"You must be Clint, I'm Will—William Brandt."
The doppelganger who's broken away from the group to approach him holds out a hand and Clint shakes it automatically, still dumbfounded by the sudden appearance of his four copies. What is even harder to wrap his mind around is that Phil had already met three of them when he'd bounced from universe to universe for those ten, life-altering days.
Tony thinks that Phil's universe hopping and these guys being the first to be pulled through the portal are related. Clint thinks this is the last time either he or Phil are stepping into Tony's lab again.
"Yeah, hi. I'm Clint Barton. It's nice to meet you?"
Will, the doppelganger in the suit, smiles kindly and waves in Phil's direction—Phil has been on the phone with Fury since Tony managed to shut down the portal, trying to convince the Director that there is no immediate threat to Earth.
"It's nice to know that your Phil made it home. My Phil is probably wreaking havoc trying to figure out what happened to me."
One of the other men—this one wearing standard issue SHIELD tac gear—scoffs. "I can guarantee that my Phil is causing a hell of a lot more damage than yours. I'm Aaron, by the way. Aaron Cross."
"I'm Clint," another one pipes up. Phil had seemed surprised when this version had appeared in Clint's Hawkeye uniform with a modified compound bow in his hand. "Formerly Jason Walsh. You know what, it's a long story. Let's make it simple and just call me Jason while I'm here."
They all turn toward the last man, the only version Phil hadn't met. "I'm William James."
Jason gasps and then grins. "Nice to see you alive William."
"Uh, thanks. I usually go by Will too, but maybe you should call me James so I'm not confused with Brandt?"
"James! No!" Phil cries before anything else can be said.
Clint spins around as their son comes tearing into the room, slipping by Phil and Tony on his way into Clint's arms.
"Papa! You're okay."
Clint rubs his hand up and down James' back soothingly. "Of course I'm okay, munchkin. Why wouldn't I be?"
James pulls back and Clint can see fresh tear tracks running down his face. "Daddy called Auntie Nat and said you'd been in an accident."
"I'm sorry, James," Phil says as he kneels next to them. "I didn't know you were with Natasha. I didn't mean to worry you."
James sniffles and looks up, his eyes going as wide as saucers. "Papa…"
With a sigh, Clint rises and shifts to stand behind James with a hand on the little boy's shoulder, Phil mirroring him on the other side.
"This is our son, James," he introduces to the room at large.
Brandt smiles widely and drops to one knee in front of James. "Hi James. I'm Will and I have a daughter a little older than you. Her name is Katherine Elizabeth," he says and then looks up at Phil. "We adopted her a few months after your visit."
"I'm James William Barton-Coulson," James replies when Will looks back at him. "Are you another uncle? All of you?"
Everyone laughs as Will stands to let the others come forward as well.
"No, we're not your uncles," Jason says. "You seem like a very smart kid. I'm sure your Uncle Tony will explain it all to you after we go home. I'm Jason."
"And I'm William. It's nice to meet you James. I like your name and your eyes. They're as beautiful as your Daddy's."
"Thank you," James responds politely as all the adults stare at William in surprise.
"James, why don't you go back upstairs?" Phil suggests. "Natasha is probably looking all over for you and you wouldn't want to make her angry."
"Oh yeah!" James starts across the room and then stops to wave. "Bye! Nice meeting you!"
They all wave back as James runs out of the lab.
"He's adorable," Aaron says, "and he's got my—or your—nose."
"James isn't adopted, is he?" William asks. "He's actually yours. That's what they meant about a final intervention."
"The beings that were bringing us all back together. They told Phil they were responsible for tearing our souls apart and so they were fixing their mistake."
"Holy shit," Jason curses. "I was right."
"Yes, he's ours," Clint finally answers. "And that explains a lot, actually. We'd suspected as much."
"Yeah," William agrees. "It's a bit of a mind trip to know we were predestined to be together, right?"
"Not really," Aaron shrugs. "I love my husband. Doesn't really matter much to me the how or the why of it."
Phil wraps his arm around Clint with a fond smile. "I wholeheartedly agree."
"Sap," Clint accuses, but leans into Phil's side to take any sting out of the word.
