Chapter 1: The Beginning
Clint would like to say he was surprised, or maybe stunned, when he pressed his fingers to a slightly cleaner tile on a wall of tiles and a large opening slid silently into existence on his left. Mostly he was just disappointed; after all the ingenuity that went into building a secret base, they made the entrance way so obvious that anyone who actually took a moment to look would have discovered it. What a waste of effort.
"Hawkeye, status?" Langer's deep baritone asked in his ear as Clint stepped briskly around the secret door's edge and peered into the space beyond. Spread out before him was a bright and clean hallway that had one guard standing to attention at the far end. The guy's lips parted in surprise but that was the only expression Clint could read due to the fancy-schmancy mask he had covering the upper-half of his face. Clint loosed an arrow and had another nocked before his target began his slow crumple to the ground. He'd never even had a chance to voice his surprise.
"Intel's good. One hostile down. Going silent." Clint muttered quietly, hoping that Langer would actually comply with his request and not yammer into Clint's ear, demanding updates every few seconds like his last handler had. That shit was distracting when he couldn't actually respond due to the stealthy nature of his assignment.
"Copy, going silent, you have fifteen minutes, Hawkeye." Langer agreed. Fifteen minutes actually meant closer to seventeen, as his back-up team couldn't stage too close to the butcher shop for fear of being noticed. They were three streets over disguised as a small tour bus parked outside a motel with a florescent green cactus flashing over its main door. Clint glanced at his watch as he swept down to the inert guard and snagged the key card clipped to his belt, barely slowing down.
He felt uneasy as he moved through the too bright corridor. His black and burgundy uniform stuck out like a sore thumb, but he'd felt off about this mission from the get-go and didn't believe the lack of cover had anything to do with his unease. Langer spouted off some bullshit about him missing Coulson in the field when he'd brought it up, which was a given, obviously, but Clint had not appreciated his instincts being dismissed so easily. He hadn't brought it up again, but he had gone through all the Intel two more times to make his point. He'd heard one of the techs who had helped put it together muttering about him being an idiot if he couldn't remember it after the first read through. He'd considered suggesting that maybe the tech would rather be the one to infiltrate the secret enemy base that they knew next to nothing about, had no idea of the layout and was predicted to lose communication once they reached the epicenter with an unknown number of guards carrying weapons they may not have come across before. Instead Clint had just looked at him, and that seemed to make the guy double his efforts to go through the info one more time with Clint.
Clint paused at a bend in the corridor and listened carefully. He quietly pulled two more arrows from his quiver, slipped them onto the string alongside the one already resting there, pulled them back and took a big side step into the hall. He barely had to aim and all three heavily armed guards were crumbling to the ground, hands gripping the shafts that had pierced their throats. Clint whirled around, loading two more arrows as he moved and let them fly. Just in time, as the guards at the other end of the corridor had almost managed to raise their weapons at him.
Nobody had had time to shout in alarm. Clint eyed the two men, glad to note that their position was a dead end so he wouldn't have to worry about reinforcements sneaking in from that direction; they had been the reinforcements. He would still keep an eye out of course, because dropping your guard was amateur and he refused to tarnish his rep over such an idiotic move.
Clint paused to listen for further danger as he eyed the door the three men had been protecting. Intelligence hadn't predicted there would be this much presence. As far as they had determined this base was supposed to be in the final stages of abandonment; just one or two guards for show until it was cleared out completely. SHIELD had just gotten wind of it and needed someone to infiltrate with extreme prejudice. Clint, freshly healed from a sprained ankle and with no Avenging duties in the near future, had taken the job to save himself from boredom while they determined where his next mission was going to be.
Stopping in front of the shiny steel door the dead men had been protecting, his nerves shivered once more. He checked over his shoulder sharply but saw no threat. There were too many guards for a base that was supposed to be dismantled. It didn't feel right.
"Hawkeye to nest," he broke radio silence, wanting to at least warn them, again, that he thought something was off. There was no response. "Nest, come in." The continued quiet confirmed that Intel was at least correct about the predicted communication barrier. He eyed the big shiny door speculatively, and then shrugged. He'd wanted something to do; at least now the unpredictability of this mission was interesting.
Phil was probably going to give him shit for this later.
He held the key card up to the scanner beside the door and, like most mundane access panels it flashed green before the door hissed open. He wasn't expecting to be greeted with mild chatter and a soft, repetitive thunking sound. Bow up he stepped quietly into the room and paused, because what the fuck?
There were two more guards, one tapping away on what looked like Tony's latest Starkpad, his gun leaning against the chair he sat on, and the other throwing a tennis ball against a large cylindrical tank. A tank that had a body floating in it.
"One-hundred and twenty-three," the man throwing the ball counted after he caught it, and he threw it again. It hit the tank, bounced to the floor and bounced back into his hand. He had his weapon slung across his back, a gun holster at his waist, and an obvious ankle knife.
The computers that were Clint's target took up nearly the entire back wall, but other than that, a few chairs, a bunch of medical equipment and an examination table there was nothing else in the room worth noting. The threat Clint had been anticipating was also not there.
"One-hundred and twenty-four," the man muttered. Clint put an arrow in the mercenary playing on the Starkpad, and aimed another at Mr. Tennis. Mr. Tennis hadn't bothered to catch the ball again, but he also hadn't had time to do more than reach for his weapon before Clint spoke into the silence.
"Don't." The man froze, wearing the same mask all the other guards had had on, but his lips were pressed into a tight line and his body was very clearly poised for action. Clint spotted two more weapons now that he could see him head on.
"You made me lose my count," the man said and Clint saw his fingers twitch.
"Tell me what this place is," Clint didn't take his eyes off his target, his arm holding steady on the drawn arrow. The mission was to go in, eliminate any potential threats, get the information, and get out. At this point he thought it might be nice to take in someone alive for information retrieval, but he wasn't overly concerned either way so long as he walked out of this alive himself. These men weren't innocent, and seeing the body floating in the man-sized cylindrical tank only emphasized that. Plus Clint wasn't in the mood to be lenient. Actually, he was rarely in the mood to be lenient these days.
The guard's response to Clint's question was a sneer and a swift move for his sidearm. Clint let his arrow fly, not bothering with any fancy shots and hitting his heart. The guard had made his choice and the idea of lugging an injured prisoner out of here didn't entice Clint to keep him alive. He highly doubted any of the guards would know something useful anyway. He glanced at his watch. It had been four minutes since his last communication with Langer. He had lots of time.
Moving swiftly to the computer banks, he looked to the man in the tank. Jesus. It didn't take Clint's eyes to see that he'd been through hell before he'd bit the dust and been dumped in there. Scars littered every bit of skin visible to the eyes, and you didn't need to have an imagination to see that they probably also covered the parts hidden by the black spandex shorts he'd been squeezed into. Poor son-of-a-bitch.
"Hawkeye to nest." Clint fished out the memory stick the tech guys had given him and, after a moments searching, located a port on the wall of computers and slotted it in. He was still in a blackout zone. It would take three minutes to run, then he had another stick that apparently carried a virus that would destroy whatever was left in the systems and he could get out of here.
The feeling that he was being watched tickled down his spine and Clint abruptly ducked and twisted away, hoping to dodge whatever projectile might be headed towards his head. He swung his bow around, searching for the danger, wondering how the hell someone had snuck in on him; because he was on high alert and it was rare that anyone other than Natasha could get a drop on him like this.
There was no one in the room.
He scanned it again, not seeing anyone, so he turned to the only other explanation he could come up with, and found himself looking into dark brown eyes. The eyes blinked, and Clint kept staring, because seriously, what the fuck? The man in the tank cocked his head at him, all pale flesh and mottled scars, and then he started convulsing. His body shuddered with minute movements that had his hands jerking at his side, his fingers clenched hard. His mouth was open, his jaw moving in twitchy pulses and his chest seemed rise and fall with matching movement, before he stilled, his eyes closing.
They opened again a moment later, focusing unnervingly on Clint, and this time the man tilted his head to the other shoulder, and he looked curious before the odd convulsing began again and- fuck.
He was drowning.
Clint drew an unintentionally deep breath in response to the sudden realization, watching the unmistakable motions of a body suffering through asphyxiation. Sense memory slammed into him like a rock to the chest, remembering what it felt like to drown, remembering…
The man in the tanks eyes closed again and his head bobbed laxly in the liquid a moment, only to jerk awake and look unnervingly at Clint once more. Clint's chest felt dense, solid where it should be light with air.
Whoever this guy was, Clint was getting him the fuck out of that tank. He quickly switched arrows, pulling out one with a little more impact strength than his usual barbed tips for people. He aimed at the tank, noting that the guy didn't seem phased at all that someone could be pointing a weapon at him, and fired. The arrow pierced the base of the tank, punching a hole through it and sticking midway up the shaft. Water immediately began gushing around it, burbling and spraying and Clint took a few steps back, nocking another arrow and waiting as a fine crack appeared in the glass around the arrow and began to splinter outward. A faint creak could be heard, the water pressure on the damaged glass becoming too much for it. The man inside apparently didn't feel like waiting for the pressure and gravity to do its job and he kicked the wall with a pale bare foot. He kicked it even as his chest convulsed again and his eyes rolled back in his head. The glass crumbled into a thousand little shards and spilled across the room in a rushing wave.
The man spilled out with it.
In hindsight, Clint should have probably tried to find a draining mechanism or something instead of shattering the glass and forcing a near naked man to collapse all over the broken, sharp pieces. Clint took steadying breaths, and waited.
The guy was lying on the ground spread-eagled, eyes closed and chest still. Clint knew CPR, had used it intimately on more than one occasion as a matter of fact, but he didn't make a move to help just yet. He waited with the decision that if he had to act he would use his booted foot for chest compressions, but that was it. He wasn't getting closer than that until he knew what he was dealing with…which, in another flash of hindsight, he should have probably figured out before freeing the guy from his watery prison. Maybe freeing someone who didn't have gills but somehow managed to keep reviving himself after drowning was a dumb idea.
The guy coughed, rolled onto his side, and started to expel water. A lot of water.
Clint did not regret his hasty actions.
He looked at his watch. His three minutes were almost up. He slowly backed up to the computer wall again and, without looking, reached behind him and plucked the memory stick from the port. He kept his eyes on the still coughing man, inserted the second memory stick, and stepped away from the computer.
That was when the guy on the ground started to laugh in between his rasping coughs. Clint watched him recover at an alarming rate as he pushed to his knees, and then his feet. The glass wasn't abundant around him, having been washed and thinned out across the floor, but it was still enough that Clint didn't want him to accidentally step on any. Glass imbedded in your feet was the worst.
"Hold on there, don't move. There's glass all over the place," Clint warned and the guy, hacking out a lung in a fashion that was a bit more dramatic than Clint thought was called for, waved off the thought and began walking towards the guard that had been throwing the tennis ball. He stepped on glass but didn't leave any blood trail.
There were weapons on that guard.
"Don't," Clint warned, and the man paused, which was something at least, and he turned to look at Clint. The emotion in his brown eyes was very difficult to read. Clint had his bow loaded, but he didn't aim at the guy just yet, not wanting to come across as hostile…well, more hostile than he already had, but clearly unwilling to take more chances on an unknown. The guy blinked, cocked his head at the ceiling like an overgrown, confused puppy, and took a deep breath.
"Did you guys see this coming?" he asked, voice thick with curiosity. "Because I did not see this coming! Rescued by a sort of tall, stealthy and mysterious Robin Hood? How could it get any better than this?" He asked seriously, and looked back at Clint with a sudden grin, his lightly scarred lips stretching across his marred face and revealing perfect teeth.
The scars, the talking to the ceiling, the healing; wait, Clint knew exactly who this was.
"Wade Wilson," he stated more than asked and Wade's grin grew even larger. He clasped his hands before his naked chest and damn near swooned.
"And he knows my name," he batted his eyelashes at Clint. "He's a keeper," he told the ceiling and coughed once more before looking to Clint. Clint, having already thrown his SHIELD training out the window in order to follow his instincts, efficiently slid his arrow back into his quiver and slung his bow across his back. Wilson watched the movements closely, and continued to watch as Clint stepped to one guard and unceremoniously pulled his arrow from the body with a sucking sound, checked it, and slotted it back into his quiver as well. He did the same with the Starkpad guard, thinking furiously, before gesturing at the dead tennis ball guy.
"All yours. Leave the guns, they have imbedded trackers," Clint ordered and Wilson didn't seem the least put out to be told what to do, swiftly moving over and taking the guards clothes for himself. He moved with the efficiency and grace that Clint had heard about but never witnessed in person, and Clint knew that in a fight they'd be evenly matched. Well, except that with Wilson's legendary healing factor, Clint would have to work on restraining instead of hurting, and he'd have to do it fast because Wilson would be like the Energizer Bunny, never running out of energy while Clint's, no matter how long he trained, would drain away. Okay, maybe they were not so evenly matched physically, but that had never been a downfall in Clint's experience, it just meant he had to be smart.
Being smart meant he should probably be wary, but honestly Wilson was a mercenary through and through, and Clint doubted he was on his hit list right now, so he had nothing to worry about. Theoretically. At least that's what his instincts said, and he'd always trusted those, even if the person in question was classified as unpredictable and insane. Clint worked with Stark, Hulk, and Natasha; sane was relative. SHIELD had been trying to locate and potentially recruit Wilson, aka Deadpool, for the better part of two years now with no luck. Funny how the world worked.
"Seriously though," Wilson spoke to Clint directly for the first time as he yanked a bloody shirt on and, after a moment, carefully arranged the guards mask over his bald head and effectively covered his eyes and nose. He seemed to relax a bit more with every piece of clothing that covered his skin. "Oh, fancy scan vision. How did they not see my night in dull armour coming?" He wondered aloud, and looked at Clint. "Hmm, doesn't see through clothes though." He seemed genuinely put out by this and then seemed to remember he'd started a conversation with Clint and focused on him once more. "How did you know I was here? Also, who are you? I feel like I should know you, but I would never forget a pair of biceps like those. Do you work out?"
Clint blinked, frowned, and in what was probably his dumbest move this mission yet (which was saying something), turned his back on the assassin and headed for the door. He heard the tell-tale slide of a knife slipping from its sheath and stiffened, preparing to see if his judgment was off, because at this point in his life he wouldn't be surprised by that (god knew he'd fucked up more than once trusting people), but Wilson didn't attack. Instead he appeared beside Clint, his steps silent and his gaze penetrating. There was still water drying on his hairless head, stuck in the uneven fissures of scar tissue. Clint kept his ears open for signs of alarm, but he doubted this place had more security coming.
"You weren't my mission," Clint informed him as they stopped at the bodies beyond the door and Clint carefully extracted each of his arrows. Normally he wouldn't bother, but he had the time and SHIELD had made it clear this was an in-and-out operation, no lingering, and he didn't feel like chasing down agents later to get his arrows back. There used to be a time he never had to ask, but things changed and Clint didn't spend as much time at SHIELD bases as he used to. Not after the Chitarui. "I'm with SHIELD. There was no intel that you would be in there and no plans for extraction." Clint frowned at that and looked up at Wilson, who was leaning against the wall and pulling on a pair of gloves Clint hadn't seen him acquire, but he knew which guard they had come from.
It had been just under ten minutes since last radio communication. Clint had lots of time. He looked at Wilson, who was holding his hands up and wiggling his fingers, seemingly fascinated. This would worry Clint, but he had read SHIELD's file on him a few years before, so he was aware that the guy had some…concentration issues.
"How long have you been in there?" Clint asked, maybe a bit softer than was his usual M.O., but he couldn't help that, just like he'd never be able to forget the image of Wilson sucking in water, trying to breathe, and drowning again and again and again as his infamous healing factor kept dragging him back to life.
The way Wilson stiffened now meant that Clint must have given too much away with his tone. It also told Clint that he had probably been in there way too long, though as far as he was concerned, drowning even once was already too long.
"Long enough to wash behind my ears," Wilson stated after a telling pause, and then rubbed a gloved finger behind his ear, most likely unaware of the action. "SHIELD huh?" He asked and looked Clint up and down, staring at his arms a bit longer than necessary, but Clint ignored that without concern. "So this isn't a recruiting tactic?" There was a hint of displeasure in his tone, like he was tired of being hunted, and Clint eyed him a brief moment and came to an easy decision.
"Nope," he popped his 'p' a little more than necessary, feeling better now that he had a course of action. "Not my job to recruit."
"And you're not arresting me?" He almost seemed hurt by this, and Clint probably should be bringing him in for who knew how many counts of murder, or trying to at least. It was kind of his job.
"I think you've had enough to deal with lately," Clint explained, and while he couldn't see Wilson's entire face anymore, he could still read the surprise. Giving reprieve to a crazy mercenary because they'd had a bad…few weeks? Months? Days? Besides, Clint didn't feel like being a judge today. Wilson wiped a slow moving drop of water off his jaw.
"My fans think you're telling the truth," he announced with wonder and Clint…yeah, he didn't know what to say to that so he ignored it and reached into one of his tucked away pockets. He pulled out few hundreds that had been folded together, his emergency cash, and flicked it at Wilson, who grabbed reflexively and blinked at it.
"Don't spend it all in one place, and don't kill any innocents," he ordered, pretty sure it was wasted effort because Wilson wasn't known for taking orders but Clint had never heard of him going after anyone too innocent. "I'd hate to have to come after you on purpose next time," he warned, and then went and swiftly collected the arrows from the other two downed guards and began his exit. Wilson had disappeared, but there was no hiding the slight shine of water that had been squeezed from his shoes, at least not from Clint.
When he reached the first guard he'd taken down there was no arrow to collect. He stared at the body for a moment, hoping he hadn't just made a really dumb mistake by following his instincts, and then quietly slipped back into the butcher shops dark freezer.
"Hawkeye to nest," he called, making sure the way was still clear as he quickly vacated the premise.
"Nest here, go ahead."
"Mission complete, I'm coming home." He kept to the shadows, because even in a city like Vegas someone walking around with a quiver on their back would probably get noticed no matter the late hour.
Yeah, Clint sighed to himself, shattering glass and water on his mind as he stepped over a glistening puddle in a back alley, this was going to be a fun debrief.
Chapter 2: House Rules
That thing about the debrief sucking? Yeah, that about summed it up. Well, to be fair, his team lead had been fine up until the point that Clint had mentioned the unforeseen variable of a man repetitively drowning in a tank, and that he shattered the tank to save him. Actually, he'd even been okay with that turn of events in and of itself, until Clint announced that he'd confirmed that the man was Wade Wilson.
