There are many things that bother Phil about Skype, not least of which are;
1. You have to get dressed for a phonecall.
2. He can see the moment his sister's going to start in on his lack of significant other.
"You look alone."
"I am alone. I'm in a room talking to you without other people which is the very definition of-"
"I don't mean alone. I mean alone," Janey repeats, narrowing her eyes. "You know the harpies are going to have a field day when you're here."
"About that-" Phil says. He's practiced his excuse for getting out of visiting Stuckey. He's been perfecting the wide, innocent eyes and just the right aw shucks, wish I could be there head duck that's a patented Steve Rogers move but Janey's having none of it.
"Don't you dare," she almost screeches. Phil has to lean away from his laptop's speakers to save his hearing. "You are not leaving me to deal with this one my own."
"It's your birthday party, not storming the beaches of Normandy."
"I love how it's my party," Janey says archly. "If I remember correctly, you jammed your big head out of our mother's birth canal only six minutes before me."
"Oh my god, never say that again," Phil groans. Janey reminds him of Clint Barton sometimes, has a special way of turning the mundane into the horrifying. "And besides, I did that on a completely different day. My birthday's on the twenty third, yours is the twenty fourth. The party's on the twenty fourth so by my calculation-"
"Phil, if you don't show up, I will track you down wherever you're hiding and drag you to this party kicking and screaming. I know you've had some secret ninja training or whatever but I bet I can still pin you and make you say I'm the queen of you."
"You said it yourself, merciless harpies," Phil points out. The harpies are their cousins, two women who decided that Janey and Phil were born purely for their cruel sense of enjoyment. When Janey's not being a pain in the ass, Phil is grateful that he wasn't born alone to face them.
"Only if you turn up looking like you're married to your career again," Janey says. "I mean, they don't think you even have any friends."
Phil frowns. He does have friends, he just hasn't seen any of them in... a while. He actually thinks about it and if he's honest, it might've been years. He's been pretty busy saving the world and like Janey says, being a ninja.
Plus, the Avengers have taken up any spare time he might've once had. They tend to be a twenty-four seven headache with no respite.
Clint drops in front of Phil from... somewhere. Phil's not even sure there's anywhere to hide in his office for a full grown man, he'd actually made sure of it. Out of the corner of his eye Phil sees Janey startle on the screen as Clint flicks him a grin and leans into the camera. "He's bringing his boyfriend," Clint says.
The look on Janey's face is almost worth it.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Phil demands, chasing Clint out of his office and down the corridor. He thought basic training had beaten the ability to be flustered out of him but he's definitely flustered now and he sounds it, worse luck.
"Helping a bud out," Clint tosses over his shoulder.
"In case it's escaped your notice, Agent Barton, I don't have a boyfriend," Phil snaps and Clint is smirking as he spins on his heel.
"Oh I've noticed. We've all noticed."
"I'm going to ignore whatever the hell it is you mean by that and call my sister back," Phil huffs. Clint had hung up on Janey right after he'd made his little announcement.
Again, would probably be almost worth the look on her face.
"Hey, stop panicking. I said I was helping you out."
"I don't know why you people insist on making my life difficult. I'm your handler, not your school principal. You don't need to prank me to get my attention."
"I'm not pranking you," Clint says, eyes crinkling up in amusement. "I'll come home with you."
"What? Why?" Phil asks.
"To be your boyfriend, keep up."
Phil feels his mouth unhinge. "You're not, though."
Clint's amused crinkles deepen. "Yes, well, you and I know that but your family doesn't. Won't it shut them up to bring home a hot, semi-famous guy as your main squeeze?"
"I thought you said I was taking you home," Phil says, can't really help himself.
"Har, har, very funny," Clint grunts. "Look, how often do you see your family?"
"Twice a year, if I can't get out of it."
"So, this trip you have me, and then for the next four trips, just act sad whenever someone mentions me. They'll leave you alone and you'll get over two years of peace."
"That sounds..." It sounds fantastic but Phil's not really ready to admit that to Clint yet. "Devious."
"Hey, it's beneficial for the whole team if you unclench once in a while."
"Just for the record, I'm not socially inept. I just don't have time for a relationship," Phil says, isn't sure why it's important that Clint knows that.
