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All Roads Lead to Home

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“Get out of there, Barton, you’ve been made.” Clint cursed under his breath at the insistent voice of his handler in his ear, immediately scoping out the nearest exits. He was playing some thug for hire for some rich guy — he was never good at playing the rich guy himself — and everywhere he looked there seemed to be people in fancy suits blocking every exit, each with the faint outline of a gun strapped somewhere on their person.

“Ah, Mr Brent,” a familiar voice called out to him, a tone to it that Clint would recognise in his sleep. The man — his mark — knew exactly who he was. God damn it, he’d been so close to getting the information they needed. “Why don’t we speak in private? I believe I have a business proposition for you and your… company.”

“Actually, I need to get going; I have another job to get to,” Clint started, making his mark smirk.

“I’m sure you do, Agent Barton.” Fuck. Several heads turned at the name, and with them went any chance of Clint getting out there without a scene. Cover well and truly blown, he turned and sprinted for the nearest window, grateful for whatever it was that made rich folks love floor-to-ceiling windows. It was a hot night, so the window was open, leaving the three-story drop Clint’s best bet. He’d made worse jumps before.

“Damn it, Clint, again?” Coulson muttered in his ear as the cameras clearly picked up what he was about to do. Clint grinned roguishly, pulling his gun and shooting behind him as several people tried to grab him while he ran.

“Promise you’ll catch me, boss?” He didn’t give the older man a chance to reply, leaping from the window without hesitation, the familiar free-falling sensation barely bothering him. The impact was hard, but not painfully so, and he rolled into it easily, running almost as soon as he was back on his feet. He doubted anyone would follow him out of the window, but that wouldn’t stop their security chasing after him from the ground. “Where am I headed, sir?”

“Car’s on the corner of 12th and Elm, outside Starbucks,” Coulson replied instantly. Clint’s eyebrow rose in surprise — did they not have anywhere else safe? — But he didn’t question his orders, slipping into the narrow alley between two buildings and vaulting up the drainpipe on one, hitting the roof. He was glad that parkour was making a comeback; with any luck, after enough running and unnecessary stunts, he’d be far enough away to be dismissed as another thrillseeker risking their neck. Pausing only briefly to strip off his expensive suit jacket and crisp white shirt — Coulson would kill him at the mistreatment, but Clint had priorities — he jumped across two roofs in just his black t-shirt and suit trousers, glad he hadn’t been persuaded into a pair of dress shoes. His trusty combat boots gripped the tiles easily, and Clint was just thankful it hadn’t rained recently.

He lost all of his tails after only ten minutes, and led a wild goose chase around the city for another fifteen just to be safe. Finally he returned to ground level about three blocks from the Starbucks Coulson was at, jogging the rest of the way and sliding nonchalantly into the car. “Have fun?” Coulson greeted, the barest hint of amusement to his tone.

“A blast,” Clint replied, grinning. It had actually been incredibly fun; his tails had been useless, and he hadn’t been able to go freerunning like that in a while. Portland was awesome for it. “Where we headed?” Coulson didn’t answer, smoothly pulling out of his parking spot and into the flood of traffic all heading for the outskirts of the city. “Home already?” Clint presumed, a frown at his lips. They couldn’t leave things so unfinished, could they?

“Not exactly,” Coulson finally admitted, glancing at him for the briefest moment. Clint reached up to remove his comm without jarring his hearing aid, securing it away in the hard shell case in the door pocket. “The backup team have been called in to take over, but we need to stay in the area. Friedricks may have made you in there, but plenty of your contacts still won’t know who you are. The team need you within driving distance in case you need to step back in, so we’re hanging around for a few days.”

“But we don’t have a safe house set up in Portland anymore,” Clint pointed out, perplexed. The previous SHIELD safe house had been set on fire in their last Portland op, and Fury hadn’t yet gotten round to requisitioning a new one. This was just supposed to be a quick in-and-out, an extension of his original undercover op in Washington. They hadn’t thought they’d need a safe house.

“Not technically,” his handler agreed, making a turn off onto the freeway. “Which is where we have a slight problem. Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t birthed in a test tube.” Clint snorted, remembering encouraging those rumours in the junior agents on a regular basis. “My parents live in Portland, and Fury had given me leave to stay out here for a few days after the op was done.” From the look on Coulson’s face, Clint assumed it was more ‘forced leave’ than given, but he was still stuck on the little nugget of Coulson’s personal life. His parents were still around? He had a family?

“So just drop me off in some crappy motel, keep the comm lines open and go have fun with your parents. Just don’t forget to pick me up on your way back to base,” Clint remarked with a shrug; it was no big deal to him.

“I’m not leaving you on your own, Barton, you know that’s not how I work.” Coulson’s retort was immediate, and something tightened a little in Clint’s belly. He was well aware of Coulson’s SOP, and how it didn’t involve leaving people alone. It was half the reason Coulson was his favourite, though he’d never admit it. “You’ll have to come with me. My parents won’t mind; hell, they’ll probably love you. Mom loves everyone.” Clint’s palms began to sweat at the prospect of meeting Coulson’s parents, of putting himself in such a family, intimate situation. Of implanting himself into his handler’s life just that little bit more. All his cut-and-run instincts told him it was a bad idea, and he opened his mouth to protest only to be cut off by Coulson’s hand on his knee. “That wasn’t a request, Barton, that was an order. You’re coming with me, and you’re meeting my parents.”

“Oh, I don’t know, this is all moving a little fast,” Clint replied with a mock-shocked voice, batting his eyelashes and earning a smack to the head.

“That’s another thing,” Coulson continued, unfazed by Clint’s theatrics. “My parents have no idea what I do. They think I’m an accountant with a private security firm. And I’m sure you know, I’m not the type to bring colleagues back for a visit.” Clint swallowed, having a clear idea of where this was headed, but waited for his boss to say it in words. “The only way it won’t look suspicious is if I tell them we’re… involved.”

“Is boyfriend too childish?” Clint teased before he could help himself, laughing at the glare he received through the rear-view. “I’ve done worse on ops, it’ll be fine. And we, uh, won’t be there long, right?” He could handle pretending to be Coulson’s partner, but family atmospheres were so not his style. He was allergic to them, or something; happy homes made him break out in a rash.

“The weekend, five days tops,” Coulson promised. “I’d offer alternative solutions, but there aren’t any. So, you think you can convince my parents we’re a couple?” Clint smirked at the challenge, offering the man a sultry wink and feeling guilty for enjoying it far too much.

“Sure thing, baby.” Coulson glared, free hand going to the pocket of his jacket that held his beloved taser, and Clint wisely didn’t say another word, settling down to nap.

.-.-.

Clint was jolted out of his doze by a nudge to the shoulder, lifting his chin to eye Coulson. “We there?” he asked simply, and Coulson nodded. Smirking, Clint sat up a little running a hand through his hair.

“About five minutes out. Just thought I’d warn you now; mom’s a hugger.” Coulson smirked at Clint’s startled look, pulling the car into a small road lined sparsely with large houses. “I can tell her to back off, but you’ll get one upon meeting. Especially since I’m bringing you home. Haven’t done that since I was… nineteen?” he guessed, frowning to himself. Clint wasn’t really surprised; Coulson didn’t seem the type to bring partners to meet his parents.

“That long? Wow; she’ll either love me or hate me. Not sure which one I’m hoping for.” Clint frowned when Coulson slowed the car even more, glancing at him in concern.

“We don’t have to do this, y’know. If it makes you uncomfortable I’m sure I can make up something believable,” he offered. Clint was tempted, just for a moment, but shook his head. He could do this. He’d just have to keep a lot of long-repressed feelings at bay.

“I said it before, I’ve done worse on ops; at least you’re not going to murder me in my sleep,” he joked, making Coulson’s lips twitch.

“Depends how irritating you are,” the older man retorted, making Clint snicker.

“Guess I’ll have to be on my best behaviour then, huh, honey?” he teased, laughing at the man’s glare.

“No pet names.” Clint laughed louder, trying not to tense visibly as Coulson parked in a wide driveway in front of a pretty, well-kept house. The agent turned, giving Clint an intent look. “Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” the archer agreed brightly, opening the car door and stepping out, sighing at the chance to stretch his legs out. Before Coulson could even completely get out of the car, the front door of the house opened and a woman who could only be Phil Coulson’s mother was hurrying down the drive, a wide smile on her face.

“You’re early!” she exclaimed, bundling Coulson in a hug and standing on her toes to kiss his cheek. “Oh, Phil, let me look at you!” She held him at arm’s length, her lips pursing as she eyed him over. “Have you been sleeping well? Or are you still working yourself to death for that job of yours?”

“I sleep, Mom, I promise,” Coulson replied indulgently, making Clint smile to himself. He could count the number of times he’d actually seen Coulson sleep on one hand, and counted himself as an incredibly privileged person to even have that many.

“So you say,” Mrs Coulson said, clearly not believing him. Her eyes, so similar to her son’s, landed on Clint and went wide, and he tried not to tense too obviously. “Now who’s this, then? Phil, you didn’t tell me you were bringing a friend.”

Clint watched as Coulson’s cheeks actually flushed a little, his mouth opening but no words coming out. “This is Clint, Mom. We, uh.” He faltered, and Clint took pity on him, putting on his best shy smile and reaching out to take his boss’ hand. He didn’t know what was stranger; the fact that he was holding Coulson’s hand, or the fact that it felt completely natural.

Mrs Coulson’s eyebrows shot up, and a slow grin crossed her lips as she looked between the pair of them. “Well, this does explain a lot. I knew you wouldn’t just visit out of the blue. It’s lovely to meet you, Clint, was it?”

“Clint Barton, ma’am,” Clint confirmed promptly, feeling completely out of his depth. Arms wrapped around him, and he tensed, fingers clamping down on Coulson’s instinctively.

“Mom,” Coulson urged, gently tugging her away by the shoulder. “Give him a break, okay? Clint doesn’t really do hugging.” The woman looked apologetic, tucking a lock of grey hair behind her ear.

“Of course, I’m sorry, I’m just so pleased Phil brought you here. He hasn’t brought someone home since he was barely out of high school!” She held out a hand, and Clint had to let go of Phil’s to shake it, guilt in his stomach as he saw the man stretching out his fingers to return feeling to them. He hadn’t meant to grip that hard. “I’m Sarah, sweetie; none of this ma’am business. Come on in, both of you. I was just getting dinner started, it won’t take long to double it. I always cook too much anyway. Phil, honey, do you need help with your bags?”

Their bags were light, even though Coulson had actually been anticipating the stay, and he got them from the trunk with ease. “I got it, Mom, you just get inside.” Clint went to take his own bag from the other man, and as he did so Coulson gave him a concerned look. “Safe word?” he murmured under his breath, making Clint blink. He hadn’t expected the man to offer him an out in a non-op situation.

“Banana muffins,” he responded obediently. “But I’m good, boss.” Coulson nodded in approval, walking close by Clint’s side as they followed Sarah into the house, their shoulders bumping every other step.

“Henry? Henry, Phil’s here early, and he’s brought a boy home!” Sarah called, stepping into the living room.

“Mom, I’m a grown man, and so’s Clint!” Coulson protested uncomfortably. Sarah laughed, patting his cheek.

“I’ve wanted to say that since you were seventeen, let me have my moment.” Before Coulson could argue further, there were footsteps on laminate flooring and a man who was evidently Henry Coulson approached, his eyes landing on Clint. The archer felt his breath hitch a little; he felt like he was looking into the future. The man was the spitting image of his son, albeit thirty years older, and hardly even looked a day over sixty. If Coulson aged that well, he would be terrorising SHIELD agents long into his senior years. Clint kind-of hoped he would. Henry had a kind smile and the same facial features as his son, and he held out a hand for Clint immediately.

“Henry Coulson, pleased to meet you.”

“Clint Barton, sir, and likewise,” Clint replied, trying his best to smile and look a little less nervous. Hopefully they’d put his obvious discomfort down to the whole ‘meeting your boyfriend’s parents’ thing.

“So, Phil, why didn’t you tell us you were bringing someone?” Henry asked his son, pulling him into a brief hug.

“Because you would have made a big deal of it and called the girls and told your friends and we never would have gotten any peace,” Coulson replied dryly, giving his mother a pointed look when she opened her mouth to protest. “I just wanted a few quiet days for you to get to know Clint, and visa versa. I didn’t want to inflict the whole Coulson Family Circus on him on his first visit; I have to be sure he’ll stick around after this one,” he joked, making Sarah huff.

“Oh, hush, you; we’re not that bad. But you’re right, I suppose. Go get yourself settled, I’ll fix dinner. Clint, honey, if you need anything at all, just ask.”

Nodding uncomfortably, Clint nearly breathed a sigh of relief when Coulson took his hand once more, leading him up the stairs. “My old room doesn’t look much like it did when I was a kid, but I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of it anyway,” Coulson mused, nudging a door open. The room was painted a pale grey with black and white accents in the decorating, and while it was clearly a guest room there was one defining feature that set it out to be Phil Coulson’s room; an enormous vintage poster of Captain America framed on the wall opposite the bed. Clint couldn’t help but grin, watching as his handler tried valiantly not to blush.

“Part of your collection, huh, boss?” he teased, dropping his duffle onto the bed. The double bed that he would be sharing with Coulson for the next few nights at least. How did he get himself into these things?

“Call me Phil.” Clint looked up, freezing at the surprisingly warm look in the older man’s eyes. “While we’re here, it’s Phil. If I don’t want my parents pestering me, we’ll have to be convincing. Besides, I think we’ve earned first names by now, right?” His smile was amused, and Clint swallowed as his throat went dry.

“Yeah, sure, uh, Phil.” The name didn’t feel as foreign on his tongue as it should. Probably from all those nights he’d spent whispering it to himself, imagining being given permission to actually use it. He hadn’t expected it to happen like this. “So, how convincing is convincing? PDA?”

“Nothing overt; I’m not really the public affection type. Holding hands is fine, sitting close together, kisses on the cheek, temple and lips. If you’re comfortable with that, of course; it wouldn’t be hard to sell to my parents that I’m dating someone even more reserved than myself.” Clint swallowed, shaking his head.

“No, no. That sounds fine.” It actually sounded nice, but he wasn’t going to admit that. He didn’t need Coulson — Phil — realising how fucked up and touch-starved he really was. “I should change my pants.” The suit trousers he was in were scuffed and a little dirty from his parkour adventures, and the tailored fit was making him uncomfortable. Uncaring of the extra presence in the room, he dug a pair of well-worn jeans from his duffle bag and stripped off his suit trousers, smiling as the soft denim covered his legs. He could only stand fancy clothes for so long before he got twitchy.

“You ready to head back down?” Coulson asked once he was dressed, and Clint raised an eyebrow at him.

“Aren’t you going to change too?” Coulson looked down at himself, still in his pristine suit.

“No, I’m fine for now. I’ll try my best to head off Mom’s inquisition, but she’s bound to ask plenty of questions regardless. Just signal if you’re not comfortable answering.” Pulling the door open, Coulson led the way back downstairs, into a cosy kitchen where Sarah was already cooking up a storm.

“It smells delicious,” Clint complimented politely, earning a wide smile.

“Thank you, dear; I hope you like spaghetti. Please, sit; you must be tired after your flight.” Pulling out one of the chairs at the table, Clint was only half surprised when Coulson sat beside him, their knees touching under the table. “So, Clint, tell me about yourself.” Coulson groaned, running a hand over his hair.

“Mom, give him a break; he just got here. You’ll have a few days to interrogate him all you want.”

“Excuse me for being curious about the person my son has obviously deemed important enough to bring home! I can’t even remember the last time you talked about dating someone, let alone actually let me meet them!”

“It’s fine, Phil,” Clint cut in, the name feeling strange when there were other people in the room. “I don’t mind answering some questions.” His mind was already halfway into under-cover mode, but having Coulson there and a lack of danger was putting him off. He hoped he could keep up the ruse long enough to get back to base without causing problems between Coulson and his parents. Despite never having mentioned them before, it was obvious to Clint that his handler cared a lot about his family.

“See? He doesn’t mind,” Sarah retorted smugly, giving Clint an impish grin. “Like I was saying, tell me about yourself. How did you and Phil meet?”

“We work together,” Clint replied easily, leaning back in his chair. Spinning half-truths was comfortable territory. “I’m a bodyguard, and we met when his company hired me. The job lasted a month, and it took that entire month for me to work out the nerve to ask him out for coffee.” He made himself look bashful, and he could tell he’d surprised even Coulson. He wished he could be as confident as his false-self; he’d been wanting to ask Coulson out for coffee for years, let alone months. “Everything just sort of fell into place from there, I’ve done a few more jobs for his company, and… it works.” He forced himself not to startle when Coulson’s hand covered his on the table, their fingers lacing together easily.

“Of course; heaven forbid Phil meet anyone outside of work,” Henry mused with a chuckle as he walked into the kitchen, pressing a kiss to his wife’s cheek as he reached into the cupboard above her head for a glass. “How long ago was that?”

“Oh, must be…what?” Clint directed his question to Coulson as if he’d just lost track of the time, instead of wanting to know how long he should aim for. How long did the man consider enough time to bring a partner back to his parents?

“Six months now? Seven?” Coulson supplied, his tone as if he too had lost track.

“You’ve been together for seven months and we’re only just hearing about it now?” Sarah asked with her hands on her hips, shooting her son an exasperated look. “Phillip, I know we don’t see you often, but you could call once in a while!”

“I do call, Mom! I talked to you last week,” Coulson protested.

“For twenty minutes before you had to get back to work,” Sarah reminded, huffing. “I understand your work is important to you, sweetie, but relationships are the kind of thing I’d like to hear about in future. Though, I suppose if it’s been seven months now, there may not be an ‘in future’,” she added teasingly, and Clint watched Coulson’s cheeks go pink. Was a seven month relationship really that abnormal for him?

“Don’t start getting ahead of yourself,” the older man warned, and Clint grinned, squeezing his hand.

“Aww, you breaking up with me already?” he joked, earning an eye-roll.

“And set you loose on the rest of New York? I’m not that cruel,” came the deadpan reply. Clint held his free hand to his chest, feigning hurt.

“Ouch, that hurts.” Coulson smirked, and Clink winked at him in return. Faking couples-banter was surprisingly similar to their usual banter, which was something Clint didn’t want to look too closely into.

“Clint, honey, do you want cheese on your spaghetti?” He looked up to see Sarah was dishing up spaghetti bolognese, a small bowl of grated cheese on the counter beside her.

“Uh, yes please,” he requested, having to stop himself automatically tacking ‘ma’am’ on the end.

As they all sat down to eat, Clint took his hand back from Coulson’s grasp, eating slowly and carefully to avoid getting sauce on his chin or his shirt. Despite not actually dating Coulson, he wanted the man’s parents to have a good impression of him. He wanted them to be happy that he was looking after their son; which he was, even if it wasn’t quite in the way they imagined.

As his boss had warned him, the questions came fairly regularly; never too invasive, and always asked politely, but they still made Clint squirm. He didn’t like talking about his past, especially to civilians, but it felt wrong to give them too farfetched a lie about his life. When the subject turned to family, Clint set down his cutlery and stood abruptly. “Excuse me, I have to use the bathroom.”

“Out the door, turn right, it’s the first door on the left,” Coulson directed him, earning a grateful smile from the archer. Slipping out of the kitchen, he found the bathroom easily, locking the door behind him and taking a long breath. He did actually use the bathroom, but then spent a further few minutes splashing water on his face and trying to calm down. There was no use getting anxious now, he’d only slip up and ruin everything. Christ, he was pathetic; he was one of the best spies in the world, and a little dinner with his fake-boyfriend-real-boss’ family shook him up so badly he had to excuse himself? Natasha would be killing herself with laughter.

Unable to kill time any longer — and not wanting the Coulsons to think he was weird for spending so much time in the bathroom — he washed his hands, unlocked the door and slipped back into the corridor.

“Just dial it down a little, alright?” Coulson was saying as Clint approached the kitchen, and the archer hung back, only a little guilty about eavesdropping. “Clint… he’s not used to the whole parental figure thing. It’s his story to tell in full, but he grew up being shipped around orphanages all over the country.”

“Oh, Phil,” Sarah breathed, her tone making Clint wince. He didn’t want their pity. “I’m sorry, sweetie, I’m just excited to meet him; we both are. It’s obvious you care about him, we just want him to feel welcome.” Feeling oddly touched, Clint continued closer to the kitchen with louder footsteps, letting them change the topic before he re-entered. Coulson gave him an inquiring look, and the brief twitch of Clint’s lips let the man know that yes, he had heard that conversation. A slight shrug conveyed the older man’s apology, and as the conversation moved to talk of Phil’s sisters, that was apparently the end of it.

Ice cream and brownies were brought out for dessert, and Clint actually loosened up a little, laughing at Sarah and Henry’s stories of Phil as a child. “That’s adorable,” he declared as they finished telling him about the time Phil had been given a Captain America costume for Christmas and refused to take it off for almost a week straight.

“We ended up having to buy a second one for him to change into just so we could wash the first!” Henry told him, chuckling as his son went bright red.

“I’m going to regret bringing you here, aren’t I?” Coulson murmured into Clint’s ear, making him chuckle, ducking in to kiss the man’s cheek with only a little apprehension.

“Only for the rest of your life,” he assured cheerfully, snickering at Phil’s quiet groan. Leaning back in his chair with his shoulder just touching Coulson’s, Clint covered his mouth to yawn.

“Oh, look how late it is already! You boys must be exhausted from the flight, don’t let us keep you up any longer than necessary. We have plenty of time to get to know you, don’t we, Clint?” Sarah urged, smiling. Clint was about to protest that he could stay up a while longer, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him.

“I think you’re right, Mom; it’s been a long day. Thanks for dinner on such short notice, and we’ll see you both in the morning,” Coulson said, getting to his feet and bending to press a kiss to his mother’s cheek. Clint stood too, giving the woman a hesitant smile.

“Yeah, thank you for dinner, it was great. Goodnight.” Sarah reached over to clasp his hand briefly.

“Goodnight, dears. Just holler if you need anything, but Phil should know where everything is.” Saying goodnight to Henry, Clint followed Coulson up the stairs and to their bedroom, posture relaxing once the door was closed behind them.

“Well, that could have gone a lot worse,” Coulson mused, shedding his suit jacket and grabbing a hanger from the closet. Clint perched on the edge of the bed, raising an eyebrow at the older man. “Congratulations, you seem to have charmed my parents.”

“They’re good people,” Clint replied, a flush coming to his cheeks. All he’d done was be polite. “Am I a convincing enough boyfriend?”

“Considering Mom asked if I’d thought about marriage while you were in the bathroom, I’d say you were plenty convincing,” Coulson told him as he undid his tie, draping it over the same hanger as his suit jacket. Clint’s eyes went wide, and he choked.

“Wait, what? She thought we were that far down the line?”

“The fact that you’re even here means we are, in her eyes. I think the last time I even told her I was seeing someone was about ten years ago, and I’d been with him for a year already,” the older man explained. Clint didn’t bat an eyelash at the pronoun; it explained why his parents weren’t surprised about Clint’s gender, at least.

“Damn. Well, when you propose, it had better be good.” He laughed as he had to duck the shoe tossed at his head, catching it before it could land on the bed.

“If you want to shower, the bathroom is all yours.” Clint bit his lip, glancing at the door to the en-suite bathroom.

“Yeah, I think I will. Left side of the bed is mine, alright?” It was the side closest to the door, and Coulson didn’t argue, merely moving his bag to sit on the right side instead. Grabbing his duffle, Clint made for the bathroom, glad for the time alone. Having to sit so close to Coulson, holding hands and bumping shoulders and getting kissed on the temple, was slowly driving him crazy. Every little feeling and emotion he’d bottled up in the five years of knowing the man was coming to the surface, and he needed a few minutes to push them down again.

