Phil doesn't live in the greatest part of town, but he's a junior SHIELD agent, so he figures that he can take care of himself. He also knows not to get caught out too late by himself and to always stay aware of his surroundings. There is no excuse for coming home late on Christmas Eve, a last minute nearly forgotten gift clutched in his hand, and letting himself get mugged.
The mugger pulls Phil into the alley next to his apartment building and slams him into the wall. Phil's head bounces against the brick hard, disorienting him enough that he doesn't immediately defend himself.
"Give me all your money," the mugger snarls, "or I'll skewer you. Come on, hurry up or I… I'll cut out your eye. Fuck. Yeah, that. Maybe I'll do that anyway for fun."
Phil sees the flash of a knife and tenses to fight back when there's a sudden whir, a crack, and then the mugger is stumbling away from him yowling in pain. Phil looks down at where the knife has clattered to the ground and quickly kicks it away, watching as it spins on the ice covered sidewalk and into a sewer drain. He straightens and tries to make himself look as large and menacing as he can.
"Go!" he yells at the mugger. "Get out of here before we call the cops."
The mugger quickly stumbles away, clutching at his hand, which Phil realizes must have been broken by whatever his rescuer had thrown. Before he can turn into the alley and say thank you, Phil hears the familiar thud of a body hitting the floor. He races deeper into the alley, finding his rescuer in an unconscious heap, and does the only thing he can think of: Phil takes him back to his apartment.
All Phil can do for a long few minutes is stare down at the kid asleep on his couch. He's heard on the news that all the local shelters are full and he's not sure if a hospital will do more than give him a good meal and send him on his way. Phil reaches for the phone without really stopping to think about it.
Five minutes later, Phil has a plan that starts with a hot bowl of chicken soup. He reaches down to get the saucepan and accidentally drops it, the loud clang reverberating loudly in the otherwise silent apartment. Phil looks over at the couch in panic, half expecting his guest to already be out the door. He hasn't moved. Concerned for a different reason, Phil creeps toward the couch and is relieved to see that the blankets are rising and falling with each of the kid's breaths. His curiosity gets the better of him and Phil goes back to the kitchen to drop the saucepan again. The kid still doesn't move. Phil frowns, pushing the new piece of information into the corner of his mind, and starts heating up the soup.
He place the hot soup on the coffee table and smiles when he sees the kid's nose twitch before his eyes snap open. The fear in them is immediate when he sees Phil sitting across from him, so Phil doesn't move as he continues to smile in what he hopes is a non-threatening manner.
"Hi. I'm Phil, the guy you kept from getting mugged downstairs. Can you hear what I'm saying?"
The kid shakes his head, confirming Phil's earlier hypothesis.
"But you can read lips?"
Another nod. Phil pushes the soup closer and then sits back in his chair, hoping to make the kid feel like he's not being caged in.
"Go on. Eat. Just slowly so your stomach doesn't get upset. The water is yours too."
Phil waits until the kid has slowly sipped half of the soup—clearly accustomed to eating slowly after a lack of food—before speaking again.
"I'm in a bit of a dilemma. I owe you one, so there's no way I'm kicking you back out into the cold. I also can't leave you alone here because you're eating the last bit of food I have." The kid raises a skeptical eyebrow. "What? I'm serious. I've been busy and typically get takeout on the way home from work. Anyway… I tried calling my mom to tell her I'd be staying here for Christmas and you can guess how that went."
The kid shrugs and looks down, telling Phil that no, he can't guess what it's like to have a family. Phil holds back a wince and keeps talking.
"I told her about how you saved me down in the alley and she insisted I take you home with me. Now I'm stuck. If you don't agree to drive home with me, I'll get in trouble with my mom. You don't want me to get in trouble, do you?"
Phil looks away from watching the kid—Clint—play an enthusiastic game of Battleship with his six year old niece and turns to his sister with a smile.
"Are you telling me you're pregnant again?"
"Ha! No. She wanted a big brother. We told her it was impossible, but it looks like Super Uncle Phil came through again."
