The window felt cold against Clint’s temple as he leaned his head on it and watched the landscape pass by. Big, white snowflakes drifted lazily down and smacked against the windshield only to be swept into clumps by the sweepers.
It was late, later than they’d originally planned. They’d taken a plane from Wichita to Green Bay and rented an SUV from a SHIELD-vetted company and drove the last forty-odd miles to Manitowoc. The drive should’ve taken about an hour but the weather was bad enough so that their drive was slowed down to a crawl.
Which meant that Clint had plenty of time to freak out. He didn’t even realize he was bouncing his leg until Phil laid a warm hand on his knee and gave it a gentle squeeze.
”Nervous?” he asked, glancing at him from the corner of his eye.
Clint winced and shrugged. ”I know, I’m stupid,” he muttered. ”But I just can’t help it.”
”Clint, remember the deal,” Phil chided.
Clint huffed and chewed his lip. ”I have the right to my feelings,” he finally said, chewing out the words like sharp pebbles. ”Being nervous about new situations doesn’t make me stupid.”
Phil nodded and shot him a small grin. ”That’s right. Your feelings are valid, and there’s nothing stupid in admitting them.”
Phil practically beamed, and something about the pride he radiated warmed Clint.
This was a new thing—both being with Phil and saying stuff like this out loud—and he was still on a learning curve. Phil had been his handler and then his friend for almost a decade before he’d started low-key courting him. It had begun with longing looks and a couple of fleeting touches that lingered just a bit too long, and then Phil had made an almost painfully beautiful and polite request to court him, leaving him plenty of opportunities to gracefully decline.
Like Clint would ever do that.
Phil had been the alpha of his dreams almost from the very beginning but he’d ruthlessly shoved his feelings down. Phil was a classy, old-fashioned alpha with a family and connections, there was no way he’d actually want to court someone like Clint. After some delicate mental recalibration from Tasha, he decided to give it a go. At least, he could enjoy it while it lasted.
And it had, still did. For reasons Clint couldn’t exactly understand, the badassest alpha of all badass alphas wanted to court him, wanted to dote on him on public, and had absolutely no qualms in taking a step back and letting Clint handle himself if he was so inclined. He also had no problem letting Clint boss him around in bedroom which was awesome.
It had taken him three seasons to shyly ask Phil to share his heat. It had always been something he shied away from, both because of the heat-bond but also because he’d seen what heat did to omegas. The lust-addled hindbrain made poor decisions and Clint wasn’t sure if he wanted to give anyone that kind of power over him. But something about Phil had called out for him and anchored him, and after lengthy conversations with both Tasha and, surprisingly, Tony (who was also an omega with serious trust issues), he decided to give it a try.
The way Phil’s eyes had gone wide and he’d given Clint a reverent, heated kiss had made something inside Clint all mushy. They’d ended up making out on Phil’s office couch, which had resulted in Fury yelling through their door that they were ridiculous and they should really get a room and also, Phil owed him a bottle of Macallan.
Resting his head against the headrest, he turned to look at Phil. He looked at ease, driving with the same calm determination he did everything, whether it was directing an op, picking up the perfect donut, or listening to the constant babble of Tony and Steve’s baby. He was competent and focused, unassuming in his appearance that hid steel underneath. He was simply gorgeous.
The position of the Phil Coulson’s courted omega was something Clint wondered every single morning he opened his eyes.
The corners of Phil’s eyes crinkled and his mouth twitched, the only outward sign he’d caught Clint staring. Clint dropped his gaze and was about to turn his head away when Phil reached out his right hand without looking, grasped his hand, and laced their fingers together.
”We don’t have to do this,” Phil said quietly. ”If this is too much, we can turn around. Just let me know, and I’ll drive us out of here.”
Clint shook his head. ”No, I wanna go. Besides, it’s your family Christmas. You’ve been waiting for three years for this.”
Phil’s eyes darted to him before he turned his focus back on the road. ”If you’re sure,” he said.
”I’m sure,” Clint said. He almost believed it.
It wasn’t that the invitation itself was exactly a surprise because it wasn’t.
After their first shared heat, Phil had asked permission to tell his family about them and Clint had been too stupefied to say no. Not that he would have, but the mere idea of an alpha asking permission to boast about a shared heat was…ludicrous. According to Clint’s previous experiences, alphas collected heat partners like badges of honor and used every opportunity to flaunt them around. But then, Phil wasn’t like other alphas.