When he emerged from the bathroom, he paused in the doorway, brain short-circuiting a little at the sight of Phil Coulson in a t-shirt and boxers, sat on top of the duvet with his tablet on his lap. Clint’s mouth went dry; for a man of Coulson’s age to be that in shape and attractive was surely breaking some sort of law. “Any news from the backup team?” the archer queried, managing nonchalance as he lifted the duvet on the left side and slid into bed. Ordinarily he would have felt self-conscious about not wearing a t-shirt — it was too hot, and he didn’t sleep well in shirts anyway — but it was Coulson. Besides, Clint wasn’t really body shy.

“They’re in, but not trusted. Friedricks thinks their story is a little fishy, and their connections are too petrified of him to be confident. But I have faith they’ll manage it,” Coulson replied, not reacting to Clint being in bed with him. And there was a sentence Clint had never expected to think.

“They’d better; I worked my ass off for that op,” Clint grumbled, shifting to make himself comfortable. He wasn’t quite tired enough to go to sleep, especially not with Coulson working beside him, but now he allowed himself to feel it he was exhausted, and the bed was comfortable.

They sat in companionable silence for a while, until Coulson was finished with whatever work he was doing and got up to put his tablet away and use the bathroom, getting the light switch. Clint would never admit to letting his eyes linger on the man’s ass in his boxers as he walked away from the bed. Damn. “Hey, uh, sorry if I kick you or whatever. I sprawl in my sleep,” he said softly as his handler climbed in the other side, illuminated by the low lamp on his side of the bed. Coulson turned to him, smirking.

“Clint, I’ve watched you sleep a thousand times. Trust me, I know.” Clint flushed, and Coulson settled down, reaching over to get the switch and plunge them into darkness. It took a few moments for Clint’s eyes to adjust, but he could still make out the outline of his boss beside him. There was an expanse of mattress separating them, each of them practically glued to the very edge of their respective sides so as not to disturb the other. They’d slept in close quarters, and on the floor beside each other, but never actually shared a real bed before. It felt strangely intimate, and despite his exhaustion Clint’s heart was racing.

“Your folks are really nice,” he blurted, desperate to fill the silence. Coulson cracked one eye open, a soft smile creeping across his lips.

“Yeah. Makes me feel bad about never coming home, but it’s just easier when I don’t have to explain about work.” Clint hummed in agreement, shuffling a little further inwards as he came dangerously close to falling off the edge. “Go to sleep, Clint. It’s been a long day.” Clint snorted; that was an understatement. It had begun with him chatting up some slimy businessmen for information, and ended with him in bed with his handler. Even he couldn’t have predicted anything like that. “Goodnight.”

“G’night, Phil,” Clint murmured, trying not to smile too much at using the man’s first name. God, he was pathetic.

.-.-.-.-.

They ended up staying at the Coulsons’ for three days before they got the all clear from the back-up team. In those three days, Clint had learned more of Coulson’s childhood stories than his boss was comfortable with. He was surprised with how much he enjoyed it, even with — or perhaps because of — having to pretend he and Coulson were a couple. Holding the man’s hand or sliding an arm around his waist was becoming so natural to Clint that he worried he’d have a hard time curbing himself of the habit when they got back on base. No doubt Coulson was looking forward to the whole charade being over; he seemed to be getting a little on edge towards the end of their stay.

“You boys fly safe, okay?” Sarah fussed as they stood in the driveway, their bags all loaded in the car and a small tupperware box of cookies ‘for the flight’ sitting in the front passenger seat. “Call me when you’re home.”

“I will, Mom,” Coulson assured her, rolling his eyes fondly and allowing her to hug him one more time. Henry stood back, watching them indulgently, having already hugged his son goodbye and clapped Clint on the shoulder.

“And take care of each other,” the woman instructed sternly. “You both work too hard, you need to take time out and relax every once in a while.” She turned her gaze to Clint and her smile softened. “And it was absolutely wonderful to meet you, Clint. You’re welcome here anytime, and if you can drag Phil along with you then even better.” Clint’s eyebrows rose in surprise at the invite, but he grinned at her, nodding.

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you for having me, I know you weren’t expecting an extra guest.”

“Nonsense, you’re a pleasure to have. Now you’d better get going, or you’ll miss your flight. I love you, Phil.”

“Love you, Mom. Keep Dad out of trouble for me,” Coulson replied, making Henry chuckle.

“Only if Clint does the same for you,” he retorted with a wink. “Travel safe, boys.”

Climbing into the car and moving the cookies to his lap, Clint did up his seatbelt and waved to the Coulsons as his boss backed them out of the driveway. “You can relax now, Barton,” Coulson said with a smirk. “The hard part’s over.”

“Oh, I was just wondering how hard you’d taser me if I ate all these cookies while you were driving,” Clint teased to cover the jolt at being referred to by his surname once more. No more Clint and Phil, he supposed.

“So hard you’d be out the entire flight back to base,” Coulson promised evenly. Clint snorted, cracking the lid on the tupperware and stuffing a cookie in his mouth, holding it out for his boss to take one. Sarah Coulson’s cookies were awesome. “And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you not to breathe a word of this to anyone back home. I’m quite proud of my reputation as an immortal alien robot grown in a test tube from the DNA of gods,” he added dryly. Clint’s smile widened around his cookie at the mention of the rumours.

“My lips are sealed,” he promised, making himself comfortable in his chair for the drive to the airfield. Closing his eyes, he let out a long breath, pushing away the little part of him that wished they could have stayed longer. So much for his eighteen year-old self’s mantra of ‘no ties, no roots, no commitments’.

Chapter Text

Drawing the string back to his cheek, Clint lost himself in the repeated draw-fire-reload rhythm, each arrow hitting the target exactly where he aimed it. “Trying to spell out your name?” He didn’t startle at the voice, having noticed the man enter the range. Phil was always careful about that, not wanting Clint to let down his guard without being aware of who was around him. Clint had long stopped keeping his guard up around his handler, but he appreciated the consideration.

Turning his gaze towards the C-shaped cluster of arrows on the target, Clint ducked his head, hoping he wasn’t blushing. The C didn’t stand for Clint. “I could do that with my eyes closed,” he remarked instead, smirking. “What brings you down here, boss? I thought you had paperwork to do?” Phil’s relaxed expression faltered, and his posture tensed.

“I needed to talk to you.” Clint swallowed at the ominous-sounding words, brain going through every possible thing he may have done wrong that Phil may want to talk to him about. “Mom called.” Blinking, Clint stared, confused. That definitely wasn’t where he’d expected the conversation to go. “She’s invited us over for Thanksgiving. Both of us.”

“Wait, you mean you didn’t tell your parents we broke up or something?” It had been four months since the time he’d spent at the Coulson family residence, and Clint felt both closer and further away from his boss than he ever had before. It was driving him crazy, especially with his feelings for the other man rapidly increasing. He would even go so far as to say he was besotted — Natasha definitely said he was besotted.

“I never got the chance,” Phil told him, looking almost uncomfortable. “Mom was just so happy that I finally had someone… I didn’t think it would come up again. But I’ll tell her tonight.”

“Hey, wait,” Clint said quickly, rapidly trying to think of a way to word his next sentence that wouldn’t give himself away. “I don’t mind pretending for another few days. I, uh, liked your parents. I don’t want to make your mom sad by telling her we split when it’s our fault she believes we’re together in the first place.”

“Are you saying you want to come home for Thanksgiving with me?” Phil asked, eyebrow raised in a way that made Clint want to squirm, feeling exposed.

“Maybe?” he admitted tentatively. “If you don’t mind, of course. If you’re not up to a few days of pretending you’re dating me, or if you have other plans, that’s totally fine. But if you’re going, and your mom has invited me… I’d like to come.” A long weekend of faking a relationship with Phil may just kill him emotionally, but it was a risk he was willing to take to just pretend he had that for a little while longer.

“Okay,” Phil agreed, making Clint look up in surprise. “I’ll call Mom back tonight, tell her we’re coming, then make the arrangements. God knows what I’ll tell Fury to get us both the weekend off, but I’ll think of something.”

“Sounds good,” Clint agreed, grinning. “I’ll tell Tasha I’ll be away for Thanksgiving weekend.” They usually spent it together, eating crappy take-out and mocking traditional family movies. She’d never let him hear the end of it once he told her of the change of plan.

“Good.” There was a long silence between them, before Phil cleared his throat, regaining his composure. “I’ll leave you to your range time.”

“See you in the morning, honey.” Clint felt just the tiniest bit smug at the way Phil’s step hesitated a fraction. Maybe Thanksgiving wouldn’t suck for him this year.

.-.-.

Natasha had been surprisingly tight-lipped about the whole Thanksgiving thing, which Clint was incredibly grateful for. All she’d done was kiss him on the cheek and tell him not to get his feelings hurt, before thrusting a bottle of wine at him and insisting it was rude not to bring something. Clint hadn’t argued, tucking the bottle safely in his luggage.

Sitting in a commercial plane next to Phil Coulson was bizarre, to say the least. Clint was far more used to military jets, or the backseat of a car. SHIELD weren’t really about travelling with the general public. He was travelling unarmed, his weapons all in his checked luggage, and he felt awfully exposed. Still, he had an audiobook on his iPod and a handheld console in his satchel, and it was only a five hour flight from New York to Oregon. He’d be fine.

Phil pulled a hardback book from his briefcase, ignoring the flight attendant going through safety procedures. Clint’s leg bounced as he waited to be told he could put his headphones in, and he jumped as a hand landed on his knee, stopping the movement. “I never took you for a nervous flyer,” Phil remarked softly, and Clint gave him a brief smile.

“This is hardly my usual flight,” he returned. “And I’ve never had a family Thanksgiving before.” Phil’s hand squeezed his knee briefly, before moving back to his own lap.

“Point taken. But even if you had, you’ve never had a Coulson family Thanksgiving before.” He paused, a small frown crossing his features. “And in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that the girls are going to be there with their families.” Clint felt himself blanch; he’d had the full run-down of the Coulson clan last time he’d been over there. Phil’s two older sisters, Jenny and Elizabeth, their respective husbands Michael and Alex, and the five kids between them.

“Was there a reason you left it until I had no way of backing out of the situation before telling me?” he asked nonchalantly, watching as the city grew smaller and smaller beneath them. He was stuck for the next five hours wondering how he was going to act around Phil’s siblings and their families. His parents had been bad enough.

“I thought you’d bail if I told you sooner,” Phil admitted freely. “And Mom and Dad are really excited to see you again. And they’ve told Jen and Liz all about you, so they’re excited to meet you too. I couldn’t let them be disappointed by that.”

“Asshole,” Clint muttered at the complete lack of guilt in the older man’s tone. “What if they hate me?”

“They’ll love you,” Phil assured him. “My sisters are charming if overbearing, their husbands aren’t complete morons, and the kids will love you as soon as they see how good you are at video games. Besides, do you really need their approval? It’s not like we’re really a couple.” Clint swallowed reflexively at that. If he was fake-dating Phil and his sisters didn’t think he was good enough, he’d never have a hope in hell of real-dating the man. Not that he had much of a chance in the first place, but hey, a guy could dream.

“I’d rather have your family think you’ve chosen a good boyfriend than have them constantly calling you telling you how terrible I am and you need to break up with me.” Neither of them mentioned how easy it would be to stop the whole charade if that did happen, and Phil rolled his eyes in amusement.

“Don’t worry about my sisters, Clint. They’re fine, I promise. Mom’s already been telling them how wonderful you are, they won’t hate you. Now relax, get some sleep. Trust me, with the kids around, you’ll need it.” Clint snickered, setting his iPod headphones in and turning on his audiobook, quiet enough to still heard what was going on around him just in case, but loud enough to distract him from the fact that he was on a cramped commercial flight. He spent a good fifteen minutes shifting regularly, trying to get a comfortable position, until Phil finally huffed exasperatedly.

“For God’s sake,” he muttered, shaking his head even as he smiled, bending to grab the tiny, crappy pillow they were each given with their seats. He pressed it against his shoulder, manhandling Clint until his head was resting comfortably on the pillow; and, effectively, on Phil’s shoulder. “Go to sleep, Barton.”

Clint turned just enough to wink at his boss, ignoring the flutters in his stomach as he settled back down into the man’s side. “Aye-aye, captain.”

Maybe the five hour flight wouldn’t be too bad after all. What awaited him at the other end, however, was still terrifying. But he’d deal with that when he got to it.

.-.-.

They arrived at the airport just after five, and Clint immediately spotted Henry Coulson waiting for them. Phil clearly did too as he made a beeline for his father, his hand in Clint’s meaning the archer had no choice but to follow. “Hey, Dad.”

“Twice in one year, this has got to be a record,” Henry teased, clapping his son on the shoulder as he released him from his hug. “Can I assume that’s your influence, son? It’s good to see you.” Clint felt like the ground had dropped out from underneath him for a few brief moments — he’d never been called ‘son’ before — but he recovered quickly, sure that only Phil had noticed.

“I don’t know if it’s my influence, but I’ll take credit for it anyway,” he joked, shaking the man’s hand firmly.

“The girls are real excited to see you, Phil,” Henry told them with a smile, stepping aside to allow Clint to haul his and Phil’s shared suitcase off the carrier. They’d needed checked luggage to bring their guns in, but didn’t see the point in having a bag each when they were only there for the weekend. “And, of course, to meet Clint here. It’s about all they’ve been talking about since they turned up.” Phil chuckled, turning to Clint with an amused look.

“It’s not too late to run,” he remarked lightly. “We can spend Thanksgiving in a motel somewhere.”

“And miss out on your mom’s homemade food, are you kidding me?” Clint teased in reply, winking. Phil actually fully laughed, a sound Clint was becoming addicted to since first hearing it four months ago, and slid an arm around Clint’s waist.

“We’ll have to hit the gym extra hard when we get back, to work it all off,” he informed the archer, who was trying his best not to go deer-in-the-headlights. They’d never done arms around waists in public before. Not wanting to look uncomfortable in front of Henry, Clint went with it, dragging their suitcase along behind them.

“Are you saying I need to lose weight?” Clint asked with a playful glint in his eyes. If Phil was stepping things up, well, two could play at that game.

“I don’t think there’s any weight on you to lose,” Phil answered without missing a beat, making Henry chuckle. “But if you’re asking if you’re still pretty, the answer is definitely yes. Even Mom’s Thanksgiving dinner won’t change that.”

“Aren’t you a charmer.” Henry sniggered at Clint’s reply, unlocking the car as they approached it.

“God, you boys are worse than four months ago. Honeymoon stage and you’ve not even gotten hitched yet; anything we should know about?” The shade of red on Phil’s cheeks would have been hilarious if Clint hadn’t felt himself going the same colour, choking.

“Uh, no, nothing to tell you,” Phil assured hastily, face still burning. He elbowed Clint in the stomach for laughing before they split apart to get in the car, bags loaded in the trunk. “So everyone else is already at the house?”

“Jen, Michael and the kids turned up this morning, so yeah, we’ve just been waiting on you two,” Henry answered. “The girls still can’t believe you’re actually making Thanksgiving for once.”

“Work has been quiet for once,” Phil replied. It was technically true; after the mess in Budapest, Fury had promised Phil a decent break. Clint was expecting some nice easy missions before they got back into the good stuff. “For both of us. And I thought Clint might enjoy a proper Thanksgiving. We would have arrived sooner, but we had some work to finish up earlier today.” Clint hadn’t want to leave until Tasha had returned home safe from her mission in Egypt. And Phil had paperwork to finish.

“The important part is you’re here now, and will be for a while,” Henry declared cheerfully. Clint and Phil weren’t planning to leave until Saturday afternoon, ready to get back to work on Sunday. Sarah had tried to get them to stay longer, but they really couldn’t take much more time off work.

Pulling into the driveway of the Coulson home, Henry easily found space between the two other cars there, and Phil beat Clint to getting their bags out. “You ready for this?” he asked softly, hand slipping into Clint’s with such familiarity that they both hardly even noticed it.

“Not really,” Clint admitted, earning a snort from his handler.

“You’ll be fine. They don’t bite, I promise.” Leading the way, Phil went into the house, hardly able to get much past the doorway before the commotion began. Female voices called out excitedly, and Clint lost his grip on Phil’s hand as the older man was ambushed by two dark-haired women; presumably his sisters. They didn’t look old enough to be older than Phil, but then again Phil hardly looked his age in the first place.

“Peanut! It’s so good to see you, it’s been years!” Clint blinked at the nickname, letting out a snicker.

“Peanut?” he asked with raised eyebrows, watching Phil go red.

“No. That name has been banned from this house since the eighties,” he declared solemnly. The same woman who had called him Peanut ruffled his hair, rolling her eyes.

“Hush, Peanut. And you must be Phil’s charming young gentleman that Mom can’t sing enough praises over. I’m Jen; the oldest one. That’s Liz,” she introduced, giving him a grin.

“Clint,” he replied in turn, nodding towards them both as they didn’t make any motion to let go of Phil.

“Damn, baby brother, you’ve done well for yourself,” Liz remarked in approval, eyes trailing over Clint’s form and lingering on the way his biceps nearly burst out of the sleeves of his leather jacket. Clint smirked as Phil gave his sister an exasperated look.

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t ogle my boyfriend, Liz.” He paused, a slow smirk crossing his lips. “But yes, I have.” Taking the cue, Clint slid an arm around the older man’s waist, kissing his cheek.

“I dunno, I think I’ve done pretty well, too,” he remarked quietly, voice playful in a way that made both Liz and Jen giggle.

“Ooh, I like him already. Clint, how are you with teenagers?” Clint faltered, and Jen laughed. “Don’t worry,” she assured him. “They’re good kids.” Jen had two kids — a seventeen year-old girl and a fourteen year-old boy — while Liz had three — a girl of twelve and two boys, fifteen and ten. Phil had coached Clint on their names and temperaments on the flight over, assuring him that they really were well-behaved, but the last time Clint had interacted with teenagers was back in the circus, and most of them had been assholes.

“Phil said the same thing,” he told her, trying to sound a little more confident. “So I’m sure I’ll be fine.” The two girls parted as there were footsteps, and Clint couldn’t help but smile at the sight of Sarah heading towards them with a beaming smile on her face.

“Leave Clint alone and let me see my boys,” she declared, surprising Clint at the fact that he was included in that. She hugged Phil first, of course, but came to Clint soon after, her arms wrapping around him with surprising strength. “It’s good to see you both. How was your flight?”

“Great except for the screaming three year-old two rows back,” Clint remarked, making everyone in the hallway wince in unison.

“Where’s everyone else?” Phil queried, looking around for his brothers-in-law and the kids.

“The boys are all in the living room, and the girls are up in their room. I was just about to call them down for dinner when you boys got here.” Sarah turned to the stairway, hopping onto the first step. “Hannah! Lily! Dinner’s ready, and Uncle Phil’s here!”

Clint found himself grinning at the words ‘Uncle Phil’; he hadn’t really registered that his boss was an uncle to five. What kind of uncle was he? Probably an awesome one who spoiled them rotten and pretended to be stern but really gave in to all their demands. He’d always had a soft spot for kids from what Clint had seen in missions.

There were two sets of thundering footsteps, and the next thing Clint knew two girls were practically sprinting down the stairs. Hannah, the seventeen year-old, was in the lead, and definitely not what Clint had expected from Phil Coulson’s niece. Her hair was fire-engine red and she had at least three studs in each ear, as well as an eyebrow piercing. Still, she threw herself at Phil without a care, arms winding tightly around his neck. Phil hugged her back automatically, a rare grin on his face. “Hi,” Hannah greeted brightly, leaning back a little so he could kiss her cheek.

“Hey, Hannah. Red?” he asked, twirling a lock of her hair in his fingers. She shrugged, still smiling.

“I got bored of pink. Ooh, is this your boyfriend?” Phil was unable to answer as a small body attached itself to his legs, and Hannah let go of him so he could pick Lily up and balance her on his hip with ease despite her age. Her long dark ponytail trailed down her back, and her blue eyes were bright as she beamed up at her uncle. Clint’s heart melted just a little bit.

“Missed you Uncle Phil,” she murmured, resting her head on his chest. Phil smiled, dropping a kiss on her hair.

“Missed you too, kid. You’ve gotten so big! I won’t be able to pick you up soon.” Lily giggled at his words, having grown 'too big' to pick up years ago, then turned to look at Clint curiously.

“Are you Clint?” she queried, and the archer smiled at her, trying to look as friendly and non-threatening as he could.

“Yeah, I am. Lily, right?” The little girl nodded, finally squirming so Phil could put her down. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Uncle Phil, your boyfriend’s hot,” Hannah declared. Phil snorted, and the red-haired girl stuck a hand out to Clint. “I’m Hannah, and if you hurt my uncle I’ll find out where you live and come punch you in the face.” Phil gave her a reprimanding look, but Clint snickered.

“Duly noted,” he replied, shaking her hand. “But I’m pretty sure Phil can take care of himself in that regard.”

“Oh, he can,” Hannah agreed. “But he won’t.” Clint’s lips curled in a reluctant smile; he got the feeling he and Hannah were going to get on just fine.

With a short call into the living room from Jen, the rest of the family joined them on the way to the kitchen. Michael and Alex seemed nice enough, accepting his presence at Phil’s side without question and greeting him warmly. Michael looked like he could be a football player, tall and broad-shouldered, and Clint was completely unsurprised when the man told him he was a police officer. Alex, on the other hand, was still tall but much slimmer, and a lawyer at a firm in Seattle, where he, Liz and the kids lived.

The three boys, on the other hand, eyed Clint warily at the start. “I’m Joshua,” the eldest introduced, holding a hand out. He looked so much like what Clint imagined Phil must have looked like as a teenager, and it was kind of adorable how he kept sending Clint calculating glances every time he and Phil touched, like he was looking for some reason to believe the archer wasn’t perfectly wonderful to the teen’s uncle. Taylor and Adam, the two younger boys, were much quieter, but Phil assured Clint in a murmur that they’d warm to him as soon as he played Xbox with them. That was a promise Clint was willing to make.

It was crowded around the table with so many of them, and Clint managed to fade into the chaos for the most part. As much as Phil’s sisters wanted to question him and get to know him, between them they had five kids all excited for Thanksgiving to keep an eye on. “I think we should all get an early night,” Sarah declared once the plate of cookies in the centre of the table had dwindled to mere crumbs. The kids had all wandered off by that point, done with their food and leaving the adults to chat around the table. Clint didn’t participate much in the conversation, preferring to let Phil catch up with his family. Besides, Phil’s arm was over the back of his chair, thumb rubbing absent circles on Clint’s bicep, and it was driving him crazy. Did the man have any idea what he was doing? Yes, he’d warned he’d probably have to step up the relationship-ness since his sisters were around, but Clint didn’t think any of them had even noticed Phil’s hand.

“You’re probably right,” Jen agreed, leaning against her husband’s shoulder. “Tomorrow’s going to be chaos. Biggest Thanksgiving dinner we’ve had here in a while.” She looked at Clint, giving him a smile. “Lizzy and I usually alternate Thanksgiving here or with our husbands’ parents, so it’s been a while since we’ve both made the same one. But when we heard Phil was finally making it over, let alone bringing a partner, we rescheduled some things to make sure we could both be here.”

“When was the last time you were home for Thanksgiving?” Clint asked his boss curiously, trying not to concentrate on the thumb slowly turning him to a puddle of goo. Surely Phil knew he was pressing on Clint’s sensitive scar, that it was a pleasure zone?

“About five years ago, I think?” Phil thought aloud. “I’ve made some Christmases and a few birthdays, but haven’t done Thanksgiving in a while. You know how work is.” Clint hummed in sympathy; SHIELD, for the most part, couldn’t care less what time of year it was. If you were needed on an op, you went on an op, and Phil Coulson was always needed on an op.