"Deadpool?!" Langer hissed at him, and the two techs (Clint hadn't been given their names and hadn't asked) and Agent Farrison, collectively stiffened in their positions around the hotel room. "You had Deadpool in your sight and you let him go? Are you kidding me, Barton?" He levelled a look at Clint that very clearly demanded he be joking. Clint wasn't impressed, first of all because this kind of show never impressed him, and secondly because he technically didn't actually answer to Langer as an authority figure. Personally he was here as a time waster and favour, but he was trying to afford the guy the impression of authority for the sake of SHIELD hierarchy and all that. Langer was a good guy, he'd even played a couple friendly rounds of pool with him in the past, but opinions changed like water temperature and after the last year, Clint was still dealing with other people's issues. He generally tried to be polite about it.
"Not kidding, Langer. I'm not a recruiter and even if I was, it wasn't the right time."
"It wasn't the right time? Just to be clear here, SHIELD field agents have an active order to recruit or bring him in on sight; you had him trussed up for perfect delivery and you just let him walk?" Langer glared reproachfully and Clint, sitting comfortably in his chair, casually balanced back on one leg, nodded.
"Yup. That about sums it up," he agreed, trying for uncaring, but irritation was beginning to stir.
"That's just great, Barton. Letting a perfect opportunity slide by isn't like you," Langer snapped, and Clint lost his tenuous patience, hearing the unprofessional dig in that statement and not caring for it one bit. He might still be trying to make peace with some of SHIELD's agents, but that didn't mean he'd take their petty bullshit. He never had. He settled his seat back on all fours and took to his feet slowly. All four men in the room stilled.
"If by perfect opportunity you mean I should have allowed a person to drown, unendingly, so that we could cart him into headquarters for a recruitment speech, then I am going to question your field ethics and intelligence. Ignoring the fact that Deadpool might be a little upset by those tactics: he would be resentful. If you think that I'm enough of an amoral dick to do that to someone, than we have nothing further to say to each other. And," Clint took one step towards Langer, who stood defiant and broad shouldered across the room, but Clint could see the beginnings of mild regret on his face, like maybe he'd just spouted off bullshit he didn't mean in the heat of the moment. Clint didn't care. "If, by perfect opportunity, you are implying that I've fucked my way back into SHIELD's good grace's, then you and I have a serious problem." Langer deflated, shoulders slumping as he shook his head.
"Jesus, I'm not implying anything, Barton. We all know you're the best at what you do, and I don't give a shit who you screw so long as it doesn't mess up my op."
Yeah, Clint had heard that before. He stared hard at Langer, reading the honesty as easily as one could on a highly trained senior agent. Still, the implication had been made, intentional or not, and Clint was finished with this mission.
"Then I guess we're done here," Clint said, and picked up his backpack from beside the abandoned chair, traveling light this time around. He glanced at tech number one. "Make sure my equipment gets back," he ordered, and the tech nodded stiffly, eyes a bit wide. Clint moved to the door.
"This debrief isn't complete yet, Agent Barton," Langer said, and it was 'agent' again, which was as much of an apology as he was likely going to get. Clint opened the door, the knob cool under his hand.
"It is on my end. If you have a problem with that, take it up with Coulson," he threw over his shoulder, still seething and clearly not ready to forgive. There was a reason he had a reputation for being an-
"Asshole," he heard agent Farrison mutter. Yeah, that about summed it up.
He didn't let out the sigh he wanted to, not here where anyone could see. SHIELD had a few helicopters on reserve at the airfield, and Clint intended to head back to New York tonight. He had no interest in hanging around this city of too many lights and not enough sand to bury the sin.
When he crept through the apartment door, the city lights cast shadows across the small living room, making it feel alive. He stubbed his toe on the stool at the kitchen island that was always left in the way if he wasn't around, and did a little hop skip at the pain.
It was good to be home.
He tucked the stool back under the island ledge with a soft smile and crossed the living room, his shadow moving along the furniture with him. He hesitated on the bedroom's threshold, glancing between the large, ridiculously comfortable bed and the windows hidden by heavy curtains. Maybe he should take a look outside, one last security check-
"Get in," Phil ordered, his voice muffled from where half his face was pressed deeply into his pillow. Clint watched as he flopped his arm behind himself and made a half-hearted attempt to pull back the covers on Clint's side of the bed. He gave up after barely moving his arm, his hand splayed on the blanket. Clint pulled off his shirt, kicked off his pants, and crawled under the covers. He crowded right up to Phil, wrapped an arm around his chest and tucked into his warmth. He could feel Phil relaxing back into sleep.
"You reset the alarms?" Phil mumbled and Clint closed his eyes, letting his head sink into his pillow.
"Yeah." All three of them. Phil was mostly asleep so Clint didn't waste energy being irritated by the question.
"Fine," Clint said.
There was a moment where he thought Phil had fallen back to sleep, he was so quiet. Quiet and calm and familiar. Clint let his muscles rest more fully.
"We'll talk about it in the morning," Phil slurred, words barely audible. Clint didn't agree or disagree, just took a deep breath, and let the horror of the mission drift away as much as he could.
That night he dreamed of drowning, but he wouldn't remember it.
Morning never came as such, because two hours later Clint was hoping off Ironman's back onto the deck of a Quinnjet that was already speeding out of New York, and Phil was halfway to SHIELD operations.
Clint adjusted his quiver, sat next to Natasha, and went back to sleep until he was needed.
Langer reported Clint's sighting of Deadpool, but bucked the (relatively new) tradition of tearing Clint apart in the final report in favour of stating that he agreed with Hawkeye's decision to not pursue the man at that time. Clint decided that he had probably overreacted to Langer's comments, and things were fine again between them. For now, at least.
None of the important SHIELD honchos seemed to care that Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, had been within their grasp, and Phil hadn't been involved in the mission so he wasn't there to stare Clint into giving more than the basic info he'd put in the report.
He considered it a win-win.
Clint really should have known better.
With no Avenging to do, and nothing more than the new sort-of-on, sort-of-off, sort-of-undercover assignment Clint had maybe or maybe not been recruited to help with since the thing in Las Vegas, Clint found himself with a rare evening off. Also, perhaps not so rare as both he and Phil were always being pulled in different directions, he was alone in their tiny apartment in Queens.
Scratching his stomach lazily, he wasn't sure if he wanted to find the energy to move and grab the tv remote. On the one hand he might catch a re-run of Cat Thieves. On the other hand, it had been a while since he'd tried counting all the little imperfections on the living room ceiling, and sprawled out on his couch as he was kind of made that task really easy.
So of course that was when there was a knock at the door. Clint lifted his head and stared at it across the not so expansive living room. He was pretty tired so it might have been an auditory hallucination. He hoped it was a hallucination.
The knocking began anew, loud and rapid fire and…apparently in drumroll.
What the hell?
Clint swiftly stood, not caring for the disruption and not trusting its timing, and he should have probably taken the cautious route and checked through the peephole to help determine friend or foe.
Swinging the door wide and seeing who was on the other side made him instantly regret that he hadn't checked first. He could have pretended he wasn't home, or that he was dead. Both were viable options.
Wade Fucking Wilson, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt proclaiming his love for ABBA, and wearing the mask of his Deadpool costume, was standing in his hallway. Not looking creepy at all.
"I thought you were going to make me wait forever, which: rude. It's kind of hard to maintain a drumroll with one hand you know, and these boots were made for walking, not kicking down reinforced doors." He waved his free hand at Clint to demonstrate his drumming technique, because…why wouldn't he?
A quick up and down told Clint that he had a boot knife on, and maybe another weapon tucked against the small of his back, but that was it. And Pizza. He had two boxes of pizza balanced on one hand like a deliveryman, which explained the one handed knock, but that was all it explained.
Clint blinked, feeling a bit dumber than usual at the turn of events. He was kind of stuck between forcing himself not to lash out in pre-emptive defence against Deadpool, wondering if he should trigger the emergency alert that would call Phil, his team, and SHIELD, and feeling kind of like a heel for not inviting the guy in yet.
That didn't mean he was just going to ask him in, though. You didn't invite master assassins with a few screws loose into your home unless you were ready for the consequences; and Clint was tired.
"Seriously, are we just going to stand here all day? I brought pie and beer," Wade gestured to the ground, where there was a literal two-four of fucking Coors parked against the wall. "I figured that would at least get me in the door."
Clint frowned in consideration.
"I didn't have you pegged for the strong and silent type," Wade continued, apparently not bothered by this observation as he tilted his head to watch Clint. "That is not how my floating conscience described you." Clint didn't react to that gem of information, but he did glance into the hallway beyond, which was thankfully empty. It was irritating not being able to look the guy in the eyes and get a read on him. You couldn't rely on body language with a stranger like Wade. Clint looked at the beer.
He remembered the giant tank of water from two weeks ago. Remembered Wade's seizing chest-
"There are house rules," Clint broke his silence, and instantly Wade was standing taller, bouncing a little as he nodded eagerly.
"Yep, rules, absolutely!"
"No killing." Clint figured he might as well make that clear from the start. Very clear.
"No killing! No problem." Clint was a little disturbed by the enthusiasm. Holy shit, he was probably making an even worse mistake than that one time he invited Thor, Sif, and his Warriors Three over to introduce them to darts.
They'd had to rebuild the brick wall between the living room and master bedroom.
"You don't touch our weapons." Clint narrowed his eyes. "You make a mess, you clean it up. I tell you to leave: you leave. If you're here to mess with me or mine, it will not end well for you. Understood?"
"Yes drill sergeant!" Wade agreed eagerly, and then he was pushing into the apartment like Clint wasn't pulled as tight as his bow with tension, his shoulder gently brushing Clint's chest as he passed. He moved straight to the kitchen island, which was admittedly not that far away considering their place was fairly typical New York digs, and…began opening and closing all the cupboards and drawers.
Clint took a breath and very carefully did not flip his shit. He eyed the coat rack that hid the closest emergency beacon, and then chose to ignore it in favour of the beer. Whatever, it was a lot of free beer. Phil could yell at his general disregard for personal safety and sanity later. He moved to the kitchen and put the case beside the pizza. The bottles clinked gently as he pulled it open while Wade grabbed up the pizza boxes, again, and practically twirled into the living room. He plonked them down on the coffee table and cracked the top one open.
Clint put a few beers in the fridge, keeping a very close eye on his 'guest,' grabbed two bottles and the roll of paper towels, and sat at the other end of the couch. He didn't relax.
Wade had a slice of pizza already in hand, the cheese still warm enough that it was a bit stringy, and was staring at it like he didn't know what to do next. That was fine, because Clint had no clue either. He twisted the caps off the bottles and put one closer to Wade's side of the table. Wade looked at it, at the pizza in his hand, at the pizza box, and then he dropped the pizza back into it, picked the box up, and practically shoved it at Clint.
"I thought you might be vegetarian. Sometimes I think I should be vegetarian to try and regain a couple karma points for all the killing, you know? Help yourself," he jiggled the box and Clint decided to take him up on the offer. He peeled a slice away from the rest, avoiding the one that had been tossed back into the box.
"Thanks," Clint tried to sound at ease, but seriously: What the fuck? He looked at the pizza slice and noted the sausage and bacon liberally sitting between mushroom and pineapple chunks. Wade grabbed his slice back out and dropped the box on the table. Clint wasn't going to lie: it smelled fantastic. "You didn't poison this, did you?" He asked, not bothering to soften the suspicion he felt and Wade snorted.
"First rule of Phlint: no killing in the apartment. I agreed to that already. Besides, it would be a pretty shitty thing to do to my bro." He peeled the bottom of his mask up and stuffed half the slice into his mouth at once.
"Your- Bro," Clint repeated slowly, and Wade flopped his head back against the soft black couch and rolled it to look at Clint. At least Clint thought he was watching him. For all he knew the guy had his eyes closed beneath the black and red of his mask. He could see his jaw working as he chewed.
"Ahh ann." He agreed, and swallowed the bite of pizza. It looked like a bit of a struggle, but he managed. "Bro! Muchacho, amigo, mon amie, brother from another mother, the ying to my yang, my dude friend, platonic soulmates and you can stop giggling my good fans, I said platonic and I meant it! At least I did when I said it. Did I mean it?" He broke off to look at the ceiling corner, and snorted. Clint watched him a moment.
"Flint?" Clint asked, and Wade waved a hand.
"It's a thing, you get it," he said.
Clint…took a pull from his beer, a long one as Wade turned on the tv. He began a rapid channel surfing that was so quick Clint suspected he was either trying to irritate him, or he liked the flashing colour changes too much to slow down. He didn't seem to loose interest in surfing until Clint polished off his slice of pizza. That's when Wade paused on the Discovery channel to watch beetles drag a giant ball of elephant dung across the screen.
"Seriously," Clint grabbed another slice of pizza, "why are you here, Wade? In my home?" Wade had pulled his mask up enough that it rested, bunched, on the bridge of his nose, and he finished chewing what must have been his fourth slice of pizza. He picked up his beer and, in a move that Clint wasn't sure was characteristic of him, considering he mainly knew the guy from his SHIELD file, he began fiddling with the label.
"Have you ever drowned, Clint?" He asked, softly. Clint swallowed thickly and looked at the tv.
"Yes." He was pretty sure that one time he was water boarded counted, but that wasn't the memory that jumped to the forefront.
With that, they went back to the documentary, which eventually switched to the retro-cartoon network, which switched to some show about servants and rich British people about a hundred years back. Wade spent the rest of the evening flitting between British and Australian accents. He was terrible at both and never shut up.
Clint failed to find a reason to ask him to leave, but sometime after midnight he just up and went out the window without a word. As far as dramatic exits went, Clint was appreciative. He'd done that a time or two himself.
He'd spent the evening with Wade Wilson, in his living room, and it hadn't turned into a fight to the death. That was a pretty big win in Clint's books, even if he never wanted to hear a fake British accent again.
The next morning his ringing phone woke him, the sunlight from the living room windows blinded him, and it took him too long to fish the cell from between the couch cushions.
"Yeah," he grumbled, squinting at the clock above the tv (the one that had a video feed built into the center for emergency use only).
"Rise and shine, Agent Barton. You have training in one hour," Phil's voice filled his ear.
"Fuck-off," Clint mumbled around a grin and looked at the clock again, to double-check the time, before remembering it was Saturday, which meant he didn't train until the afternoon. "What are you wearing?" He asked instead of demanding an update on Phil's status like he wanted. He made sure to put as much leer into his tone as possible. He wasn't sure how successful it was, but since Phil's laugh sounded genuine, he figured his partner was fine and most likely in one piece.
"I'll be home by Monday," Phil said, "I have some…diplomacy duties to see to before heading out." Clint grimaced in sympathy and stood, grabbing up the six Coors bottles from the coffee table, and the three from beneath it. They clinked as he straightened, pressing the phone to his ear with his shoulder, and he could hear the pause on the other end as Phil probably identified the sound. Clint should have waited to clean up; he hadn't wanted to discuss this until Phil got home. "You have an interesting night?" Phil asked as casual as you please. Clint clunked the bottles on the mottled gray granite counter beside the sink loudly.
"How secure is this line?" he asked and began putting them back in the box, one at a time.
"As in Tony secured it, or he doesn't know it exists yet," Clint shoved a mug under their automatic coffee maker and pushed the button. It gave a soft purr as it ground the beans.
"Clint," Phil didn't sound so amused now, and Clint rolled his eyes, going to flop on the couch once more.
"Wade Wilson dropped by last night. Brought pizza and beer," he explained, like it was any other Friday. The only one who ever randomly dropped by on Clint and Phil was Nat, and she arrived bearing Vodka and something generally too spicy to eat because she hated Clint. While he was pretty friendly with the Avengers, it was usually them going to the tower for occasional visits, not the other way around. Especially not since the Thor thing…
"You had a pizza party with Deadpool." Phil said. Clint slid down the couch onto his back, and started counting tiny spots on the ceiling.
"We are not in grade five, Phil. We did not have a pizza party," except that they kind of had. What the fuck ever. "And there was beer. And tv. He has shit taste in beer."
"But at least it was free," Phil said blandly and Clint grinned. Fuck, he loved this man. "Well," Phil continued, "I'm glad you're not dead."
"Hey!" Clint protested, because he could hold his own, thank you very much.
"You're explaining this to me later."
"Not sure I can, but sure. Bring back some gouda."
"And a wooden clog bottle opener," Clint agreed. Phil was in the Netherlands somewhere, not Siberia. Unless mission parameters had changed, but he wasn't using code so Clint wasn't worried.
"Did you remember to lock the doors last night?" Phil asked with that tone that said he already knew the answer. Clint craned his head up to look at the door, just like he had the night before when Wade had knocked. All three locks were disengaged.
"Yep," he answered. Phil totally didn't buy it, but it's not like he could confirm it seeing as he wasn't here.
When they hung up, Clint tossed the phone into his jacket's pocket by the door, and then he remembered that he'd made a cup of java and left it in the kitchen.
"Coffee," he sighed, and spent the next ten minutes wondering if he should use his energy to get said coffee, or preserve his energy by remaining exactly where he was.
On Monday morning, Deputy Director Hill sent Clint to Toronto, apparently deciding that the infiltration mission was on the go again. He let his mark beat the shit out of him to get an in, and came home on Friday with a scraped jaw, ribs that weren't as bruised as Ethan, his mark, thought they were, a dehydration headache, and a metric tonne of maple syrup.
Ethan hit like a hydra lackey: all superior attitude and no real skill…and he was not actually a part of Hydra but Clint stood by his simile. At least Ethan was now considering him as a potential supplier while not considering him a security concern. It was a tough line to march, convincing his mark that he had what he needed, wouldn't run to the cops or a rival supplier, and could be 'controlled.' Clint wasn't a big fan of undercover, that was Nat and Phil's forte, but he knew how to play a role when he needed to. He was very familiar with the criminal world, despite not being actively a part of it since he was twenty-three.
"You had to let him get in a head shot?" Phil asked, tracing the scrape on his jaw with his eyes, and following it with a feather light fingertip. Clint dropped the ratty pack he'd been dragging everywhere with him the last week, letting it slump against the base of the coat stand and listening to the bottles within clink together. He leaned into Phil and pressed their foreheads together. He settled one hand on Phil's jean covered hip and wrapped the other around his neck, sliding his fingers beneath the collar. It felt like he hadn't seen him in forever.
"Visual reminders make him think he's the one in control," Clint answered, and he should have probably chewed some gum or something on the way home because his stale bus-stop coffee breath probably wasn't what Phil wanted to be sharing just then. Phil didn't pull away, though, just closed his eyes and wrapped both of his own hands around Clint's neck, his fingers lacing together over his hair and skin. His hands were so warm, and Clint relaxed a little more.