It had taken Phil’s mom about a day and a half to call and demand to speak to Clint. When Phil had dragged the bewildered Clint out of the shooting range and shoved the phone in his hand before exiting the room, she’d launched into a narrative of how lovely it was to finally talk to him and did he know how wonderful he was, making Phil smile like that?
Clint had been too stunned to say much.
They’d talked on the phone a couple of times and even Skyped once. Marjorie Coulson was a warm-looking lady, who had a voice Clint wanted to melt into and a presence Clint desperately didn’t want to disappoint. Thing was, he wasn’t sure how he’d manage in avoiding to do exactly that.
Despite Tasha’s exasperated eye rolls, Tony’s good-natured ribbing, and Phil’s endless patience, Clint didn’t really think he should be let out among normal people. Give Clint a bow, a bunch of arrows, and something to shoot at, and he’d excel and save the day. But after the villain of the day was taken care of, Clint was left bereft and without any idea of how to deal with humans on a normal, everyday level. He was never quite sure of how to act, how to speak, what fork to use, and honestly, his taste in jokes was abysmal.
Growing up in a circus did stuff like that.
And then there was the whole wing issue.
In SHIELD, people generally tended to keep their wings hidden. They got in the way and they sometimes revealed too much which wasn’t a good thing, considering they were in the spy business. Of course, injuries meant the wings were out and not even the tightly controlled environment could weed out all alpha posturing. Especially around mating season.
Clint had never let his wings out in public. He’d learned it the hard way. In fact, the only one who had seen his wings after he left Carson Carnival of Traveling Wonders, was Tasha. After one memorable please-don’t-die-on-me mission, Tasha had shown her blood red wings that had an odd, almost otherworldly hue and Clint… well, Clint had shown her his. To her credit, she hadn’t flinched but the widening of her eyes had been enough.
Clint had never seen Phil’s wings. In fact, no-one had ever seen Phil’s wings. Clint wasn’t sure why but he’d always thought it was because of Phil’s fiercely private nature. He didn’t mind. He was sure they were awesome, not exactly as the embodiment of patriotism that Steve’s blue-and-white wings were, but something impressive. Extraordinaire.
Then again, he couldn’t be bitter about not seeing Phil’s wings when he wasn’t comfortable with showing his own. Logically, Clint knew that he’d have to let his wings out sooner or later but he just couldn’t. Not yet. Because what if Phil thought they were ugly?
No, it was better to keep them hidden for as long as he could and enjoy Phil’s courting for as long as it lasted.
When they turned to Porcupine Street, something in Clint’s throat locked up. The houses lining the road on both sides were pretty, well maintained two-story houses with trimmed yards and Christmas lights, and Clint had never felt so out of place. This was a neighborhood much like the ones he’d passed as a teen, walking the streets of the towns they visited after the show was over and the circus was packed up. He’d stopped by the mailboxes and peered up through the windows, wondering what kind of lives the residents led.
And now, he was supposed to enter a house like that.
He took a couple of deep breaths while Phil turned into a driveway and parked the car. He was pretty sure his scent was all over the place and Phil heard his pulse skyrocket and if he didn’t, his death grip of Phil’s hand probably tipped him off.
To Phil’s credit, he didn’t ask again if Clint was alright. He knew Clint hated it when people questioned his decisions—even if they were stupid ones—so he settled to wait with a calm smile. After a few more focused breaths, Clint nodded, opened the door, and stepped out.
Almost immediately, the front door opened and warm light spilled out on the porch. It framed a middle-height figure who had loose curls around their head like a halo and whose wings unfurled and stretched out, welcoming them. As the figure started forward, Clint saw Marjorie, her face split into a wide smile.
”Boys, you made it!” she exclaimed.
The pure joy in her voice tugged at Clint’s lips, and he smiled back. Just a small smile, though. He didn’t want to presume anything.
”Of course we did, Mama,” Phil answered with his signature calm, but Clint saw how his eyes crinkled on the corners. He walked past Clint and straight into his mother’s arms and hugged her tightly. Marjorie’s wings curled around him, almost hiding him from sight. They were beautiful, pale mauve with streaks of white, and they trembled slightly like she could barely contain her excitement.
She gave Phil a smacking kiss on the cheek before releasing him and turning to Clint. ”It’s so wonderful to finally meet you face to face, Clint,” she said. ”May I hug you?”
Slightly nervous, Clint nodded and took a step forward and Marjorie closed the distance between them. She hugged him carefully, embracing with tenderness he hadn’t felt in a long, long time.