“You’re here now, and that’s what’s important,” Sarah declared, getting to her feet. “But it’s an early morning, so I definitely think it’s bedtime. Phil, Clint, you’re in Phil’s old room again.”

“The girls are next door, so keep it down, would you?” Liz teased, laughing as both Clint and Phil went pink. “Night, baby brother. Night, Clint.”

Bidding everyone goodnight, Clint and Phil grabbed their bags from the hallway and went up to Phil’s old room, Clint cracking a smile at the ever-present Captain America poster. “You’re crazy, Coulson,” he declared, dumping his bag on the chair in the corner and digging through for his sweatpants.

“Oh yeah?” Phil asked with raised eyebrows, pulling his sweater over his head.

“If I had a family like this, I’d be home every holiday, SHIELD be damned,” Clint told him, stripping out of his shirt and undershirt. Phil’s smile softened, and he ran a hand over his hair.

“Believe me, I wish I could,” he admitted. “But I didn’t get where I am by taking time off.” Clint snorted, rolling his eyes.

“No, but you spent all that time working your ass off to get there, now you’re there you can take the time. You know Fury won’t care.” Phil hummed contemplatively, waiting for Clint to take his turn in the bathroom before heading inside, coming out in a t-shirt and sweatpants.

“You think they’re so nice now, just wait until tomorrow when the kids start fighting over the best piece of turkey,” the older man remarked, sliding into bed, letting Clint have the left side as he had the last time they’d been there. Clint crawled into the comfortable bed, burrowing deep into the duvet.

“You staying up to work, or calling it a night?” he queried, seeing Phil’s bedside lamp was still on. Phil shook his head, leaning over to turn it off.

“I’ll need all the sleep I can get, and so will you. The kids love Thanksgiving.” Clint smiled, settling down, far more comfortable about the proximity than he had been the first time he’d stayed in that bed with Phil. They’d gotten to know each other better in the past four months, past the capacity of handler and specialist. They were, dare he say it, friends. And Clint was perfectly content with that, even if deep down he wished for more. It would never happen.

“G’night, Phil,” he murmured, letting his eyes fall shut. Within minutes, he was asleep.

.-.-.-.

It took several moments after waking for Clint to realise why he felt so strange, and several more for his brain to come back online after the fact. While he’d started the night definitely on his side of the bed, with a decent space between him and his handler, that was no longer the case. His chest was pressed to Phil’s back, his leg thrown over the man’s thigh and his arms wrapped around him. They were definitely spooning. Shit.

Clint knew that if he moved, he would definitely wake Phil. But if he woke on his own and Clint pretended to be asleep, the older agent would notice, and it would be even more awkward because Clint had woken but not moved. Plus, he really liked spooning Phil. So much so that if he didn’t figure out something quick, a certain part of his anatomy would be waking Phil before he could.

Attempting to ease his leg off the older man and roll onto his back, Clint went dead still as Phil tensed. He was awake. Fuck. “Barton?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Why are we cuddling?” Phil’s voice was even, and a little husky from sleep, and it should not have been that sexy. Damn.

“I, uh, it was an accident?” Clint finally gained the courage to move away, shuffling back to his side of the bed. Phil turned to face him, looking more exasperated than annoyed or disgusted.

“In future, please refrain from the octopus routine,” he said dryly. “I’m going to shower and head downstairs; no doubt cooking is in progress already.”

“I’ll take the shower after you,” Clint replied, relief flooding him that Phil evidently didn’t care too much about the spooning.

By the time he was finished in the shower, it sounded like the rest of the house were well into the swing of Thanksgiving. Clint could hear the kids laughing and talking as soon as he stepped out into the hallway, and it made him grin as he wandered downstairs. “Good morning,” Alex greeted as Clint entered the living room. The TV was on, and all the kids but Hannah were excitedly watching the festivities. Alex was sprawled out in an armchair, Lily curled up comfortably in his lap. Phil was on the couch with his father, a bowl of cereal balanced on the arm rest, and Clint went to sit beside him.

“Morning. Where’s Michael?”

“Helping in the kitchen,” Alex explained. “We’ve all been banned, but Mike knows how to cook so he’s allowed in. You can go in and grab some breakfast if you want, though; they seem to love you, I doubt they’d mind.” While Clint had been contemplating just stealing Phil’s cereal, getting his own breakfast did sound like a good idea. And he was curious as to what a kitchen looked like mid-Thanksgiving-prep.

“I think I’ll go do that,” he decided, pecking Phil’s cheek and getting back up again, making his way to the kitchen. It surprised him that all five people were working so seamlessly in the small kitchen, preparing what looked like about twenty dishes at once.

“Morning, Clint,” Liz greeted, bright despite the early hour. “Sleep well?”

“Yeah, thank you. Wow, it smells amazing in here, can I help with anything?” He grabbed an apple from the bowl in lieu of breakfast — if there was going to be that much food on the table, he wanted to be able to eat his fair share.

“Oh, you don’t have to, honey,” Sarah assured, smiling at him as she mashed potatoes.

“No, but, uh, I’d like to, if it’s not an intrusion. I’ve never really done the whole Thanksgiving thing before, and I like cooking,” he replied honestly. Besides, it felt rude to just kick back and let them do all the work.

“It’s good that one of you does,” Hannah remarked. “Uncle Phil can’t cook for shit. Why don’t you come help me with the vegetables?” Grinning, Clint eagerly joined her, taking instruction from her and Jen without hesitation and chopping vegetables like a pro.

“Y’know, it’s really good to have you here, Clint,” Liz mused from the other side of the kitchen. “And not just because you cook. We were wondering if Phil was just gonna give up on the whole relationship thing.” Clint just smiled at her, not sure how to respond. How could he tell her that she was probably right? He’d never seen Phil so much as look twice at another person in the years he’d known him. Hell, he’d spent most of their friendship assuming Phil was asexual.

“Yeah, we’re so happy he found you,” Jen agreed. “You can tell he’s crazy about you.” Flushing, Clint raised an eyebrow at her.

“Really?” he asked, not having to feign his embarrassed confusion. They were obviously seeing things. Jen gave him a look, amused.

“Come on, you’re both as bad as each other. The cuddling, and the whispering, and Phil’s hand on your arm last night. Not to mention the way you look at each other. It’s like watching Hannah and her boyfriend; I never thought I’d see the day Phil acted like that.” A warm feeling rose in Clint’s stomach, even as his brain reminded him that Phil was only pretending. That he was only pretending.

“Well I’m glad I found him, too,” he said eventually, gut twisting at how close to the truth his words were. “And I’m glad you guys are okay with things.”

“Hey, anyone who makes Peanut happy is just fine by us,” Liz assured him brightly, before winking. “Besides, you’re cute.” Michael, who had been silent in the whole conversation, snickered as he filled the pie crusts.

“Clint, sweetie, we’re mostly done in here,” Sarah told him. “Why don’t you and Michael go out and watch the football with the others? We can finish up.” About to protest and insist on helping more, Clint was silenced by Michael clapping him on the shoulder.

“That’s code for ‘leave us to make all the family secret recipes in peace’,” he explained with a smirk, leading Clint out of the kitchen. “Nineteen years married to Jen, and they still won’t let me know what they put in the gravy.” Clint snorted, eyes landing on Phil automatically as they entered the living room. Lily had migrated from her father’s lap to the floor in front of Phil, and the older agent looked up at their entry.

“Couldn’t stay away from the action?” he queried knowingly, lifting an arm invitingly. Clint sat down and leant into his side, relishing in the comfort.

“I like cooking,” was his response, making Phil’s lips curl briefly.

“I know. You’re just in time for the interesting half of the game.”

“We hope, at least,” Joshua piped up from his bean bag. “So far it’s been a snooze-fest.”

“That sucks,” Clint replied, smiling as Lily shuffled back to lean against his and Phil’s legs. He wasn’t so much a fan of football, but he was happy to watch a game every now and then.

The match resumed, and Clint let himself doze off a little, lulled by the rich smells drifting from the kitchen. Phil was there, he could let his guard down some. He smiled to himself as the cameras panned to the crowd while the game was paused, the Thaksgiving kiss-cam rolling. Several couples were caught in it, blushing as they kissed to the whoops and cheers of their fellow spectators. Lily craned her neck to look up at Phil and Clint, a frown on her face.

“You two should kiss,” she declared imperiously. “‘Cuz you love each other. The camera says so.” Blushing, Clint glanced at Phil, ignoring the two teenage boys snickering across the room.

“We’d better do as the lady says,” Phil told him, his eyes checking that Clint was okay with things. Knowing he should refuse, that he should make a joke and laugh it off, Clint ignored those instincts and closed the gap between them. While he’d intended for it to be a brief peck, like they usually did in front of Phil’s family, as soon as Phil’s hand rested on his shoulder for balance Clint was done for. Tongue flicking out to brush over the older man’s lips, he was surprised when they parted for him, the kiss lasting several long seconds before they parted, staring at each other in faint shock.

“That’s gross, Uncle Phil,” Taylor declared, and Phil rolled his eyes, though he didn’t look away from Clint. Shit. Phil’s gaze was knowing, and the archer knew he was busted. Fuck. Still, Phil couldn’t say anything until they were alone. Maybe he’d even leave it, let Clint lick his wounds in peace, and slowly distance himself from him when they got back on base. Clint could handle it.

.-.-.

Clint practically shot to his feet when Sarah called them to the table, his nerves on edge from staying by Phil’s side to keep up the charade even though he knew Phil was now aware of Clint’s feelings. Phil, to his credit, wasn’t acting any differently. His shoulder bumped Clint’s as they made for the kitchen, and Clint paused in the doorway, awed. The table was absolutely heaving with food, chairs crammed around it so everyone could fit. More dishes were resting on the counters due to lack of table space, and the oven was still on, pies baking inside.

The kids didn’t waste any time in taking their seats, leaving the adults to choose free chairs. Phil sat beside Clint without hesitation, and they ended up opposite Jen and Michael. Seeing that no one was making a move to touch the food, Clint kept his hands on his lap, waiting for some sort of prompting. “It’s family tradition to go around the table and say what we’re thankful for before we eat,” Hannah explained from Clint’s other side, tying her fiery hair up in a messy ponytail to keep it out of her plate. “Grandpa starts.”

Henry was sat at the head of the table, and he smiled at his gathered family, holding his wife’s hand. “I’m thankful to have everyone here this year, my good health, and my wonderful wife,” he declared, shooting Sarah a loving look. The warm, fuzzy, family feeling was strange to Clint as everyone took their turn, but it was something he’d quite like to get used to. Not that he was likely to; Phil would probably ‘break up’ with him fairly soon, now he knew.

“I’m thankful for you guys accepting me into your family so easily, and welcoming me into your home for the holiday,” Clint said, a little nervous at having everyone focussed on him. “And I’m thankful I have Phil to share it with.” Phil smiled, taking his hand on the tabletop and squeezing gently.

“I’m thankful to see my whole family for the first time in a couple years,” Phil started, before he turned looking directly into Clint’s eyes, making the archer’s breath catch in his throat. “And I’m thankful to have Clint in my life, to remind me to actually live it once in a while.” There was a prolonged silence as the two men stared at each other, before Liz coughed, drawing attention to her so she could say her thanks. Clint’s hand stayed in Phil’s until they were all ready to eat, and he had to let go to pick up his cutlery. Still, his heart was pounding, his boss’ words resounding in his head long into the meal. What the hell did he mean by that??

Dinner was a loud affair, with people talking and laughing as they passed dishes back and forth, complimenting the cooks on their efforts. It surprised Clint to see the table emptying fairly quickly; he hadn’t expected them to get through all that food. Then again, there were two teenage boys at the table.

“Why don’t we have a break for TV before dessert?” Henry suggested when they were all finished, leaning back in his chair and patting his stomach. “I don’t think I could fit pie in there if I tried.”

They all agreed it was a good idea, and as Clint stood to leave the kitchen, Phil’s hand rested on his lower back, nonchalantly directing him towards the stairs once they were in the hallway. “I think we’re gonna go lie down for a while,” he told his sisters conversationally. “Jet lag. Call us when there’s pie available.”

Clint’s mind raced a mile a minute as Phil led him up the stairs, the silence thick between them. It wasn’t until the door was shut that he looked up at the older man, who looked like he didn’t know where to begin. “You don’t have to say it, I know,” Clint sighed, running a hand through his hair. “I won’t make it weird; after this weekend I’ll back off, I promise. But it’s not exactly something I can help, and I was dealing fine up until this whole charade started, so if anything it’s your fault as much as—“ Lips pressing against his own cut him off abruptly, and his eyes went wide, arms flailing before they settled around Phil’s waist. Phil was kissing him? In private? Where they had no one to prove anything to?

“Can I talk, now?” the older man asked softly once they parted, his hand still cupping Clint’s jaw. The archer nodded dumbly, and Phil smiled. “You’re not the only one who’s been feeling this way,” he murmured, other hand resting on Clint’s hip. “Sometimes I thought you might, but… I know how good you are at undercover ops. I could never tell when you were faking for my family, and when it was you.”

“All of it was me,” Clint promised, hardly able to believe his ears. “I just felt comfortable doing it because I knew you’d think I was pretending. But… everything we’ve done here, and last time we were here, I’ve done because I wanted to. Because I wanted you.” Phil kissed him again, this one much better as Clint was prepared. He felt like he was dreaming as he leaned into Phil, like he’d wake up having fallen asleep on the couch and none of it would have happened. “We’re such idiots,” he breathed, forehead pressed to Phil’s. Phil chuckled, humming in agreement.

“Thank God for precocious twelve year-olds, right?”

Before Clint could reply, there was a faint call from downstairs. “Boys! Pie’s ready!” They turned to each other, rueful expressions on their faces.

“We’ll talk more later,” Phil promised, leaning in for a brief kiss. “But if we don’t get downstairs now, the boys will eat all the cherry pie. You don’t want to miss Mom’s cherry pie.” Grinning, Clint twined his fingers with Phil’s, a spring in his step as they left the bedroom. Everything from that point on was real.

.-.-.

They didn’t get the chance to be alone again until late in the evening, when they finally escaped to bed. Thanksgiving had been a long day, but one of the best days Clint could remember having. With Phil a constant presence at his side, it didn’t get much better than that.

Tired and full of incredible food, they didn’t talk until they were in their sleep clothes and tucked up in bed, Phil’s bedside lamp the only light in the room. Rolling onto his side to face his handler, Clint shuffled a little closer. “How long?” Phil asked, voice quiet in the dim room as he met Clint’s gaze.

“Far longer than I’m willing to admit,” Clint replied wryly. Phil raised an eyebrow, and the archer sighed. “The feelings have been there since the start, but I bottled them away, convinced myself there was no chance and I needed to not even think about it. It wasn’t until the last couple of years or so where I let a little part of myself believe, and then when we came here for the first time… the dam burst. I’ve been in love with you for so long I don’t even know when it happened.”

“God,” Phil breathed, shaking his head and moving closer to Clint. “So much time wasted.” He reached out with one arm, and Clint took the silent prompt for what it was, closing the distance between them and settling down in Phil’s embrace. His head rested on the older man’s chest, tucking neatly under his chin, and their legs twined haphazardly. “At least you’ve already hit half the milestones. You know my colleagues, you’ve met my family. We’ve spent enough time together on ops that it could probably be considered living together.” Clint snorted, tilting his head back to meet Phil’s eyes.

“Just wait until Tasha gives you the shovel talk. And then gives me one that’s twenty times worse,” he remarked, grinning. Phil laughed, leaning down to kiss Clint, hand tangling in his hair. Clint shifted to make the position more comfortable, unable to believe he was actually making out with Phil Fucking Coulson.

“I love you,” Phil said, a little breathless, and Clint’s heart swelled so much it hurt. “But we need to slow down. As much as I’m enjoying this, and as much as we have to make up for lost time, I don’t want my first time with you to be in a house surrounded by my entire family.” Clint was caught halfway between a laugh and choking at the mental image, nodding in agreement and lying back down on Phil’s chest. He didn’t have to worry about waking up cuddling, now.

.-.-.-.

The next day was mostly spent in a food-coma, lounging around, playing Xbox with the kids and eating their own body weight in Thanksgiving leftovers. Still, Clint and Phil had a tupperware box of yet more leftovers when they got ready to leave on Saturday afternoon. Both of them were more relaxed than they had been in a long while, content with the company, the lack of urgency, and their new relationship. Clint would have envied Phil his amazing family if it hadn’t been abundantly clear that as far as they were concerned, Clint was part of it now.

“Call us if you need anything,” Jen insisted, hugging Clint tightly. “Or if you just want to talk. Maybe if you call instead, Clint, I’ll actually get to talk to my brother more than once a month.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Clint replied obediently, the numbers of both Phil’s sisters and brothers-in-law in his phone, as well as Hannah’s and Joshua’s. He already had Sarah and Henry’s number from the last visit, though he’d never been brave enough to use it. Now, however, he just might.

“And Phil, don’t be a stranger again, okay? We only live in Richmond, it’s not another planet!” the eldest Coulson sibling pointed out as she hugged her brother.

“I’ll try my best,” he promised, kissing her cheek. “But it’s all work-dependent.”

“We know, we know,” Liz assured with a roll of her eyes, nudging Jen out of the way so she could hug Phil. “But seriously, last time we were all home together was like three years ago. It’s been a lot of fun. And you need to bring Clint with you; he’s way more fun than you.” Phil didn’t even try to look affronted as his sister moved to hug Clint, who was laughing.

“I’ll bug him into using some of his vacation leave next year,” the archer vowed.

Saying their goodbyes to everyone, some people more than once, Clint and Phil loaded their bags into the car and let Henry drive them to the airport. The eldest member of the Coulson family hugged them both tightly outside the airport doors. “Look after yourselves, and each other,” he told them solemnly. “You boys have a good thing going here, and you should cherish that. Not just at Thanksgiving.”

“We know, Dad,” Phil assured, giving Clint a fond smile. “And we will. You take care of yourself, too.” Despite being well past retirement age, Henry Coulson seemed to be in his prime, but Phil still worried.

“Thanks again for having me, Henry. I had a great time,” Clint said, earnest. Henry clapped him on the shoulder.

“You’re very welcome, son. Thank you for sharing the holiday with us.” Checking his watch, Phil reminded Clint of their flight time, and the archer reluctantly shouldered his bag. Leaving Henry to drive back home, they went to check in to their flight, fingers linked loosely. Yeah, Clint could get used to that.

Despite not having to go into work until the day after, Phil went up to Fury’s office after saying goodbye to Clint at barracks. The archer didn’t have an apartment outside of base; maybe, in a month or two, Phil would change that. His place could fit two.

A thin file of paperwork in his hand, Phil knocked once as a courtesy before entering, seeing Fury behind his desk with a faint scowl on his face. “Coulson? Wasn’t expecting to see you until tomorrow.”

“I won’t be here long, sir,” Phil assured him; he was planning on going back down to see Clint after this. They still had some things to work out — and some long-overdue private time now they weren’t at his parents’ place. “I just wanted to drop these off.”

“You’ve been back ten minutes, how the hell can you have paperwork?” Fury groused, taking the file from Phil’s hand. As he pulled out the three sets of forms, Phil tried not to smirk, watching his boss’ eyebrows rise. In the file were two sets of HR-19b forms — known colloquially as the ‘I tapped that’ form, but officially as the Inter-Agent Personal Relations Registration form — on behalf of Clint and Phil, and the third was Phil’s P-34 to change the details in his personnel file, making Clint his medical proxy and his ‘inclusive’; basically, if he ever had to take a mission that was completely top secret, or lie about something, Clint would be the one person he could tell without repercussion.

“I trust these won’t be a problem to file,” Phil said, keeping his voice neutral. Fury let out a bark of laughter, a grin tugging at his lips as he set the forms down.

“It’s about damn time, that’s all I can say,” he declared, shaking his head. “I take it you had a good Thanksgiving, then?” Phil smiled back, one hand in his pocket, thinking of the incredible man waiting for him down in barracks.

“The best, sir.”

Chapter Text

Rolling onto his back and bringing an arm over his face to block out the light, Clint groaned quietly at the realisation that he was alone in bed. A quick glance at the clock explained why; it was 8:30 already. Phil never stayed in bed that late. Unwilling to get up yet, even with his lover absent, Clint pulled the duvet over his head and burrowed into the sheet, inhaling Phil’s scent on his pillow. A sappy grin crossed his features; he’d never expected to make it to this point. Five months after Thanksgiving, and he and Phil were very much happy together. They even lived together, Clint having moved into Phil’s apartment three months ago, after the older man pointed out that they’d spent long enough together as friends to know they were good with moving in together. It got Clint out of barracks, and able to wake up with Phil every morning, so he didn’t complain.

The only people who knew about them were Natasha, Hill, Sitwell and Fury — and, of course, Phil’s family. They weren’t ashamed of their relationship, but both of them had reputations to uphold, and they didn’t want Phil to be accused of either favouritism or emotional compromise on ops involving Clint. As far as they were concerned, their closest friends knew, their family knew, and that was all that mattered.

“I know you’re awake in there,” came Phil’s amused voice, and Clint moved the duvet off his head just enough to see the man stood in the bedroom doorway, fully dressed for a day of work. Damn, he looked hot in a suit. “Get up, or you’re going to be late.”

“But bed is so much better than SHIELD,” Clint complained, before smirking. “Would be better if it had you in it, though.” Phil chuckled, walking closer to lean over and capture Clint’s lips, hand working its way to run through the archer’s hair.

“No can do, I’m afraid,” he murmured apologetically. “But I do have coffee and croissants with your name on them in the kitchen.” With a sigh, Clint pushed the duvet back the whole way, getting out of bed with a stretch.

“I’m sold,” he declared, not bothering with clothing as he made for the door in just his boxers. Clint liked Phil in his suits; Phil liked Clint as naked as he could possibly get him. Reaching the kitchen, he perched on the stool at the breakfast bar where his promised breakfast was waiting, reaching out with one long arm to snag Phil around the waist, pulling him close. “Morning,” he murmured huskily, nipping at the older man’s bottom lip. Phil’s hand grasped his bare shoulder, leaning in to the kiss.

“Good morning. Busy today?” Clint shook his head, keeping Phil in his embrace as he grabbed his coffee, taking a long gulp.

“Mostly range and gym time. Promised Tasha I’d spar with her; she thinks regular sex is making me soft.” Phil snorted, amusement dancing in his eyes.

“I can assure her, soft is definitely one thing you’re not during sex,” he remarked, earning a smirk and another kiss. “Come on, eat your breakfast and shower. The earlier we get in, the more likely I am to have a free lunch break.” At the older man’s words, Clint finally released him and started wolfing down his croissants; Phil didn’t have to tell him twice.

.-.-.

Removing the vent cover, Clint easily dropped down into his lover’s office, long past feeling guilty at breaking in when Phil wasn’t there. Phil knew he did it, and had been doing it for years. If there was anything he didn’t want Clint seeing, it was well hidden in locked drawers, and Clint wouldn’t snoop. Besides, he was on a mission, this time.

Heading for the man’s desk, he sunk into the chair and logged in to Phil’s account, rolling his eyes at the predictable password. He brought up Phil’s calendar, scrolling through a few weeks until he found the date he was looking for, and letting out a small noise of triumph at seeing the entire week unmarked. Perfect. Closing up and logging out, Clint hoisted himself back up into the vents, making for his next destination; Fury’s office. How hard could it be to convince his boss to give them vacation time for Phil’s birthday?

.-.-.-.

“Is there a reason I’m logged as out of office for the next four days?” Phil asked with raised eyebrows, eyeing Clint sprawled out on their couch. The archer smirked, looking smug.

“Maybe I have plans for you,” he replied, irritatingly evasive. Phil moved to sit next to him, drawing Clint’s head into his lap.

“Plans, huh? I thought I told you I didn’t want to make a fuss over my birthday.” He only saw it as another year older, another year closer to having to take a desk job.

