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“We got him back,” Fury informed the assembled Avengers solemnly.

“Who?” Clint asked, still not entirely awake.

“Come again?” Tony asked, an edge of anger in his voice.

Natasha tensed and asked, deadly quiet, “But?”

“There was an unintended side effect,” Fury replied.

“Unintended how?” Bruce asked, taking off his glasses in a habitual nervous gesture.

Fury let out a long-suffering sigh over the comm link.
--
“Sir?”

Clint and Natasha were the first ones allowed into the room, owing to them being the most outwardly put together and the least likely to upset the patient. Phil... looked pretty good, especially for a dead man.

“Barton,” Phil greeted a little weakly. He was on a double-armed IV drip of fluids and nutrients, and looked as though he’d lost quite a bit of weight in the eighty or so hours since he’d last seen his handler.

“You know, of the two of us I kinda thought I’d be the one that this would happen to,” Clint told him, indicating the wings with a sardonic eyebrow.

“I assure you, this is the last thing I expected to happen.”

The wings were quite small and the same freckled pink as Phil’s skin, with the gangly awkward proportions of something still in the throes of growth.

“So...” Natasha prompted with a look that simultaneously said you have got to be kidding me and what the hell, man.

“I’m a mutant... apparently,” Phil said under her scrutiny.

“Apparently? Isn’t that something that you discover during a painfully humiliating and dangerous adolescent experience?” Clint asked. Natasha kicked him lightly in the ankle in reproof.

Phil gave a weak approximation of his normal knowing smirk. “If it’s all the same to you I’d rather not talk about it right now.”

Natasha gave Clint a stern warning look. “Right, of course,” he said.

“We’re just glad you’re not dead. I think the rest of the circus would like to see you.” Phil visibly greyed at Natasha’s words. “I’ll tell them you’re not up to it.”

“Thank you.” Phil reached out a hand to Natasha. She took it, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek.

“I got him back,” she murmured.

“I know. Thank you,” Phil replied, all the warmth and relief he never let himself show bleeding through his voice.
--
Natasha was more than mildly concerned that she would be unable to keep the super rabble from barging in on Phil, but her fears were unfounded. By the time she and Clint exited the secure experimental medicine holding chamber, Bruce and Tony were violating patient confidentiality to coo over the treatment that had virtually brought Phil back from the dead, while Steve stared over their shoulders trying to follow their conversation.

“—could change traumatic wound treatment—”

“—unsafe for prolonged doses—”

“—provided the injury is life-threatening enough to burn through—”

“—deficiencies must be the major danger—”

Natasha gave a piercing two-fingered whistle that effectively shut down their conversation.

Clint cleared his throat, “You jackasses woke me up to tell me that you’d forgot to tell me Coulson was dead and now he’s not so I’m going back to sleep. Quinjet leaves in five.”
--
When Philip was born, for all intents and purposes he seemed like a normal baby boy. He might have been a little slow to put on weight, but the doctors said he looked plump enough, and he was feeding well, so his mother tried not to worry. Philip was precocious and curious and had to be saved from choking more than once due to both of those traits. Philip went from his mother’s care to that of a kindergarten without much fuss, and if he caused a ruckus and led the other children in war games, well, at least he was making friends.

Then he changed.

Philip came crying into his parent’s room one night, more frightened than in pain, tiny wings flapping pathetically at his back. In retrospect, they explained the tenderness and absentminded scratching that had been going on weeks prior, but who ever would have thought of that. Philip’s parents had been beside themselves. The wings were ugly and fleshy and looked like nothing so much as those of bats.

Philip’s pediatrician was confounded. The specialist Philip’s parents were directed to did a lot of x-rays and determined they could remove the foreign growths without damaging young Philip permanently. This was years before the word ‘mutant’ was whispered about, and Philip’s parents were simply glad there was something to be done for their boy. In the time it took for them to get scheduled with the right surgeon, though, Philip’s wings grew in size and strength. He looked a proper gargoyle by the time he was brought in to the surgeon.

Philip spent a lot of time in his room pretending to be an airplane. He understood that the things on his back caused his parents some distress, and indeed they caused him distress as well, having to visit doctors’ offices and causing him to be sequestered from his friends and school. They were however a part of him, like his arm, and thus he couldn’t be too disturbed by their presence.

After the surgery, his parents never spoke about it. If he ever brought up his wings, they treated it like some sort of childhood fantasy; imaginary body parts where most children had imaginary friends. Eventually Phil believed that to have been the case, and would think back to his youthful delusions fondly but with no tangible sense of reality. The scars faded before he was a teenager and with them, all visible evidence that Phil Coulson was a mutant.
--
SHIELD was engaged in a lot of cutting-edge and slightly-shady medical technology.

Phil had been blessedly unconscious (technically dead) when medical pumped him full of an experimental faux-healing factor which helped rapidly heal the hole through his chest and then went to work on every other partially healed injury and old battle scar on his high-mileage body. The amputated wings were the last to grow in, being one of his oldest scars.

The medical staff was understandably shocked.

"Jesus, Phil, what the fuck?" Fury had muttered to himself when called down to medical. They had rolled the unconscious Phil over on his side in what looked to be a supremely uncomfortable position. As Phil was still unconscious, he had simply crumpled in on himself, trailing wires, tubes, and sensors, the crushed and disjointed wings falling in on themselves. They were slightly larger than the first page of a newspaper and were covered by skin that matched Phil’s pinkish-white complexion. The joint growing into his back was knobby and huge compared to the rest of the wings, a portent of further growth. Spindly fingers of bone stretched the length of the wings, and the soft nub of a protruding claw topped the long arc of bone arching away from the joint.

“Is this Loki?” Fury asked.

“We really can’t be sure.” A medic was on hand immediately. A medic was always on hand immediately when Fury had questions about his people. “Agent Coulson did have a slight spinal anomaly which was noted in his recruitment physical, but it was nothing that affected service in the Rangers or here so we never investigated it. We’re running the x-gene testing right now, and we’re attempting to determine if the healing factor serum is still in play in his bloodstream.”

“Goddamn it,” Fury cursed to himself. “You could never just take the easy route, could you Phil.”
--
Phil woke to a penlight in his eyes, feeling as though he’d pulled every muscle in his back and then slept in an airplane seat for a few days. Considering his last conscious thought had been about how much chest wounds hurt and that this one might be the one to do him in, he welcomed the pain.

