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Mint In Box

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When he was young, Phil had a Captain America board game.

He used to beg his sister Clarissa to play it with him; most Friday nights he could convince her. It was nice -- they'd all play Scrabble or something, and then as a reward Clarissa would play Captain America with him, and sometimes Dad would too. Then he and Dad could break out the comic books and he'd get to stay up late reading. Dad sometimes let him pick one and sent him to bed to read under the covers with a flashlight until he fell asleep.

Phil was aware his home life growing up was ridiculously idyllic.

He still felt a little pang remembering the first time Clarissa said she couldn't play Captain America because she had a date. Still, eventually he grew up and had dates too, and the Captain America game was relegated to a shelf in his room.

He'd actually had two of the game, until recently; the one that hadn't seen years of Friday night game play was mint in box, still in its cellophane. His Captain America cards were a labor of love, and he'd never sell them (especially now that Captain Rogers had signed them) but the game in the cellophane was an investment. He'd counted, sooner or later, on nostalgia making the old Cap memorabilia popular again. With Captain America actually back, he'd sold it for a pretty price and invested the money under the name Jack Hughes.

The rough-edged, fraying-paper, faded-print one -- well, that was tough to part with, but it was all in a good cause.

"I cannot believe you still have this," Clarissa said, as Phil held Jack, who burbled and stared up at him with enormous infant-blue eyes. She was holding the Captain America Board Game box, grinning at him. "Are you seriously giving an eight-week-old baby your Captain America game?"

"You can't get them started too young," Phil replied serenely.

"This thing is a massive choking hazard."

"So put it aside, he can play with it when he's older."

"Does that mean you're going to come by every Friday night to be tormented by the most boring game in existence?"

Phil stroked a finger down Jack's tiny nose. "Of course. Whenever I can."

Clarissa set the box aside and peered into the sack he'd presented her with when he'd arrived. "Oh, Phil. Did you get him a Captain America onesie?"

"No," he said. She held up the little outfit. "Those are Bucky footie pyjamas."

"Nerd," Clarissa groaned. "Of course they are. Give him here," she added, and Phil reluctantly handed over his nephew. She deftly unwrapped Jack from his blanket, stripped off the tiny NASA t-shirt he was wearing, and snapped him into the pyjamas.

"How are you doing?" Phil asked, taking the opportunity to reach for his coffee.

"Just fine," she said. "The lab's letting me work from home for another six months, and then Daddy's going to work from home for a while. Yes he is," she cooed at Jack. "Okay, I'll admit, he does look super adorable."

Phil already had his phone out and was snapping a picture.

Clarissa sighed. "Okay. What else is in your bag of geek horror?"

"Hulk green and Hawkeye purple," Phil said.

She rolled her eyes. "Hawkeye purple. Seriously."

"All the best babies are wearing them this year."

"You do realize one day I am going to meet the man you have this pathetic crush on."

"No you won't."

"I am. And I'm going to expose to him the fact that you are secretly ten years old."

"I still have pictures from May 19th, 1974. Don’t think I won’t tell Mom."

Clarissa stared at him in horror. "I'll buy the negatives."

"Won't do you any good, I scanned them," he said, as the doorbell rang. "Want me to -- "

"No, enjoy your coffee, it's probably the diaper service," she said, standing up.

"You have a diaper service?" he asked.

"We have a lot of diapers," she called from the entryway. He heard her open the door, and then, slightly less cheerfully, she said, "Phil?"

"What is it?" he asked, standing up to join her at the door.

She stepped back. Captain America filled the doorway. Hawkeye was peering over his shoulder.

"Why are there Avengers on my doorstep?" she asked him.

"Mainly because we haven’t been invited in," Stark called from somewhere behind Clint. All of them were in full Avenger gear.

"What the -- what are you doing here?" Phil asked, blinking.

"We saw you leaving HQ with a suspicious sack and thought it might be a blackmail drop," Clint said.

"Phil," Clarissa said, "Captain America is -- "

"Why would anyone be blackmailing me?" Phil asked, bewildered.

"Well, that’s what we wanted to know," Natasha replied, peering over Steve's other shoulder. Stark elbowed Clint out of the way and his eyes grew comically large.

"Is that a baby?" he demanded, trying to shove Steve aside as well and failing. "Is that a woman with an infant -- is it a baby Agent? Do you have a secret wife and child?"

"Oh my god, ew," Clarissa said, wrinkling her nose. “I’m his sister. Also, please come in off the street before my neighbors call the police."

"Thank you, ma'am," Steve said, eyeing the baby.

