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I Never Shook My Shadow

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It’s six in the morning on a Tuesday, and Clint is standing in line for rocket-fuel coffee in an annoyingly twee new coffee shop a couple blocks over from his building, proof that the hipsters are finally starting to push in from Williamsburg. Last week, he was three weeks into a deep cover mission that was suddenly and unceremoniously aborted; while on the transport back to New York HQ, he received a completely baffling and terrifying SHIELD alert that Captain America was a priority red fugitive (armed and dangerous, shoot on sight, what the actual fuck). In the middle of debriefing, half of the onsite agents suddenly turned on the other half, and he had to help Agent Woo fight off a bunch of former colleagues who were apparently HYDRA sleeper agents the whole time (not enough what the fuck in the world), and as soon as they were able to stop for breath it was only to see the Triskelion get destroyed by a crashing helicarrier on CNN, which by that point wasn’t even that surprising. As if that wasn’t enough, in the five days since then, in between bursts of frantic, desperate activity, he’s watched his best friend tell Congress to fuck off (group text from Tony: “I told you they were assclowns”); he’s learned that his second-favorite handler was a Nazi double agent; and he’s slept a grand total of about fifteen hours, most of it on transports. 

It’s been a long week, is the point, and Clint just really needs to drink a very large cup of coffee before he goes home to take a caffeine nap and maybe shower before he shows up at the Tower for Tony’s latest Avenger meeting (meeting topic “NO SERIOUSLY WHAT THE FUCK”; sometimes he really loves Tony.)

He’s trying not to think about the casualty lists, and especially not Director Fury. Most senior SHIELD agents loved and hated the Director in equal measure, because he was an absolutely ruthless son of a bitch who lied and manipulated as easy as breathing, but he also protected his people, listened to them and backed their plays, and he didn’t care if you didn’t fit into the traditional mold, like maybe you preferred a paleolithic weapon to a nice ordinary rifle, or you were a brainwashed Russian assassin who had tried to kill him, or you sometimes turned into a giant green monster and broke part of a city; you could still find a place in SHIELD. Director Fury was a fact, the center of the earth, solid and unshakeable, and a world where he is dead just doesn't make sense.

All this is to say that Clint’s maybe not at his best at the moment, so when the girl in front of him in line gets her order and turns around and squeals “Clint? Oh my God! Come here, you can have this one, we have got to talk, what have you been doing all this time?” and grabs his wrist and tows him out of line into the blind corner behind the stand with stirrers and napkins and shit, he actually squints at her face for a minute trying to figure out where he knows her from before he really sees her—eyes red and face pale under heavy makeup, smile stiff, body tense—and a cold jolt of adrenaline washes the fog out of his head.

He’s never met her before in his life, but he knows desperation when he sees it. Of course, it’s possible that she’s a HYDRA assassin—there’s a lot of that going around—but unless she’s going to try to take him out with a hazelnut macchiato, he thinks it’s safe to play along for long enough to see what she wants.

“Oh, hey!” he says. “It’s, um…”

“Skye,” she says. “We met at Peter Clark’s Fourth of July cookout last year?” and Clint freezes, because that is an old Delta passcode that only three people ever knew, and one of them is him and one of them is dead.

“Oh, right, of course!” he says, giving the girl (and what kind of alias is “Skye,” anyway?) the world’s least convincing flirtatious grin. “It’s been a while. I’d love to catch up.”

“That’d be great,” she says, eyes darting around the shop. “Maybe we could go somewhere a little more private?”

“Walk with me, Skye,” he says. “I know just the place.”

He takes her home. It might be stupid of him, but it’s got good security and a Starktech anti-surveillance package and multiple weapon caches, and the more he watches Skye the more she looks like a stiff breeze might blow her over, so he’ll take the chance. She follows him in silence, the flirty pick-up banter abandoned, and when they finally get to his apartment she folds down onto the couch in a heap, head in her hands.

He watches her for a minute; her fingers are trembling. “You wanted to talk,” he says at last. “So, talk. Maybe start with who you really are, how you know me, and where you learned that code.”

“I really am Skye,” she says. “I was a SHIELD agent, but then SHIELD tried to kill me, so I think I may be unemployed and/or on the lam.” She pulls out her phone and holds it up, showing him a photo of a SHIELD badge; sure enough, she’s listed as [NLN], Skye.

“You have a picture of your badge but not your actual badge?” 

She shoots him a disgusted look. “I may not be a Level Seven, but I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck. Those things are full of trackers.”

His opinion of her rises a bit; some agents never figure that out. “Good move.” 

“Thanks.” She actually flushes a little. SHIELD agent maybe, but if she went through the Academy he’ll eat his bow; she’s so new she squeaks.

“The code?” he prompts.

She huffs a sigh. “What the hell,” she says. “It’s not like my life can be in more mortal peril.” She shakes her hair out of her eyes and meets Clint’s gaze squarely. “OK, here’s the deal,” she says. “My boss gave me that code, and your name, and a couple of addresses where I would be likely to find you. To use in an emergency, in case we got separated and I needed someone to trust.” She fiddles with her phone again, then holds it out to him. “He said I could trust you.”

Clint doesn’t take the phone. He doesn’t need to, and he doesn’t trust his hands right now, because he’s looking at a selfie of Skye and another girl, cheek to cheek and making silly faces at the camera, but in the background of the photo, watching them with a fond expression that Clint has seen hundreds of times directed at himself or Natasha or even Tony, is Phil Coulson. 

“He wouldn't ever let me take his picture,” Skye murmurs. “I had to be sneaky.”

“He didn’t like the way he looked in pictures,” Clint says, throat tight. “He said they made his nose look weird.”

Skye takes a deep breath. “Actually, in this case I think it’s because the fact that he’s still alive is Level Seven classified.” 

Clint goes very still.

“Okay, that’s a really scary face,” Skye says hurriedly, making placating motions at him with the phone. “Please don’t be mad at him, he really died and SHIELD brought him back to life with some kind of alien goo and rewrote his memories and he’s been taking it really hard and now all our co-workers are apparently Nazis and want to kill us and we need your help, Agent Barton, Clint, please, I have literally nowhere else to go right now.” 

Clint has about seven hundred questions, but only one of them is really important. “Where is he now?”

“Safe, but I don’t want to leave him alone for much longer. Will you come with me?”

There was never anything the answer was going to be but yes. He puts on an armored vest under his hoodie and grabs the messenger bag that contains his collapsible bow and quiver while Skye washes her face and gulps down her cold coffee, and just like that, he’s following a girl he just met to a part of town that is markedly sketchier than his own, difficult though that might be to believe.

“We ran into a strike team yesterday in Newark and he got hit with something,” she says quietly, under cover of the morning commuter noise. “Some kind of, I dunno, sedative or something? It made him really loopy. He didn’t recognize it but he said it was probably meant to make him easy to interrogate, so he needed to hole up somewhere until it wore off, but it wasn’t getting any better and I don’t know all that spy stuff like he does, I can’t keep us safe on my own and they’re still looking.”

“You did the right thing, Skye,” Clint says, ruthlessly suppressing his own looming freakout. “It’ll be okay.”

“It won’t,” she snaps, voice quivery. “Don’t bullshit me, okay, I have had a really shitty week, we haven’t heard from the others in days and I just found out I kissed a Nazi and—“

“Hey,” he breaks in. “Hey. Skye. You’re right, it was a bad choice of words. Things are fucked up, you are absolutely right. But right now, you and me and Coulson, we are going to be okay. I’ll make sure of it.”

She sniffs, and sets her jaw. “I’m holding you to that,” she says. “Agent Coulson… he arrested me, you know? I was hacking SHIELD, and he came after me. He could have, like, renditioned me somewhere and I’d still be in a hole getting enhanced-interrogated by goons, but he didn’t. He gave me a chance. He let me join his team.” 

Clint can’t help it; he laughs out loud, then holds his hands out placatingly when Skye bristles. “No, sorry, I wasn’t laughing at you,” he says. “It’s just, if you switch out the hacking SHIELD part for ‘accidentally working for a supervillain’? That’s pretty much exactly my story.”

She gives him a watery smile. “I guess I’m not surprised,” she says. “He’s really big on second chances.” 

“SHIELD is—” he cuts himself off. “SHIELD was. Fuck. Was a good place for second chances. At least we thought so.”

“I was so fucking proud of that badge,” she mutters. “I thought it meant something. I know it sounds cheesy, but I thought I was making a difference.”

For a moment, she sounds achingly like Natasha, adrift and betrayed, and he finds himself ruffling her hair. “If you were working with Coulson, you were,” he says. “No matter what else was going on. He can’t help it.”

