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things you said at 1 am

“Agent Barton, report.”

“I’m freezing my dick off, Phil, when is this mark showing up?”

Clint tries to still their shivering as wave after wave of icy rain pours down upon them, fingers still sitting patiently on the string of their bow.

“There’s been a delay in his arrival. He will be here in approximately twenty-five minutes.”

“Well he’d better hurry up, it’s just gone past one and Natasha’ll worry if we’re not back by the morning, you know how she is.”

Phil’s chuckle comes through the comms in their hearing aids, a rare sound. “It’ll be fine, we’ll be back with her by four at the latest.”

“I just wanna get off this oil rig. It smells like fish.”

“Whining, Agent Barton?” Phil’s voice is now that slightly softer tone which means he’s teasing them. “How very unprofessional.”

“There is literally a dead seagull next to my foot.” A strand of long hair, soaked black by the rain, slips out of Clint’s bun and they push it behind their ear.

There’s silence over the comms for a moment, enough for Clint to wonder if their hearing aids have shorted out in all the rain, and then Phil replies in a slightly strained voice that they know means he’s holding back laughter. “Is that a problem, Hawkeye?” To anyone else, Phil’s voice would sound monotone, but Clint knows his tells like the back of their hand.

“Yeah, it smells.”

“Agent Barton, the mark is approaching.”

“Acknowledged, sir.” The whirring of helicopter blades, approaching through the darkness and the pouring rain. Clint resettles their fingers on their bow and waits patiently for Phil’s word.


things you said through your teeth

“Status report.”

“I think I should be the one asking you that, sir.”

“You’re holding your hands against my stomach to keep my guts from falling out, I think you can use my first name. Status report, Agent Barton.”

“I’m fine, Phil, and you’re a hypocrite, calling me Agent Barton and yet insisting I call you by your first name.”

Phil lets out a wet chuckle, blood speckling his lips. “Okay. Clint.”

They take a deep breath and press down slightly harder on the torn-up skin of Phil’s stomach. Phil lets out a breathy groan of pain and shifts slightly, trying to get slightly more comfortable on the hard floor. “How long till Natasha gets here?”

“It should only be an hour or so. You’ve just gotta hold on till then.”

“If I don’t survive-” Clint puts a finger to Phil’s lips, cuts him off.

“No last words. You’re not dying here. I won’t let you.”

After that, they sit mostly in silence, soaked in a slowly growing pool of Phil’s blood, and wait for death or salvation.


things you said too quietly

Iloveyou.

“What was that, Phil? My aids aren’t at full right now, I didn’t catch it.”

“Nothing. Now, let me see that injury.”


things you said over the phone

“To whom am I speaking?”

“I believe you know me as the Amazing Hawkeye. Who are you?”

“Agent Coulson, S.H.I.E.L.D. operative. Why did you kill two of our Agents?”

“Got paid for it. How did you get this number?”

“Paid for it. We have an offer for you.”

“I’m listening.”

“Come work for us. You’re doing the same kind of things, you get steady pay and accommodation, all your past crimes are pardoned and you’re not a fugitive anymore.”

Phil listens to soft laughter crackle down the line from the Amazing Hawkeye. “Are you serious?”

“Of course.”

“Well, I guess I’ll think about it.” There’s the sound of the phone being hung up. Phil sets down the phone. The Amazing Hawkeye’s reputation is quite something. If Phil get them  to join S.H.I.E.L.D., he’ll score major credit with the higher-ups.


things you didn’t say at all

Phil watches Clint train at the range, watches the supple movement of their arms, the smooth run of their legs, watches how their whole body bends and soars and dives like the bird they’re named for.

Phil doesn’t ever tell Clint that when they train, any time he can, Phil watches. There’s a kind of reassurance in watching Clint work. This is the person who swore to protect me. At the times when Phil feels afraid, all he has to do is remember the flow and fly of Clint and he’s not scared anymore.


things you said under the stars and in the grass 

“So. Two weeks since you got suspended for bringing your mark, the most dangerous assassin in the world, back to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, and you decided the most productive thing you could do with your time is lie in Central Park in the middle of the night by yourself?”

“Hello to you too, Phil. Isn’t it a nice night? And how is Natasha?”

“I’m sure it’s pleasant enough. Natasha is undergoing extensive questioning.”