"No more head shots," Phil ordered, and Clint didn't answer, because he hated making promises he couldn't keep. When Phil finally relented his grip, it took Clint a moment longer to disengage his own, at least until he started working at the buttons of Phil's shirt and pushing him back to their room. It was a while before Clint finally got to sleep, but when he drifted away it was with a smile pressed into the back of Phil's neck.
— — —
"I'm all for Canadian tree sap being boiled to within in an inch of its non-life," the words cut into Clint's world like a clap beside his ear, and he sat up in bed with his gun trained steadily on the door to their room without conscious thought. Phil was a mirror image at his side, arms stretched forward in perfect form, breath steady and calm. The blanket fell to pool at their waists, sunlight from the windows warmed their skin, and there was a man standing in the threshold to their room; a really good looking brunette man decked out in Clint's "Kiss the Assassin ~or he'll poison your food~" apron. He had a large mixing bowl clutched in his arm. "But do you guys have any Aunt Jemima kicking around? I like variety. Also, you need more fruit in this place. Don't you shop?"
Clint blinked. The man cocked his head as he waited for answers, stirring the whisk steadily in the bowl.
"This is a maple syrup only dwelling," Phil answered after a short pause.
"Is that another house rule?" Wade asked (Clint was slightly embarrassed that he hadn't recognized Wade instantly with the hair and unmarred skin). His brown eyes focused on Clint, and, probably against his better judgement (apparently poor judgement was a thing with Clint now) he relaxed. He didn't lower his gun, though; that would be stupid and Phil would give him shit for it.
"Yes," Clint answered slowly, "it's a rule."
"Kind of like no murder, attempted or successful, in your sanctuary is a rule?" he grinned, shifting his grip on the bowl.
"Mr. Wilson," Phil's tone was polite. Wade turned his brown eyes on Phil, curious. "What are you doing here, in our home, at seven-thirty on a Saturday morning?"
Wade blinked at Phil, looked down to the bowl in his arms like maybe it had morphed into something unexpected while he hadn't been looking, and then looked back at Phil.
"Pancakes," he answered.
Clint was going back to sleep; sleep would make everything better.
"Pancakes," Phil agreed, in that careful tone he'd used a lot around Clint and Nat when they'd started at SHIELD. "And you had to make them here, because?" He hedged, which was a very good question.
"Because my bro's here," Wade explained slowly, like maybe he thought Phil was being a little obtuse.
"And your bro is Clint," Phil said, like this made sense. It didn't make sense to Clint.
Wade started laughing. And laughing. And waving the hand that held the whisk around, sending pancake batter on the apron, the sleeve of his black t-shirt, and over the dresser that rested right next to the door, .
"Wade, watch the mess," Clint snapped, and finally dropped his firing stance so he could flop back on the bed, "and get the fuck out of our room."
"The look on his face," Wade exclaimed, shaking his head at Phil, laughing and turning away at the same time. "I like people that make me laugh." Phil's gun was now aimed at his back and he lowered the weapon gingerly. While he wasn't against shooting people in the back depending on the situation, Clint knew he generally preferred not to. Clint looked up to watch Wade leave, and immediately dropped his head back to his pillow. He brought his hands up to rub at his eyes, careful of the gun still clutched in his left.
"Put on some fucking pants Wilson!" he hollered after him.
"You're not wearing any," Wade called back, like he was being perfectly reasonable.
"If your name isn't on the lease than clothing is not optional," Clint tried not to growl.
"You say that like I'll believe your real names are on the lease," Wade called back. Clint had never really wished for a larger apartment before, but now he was thinking it might have been nice if the kitchen was further away. Like on the other side of the building away.
"Well," Phil looked down at Clint, "he wouldn't be wrong."
So the landlord thought they were Phil and Clint Carter. It was just easier that way.
"If you're not wearing pants when we get out there, you're leaving," Clint decided loudly. Wade didn't respond.
"So…this acquaintance is a bit more…serious than I thought," Phil said softly, and Clint slipped his gun back into its holster behind the headboard. Phil kept his in hand.
"Apparently." Clint had thought the pizza and beer had been a one-time thing, like a sort of thank you. He hadn't realized Wade had decided it was an open invitation to his life. "I'm never going to be able to wear that apron again," he bemoaned.
"We'll use the detergent we use on the Field Stains, it'll be fine." Phil reassured with an underrated level of concern.
"It's not like you wear it anyway, and I don't have a problem with someone else defiling a gift from Stark," Phil decided and Clint shook his head.
"Why is it the team thinks you're the nice one in this relationship."
"Because I am."
"I think you're both adorable," Wade said, poking his head around the door and grinning at them. He was still wearing the apron, but at least he'd put pants on. The fact that he was no longer wearing a shirt…Clint chose to ignore. He contemplated throwing the knife that was secured to the side of his dresser at him, but that would just leave bloodstains Clint would have to clean up later and Wade probably wouldn't understand the lesson.
"Don't burn my pancakes," Clint muttered, and kept an eye on Phil, who was closely watching Wade retreat once more.
"It's weird that I'm not worried about this, right?" Clint asked softly, and regained Phil's attention.
"By an average person's standards, probably," Phil dropped down to one elbow and lay a hand on Clint's chest, casual and possessive. Clint stretched, feeling Phil's fingers pull with the movement.
"He just broke into our home to make pancakes," Clint pointed out. "I should be furious, and worried, and I should have probably shot him."
"Well, there are the house rules," Phil said, fingers scratching idly.
"Why am I not more concerned about this?" Clint knew he was talking in circles, but Phil didn't seem to mind. They should both probably be dressed, and armed, and in the kitchen making sure that Wade fucking Wilson wasn't burning down their home. There was nothing in his file about cooking expertise, but only two instances of deliberate arson, so that was promising depending on how you looked at it.
Clint should be worried for their safety, his natural paranoia should have kicked in the first night Wade stopped by. He should have been in fight or flight mode, searching for some kind of deceit, an ulterior motive, an endgame. At the very least, he thought the constant chatter, which was apparently a thing with Wade, should irritate him. He should have maybe been more concerned about the man's ever-flexible moral ambiguity. There were a lot of things about this that should bother Clint.
"You have good instincts," Phil said, quiet, and he was looking at Clint with the fondness he rarely let show in public. "You know people."
"Not always," Clint snorted and Phil grinned.
"You trusted Natasha enough to ask her to join you at SHIELD."
"We had history. Wade and I don't," Clint stated with a frown.
"You trusted me when I brought you in, and I put a bullet in your thigh and tazed you."
"Good times," Clint snorted, letting the fond memories seep in, not the hurt and anger and mistrust that had been a part of his general makeup back then. Phil had been the only one he'd trusted at that time, and it had been instinctive, too, even as he'd loomed over Clint, gun in hand and patience on his face. Clint had wanted to punch him, and had tried, which was where the tazing came in. He'd laughed after he'd regained consciousness and heard Phil shouting for medics.
Clint hadn't exactly been in the best physical form back then; too much stress and too little food. SHIELD had been under the impression Clint had been in tip-top shape, so they'd been a bit sideswiped when Clint had ended up in medical for more reasons than an electric bullet smoothie a la Phil.
"You said he was drowning when you found him?" Phil asked gently, and Clint wrapped his own hand around Phil's on his chest, lacing their fingers.
"Mutual trauma is not a reason to trust him, or anyone," Clint frowned.
"It might be considered history to someone like Wade," Phil squeezed his hand and Clint could feel the scratch of gun calluses. "Or maybe you just like him."
Maybe what Clint liked was the fact that Wade, a virtual stranger if you ignored the life-saving event and a night of hanging out, was apparently really into the idea of being Clint's…friend? He couldn't remember the last time someone had been this insistent about it when there was no team obligation, or survival necessities, in play. Clint decided not to give that thought too much of a foothold.
"I think we might need a lot of house rules," Clint capitulated. They pulled apart and got up to dress.
"Rules were made to be broken," Wade called from across the kitchen.
"And a sound proof door," Clint looked for something to throw through the apartment at their 'guest,' but there were only books and sharp, pointy objects. Wade might heal instantly, but Clint didn't like hurting people just because he could. Even if he sometimes wanted to.
He considered revising that personal rule when he stepped into the living room and looked across to their kitchen. It wasn't a large kitchen by any means, but it was a decent L shape with dark cabinetry and a speckled, earthy-coloured granite counter. It wasn't what had come with the apartment, but seeing as they'd paid for the upgrades themselves (and a few other renovations that remained between them and their 'contractors'), the landlord had not complained. The Island that separated the kitchen from the living room, Clint's favourite part about the space, was covered in baking detritus. Flour and milk, crushed egg shells, a spilled bag of cinnamon, and all sorts of cutlery that Clint couldn't figure out the purpose of in junction with pancakes, were spread across it, and on the floor.
Aside from the batter that Wade had splashed himself with in the bedroom's doorway he was spotless. On the counter just beside the stove, there were two plates piled so high with pancakes the towers were literally leaning against each other to stay up.
He must have been at it for at least an hour, and he wasn't being particularly quiet. That meant he'd been in the apartment approximately forty-five minutes without Clint or Phil waking up from the noise.
Clint wasn't sure what that meant for Phil, but for him it meant he instinctively trusted Deadpool. He had no survival instincts at all. He was doomed. Natasha was never going to stop laughing at him.
Phil stepped out of their room to take in the scene, and went to put away his gun.
"You're cleaning this up," Clint said firmly and went to grab plates, stepping into the kitchen behind Wade. Wade froze for a moment, tensing in the small space, before his shoulders relaxed again and he flipped the cakes in the pan.
"I cooked," he said. "The cook doesn't clean."
"We'll see about that," Clint muttered, and gave the island a wide berth on his way to their tiny dining table to set it up. When he was finished, he turned to watch Wade, who seemed quite content to work away at the stove, muttering too softly for Clint to hear. "What's with the hair?" Clint had to know, because last time they'd met, Wade had worn his costume hood and Clint assumed it was to hide the scars. He didn't recall any smooth skin or hair back at that lab. He did recall a distinct lack of both.
"Holo-imager!" Wade looked over his shoulder at Clint with a wide grin. It looked a little too Hollywood fake for Clint, but he sure as hell wasn't going to bring that up. "The people you saved me from," he batted his eyes at Clint, and that felt less forced, "stole my toys. I don't like it when people steal my toys. If I wanted to share, I'd offer. Standard playground etiquette, right? But no, they took my stuff, and it took me almost two weeks to track this baby down. Do you know how difficult it is to go shopping with a mask on? I'm pretty sure you've got enough going on in that head to visualize those scenarios." The unscarred muscles in his forearms flexed as he squeezed the pan's handle tighter then necessary, but it didn't break, so Clint ignored it.
"But I found it," Wade sing-songed, "and I taught them a lesson in sharing which, actually, they won't be able to pass on…maybe I should have left at least one of them alive," he scratched at his clean shaven chin in contemplation. Clint watched closely, and the tech was good. It hovered so close to Wade's skin that Clint could barely see the millimeter of his fingertips being hidden by the image overlay on his jaw. Stark would want to look at it. Clint made a mental note to make sure Tony didn't take it without asking. He liked Tony, he didn't want have to keep him safe from Wade. That would take far too much of Clint's valuable time.
Breakfast, with the three of them sitting at the table and Wade deciding to try his knock-knock jokes on a new audience (because apparently the x-men had no sense of humour and never appreciated his generosity) was not as awkward as he'd predicted. Wade kept getting distracted by Phil's soft comments and questions about how exactly, he got into their apartment, and Clint kept trying to distract Phil with some footsie. Phil wasn't impressed when Wade tried to join in.
Clint just found the whole thing amusing.
This was not how he had pictured his Saturday morning, ever, but he couldn't say it was boring. So that was something.
Chapter 3: Shovel Talk
Clint leaned back in his chair, tilting it until he balanced on the back legs, and basically tried not to be irritated by Hill and Langer insisting he come up to the helicarrier for a quick meet about Ethan. Tried being the operative (and apparently irrelevant) word.
"What do you think Agent Barton?" Langer asked. Clint could feel his gaze settle on him, but he didn't bother opening his eyes.
"I think we could have reduced my carbon footprint by doing this over Skype." The last thing he'd wanted to do, after dragging himself out of bed that morning, was fly halfway across the country to sit in an overly bright conference room and listen to these two hash out scenarios that he didn't need to be involved in. From the near inaudible sigh Hill made she was probably in agreement.
"Wireless is down," Langer lied without effort. Clint cracked an eye open, took in the tired slump to both their shoulders, and decided being a dick this morning was probably overrated. He was here now anyway. He dropped the chair back to all four legs and leaned forward on the cold table.
"I think Ethan Turran thinks too highly of himself. He's convinced his place in the organization is more important than it is. He gets off on thinking he has complete power over his employees and that makes him sloppy and too quick to believe his control is absolute. You want to speed this up we need to convince him that I want to be more than just a supplier in their organization, but that I'm loyal to him first, not the big kingpins."
Langer's frown deepened, and Hill nodded. Apparently they'd already come to the same conclusion. Why the hell was he here again? Clint's irritation began to grow once more.
"We need to pull a Mantilow," Langer decided, and just like that Clint's irritation dissipated.
"Will I get to shoot you?" He asked, and Langer rolled his eyes, but looked to Hill for confirmation. She nodded.
"It's a good idea." She said, and Clint smirked. "You will not be shooting Langer," she narrowed her eyes at Clint, and he shrugged. He was pretty sure he could make it happen if her really wanted to. "Intel has a meet taking place in Vancouver within the next month, we'll set up the Mantilow there."
Well, they had an action plan of sorts. Greatness. Clint still thought this whole meeting should have been Skyped.
The thing about working with a team, and this was something that Clint was very well versed in, was that while you were all fighting for the same general goal, it didn't mean you always agreed with each other. On anything. Fortunately for Clint and his current teammates, they rarely disagreed during high stress moments, or at least not in ways that hurt their main objective. Usually.
"Down down down down DOWN!" Ironman yelled, his voice amplified so much that Clint, on the ground and trying to direct the civilians Tony was yelling at, felt a headache set in from the double warning. Thankfully his earpiece levelled Tony's volume directly, because that spike of sound along with his magnified warning would have made him literally cringe. Still, at least it meant the mish-mash of construction workers that were not listening to Clint at all finally did something they were told.
Clint understood: he wasn't as awe inspiring as Tony, or Steve, or Thor, but he had a freakin uniform and mask on too thank you very much! It might not be as bright as some of his teammates, but it was still pretty obvious that he wasn't a civilian. Do what he said!
Collectively eleven people dropped to the ground in classic duck and cover. One man did not. Staring stupidly up at the sky with wide, terrified eyes, his shoulders were grabbed in the talons of the winged…feathered dragon thing. Clint loosed an arrow before it could take off further than two feet and the guy was dropped to the ground, screeching louder than the injured beast as it went careening into the wall above them. Of course this crash meant that the partially constructed four-story building they were mostly lying in front of began to crumble above them. Fantastic.
"Move Move MOVE!" Clint hollered, reaching down with his left hand and hauling the nearest builder up. This time they listened, scrambling up and running without complaint. Finally. Behind them concrete chunks hit the ground at the same time as the creature.
"It's like herding cats," Tony said over the personal comm.
"Ironman." Clint could hear the frown in Steve's voice.
"No, you're right Cap," Tony paused on the radio and in the distance Clint could hear one of his mini-missiles explode, "cats would have found shelter at the first sign of giant, man-eating cyborg birds."
"Focus, Ironman. We need to find the source," Steve grunted and it was difficult for Clint to focus on the people he'd been charged with getting to safety instead of looking around to make sure his team was okay. One of the civilians at the front of the group yelled in panic and Clint snapped his head around to source the problem.
He loaded and fired three arrows at once, not bothering to watch as they cut through the crowd in front of him, one fletching tickling a man's neck as it flew past. All three hit their targets exactly where he needed. He depressed the trigger on his bow grip, and like a well-choreographed horror show they exploded. Fortunately they were far enough away that when the organic bird-bots hit the ground with a disgusting squelch and a screech of deformed metal, they slid to a stop ten feet from his group. Clint didn't waste time watching this as he'd already calculated the exact positions they'd land in, which left him free to leap onto a tall dumpster, hoping that it would give him some kind of sight advantage. He ignored the construction workers as they glanced between him and the would-be attacking monsters. He needed to find a secure place for these- a splash of red down the road snagged his attention and, with an unexpected twitch of surprise, he instantly recognized it.
He shot another creature as it clipped sharply around the corner of the building at the end of their block, and was firing at the one dropping down at them from above before the first arrow landed.
He looked back at Deadpool, who was casually walking up the middle of the dirt road, eyeballing a huge yellow bulldozer like he was considering taking it for a joy ride. This entire five-block radius was being rebuilt from one of the alien whales crash landing on it the year before.
"Why are we just standing here?" The only woman in the group asked sharply, and she was one of three people who had had the foresight to grab a weapon when the monsters showed up and started eating her coworkers. She held her sledgehammer like she knew how to use it. A young guy, probably not much older than eighteen, was standing close to her, a smear of blood running down the side of his face.
Clint shot another approaching beast. He considered triggering the explosion as it flopped wildly over Deadpool's head, but he wasn't one hundred percent sure Wade wouldn't attack him if he made it rain bird intestines on him. This wasn't really the time to test the theory. He looked briefly at the group now swarming his dumpster, their gazes focused upwards. He glanced at the area around them, and finally spotted what he needed.
"There's a sewer access a hundred meters up and across the road, where that stack of road signs are. See it?" He asked. There was a roar in the distance, followed by a second.
"We're going to die," a man cried and another started praying in Spanish.
"What the hell is that guy doing?!" another cried and Clint cast a quick look to Deadpool, who was turning in slow circles in the middle of the road, his arms outstretched. Clint shot two more of the car-sized creatures, who were at least easy to spot with their variety of vibrant colours. Clint ignored both the question and Wade.
"Do you see where the sewer access is?" He snapped, and the lady with the sledgehammer nodded.
"I see it," she said.
"Apparently these little guys are the scouts," Tony said in Clint's ear with an apparent lack of concern. "Mama and Papa are joining the party and bringing the stragglers with them."
"Get there and get underground. We'll come for you when it's over," Clint ordered. She nodded and hollered "lets go!" His civilians collectively took off at a sprint, having to leap over the grotesque remains of two of the creatures. Clint watched as, one by one they disappeared beneath the road until they were all out of sight.
"Civilians are underground," he informed Steve and Tony, and leapt off the dumpster, ducking into an easy shoulder tumble to pop to his feet and jog over to where Wade was, apparently, waiting for him.
"Roger that," Steve acknowledged.
"This is like the best version of Duck Hunt I've ever seen, " Wade decided when Clint joined him. Aside from the whole eating people bit, he was willing to agree.
