"Did Stark put you up to this?" Phil says, replacing the cufflinks on his button-down and shrugging on his suit jacket.
Dr. Johnson sighs. "I wish. I don't have any explanation for my findings, but according to your blood work and the ultrasound we just performed, you're pregnant."
Phil sits down. He breathes slowly and evenly, in through his mouth and out through his nose. He's going to kill Tony Stark when this physical is finally over. Phil doesn't know what Stark promises the junior agents and the support staff, but it must be sweet because too many of them are more than willing to pull pranks on Stark's behalf. "Please read me the results of the tests without the shenanigans, Doctor. I'll be more than happy to invite Director Fury to oversee the process if you find yourself incapable of professional behavior."
Dr. Johnson throws his hands up. "I've already called him down here, Phil. We can wait for the rest until he arrives."
Later, Phil will identify this moment as the point where everything went to shit.
Sometimes, Nick Fury is a good man to work for--fair, understanding, a brilliant leader who Phil can't help but admire. Today is not one of those days. Today, Fury looms over Phil while Dr. Johnson cowers in the corner next to the bedpans, demanding to know when Phil was compromised and just who did the compromising.
"You can't be taking this seriously, Director," Phil says. "I reported to Medical because I've been nauseated and fatigued for the past week. Clearly, Tony Stark heard I was under the weather and orchestrated this little practical joke."
Fury shakes Dr. Johnson's printout in Phil's face. "This is not a joke, Agent. My senior handler is currently incubating a potentially hostile or alien life form--"
"It's human," Dr. Johnson pipes up from behind the relative safety of a jar of tongue dispensers. "The fetus is human."
Fury continues like Dr. Johnson hasn't even spoken. "--and I need to know how and when it happened. Is there anything you want to tell me now, Agent Coulson?"
"No, sir," Phil says, and there isn't. He's experienced nothing that would render him capable of bearing a child.
"Have you blacked out recently? Do you have any missing time?"
"No, sir," Phil says and ruthlessly quells the quaver in his voice. If this is real, if this is really happening, he's not prepared to break down in a S.H.I.E.L.D. infirmary room while Nick Fury watches. "If this isn't a joke, then how in the hell could I possibly be pregnant?" Normally, Phil would never use profanity in front of the director, but he thinks a little off-color language is more than excusable given the circumstances.
"I'd like the answer to that question myself," Fury says and turns the laser-like focus of that solitary eye onto Dr. Johnson. "How is my male agent pregnant with a human baby?"
"I don't know," Dr. Johnson says, cringing as the muscles in Fury's jaw jump. "The baby is growing in what appears to be a fully functioning uterus. Agent Coulson's hormone levels are similar to those of a pregnant woman's and other small changes in his body chemistry are analogous as well. I can find no puncture or suture wounds on his body, no site through which an embryo could have been placed inside him. The only unusual thing about this pregnancy--" Phil gives Dr. Johnson the look that has caused more than one junior agent to literally piss himself, and the doctor swallows audibly before continuing. "--is a very slight energy signature surrounding the fetus."
A feeling of cold dread snakes up Phil's spine. "What sort of energy?"
"It's reminiscent of the Tesseract."
And suddenly Phil remembers Loki's spear sliding into his chest, his lungs filling with blood, and in the moment before he lost consciousness, a shock of something primal and overwhelming washing over him. In that instant when he was the closest he's ever been to dying, Phil felt more alive than he ever had before.
"Loki," Fury says.
"Loki," Phil says, and then no one says anything for awhile.
Dr. Johnson eventually says, "He must have impregnated you with his spear."
Phil and Fury both turn incredulous looks on Dr. Johnson who once again retreats to the safety of his bedpans.
Phil knows what happened now, and he's pretty sure he likes it even less than the idea of Loki's spear knocking him up. "Loki stabbed me more than six months ago, and every medical exam I've had since then has been completely normal. He didn't make me pregnant, but he did something to me with that spear that made pregnancy possible."
Fury raises an eyebrow. "And have you been engaging in activities that would make pregnancy possible, Agent?"
"Yes, sir," Phil says.
"Don't make me drag this out of you, Agent Coulson," Fury says. "With whom?"
"Frankly, sir, none of your business."
"Oh, no, you don't," Fury says, leaning forward and planting his hands on the wall behind Coulson's head, his coat whirling around his legs. "You don't get to pull this baby agent shit on me, Coulson. You're going to tell me who you've been sleeping with, and you're going to tell me right now."
"No, sir, I'm not," Phil says. "The other parent is a normal human who poses no danger to S.H.I.E.L.D. or anyone else. I'm willing to hand in my resignation immediately, but I will not divulge that information. I'm also not willing to terminate the pregnancy."
Fury stares him down like he thinks Phil can be intimidated by a threatening glare, but he knows better than most that Phil's control is rock solid. He sighs. "I don't want your resignation, Agent. You're the best man I have, and you know it. I'm pulling you off field duty and confining you to Headquarters. Expect to be poked and prodded for the foreseeable future."
Phil nods. He thought as much. "I would like to keep this information confidential and between the three of us for as long as possible," he says.
"Understood." Fury stops with his hand on the doorknob. "You owe me, though, Agent. The betting pool would have a field day with this one. My money's always been on secret lover."
Phil snorts and pinches the bridge of his nose, hard. He knows about the betting pool just like he knows about everything that goes on inside Headquarters, and until a little more than a month ago, Fury would have been dead wrong. Phil hasn't dated anyone in years. He hasn't had the time or the inclination. Watching other people nearly die and actually die and nearly dying himself over and over again hasn't really cultivated an interest in romance.
Until six weeks ago in a safe house in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, when Phil found himself pinned underneath Clint Barton, his hands fisted in the sheets and Clint biting into his shoulder, sharp and perfect.
Oh, yeah. Phil knows exactly how he got pregnant. He just hopes Clint never finds out.
"Why are we here again?" Clint says, absently tapping his bow against the darkened windows of the SUV.
Phil suppresses a smile. Clint knows why they're here; Phil would stake his life on Clint having memorized the mission specs down to the paragraph numbers within four hours of the initial briefing. Phil thinks Clint just likes to hear him talk.
"We're here because Camp Shelby is the largest National Guard base in the United States, and HYDRA appears to have been nosing around their experimental weapons division. Quit tapping."
Clint rolls his eyes, but the tapping stops.
Phil hasn't seen this much green in a long time--miles and miles of forest on either side of the highway, the median thick with pines and live oaks. Phil loves New York, and he loves D.C., but there's something about turtles on the side of the road and flocks of birds wheeling across the horizon like billowing smoke that calls to him. He thinks Clint feels it, too. Clint sits loose-limbed in the passenger seat, his legs stretched out into the footwell beside his quiver. He's got a little smile on his face, and he looks relaxed in a way that Phil hasn't seen him since Loki commandeered his mind.
Phil turns on a dirt road off Highway 49 just south of McLaurin. S.H.I.E.L.D. has maintained a safe house in the area ever since German prisoners of war were interned at Camp Shelby during the second World War. More than one HYDRA operative found himself in U.S. custody on American soil, and more than one escaped into the countryside before S.H.I.E.L.D. established a quiet presence nearby.
Phil sets up a command center on a beautiful mahogany dinner table, its patina rich and deep with many years of use, while Clint walks the perimeter of the two acre yard, checking that cameras and motion sensors are still in working order. After Phil sweeps the house for bugs, they both tap into the surveillance in place on the base. Phil is hoping they can resolve this mission quickly and cleanly. Intel suggests that the HYDRA cell contains only a single agent; if so, Clint should be able to neutralize the threat with one hand tied behind his back.
Naturally, the op goes pear-shaped almost immediately.
Phil wakes up bound to exposed metal piping in some sort of storage room with what tastes like somebody's dirty sock stuffed in his mouth. A mental catalogue of his injuries reveals a mild concussion, bruised ribs, and a pretty nasty gash on his shin--in other words, par for the course. Clint isn't anywhere in sight; Phil hopes that means he's still free. He gets his answer thirty minutes later when an explosion splinters the square of glass in the door to his makeshift cell.
Clint wrenches open the door to the storage room, back lit by fire and smoke. There's an expression on his face that Phil has never seen before; he looks utterly wrecked and totally furious. "They told me you were dead," Clint says. "They showed me footage of you dead." Clint stops looking quite so much like an avenging angel and sags against the doorjamb. "I thought you were dead," he says in a very small voice.
Phil looks down at the sock in his mouth and back up at Clint. He raises an eyebrow.
Clint says, "Shit. Sorry," and yanks the gag out of Phil's mouth.
"I'm not dead," Phil says.
"This time," Clint says darkly and cuts through the cords binding Phil's limbs.
Half the base is on fire. Washington is not going to like this one at all. Additional S.H.I.E.L.D agents are already on the ground, and Phil sees a flash of Natasha's red hair. He stops worrying about the op and starts worrying about Clint. He's behaving strangely, and the instincts that helped Phil become the S.H.I.E.L.D. handler with the best track record for completing missions with his agents intact screams that something is terribly wrong. Phil's head is killing him, and all he wants to do is curl up in a bed for about seven years, but that's not an option right now.
"Agent Barton," he says, and Clint snaps to, shrugging off whatever is bothering him immediately. "Are you good?"
"Super double plus un," Clint says, the code they've worked out over the years for I'm pretty much freaking out, but I will finish this mission, damn it.
"Let's get to it," Phil says, and the cleanup starts.
Back at the safe house, after Phil has once again swept for bugs, he pours the two of them healthy slugs of whiskey (the only item he found in the cabinets besides a set of chipped mugs and a stack of styrofoam plates).
"What was that today?" Phil says.
Clint throws his head back and empties his glass in one gulp, his throat working as he swallows. He drags a thumb across his bottom lip and says, "That was me thinking you were dead. Again."
"Clint," Phil says. "Clint, look at me."
Clint looks up at Phil, and his eyes are dark and heavy with some emotion Phil doesn't recognize. Suddenly the air is laden with tension, electric and edging on uncomfortable. "You died once already, Phil, and tonight it occurred to me that the second time might really be the charm."
"I never died. Director Fury allowed you all to believe I was dead, but I never died. Not then and not tonight." Phil reaches down the couch and grabs Clint's forearm, the same comforting gesture he uses when Clint is confined to a bed in the infirmary or when they're both terrified because Natasha has missed check-in. This time Clint does something he's never done before. He reaches right back with his other hand and grabs Phil's shoulder, leaning in until Phil can feel Clint's breath on his cheek.
"Fury is an asshole," Clint says, and then he kisses Phil.
The kiss is desperate; Clint's grip on Phil's shoulder hurts, and their teeth clack together painfully, and Phil has never wanted to keep doing something so badly in his life. But he can't kiss Clint. He can't want Clint. Phil long ago exorcised the part of himself that could so easily imagine waking up in the morning curled around Clint's back or with Natasha's head pillowed on his chest. Agents and their handlers commonly experience sexual attraction for each other; spending so much time in each other's pockets, watching each other's backs constantly, the adrenaline rush of danger followed by rescue--all these combine to generate the perfect storm of sexual tension. The cardinal rule of Handling 101 is don't fuck your agents. It puts the handler at risk. It puts the agent at risk. It puts the mission at risk. It puts S.H.I.E.L.D. at risk. And so Phil has stamped out every tendril of desire he's ever felt for Clint or any of his charges.
He pulls back, but Clint won't let him go. "Just this once," Clint says. "Just this one time." His pupils are blown wide, his mouth wet and swollen. "Please," Clint says, and Phil stops thinking about all the reasons why they can't do this.
He lets Clint lead him to one of the bedrooms, Clint's greedy mouth on his neck, his jaw. Phil knows what Clint looks like without his clothes on. They've seen each other naked many times. But this time is different. This time Phil lets himself look, really look, at Clint--at the sweet curve of his ass, the frets of his ribs, the hollows of his hips. This time Phil lets himself look, and he wants.
Clint fucks Phil like this is the only sex he'll ever have again and he'll have only this memory to carry him through the rest of his life. He trails open-mouthed kisses down Phil's spine for what feels like hours, and when he finally slides into Phil, Phil can't help the strangled noise of pleasure he makes. He feels Clint laugh, so Phil clenches down and rocks back onto Clint's cock. Phil's proud of the resulting hitch in Clint's breath, the bruises Clint is surely leaving on Phil's hips.