She shrugs, but looks a little better. “This is our stop,” she says. “Come on, it isn’t far from here.”

Skye’s safe place, as it turns out, is a no-tell hotel with hourly rates. “Seriously?” he asks.

She wrinkles her nose. “It was AC’s idea,” she says. “I’m pretty sure they think I’m a hooker, but at least they take cash and don’t ask questions.”

“Well if they didn’t think that before, they probably do now,” he says. “I’m your second older man in twelve hours.”

She gives him an epic eye-roll that reminds him sharply of Kate as she leads him to their room. It’s sort of comforting. "It only speaks well of me, then," she says. "Since you're all... kill-you-with-my-pinkie built, and AC looks like the dad all the moms at soccer practice want to bone." Clint is startled into a bark of laughter that he tries to swallow halfway through, and he ends up nearly having a coughing fit in the stairwell. Skye looks triumphant and a shade more relaxed, and he's glad for that even while his brain is having trouble parsing how anyone could look at Phil and thinkdad. Of course, Skye is about twelve, and Phil has always had a not-very-well-hidden nurturing side, especially with his most promising trainees.

Their room is on the second floor from the top (good) and equidistant from the two stairwells (better.) He keeps an eye on the hallway as Skye knocks a pattern on the door; they both relax when they hear a muffled knock in reply from inside.

“Before we go in,” she says, unlocking the door, “I’m just warning you, he did that to himself, so don’t get pissed at me.” She’s got the door open and is eeling inside before he has a chance to demand an explanation, so he swallows down the acid in his throat and follows her through the door.

The room is pretty much exactly as gross as he’d expected, but he isn’t really paying attention to that, or even to the complicated-looking tech setup on one of the end tables that Skye makes a beeline for, because Phil is lying on the bed, looking terrible and out of it but alive, and he’s handcuffed to the bedframe and his mouth is taped up.

“What the fuck—” he begins, and Skye cuts him off.

“He did that himself, I told you!” she says. “I thought it was a terrible idea but apparently whatever it was they dosed him with lowers inhibitions and he didn’t trust himself to stay here quietly while I was gone.”

“Of course he did,” Clint mutters. “Goddammit, Phil.” He crosses to the bed and sits heavily on the side of it, next to Phil’s hip. Phil is wearing sweatpants, and it probably says something terrible about their lives that this is far more unusual for him than the handcuffs.

Phil raises his head and shakes it sharply, as though trying to get water out of his ears, then looks over at Clint with glassy eyes. He says something behind the tape, cuffed hands reaching toward him, and it is more than Clint can take right now. The key to the handcuffs is on the bedside table—out of reach of Phil’s hands but reachable by his feet in a pinch, which was likely the idea—and Clint’s got his hands unbound in seconds and then follows it up by yanking the tape off Phil’s mouth. He sees Skye wince out of the corner of his eye, but Phil prefers to pull the tape off fast and get it over with. (Again, it is probably some sort of sad commentary on his life that Clint knows this.)

Phil flails a little, trying to sit up but obviously uncoordinated with whatever drug they got him with, and Clint grabs his hand and pulls him up. He expects Phil to want to stand up next, stretch his legs or go take a piss or something, but instead he cocks his head to the side and squints at him.

“Clint?” he rasps, and his voice is hoarse enough that he’s likely been talking behind that tape for hours. Clint’s opening his mouth to reply, probably with some kind of quip about bondage or younger women, and is mortified when what comes out is more like half Phil’s name and half an ugly strangled sob. He isn’t sure which of them moves, but somehow his face is buried in Phil’s shoulder, one hand still holding Phil’s between them and the other fisting into the back of Phil’s t-shirt, Phil’s other hand cupping the back of his head.

“Holy shit,” Skye says faintly, somewhere behind them. “Um, you guys should… talk, or whatever. I’m just… gonna take a shower.”

Clint has thought about it, maybe more than is strictly healthy; sometimes on a transport or waiting in a sniper nest or lying awake in bed at night, he’d tell himself stories about what would happen if Phil just showed up one day, alive. It wasn’t unprecedented at SHIELD, after all; Clint knows of two different cases where an agent’s death was faked and it came out later, when the threat was dealt with or the deep cover mission was over. He’d imagined what it would be like; he’d get a briefing notice one day and when he’d turned up, Phil would be there, sitting at the table dealing out packets to everyone like nothing ever happened. Or maybe Clint would be at the Tower, and Phil would just show up in the main living room on movie night. JARVIS would let him in, because he’d made friends with JARVIS. He’d walk right in and raise an eyebrow a little like he did sometimes when he thought he was being extra suave, and he’d say that the rumors of his death had been greatly exaggerated, and Clint would play it cool, or sometimes Clint would sock him in the jaw for being an asshole and making people cry, or sometimes Clint would be first off the mark with the death-rumors line.

Sometimes Clint would go right up to him and cup his face in his hands and kiss him like a movie star, but that one can’t really stand up to scrutiny unless it’s really late and Clint’s either drunk or sleep-deprived.

It’s never been like this, though, not in any of his daydreams. This Phil isn’t poised and cool and wryly confident; this Phil is thinner, haunted-looking. He hasn’t shaved. He’s wearing sweatpants. This Phil is pressed against him trembling like a greyhound and muttering into his neck, a steady stream of hoarse words that mostly seem to be “Clint” and “sorry.”

This Phil is real.

Clint doesn’t really cry much anymore. It isn’t that he thinks it’s not manly or any shit like that; it’s mostly that what with everything that’s happened over the years, if he let himself get started he wouldn’t ever stop. He's gotten himself out of the habit, mostly.

He isn’t crying now, though his throat has a giant rock in it and his eyes are burning. He hasn’t slept much, is the thing. Phil doesn’t really look like he has, either; apparently being dead isn’t as restful as you might think. He feels different under Clint's hands; not that they spent a lot of time hugging before, but they are in a fairly physical line of work, and Clint can tell even without looking that Phil's body has shifted a little, a veneer of sleekness peeled away and revealing wiry tension.

Clint takes a deep and only somewhat snotty breath. Phil smells like cordite and sweat and something acrid that must be the drug sweating out of him. It isn't exactly pleasant, but it's reassuringly there. In Clint's daydreams, Phil always smelled like a morning VIP briefing, good coffee and shaving soap and a faint hint of cologne. This is better.

Clint thinks that maybe, if he’d found this out a month ago, he’d had felt furious, hurt and betrayed. Some of that’s there now, but he’s spent the last week reeling under discovery after horrible discovery of people he’d known for years, people he’d trusted, who had turned without a second thought and killed their fellow agents in HYDRA’s name. In the face of all that, all he can  bring himself to care about is that Phil is back, that Phil is here, that Phil needs him, and he can feel himself slipping into that calm headspace where the world narrows down to the target. The fact that, in this case, the target is drugged to high heaven and wearing sweatpants makes no difference.

He forces himself to let go of Phil's shirt, smoothing down the wrinkles from where he was holding, and then giving in to the temptation to keep rubbing Phil's back. He really doesn't like the tremors he feels, or the unnatural heat Phil's putting off. "Hey," he says, keeping his voice low. "Hey, Phil, easy. I've got—” he clears his throat. "I've got you. Skye found me, I'm here, it's gonna be okay."

Phil's hand clenches in his hair, then slowly lets go. Phil pulls back a little, just enough for them to see each other. The angles of his face are sharper than they were, the lines at the corners of his eyes deeper. His mouth is tight and unhappy, though he's still holding Clint's hand hard enough to hurt.  

"It's okay," Clint says again.

Phil makes a little scornful noise, just a huff of air through his nose. "Bullshit," he says, voice creaky.

It's so familiar that Clint can't help grinning at him, inappropriate moment or not. "You're alive and neither of us is HYDRA," he says. "That's the best news I've heard all week, so let me enjoy it." 

“I was worried about you,” Phil says. “We saw Natasha on CSPAN but nobody had any news of you and I knew you’d been on a mission when everything happened. I was afraid you got caught in the Leak.” Clint can hear the capitals.

“Fury aborted the op a couple hours before everything started,” Clint says. “I think he was trying to protect me. One of the last things he did.” He clenches his jaw. “It’s just like him, the infuriating bastard. You can’t even stay mad at him for long.”

Phil’s eyes go wide. He’s got no poker face whatsoever right now; Clint is starting to see why he’d wanted to handcuff himself in place. He leans in close and whispers into Clint’s ear, making him shiver. “Fury’s alive,” he says. “He’s gone dark, but there are a few facilities left still operating under his orders. Don’t tell the others, it’s a secret.”