Phil’s mom smelled like cloves and vanilla, of Christmas and bright, frosty air, of home and security. She smelled like everything a proper omega should and nothing like Clint had ever encountered. Clint’s eyes slid closed by their own volition and he buried his nose on Marjorie’s neck, losing himself a bit in the hug. He didn’t even realize when her mauve wings gently closed around them, shielding them in a soft and warm cocoon.
When he finally made himself to pull up, the tips of her wings traced his cheeks and he blushed.
”I’m sorry,” he started, embarrassed. ”I didn’t mean to—”
”Nonsense,” Marjorie said, cupped his face in her hand and brushed his cheekbone with her thumb. ”We’ve been waiting to meet you for so long. Besides, anyone who gets our Phil so completely besotted, is a treasure indeed,” she added and winked, lightening the mood.
As she turned, her wings slowly withdrew and disappeared, and Clint missed their warmth. He knew it was silly—Marjorie wasn’t his mom so he had no right to miss her wings.
But he couldn’t deny they were nice wings. And she gave awesome hugs.
”You’re the last to arrive,” Marjorie said and beckoned them in. ”Jonathan and his business partner arrived yesterday and Amanda and her brood came just a couple of hours ago.”
Phil raised a brow. ”A business partner? That’s what he calls them nowadays?”
Clint gave him a questioning look and Phil huffed. ”Jonathan has a habit to bed everything that moves, and—”
”Don’t be an ass,” Marjorie interrupted and gave him a dry look. ”First, your brother’s relationships are none of your business, and second, he actually is a business partner. His mother passed away a month ago and he didn’t want to spend his Christmas alone. So, we invited him here.”
”Oh,” Phil said, chastised.
His mother graciously didn’t comment.
The Coulson house was just as splendid on the inside as it was from the outside. It had a huge kitchen with a spacious dining area, a living room with several nooks with heaps of pillows that Clint wanted to bury himself into, and a big fireplace that had a fire merrily crackling. The mantlepiece had ten Christmas stockings hanging from it, each adorned with a name.
Clint zeroed on a purple sock with silver trimmings and swallowed when he saw it had his name on it.
Something in his scent must’ve tipped both Phil and his mom off, because they turned to look at him. Marjorie gave him a gentle smile and nodded at Phil, and something warm brushed Clint’s cheek when she made her way into the kitchen to give them a semblance of privacy.
Phil snuck his arm around his waist. ”Something wrong?” he murmured.
”I have a stocking,” Clint said, still staring. ”It’s purple.”
”I know. She hunted for the exact hue for weeks, before she found one she was satisfied with,” Phil said, rolling his eyes in fond exasperation.
Phil turned him so that they were face to face. ”Because you’re family, that’s why.”
Phil’s brother Jonathan was a loud and brash beta with deep blue wings he liked to hold high above his head, almost like he was challenging everyone around him. His business partner was a somewhat subdued man with hidden wings and a scent permeated with sorrow.
Phil’s sister Amanda was a picture perfect omega with her soft auburn locks and gorgeous, delicate maroon wings. She held them arched around her kids, twins in their terrible twos who were more interested in yanking each other’s delicate pre-presenting winglets than behaving themselves. However, Amanda’s gentle omega appearance vanished as soon as the twins went to bed, and Clint realized just what a mischievous and sharp woman she was. Her mate was a stocky alpha with warm eyes and rust-colored wings that quivered ever so slightly when Amanda raised her voice. Clint didn’t want to dwell on that for too long.
It was odd, being in a house where everyone loved or at least tolerated each other. Clint hadn’t really had that as a kid—to him, Christmases had been the time when he and Barney had had to hide even better than ever, because their dad had started drinking two days before Christmas and continued a solid week before crashing and sobering up by New Years. Ever since their mom had died, Dad had had serious trouble with holidays (and, truthfully, life itself) which meant that the Barton brothers never really had proper Christmas.
So, now that Clint had the chance, he was enjoying himself. Silently in a corner, not truly allowing himself to revel in it, but enjoying nevertheless. He answered when he was asked something and acted as an unruly pony when Amanda’s kids so demanded. Everyone chuckled fondly and Phil’s eyes heated in a way he hadn’t seen before. That night, he’d barely closed the door when Phil pushed him against it, went on his knees in front of him and sucked him off. Clint had to bite his own arm to keep quiet, mindful of Phil’s family just down the corridor.
The following day, they went to the Christmas Market. It was a tradition the Coulsons had had for years and something Phil was glad to have once again despite the eye roll he sent his mom’s way. After picking up some preserves and jams Marjorie wanted, they mostly wandered around, enjoying the overwhelming mix of colors, scents, laughter, and people.