When Phil comes, his orgasm washes over him like an electric shock, an explosion of pleasure that starts deep in Phil's belly and ripples through the rest of him. Clint comes not long after, and when Phil falls asleep, Clint's leg is thrown over Phil's, his arm tucked around Phil's waist.
Phil wakes with a splitting headache. The bed beside him is empty. Clint is standing at the foot of the bed, completely dressed and holding a cup of steaming coffee. He hands the coffee over to Phil carefully like he doesn't want their fingers to touch.
"This was a mistake," Clint says. "We shouldn't have done this." And then he walks out and closes the door behind him.
They don't speak on the drive to the airport. In fact, they don't speak again until they're debriefing Fury, but all Clint says to Phil is yes sir and no sir. Phil spends a great deal of time alone after that teaching himself to remember how not to care.
"What happened in Hattiesburg?" Natasha says, climbing into the passenger seat of Phil's Prius and closing the door behind her.
Phil says, "You were there, Agent Romanov. I fail to understand the question."
"Don't Agent Romanov me," she says. "You know what I'm talking about, Phil. What happened between you and Clint?"
Phil fiddles with the placement of the side mirrors until he can be certain his features are composed, blank. Then he forces himself to look Natasha full in the face. "Nothing of consequence," he says. He's surprised at the intensity of the hurt those words make him feel.
"Bullshit," Natasha says, glaring at him. "Clint is angrier and more withdrawn than I've ever seen him. You live in your office. The two of you don't speak beyond what's strictly necessary." She plants her feet on the dash, draws her knees up to her chest, and clasps her arms around them. "You and Clint, you're the only two people I trust completely. You're my handler, and he's my partner, but you're also my friends. Sometimes I think you're the only people who know the real me, and every day, I'm grateful that you can truly know me and still call me friend. So I need to know, Phil, what happened between you and Clint in Hattiesburg?"
"I . . ." Phil's voice falters. He clears his throat and tries again. "I appreciate your concern, Natasha. I do."
She rests her chin on top of one knee. "But you're not going to tell me what's going on."
Screw it, Phil thinks. She's right. I've only ever trusted two people completely myself, and Natasha is one of them. She deserves to know.
"Agent Sitwell, Ontario," Phil says and watches Natasha's jaw drop as she realizes what he means.
Then her jaw clenches tightly again. "And you just walked away from that." Natasha shakes her head. "Clint's devastated, Phil. I don't care if you did break regs. You owe him more than--"
"I didn't do the walking away," Phil interrupts. He knows why Natasha jumped to that conclusion, and maybe he would have done exactly what she suggests if Clint had given him the chance. But Clint didn't. He walked away while Phil was still sitting naked in the bed where they'd just made love, a sheet tucked around his waist and a cup of coffee clutched in suddenly nerveless fingers. Natasha's accusation sparks a slow burn of anger in Phil's gut that he desperately tries to ignore.
And then Natasha reaches for him and puts his head on her chest and wraps her arms around him, and Phil can't be angry anymore. He's too busy trying not to cry all over her uniform. "What are you going to do?" Natasha says, her hand rubbing slow circles on Phil's back.
"Nothing," Phil says. "Clint was right. It was a mistake. I knew we shouldn't, and I did it anyway, and now I've lost his friendship."
Natasha doesn't say anything. She just keeps rubbing circles on his back until Phil's breath stops hitching in his chest. Then she orders him out of the driver's seat and drives him back to his apartment. They eat takeout and watch bug movies on SyFy, and for at least three hours, Phil is able to forget about Clint and the look on his face when he closed the safe house door behind him.
"Phil?" Dr. Johnson says, crouching down in front of him and resting a hand on Phil's shoulder. "We need to talk about vitamins and diet and allowable medications and all the other precautions you should be taking."
Phil lifts his head from his hands and wills himself calm and composed. "Of course, doctor."
Phil leaves the infirmary with his head spinning. He can't take scalding showers or eat deli meat or bean sprouts or take Pepcid anymore. He had no idea that pregnant women's lives were so heavily regulated, and on top of his confinement to Headquarters, these restrictions feel doubly invasive.
That's what you get for saying you want to keep it, Phil thinks viciously, his hands curling into fists at his side.
Phil does want to keep the baby however angry and confused he might be at the moment. In this line of work, Phil has witnessed more than his share of truly depraved acts, of suffering, of destruction, of cruelty. He has seen the worst that people can do to one another more times than is healthy for him to often recall. But Phil has also seen humanity at its finest--ordinary citizens who risk their lives to save strangers, communities who come together in the aftermath of tragedies to rebuild, the man or woman who stands alone in the face of great evil and says, "No. This stops here with me." All children hold the promise of such courage. Although Phil believes strongly in reproductive rights, he can't bring himself to extinguish the potential of the child of growing inside him. He knows that isn't the only motivating factor, but he's not ready to delve that deeply into his psyche yet. Instead, Phil stomps down the corridor, junior agents flattening themselves against the walls as he passes by, and doesn't allow himself to think about holding a baby with Clint's eyes, Clint's nose, a thatch of Clint's brown hair.
@ @ @
"Agent Barton dropped down from the air ducts this morning and nearly gave me a heart attack," Dr. Johnson says a few days later during Phil's checkup.
Phil says, "He does that," and hands over his urine sample.
"Well, I wish he wouldn't. I almost destroyed a very sensitive specimen, and I definitely screamed. In a most manly fashion."
"I bet," Phil says.
Phil knows Clint didn't find any clues to his condition in the infirmary or when he broke into Phil's quarters and office--Phil had eliminated any evidence immediately--but Phil also knows Clint and Natasha both are starting to get frustrated with Phil's excuses, his obvious deflections.
Dr. Banner is waiting in Phil's office when he arrives.
"Hey," Dr. Banner says, scrubbing a hand over the back of his neck and smiling halfway at Phil, halfway at the floor.
"Dr. Banner," Phil says. "What can I do for you today?" He gestures toward the couch along the back wall, and they both sit.
Dr. Banner says, "Call me Bruce," and then he doesn't say anything at all for nearly sixty seconds. Just before Phil can ask another leading question, Bruce says, "So, Clint thinks you're dying of leukemia or something, and he's driving the rest of us batshit insane. Natasha keeps picking her teeth with a dagger, and I don't know how much more of this we can take." Bruce leans forward, an alarmed expression suddenly on his face. "You're not dying, are you?"
Phil blinks. "No."
Bruce relaxes. "Good." He picks at a loose thread on the hem of his t-shirt. "I should warn you that Tony is trying to develop some kind of cancer eradicating arc reactor technology. Don't let him corner you in his labs or, you know, poke you with anything."
"I assure you, Bruce, allowing Tony Stark to poke me is the furthest thing from my mind right now."
Bruce laughs and shuffles out of Phil's office while Phil tries his best not to look utterly panic stricken.
Phil has to do something. Fury wouldn't be above letting the cat out of the bag if Clint and Natasha got truly out of line. The situation must be dealt with sooner rather than later, and Phil's not ready to come clean. Not yet. Maybe not ever. He grabs a random stack of papers from the top of his desk and heads to the director's office.
"I would like to request a new assignment, sir," Phil says the second the door closes behind him.
Fury just looks at him, elbows planted on his massive desk, hands steepled in front of him.
"As a single parent, my role at S.H.I.E.L.D. will need to change as time progresses. I would like to request a new assignment, one designed to transition me to inactive status."
"You're quitting, Agent Coulson?"
Phil takes a deep breath and clutches the stack of papers to his chest. "I think I am."
“The two of you are being reassigned to Agent Santiago.”
“What? Why?” Natasha says. Clint sets his mouth in a grim line and starts pacing the perimeter of Phil’s office—the tiny, tiny perimeter of Phil’s office.
“Because I am also being reassigned, a long term undercover op, and I won’t be able to fulfill my duties as your handler.”
Natasha says, “Since when do you work long term undercover ops?” She glances between Clint and Phil every few seconds like she expects one of them to start throwing punches. Clint keeps pacing.
Phil grits his teeth and ignores them both as best he can. “I’ll be leaving in a few days, and I wanted to make sure I fully debrief you before the handover. I’ve prepared a spec sheet on Agent Santiago’s handling style that should ease the transition between us. If you have any concerns about—”
“This is ridiculous,” Natasha interrupts. She grabs Clint by the forearm and yanks him back down into his chair. “You don’t need to leave. You and Clint need to sit down and talk about what happened so you can figure out how to work together again.”
“Grow up, Natasha,” Phil snaps. “I’m an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. I go where they send me, same as the two of you.” Phil sees a brief flash of hurt in her eyes before the mask descends once more. “As for Agent Barton, I feel nothing but the highest regard for him, and I’m sure he feels the same for me.”
Clint rolls his eyes. Somehow, inexplicably, Phil has missed seeing that annoying habit lately. “Agent Coulson,” he says. “Phil. Natasha’s right. I never wanted things to be this way between us, and I don’t want you to leave.”
Phil almost breaks down then and there. He’s wanted to hear Clint say those words for so long now that he almost can’t believe what he’s hearing.
“I don’t want Agent ‘We Decided to Start a Family’ Santiago to handle our team,” Clint continues. “The woman is clearly not fit for duty. People like us don’t get to have families. It’s irresponsible and dangerous, and if she has that little regard for her own blood, she’s sure as hell not going to have my back or Nat’s. I want you to stay.”
Every little bit of hope that had just blossomed in Phil’s chest withers away. Clint doesn’t want a baby. He doesn’t want a family. He doesn’t even want Phil. Not really. Not in the way Phil is starting to wish he would, even if he can only admit it to himself in the middle of the night with his eyes squeezed tightly shut. And Clint’s not wrong about families either. Children and spouses are targets. They too often end up in the line of fire. They too often end up dead. This is why Phil is leaving S.H.I.E.L.D. , or one of the reasons anyway.
Phil suspects that he’s not thinking entirely rationally, but he doesn’t want to tie Clint down to anything he doesn’t want. He doesn’t want to make Clint responsible for him or their child if he doesn’t want to be. Phil doesn’t want to be anyone’s duty, and he didn’t realize Clint felt quite so strongly about the dangers of agents having children, and if he could, Phil would spend the next few hours screaming into a couch cushion and throwing case files around the room. But he can’t.
“Thank you,” Phil says to Clint instead, and he means it. Even if everything else is completely screwed, Clint doesn’t want him to go, and that counts for something. “I don’t want to go,” Phil says, and he means that, too. “I have orders. I have to go,” Phil says, and he means that most of all.
@ @ @
“I’ve never been in the field before,” Dr. Johnson says. He’s grinning from ear to ear and bouncing on the balls of his feet.
“You’re not in the field now, Dr. Johnson,” Phil says. “You’re a glorified midwife.”
Dr. Johnson’s smile doesn’t dim a watt. “We’ve worked together for seven years, Phil. How about you call me Ian? It’s good policy to be on a first name basis with your midwife.”
“Fine,” Phil says grumpily. “Ian it is.”
S.H.I.E.L.D. has set the two of them up in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin. The cabin is outfitted with everything Ian might need to care for Phil during his pregnancy and with the technology that will allow Phil to remotely consult for the agency. Ian has taken a position at a women’s clinic 45 miles from their home base. “Got to keep those skills current,” he says and winks at Phil.
Phil has plenty of work to do. He isn’t bored exactly, but he hadn’t realized how many people he interacted with on a daily basis until that number reduced to one. He finds himself talking to his still flat stomach during the day so he doesn’t feel quite so alone.
“You’re the size of a kidney bean,” Phil says to his lap. “A really weird looking kidney bean.” He forces himself to put down What to Expect When You’re Expecting (a parting gift from Fury) before he scares himself with the chapter that should be called “Everything That Can Ever Go Bad Wrong Ever and More.” Then he spends some time on his knees in the bathroom throwing up because he drank his orange juice on an empty stomach. At least orange juice tastes pretty much the same coming back up as it does going down. “Feel free to stop making me sick any time now,” Phil says.
When Ian comes in from the night shift, he finds Phil with his head pillowed on the toilet seat, a wet washcloth draped across his forehead. “Come on, you,” Ian says. “I brought you a present.”