They went through a standard list of questions given to every agent after prolonged unconsciousness. He shifted, trying to get more comfortable, but the medic gave him a stern look. “Don’t move.”

“What’s the damage?” Phil rasped out.

“We pumped you full of the healing factor compound we’d been developing based on... well, it had some unexpected side effects.”

“Is that why I’m hooked to all the IV’s still?”

“Yes.”

Phil grunted in acknowledgement and let his head drop towards his shoulder, only at that moment seeing a flicker of movement and a strange shape at his side. He twitched away from it, only managing to startle himself further, which set of a cascade of muscle-cramping agony.

“Agent, stand down,” Phil’s doctor had swept into the room a moment earlier, and the crack of authority in her voice caused Phil to freeze momentarily. She offered her arms to him to steady Phil in sitting up while the medic fussed with his pillows. Phil felt his mind go through a hard reboot, thought processes re-initializing after the tide of panic and confusion subsided. Phil steadied himself on her solid arms. Sitting forward was a whole new kind of aching pain, but it was the pain of a waking limb and a stretching muscle so it was almost good. “Are you with me Agent?” Phil’s doctor asked calmly. He nodded. She untangled his IV tubes and sensor cords with practiced movements. “Excellent. Have you ever had any indication that you’re a mutant?” she asked.

SHIELD had a strict don’t ask, don’t tell policy regarding mutants in their ranks. If it didn’t affect performance and wasn’t too visible, they didn’t want to hear about it. Phil blanched, confused. “No. Not that...” Phil trailed off, thinking about all the notations on his medical files that had always concerned doctors but never seemed to get him discharged.

“We think that the healing factor serum might have triggered a latent mutation in you. You grew some extra appendages and they’re still growing. We don’t think it’s a danger to you, but they are not coordinated right now, and we’re worried you might hurt yourself if you try to move too quickly.”

“Extra-”

“Wings, agent. They look like a good approximation of bat wings.”

Phil craned his head around trying to see his back, but it was like trying to lick your elbow; doomed to failure. “Can I see?” he asked finally, the flashing movement at the edge of his vision tantalizing and confusing and terribly familiar in a deep, buried place within his memories.

The medic turned the window into a one-way mirror with the press of a button, providing Phil with a slightly blurry but good-enough view of himself. The wings had each reached the size of an unfolded newspaper with huge knobbly joints. Phil frowned at his reflection and hunched in on himself. Seemingly responding to his mood, the wings mantled and hugged close to him.

“I think I need to call my mother,” Phil said tiredly.

“Your family has been contacted—”

“Now, please.”

They brought him a phone.

“Hello?” Phil’s mother answered on the fourth ring. She lived alone in the house Phil had grown up in on the outskirts of Chicago. Close to eighty, Florence Coulson was not moving as quickly as she once did but that didn’t translate to her mental acuity or quick tongue.

“Ma,” Phil greeted.

“They called to tell me you almost got yourself killed again. I told you to stop doing that,” she berated him.

“I know, Ma. It couldn’t be helped.”

Florence huffed. “You’re fine now, though? I don’t need to send your uncle to check on, you, do I?”

“Ma, look. Do you remember when I was a kid and I’d talk about my wings?”

The pause on the other end of the line was ominous. “You were a very imaginative child,” Florence responded in the tone of an adult who had run out of amusement for their precocious child.

“No, Ma, I don’t think I was. Now are you going to tell me the truth, or am I going to have to get the nice boys from work to fly you out here so we can talk face to face? I know how flying aggravates your lungs.”

“Are you threatening your own mother?” She sounded offended.

“Do you feel threatened by the thought of visiting your only son and reminiscing about his childhood?”

The silence was icy. “We don’t need to talk about this.”

“I have two sail-sized growths that say differently.”

“We took care of that when you were just tiny,” she countered.

“Well it seems to be a recurring issue,” Phil replied through clenched teeth. Gods and aliens and being brought back from the dead he could handle, but ten minutes talking with his mother had his blood pressure rising. He could actually watch it on the monitors.

“That’s absurd dear, at your age?” She made a disbelieving sound.

Phil looked at the ceiling tiles for a count of ten, regulating his breathing as he would on an op. “So when you say you ‘took care of it’ what exactly did you mean?”

“We took you to that special doctor.”

It was like pulling her fingernails out, getting her to talk about this, Phil mused. “And he did what exactly?”

“Your operation,” Florence replied as though it was the most natural thing in the world.

Phil sighed. “So to recap, as a young child I grew wings and you and dad, what, had them cut off?”

“We didn’t want you burdened with being different.”

Phil sighed. “I appreciate that, Ma.”

“You’re okay, though?” Florence asked after a long silence.

Phil sighed. “I’ll survive.”
--
The damned things grew so quickly. Medical was forcing as much protein into him as he could stomach, and they still wanted to keep him under watch lest something unexpected happen in his development. By day five, Phil was ready for it all to be done with. The growth meant he had constant shooting pains through nerves and limbs he didn’t remember ever having before. He was exhausted and had to sleep on his stomach (which he never did) and they kept feeding him Ensure and chicken cutlets.

Clint showed up on day six with a backpack and a glint in his eye. “I got cleared by the shrinks. I’m here to bust you out.”

“Is that so?” Phil asked, trying for laconic but aware that a hint of desperation leaked through.

“Stark said we could shack up at his place.” Phil raised his eyebrows. “Yeah, I know, but he’s run off to Los Angeles. It’s just Natasha and I and the work crews. And now you.”

“What about the others?”

Clint squinted and shook his head. “Banner took the first flight out of town when the airport opened. I think he’s in the Philippines. Cap is road tripping. Thor was security for Loki’s trip back to Asgard. It was just Natasha until this morning when they let me out.”

“They’ve been keeping you this whole time?” Phil asked, aghast. How had he not thought to check on Clint?

“I did kind of kill a ton of our people and go rogue helping an evil alien bent on ruling our world.”

“That wasn’t—”

“Yeah, I know. Look, throw some clothes on and lets go. I got a helicopter checked out and Stark’s landing pad just got certified by the engineers.”

Phil had hospital scrub pants on, but a shirt was impossible for obvious reasons. Phil finally settled on stealing a hospital blanket and draping it over his shoulders and down his front like a shawl. It did nothing to hide his massive fleshy wings, but it did keep him warm. It was apparent to Phil that he would not fit in the copilot seat but either he was spectacularly lucky or Clint had thought ahead. The helicopter was carrying cargo, and the back had just enough room to squeeze him in amongst webbed in supplies no doubt needed to restore infrastructure around the Tower.