"Yeah, I get that, hence the offer. Like you said, you have enough to deal with."
Phil suspects a trap, knows he needs to be wary, but one trip home without everyone looking at him like he's failing them all in a monumental way would be nice.
"Okay," he finally relents. "We'll go tomorrow morning, first thing. I'll pick you up at the mansion."
"I'll think of a good story," Clint says and when Phil raises an eyebrow he clarifies, "For how we fell in love. Families always want the pervy details."
"Just keep it simple," Phil implores, pained. He's going to be in a car for three hours with Clint being hyperactive. For someone who can be so still, Clint is amazingly jittery when he's not on task. Phil's currently trying to talk him out of an elaborate tale of their sordid affair that involves giant chinchillas, circus clowns and a daring rescue. "We're colleagues, I asked you out. That's it."
"That's boring," Clint complains.
"It's not meant to entertain you, it's meant to be plausible."
"It's plausible because that stuff actually happened," Clint points out and Phil wants to argue but he's right. Phil's not sure what it says about his life that those three things would converge and all he did was call it Tuesday.
"We're not telling my family classified mission details," he says, the fastest way to end the argument. "Colleagues, dinner, happily ever after. The end."
"It is really plausible that you'd sack up enough to ask me out?" Clint grumbles into his hand, looking out the window. Phil frowns at the road ahead, not sure if he was supposed to hear him.
"Oh my god, this looks like Stars Hollow," Clint says in amazement when they reach the Stuckey town limits. When Phil just gives him a surprised look, Clint scowls and says, "Shut up, Thor likes Gilmore Girls."
"He makes you watch it, does he? Against your will?" Phil asks, smirking when Clint's scowl just deepens.
"Thor's a total Dean-girl. He's going to be heart broken when we get to the Jesse season."
"I have no idea what you're even talking about," Phil says.
Phil's pleased when Clint just looks charmed, touching a hand to the railing on the porch and leaping the four steps that lead to the front door in a single bound because he's ridiculous. Phil has absolutely no qualms about sending Clint ahead.
Clint raps on the screen door, shave and a haircut. Phil's mother appears, a blurry shape through the screen before she pushes it open, Clint having to step out of the way. She looks wary, probably always tense when a stranger knocks on the door considering what Phil does for a living, but she spots Phil over Clint's shoulder and her face breaks into a smile that he will always miss.
"Scruff," she says, darting out the door with her arms outstretched. She's a small woman, Phil can see Clint over the top of her head as he hugs her, sees him mouth Scruff. "You're here earlier than I thought."
"There wasn't much traffic," Phil says, doesn't mention that he drove like the wind just to reduce the amount of time he was stuck in an enclosed space with Clint after he'd had roadside tacos. "We made good time."
"Introduce me to your friend," his mom says, stepping back and sweeping her arm so Clint's included in their small triangle.
"This is Clint Barton," Phil says and Clint holds his hand out, ducking his head with a Ma'am that makes Phil roll his eyes.
Phil's mom clucks her tongue, uses the hand she's offered to tug Clint into a warm hug. Clint's stiff for a second before he seems to fold into it and Phil feels his heart clench. He's read Clint's personal file, knows what Clint grew up with and it wasn't very many mom-hugs.
Clint steps back, blushing furiously and shuffling his feet and his mom looks absolutely besotted.
"He's going to be disappointed when he finds it isn't a shrine to a younger me."
"You know I'm not sentimental about things, just people," she says, darting out a hand to pinch his cheek. Phil's not sure why, even after all his years of training, he still can't anticipate and therefore avoid his mother's cheek-pinch move. "Scruff-"
"Can you please not call me that in front of him?" Phil begs, wondering what it is about his parent's house that reduces him to an embarrassed fifteen year old.
"I'm sure he'll think it's adorable," she dismisses and Phil grunts.
"That's the problem. He'll think it's adorable and then tell everyone we've ever met."
"You're precious," his mom says which means she's going to ignore him.
Clint appears at the bottom of the stairs, looking less exuberant. "Were you really into crafts and sewing when you were a kid?"
"My mom recommissioned my room as soon as my foot hit the outside world," Phil says, sees her roll her eyes behind Clint.