“You should know by now that I don’t listen,” Clint retorted, smirk widening. “But don’t worry, it’s nothing crazy. I think you’ll like it.” He hoped Phil would like it. If not, he did have a back-up option.

“Still, you didn’t have to do anything.” Phil was cut off as Clint leaned up, kissing him.

“I wanted to,” he insisted. “So deal with it.” He’d packed both their bags before Phil had gotten home that day, and everything was ready and waiting. They just needed the traffic to be on their side in the morning, and they’d be set.

“Do I get to know where I’m going?” Phil asked, letting his fingers trail down Clint’s jaw and neck, making the younger man shiver with pleasure.

“Bed, right now,” Clint declared, voice low and full of want. “As for tomorrow? It’s a surprise.” Phil rolled his eyes, letting Clint pull him to his feet.

“I hate surprises,” he protested lightly, and Clint kissed him hard.

“Not this one you won’t,” he promised, hoping he was right. “Now come to bed with me.” Phil’s eyes darkened as he started to lead the way towards the bedroom, hand in Clint’s. They’d have to get up fairly early to get on the road, but there was plenty of time for fun before they needed to sleep.

.-.

The next morning, Clint was up before Phil for once, and spent a good ten minutes watching his lover sleep in a totally non-creepy way. It didn’t last long, though, Phil stirring as Clint’s fingers traced shapes on his shoulder. “When do we have to leave?” he queried, voice rough with sleep.

“Half an hour or so,” Clint answered. “So no time for a quickie, unfortunately.”

“Not unless we share the shower,” Phil pointed out, smirking. Clint matched his expression, swinging his legs over the side of the bed.

“I like the way you think.” Managing to get each other off in record time in the shower, they were right on schedule getting in the car, their bags in the trunk and travel-mugs of coffee in their hands.

“So it’s somewhere close enough to drive,” Phil surmised when they took to the interstate instead of heading towards the airport.

“Yup, and that’s all you’re getting,” Clint replied with a grin, which widened when Phil’s hand covered his on the gearshift. Music played softly from the radio, and Clint let himself enjoy the prospect of a long drive with Phil. They hadn’t had one in a long time; all their recent ops had required flying, or someone else had been driving with them.

They stopped for breakfast after about an hour of driving, Phil bringing a slightly bashful smile to Clint’s face when he held his hand in the diner. It always amazed the archer how open Phil was with public affection when away from SHIELD. Clint had never said how much he secretly loved it, but Phil knew anyway. He knew Clint well enough by now.

Back on the road, Clint hummed along with the radio as he drove, glancing askance to see when it would dawn on his lover. The more they drove, the more obvious their destination would become. Finally, it clicked. “We’re going to Jen’s,” Phil realised as they passed the border into Virginia. There was only one reason for them to be in that state. “Aren’t we?”

Clint nodded, a grin on his face. “The original plan was to go to your parents, but they’re away this weekend, so I called Jen and she said to come stay with her for a while. Is that… okay?” His voice turned hesitant, unsure if he’d made the right call, but Phil reassured him with a kiss to the knuckles.

“It’s great,” he assured. “Though I admit, I was expecting a weekend alone with you.”

“We can do that any time. Hell, we do, frequently.” They’d taken to having a couple of post-mission days in foreign countries to relax and spend time together. Only when they were the only two working the op, and when they didn’t have anything urgent to get back to. Fury never minded. “Your family deserve to see you on your birthday.”

“Three times in just over a year,” Phil mused, shaking his head with a smile. “No wonder they love you so much.” Clint’s grin widened, and he squeezed Phil’s hand.

“They love me because I love you as much as they do,” he corrected, constantly surprised by how easy those three little words were. Phil merely smiled back at him.

Using the GPS to get them the rest of the way to Jen’s house, not needing to keep the secret now Phil knew, they pulled up to her driveway just before two, the front door opening just as soon as Clint turned the car off. Jen rushed out to greet them, a beaming smile on her face. “You guys are earlier than I expected,” she remarked, hugging Phil tightly.

“Traffic was good,” Clint replied, accepting her hug in turn. “How are you?”

“I’m good, we all are. How about you?” Phil and Clint caught up on all the family news while they unloaded their bags, carrying them through to the house. Jen’s place was well decorated and homey, much neater than Clint and Phil’s apartment, though there were signs of two teenagers all over the place if you looked for them. Hannah’s shoes lying haphazardly at the bottom of the stairs, a stack of Taylor’s clothes waiting to be taken up to his room. It was definitely a family home.

“Mike still at work?” Phil queried, following his sister into the living room.

“Yeah, he won’t be home ’til five,” Jen confirmed. “Oh, and you have to call Liz this weekend, she’s jealous that we’re spending time together without her. Her fault for living on the other side of the country.”

“Or our fault for moving so far from home,” Phil returned, amused. “I’ll call her tonight.”

“No you won’t,” Jen told him, grinning impishly. “I kinda took it upon myself to whip up a little surprise of my own, for both of you.” Clint’s eyebrows rose, and he glanced at Phil, promising silently that he had no idea what she was up to. “You guys have dinner reservations for eight tonight, at Marco’s. Clint, I hope you like Italian.”

“Love it,” Clint promised, smiling. Dinner with Phil, just the two of them, sounded awesome. “Dress code?”

“Smart casual. Ties aren’t needed, and you can wear jeans, but it’s not a t-shirts kinda place,” Jen informed them. Clint was glad he’d brought some nicer clothes for both of them just in case they decided to go out.

“Sounds great. Thanks, Jen,” Phil replied sincerely.

“And on that note, I was just about to do lunch. What are you guys up for? Then you can go put your stuff away.” Getting to her feet, Jen led them through to the kitchen, offering them about thirty different lunch options. Clint looked to Phil, seeing the smile on his lover’s face, and knew he’d made the right call on birthday celebrations. Weekends of sex could wait.

.-.-.

At around four, Hannah and Taylor got home from school, and Phil and Clint both blinked at Hannah’s pure white hair. Last time she’d text them a picture, it had been electric blue. “You dyed it again?” Clint said in amazement, making her laugh as she hugged him.

“Blue was a bitch to upkeep, I had to re-dye it like every ten days,” she explained. “This one’s nice and easy.” From what Clint had been told, Hannah had been dying her hair all sorts of colours since she was around fifteen. It would have made him set her apart as the wild child of the family, but her personality had proved within minutes of meeting her that she was all Coulson through and through. Phil had confided that he thought she did the hair and the piercings just so she could ruin peoples’ preconceptions of her when she turned out to be a smart, well-rounded teenager with good career prospects. Whatever her reasoning, she always looked badass.

Taylor had grown another inch and a half since Thanksgiving, clearly taking after his father in that respect. He was fifteen now, and despite Jen’s insistence that he was the embodiment of moody teenager, he was happy to sit with them and chat about what he’d been up to since November, telling them proudly how he’d made the football team despite being the youngest to try out. However, as it grew later, they disappeared to do homework, and Clint and Phil went to get ready for dinner. Phil apparently knew where Marco’s was, having been there before with Jen and Michael, so he drove them. Clint was glad; it meant he could ogle his boyfriend to his heart’s content on the drive over. Phil was looking gorgeous in a dark blue shirt and black trousers, his lack of tie meaning his top two buttons were undone.

Marco’s turned out to be a fairly small, family-run Italian restaurant, with a classy decor and low lighting. It seemed to be pretty popular for couples, and Clint was glad Jen had booked them reservations. It was ridiculously full in there, but still quiet enough to seem like they had some semblance of privacy as they were led to a table for two near the back. Sitting with a good view of the entrance, Clint smiled at Phil, nudging his foot under the table. Phil rolled his eyes.

“I’m not playing footsie with you,” he declared. “What are you, sixteen?” Refraining from replying something sappy, like that Phil made him feel sixteen all over again, Clint picked up his menu with a considering frown. Everything looked great.

They didn’t actually go on proper dinner dates very often, usually too exhausted from work to even consider dressing up and going out, but Clint was beginning to think they should make time for it every now and then. It was nice; the restaurant wasn’t so fancy it made him feel nervous, but it was definitely up-market enough to give the evening a special feel. The food was amazing, the alcohol equally so, and Clint made a mental note to buy Jen some wine or something in thanks.

“We should do this more often,” he declared quietly, and Phil hummed.

“We should,” he agreed. “But I love eating crappy take-out with you on the couch just as much. You don’t need to wine and dine me to keep me interested.” Clint blushed even as he smiled, leaning over to steal a small piece of Phil’s chocolate torte. Phil merely rolled his eyes, allowing it. “It was nice of Jen to arrange this for us.”

“Aren’t you glad I ignored you and made plans for your birthday?” Clint teased, making the older man huff.

“Yes, I am,” he admitted. “Though God only knows what I’ll have to think up for your birthday to match it.”

“Hey, I’m easy to please. You, a bed, and a whole lotta lube is all I need,” Clint promised with a wink.

“You’re incorrigible.” Clint laughed, catching Phil’s hand.

“You love it. Besides, sex keeps you young. It’s scientifically proven or some shit.” He didn’t know if that was actually true, but it sounded like it would be.

“Clint Barton, are you calling me old?” Phil asked with raised eyebrows.

“Definitely not,” Clint assured playfully. “But it’ll be good to keep in mind for twenty years down the line when you’re getting Senior Discounts on meals like this.” They both knew it was unlikely for both of them to make it another twenty years in their line of work, but Clint also knew without a doubt that if he did, there was no one he’d rather spend it with. Which was something he’d never in a million years expected to think about another person.

Phil smiled, raising his glass. “Then here’s to twenty years of incredible sex.” Chuckling, Clint lifted his own glass, knocking it against his lover’s.

“Twenty years,” he agreed, smiling.

.-.-.

The morning of Phil’s actual birthday started with the quietest blowjob Clint had ever given, and quick separate showers to make themselves presentable. “Happy birthday!” the family of four greeted Phil as he and Clint entered the kitchen, Michael busy cooking pancakes.

“You didn’t have to, Mike,” Phil started, only for Taylor to elbow him in the ribs.

“He’s cooking pancakes, Uncle Phil,” he hissed. “Don’t argue. Dad never makes pancakes.”

“Birthdays are acceptable reasons for pancakes,” Michael declared with a grin. “But if I made them as often as you want them, you’d never keep that place on the football team,” he added teasingly to his son.

“Are we doing presents now or later?” Hannah asked, fist-pumping as her father handed her a plate stacked with pancakes.

“There’s presents?” Phil looked surprised, and Jen gave him a look.

“Peanut, it’s your birthday, of course there’s presents. Shut up and be grateful.” Clint snickered under his breath, sharing an amused look with Taylor.

“Then, uh, do them now, I guess,” Phil relented, clearly awkward about receiving gifts. Clint pecked him on the cheek and jogged upstairs to dig out the small box in his suitcase, pleased to see his pancakes were untouched when he returned. Jen was also holding a present, as were Hannah and Taylor.

“The rest of the family’s presents will be waiting for you when you get home,” Jen assured him, handing him her gift. “So don’t worry, you only have to get through four. It won’t kill you.” Flushing, Phil unwrapped it carefully, a smile coming to his lips as he held up the charcoal grey cashmere sweater. “I live in hope that you’ll wear something other than suits on a regular basis.”

“I’m not wearing a suit right now!” Phil protested, earning a raised eyebrow.

“That’s because Clint packed for you,” Jen replied flatly. Phil glared lightly, before smiling once more.

“Thanks,” he said sincerely, including Michael in his gaze. Hannah’s present was next, and Phil snickered at the gun-shaped stress toy.

“For when you really want to shoot people at work, but can’t,” the seventeen year-old supplied, grinning. Taylor had gotten him a couple of ties, which Clint knew would always come in handy, and the archer tried not to look outwardly nervous as he handed his present to Phil. Foot bouncing in anticipation as Phil tore the paper off slowly, Clint watched his lover’s face as he opened the box, revealing a sleek silver watch.

“I know you were pissed your old one broke.” Or, rather, had been shot during an op a couple months back. “And I figured at least this way I can get you something practical. You’re really hard to buy for, y’know?” He’d taken the watch down to RnD for a few extras and enhancements, but he couldn’t exactly say that in front of Phil’s family.

“It’s perfect,” Phil promised, sounding honest. “Thanks, Clint.” He leaned over for a kiss, slipping the watch onto his wrist and testing the fit, smiling in satisfaction. “Is that the obligatory birthday acknowledgement over for another year, then?” he asked wryly, and Jen laughed.

“Oh, you wish, little brother. There’s cake for after dinner.” Phil sighed, but clearly didn’t want to protest too much at the effort she’d gone to for him. Besides, cake.

Hannah’s phone bleeped, and she checked in, glancing up at her parents after. “Can Ryan come over later?” Ryan was her boyfriend, Clint knew.

“Sure, I don’t see why not,” Michael agreed easily. The six of them finished their pancakes and loaded the dishwasher, retreating to the living room. Clint planned to spend the majority of Phil’s birthday lounging around with his lover and family watching movies and playing video games. It wasn’t often they got weekends to relax completely.

The doorbell went at a little after one, and Clint raised his head from where it was nestled on Phil’s chest as Hannah came back into the room, followed by a teenage boy with dark blond hair and alert brown eyes. She was walking backwards, facing Ryan as she spoke, and Clint frowned in confusion before it clicked. She was enunciating clearly, and his eyes were focussed intently on her lips as she spoke. Hannah hadn’t told him Ryan was deaf. Phil’s lack of surprise showed he already knew, raising a hand in greeting.

“Uncle Clint, this is Ryan,” Hannah introduced, Clint trying not to look outwardly startled at the ‘uncle’ title. When had she decided on giving him that? “Ryan, this is Clint, I told you about him.” Ryan’s gaze flicked to Clint’s face, and the archer grinned, lifting his hands from where they rested on his stomach.

Hi, it’s nice to meet you,” Clint signed easily, watching Ryan’s expression morph into one of shock.

You sign?” he signed in return, making Clint grin. Reaching up behind each ear, he pulled out both hearing aids to show the teenager, ignoring the familiar discomfort of everything going muffled.

“I had an accident when I was about your age,” he explained, both aloud and with his hands, trying not to speak louder than usual just because he couldn’t hear very well. “I hear at about forty percent now, and for a long while I couldn’t afford aids. It was easier to let people assume I was fully deaf than just have them shouting at me all the time.”

“Wow. Would you teach me? Ryan’s been trying, and I’ve been learning online, but I’m still only at the basics,” Hannah requested hopefully. Clint shrugged, nodding.

“Sure, we’ll figure out Skype times and I can teach you.” He’d taught people ASL at SHIELD before, and he was happy to help out. He knew how much it sucked to want to connect to someone when you couldn’t hear them, and visa versa.

“Awesome, thank you,” Ryan signed as he spoke aloud, his voice with the quality that told Clint he’d been deaf from a young age, if not from birth. Putting his hearing aids back in, Clint sat up a little, making it easier to move his hands as necessary. Phil adjusted accordingly, his shoulder pressed to Clint’s.

“Would you teach me too?” Taylor asked hopefully. “I mean, it would be pretty cool to learn ASL. And it looks like Ryan will be sticking around for a while, so I’ll probably need it,” he added with a smirk towards his sister, who blushed.

“I’d be happy to,” Clint promised. It would be good for him to keep his memory fresh, too; he hadn’t had to use ASL regularly for a while. It was as natural to him as English was, but it still wouldn’t hurt to practice every now and then.

It was a surprisingly fun afternoon, chatting with the kids and Ryan, Clint acting as translator when the deaf teen couldn’t sound out his words well enough, or remember the words to match his sign. Hannah was clearly glowing at the easier communication, and Clint made a mental note to start freeing up regular times in his schedule to Skype with her. She would no doubt be a very devoted student, and even if she and Ryan broke up it would be a useful skill for later in life. Clint had never really considered himself a kid person — especially not teenagers — but for Phil’s nieces and nephews, maybe he could make an exception.

“You ever thought about kids?” he asked curiously as he and Phil got ready for bed that evening. Phil looked up, surprise on his face.

“Why do you ask?”

“I dunno, you just seem to get on great with Hannah and Taylor, and Liz’s kids too. Just wondering if you’d thought about having your own.” Clint suddenly felt like he’d stumbled into a much bigger question than the one he’d originally answered, and it made him a little nervous.

“I used to, when I was younger,” Phil admitted. “Thought about doing the whole wife — or husband — and 2 kids thing, but then I joined SHIELD, and, well, it’s not exactly a pro-family work environment.” Clint snorted; that was definitely true. “How about you?”

Clint hummed, getting into bed beside Phil. “Not really. I always thought I’d be a crappy father — never had the best examples, y’know? Kids to me always seemed like something people with normal lives did, not people like me.”

“For what it’s worth, I think you’d be a great dad,” Phil told him quietly. “If you ever wanted to.”

“Was that an offer?” Clint joked, though he thought he might be half serious. Did he want kids with Phil? The idea was so far from anything he’d ever imagined it was almost laughable.

“Our lifestyle isn’t really suited for it,” Phil pointed out, drawing Clint closer. “If we were any other couple, I’d say it would be something to think about, but… we’d be fooling ourselves if we thought we could manage kids with our jobs.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Clint agreed. “Maybe one day when we’re to old for this shit, we can foster or something.” It was a half-hearted consolation. They’d never be ‘too old’ for SHIELD. They’d either be working, or dead. “And we’ll just spoil your nieces and nephews instead.” Phil snorted into Clint’s shoulder.

“My sisters are going to love that,” he said dryly. Clint shifted to get more comfortable with Phil lying half on top of him, closing his eyes. They’d had the kids conversation; they really were a bonafide long-term relationship now. Awesome.

.-.-.-.

Clint woke early the next morning, and was surprised at how deeply Phil slept by his side. The older man obviously needed the rest, and Clint was loathe to wake him, so he slipped out of the embrace and pulled on a t-shirt and sweatpants, intending on getting a head start on breakfast. It was the least he could do to repay Jen and her family for having them.

Unfortunately for him, Jen had beat him to it; the dark-haired woman was already in the kitchen, a mug of coffee in her hand and a plate of toast by her side. “Clint,” she greeted, eyebrows rising. “You’re up early. Everything okay?”

“Yeah, everything’s great. I just woke up, and figured I’d start breakfast. Looks like you got here first.” She smiled, gesturing for him to help himself to the coffee machine.

“You’re welcome to help me cook, though,” she told him. “Phil not up yet?”

“Nah, I left him sleeping, he looked like he could use it.” Jen’s smile was approving at his words, and she got up to get bacon and eggs out of the fridge.

“You’re good for him,” she mused happily. “And look, Clint, I’ll be honest with you. I know Phil isn’t really an accountant for a security firm. And I’m willing to bet that whatever you do, it’s not in personal security either.” Clint froze, eyes going wide.

“Uh, what makes you say that?” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant. She levelled him with a pointed look.

“Come on, I’ve seen the locks and alarms on Phil’s apartment. No accountant needs that level of home protection. And the amount of times he’s injured after being ‘away for work’, it doesn’t add up. Besides, I saw him in the background of some political press conference thing about three months ago.” Shit; that would have been the op with the threatened assassinations of the Egyptian ambassador.

“Okay, maybe we don’t work for a private security firm,” he admitted eventually. “But Jen, I can’t tell you what we do for real.”

“Oh, I figured as much, don’t worry. I’m not going to ask,” she assured him with a smile. “Just… whatever it is, it’s clearly dangerous. I don’t know whether you’re FBI or Secret Service or worse, and I don’t want to know. But keep my brother safe, will you? I want him to be there to see my kids graduate college, and get married, and give me grandkids. I can’t ask you to promise he’ll be there — with Mike in the force, I know as much as the next person how impossible that is — but at least promise me you’ll do your best to keep him safe and bring him home at the end of the day.”

“I protect him with my life in everything we do,” Clint vowed. “So yeah, that I can promise. Phil’s one of the best, and the people we work with are just as good at their jobs. Trust me, our work might be dangerous, but we’re as prepared as we can be.”

“That’s all I can ask.” Jen moved next to Clint in front of the stove, bumping his shoulder with hers. “And look after yourself, alright? You’re part of this family too now, and I expect you to be right there besides Phil at all those graduations and weddings. Especially the weddings; someone needs to make him get up and dance more than once.” Clint laughed, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and squeezing gently.

“I’ll do my best,” he promised. “But I don’t know if even I’m persuasive enough to make Phil dance.” Giggling, Jen shook her head, squeezing him back for a moment before breaking away to flip the bacon. Clint liked the sound of being there with Phil at his nieces and nephews’ graduations.

The smell of food began to waft through the house, waking the sleeping members of the family. When Phil surfaced, still looking half asleep, he dropped a kiss on Clint’s jaw. “How long have you been up?” he queried, stealing the younger man’s coffee.

“About half an hour or so. Didn’t want to wake you.” Plating up the food, he and Jen set the table just in time for the others to wander in.

“Thanks, Uncle Clint,” Taylor murmured as Clint passed him a plate. The archer was starting to get used to being called uncle, but it was still novel to him.

“So what are your plans for your last day of freedom?” Michael asked with a grin to Clint and Phil, who glanced at each other, shrugging.

“I thought we might actually stay here and chill out with the kids, if you and Jen wanted to have a day out to yourselves. Since you’ve been kind enough to put us up for the weekend,” Phil added. Clint nodded in support of the idea, and Jen looked at her brother in surprise.

“Phil, you don’t have to repay us, it’s been no trouble at all having you here.”

“But how often do you and Mike get to go out without worrying what the kids will get up to? I know they’re old enough to look after themselves now, but don’t tell me you don’t still worry.” Jen flushed, not denying it, and Michael reached for her hand.

“Just say thank you and agree, honey.” He turned to Phil, smiling. “We’d love to, thank you. If you’re sure you don’t mind; it is your birthday weekend, after all.”

“And I can’t think of a better way to spend it than on the couch,” Phil returned. “Seriously, Michael, Clint and I get enough time alone back in New York. We came here to spend time with you and the kids.” Judging by how deeply Phil had been sleeping, Clint doubted he was up for wandering around Richmond anyway. They were both at the point of ‘seen one city in America, seen them all’.

That settled, Jen and Michael went to go get properly dressed, while Phil started the dishwasher and followed Clint and the kids into the living room. Taylor was quick to break out the Xbox, and Clint didn’t take much pleading to join him in a co-op game.

“Hey, Phil, can we get an Xbox?” Clint queried, grinning as he and Taylor completed a level.

“We’re never home for long enough to play it,” Phil pointed out in return. “Besides, you’ve got your handheld.”

“It’s not the same, Uncle Phil,” Taylor informed him. “You guys should totally get an Xbox. Hell, even Grandma and Grandpa have an Xbox.”

“Only because of you and Josh,” Hannah pointed out, clearly texting Ryan from her place curled in the armchair.

“Says the girl who begged and pleaded right along with them,” Phil teased, a grin on his face. “Don’t deny it, I remember.” Hannah flushed, shooting him a glare.

“It’s fun, okay? You should definitely get one. It’s not like a dog or anything; it won’t die if you don’t play with it for a while.”

“We’re trying to convince Mom and Dad to get a dog,” Taylor piped up, button-mashing furiously as a swarm of enemies came upon them. Phil was amused to see that Clint was just as good a sniper in the game as he was in real life. “They said there’s no point ‘cause in a few years, Hannah and I will be going to college.”

“A few years? Try this year!” Hannah reminded him. She was off to Culver University in August, and Clint knew Phil was secretly glad she was staying close. Though he was worrying about her career prospects; SHIELD picked from Culver all the time.

“You’re hardly even leaving home, I don’t see why it stops us getting a dog,” Taylor retorted. Clint jumped when his phone buzzed in his pocket, hoping it wasn’t anything important. Shifting to grab it, he brought up the new text, seeing it was from Natasha.

Off to Dubai on an op, back hopefully Thursday. Small-time, nothing to worry about. Tell Coulson.” Showing his partner the text, he typed back a quick ‘be safe’ and pocketed his phone once more.

