“I can do that.”
Phil smiled a little at the memory. He and Clint had been watching Spartacus, a TV series together. They’d gotten hooked on the blood, fighting, sex and drama. In the first season finale, Crixus was propping a shield on the ground with his shoulder and with a tap of his hand, Spartacus ran towards him. Using the armor as leverage, Spartacus put his foot on it and launched himself into the air. It was a damn spectacular sight.
“And you’d never miss a shot,” Phil had agreed.
They’d spent an hour discussing the move and how it would work in real life.
Looking down at Clint’s file with his shield photo staring back at him, Phil sighed. That memory and others over the years taunted him, reminding him of the fool that he was. Phil had been fascinated by the man named Clinton Francis Barton since their first meeting.
He’d gotten good at burying that fucking unrequited love crap and focused on his job. Phil treasured the friendship and every moment they spent together whether it was hearing Clint’s ongoing snark commentary during their missions or kicking back arguing over which Star Trek captain was the best. (It was Janeway by a mile, of course.)
Phil had often wondered if Clint was seeing anyone. He hadn’t shown much interest in dating that he could tell. Natasha was a sister. That Phil knew without a doubt. Natasha treated Clint as more of a kid brother despite him being the older of the two. Never would Phil ask such a personal question. It would give too much away and Phil was still Clint’s superior. He didn’t give a damn that there were no fraternization regs against it. He’d seen romantic relationships crash and burn during the worst possible times and the outcomes were always messy. He couldn’t risk it where Clint was concerned.
He hadn’t realized how much it mattered until he overheard the conversation Clint was having with Natasha during that fiasco with Stark and Anton Vanko. How could his heart have gotten so close to Clint without his knowing? He’d kept a fucking professional distance from day one.
It had been two days since that night and Phil was no closer to knowing what to do. As soon as he’d gotten back, he had done the one thing he had resisted since Clint had joined SHIELD. The results of the in-depth background sat in front of him and it was worse than he’d expected.
“Goddamn it!” Phil muttered.
He’d probably handle it better had it been anyone but Tony Stark. It all added up now and Phil hated the damn jealousy that had been eating at him since the last time he’d seen the two of them in Tony’s lab.
His coffee was lukewarm, but he took a large drink wishing it was a stiff scotch instead. Phil grabbed his phone.
“Have Agent Barton brought to Interrogation Room 4.”
Phil got to his feet and straightened his tie. He wasn’t going to let any of this define his behavior. He was a professional and he would do his job. Clint Barton had violated regulations and possibly committed a crime. Phil would not allow his personal feelings to get in the way.
Another look at Clint’s photo had Phil’s gut twisting. He loved the man.
When Phil entered the room, Clint sat at the table and straightened in the chair upon his arrival. The worry on the man’s face was apparent and Phil was sure he hadn’t slept much.
Phil set the file down and got in the chair across from Clint. The silence was awkward between them and for the first time in his career, Phil had no idea how to proceed. He always had a plan before interrogating suspects. Now, he had no clue.
Opening the file, Phil took a deep breath and glanced at the summary background.
“Director Fury leaves it to my discretion on how much background is needed for recruitments,” Phil began. “Your unique skills, intelligence and performance thus far had never given me cause to investigate you deeper. After overhearing your conversation with Natasha, which was unintentional, by the way, I had no choice but to do so.”
Phil watched Clint whose eyes were downward. There was no reaction otherwise. He waited a moment and there was nothing.
“The background is missing several years which we’re still trying to access. It’s rare that anyone can hide so much from SHIELD with success.” Phil flipped through a few pages and set out a document in front of Clint. “We did manage to find this. Last year you bought an apartment building in Bed-Stuy with cash we haven’t been able to trace to its source. After speaking with a few tenants, we discovered you lowered their rents and overhauled every unit. Some swore they saw Tony Stark on at least three occasions.”
When Phil glanced up, Clint was looking at the document. He pulled out another one and set it on top.
“We also managed to find records of domestic flights from New York to Los Angeles for the last several years. CCTV shows Happy Hogan picking you up from the airport no less than three times. I’m sure if we did a more thorough search, we’ll find more footage.”
Phil sighed at seeing Clint reading.
“There’s more.” Phil slid another towards Clint. “Your cell phone records indicate over 100 calls to and from Tony Stark. A search of your apartment resulted in another cell phone that’s proven difficult to hack. This particular phone is unique and resembles ones Stark is known to use.”
“You searched my place?” Clint asked.
Whether to be relieved or not that Clint spoke, Phil wasn’t sure.
“It’s SOP when an agent is under investigation,” Phil explained. “What we’ve uncovered is more than enough to consider criminal charges, Clint.”
“There’s nothing to say.”
The apologetic look in Clint’s eyes was almost more than Phil could take. He took the documents and put them in the file before closing it.
“Your relationship with Tony Stark indicates you’ve been divulging classified information and profiting from it. I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me, Clint.”
Phil believed him. He got to his feet and opened the door.
“Return Agent Barton to his quarters,” Phil told the agent.