“If it’s a secret, why are you telling me?” Clint whispers back. He can’t suppress a little thrill of optimism; if Fury’s still out there, a stubborn part of him insists, everything can’t be as shitty as Clint had feared. The backup plans for Fury’s backup plans had backup plans of their own. It also made the whole Phil thing make more sense, because anyone with brains would want to have Agent Coulson as their ace in the hole.

Phil’s face crumples, the corners of his mouth tucking down. “I’m not keeping secrets from you anymore. I’ve decided,” he says. “All these years, all these decades, I kept every secret, and what fucking good did it do? They’re all out now, and everyone I cared about is dead or HYDRA or thinks that I’m dead, and I let them think it because I had orders.”

“Phil,” Clint says helplessly. He’s never seen Phil like this, not even shot or drugged or shot and then subsequently drugged, and he doesn’t know what to do. It’s not like he has a lot of experience being the better emotionally-adjusted one in a situation. “People will understand. I understand. With everything that’s happened—”

“Garrett was HYDRA,” Phil interrupts.

“Fuck.” Clint shuts his eyes for a moment, letting himself take the blow. Garrett had worked with Delta a lot, in the early days, before he’d gotten his own strike team. Clint had liked him. Phil had treated him like family, like a favored cousin he always wanted to play with when they got together. Garrett had taken a bullet to the shoulder for Phil once. 

“Sitwell too,” Phil continues, “and Carlson and Yang and— and Ward. They had a sleeper on my team, Clint, and I had no idea. And Mel— May…”

“No,” Clint interrupts. “No way, Phil, please, please do not tell me that Melinda fucking May is HYDRA.”

“Not HYDRA,” Phil says, and Clint sags in relief. “But she was watching me, reporting on me to Fury the whole time. I trusted her, I confided in her, and the whole time she was filing reports about how likely I was to, to suddenly snap or something.”

“Why would they even think that?” A thought strikes him, and he goes cold all over. “Phil, did Loki—”

“No,” Phil says hastily. “No, nothing like that, God, Clint. It… what did Skye tell you, about how they brought me back?”

“She said something about alien goo?” Clint says uncertainly. “I was mostly hung up on the part where you weren’t dead, though, so I’m not sure I was following.”  

“I really died,” Phil says. “That part wasn’t a lie. I remember it, I’ve read the reports. My heart was cut in half,” and Clint can’t hold back his flinch. Phil looks at him with sad eyes, tightens his grip on Clint’s hand that he still hasn’t let go. 

“I was dead for days,” Phil whispers. “Fury… threw in everything he had, I think. I don’t completely understand it, but he was determined to bring me back.”

“I understand,” Clint says, and Phil shoots him a look that he can’t quite decipher, but Clint does. It may be the most understandable thing Fury’s ever done.

“They finally used this… drug. It regenerated the tissue, let my body heal. It was alien. I mean, not just otherworldly, Clint, not just strange, it was part of an alien. We went looking for the source of it and I found…bodies. Corpses and tubes. All tucked away in this World War II bunker that didn’t officially exist.” Phil looks gaunt, for a moment, haunted and lost, and Clint thinks that this is the missing piece. The revelation of HYDRA was terrible, but too recent to have carved the changes that he sees in Phil. 

“Shit,” he says simply. “That is fucked up.” Phil meets his eyes, a moment of agreement that feels so familiar it hurts. “So what happened?”

“Skye was shot,” Phil says, eyes darting over to the closed bathroom door. The water’s still running, but the room isn’t warming up and one of the laptops from the end table is gone, so she’s probably just running the cold water in a kindhearted attempt to give them some privacy. “She wasn’t going to make it, so we went looking for the drug. We thought, if it saved me, it could save her. You have to understand, we found the drug and sent Fitz running back with it before I found the aliens, I never would have given it to her if I’d known.”

He looks at Phil; the misery on his face is uncharacteristically clear. Only Phil Coulson, Clint thinks, could look this guilty over having saved someone’s life. Well. Maybe Cap, too. Clint hasn’t seen it happen but he wouldn’t discount the possibility.

“She was dying, right?” he asks gently. “And you found this secret hidden bunker, looking for something to save her?”

“We had to shoot our way in,” Phil says, voice bleak. “There was a self-destruct; there just wasn’t enough time—”

“So you made a call,” Clint interrupts him, “and you saved Skye’s life.” He can see Phil bracing himself to argue, and decides to go straight to the source. He raises his voice a bit; enough to be heard over the shower but hopefully not in the next room. “Hey, Skye?”

There’s a thump from the bathroom, and then Skye sticks her head out. She is completely dry and has a security dongle around her neck. “Yeah?”

“Are you mad that Phil saved your life by giving you alien goo?”

She shoots Phil an unimpressed look. “Seriously, AC, again? For the millionth time, I am fine with that. Because, oh right! it saved my life.”

“Are you sure?” Clint asks, seriously. “I mean, what if you suddenly grow an extra arm or turn blue or something?” Beside him, Phil makes a grumpy noise that makes Clint feel warm all over with its familiarity.

She shrugs. “It’s not like stuff like that doesn’t happen to SHIELD agents without the alien goo,” she says, which, yeah. It’s a reasonable point. “And even if it does change me, it might not be bad. Maybe it’ll give me superpowers, who knows? Then I could join the Avengers or something.”

Phil sighs. “Heaven help us all the day you and Tony Stark meet,” he says, but even though he still looks conflicted, his tension has eased a little.

From the bathroom, an alarm bleats. Of course it does, because this is Clint’s life.

Skye ducks back into the room and scurries back out again a few seconds later, laptop tucked protectively against her chest.

“So I hate to cut off your moment, or whatever,” she says, “but my HYDRA alarm just went off.”

“Seriously?” Clint says, aggrieved. He finally pulls his hand free from Phil’s, the better to cross his arms and scowl.

“I know, right?” Skye agrees.

“I hate those motherfuckers,” Phil says, then snaps his mouth shut, looking put out. Clint tries very hard not to find it hot—so not the time—but he can’t help it, Phil can blister paint when he gets going but he very rarely lets slip so much as a “damn,” so Phil-swearing eventually took on a sort of Victorian-ankle eroticism for Clint that he mostly tries not to think about.

“So what have we got?” he asks Skye. Concentrate, Barton.

“About ninety minutes until they get here,” she offers. “Maybe two hours, if they get caught in traffic and don’t just shoot their way through.”

Clint glances at his watch. Tony’s meeting started seven minutes ago. “Fuck,” he says. He looks from Phil to Skye and then back to Phil.

“So I’m really sorry about this,” he begins, “but I think that we’re going to have to tell—”

The tinny strains of Iggy Azalea (goddammit Tony) start playing out of Clint’s pocket. “Aw, phone,” he says, digging it out and hitting the green icon. “Tasha, I can explain.” Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Phil go tense.

“If the next words out of your mouth are ‘I met this girl,’ I am going to actually murder you,” Natasha says.

“Those… were actually going to be my next words? But it was for a really good reason this time,” Clint says. “Remember Peter Clark? I ran into him and one of his friends.”

“Did you,” Natasha says, everything about her voice suddenly calm and deadly.

“Yup,” he says. “We got to talking about old times, and I missed my bus. Don’t suppose you’d be up to giving us a ride? If we stay at this coffee shop more than another half hour or so, I think they’re going to make us buy lunch, and Peter’s not feeling up to anything heavier than tea right now.”

“Sure.” Clint feels the little thrum that means the phone’s locator beacon has activated. “I’ll be there in forty,” Natasha says. “I’ll text you.”

“See you then,” Clint says, and hangs up the phone. “So,” he starts, looking at Phil and Skye.

“Absolutely not,” Phil says.

“So, what, we’re supposed to take the subway? I seem to recall there being a rule about archery on the A train, despite the alliterative suitability.”

He can almost see Phil running through and discarding possibilities in his head: taxis, walking, fighting their way out, creating some kind of distraction… all bad ideas for one reason (Phil is drugged) or another (Skye is a baby) or another (Clint only brought the one quiver and hotels are shitty to shoot in.) He gives him a minute, because Phil never did do well when he thought you were forcing an issue, and looks him square in the eye.

“You said you were tired of secrets,” he says, and Phil’s eyes flinch shut, just for a second. “Plus, can you imagine how Cap would feel if he found out you survived Loki but then got killed by HYDRA in his own backyard?” It’s playing dirty, and Clint knows it, and Phil knows it—probably even Skye knows it—but fuck that. They are not getting killed today.