Ian pulls a bag of lemons, a six pack of ginger ale and a box of peppermint tea from their canvas shopping bag and sets them on the table. He says, “These are your new friends. Keep a sandwich bag of cut up lemons on you at all times. If something smells bad to you and turns your stomach, sniff the lemons. If you feel nauseated, suck on one. Ginger and mint also relieve nausea.”
“Thanks,” Phil says and sticks a lemon wedge in his mouth.
Ian sits down next to him at the table. He looks tired. “You really think they won’t come looking for you?” he says.
“Undercover ops don’t last forever, Phil.”
“At least you have people who give a shit,” Ian says. Phil takes the lemon wedge out of his mouth in surprise. Ian doesn’t usually curse. “I treated a woman last night who has no family and no friends. Nobody to help her deal with her illness. She makes pretty decent money, and she has a house to live in and food to eat, and nobody to help her down the stairs. Nobody to cook for her when she’s too weak to do it herself. Nobody to live for.” Ian leans back in his chair and closes his eyes. “This is one of those times when being a doctor really sucks.”
Phil reaches out and grabs Ian’s forearm, squeezes hard.
Ian pats the top of Phil’s hand and tries to smile. “You’ve got some time yet, Phil, but the Avengers will be ringing the doorbell sooner rather than later, and I’m thinking you probably ought to lean on the side of grateful when they get here.”
Phil doesn’t say anything in response. He stuffs a fresh lemon wedge in his mouth and tries to convince himself that he can stay hidden here forever, that no one will come looking, and that he’ll never have to explain to anyone why he looks like he’s swallowed a basketball or where his kid came from. Nausea spikes again, and Phil hauls himself into the bathroom once more. “Yeah,” Phil says into the toilet bowl, one hand flat on his belly. “Didn’t think you were buying that either.”
Chapter by Lorraine
Meanwhile, a brief (seriously brief) visit to Avengers Tower . . .
"We have to find him," Clint says.
"He's on a mission," Steve says. "We shouldn't do anything to compromise his cover."
"You don't understand!" Clint yells and then takes a deep breath and visibly tries to calm himself down. "You don't understand. Phil is sick for a week solid. Then he stays in Headquarters for another week, doesn't step foot off base even once while Doc Johnson draws his blood every five minutes and makes him pee in cups. But Phil insists he isn't sick. Now he's gone on some long term undercover op that no one knows anything about, and Doc Johnson's gone with him." Clint leans back against the wall like it's the only thing holding him up. "I thought he left because of . . . something else, but now I think he must really be sick, maybe even dying."
Steve makes a sympathetic face, but he doesn't look convinced. "Almost everybody at S.H.I.E.L.D. is an agent, Clint. Agents go on missions. It's probably just a coincidence."
"Johnson doesn't go on missions. Ever. Not even once," Clint says.
Steve nods and claps Clint on the back. "I think you're reaching, but I trust you, and I trust your judgement. If you think Phil's in trouble, then I promise you, we'll do everything we can to find him."
Pepper has a clear view of the two of them from her seat at the kitchen table, but she keeps her eyes on her tablet and the vague shapes of Clint and Steve in her peripheral vision. They both know she's eating a late lunch in the next room over, but they clearly don't think she's listening to their conversation. They would be wrong.
@ @ @
"JARVIS?" Pepper whispers with the bathroom door locked and the water running full throttle in the sink.
"How may I help you, Ms. Potts?"
"I need to find Phil Coulson, and I need to find him first."
When Phil finally hears the knock that he's been dreading for two months now, the person waiting on the front porch isn't who he expected at all.
"Pepper?" Phil says.
Pepper says, "Hey, Phil," and pulls him into a hug. For a moment, Phil is almost embarrassed because he knows she can feel the weight he's put on, the slight bulge of a pelvis that was never designed to accommodate a child, and then he just relaxes and lets himself find comfort in the familiar smell of her perfume. He's missed Pepper more than he realized.
"Can I come in?" she says.
What to Expect When You're Expecting is out on the dining room table, Phil's ever-present baggie of lemons is poking out of the front pocket of his flannel button down, and a half-assembled crib is spread out on the living room floor. Pepper surveys the room, eyes Phil's waistband and says, "I think I need to sit down."
Phil laughs, and it feels really, really good. He's not ready to see everyone again yet, but he's ready to admit that cutting himself off from all his friends was probably not the best coping strategy.
Pepper slowly sinks onto the couch. "I don't know what to say, Phil. I had speeches memorized for several different scenarios, none of which included you hiding out on the Canadian border because you're pregnant." She puts her hand over her mouth. "I can't believe I just said that."
"Join the club," Phil says. He sits down at the other end of the couch and starts fishing for information about Clint. "How is everyone else? I've read the reports, but you know how dry those are."
"Clint has convinced everyone you're terminally ill and that you left in a misguided attempt to spare us all the pain of watching you deteriorate. Tony and Bruce have actually succeeded in developing a drug therapy that significantly reduces the mortality rate of certain cancers in clinical trials with rats, and Thor proposed to Jane." Pepper snags a pillow and hugs it to her chest. "Honestly, Phil, it's been a horrible couple of months outside of wedding planning. Clint walks around like a ghost. I don't think he's eating like he should. Natasha spends hours in the gym daring Steve to beat her senseless, and Tony is manic, just manic. I haven't seen him like this in a long time."
"I'm sorry," Phil says.
"Don't say you're sorry. Tell me how this happened. Tell me what I can do to help."
@ @ @
"You, sir, are an idiot," Pepper says and punches Phil lightly in the arm. "What were you thinking trying to do this all by yourself?"
"Ian is here," Phil says weakly, and Pepper glares at him.
"I'm sure Ian is a fine man, but he isn't us. Every single person living in that tower would bend over backwards to help you, Phil."
"Clint doesn't want me, Pepper." The words sound just as awful in Phil's ears as they did the first time he said them aloud to himself. "He doesn't want me, and I'm not going to use a baby he had no intention of making to force his hand."
Pepper sighs. "For someone who doesn't want you, he's doing an awfully good impression of a widower right now."
"I don't know, Pepper. I wish I'd never slept with him. I wish I'd never let myself fall in love with him." Phil is very proud of the way his voice does not tremble when he says that. "I miss my friend, and I don't know how to get him back."
Pepper takes his hand in hers. "You have to talk to Clint. You have to tell him the truth and let him decide whether he wants to be involved in his child's life. You can't just assume here. It's not fair to Clint, it's not fair to you, and it's not fair to the baby."
Phil can feel hot tears welling up behind his eyes, and he desperately hopes he doesn't start bawling. Pepper squeezes his hand. "Will you come home with me?" Phil nods; he doesn't trust himself to speak.
A key scrapes in the lock, and Ian kicks open the door, his arms full of grocery bags. "Oh," he says when he sees Pepper on the couch holding Phil's hand. "One of you finally came. Good. I was about to get blatant with the clue dropping."
"That was you?" Pepper asks, and Ian nods. "I didn't think Phil would be so sloppy," she says.
"You little sneak," Phil says and can't help a watery smile.
Ian says, "You know you love me. Now get your pregnant ass off the couch, sir. We can have this place packed up in less than an hour if we hurry."
Chapter by Lorraine
"This changes everything," Clint says.
When they land on the roof of Avengers Tower, the only person waiting to greet them is Clint. Phil suspects he has Pepper to thank for that. Clint's hands are shoved in his pockets down past the wrists, and he mostly stares at his sneakers until Pepper and Ian excuse themselves. "I'll be up if you need me later," Pepper whispers in Phil's ear and squeezes his shoulder as she passes.
"So," Clint says.
"So," Phil says.
The skyline still looks as if acid has blurred its edges, as if water and wind has worn parts of it away over many years. Phil can see apartment windows covered with sheets of plastic and rubble piled on rooftops. Clean-up is taking a very, very long time, but the city has pulled together in the wake of the disaster, and Manhattan gradually rebuilds. Even now, a team of workers scrubs scorch marks off the facade of a high rise opposite the Tower.
"I have to tell you something," Phil says, "and I don't think you're going to like it."
Clint takes a deep breath and braces himself visibly. "Okay."
Phil says, "Loki did something to me, changed me somehow when he stabbed me." Clint's expression turns even more alarmed, and Phil rushes to reassure him. "I'm not hurt or sick or dying. I promise." Phil struggles for a minute with the right words and decides to hell with it. "I'm pregnant, and the baby is yours."
To his credit, Clint doesn't laugh or scream or accuse Phil of lying or do any of the things that a man in his circumstances might reasonably be expected to do. "This changes everything," Clint says.
Neither of them say anything for the length of time it takes the workers to scrub clean a good four foot by four foot expanse of concrete. "You're keeping the baby," Clint says.
It isn't a question, but Phil answers anyway. "Yes. I'm keeping the baby."
"What do you want from me?" Clint says.
Phil closes his eyes briefly. Back in Wisconsin, curled around a pillow in the dark and counting down the hours of the early morning until he could get out of bed without Ian yelling at him, Phil had thought that Clint couldn't do anything to hurt him any more than he already hurts, but he was wrong. "Nothing," Phil says. "I expect nothing from you." Phil feels a bit like he's drifted outside his body--like he's watching this entire scene play out from somewhere overhead--and a whole lot like his life is happening around him with very little of his own input.
"Jesus," Clint says and bends at the waist, bracing his hands on his knees for a moment before straightening up. "Jesus. I don't know what to say, Phil. What do you want me to say?"
"I'm not your handler anymore, Clint. You have to come up with your own lines now."
Clint laughs. It sounds ugly and raw before the wind whips it away. "I'm going to need some time then." He stuffs his hands back in his pockets and is gone before Phil can even open his mouth to speak.
Phil sits down heavily in an aluminum and lucite deck chair that probably costs more than his car. He wants to wallow in self-pity. He wants to sit in Tony Stark's ridiculously expensive chair and bawl his eyes out. He wants to find Pepper and cry on her blouse and fall asleep while she pets what's left of his hair and tells him everything will work out just fine, he'll see. But Phil does none of those things.
Instead, he stands up. He walks into the Tower and across an empty room, climbs inside the elevator, and pushes the button for the guest floor. He leaves the elevator. He walks down the hallway to his room. He opens the door, walks inside, and closes it behind him. Phil does these things and tries not to think about Clint walking away from him. Again.
@ @ @
That night Phil dreams. He's dreamed every night since the first few weeks of his pregnancy--vivid and visceral dreams that he can't shake for hours after he wakes. In the dream, he and Clint are playing tag. Clint throws a coy look over his shoulder, jogs backward while grinning at Phil, that beautiful and unguarded grin that so few are privileged to see. Phil chases; how can he not? Phil gets close enough for the fabric of Clint's t-shirt to slip through his fingers but not close enough to touch skin, not close enough to grab and hold on tight. Clint stays a half-step ahead of Phil, always; eventually he stops looking behind him, his arms pumping furiously, his legs a blur as he runs and runs and runs.
@ @ @
Phil doesn't want to join the Avengers for breakfast, but he doesn't really want to hide either. He's done nothing wrong. Fortunately, the only person at the breakfast table at 6:00 in the morning on a Saturday is Bruce.
"Good morning," Phil says.
Bruce says, "Morning," and pointedly does not look anywhere near Phil's midsection.
"I guess that answers that question," Phil says and pours himself a bowl of cereal, refusing the milk when Bruce offers the jug to him.
Bruce blushes. "I overheard Clint and Natasha arguing late last night. They were pretty loud."
Phil assumes the entire Tower knows then. In some ways, this makes things much easier. He doesn't have to tell everyone individually at least.
Bruce clearly wants to ask Phil a dozen questions about the pregnancy and his relationship (or lack thereof) with Clint, but he doesn't. He tells Phil a handful of quiet stories, little things that have happened in the months since Phil left, small moments that in the telling make Phil realize he's back where he needs to be regardless of what happens with Clint, a kindness that leaves him certain he's come home.
I promise that this will end happily and that Clint is not the jerk this chapter makes him out to be. *crosses heart*
"I want to show you something," Tony says, taking Phil by the elbow and leading him down to the lab.