"Please, consider it a favor to me. Here, you hold him," she added, shoving Jack into Steve's chest. One large red-gloved hand came up to hold the baby protectively. He absently passed his shield to Bruce, who took it and then looked at it like he wasn't sure why he had it.

"I have so many photo albums to show you people," Clarissa said. For once in his life, Phil regretted the essentially unflappable nature of the Coulson family. "Are you Hawkeye?" she asked Clint.

"Nineteen seventy-four," Phil hissed.

At which point Jack spit up on Captain America.

"Well," Stark said into the silence that followed. "Your infant nephew is a supervillain. Congratulations?"

"Here, I can take him, I’m so sorry -- " Clarissa began, but Steve clutched the child tighter to his chest.

"No, that's really all right," he said.

"But your uniform -- "

"It's seen worse."

"By the way, totally lacking in surprise that you like babies. How are you real?" Stark asked. "Give the woman back her child, Rogers."

"No," Steve said. "He's my sidekick now. I'm keeping him."

"I'm sorry about them," Bruce said to Clarissa. "At least two of us were raised by wolves and the others are just naturally socially inept."

"Sounds like Christmas with my husband's family," Clarissa said, trying to dab the puke off Captain America's pecs. She seemed to be enjoying herself. "Is that -- oh, no."

"Captain," Phil said, in his best please obey me, even though you are the only people in the world who could kick my ass voice. "Your sidekick has a stinky bum. Give him to me and I’ll change him.”

Steve made an exaggerated surprised face at Jack. "Does someone have a STINKY BUM? Who has a STINKY BUM? I bet you have a STINKY BUM."

Stark had flipped up his faceplate and was taking pictures with his phone. "Tweeting this.”

Phil felt his eyebrow twitch. "You aren’t supposed to have a Twitter. That was the point of the three hours of paperwork I filed with HR last week."

"Nobody twitblocks me," Stark replied.

Clarissa, giving up on the dabbing, scooped Jack out of Cap's arms and deposited him in Phil's. "Go change him, I have guests."

Natasha slipped behind Clarissa and held out the second pair of Bucky Barnes jammies. Steve looked at the packaging -- BABY BUCKY BARNES! -- and blinked heavily a couple of times.

Phil cleared his throat but was saved from having to say anything by Clint popping up from behind Natasha with the Hawkeye set.

"Hey cool! Nat, look -- I come in mini-Coulson form!" He waggled the onesie.

Bruce fingered the Hulk set Clint must have passed him. He held up the matching mittens. "Hulk smash," he grinned wryly.

"Aww, mine doesn’t come with accessories," Clint complained.

Stark was digging through the bag. "What -- no Iron Man?"

Phil met Clarissa’s eyes. I hate you, he mouthed.

Clarissa grinned. "And I love you, too. Now go change Captain America’s sidekick’s bum."

"I can do it," Steve insisted, even as Phil turned to retreat.

"That’s definitely going on Twitter,” Stark said.

Hey look!" Clint yelped, as Phil headed for the nursery. "The Hawkeye one has a little quiver painted on the back! Way cooler than mittens."

"Who wants coffee?" he heard Clarissa ask. "Shoes off, everyone. Mr. Stark, there is absolutely no armor allowed in the house."

"I have a life lesson to impart to you," Phil said to his nephew, laying Jack down on his changing table. "Whatever else you do in your time on Earth, even if you become Captain America’s sidekick, never listen to Tony Stark."

"You should record that now so we can play it back to him in ten years," Clint said, grinning from the doorway.

"Ten?" Phil replied, forcing himself not to twitch at the we comment. "Try twenty."

"Fifteen," Clint shrugged, slipping into the room. He tickled Jack’s belly as Phil undid the pyjamas. "He comes from a family of badasses, after all. He’s going to be a natural."

Phil made a face and pulled a wipe from the change caddy. "I shudder to think of Clarissa’s reaction to her son joining the Avengers."

"I don’t know," Clint mused, throwing the dirty diaper Phil passed him into the hamper with his usual precision. "She’s holding both Tony and Steve away from the cookie jar. That shows a natural talent for Superhero Wrangling. I think she’d fit right in."

Phil secured the clean diaper before Jack had the opportunity to pee on either of them. "My sister is not joining SHIELD. I’d resign first."

Clint grinned, but there was a shadow behind his eyes. "She holding something that terrible over your head?"

Phil swallowed and avoided his gaze, concentrating on Jack. "You have no idea."

They both heard Natasha’s peal of laughter from the living room.

"Worse than the photo album?" Clint asked.