“Right,” Phil says at last, and draws in a shaky breath. “I can’t put it off forever. At least then I’ll know instead of just imagining the looks on their faces when they—”

“Phil, focus,” Clint interrupts, because he might not be very mad, but he isn’t a big enough person to comfort Phil about this right now. “What do we need to do before we leave?”

Phil looks grateful, and starts talking them step-by-step through the temporary safe house departure SOP. It’s not like Clint needs it, but Skye probably hasn’t had the chance to learn it yet, and it should satisfy Phil’s urge to say true things with minimal collateral damage. By the time Natasha texts, the room is properly wiped and the equipment packed, and they shuffle down the stairs, Skye peering anxiously at some kind of HYDRA-tracking app she has on her phone (seriously?), until they reach the ground, where a car that is far too crappy-looking to belong to Tony Stark is idling at the curb. They climb in, Clint in front and Skye and Phil in back, and Happy pulls seamlessly into traffic.

“Hey, Hap,” Clint says.

“Clint,” Happy says.

“Thanks for coming.”

Happy shrugs. “We sent three cars to three different hotels,” he says. “I won the toss.”

“Against who?” Skye’s head pops up between the front seats like one of those groundhog things who pop their heads up. (Hulk likes to watch Animal Planet, which means that everyone watches Animal Planet sometimes.)

“Cap and the Widow,” Happy says. “They’re the best drivers.”

“I can’t imagine Stark agrees,” Phil says, and Happy shoots him a dirty look in the rear-view mirror.

“Mr. Stark,” he says quellingly, “is having a very showy test flight in Flatbush to be close in case he is needed.” 

“I always liked him, even though he made my job a living hell sometimes,” Phil says. “He’s a good man.” Clint glances back, and Phil looks like he’s just bitten a lemon.

“Skye, give me the duct tape,” Phil says.

“Skye, don’t you dare,” Clint says. “He’s going to tear his lips off at this rate.”

“I’d be better off,” Phil mutters darkly.

“Truth serum,” Clint tells Happy, who still looks pretty stunned by Phil admitting that he likes Tony.

“There’s no such thing as truth serum, it’s an inhibition-lowering sedative,” Phil says, and Clint can’t help it, he’s missed that certain prim tone Phil gets when he’s being pedantic about spy shit. He smiles at Phil goofily over his shoulder.

“You should smile like that all the time, it makes you look—” Phil says, then literally stuffs part of his fist in his mouth, looking mortified.

The car is silent for a moment, except for a cabdriver honking violently at them when Happy cuts him off expertly.

“Hey, AC,” Skye says, and Clint is going to ask her about that nickname sometime when they aren’t about to be killed. “Why don’t you tell Clint and Happy all about your spy collectibles.”

Phil’s shoulders sag a bit, and he lets his hand fall. There’s an arc of toothmarks across the skin; a few of them are welling with blood. “Well,” he says, “The oldest item in my collection is a fountain pen that converts into a spyglass…”

He talks them all the way to the Tower, which is just as well, because Clint is using all his willpower to keep from leaning over the seat and kissing away the blood smears on Phil’s hand, and while Phil geeking out over collectibles is adorable, it’s an adorable that Clint has been exposed to often, and he’s built up a bit of resistance over the years. Happy takes them through the Avengers-only entrance to Tony’s private garage, and pulls up next to the elevator, where Tony is waiting for them.

Tony’s wearing a suit so sharp you could cut yourself on it, and those stupid yellow sunglasses of his, and he’s got his arms crossed in front of his chest; he looks like he’s about to face a press conference, not welcome home a friend. Clint feels suddenly really shitty on his behalf; after Natasha and himself, Tony had been the most upset about Phil, and he doesn’t have the long experience with SHIELD that is helping Clint to get over being pissed about being lied to about everything. Plus, well. None of them are very good with betrayal, deliberate or not.

“Agent,” Tony says with one of his shark-grins, as they get out of the car. “I see the rumors of your death have been greatly…” he breaks off, really looking at Phil, who is visibly wobbling. Tony shoots an appalled look at Clint. “Is he wearing sweatpants?”

“It’s not his fault, Tony,” Clint says, hurrying to get an arm around Phil. “Fury mad-scienced him back to life and kept it a secret. He was getting close to uncovering HYDRA and needed someone he could trust in reserve.”

“He figured that out himself,” Phil tells Tony. “He’s much smarter than he lets on. Motherfucker, will someone please gag me or something?”

“I still have the duct tape,” Skye offers.

“No,” Clint says.

Please,” Phil says at the same time.

“Absolutely not,” Tony says, face going from pissed off to delighted so fast Clint almost gets a sympathy cramp. “Is he high? This is amazing. And also, who are you?”

“HYDRA truth serum,” Clint says. While Phil is explaining once more that there’s no such thing as truth serum, he steers him around Tony toward the elevator. “Tony, Skye,” he says. “No last name, she’s like Cher. Skye, Tony Stark. Skye’s Phil’s new hacker.”

“Sometimes she cosplays at the foot of the tower,” Phil offers. “Fuck! Sorry, Skye.”

“That was one time!” Skye yelps. “It was for a bet!”

“Who were you?” Tony asks eagerly. “Were you Natasha? Everyone wants to be Natasha.”

Skye mumbles something.

“I can’t heeeear you,” Tony chants, because inside, he’s an overgrown twelve-year-old sometimes.

“Lady Iron Man,” Skye admits, and Tony crows with victory.

“Once, in Tierra del Fuego, Clint had to disguise himself as—” Phil begins, and Clint claps a muffling hand over his mouth. He’s pretty sure the look Phil shoots him over his fingers is gratitude.

“And on that note, I’m taking him upstairs to sleep it off,” Clint says. “We’ll catch up later. Tony, I’m sure you and Skye have lots to talk about. Don’t build Skynet.” He pulls Phil into the safety of the elevator and sighs in relief as the doors slide shut just as Tony is calling “No promises!” at their backs. If he’s maybe a little too reluctant to take his hand off Phil’s mouth, well, JARVIS won’t tell.

“JARVIS, buddy, Is Bruce upstairs?” Clint asks. “I think Phil’s mostly okay, but he’s been like this for a few days and I don’t like that he’s still this affected.”

“He is indeed, and would be happy to examine Agent Coulson. And may I say, Agent, that everyone in the Tower is very pleased to learn of your continued good health.”

“Thanks, JARVIS,” Phil says. “Have I ever told you that you’re amazing? Even more than the suit, I think. Stark puts on a good show but he’s probably the finest engineering mind of his generation. Please don’t tell him I said that.”

“I’m sure he would appreciate the sentiment, sir, as do I, but my protocols guarantee the preservation of privacy when one is under the influence of mind-altering substances,” JARVIS says, and in a few seconds the door opens on the floor where Bruce’s lab and the souped-up clinic that Tony has everyone calling “medbay” are.

Mercifully, Bruce barely knew Phil, and therefore didn’t take the whole faked-death thing personally. He keeps Phil talking throughout his exam (by now, he’s pretty much given up protesting that he isn’t that kind of doctor) about his symptoms and their duration, which has the double benefit of conveying useful information and keeping Phil off any more dangerous topics.

“I’ll have to run a few more tests,” he says at last, “but from what I can tell, he’s not in any danger. Keep him hydrated and fed, let him sleep as much as he wants, and his body should burn through it eventually. I’ll let you know if anything changes.”

“Thanks, Bruce,” Clint says, and steers Phil, who’s currently giving a monologue on the comparative tastiness of different coffee roasts, back to the elevator, where he pauses for a moment, wondering where to take him. Clint’s own apartment in the Tower is a mess, Natasha’s is likely full of deathtraps, and he doesn’t think Phil is on houseguest terms with any of the others at the best of times, which this is definitely not.

“If I may, sir, Mr. Stark wishes to inform you that he has prepared a suite for Agent Coulson’s use.”

Clint abandons his half-formed plan for making Phil wait in the hall while he cleans his apartment. “Thanks, JARVIS,” he says. “Take us there?”

The “suite” is, of course, a huge, furnished apartment on what Tony calls the “guest floor,” where people like Jane and Darcy and Maria Hill and Steve’s buddy Sam stay when they’re going to be at the Tower for a while. When the door shuts behind them with a heavy and comforting thud, Clint feels the knots in his spine start to loosen for the first time in days. Phil has cycled out of being chatty and into being sleepy, leaning heavily on Clint as they move into the living room. He’d been planning on setting Phil up on the couch, maybe with some soup and Tony’s supercharged streaming video collection, but the droop of Phil’s eyelids makes him think better of it, and he moves them into the bedroom. The bed, which is one of the huge, soft, awesome ones that Tony seems to buy in bulk, is made up with one of those puffy feather comforters like a high-class hotel.