"What are you doing here, Deadpool? I thought you were away on business." Which was what the guy had declared as he'd run out of Phil and Clint's apartment three days before, leaving it looking like a baker's bomb had gone off in the kitchen. Clint looked down the street where he heard another massive roar but still couldn't see the attacking creature.
"Turns out my potential employers liked to use chicks for target practice," Wade sighed and shook his head.
"Hawkeye, I need eyes up top and Ironman's engaged. ETA?" Steve asked, his breath huffing on the last question in a way that meant he was throwing his shield. Now that Clint wasn't riding heard on a bunch of panicked civvies he could hear the distant thwuck as the shield hit its target. Steve was the next block over, thereabouts.
"Three minutes," Clint answered and took off for the tallest building he could see. Wade ran right beside him. The pouches that encircled his waist jingled slightly with their sprint.
"Baby chickens, not ladies," Wade clarified, doing a double flip over the bird carcass for no strategic reason that Clint could determine. Clint waited until he was leaping over his own pile of debris before he fired two arrows into the air. A moment later the flying creature that he'd spotted between the half formed buildings banked around the corner and took both arrows to the throat. He blew its head off but didn't watch. He was running out of explosive arrows, and while his regular ones hurt these creatures they didn't incapacitate them. They needed to end this soon or he wouldn't be much use to Steve and Tony.
"They were just taking pot-shots at them when you arrived?" Clint asked, side-eying Wade as they skidded to a stop inside a construction elevator. Wade selected the top floor and, fortunately, it worked without the door needing to be shut.
"This elevator fails to meet basic safety standards," Wade shook his head and leaned back against the grated wall with crossed arms. "They just had them running around in their palatial backyard and were shooting at them from the poolside. Cute little fuzzy yellow chicks. Shooting at babies," he said and Clint could hear the disgust, but considering he'd been killing giant metal-organic hybrid ducks for the last twenty minutes he figured it was the 'baby' part and not the animal part that bothered Wade.
"Clint," Tony asked over the radio with a syrupy sweet tone, "who is that heavily armed man in the elevator with you?" Clint shot a beast flying right at their position and glanced in the distance where Tony was taking on a small swarm of creatures.
"Deadpool," Clint answered.
"That's my name, feel free to wear it out," Wade was now pretending to clean his nails with a knife the size of his forearm. He had gloves covering his hands. "As long and loud as you want."
"Confirm that Deadpool is on scene?" Agent Hill, their SHIELD liaison for this mission as Phil was off with Natasha doing classified things, cut into their radio feed.
"Confirmed," he said and quickly added, "he's a friendly."
"Did I just hear you use the words Deadpool and friendly in the same sentence, Hawkeye?" Hill sounded almost amused over the line. Clint would have to let her know her poker-voice was slipping.
"You did. Cap, we've got a fourth hand on deck. Skillset primarily on close quarter fighting," he explained tersely, because Wade wasn't packing any firepower heavier then a side arm and what looked like a few flash-bangs that could also be grenades. They looked custom made so Clint couldn't be sure.
"Let's try to keep close-quarter fighting as a last option. Do we know where these creatures are coming from yet?" Steve asked and, looking to the ground Clint could see Steve running along the edge of a three-story building's roof.
"We have our suspicions," Hill said and Steve jumped into the air, landed on the back of one of the creatures mid flight, and brained it with his shield. He leapt off of it as it began to fall and landed in a roll on the next building. "That's not our concern at the moment. Reports say the numbers are limited and we need them neutralized."
"What exactly do you think it is we're doing out here?" Tony asked.
"I tired to give the chicks guns so they could shoot back, but it didn't work out. Obviously. Hard to pull triggers with feathers for fingers," Deadpool had tucked away his knife and was rotating his shoulders, clearly preparing for action. "Needless to say I didn't get the job, whatever it was. I think that was because they didn't appreciate losing their trigger fingers; but it's not like they were using them for anything productive."
The elevator stopped. Twelve stories high; it would have to be high enough. They jumped out just in time to see Tony take down a creature the size of a city bus. He flew a quick loop in the air, clearly searching the skies.
"I just took out one of the two largest," Tony said as Clint ran across the solid metal I-beams that made up the roofs frame. They hadn't done much more than the basic skeleton on the top five floors of this building. Still, the beam was easily wide enough to sprint across and it was an easy leap from one to the other.
"I've got three explosive shots left," Clint said and then fired two of them rapidly, one at a creature swooping in on Steve's back, and another chasing a civilian they must have missed…nope, no. That was a reporter. She must have come in to the battle looking for a story. She should have brought a gun instead of a camera. "One shot left. Tony, the last big-girl is at your nine o'clock." He warned just as the animal let out a wailing-screech that shattered the windows on the building in its path.
"Fuck," Clint muttered, tearing the radio out of his ear as it erupted in a high-pitched screaming that very emphatically announced their radios were no longer working.
"Dragons that breathe EMP waves instead of fire: brilliant," Wade decided from where he stood next to Clint. Clint didn't say anything, instead he watched Tony fall like a rock as his suit took the brunt of the blast. He could see it struggling to reboot, the hand and foot repulsors sputtering light, but it was a roof that ultimately broke his fall. Tony crashed through it and disappeared inside. Clint focused on the creature again, which was curving around the buildings, following the road and-
"It's heading right for Captain America," Clint breathed.
"Your one arrow isn't going to be enough," Wade agreed, and then unsheathed both his swords and twirled them in the air once. He turned his head to face Clint. "Make it a good shot and I'll take care of the rest," and then he swan dove off the building.
Clint would like to say he was surprised, but he wasn't. If he healed from pretty much any known wound he would throw himself off buildings without a second thought, too. Well…more than he generally did already.
The creature was going to pass eight stories below them. Clint fired his arrow, timing it so it would hit its mark at the exact moment that Deadpool would land on it's back. It was easy to keep track of the assassin in his shiny red uniform, easier still because of Clint's eyesight. Deadpool landed blades first, driving them deep into the hide. The creature roared and rolled. Clint set off the explosive as he ran back to the elevator. He bypassed the car completely, hopping the safety rail that surrounded the platform and swinging beneath it to grab the metal ropes. Holding on with his right hand and feet he dug into his pocket and pulled out a tiny rope clamp. It was a custom design he'd made for himself after a few too many instances of needing to fast-rope from a considerable height. He generally didn't have time to wait for elevator's, and friction was a bitch; he'd lost more gloves and skin off his palms than he cared for and frankly the clamp was one of his best engineering feats.
He slapped it around the metal rope, carefully squeezed until it was clutching the material the way he wanted, and then he released his other hand, softened his grip around the rope with his boots, and began his plummet to the ground.
When he hit the third floor, not too many seconds later, he tightened his grip which increased the friction on the rope drastically, slowing him down. The pull on his body was heavy, but this was something he'd practiced and he'd been prepared for the drag.
As soon as his boots hit the ground he was off running towards the building Tony had crashed into. Tony chose that moment to fly out of a broken window not too far above, his suit back in working order, and he took off to where the last large creature had fallen.
Clint turned and followed, putting serious effort into getting there fast, needing to know what was going on, and keeping an eye out for further attacks. None seemed to be forthcoming. That was good, he hoped.
"Hawkeye," he heard Steve before he saw him, and he had to round the small mountain of beast to get a glimpse of his teammates. Steve and Tony were both standing a good fifteen feet back from what was left of the dead-bots head; a misshapen skull of scraped shiny metal and dirt. Tony had his mask shifted open, and Steve's shield was secured to his back, so Clint relaxed as much as he could after a sprint, but kept his bow in hand.
"Captain, Stark," he acknowledged, and turned away. Where the hell was Wade?
A ways down the road he could see the standard SUVs SHIELD favoured begin barrelling towards them. It was taking a bit of effort with the debris in the way.
"Deadpool?" Clint called and looked at the giant carcass. "You better not be stuck underneath this thing." The thought made him slightly ill.
"Nah, I'd rather be stuck under you," Wade strolled around the thing from the other end, his swords in their sheaths on his back and he was clutching a shiny piece of metal in his left hand. "Or you," he stopped a few feet from Clint and set his sights on Steve. "Anytime, just say the word," he purred. Steve clearly had no idea how to respond to that, so he ignored the comment completely.
"Everyone okay?" Steve asked the group. Clint could feel Wade preening beside him at being included in the concern.
"Better now that you're in my life," Wade tilted his head and Clint imagined he was batting his eyelashes at Steve beneath his mask. He didn't even glance in Tony's direction.
"Fine," Clint answered when Steve focused more on him. Clint ignored the assessment in favour of looking at the approaching vehicles and then back at Wade. "You sticking around?"
"Only in their dreams," Wade tossed the metal piece he held from one hand to another, and Clint recognized it as being the tip of a manufactured talon. He must have sliced it off with his blade. "This was fun, I think Samurai Duck Hunt could be the next big thing. We should look into that."
"No, we shouldn't," Clint countered.
"Your such a downer." Wade waved it off, looked back at Steve and Tony, who were probably waiting for the introductions that Clint hadn't remembered to make, and then gave them all a two-fingered salute. He walked away towards the nearest alley.
"Where are you going?" Steve asked, frowning. "We need to debrief."
"You're cute. I like that in a spandeckled hero," Wade called over his shoulder and then he was gone. Behind Clint SHIELD's vehicles came to a stop as Steve looked back to Clint expectantly.
"What?" Clint said. "I'm not his keeper. You want him back here, you're going to have to get him yourself."
"Clint, who was he?" Steve asked, not looking particularly happy about being kept out of the loop. Tony was wearing his patented grumpy face as well, which wasn't helping to lighten the mood.
"Deadpool, Hawkeye?" Maria Hill answered for him and, as usual, Clint had not heard her approach. That didn't mean he hadn't been waiting for it.
"Yes, Ma'am. He was in the neighbourhood and apparently decided to lend a hand," Clint explained with as little inflection as possible. On cue her cool, unimpressed glare came out to play.
"Next time he decides to lend a hand, how about you bring him for the debrief." It wasn't a suggestion, and irritation began to crowd in with his still pumping adrenalin. He considered how to answer, but seeing as most of his immediate responses involved impolite four letter words he opted for a simple "I'll see what I can do, Ma'am."
Her narrowed frown told him she had picked up on his disinterest in that order. He stood a bit straighter.
"See that you do," she said and Clint nodded.
Sure. Whatever. Wasn't his problem.
"Deadpool." Natasha stated as she waited patiently for Bruce to finish dealing, and Clint valiantly repressed a sigh. It wasn't that he didn't want to discuss Wade…well, actually, he didn't. Tony and Steve had pretty much put him through the inquisition the night before after Tony had done a little background research on Wade. Apparently Steve hadn't been too happy with the idea that a potentially psychotic and unpredictable mercenary had spontaneously joined their fight and Clint hadn't had any concerns about it. Tony had been mostly quiet on the subject, which had Clint mildly curious, and now that Natasha was back in town, it was apparently her turn to get answers.
Clint took a huge bite out of the apple he'd brought to the table with him and glanced at his cards. He wasn't sure if she'd found out about Wade from Phil, the team, or from a third source. She glanced at Clint and he tried to chew a bit more obnoxiously in her direction.
"He's known for hanging around where he's not wanted." She pulled a card from her hand without having looked at them and flicked it to Bruce, who replaced it with a new one. It was just the three of them tonight at the tower, and Clint wasn't planning on staying too late since Phil was also home. Bruce looked briefly between them and took a slow sip of tea.
Clint swallowed, tapped the edge of his cards on the table, and met her gaze. "Who says he's not wanted?" He asked.
Her lips twitched, and she ate a grape from her plate. She was satisfied with his answer, at least for now, and he relaxed a bit. She would back off of Wade if he asked her to, but it was easier if she made the decision of her own accord.
"Call," Bruce decided, appearing unconcerned by their conversation, which was a complete front but the three of them had feigning disinterest down to an art. Clint and Natasha both laid out a royal flush. Bruce lay down two aces and three kings. He looked at the table, looked at Clint and Natasha, and sighed.
"Want us to teach you how to turn a card into a knife instead?" Clint asked around a mouthful of apple, and grinned.
A few days later Clint and Phil came back to their apartment after a long afternoon of meetings that dealt with updating protocol and evacuation procedures. It had been a really long day, but Clint was pretty satisfied that it had ended a few hours earlier than planned. That little bonus had everything to do with him steadily watching the meeting lead whenever he wasn't actively participating. He'd been running through the jokes at the stand-up comedy act he, Tony, and Natasha had gone to the night before, but apparently the memories didn't make him look any friendlier. He was well aware that his casual attentive gaze came across as slightly murderous. It had been pretty funny for the most part.
Point being, it had been a long day, and after Phil disengaged the last lock of their state of the art security system and pushed the door to their place open, neither were prepared to find Wade parked on their couch and looking over the back of it at them with a grin.
"You're home! Finally! I've been waiting for like an hour."
Phil looked at Wade, looked at Clint, and then moved towards their bedroom, hand tugging at his tie. Clint resisted rubbing at his neck and closed the door carefully, looking for signs of the forced entry. There were none, but there was the tell tale smell of pizza. He kicked off his boots, well aware that Wade was watching his every move, and went to the fridge. He grabbed three beers, popping the tops off the cold bottles, and handed one to their 'guest' as he rounded the couch and sat down.
"Wade," Clint greeted, taking a pull.
"Disney," Wade answered, and yes, Clint could see that. There was a pile of Disney DVDs on their beaten up coffee table (one of the few pieces of furniture Clint had wanted to keep from his old place) beside three neatly stacked pizza boxes. Clint…picked up the top one up to look at. It was the Jungle Book, followed by the Lion King, Mulan, Aladdin, Robin Hood, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Little Mermaid, and Clint lost interest in pretending to care.
"I don't remember giving you a key, Wade," Clint put the Jungle Book back on the pile.
"No worries. It's not like it's difficult to get in," Wade shrugged, apparently misinterpreting Clint's words but whether or not it was on purpose was unclear. Clint eyed the pizza, and wondered for probably the tenth time if he should be upset by this intrusion by a master assassin that wasn't Nat.
"You actually own these?" he gestured at the movies with his bottle, and Wade gave him a weird look.
"First off, you say that with such disdain. Who doesn't like Disney? And of course I own them; as of four hours ago." Phil came wandering back into the room, dressed in soft jeans and a t-shirt.
"Four hours ago?" Clint asked as Phil squeezed between him and the armrest of the couch, putting Clint between him and Wade, and picked up his beer from the table. It wasn't a really big couch, but Wade didn't seem to mind or even notice as Clint shifted more to the centre.
"Oh, yeah. Apparently I had crackheads for neighbours, which was fine, but then they started dealing to kids in the building and that doesn't fly. People want to get off their heads? That's their choice, but kids, you don't go after the kids." Wade flipped the lid on the pizza box.
"Please tell me you didn't kill them," Clint felt Phil tense slightly along his side, but he relaxed again a moment later when Wade rolled his brown eyes at them, and shook his head.
"Nah, just paid them a little visit and then they asked to be reported to the cops. I took the movies as compensation for my time. Drug dealers and Disney. It was a good day. Pizza?" He held the box out. They both took slices.
"I wouldn't mind learning how you got into our place," Phil said mildly and Clint heard his silent again in his own head.
"That would be telling," Wade tutted and looked at Clint. "Which one do you want to watch first?" he asked and Clint looked at the stack of movies and shrugged.
"Whatever," he said when Wade kept watching him, clearly waiting for a choice.
"Mulan," Phil said after a moment of silence when it became clear Clint wasn't going to answer. He couldn't believe they were actually going to watch a Disney cartoon, and he could feel Phil's attention focused on him. He looked at him.
"What?" Clint asked as Wade shuffled about their state of the art entertainment system, muttering about how such a beautiful piece of equipment shouldn't be allowed to gather dust.
"You seen any of these?" Phil asked, nodding at the movies and Clint shook his head. He'd seen bits and pieces here and there, and was pretty sure he knew the plots for the main ones, but growing up the way he had didn't lend to a lot of movies or free time, and if he watched movies now they tended to be more drama oriented. He was pretty sure Steve and Thor had seen more than him at this point. Neither Phil nor Wade said anything about his lack of cartoon education, and Clint was very much okay with leaving it at that.
When the night was over and Phil shuffled Wade out of their place after two movies, he collapsed on the bed beside Clint and sighed.
"A pizza party with Deadpool," Clint could feel the pillow shifting as Phil shook his head.
"And movies and beer," Clint muttered, pretty sure it was barely audible with his face mashed into the soft fabric.
"I can't decide if this will improve or damage my reputation at the office," Phil pondered, but Clint, drifting into sleep with the soft brush of Phil's lips on his neck, didn't hear.
Wade disappeared. Phil tracked him down a few places, discreetly and off the clock, but was only ever able to find out where he'd been, not where he was.
"Just like tracking you and Nat," Phil said over the phone, because once again he and Clint were in different cities, or continents. Clint wasn't clear on that yet.
"You know exactly where I am right now," Clint pointed out.
"Do I?" Phil sounded dubious, which made Clint want to roll his eyes. Sadly he was waiting in a conference room with two SHIELD agents he didn't know beyond one other meeting, and he didn't feel comfortable relaxing yet.
"I have not tampered with or cut out my bio-tracker," Clint informed him.
"Forgive me if I choose to entertain reasonable doubt," Phil said.
"I only cut it out the once; the other times were not my fault," Clint stated. Out of the corner of his eye he spied one of the agents cutting him a look. The other end of the line was heavy with Phil's silent disagreement. "That time in Alaska doesn't count," Clint protested, wishing his coffee would cool down faster. That monumentally FUBAR mission had actually been in the Yukon, not Alaska, but he had an audience and Phil was aware of that.
"It does count." Phil contradicted, and Clint glared at the coffee. The agent furthest from him shifted in his seat. Clint ignored his audience in favour of glancing to the door as Maria Hill joined them.
"Meets on," he told Phil. "Keep me apprised?" Clint asked, knowing Phil knew he was referring to his own status as well as Wade's.
"Will do," Phil said and hung up.
"Agent Barton, thank you for flying out to join us," Hill nodded at him even as she opened a digital file on the table and flung the information to the wall screen. "It would appear that Ethan has been busy these last few days. An unfortunate delay with one of his supplier's means he'll need to lean on you more to get his product delivered on time. Projected timeframe for this op is three days."
"Understood," Clint agreed, and leaned forward to focus on the details.
Clint didn't look at the caller ID when the phone rang, but he should have. He really, really should have.
"Barton," he announced as he pressed it to his ear.
"Wilson!" was the response.