“Hannah won’t exactly be able to come home and let the dog out when she’s in college, Taylor,” Phil said. “She’ll be in dorms for the first year, and probably living with friends after.” It was more expensive than staying at home, which she could conceivably do, but worth it to give her the independence she wanted. Besides, she was going on part scholarship, and Jen and Michael could afford it. Especially after Phil insisted on chipping in.

After completing a few more levels on the Xbox, Clint turned it off to start going through some ASL with Hannah and Taylor. Phil got his tablet out, checking his emails and resolutely ignoring all paperwork — it could wait. He kept an eye on the lesson going on in front of him, wondering if it would be worth Clint teaching him some ASL too. SHIELD ran courses, and Phil knew a fair amount from picking it up on ops over the years, but it couldn’t hurt to learn properly. Especially if he was going to be seeing his family more often, and if Ryan was going to stick around. Both of which seemed like very real possibilities; possibilities Phil had no reason to complain about. People at SHIELD would insist that he didn’t have a family, or that if he did, he didn’t care about them, since he never saw them. They couldn’t be more wrong; Phil loved his family, which was the reason he worked so hard. He couldn’t trust anyone else to make sure the country — hell, the world — they lived in was safe for them. But Clint was reminding him that it was okay to take time off to see them every now and then; something he’d forgotten over the years.

.-.-.-.-.

Both men were reluctant to leave the next morning, but knew they had to get home and settled ready for work the day after. Seeing the kids off to school, they stayed to chat with Jen and Michael for as long as they could, before declaring they had to hit the road. Phil insisted on driving back, as Clint had taken them the whole way out there.

They got back to Phil’s apartment at around four in the afternoon, wearily collapsing onto the couch after a unanimous decision to order in pizza for dinner. Phil let Clint curl up beside him, dropping a kiss on the archer’s hair. “Thank you,” he murmured. “That was the best birthday I’ve had in a long time.” Clint grinned, leaning up for a proper kiss.

“You’re very welcome; I had fun too. And hey, we’ve got the rest of the day still on birthday leave; why don’t we take the pizza to bed with us when it arrives?”

“Or why don’t we order it later and go to bed now,” Phil drawled, fingers sliding beneath the waistband of Clint’s jeans, following the ridges of his spine. Clint rocked down into him, a low groan escaping his lips.

“Baby, you have the best ideas,” he declared, dragging himself to his feet and bringing Phil with him, tossing his t-shirt over his head as they made a beeline for the bedroom. They had approximately sixteen hours before they went back on duty; Clint was determined to make the most of it. Belated birthday sex was far better than no birthday sex at all.

Chapter Text

Despite being evening in early September, it was still warm out when Clint and Phil left their safe-house in Florence, Italy. They’d been there for a week already, finishing an op that was more of a milk run than anything else, and would be flying back home in the morning. They were making the most of their small window of down time, heading for dinner in a little hole in the wall near the apartment they’d been staying in. An old woman ran it, serving only home-made family recipes, and the food was so good it was practically orgasmic.

Leading Phil to a table near the back of the restaurant, Clint tried not to look too nervous as they ate, though it was clear Phil noticed something was up. He could never hide from his handler. “Is everything okay?” Phil asked, hand in Clint’s as they went for a walk after their meal. “You’ve been a little… shifty.”

“Shifty? That’s the best you could come up with?” Clint teased, bumping Phil’s shoulder with his own. “I’m fine. I just… It’s been nine months already, y’know that? Three quarters of a year. Time flies when you’re having awesome sex.” Phil snorted, pulling him closer and sliding an arm around Clint’s waist.

“Best nine months of my life,” he declared fondly. “Not having second thoughts, are you?” His voice was teasing, but Clint shook his head firmly anyway.

“Not a chance, you’re stuck with me,” he insisted, before taking a deep breath and growing more serious. He wouldn’t get a better opening than that. “Ever thought about being stuck with me in a more permanent fashion?” Before Phil could respond, Clint turned to face him, reaching into his jacket pocket as he dropped to one knee in front of his lover. Phil’s eyes went impossibly wide, but Clint was too busy panicking to find it funny. “Phil Coulson, I don’t want to know what life is like without you by my side. Your family already consider me one of them, and I was kinda hoping you might be willing to make it official. Marry me?”

He waited as Phil stared in shock at the pair of simple platinum rings in the box, heart pounding faster and faster. “Yes,” the older man choked out. “Yes, Clint, absolutely, God, yes. Get up here.” He grabbed Clint by his jacket collar, hoisting him to his feet and into a fierce kiss. The archer could dimly hear a couple of passers by applauding them, but he was too happy to care, kissing back just as passionately. When they parted, Phil smiled at him. “Proposing in Italy? You closet romantic. That’ll be one to tell the girls.” Clint laughed, nose brushing Phil’s cheek.

“Figured it makes it memorable,” he reasoned. “I, uh, got two ‘cause I thought we could both wear them, then maybe get them engraved instead of buying different wedding rings?” He didn’t see the point in getting a separate engagement ring when neither of them could wear the rings in public anyway, and he didn’t want to wait too long before the wedding itself.

“Good idea. And we can get chains to put them on so we can wear them at work without people noticing,” Phil suggested. “But for now…” He took one ring from the box in Clint’s hand, looking up at the younger man with a smile. “May I?”

Wordlessly, Clint held out his hand, letting Phil slide the ring onto his finger. When it was on, he took the other ring and did the same, admiring the band of silver on his lover’s skin. It was ridiculous how happy a simple piece of metal could make him feel. Closing the box and pocketing it, he smirked at his handler. “I think this warrants a celebration, don’t you? So long as we don’t leave the safe-house too messy, no one will know.” Phil matched his expression, not needing to be told twice as they turned back towards their apartment building. They didn’t fly out until noon the next day; plenty of time to wash the sheets, if needed.

.-.-.

Once they were back home, the first thing Phil did was call his parents, telling them the good news. “Oh, Phil, that’s wonderful!” Sarah exclaimed, sounding overjoyed. “Congratulations! Is Clint there? Put us on speaker.” Obligingly, Phil pressed speakerphone, and Clint moved in closer so he would be heard better.

“Hey, Sarah, Henry,” he greeted, propping his chin on Phil’s shoulder.

“Clint, sweetie, this is such good news! Tell us everything; how did it happen? Who proposed?” Sarah urged, making the two men chuckle. They knew they’d be getting the question several times over, but told her anyway, Clint earning a congratulations from Henry when they said he was the one to propose.

“We decided we don’t want to wait too long,” Phil told them. “We just want something small; a couple of friends from work, and the family. We don’t know where it’ll be, but we’ll keep you guys in the loop.”

“Why don’t you have it at Lizzy’s place?” Henry suggested. “Their yard’s big enough for that, if it’s just going to be fifteen or twenty people. We can do it up all nice, find a minister, you’d be set. It’s legal in Washington.” Clint hummed, looking at Phil in inquiry.

“If Liz is up for that, we are,” Phil replied. “I’ll ask when we call and tell her. Which we should probably do now, actually.”

“Of course, of course,” Sarah urged. “Spread the good news. And congratulations again, boys! We’re so happy for you.” Saying their goodbyes and hanging up, Phil called Jen next, knowing his eldest sister would kill him if he told Liz before her. She was just as happy as their mother, calling her husband and kids in to hear the good news and congratulating. Explaining their plans, Jen promised to talk to her work about getting some time off once they had an idea of a date. Hannah promised to talk to her tutors and get a couple of days off college for whenever it was, and Taylor insisted no one would care if he had some time out of school.

After that, they called Liz, who was happy to offer her home for the occasion once she’d finished screeching down the phone in delight. “Oh, Peanut, I’m so happy for you!” she gushed. “Let me know when you’re looking at having it, okay? I’ll sort everything out with decorations and food, and Jen will help — just leave it to us. Don’t worry about anything but getting you and Clint enough time off.”

“I’ll talk to my boss, and probably have a date for you by the end of the week,” Phil promised, letting his sister fuss over him a little longer before begging off, insisting he and Clint had to go to bed. They had work in the morning, which meant telling their friends. Natasha already knew — she’d gone with Clint to get the rings, and he’d text her about his success before flying back from Italy — but the other three people who knew about their relationship were completely in the dark.

Getting into the office early the next morning, Phil went straight up to Fury’s office, knocking on the door and nudging it open. “Please don’t tell me I have to deal with a fuck-up this early in the morning,” Fury declared, making him snort.

“Depends on your definition of fuck-up,” Phil replied. “I just came to request spousal registration forms. And a weekend off sometime in the next month for myself and Clint.”

Fury stared at him in gobsmacked silence for at least an entire minute, during which Phil tried not to grin too overtly. “Damn, Coulson. Why didn’t you tell me you were taking the plunge?”

“I didn’t know,” Phil admitted freely. “Clint proposed in Italy, completely out of the blue. We’re planning to get married in my sister’s back yard in Washington. You’re invited, of course; as are Natasha, Maria and Jasper, if they can make it.”

“Having all six of us away at once is just asking for trouble,” Fury pointed out with a frown. “You know I’d love to be there, Phil, but if one of us is gonna stay back I’d rather it was me. But someone had better get a damn video, you hear?” Phil smiled, glad for his old friend’s approval.

“I understand, and I’ll make sure we have a camera set up. Does that mean I can have the forms?”

“I’ll do you one better,” Fury declared, turning to his computer to get the forms to print out. It wasn’t necessary for all SHIELD agents to get the forms directly from Fury, but the man was Phil’s direct superior; besides, it was the most fun way of breaking the news. “Let me know when the wedding is, I’ll give all five of you the weekend off, and you and Clint two weeks after and the keys to the safe house in that little village in Ontario. Y’know, the one in the middle of nowhere.” He smirked when Phil looked at him in shock. “Can’t let two of my best agents get married without a honeymoon.” Face softening, he took the registration forms from the printer and signed the bottom of each of them, handing them to Phil to fill in the rest and get Clint’s signature. “Tell Barton congratulations,” he said. “And tell Maria she owes me twenty bucks. ‘They’ll wait until it’s been a full year’ my ass; she should know better than to bet against me on my own friends.” Phil snickered, not bothering to hide his wide smile.

“Yes, sir,” he replied. “And thanks, Nick. I know Clint will appreciate the honeymoon.” Folding the papers and tucking them into his suit jacket, Phil left to go catch up with Clint, wondering if the archer had managed to tell Maria and Jasper yet. He hoped not; he wanted to see their faces when he did.

.-.-.-.

Finding a minister was surprisingly easy, thanks to Liz. Alex still went to church on occasion, having been brought up Christian, and the minister at his church had been happy to offer his services. After that, things had gone remarkably quickly; booking a date, getting everyone the time off, organising suits and food and music. And, of course, getting their rings engraved. Before they knew it, Clint and Phil were on a SHIELD flight to Washington, along with Natasha, Hill and Sitwell. Hill was still a little annoyed that they hadn’t waited three months so she could win her bet with Fury, but had forgiven them at the promise of free alcohol at the wedding.

Joshua met them at the airport, incredibly proud of his brand new driver’s license. “It’s kinda crazy at the house,” he declared as they waited for Sitwell to hire a car. “Mom and Aunt Jen are going nuts with decorating, and Grandma’s taken over the kitchen.” Phil snorted, easily imagining his mother commandeering Liz’s kitchen.

“It’ll all be over after tomorrow, kid,” Clint consoled, grinning. Joshua snorted.

“For you, maybe; we’ll have to deal with clean-up.” The conversation was halted as Sitwell returned, car keys in hand.

“We’ll pull in behind you once we’re out of the parking lot, okay?” the agent said to Joshua, who nodded. The group split as Clint and Phil went with Phil’s nephew, while the other three went with Sitwell. The SHIELD contingency were staying in a nearby hotel, so having their own car was definitely helpful. Still, the plan was for all of them to head over to the house for dinner and introductions first.

“That’s them,” Phil confirmed as they waited outside the parking lot exit, seeing his three workmates in a dark grey car behind them. Nodding, Joshua pulled away, heading for home. “I’m surprised Liz let you drive out here on your own.”

“Hey! I’m a good driver!” Joshua insisted. “Mom’s fine with it, now she’s sat in with me a few times. And it’s only a short drive.” From the airport to his house was barely twenty minutes. “Also, like I said, she’s busy. Next time you decide to let the family organise your wedding, please think of us poor kids who have had to learn to feed ourselves for the past two weeks?”

“Well I only plan on doing this once,” Phil replied dryly, sharing a fond look with Clint. “So I think you’re good. And hey, the next one won’t be for a while.”

“Oh, I dunno, Hannah and Ryan are still going strong. Y’know he came along for this?” Clint’s eyebrows rose in surprise; they’d extended the invitation to Ryan, of course, but hadn’t expected him to take them up on it.

“Really? Awesome.”

“Yeah, he’s pretty cool. Hannah’s been teaching me and Lily sign language, but it’s confusing a lot of the time. She seems to have it down okay though,” Joshua mused. Grinning proudly, Clint glanced up at the rear view mirror, checking that Sitwell was still following them. He was right behind them, his SHIELD training in tailing cars obviously helping; Joshua seemed to have forgotten he was even there.

Pulling into the driveway to Liz’s house, Clint’s eyes went a little wide at the large building. No wonder they’d said the back yard would be plenty big enough. “We’re home!” Joshua called as he walked through the front door, kicking his shoes off in the direction of the rack. Phil shot him a look, moving them onto the rack beside his own, and Clint and the others followed his lead without question. Liz appeared from a door off to their left, a beaming smile on her face.

“Hey!” she greeted brightly, not hesitating to wrap her brother in a hug. Clint was surprised at how easily Phil responded considering the three extras they’d brought with them, but he supposed it was a moot point; they were planning on getting married tomorrow, Phil clearly didn’t mind those three seeing him a little more open. “How was the flight?”

“Fine,” Phil replied, kissing the top of her head. “I hear you’ve gone a little crazy dictator with the decorations.” Liz snorted, giving her son a pointed look.

“Josh is just sore because he’s had to cook dinner twice this week. He’ll live,” she insisted, amused as she hugged Clint. Turning to the three newcomers, she smiled, holding out a hand to Natasha. “Hi, I’m Liz, Phil’s sister. Glad you guys could make it!” Shaking everyone’s hand as they introduced themselves, Liz urged them through to the living room where the rest of the family were gathered. Clint prepared himself for a long round of hugging, unsurprised when Hannah was the first one to him.

“Hey, Uncle Clint,” she greeted, arms sliding around his neck.

“Hey, kid. What’s with the hair?” It was a dark auburn, the most demure colour he’d seen on her since he’d met her. She shrugged, running her fingers through her fringe.

“I barely have time to sleep at Culver, let alone dye my hair once every two weeks. Besides, it’s getting a little rough from all the bleaching.” She darted away to hug Phil while there was an opening, and Clint caught Natasha’s eye. The redhead smirked.

“Uncle Clint, huh?” she asked softly with raised eyebrows, and Clint tried not to blush.

“Shut up,” he muttered, hoisting Lily up and spinning her around as she bounded over to him, setting her back on her feet. Yeah, he was Uncle Clint, and he loved every second of it; was that so wrong?

Natasha, Hill and Sitwell were welcomed with open arms and mugs of tea and coffee, and when Sarah called them to dinner the entire group squeezed into the kitchen. Half the surfaces were already covered with trays of food for tomorrow, and there were piles of decorations all over the place. Clint’s stomach squirmed nervously, and Phil squeezed his hand, looking to be in exactly the same boat. Still, they were both smiling.

Serving themselves from the enormous pot of spaghetti on the stove, they both moved aside to let others do the same, shoulders touching once they sat beside each other at the table. “Excited for tomorrow?” Henry asked, sitting down on Phil’s other side. Clint grinned at him, free hand twining with Phil’s.

“Oh, yeah. Kinda crapping my pants a little but still, excited.” Henry snorted.

“Just remember the ‘I do’ part, everything else is a bonus,” he told them, making Phil laugh.

“I’m just glad we managed to convince him out of the ceremonial flaming arrow.” Phil’s family knew that Clint was into archery, though they assumed it was ‘yeah I’m pretty good’ rather than ‘I get twitchy if my bow is more than ten feet from me at any one time’. Clint had wanted to copy some movie or other and fire a flaming arrow through a hoop to mark the marriage, and it had taken Phil a good five days to convince him how much of a danger that would be, regardless of how perfect his aim was.

“We compromised,” Clint supplied. “I get to do it back at the range once we’re back from Canada.” And he got to top their first time as a married couple, but Henry didn’t need to know that. Judging by the smirk on the older man’s face, he clearly assumed something along those lines, winking at Clint.

“Marriage is all about compromise, son. Get used to it.”

“God, this is so weird,” Hill declared from the other side of the table, drawing their attention. “Is this how you guys are in private? All huddled close and hand holding and everything?”

“Pretty much,” Hannah assured her, the other teenagers nodding even as Clint and Phil blushed. “At first it’s sweet but then it’s just like, damn, guys, get a room.”

“Like you can talk,” Clint retorted, eyes turning pointedly to look at her sat on Ryan’s lap, leant aside so he could still see her lips move. She smirked back at him, unabashed.

“Hey, there’s not enough chairs.”

“I’m so glad you’re not like this at work,” Sitwell remarked. “The juniors would have a field day.” Clint snickered, imagining how confused the entirety of SHIELD would be if he and Phil were anything other than completely professional at work. It might be worth it, just to see their faces.

After dinner, it took all of ten minutes for the boys to rope Clint and Sitwell into a game of Halo, and when Phil looked around for the other two it was to find Hill happily chatting away with his sisters — probably something he should be worried about — and Natasha engrossed in conversation with Hannah, Ryan and Lily. The thirteen year-old seemed to be hanging on to Tasha’s every word, making Phil wonder what they were talking about. Ryan just looked happy to have another person to sign with, the spy’s hands moving easily as she spoke.

It was strange how easy it was, melding this little bit of work with his home life. A year and a half ago, he would have balked at the idea of anyone at SHIELD but Nick knowing he even had a family, let alone meeting them. It was Clint’s fault that had changed, but Phil was grateful for it. It was oddly relaxing to let his guard down in front of his friends for a while.

As it grew later, the three SHIELD agents called it a night, heading to their hotel room after a promise to be back at the house promptly the next day. Once Lily had fallen asleep in her father’s lap, the rest of them decided to head to bed, too; it would be a busy day tomorrow, as Sarah kept reminding them. Phil and Clint were directed to a spare bedroom while the pull-out couch was set up for the kids downstairs, and Clint let out a long sigh once they were finally alone. Phil’s arm wound around his back, pulling him close. “Weird having everyone together, isn’t it?” he mused. The archer nodded, turning in Phil’s embrace.

“Nice, though.” He paused, pressing his forehead to the older man’s. “God, Phil, we’re getting married tomorrow.”

“Cold feet?” Phil teased, chuckling when Clint shook his head firmly.

“Not a chance. You’re stuck with me permanently, remember?” He pressed their lips together, fingers working at the buttons of Phil’s shirt. “Think we can be quiet? Last night before we’re married men, should make the most of it.” Phil pulled away to tug Clint’s t-shirt off, backing him towards the bed. That was all the answer Clint needed.

.-.-.-.

They weren’t actually getting married until the afternoon, so Phil and Clint got to lie-in while the rest of the family started setting up. Both awake, too used to getting up early, they stayed in bed for a long while, small grins on their faces that grew wider every time their eyes met. They were getting married.

Eventually, their was a knock on their door. “Boys? I brought breakfast up, and then you need to get dressed and ready. Your friends are already here,” Sarah told them, nudging the door open at Phil’s assent. Placing a tray of coffee, toast and eggs on the bedside table, she smiled at them both. “I’ll leave you to it, but just keep an eye on the time.”

“Will do, Mom,” Phil assured, sitting up and pulling the tray over onto his lap. Sarah left, and Clint moved in closer to balance the tray between them, reaching for the mug of coffee closest to him. Neither of them spoke as they ate, the excitement and apprehension palpable between them. Neither of them were having second thoughts, or even suspected their partner of having second thoughts, but marriage was still a big deal. They were allowed to be nervous.

“Shouldn’t we be getting ready in separate rooms or some shit?” Clint asked as he left the shower, towel wrapped around his waist. Phil was already showered and half dressed, buttoning his shirt neatly.

“That’s just superstition,” Phil pointed out, rolling his eyes. “Besides, neither of us is the bride.” To make that very clear, they were both wearing the exact same suits and pale grey shirts, though Clint’s tie was purple while Phil’s was dark blue. If he undid his jacket, it would show the small Captain America shield embroidered on the very bottom of the tie; Clint hadn’t expected Phil to get married in anything else.

Reaching out to straighten Clint’s tie, Phil smiled at his soon-to-be-husband, leaning in for a kiss. “You ready?” Clint nodded, grinning.

“Let’s do this.” Together, the pair of them left the room and went downstairs, bumping into Natasha in the hallway. She was wearing a dress that Clint was pretty sure had originally been for an op; a dark blue halter-neck dress with jewels on the straps and waistband. Her hair was done up impeccably, and she smiled warmly at them both.

“Don’t you look smart,” she teased Clint. “Usually you don’t get that dressed up for anything less than undercover jobs.”

“I figured it was a special enough occasion to make an exception,” he replied, smirking. “You look amazing, as usual. Where are the others?”

“Maria’s with Hannah, they’re doing Lily’s hair for her. Last I saw Jasper, he was helping your brothers-in-law set out chairs.” Phil would have been surprised at Agent Maria Hill doing a thirteen year-old’s hair, but he knew she had nieces of her own about Lily’s age. “Also you’re not allowed in the yard until it’s go-time, your Mom said,” she added to Phil, who sighed.

“Of course. Guess we’d better go kill time in the living room, then,” he said. “You look beautiful, Natasha.” Her smile widened, and they parted ways, Phil and Clint finding Adam and Taylor in the living room already, both dressed in suits.

“We got kicked out of the kitchen,” Taylor explained. “Because someone got caught stealing food off the trays.” Adam flushed, ducking his head guiltily.

“I was hungry,” he murmured, making Clint snicker.

“Don’t worry, kid. The boring part will be nice and short, so we’ll get to food pretty quick,” he promised. They weren’t planning anything fancy for the ceremony; just the basics to legally bind them, and they were happy.

It seemed like barely minutes for Clint before the doorbell was ringing, signalling the arrival of the minister, and the next thing he knew he was stepping out into the back yard with Phil at his side, heading to get married. He had to admit, the Coulsons had outdone themselves with the decoration. It was simple, with everything in purple, blue and grey. Covered chairs sat out in rows, each one occupied by a member of the family, and the end of the aisle was marked by two enormous flower arrangements. Smaller bouquets were at the end of each row of chairs, and a long grey rug made up the aisle itself. Joshua was the only person other than the minister not in a seat, as he was stood at the back with his camera on a tripod, currently focussed on their faces. Music started up from God only knew where, and Clint twined his fingers with Phil’s, starting to walk.

It was a good thing they had Joshua video-taping the entire ceremony, because Clint would not have been able to tell you what happened, how it went, or anything else. He picked up moments — Hannah’s hands moving in her lap as she diligently signed out every word for her boyfriend, Sarah wiping tears from her eyes while Henry hugged her around the shoulders, Natasha smiling proudly as he managed to recite his vows without stumbling, and most importantly, the way Phil’s gaze never wavered from his as they reached the end.

“Phillip James Coulson, do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, ’til death do you part?”

“I do,” Phil said clearly, no hesitation whatsoever in his words as he slid Clint’s ring onto his finger. They hadn’t been wearing them since they’d gotten them engraved, and Clint had missed it more than he expected to.

“And do you, Clinton Francis Barton, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, ’til death do you part?” Clint grinned, holding Phil’s hand carefully as he positioned the ring.

