Phil stays late at the office. He does most days--stays a lot later than this, in fact--but normally his evening-slash-late-night are a lot more productive. He makes it nearly to nine before he gives up, shuffles his paperwork into a semi-neat stack, leaves his office with a locked door, and makes his way down to the medical wing.
It can’t hurt to check up on Ororo. Surely the nurses will have put her to sleep; she’ll never even know he was here, and if things don’t... turn out... he won’t have to worry about too much attachment from her end. Instead of finding her peacefully asleep, though, he finds her sitting cross-legged on the bed in the same starkly medical room he left her in earlier, now dimly lit. He can’t quite make out her face, but it looks as if she might be glaring at the opposite wall.
A nurse rounds the corner almost immediately, and Phil stops him.
“Shouldn’t she be asleep?” he asks, and if the look of mild terror that crosses the nurse’s face is any indication, he’s accidentally using the Badass Secret Agent Face. He can’t bring himself to regret it, because he hates incompetence.
“We tried for hours,” the man says, glancing through the window at where Ororo sits, “She said she didn’t want to, and she’s been sitting there ever since. We’ve got, there’s a lot we have to do, we couldn’t...”
“Allow me to clarify,” Phil says, and it’s possible that he’s intentionally putting a bit of menace into his voice now. He won’t admit it if asked. “You left a four-year-old girl on her own in a strange room, in the dark, because you were busy with paperwork?”
“Um--” the nurse squeaks, and Phil brushes past him. He’s got more important things, like terrified four-year-olds, to deal with.
He knocks on the door, gently, and is surprised when Ororo only vaguely tilts her head in his direction. Carefully, he pushes the door open.
“Ororo--” he begins, only to be cut off when she issues a loud shushing noise.
“Hawkman is telling me a story,” she insists, briefly turning to glare at him, and then she looks back at a suspicious vent, intent on her story.
Phil raises an eyebrow.
“Uh, hi,” Clint’s voice drifts out from the building ventilation. Phil sighs.
“I believe you were telling a story?”
“Uh, yeah,” Clint says, and his voice loses the particular tone he has whenever Phil catches him in the act of some mischief as he proceeds.
“So, the lion grabs the mouse, and he roars, ‘How dare you wake me up! I could eat you up in a bite!’”
Ororo shrieks and claps her hands. “Is this lion like your lion-friend Sandy, Mr. Hawk?”
“Oh, no,” Clint assures her, “Sandy was sweet as could be, wouldn’t hurt a mouse or even a fly. Anyways, the mouse is scared of the big bad lion, and he squeaks, ‘Please don’t eat me! If you let me live, someday I might help you!’ Well, the lion doesn’t believe the mouse could ever help him, but the mouse is kinda funny looking and he’d barely be a bite anyway, so the lion lets him go.”
“He should’ve eaten him,” Ororo says, and she does indeed sound very put out, “A mouse couldn’t help a lion!”
“Well, that’s what the story is about,” Clint says, and he sounds gently chiding now. It’s not a tone Phil has ever heard him use. “Just a few days later, the lion was caught in a hunter’s net, and he couldn’t get free. He was really afraid because he thought for sure the hunter would return and eat him, but the mouse found him first. The mouse reminded the lion that the lion had thought the mouse could never be of any use to him, but he chewed through the ropes and set the lion free. From that day on, the lion and the mouse were best friends.”
A few moments pass before Clint remembers to tack on, “The end!”
Ororo smiles, and it’s still dim in the room so Phil isn’t sure, but he thinks she looks sleepy.
“Stay with me until I fall asleep?” she asks Phil a little blearily.
“Of course,” he says, unable to keep the warmth out of his voice.
“And Mr. Hawk?” she asks, definitely fainter now.
“Right here, kiddo,” Clint calls from the vent. It’s a matter of minutes before her breathing evens out and she is clearly asleep.
“Agent Barton, a word. My office, five minutes,” Phil says, very quietly, in the general direction of the vent. A gentle knuckle tap tells him Clint has acknowledged his words.
“What was that?” he asks, when Clint pops into his office five minutes and twelve seconds later. “I thought we’d already had the discussion about sneaking around in SHIELD ventilation.”
Clint shrugs, looking chastised but not particularly remorseful. Phil sighs.
“How did you know?” he asks.
Clint shrugs again.
“Sometimes, after mom and dad died, I’d refuse to sleep until they came to put me to bed. It never worked, but... it was a long time before I stopped hoping that it would. When I’d get like that, the bearded lady would come sit in my room and tell me stories until I fell asleep. I thought... I thought it might be like that and that I might be able to help, but my clearance to the medical levels is still revoked after that time I helped Nat break out.”
“Do we need to have the talk about not getting attached?” Phil asks, even though he really just wants to pull Clint close and press a kiss against his temple.
“Naw,” Clint says, bashfulness easily melding into flippancy, “Anyways, I’m headed home, you coming?”
Phil shakes his head and says something about paperwork, but he has to hide a smile as Clint turns away because--
Maybe, this could work out.
(Ten years from now, Ororo will ask about the imaginary friend she vaguely remembers, Mr. Hawk, and she won’t understand why Clint falls off the couch laughing.)