There was a freedom Tony enjoyed that few understood. He got more done by being all the things everyone said he was, which he knew he was anyway. He strolled through SHIELD HQ and nodded, grinned and offered commentary as he went. Since he got cured thanks to Little Bro, saved the day at the Expo, Fury had given him an open invitation to SHIELD. No doubt it was to get some tech and Tony was pleased to offer it like someone would as if they were holding up a dog treat just out of reach. Good times.
He stopped at Phil Coulson’s door and rather than knock, he just opened it and strolled inside.
“Stark, what the hell are you doing here?”
Tony smiled. “Why, Agent, I wanted to tell you in person…no tazing is necessary.” He held his arms out. “Fully got my shit together and I won the day.”
“I heard,” Phil dryly responded. “Congratulations. Now, see yourself out.”
Moving closer to the desk, Tony eyed the Barton file sitting on top. He plopped down in the chair across from Phil.
“Thanking your young hot agent was in order. So, here I am. Where is Robin Hood?”
Phil leaned back. “Agent Barton has been confined to quarters. I’ll pass your message along.”
“Did he stay out past curfew? Do agents have a curfew? Did Mama Fury ground him?” Tony shook his head. “God, that’s frightening…Mama Fury.”
“Stark,” Phil said with a sigh. “Unless you have something to contribute in aiding Agent Barton, you need to leave.”
“Of course, I’d love to aid him, but I’m not that kind of girl.”
Tony was sure he saw Phil’s nostrils flair at the comment. He bit his tongue to keep himself from poking fun at the badass agent.
“Let me guess, Coulson. You’ve put on your most stern disapproval face, which is your own superpower, by the way. Like right now, I feel the need to feel shame for something that I should be sorry for because you’re doing it now. It’s not working on your agent like it usually does.”
“He’s closed off,” Phil admitted. “He won’t talk to me.”
That was when Tony knew without a doubt that Phil loved Clint. There was a soft misery in the man’s voice and the sadness in his eyes made him want to tell Phil everything.
“Let me talk to him.”
“What makes you think Clint will talk to you?” Phil leaned forward and rested his arms on his desk. “He’s under investigation because of you, Stark. By all rights, I should lock you in an interrogation room and let Natasha loose on you.”
Tony did laugh then. “Why haven’t you? Of course, I’ve got four law firms and two PR firms that would put SHIELD under a microscope big enough to break the internet…”
“Threatening SHIELD, are we?” Phil interrupted raising his eyebrows.
“No, that’s not…listen, break protocol, rules…whatever. Come on.” Tony had to be serious this time. “Trust me, Agent.”
Waiting on Phil Coulson to make a decision was more agonizing than Tony thought it would be. He just hoped he wouldn’t have to get on his knees and beg. Ugh, Tony thought.
“Fine,” Phil relented. “I’ll have Barton brought to an interrogation room.”
Once Tony got into the interrogation room, Clint’s eyes widened in shock. He had his cellphone out in record time and shut down all the observation tech in the room.
“Pretty sure your agent boyfriend will know I’m doing this,” Tony commented. Otherwise, he’d have tazed me by now.”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Clint ground out.
“Why is that the first question everyone asks?” Tony sat down across from Clint. “You should be pleased as punch I’m here.”
“Well, I’m not. So leave,” Clint ordered.
“I would, but there’s this thing where you’ve saved my ass more than once and I never have gotten a chance to return the favor. Of course, you’d say “hey, dude, that’s what brothers are for” and all that. So, yeah, here I am,” Tony finished with a grin.
“I didn’t ask you, Tony. I can handle this myself.”
“Oh, so you’re going to let your special agent in on our familial secret?” Tony asked.
“No. Where’s Pepper?”
“The change of subject will not delay the inevitable. Pepper’s fine. Her and Natasha bonded on Rodeo Drive. I should be concerned.” Tony tapped his fingers. “So, why keep the secret, little bro.”
“It’s safer for everyone, Tony. You know that.”
“You see, I call bullshit. Look at me, Clint.” Tony pointed at himself. “Iron Man. Superhero. I’m like Batman in a good mood.”
Seeing Clint shaking his head, Tony leaned forward and took hold of his wrist. “Hey, I can protect Pepper and Happy. You can tell them and it’ll be okay.”
“You don’t know that, Tony.” Clint moved his arm back. “You don’t fucking know that.”
Tony jerked to his feet and kicked the chair, hitting it against the table.
“Fucking asshole,” Tony muttered. “I’m tired of this fucking secret, Clint! You’re my brother and I want the goddamn world to know it! Jesus, I want to shout to the sky that I’ve got a brother who’s brilliant, charitable and will put his neck on the line for anyone who needs it.”
“Tony…” Clint began.
“Is it so fucking bad being related to me? Because it feels more like you’re ashamed than trying to protect us, Clint.”
“God, Tony, no. I love you, but I just can’t risk it. Why can’t you understand?”
Shaking his head, Tony pulled out the cellphone.
“Your excuses have all run out.” He did a few more adjustments before putting it away. “I’ve always listened to you, thinking maybe you’re more world-smart than I was. This one time, you’re not getting your way.”