“I do,” he responded, voice confident. The ring settled into place, and they turned in unison to look at the minister once more.

“Then with the power vested in me by the state of Washington, I now declare you legally married.” They didn’t wait for him to finish his sentence before their lips collided, their family bursting into applause as they kissed. Clint’s hand moved to Phil’s shoulder, pulling him closer, feeling like he was going to burst with happiness. He was officially married to Phil Coulson. Life didn’t get much better than that.

They parted after a kiss that was probably longer than considered appropriate, but neither of them cared, ignoring Alex and Michael’s wolf-whistles. Beaming widely, they turned to face the gathered crowd, hands clasped tightly. Walking back down the aisle as a married couple, they headed for the conservatory where the marriage certificate was waiting to be signed. Natasha and Jen followed them, ready to supply their signatures as witnesses, and Joshua trailed after with his camera in hand. Clint’s hand shook a little as he scrawled his name down, and he noticed Phil’s signature wasn’t as neat as usual. Still, it was definitely his, which was all that mattered.

The room cleared out once the minister took the certificate away to be filed, and the newly married couple were left alone. “How does it feel?” Phil asked softly, watching Clint’s grin widen.

“Amazing,” he declared, pulling Phil in by his tie for a kiss. “You?”

“Perfect. Thank you, for making me the happiest man alive.” Clint winked, smoothing Phil’s tie back into place.

“I think you’ve got a little competition for that title,” he replied playfully. “God, this is crazy. I want to go back to SHIELD and shout it over the intercom. I married Phil Fucking Coulson.”

“I think you might cause a few heart attacks if you did,” Phil mused. “And even more broken hearts at the news you’re off the market.”

“Francesca in the canteen would be devastated if she knew you weren’t single,” the archer returned, referring to the cook who had an enormous soft spot for Phil, and always had his favourites put back so he would get some, even if he was late for meals.

“We should go back out there,” Phil said, tugging on Clint’s hand. “I’m starved.”

When they got back out to the garden, it was to see tables laden with buffet food, the rest of the family already helping themselves. Adam was at the very front of the line, determinedly piling his plate high with just about everything he could reach. “Congrats, newlyweds,” Hill said by way of greeting, handing them each a glass of champagne. “It was a beautiful ceremony. We’ll have to make sure Nick gets the video ASAP.”

“I’ll talk to Josh before we leave,” Phil promised. He and Clint were getting on a flight to Canada that evening, and would be out of contact for two weeks barring any emergencies.

Heading towards the buffet tables, the pair were hugged and congratulated more times than they could count. Lily rushed over to Phil excitedly, showing off the French braid Maria and Hannah had done for her, and twirling around in her pretty lavender dress. Phil and Clint had assured everyone that they didn’t have to dress up if they didn’t want to, but they had been ignored, and everyone there was looking incredible in their suits and dresses.

“Wait, before you guys settle down to eat, we need to get photos,” Liz insisted, Joshua trailing behind her with his camera at the ready. Happy to stand and pose for a while, they went and rotated through just about every possible group combination — plenty on their own, some with Sarah and Henry, some with Phil’s siblings and their partners, some with all the kids, some with their SHIELD colleagues — until finally Liz was satisfied, allowing them to loosen their ties, roll up their sleeves and grab some food. Music was playing again, some pop music that was probably Hannah or Joshua’s doing.

“We need to get your mom and sisters the biggest thank you gifts,” Clint insisted, looking around the garden. “This is all amazing, seriously.”

“Definitely,” Phil agreed. “They’ve outdone themselves. Hard to believe they only had a month to get it all together. Hell, the cake was a total surprise.” They’d insisted they didn’t need anything special for the cake, just so long as there was enough for a slice per person, and it was something the kids would enjoy too. Liz had taken that and run with it, and there in the centre of the buffet was a three-tier cake decorated in grey and purple, two groom figures in suits stood on top. The kids would probably appreciate the amount of leftover cake there would be; no way could they eat all that in one day.

“If I could have a moment of your time,” Henry called, standing up and tapping his glass with his spoon. Everyone, standing or seated, turned to face him, and Phil’s eyes went wide. They’d said no speeches. “I lied and promised Phil I wouldn’t do this, so I suppose I’d better be quick,” he remarked with a grin. “I knew from the first time I met Clint that he and Phil were the real deal. Not only because it was the first time Phil had brought someone home with him since moving out.” Phil grinned, taking Clint’s hand in his. “Phil has never been a particularly expressive person, even around family. But, when Clint’s around, that changes. He smiles more, he laughs, and he’s even been known to crack a joke or two on a good day. Around Clint, Phil is relaxed enough to be himself, and that has been clear in everything I’ve seen them do together. You make my son happy, Clint, and that is all I can ask from his partner. I know that you boys will look after each other, and support each other through whatever your future holds. So Clint, welcome to the family, son. We’re very, very happy to have you here.” He cracked a smile, raising his champagne glass. “To Phil and Clint!”

The words were echoed around the whole garden, and Phil tapped his glass to Clint’s, leaning over for a chaste kiss. “Uncle Phil, can we have cake now?” Adam called across the garden, cheeks bulging with cocktail sausages, drawing laughs from the gathered crowd.

“The masses have spoken,” Clint declared, getting to his feet. “We’d better cut the cake.”

After the cake was cut, Hannah herded them to the little space set aside for the dance-floor, insisting they have their first dance as a married couple. “Our first dance, period,” Clint mused, swaying gently with Phil as a song he didn’t recognise played.

“No it isn’t,” Phil corrected. “Rome, five years ago. That street party, remember?” Clint’s eyes widened as the memory came back to him; they’d been tailing a suspect and accidentally ended up in an enormous street party. The suspect had vanished, and as they tried to get out of the crowd, they’d been shoved together in a crowd of dancing people, and had no choice but to play along. It had driven Clint crazy, being pushed so close up against his boss.

“Oh, God, I needed the longest cold shower after that,” he remarked, making Phil chuckle softly.

“And how about after this one?” he teased. Clint winked, hand sliding to Phil’s hip.

“Somehow I don’t think I’ll be left to take care of myself after this one.” The song ended, and more people came to dance as the song changed. Clint chuckled as he watched Joshua bravely ask Hill to dance with him, surprised when the woman accepted. He felt a tap on the shoulder, and turned to see Natasha and Hannah stood grinning at them both.

“You’re dancing with me,” Natasha told Phil, smirking at Clint. “Sorry.” As she whisked his husband away, Clint turned to Hannah, offering a hand.

“Ryan won’t mind if I take this one, will he?” he teased, and she laughed, accepting.

“Nah, he’ll be fine.” She looked like a proper adult in her dark red dress, and it amazed Clint how protective he felt over her. At least he knew Ryan was a good guy, he would treat her right.

After one dance, he and Phil switched partners, Clint easily falling into hold with Natasha. He’d danced with her countless times on undercover ops, it was as natural to him as breathing. “You ready for this?” she asked him, making him snort.

“Little late now,” he replied dryly, before sobering. “Yeah, I’m ready. He’s it for me, Tasha, I’ve known it since before we got together. This… legally it’s a big step, but it doesn’t change anything between us.”

“Then I’m happy for you,” she said sincerely. “And for Phil. You two deserve each other.”

Clint felt like he’d danced with just about every female in the garden — and with a couple of the guys, too — by the time he and Phil were allowed to sit down and eat cake. “We need to get going soon,” Phil mused, checking his watch. They were getting a SHIELD flight, which meant the time wasn’t set in stone, but their pilot no doubt had other places to be after dropping them off. Namely, taking Sitwell back to base, and then Hill and Natasha off to India. No rest for the wicked.

“I know,” Clint agreed, leaning into Phil’s side. “But not for a little while yet.” He was enjoying the moment, seeing everyone around him happy and celebrating his happiness. He never thought he’d have that, in a million years. “I love you.” Phil’s expression softened, and his arm slid around Clint’s shoulders.

“I love you, too.”

Finally, they couldn’t leave it much longer, and the five of them went to go change and grab their things. Their three colleagues had checked out that morning and brought their things to the house, so they could all leave straight from there after saying their goodbyes.

“Thanks for all this, Lizzy. It was perfect,” Phil said as he hugged his sister goodbye.

“I’m just glad you’re happy, Peanut,” she replied, beaming. “Now go have fun on your honeymoon.” Phil smirked, his expression saying it all, and finally the five of them were in Sitwell’s rental car, on the way to the airport.

“Fury says congrats,” Hill relayed, pocketing her phone. “And that now we’ve gotten you two safely hitched, we’d better get our asses back on the job.”

“Ahh, I’m not gonna miss work,” Clint declared smugly, earning an elbow to the ribs from Natasha.

“You’ll only get this once, make the most of it.” Clint’s grin widened, and he looked down to his lap, where his and Phil’s twined fingers were resting, their rings glinting in the evening light. They seemed so different, despite the engravings on the inside being the only real change. Before they’d been engagement rings; now they were wedding rings. A visible sign of his and Phil’s permanent commitment to each other. Legal and binding. It was a shame they couldn’t wear them at work.

Glancing up, he flushed as he met Phil’s eyes, the look in them assuring him the older man was having the exact same thoughts. After years of secretly pining for each other, and almost a whole year as a couple, they were finally married. And now they were spending a whole two weeks completely work-free, on their own, in the middle of the mountains in Canada, all expenses paid by SHIELD. Gaze turning more sultry, he was glad the trip to Canada would only be a short one in a SHIELD jet. Having three other people in the car suddenly felt like far too many.

“Oh my God, stop making eyes at each other, I am literally sat right next to you,” Natasha scolded, making Hill and Sitwell laugh in the front seats.

“It’s my wedding day,” Clint retorted. “If I wanna make eyes at my husband, then I damn well will.” Phil’s smile grew a fraction wider at the word husband, his eyes full of promise for when they were alone. Clint couldn’t wait.

Chapter Text

Clint couldn’t hold in the hiss of pain as he shuffled out of bed, every muscle in his back protesting the movement. Still he persevered, inching his way through to the living room where Phil was sat doing work on his tablet. “You’re supposed to be on bed-rest,” the older man scolded, not looking up from his tablet. “Emphasis on the bed.”

“Bed is boring when you’re not in it,” Clint argued, hobbling over to the couch and sinking down on it with more pained winces. “Shit, ow.”

“That’s what you get for throwing yourself off a ten story building,” Phil pointed out. Clint frowned; he would have been fine, if the drainpipe he’d grabbed onto on his way down hadn’t snapped clean off in his hands. He’d had to lurch for a window sill instead, and badly strained several back muscles in the attempt. Now he was on at least three weeks complete medical leave, followed by several weeks more of intense PT. He was one week down, and completely bored out of his mind, his hands constantly twitching for his bow. Fury had been kind enough to give Phil light duty so he could stay home with Clint most of the day, but when most of the things Clint wanted to do to take advantage of the free time were banned by his doctor, it made him incredibly frustrated. Now, his days basically consisted of lying in bed watching TV, lying on the couch watching TV, and sleeping. Sometimes he was lucky enough to have Phil to cuddle during these activities, but most of the time his husband — and even after six months he loved thinking that word — was busy with work.

He lay down when Phil patted his lap in prompt, resting his head on the older man’s thighs and smiling in contentment when a hand found its way to his hair. “Do you need more painkillers?” Phil queried in concern, but Clint shook his head.

“Nah, now I’m lying down it’s mostly okay.” He wasn’t really supposed to get out of bed except to use the bathroom and occasionally walk a little so he didn’t get muscle cramps, but he got bored. Leaning into Phil’s fingers as they ran soothingly through his hair, Clint let his eyes fall half-closed. “How’s paperwork going?”

“Almost done for the night,” Phil promised. Smiling, Clint let himself doze, his medication making him constantly drowsy. Just as he was starting to drift off properly, there was a loud bleeping noise, and Phil sighed. His phone. “Coulson,” he answered promptly. Cracking one eye open, Clint’s smile faltered as he watched his husband’s expression grow faintly annoyed. “Yes, sir. If I have to. I know, Nick. Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“What does the bossman want?” Clint asked apprehensively once Phil had hung up, earning an apologetic look.

“There’s a bit of a situation with Stark,” he explained. “Nick wants me out there first thing tomorrow, I’ll probably be gone for a few days.” Clint felt dread sink in his stomach.

“But if you’re not here I’ll have to go into medical until you get back,” he said. Due to his injuries, he wasn’t supposed to be on his own. SHIELD wouldn’t have even let him leave medical to begin with if Phil hadn’t promised to ‘house him until he gets back on his feet’. Tasha was on an op in Asia with Hill, so neither of them could keep an eye on him, and Sitwell was way too busy training junior agents.

“I know,” Phil sighed, thumb tracing down Clint’s cheek and jawline. “But you know Nick wouldn’t call me in unless it was important, and if it’s Stark…” He didn’t need to finish; Phil was the only SHIELD agent Stark would deal with, and even then it was reluctant.

“Work comes first,” Clint mused unhappily, trying not to be annoyed at Phil. It wasn’t his fault Tony Stark couldn’t go ten minutes unsupervised without causing trouble. No wonder Phil was staunchly refusing to introduce him.

“I’ll make it up to you,” Phil promised. “I should only be away two or three days.”

“That’s still two or three days I have to spend in medical being poked and prodded and harassed by the nurses,” Clint grumbled. Still, he reached up, taking one of Phil’s hands in his own. With a smile on his face, he twisted the ring on Phil’s finger, sliding it up enough to see the engraving inside. Nothing too fancy, just Clint’s initials, their wedding date, and a tiny four-point star; the North star. Clint’s was the same but with Phil’s initials, and the stars had been his idea. It was a way of saying that no matter what, they’d always find each other and be there for each other, that Phil was his guide to home. Plus it didn’t give away anything, in case anyone not in the know saw them. “It’s not your fault, I know,” he added softly, apology in his tone. “Just… fucking Stark.” Phil snorted, eyes fond as Clint slid his ring back into place, bringing Phil’s hand up to kiss the metal band lovingly.

“Tell me about it. He might be a genius, but he has some damn stupid ideas. Hopefully it’ll be an easy fix.” A comfortable silence stretched between them, broken only by the murmur of the television and the faint noise of the city outside. Phil’s hand resumed carding through Clint’s hair. The archer turned his head, wondering if whatever was on the TV was worth watching, when Phil’s phone rang again.

“God damn it,” Clint muttered as Phil went to answer it. “If that’s Fury, tell him to shove his problem up his ass.”

“It’s Jen,” Phil replied, amused, answering the call. “Hey, Jen. How’s it going?” Clint tuned out most of their conversation, brain too drug-fogged to try and figure out what Jen was saying just on Phil’s responses. He jolted when the phone was thrust in front of his face. “She wants to talk to you,” Phil explained, and Clint took the phone obediently.

“Hi, Jen.”

“Hey, sweetie. You still laid up?” She’d called earlier in the week, earning a vague story about how Clint had injured himself on the job.

“Unfortunately so, yes. And looking to be in hospital for the next few days,” he groused.

“Oh my God, are you okay? Did it get worse?” Jen fretted, and he made a noise of dissent.

“No, but I need near-constant supervision, and Phil’s being called out on an emergency job first thing tomorrow morning, he’ll be gone a few days. Tasha’s already out with Maria working a job, and Jasper’s busy with a bunch of newbies. So it’s back to hospital for me until Phil gets back.” Clint didn’t bother trying to hide how pissed he was about the situation, and Jen hummed sympathetically.

“Hey, we’ve got nothing going on here, and Hannah’s home to spend Spring Break with Ryan. Why don’t I send her over to pick you up in the morning, you can stay with us for a few days,” she suggested, making Clint’s eyes widen.

“What? No, you don’t have to put yourselves out like that, I’ll be fine,” he insisted.

“It’s not putting ourselves out, we’d love to have you. And I’m a nurse, Clint, I’m plenty used to dealing with injured people,” the older woman pointed out. “Come on, it would be much better than you going to the hospital, and it’s no trouble at all.”

“Jen, you don’t have to,” Clint started, only for Phil to pluck the phone from his hand.

“That’s a wonderful idea, Jen, thank you for offering. Sending Hannah over to pick him up would be great,” he answered, smirking as Clint glared at him.

“Perfect,” Jen declared, satisfied. “I’ll ask Hannah now and she’ll text you arrival times in the morning. And I should go make sure Taylor’s in bed and not on his laptop all night, he has practice tomorrow morning. Tell Clint I’ll see him tomorrow, and you look after yourself on this work thing, okay? I love you both.”

“Love you too, Jen. Goodnight.” Hanging up, Phil smiled down at Clint. “It’ll be better for you than going back to medical,” he said before his husband could talk. “You’ll relax more, and be away from base. You’re not a burden, Clint; you’re family, and people do things like this for family. So let them help you out, and give me the piece of mind that you’re being looked after properly while I’m away.”

Clint swallowed, unexpectedly touched by Phil’s words. “I guess I still need to get used to this whole family thing, huh?” he mused, and Phil’s smile turned fond.

“You have plenty of time to,” he reminded him. “Now why don’t we go to bed? There’s nothing on TV anyway, and you need your sleep.” Despite the fact that going to bed involved getting up, Clint nodded in agreement; it also meant getting to go cuddle with Phil for a while.

Gingerly getting to his feet with Phil’s help, Clint detoured to the kitchen to take his painkillers, then edged towards the bedroom. Going through his bathroom routine as quickly as possible, he unbuttoned his jeans and let them fall to the floor, Phil pulling his t-shirt off for him. Sinking down onto the mattress with a groan of pain, Clint’s pinched expression turned to a smile as Phil joined him, shuffling over to sling an arm over Clint’s waist and settle against him. “I’ll try and be quick with Stark,” he promised. “But just enjoy your time at Jen’s with the kids. They’ll be happy to see you; I think you’ve replaced me as favourite uncle with just about everyone.”

“Not Lily,” Clint pointed out, grinning. “You’re still her favourite by a mile.” Though the thirteen year-old did ask about Natasha a lot in their phone calls; obviously the redhead had made an impression.

“True. But you’ve definitely stolen Hannah and Joshua away from me, and I think Taylor’s undecided. Adam’s favourite uncle will always be Michael,” Phil added with a smirk. As far as Adam was concerned, being a police officer was the coolest thing ever. Michael’s status as favourite uncle wasn’t likely to budge anytime soon.

“I suppose it will be nice to see them again,” Clint agreed. “Catch up on how Hannah’s doing at Culver. Let Taylor talk football at me for a while.”

“Exactly. So get some sleep, you’ve got a long car ride tomorrow.” Clint winced; that part he definitely wasn’t looking forward to. Maybe if he drugged himself enough he could sleep through it.

.-.-.

Phil left early the next morning, before Clint was even willing to get out of bed. “Be safe,” the archer urged, tugging Phil down into a kiss.

“I’ll be fine,” he promised. “The worst that’ll happen is I’ll kill Stark for being a moron.” Snorting, Clint kissed him once more.

“Get going, then. Try not to taser anyone who doesn’t completely deserve it,” he teased. “Love you.”

“Love you, too. Be good for Jen, and for God’s sake stop getting up and wandering around, you’ll hurt yourself worse,” Phil scolded, making Clint laugh. “Communication is fine for this op, so just call if you need me. I’ll call you tonight when I’ve got some time free.” Reluctantly, Phil left Clint alone in the apartment. Still not wanting to get out of bed just yet, Clint grabbed his phone to check his last text from Hannah. She promised to get there around noon, so he had plenty of time before she would be there. Shifting to get a little more comfortable, he closed his eyes, trying not to notice how empty the bed felt with just him in it.

When Clint awoke next it was just after eleven, and he dragged himself out of bed with a long sigh and several curse words as his back flared with pain. Phil had already packed him a bag, so all Clint had to do was dress himself, eat some food, take his meds and call Hannah. Couldn’t be too hard, right?

It took twenty minutes for him to dress in sweats and a t-shirt, and he was exhausted and in pain by the end of it. Forcing himself to walk to the kitchen, he poured a glass of water to take his pills with, making himself a bowl of cereal and wishing they would kick in quickly. Wolfing the food down, he grabbed his phone off the counter, calling Hannah. “Hey, kid,” he greeted when she picked up. “You have hands-free, right?” he added, concerned.

“Yeah, don’t worry Uncle Clint, both hands on the wheel, I promise,” she assured him playfully. “I’m about fifteen minutes out. Don’t you dare try and carry your bag and get down on your own to meet me out front. Stay in the apartment, I’ll come up and meet you.” Clint huffed, annoyed at being treated like an invalid.

“Sure thing,” he agreed. “Text me when you get here, okay?”

“Will do, see you soon.” With that, Hannah hung up, and Clint set about double checking all the locks in the apartment, having to lie down straight after as his back burned with pain. God, he hated being injured. His phone buzzed on the kitchen counter, and he assumed it was Hannah, relaxing back onto the couch. There was a knock on the door, and he smiled.

“It’s open!” he called, listening as the door was nudged open.

“Hey. Your bag in the bedroom?” Hannah asked, rounding the couch so he could see her. “I won’t go snooping, I promise.” Clint snorted to himself; Hannah would need to have a pretty good idea of safe-cracking to snoop in his and Phil’s bedroom. Even the sex toys were behind a coded lock.

“Yeah, on the floor by the wardrobe.” As Hannah disappeared into the bedroom, Clint managed to pull himself to his feet.

“I guess we’re taking the elevator, then?” the nineteen year-old mused as she returned to see him hobbling across the room for his phone and meds.

“Oh yeah,” Clint confirmed, looking around to check he had everything. He wished he could bring his bow, but he couldn’t use it, and it would raise too many questions. He’d be fine without it for a couple of days. “Okay, let’s get this show on the road.”

They managed to get Clint down to the car with only a little bit of swearing and pain, and eventually he was strapped into the front passenger seat, his back burning at being sat up. He used the lever to push the chair back as far down as it would go, but it didn’t help much. The painkillers were starting to work, though. “So tell me what’s been going on with you,” he requested, wanting something to take his mind off his back. “How’s college?”

“Oh, it’s going great,” she replied, grinning. “Though there was one thing I’ve been meaning to talk to you about. I have this friend a few years older than me, Darcy. She’s a poli-sci major currently interning for some amazing physicist. Apparently the physicist made some pretty groundbreaking discoveries a couple months ago, including a super hot dude from outer space… and this douchebag in a suit going by the name of Agent Coulson came and took all her research.” Clint stiffened at Hannah’s even tone, remembering the Thor debacle. Fuck. Why did everyone at Culver University seem to know everyone else? “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”

“Shit,” Clint muttered, making Hannah snort.

“Private security firm, huh?” Sighing to himself, Clint mentally weighed up how much Phil would kill him if he told Hannah about SHIELD. A lot.

“I might as well tell you,” he mused in resignation. “You’re at Culver, you’re bound to hear about us sooner or later. Hell, maybe you already have. Ever heard of SHIELD?” Slowly, Clint explained everything; well, almost everything. He told Hannah the basics of SHIELD, what they did and how they did it, and his and Phil’s positions in the organisation.

“So Uncle Phil’s like, the boss’ right hand man?” she asked, impressed.

“Phil’s a legend at work,” Clint informed her, proud. “You ask any junior agent about Phil Coulson, they’ll tell you he’s either a robot, an alien, or a genetically enhanced superhuman. They’ll tell you about the time he took a guy down with a sack of flour in a gas station, or when he escaped a HYDRA containment facility with nothing more than a paperclip and a ballpoint pen.”

“Seriously? Phil?” Hannah gaped, making Clint smirk.

“Oh yeah, Your uncle’s a total badass.”

“And what about you? Reached legend status yet?” she teased. He laughed.

“Legendary pain in the ass, maybe. I’m SHIELD’s wild card; been with them since I was twenty, and been through more handlers than any other specialist. Even now, the only ones who take me out are Phil, Maria and Jasper.” All the other handlers were incompetent assholes with superiority complexes, as far as Clint was concerned. He’d rather work alone than with them. “Also I sit in the vents and fire nerf guns at junior agents on their first day,” he added, unashamed. Snickering, Hannah beamed.