“That bed looks amazing,” Phil says. “I desperately want to get in it.”

Clint grins. “Better than where you started the day, that’s for sure,” he says, turning down the covers for Phil.

“The sheets reeked of bleach,” Phil says, toeing off his shoes and crawling under the blankets. “At least, I hope it was bleach.” He wrinkles his nose, looking a bit like a wet cat, and Clint should by no means find that as endearing as he does.

“You can shower later,” Clint promises. 

Phil mutters something, but his face is burrowed into the stack of pillows, and Clint doesn’t hear what it is. He gives into the temptation to smooth Phil’s hair, just once, before he goes into the kitchen to make something for Phil to eat when he wakes up.

Clint isn’t what you’d call a foodie, but he’s good at anything that can be made in a big pot and/or over a camp stove. Tony’s got a service that stocks the kitchens with a standard list of food, and Clint soon loses himself in the familiar rhythms of chopping vegetables.

Once the soup is simmering, Clint goes to check on Phil, bringing a fresh bottle of water. Phil has kicked the covers off, and is sitting up, propped against the headboard, blinking sleepily. Clint has to smile.

“Drink this,” he says, handing him the water, and Phil takes it obediently, draining half of it in three long gulps. Clint tries to ignore the working of his throat as he swallows, with indifferent success. Phil smiles at him over the lip of the bottle, eyes crinkling at the corners, and it hits him, again, the tangled ball of anger and joy and relief; Phil’s alive, he’s here, he’s real. He sits on the foot of the bed, and manages not to bury his head in his hands.

“Clint?” Phil straightens, poking him gently with his foot. “What’s wrong?”

Clint shakes his head, more at himself than at Phil. “Nothing, just— I’m really glad you’re here,” he says. “I’m really glad you’re okay.”

Phil nods, but Clint can tell he isn't buying it, mouth tight and unhappy. “I’ve done so many things wrong,” Phil says. “Some I regret, some I couldn’t have helped; you know how it is.”

Clint nods; he knows.

“But, Clint, the worst is what I did to you. Letting you believe I was dead, when I was still active and I knew you’d find out eventually—” 


“With the others, even Natasha, I was following orders, but with you it was different, just because—”

“Phil, stop!”  Clint feels desperate, suddenly, and something of it must come through in his voice, because Phil is pressing his hands against his mouth, again, looking mutinously at Clint over his battered fingers. Clint rubs at the back of his neck.

“Listen, okay?” he says. “Just, listen, for a minute, and don’t talk. I know you want to. I know it seems like you have to, to say these things, but Phil, it’s not you, it’s the drugs.” Phil looks even more pissed, and Clint hurries on, words tripping over one another in his haste to get them said. “I’m not saying they’re not true!” he says. “I’m just saying, you’re under the influence, Phil. It wouldn’t be fair of me to listen, it wouldn’t be right.

“But you need to know!” Phil interrupts. “You deserve to know. You want to talk about what’s right, let’s talk about how I hid the truth from you, how I never gave you a chance—”

“I don’t want to know like this!” Clint yells, and he’s distantly glad for the soundproofing that Tony puts on everything. “If you have to have HYDRA force it out of you, I don’t want to know at all!”

Phil flinches. His jaw flexes, like maybe he’s literally biting his tongue, but he remains, blessedly, silent.

“Look,” Clint says, forcing his voice level. “I’ll make you a deal, okay? Whatever it is you feel like you need to say to me, write it down. And then, after the drug is gone, when Bruce gives you the all-clear, you wait a day. Twenty-four hours, and then, if you still want me to know whatever it is, you can bring it to me and I’ll read it. Okay?”

There’s a long pause, and Phil draws an unsteady breath. “If you’re still planning to stay here, you’ll need to give me other things to talk about.”

“I can do that,” Clint promises. “How do you feel about soup?”

Phil tells him, at length, how he feels about soup. Later, he tells him how he feels about Project Runway, and Proust, and FIFA, and commercial spaceflight. In between, he keeps vanishing into the other room with a spiral-bound notebook Clint found for him in the kitchen drawer; naturally, it has Iron Man on it, so Clint drew a monocle and top hat on before giving it to Phil. It had made him smile.

Phil eventually passes out on the couch, and Clint catches up on Dog Cops and watches him sleep. Not for any creepy reason, just to make sure he keeps breathing properly; you can’t be too careful with unknown narcotics. In the morning, Phil wakes slowly, blinking around him like he’s not quite sure where he is.

“Hey, Phil,” Clint says. “How do you feel about pancakes?”

“Pancakes sound good,” Phil says, cautious. “Maybe with bacon.” He then stops talking entirely. After about a minute of silence, he rubs one hand over his face, and stands up, the soft gray afghan that Clint put over him in the night sliding to the floor.

“Or maybe we should go see Dr. Banner,” he says. “I have a feeling more blood tests are in order.”

They get dressed in silence and go back to medbay; the series of blood tests aren’t really even needed, because Phil doesn’t say a word until Bruce gets there and starts asking about his symptoms. When Bruce finally sits back, peeling off his gloves, and tells them that Phil seems to have cleared the drug and that he should be back to normal after a bit more sleep, Clint makes a weak excuse and hightails it back to his floor. He needs to clean up, and sleep for about seventeen hours. He’ll deal with the rest of it after.

He absolutely doesn’t keep track of when it will be twenty-four hours since Phil got the all-clear, except for how he does. He thinks about making pancakes and bacon, then shoves the thought down viciously and eats a protein bar, one of the fig ones that he only keeps around to swap with Natasha, who is a freak and likes figs even though they are full of wasps. (That’s a true fact; he saw it on Animal Planet.)

It’s been twenty-four hours and twelve minutes since they left medbay when there’s a knock at Clint’s door. He tosses the rest of his waspy breakfast and goes to answer, wiping his hands on his jeans.

Phil is at the door, starched and perfect in a neatly-pressed suit, although Clint’s pretty sure that the only one Phil had with him was full of holes and covered in truth serum. He’s got the Iron Man notebook in one hand.

Clint swallows. “So,” he says, trying to sound nonchalant and failing utterly. “Do you still want me to read that?”

Phil looks down in surprise, like he’s forgotten he was still holding the notebook. “I— no,” he says, and Clint’s heart sinks.

“Then I’m glad—” he begins, but Phil cuts him off.

“I want to tell you myself,” Phil says. “You deserve that much. May I come in?”

Clint realizes he’s still standing in the door gaping. “Of course, sorry,” he says, stepping back and gesturing Phil past him. “I could, um, make pancakes, or—”

“Clint, please,” Phil says, and Clint trails into silence.

“Yeah, okay,” he says. “Whatever you need, Phil.”

Phil is quiet for a moment, looking down at the notebook in his hand, and then he squares his shoulders and looks Clint dead in the eye. It’s a familiar look, though not aimed at him; it’s what he’s always thought of (before he met Steve and it became weird) as Phil’s Captain America look, the one he uses when he’s doing the right thing and likely to suffer for it.

“When I realized what had happened to me,” he says, “and when the Director ordered me to keep it a secret, I believed him when he said it was for a good reason.”

“HYDRA,” Clint says, helpfully.

“HYDRA,” Phil agrees, “but also he wasn’t sure if I’d still be… myself. If the… measures that he took would change me. He felt I needed to be monitored. Checked. The previous subjects… hadn’t done well.” He pauses, and Clint nods.

“That wasn’t the only reason, though,” Phil says. “That wasn’t why I agreed so easily to keep it from you. That was just… cowardice.”

Clint’s shaking his head already, because Phil is and has been many things, but Clint’s never known him a coward.

“It was, though. Clint. I was afraid to tell you, to face you. I couldn’t look you in the eye and let you know that I’d betrayed you, betrayed everything we’d been through together. That I’d lied to you like that. I was hiding, because it was easier than letting you know…”

“Know what?” Phil isn’t— he can’t be saying—

“It’s you,” Phil says, and then barrels on, words tumbling over each other like he's afraid if he doesn't say them all right now they're going to get stuck or something. “It’s always been you. Watching my back, taking the shot, having bad takeout in shitty safe houses halfway around the world.The person I can trust, the person who understands. And I’m sorry, Clint, I know this isn’t what you want—” and Clint almost cuts him off, because what? “—but I couldn’t keep lying to you and I couldn’t just come back and expect things to be the same, not unless you knew.”

“Phil,” Clint says, “just tell me. What isn’t what I want? What do I have to know?”