"Not by much, but yes," Phil admitted, petting Jack's thin, downy thatch of hair.

"You’re good with kids," Clint said.

"Clarissa used to drag me along when she babysat," Phil replied. "It’s not some arcane science."

Clint handed him the Hawkeye onesie and he raised an eyebrow as he dressed Jack.

"The Bucky outfit was bumming Cap out. Besides, the little one has to get used to being the most awesome." Clint picked Jack up. "Now you look just like Fun Uncle Hawkeye."

"Fun uncle," Phil repeated.

"Well, sure. You led us to your family, they're stuck with us now," Clint said.

"You followed me to my family," Phil pointed out.

"Technically JARVIS followed you, we just drove until he said stop," Clint replied easily, though there was an underlying tension to the way he said it. Jack flailed, smacking him in the face, and the tension dissipated. "Huh. Definitely supervillain material. He’ll need a lot of monitoring.”

"When we go back into the living room, I am going to ask you to remember that I have copies of that poster of you in purple tights from your circus days," Phil said.

"Clarissa has baby pictures of you, doesn't she?"

"Worse. Halloween pictures."

Clarissa met them in the hallway.

"Okay I am trying to be cool but there's a billionaire and his weird friend playing board games in my living room and Captain America has a skintight shirt on," she said. "Also an assassin is looking at your Halloween pictures."

"They're mostly harmless," Phil replied.

"Can I hold him again?" Steve asked, appearing in the living room doorway. He'd shed his gloves and uniform jacket, which did leave him in the skintight uniform undershirt. Clarissa made a hapless gesture, and Clint put Jack into his arms carefully. Steve's face split in a wide grin as he sat down next to Natasha and began bouncing Jack gently. Bruce and Stark, true to Clarissa's panicked warning, had unpacked the Captain America board game. Two of the greatest minds in the Western hemisphere were playing with little plastic superhero figurines.

"Clint, Clint!" Natasha called, holding up the photo album. "Awkward Adolescent Coulson!"

"No," Clint replied gleefully, leaping over the back of the couch and landing next to her.

"My God, I get it," Clarissa whispered to Phil. "Them arms."

"Shut up, or I will silence you permanently," Phil whispered back.

"You wouldn't take a mother from her child."

"I'll give him to Captain America, he'll raise him as his own."

Clarissa punched him in the shoulder and sat down on the one remaining chair, leaning over the Captain America game board. "So are you two children in man costumes enjoying the game?"

"I'm thinking we should capitalize on this," Stark replied absently, flipping through the game cards. "Avengers: The Game. Board games done digital are hot right now."

"Hang on a second..." Bruce held up a sheaf of paper from the game box.

"Those aren't important," Phil said hurriedly, taking them out of his hands. He passed them to Clarissa without thinking, then realized his mistake.

"Phil," she said quietly, paging through them. "These are like...there's thousands of dollars in investments here."

"Well, Ivy League isn't cheap," Phil said.

"Where did you get the money?"

"Sold the other set," Phil said.

"You had two?" Stark asked.

"The other was mint condition. Superheroes are also a hot property right now," Phil said.

"You sold one and gave Jack the other?" Clarissa asked, her voice high and thin.

"You're right, it wasn't a very interesting game," Phil replied.

"Besides, he's got the real thing now," Clint said with a grin.

Cap stood up, Jack still in his arms, and placed the baby gently against Phil's shoulder.

"Okay, we've infringed on Mrs. Hughes' hospitality long enough," he said.

"No, honestly -- " Clarissa began.

"Everyone move out," Steve said sternly, and the team began to stand, tidying away the mess they'd made. Steve bent and kissed Jack on the crown of his head.

"See you back at the tower," he said to Phil. Jack squealed. "Bye, sidekick," he added to Jack, and led the rest of them out.

"That was Captain America's subtle way of giving us some space to talk," Phil said.

"You are the best uncle ever," Clarissa answered, hugging Phil around the neck. "You didn't have to sell your game, Phil."

"Oddly enough, it seemed pretty unimportant in the face of certain things," Phil replied. "Besides, I've still got the cards."

"And the comics."

"All right, and -- "

"And the action figure."

"Just one."

"And the vintage poster."

"Now, that's not fair, Dad gave me that for Christmas."

"And a nephew wearing a Hawkeye costume," she finished, grinning. "And by the way, the gorgeous muscular boy who calls you sir is watching us through the window. You should go drive him home."

"I didn't -- " Phil glanced up. Clint was leaning on a tree in the front yard. "He's like a stray puppy, he keeps wandering off."

