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"Clint, don't!"

Clint spins around at the sound of Coulson's voice, immediately tensing for a fight. His eyes quickly scan the large cave before frowning in confusion when he doesn't see any apparent threats.

"What?"

"That's what," Phil replies and points.

Clint looks down to his hand where he's still gripping the rock he'd picked up before Coulson had walked in. It's about the size and shape of a duck egg, the once polished surface dulled with age.

"It's a rock."

"It's an unknown artifact inside what looks to be an abandoned alien compound."

Clint shrugs and relaxes, unconsciously starting to toss the rock back and forth between his hands. "Any word on how much longer we're here, sir?"

"We're finishing up the sweep of the perimeter. Unless we find something unexpected, we should be able to get out of here and let the scientists spend as long as they want excavating. Please stop doing that."

Clint stills the rock in his left hand and shrugs apologetically, though he thinks Coulson is being overly paranoid. Clint isn't going to drop it and, even if he did, it's a rock—a rock with pretty carvings, but still a rock.

"Perhaps you should hand that over to the scientists?"

"Or you could do it for me?" Clint cajoles. "You know how they hate having us grunts milling about all their science stuff."

"And I don't fall under the same category?"

"Course not," Clint scoffs. "You've got more degrees than most of them combined, plus you're the boss. They know better than not to listen to you."

Coulson frowns and Clint realizes that he may have said too much. He motions with the rock to divert Coulson's attention. "Here."

"Do not throw the artifact."

"I wasn't going to throw it," Clint says innocently and holds his hand out to Coulson with the rock sitting in his palm.

Coulson's eyes fill with a mix of warning and fond exasperation, accurately guessing Clint's intention to toss the rock anyway. Seeing the look, Clint lets out the grin he's been fighting and keeps his hand steady as Coulson approaches.

The instant Coulson's hand touches the rock, there is a loud crack and a bright flash of light. Clint is hit by an unexpected force and staggers backward, but keeps his feet. When the light clears, Clint only has half the rock left in his hand while the other half is sitting in Coulson's as he sits on the floor looking dazed.

"Coulson!" Clint cries and drops to kneel next to Coulson. "Are you okay? I'm so sorry." Even though this is totally your fault.

Coulson looks up with a raised eyebrow. "And just how exactly is this my fault?"

"Well nothing happened while I was holding the rock. You should have let me toss... wait. I know I didn't say that out loud."

"What? Of course you did."

Clint looks at Coulson and makes sure he can see that Clint's lips are not moving. Trust me, I did not say that out loud and I am a horrible ventriloquist.

"Oh shit." Clint?

Hey, Phil. How's your day going so far? Mine just got a whole lot more interesting.

Coulson's eyes go comically wide and Clint can't help it, he laughs. It earns him a mock glare, which does nothing to mute Clint's chuckles until the others finally come to investigate the noise and they both slip back into work mode.

~^~

It doesn't take much experimentation to figure out that the telepathy is isolated to conscious thought—something Clint is very thankful for. As Clint had predicted, the scientists aren't happy that he had found the one interesting artifact in the entire cave system. Clint could tell them exactly why they haven't found anything interesting, but keeps his mouth and his mind shut. Getting talked down to once was more than enough for an op. He'd been lucky enough the first time that Coulson wasn't around when it happened.

The scientists flutter around Coulson, Clint, and the two halves of the rock, chatting excitedly at first and then in increasing frustration as they find nothing out of the ordinary. Clint tries his best to sit still through it all, but his patience starts wearing really thin after he's asked to think the alphabet at Coulson for the fifth time.

I wonder if they think I need help practicing my alphabet? Clint thinks instead. They could at least make it interesting and have me think it backwards. Zulu, Yankee, X-ray, Whiskey…

Clint, Coulson admonishes. They're just trying to figure out how this happened and if we're in any danger.

Come on, Phil. If they thought we were in danger, we'd already be back in HQ. They have no idea what's going on. The readings didn't change the first four times and they're not changing now.