Bruce and Ian are already there huddled around a projection of what looks like a segment of DNA. Bruce points at something in the projection, and Ian laughs. "That's genius, Bruce, genius! When will the treatment be ready for human trials?"
"Before the end of the year," Bruce says and pinches the projection closed between two fingers.
"We're calling it A.G.E.N.T.," Tony says.
Phil says, "Excuse me?"
"Advanced Genetic Extra-Neural Treatment. I figured your name ought to go on the label at least. But that's not what I wanted to show you." Tony clears off a work table and pats it once, twice. "Sit here."
Phil sits. He knows better than to try to argue with Tony Stark, and Ian doesn't seem concerned, so Tony can't be planning anything too objectionable.
"Let's take a look at Agent Junior," Tony says.
"Ian did numerous ultrasounds while we were up north," Phil says. "I've already seen the baby."
"Not like this you haven't." Tony smirks and puts some sort of device on the swell of Phil's belly. The empty air over their heads suddenly fills with cool, blue light that slowly shapes itself into the three dimensional form of a baby. Tony runs a hand through the image, and it enlarges. Phil can count the eyelashes on his baby's tightly closed eyelids, the perfectly formed little fingernails and toenails. Phil can hardly breathe, and he doesn't even try to stop the tears that run down his cheeks. Tony's lost the smirk and is staring up at the baby in wonder, the smile on his face real and genuine and sweet, the smile Phil has only seen him give Pepper before now.
"Do you want to know the sex of the baby?" Ian says, delight in his voice.
Phil nods. He doesn't trust himself to speak.
"It's a girl."
Phil hears a tiny noise just then. It could be the rustle of a paper, Bruce shifting his weight to the other foot, some tool that Tony shoved off the table and onto the floor settling into an uneasy pile. But it isn't. Phil doesn't look now, but he knows there's an air vent directly above this work station, and he knows who made that noise.
@ @ @
"I hear Natasha is a fabulous name for a baby girl," Natasha says and spoons another helping of green beans onto Phil's plate.
"I'm rather partial to Virginia myself," Pepper says.
"Let us not forget that Jane is a beautiful name," Thor says. He piles his plate full of roast chicken--two breasts, a thigh, and a leg; Phil wonders how much money Tony spends a month on food.
Tony says, "I think Antonia is lovely, don't you?" and spears an herbed potato off Pepper's plate.
"No," Pepper says and smacks Tony on the back of the hand with her fork. "Nobody thinks that."
Phil is hungry, blessedly hungry, and everything smells wonderful for once. He is surrounded by people who care about him and his daughter--Phil can't help smiling like a loon every time he thinks that word, daughter--and would do anything to protect them. And if there's an empty seat at the dinner table, Phil tries not to dwell on that absence overmuch.
Naturally, when he goes back to his room for the evening, Clint is sitting on Phil's couch with his head in his hands. He glances up when Phil closes the door, and the expression on his face almost frightens Phil. Clint looks devastated, hopeless, like despair eats away at him. Phil's first impulse is to cross the distance between them, clasp Clint's forearm, and squeeze tight, but then he remembers that he can't do that anymore and that he shouldn't want to anyway.
"You saw," Phil says.
"I saw," Clint says. He gestures for Phil to sit down beside him, and Phil sits at the farthest end of the couch, as far away as he can sit from Clint and still be sitting on the same piece of furniture. Phil places his hands carefully in his lap and waits for Clint to say whatever it is he thinks he needs to say. "I don't know how to be a dad, Phil. I don't know what a good father does, how he acts. I'm so fucked up, Phil. You know that. Nobody should let me within ten feet of a kid."
Phil sighs. "You're not your father, Clint. You're this baby's father, our baby's father." A muscle in Clint's jaw jumps when Phil says that last bit, and Phil is suddenly exhausted. "Look, Clint. You're fucked up. I'm fucked up. So is everybody else in this damn building. We're some fucked up people. But none of us would deliberately hurt a child, including you."
Clint snorts. "Yeah. It's not the deliberate harm I'm worried about."
"That's what parents do, Clint. Good parents make bad choices, and they hurt their kids feelings, and they make mistakes. It happens." Phil steels himself for the contact and then reaches out and grips Clint's arm. "I trust you with our daughter, Clint. If that's not good enough, I don't know what else to say."
"I guess it has to be," Clint says.
Phil wishes that Clint would ask to touch his stomach or ask Phil if the Coulsons have any family names for girls. He wishes Clint would cup his jaw and kiss him, wet and open-mouthed, his stubble a pleasant burn on Phil's jaw. He wishes Clint would hold him as he slept, his breath warm on the back of Phil's neck, his palm splayed wide over Phil's belly. Clint does none of those things. Instead he squeezes Phil's hand once and stands. "I never expected this to happen. I never thought I'd have a kid. But I promise to do the best I can, Phil. I want to do right by our daughter, and I need you to promise me that you won't let me fuck her up."
"I promise," Phil says.
@ @ @
After that, Clint stops avoiding Phil. He asks Phil how he's feeling and if he can do anything to help. He's clearly been reading up on pregnancy or possibly talking with Ian and Bruce because he throws around words like edema and sciatica and tosses Darcy's alfalfa sprouts like they could contaminate Phil's food from inside their plastic container. He's concerned and attentive and interested, and somehow Phil feels more alone now than he did when Clint was completely ignoring him.
Clint never touches Phil. He doesn't ask Phil to walk down to the Thai joint for lunch. He doesn't joke around, not with Phil anyway. Not anymore. In fact, he never talks with Phil about anything other than the baby. Phil finally realizes that parenting a child with Clint (who doesn't want him, who will never want him) will be much harder than parenting a child Clint has rejected on his own.
"What the hell are you doing?" Darcy says, ducking under Clint's arm and getting in a good jab to his ribs before backing to the edge of the mat. Clint approves; Darcy's combat training has progressed much more quickly than he and Natasha expected. He hopes Darcy never needs to know how to beat the shit out of a dude twice her size, but with the lives they lead, Clint's not holding his breath either.
Clint says, "Getting ready to kick your ass," and smirks.
"With Phil," Darcy says, her hands already up and protecting her face like she's ready for Clint to smack her just for saying Phil's name. "What the hell are you doing with Phil?"
"Darcy," Clint says. "I don't want to talk about this with you. Or anybody really but definitely not you."
"Oh, I get that. Reading the back the fuck off vibes loud and clear." She stomps over to the bench and picks up a bottle of water. "Too bad, Barton. You need to talk to somebody about this, and you're damn sure not talking to Natasha."
Clint holds up a hand. "I appreciate the concern. I do. I'm not just blowing you off here, but I'm not the sharing and caring type. Sorry."
"How about you just listen then?" Darcy takes a swig of water and screws the cap back on the bottle. Clint realizes she's frowning, that she looks pissed actually, with her eyes narrowed and her lips pressed tightly together. "You are fucking up big time, mister," she says. "Big time."
"Gee, thanks, Darce," Clint says, ignoring the little stab of hurt her words cause. "I had no idea my life is a royal cock-up right now. You should challenge Steve for his Captain Obvious crown."
Darcy steps into Clint's personal space, closer to him than he'd let most anyone else. "Phil is in love with you," she says.
The bottom falls out of Clint's stomach. "Phil told you he's in love with me?"
"No," Darcy says. "Not exactly. Not in so many words. Or, you know, in words at all. But still. It's obvious, Clint. Phil's in love with you, and you're pushing him away."
Clint tastes bile, hot and sick in the back of his throat, and for a second he's afraid he might puke all over the mat. He wonders if Darcy's the only one to jump to this conclusion, or if the rest of them sit around the dinner table and talk about Phil's nonexistent feelings. Jesus. "You're out of line, Lewis," Clint says. He leans into her, makes his expression flat and hard, turns his voice sharp and dangerous.
"No, I'm not," Darcy says and stands her ground. "I have excellent emotional intuition, and I can see how he feels whether you want to admit it or not."
"Enough!" Clint shouts. His voice bounces off the back wall, the wooden floors. "Phil doesn't love me! He's never loved me, and if he thinks he does now, he's confused or hormonal or something." Darcy tries to interrupt, but Clint talks over her, his voice rough and low. "Phil takes care of me, always has. That's his job. He keeps me sane and alive, and he always, always gives me what I need. Always."
Clint steps back, and Darcy lets him go. Part of Clint can't believe he's saying any of this out loud, and the rest of him is so relieved to finally hear the words outside his own head that he can't find the strength to give a shit that he's baring his soul to Darcy in Tony Stark's gym where anyone could walk by the open door and overhear.
"I wanted him so bad for so long, and then he died, and it was my fault." Clint's voice cracks, and he digs his nails into his palm hard enough to draw blood, clings to that bright bit of pain until he's in control again. "I got him back, Darcy. I got him back, and I was so fucking grateful, you know? Then in Mississippi, I thought Phil was dead, again, but he wasn't, again. I had wanted him for so long, and I finally got to have him, and it was perfect, fucking perfect." Clint takes a shuddery breath. He can't look at Darcy. "I needed him, Darcy. Do you understand that? I asked him, and he gave me what I needed, and it was fucking perfect."
Clint can't bring himself to tell Darcy the rest. He can't tell her he couldn't stand to hear Phil say that what they did was a mistake, couldn't stand knowing that Phil thought making love to him was wrong, that he never wanted it to happen again. Clint can't tell Darcy he said the words first so he doesn't have to carry around the memory of Phil being so understanding, so gentle, so goddamn perfect, even while breaking Clint's heart.
Clint is done talking about his feelings now. "This isn't the first pity fuck to turn into a baby, Darcy, and I'm pretty sure it won't be the last."
Darcy's eyes are huge in her face, tears welling up and threatening to spill down her cheeks. She opens her mouth to say something, but Clint has no intention of sticking around long enough to hear it. He leaves her standing there on the mat, her arms wrapped around herself, and closes the door behind him, the soft snick of the lock echoing like a gunshot in the silence.
Chapter by Lorraine
Potential pregnancy complications described in this chapter. See end chapter notes if you need more explanations about the outcome.
“I am, as of now, instituting a no rhinestones, tiaras, or butt-bows rule,” Darcy says, holding an elegant taupe-colored gown in front of herself, her Converse peeking out from under the hemline.
“Fine by me,” Jane says. “I’ll give you a million dollars if you can convince Thor to leave off the breastplate of righteousness for the ceremony.”
“Good luck with that one,” Darcy says and holds up another gown, this one navy blue and beaded at the neckline. Phil thinks the color looks fantastic on her.
“That one,” Phil says. “You should wear that one.”
Darcy throws the hanger over her shoulder and stretches the fabric across her hips, eying herself in the mirror. “I think you’re right,” she says. “And this is why we brought Agent Clotheshorse with us. For he knows all.”
Phil takes a bow, sort of. He’s wearing a trench coat the size of a tarp to hide the baby bump, and between the yards of fabric and the three or so pounds of little girl curled underneath his ribs, bending at the waist is nearly impossible. “I live to serve,” Phil says. “Now, I believe chocolate was promised, Dr. Foster.”
Jane laughs. Sometimes Phil has to remind himself this tiny woman with her hair in a messy ponytail and ink stains on her fingertips will one day be Queen of Asgard, a head of state of an intergalactic realm of unimaginable power. Jane is one of the most intelligent people Phil has ever met; she’s also deeply irreverent and prone to mischief and a total force to be reckoned with, especially with Darcy at her side. Phil doesn’t think the court of the Allfather is ready for Jane Foster.
Jane says, “Come on, Phil. Your chocolate fountain awaits.”
@ @ @
Phil settles back into the booth and clasps his hands on top of his belly. His sweet tooth has been satisfied, but Phil’s not ready to head back home just yet. He hasn’t been out of the tower in weeks, not since he stopped looking like a man gone soft around the middle and started looking like one with a life-threatening stomach growth. Avengers Tower is comfortable, luxurious even, but Phil has been feeling caged for quite some time. He’s glad to be sitting in a restaurant with friends instead of holed up in his apartment in front of the computer signing off on requisition forms for S.H.I.E.L.D.
“Phil,” Darcy says, “can I ask you a personal question?”
“Of course. I may not answer.”
Darcy nods and then fiddles with her silverware for awhile before she speaks. “You and Clint,” she says. “Were you, are you. . . ?” She stops and takes a deep breath. “Were you in a relationship?”