“I’m in love with you,” Phil says, and he’s flat-out babbling now, something about not expecting anything from Clint and things being the same as they were, but Clint really isn’t listening that carefully anymore, because his whole body is fizzing with exhilaration. He reaches out carefully, and Phil stutters to a halt as Clint cups his face, gently, so gently.

“Phil,” Clint says, and rubs tenderly at Phil’s laugh lines with his thumbs. He’s grinning like a loon, he can feel it, and he probably looks crazed, but he doesn’t give a shit about that right now.

“Clint?” Phil says, and it’s different, somehow, feeling his mouth shape Clint’s name as his jaw moves under Clint’s hands.

“I feel the same way,” he says simply. “Phil. I’ve been stupid over you for years, I just never thought— I mean, you’re you, and I’m a fuck-up with one useful skill.”

“You are not,” Phil says, indignant. “You’re so much more than—”

“To you,” Clint says, and he can’t keep the wonder of it of his face; he can feel himself melting like a candle, going pliant and soft. “Just to you, Phil, but you make me want to live up to it, you make me think I can.” Phil looks completely wrong-footed in a way that Clint’s never seen before, but within a few seconds that look is fading, replaced by a wide, sweet smile.

“Really?” Phil says.

“Really.” Clint tugs, the tiniest pressure of his fingertips on Phil’s jaw, and Phil moves into him, and Clint kisses him like a movie star. It’s an amazing kiss, for all that the only places they’re touching are their mouths and Clint’s hands on Phil’s face, and Clint draws it out as long as he can. When he finally has to pull back to breathe, he rests his forehead on Phil’s. This close, he can see the tiny, near-invisible freckles on his cheekbones.

He’s drawing breath to say something really fucking sappy when a fanfare of trumpets plays out of the ceiling and something falls on their heads. Clint jumps like a scalded cat, thinking HYDRA and drugs and motherfucking goddammit, what is my life as he manhandles Phil behind the couch (the back is bulletproof), groping for his bow, drawing and searching for the threat.

“I’m terribly sorry, sirs,” JARVIS says. “I’m afraid Mr. Stark has programmed a ‘first kiss protocol’ into the private areas of the Tower.”

Clint blinks, looking over at Phil, who’s holding a gun with deadly intent on what appears to be a small pile of sparkly confetti where they had just been standing. His head and shoulders are dusted with more.

“I assure you, it is completely hypoallergenic and chemically inert,” JARVIS says. “Fortunately, Ms. Potts was able to dissuade Mr. Stark from the automatic champagne delivery, though you will find a suitable bottle in the lounge on this floor should you so desire.”

Phil holsters his gun, his free hand going up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “I think we can forego the champagne this time,” he says. “However, we would greatly appreciate it if you could ensure that there are no more interruptions for the duration of our… visit.”

“Of course, Agent Coulson,” JARVIS says, and if he wasn’t a computer Clint would swear that he’s embarrassed about the whole thing. “Privacy mode active.”

Clint looks at the pile of confetti again, and then thinks about Tony crawling all over the Tower, hiding stockpiles of glitter in the ceilings along with surveillance cameras and fire suppression equipment. The sad part is, he can totally picture it, and he can’t hold back a giant snort of a laugh as he stows his spare bow back under the couch where it lives.

Phil looks over, startled, then relaxes into a grin, his face gone soft and open and happy. Clint wants him to look like that forever.

“Look at it this way,” he tells Phil. “At least now we know this isn’t a dream.”

Phil steps closer, right up into Clint’s space, and rests his hands on Clint’s hips. The warmth of them soaks through Clint’s shirt, and a wave of goosebumps follows the sensation.

“And do you,” Phil says, voice intent and low, “often have such dreams, Agent Barton?” His thumbs are stroking along Clint’s bottom ribs, back and forth, back and forth, leaving shivery trails in their wake.

Clint takes the half-step forward that brings their bodies into contact, and lets his cheek brush Phil’s as he leans to whisper into his ear. “All the fucking time, sir.” 

Phil sucks in a sharp breath, almost a gasp, and his hands tighten. Clint skims his hands around Phil’s waist, under his jacket where he can feel firm ripples of muscle beneath skin-warm cotton, and lets himself nudge at the base of Phil's throat with his nose. He's not nuzzling, okay, it's sensory orientation. 

“You smell amazing,” Phil murmurs, shivery-good by Clint's ear. He totally doesn't, he smells like coffee and Pert Plus, but he appreciates the thought. He lets their cheeks—smooth-shaven, both of them, because apparently even death and alien goo can't drag them out of sync with each other—rub against each other as he pulls back enough to reach Phil's mouth. He wants to do everything with Phil, but he also wants to stay right here, kissing and kissing until their lips are sore, in this moment when they are safe and together and Phil has confetti in his hair. He brushes their lips together, whisper-soft, over and over, until he’s sensitized and tingling, then leaves a string of tiny, suckling kisses along Phil’s jawline. Phil leans in, breath speeding up, clutching at Clint’s sides.

Clint,” he says, like it’s a complete sentence, his voice gone raspy and low. Clint pulls back a little, just enough to be able to focus as he lets himself gaze into Phil’s blue, blue eyes. He never does that, usually, never lets himself look as long and hard as he wants; it freaks people out. But Phil just sinks a little more of his weight against Clint’s chest and returns the look, hands snaking around Clint’s waist to stroke the dip of his spine. He takes a breath, opening his mouth as though he’s going to say something, then abandons the unspoken words with a huff and kisses Clint, hard.

The press of Phil’s mouth feels amazing, his nerves primed by the long tease, and Clint clutches him back, opening under Phil’s tongue with a moan. He’s got his arms almost completely under Phil’s jacket, the silk of the lining on one side and the flex of Phil’s back on the other. It feels secret, thrilling somehow, like’s he getting away with something, and his dick throbs in his jeans. He pulls back a little, panting for breath, lips wet and tingling.

“Bed,” he says, then realizes distantly that this isn’t an actual sentence, tries again. “Can we go to bed?”

Please,” Phil says, and it should not be possible for a human being to sound that polite and that horny at the same time. It’s awesome.

Clint starts shuffling them both toward the bedroom. Their progress is hampered by how neither of them want to let go of the other, and how they keep stopping to make out like they’re on a romance novel cover (he likes the happy endings, okay, shut up). Clint’s distantly grateful that they’re at his place in the Tower and not his apartment in Bed-Stuy; if they had to deal with the loft stairs, he’s pretty sure somebody would actually break a bone. As it is, they’re all on one floor and Clint actually cleaned up while he was freaking out during Phil’s twenty-four hours, so they eventually make it to the bedroom unscathed. 

He makes himself take a step back from Phil, hoping it will clear his head, but all it does is make his chest feel suddenly cold. Phil’s eyes flick down to where Clint can feel his nipples peaking through his t-shirt, which is worn thin with time and the heavy-duty laundry service that’s necessary in Clint’s line of work, and Clint feels like he’s going to get eaten alive. (In a sexy way, not literally, which is sadly a clarification he actually has to make these days.)

Phil peels off his jacket and tosses it over the weird trouser-press thing that Clint never uses except to throw laundry on (it came with the apartment, because Tony has a strange concept of basic furnishings), and then more carefully removes his shoulder holster and secures his gun—only one, because they’re on base. It’s a set of motions Clint’s seen Phil take dozens, maybe hundreds, of times, in hotels and motels and safehouses of various shittiness levels, and the unexpected familiarity raises a lump in his throat. Phil takes off his shoes and starts loosening his tie, and Clint steps forward as if pulled by invisible strings, a hand raised to arrest the motion.

“I want—can I do it?” he asks, and Phil wets his reddened lips and nods, letting his hands fall to his sides. Clint undoes the tie, careful not to let his calluses snag the heavy silk, and eases it out from around Phil’s neck, straightening the creases before laying it neatly down on the press. Tieless, Phil’s throat looks oddly naked, but Clint resists the urge to start in on his shirt buttons. There’s a proper order to these things.

He lifts Phil’s wrists, one at a time, unbuttoning the cuffs and kissing the thin skin underneath, making Phil’s fingers twitch. He runs his hands over Phil’s; they’re gorgeous hands, long and neat and able. He runs his lips over the knobs of knuckle, the tracery of tendons and veins, and Phil says his name, warm and fond, and turns his hands over to cup Clint’s face, pulling him up for a slow kiss. Clint lets himself sink into it for a long moment before breaking off,  because he’s maybe been picturing this scenario for years and he’s got plans.