"He's fond of you," Clarissa said, kissing his cheek. "Come back for dinner next Friday. I have to go Facebook a picture of Captain America holding my baby."

"Clarissa -- "

"I know, I know. Security risk. I'll paste it into his baby book. I promise not to put it on the internet."

"Just keeping you safe," he said, handing Jack over. "Any trouble, call me. I will send a horde of rude people in costumes to look after you."

"I know you will. Stay safe, baby brother."

"Love you," he said. "Jack, be good."

Outside, Clint waited by the tree, visibly casual, as Phil came down the steps.

"So this is suburbia," he said, looking around with the air of a tourist. "It's a lot calmer than Desperate Housewives made it seem."

"Don't be fooled. I hear just the other day a half dozen crazy people chased down some guy who was visiting his nephew and invaded his sister's home."

"She's nice. How come you never introduced us before?"

"Because she has photo albums," Phil said darkly. "You need a lift?"

"Cap wanted someone to stay behind and escort you home, just in case." Clint shoved his hands in his pockets, following Phil down the street to his car. In his uniform, with his quiver on his back and his bow case slung over one shoulder, he looked utterly alien among the manicured lawns and hedges. "You must be really proud."

"Well, I didn't grow him inside of me or spend fourteen hours in labor personally, but yeah, he's a decent-looking kid," Phil replied.

"Why didn't you tell us?"

"Security risk."

"Come on, sir."

"Call me paranoid if you want. I'm still a relatively visible member of an intelligence organization that's very unpopular with bad people right now. The more people who know, the greater the risk. I was going to tell people. You know, in about thirteen years, after I teach him to shoot."

"Not even us," Clint said, slinging his case and quiver in ahead of him and settling into the passenger's seat, speaking again before Phil could reply. "Anyway, points for those outfits you got him. Also big points for that time you dressed up as a ninja for Halloween."

"I was ten. It was a phase."

"I've seen you with a bo."

"Now that I learned in the Rangers," Phil said with a smile. Clint was still looking...hesitant. "Look, I -- I was lucky, okay, the way I grew up. I'm lucky to have an amazing family, a shockingly normal family. I didn't want to seem like I was bragging. I know how fortunate I am."

"Okay. It's fine, Coulson," Clint said, and they drove the rest of the way in silence.


Thursday night, Clarissa called.

"You're still solid yes for tomorrow, right?" she asked, and he heard Jack shrieking in the background, over the soothing murmurs of her husband Aaron.

"Yeah, I said I would. Why?" he asked. "Is Jack okay?"

"He's fussy, it's fine. I just wanted to make sure we were making enough for everyone."

"I don't eat that much."

"No, but I invited Clint -- "

"You did what," he said flatly.

"He looked like he could use a few home-cooked meals."

"How did you get his number?"

"I called the SHIELD directory line. They were very helpful once I proved I was your sister. Anyway, you can give him and Steve a ride."

"You invited Clint and Captain Rogers."

"Well, he was so taken with Jack, it didn't seem right not to. Besides, with him bogarting the baby I might get to eat a meal in relative peace."

"Clarissa, I work with these people."

"Relax, I'm not going to show them any more embarrassing photos."

"That's not the point," he said, starting to get annoyed.

"No, the point is that you do work with these people, and they're your friends, and I'd like to get to know them. Plus they're nice to look at," she added. "But mostly this is the first time I've ever been allowed to see even a little bit of what you do, Phil. I know you can't tell me most of it, but clearly that's changing, at least somewhat. And after you were hurt..."

Oh, she was playing that card. Mom taught her well.

"I want to see you and be a part of your life. Are you ashamed of me?" she asked.

"Of course not."

"Are you ashamed of them?"


"It'll be all right, Phil. It's just family dinner."

"You're going to pay for this, you realize," he said. "I don't know how or where, yet, but the time will come."

"Worth it for time with my baby brother," she said. "Dinner's at six. Dress nicely."

Phil hung up the phone and sighed.


It was probably for the best that he didn't see Steve or Clint the next day; Clint was breaking in new agents and Steve was in class, having enrolled himself (much to SHIELD's surprise) at NYU. They still weren't sure how he'd pulled that off. Possibly Stark had hacked their database. Or maybe he'd just smiled at the admissions counselor. Who could say?

Phil was contemplating leaving without them and simply telling Clarissa that they'd never shown up -- or possibly that they were on some kind of top secret mission -- when there was a knock on his office door.

"Agent Coulson," Steve said with a smile. "Almost ready?"

"Not even close," Phil muttered to himself, but he gave Steve a nod. "Just finishing up."