Clint had his share of experience of markets but it was from the other side of the aisle, trying to lure people in to participate rigged games and buy overpriced carnival food. He’d never been the one attending. It was an interesting experience.
While the rest of the family scattered, Clint started slowly walk in between the tents, just taking in the sights and smells. He had a little money with him and he was low-key searching for something nice for Phil but he got distracted by spiced almonds and German Glühwein. He was on his second cone of almonds when someone tapped his shoulder. He whirled around, startled, and barely kept from lashing out on full offensive, and saw a beta with silvery wings that had green spots like peacock’s pattern in them.
The man cocked his head and gave him a narrow-eyed look. ”You look familiar,” he said.
”Um…I don’t think so?” he answered and gave the man a small smile, turning to go.
The man swayed slightly and smelled of booze. ”No, you look definitely familiar. Too bad you’re not dressed in purple.”
Clint froze and slowly turned back around to look at the man. He kept his face neutral but his heart started hammering so hard he was sure everyone would hear him.
The man apparently saw something in his expression because his lips drew in a smug smirk. ”Yep, thought so,” he drawled. ”’The amazing Hawkeye, the omega archer with impeccable aim and freak wings’ ,” he quoted. ”What the hell are you doing here?”
Clint swallowed around his dry throat as his eyes darted from one tent to another, silently calculating the best escape route. Ever since he’d escaped the circus, after Barney had mutilated his wings beyond repair and left him to die, Clint had been dreading his past would someday catch up with him. He just hadn’t thought it would be now when he’d thought he had everything he ever wanted within his grasp.
”I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he apologized, trying to circle around the beta.
The man lurched slightly to stand right in front of Clint. ”Oh, I think you know exactly what I’m talking about,” he stage-whispered and gave him a leery wink.
”Oh, but I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Phil said mildly from behind him. He was wearing a pleasant smile but from the certain tightening around his eyes, Clint knew he was actually furious. ”Why don’t you enlighten me.”
Even though Phil knew about his past in the circus, he didn’t know everything. Phil didn’t know what Barney had forced him to do to ’earn his place’ as he’d said. Phil didn’t know about his wings and it was the worst time to learn about them. Frantic, Clint shook his head but Phil ignored him, keeping his eyes zeroed on the beta in between them.
The tension was palpable and their altercation had started to attract attention from the Market goers around them. To his horror, Clint realized they now had a steady ring of curious watchers, eager to learn more about what was happening.
”What’s going on?” Jonathan asked, pushing his way through the milling crowd, Marjorie and Amanda at his wake.
Aww, no. Just please, no. Not like this, Clint thought as he closed his eyes. He couldn’t bear to think about the utter disappointment he’d see in Phil’s mom’s eyes when she learned about what Clint had been up to before SHIELD.
”Oh, I was just chatting with my old friend from a while back,” the beta said with feigned nonchalance. ”We met years ago at a circus where he was…performing.”
The way he leered it made it sound like something more unsavory it had actually been and despite himself, Clint cringed.
”Really?” Phil asked.
Had the beta ever had dealings with Phil before, he might’ve recognized that he was so very close to pushing him into full rage. But because the guy was a) inebriated and b) apparently not very smart, he let out a chuckle. ”Oh yeah,” he said. ”And what a performance it was. I wonder, do you still do private shows?”
Clint averted his eyes and turned his head and, doing so, missed the way Phil’s eyes flashed and his nostrils flared and how everyone took a step back.
”I would like to inform you that you are currently insulting my courted omega,” Phil said in a low voice that had the rumbling undercurrent of alpha aggression. ”I suggest you vacate the premises—unless you are willing to make a scene.” The sentence ended in a snarl and the beta let out a wet gurgle of utmost terror and fled
Clint saw nothing of it. He still had his head turned away in shame.
There was some whispered words and shuffling and then—silence.
”Clint?” Phil asked softly. ”Are you hurt?”
”Clint, I need your words,” Phil gently chided.
”I’m fine,” Clint said.
”That’s not what I asked.”
Clint shrugged again.
Phil was silent and Clint was pretty sure that this was it. This was the moment when his world fell apart. This was when Phil realized what Clint really was.
He almost jumped when something soft brushed his shoulder. When he opened his eyes and looked up, all he saw was the mauve plumage of Mama Coulson’s wings, shielding both him and Phil. From the corner of his eye, he saw glimpses of both Jonathan and Amanda’s wings, arching high and wide, offering them privacy from the prying eyes.
And in front of him was Phil, looking at him with his lips pressed together into a tight line.
”I believe we’ve had enough excitement for one day,” Marjorie said softly. ”I think it’s time to go home now.”