Jane says, “Darcy!” in a scandalized tone, but then she leans slightly forward, waiting for Phil’s answer, her bottom lip caught between her teeth.
Phil sighs. “No, we weren’t. We only slept together once.”
“You’re a total statistic,” Darcy says and then covers her mouth with her hand.
“Philip J. Coulson, the Cautionary Tale of the One Night Stand. That’s me.”
Jane giggles. “They could put your poster right next to the ‘Chlamydia Is Not a Flower’ brochure in the student clinic.”
“Focus, Jane,” Darcy says. “Is that what happened, Phil? A one night stand? Neither one of you seems much like the one night stand kinda guy.” Darcy looks at him intently, and Phil gets the impression this is the question she was originally trying to ask.
Phil says, “No. Not a one night stand.” He doesn’t know quite what to say, how to explain what happened with Clint, but he settles for something as close to the truth as he can manage. “I spent most of that mission tied up in a closet. Clint believed I was dead. I think you both know that mortal peril can lead to physical intimacy.”
Jane blushes all the way up to her hairline. It’s a good look on her.
“So that’s it?” Darcy says. “You guys spent the day killing helicopters with cars and coming back from the dead and ended the night with an adrenaline-fueled boner fest?”
Of course not, Phil wants to say. It was nothing so crass, so cheap. Nothing like the plot of a B action movie. Making love to Clint was something Phil never meant to happen, something he never knew he wanted so desperately until he was in that moment with Clint’s hands on his body. Phil wants to tell Darcy that he fell in love with Clint long before he slept with him but that he didn’t realize it until he woke up the next morning in a bed with sheets gone cold and a set of finger marks bruised into his hips. “I would use different words, but that seems to capture the general idea,” he says instead.
“Oh,” Darcy says. She seems disappointed by his response, but Phil can’t imagine why. “I wish Natasha was here,” she says, frowning.
Phil agrees. Natasha was called away on a mission (or volunteered for one, Phil isn’t sure which) two weeks ago. Not only does Phil miss her, he also hates the idea of her out there in the field without him or Clint to watch her back. Phil is still thinking about Natasha when three men walk into the dessert bar. Phil takes one look, pulls out his wallet, and leaves a handful of bills on the table without counting them. “Get up and walk very calmly to the door,” he says. “Now.”
Darcy and Jane follow his orders instantly. Darcy doesn’t question him, and Phil is thankful Natasha finally beat that habit out of her. “Do either of you have a weapon?” he says quietly. They both shake their heads.
Just as they reach the buffet table, one of the men starts to pull a gun from his coat; Phil can see his reflection in the collection of mirrors behind the tower of fudge. Phil whirls around and throws his pocket knife at the man’s wrist, catching himself on the edge of the buffet when he nearly overbalances from the throw. Apparently, whirling should be added to Phil’s list of recently defunct skills. The knife slides in to the hilt, and the gun goes off in the man’s pocket, his right pants leg washing over red to the knee almost instantly. He screams and crumples to the ground. Pandemonium ensues, the other diners bolting for the main exit and generally doing their best to block the escape route Phil had planned. The other two men don’t appear to be armed, but they stand between Phil and the only other exit. “Come with us, Dr. Foster, and nobody else gets hurt,” one of them says.
“Get under the table, now,” Phil says and throws a chair at the largest assailant. He ducks the chair and manages to get close enough to Phil to shove him into the buffet, hard. Phil’s back takes most of the brunt of the impact, but he feels a twinge in his pelvis and Phil ruthlessly tamps down the panic that could easily overwhelm him.
“Like hell,” Darcy says, stepping in front of Phil and Jane. “You get under the table.”
The smaller thug lands a solid crack to Darcy’s jaw. Her head whips back with the impact, and she stumbles, but she doesn’t fall. “Seriously, Phil. I got these guys. Take Jane and run,” she says, blood trickling from the corner of her mouth. “What are you waiting for? Go!” she screams. Phil looks down at his stomach, at the daughter he’s carrying, and so help him, he goes.
Phil throws another chair through the large window that fronts the street, and he and Jane scramble through the broken glass to the sidewalk outside. Jane takes his hand, and they run, Phil calling for back-up as they sprint for the alley.
Later Phil will blame what happens next on his complete focus on the baby—his utter fear that she’d been injured in the fight—because he doesn’t even see the remainder of the assailants coming. One minute, he’s running with Jane, and the next he’s falling flat on his face, twisting as he falls to avoid landing directly on his stomach. He hears Jane screaming as he hits the asphalt followed by the unmistakable reverberating crunch of blunt force trauma to the head. The last thing Phil is aware of before he loses consciousness is a series of sharp cramps that starts deep in his abdomen and radiates out in waves.
Phil is not going to lose the baby. Sorry for freaking y'all out that he was. I wanted to create some eeep and aaack and oh noes but not trigger anybody or create the icky kind of angst. I have always intended to write a HEA with sunshine and rainbows and baby!crazy Avengers on the other side of the tunnel, and that's not changing. *crosses heart*
Phil wakes up curled on his side on freezing asphalt. His head hurts like a knife is wedged tightly in his right eye socket. He can’t open his eyes for a moment, and he starts to panic before he realizes his lashes are gummed together, probably with blood. Phil blinks rapidly, and when he finally gets his eyes open, he sees Thor touching down with Clint tucked under his arm and Iron Man with Ian in tow right behind them.
Clint lets go of Thor before his boots hit the ground. He’s saying something, but Phil can’t understand him. Even when Clint kneels down on the sidewalk, gently puts his on hand on Phil’s face, and speaks, all Phil can hear is a dull ringing.
“The baby,” Phil says and tries to sit up, but Clint won’t let him.
He squeezes Phil’s shoulder and strokes his check until Phil looks right at him. “Don’t talk,” Clint says slowly so Phil can lip read. He doesn’t back off when Ian hunkers down beside him on the sidewalk, but he makes room for the doctor to work. “You’re going to be fine, Phil. The baby’s going to be fine. I promise.” Phil can’t hear Clint’s voice right now, but he’s heard the grim determination that must be there enough times that it plays comfortingly in his mind.
“Darcy,” Phil coughs out and points down the street with a trembling hand. “Darcy.”
Clint turns and yells something to Tony who jets off toward the restaurant. He comes back a few moments later holding a battered, but clearly alive, Darcy. Phil isn’t ready to think about the possibility that his daughter might be injured, or worse, and so he clings to his relief that Darcy appears more or less alright.
“They took Jane,” he says, managing a complete sentence this time.
Clint glances back over his shoulder to where Thor and Tony are bandaging a nasty cut on Darcy’s forehead. The expression on Thor’s face makes Phil very, very glad he’s working with S.H.I.E.L.D. and not against them. Thor seems to radiate blackness, and he looks exactly like Phil has always imagined a god—a wrathful god—would look. Clint turns back to Phil, and Phil nearly flinches at the cold fury in his eyes. “Whoever hurt you will die,” Clint says, his grip on Phil’s shoulder tightening.
Ian passes an instrument over Phil’s belly and frowns at whatever he sees.
“It’s okay. I’ve got you,” Clint says, sure and steady, and Phil believes him. He closes his eyes, concentrating on the warmth of Clint’s hand on his shoulder, and the world around him goes dark.
@ @ @
Phil wakes the next time to almost unbearable noise—the wail of police sirens, voices shouting, the unmistakable and distant whir of chopper blades.
“The baby’s okay,” Clint says immediately, tension bleeding out of him visibly when he notices Phil can hear him and is no longer relying on lip reading. “You have a concussion, some bruises. Your blood pressure’s pretty high right now. Ian started an IV and hooked you up to a fetal monitor. We’re just waiting for the chopper to take you back to the Tower.”
Over Clint’s shoulder, Phil can see Ian taping Darcy’s ribs. She looks like shit. Both her eyes are black, and her bottom lip is busted, but when she sees Phil looking over at her, she grins and shoots him a thumbs up. Blood trickles down her chin. Phil looks away. He should never have left her.
Clint says, “Thor found Jane pretty much instantly. He threw Mjolnir in the air, screamed ‘To the Lady Jane!’, and according to the comms, had the situation under control less than five minutes later.” He takes Phil’s hand and threads their fingers together. “I wish he’d saved one or two of the bastards for me to deal with, but I’m good with the god of thunder settling my scores for me.”
Police cars arrive on the scene, and officers start cordoning off the block. Already a crowd has gathered and swells against the barricades. Blood, Phil’s blood, dries in a congealing pool on the concrete next to Clint’s knee.
“Natasha is on her way. Tony hacked into the system and found her location. She should be here tomorrow.”
Phil’s heart races, keeping time with the chaotic sounds of crowd and klaxons. Everything is too loud, too bright. He can hardly catch his breath, Clint’s callused hand the only thing keeping him grounded. Phil blames the pregnancy hormones, but for the first time in his life, he thinks he might actually have a hysterical episode. “I’m sorry,” Phil chokes out. “I’m so sorry, Clint. I almost lost our daughter.” Tears well up in Phil’s eyes and spill over, trickling down into his ears.
“Hey,” Clint says, squeezing his hand. “Hey. You have nothing to be sorry about. Nothing. You hear me?” He sweeps a thumb along Phil’s cheekbone. “None of this is on you. None of it.”
Phil says, “But . . .”
“No buts,” Clint interrupts, his thumb still stroking Phil’s cheekbone, his fingers cupping Phil’s jaw. The look on his face is so tender, so unlike any expression Phil has ever seen him make before, that a tendril of hope unfurls in Phil’s heart, tiny and secret and oh so fragile.
The chopper lands in the intersection behind the makeshift square of barricades, and Ian helps Clint move Phil to a stretcher while Tony helps Darcy limp her way over to the aircraft. Phil feels much better off the cold ground and up in the air, the Tower rising like a beacon on the skyline before them. Clint never once lets go of his hand during this process, and Phil tries not to read too much into the gesture. Clint is worried about the baby; that’s all.
Phil’s concussion must be more severe than he realizes because apparently those thoughts don’t stay inside his head where they belong. He doesn’t realize he’s spoken aloud until Clint leans over and whispers in his ear, his lips nearly brushing Phil’s skin, “The baby’s not the only one I care about, Phil. I was worried about you, too.”
@ @ @
After Ian has given Phil something that numbs the pain in his head to a dull ache, after Phil has washed and put on his coziest pajamas, after Tony has shown him and Clint a 3-D image of their daughter—healthy and safe and perfect—Clint lingers by Phil’s bedside. The intuition that makes Phil a good handler tells him that Clint has something to say that he thinks Phil won’t like but that Clint absolutely believes to be true. His posture and the muscle jumping in his jaw both remind Phil of the day Clint dragged a bloody Natasha Romanov into the safe house and declared, “She deserves a second chance, sir.”
Phil thinks he knows what Clint is holding back, and, frankly, Phil doesn’t blame him. If he hadn’t left the Tower, he wouldn’t have been hurt. Phil can stand another three months cooped up here if it means their daughter stays safe. “Out with it,” Phil says, and Clint rolls his eyes.
“Yes, sir,” Clint says and then stares at the floor long enough that Phil starts to think this might not be about putting him on lockdown for the foreseeable future after all. Finally, Clint drops Phil’s hand and walks over to the window, stares out at Manhattan with his back to Phil and his shoulders hunched. “I know this isn’t what you want to hear, and tomorrow we can pretend like this conversation never happened, but I have to say this to you just once.” He turns back around, and Phil’s heart stops. This isn’t about sticking close to home. Clint has dropped every single wall, every piece of the mask he wears every day, every bit of armor he throws up to keep everyone—even his friends, even Natasha, even Phil—at arm’s length. Phil doesn’t think he’s ever seen Clint this open, this unguarded, not even on that night so many months ago when he held Phil like he was something precious as they moved together, sweat-slicked skin against sweat-slicked skin. Whatever he’s about to say has nothing to do with forbidding any more excursions outside Avengers Tower.
Clint takes a deep breath. “You’re always trying to die on me, Phil, and it’s about time I admitted I don’t want to live in a world without you. I’m in love with you.” Clint’s voice breaks, and he wipes a hand over his face. “I think I’ve been in love with you since the first mission we went on together. I love your suits and your fancy ties and your prissy handwriting and your deadpan humor and the way you never, ever give up on me.”
