.
“Your boy’s waiting for you, Phil,” he said without stopping. “I suggest you both get an early night.”
Phil watched him go, his face the usual blank mask it was when dealing with Tony. It was odd, he thought, as he set off again towards his office, that after a day like the one he’d just had, the strangest thing to have happened to him, was learning Tony Stark was his friend.