Clint sits up, leans back against a nearby tree, looks at Phil, then takes out their hearing aids one by one. Raising their hands, they sign slowly and deliberately, "How is N-A-T-A-S-H-A?" Phil’s eyes track Clint’s hands carefully.

He raises his own hands and replies hesitantly, "Fine. Nervous, but not showing it."

Clint smiles. "You’ve improved. Come, sit with me."

After a moment, Phil sits next to Clint, posture impossibly tight for a man sitting in a thousand-dollar suit on grass, leaning against a tree.

"Relax a little." In demonstration, Clint stretches, lets out an exaggerated yawn, and lies down with their head on his lap. Phil’s hands still for a moment, then very cautiously move to tangle Clint’s hair, tugging out the long, unwashed strands.

"You haven’t been taking care of yourself," he chides, noting that Clint’s swapped out their usual bun for a haphazard ponytail.

"Worried about N-A-T-A-S-H-A."

Phil returns to stroking his hands through their hair, and Clint closes their eyes.


things you said while we were driving

“Have we got anything other than Queen, Clint?”

“What’s the problem with Queen? Freddie Mercury is a god.”

“You’re atheist.”

“And yet, We Are The Champions makes worshippers of us all.”

“I don’t care how many times you say that, I’m still not singing along.”

Phil keeps his eyes fixed on the road and his hands firmly on the wheel as Clint begins to sing, voice soft and slightly dry. Journeys between missions are long when they’re driving, so Phil lets himself smile very slightly and drives on into the night.


things you said when you were crying

“Clint, please, let me help."

“Why are you even here, Phil? Why don’t you just go home?”

“Because you’re crying.”

“And?”

“And you never cry.”

“So what? What does it matter?”

“Because I care about you, Clint!”

“Well you shouldn’t!"

The silence is deafening, resonating. Clint’s throat closes up, tight and constricting. “You shouldn’t,” they repeat, the words as sad as an empty moon. “You shouldn’t care about me.”

Phil crosses the room, wipes a tear from Clint’s cheek, then holds their jaw gently with one hand. “Well, I do.” There are silent tears running down Phil’s own cheeks. “I don’t like to see you hurting. If you cry, I cry. I want to help you.”

Clint takes a breath that is almost a sob.

Phil says, very quietly, “Tell me if you want me to stop.”

And then, he kisses them.


things you said when i was crying

“What’s wrong, Clint?”

“Natasha. She… she talked to me.”

Clint watches the red-haired woman smeared with mud and blood be put in handcuffs and pulled away. “The things they did to her, Phil…”

Phil reaches out and very gently wipes a tear from Clint’s cheek. They take a deep breath, bury their face in Phil’s neck, and begin to sob in earnest.

“Shh… shh… it’s gonna be okay, Clint. It’s gonna be okay.” Phil closes his eyes. “I will make this okay."


things you said that made me feel like shit

“You’re a murderer.”

Clint’s lounging on a chair in one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. briefing rooms when Phil says it. Their posture stiffens slightly, just for a second, and Phil watches interestedly.

“Maybe. So are you.”

“Maybe.” Phil’s voice is bland, not betraying the fascination he feels. A mercenary who feels regret for their actions is a rare thing. “How many people have you assassinated?”

“Does it really matter?” Clint snaps, and they’re not lounging anymore, every muscle in their body tense, like a drawn bowstring, like they’re expecting to be attacked at any second. “Maybe I’ve killed dozens of people. Maybe I’ve killed scores. Maybe I’ve killed hundreds, what does it matter!?” Clint’s chest is heaving, the force of a voice they cannot hear tearing their breath from their lungs.

Phil leaves the room, then draws up the cameras. In muted colour, Clint leans forwards on the table and runs their hands through long, matted hair.


things you said when you were drunk

“I love you.”

“Damn, you really are drunk. Right, Phil, let’s just get home.” Clint tries to ignore the way their heart flutters in their chest at those words.

“No, no, no nononono… Clint, Clint Barton, Agent Clarton… I am in love with you.”

Clint sucks in air between their teeth. He’s drunk, he doesn’t really mean it. “It’s only a short walk back to the hotel. Why did you let yourself get so wasted, Phil?”