"Speaking of…" Jason looks around them toward Stark. "Do you have an update on when the rest of us will be going home, Tony?'
"Yes!" Tony replies triumphantly and types something into the console in front of him. The machine that sent an energy pulse through Clint to create the portal springs to life and they all scramble to get out from in front of it.
"Warn us next time, will you?!"
"Sorry, sorry. I was able to isolate each of the energy signatures from the portal as all of you came through it. I should be able to duplicate it and create a stable portal to send you each back. Ah-ha!"
A pulse of light shoots from the machine and another portal appears.
"There! That should be able to send the first one back." Tony looks up from the console proudly, but nobody moves. "What?"
"How do you know that will actually send Will home?" Clint asks. "How do you know it's the right—"
The portal ripples, interrupting Clint's question, and another Phil steps through.
The second Phil turns at the sound of Will's voice and sags in relief. "Will! Oh thank God."
Will steps into Phil's embrace and Tony dances in a little circle.
"Who's da man? See? I told you I got it right."
The other Phil looks around in confusion until his gaze lands on Clint and Phil, who still have their arms around each other. "Oh. You again?"
"Good to see you, Agent Coulson."
"Likewise, Agent Coulson. Good to see you finally got your act together."
"Hey Tony?" Will asks. "How long will the portal stay open?"
Will and the other Phil look at each other and start moving towards the portal. "Time to go home, we have a daughter to pick up from daycare. Bye everyone! It's been a pleasure."
They step back through the portal and it closes immediately behind them.
"Did you do that?" Aaron asks.
"No," Tony answers. "Maybe it only stays open until you return to your universe?"
"Okay. I'll buy that." Aaron steps forward and holds his hand out to Tony. "It was nice to have finally met you. I know you're not the version my Phil knew, but this is going to be my only opportunity to say this: thank you. Thank you for being such a good friend to him."
Tony's eyes flick over to Phil and back before taking Aaron's hand and shaking it. "You're welcome. I'm sure the feeling was mutual. Tell him… tell him I said hello."
"I will." Aaron nods and walks over to where the portal should appear. "I'm going to walk through as soon as it opens. If I don't, my Phil will probably come through shooting."
Tony makes the necessary adjustments to create a second portal and Aaron quickly steps through with a small wave at the others. It closes after Aaron the same way it had behind Will.
"Guess I'm next," William says, but pauses in front of Clint and Phil. "You have a beautiful family. Thank you for naming him after me."
"It felt right," Clint responds. "We're glad you got a second chance. Don't waste it."
"We don't plan to."
William gives them a salute and disappears through the portal. Tony is making the necessary changes to send Jason home when the machine gives off an ominous whine. He looks frantically around at his instruments before motioning to Jason.
"Get ready. I think it may be running out of power."
"So much for suggesting we trade some intel," Jason says and shakes both Clint and Phil's hands.
"Thank you for helping me get home before. It was good seeing you again Jason… or is it Clint?" Phil asks with a nod toward the uniform.
"I've been Clint for a few years now. Long story."
The portal opens with another whine from the machine and Jason jogs over with a final grin over his shoulder.
"Hey, Clint! You ever play baseball?"
"You should give it a try. You may be better than you expect."
The portal closes and the machine gives a final shudder before shutting down, leaving the lab eerily quiet after the excitement of the past few hours.
"So that was an interesting way to spend the afternoon," Stark says into the silence. "I'm going to grab some lunch since you two probably want some alone time."
They watch Tony bound up the stairs with his usual enthusiasm before sinking into an embrace that they both need. As content as they are with how things have turned out, it never hurts to get a reminder of what it took to get them here.
"Everyone seemed happy," Clint muses after a few minutes.
"They did. Do you really think we were destined to find each other?"
"Maybe, maybe not. Either way, nobody forced us to fall in love. Something may have nudged us in the right direction, but we were always in control—we were too miserable for too long for me to think otherwise."
Phil chuckles and gives Clint another tight hug before letting go. "True. Think we traumatized James for life?"
"Nah. Somehow, I don't think this is going to be the strangest thing he'll see living in the Tower."
Phil shakes his head as they start walking out of the lab. "That doesn't really make me feel any better."