Phil can’t breathe. That fragile hope nestled next to his heart begins to bloom, begins to expand outward, until that part of himself Phil has rejected his entire career, that piece of himself that Phil has kept cold and dead and buried, can no longer be denied.
“I know you don’t love me,” Clint says, his lips twisted into a bitter smile, “but I can’t hide the way I feel about you anymore. I don’t want to.”
Phil can’t help it. He starts to cry, these great heaving sobs that wrack his whole body.
“Shit,” Clint says. “Shit. I knew I shouldn’t have said anything. Shit.” He twitches where he stands, his weight shifting from one foot to the other like he can’t decide whether to leave or to grab a handful of tissues and start mopping up the tears.
Phil starts laughing even though he’s still crying. He sounds horrible. He bet he looks even worse.
Clint’s eyes grow very wide. “JARVIS,” he says. “Tell Ian to come down here right now. I think something’s wrong with Phil.”
“Belay that, JARVIS,” Phil says in a strangled voice. “I’m fine. Clint is an idiot, though.”
Clint scowls. “Yeah, I got that.”
“No,” Phil says and reaches out for Clint. “I mean you’re an idiot.”
Wonder and disbelief and something awfully close to joy wipe the scowl off Clint’s face. He takes one step towards Phil and then another until he’s close enough for Phil to grab and hold on to. “Are you sure?” he says.
“That you’re an idiot? Absolutely certain,” Phil says, and then they’re kissing, slow and sweet and like every fantasy Phil’s had for the past six months.
Clint climbs into the bed beside Phil and curls around him on top of the covers. “Can I?” he asks, his hand hovering over Phil’s body. Phil smiles and puts Clint’s hand on his belly. Their daughter obliges by kicking him in the kidney as if on cue. Clint smiles the most beautiful smile Phil has ever seen, and he nearly starts bawling again at the sight. That night, Phil falls asleep with Clint’s arm cradling his stomach and Clint’s head pillowed on his shoulder, the lights of the Manhattan skyline washing the room over in soft silver and gold.
Chapter by Lorraine
Please forgive the delay, everyone. Clint and Phil have proven highly inspirational as my husband and I have discovered we are expecting a wee Avenger of our own! :) Expect more regular updates now that I am feeling a bit more like myself and less like sleeping fourteen hours a day. Oh, who am I kidding? I still want to sleep fourteen hours a day, but I am resisting! LOL
Before Phil even opens his eyes, he’s aware that he and Clint aren’t alone in the room. He can tell that Clint is aware as well even though he’s doing his best impersonation of what Darcy might call a snuggle bunny; he can also tell that Clint isn’t bothered in the least by the intrusion. That can mean only one thing.
“Welcome home, Natasha,” Phil says and opens his eyes.
Natasha smirks at him and scoots the armchair she’s clearly been curled up in for a while now close enough to Phil’s bed that she can lean over and give him a quick kiss on the cheek.
“Hey,” Clint says in a sleep-roughened voice, his face mashed into Phil’s back. “My kisses.”
“I’ll kiss whoever I want to,” Natasha says, her tone sharp, but Phil can hear the affection and amusement underneath.
Clint says, “Point taken,” with a grin in his voice, and Phil is so perfectly happy in this moment that he could almost cry. This is exactly where he’s wanted to be ever since he found out he was pregnant—safe between the two people he loves and trusts most in the world with Clint’s arm curled protectively around their daughter. The growing rift between Clint and Natasha has hurt Phil almost as much as the distance between him and Clint. Phil is more grateful than he can say to have them both here with him now.
At that moment, the baby turns a somersault. Clint raises an adorably messy head from the nest he’s made alongside Phil and spreads his palm over Phil’s stomach just in time to catch the movement. Phil suddenly realizes this is only the second time Clint has felt their daughter move.
Natasha must see something in both their faces because she says, “I’ll just see myself out,” and squeezes Phil’s hand before she leaves.
When she’s gone, Clint props himself up on an elbow, gaze trained on the palm still splayed across Phil’s belly. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m so sorry. When I think about all the time I wasted . . .”
Phil puts a finger across Clint’s lips. “Don’t. We both made mistakes we regret. Now we get a chance to start over.”
Clint rests his head gently on Phil’s stomach and softly strokes the rounded curve. He’s rewarded with a series of fluttery kicks that follow the path of his caresses. The look of wonder on Clint’s face as he touches Phil—the expression that reveals he never dreamed he could have a moment like this, never even dared to admit he wanted it in the first place—both breaks Phil’s heart and fills him with a deep and fierce joy. Phil is not naïve; he doesn’t think that he and Clint can just instantly get over months of hurt feelings and miscommunication, but watching Clint just now, Phil has no doubt they’ll get there eventually.
Phil spends the next twenty minutes convincing Clint that he does not need to be spoon-fed and wrapped in cotton wool for the remainder of the pregnancy. “I’m not an invalid. I’m fine,” he says, levering himself up in the bed and tucking his feet into his slippers. “I can eat breakfast in the kitchen like I do every morning.”
“Okay,” Clint says finally, “but you’re taking it easy for a couple of days.”
Phil says, “You’ll get no arguments from me,” and lets Clint bear more of his weight than is strictly necessary on the walk to the elevator.
As they near the kitchen, Phil hears voices.
“And then I stabbed him in the thigh with a number two pencil,” Jane says, “right before Thor showed up and smote everyone into tiny little pieces. Really tiny little pieces.” Phil can imagine the look on Jane’s face, her nose crinkled up in disgust.
“The Lady Jane is both a scholar and a warrior,” Thor says, pride and affection evident in his voice.
“Hey,” Darcy says, sounding put out. “What about me? I didn’t have a pencil.”
Phil slows down, hangs back until Clint is forced to stop walking. “Maybe you were right,” Phil says in a low voice. “I should go back upstairs.”
Clint just looks at him, patiently waiting for Phil to say what’s really bothering him.
Phil sighs. “I can’t face them, Clint. Not yet.”
“What are you talking about?” Clint says. He seems genuinely perplexed.
“I left Darcy on her own to fend off two assailants, and I didn’t catch the rather obvious ambush waiting for me and Jane.” Phil shrugs off Clint’s arm. “I didn’t do my job, Clint. I let them down.”
Clint shakes his head. “You listen to me, Philip J. Coulson. You did exactly what you were supposed to do. You didn’t ditch Darcy to save yourself. You would never do something so selfish. You left to protect your daughter—our daughter—and if you think anyone in that room, hell, anybody in this whole goddamned tower blames you for that, then you’re dead wrong.” He puts both hands on Phil’s shoulders, holds him out at arm’s length, and forces Phil to look him in the eyes. “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but Jane has all the science geeks knitting Jayne hats and daleks and Slytherin scarves for the baby, and Tony’s building some robo-crib that’s supposed to prevent SIDS, and Bruce is cultivating plants for her nursery. I could go on here, but you deserve some surprises.”
A lump forms in Phil’s throat.
“I don’t know how a sharp guy like you missed the memo, but this baby belongs to all the Avengers, Phil. They would die for her, every single one of them. You need to stop beating yourself up over misplaced guilt.”
So Phil takes a deep breath, tries his best to shove away the years of training that fault his actions, and steps into the kitchen with a death grip on Clint’s arm. Phil can’t help it; he does feel guilty when he sees Darcy hobbling across the kitchen like an old woman to get more milk out of the refrigerator. Her face is black and blue, swollen into something that only vaguely resembles herself. Even Jane has a bruise high on one cheekbone (although it looks more fetching than anything else on her), and her hands are covered in defensive wounds.
“Son of Coul!” Thor says with a delighted smile. “I am pleased to see you looking so well.” Phil can’t help but smile back; in his experience, very few people can resist Thor’s good cheer.
Clint pours Phil a bowl of the cereal he’s been favoring lately and a tall glass of ice cold milk. In his peripheral vision, Darcy takes the milk back from Clint and stores it in the refrigerator, wincing as she opens the door again. Phil hunches down over his bowl and tries to ignore the twisting in his gut.
“Okay,” Darcy says, limping over to the table and settling herself gingerly in the seat right next to Phil. “You are cutting this shit out right now.” Phil forces himself to look at her. “What’s the protocol for handling civilians in a combat situation?” she says.
“I’m not a civilian,” Phil says.
“The injured are given rescue priority followed by women, children, and the elderly.”
Darcy says, “Right. And what about S.H.I.E.L.D. employees? What’s the protocol there?”
Phil feels like he’s missing something. “We give priority to the injured, of course, and those assets with essential information.”
Darcy sighs. “You aren’t the first S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to end up pregnant, Phil. What’s the protocol in a combat situation for pregnant S.H.I.E.L.D. employees?”
And then the penny drops. “They’re given rescue priority after the wounded,” Phil says slowly.
“Exactly,” Darcy says. “Doesn’t matter who the agent is or what her rank is, S.H.I.E.L.D. protects her just like a civilian. And you want to know why, Phil?” Darcy points to his swollen belly. “Because if we can’t protect our children, why the hell are we doing this in the first place? What does any of it matter then?”
“The Lady Darcy speaks truly,” Thor says. “The female warriors of Asgard are as skilled and as fearsome as their male comrades, and yet they feel no shame in retreat when they carry life. Their greatest charge, even greater than glory in battle, is to safeguard the next generation.”
“Message received,” Phil says, sniffling a bit, which everyone graciously ignores.
Darcy says, “Good,” and Phil finishes breakfast with a smile on his face, Clint’s ankle hooked around his underneath the table and his chair close enough that Phil can feel the comforting warmth of his body.
“Are you having sex?” Ian says. “Because it won’t hurt the baby at all, and regular sex during pregnancy can help with mood and—”
Phil interrupts. “I don’t think my sex life is any of your business, Ian.”
“Of course, it is,” Ian says brightly. “I’m your doctor. I don’t need any details, Phil. I just wanted you to know that unless something changes, sex during your pregnancy is perfectly fine, even beneficial, in case you mistakenly thought that sexual activity might be harmful to you or the baby.”
Phil sighs. He has never been a vain man, but he can’t imagine seducing Clint while sporting an extra twenty something pounds concentrated directly underneath his navel. He has stretch marks. He’s ungainly. He looks ridiculous, like a science experiment gone wrong in a B movie. Phil doesn’t think he’s exactly Clint’s idea of sexually desirable at this point, and he knows for certain that their new relationship is so fragile that it couldn’t handle that kind of rejection (even if Phil can’t blame Clint for having zero interest in making love to a man who waddles when he walks). Better to avoid the issue entirely.
Ian says, “If you have trouble finding a comfortable position for penetrative sex, fellatio is . . .”
“Oh, my god,” Phil interrupts. “Stop. Please, just stop.”
“Would you prefer I have this conversation with Clint instead?” Ian says sweetly.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
And so for the next twenty minutes, Phil grits his teeth and suffers through Ian’s “The Joys and Potential Mishaps of Gay Sex with a Pregnant Man” lecture in silence. “Can I go now?” Phil says pointedly after Ian’s third mention of fellatio.
“Alright. Don’t forget the importance of lubrication and taking your time.”
“I’m not likely to forget anything you’ve said today. Ever,” Phil says under his breath as he levers himself off the couch in Ian’s guest room and heads out to the general living quarters.
Clint is sprawled out on the couch next to Thor watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He’s grinning, his hands clasped behind his head, his feet up on the coffee table. Phil blames Ian and his damn sex talk for the sudden wave of lust that washes over him, the intense desire to climb into Clint’s lap, lick his way down his torso, slide his fingers just under the waistband of Clint’s faded Levi’s, and dig his thumbs into the hollows of his hips.
“Are you okay?” Clint says, sitting up on the couch and leaning forward.
Phil forces a smile on his face and thanks whatever deities might be listening that his shirt is tentlike enough to hide the telltale evidence of his current train of thought. “Absolutely. Just heading into the kitchen for a snack.”
Clint still looks a bit worried, but he takes Phil at his word and settles back onto the couch next to Thor.