“Knew there was a reason I liked you. So you’re all like, super-spies? Damn. I always pegged FBI or something, but that is way cooler,” she declared. “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me. But how did you really injure your back, then? Or is that classified?”

Clint sighed, shifting as his muscles spasmed painfully. “It started with what we thought was a nice easy op in Chicago…”

.-.-.-.

Clint slept for half the drive, waking up to Hannah gently tapping him on the shoulder once they were parked in Jen’s driveway. “Stay there, I’ll help you out,” the teen insisted, getting out and rounding to his side of the car, easing him from his seat with surprising strength. Still, he winced, and Hannah gave him an apologetic look, grabbing his bag out of the backseat while he started towards the door. Despite his head start she still beat him to it, unlocking the door and holding it open for him. “Mom, Dad, I’m back with Uncle Clint!” she called out into the hallway, shrugging her jacket off and tossing it over the end of the bannister. “I’m thinking couch, yes?” she asked Clint, who nodded.

“Couch sounds awesome,” he agreed. “And then I need some sort of food so I can take my meds.” He knew better than to take them on an empty stomach.

“Then you’re just in time, dinner’s almost ready,” Jen informed them, coming in through the kitchen. She fixed Clint with a studying look, eyeing how he was holding himself gingerly. “Oh, sweetie, they really did a number on you, huh?” Clint snorted, allowing his sister-in-law to help him through to the living room. He was touched to see that the couch had been pulled out to be a bed, a thick duvet and multiple pillows just waiting for him. The coffee table had been moved to rest beside it, and a glass of water sat on it, untouched, for him to take his pills with. “I figured stairs were a bad idea right now, and this way you can watch TV if you’re bored or can’t sleep or whatever. Now you get settled, I’ll go get dinner for you. Hannah, are you eating in here or in the kitchen?”

“I’ll eat in here if that’s cool with you?” she asked Clint, who hummed, unable to shrug.

“Sure, if you want.” He was unable to stop his sigh of relief as he sunk down onto the couch bed, lying back against the pillows. For a couch bed, it was surprisingly comfortable, and he was tempted to fall asleep right there. But he was wide awake as soon as the scent of spaghetti and meatballs caught his nose from the two bowls Jen was carrying in, his stomach growling. Easing himself into something resembling more of a sitting position, he accepted the bowl with a grin. “This is awesome, thanks, Jen.”

Hannah perched on the end of the couch bed, her bowl in her lap as she reached for the TV remote. It wasn’t long before Taylor appeared, a smile on his face and a smear of red sauce at the corner of his mouth. “Hey, Uncle Clint. Dude, you look wrecked.” Snorting, Clint gave a wry half-smile, swallowing his mouthful of food.

“I feel wrecked,” he confirmed. “But give me a couple weeks, I’ll be fine. How’s stuff with you?” He didn’t talk to Taylor as often as he did Hannah, the younger teen often too busy with football and school and friends to talk when Phil and Clint called. He’d only just turned sixteen, and Jen assured them he was definitely taking advantage of the freedom of driving.

“Tay’s got a girlfriend,” Hannah teased, watching her brother’s cheeks go bright red. Clint smirked, wiggling his eyebrows playfully.

“Do you, now? You’ve been holding out on us! C’mon, man, tell me about her. I wanna be able to brag to Phil that I found out first,” he urged, making the teen grin even as he blushed.

“Her name’s Zoe,” he started, clearly embarrassed. “She’s in my English class.” Clint’s smirk didn’t falter as he shovelled a forkful of spaghetti into his mouth, silently urging Taylor to continue. Phil was missing all the good gossip.

.-.-.

Clint took a nap after dinner, Jen making sure he took his meds first. When he woke, it was to find Hannah sprawled out on the other side of the bed watching some medical drama and texting Ryan, one of her Mechanics textbooks open on her lap. If she didn’t end up in SHIELD RnD by the age of twenty-five, Clint would eat his practice bow. Then again, would they dare recruit Phil Coulson’s niece? They had talked about it, and Clint knew that if Hannah got offered and really wanted to join SHIELD, Phil wouldn’t object. He’d just hope to God she didn’t get a field job.

Reaching over for his glass of water, he startled the dark-haired girl, who flashed a quick smile at him. “Good, you’re awake. Mom was worried you’d sleep right through until like 2am and end up nocturnal.”

“Nah, I’ll be okay. The meds just make me sleepy, so I nap a lot at the moment,” he assured her. It was odd, waking up without Phil cuddling him or running a hand through his hair. “Hey, could you grab my phone from my bag, please?” Hannah nodded, getting off the bed and digging through his bag until she found his phone, tossing it to him. There was a missed call from Phil time-stamped twenty minutes ago, and Clint hit speed-dial one.

“Hey,” Phil greeted warmly, his voice immediately making Clint relax.

“Hey, sorry I didn’t pick up earlier, I was asleep,” Clint replied, settling back down against his pillows. Hannah signed something quickly to him, and he grinned. “Hannah says hi.” He’d have to talk to Phil about what she knew now, but he could do that when they were both back home.

“Tell her hi from me,” Phil requested, waiting as Clint did so. “How are you? The drive go okay?”

“I’m fine,” the archer assured. “I slept for most of the drive, so yeah, it was great. I’ve had dinner and another nap, and I’m just about to watch some TV. Jen set up the couch bed for me in the living room so I don’t have to tackle the stairs. How about you? Everything okay on your end?”

“It’s as good as it can be, at the moment. Stark’s in one hell of a mess, but it’s still fixable. He’ll be fine once he gets his head out of his ass.” Snorting, Clint smiled, glad that whatever Phil was dealing with, it wasn’t a life-or-death kind of emergency, by the sounds of it. Not like the last time Stark had had an emergency.

“Good, good. Hopefully you’ll be able to come home soon, then.”

“Touch wood,” Phil agreed. “I’d better get some sleep while I can, I don’t know when I’ll need to go back to Stark’s. I’ll leave you to watch TV with Hannah.” Part of Clint wanted to urge his husband to stay on the phone a little while longer, but he knew how precious sleep-hours were around Tony Stark.

“Sure thing. Call me tomorrow when you’ve got a few minutes free?” he asked hopefully.

“Of course,” Phil promised. “Sleep well, don’t forget your meds, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow. I love you.”

“Love you too. Night.” He hung up, unable to hold in a quiet sigh as he set his phone on the coffee table.

“God, you miss him already, that’s pathetic,” Hannah said teasingly, moving to lie beside him as she changed the channel to something they would both enjoy.

“Shut up,” he muttered, rolling his eyes. “I’m normally not so bad — we’re separated because of work all the time. But this is his sister’s house, he should be here. It’s weird being here without him.”

“It would be cool if he was here,” Hannah agreed with a small frown. “Then again, if he could be here, you wouldn’t be, because you’d both be at home.” Humming to concede her point, Clint shifted to re-adjust one of his pillows, glancing up when there was a knock on the door. It was nudged open to reveal Michael, who smiled.

“Hey, Clint,” he greeted. “You look like shit, man.” Clint laughed, wondering if he did really look that terrible.

“It happens, y’know?” he mused, knowing that Michael as a police officer would have seen his fair share of work-related injuries.

“Tell me about it; one of the women in my unit is on leave at the moment. Bullet to the leg.”

“Ouch, damn, that’s never fun,” Clint sympathised, having had more of those than he wanted to count. “You wanna watch TV with us? We’re watching… what are we watching?” Hannah laughed, and Michael’s grin widened.

“CSI,” the teenager informed him. “Which Dad won’t watch because it’s inaccurate.”

“So I guess that’s my cue to leave,” Michael joked, leaning down to peck Hannah on the forehead. “It’s good to have you home, kiddo. Even if you do kick me out of my own living room.” He winked at her, straightening up. “See you, Clint.” With that he left, and Clint tilted his head to get a better look at the TV.

“CSI, seriously?” he mock-complained, earning a gently thump to the shoulder.

“It’s good, shut up,” she insisted. “Or go back to sleep, whatever.”

“Nah, I’m awake now. Besides, there’s worse stuff on.” He was just glad she wasn’t the type to watch all those ridiculous soap operas.

After two episodes of CSI and one of some detective drama he didn’t know the name of, Clint was starting to get drowsy, and Hannah clearly noticed. “I’ll leave you to go to bed,” she declared, gathering her things. “Want me to call Mom in to help you get changed to sleep?”

“Please,” Clint agreed reluctantly; he didn’t want to accept the help, but he knew after that morning’s debacle that he wouldn’t be able to do it himself. Plus, he really had to use the bathroom. “Night, kid.”

“Goodnight, Uncle Clint.” She kissed his cheek then rolled off the bed, taking her stuff with her. Jen came into the room shortly after Hannah left, not looking put out at having to tend to him.

“Could you grab my toiletries bag out of my bag, please?” he requested after she’d helped him to her feet.

“Sure, here,” Jen replied, fetching the bag in question. “You remember where the bathroom is, right?” He nodded, shuffling out of the living room and across the hall to the bathroom, relieving himself and brushing his teeth before returning back to the living room. Jen had re-made the bed for him, the duvet turned back invitingly. “What do you sleep in?”

“Uh, there should be some pyjama pants and a t-shirt in my bag,” he replied, sure he’d seen Phil pack him some. Jen rifled through the bag, pulling out the Captain America print pants.

“Are these Phil’s?” she asked with raised eyebrows, an amused grin on her lips. Clint snickered.

“They were at one point,” he confirmed. “But they’re mine now.” At first he’d started stealing them as a joke, but eventually ownership had just shifted without either of them realising.

It was a little embarrassing, having his sister-in-law undress him and help him redress, but she was professional about it, and he knew it was better than the alternative of some random SHIELD nurse. And at least she didn’t remark on any of his scars. “Thanks, Jen,” he said gratefully once he was back in bed.

“No trouble at all. I’ll bring you in some more water so you can take your pills before sleep,” she told him, tucking him in with a look of motherly affection on her face that made his insides warm in an unfamiliar way.

“Sounds great.” His eyes fell half-shut as Jen left the room, but it wasn’t long before she was back with a glass of water, leaving it with him after saying goodnight. Clint downed the painkillers quickly, washing them down with half the glass; at this point he just wanted to sleep.

Shifting to make himself a little more comfortable and wishing he could lay in any position other than on his back, he closed his eyes, pretending Phil was sleeping beside him. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too long before he had the real thing back.

.-.-.-.

Hannah was out with Ryan and some of their friends the day after, so Clint spent most of his time playing video games with Taylor in between naps, teasing the boy about his new girlfriend. He made sure not to go too hard on him, though, sure he was already getting plenty of ribbing from Hannah. Besides, Clint was weirdly proud of his nephew getting his first girlfriend.

He talked to Phil just after two, the man assuring him Stark was still alive and relatively unharmed. It didn’t sound like he was going to be able to come home any time soon, but Clint was just glad he was safe. Unfortunately, he couldn’t say the same; Jen had decided he would feel better if he took a bath. “Oh, for God’s sake, Clint, get over yourself. I’ve been a nurse for twenty-five years, I guarantee you have nothing I haven’t seen before,” she huffed, rolling her eyes as he stood in his boxers in the bathroom, insisting he could do the rest himself.

“You’re Phil’s sister,” he stressed, earning an exasperated look.

“So I have absolutely no desire to do anything but help you into that bath without throwing your back out. Seriously, I won’t even look if you don’t want me to. I don’t want to think about my brother’s sex life any more than you want to think about mine.” Clint grimaced; yeah, but that didn’t mean that it wouldn’t be stuck in his mind that his husband’s sister had seen him naked. “And think about it; you might be able to get in on your own, but there’s no way in hell you’re getting out on your own. I’d have to help you sooner or later.”

Clint sighed, reluctantly admitting she may have a point. “Fine,” he agreed. “But we never speak of this again.”

“I can manage that,” she replied, clearly amused as he nudged his boxers down his hips, turning his back to her. Clint tried not to focus on anything but getting into the bath unscathed as Jen helped him in. “Just holler when you want to get out.” With that, she left him to it, soaking in the hot water. He took his time, having to go slowly as his muscles loosened and ached in the heat. As much as he loved Jen and her family, it was good to have a little privacy. He wasn’t used to so many people seeing him injured, let alone being so willing to help. It was… nice.

When he yelled for Jen to come help him out, she did so quickly and professionally, hands not touching anywhere they didn’t absolutely need to be and eyes never straying as she’d promised. Clint truly didn’t think she would do anything inappropriate, but he felt vulnerable enough without being naked on top of it.

He towelled himself off and dressed with Jen’s help, heading back to the living room to find it had been tidied and there was a bowl of chicken noodle soup on the coffee table. “You slept through lunch, and you need to take your meds,” Jen explained, passing him the bowl once he was sat down.

“You’re too good to me, Jen,” he declared with a grin, making her smile and smooth down his damp hair.

“I don’t want Phil coming home and hearing I’ve neglected his husband,” she teased. “Shout if you need anything, I’ll be upstairs.”

Clint finished the soup quickly, downing two pills afterwards and reaching for the TV remote, looking for a movie or something to keep himself occupied. Anything was better than daytime TV.

.-.-.

Clint had been at Jen’s for two and a half days when Phil finally returned. The entire family plus Ryan were gathered in the living room watching a movie when the doorbell rang, making Michael frown. “Who’d be at the door at this time of night?” he murmured to himself, getting up to answer it. Clint tried to listen to what was going on in the hall but couldn’t quite hear clearly enough, and was surprised when Michael came back into the living room followed by Phil, looking worn and tired but uninjured, and clearly pleased to see Clint.

“Look what the cat dragged in,” the archer teased, his whole demeanour brightening at seeing his husband. “All done with work?”

“All done,” Phil confirmed, rounding the back of the couch to lean over it and press his lips to Clint’s. “You ready to head home?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Phil, you can’t drive back to New York at this time of night, you look exhausted,” Jen scolded as Michael sat back down beside her. “Stay the night, leave in the morning.”

“Are you sure?” Phil asked, perching on the edge of the bed and kicking his shoes off, not even arguing with Jen’s decision. Clint frowned; when they were back home, Phil would have to tell him everything that went down with Stark. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days.

“Of course. You’re not in any rush, right? Take a load off, relax a little.” Phil smiled gratefully at his sister, taking off his jacket to drape it neatly over the arm of the couch, loosening his tie. He shuffled across to the middle of the bed, lying next to Clint, who happily moved to lean into him the best he could.

“Good to have you back,” the archer murmured. Phil took Clint’s hand in his, twining their fingers loosely and squeezing.

Unsurprisingly, the room cleared pretty quickly once the movie ended, everyone wanting to give Phil and Clint their privacy. When they were alone, Phil turned to kiss Clint deeply, humming in contentment. “Missed you,” he breathed, making Clint smile.

“Missed you, too. Everyone here’s been great, but it’ll be nice to get home.” He was very aware that everyone in the house had their lives going on around him, and it made him feel somewhat restless. Besides, medical leave was pretty much the only time he got to stay home and laze around with Phil.

“Tell me about it,” Phil agreed. “I’m just going to grab my overnight bag from the car, then we can get some sleep.” He slipped out of bed and grabbed his shoes, ducking out of the room. Returning with a bag slung over his shoulder, he helped Clint up so they could go to the bathroom and brush their teeth, the pair returning to the living room to change for bed. Clint didn’t hesitate to cuddle up to Phil like he hadn’t been brave enough to when they were watching the movie with the others. Phil kissed him, holding him as close as he could considering his injuries.

“You can fill me in on Stark’s problems on the drive home,” Clint told his husband, a tension in his chest he hadn’t known was there easing at having the other man in bed with him. It was getting harder and harder to sleep without Phil these days. “And you’d better not be going anywhere for the rest of my medical leave.”

“I’m not,” Phil promised. “Nick assured me I have leave for as long as you do. We’d better make the most of it.” Clint smirked, a mischievous glint in his eyes that made Phil chuckle softly. “Save it for home,” he returned, pressing their lips together briefly. “Get some sleep, we’ve got a long drive tomorrow.” Clint hummed, closing his eyes and curling into Phil’s side, inhaling his familiar scent. He could put up with the five hour drive if it meant being back home with Phil at the end of it.

Chapter Text

Not caring about the agents flinching and moving out of his way as he walked, Clint stormed through the helicarrier, heading straight for Fury’s office. He was sick of being lied to and avoided; he needed answers. The aliens were gone, the world was safe, clean-up had started, and Clint couldn’t find his fucking husband. He’d asked Natasha, and she’d just given him a sad look, shaking her head. That couldn’t mean what he thought it meant; he refused to believe it until he saw a fucking body.

He didn’t bother to knock, shoving the door open and glaring at the man sat behind the desk. “Where the hell is Phil?” he asked. Fury sighed, running a hand over his bald head.

“Barton, you should be in medical, you still need to be checked over after what Loki did to you,” he started, but Clint shook his head.

“I don’t care. Tell me where Phil is, Nick; you can’t lie to me, it’s in his file.” Phil had put Clint as his inclusive back when they’d first started dating. Fury had to tell Clint the truth, regardless of what he was telling everyone else. It was why Clint refused to believe Natasha without proof.

“He’s in a hospital, down in the city,” Fury admitted reluctantly. “I’ll tell you now, Clint, it didn’t look good. He was critical for a long while, they thought he wasn’t going to make it. But he’s stable now, even if he hasn’t woken up yet.” The news felt like a physical blow to Clint’s chest; he’d come so very, very close to losing his husband. But if he was stable, he’d be fine, right?

“Why’d you tell Tasha he was dead?” he asked, voice hollow. Fury grimaced faintly.

“The Avengers needed a push to come together as a team; Phil’s death was that push. Besides, if the World Council think he’s dead, they won’t start harassing him about the Avengers Initiative. I won’t lie to you, Barton; it’s gonna take Phil a long while to get back on his feet. He may not be able to work in the field again. You up for helping him through that?” Clint shot the man a look.

“Wouldn’t have married him if I wasn’t,” he retorted. Besides, he’d like to see someone tell Phil Coulson to take a desk job. Phil would be fine, even if it took months of PT. “I’m going to visit him, and I’m not leaving until he’s awake. I don’t care how many tests or whatever you want me going through; it can all wait. Loki isn’t in my head anymore, and I need to be with Phil. We clear?”

“So long as you don’t tell anyone at SHIELD he’s alive, crystal,” Fury agreed, clearly realising how futile it would be to try and stop him leaving. “And Barton? Thank you. You had your gun trained right on me in that warehouse, and yet you shot where you knew my vest covered. Only reason I didn’t have you shot on sight; I knew you were still fighting in there. Whatever happens, you’re still one of my best agents, and you’re still an Avenger.” Clint let out a long breath, not realising he’d needed the confirmation until it was given to him. It hadn’t really set in yet, what he’d done under Loki’s influence. He’d been too busy focussing on Phil.

“Thank you, sir,” he replied, nodding sharply.

“You’re dismissed, Specialist. I’ll send Phil’s hospital details to your phone; grab a bird and go check on the damn idiot. Tell him he’d better wake up soon; half of this mess is his to clean up,” Fury added, grumbling. Clint smirked to himself, nodding again and turning to leave the office. Fury was evidently relieved Phil was alive too; he just had a different way of showing it.

.-.-.

Once he was back in the city, Clint borrowed a SHIELD car at the airfield and set off towards the hospital, calling Sarah as he drove. “Clint! Oh, we’ve been watching the news, we were so worried! Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he told her. “But Phil… Phil’s in the hospital, Sarah. They said he’s stable now, but it was bad. He hasn’t woken up yet.” The words were physically painful to say, and Sarah’s responding gasp was worse.

“Oh, sweetie,” she breathed. “I’ll book flights for Henry and I, we’ll be there as soon as we can.”

“What? No, you don’t have to,” he insisted, not wanting to think how expensive last minute flights would be. “I can watch over Phil, I’ll call you as soon as anything changes, I promise.”

“But then who will watch over you?” Sarah retorted. “I’m your mother-in-law, Clint, don’t argue with me. I’ll call the girls and let them know — Jen’s already called me twice saying she couldn’t reach either of you — and then text you when I know what time we’ll be landing. You just concentrate on Phil, okay? He’s going to be fine, he’s a stubborn one.” Clint chuckled, smiling faintly at the assurance.

“That’s for damn sure,” he agreed fondly. “Okay, Sarah. Keep me posted and I’ll see you soon.” He hung up just as he pulled into the hospital parking lot, swinging easily into a space and practically running towards the entrance. The floor and room number had been included in Fury’s text, so Clint headed straight for it, using his SHIELD ID to get past security. He froze in the doorway to his husband’s room, face going chalk white. Phil was lying in the bed hooked up to more machines than Clint could count, unconscious and skin tinged grey. The blankets were tucked up to his neck, covering whatever injuries Clint knew he had to have. He didn’t even know what had happened; he’d have to ask Fury about it later. For now, he crossed the room quietly, sinking into the plastic chair at Phil’s bedside. He reached out to take the older man’s limp hand in his, frowning at how cold the skin was. He brought it to his lips, swallowing back the emotion that rose in his throat. “Shit, Phil,” he breathed, voice shaking. “You can’t do this to me, babe. Wake the fuck up, I need you.” There was no response, not that Clint had expected one, and he let out a long breath, resting his forehead against the edge of Phil’s mattress. The events of the past couple of days hit him all at once — so much had happened in such a short space of time — and before he knew it he was asleep, slumped against the hospital bed, still holding Phil’s hand like a lifeline.

He woke when someone entered the room, sitting up abruptly and turning to see a nurse closing the door behind her, wheeling a tray of medical supplies in. “I’m sorry to disturb you, sir, but I need to change his dressings,” she explained, looking apologetic for waking him. Clint nodded, releasing Phil’s hand and shuffling his chair back to give her room to work.

“Hey, uh, do you know where all his stuff is? Clothes, wallet, phone, all the stuff he was wearing when he was brought in?” He didn’t know if that would all be at SHIELD, or there.

“I think he was transferred from another hospital,” the nurse responded. “He’d already had emergency treatment when he came to us. But if he had anything else on him, it’ll be in that cupboard there.” She pointed to a small cupboard in the corner of the room, and Clint got up to open it, breath catching in his throat at the sight of a ziplock bag with a single item inside it; a length of silver chain with a ring on it. Phil’s wedding ring. Thank God it was safe.

Clint reached in for the bag, opening it and tipping the contents into his palm, closing his fist around it and squeezing his eyes shut as they stung. Phil was alive; he would be fine. He opened his eyes to see the nurse’s eyes on him, and coughed, heading back to the chair and setting the ring and chain on the little table next to the bed. The nurse’s gaze flicked from it to his left hand, and Clint could see the understanding dawn. “He’s going to be okay,” she assured him, changing out the bag on his drip. “He came in pretty messed up, but our surgeons are the best, and they patched him up. He seems to be responding well, and the doctors expect him to wake up before the end of the week. He’s a fighter,” she added, a confident smile on her face. Clint managed a weak smile in return.

“Yeah, he is.” He watched, aghast, as she pulled back the blankets and opened Phil’s hospital gown to reveal a large gauze padding strapped over his chest, beginning to spot through with blood. She pulled replacement gauze from her tray and set about carefully removing his dressings, revealing long, jagged gash directly over Phil’s heart, stitched up neatly though still red and painful-looking. Clint couldn’t breathe for several moments. He no longer needed to ask Nick what had happened; he knew exactly what caused a wound like that. Fucking Loki.