The top floor of the Tower was in a shambles of rebuilding. Clint waved at a few of the construction workers who paid no mind to Phil and his blanket. “You’re looking good,” Phil commented to Clint with a hint of approval. He was not normally good at taking care of himself after a tough mission and he was, if not glowing with energy, alert and reasonably healthy looking.

Clint shrugged. “Haven’t had much to do but eat and sleep outside of debriefs and shrinks. I guess I was taking advantage of it. Nat and I were going to share one of the suites; there’s a second one across the hall from us if you want. I mean, you could stay with us too - there’s plenty of room.”

“I think with these things I’ll be having entirely new square footage requirements. The one across from you should work fine.”

“You can’t blame us for wanting to keep you close, Sir.”

Phil smiled. “No. I can’t at that.”
--
“Okay I am trying really hard to be normal, but can I ask you to do something and not have it be weird?”

Clint was making them both breakfast in the common area between their suites after nearly identical, terrible nights’ sleep. Natasha had disappeared in the night to do something deadly and inscrutable. “With reservations I’m going to say yes.”

“Can I see them?”

“They’re right here, Barton,” Phil replied.

“Yeah, but like, out? They look all sad and crumpled up.”

Phil felt sad and crumpled up, like a used paper towel. “I don’t have particularly good muscle control of them.”

“I won’t blame you if you hit me in the face,” Clint assured him. He moved the eggs off the stove in anticipation.

Phil braced his hands on the countertop and focused on the painful new places his brain kept telling him were part of his body. His back muscles cramped and stretched and hurt but he felt something inside himself loosen and go slack. Clint made a noise that was somewhere between ‘woah’ and a groan. Phil realized he’d closed his eyes only after he opened them. Clint had moved closer and was staring up and out behind him.

“Can I— do you mind?” he asked, hand reaching towards a wing.

“Go ahead,” Phil offered quietly. It was the first time anybody had touched Phil for anything other than medical reasons since he’d woken up. Clint’s fingers were a bit rough with callouses, but gentle. The faintest hint of pressure from them sent goose bumps down Phil’s spine. It felt like a palm reading but on a much more massive scale.

“You know your wings have freckles, right?” Clint sounded bemused.

“No, I didn’t.”

Clint tapped a few spots on the expansive stretch of sensation, presumably pointing out the location of particularly noticeable freckles. “You got some good wingspan. You might be flight capable if you can build the strength to back these up.”

“The thought had crossed my mind,” Phil acknowledge.

Clint’s hand moved from one wingtip up and up to the clawed nexus of flight bones, the ‘wrist’ of the wing. The little claw that tipped it had hardened and grown a bit longer since its appearance. Clint flexed the joint gently and moved down the shaft of the wing. “Jesus, Phil, have you always been fucking built?”

Clint’s hand had reached his back and was resting warm and heavy between his shoulder blades and the wing shafts. Phil had always put on muscle easily, especially in his back and chest. In retrospect he now might have discovered the reason why. His agent commenting on it, though, was entirely new ground for him. “I— maybe? I haven’t spent so much time in my entire life wishing I could see my back as I have this last week.”

“Maybe we can do something about that. Jarvis: can you do a scan and display of Phil?”

“Of course, Sir. The kitchen table is the nearest appropriate holo-projector,” JARVIS’ British tones informed them. Clint took his hand off his back, leaving a cold, lonely patch of skin while Jarvis performed the scan.

Coulson crossed his arms over his chest in a self-conscious gesture. He never liked being out of his suits; they were his battle-dress for facing the world, and now he was uniquely incapable of wearing his armor. His wings hunched around him protectively, crumpling into a miserable set of fleshy curtains.

“Scan is rendered,” Jarvis informed them.

The scanned Coulson was about a fifth the size of the real Coulson, though an exact miniature. He had a long moment of discomfort at staring so intently at a replica of himself before curiosity overwhelmed that emotion. He braced a palm on the table, using his free hand to turn the miniature Coulson this way and that.

“The motion of the wings are modeled using observations of your movement within the range of my sensors,” JARVIS informed them.

Coulson moved mini-Coulson’s wings out to their full extension, noting the flex of muscle across his back, and the bulge of unfamiliar musculature across his chest. “Huh.” He expanded certain parts of mini-Coulson, obviously on the quest for scars which were no longer in evidence. In fact, aside from looking much too thin, Coulson looked as well as Clint could remember in recent years.

Clint stood well back and watched as Coulson got his first good look at himself. When he stretched the model’s wings wide his own wings moved in an aborted mimic of the gesture, and continued to shift with Coulson’s thoughts -- an unconscious tell that his handler had not yet learned to suppress. Clint caught his hand reaching out to touch the real Coulson like the real Coulson was touching his tiny twin, and reeled it back before he made contact. Coulson made an interested noise and traced his fingertips down his pectoral, scrutinizing his scan.

“I have to...” Clint trailed off, and made a quick exit.
--
Clint took a moment in his suite to get his raging hormones back under control. The truth was, his half-naked now-part-bat boss was too much for his libido to handle at the moment. Sure, he had always found his never-a-pocket-square-out-of-place boss hot; with a man who could handle a gun like that and choke out an assailant in four seconds who wouldn’t? But he was completely unprepared for for the effect a rumpled, disgruntled, pajama-pants-only boss would have.

Some people fall in love with the veneer of a person, realizing their mistake once that prettiness has flaked and peeled off. Clint had not realized how lovestruck he had been for years until that veneer had been chipped away. The Coulson-filling was even more maddeningly enticing than the pretty wrapping which Clint had never been able to pick off.

Coulson was one of those people who was good at life in a way Clint could never hope to be. Pepper Potts was another of those people, for the record. It had not surprised him at all that Potts and Coulson had hit it off. Coulson could drive in New York traffic for hours without getting flustered. Coulson knew the proper etiquette for a Chinese state dinner. Coulson could fold leftovers into aluminum foil so they didn’t drip even a little on the way home. The list could go on forever, of the things Coulson could do which, while mundane, were also magic. Clint couldn’t drive five minutes in New York without starting to curse and slam his hands against the steering wheel.

A tentative knock startled Clint from his thoughts. “Are you okay?”

It was Coulson asking if he was okay. Clint let out a shaky breath. “Uh, fine. Just great.”

The silence on the other side of Clint’s door was sceptical. “Fine like Bogota or fine like Trondheim?”