Phil spends the next few days slowly losing his mind. He remembers what puberty was like—the way the very air rushing across his skin could make him hard, the way he’d wake in the middle of the night with his cock straining against his underwear, the way he’d rub his dick raw with more frequency than he cares to admit—and this stage of his pregnancy feels a lot like going through puberty all over again. Phil would cheerfully strangle Ian for starting him down this path if he thought his death would stop him from thinking about fucking Clint every waking moment. But with Phil’s luck, he’d just spend the funeral fantasizing about Clint bending him over the coffin or something equally inappropriate instead.
“This is your fault,” Phil says to Ian at his next check-up. “You have to fix me.”
“There’s nothing to fix,” Ian says serenely. Phil thinks he’s spending a little too much time meditating with Bruce. “Hormonal fluctuations and spikes in sexual desire are all par for the course during pregnancy.”
“I think I liked you better when you followed my orders.”
Ian laughs and pats Phil on the hand. “Either take advantage of the urge while you’ve got it, or if you’re truly determined to be as perverse and pigheaded as possible, grit your teeth and tough it out, Agent. Your libido will likely level out again soon.”
“Thanks,” Phil says. “That was extremely helpful.”
“Don’t mention it.”
That night at dinner, Clint eats his bowl of ice cream excruciatingly slowly, his pink tongue darting out from time to time to lick at the spoon. Phil can hardly look at him. He balls his napkin in his lap, squeezing until his knuckles ache, and nearly cries in relief when Clint finally empties his bowl.
“Are you feeling alright?” Clint asks as they walk back to Phil’s room.
Phil says, “I’m fine,” and ignores the little wrinkle in Clint’s brow, the one that means he’s not remotely convinced that Phil is telling the truth.
When Phil opens the door to his room, he doesn’t understand what he’s seeing at first. Lit candles cover every available surface, casting the room in a warm, gentle glow. For a moment, Phil wonders if his pregnancy has given him superpowers, if Loki’s spear also granted him the ability to make his fantasies turn into reality. And then Clint ushers him into the room, closes the door behind them, and kisses him tenderly.
Phil gets lost in the rasp of Clint’s stubble on his jaw, the warmth of his lips, his wicked tongue before he realizes what this must mean. He breaks the kiss and staggers back, the doorknob digging into his hip when he runs out of space to put between them. “You don’t have to do this,” Phil says, his breath ragged. “That meddling little shit insinuated that he wouldn’t talk to you. I was a fool to trust him to keep his mouth shut.”
“What are you talking about?” Clint says.
“Don’t play dumb, Barton,” Phil says. “The act doesn’t become you.”
Clint throws his hands up in the air and sits down on Phil’s couch. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Phil.”
“You don’t have to pretend to want me like that. Despite what Ian says, I don’t think I’ll die from lack of sexual satisfaction.”
Clint says, “Wait a minute. You think Ian told me to sleep with you?”
Clint laughs, this deep belly laugh that makes Phil want to punch him in the face and then kiss him and then punch him in the face again. “No. Ian and I have not talked about our sex life at all.”
“Then what are you doing with all this?” Phil says and makes a gesture that encompasses the candlelit room.
Clint crosses the room and takes both of Phil’s hands in his own. “I was trying to make love to the man I love in a romantic fashion.”
“I know you can’t be attracted to me, not when I’m like . . .”
“Like what?” Clint interrupts. “I love you, Phil, not your goddamned body. I will never, ever stop wanting you, and nothing about the way you look or don’t look will ever change that. I wake up in the morning wanting you, and I go to bed wanting you, and I’m hoping to grow old wanting you, and there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop me.”
Phil sags forward into Clint’s arms. Part of him feels like indulging in a good cry, another part of him wants JARVIS to play back Clint’s last comment on endless repeat while he grins like a loon, and the rest of him just wants to rip Clint’s clothes off. Phil goes with option C.
Clint’s laughing as his jeans puddle around his ankles, but Phil shuts him up pretty quickly. Phil might not be the most agile person in the Tower right now, but he manages to lower himself to the floor, scoot a rug under his knees, and get his mouth on Clint’s cock in an impressively short amount of time. Phil sucks him slowly, both hands kneading Clint’s ass, his nose buried in Clint’s pubic hair. Phil’s cock presses almost painfully against his pants, but he doesn’t dare touch himself. He doesn’t want to come yet. Phil pulls almost all the way off Clint’s cock and slowly sucks him back in, over and over again, until Clint moans low in his throat and convulses.
Clint pulls Phil back up to his feet and kisses him hard before maneuvering him over to the couch. He peels off Phil’s shirt, kissing Phil’s belly and chest as he uncovers it. Phil would be embarrassed if Clint’s tongue on his nipples didn’t feel so good, if Clint’s teeth on his neck didn’t send a pulse of heat directly to his dick. Clint’s hand on Phil’s dick feels even better, his grip strong and sure and perfect. Phil arches into his touch, his balls tightening, and then he comes so hard his vision dims and his entire world spirals down to Clint’s thumb circling the head of his cock, Clint’s tongue licking into the seam of his mouth.
Afterwards, Phil feels pleasantly drained. He lets Clint tuck him into bed and cuddle up behind him, their hands clasped together over Phil’s growing belly. “I love you, too, you know,” Phil says.
Phil snuggles down under the covers, more content than he’s been in a long time. He won’t be able to hide what he and Clint have been doing this evening; he’s fairly certain Clint left more than one love mark on his neck, and while he’s not exactly looking forward to an “I told you so” speech from Ian, Phil has to admit that the good doctor knew exactly what he was talking about. Maybe Phil should get him a present. Later. Much later. After he and Clint have sex at least ten more times.
“He missed his last two check-ins,” Phil says, proud of the way his voice doesn’t shake even though his blood runs cold in his veins.
Nobody at the table questions who Phil is talking about.
“What’s S.H.I.E.L.D.’s position?” Steve asks.
Phil sinks down into an empty chair and sighs. “Director Fury wants to wait and see. Agents miss check-ins all the time, Clint more than most, unfortunately, and he doesn’t think we need to worry yet.”
Tony says, “But you do?”
“Yes, I do.” Despite what Fury may believe, Phil hasn’t lost his objectivity to either the hormonal throes of pregnancy or the emotional throes of love. Yes, Phil spent most of the morning Clint left trying not to vomit up what little breakfast he could stomach; objectivity doesn’t preclude worry, after all. Phil knows how dangerous any mission can be, and he’d be foolish not to worry. But he didn’t beg Clint to stay or suggest that Fury assign another agent in Clint’s place because Clint is the best person for this particular mission, and Phil knows it. But now? Now every instinct that Phil has honed over the years of his tenure with S.H.I.E.L.D. tell him that something is wrong, that Clint is in trouble, and nobody at headquarters will listen to him because he’s "been compromised.”
“That’s good enough for me,” Steve says.
“Me too,” Tony says. “Time to suit up?”
Phil says, “Even though the Director won’t authorize a rescue mission?” He has to be certain they understand that mounting a rescue operation at this juncture will not endear them to Fury, and Phil is especially sensitive to Steve’s regard for the chain of command.
Steve nods again. “I promise you we’ll bring Clint home,” he says. The expression on Steve’s face is terribly earnest and sincere, and Phil wants to trust in the bone-deep faith that Steve tends to inspire.
“Thank you, Captain,” Phil says and makes a facial expression that he hopes approximates a smile.
Steve says, “Hey. I mean it, Phil. We’re bringing him home.”
“You can count on it,” Natasha says from the doorway. Phil knows she was pissed that S.H.I.E.L.D. sent Clint into the field without her in the first place; now she’s positively livid. Phil can tell by the way she keeps tucking her hair behind her left ear.
Tony starts talking to JARVIS rapid-fire, Bruce gulps down the rest of his tea, Thor kisses Jane to within an inch of her life, and before Phil can do much more than breathe a deep sigh of relief, they’ve gone. Phil realizes they must have been making contingency plans from almost the moment Clint left, and he feels a rush of gratitude so strong it nearly overwhelms him.
The kitchen seems larger than usual in their absence with only Jane sitting across the table from him. She reaches across half-eaten bowls of cereal and oatmeal and a platter full of toast crumbs, takes him by the hand, and holds on tight. “Come on,” she says. “I know a little bit about waiting.”
Phil knows about waiting, too; a significant portion of his job has always consisted of waiting—waiting for agents to submit reports, waiting for agents to check in, waiting for bones and flesh to knit back together after missions gone wrong. But this kind of waiting is different.
Jane leads Phil into the living room and settles in beside him on the couch. “I worry about Thor every single time they leave the Tower,” she says, “and he’s a god. I can’t imagine what you must be feeling right now.”
“I’m not sure I know myself.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“Not really,” Phil says.
Jane smiles and squeezes his hand. “Then let’s talk bachelorette party and the potential clusterfuck of setting drunken Darcy and Sif loose on New York City.”
Phil’s waiting on the roof when the team touches down. Clint has a scabbed over cut on his forearm and some bruising around his temples, but he’s walking without assistance and smiling, and Phil thinks he’s never looked so good as he does right now.
“Miss me?” Clint says to Phil.
Later that night, they have The Talk, the one Phil knows has been a long time coming—the one he’s never initiated before because he doesn’t really know how he feels or what he wants Clint to do.
“You saved my ass today,” Clint says.
“That’s my job,” Phil says. “Or at least it used to be.”
Clint frowns. The bruises blooming on his face seem darker in the shadows of the room they now share. “I don’t have to do this, you know. I can walk away.”
Phil politely doesn’t mention that neither of them truly believes S.H.I.E.L.D. would simply allow an asset like Clint to walk away. “You don’t want to walk away,” he says instead. Phil turns back the sheets on the bed and slides underneath the cool covers; without hesitation, Clint climbs in beside him.
Clint says, “I meant what I said before about agent and families. It’s selfish and dangerous, and I put you and the baby in danger every time I go out in the field. And we both know the way this story ends. One day, I’ll leave, and I won’t come back. That’s pretty much a given in this line of work.”
This is the point at which every hypothetical conversation Phil’s imagined with Clint has broken down. What does Phil say? Does he tell Clint that living in the Tower surrounded by the Avengers is surely the safest place he and the baby can be but that the thought of letting her out of their sight to attend kindergarten, for example, scares him shitless? Does he admit that he thinks the good guys take a serious hit if Clint leaves S.H.I.E.L.D.? Should he tell Clint the thought of losing him hurts in a way he doesn’t believe could ever heal, or would that constitute an unfair guilt trip? What about all the other people in the world in love with cops and soldiers and firefighters who spend much of their lives waiting in fear for the worst? What makes Clint more valuable than everybody else who risks his or her life for the common good? What right does Phil have to place his own personal happiness above the ideals he’s spent his entire adult life protecting?
In the end, Phil says none of these things. He takes Clint’s hand and places it on his belly, tiny feet drumming against Clint’s flat palm. “One day, we all leave, and we don’t come back, Clint. One day, no matter what you do, you’ll die. And I’ll die, and this baby will die, too.”
Clint flinches, a fine tremor running down his arm and dissipating into the taut skin his fingers rest on. Phil swallows around the lump in his throat. He made his peace with his own death many, many years ago, but somehow the thought that this precious child he hasn’t even met yet will one day die fills him with a wild and terrible sadness. “We can make monsters,” he thinks, “and men who fly through the air in metal suits and living computers, but we can’t stop death.”
“What do you want?” Clint says.
“I want you to live forever, but I’ll settle for happiness in the time we have together.”
“Sounds good to me,” Clint says and closes his eyes, his body gradually going slack as he falls asleep.
They don’t talk about work again, but by the end of the week, Phil has an email in his inbox from Fury that assigns Clint exclusively to the Avengers Initiative with the stipulation that he will not be sent into the field without one of his fellow Avengers as backup. Phil knows that worrying and waiting will still be a part of his life even with this change, but he feels better about Clint going on missions than he has since he stopped being Clint’s handler.
Phil doesn’t know if it’s relief or the irritating realization that he owes Fury yet again, but when he logs out of his email he feels the strangest sensation—almost a cramp but not quite. He’s still hunched over the laptop when Tony comes into the room where Phil is working. He takes one look at Phil’s face and blanches completely white.
“Oh, shit,” Tony says. “JARVIS, clean towels! Boiling water! Where’s Ian? WHERE THE FUCK IS PEPPER?! Here comes the newest Avenger.”