Coulson frowns and turns toward him. You can see that from here? What am I saying, of course you can.

"Are you done?" the scientist asks, looking between Clint and Coulson. "Were you able to hear him?"

"Yes, and I could," Coulson answers for them.

"Hmmmm. Perhaps if Agent Barton could repeat them a little more slowly..."

"No. We're done here."

"But, sir—" the scientist starts to protest, only to be cut off by Coulson's glare.

"It is clear that neither myself nor Agent Barton are in any immediate danger and that you are no closer to determining the cause of our sudden telepathy. Our time is much too valuable to be spent playing guinea pig to your repeated attempts at the same readings with the same results."

"But... but you can still read each other's thoughts."

Coulson shrugs nonchalantly. "Which I have no problems with. Agent Barton?"

"No issues here, sir."

The scientist's jaw drops and Clint fights a grin at his expense.

"Pack up your instruments, Dr. Meyer," Coulson orders, "and inform Dr. Moore that his time is up. We'll debrief with the director back at HQ and let him decide if it's worth SHIELD's time to return."

Coulson strides confidently out of the cave/room and Clint quickly falls into step with him.

Bravo... Alpha... Mike... Foxtrot, Clint compliments as they continue to walk side-by-side and Coulson doesn't bother trying to hide the uptick at the corner of his mouth.

~^~

The telepathy with Coulson mostly acts like a really good comm unit. It's so familiar that Clint puts it mostly out of his mind while they pack up and head back to HQ. Once they've returned to base, Clint completely forgets that he has to censor his thoughts when they make their customary stop in Medical.

Anyone but Davidson. Anyone but— Aw, fuck.

As if called by Clint's mental pleading, Dr. Davidson steps through the curtain with a nasty smirk.

"Well if it isn't Fury's pet carnie. Still managing to fool everyone into thinking that you're good for anything? Hmph. People would see how useless you are if they didn't know you were Fury and Coulson's favorite charity case."

Clint doesn't respond to the verbal assault and lets Davidson take his arm, bracing himself for the pain as the doctor inserts the needle with an unnecessarily forceful jab.

Ow! Fuck that hurts.

The curtain flies open before Davidson can draw any blood and they both look toward the opening in surprise. Standing there is Coulson, looking coldly furious, his eyes going from angry to deadly when he sees the needle in Clint's arm.

"Step away from my asset, Dr. Davidson," Coulson orders, his voice dripping with a menace that Clint has never heard before, and the doctor takes a quick step away from Clint. "You are officially on suspension pending an investigation into the severity of your actions against Agent Barton and any other agents in your care."

"You can't—"

"I highly suggest you remove yourself from my sight before I show just what I can do, doctor."

Davidson wisely makes himself scarce and Clint can only look on in shock as Coulson steps forward to take the doctor's place. Coulson's hands are surprisingly gentle despite the anger still burning in his eyes, drawing the necessary blood and continuing to hold Clint's arm after he retracts the needle.

"How long has this been going on?" Coulson asks as he bandages the small puncture.

"It's not a big deal."

"That is not what I asked." How long, Clint?

Fury demoted Davidson after Budapest. "It really isn't a big deal."

"Budapest? That was before you were assigned to me—almost two years ago. And this is a big deal. Aside from his possibly causing you harm, he's caused you pain."

"It's nothing I couldn't handle."

Coulson's scowl deepens. "Again, not the point. He could have done serious damage if he'd been treating you for more than just a post-op checkup."

"That's just it. He can't as part of the demotion. Davidson was the one on who treated me when Natasha and I got brought in. I tried to tell him that I felt off and he didn't listen."

"And you almost died from a poisoned knife wound."

Clint shrugs. He lost a chunk of his memories as well, unable to remember most of the end of the op—reality mixing with fevered nightmares as Clint's body had fought the toxin.

"I didn't even know Davidson had been demoted until the next time I came back from an op and ended up on his rotation."

Coulson's hands tighten on Clint's arm. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"It honestly didn't seem like a big deal at a the time and things were going so well..."