In lieu of a reply, Phil frees one hand from Clint’s grasp and awkwardly folds his fingers. It’s not quite the right sign – the pinky isn’t fully straightened, and the thumb is too high, but it’s unmistakably meant to be the sign for I love you.

Clint swallows.

The next morning, when Phil wakes, he says it again, and Clint kisses him.


things you said when you thought i was asleep

Clint’s tucked under the blankets, watching Natasha shift in her sleep. By day, she’s all poised grace, controlled elegance, but by night she moves, just slightly. Clint smiles very slightly to themselves and closes their eyes. Then, a warm, solid shape behind them tells them Phil has just climbed into bed. They settle back against his form and curl inwards very slightly. Phil gently lays a leg over Clint’s own, and then his finger begins to trace patterns over Clint’s skin. A minute later, Clint realises he’s tracing letters.

B… E… A… U… T… I… F… U… L.

Phil presses a kiss into Clint’s hair, still slightly damp from the shower, and Clint drifts off in a cocoon of warmth and love.


things you said at the kitchen table 

"Where did you learn to cook like this?" Phil signs, fingers sharp and inquisitive.

"You live on the run for long enough, you learn to make do with what you’ve got," Clint replies, watching the lasagna bake. "When I came here, I realised I’d had enough of eating stuff from tins and plastic packaging all the time."

Phil frowns slightly. "But you still get fast-food from vendors here, I’ve seen it."

"It’s all fresh, though." Clint fixes Phil with a meaningful look. "It’s fresh. I get to watch it be made right there in front of me, and then it’s mine."

Then crouch down, check the lasagne, then stand up again. "Besides," they sign, grinning slightly, "I could never give up hot dogs."


things you said after you kissed me

Clint wakes to a slight puff of air against the back of their neck which means Phil is saying something. As they open their eyes, Phil presses a kiss to the base of their skull. Clint rolls over, sleepily, and Phil kisses the very corner of their mouth, then brings up his hands, signing slowly as concession to Clint’s fatigue. "Good morning."

Clint smiles slightly. "Good morning. Shower?"

"Please. You taste gross."

Clint chuckles slightly, but gently rolls out of bed, then grabs Phil’s hand and tugs him towards the bathroom.


things you said with too many miles between us

“Agent Barton, I order you to get up and keep walking.”

With a shallow breath and a grunt of pain, Clint pushes themselves up, broken ribs sticking painfully. “One foot in front of the other, sir?” they ask, voice straining with the effort.

“Shut up, Agent. Walk.” The worry is clear in the way his voice breaks, just slightly, at the end of the last word.

“Yessir.” Clint takes a shuddering breath and steps south. “Talk to me? Please?”

There’s the sound of a deep breath over the comms, and Clint knows it’s coming from the other side of the world. “Once you get back here, you can terrorise the new recruits. We’ve got a bunch of wet-mouthed newbies all eager to please. Natasha’s already betting me for how long it takes for one of them to notice you crouched in the ceiling. She reckons three hours. I put fifty dollars on them taking at least four.” Phil’s breath is shaking slightly. “We’re tracking your location; there’ll be a Quinjet there soon. You need to get back here or Tash’ll never stop gloating that she beat me in a bet.”

Clint tries to laugh but doesn’t have the breath. They look down at their boots and see they’re soaked in blood.

One foot in front of the other, they walk towards Phil.


things you said with no space between us

“Clint? Clint, oh shit, okay, just breathe, Clint, just breathe. God, I’m so sorry.”

“I don’t- I don’t- stop, stop!”

Phil backs away, staring in horror at Clint’s wild, unseeing eyes, clearly lost in the depths of a panic attack. He takes a deep breath and tries to recall the steps Clint had told him.

First things first, be unarmed, Phil.

And now that he thinks of it, he can see Clint’s eyes flickering to the spot under his suit where his pistol lives. He draws it out slowly, deliberately, making sure Clint can see the safety is on. “Here, see? I’m just going to put this down.” He crouches down slowly and lays the gun on the floor, then kicks it away so that it is a full five metres from him. As he watches, Clint’s breathing slows ever so slightly.

Try and make yourself as small and quiet as possible, and don’t go out of my line of sight. If you can, try to hug me or something like that.