Clint pulled the phone away from his ear, frowned down at it, and absently threw his dart across the room. He didn't bother looking to see if it hit the bulls eye, or to confirm that he'd snagged the cheerio Tony had tossed in the air, because he knew it was a good throw. He didn't recognize the number, but there was no mistaking Wade's voice. Clint moved to the kitchen where it was a bit quieter, ignoring Tony's muttering about improbabilities and cheaters.
"Wade," Clint didn't ask how he'd gotten this number, just accepted it and moved on. At least now he knew the guy was alive after almost two months of no contact. Not that he'd been concerned. "Why are you calling me?"
"Are we not at that point in our relationship yet? I could have sworn we entered this stage a few chapters ago."
"Make sense or I'm hanging up," Clint shoved a glass into the fridge's water dispenser and watched the clean liquid slowly fill it.
"Ignoring how your insensitivity is irrevocably damaging my self-esteem, I have a strong suspicion that things would go a bit badly for me if you left me hanging." Clint frowned, not sure if he heard all of that correctly; their connection was weak and muffled.
"Hanging?" Could be literally. Clint might be curious now.
"Well, not anymore, thank you for asking," Wade said and Clint didn't understand how the guy managed to sound so obscenely cheerful over the phone. It was annoying as fuck. He looked out towards the large living room to see Tony waggle a dart at him. Clint turned down his turn with a shake of his head and ignored Tony's narrow eyed look.
"This phone has a limited amount of minutes, Wade, so either explain or deal with it yourself."
"Yeah," Wade coughed, a wet hack that barked in his ear. "So you have access to shiny planes with hovering capabilities right?"
This was new. This was new and unexpected. Clint took a drink of water and thought about it.
"Maybe. Where are you?"
"Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, proooooooooobably closer to Newfoundland than anywhere. I'd be more specific, but there's not really any landmarks out here, and my hosts did not partake in small talk involving longitudes and latitudes, you know?"
Clint looked to the living room with the darts and the pile of cash on the coffee table that just begged to be won. He'd been considering splurging on a really expensive, Swiss-made, sterling silver-coated coffeemaker for the kitchen with that loot. Or maybe a new couch.
He sighed. Deeply.
"I'm going for a joyride in the jet," he announced to the room at large as he moved to the elevator, "don't wait up."
"This is why you're my favourite human," Wade cheered through the phone that Clint wasn't really paying attention to anymore. Active listening at this point would probably just give him a headache, and he was more interested in thinking about how Wade had a working phone if he was stuck in the middle of the ocean.
This was how Clint ended up spending the next five hours in a quinjet with Tony and Steve, who had flat out refused to stay behind after he'd announced his intentions. They played card games in the back while Clint did all the work. When they found Wade he had his mask pulled up over his mouth and nose, was floating on his back in the giant rolling waves and had his phone flashing MORSE code. From the quick glimpse Clint caught as he banked around it was flashing something about 'ducks.' Wade grinned like a madman when they hauled him on board. He dripped all over everything on purpose, which basically just made Tony and Steve really irritated, and finally settled in the co-pilot's chair.
"I hate water sometimes," he said with a grin. "Want to see if there's a lobster fest in St. John's?" It spoke to Clint that Wade wasn't in the back trying to get Captain America's undivided attention.
"Drip on the controls and I'll have Steve throw you back to the sharks," Clint said. Wade grinned, but didn't have anything to add.
It was a long flight back to New York.
"You don't like me."
The statement held no room for doubt, consideration, or question. Phil had been about to drape his damp dishtowel over the oven's handle to dry. Instead he shifted, pulling it through his loose fist until he securely held one end, and then he slowly turned and leaned back against the kitchen counter. Wade Wilson was leaning on the back of their gray couch, his legs crossed at the ankles and both hands holding onto the couch's edge, beside his hips. He was wearing cherry red skinny jeans and a white t-shirt with Captain America's shield emblazoned on the front in glittery sequins. He didn't look as ridiculous as he probably should. He'd also placed the kitchen island very clearly between them. Phil couldn't see a single weapon on his person, but that didn't mean much for people like them.
He hadn't heard Wilson enter the apartment, but he also hadn't felt any sense of danger for whatever duration Wilson had been watching him clean dishes. Phil thought about what the man had said.
"I don't know you," he countered, truthful because that was what it felt like this situation called for. Wilson was watching him with a combination of careful and casual, and a steadiness that he'd never expected based on what he knew of the man. Then again, Phil had never been one for blindly following hearsay so he wasn't surprised.
Wilson mulled that over for a moment and cocked his head slightly.
"You don't know me or like me," he decided with a blatancy that was…a bit refreshing after a day at SHIELD. "But you haven't tried to shoot me yet, or steal me or any parts of me, and you ate my pancakes after I broke into your home and ruined any chance of early morning hanky-panky."
"I also didn't shoot you just now for breaking and entering," Phil pointed out, casually twirling his dishcloth to tighten it up, because if need be he could use it in defence of a surprise attack. He was aware that Wilson probably knew exactly what he was doing, but he didn't seem bothered or offended by the action.
"See, that's where I'm confused," he tilted his head, his eyes effectively portraying innocent confusion, "because I know SHIELD has some sort of order out to hire me, or lock me down for doing a couple not so nice things."
"You killed a lot of people," Phil stated flatly.
"Yeah, but they totally had it coming," Wilson argued, almost sounding frustrated before waving it off as a concern. "The point is, I know you don't like this…deep soul-bond me and your studmuffin have." Phil couldn't help the eye twitch at Wilson so causally calling Clint a studmuffin, but it could have been his referencing soul-bonds. Phil didn't know what that was but now it seemed like something he'd need to look into. It also sounded possessive.
Wilson pulled out of his slouch slightly, his attention sharpening a bit more and Phil knew he'd given something away in the last few seconds, but he wasn't sure what.
"I have no intentions to win Clint away from you." Wade stated and derailed Phil's response, because that was a bit more personal and to the point than he had actually been expecting. "Seriously. I love the guy," Wade continud with a level of severity Phil had honestly thought the assassin incapable of reaching. "I know this all seems like a quick burn, crazy whirlwind bromance, but I'm not kidding around with this. I don't know why, and I'm not one to question the beauty that is our emotions and animalistic instincts, but I love him. That doesn't mean I want to bang him, though I would if you were ever into the idea of threesomes?" Phil stared at him darkly. "Right, see, I figured you two were pretty exclusive. I get that. You two are epic, meant to be, paired for life, yadda yadda. I just thought you should know, in case you were wondering, that I'm not getting in between you guys, ever." Wade blinked, stood properly, and looked Phil in the eyes. "But I'm not going to just give him up because you don't like me."
Phil hadn't thought his unease with Wilson had been so obvious. He had a lot of very, very good reasons for every single misgiving, but he'd been trying to keep them from Clint because he knew this situation was sitting heavily on his partner's shoulders. He hadn't wanted to add to the complication that was a blooming friendship with Deadpool. Phil took a deep breath and thought over Wilson's dramatic declaration carefully.
"Explain to me," he said softly, after a tense moment of silence, "why Clint."
"You know how we met?" Wilson asked without hesitation, and Phil nodded. He'd read the reports, and he'd asked Clint once. Wilson plucked at a blue sequin on his shirt, unexpectedly looking so far from a world class, psychologically damaged assassin that it almost made Phil want to give him a cookie or something to make him feel better. Shit. "I was there for two months." He said. "I heal pretty quickly, and I'm fast, but I don't have super-strength. Makes it tough to break out when, after the first day, they start keeping you in a giant glass vat to shut you up. Nobody appreciates good anecdotes these days," he shook his head like that was the tragedy here. Phil was reeling a bit at the fact that Wilson had just revealed a massive weakness to him. SHIELD had never been able to confirm if the super-strength was fact or fiction. This was not a small throw away comment; it was a statement of intent and they both knew it. "A week in," Wilson plucked hard at the sequin, "they realized they didn't need to use air tubes to keep me alive. Drowning kind of sucks, you know? I never minded before, because it happens sometimes," he said this like it was just par for the course. Phil did not know; that was fortunately one experience he'd managed to avoid up to this point.
Wilson took a sharp breath and refocused on Phil, and there was nothing but honesty in his eyes. That, or he was as good as Natasha at lying, and that didn't feel true to Phil.
"Then this guy comes busting in, and I'm pretty much at the end of the line at this point, and the second he realizes what's happening he just… shoots the glass. Bam!" He clapped his hands together loudly, but Phil didn't startle and Wade just lit up with enthusiasm. "He didn't even hesitate! All he was seeing was this, this thing in a tank, drowning again and again, and he didn't hesitate to get me out of it." Wilson took a breath, shaky and a bit wild. He looked at Phil, and Phil could see the genuine confusion, the disbelief…the love. "Nobody's ever done that for me without second thought. Nobody."
Phil looked back with as much calm as he could muster, and nodded.
Wade blinked, and frowned.
"Okay," Phil repeated and tossed the dishtowel to flop on the island's counter. "Just know, that if you ever hurt him, or if your actions against humanity ever prove unforgivable, this truce is over. You will answer to me, and Wade," he made sure to soften his voice, because he was well aware that he sounded most dangerous at this pitch, "nobody hurts what I care about most."
Wade nodded slowly, not even hesitating to agree to Phil's pretty vague terms. Phil could at least believe that in this moment, right now, Wade Wilson was as sane as he'd ever been. Let's just hope he never forgot this in his less-lucid times.
"Well, that's one thing we have in common," Wade said. Then he jerked slightly, and a grin curled up on his lips and he flapped his hands in sudden excitement. The gravity of the moment gone. It was probably a good thing, because this had been a rather disturbingly honest and heavy five minutes. "Oh Em Gee! We totally have something in common! We should be friends!"
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," Phil said, but he wasn't sure Wade cared about his opinions in this matter.
"I also got you an 'I'm-not-trying-to-bone-or-kill-your-boyfriend' gift!" He declared and twisted in a way that should have been awkward but somehow looked natural to grab something off the couch cushions behind him. He came back with a bright yellow thing in his hand that had a big rainbow bow on it. Phil was forced to take it when Wade leaned over the island to thrust it at him.
"Thank you," Phil said, because politeness was never overrated, even though he had no idea what the cold, metal item was. It didn't look like a weapon, but it had decent heft to it.
"It's a lemon squeezer," Wade explained eagerly. "You don't have one, which is tragic. What if you wanted lemon juice? Or lemonade? Everyone loves lemonade."
"It's very thoughtful," Phil said carefully and set it beside the sink to wash later, and also so that Clint could see it. Clint didn't get a lot of gifts, so this would be a nice, if odd, surprise.
"Hey," Wade snapped his fingers, far too animated for Phil's general peace of mind, but it was disturbingly endearing now that he wasn't so concerned with Wade's intentions. "You know what else we have in common?" He asked joyfully and Phil was suddenly wary. "A love of all things Captain America! I mean, Steve Rogers, Fuck Yeah! Am I right?!"
It was nearing midnight when Clint finally came home, and he wasn't surprised to find the kitchen and living room dark, but the study's light was on and the door was open.
He was not expecting to find Phil practically slouched in the desk chair, which he'd rolled around to park beside the bookshelf, or Wade lying flat on his back on the floor. They were both avidly reading Captain America comics, and there were two small piles of carefully packaged and stacked books on the floor by both their feet.
Clint took in the scene, not entirely sure what to think but unable to help the flutter of warmth that flooded his chest at the sight.
In an effort to ignore it, he smiled in amusement at Phil, who looked up briefly to greet him, and went to bed. He had a feeling it would be a few more hours before Phil joined him.
He was right.
Chapter 4: Pervasive
"Are you perving on your teammates?" Deadpool asked, startling Clint badly enough that he jerked where he sat. He didn't turn his gaze to glare at his sudden, and very unexpected, companion, but it was a near thing. Shit. Only Nat had ever really been able to sneak up on him like that. "Anyone getting it on?" he asked with disturbing eagerness.
"Fuck off, Wade," Clint grumbled half-heatedly after muting his radio's transmitter, and watched Steve sketch Bruce and Tony as they hunched over some robo-cat they were trying to build. Wade pressed up beside him, close but not close enough to disturb his grip on his rifle.
"Is that anyway to speak to someone who brings you tacos?" There was the crinkle of a bag, and the smell of Mexican spices and cheese wafted over to him. Clint glanced at the bag and then up to Wade, who was decked out in an overkill of ordinance that should probably concern him.
"Tacos?" He asked, suddenly starving and irritated that the smell of food had awoken his hunger. Clint had always been good at ignoring his body's craving for food, which had always been more difficult when he could smell it. Wade wasn't testing him, though, or teasing with the intention of playing a game of keep-away. He'd just…brought him food.
Phil and Natasha were the only ones who had ever done that. Bringing food to him with the sole intent of feeding just him, that is. He'd obviously had meals that Stark had catered for Team nights, or that Bruce or Steve had prepared, but that had been group things. Team things.
This…this wasn't. Clint looked back through his scope: nothing had changed in the tower. Without looking he reached to the side, snagged the bag from Wade, and dropped it onto the fold up chair he'd set up beside his knee. He reached in the bag, hauled out a still warm taco, and stepped back from the rifle to start scanning the surrounding buildings with his bare eyes.
"Thanks," he said as he peeled the paper away and took a bite. It was loaded with salt and grease and was going to totally fuck with his nutrition plan, but was probably the best take-out taco he'd ever had. He made an appreciative sound around the food and he could hear Wade nodding, he was agreeing so hard.
"Margo has the best stand in the city," Wade declared and Clint hummed in easy agreement. "She melts the cheese before she puts it on the taco and barbeques the onions-" Clint listened distantly to Wade extolling the virtues of Margarita and split his attention between light radio updates and scanning the surrounding areas for potential threat. Wade waited until he was finished with the first taco before he gestured towards Stark Tower.
"I know you come out here sometimes to keep an eye on them," Wade said, and Clint stiffened at that, because he hadn't even told Phil that he did that occasionally, on the nights when he was restless or bored or too tense and needed to make sure they were all operating normally. He knew he had an open invitation from Stark to crash the tower any time, but sometimes he just felt too…separate to do that. On those nights, he watched from a distance, because he'd always been better at distance whether he liked it or not. Wade wasn't supposed to know about this, but somehow Clint wasn't surprised he did. Phil probably did, too.
"But this is a bit busy," Wade continued, "what with the two ground crews and the watchers on the north and south towers, and that helicopter way over there waiting to zoom in on a moments notice. So what's the story?"
"It's classified. You shouldn't be here," Clint said, and took another bite of taco, relaxing his stance a bit. He should have already reported Wade's presence. He didn't know what the hell was wrong with him that he was never in a rush to tell SHIELD anything about the guy.
"Pshhh," Wade disagreed and draped dramatically over the buildings ledge to take in the sights more clearly, or something. Clint turned on his radio mic again.
"Hawkeye checking in, all clear."
"Roger, Hawkeye," the agent in charge of communications confirmed.
"You're so professional. I love it when you're professional. Gets my manbits going. Mint chocolate-chip?" He held out a plastic cup that was apparently filled with ice cream.
"No, thanks," Clint turned it down, mainly because he didn't want potentially sticky fingers to affect his trigger squeeze if he needed to jump into action, but also because it was mostly a container of melted cream. "Wade, seriously, what are you doing here?"
"Oh, nothing really. Just wanted to say hello, catch up. Also, I think I'm the one you're supposed to be protecting Banner from right now. Theoretically, at least, because they may have hired someone else to try the midnight snatch-n-grab, but probably not."
Clint stopped scanning the surrounding buildings and focused on Wade.
"Want to run that by me again, Wade, but with a full explanation this time?" He asked carefully, and Wade bounced on his toes, tucking his arms behind his back and stretching. It looked awkward and the guns clunked together, their barrels poking up over his shoulders like awkward spikes.
"Sure! See, a big price was put out on your green machine, right? I figured that's why you're out here keeping watch instead of at home doing more productive things with your time, am I right?" He nudged Clint with his elbow.
"So you took the job?" Clint asked carefully, and Wade nodded.
"Sure did. I mean, frankly I doubt anyone else is crazy enough to agree to grab the habilable Hulk, but that's just because they lack imagination. I know they're your buddy and all, but he's not that bad a dude, just all misunderstood when people poke him, right? So I took the job. They paid half upfront. Idiots."
"So the deadline for the job?" Clint asked, relaxing a bit.
"Oh, tonight. They dropped me off here personally to make sure I was going to follow through and I dressed the part, because who doesn't like bringing their toys to a party?" He did a little twirl to show Clint all his toys. There was a clunky green and purple Nurf gun tucked into his back holster. "I told them I was going to shoot a zip-line from here to the tower to make entrance. Can you believe they bought it?!"
"Seriously? Only decent zip-line is from the Stolks building," Clint said, unable to stop the calculations and plans that automatically formed by the comment. It was the best entry point, even if you'd have to climb up the line instead of a smooth glide down. Clint had a clear line of sight to that building; it was one of the reasons he'd chosen this position for his perch.
"Right! I guess that's the reason they needed to hire someone for the job instead of just doing it themselves," Wade shook his head sadly and then stepped up to Clint's rifle and peeked through the scope. Clint was so fucked, because he didn't even twitch to protest, and it was a pretty serious thing to protest when an assassin stepped up to a rifle with a clean line of sight. "Holy shit!" Wade practically pressed his eye into the ocular lens he pushed so close. "Could you get a stronger scope please? What is the zoom on this thing, ten feet?"
"Not my problem if you're blind," Clint muttered.
"Why are you even using a scope?" Wade muttered, clearly put out by the thought that Clint didn't need it for this distance. Clint had heard it all before.
"It looks cool," he said dryly. He wasn't convinced Wade was listening.
"They don't even know there's a threat on them right now, do they?" Wade said and Clint shrugged, because no, they didn't. It had been stressful recently and his teammates seriously needed a few days RnR. This bounty on Bruce was something that he and SHIELD were positive could be handled without his team knowing about it. It was just like that thing two months ago when the hit went out on Tony, which was happily resolved by Clint and Phil from a distance. No fuss, no muss, no ruffled hairs and unnecessary stressful, sleepless nights. They had enough to deal with, what with Steve still acclimating to the future and dealing with his grief, and Tony and Bruce still getting into the role of worldly protectors and the pressure that came with it, no matter how much they tried to pretend otherwise.
"Well, apparently there isn't a threat since you took the job," Clint pointed out and Wade turned to look at him. Clint was pretty sure he was grinning beneath his mask.
"I can't decide if that's an insult or a show of trust. I love you."
"That's nice," Clint moved back to his high-powered rifle. "Phil? Did you get all that?" He asked, because muting his main radio line was one thing, but he never muted his secondary line to Phil.
"Affirmative, but until we know for sure we'll keep eyes on."