Understanding dawns on Coulson's face and his thumb starts an unconscious caress against Clint's skin. "I would have believed you." I will always believe you.

I know. "I'm sorry for not telling you."

"But you'd tell me now? If anything like this happened again?"

"Yeah, I promise."

"And you realize that Davidson is wrong? You're far from a special project for anyone. You've proven time and again that you are a valuable member of this organization and we're lucky to have you."

"Agents Coulson, Barton?" a junior agent interrupts before Clint can respond. "The director is ready for you."

Coulson quickly drops his hands as if suddenly realizing that he was still gripping Clint's arm. Clint jumps off the exam table, trying not to think about how he already missed Coulson's touch against his skin.

~^~

Clint sits in the back of the conference room for an hour while the lead scientist goes over what they'd found at the site, starting with the structural elements and layout before getting to the markings found along several of the walls.

"What information are you able to glean from these markings?"

"Not much," Moore responds to Fury's question nervously. "But I'm sure it won't take much time for my staff and I to decipher their language."

It would take you three seconds if you'd actually look at them, Clint thinks as he stares down at the grain of the table and wishes he had some paper to doodle on.

"Was there something you wanted to add, Agent Barton?"

Clint's eyes snap up at the sound of Coulson's voice. Every eye in the room turns to him in interest while Moore glares daggers at him.

"Uh..."

"What do you see, Hawkeye?" Fury asks.

"I'm sure that my team's input is more valid than that of—"

"On the contrary, Dr. Moore," Fury interrupts, "when the best eyes on SHIELD's roster takes note of something, I listen. I suggest you do as well."

"Agent Barton?" Coulson prods.

"The, uh, markings are pictures."

"I am sure that is what they look like to you, but—"

"Dr. Moore," Fury cuts in forcefully. "What exactly about my wanting to hear Agent Barton's input did you fail to understand? Would you care to continue testing my patience with your additional interruptions?"

Moore's mouth snaps shut with an audible click and the room falls into a tense silence.

Go on, Clint.

"The markings really are pictures, not some sort of hidden language. Maybe they were just really tall and lanky, which is why they draw themselves like that? The ceilings were really high. Here, look." Clint stands and walks over to the screen, arranging some of the photographs and overlaying them onto the layout of the site.

"I think they were trying to identify different families? They each had a set of rooms assigned to them along the outer portion of the compound. This here—where a bunch of the markings were found grouped together—is probably the common gathering area and this mark here that looks like a bunch of people sitting at a table is for the dining room, not the experimentation room or whatever."

"So it was a settlement?"

Clint shrugs. "Maybe? Not my area of expertise, but it looks like there were a few births and marriages while they were here. You can see how these smaller marks here, here, and a few other places look like they were added after the others—not as worn. This mark by a smaller room moves over here to a larger set of rooms, so it could be a marriage... or the other way around, depending on how you want to look at it."

"Oh my God," Moore says. "You're a genius."

Fury smirks and Coulson leans back in his seat proudly while Clint tries not to blush.

"Nah, just good eyes," he shrugs.

"No! No, Agent Barton, you are so much more than that and it is my shortcoming for believing otherwise. This is what you attempted to tell me at the site and why you kept roaming around constantly underfoot. You saw not only what we could not, but drew conclusions that years of study and decades of experience could never teach. I apologize for not listening to your input earlier and would gladly have you on the continued excavations."

"Um, thanks, but..."

"You'll have to fight Coulson to get him," Fury cuts in, "and sorry doc, but my money's on Coulson. He's already won one sparring match and he fights dirty."

Clint looks at Coulson in surprise, who just shrugs with a small smile playing at his lips. If what Fury is alluding to is true, it would explain Clint's sudden move from Garrett's team to Coulson's alongside Natasha.

"How would you like to proceed with the site, doctor?" Fury asks to get them back on track.

"We'll need a few days to reexamine what we have and align them with Agent Barton's theories. Then I would like to request permission for my team to return to the site for a more in depth excavation."

"Granted."