Once Ian confirms that Phil has actually gone into labor and isn’t just experiencing Braxton Hicks, those practice contractions that most pregnant women occasionally feel in the latter stages of pregnancy, the situation progresses rather quickly. Months ago, Ian had told Phil that while the pregnancy would be allowed to proceed for as long as Phil could safely carry the baby, as soon as he went into labor, Ian would perform a caesarean section immediately.
“There’s no need for you to go through labor,” Ian had said. “You lack the necessary plumbing for labor to do its work, and I’d just be exposing you to unnecessary pain and the baby to unnecessary potential trauma. The second you start having regular contractions, I’m operating.”
This is how Phil finds himself lying in a hospital bed in Tony’s lab surrounded by all the Avengers plus a team of nurses Ian and Director Fury handpicked for their discretion and loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. Phil suspects that most pregnant women don’t invite all their closest friends to witness the birth of their children, but he wouldn’t dream of asking anyone to leave. Bruce and Tony are obvious candidates for assisting at the birth: Bruce is a doctor, and Tony engineered the wall of tech surrounding Phil’s bed. Those two clearly belong in the delivery room, but so do the others. Steve is the heart of this rag-tag band of superhero misfits, Natasha is family, Pepper and Jane keep Phil grounded in a world where everyone else seems to have supernatural powers, Darcy risked her life to see this baby born, and who wouldn’t want the blessing of a god at his daughter’s birth? Phil can’t imagine doing this without Clint at his side, but he can hardly believe his luck that their daughter will greet the world in the company of the finest group of people Phil has ever known.
“Everything’s going to be just fine,” Clint says like he’s trying to convince them both. He looks a little wild around the eyes but determined not to let Phil see how rattled he is.
Phil smiles and squeezes Clint’s hand. “I know,” he says, and he does. Some of that calm seems to transfer to Clint who takes a deep breath and steps back a bit so that Ian can snap an IV line into the port on Phil’s arm.
“Everybody not responsible for making this baby behind the glass wall, please,” Ian orders once the anesthesia begins to make Phil woozy. “Bruce and Tony, time to suit up.”
Ian leans down over Phil and takes the hand not currently occupied by Clint’s death grip. “You remember what we talked about, right? In just a little while, you’re going to fall asleep, and when you wake up, you’re going to feel kinda like you’ve been run over by a truck, but you’re also going to finally meet your little girl.”
Phil tries to squeeze Ian’s hand, but his muscles don’t want to cooperate. He manages one last smile for Clint, and then he closes his eyes.
The first thing Phil thinks when he wakes up is that run over by a truck is an understatement. He hurts everywhere, and he’s a little afraid to open his eyes and assess the damage.
“Come on, you faker,” Clint says in his right ear. “I know you’re awake.” He sounds absolutely delighted, his voice full of the kind of joy that so rarely finds a reason to flourish in lives like theirs.
Phil opens his eyes. Clint is holding the tiniest, most beautiful baby Phil has ever seen. She felt gargantuan when she was trapped in Phil’s stomach, but in Clint’s arms, she looks so delicate, so fragile. She has Clint’s nose.
Clint says, “Your daughter has been waiting to meet you for awhile now.” Ian adjusts the bed and strategically places pillows all around Phil’s torso, and then Clint carefully hands her over.
“Hi,” Phil says, and her mouth opens in a tiny yawn. Phil is utterly and completely besotted. He glances over at the windows and does a double-take when he notices Darcy’s face is practically mashed up to the glass, and even Steve is standing close enough for his breath to fog up the pane. “I think Jane is vibrating,” Phil says.
Clint laughs. “Yeah. But I didn’t want anyone else to hold her until you got the chance.”
Phil’s head hurts, and he feels a little nauseated from the anesthesia; his midsection hurts badly enough that he suspects Ian’s six-week recovery period estimate may fall a little short of the mark. But none of that matters in this moment, with his daughter in his arms, Clint by his side, and his best friends gathered nearby.
Clint gestures at the window, and everybody comes crowding around Phil’s bedside.
“What’s her name?” Pepper says, running a finger across the dark thatch of hair on the baby’s head.
Phil looks at Clint. Clint looks back at Phil. Somehow they had both thought they had a lot more time to pick a name and haven’t made any decisions yet.
Tony takes a deep breath like he’s getting ready to offer a suggestion, and Pepper elbows him in the ribs. “No. Just. No, Tony. Whatever it is, no.”
“Hey,” Tony says. “I’ll have you know I am excellent at naming things.”
Bruce says, “You named your robots Dummy and You. And I’m done.”
Tony blinks his eyes and starts wagging his finger at Bruce, explanation mode in full force. “If I have to explain the significance of those names to you, then clearly . . . you know what? I’m done. I’m the one done. The done one.” He whirls around and turns his attention back to Phil and the baby. “What I was going to say before these assholes so rudely interrupted me is that I know exactly what you should name this baby.” He puts his finger in the baby’s palm, and she reflexively curls her hand around it. Tony’s face softens, and Phil could swear he even tears up a little. “I was going to say, why don’t you name her Grace?”
Phil looks at the baby nestled in his arms, and he thinks about the precious gift Loki gave him even as he tried to end Phil’s life. Phil looks at Clint, and he thinks about second chances and starting over and finding happiness where he least expected to find it. “What do you think?” he says to Clint.
Clint smiles—with no mask on, real and sweet and for all the room to see—and puts a gentle kiss on their daughter’s cheek. “That just about sums things up,” he says.
“I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation,” Darcy says from behind a stack of the October editions of various magazines that she’s balanced precariously on the edge of the kitchen table. She has a paper cut on her left forefinger and a post-it note stuck to the leg of her jeans. Her eyes look wild.
“No,” Phil says. “I don’t believe I do.”
“This is Grace’s first Halloween,” Darcy says. “She’s not going as a princess or a Hershey’s kiss or some goddamned pumpkin. Our girl’s costume is going to be epic.”
“What about Princess Leia? I found some really cute bun hats on Etsy,” Jane says, scrolling down through a set of images on her laptop.
Clint comes into the kitchen with Grace settled on one hip and slings his other arm around Phil’s waist. “Princess Leia has potential,” he says. “Put it on the short list.”
Phil raises an eyebrow. “There’s a short list?”
“I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” Tony yells from down the hall. “JARVIS, tell them I’ve got it!”
JARVIS says, “I do believe that will be unnecessary, sir.”
Tony strolls into the kitchen holding a miniature Iron Man suit out in front of himself at arm’s length. In the center of its petite breastplate, what looks to be a fully functional arc reactor glows. Tony pushes a button which momentarily activates the repulsors, propelling the suit a few inches into the air before it falls back into his waiting hands. Darcy giggles with what Phil can only describe as unholy glee.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the perfect costume,” Tony says.
Phil and Clint both look at Grace, at the single pearly white tooth just starting to emerge from her lower gum, at the chubby fingers fisted in Clint’s shirt, at the dark hair that curls in wisps over her ears and down the nape of her neck.
“No,” Clint says.
Darcy says, “But the suit is adorable.”
“No,” Phil says.
“But it’s perfectly safe,” Tony says. “You don’t even have to engage the repulsors. I really only included them for accuracy’s sake.”
JARVIS says, “Sir, may I remind you that once both parents have forbidden an activity to young Miss Grace, a one hundred thousand dollar donation is automatically made to the National Endowment for the Arts in your name if you attempt to convince them to change their minds.”
“I hear it’s been an awesome year for The Big Read,” Bruce calls out from the living room.
Tony opens his mouth and closes it again. He shakes the tiny Iron Man suit at Darcy in protest, and she shrugs. “Fine,” he says, stomping back the way he came.
Grace reaches out for Phil, cooing nonsense syllables mixed with intermittent happy gurgles and waving her chubby arms. “Don’t worry, sweetie,” Phil says, taking her from Clint and settling her on his own hip. “No shiny metal death traps for you. Uncle Tony’s in timeout now.”
@ @ @
Phil jolts awake, the alarm clock on the bed stand illuminating the shadowy corners of the room with a faint red glow. Clint is already shrugging on a shirt. “Go back to sleep,” he says. “It’s my turn.”
Phil lies on his back in the dark and listens to Grace’s cries taper off. He can’t quite hear what Clint whispers to her, just the low murmur of his voice, its cadence soothing. He drifts off for a little while until the door to Grace’s room snicks softly closed. He says, “Everything okay?”
“She’s a little warm,” Clint says. “I gave her some Tylenol.” He flips back the sheets and slides in beside Phil.
Phil curls up on his side and scoots back into Clint; it’s also Clint’s turn to be the big spoon. “Ian said that’s normal for teething babies.”
Clint says, “I know.” His lips brush the back of Phil’s neck as he speaks. “She’s just so miserable.” Phil leans back into Clint, and his mouth on Phil’s skin becomes something more deliberate.
Phil takes a shuddery breath and then another, his toes curling when Clint bites down on his shoulder with sharp teeth. “What happened to going back to sleep?” he pants out.
“Well, if you’re too tired,” Clint says, “we can just save this for later.” Phil can hear the laughter in his voice.
“Not a chance, Barton,” Phil says, and then neither of them say anything else but “more” and “please” and “yes” for quite some time.
@ @ @
“Where did you find that coat?” Natasha says, stroking the soft, black leather fanned out behind Grace on her blanket on the floor.
Pepper says, “It’s Chanel. Tony and I happened to run into Karl Lagerfeld in Paris, and Tony can be pretty damn charming when he puts his mind to it.”
Phil makes sure the eye patch isn’t stretched too tightly across Grace’s face. “If you say so.”
“Baby’s first haute couture,” Darcy says. “I’d be jealous if she didn’t look so adorable.” Darcy cocks her head to the side, considering. “And badass.”
Thor laughs and chucks Grace under the chin. “She does indeed have the look of a warrior. Tony shall have to fashion her a wee bow and arrows.”
Phil says, “No, he shall not.” Clint frowns, the nearly imperceptible one, the frown he thinks no one else picks up on even though he ought to know better at this point. “Not yet anyway,” Phil amends. “Let’s get her out of diapers before we start weapons training.”
“But we are training her, eventually.” Clint says this decisively, but Phil hears the question anyway.
“Absolutely,” Phil says, and he means it. He has no illusions about the kind of danger that Grace will encounter in her life, and he wants her to be able to protect herself. Clint relaxes, the shift once again nearly imperceptible. He smiles at Phil and picks Grace up, arranging her coat so that it falls in a graceful line over his arm.
“Everybody ready?” Bruce says. He hasn’t bothered with a costume—none of the adults have—but he carries two enormous plastic baskets, one in each hand. The first basket features Thor’s face in bas relief on one side and Mjolnir on the other; the second basket is emblazoned with Captain America’s shield.
Steve says, “I think a better question is whether Director Fury is ready for us.”
Tony waves his hand. “If the man has no candy, I come prepared with tricks.”
Steve shakes his head. “Then let’s move out.”
Phil lingers for a moment, watching everyone file down the hall to the elevator. He can remember a time in the not so distant past when he felt completely alone and likely to remain that way. Even before he and Clint so spectacularly misunderstood each other for such a painfully long time, Phil remembers how empty his existence was in many ways, how he focused on work and on the mission to the exclusion of anything else he might have wanted from his life. And now? Now Phil has Clint and Grace, a partner and a daughter, a family—everything he denied himself for so many years, everything he never allowed himself to long for. Watching the Avengers now—this amazing group of people he loves just as fiercely as Clint, as Grace—Phil
thinks the family he’s been given might be a little larger, a little louder, a little more rough around the edges than he might once have dreamed, but he wouldn’t change a thing.
“You coming?” Clint says from the end of the hall, one hand holding the elevator open. Grace grins and blows Phil a raspberry.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Phil says. “I can’t wait to see Fury’s face.”
Thanks to everyone for indulging me in this shameless romp into my id. LOL I know this fic required a great deal of suspension of disbelief (who misunderstands each other that badly? who just doesn't talk to each other for that long?), and I appreciate everyone who's stayed with me for the long haul. We just found out that our own wee Avenger is a girl, and I've appreciated all the well wishes y'all have extended to me throughout the pregnancy. I had a great deal of fun writing this fic, mostly because of the enthusiastic response you all have given it. Thanks again, everyone. :)