"Good, because you're gonna like what Clint did," Steve said, and disappeared back through the doorway.

Phil would admit that his curiosity was at least piqued by the phrase "what Clint did". Normally, that kind of wording would only be used in an after-action disciplinary report. So he closed his laptop, locked up his files, and headed for the garage.

Steve and Clint were waiting for him, both of them at least in more casual clothes than last time. It was a relief; Phil had experienced unlikely but vivid visions of the pair of them sitting down to dinner with his sister's family in full combat uniform.

They were leaning against a bright red sports car with government plates. Phil raised an eyebrow.

"It's on loan from the DEA," Steve said.

"It's an apology," Clint said.

"That's a pretty good apology," Phil answered. "What did you do?"

"Said yes to awkward dinner with your sister and her family," Steve replied. He never seemed like a man who had much skill in interpersonal relations, but part of that, Phil thought, was probably just that he was still adjusting to the modern day. There was a shrewd politician lurking behind those innocent blue eyes. "Sorry. There was a tiny baby involved. Apparently I have an Achilles heel."

"I'm just nosy," Clint said, tossing Phil the keys. "Steve, shotgun or back seat?"

"Better be shotgun," Steve said ruefully.

"Yeah, you have shoulders," Clint agreed. "Plus I'm good at small places. Your sister said her husband is cooking," he added, cramming himself into the back seat as Phil started the car and Steve settled in next to him. "He any good?"

"Why do you ask?"

"I brought snacks, just in case," Clint said. A sack of peanuts flew over the seat, landing in the cup-holder on Steve's side. Steve looked at the peanuts, looked at Phil, and seemed confused about what to do.

"Aaron's an extremely good cook. Don't spoil your dinner," Phil said.

"It'll be nice to have a home-cooked meal," Steve remarked, looking like he was just awkwardly casting about for anything to say. "I mean, I'm not much for cooking, and the SHIELD cafeteria reminds me of the army."

"All the shit on a shingle you can eat?" Phil asked without thinking. Steve burst out laughing.

"Something like that!" he said. "Did you serve?"

"Not when it was hash night," Phil replied.

"Coulson was a Ranger," Clint said, leaning forward. Phil sighed. "Special Ops."

"And you'll notice, when the photo albums come out, none of them are ever of me in my very cool uniform," he said. "Tween in a ninja costume, sure..."

"Well, we can ask your sister if she has any," Steve said. His sudden poker-face made Phil decide he'd just somehow been played. "Did you see combat?"

"Yeah. Did a couple of tours," Phil replied. "Really, I did about one more than I should have, and decided I'd like to stay in-country for a while."

"Hey, is it true if you get a certain kill-count they fire you from being in the army?" Clint asked. Phil glanced at him, head between their seats. "Like how in Steve's war you got to go home if you ran 25 air missions?"

"I'd tell you but then I'd have to kill you, and if I kill one more person, SHIELD fires me," Phil replied.

"I got to muster out after my first air mission," Steve said. There was a moment of shocked silence, and then Clint cracked up laughing. Steve shot Phil a sly grin.


Clarissa met them at the door with a glass of wine in one hand and Jack in the other.

"Thank god you're here," she said, depositing Jack in Steve's arms before he even made it through the door. Steve's face lit up. "Aaron set the wall on fire."

"Aaron did what?" Phil asked, following her into the kitchen. There wasn't any smoke, but the windows were open.

"I didn't set anything on fire," Aaron complained. Phil liked him; he wasn't worthy of Phil's sister, of course, but then nobody ever would be and Aaron had scored very high on the Coulson Family Acceptability Test (he only bombed the essay portion). "I may have dented the wall in the middle of a flambe."

"He set it on fire!"

"It's barely scorched!" Aaron protested.

Phil gave them both his driest look, the kind he normally saved for Tony Stark. Aaron pointed at the scorch mark on the kitchen wall behind the stove, a clear "Exhibit A" gesture. Clarissa sighed.

"I need this more than you do, but I'll make the sacrifice," she said, pouring a second glass of wine and handing it to Phil. "Clint, Steve, can I pour for you?"

"No thank you, ma'am," Steve said, without looking up from the baby.

"I'll take some," Clint added. He looked vaguely at sea. Unlike Natasha, Clint wasn't all that used to infiltration work, and most of the time he seemed to take pride in the continual "poorly socialized" marks the yearly psychiatric evals gave him. As charming as he could be when he wanted, dinner parties and small talk were not his forte.

"So, while Aaron recovers from setting the wall on fire -- "

"I did not!" Aaron yelped.