Dismissed, Moore and his scientists start to leave the room, but he stops and walks back toward Clint.

"I understand that you will be unable to return with us to the site, but would you be willing to sit in on some of our discussions over the next few days?" Moore requests and then glances over Clint's shoulder at Coulson. "Assuming it doesn't interfere with your other duties, of course."

"Uh, sure."

Moore holds his hand out and Clint shakes it easily. "Thank you, Agent Barton. I look forward to working with you."

Fury stands as everyone else files out and motions for Clint to take the seat he'd just vacated. Coulson touches the tablet in front of him and the pictures displayed on the large screen shifts.

"The source of the telepathy seems to be this artifact that Clint found in one of the larger rooms."

"It's a broken rock," Fury observes.

It's only the three of them in the room, so Clint lets himself smirk at Coulson, who rolls his eyes in response. There's a reason why Clint and Fury get along, much to Coulson and Natasha's constant exasperation and amusement.

"It was whole when Clint found it."

"It didn't break until Coulson touched it."

Stop that. This isn't my fault.

You keep telling yourself that, Phil.

"Any other adverse side effects besides the telepathy?"

"No, sir," Clint and Coulson respond.

Fury thinks for a moment, staring at the screen before turning back to face them. "Looks like you have a decision to make, gentlemen."

"Sir?"

"On one hand, two of my best agents are suddenly able to communicate in a way that can't be traced, detected, or disrupted. On the other, I have an army of lab coats eager to test the limits of this new ability so they can pick it apart and try to duplicate it."

Clint can't help wincing when Fury says, "pick it apart" and Coulson doesn't look any happier to become a SHIELD science experiment.

"We've completed several ops in a row," Coulson says slowly. "Both of us are pretty tired and are due some downtime."

Fury nods. "Done. I'll keep them away for forty-eight hours. And Phil? The next time you set someone up, you may want to let me know so that I don't flub my lines."

"Yes, sir."

Fury leaves and Clint turns to Coulson in confusion until it dawns on him what the director meant.

"You knew! You knew I tried to talk to Moore back at the site and that he blew me off."

"He more than just blew you off, Clint. Moore acted like a condescending asshole and deserved to be called out as one."

"I could have been wrong," Clint points out.

"You weren't."

"But I could have been. Why orchestrate all this?"

"Because," Coulson responds, frustration and something else Clint can't place lacing his voice. "While you are nobody's pet, if there is anyone you belong to at SHIELD, it's me and I will not stand for anyone treating you that way."

Clint blinks in surprise. He knows he should respond by saying that he can fight his own battles, but his heart is too busy bursting with the idea of belonging to Coulson.

I love you so fucking much.

They both freeze, waiting for Clint to take back the words or play them off as a joke between friends, yet Clint finds that he can't. Even if he could, Clint doesn't want to. He realizes that he no longer wants to hide how he feels. Clint is confident they'll find a way to work past it, but Clint is done pretending he's not madly in love with Coulson.

Some of what he feels must show on Clint's face because Coulson suddenly relaxes and smiles brighter than Clint has ever seen before.

The feeling is mutual.

"What?" Clint gapes.

Coulson's smile widens. "I love you too, Clint. Were you really not expecting me to reciprocate?"

"Not really, no. I was expecting you to suggest I could switch strike teams and my having to say I could suck it up and be professional. Do you really... ?"

"Yes, I really am in love with you. For someone known for his eyes, I can't believe you managed to miss this. Maybe Nick was right and I was being too obvious."

"Nick?" Clint gulps. "Fury knows that you... uh, that you're..."

"In love with you? Yes. He is my best friend. Is the l-word going to be a thing like my name—something you'll only be able to say in your head?"

"What?"

Coulson gives Clint the same fondly exasperated look he always gives him and Clint suddenly sees it for what it really is.

"Holy shit! You're in love with me too!"

"I think we already covered that." Phil laughs and moves his chair closer, brushing a lock of Clint's hair off his forehead.