"Copy," Clint said, and then nearly grunted when Wade draped himself over his back, heavily, and pressed his ear right next to Clint's.
"PhillUp! My friend!" He said, too loudly right beside Clint's face. Clint elbowed him sharply in the ribs but Wade didn't budge.
"Not your friend," Phil muttered, which Wade ignored or didn't hear.
"There's a stretch limo over on Lexington and 47th, tacky as shit and stands out like a twelve inch dildo on an empty sidewalk. Those are the guys that hired me. I told them I'd deliver right to them in about ten minutes. This is clearly a case of more money than brains, but with less money now…because I took it. Most of it. Hey, can I steal Clint for a while? I need a hand depositing it."
"Stand-by, we're verifying your story."
"Wilson," Clint said softly and very carefully did not stiffen when Wade pressed a little closer. "Get off me." Wade stilled, and then pulled back with a pat on his shoulder.
"Right! Right! We're still working on your personal space, touchy-feely issues. Gotcha. Small steps. Was my gun digging into your hip?"
Clint scanned the rooftops once more, and refocused on his teammates. Natasha was with them now, cleaning her knives on the coffee table and staring out the window in Clint's direction, eyebrow slightly raised. Of course they'd read Tasha into this, and she shared the line with Clint and Phil, which explained the look even though Clint knew she couldn't actually see him. He ignored Wade singing the mission impossible theme song as he moved beside him to scan the buildings himself, a pair of advanced night vision goggles over his eyes. Clint ignored Natasha's look because at this distance he could do so safely.
Four minutes later, Phil confirmed that Wade's information was legitimate and they had three known suspects in custody. Phil was going to keep Natasha and a ground crew in play until morning as a precaution, but it looked like the situation was under control.
Clint spent the rest of the night, after making sure that Wade changed and put away most of his arsenal (Clint wasn't a hypocrite, they were both armed, he just thought the swords and semi-automatics were a bit excessive), walking alongside him throughout the city. He helped deposit large envelopes of money in random charity mailboxes. Dropping cash into stranger's bags and pockets turned into an unacknowledged slight of hand competition, which of course Clint won without even trying. Wade was kind of awful at subtlety, which was proven when a visually impaired man smacked him with his cane as he tried to dump a thick roll of hundreds into his baggy windbreaker pocket. Clint laughed so hard as they ran away he had to grab Wade's shoulder for balance, which Wade did not shrug off.
They ended up at the aforementioned Margarita's food truck where Wade gave an older, tired looking woman more money than she probably knew what to do with.
She cried, and declared free tacos for life for Wade and Clint, which Clint tried to bow out of because he had nothing to do with Wade's generosity. Wade slung his arm around Clint's shoulder and insisted that they were a team.
Apparently Margarita's daughter needed a medical treatment they couldn't afford. Wade told him later they would have sold the business to make it happen and he couldn't trust the world's greatest tacos to anyone else.
Margo remembered Clint when he took Phil and Natasha there for lunch two weeks later and refused to accept payment from any of them. Phil sent Jasper there the next time the office did a lunch-in, and made sure he left a very generous tip.
After that, Wade made Taco night a pretty regular thing, even if it never had a set date or time. Clint was fine with this, and he was happy to note that Phil seemed okay with it, as well.
Clint heard the car honking through the open window, and ignored it. When the honking took on a pattern and didn't stop he got up, slipped the quiver stashed in the front closet over his back, grabbed a bow and tucked a gun into the back of his jeans waist line. He approached the window at an angle, not giving anyone a clear sightline out of habit and a carefully cultivated suspicious nature. A quick glance told him the roofs and windows nearby were clear, so he looked down to see what the hell the problem was.
"You've got to be fucking kidding me," he muttered to himself, and trudged down the stairs of his apartment as slowly as possible. Stepping outside he didn't blame the people that were walking clear across the street to avoid Wade. Or maybe it was to avoid the eyesore he was practically splaying himself against. He had his holo-imager on, his skin smooth and head full of thick hair, and he was decked out in civilian clothes. One of the jeans legs looked a little singed around the ankle.
"Wade," Clint looked his… his friend over and adjusted the grip on his bow. "My neighbourhood has rules about road pollution."
"Rules were made to be made," Wade agreed and peeled himself off of his van's side panelling to stand beside Clint. "And this apple of my velvety chocolate eyes was made to share in the wonder that is me."
"Well, it'll definitely make people wonder something," Clint rubbed a hand over his head a few times, and stared at the vehicle. "I'm not sure I want to ask," he said.
Wade stood beside Clint and looked at the van with a quirked eyebrow. "I thought it was pretty obvious, but that's me in the middle there, standing on top of the-"
"Yeah, that wasn't what I meant," Clint interrupted, still looking over the image that was plastered across the vehicles entire side. Wade, or more specifically 'Deadpool' was front and center, standing on a jutting rock cliff with two woman hugging his legs, one scantily clad in some kind of caveman string bikini, the other in a well cut business suit with practical heels. The businesswoman was carrying a knife Rambo would be proud of. Natasha would probably gut Wade if she saw this.
Wade's costume practically glowed it was painted in such a rich red and inky black, and he had his arm thrust valiantly in the air holding a sword that was on fire. He also had two massive guns strapped over his back, a gun and holster on each thigh, and three antiquated grenades hanging off his belt; a belt that was made of giant curved teeth and bullet casings strung together. The distant sky was awash with the cosmos and borealis, and taking up a massive chunk of the canvass was-
"Is that dragon eating Ironman?" Clint asked, drinking in the details on the deep purple dragon with one glowing white eye. It was spread across the front half of the van with its long neck and strong shoulders curled behind Deadpool and his ladies. Sticking out of its mouth was a shiny red metallic leg that had a faint glow about its sole. It was pretty unmistakable.
"Sure is," Wade agreed. "I thought it added a touch of, shall we say, je ne sais quoi."
"I like it," Clint couldn't help the grin that crept onto his face and Wade just kept smiling inanely at the airbrushed monstrosity. The detail was pretty incredible. "Who'd you steal it from?"
"Hmm?" Wade looked at Clint, and then at the van. "Oh, remember a few months ago with the crackheads and the Disney movies?" Yeah, Clint remembered that. "Well, turns out their kingpin took exception to my neighbourhood watch priorities and torched my place. Well, they tried to kill me with a grenade launcher from across the street, which resulted in the torching of my abode. This badboy," he gestured proudly at the van, "was the only vehicle they imprisoned that I let live. I figured it was a fair trade, except the van doesn't have rats." He frowned. "They were cute little guys, they didn't deserve to go down like that."
"When was this?"
"Six days ago?" Wade scratched his chin in thought.
"So you're living in the van now?"
"Yep," Wade grinned proudly. Clint was amazed nobody had tried to shoot him for driving around with that art by this point.
Well then. Clint turned and headed back to his building, thankful that the van was enough of an attention grabber that most people didn't look twice at the ordinance he was carrying himself.
"If SHIELD sees that they might think you're trying to threaten Stark," Clint warned over his shoulder, but didn't hear Wade's response, already letting the door close behind him.
Phil came home before sunset, despite the fact that Clint knew they were still cleaning up after some kind of crises in Kansas. He took his jacket off, folded it over the back of a breakfast bar stool, and wrapped his arms around Clint from behind. His body was pleasant warmth all down Clint's back, and he leaned into him, just a little.
"Hill thinks Deadpool's getting ready to make a move on Stark," Phil said, humour mingled with exhaustion in his voice and he rested his chin on Clint's shoulder, peering out the window. Clint guessed he was looking down to the street where Wade still had his travesty of a van parked before their building. He was cooking hotdogs on a grill outside the back doors and was offering them to anyone who walked passed. He looked like he was having a great time.
"He wouldn't hurt Tony," Clint shrugged. "It's Ironman he doesn't like, but not in an I want to murder you kind of way," he said, like it was the most reasonable thing in the world and Phil snorted.
"I'll let you explain that to her tomorrow. What's with the van?"
"His place got torched last week and he's turned it into his new mobile home," Clint's fingers twitched where they rested on the windowsill, but he didn't add anything further. Phil was quiet behind him for a long moment, before he let out a sigh.
"You want to offer him the spare room don't you," Phil sounded more amused than wary at least. Clint shrugged non-committedly, watching Wade feed a stray dog, who was the only one taking up his offer of food. Phil dropped his forehead to the back of Clint's shoulder and inhaled deeply. "If you would like to have him stay with us until he gets a new place, then I am okay with that."
Clint hadn't actually been considering inviting Wade in. Well, not seriously, or at least not beyond a few meals and maybe the use of their shower. But now that Phil had suggested it Clint felt a little of the concern he'd been very successfully ignoring melt away. It was ridiculous. Not only could Wade take care of himself with the no doubt large sums of money he had, he also couldn't be killed. He was more than capable of taking care of himself; he was taking care of himself just fine. Still…
"You sure?" he checked, turning his head a little until his cheek rubbed at Phil's soft hair and he could smell his shampoo.
"Any friend of yours is always welcome, Clint," Phil kissed his neck before stepping away to go change out of his work clothes. Clint waited quietly at the window for a few long moments, getting his head around that thought, and then pulled out his phone and hoped Wade hadn't ditched this latest model yet.
"City morgue! I stab 'em, we slab 'em," Wade's cheery voice answered after barely a ring.
"Get your van off the road before it causes an accident and get up here," Clint went to the stove to check the lasagne he'd put in about an hour ago. It was easily big enough for eight people, which meant there probably wouldn't be leftovers after Wade got through it. "You can crash in our spare room."
There was a really, really long pause on the other end of the line. Long enough that Clint actually checked to see if it had disconnected before Wade finally responded.
"No take backs," Wade said, like a joke, but quieter than his usual.
"Just get up here before I change my mind, and do not bring up that cat I saw you stash in the back of your van."
Wade brought the cat up.
He was such an asshole.
Phil did not like cats. Phil did not like pets in general. Phil left the window to the fire escape open all the time. The cat did not leave.
Neither did Wade. Or, at least when he did, he came back the very next day.
Clint jack-knifed up in bed at the noise, gun in hand and aimed at the door to his room. There was nobody there.
"Don't know what for!"
He blinked rapidly, forcing his eyes to focus on objects that felt too close.
"You're turning heads when you walk through the doh-oh-orrrr!"
What. The. Fuck.
His aim was steady, his heart was hammering in his chest, and somebody was breaking music in his apartment at- he squinted at the alarm clock on the tallest shelf in the furthest corner of the room- eight in the fucking morning. It was practically pre-dawn.
"Don't need make-up!" Wade. Of course it was Wade ruining the bliss of Clint's sleep. "To cover up!" Clint ground his teeth together and took a deep, calming breath. It was Wade's first morning in their apartment as a guest, Phil had left for work two hours ago, and Clint was not going to kill him for screeching something that might have once been a song. "Being the way that you are is enoh-oh-ough!"
Clint might kill him for doing it before lunch though.
Barely holding on to his temper he shoved his blankets aside, placed his gun on his nightstand so he wouldn't give into temptation, stormed into the living room, and then into the office turned spare bedroom. He stopped on the threshold and took a deep breath, trying to keep his calm, because he hated mornings as a general rule and Wade was…he was…
"Clint! Dance Revolution!" He exclaimed as he did some kind of stepping move while crossing his arms over his chest, to his hips, and back to his chest. The laptop on Phil's desk was cranked to its max volume and four human shapes moved in sync on the screen. "But when you smile at the ground it ain't hard to tell!" he pumped his fist in the air and kicked his leg out with the video, yelling along with the music.
Clint pressed his lips together and went back to his room, where he yanked an arrow from the quiver secured on the back of the door. He activated the button on the side, marched back to the office, and threw it with prejudice at Wade.
"You'd understand why I wanahhh!"
It was a thing of beauty to watch the arrow tip explode outward, the compact netting inside flared to life and enveloped Wade in a cocoon of Kevlar fibre, wrapping around and around. He crashed to the ground with unsurprising grace despite that Clint had caught him with both arms above his head. He squirmed like an eel as Clint stepped over him and slammed the laptop shut. The music cut off.
"So…eight is too early for dancing?" Wade asked curiously from where he'd flopped onto his back. He was wearing one of Clint's white t-shirts and the Ironman pyjama pants Tony had given Phil for his birthday. The pants caught Clint's eye, and he realized that every Ironman head he could see was now sporting a giant black moustache. It was almost enough to lift Clint's sour mood…but no. He was still pissed. "Or was it the singing?" Wade asked as Clint went back to the door, pretending to ignore him. "You can't stop the revolution, Clint!" he cried, not sounding the least bit put out. There was a moment of silence as Clint went back to his bed and climbed under the still warm covers. "So…it's the morning thing in general that you're not a fan of, right?" Wade called to him. There was a mild thump as he bumped into what Clint suspected was the desk chair. "Clint? You're not gonna just leave me like this, are you?" He asked. Clint did not respond. "Okay! Challenge accepted. I'll be out of this fancy…net…thing," the last three words were accompanied with a mild shuffling sounds, "in no time. Then we dance!"
No, they really wouldn't; it would take at least an hour before the magnetic-secure started to deplete its charge and begin to loosen, and there was nothing in the apartment that Wade would know about to cut through it. Clint pulled Phil's pillow over his head and, feeling better, dropped right back into sleep.
Clint was one giant fucking bruise. He was pretty sure that he had folded in ways that had not been physically possible for anyone that wasn't Reed Richards or the Absorbing Man. He ached.
"I ache," he whined, and he knew it was whining, but seriously…this had been a craptastic day and was now a craptastic night and he was allowed to express his pain.
"You need the medics," Steve said from behind him, and he straightened immediately, biting back the pain that caused. Clint had meant to express his pain aloud, sure, but only to himself; last he checked he'd been alone. Screw Steve and his stealth mode and his shitty timing, because Clint could have done without him overhearing that self-pitying comment. Craptastic day. Seriously.
"Nah, I'm good, just a couple of bruises. Nothing a few cold packs and a beer won't fix, Cap." He tried for a rakish grin. Steve didn't seem convinced. Tony landed beside Steve, but at least Clint had heard him coming. Stealth was pretty much impossible for Tony whether he was in his suit or out of it.
"Oh good, you're still in one piece. I thought maybe the raptors used you as a toothpick," his face piece slid back to reveal a grin that was tinged a faint pink. There were dents in Tony's armour that were absolutely teeth impressions, and Clint looked at them pointedly, ignoring how Tony was giving him a serious once over. The genius looked concerned, but Clint was wearing a lot of blood so he could understand the attention. This was, of course, when Wade pushed into their group, literally elbowing past Tony so that he could stand right in front of Clint.
"Holes?! Do you have any extra holes?" He started patting Clint down, surprisingly gentle despite the urgency of the actions. "How are you even standing? How are you alive!?" He then expertly turned Clint so he could repeat the movements around his quiver and down his back.
"I'm fine, Wade," Clint twisted back around and smacked his searching hands away, which naturally made all the muscles in Clint's body flair up in pain. He grimaced and dropped his arms.
"Fuck yeah you are! Badass! Did you see how he stabbed his arrows into Rex's tongue to hold onto when it tried to swallow him?" He turned to Steve, who had taken a careful step back to give them all a little space, but who was also now looking at Clint more closely.
"You mean the T-Rex?" Tony asked, and visually scanned Clint with a more appraising eye.
"Uh, duh? You know, when it ate him? I thought you were a goner for sure." Wade turned back to Clint, and started patting him down again. Behind him, Tony and Steve were giving Clint very focused stares of unhappiness. Very focused, which was completely unfair. "But then you turned your arrows into, like, ice picks…tongue picks!" He said to Clint, like Clint needed the play-by-play because he'd somehow forgotten his life from thirty minutes before. Clint squared his shoulders under their hard gazes. "And you just climbed out of there and Rexy didn't know what to do, shaking his head like my fourth grade history teacher. Rexgurgitation. That is now a thing. And that landing!" Wade shook his head and Clint contemplated hitting him to shut him up. "Blowing its head off from the inside and not getting crushed when it pretty much fell right on top of you? That was Oprah levels of inspired but-" he cut himself off and glanced around their group.
Clint seriously ached (seriously), but it was because of the landing, not the attempted eating, so none of this information was relevant as far as he was concerned. He had hard landings all the time.
"Oh, ohhhhhh." Wade shook his head at Clint, or maybe the world, or whatever world was inside his own head. "You weren't going to tell them that part, with the being eaten thing." He mercifully stopped talking, for about a nano second. "Like, the roleplaying as a dino lozenge was supposed to be a secret thing…" he trailed off and looked back at Tony and Steve, who were staring at Clint with those looks. The thing was, Clint had hoped to not mention that bit of his afternoon to anyone, seeing as they'd all been busy and fighting elsewhere and didn't know about the almost being eaten thing. Embarrassing.
"Busted," Tony said with a forced levity into the almost awkward silence.
"So I'm guessing they also don't know about how you were nearly grabbed by those attractive Hydra Amazonian operatives during that mission in Tokyo last week?" Wade asked, like it was a genuine question and Steve and Tony's eyes seemed to harden even more. It was intimidating, or it would be if Clint were the type to be intimidated by people. Instead, Clint focused his meanest stare on Wade. "Remember?" Wade asked faux-innocently. "Where you jumped from that reaaaalllllly tall building and only had that one super-skinny radio antenna to catch your fall?"
"Yes, Wade, I remember. Thank you for your concern," Clint pressed through clenched teeth, which was probably what Wade was aiming for because he seemed to always be happy when people were angry with him. He liked to learn what they would do, liked to test limits. Clint recognized this trait; it was why he had never retaliated physically, even though he kind of wanted to punch Wade half the time they were around each other.
"You know, I'm beginning to see the one appealing aspect of having Deadpool occasionally tag-a-long on these missions," Tony decided.
"Yeah? Cause I'm not," Clint returned.
"You love me, all our readers know it," Wade directed at Clint. "We even have our own celebrity moniker: DeadEye, because Hawkpool just sounds disgusting and nothing else was catchy enough."
"We're going to talk about this later," Steve said, and Clint glared at him, because to hell with that. Steve wasn't his fucking grade school teacher or caretaker or anything, and Clint had no intention of keeping them in the loop of how weak he sometimes was in the field compared to gods and hulks and flying armour. He reported what they needed to know, and Clint was very practised with appropriate information sharing.
"Oh, can I watch? Wait," Wade swayed closer to Clint. "Does Phil know?" he hissed and Clint was done. He was done with this entire thing. He would deal with it all another day, when he didn't feel like his body was trying to murder him slowly. Nearly being eaten by that dinosaur had not actually been easy to survive. He was a bit surprised about being here at all, and he was so over this entire car-wreck of a conversation.