"Can I make you boys something?" she asks. Phil's mom is a feeder. He's surprised he was able to still see his toes by the time he left her house. Phil cuts a glance at Clint, sees his eyes go round and gleeful. Clint Barton never met a free meal he didn't like. "I've got leftovers, some pie, I'll set out a couple of things shall I?"
She disappears into the kitchen and Phil watches her go, before Clint turns to him. He's got a hand held over his heart, his mouth hanging open a little. "Um, can your mom adopt me?" he asks.
"You can have her," Phil says. "She might seem all sunshine and light now but she turns. I know how to deal with Natasha because I already had practice with my mother."
"I don't believe a word you say," Clint dismisses, trailing after Phil's mother into the kitchen. Phil hears the sounds of his mother saying something and then laughing when Clint murmurs back through the swinging kitchen door. It only takes Phil about ten seconds to get through the door himself, but Clint already has three heaped plates in front of him and a full mouth.
"Uhmfgh," Clint says, grinning with full cheeks. Phil's always amazed how much Clint can pack away, only rivalled by Steve and Thor for voraciousness. Phil knows Clint's extremely physical, probably burns through enough calories for three men in any given day and therefore needs to eat about as much but he's still always faintly horrified.
"Swallow before speaking, dear," Phil's mother scolds gently and Clint blinks at her, before dropping his head, swallowing hard and saying, "Sorry, ma'am."
"Call me Carla," she instructs, smiling at Clint. She turns on Phil. "Such manners. You could learn something."
Phil, having just shoved a forkful of pie into his mouth he'd stolen off one of Clint's overburdened plates, nearly chokes on it just from the idea of Clint Barton and manners. Clint, with narrowed eyes, wallops Phil on the back as his body tries to make his lungs accept pie as a substitute for air.
He swallows, rubs at his streaming eyes with the back of his hand and resists the urge to kick Clint who's now snickering around a piece of toast.
"Mom, you have an intruder in the house!" Janey yells, spotting Phil hovering by the kitchen island. Tess looks startled, grips at Janey's leg and Janey sighs, says, "Hon, go say hi to Uncle Phil, he's not really an intruder."
Carla comes bustling into the kitchen, scooping up Tess before Phil has a chance to terrify her further. Clint trails her, looking far too pleased with himself which means his mother probably broke out the old photo albums, damn her. She redeems herself somewhat by handing Tess off to Clint so she can hug Janey and they both look hilariously startled by this turn of events.
"Is this the Skype guy?" Janey demands when she's released from Carla's grip.
"You can call me Clint," he says, awkwardly juggling Tess before setting her down on her feet. She scuttles away from him immediately, retreating to the relative safety of her grandmother. He offers Janey a hand and she shakes it, making a face at Phil which means he's probably again going to hear about Clint and manners which is just wrong on so many levels.
"Wow, Phil, didn't know you had it in you," she says, eyeing Clint up and down unabashadly and Phil smacks a hand to his face.
"Oh my god," he groans.
"I find a roof gives you a much better vantage point," Clint says, hunching over next to Phil who has the blinds pushed about an inch aside so he can spy on the front of the house. Phil looks back at him, rolls his eyes when he sees Clint has Tess clinging to his back, large blue eyes and pigtails all he can see over Clint's shoulder, small hands hooked around his neck.
After their first awkward introduction, Tess had decided she loved Clint, possibly more than she'd ever loved Phil. "Well, you are about the same age," Phil had grumbled, his hopes of terrorising Clint with small children vanishing.
"Just don't teach my niece... anything," Phil decides on, eyes narrowing.
"I'm teaching her the Mak'tar stealth haze," Clint says.
"That's not a real thing. That's from Galaxy Quest."
"Oh yeah?" Clint says, raising an eyebrow. "Tess, stealth mode," he throws over his shoulder and the hands and top of her head disappear. Phil makes an abortive move toward Clint, thinking Tess has just dropped off his back but Clint holds his hands up, grinning. He turns around slowly, carefully. Tess is clinging to him by the back of the shirt, legs pulled up. "I figured it would come in handy if what you say is true about your cousins."
"Phil, I wasn't expecting you to show up," Deb says from the entryway, stomping errant leaves off her shoes. "Who's your... friend?"
"Want to teach me?" Phil asks out of the corner of his mouth before he steps forward, forced smile in place. He's waiting for the day when they all realize they're adults and they can be civil to one another. "Deb, nice to see you."