Rather than stand again, Phil remains crouching, then slowly pulls off his jacket and tie and throws them away so that he is dressed only in a shirt and trousers. He curls in on himself, tries to shrink into the floor until he’s barely imperceptible. Clint stops shaking quite so much as they back up into the corner of the room, the whole place in their sightlines. Phil moves slowly, carefully towards them, and then wraps them in a hug, feels the shaking of their skin against his.

“It’s going to be okay, Clint. It’s going to be okay.”


things you said that i wish you hadnt

“Maybe you should just go home to Bedford-Stuyvesant, Clint, Natasha and I can handle this.”

Clint stops walking suddenly, and Phil pauses a second later, glancing back over his shoulder. “Clint?”

“Yeah,” Clint replies, the word sticking in their throat. “Yeah. I’ll, uh…” They clear their throat and try to breathe. “I’ll go home.”

Phil glances around: the corridor is empty. “Clint… I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sorry. Do you want to come with us?”

Unable to speak, Clint takes a deep breath, tries to control their emotions, and nods. The tension around Phil’s eyes dissipates in the way that they know means he’s smiling on the inside. Phil very gingerly takes Clint’s hand and they walk on down the corridor.


things you said when you were scared

“Clint?” Phil’s voice is quiet and shaky.

“Shh, shh, I’m here, it’s gonna be okay.” Clint shushes him quickly, running their hands through his hair.

“Where are we?”

“I don’t know. Somewhere in Austria, I think.”

“Is Natasha okay?”

Natasha’s voice sounds from a meter or two away in the dark. “Yeah, I’m here. What happened? I was asleep… and then… we were here. Where’s the jet?”

Clint takes a deep breath and takes out the small torch tucked in one of the pockets inside their suit and click it on. Phil’s hand grips theirs tightly and they shine the torch down.

There’s a shard of metal sticking out of the side of Phil’s stomach, and his suit is soaked in blood. His hands are slippery with the red and Clint swallows a curse.

“How bad is it?”

“You’re gonna be fine.”

“Clint.” His voice is shaky, but his eyes hold Clint’s steadily. “How bad is it?”

Clint swallows, and suddenly Natasha is there beside them, red hair tumbling down and singed. “It’s bad, Phil.”

“What happened, Clint?”

“Someone shot the Quinjet down. I was flying and then we got taken out, I think probably conventional missiles as opposed to anything specialised.”

“Where’s your black box, Clint?” Natasha asks. “I can’t find mine.”

“It’s right here.” Clint tugs the small, miraculously undamaged box from their belt and presses the SOS button. It beeps quietly, indicating the message has been sent.

“Natasha, how long have I got?”

Natasha’s breath is deep and slow, and when she speaks her voice is shaking. “Four hours. Maybe less.”

Clint can see Phil running the numbers in his head, can see him working out the odds, can see the defeat flicker in his eyes as he tips his head back against the ground.

“Phil, I…”

Phil makes a weak shushing sound and Natasha quiets instantly. Phil turns to her. “You’re a sister to me, and I wouldn’t change anything between us. I’m so glad Clint brought you back.” He reaches up and with one weak hand, wipes a tear from her cheek. Then he turns to Clint.

“I don’t… Phil, don’t do this.”

“Shut up, Agent Barton,” Phil says with a weak chuckle. “Marry me?”

“God, yes.”

They kiss him, and then pull Natasha and Phil into a hug.

“I love you.”


things you said when we were the happiest we ever were

“For better or much more likely for worse, in sickness and injury and very occasionally health.”

“Do you, Phil Coulson, take Clint Barton to be your lawfully wedded spouse?”

“I do.”

“Do you, Clint Barton, take Phil Coulson to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

“I do.”

“You may kiss.”

It’s a small ceremony: the two of them, with Bruce acting as the Justice of the Peace and Tash and the rest of the Avengers attending.

Clint wouldn’t wish for anything else.


things you said that i wasn’t meant to hear

“This is fucking bullshit.”

“What is?”

Phil spins. “Clint?”

“What’s wrong?”

Phil sighs and sinks into the small sofa in his office. Clint crouches on it beside him, curls into their boyfriend.

“We’re being sent to Budapest for Operation Blackout.”

Clint’s eyes widen. “But I thought Sigma Team was being put on Operation Blackout. What happened to them?”

“Their sniper was severely injured on their mission in Thailand and she’s still not recovered. We’re being sent instead.”