“Bogota,” Clint admitted. Then he had been a bit emotionally compromised but physically unharmed. He could admit to Bogota levels of fine.

“Anything I can help with?”

How would you feel about a blow job? his inner voice supplied. His outside voice managed, “No, just... I’m good.”

“I’m going to the gym to get some exercise. Would you... I know you don’t usually like a lot of company, but—”

Images of Coulson, just a little sweaty but pinked with healthy exercise were almost too much. “I’m good. I’ll— you go on. I’ll bring down something for you to eat in a bit.” Clint practically kicked himself as the mother hen came out in his last sentence.

Clint spent a good ten minutes calming his spinning thoughts, and almost a half hour after that checking the fletching on the latest batch of arrows R&D had approved for his use post-psych eval. By which point he realized he should get something for Coulson to eat and get a move on if he wasn’t going to make a liar out of himself.

The fridge in their suite had been stocked by some unknown samaritan, and aside from eggs and bread contained little that he knew how to cook. Velveeta he could work with—aged english cheddar with caramelized onions was a little out of his cooking experience. He looked through the drawers and eventually discovered a box of organic yogurt tubes, which fit both his protein and zero-preparation requirements.

When Clint arrived on the gym level it was deserted aside from Coulson. On balance that was not terribly surprising; the city of New York was reeling from an attack that nearly leveled selected portions of the skyline. Midtown would never look the same. Anyone who hadn’t left the city to await the all-clear from teams of structural engineers busy crawling over the city like mathematically minded ants was involved in relief and cleanup. Cell service was spotty, and there was nobody living in the executive levels of the Tower besides himself, Natasha, and Coulson.

He would feel guilt about not helping with relief efforts for a disaster he helped mastermind later -- the dramas on Clint’s mind were much more personal in nature. Coulson obviously didn’t hear him enter. He knelt in front of a long stretch of mirror, hands placed firmly on the gym mat under his legs. There was a slight sheen of sweat on his skin that indicated he had been doing some sort of exercise, but he had apparently degenerated to playing with his new limbs. Their movement was ill-coordinated and jerky, but the overall effect was awe-inspiring. They stretched as far out as they could, wingtips trembling with the stretch and the effort. They shifted up and forward, tilting in every direction, managing surprisingly elegant contortions.

Moving his wings had put the healthy glow of blood flow into them, and they no longer appeared quite so rumpled, the excess of wing surface area falling in almost graceful folds when not stretched taut. Clint coughed. Coulson startled, wings mantling in an aggressive posture.

“Just me, Sir,” Clint reassured.

“Sorry.” Coulson consciously relaxed. “I was just...” He blushed.

“You’re looking better. Exercise was the right choice.” The right choice if you’re trying to make me crazy, his internal voice added. Clint looked away and offered two sticks of yogurt.

Coulson gave the yogurts a dubious look but took both in order to examine the packaging. “Pomegranate Paradise? Blood Orange Sunset? Where did you get these things?” Coulson asked.

Clint shrugged. “Stark.” He ripped the top off his own stick of yogurt—Passionate Passion Fruit—and consumed it with an overabundance of slurping noises. Coulson rolled his eyes but followed suit.
--
The next morning again found a grumpy, shirtless Coulson at the breakfast island between the suites. He was chopping vegetables with a sullen resignation when Clint walked in, roused by the rustling sounds. With each rise of his arm the shaft of his wing gave a sympathetic twitch. The coffee maker was making sinister sounds, but no coffee yet.

“Omelette?” Clint asked, already rummaging in the fridge for expensive cheese and eggs. Coulson grunted and scraped his knife across the cutting board to pile the vegetables together. The complete incoherence coupled with the excellent knife skills twisted something like want and need and adoration and coupled it with the urge to protect and care for into a painfully well-laid rope knotted right around Clint’s heart. He probably made some sort of grunting whimper at the sensation, because Coulson looked up with the faintest hint of his normal curiosity. “You look like shit, sir, if you don’t mind me saying.”

Ire replaced curiosity, though it was no more potent than the previous emotion. Coulson shook his head as though trying to knock loose some fog and shoved the chopped vegetables at Clint. Standing, Coulson walked to the coffee maker and took the entire carafe out, returning to his stool. He glared challengingly at Clint and drank from the carafe.

Clint was definitely getting a thing for Grumpy Morning Coulson. Morning Coulson on an op was just as professional as Evening Coulson, or Early Afternoon Coulson, but with a bit more beard scruff. This human person that Clint was getting used to having across the hall was somehow just as comforting as his hyper-competent boss mode.Clint left him alone to heat up the vegetables, throw some pre-cooked hash browns in the oven, and mix eggs. Coulson drank his way through most of the carafe, his sullen look slowly giving way to an expression that was simply tired.

“So what’s with the zombie act?” Clint asked. Nightmares had been stalking him during his time in bed, but he’d been spending his requisite eight and a half in his bunk regardless. Sure it felt more like four or five, but he could operate on that for quite some time, and he was in no way inclined to start using drugs to knock himself out.

“I don’t sleep well on my stomach.” Coulson admitted it as though it was a terrible weakness. Indeed, when Clint thought about it most of the times he could remember his handler asleep, Coulson had been on his back, one arm thrown over his eyes, the other laid across his stomach. Phil’s wings were mantling uncomfortably as though he was trying to make himself smaller. “They were giving me muscle relaxants in medical, I think, and now...” He shrugged.

“I know how that is,” Clint admitted. Coulson quirked an eyebrow. “I didn’t used to be able to sleep on my back. Psych said it was something—” He broke off abruptly. “Took me a good while to train myself to do it.”

Coulson frowned and yawned. “I’ll get the hang of it eventually. I guess it’s a race between learning how to sleep, and getting a doctor who can remove these.” Coulson flapped his wings demonstrably and sent air currents through the kitchen. Clint frowned. Coulson noticed. “I can’t exactly do my job like this. I can’t exactly walk down the street like this,” he added with a wry, bitter smile.

Clint shrugged. “I guess I always wished I could fly or something.” He indulged in a self-deprecating smirk.

Coulson returned the smirk. “Well, you’re already a superhero; I’m sure you could pull off the bat wings if this had happened to you.”

“I dunno. I probably wouldn’t be handling it nearly as well. I’d have like, jumped off the fourth floor in the foyer or something to try them out by now.”

Coulson got a pained look at just the thought. “If you had the same strained muscle feeling that I do you wouldn’t—who am I kidding, you would.”