"I ache," he said flatly and, because he had come to realise that Wade fucking Wilson was the worst, he mostly knew what to expect.
"Medics!" Wade closed in on him immediately. "You need medics and drugs! I hear drugs are nice, but I don't really remember; the only ones that work on me anymore pretty much knock me out, and then I'm awake. It messes with time, which is easier to play with than you'd think." Wade tugged Clint's left arm over his shoulder and started dragging Clint towards the military vehicles parked at the edge of the massive field. Somewhere beyond the tree line behind them was a dead dinosaur missing most of its head. Beyond that was the smoking remains of a facility that had been planning to release a genetic altering gas that could turn people into dinosaurs. They'd had to battle the volunteers to get to the facility.
"When I can move again, I'm kicking your ass," Clint told Wade affably, because it was best to let the man know what to expect. Wade nodded his head, but it was entirely possible he was having a conversation with himself and not listening to Clint at all. Clint could feel Steve and Tony watching their slow retreat to the medics. Natasha was going to laugh at him for this. So hard.
"It doesn't matter what universe you're in: you never get the stench of Rex saliva out of your threads," Wade imparted. "Hey did you see me riding that pterodactyl? I took a selfie. Mupload that ish to facebook!"
Clint sighed and let himself be gently dragged along. He could walk unaided, but there wasn't much point in insisting. It wasn't like he'd win the argument anyway.
"We should just let them fight. It would be educational," Phil said on Clint's right, taking a drink of tea that Clint knew was mostly cold by now. Phil made a face and put the mug down on the kitchen counter with finality. If they were still standing here in a minute he would pick it up and take another drink, make the same face, and repeat. Some habits in safe places were hard to break.
"No." Clint shut the idea down instantly and shifted his forearms on the counter top, enjoying the coolness of the granite. On his left, Tony tapped his fingers on the hard surface, following a rhythm Clint didn't know.
"If we recorded it-"
"No," Clint shut Tony down before he could even finish and he could sense Tony smirk beside him, most likely laughing at the idea that Clint thought he had any say in this decision. Beyond the kitchen and in the living room, Natasha and Wade were facing off… in a manner of speaking. Wade was talking a mile a minute trying to get a rise out of her, and Tasha was watching him like she was envisioning all the different tools she could use to eviscerate him.
"Seems like a wasted opportunity," Phil murmured, and shifted so his shoulder was pressed more closely into Clint's.
"Why is he in my tower again?" Tony bemoaned in answer, though he didn't sound that upset. Clint still wasn't sure himself why Wade was here. Except that he'd followed Clint to a couple Avengers missions now, and then helped out because he was bored or something. Aside from that one time he tried to get a piggy-back ride from Hulk, things hadn't been too bad. So, maybe an invite to the tower wasn't unreasonable? Also, it was hard to get Wade to stop following you when he wanted to. It had taken Clint an hour of street running the week before to lose his tail, which Wade had apparently thought was an epic game of tag and had been overjoyed by the fact that he'd lost.
"We should spar," Natasha suggested, cutting Wade off mid sentence. Wade paused, blinked at her, and then grinned. It always seemed slightly off to Clint when he had his holo-imager in place.
"Yes. That." He agreed with serious enthusiasm. "We should absolutely do that! This is foreplay, right? Because, and I'm just throwing this out there so that we're on the same page: I will have all your babies. Can I borrow one of your spare uniforms for this?"
"No," Clint said loudly and flatly to all of it, because this was not happening. No way in hell.
"Awww pops, you never let us have any fun," Wade whined, and flopped back into the couch cushions, arms splayed wide.
"Educational," Phil muttered from behind the rim of his mug.
"No," Clint repeated firmly, watching Natasha watch him, her eyes dancing with mirth despite her face being stuck in her 'polite' façade. Then the corner of her mouth twitched. Clint narrowed his eyes warningly, because he knew that twitch and the last time she'd pulled it out for him, he'd ended up going over Niagara Falls in a mini-submersible. She hadn't been even a little bit remorseful when she'd hauled him out of it in Lake Ontario.
"Hey, Wilson," she said, lip twitching again and Clint was completely justified with his worry.
"You should have just let them spar," Phil said quietly, sounding resigned. Wade was watching her with a devotion he usually saved for Steve.
"Did you know that Clinton there," she nodded casually at Clint, and he straightened automatically, "is quite the skilled swordsman?"
Oh she did not.
"Really?" Tony asked, his elbow bumping Clint's as he pulled up from his counter slouch to look at him directly. "That's not in your file."
"That's because it's classified," Clint lied.
"Is he any good?" Wade asked, apparently not really invested in the conversation, as he was busy staring at Natasha's breasts. Admittedly, they could be distracting.
"Better than you," she said, and that got Wade's attention. Clint gave Natasha his full on 'I will murder you glare,' and as soon as Wade's undivided attention was on Clint, she let a small smile curl her lips.
"I call bullshit," Wade stated, but he sounded hopeful rather than disbelieving.
"Me, too," Tony chimed in with a smirk, more amused than anything.
"I'll put the next mission's paperwork down that Clint wins," Phil said, easy as anything, and Clint turned on him, surprised and a bit pissed off because-
"You're on, Agent," Tony agreed gleefully, sounding more like himself than he had since they'd arrived.
"No," Clint said flatly. Naturally everyone ignored him. Well, almost everyone.
"Oh come on!" Wade wheedled, leaping off the couch to press against the island across from the three of them. Clint refused to straighten up for more space, and he kept glaring at Natasha over Wade's shoulder. "You can't tell me we play with the same tools and then refuse to do the Macarena!"
"I didn't tell anyone anything," Clint reminded the room.
"You know you want to." Wade batted his eyelashes with too much exuberance.
"Let's polish our swords together!"
"Not a chance."
"We shall abuse the wicked sticks!" Wade mimed a fencing pose and Tony started grinning for the first time with Wade in the same room.
"Fuck off, Wade."
"We can clash our mighty katanas!"
Clint didn't respond, choosing to glare. Wade just looked at him with big, earnest eyes and a 'butter wouldn't melt in this mouth' pout.
"We can cross our blades together?"
"Now you're trying too hard," Clint grimaced, "and it's not happening."
"But we could-"
"There's a situation in Florida," Steve marched into the room, his face a study in grave determination as he quickly sized up who was present. "Suit up, we'll debrief en route."
"I don't do Florida," Wade announced with a severity to match Steve's, and Steve clearly hadn't been expecting Wade at all if the sharp look he gave him was any indication. "There was this thing that didn't happen in three years, with oranges and deep sea fishing and I've sworn it off. It would probably be best if you just let it sink. Good luck, though!" He grinned and pushed away from the counter. Clint watched him walk off with relief and then did his best to put that entire horrifying conversation out of his mind forever.
"Looks like our wager will have to be put on hold," Tony said to Phil.
"How about indefinitely," Clint muttered as he exited the kitchen. Of course, he was too much of a pessimist to even bother hoping that Wade would forget about it. Clint's luck rarely ran in his own favour.
Chapter 5: Sword Fight
9AM was too early to be awake. As far as Clint was concerned, 9AM was always too early to be awake. It had taken SHIELD a while to adapt to the fact that unless there was a mission, crisis, or some serious work that couldn't be delayed, Clint would never arrive before ten.
It had caused some…issues back when he'd been a lowly ex-carnie with a new squeaky-clean criminal record and too many fresh wounds barely scabbed over. He had not made many friends his first few years in SHIELD, which hadn't been a concern for him back then and still wasn't. What he had made in lieu of a people-friendly reputation was a decent eight hours a night. Fuck getting along with others, sleep was a priority.
Point being: he wasn't much of a morning person, which he had made very clear to Wade his first morning after crashing on the pull-out couch in their office when he'd hit him with his net arrow and left him in a cocooned heap on the wooden floor. Considering Wade's lack of rhythm dancing was something he should probably steer clear of anyway. Really, Clint had done him a solid.
That being said, when Clint did wake up he tended to run at full capacity as soon as his eyes opened, because being groggy and slow after coming out of a REM cycle left you vulnerable. However, being fully aware and functional did not stop his beeline to the kitchen every morning like any other well-adjusted and fortunate human being.
"Coffee," he muttered as he stepped out of the bedroom and went straight to the machine. It was the smell of the beverage that had roused him from sleep and he had plans to drink at least half the pot in retaliation for the early hour.
Wade was seated on the stool at the island, hunched over and inhaling the steam from his own mug like it might be the last cup of java he ever had.
Fact: Phil had broken their fancy coffee dispenser during a sleep walking episode three weeks before and they hadn't replaced it yet, which meant the old machine had been pulled up from storage.
Fact: Wade made better coffee than both Clint and Phil.
Potential fact: this was probably why Phil hadn't seriously kicked the cat out of the apartment yet. Or Wade.
"Morning," Clint muttered, snagging the mug that was already laid out for him and filling it to the brim. He nearly tripped over Dog as he turned around; damn thing got more affectionate every day, winding around their legs like an enemy trip hazard. Clint nudged him away with his bare foot, leaned back against the counter and took a deep gulp of the near scalding liquid. It warmed his chest all the way down. "Good coffee," he mumbled around the mug's lip.
"Anything's better than the caffeinated brown sludge you and your odder half manage to conjure from that machine." Wade agreed.
"We make good coffee," Clint defended.
"I will allow that you make coffee," Wade said and Clint glared at him on principal. Wade smiled.
"Roommates suck," Clint muttered and went to the fridge. He pulled out the cottage cheese and grapes, and eyed the protein shake Phil had left for him. There was one for Wade, as well, but it was unlikely Wade would touch it. It was too healthy. "You want a bowl?" He asked, waving the cottage cheese in the air as he fished out the appropriate tools for breakfast. When Wade didn't answer he turned around to find himself being studied. Clint only took down one bowl. "It wouldn't hurt to eat something that was actually good for you once in a while," he grumbled.
"I will choke you with these grapes," Clint threatened.
"Promises, promises," Wade sing-songed. Clint flicked a grape to bounce off his forehead and Wade caught it before it could fall to the table, popping it into his mouth. Clint dumped what was probably too many grapes on top of the cottage cheese, threw in a spoonful of hemp hearts and chia seeds because his nutritionist insisted, and sat on the counter to eat. It was his usual breakfast perch, not being one for tables if he could get away with it.
Wade continued to watch him with that unnerving intensity he sometimes adopted. Clint ignored him until he was halfway through his meal, and then just got annoyed.
"What?" he demanded.
"You-" Wade started and paused, cocking his head before giving Clint a big stupid grin. Clint looked down to see if he'd spilled something on his shirt, but there was nothing there except faded purple material and a few holes that needed repair. Maybe he'd do that after his second breakfast now that he was thinking about it. Wade was still smiling at him.
"Did you put something in the coffee?" Clint asked, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.
"Only positivity and love," Wade beamed.
"It's too early for your brand of bullshit," Clint sighed, but it was good coffee so he finished his mug and refilled it without moving off the counter. "Have you found somewhere else to live yet?"
"You are a singular individual, Clint Barton, and I hope that you never change," Wade announced, but there was an unsettling level of truth in his voice and Clint stilled with his mug halfway to his lips.
"Is there something going on that I should know about?" he asked, just in case he might get lucky and receive a straight answer. Wade just kept smiling at him, wide and toothy. Clint thought that maybe being on the receiving end of this look should be disturbing but…it was Wade. He rolled his eyes and went back to his coffee.
He never did figure out what had put Wade in such a good mood that morning, not bothered by it either way as he had more pressing things to think about, like repairing his shirt. So he never clued in to the fact that it was the first morning Wade hadn't bothered to wear his holo-imager while being a guest in their home.
Clint hadn't noticed.
It was something Wade would never forget.
"I had a wife and kid once," Wade said between pizza slices, channel surfing like it was his life's mission. Clint was sitting on the floor between Phil's legs, leaning back against the couch in a slouch that generally made Phil grimace. Phil's knee jerked slightly, knocked Clint's shoulder. Clint didn't know what to say to this huge dump of personal information, never being very good with emotional support or whatever. Tonight it seemed like Phil was having the same problem, but Phil had lost his fiancé when he'd been on his first deployment and sometimes when the aged sorrow hit, he went quiet. So... yeah. Wade didn't seem to mind. He settled on an episode of 'How It's Made' without elaborating further on his lost family.
Clint hadn't known. He wondered what happened to them. He didn't ask.
They learned how to make paintballs for toy-guns.
Clint distracted himself by leaning more firmly into Phil's left leg and redrawing mental specs on how to make it work for his bow now that he actually knew how the little balls were made.
The tension broke when Dog (Wade insisted it was a hilarious name for a cat and Clint hadn't cared either way) clawed his way back into their apartment through the window that was barely cracked open, and promptly sprawled in Phil's lap. Phil didn't know what to do about this, and floundered on where to put his hands. He was so awkward around animals.
Wade didn't bring up his family again, and Clint never asked. They were all content with this.
Wade met Fury on a Thursday morning.
Phil arranged and chaperoned it.
No civilians were hurt, which he considered a positive. The vein on Fury's right temple didn't throb in that special way that was unique to Clint, Tony, and potential global destruction. There were no contracts offered, but also no threats, promises, or attempted blood-pacts (Wade had been muttering about it in the car on the way to the coffee shop. It had concerned Phil slightly).
Overall, Phil called it a successful meeting, though that could be because he'd spent the majority of it munching away on the city's best lemon-blueberry muffins.
"Sword fight sword fight sword fight." Wade had been humming the words quietly to himself for the last three hours. Clint hadn't been around to hear this, but he had it on good authority from Steve, who was currently standing at the opposite side of the training room with a pinched look around his eyes. Steve had been the only one at the tower when Wade had come knocking on the door, and he had let him in because it was polite and because he was smart enough to realize that if he didn't Wade would just keep trying to get in anyway. Then, apparently, he'd been too concerned to just leave the guy to his own devices, so he'd been playing the good host and sticking by him.
Clint thought it was kind of hilarious, but he was very careful to not let that show. Steve's feelings about Wade and his general presence weren't always positive, but Wade was a lot to handle sometimes, and he was unpredictable, which made him dangerous in a lot of people's books. Steve wasn't worried about being in danger; Clint was pretty sure that was an instinct he hadn't been born with. Also, Wade was pretty much as big of a Captain America fan as Phil, and because he wasn't born with even a hint of discretion, everyone was well aware of his love for Steve Rogers. Ergo, Steve was less likely to be in danger from Wade than pretty much anybody else.
"Swooooord fight sworrrrrrd fight sword fight," Wade bopped his head as he wandered by Clint again, circling the room in an apparent effort to contain his excessive energy.
"I can not believe I'm doing this," Clint adjusted his pants and tugged at his shirt, making sure it was sitting right. He wasn't nervous, because that was something he reserved for public speaking and written tests, but it had been a long time since he'd sparred like this with anyone. A long freaking time.
"You can thank me later," Natasha reached for his shirt and un-tucked it.
"Hey!" he protested as she pushed it up over his stomach, and just like that Wade was beside them again, looking highly amused.
"Yeah, take it off," he grinned wide.
"Shut-up" Clint and Natasha said in unison, which just seemed to amuse him more.
"Seriously, Nat," Clint went to tug his shirt back in place, knowing that Steve, Phil and Bruce were watching them from across the room, "what the hell?"
"I'm assuming Wade is going to be keeping his holoimager on during this fight?" she said with an air of practicality that always suited her. Clint looked to Wade, who had stilled and cocked his head at her thoughtfully. After a moment he gave a tight nod, and she turned her focus back on Clint. "If this is going to be a fair competition you both need to have the same handicaps. You're not allowed to damage or remove the imager, so you need a mock imager of your own that he's not allowed to touch." She held up the hockey puck and roll of duct tape she'd been carrying, and lifted an eyebrow.
Clint hadn't given any thought to the holoimager, but he supposed it was a fair point if Wade wanted to keep it on. Wade wasn't shy about his scars, but Clint had noted that he tended to show them in public when he was looking for a reaction of some kind, and generally not in a good way. Considering the nature of this challenge, it was probably more comfortable for him to keep it on. Still…
"This is stupid," he remarked, but took the puck and tape, hiked up his pant leg, and attached it to his calf with more tape than was probably necessary. He had not agreed to lose his leg hair when he'd finally caved to Wade's two-week campaign. Clint had so many plans to get Natasha back for this. So many.
She smirked at him when he straightened up, and then Tony smashed through the doors leading into the room. His arm was covered in a gauntlet wrapped up to his elbow, an entire panel missing and wires exposed. Everyone turned to look at him. He squared his shoulders.
"Was nobody going to tell me there was a deathmatch about to take place in my own building?" He demanded.
"Invulnerable!" Wade exclaimed, gesturing to himself.
"Yeah, I'm not concerned about you."
"Hey," Clint protested, offended by the slight on his skills yet again, even though he still really didn't want to do this. Tony ignored him and went to join the group gathered at the other end of the matted floor. Clint glared at Natasha. "You owe me a hundred steak dinners."
"No, I don't." She was unconcerned, which was at least a little mollifying after Stark's blatant doubt. Across the room he noticed that Sitwell, who had managed an invite to this 'event' through Phil, was setting up a camera. Clint was instantly on edge.
"No filming," he called out, and Sitwell glanced over at him.
"It's for Fury," Sitwell protested good naturedly, which meant he was probably planning on live streaming it to more than just Fury back at base, which was not happening. Clint narrowed his eyes, and Natasha gave his shoulder a solid squeeze before heading over to ensure Sitwell didn't record anything.
It wasn't that Clint was shy about his skills, because he was kind of proud of them, but this was personal in a way archery wasn't. Everyone knew about his marksmanship, had known since he was a kid, but he and Jaques had never really displayed the hours and weeks and years of training with the blade to anyone. He expected the Swordsman had remained silent about it because he had plans for Clint he didn't want made public. Clint had kept it quiet out of habit. He hadn't ever needed to use a sword outside of a select few missions, plus it was practical if his enemies didn't know to expect it.
Then there was his relationship with SHIELD in general, which was getting steadily better since the Loki-mind-fuck incident, but people were still wary of him. The last thing he needed was to give SHIELD personnel one more reason to be afraid of him turning back to the dark side. The ones who were the hardest to deal with were mostly discreet about their issues with Clint, but they were the worst about making digs on his and Phil's partnership.
Across the room, Phil was watching him with that too familiar look that said he was piecing things together. Clint had maybe neglected to share a few of the shittier moments dealing with certain individuals within SHIELD this last year. They all had enough on their plates and he was bad at sharing. Clint decided that he should avoid eye contact with Phil for now and looked at Wade, who was still humming gleefully about sword fighting beside him. He had his sword with him, still sheathed, and was balancing it on his toe.