"Sorry. Are you going to warn Stark about testing unknown equipment in an uncontrolled environment?"
"I doubt it will do much good. We're probably best off not setting foot in his lab again."
Clint laughs and stops their progress, pulling Phil in for a kiss. "I knew there was a reason I married you."
Their daughter, always perceptive, looks at them both with concern. "Is everything okay?"
"It is now, Katie-Kate," Will answers. "It is now."
A chorus of surprised shouts greets him, but it's all overshadowed by Phil pulling him into his arms. Jason lets himself melt into the familiar embrace and hugs back just as tightly. Phil eventually leans back, holding Jason at arms length and looking for any sign of injury. Something he sees in Jason's eyes makes Phil tilt his head inquisitively.
"Where did you go?"
Jason starts to answer and then stops, giving himself a mental shake as he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. Coming face-to-face with his doppelgangers was more disconcerting than he'd expected. Phil's grip on his shoulders tightens, betraying his concern.
"Is everything okay?"
Clint opens his eyes with a smile. "Yeah. I, uh… went to visit an old friend. Can I tell all of you at once? I think Tony's head is going to explode if you keep me to yourself for any longer."
Phil drops one of his arms, which the Avengers immediately take as permission to descend on them. Amidst the hugs and joyous welcome, Clint realizes that he's missing something.
"Oh crap! I forgot my bow!"
"Oh thank God, you're back. I would have had to tell the others if you hadn't come back soon. Where did Yente take you?"
"Yente didn't take me anywhere, but I did get to meet four other mes and a few yous."
Phil frowns. "If it wasn't Yente again, who was it?"
"Another Stark playing with something he shouldn't have been."
"At least some things don't change."
"Yeah," Will shrugs and motions toward the door. "Did I make it back in time for dinner?"
Phil nods. "Bobbi made paella and Rhodey said something about Sangria. Are we telling the others what happened?"
"We probably should since we keep trying to convince them we're a team now."
"Hey," Will says, stopping at the foot of the stairs. "Have you ever thought about us having kids?"
"Will. We just invited four superheroes and a somewhat eccentric scientist to live with us. I think that's pretty much all we can handle right now."
"Good point. No kids."
They get to the top of the stairs before Will stops again.
"Do you think Tigra would let us get a dog?"
Phil's grip doesn't loosen and Aaron looks over his husband's shoulder at Banner and the other SHIELD scientists, motioning for them to leave the room. They comply without question and Banner points up at the security cameras to signal that he'll have them shut off. Aaron wraps his arms around Phil with a smile of thanks at the doc.
"Phil. I'm back and I'm fine."
"I was so fucking worried I'd lost you."
Aaron manages to pull back far enough to show Phil his smile. "Hey. You know it would take more than an interdimensional portal to get rid of me."
Phil laughs and then pulls Aaron in for a deep and desperate kiss. Aaron kisses back eagerly—the past few hours hadn't been easy on him either. The kiss leaves them breathless and panting, each of them eager to reaffirm their connection to one another. Aaron presses their foreheads together when they stop for air, laying a steadying hand on the back of Phil's neck as they gather their control over their emotions.
"You are not allowed to leave me," Phil says pleadingly.
Phil can't hide the fear in his voice and it tightens a vice around Aaron's heart. He knows that he will never voluntarily leave Phil, but there are too many things in their lives that are beyond their control and Aaron won't make promises to Phil he can't keep.
"I love you," Aaron tells him instead—the words, for once, feeling inadequate.
Suddenly, an image of a little boy with blonde hair and bright blue eyes comes to the forefront of Aaron's mind. It brings with it a surge of affection that breaks through the fear. They may not have access to an ethereal being capable of raising the dead, but they know one of the greatest scientific minds the human race has ever produced and work for an organization obsessed with the latest advances in genetics.
"I love you," Aaron says again, laughter bubbling out of a heart that feels close to bursting. He knows with growing confidence that this is the new path he and Phil are meant to go down.
"I love you, too," Phil replies. His brow furrows in confusion, but he can't help grinning at Aaron's uncharacteristic and infectious laughter. "Aaron? What is it?"
"How do you feel about kids?"
~ fin ~