When they returned to the Coulsons’s, Clint followed the tense line of Phil’s shoulders upstairs. He closed the guest room door behind him and stayed back while Phil paced the room back and forth.
”If I could, I’d go back in time and—and—”
The vehemence in his voice shook Clint a bit but he wasn’t surprised. Phil was a classy alpha, all good breeding and perfect manners through and through, of course he’d want an omega who wasn’t spoiled goods like Clint.
”I’m sorry,” he said even though he knew it didn’t matter.
Phil frowned. ”What?” he asked and then his eyes widened in horror. ”Oh, no, Clint. I meant—” he hurried to Clint, cupped his face and stared intently in his eyes. ”If I could, I’d go back in time and rip to pieces everyone who ever hurt you,” he said in a low voice. ”I’d tear them apart and make them regret the day they decided that mocking you was an option. But I can’t—and please, don’t ever mention this to Stark because he’d try to build me a time machine—so all I can do is to try to make things up for you.”
”But why? It wasn’t your fault.”
”And it wasn’t your fault either,” Phil said. ”You hear me? It wasn’t your fault.”
Clint blinked and ducked his head, unsure of what to say.
”Is this about your wings?” Phil asked softly. ”Because I don’t care how your wings look like.”
Clint thought it sounded fake, but he was willing to take whatever Phil gave him.
”I don’t have wings,” Phil said then, quiet and sad. ”I’ve never had and no one knows why.”
Clint jerked his head up and stared at him with wide eyes.
Phil shrugged. ”My parents took me to at least a dozen specialist but none of them could figure out why. My hormone levels were fine, I was perfectly healthy and presented as an alpha—there was no reason why I shouldn’t have had wings. I just…don’t.” He gave Clint a wry smile. ”Mom refused to say there was something wrong with me, and she practically eviscerated several doctors for implying that.
”So please, believe me when I say: your wings don’t define you, not as an omega, not as an agent, and definitely not as a mate.”
Clint’s jaw dropped. He had heard wrong, hadn’t he? There was no way Phil would—
Phil huffed and shook his head. ”Mom’s never going to let me live this one down, springing you the question like this, but…” he paused, swallowed, and looked Clint straight in the eye with a startlingly vulnerable expression. ”Clinton Francis Barton, would you do me the greatest honor and become my mate?”
”What?” Clint squeaked. ”I mean, you really want me? Me? Have you met me?”
Phil gave him a fond smile. ”Yes, you. I really, really, want you, Clint.”
”Then yeah,” he said with a giddy smile, not really believing his luck. Then he remembered where it all had started from and sobered. ”So… I probably should show you my wings now, right?”
”No,” Phil said and immediately raised his hand in a placating move. ”I mean, just because you said yes doesn’t mean you have to show me your wings.” He grasped Clint’s hands in his and said seriously, ”I’d love to see your wings. From the little what Natasha has let on, they’re magnificent. But I want to see them on your terms. I don’t want to see them if it makes you uncomfortable.”
’Magnificent.’ Well, that was a word Clint had never associated with his wings but, well, if Tasha said it…
He looked at Phil, standing there in front of him with his heart in his eyes. He thought the way Phil made him feel, how he’d felt safe and respected from the moment Phil had shot him in the leg and dragged him to SHIELD. He thought how Phil had always been there for him, looking after him and yet giving him the space and time he needed and wanted to figure things out on his own.
This was Phil. He could do this.
Clint took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and unfurled his wings. They opened slowly, slightly achy from disuse and being confined for so long. When they were fully open he gave them a shake and straightened his shoulders. And then he opened his eyes.
Phil was staring at him with a heated look in his eyes. His gaze darted from the dark, almost black feathers to the coarse grey and silvery patches left behind by abuse, drinking in the way they arched under his scrutiny.
”Clint, they’re gorgeous,” Phil said reverently. He stepped forward and bent down to kiss him. It was a hungry, passionate kiss that made his knees weak and left his lips tingling and his head spinning.
”Thank you for letting me see them,” Phil whispered against his lips. ”Thank you for trusting me.”
Clint’s wings shivered.
”May I touch them?” Phil asked. When all Clint could do was to nod, he reached out and stroked his feathers, run his fingers through them in a way that made Clint hold his breath.
No-one had ever touched him like this. No-one had ever made him feel like this.
Then Phil bent closer and growled into his ear, ”I can’t wait to see you ride me with those gorgeous wings unfurled, my mate.”
Clint’s legs almost gave out but it was alright.
He had Phil and his wings to keep him up.