Deb's eyes narrow when she sees Tess, unstealthed, clinging to Clint. "Should you really be letting her get to attached to someone we're never going to see again?" she asks archly.
Obviously that day is not today.
Janey gives him the stink eye for abandoning her, or maybe for getting in before she has a chance to and she hooks a possessive arm around Clint, refuses to give up both parts of her body armor on the pretense of getting to know him.
"Yeah, uh...?" Phil's at a loss. The guy huffs, an amused sound.
"Hey, don't sweat it, you were a senior when I was a junior, I totally don't blame you for not remembering me. Christian Jeske," he introduces himself, holding out a hand and Phil's relief is an almost tangible thing when he doesn't have to make awkward small talk and try to pretend that he knows who the hell the guy is.
Phil shakes after passing his shopping basket to his other hand. "I do remember seeing you around school," Phil offers and Christian rolls his eyes.
"That's cause you were my first crush and I was following you," Christian says, nice smile lines digging deep.
"Oh, well, um," Phil says, at a bit of a loss. Christian looks like the kind of guy that's grown into his looks over the years. He has an easy confidence, broad shoulders and Phil does kind of remember him now, how he used to be a small geeky kid prone to blushing and falling over himself in Phil's presence.
He's obviously not that kid anymore.
"Hey, so I heard there's a Coulson twins birthday bash happening," Christian continues.
"Ugh, it's Janey's party only, I swear," Phil says, shaking his head.
"That's funny, I seem to remember it being the same when we were at school. They would always be Janey's parties."
"She's the one that likes to be all, y'know, off the hook," Phil says and Christian laughs again, shaking his head. "How'd you know, anyway?" Phil grimaces because that kind of sounded rude but Christian doesn't look worried.
"Tess and my niece are friends and she and my sister's family were invited," he says. "Plus, Janey was always nice to me in school because she knew about my really pathetic and hopeless crush and kept telling me that her loser of a brother didn't deserve that kind of devotion."
"He didn't," Phil says.
"So, I know it's a family thing, but was there maybe a chance that you needed a date to your not-party?" Christian asks, surprising him.
"Oh, um, ah, I'm actually... with someone?" Phil says. Christian gives him a funny look because Phil didn't exactly sound sure there. Then he's smiling again, a little forced this time.
"Yeah, of course you are man, can't blame a guy for trying though, right?" Christian says. "Look, it was really nice to-"
"He's just a... he's a friend though," Phil blurts because he's got to remember that he's not actually with anyone, that Barton is there as a favor and when they return to New York it'll be business as usual. "I mean, a friend came up with me and I don't really want him to feel like he's been ditched but he's not, you know, he isn't."
Christian gives Phil his biggest, brightest smile yet. He's got short-cropped brown hair that looks like it would feel good to tug fingers through and green eyes with those damnably lovely smile lines. "Well, alright then. I'll see you there, right?" he says.
"Absolutely," Phil agrees, nodding.
"I'm not," Phil says, making a show of scowling at her and she rolls her eyes as she hoists the bags onto the center island in the kitchen. "I just... I ran into someone in town. Christian Heske."
"Christian?" Janey says. "Hoo boy, that guy had one hell of a crush on you, brother mine."
"I think he still does," Phil says smugly, smile edging back onto his face.
"He's coming to the party tonight."
"So, that's good right? You keep telling me that-"
"Phil!" Janey hisses, skirting round the kitchen island and bailing him up against the counter. Phil's faced down terrorists and aliens but he still always backs up when Janey comes at him like that. "You have an impossibly lovely, handsome boyfriend whose forearms should be illegal. What the hell are you talking about?"
"He's not my boyfriend," Phil snaps, his good mood deflating rapidly.
"He just... he's doing me a favor. He knows you guys were on my back about being alone and he wanted to help out."
Janey just stares at him a moment before she clips him upside the head. "Are you kidding me?"
"I... work with Clint," Phil says, slinks around Janey and heads for the refrigerator. He needs a soda desperately. "Oh my god, it sounds completely lame now I've said it out loud," he groans.
"You're a dumbass," Janey chides.
"I'm starting to realize that."