“With backup, I assume?”

“No, just Strike Team Delta. Me, you and Natasha.” Phil sighs slightly. “And I am not being allowed on field duty, I’m strictly there in handler capacity.”

“So just to clarify, you, Tash and I are taking on a mission originally given to a team of twelve ground operatives, two backup snipers and two handlers?”

“Yes.”

“Bullshit.”

“Pretty much.”

Clint’s voice is flat and unamused. “This is gonna end in tears, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

Afterwards, Operation Blackout is known at S.H.I.E.L.D. only as ‘the Budapest mission’. Natasha breaks the record for the highest number of swearwords in an after-mission report. Clint breaks the record for highest volume of ammunition used in a single mission. Phil breaks the record for greatest number of breaches of official operational protocol in one mission.All three of them break the record for longest time spent in the so-called ‘asset safe zone’ after a mission: they spend almost three full weeks without leaving the high-security section of the Helicarrier and in that time they don’t go out of each other’s sightlines once. A net of trust binds them, like something unseen hanging in the air between them, something built and burnt in fire and blood and grown in hope and love.


things you said when we were on top of the world

“I am going to spend my entire life with the two of you.”

Clint and Natasha trip simultaneously, the latter catching herself just in time while the former sprawls onto the deck of the Helicarrier in an unceremonious lump. Natasha giggles quietly while Phil offers them a hand up. “Sorry, Clint. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“You really can’t say these kinds of things while I’m walking, Phil.”

Phil pulls Clint to their feet and wraps them in a tight hug. Natasha wraps her arms around them both, running her fingers through Clint’s hair. As they break apart, Clint sees a rare smile on her face, radiant in its brightness. They find themself laughing suddenly, stupidly, and tug their hair out of the tight bun to tumble down around their shoulders. The Helicarrier is down for repairs and as such the deck is deserted but for the three of them, so Clint feels no shame in pulling Phil in for a quick kiss before kissing Natasha on the forehead. In a rare public expression of affection, Phil does the same.

“I mean it. You’re family to me, and I couldn’t wish for anything better.”

“Likewise.”

They link hands, Clint in the middle with Phil and Natasha on either side, and they walk across the deck of the Helicarrier in splendid sunlight.


things you said after it was over

“I asked for you as soon as I woke up.”

Clint swallows. Sits in silence for a moment, then takes his hand.

“The Chitauri have been beaten. It’s going to be okay.”

Phil smiles from the hospital bed. “No, it’s not.”

“No, it’s not. But we’ll get through it. Together.”

Phil reaches up to cup Clint’s cheek. Runs a hand through their hair. Grips the back of their neck and pulls them close. “Together.”


things you said after the first mission

A hand lands on Clint's shoulders and they spin around, whipping out a knife in a single breath, holding it to the throat of-

Agent Coulson, their new ‘handler’. Clint lets out a soft breath and drops the dagger, tucking it back into the sheath concealed on the inside of their thigh. They lift their hands back up and turn their hearing aids on.

“My apologies, Agent Barton. It wasn’t my intention to startle you. I merely wished to say that you did very well on your mission today.”

“Thank… you…” Clint says slowly, unsure. Their eyes dart to their bow, only half a meter away. If they need it, they could get it in a second. They are not foolish enough to think they can trust Agent Coulson.

Coulson sits down in the seat next to them. They’re waiting for the Quinjet to take off and bring them back to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ. Some of the ground operatives are still finishing up, but as a long-range operative Clint gets out of doing the cleanup afterwards. Unfortunately, that gives them about three hours of sitting around before the jet can actually take off, and Clint isn’t dumb enough to think that Coulson missed the fact they picked a different vantage point from the recommended one.

“I’m serious, Agent Barton. Most Junior Operatives mess up big time on their first mission, that’s why we start with small ones. You, on the other hand, were excellent.”

Clint allows themself a cocky grin. “It ain’t my first rodeo, Coulson.”

“No, I can tell that by the fact you decided to switch vantage points.”

Here comes the dressing-down.

“Next time, if you have a better vantage point, tell us so that we don’t accidentally block your sightlines.”

And with that Coulson leaves.

Clint stares after him, dumbfounded.

Something creeps up inside their chest, something they haven’t felt for a long time. It’s small, and weak, and just barely there, but it kind of feels like hope.