“And I’d probably break something for my effort,” Clint admitted with a chuckle. He cut the massive omelette he had been involved in making in half and slid the larger portion on a plate for Coulson. “So your muscles are still bothering you?” Clint asked, trying for casual. Coulson nodded absently. “Because I’ve been in PT enough for back stuff...” Clint flexed his hands to indicate a shoulder rub. “If you wanted.”

“I wouldn’t want to—”

Clint gave him a look. “Sir.”

“I would appreciate it,” Coulson admitted.

Clint flexed his hands again, rotated his wrists, and took a breath to steady himself. That last one he hoped Coulson didn’t notice. Between Clint and Nat, there was always someone on the injured, battered, or sore list. Helping to ice hard to reach places, digging knots out of muscles, and aiding in rehabilitation was part of what they all did for each other. This was just that; helping. He wasn’t doing this because the thought of getting his hands on his handler’s shoulders and soothing the tension away set a giddy flutter of anticipation through his middle.

Clint slid his omelette to the side and approached Coulson’s back. The strong line of the wing shafts swept to either side of his shoulders, the flesh of the wing surface connecting down the proud columns of muscle that made up Coulson’s lumbar spine. Since the first time Clint had seen them, the limbs had gone from the strange proportions of growth to a beautiful symmetry as muscle filled in and the epidermis-like wing surface expanded to its proper breadth.

Clint laid his palm in the center of Coulson’s back where the rhomboids would normally sit. Coulson shuddered at the contact, but remained unmoving otherwise. The musculature was slightly different, but he didn’t let that bother him as his palms skated over Coulson’s skin, mapping the tension in his handler’s body. There were some knots of muscle with which Clint was unfamiliar—likely ones needed to support flight.

He tipped his head to the side and dove in, fingers first. It felt like forever—like since before the Battle, and before Loki and before his whole life stopped—that he’d touched another person in anything but violence. He would not kid himself to say he was a healer, but he was a tool that could be used for many purposes, and he enjoyed the idea that he could be used to ease the pain of the man to whom he’d done so much damage. That Coulson let him lay hands on—that his handler still found his touch soothing after being a casualty to Clint’s military precision and tactical planning—was an honor and a salve to his own torn mind.

He lost himself in the physical sensation for a few long minutes and felt tension loosening beneath his fingers. “Can you spread out a bit more?” Clint asked. By this point Coulson had completely forgotten his breakfast. He splayed over the breakfast bar and let his wings relax up and out to cover all the available surface and drape down the sides. Clint got down to work.

Because it seemed impossible for Clint to have nice things, even intangible things like moments of unconflicted appreciation for his ability to make someone else feel better, Natasha arrived home. Because the universe was perverse, she walked in on them just as Coulson let out a shuddering moan of relaxation. Because Nat had a wicked sense of humor, she entered silently and startled them both by asking Clint, “Finally got him spread out and wanting you?”

Clint practically fell backwards, which was the only thing that prevented him from taking one of Coulson’s wing shafts to the face as his handler startled upright.

Clint felt the surge of adrenaline beating in his limbs and rushing through his ears. “Fuck you, Nat,” he spat, and fled the room in a haze of genuine anger and deep-seated mortification. He fled all the way to his bedroom within their suite and locked the door with hands that were not quite steady. He flung himself on the bed face down and pulled a pillow on top of his head, muffling the world with darkness and quiet. It wouldn’t hurt so much if it wasn’t mostly true, and if it hadn’t been the thought farthest from his mind at that moment. He loved Nat more than family, but she could almost instinctually sense weak points and sometimes hit them without really intending to.

He didn’t startle when he felt the bed dip in spite of his locked door, instead merely grumbling, “Get out, Tash.”

“I would, except...” It was Phil. Of course it was Phil. Fuck his life.

He took the pillow off his head and rolled to a sitting position. Coulson sat on his bed, awkwardly in deference to his wings, which draped down to the floor. Clint dropped his head, and with it his gaze. “Fuck,” he muttered.

“That was quite a reaction you had,” Coulson commented in a tone completely bereft of judgement.

“Christ, you of all people don’t need to be comforting me,” Clint said, a little too forceful and a little too quick.

“Should I get Natasha?”

“No!” Clint ground the heel of his palm into his eye. He felt groggy and stupid, and childish on top of all of that. “You just... you basically died, and then found out you’re a mutant, and you can’t go out and help, and... you don’t need to comfort me, okay?”

I don’t need to comfort you or you don’t need comforting? There is a difference.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Coulson frowned and his mouth pulled to the side. “Look, Clint, I’m the first to admit that I’m not dealing with this very well—with my side of things—but I will always be here for you; to defend you or offer support or give you a kick in the butt if that’s what you need. Do you understand?”

“Yes sir,” Clint replied wearily.

“That was rather an escalation on Natasha’s part but you had quite a reaction yourself.” Clint hunched in on himself further. “Do you want to tell me why that got to you so much?” Coulson asked.

“I just wouldn’t want you to—I wasn’t doing that for that... I don’t want you to think I think—”

Coulson held up a placating hand with a tired smile. Clint let himself be cut off, grateful that he didn’t have to make his embarrassing confession mortifyingly explicit. “I would never have thought that that was why you were helping.” Never have thought pounded through Clint’s mind. It wasn’t as though he ever thought his crush was more than one-sided.

“I know, sir. I guess it just... it touched a nerve that I was getting the chance to do something nice for someone that I—” helped mortally wound, his mind supplied. Clint swallowed through the end of the sentence. “And that Nat was making a gay sex joke.”

“Aah. Well, if it helps I can give you blanket immunity from untoward thoughts on my part in any future interactions,” Coulson offered, the twinkle of amusement in his eyes. Clint looked forlornly at his handler. “Come on, let’s get breakfast and wear ourselves out enough we’ll both sleep tonight.”

Natasha had eaten Clint’s half of the omelette and disappeared by the time he got back to the kitchen. She had not, however, discovered the pre made hash browns in the oven.
--
The problem with the whole setup was that Phil couldn’t give Clint blanket immunity to untoward thoughts. He found it difficult to ignore them enough to give Clint immunity to a running commentary of untoward thoughts, now that they were living mostly next door from each other, and Phil couldn’t leave the Tower for fear of mutant retribution. Phil spent his days reading, catching up on reports, working through personnel assignments which had gone haywire since the Battle of New York, and exercising his new appendages. Ostensibly he did the last because it helped the shooting pains which had initially characterized their growth and now simply characterized their existence. His brain was apparently making up for years of not having limbs it thought that it should by feeding him intense quantities of sensory input from the surface and musculature of his wings.