“It looks worse than it is,” the nurse promised at the expression on his face. “Agent Coulson was incredibly lucky that the blade barely even nicked his heart.” As far as Clint was concerned, that was still far closer than blades should ever be to Phil’s heart, but he was grateful for Loki’s crappy aim nonetheless. His phone chirped, and he pulled it from his pocket, seeing a text from Sarah from several hours ago telling him landing time — they were landing in half an hour, crap, he’d better go pick them up — and multiple texts from Natasha, asking where he was. He remembered Fury’s words about not telling other SHIELD agents Phil was alive, and ignored the texts even though it pained him a little to do so. But a guilty part of him wanted more time with Phil before the others swarmed him, and he knew he had a while yet before Tasha got worried enough to start tracking him.

“I need to go pick Phil’s parents up from the airport,” he declared, reaching for the pen and paper on the ledge beside the bed, scrawling down his mobile number. “Would you have them call me if anything changes while I’m gone? Clint Barton,” he added, realising he had yet to introduce himself.

“Of course,” the nurse agreed easily. “Your husband is in very good hands here, I assure you.” He grinned at her in thanks, leaving her to finish changing Phil’s dressings in peace.

Getting to the airport took a little longer than usual, what with all the road closures due to collapsed buildings and enormous craters in the road, so Sarah and Henry had already landed by the time he reached them. Sarah didn’t hesitate to wrap him in a tight hug, dropping her bag to do so. “Oh, Clint, sweetie, I’m so glad you’re safe,” she murmured as she held him, and Clint had to swallow the lump in his throat once more, hugging her back.

“It’s good to see you, son,” Henry declared once his wife had released the archer, grabbing Clint in a brief yet firm embrace. “How’s Phil?”

“Still asleep,” Clint replied, because it sounded better than unconscious. “The hospital said they’d call me if it changed.” He picked up Sarah’s bag for her, hoisting it over his shoulder. It ached, reminding him of his own easily-ignored injuries.

“Why don’t you drop us at the hospital, then go home and get a shower and something to eat? You look like you could use it; no doubt you’ve been run ragged these past few days,” Sarah suggested, and Clint swallowed a laugh. She didn’t know the half of it.

“I’m fine,” he insisted. “I don’t want Phil waking up without me there.” The nurse had said he wouldn’t wake for a few days yet, but Clint had known Phil to defy medical expectations before.

“Honey, I came here to take care of you as much as Phil,” Sarah told him flatly. “And that includes making sure you eat, sleep and shower. Go home; if Phil wakes up, I’ll tell him where you are and that you’ll be back soon, he won’t doubt for one minute that you’d be there if you could. Please, make an old woman feel better.”

“You’re not old,” Clint told her, sighing to concede the argument. A shower did sound like a good idea. He’d changed out of his uniform for obvious reasons, but hadn’t actually had the chance to shower yet; he was still covered in dust, dirt and blood. No wonder people had been side-eyeing him since he got back in the city. “But okay, I’ll shower and eat, but I can’t promise to sleep. I can do that in the chair beside Phil’s bed.” He set his jaw stubbornly, not backing down on that point, and Sarah shook her head in exasperation, getting into the car.

“You’re both as bad as each other,” she huffed. Clint met Henry’s eyes, and the older man smirked at him, amused.

Clint dropped them off at the hospital after telling them Phil’s room number and explaining they’d need ID to get through security, then drove as fast as he could back to the apartment, racing up the stairs. Unlocking the door, he froze once inside the living room, hit by an unexpected wave of emotion. Their apartment didn’t look like anything had happened; a bowl was still on the counter from Clint's last rushed breakfast before heading to Pegasus, a pile of paperwork on the coffee table Phil was planning to finish once they got back, Clint’s practice bow dismantled on the counter from where he’d been cleaning it and Phil had distracted him, dragging him to bed. He dropped Sarah and Henry’s bags by the door, crossing to the bookshelf to look at the three photos they had framed; him and Phil on their wedding day, a photo of the whole family taken at Thanksgiving, and a photo of him, Phil and Natasha out celebrating after finishing a two-month op in Switzerland. He’d come so very close to losing all of that for good, to losing Phil. If Loki’s staff had been a few inches over… Clint would be sitting vigil at a morgue table, not a hospital bed.

“Fuck, Phil,” he breathed, feeling the tears finally leak from his eyes. He just wanted to hug his husband, to be assured that the worst was over and they were going to be fine. He just wanted Phil to wake up. It was never meant to be him in this position; it was always the other way round, with Clint in the hospital and Phil worrying himself ragged over him. Clint didn’t like being on this side of things.

Taking the fastest shower known to man, Clint checked himself over for any injuries that may need medical attention, glad to see most of the blood on him hadn’t been his own. The majority of his wounds were just scrapes and bruises, but there was a gash on his bicep that was a little deep. He dug the first aid kit from the bathroom cabinet and found anti-bacterial wipes and some gauze and medical tape. With practiced ease he treated his wound, then dressed in comfortable jeans and one of Phil’s t-shirts, shrugging a jacket over the top. Remembering that he promised Sarah he would eat, Clint’s next stop was the kitchen, in search of whatever could be cooked and consumed the fastest. Luckily, he and Phil were never short of microwave meals, and he settled on some macaroni cheese; he was in need of comfort food.

The archer ate so fast he made himself nauseous, but pushed past it and grabbed his car keys. His phone rang while he jogged down the stairs, and he nearly missed a step, his heart clenching at the prospect of the hospital calling him. One glance at his screen showed it was in fact Liz, and he answered it. “Hey, Liz.”

“Clint! Thank God I got you, I’ve been calling Mom for like twenty minutes and had no answer,” the woman told him.

“She’s at the hospital, she probably turned it off,” Clint reasoned, remembering that you were supposed to do that in hospitals. “She sent me home for food and a shower as soon as she and Henry got in.”

“Good, that’s good. How are you? Dad said you were fine, but I wouldn’t put it past you to lie to them so as not to worry Mom,” Liz pointed out, making him snort.

“I’m genuinely fine, I promise. Cuts and bruises, and I’m exhausted, but nothing serious. Phil’s the one we need to worry about.”

“I know, and I am, but you’re the one Josh saw on the news, so excuse me if I don’t believe you’re completely unscathed.” Clint froze, eyes going wide.

“What?” Had he been filmed? Had someone blown his cover?

“Don’t worry, it was blurry as hell and the news don’t seem to know who you are, but it was easy for us to recognise you at least. Hawkeye, huh? Nice name.” Clint cursed, and Liz chuckled. “You and Phil will have a lot of explaining to do, mister. But that can wait until he’s better; I’ll let you get back to the hospital, I just wanted to make sure you’re okay. The kids have been worried sick about you once they heard about Phil.”

“Tell them I’m fine, and I’ll call tonight once things have calmed down a little, so they can hear for themselves,” he promised, knowing how scary it had to be for Lily and Adam, who didn’t really understand what was going on. “Talk to you soon, Liz.”

“Look after yourself, Clint, and keep us updated. Love you.” Tossing his phone on the passenger seat, Clint buckled himself in and drove off towards the hospital, making it in record time. Sarah and Henry were in Phil’s room when he got there, and they both looked up at his entrance.

“Now you look a little less like you’ve been hit by a truck,” Henry remarked lightly, making him chuckle.

“Any change?” Clint queried, standing at Sarah’s shoulder where she was sat in the chair beside the bed. Phil looked unnaturally peaceful; even in sleep he usually had an adorable little furrow to his brow.

“No, which is apparently a good sign,” Sarah responded, stroking the back of Phil’s hand with her thumb. “God, I knew his job was never what he said it was, but I never thought it would leave him like this,” she sighed. Clint wondered if there was a single member of Phil’s family who genuinely believed the ‘accountant’ bullshit.

“He was protecting people,” Clint told her, proud. “He always is. The world will never know just how many times Phil Coulson has saved their asses.” And that was exactly how Phil wanted it.

“He wasn’t one of them superheroes, was he?” Henry asked warily, eyebrows raised. “The ones the news talked about.” Clint swallowed an incredulous laugh, wondering how long he had before he and Natasha were shown properly on the news. There went their careers as spies.

“No, no, that wasn’t Phil. Far too flashy for his tastes, he prefers behind the scenes stuff,” he joked, making the older man grin. Clint’s phone buzzed and he checked it, ignoring another text from Natasha and moving to the end of the bed, resting a hand on Phil’s blanket-covered foot. It was going to be a long week.

.-.-.-.

Tony Stark’s lab was near-silent for once, no rock music blasting through the speakers or loud cursing issuing from the mouth of the genius at work. Instead the man was sat at his computer, scrolling through endless reams of SHIELD data he’d had JARVIS hack back on the helicarrier, looking for one thing in particular. Funeral arrangements for one Phillip J Coulson. Tony may have claimed that he disliked the agent, but truthfully he’d liked him a lot more than he’d expected to, and the man believed in him and the Avengers a lot more than they’d ever believed in themselves. Tony wanted to pay his respects, but Nick Fury was an asshole who evidently didn’t believe in funerals. Did he really expect to let Coulson just die without any mark? Didn’t the man have friends, a family — a cellist in Portland? Surely someone would want to have a service to commemorate the brave bastard who’d died to help save the world?

“Sir, I believe you may want to look at this,” JARVIS said, interrupting his scrolling with a whole new page of files. Tony read quickly, eyes going wide; hospital transfer records for Phil Coulson, from the fake hospital SHIELD used as a cover to Memorial Hospital in the city.

“JARVIS, when is this timestamped? After Fury told us Coulson was dead?”

“I believe so, yes,” JARVIS confirmed, and Tony cursed softly.

“Son of a bitch lied to us,” he muttered, already reaching for his cell phone. He called Bruce first, barely letting the man say hello before he was adding Steve to the call, hoping the man knew how to use a phone.

“Tony, what is it?” the man asked, perplexed, but Tony ignored him, dialling Barton next. The call rang through to voicemail, and the genius huffed, calling Natasha instead, assuming she would be able to find her super-spy-twin. It was just a shame Thor didn’t have a cell phone.

“Coulson’s alive,” he declared once everyone was in the call, and there was dead silence for several moments.

“Don’t joke about this, Tony,” Steve warned, and Tony made an offended noise.

“Seriously, you think I’m that much of an asshole? I’m not joking; I was looking for funeral arrangements and found hospital transfer records, made after Fury told us Agent was dead. Lying bastard. According to this, Coulson’s at Memorial. Who needs picking up? Speaking of, Natasha, why isn’t Barton answering his phone?”

“He’s been AWOL for days,” Natasha told him, sounding concerned. “Since the all-clear was given. He and Phil are… close. If he believes Phil to be dead, he’s probably up and disappeared somewhere. In which case, he won’t be back on anyone’s radar for a few more days at the least.” Tony frowned, mentally cursing the defensive mechanisms developed by fucked up teenagers. His own had gotten him into plenty of trouble, and Clint’s probably did too if it was that extreme.

“Well, we can find him once we’ve confirmed it is actually Coulson and he’s okay,” Tony reasoned. “Meet you all at Memorial?”

“Can you swing by and pick me up?” Bruce requested tentatively. Tony hummed in confirmation, JARVIS already tracking the man’s phone and giving him GPS co-ordinates.

“Sure thing, honeybun, just stay where you are, I’ve got your co-ordinates,” the billionaire replied, jumping to his feet and heading for the elevator down to the garage, wondering which car would be most discreet driving through the city. He really didn’t want to be harassed by the press right now.

Hanging up the call, Tony pocketed his phone and slid into the driver’s seat of his dark grey BMW. The GPS screen flared to life on the dashboard, giving him a route to Memorial via wherever the hell Banner was. If Fury had really lied to them about Coulson, there was going to be hell to pay.

.-.-.

When Tony and Bruce arrived, it was to find Steve and Natasha already waiting outside for them. “Still no sign of Barton?” he asked the redhead, who shook her head.

“Nothing. When he doesn’t want to be found, he won’t be found,” she replied, looking annoyed by the fact. Tony shrugged, heading for the hospital doors, his ‘you don’t want to mess with me’ face on just in case the staff were resistant.

“We’re here to see Agent Phil Coulson,” he declared at the reception desk, and the receptionist smiled pleasantly.

“Of course, Mr Stark. Fourth floor, room 417. You’ll have to show ID upon reaching the floor; it’s our high security ward, I’m sure you understand.” Surprised at how easy it was to get the information, Tony turned towards the elevator, his three teammates following close behind. They were stopped by two SHIELD security guards when they stepped out, but each of them had ID — even if Steve’s was faked — and were let through easily. Heading down the corridor, Tony ignored the way his heart was pounding in anticipation, the Arc Reactor whirring in his chest. What if Coulson was alive, but only barely? Or braindead, which was why Fury had told them he was dead? What if they were getting their hopes up for nothing?

Not bothering to knock, Tony pushed open the door to room 417, jaw dropping when he saw Clint Barton himself sat in the chair beside the bed, knees tucked up to his chest and tablet balanced on them. In the bed was Phil Coulson, sleeping deeply. Tony’s chest clenched as he wondered if his fears were reality, but a quick look at the machines Coulson was hooked up to assured him the man still had brain function. Also, that he really needed to get Memorial to switch over to Stark Industries technology.

“Barton, what the heck?” Steve blurted, startling the archer into almost dropping his tablet. Clint went wide-eyed at the sight of all four of them as they edged further into the room, closing the door behind them so as not to disturb other patients.

“What the fuck are you guys doing here?” Before they could answer, the door opened again, and Tony turned to see two older people walk in, cups of coffee in hand. The man was clearly Phil Coulson’s father — he looked too alike to be anything else — which presumably meant the woman was Coulson’s mother. Tony hadn’t known the man’s parents were still alive.

“Well, it’s certainly gotten busy in here,” the man remarked dryly. “Natasha, good to see you.” Before Tony could remark at the fact that Natasha knew Coulson’s parents, the man turned to Clint. “Let’s see here; Iron Man, a guy who’s clearly Captain America — I’ve been looking at your face on merchandise since Phil was four, don’t think I wouldn’t recognise you, son — and two mysterious others. Superheroes are too flashy, huh?”

“I said it was too flashy to be Phil’s style,” Clint corrected, a lopsided smile on his face. “Not that it wasn’t mine.”

“Okay, seriously, what the hell is going on here?” Tony interrupted, his limited patience wearing out. “Natasha said you’ve been incommunicado for days, Barton. Did you not think we might want to know that Coulson wasn’t actually dead? How the hell did you find out, anyway?”

“I’m his inclusive,” Clint explained. “Fury can’t lie to me about his status as long as it’s my name on that form. He can, however, forbid me from telling anyone else until he tells me otherwise. The World Council want Phil’s ass on a plate after this whole debacle, but if they believe he’s dead they’ll deal with Fury instead. Considering he has yet to wake up, I figured that was probably the best plan.” He got progressively more defensive as he spoke, and Coulson’s mom crossed the room to rest a hand on his shoulder.

“There’s no use getting worked up, sweetie,” she pointed out. “But your friends here look very confused. I think they deserve an explanation.”

“Damn right we do,” Tony muttered, annoyed that there were clearly so many things he didn’t know. He hated not knowing things.

Clint sighed, running a hand through his hair. “First off; guys, meet Henry and Sarah Coulson, Phil’s folks. I think the only one you guys don’t know of is Bruce Banner,” he added to his parents-in-law, pointing out Bruce. “But meet Tony Stark and Steve Rogers anyway.”

“Be honest with me,” Sarah started, a slow grin creeping across her lips. “How much did Phil embarrass himself the first time he met Captain America in the flesh?” Clint snickered, and Steve flushed indignantly.

“He didn’t embarrass himself!” the super soldier insisted. “Okay, he was a little… enthusiastic, but he was perfectly professional.”

“He carried his cards around for the entire time,” Natasha volunteered, amused. “Waiting for the perfect chance to get Steve to sign them.” Both Clint and Henry snorted, looking fondly over at the unconscious man.

“Dork,” Clint murmured, shaking his head, a smile at his lips.

“Why are you Agent Coulson’s inclusive?” Bruce queried, looking perplexed. “I mean, I get you’ve worked together for a while, but that’s usually a position reserved for family.” Clint sighed once more, looking distinctly uncomfortable, and Sarah squeezed his shoulder.

“They were going to find out eventually,” she reasoned. “You can’t keep hiding these things from the people you work with.”

“I know, I know. See, the thing is, guys,” the archer started, squaring his shoulders. “Phil and I are married. Have been for a little over a year now.” You could have heard a pin drop in that hospital room.

“What about the cellist?” Tony asked, confused. His question earned him nothing but blank expressions. “He told Pepper he had a cellist, in Portland. That he didn’t get to see her often because of work.” Clint gained a look of comprehension, and he shared an amused look with his parents-in-law.

“That would be our niece, Lily. She’s fourteen, and sends Phil videos of every one of her cello recitals when he can’t make them in person,” he explained.

“He’s not lying,” Natasha piped up. “I signed witness on the marriage certificate. It was a very lovely ceremony.”

“That’s legal?” Steve spluttered. “Two guys getting hitched?” Tony tensed, wondering if they were going to have a bigot on their hands.

“In some states, Cap, and most of Europe. Still plenty of assholes who believe it’s immoral,” he replied tersely, looking for any sign of prejudice or hate on the blonde’s face. Far from it, the soldier looked almost awed.

“Never thought I’d see the day,” he murmured, smiling. “Figures it took seventy years for people to get their heads out of their asses.” Clint seemed to look faintly relieved that Steve wasn’t homophobic, and actually reached out to take Coulson’s hand in his. Looking closer, Tony could see matching rings on their fingers; those definitely hadn’t been there last time he’d seen them.

“Why the secrecy, cupid?” the genius asked. “SHIELD aren’t exactly DADT.”

“Phil got accused of favouring me enough as it was without people having a legitimate reason for him to do so,” Clint reasoned with a shrug. “Didn’t want it to change peoples’ opinion of us. Besides, it’s none of their goddamn business who I go home with at the end of the day.”

There was a long silence as the Avengers took in the revelation that not only was Coulson alive, but he was married to one of their teammates, when suddenly Coulson’s monitors began to go haywire. Clint froze, squeezing his husband’s hand tightly, a look of alarm on his face. “Shit, what’s happening?” he panicked. Tony looked at the monitors more closely, and grinned.

“He’s waking up,” he announced, studying the brain activity monitor. “Barton, he’s waking up.” Sure enough, Coulson’s fingers twitched in Clint’s, and the man’s eyes fluttered open as he let out a low, pained groan. The entire room was still as Coulson’s eyes took in the room before him, landing first on Clint with a relieved look — of course, last he’d seen his husband had still been under Loki’s influence — then on his parents, and finally on the rest of the Avengers, understanding dawning on his face. He glanced down at his hand in Clint’s, confirming the presence of their wedding rings, then looked up.

“I guess the cat’s out of the bag now, then?” he remarked wryly, voice hoarse and quiet. Clint snorted, leaning in for a long kiss, uncaring of their audience.

“You scared the shit out of me,” he declared softly. “You almost died.”

“I thought I had,” Phil admitted. Clint reached for a glass of water, helping the man sip from it. “What’s with the party?” The archer smiled faintly, and Tony’s heart actually hurt a little at how loving his expression was when he looked at his husband. It was like he’d been given twenty Christmases at once, just by seeing Coulson awake.

“You missed all the action,” Clint told Phil lightly. “I’ll bring you up to speed later.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you were married,” Tony complained. “After everything we’ve been through!”

“What, and let you believe I was capable of human emotion?” Phil shot back easily. “Not a chance.” Chuckling, Tony smiled at the man; he was clearly fine, if he was making jokes already, and staring at Clint with that sappy-ass look on his face. He made a mental note to look at the designs for the tower’s remodelling, making sure to turn Clint’s floor into Clint-and-Phil’s floor. Not that Clint knew he had a floor in the first place. But Tony would get them all living in the tower with him, in time. After all, didn’t every team of superheroes need a base? And as much as he would deny it, Coulson was just as big a part of the Avengers as any of the rest of them.

Despite the fact that the man had decent motive, Tony was still pissed at the Director for lying to them all about Coulson’s death. Nick Fury was going to be having a lot of technical difficulties in the near future. In the mean time, there was clearly a lot of information to catch up on, for all of them. Though judging by the looks on the married couple’s faces, it could wait. “I, uh, think we should step out for a minute,” he said, trying not to sound too obvious about wanting to give the pair alone time. He could be sensitive to social cues; Pepper would be proud of him!

“Why don’t we go find Phil’s doctor?” Sarah suggested, ushering her husband and the group of Avengers out of the room, despite the fact that it wouldn’t take all of them to find one doctor. When Clint and Phil were left alone, the archer snorted, shaking his head.

“Subtle,” he remarked, earning a quiet chuckle. “God, Phil,” he breathed, eyes meeting his husband’s. “I thought I’d lost you.”

“Last thing I knew, Loki had you. I thought I wouldn’t have anything to come back to,” Phil confessed quietly, making Clint wince.

“Then I’m glad you came back anyway,” he said vehemently. He couldn’t imagine living his life without Phil by his side; if his husband had died, he would have gone rogue and gotten himself killed within the week. “I’ll tell you the details later, but the short of it is that Loki’s in custody, completely out of my head, and we all made it through okay. But Fury told everyone you were dead.” Phil’s eyes went wide, and Clint nodded, seeing the question before it was even asked. “Tasha told me you were,” he informed the older man. “I didn’t believe her. Went straight to Fury, ‘cause I knew he couldn’t lie to me. I’ll never believe it until I’m given proof.” Phil tilted his head, clearly trying to sit up, and Clint leaned over to kiss him, cupping his cheek.

“I love you,” Phil murmured once they parted. “God, Clint, I’m sorry you were put through that.”

“Not your fault,” Clint insisted with a shake of his head. “And you’re okay now. That’s all I want to think about.” Phil gripped his hand tightly at his words, kissing him once more.

“How long do you think we have before my doctor turns up?” Phil asked, and Clint sighed.

“Not long enough,” he replied, wishing he could just have an hour or two to sit with Phil and relish in the fact that he was awake, alive. “Think they’ll mind if I join you up there? Bed’s probably big enough for two if we squeeze.” Phil laughed, the sound a little hoarse, and shifted over the best he could with his injury. Clint kicked off his boots and didn’t hesitate to hoist himself up into the bed, lying down by Phil’s side and holding him as close as he could without hurting him, face buried in Phil’s neck. “Never scare me like that again,” he breathed desperately.

“I’ll try my best,” Phil promised, knowing it was all he could say. He turned his head, nose pressed against Clint’s hair, inhaling the familiar scent. The doctor would be in soon, no doubt, but Phil wanted to draw out their private moment as long as he could. They’d both thought the other lost at some point over the whole debacle; now he just wanted to be home with Clint and able to assure both of them that everything would be fine. Unfortunately, it looked like it would be a while before that could happen. For now, they’d just have to take comfort in the fact that they were both alive, and Phil would recover from his injuries.

“Did we seriously just leave my parents alone with our team?” the older man realised after a long silence, and Clint snorted.

“Don’t worry, Sarah hasn’t brought the baby pictures with her. This time,” he assured teasingly. “But it’s about to get worse; Hannah’s coming up to visit tonight, she’s bringing Ryan with her.” Phil groaned, imagining Hannah, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner in the same room. Tony would have her recruited to Stark Industries within ten minutes.

“Two worlds colliding, huh?” Clint mused, dropping a kiss on Phil’s jaw. “It could be worse. It could be Liz and Jen coming to visit.” Phil snorted at the mental image, incredibly glad his sisters were staying put. There were some things about his childhood that didn’t need to be shared with the team that were supposed to respect him.

“Maybe if we fall asleep the doctors will leave us alone for a while,” Phil murmured, stifling a yawn as he leaned into Clint’s side. The archer hummed, holding him closer.

“Worth a shot,” he agreed, letting his eyes fall shut. Phil was awake, and seemed no worse for wear; he could relax now. The worst was over. Sure, their near future looked to have plenty of pain and frustration and physical therapy in it, but Clint would happily deal with all of it if it meant getting to go to bed with Phil at the end of every day; he’d deal with anything, for that.