"No, you're a dumbass," Janey repeats, narrowing an accusatory finger at him. "If you really think that's why Clint's here."
"He is though," Phil asserts. "He's mostly doing it so he can have something to hold over me for the rest of my life."
Janey throws up her hands. "If you don't figure out what's really going on by the end of this weekend then I completely give up."
"What are you talking about?"
"No, I'm not going to spell it out for you," Janey says, approaches him but this time it isn't menacing. She pats him on the shoulder. "Phil, pull your head out of your ass, okay?"
"Tess is just my helper," Clint says, smiling down at the girl who beams up at him. Phil hates how hard his heart turns over in his chest just to see that. "I'm actually showing Justin."
"Is he learning by correspondence?" Phil asks dryly, not able to spot the teenager.
"Close," Clint says, points to the cluster of trees that lean against the back fence. Now Phil's looking for it, he sees Justin's sneakers dangling from one of the branches.
"Oh well, I guess you might as well teach him considering he's already well on his way to being you," Phil observes.
"He hides for self-preservation," Clint says.
"I don't blame him," Phil huffs. "By the way, what does my mom and sister think you're doing out here?"
"Training for the Olympics," Clint says, stretching in a self-satisfied way. The bottom of his shirt parts ways with the top of his jeans and Phil tries not to stare at the sharp cut of Clint's hipbones, feeling skeevy for perving with his niece standing a foot away. "Gotta practice everyday."
"I bet they loved that," Phil says, shaking his head. He's not charmed by Clint's ridiculousness. "Didn't I say no embellishments, keep it simple?"
Not at all.
"Why the school hall?" Clint asks.
"It's cheap to hire, there's enough space for the kids to run around and the folding tables and chairs come with, I guess," he says. "There's also a kitchen attached so Janey, mom and the harpies can heat some of the food up there."
"You know they're just jealous of you and Janey, right?" Clint says.
"Your cousins. They don't like each other as much as they don't like you guys. They're jealous of how close you and Janey are. It's probably hard not having someone that has your back."
"How do you know?"
"I'm observant," Clint says, shrugs. Phil glances at him in the mirror, sees Clint's plucking at the trousers he brought with him since Phil had told him that he wasn't allowed to wear jeans to the party. They're black with a barely-three pinstripe and Phil doesn't think he's ever seen them before which is a pity considering the way they fit. Clint's wearing a plain black button-down and has his leather jacket tossed over his legs. He refused a tie and Phil didn't push because Clint has managed to look GQ enough without it.
Phil blinks, puts his attention back where it belongs which is on his tie.
"Hey, I didn't even know you owned denim before this weekend," Clint pipes up. He's tossed a hand out and is touching the jeans Phil had been wearing that day, discarded over a stack of sewing boxes. "How come you can wear suits even when we're on the Helicarrier? Did you get a no-catsuit clause put in your contract?"
"I'm special," Phil says.
"It's just a little unfair that you get to swan about looking all James Bond while we all have to put up with outfits that show what we had for breakfast."
Phil pauses, reaching for the box that holds his cufflinks, finds Clint's snagged it and is balancing it on his palm. Phil plucks the cufflinks out and fastens them. "Not all of us can get away with the skin-tight look."
"Anyway," Phil hastens to interject. "I seem to remember someone who gets the sleeves removed from every uniform we give him."
"It's out of necessity," Clint says, smirking.
"More like vanity," Phil says with a roll of his eyes, takes his jacket down from the hanger hooked over the bedroom door and shrugs into it. "Well," he says. "Into the breach we go."
"Janey tends to go a little overboard," Phil says, can't help the smile on his face when he spots his wayward sister trying to herd a group of kids, Tess at the center of them. She looks frazzled and will continue to do so for the entire party leaving Phil at a loss as to why she even does this to herself.
Phil groans when Clint spots and then points out the banner that proclaims Happy Birthday Phil and Jane in purple sparkly letters.
"I need a drink," he says.
"It's my party apparently," Phil says, raising his glass to Christian in greeting who clinks it with his own.
"I remember you denying that quite vehemently," Christian says, smiles when he moves into Phil's space.
Phil's been... a little confused over the last day. Christian is a welcome distraction from the feelings he'd thought he'd had well in hand for a certain pain in his ass archer. He's probably being horribly rude just abandoning Clint but he needed to get away and clear his head, or at least fill it with alcohol.