Phil looks back at the two sitting by the coffee table and watches as Ellie play-growls and launches herself at Clint after he sinks her battleship. Clint grins and lets himself be bowled over before gently lifting Ellie off of him and placing her back on her side of the game.
"It's not like he can stay with you. You work too much and don't know ASL. Let us keep him."
"He's not a stray dog."
"No, he's a stray boy that looks like he's in dire need of a good home. We can give him that."
"We know nothing about him. He could be a criminal."
Jenny scoffs. "Right. A vicious criminal who saves strangers in alleys and has been nothing but polite and gentle all weekend."
"We can take care of ourselves, Phillip," his mother chimes in as she comes in from the kitchen.
Phil looks at his mom, a former military nurse, and his sister, an officer with the local police department, and sees nothing but determination in their eyes. But as good as Clint has been since they arrived on Christmas Day, he can't help feeling uneasy about the whole situation.
"Dan?" Phil prods, looking for an ally.
"What?" Phil's brother-in-law asks with a start, looking up from his book, and seeing the serious look on all of the Coulsons' faces. "Oh. We talking about Clint? He was really good with the horses earlier and I've been thinking of getting more help at the office. Think he'd been good on the field calls too."
Phil sighs and admits defeat. Dan runs the vet's office and is usually more trusting of animals than people. If he can trust Clint after only knowing him a few days, then Phil doesn't have much of an argument left.
"Okay, but if anything happens…"
"Nothing will happen, but if it makes you feel better, little brother, we'll promise to call."
"It's okay. They'll take good care of you."
If anything, that seems to make Clint more scared.
"You deserve to be taken care of, Clint. Let them. If it gets overwhelming, just tell them and they'll back off. Maybe not my mom, but I'm sure Jenny will understand. I think this will be good for you, okay?"
Clint nods and makes the one sign Phil has managed to learn over the weekend.
"You're welcome. Get Dan to help you set up a gmail account and you can email me."
Clint nods again and, when he starts to fidget uncertainly, Phil reaches out and pulls him into a hug.
"Take care of yourself, Clint."
Phil gets promoted in the spring and uses the extra cash flow to move into a new apartment. When he tells Clint the news, Clint tells him congratulations and jokingly suggests Phil throw a molotov cocktail into the alley he used to call home. At least Phil thinks he's joking.
When Phil puts the last box into his car for the move, something compels him to walk into the alley. There's nothing there left of Clint. Anything worth taking has already been taken and Phil shakes his head at his own sentimentality.
"It's because he has a crush on you."
"Clint. Has. A. Crush. On. You. Do you want me to finger spell it?"
Phil shoves at Jenny's shoulder at her teasing and then looks back out the window where he'd been surreptitiously watching Clint do yard work without his shirt on. Clint has filled out a lot since Christmas, his body now muscular and toned from all of his work with Dan and his hobby at the archery range. "Really? He likes me?"
"Oh god. Do you want me to pass him a note? Or you can try pulling his hair. Geez, Phil."
"Shut up. Is it… Is it because Clint thinks he owes me something?"
"What? No. He's liked you since New York. Said watching you walk by in your suits was usually the highlight of his day."
"But he's gorgeous."
"And he's turned down every guy and girl who's asked him out on dates, spending all his time writing you emails instead."
Phil smiles, suddenly giddy, and then deflates when he looks back outside. "I'm still not sure this would be a good idea."
"Why not? I know he looks young, but he's twenty-three and only eight years younger than you."
"It's not that. It's… I see a lot of dark things with work."
"So? Isn't that more reason to have a little light in your life? Do you think Clint didn't see darkness during his time on the streets? We haven't pushed him to talk about it, but Clint has nightmares. Maybe you could both use something good in your lives."
"Okay, but how? Do I ask him to go for coffee? Or maybe I could take him out to dinner."
"How about you start by talking to him? He thinks you're amazing for learning ASL."
"I'm horrible at it."
"He thinks it's sweet. Just remember that the soundproofing is horrible in this old house and the bed in your room squeaks." Jenny laughs as Phil shoves her again. "Come on, little brother. Man up and get your guy."