Clint and Natasha were his nearly constant shadows through the process, though Natasha seemed to have her own business to take care of, Clint largely hung around the Tower playing video games or mapping out the Tower’s maintenance infrastructure. The subway was finally running again after exhaustive Chitauri-related damage was checked over for structural stability. The roads had been cleared of debris for the most part. New York was going to take longer than two weeks to recover from the cataclysm that was the Battle, and Phil was not inclined to start shouting and demanding to be served by SHIELD when there were so many more obvious problems to deal with right this minute. He was accustomed to a certain amount of fieldwork, but he was fully able to recognize the dangers of going out while looking so... while being so irregular. For all the moments of frustration and anger he had felt towards his parents since he’d last called his mother, he did appreciate why they had done what they had.

“Let’s go out,” Clint suggested.

“You know I can’t.” Phil twitched his wings. “Especially with everyone on edge after the Battle. It’s an unwise time to be on the streets and looking non-human,” he added.

“Does it bother you? Being different?” Clint rubbed his forefinger against his eyebrow in a show of discomfort.

“It’s only temporary. We’ve holed up in a shack with little more than a Russian newspaper and our combat knives for entertainment for longer than I’ve been in this wifi-enabled palace. I’m sure I’ll survive until SHIELD medical comes up with a viable solution.”

“‘Viable solution’? You’re talking about self-mutilation.”

“Corrective surgery,” Coulson countered. “This—” He flapped again, more agitated. “I may not completely agree with what my parents did but I completely understand why they did it. I may be a mutant but because of what they did I never suffered from the persecution that so many fear. I’ve lived a normal life because of what they did, and provided it’s relatively safe, I’m perfectly willing to undergo surgery to return to that life. Of which you and Natasha were major components, I might add.”

“Okay, but even if you never knew about it, a mutant is what you are. How can you not, I don’t know, have some affinity or something with that? How can you not want to see what you were actually meant to be?”

“Barton.” Phil stood and braced his hands against his desk. He kicked the kneeling chair that Nat had found for him out from under its feet where it tangled. “I can’t do this. I’m not going to do this. I’m not some sort of career mutant like the X-men keep around. I’m not a token minority that SHIELD will wave around when equal representation comes up. This is not—” me Phil’s mind wanted to finish. Except for how that was the sticking point; it was him. This was him as he would have been, perhaps in a different era, perhaps in a different family. Winged mutants could sometimes pass, like the Worthington heir, but more often than not they were the very epitome of the otherness of mutancy. “This isn’t something I’m going to have some arc of personal growth and decide I don’t need to do. Even if I somehow could leverage flight capabilities against the obvious handicap of being so overt, I only have another five, maybe seven years as a field-active handler—not even an asset or agent. It’s not worth it.”

“And what if, I don’t know, cutting them off would kill you?” Clint countered, belligerent.

Phil sighed and rubbed his face. “Then of course I would reconsider my options,” Phil allowed.

They settled into an uneasy standoff for a long minute. Clint frowned like maybe something had just become clear to him. “Okay then. Just so you’re not gonna make some suicide play over being different or something.”

“This isn’t an afternoon special aimed at tweenagers,” Phil replied with an ironic quirk to his eyebrow. With his foot he fished around for the kneeling chair and pulled it back to his desk. By the time he looked up, Clint was gone.
--
Steve Rogers arrived back a week later. This wouldn’t have been much of an issue, per se, except that Clint, Natasha, and Phil were not alerted to that fact, and Steve went almost directly to the gym. Phil had been playing with his stroke power in the sparring area where the mats were plentiful and there wasn’t anything to knock over in the direct vicinity. He had nearly gotten the trick of a powerful downstroke and a little hop which would push him backwards in an assisted leap.

Steve Rogers had not been informed of Phil’s survival as he had departed as soon as Loki was off world. Steve dropped the heavy bag which he had slung over his shoulder and squawked in surprise. Phil managed to execute the leap backwards for the first time and landed braced between both feet and a hand on the ground. He stood and dusted off his palms, attempting to regain some aplomb. “Captain,” he greeted.

Steve’s color was rising rapidly. “Fury told us you were dead.”

Phil ducked his head in acknowledgement. “Yes, well—”

“What happened to you? Was that Loki’s doing?”

Phil held up his hands in a calming gesture. For once his wings obliged and mantled at his back quite obediently. “This was a side effect of the process that kept me alive. It’s... temporary.”

“You—” Steve frowned. “We’re talking about those... bat wings, right?” Steve asked.

Phil closed his eyes and counted to five. “Did you read the SHIELD packet on Xavier and the mutant menace?” He asked. Steve’s body language was, at best, evasive. “Let’s start there, then. Unless you had somewhere you have to be.”

“No. No, I was just visiting to check in on Barton and Romanov.”

Steve approached hesitantly. “JARVIS?” Phil asked, retrieving his tablet.

“Already forwarding the appropriate files, sir.”
--
“I should have anticipated this, but I did not,” Phil admitted.

“You just told a man who joined World War II for the express purpose of fighting Fascism and liberating oppressed minorities to live and work in peace about a legally discriminated genetically-identified underclass existent not just in the US, but in every first world nation,” Natasha replied.

Phil threw his hands in the air as though to express that still, he had not anticipated Steve’s reaction. SHIELD had begun forwarding Steve’s inquiries into mutant policies back at Phil in a moebius strip of paperwork and official requests.
--
"Sir, there is a pair of science personnel from SHIELD here to perform an exam on you. Agents Romanov and Barton as well as Captain Rogers have offered to be present for the duration of testing."

"I don't think that will be necessary, JARVIS."

"Nevertheless, they are insisting that one of them be present for the procedures."

Phil sighed. He could hardly begrudge them their paranoia what with how his 'death' had been handled. "Romanov can attend." The thought of Clint there watching him be examined like a medical sideshow twisted something in his stomach painfully tight. The thought that Rogers would be there for his medical exam was downright mortifying. He'd get a lot of side-eyeing from Natasha, but it would likely be less embarrassing in the long run.

"Very well, sir. The visitors are awaiting you in the R&D level."

Natasha met him in R&D wearing a no-nonsense expression. "Why me and not Barton?" she asked before he could look around.

"It seemed like the possibility of making an absolute fool of myself in front of you was less than with Agent Barton, given our recent interactions."