Phil's attention gets snagged by Clint across the room, bending down to listen to something Janey's saying to him, smiling. Clint's eyes flick up and even though Phil is now bracketed by another body in a darkened corner, Clint's gaze finds him like it always does. Instead of the smirk and eyebrow raise Phil's expecting to get however, he sees Clint's smile freeze in place, dropping from his eyes and then he's shuffling Janey aside and stalking over.
"Ah-" Phil only manages to get out before Clint is there, sliding a possessive arm across his shoulders and glaring at Christian.
"Who's this then?" Clint asks.
Christian blinks, one side of his mouth turns down and then he's backing up. "Hey, it was nice to see you," he says. Phil watches him get a few steps away before he says, "Christian, wait." When Clint moves to follow, Phil disentangles himself from Clint's arm, levels a finger at him and says, "Stay!"
Phil catches Christian's sleeve before he can get to the door and Christian turns, looking a little pissed off and a lot disappointed. "You told me the guy you were with was just a friend."
"He is! We work together. He doesn't-"
"Phil, he's looking at me like he wants to twist my head off. What's worrying me is that he looks like he can," Christian says, sneaking a look around Phil's shoulder. Phil can feel the weight of Clint's attention between his shoulder blades.
"He's not..." Phil makes a helpless gesture with his hands.
"No, I get it," Christian says. "He's not, he doesn't." Christian's hand comes up, looks like it's going to land on Phil's shoulder before he snatches another look behind Phil and seems to think better of it. "But you do."
Phil sighs, scrubs a hand over his face. "Unfortunately and unwisely, yes," he admits.
Christian sighs, waves behind himself. "You sort out whatever you need to, but I'm going to go, so."
Phil feels like the worst kind of asshole about it but he lets him go. Instead he spins on his heel, snags Clint who had approached warily by the elbow, fighting the urge to grab him by the ear, and marches outside using the back doors.
"What was that?" he demands once he lets Clint free and Clint scuttles sideways, obviously moving out of striking distance which is probably wise.
"I was being your boyfriend," Clint says. He's blushing which throws Phil completely. "Figured it might look strange if I let some guy just hump your leg and not do anything about it."
"He wasn't... he wasn't doing anything of the sort."
"I couldn't exactly tell what he was doing but it didn't look like anything I should be allowing-"
"Just what the hell do you think you're doing?" Phil demands, fed up and so, so tired.
"I'm trying to date you, you moron!" Clint yells, evidently as frustrated and fed up as Phil, but also mortified that he's just put that out there if the widening of his eyes is any indication. "I mean, y'know, pretending-" Clint tries to backpeddle valiantly but Phil is having none of it.
"Clint," he interrupts. "What are we doing?"
"Do you think I would actually come up with something like this if it wasn't a convoluted and not very well thought out way to admit that I have, y'know, feelings," Clint grumbles into his chest, flicking a hand between them both. "Natasha wanted me to just tell you."
"Like that would've been easier," Phil snorts, endlessly charmed and endeared by the way Clint is shuffling his feet and still not meeting his gaze.
"Yeah, right, what does she know? Chicks man," Clint agrees. "Your sister also told me to get my head outta my ass."
"She's fond of that expression," Phil says. He steps forward, gets two fingers under Clint's chin and tips his head up. "I'm starting to see that we've both been morons."
Clint's eyes crinkle and his smile is tentative but there. "Yeah?"
"Absolutely," Phil says, pushes forward into Clint's space. Just before he kisses him, Clint leans back and Phil feels a stab of disappointment surge through him until he realizes that Clint's horrified expression has got nothing to do with him.
"No way, man," Clint says. "Our first kiss is not going to happen outside a school hall with Tears for Fears as the soundtrack."
"Deal with it," Phil says because he's waited long enough.
"There's not enough cunning and guile in the world."
"I could just ask your mom."
"She won't tell you."
"P'shaw, she loves me."
"Yes, which is why you are now in her torture circle. She tells you about the pet name to torture me, she doesn't tell you its origin to torture you."
"She's malicious. This is her ultimate dream, being able to simultaneously drive two people crazy with one bit of information."
"I'm... a little scared and impressed."
"Welcome to my life."