" -- tell me what you've been up to. Quiet week? No alien invasions?" Clarissa asked.

"Those really don't happen nearly as often as everyone thinks," Steve said absently.

"New recruits this week," Clint said, casting an amused look at Steve. "I've been doing skills qualification. Good for the ego, kicking one ass -- " he flinched at Steve's disapproving noise, " -- ssociate after another," he finished lamely.

Phil glanced at Clarissa. She looked like she was putting all her effort into not laughing.

"Do you train agents as well as fight aliens?" Clarissa asked.

"I sometimes lend a hand," Clint said, looking like he was mildly suspicious she was mocking him. "We have a lot of downtime when not saving the world."

"Some of us do," Steve added, sounding annoyed.

"Not my fault you said yes when they said you should lead us," Clint replied. It was an argument they'd had repeatedly, and Phil just sighed.

"We didn't have nearly this much paperwork back when," Steve said, toying with one of Jack's hands where he'd grasped Steve's finger. Clint rolled his eyes. "I'm just saying, I thought modernizing was supposed to streamline things."

"You didn't have nearly as much paperwork because you were in an active combat zone," Phil pointed out. "I'm willing to bet you generated more than enough at headquarters."

"Enough shop talk," Clarissa interrupted. "You boys must do something other than work."

"Do people do things other than work?" Phil asked Clint.

"Not in my experience," Clint replied.

"Spill the beans, or I'm getting out the photo albums again," she threatened.

Clint grinned. "Can't have that. Steve, tell them about what happened in art class."

Steve looked up from Jack briefly. "I'm not sure that's a story for mixed company."

"I thought it was funny," Clint said.

"What happened in your art class?" Phil asked. "I didn't hear about this."

"Oh, nothin' much, really. I got there early to the first class, and the instructor thought I was the model. He spent about ten minutes telling me how perfect I was for drawing before I managed to stop him."

"Bet you weren't trying very hard," Clarissa said, and Steve blushed.

"Well, I was taught never to interrupt," he said, bending back down to Jack. "But I'm not the kind to preen."

"Why on earth not?" Clarissa asked.

"Raised Catholic," Steve said with a twitch of his lips. Behind them, Aaron laughed. "Anyhow, he offered me fifty dollars a week to come model once I was done with the course, but I like to be on the other side of the paper."

"Hook me up," Clint said. "Fifty bucks is fifty bucks, I'll do it."

"They'd probably take you," Steve said.

"Probably?" Clint asked.

"Ladies, don't fight, you're both pretty," Clarissa said.

"And dinner is ready," Aaron announced. "What am I, chopped liver?"

"Lose the pregnancy fat and we'll talk," she replied, kissing his cheek. "All right. Seats, everyone. Steve, are you okay with Jack, there?"

"Just fine, ma'am," Steve said, as Aaron placed a heated bottle of formula at his elbow. Clint glanced at Phil and grinned.


The evening was, in the end, more entertaining and less awkward than Phil had expected. Clarissa, unlike her more taciturn brother, had a gift for socializing, for making small talk and drawing other people into it. He hadn't spoken much with Steve outside of official duties, still somewhat overawed, and he and Clint had long ago settled into the kind of comfortable silence you can really only achieve when you're about to parachute into a hostile foreign nation and cause trouble.

By the time dinner was finished, he was certain enough that Clarissa wouldn't try to embarrass him further that he volunteered to put Jack to bed. Steve offered as well, but Clarissa intervened and said that Phil couldn't get too used to having Captain America do all his uncle duties for him.

Clint trailed him upstairs, though Phil really wasn't sure why. Jack, in his arms, burbled and drooled happily, if a little disgustingly. Phil was pleased with his nephew, and he was sure Jack would be an extraordinary child, but he was just as happy to leave the actual procreating to his sister.

"This is pretty fancy for a kid whose eyes can't focus yet," Clint said, as Phil settled into the rocking chair with Jack curled to his chest. Clint reached out and tapped the mobile over the crib, spinning little moons and stars and rockets around and around.

"He'll be old enough to appreciate it soon," Phil answered, as Jack yawned and Clint leaned against the changing table.

"Uncle's a good look on you."

"Thankfully a better look than Dad would be."

"You don't think you'd be a good dad?"

"I think I'm happier I'm not. Our work..." Phil shrugged. "It doesn't lend itself to the kind of life to raise a child in."

"You regret that?"

"No, I prefer the work. Do you?"

Clint shrugged. "Got no choice."

Phil looked up. "Of course you do."