"I like you too, Clint."
The night before Phil is scheduled to return to New York, he takes Clint to dinner at the new restaurant in town and reserves a room at the adjacent hotel. They don't get much sleep that night, using their last few hours together to learn each other's bodies and fill each other with pleasure.
It's a subdued ride back to the house the next morning and Clint's tight hug nearly undoes him. Phil returns Clint's hug just as tightly, promising to try and be back for Thanksgiving.
When the week until Christmas still feels too far away, Phil gets a picture Jenny had sent him of Clint printed and places it on his desk. He doesn't expect the simple act to change the course of his life.
"Why do you have a picture of Hawkeye on your desk?"
"Who?" Phil asks, looking up at Natasha in confusion.
"Hawkeye. World's best marksman and assassin for hire. You don't know of him?"
"No. I… Are you sure that's him?"
"Fairly sure. I only met him once while I was still with the Red Room, but I'd recognize those eyes anywhere. How do you know him?"
"I don't know Hawkeye, but this is Clint. He lives with my family."
"Oh. If it helps, he wasn't a bad guy—saved my life. I think he just got caught up with the wrong people who took advantage of him. I was actually hoping he'd gotten clear of them."
"I think he did. When I found him, he wasn't doing well. I took him home and he's been living with my family for almost a year now."
"And he didn't tell you who he was?"
"Did you tell him what you do?"
Phil frowns. "No, not really."
"Maybe you both need to do a little more talking. Probably in person."
Phil nods, but stops Natasha at the door. "Could he… Did he talk when you knew him?"
"Yeah. Could barely shut him up. Why?"
Phil wonders if Clint's hearing loss and inability to speak occurred after he last saw Natasha. It's possible that it's the reason why Clint went went to hiding and shed the persona of Hawkeye. Maybe that's why Clint was thrown into the streets to fend for himself. Phil realizes that he's theorizing with zero information and gives himself a mental shake, turning to his computer to begin researching everything he can on this mysterious Hawkeye. He has a week until he's due home for the holiday and it suddenly feels much too soon.
"What?! You knew about Hawkeye and didn't tell me?"
"He told us after you left. In our defense, he thinks you work security for a Wall Street firm because that's what all those papers you made us sign said we were supposed to tell people."
"So this is my fault?"
"How about we take Ellie and your mom to see Christmas lights?" Dan cuts in, already shrugging on his coat and grabbing Ellie's. "I think these two need a little time alone."
Dan hustles everyone out of the house, leaving a perplexed Phil and a scared looking Clint standing across the living room from one another.
I can leave, Clint signs.
"No! Don't run away," Phil says quickly, rushing forward to take Clint's hands and sits with him on the couch before letting go. "I don't want you to leave. I just wish you'd told me."
I didn't want you to look at me like a monster. You're such a good person. I have a lot of blood on my hands.
"My hands aren't clean either. You need to know that I work for SHIELD. It's how I found out about your past. I'll probably be made a senior agent when I get back."
Are you here to arrest me?
"No. I did my research. You're not actually wanted by any legitimate governments. There are a few less savory organizations after you though."
So what now? I don't want to put anyone in danger.
Phil pushes away what he's learned about Hawkeye and instead focuses on everything he knows about Clint, the gentle man who loves and cares about his family. The man Phil is pretty sure he's in love with.
"Come back to New York with me. Come to SHIELD and we'll figure out the rest."
And what about you? Do you… Clint drops his hands and looks away, unable to ask the rest of his question. Phil reaches out and gently turns him back so that he can see Phil's lips. He realizes that, in the week that he's spent researching everything he could find about Hawkeye, Phil stopped responding to Clint's messages and texts. It's no wonder that Clint is fearing the worst.
"I got distracted for a little while, but my feelings for you haven't changed. I know you're a good man and I love you, Clint. The rest will work itself out."
Clint pushes into Phil and wraps his arms around him. Phil hugs back, surprised when a voice, rough with disuse, whispers in his ear.
"Merry Christmas, Phil. I love you too."
~ fin ~