Tony opened the door.
“Agent Coulson, if you please.”
Phil entered the room and Clint’s eyes went from Phil to Tony.
“Tony,” Clint warned.
“Agent Coulson, I’d like to introduce you to my brother.”
“What?” Phil whispered.
“Adopted brother. You see, back when Little Bro was a sprout, my father and I found him at a circus. The kid was thin as a rail with no education. We saw the raw brilliance and rather than put him in a work study program at SI, I brought him home. He made us more of a family.”
“Are you kidding me?” Phil asked. He looked to Clint whose eyes were down and mouth was tight. “Clint?”
“He got offered a full ride at MIT, but turned it down. Instead, he gets a double degree. One in engineering physics and the other in analytical chemistry. Instead of being a douche genius billionaire like me, he opts to live the life of the lower class and save the world on his SHIELD salary.”
Phil took a seat across from Clint.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Truth time,” Tony told Clint. “Not the bullshit you’ve used.”
Clint sighed. He rubbed his eyes before talking.
“At the circus, the crowds got to me sometimes. After a show, some got too close and I couldn’t tell them what it took to never miss. Then Howard and Tony came along. I had a mother again and a home. Every day I was sure, they were going to see a scrawny kid who took more than he gave and kick me to the curb.”
It on the tip of Tony’s tongue to tell Clint it would never have happened, but there was more to tell and he kept quiet.
“The press scared the shit out of me and everyone knew it. I was able to stay out of the limelight and as I grew up, I knew I didn’t want another kid to go through what I did. That’s how it all started. After college, I used everything I learned to help people and it was easier to do with no one being the wiser to my activities.”
“There’s more,” Phil surmised. “Isn’t there?”
“One day, Obadiah Stane came to see me. He attempted to blackmail me into selling my shares of SI when he found out what I’d been doing.”
“You never told me,” Tony said.
“Well, he didn’t get far with it, but he’s the reason I moved out.”
“How so?” Phil asked.
“By letting my enemies know who I was and where I lived. There was no way in hell I would let it happen.” Clint locked his eyes with Phil’s. “I could’ve used my wealth to get on the defensive with security and armed guards, whatever else I could come up with. But you came along, Phil, and when you offered me a contract with SHIELD, I knew it was the best way of protecting the people I love. Going after the bad guys first and hiding my relationship with Tony was a gift.”
“Clint,” Phil said. “I have to ask you; did you disclose classified information to anyone outside of SHIELD?”
“No. All Tony ever knew were a few destinations and he didn’t ask for any details. I swear, Phil.”
“I believe you. Of course, we need to have a more detailed background and your interactions over past missions, Clint. There’s no choice now.”
“No one can know.”
“Considering it’s Tony Stark, we’re talking about…”
“Hey,” Tony said affronted.
“I’m sure I can convince Director Fury to keep this on a need-to-know. Outside of this room, it’ll be him and Commander Hill.”
“Okay,” Clint agreed. “Thanks, Phil.”
“Clint, you could’ve come to me with this. I wish you had trusted me.”
“I did, I mean, I do, it’s just….” Clint swallowed the hard lump in his throat. “I was afraid, Phil. I’m sorry I didn’t.”
“We’ll work through this,” Phil promised.
“Natasha knows,” Clint admitted. “She saw me coming undone when Tony was kidnapped.”
Phil got to his feet. The ache in his chest was heavy. Clint hadn’t trust him and he felt the failure deep inside.
“Consider your confinement lifted, Clint. Report to my office first thing in the morning and we’ll meet with Director Fury.”
“Yeah,” Clint said.
After Phil was gone, Tony took his place in the chair.
“Pissed at me?” Tony asked.
Clint let out the deep breath he’d been holding. “No. Maybe relieved is a better description. How come you didn’t tell him the other thing?”
Tony smiled with a little bit of slyness. “Hey, want to come to the lab? I’ve got an idea for a new bow and quiver.”
“You didn’t tell him, did you?” Clint stood along with Tony.
“Hey, how about an arrow with an EMP built into it?” Tony opened the door. “Then we can work on something that can go around corners.”
“Tony, don’t fuck with me. I’ll tell Coulson about your Batman memorabilia.”
The alarm on Tony’s face had Clint laughing.
Phil was in the lobby on his cellphone when he saw Tony and Clint leaving together. He wasn’t hearing Fury on the other end as he watched them.
All this time he had thought Clint and Tony were having some illicit affair. It had made him insanely jealous. Phil had to admit that he had snapped at those closest to him. He’d been ridiculously stupid and felt foolish about it.
Seeing Clint happy always did wonders for Phil’s soul. He stilled when Clint looked over his shoulder at him. There was a hint of a smile and a nod at Phil. They would be okay.
God, I love Clint Barton, Phil thought.
“Cheese, hot damn! It’s about fucking time!”
“Shit, I said that aloud,” Phil said covering his face.
Phil sighed at hearing Nick Fury laugh. He’d never hear the end of it now.