"Meaning you were worried he'd make your heart go pitta-pat and mess up the scientists' readings?"

Phil rolled his eyes and neglected to respond, instead looking towards the scientists. The SSR, and later the Science and Technology division of SHIELD, had remained cutting edge for decades through a variety of methods and discerning recruitment standards. Those standards had been developed by one Peggy Carter, and meant that SHIELD caught a disproportionate proportion of brilliant and frustrated female and minority scientists on the brink of dropping out of the field due to overt and institutionalized sexism and racism. The two scientists who met him were female, and both wore lab coats. If he had to guess he would say the older of the two was Southeast Asian, while the other was a Brit, identifiable from her accent.

"Doctors," Phil greeted.

The younger of the doctors stared in awe at his wings. "Those are a perfect set of—" She seemed to catch herself. "Sir. Agent Coulson. Simmons. That is, I am."

"I'm Doctor June." June put a quieting hand on Simmons' shoulder. "This is Dr. Simmons. We're here to do a full study of your mutant manifestation pending surgical removal, is that right?"

"Yes," Phil confirmed. Natasha nodded behind him. "Agent Romanov will be sitting in."

Simmons perked. "Agent Romanov! It's really an honor—the information you got—"

"Eyes on Coulson," Romanov instructed.

The two doctors did every set of tests Phil could imagine, from body fat and muscle density analysis to imaging which involved radioactive dye—"make sure not to leave traces of urine around for the next few weeks"—to fitness tests. June seemed inured to Simmons' nearly constant stream-of-consciousness babble and moments of extremely poor bedside manner. Simmons in turn was immune to June's abrupt commands and her habit of making statements which were obtuse to the extreme on the assumption that Simmons would follow her logic without effort.

Natasha spent the afternoon watching them threateningly and reading on her tablet. She would occasionally rouse herself to demand to know the meaning of test results, or the composition of compounds being injected in Phil, but for the most part she kept interference to a minimum.

"That should do it!" Simmons said, closing her laptop with a little flourish. "We'll consult with the surgical team and let you know what they recommend."

"Give me the cliff notes," Natasha instructed.

"Agent Coulson's mutation has resulted in the formation of extra limbs in a shape not morphologically dissimilar to other flight-enabled mammals. Those limbs are accompanied with alterations in muscular composition in the distal—"

"Cliff notes," Natasha reminded.

"His bone mass is decreased due to hollowing not unlike birds, which results in reduced body density without a commensurate reduction in bone strength. The wings are fully integrated neurologically indicating the possibility of phantom limb pain upon removal, and similar symptoms as are experienced by amputees. That said, projections do indicate Agent Coulson should be flight capable given adequate conditions and muscular development. In fact, based on—"

"Thank you," Natasha interrupted.

Phil smiled to gentle Natasha's interruption. "Thank you, Doctors. I look forward to the full report."
--
"Visitors from SHIELD," JARVIS announced.

"Official business?" Clint asked.

"I think not." JARVIS sounded... amused. Phil was working at the breakfast bar perched on one of the low-backed bar stools. Clint had been involved in an epic Angry Birds marathon on his tablet, sprawled on the couch in the shared living area.

"Send them up," Phil said.

Sitwell and Hill appeared in the elevator. Jasper had a large balloon with a large bird on it that read “Go Eagles.” Maria had one that simply read “Get well soon.” Their smiles turned hesitant upon seeing Phil, shirtless, bewinged, and still in pyjama pants, because what was the point of changing if he couldn’t leave the Tower anyways.

“Yowza,” Jasper said. “They said wings, but day-um.”

“We’re glad you didn’t actually die, by the way,” Maria added. They both stepped into the room.

“Nice balloons - any for me?” Clint asked. Maria held her balloon out to him. “Sweet!” He bounced up from the couch and took it. Jasper rolled his eyes and offered Phil the Eagles balloon.

“So, they were not kidding about the mutant thing,” Maria said.

“Nope. I kinda wish they were.”

“So, you gonna be our liaison to Xavier’s crew now?” Jasper asked with wiggled eyebrows.

“I certainly hope not. Wrangling the Avengers is enough trouble—dealing with the X-crowd would be even more difficult, I imagine. No, as soon as I hear back from medical these are going to get removed and I’m going to return to work.”

For some reason that statement cast a pall of silence on them all.
--
Phil was willing to admit he was getting restless. It had been nearly a month since the Battle. He’d been scanned and examined. Surgery was going to go in multiple stages and sounded graphic and awful. The surgeons that came to consult with him were uncomfortably excited about getting to examine mutant wings in as gory of detail as they preferred, post-operation.

The penthouse level of Stark Tower had gone through most of the preliminary safety checks and structural improvements, and though not the most finished part of the Tower, it did afford one of the best views, and enough space to stretch if the mood took him. Phil peered out the windows with a hungry itch under his skin. Clint was adept at finding him at times like this to distract him with banter from the claustrophobia of being stuck inside. Outside, a sticky early summer day spread languid over the city. The air was reasonably clear of smog and the clouds that were there were puffy and moving relatively quickly, giving a stunning view all the way to the East River.

“You know the walkover was cleared yesterday,” Clint said and nodded towards the walkway extending in a long arc at the top of the Tower. Thor and Loki’s fisticuffs had done some serious damage, but it was if not repaired, at least not actively dangerous. Safety glass had been replaced from where Stark and Loki had broken through. “You’re starting to get that weird pale look from never going outside during daylight. You’re gonna get rickets or something.”

Phil followed Clint down the stairs to the exit and out on the walkway. Clint was right—the sun felt excellent. The sensation of warmth and light soaking into his wings was a delight. The air was fresh as it would not be again until fall. He tipped his head up and closed his eyes to feel the breeze ruffling his hair. When he looked again, Clint was staring at him, lips barely parted, with a tiny wrinkle of a frown between his eyebrows.

Phil stretched, arms up, wings out, enjoying the play of air over his wing surface. Until the moment a wind gust hit. His wings belled out, catching the pressure front instinctually, and Phil was carried off his feet in a tumble, going over the walkover’s low wall. Clint leapt and dove for his foot, but it was too late. Phil got turned around in the disorientation of falling, but he was certain he was off the edge of the Tower.
--
Clint knew he’d scraped himself up on the new slate walkway, but he didn’t bother checking where. He was shouting before he was fully upright. “JARVIS, get any flight capable Avenger here now! Can any of the Iron Man suits be remotely piloted?”