Phil reaches out, running the back of his knuckles along Clint's cheek and then cupping his jaw. He uses the light touch to bring Clint closer until their lips meet. Their first kiss is tender, but filled with promise, and Clint closes his eyes on a sigh as he leans into Phil. When Clint opens his eyes at the end of the kiss, it's to find Phil smiling happily at him. Clint smiles back.

"I love you, Phil," Clint's heart and mind say in unison.

~^~

"I really did mean for us to talk about Fury's options," Phil says out of the blue.

Clint looks down the length of his naked body to where Phil's cock is nestled nicely next to his, and then up the length of Phil's naked body until their eyes meet.

"You're thinking about this now?"

Phil had hustled them out of HQ after that one shared kiss, arguing that they needed to make themselves scarce before any of Fury's lab coats spotted them. They had grabbed takeout on their way to Phil's apartment with every intention of having a long discussion about their new status and what they should do about the telepathy. Clint is a little hazy on how exactly the food had been left abandoned on the kitchen counter and they'd ended up naked together on Phil's bed—not that Clint is complaining.

"Sorry, just where my brain went."

"Then can I suggest somewhere for other parts of you to go?" Clint asks and cants his hips up suggestively, shifting until Phil's cock is sliding along the cleft of his ass instead.

Phil groans and kisses Clint, all further thoughts of Fury disappearing. He scrambles to grab lube and a condom out of a bedside drawer and then pauses to look down at Clint.

You are so fucking gorgeous. I never thought I'd get to have you.

You've always had me. "I want you, Phil. I love you," Clint responds and then throws his head back with a moan as Phil's finger slips inside him.

Clint loses himself to sensation, not attempting to censor his thoughts or the sounds escaping from his mouth. They both mumble words of encouragement and love as Phil finishes prepping Clint and slowly slides inside him, until there is no question who Clint belongs to. Clint meets Phil thrust for thrust, their mental connection keeping them attuned to the other's desires until they're both gasping and shuddering through their climax.

Phil flops down onto the bed after disposing of the condom and Clint rolls into him, wrapping an arm around Phil's waist and ignoring the mess between them. Phil doesn't seem to mind the mess, tightening an arm around Clint's shoulders to keep him close.

"I think I figured out what that last room was," Clint says once he's caught his breath.

"You're thinking about this now?" Phil teases.

"Shush. This actually applies."

"I'm sorry then. Please, go on."

"Considering how, uh... loud we were just now—telepathically, I mean—I somehow doubt this is how they all communicated with each other. Things you really don't want to know about your neighbors, if you get what I mean."

"Good point," Phil agrees. "Or they could have had better control over it?"

"But sex is when you have the least control over your thoughts."

Phil hums thoughtfully. "Also a good point. So how does that lead to conclusions about the last room?"

"I think it was a ceremony room," Clint replies and sits up to look down at Phil. "You know, christenings, blessings, and..."

"Marriages. You think we got married by an alien rock?"

Phil scrambles up to a sitting position as Clint nods. "It makes logical sense. When it happened, I was thinking about how much I care about you. About how glad I am that you put up with me."

"I was too—thinking about you when it happened. It's probably what the artifact needed to form the link."

"I... don't really mind," Clint says hesitantly.

Phil smiles and takes Clint's hand. "I don't either, but don't think it gets you out of sitting through an actual ceremony one day. My sister loves weddings."

Clint know he's blushing to the tips of his hair, but he can't help it or the goofy grin that breaks across his face. They stay like that, smiling at each other, for a long minute before Clint remembers why he'd brought it up in the first place.

"This may also help us decide what to do about SHIELD."

Phil blinks once and then nods, their agreement reached without any more thoughts or words needing to be said. They are, as they have always been, a well attuned partnership.

~^~

By the time Agents Barton and Coulson return from their two days of leave, the telepathy has already begun to fade. The scientists conclude that the connection must have been a way to strengthen the early days of marriage, that consummating the bond signaled the end of its necessity. Only one scientist is foolish enough to suggest they hold off on any more sex to delay the telepathic degradation, earning a growl from Barton and a glare from Coulson.