He starts at the top, reaching for the first button, and Phil tilts his chin to give him room. The line of Phil’s neck, literally bared to him, makes him tremble. He holds himself back as he fumbles open the buttons and tugs the shirt gently out of Phil’s pants. Phil’s wearing an undershirt, because Phil is fucking classy that way, and Clint lets himself lean forward, burying his nose in the hollow of Phil’s throat, just above where his chest hair peeks out over the v-neck of his undershirt. He doesn’t trust himself not to leave giant hickeys all over if he gets going, so he just breathes in Phil’s smell, touching his lips to Phil’s skin, too light to even be called kisses. Phil groans, and the buzz of it under Clint’s mouth is amazing.

“Mark me,” he says, and Clint actually rears back in surprise. 

“I—are you sure?” Clint’s thought about it, of course, but Clint thinks about lots of things, okay, and a lot of them are really bad ideas. He’d have thought Phil would think that sort of thing was uncouth, like he’d been pawed at by a horny teenager at prom (or whatever, Clint’s concept of prom comes mostly from John Hughes movies.)

Yes,” Phil says, and it’s his command voice, fuck, only instead of calm it’s gone dark and dangerous and Clint is quite possibly going to end this by coming in his pants and he doesn’t even fucking care right now, because Phil is tipping his head back and pulling Clint forward, and Clint is powerless to do anything but obey. Phil’s neck is full of sexy places that Clint’s spent years daydreaming about in briefings and on transports, and he’s determined to visit every one of them with lips and teeth; Phil’s collarbone, his pulse points, the curve of his Adam’s apple. Phil threads his hands through Clint’s hair, pulling him closer as Clint sets his teeth just barely around Phil’s carotid artery, his breath quick and shallow as Clint sucks hard.

Clint isn’t sure how long it is before he pulls away, aching in his jeans and only stopping himself from rutting against Phil’s hip by sheer ornery stubbornness. Phil’s eyes flutter open, and they’re dark and hooded, his face flushed. His neck is dotted with red splotches and a few pink scrapes of teeth. His hair is mussed from Clint’s grabby hands, sweat glistening at his hairline. He looks like he’s been fucking for hours already, and the only reason Clint doesn’t wonder if he’s dreaming after all is because not even Clint’s dreams have ever been this stupidly hot.

He makes himself get back on task—not much of a burden, since his task is getting Phil naked—and eases Phil’s shirt off, laying it over the press with the rest of Phil’s clothes. He pulls  Phil’s undershirt up (it would be easier to unbutton Phil’s pants, of course, but Clint doesn’t trust his restraint enough to do that yet), but before he can pull it off, Phil stops him, grabbing his hand.

“How about some parity, Barton?” he demands, voice rough, and Clint is gone enough on this man that he finds it endearing that he still has the presence of mind to use words like “parity” at a time like this. Phil reaches up, running his hands over Clint’s chest, teasing at Clint’s nipples with his fingertips, little flicks through Clint’s shirt that light him up with anticipation and desire.

“Fine, okay, fuck,” Clint says, because he really wants to feel that touch on bare skin, and he toes off his Chucks and peels off his shirt at the same time, then shrugs and ditches his jeans, too, because they’ve been really fucking tight for a while now and it was starting to hurt. Phil grabs him while he’s still got one foot in his jeans, hauling him close with one hand wrapped around his tricep and one on his hip that spreads possessively over Clint’s ass as soon as he’s close enough. Clint shudders with the rush of sensations, the softness of Phil’s t-shirt against Clint’s chest, the touch of fine wool on his legs, the hard metal of his belt buckle pressing into his belly, the hot line of Phil’s dick behind his pants, nudging his hip as Phil’s hands flex, bringing them tighter together for another one of those unrelenting kisses. It’s almost enough to make Clint abandon the rest of his plan, but not quite.

“You won’t distract me that easy,” he says, when they have to pull apart to breathe. The impact of the statement is probably diluted by how much he’s panting.

“You can’t blame me for trying.” Phil grins at him, and it’s the same grin that Clint has seen a million times, but this time Phil’s mouth is kiss-smeared and Clint has to nibble on it a little bit. Phil doesn’t seem to mind, if the noises he’s making and the way he’s squeezing Clint’s ass are any indication.

Eventually, Clint remembers what he was meant to be doing, and twists loose of Phil’s grip. Phil makes a disgruntled noise.

“Shirt,” Clint insists, pulling on the hem and getting it up a few inches before Phil stops him, face gone somber.

“It, um,” Phil says, and moves his hand up over his heart. “It looks pretty bad.”

He’s talking about his scar, Clint realizes. The place where Loki stabbed him. “Alien goo didn’t take care of it?” he asks, trying to sound casual. 

“The function,” Phil says. “But not the form.”

“You should complain to the management,” Clint says. He lays a hand over Phil’s, lacing their fingers together. “If he’s still taking your calls.”

Phil shakes his head, but he looks a little better. Clint squeezes his hand.

“I’m not saying it will be easy to see,” he says. “But it’s a hell of a lot easier than thinking you’re dead, Phil.”

Phil takes a deep breath, then sets his jaw and squeezes his hand back before dropping it and pulling the shirt off, fast, like he’s trying to get it done before he changes his mind.

Clint looks. The scar is bad, and he’s got experience in the area; red and raised and angry, a twisting line right over Phil’s heart. A death blow. He thinks of that spear of Loki’s, his spatial memory mapping the width of the blade to Phil’s wound, a mental image he’s pretty sure he’ll be seeing in nightmares from now on.

“Clint?” Phil’s voice is quieter now, less sure, and he wraps an arm around his middle. Clint shakes off his funk and grabs him before he can move away, pulls him in and holds on to him as tight as he can. He can feel the other scar on Phil’s back, but he doesn’t need to see it right now.

“Thank fuck for alien goo,” he says roughly into Phil’s shoulder, and Phil’s tension eases.

“Thank Fury,” he says, and turns his head to kiss the rim of Clint’s ear. Clint lets himself just enjoy holding Phil for a minute, trying to imprint the feel of warm, breathing, alive on his subconscious. Eventually, the feel of Phil’s chest hair brushing against him moves his mind back to a sexier place, and he runs his hands down Phil’s back, giving his ass a friendly grope before pulling back a little so he can reach Phil’s belt.

“My turn for parity,” he says, and Phil gives a sarcastic little be my guest gesture, much to his delight. Clint makes short work of the belt and slides it out of the loops (it’s one of the reinforced ones that Phil favors; at various times, Clint’s seen him use them to choke someone, tie someone up, flick a gun out of someone’s hand, and zipline off a roof.) It’s warm from Phil’s body; Clint lifts it to his lips, breathing in the smell of good leather. Phil growls, which Clint has never heard before, at least not in a sexy context. It gives him goosebumps.

“I swear, Barton, if you don’t stop teasing…” 

“It’s not teasing if you’re gonna put out, sir,” Clint says, filing that reaction away for future reference and putting the belt on his bedside table in case they need it later. He unfastens Phil’s pants with a few flicks of his fingers and pushes them down. Phil steps out, helpfully, and Clint tosses them over to land with the rest of Phil’s clothes. He sinks to his knees, trailing his hands down the outsides of Phil’s legs. Phil’s wearing sock garters—the custom ones that have sheaths for tiny ceramic knives attached, though the knives are missing, presumably lost in the fight with HYDRA—and Clint admires the sculpted muscle of Phil's calves as he unclips them and sets them aside, along with the socks that Phil obligingly lifts his feet so Clint can peel off. 

Clint leans forward and rests his forehead on Phil’s hip, making a satisfied little noise when Phil’s hands start carding through his hair. He mouths at Phil’s groin through his underwear; they both lost momentum during the scar conversation, but Phil’s starting to get hard again, and his dick pulses encouragingly under Clint’s attention. Clint hooks his fingers under the waistband and eases it down, then lets Phil’s shorts fall to the ground, sitting back on his heels to just look for a minute.

“You are so fucking hot,” he tells him.

Phil rolls his eyes. “Says the actual superhero,” he scoffs, and Clint has to tackle him back onto his bed. He totally telegraphs the movement, it’s not like Phil couldn’t avoid it if he wanted.

Clint’s bedspread is a rich, dark purple, because Tony Stark is a massive troll, but Clint secretly actually really likes it; now, seeing Phil spread out flushed and naked on top of it, it’s become one of his favorite things. He pushes Phil’s legs apart and wriggles between them, getting his mouth right up to the tip of Phil’s dick.

“I wanna blow you,” he says, letting his lips brush the tip as he speaks. He snakes out his tongue, takes a quick little lick. “Let me, Phil, please let me.”