“No, I’m afraid—”

“Get the Fantastic Four on the line. Get Steve. Get the fucking Human Torch—anybody who might be within reasonable distance for an assist.” His voice sounded panicked even to his own ears. He mentally ticked off the seconds Phil had before he went splat, his nails digging into his palms as the only painful reminder that he was still alive.

“Sir, I must advise you to breathe,” JARVIS told him sternly. “I believe Agent Coulson has managed to arrest his fall, though on his current trajectory he is at high risk for a traffic accident upon landing.”

“He—” Clint gasped in a breath. “He’s alive? He’ll be okay?”

“Though his steering leaves something to be desired, he seems to be fully flight capable according to external sensors.”

“Oh thank god.” Clint ran in towards the elevator. “Quick as you can.”

Clint felt very much like he’d been on the parachute ride after experiencing JARVIS’ ‘quick as you can’ in the elevator, but part of that could be blamed on the fact that he’d just watched his handler die for the second time and realized he’d been faked out. He fought down a wave of nausea as he rushed through the foyer of the Tower. He had only to follow JARVIS’ directions—issued through his phone once he was out of the tower—and the cries of surprise and alarm to find Coulson.
--
Phil, unlike Clint, was not experienced in throwing himself off of buildings. He had parachuted into various situations, he’d engaged in a recreational bungee jump once, and he’d fallen off the roof of his childhood home while pretending he was Captain America making his famous train-jump in the Alps. The buffeting sensation after having been blown off the roof of the Tower was entirely different. This difference was partially due to the fact that there was a genuine and non-trivial possibility of this ending in his death, and partially due to the fact that he had a pair of wings which gave him some hope of not dying, accompanied with a great deal of sensory input.

Phil was certified to fly small craft, but had never bothered with training to fly anything big. That said, he had a good grasp of the physics that went into flight, and thus, even amidst a tumult of panic, adrenaline, and disorientation, he was able to formulate some sort of plan. As high as he had been in the Tower, there were significant prevailing winds formed amongst the canyons of buildings of midtown. He angled his wings out slightly to stop his tumble and turn it into a fall. After that it was a simple, painful, gut-wrenching matter of extending his wings, keeping his limbs tucked into his body to prevent unanticipated directional changes or alterations to the air pressure gradients he would generate with the speed of his fall above and below his wings, which in turn would create enough lift to prevent him being smeared into the pavement like an especially large bottle of strawberry jam.

It felt like bodysurfing. It felt like the last moments of a parachute drop before his feet were safely back upon the ground, and the canopy above him collapsed again into so much fabric. It felt like terror and exhilaration, bottled and fed directly into his veins.

The force of his body weight on his wings when he forced them open was wrenching and sharp. He had a moment of terror where he wondered if they might get ripped off, but the pain subsided into a throb, and his mind was quickly occupied with making clumsy adjustments to his flight path to sail through the buffeting crosswinds and avoid smashing into buildings that made up the wind canyon walls. He was no longer falling by the time he was several hundred feet from the street below, and he began thinking about how he could land. In planes, landing was the hard part; he had no illusions that the same wouldn’t be true of this sort of flight.

He was still going quite fast and was headed east across Manhattan towards the East River. Though a water landing sounded like an awful idea, the alternative was attempting to land somewhere on 34th where he wouldn’t get run over by a delivery truck. He aimed for the river, maintained enough height to clear the motorist overpass, and tried to drop somewhere where the East River Ferry wouldn’t be likely to run him down.

He landed with a splash and a the sensation that he’d been flayed alive. He was simultaneously grateful that he was not wearing much in the way of clothing or shoes, and bitter that his landing had hurt so much because of that fact. He was about two hundred meters from the dock where he might expect some aid in getting out of the water, or at least find a ladder. He began the slow, struggling swim towards shore.

He ended up hauling himself out of the water on the landing side of the dock, and thus couldn’t really blame the folks on the other side of the security fence for not rushing to his aid. He was wet, he was exhausted, and he had not yet decided whether he would vomit or not, and if he did vomit, whether it would be from the amount of the East River he had just ingested or from the comedown from pure, distilled fear.

The gathered crowd muttered with the occasional inquisitive shout. Phil’s body decided to vomit up as much of the East River that it could manage, meaning he was lucky to look up just in time to see Clint execute some impressive parkour stunt work to climb over the security gate and barbed wire with little more than a few small scrapes. Clint rushed him, an expression of panic on his face.

Phil barely had time to open his arms slightly and say, “I was just in the—” before his asset was wrapped around his middle.

“Oh my god never do that again,” Clint said into his shoulder. “I thought you were dead. Are you alright?” Clint pulled back suddenly aghast that he might have exacerbated some injury.

“I’ll be sore tomorrow but no permanent damage,” Phil reassured. Clint searched his face for signs of pain that Phil was unwilling to admit. Clint’s expression morphed once again to one of worry and frantic relief. Before Phil was prepared for it, Clint had dove in for a kiss, meeting a little too hard and accompanied by a whine of fear and need. It was the last thing Phil had expected, but it was by no means unwelcome.

Clint pulled back. “You taste like river water and puke.”

“Sorry.”

“Please don’t do that again. I’m the one who’s supposed to fall off of buildings.”

“You’re not supposed to, you just do it regardless of what we say,” Phil admonished.

Clint moved closer again, clasping him around the waist and muffling his words in Phil’s shoulder. “I thought you were going to—I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have kissed—”

“Shhh.” Phil wrapped his arms around Clint. “Maybe we should try that some time when we’re both not legally incompetent due to adrenaline and I haven’t thrown up within the last ten minutes.”

“I don’t want you to—what?”

“That is, if you’re—if you’d like to.”

“Of course I’d like to,” Clint retorted. “I just didn’t think you’d—you know what? Never mind.”

Unconsciously, Phil had tucked his wings around them, creating a quiet cocoon around them both. “So much for staying indoors,” Phil said with a sigh. “Any idea how we’ll get back to the Tower?” The ferry arrived with a rumble so deep it vibrated their teeth. Ferrymen leapt off and opened the security gate, apparently nonplussed by a mysterious mutant and boyfriend on their landing.

“I ran here, so... uh...walking, I guess. Unless Tash wants to bring a van.”

Phil took a deep breath and with it opened his wings to escort them both off the dock. From the awaiting crowd of passengers there was at least one wolf whistle, and a smattering of applause when Phil and Clint emerged together.