The telepathic link is gone by the end of the week... or so everyone is led to believe.

What only the SHIELD senior staff knows is that Clint and Phil never lose their link. They fine tune its use over the years, learning that it's weakened by distance and heightened by strong emotions. From the moment their two hands met around the alien rock, Clint and Phil are constants in each other's minds. Constant until that fateful night in Pegasus.

Loki touches his scepter to Clint's chest and their link is severed like a knife cutting through a telephone wire.

~^~

Clint is tired and sore and really wants to sleep for the next two weeks, but this ragtag team has just saved the world from an alien invasion and it seems ungrateful to leave in the middle of an impromptu dinner. Clint keeps his head upright by sheer force of will and wonders if Natasha will drag his body back to base if he falls asleep.

Clint!

Clint startles and drops his shawarma onto the table.

Phil? Where are you? Oh thank God. I can hear you again.

Clint! Clint!

Phil? What's wrong? Where are you?

Clint!

"Where's Phil?" Clint demands, standing up and looking down at Natasha.

"Coulson? He's—"

"Agent died on the Helicarrier," Stark says somberly and Clint's head whips around to stare at him across the table. "I'm sorry if he was a friend of yours."

"He fought bravely," Thor adds, "but the Son of Coul was no match for my brother's treachery."

"Agent Coulson's dead?" Bruce asks in shock.

"Yeah. Loki stabbed him and he died," Steve answers.

Clint!

"He's not dead," Clint counters. Hang on, Phil. I'm coming. I'm on my way back to you.

"He's not?" Natasha gasps and stands to look at Clint fully, her eyes brimming with hope.

"No, he's not. He's been screaming my name for the past few minutes."

"He's alive!" Natasha beams. "He has to still be back on the carrier."

"Wait a minute," Stark interrupts. "What are you two talking about?"

"It's a long story and I don't have time to explain. I need to get back on the Helicarrier."

Clint strides out of the restaurant and the others scramble to follow. He realizes a block away that it's been a while since he heard Phil in his mind.

Phil? Are you there? Answer me... please.

Clint. Where are you? I need you. Hurts.

Phil's voice in his head sounds weak and Clint starts to run, fear dogging every step.

I'm on my way. You'll be okay. I'll be there soon. Stay with me.

Clint turns a corner and stops at the familiar sound of rotors overhead. He looks up as the helicopter descends, the door sliding open to reveal Fury, who motions Clint forward as the aircraft hovers a few feet above the ground. Clint jumps in as the rest of the Avengers come around the corner behind him. Fury points up at a second helicopter flying overhead and shuts the door on their shocked faces.

"You're going to have a very pissed off group of superheroes on your hands," Clint warns once he has a headset on.

"I'll take them over a pissed off Coulson any day," Fury retorts.

Clint laughs and it helps alleviate some of the fear during the short flight to the Helicarrier and the brisk walk to Phil's room. He finds Phil hooked up to a scary number of machines, but incredibly alive and awake.

Clint!

Phil!

Clint drops to his knees next to Phil's bed and kisses the top of his hand before looking up to meet his eyes.

You really are okay.

I could say the same about you. The others told me you died.

I think I did for a little while.

Clint's heart clenches painfully in his chest and Phil's fingers twitch until Clint grips them with his own.

I'm sorry.

It's not... Just focus on getting better, okay?

I'm tired.

Clint glances up at Phil's IV, surprised that Phil is awake at all.

I know, Phil. It's okay to sleep. I'll be here when you wake up. I promise.

M'kay. I love you, Clint.

I love you too, Phil. Sleep now.

Phil's eyes slip closed and Clint watches the steady rise and fall of his chest for a few minutes before letting himself get distracted by the commotion out in the hall. All the raised voices stop when Clint walks through the doors and every Avenger eye turns to look at him.

Clint steps forward with his hand outstretched first towards Steve. "I'm sorry. We weren't properly introduced earlier. I'm Clint Barton. You've already met Phil Coulson, my husband."

~ fin ~