"Not really. No marketable skills other than killin' people for my country," Clint said with a grin.

"You've run ops. You have law enforcement experience. Those are transferable to civilian life, if you wanted," Phil said, but Clint shook his head.

"I like the work too. And kids make me a little nervous."

"You seem fine around Jack."

"Well." Clint crouched and petted Jack's head gently. Jack's eyes drooped. "I'm not responsible for him, except in a saving-the-world sense."

"Good enough for me," Phil said, rising. Clint stepped back, hovering while Phil laid the sleeping infant in his crib and tucked a blanket around him. When he turned around, he was startled to find his tie suddenly grasped in Clint's hand, his body tugged forward by it into a sharp, not entirely gentle kiss. After a second of surprise he leaned into it, cupping the back of Clint's head with one hand and using the other to free his tie before Clint choked him with it.

Clint was a hell of a kisser, and while Phil prided himself on a certain level of self-discipline, he wasn't a robot. He wasn't sure what was going on, but he'd learned along the course of his life that one kiss rarely changed the world for good and even if it was going to, he might as well enjoy it before it did.

The kiss gentled down a little, slightly less teeth and slightly more tongue, and Clint's hands came up to rest on his chest. Their foreheads bumped together as Clint broke away from the kiss, panting a little. Phil opened his eyes, but Clint's were still closed.

"Don't pick Steve," Clint said. There was a high band of flushed red across his cheeks, the bridge of his nose. "I know he's better lookin' and likes babies more but don't pick him, pick me."

Phil slid his hand around from the back of Clint's head to cup his cheek. "What the hell are you talking about?" he asked, forehead still pressed to Clint's.

"Just getting my bid in first," Clint mumbled.

"Bid for what?"

Then Clint did open his eyes -- pale blue, almost grey, narrow and expressive, eyes Phil had spent more time than was strictly professional thinking about.

"For you," he said, as if it were obvious.

"Did...did you think this was some kind of audition?" Phil asked, leaning back. He kept his hand on Clint's face, a point of contact. And he kept his voice low, because Jack was snuffling sleepily in the crib nearby.

"I dunno," Clint admitted. "But -- I just thought if I -- if it was, if I didn't -- he's Captain America, I get that."

Phil smiled. Clearly he was an idiot and Clint was one too. They probably deserved each other.

"Captain America is an idea," he said quietly. "He's an action figure. Bigger than that, but not -- not really any more real, not as a person, Clint. He's a costume Steve puts on. I admire it, I find inspiration in the ideal, but I'm not interested in dating a costume. Even if Steve swung that way, which I doubt."

"Okay," Clint said, clearly not entirely convinced but game to try. "Then -- then pick me anyway."

"Did Clarissa tell you?" Phil asked, a trifle suspicious.

"Tell me what?"

"Apparently not."

"What was she supposed to tell me?"

"She wasn't," Phil said. "I had to threaten her with sibling blackmail to keep her from telling you about my stupid crush."

Clint blinked. "On who?"

"On you."

"You told your sister -- "

"She may have guessed from the fact that I talked about you constantly," Phil said.

"Oh," Clint managed. Phil waited for the penny to drop. "Oh. How long...?"

"Longer than is flattering," Phil replied, and Clint's face broke into a wide grin. He leaned forward -- swooped, really -- and caught Phil back up in another kiss. Phil barely managed to block him from grabbing his tie again.

"Really?" Clint asked gleefully, into his mouth.

"You can ask her yourself," Phil said, the next time he had air enough to talk. "Actually, please don't."

"I thought -- 'cause, I don't have a board game named after me, or trading cards or anything. I'm just this guy..."

"Clint, we should maybe not have this talk in front of my nephew," Phil said. "Or in my sister's house."

"Yeah, no, this feels a little weird, I just kind of had to seize the moment."

Phil gave him a brief kiss, then one on his forehead, and Clint's blush spread. It was one of maybe four times in his whole life he'd seen Clint blush.

"I like your family," Clint said. "But can we get the hell out of here?"

Phil nodded and led the way downstairs, hyper-aware of Clint following a step behind. In the kitchen, Steve was helping with the dishes (of course he was).

" -- need a babysitter, or a bodyguard..." he was offering.

"You'll be first on our speed-dial," Clarissa assured him. "You have a real knack with him."

"Well, he's a Coulson, bound to be a calm kind of kid," Steve said.

"Don't be deceived. We have tempers," Phil said. Clarissa laughed. "We should probably get going."

"Thank you for coming. Adult company's been a little rare for me lately," Clarissa said, drying her hands so she could hug him. "Next week let's play the Captain America game."