“F-fuck, yes,” Phil moans, arching up into the sensation, and Clint rides the motion, making his lips soft so Phil can push inside. He closes his eyes so he can concentrate on the feel and sound and taste of it, the pulse of Phil’s erection growing harder with each suck, filling his mouth, hot and amazing on his tongue. Phil wraps one leg around his back, pulling him closer, and Clint fills both hands with Phil’s ass as Phil’s dick nudges the back of his throat. He’s all the way hard now, and Clint swallows around him before pulling back to lick and suck on the sensitive head. Phil’s making amazing sounds, and Clint’s distantly aware of his hands on Clint’s head again, but he doesn’t pay it much attention until Phil tugs him back, sharply, his dick sliding out of Clint’s mouth with a dirty little pop. It’s flushed and hard, shiny with Clint’s spit, and he aches to get his mouth back on it.

“Phil?” he asks, craning his head to see what’s going on. “What—” 

Phil sits up, abs flexing, and pulls Clint up into a messy, biting kiss. “I want to come around your cock,” he says, and Clint groans, abruptly aware that he’s been rutting into the mattress, so hard he aches, his boxers half-transparent where the head of his dick has been leaking.

“I might not last that long,” he tells Phil honestly, and Phil twists his body, doing one of his sneaky ninja moves, and putting Clint on his back on the bed.

“Think unsexy thoughts,” Phil says, and bends to rummage through Clint’s nightstand, presenting him with a profile view of his strong back, the curve of his ass.

“Like that’s even possible right now,” Clint grumbles, but he does his best, grabbing handfuls of the bedspread so he doesn’t touch himself. They got called out to Avenge on some giant rats that spat out acidic slime last month; he tries to concentrate on the way their den had smelled and not on how Phil has found his lube and condoms and is fingering himself open, right there next to him on the bed, holy fuck. He tries to tell Phil how unfair it is, but what comes out of his mouth is more a jumble of sound than any actual words. Phil smirks at him.

“Make yourself useful, Barton, and get those boxers off,” Phil tells him, and Clint somehow manages to wrestle himself out of his shorts without maiming himself or giving into the temptation to touch.

“Beautiful,” Phil says, eyes hot. He curls his calloused fingers loosely around Clint’s dick and pulls, too loose to make him come but so amazing that Clint’s eyes roll back in his head.

“Fuck, Phil, just fuck me already,” he grits out.

“Something like that,” Phil says, and rolls a condom over Clint, spending enough time making sure it’s all smoothed down to the root of him that he has to be doing it on purpose to make Clint crazy. Satisfied at last, he smoothes lube over Clint, then straddles him, thighs flexing as he reaches around himself to line Clint’s dick up with his hole. Clint thinks maybe he should close his eyes so he can last longer, but he is physically incapable of looking away. 

It takes a minute, but then Phil gets them lined up to his satisfaction, and begins to sink down. Clint maybe loses some time; his world has narrowed to the feel of Phil’s body engulfing him, impossibly hot and tight and good, the sight of Phil’s face, the clench of Phil’s hand as he reaches for Clint’s, bracing himself as he starts to ride Clint’s dick, fucking himself on Clint like he’s a toy, but staring into Clint’s eyes like a lover. 

Phil rides hard, making sweet little grunts every time he bottoms out, and it feels so amazing that Clint is pretty sure that when he finally does come the top of his head might come off. He holds off for as long as he can, but eventually he can feel it coming, a great wave of it deep in his balls.

“Phil,” he manages to say, “I’m gonna— Phil, please,” and Phil somehow, miraculously, knows what he means, and lets go of one of Clint’s hands to grab his own dick. His eyes slide closed and he grinds down on Clint, pushing Clint’s dick as deep as he can get it as he jerks himself.

“Yeah,” Clint moans, “Yeah, come on me,” and Phil makes a sharp, bitten-off noise and goes off like a geyser, shooting all over Clint’s chest, and the clenching of his ass as he comes tips Clint over the edge too. He feels his eyes burn with a rush of tears, overwhelmed by how good it feels, and hopes distantly that it doesn’t freak Phil out before he comes and comes and comes.

Eventually, Clint remembers how to open his eyes. He’s still inside Phil, though he can tell he won’t be for long, and Phil is still kneeling over him, panting, hands braced on his thighs. He’s flushed all the way down his chest, sheened with sweat, amazing and alive. Clint’s vision blurs again, and he must make a noise; Phil looks up, his smile sliding into concern. He reaches over, stroking one of the tear tracks with a gentle thumb.

“You okay?” 

“Yeah.” Clint sniffs a little. “This just happens sometimes. When it's, you know, extra good. Overwhelming.” He wonders sometimes if it’s the tears he's trained himself out of, finding a way to get out. That's not the kind of thing you talk about in bed, though.

“Mmm.” Phil leans forward, letting Clint's soft dick slip out, and Clint can’t help a little noise of loss. Phil swallows it up in a deep, possessive kiss.

“In that case,” Phil says, punctuating the sentence by kissing Clint’s eyelids, his cheekbones, the bridge of his nose, “I look forward to making you cry frequently from now on.”

“Sounds good to me,” Clint says, and rolls them over so he can kiss Phil back properly.





They stay holed up in Clint’s apartment for two days, which is long enough to run through all Clint’s accumulated food and lube supplies as well as a good portion of his sexual repertoire. (They don’t just screw; Phil’s apparently of the opinion that Refractory Periods Are For Working, and he commandeers Clint’s neglected laptop to make some kind of mobile command center that he uses to have periodic intense conversations with Melinda May while Clint lounges shirtlessly against his shoulder and tries to make Melinda acknowledge him, with indifferent success.) Eventually, though, Phil’s desire to check on Skye and Clint’s desire to make sure she and Tony didn’t actually build Skynet (Skyenet, heh) lure them out.

When they make it to the common room, Skye and Darcy are sitting on the couch, painting their nails sparkly purple (Clint approves) and watching The Lord of the Rings. There’s a half-empty pitcher of what smells like top-shelf margarita on the coffee table. A second pitcher, empty and sticky, is toppled over on the floor.

“Oh God,” Phil says. “They met.”

JARVIS pauses the movie. Darcy glares at him. “You’re an asshole,” she says. “Thor wept manly tears over your noble demise. Do you have any idea how much a grieving demigod drinks? You owe me three hundred and eighty-seven dollars.”

Phil, who has still not quite gotten his head around the fact that he’s a lovable motherfucker and people missed him, looks floored. It’s a good look on him, Clint thinks.

“It wasn’t his fault,” Skye jumps in. “Blame SHIELD.”

"SHIELD's gone," Darcy points out. "Nobody to pay."

“Make Stark pay you,” Clint suggests.

“I already did,” Darcy says. “Agent owes me interest for my pain and suffering.”

“I… could get you a new iPod?” Phil offers, because he always had a soft spot for Darcy and Jane. Darcy grins.

“Done,” she says. “I want the purple one. Sixty-four gigs, don’t cheap out.” She bounces over (and when Darcy gets bouncy, she’s bouncy) and throws her arms around him. “I’m glad you aren’t dead.” 

Phil pats her back, gingerly. “Thank you, Miss Lewis.” Clint lets her stay there for a minute— Phil’s hugs are, indeed, amazing, and far be it from him to begrudge them to others—but when she sort of sighs and nestles tipsily against Phil’s shoulder, he pulls her back. Okay, maybe he does begrudge. 

“Hands off the goods,” he orders, and she rolls her eyes at him. 

“I’m not making a move on your DILF-y boyfriend, Hawkass,” she says. “Nice job on the hickeys, though.”

“Oooh, really? This I gotta see,” Skye says, struggling a little to get out of the couch and crossing over to them. “Damn, AC, I never knew there was a vampire on the Avengers!”

Darcy giggles. Phil raises an eyebrow at them, looking smug, and Clint feels warm all over. Underneath his clothes, he’s got some marks of his own. He pushes on one of them to feel the pleasant ache, and his mind goes away to happy memory land for a minute. When his attention returns to the present, Skye seems to be trying to convince Phil that her newfound friendship with Darcy isn’t going to cause the end of civilization as they know it.

“She’s my brother from another mother,” Darcy declares, with an only slightly wobbly sweep of her arm. Ah, tequila.

“You’re both women,” Phil points out. He’s keeping a straight face, but his eyes are crinkled in that way that means he’s totally laughing on the inside.

“Sister from another mister!” Darcy says.

“Or maybe the same one!” Skye adds. “Nobody knows!”

“That’s it,” Phil declares. “I’m confiscating the margaritas.”