"Never going to live that down, huh?" he asked.

"Well, if Mr. Stark invents a version that's actually interesting, I might forgive you for the years of Friday nights I lost to it as a child," she replied with a smile. "Steve, Clint, it's been wonderful. Please feel free to invite yourselves along anytime."

"Ma'am," Clint said, a trifle shyly, while Steve beamed. Clarissa glanced from Clint to Phil and gave him a terrifyingly knowing look.

"Drive safe, boys. Phil, I'll call you tomorrow," she said, and escorted them to the door. By the time they were settled in the car again -- Clint was practically smoldering at him from the backseat, and Steve had a bag of leftovers Clarissa had pushed on him in the front seat -- Phil felt nearly calm enough that he probably wouldn't crash the damn car.

"That was nice," Steve said, watching the scenery scroll past. "We should reciprocate."

"Dinner at the tower?" Phil said. "That seems...perilous."

"Well, at least there's no embarrassing childhood photos involved."


"Tony is working on a new game," Steve added, sounding a little embarrassed. "It's all-Avengers though, not just me. Thank goodness."

Phil glanced up and caught Clint in the rearview mirror, looking amused.

"Well, as experienced Captain America Board Game players, Clarissa and I will have to test it out," he said.

"Can't believe they put my face on a board game," Steve said ruefully. "I'm glad you fellas get it."

"Get what?" Clint asked.

"That I'm not the face on the game board," Steve said. "You know. I'm not just a bond sales cutout."

Clint grinned in the mirror. Phil nodded.

"Indeed we do," he said.


They left Steve putting away the leftovers in the Avengers communal kitchen, fending off an indignant Tony who wanted to know why he hadn't been invited as well. Phil had a room on the floor below the Avengers floor, where he and a small team of SHIELD agents were housed as a condition of Fury allowing the rest of the Avengers to bow to Tony's demands they all live together like some kind of superhero fraternity, but instead of returning to the elevator, he walked with Clint down the curving hallway towards the small suite of rooms on the east side of the tower. Clint liked his sunrises.

"Did you mean what you said?" Clint asked, as the door to his suite closed behind them. He was drifting over to the tall glass windows that looked out over Manhattan, and he seemed deliberately unconcerned, but there was some tension in his voice.

"About what?" Phil asked, standing in the middle of the room, watching him. He caught the faintest reflection of Clint in the glass.

"Being attracted to me."

"I believe the proper term is embarrassing crush, but yes."


Phil smiled a little. "You've never struck me as someone who needs flattery, Clint."

Clint turned, crossing his arms defensively over his chest. He'd worn a nice shirt, not exactly a suit but at least something clean and pressed. And tight enough that his biceps bulged a little against the fabric when he did that. Phil wondered if he knew the effect that had on...anyone in the immediate area, really.

"I saw a lot of potential in you," Phil said. "Your intelligence is unorthodox. You're very dedicated. And you seemed like you could"

Clint blinked.

"Just because I'm not parent material doesn't mean I don't like caring for people," Phil said. "I wouldn't be in this job otherwise."

"No, it's not that, I..." Clint looked away. "Usually it's the arms."

Phil snorted. "They don't hurt. Clarissa's very impressed. Why, are you telling me you only want me for my body?"

That earned him a smile, and Clint stalked forward, stopping only when he was well inside Phil's personal space.

"To be honest, it never occurred to me that you had...history," he said. "You're my boss. You were like...well, not God, not exactly, but like, like a hot teacher."

Phil rolled his eyes.

"It's a compliment, I'm trying here."

"Go on."

"You know how you think teachers don't really exist outside of the classroom? And then seeing you with Jack, with your sister, you had this whole life, and if I didn't make a move, I was gonna miss out on it," Clint said. "Then your sister called me up and asked me to dinner and...I dunno. I figured maybe you were interested. I wanted to try."

Phil leaned in an inch and kissed him. "You should trust your instincts. They're usually right."

"I'll bear that in mind, sir."

"How about dinner tomorrow?" Phil asked. "Without Steve and my sister as chaperones?"

"Are you sure? I know how much Cap means to you -- "

"It's very hard to proposition you when you keep bringing up my childhood hero," Phil offered. Clint got the message and kept quiet while they kissed.

"Dinner sounds good," he said, after a while.

"Great. No babies, no embarrassing photos, no inferiority complexes," Phil said.

"And here I thought spies and enemies of the state were the worst things we'd have to contend with."

"Well, always be prepared."

Clint kissed him again. "Just think, after dinner we can play board games."