This was stupid.
"This is awesome," Wade decided, and Clint cast him a dark look. "We look seriously badass. We should be charging for this gun show." He flexed his bared biceps, bumping into Clint's shoulder he was standing so close. Clint looked for Natasha so he could try and burn her hair off with the power of his stare. "Maybe we should wrap leather strips up our forearms, make it look old school? FINISH HIM!" He hollered dramatically, which at least startled Tony, who had been arguing with Bruce about something. Tony glared.
"Are we seriously letting this happen? He's going to die," Tony insisted, though he didn't seem all that concerned as he handed some cash to Sitwell for the betting pool. The pool that nobody had bothered to hide from Clint during the second week of Wade's relentless campaign.
"They don't seem to think you'll be any good at this," Wade contemplated, his voice dropping back to a normal volume. "Or, at least, not as good as me." Now he sounded smug in a way that was just irritating.
"Get over on your side of the room," Clint growled and stomped over to where his own sword was leaning against the wall, his bare feet silent on the matted floor. Steve's footsteps were equally silent, and Clint raised an eyebrow in question when the man paused beside him as he triple checked the handle of his blade.
"Hey," Steve leaned against the wall, all casual and easygoing. He could pull it off when it wasn't on purpose, but right now he was trying too hard. He was lucky Clint was nice enough to not laugh at him. "Ready?" Steve asked.
"I'm always ready," Clint countered confidently, because it was true. Steve looked uneasy and glanced quickly to the other side of the room where Wade and Natasha were waiting.
"You sure you want to do this?" It was impossible to miss his genuine concern, which was pretty much the only reason Clint didn't get pissed off at being doubted again. "It's not that I don't think you can," Steve cleared up quickly, and he was looking uneasy now and he had lowered his voice a bit more. "It's just, Wilson's not all that stable, and I have concerns that he'll take this too far."
Okay. Fair. Steve was not wrong about that, and it was probably a legitimate concern. But Clint trusted Wade, maybe against his better judgement, but he did. There was nothing to be worried about here.
"We're all a little insane, Steve," Clint said softly, lifting his eyes to meet the other man's directly. "He just wears his as a coat of armour and an excuse. He might be the smartest of us all." After a long moment Steve nodded, accepting his words. Clint pulled his sword from its sheath, feeling the familiar and comfortable weight in the palm of his hand, and the adrenalin began to tingle beneath his skin. Maybe he was looking forward to this after all.
"The rules are," Phil announced clearly from beside Steve, his voice carrying across the open room, "No blood. First fighter to make even a scratch will forfeit the match. Jarvis will be monitoring for this, so don't think it will be missed," Phil was looking at Clint as he said this, and Clint made a little face but didn't reply.
Steve liked to believe that this rule would hold true, but seeing the way Wilson was bopping on his feet, the gleam of anticipation in his eyes, it still concerned him despite Clint's assurances. The fact that Clint was beginning to look equally as eager from where the two men stood in the center of the empty room did not ease his concerns. The fact that Phil had been openly anticipating this fight was unsettling.
"He's going to lose a limb," Tony muttered to Bruce, and it was clear that he meant Clint. The fact that Steve's apprehensions were more in line with Tony's than Phil's was probably the worst thing about this whole exercise.
Beside Bruce, Natasha grinned. Sitwell looked downright gleeful. Bruce just looked curious.
Steve wondered if he should have brought his shield, just in case.
"No intentional physical injuries are permitted." Wade nodded enthusiastically. Clint rolled his eyes. Steve worried.
"The first man to be divested of both his shirt and pants loses," Phil finished, and Steve blinked.
"Now I know why you were encouraging this death match!" Tony crowed at Phil.
"This sparring match is beneficial for team training, knowledge, and bonding," Sitwell piped up with a textbook serious tone. "Nothing more."
"I call bullshit," Tony decreed.
"Can we get this over with already? I'm getting hungry," Clint twirled his sword in a quick circle; Wade watched the move closely.
"Whenever you're ready," Phil said flatly.
Steve nearly startled as both men burst into movement on the mat, the sharp cry of metal striking metal was abrupt and chilling. Their movements were so explosive and so physical right off the bat that Steve was honest to goodness surprised.
He hadn't witnessed a lot of sword fights, and he didn't know much about it, but this…even the most ignorant of individuals had to be able to see that this was something special.
He thought he'd had a pretty good grasp on Clint's fighting style after watching him spar with Natasha and a few other agents, as well as sparring with him himself. Apparently you gave him a sword and he became a completely new canvas.
There was no hesitation between the men as they shifted back and forth on the mats, twisting and lunging, striking with two hands on their weapon, blocking the attacks with determination. Wilson tried to sweep Clint's legs out with a fancy roundhouse kick and Clint leapt out of the way with a back flip. He had his sword up deflecting an attack from Wilson while he was upside down and he deflected another attack as his feet touched ground. He did a fancy sidestep twist combo and nearly managed to get in a slice under Wilson's right arm.
Then they both put space between them, stepping back to reassess. Wilson was grinning like this was the greatest thing in his world. Clint's lips were twitching as he tried to repress a smile of his own, apparently warming up to this event after all.
"You," Wilson looked genuinely pleased, which Steve suddenly realized he'd never seen before, "are quite wonderful."
"Quit stalling, Wade. You're the one that wanted to fight." Clint rolled his shoulders and then nodded his head in a classic invitation to continue. Wade apparently wasn't interested.
"I," Wilson declared to the heavy silence of the room, "know something you don't know."
Sitwell laughed, and Steve looked at him briefly, confused.
"I don't care," Clint said. Sitwell laughed again.
"No, no!" Wade protested and tried again. "Really, I know something you don't know!" His blonde hair flopped on his forehead.
"Still don't care," Clint said, and shifted on his feet. Wilson tensed, prepared for an attack that didn't come. Clint was looking uncommonly relaxed as he held his weapon gingerly before him, never dropping his guard.
"Seriously?" Wilson asked, apparently baffled. Steve was, too. "Huh, well…I'm not left handed!" he announced and Clint's eyes pinched in irritation as Wilson flipped his sword to his right hand.
"I know," Clint basically growled and then attacked.
"Phil!" Wilson cried between a few punishing blows from Clint. "Movie night! This can not stand!"
Phil didn't respond and the next time they paused, it was because Clint made a move that was almost too quick for Steve to follow and came up with his blade resting against Wilsons neck. Wilson was still grinning.
"I'm never letting you go; you realize this, right?" He declared, which made Steve uneasy, and he glanced at Phil. Phil was smiling, and his grin looked proud and dangerous, but not upset or worried. Clint just pulled his sword away from Wilson's neck, took a few steps back, wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his arm, and then they were at it again.
Half an hour into the fight, and only a few thin slices into their clothes, Tony grew bored and started throwing tennis balls at them. Every ball he threw was slammed right back at him, Clint aiming for his face, and Wilson for his privates. Tony stopped pretty quickly.
The two men took to using the walls for momentum, and then the fight morphed into an entirely new beast as more elaborate acrobatics came into play that Steve had never seen either man utilize in the field. Steve gained a more accurate understanding of how Clint survived some of the missions they'd gone on when he couldn't see him.
It took two hours and in the end, Clint was sucking in air like he was dying, sweat dripping off his entire body, which was easy to see because he was standing in the middle of the room in a pair black boxer briefs that didn't leave much to the imagination. Wilson didn't look tired, but he was covered in sweat as well, and was two slices away from losing his pants, which were the last pieces of clothing he was wearing. They were more shorts than pants at this point. He also wasn't wearing any undergarments so Steve was maybe a little happy Clint hadn't managed the last two slices. He wondered if Clint had done that on purpose…but it didn't seem in keeping with the man's competitive nature. Plus Clint lacked any kind of body shyness whether it was his own or others.
Wilson won, but since Clint had the first 'killing' blow it was probably more of a tie. Nobody really cared at that point.
Steve was just glad he'd been allowed to witness this, because he wasn't going to ignore the insight he'd been given. He wasn't sure if Clint had agreed to this match being viewed by the team because he wanted them to better understand Wilson, or because he'd lost a bet. Either way, Steve was a bit more settled for it.
He still didn't like Wilson, though.
"Want to help me move out?" Wade asked as he moonwalked through the front door and into the kitchen. Phil looked up from the alfredo sauce he'd been stirring and raised an eyebrow at Wade.
"Not particularly," he answered. Wade was decked out in a sharp button up shirt and black pants that fit particularly nicely. It wasn't a look Phil had ever seen on him before, and it set off a few minor alarms in his head. He put down the alfredo spoon, turned the burner off, and looked up to see Wade eyeing the spoon. Repressing a sigh, Phil handed it over. There was no point in not giving it to the guy because after nearly three months of sharing their apartment with him, Phil had learned when to pick his battles. Wade stuck the wooden spoon in his mouth and, with an appreciative noise, pulled it out clean.
"You found a place that met your standards, then?" Phil asked as Wade started eyeing the pot of sauce, successfully distracting him from it. Honestly they didn't all run in to each other that often considering their work and social calendars, but Wade had made a point of saying he was looking for the perfect place to live and wouldn't be rushed.
"Yeah, you want to see it?" he asked, tossing the spoon into the sink as he wandered passed and into what was currently his room.
"Can it wait till after dinner? I don't want the sauce to spoil," Phil looked at the pot of sauce and pack of fresh noodles on the counter. It wasn't often he had a chance to cook, and as much as he wanted to be enthusiastic about Wade giving them back their very limited space, he didn't want to ruin dinner to encourage it.
"Your sauce will be fine for a few minutes." Wade reassured, and Phil repressed a sigh as he connected the dots.
"What floor are you on?" he asked as Wade came out of the room with three duffle bags over his shoulders and a slightly singed arrow Phil had never seen grasped in his right hand. He recognized where it came from, though.
"Right below you. The fire escape connects our places, how great is that?" Wade enthused.
"Great," Phil responded as dry as he could manage. He took a bag from Wade's shoulder, though, and followed him into the hallway, then the stairwell. Theirs wasn't a particularly large building, standing only eight stories tall, but Phil had had background checks run on every person in the place after they'd moved in. Walking into Wade's new apartment, eyeing the bright green walls of the kitchen and living area, noting the light mauve and royal blue through the doors into the small bedrooms, he had to wonder. "What happened to Laura and her son?" Because as far as Phil knew, from the conversations Clint had with her in the mailroom from time to time, she loved it here.
"I bought them a house and gave them enough money for taxes and utilities for a few years. Played the 'your kid's growing up and needs more space' angle. Plus it had a backyard so they could finally get a dog. Win-win." He dropped his bags right in the middle of the empty living room and gestured grandly. "Welcome to casa-de-Wade. Can I still come over for dinner?"
"I'm getting tired of your bullshit, Ethan," Clint growled as he snapped his briefcase closed, and with it the volatile, highly customized chem-vials that he was supplying the asshole with. The briefcase was unassuming on the outside, a scuffed black leather knock-off, but the inside was lined with customized coolant tools and five hollowed out pockets for Clint's product. When you opened the case it emitted a faint blue glow, which was tacky as fuck as far as Clint was concerned, but apparently it made the merchandise seem more alluring to a buyer like Ethan. The only thing Clint liked glowing was his tv, tablets, and arrows.
"And I think you're forgetting your position within my organization," Ethan snapped back, cheeks flushing with his irritation, "which, last I checked, was as a mere supplier."
"Funny, because last I checked, without the chems I'm providing you wouldn't be in business at all." Clint pushed some pride into his tone, careful to make it notable but not overbearing. Ethan had made his position on other people within his organization thinking they were important quite clear when they'd first started their partnership. Of course Clint wasn't given a chance to say anything further as Ethan turned on him and wrapped his nicely manicured hands in the soft material of Clint's dress shirt and shoved. He allowed the push, allowed Ethan to propel him back a few steps to the cabin's wall, and he grunted when a tall table that was set against the wall got in his way. He put effort into making his startled flail look natural, because he wasn't certain if he'd moved too easily under Ethan's force. His hand knocked a hard object off the table; it cracked as it hit the carpeted floor. He didn't need to fake a wince when his head connected with the wall, neck bent awkwardly as his shoulders were shoved against the vertical surface but his hips and back were thrust out awkwardly because of the table.
"Are you trying to hand me your resignation?" Ethan asked softly, and his grip tightened as he leaned over Clint. His two henchmen hovered behind him, watching with the detached interest of men accustomed to violence. Clint wrapped one hand around Ethan's wrist, and kept the other on the table to brace himself.
"No," Clint answered, not quickly but with full sincerity. "No, of course not! It's just, when we began working together, we had an agreement that I'd be pulled into the fold once I proved my loyalty. I thought Vancouver was enough proof, and I'm getting tired of waiting on the sidelines." He flattened his voice a bit at the end, watching Ethan carefully, and after a long moment Ethan relaxed. Just like Clint figured he would. Hey, Clint wasn't Natasha; he could do undercover just fine and was pretty good at getting a read on people, but he knew enough to know that he was far from perfect and sometimes shit went wrong. He'd also kind of hoped Ethan wouldn't accept his reasoning and calm down, because having an excuse to just shoot the ass and finish this op once and for all sounded great.
Ethan pulled back and dragged Clint back to standing, where he straightened Clint's shirt and tie for him and gave him a consolidating squeeze on the shoulder.
"You're right. Vancouver was certainly an impressive show of loyalty," he said and Clint pretended to relax, rolling his shoulders and keeping an eye on the henchmen who had lost interest and sauntered back to wait by the cabin's door. In Vancouver, Clint had 'shot' and 'killed' two men who had attempted to snatch both his product and Ethan. Of course the men had been SHIELD agents and with a fancy application of theatrical blood-packs under their shirts and blanks in Clint's weapon, it had been an impressively gruesome scene. Ethan's bodyguards sadly hadn't survived the confrontation, but seeing as one was wanted in several countries for murder and the other had a reputation for regularly putting prostitutes in the hospital, Clint had no problems with that outcome.
"And I haven't forgotten our agreement." Ethan poured two cognacs into ridiculously large snifters. He pressed a glass to Clint and then crossed the room to lounge on his white leather couch. The expensive brandy had a rich, smooth burn that warmed his chest as it went down, but Clint was careful not to drink too much; it was another fine line he'd learned to balance over the years for appearances sake. "Your product has been consistent and top quality, and it's helped us improve our serum to the point where we are almost ready to take it to the streets." Below their feet the yacht swayed gently with the waves, moderately calm for now.
"The quality won't change and I'm not planning on going anywhere." Clint made no move to sit and made no move to get closer to Ethan, which he was counting on Ethan interpreting as a healthy respect. "But I'm making plans on increasing the product output, and I can't do that until I'm confident that I'm going to be," he hesitated a moment, "secure in my position."
Ethan studied him for a long moment, gently rolling the cognac in his glass, and Clint worried that he'd pushed too hard too fast. It was a risk, but Maria and Langer were pretty adamant that Clint needed to get to the inner circle and figure out who was behind this fucked up drug ring asap or the whole mission might tank. Judging by Ethan's comment about the product nearly being ready for the streets meant that they were right. Of course Clint knew there were probably very limited plans to release the drug to the public; no, this one was being designed to remain in-house.
Then Ethan grinned, pleased but dangerous, and nodded.
"I'll arrange a meeting for next week. You better be ready, because if you're not then these people will make me look like a guardian angel," he laughed, and Clint tried to make his face look gratified and thankful. It felt strained, but it seemed to work well enough as Ethan waved a hand dismissively. It was a matter of a minute before Clint was climbing down the side of the yacht on a rope ladder and dropping into the small motorboat he'd driven out for this meeting. He peeled away from Ethan's show of luxury, water gurgling and spitting up behind him, and when the massive yacht was a small dot in the distance Clint allowed himself to relax for real.
"Did you get all that?" He asked.
"Loud and clear. Good work Hawkeye. Rendezvous at extraction point B in two hours and we'll go over plans for next weeks meet 'n greet." Maria's voice was tinny and quiet; the damn near microscopic radio in his ear was excellent at picking up sound but not so great at transmitting it.
"I want Thai food," Clint demanded, because the undercover agent always got to choose the meal if they came back in one piece. "Any kind of curry and some spring rolls."
"Copy," Maria ended the transmission, always so serious. Clint stuffed the tie he'd borrowed from Phil deep in his pocket. As far as the end of a day went, he'd had far, far worse. Opening up the throttle on his commandeered boat, he let a grin curl his lips and the brine scented air whip around him. Not a bad day at all.
Phil stood in the shadows, back pressed comfortably against the wall that housed the stairwell. It was early enough that the first hint of colour was barely peeking at the distant horizon, and he wasn't wearing anything more than a pair of old plaid pyjama pants, sweat shirt, and a fluffy pair of micro suede slippers that he would deny liking for eternity. They were ridiculously comfortable, though, and as far as random gifts from Wade went they were probably his favourite. He'd deny that, too.
The air was crisp, the hint of fall was heavier every day, and he imagined very shortly he'd be able to see every breath Clint and Wade puffed out as the sky lightened. He'd be able to see the steam rising off their skin. He took a breath himself, watched as the two men twisted and turned about one another on the roof's gravelled surface, tiny stones kicking up and skidding away from the pressure of their movements, from the landings of their flips and hand springs, from the slide of being pushed or dragged.
These roof top sessions weren't common yet, the soft clang of dulled practice swords, the grunts and occasional huffs of laughter echoed in the open air around them, swallowed by buildings and wind alike. The meetings were growing in frequency despite the small amount of free time Clint had. Phil figured Clint slinking out of their bed far too early in the morning on nights like this should irritate him, but it had only ever felt like a freedom. Like a gift. Before Wade it had been rare that Clint ever practiced with the sword where anyone could see, even Phil, and he was content to experience the moments when they took place; pleased to see how it sometimes allowed Clint to relax in ways he only ever did while sparring with Natasha or Phil himself. Though when Clint and Phil sparred it often led to being relaxing in other ways. He let a small smile curl his lip.
Across the roof, Clint slipped on the gravel, losing his balance and tumbling into a back roll. He narrowly avoiding the swift slice of Wade's sword and he popped back to his feet, flinging a tiny rock that pegged Wade right between the eyes.
"No decency," Wade huffed, his voice softer and lighter up here on the roof, shrouded in darkness, than Phil ever heard elsewhere. The smiles were easier; everything was easier. He never wore his holoimager up here, and Clint forgot to showboat and just…was.
When the sun began to rise properly, and Clint was worn out enough to nearly collapse, they just stopped. Sometimes there were grins, sometimes there was just weariness, but most times whatever demons or urges dragged them up here were once again bearable for another day.
The fights always ended without any signal that Phil could discern, and today they ended with grins, bows, and a backslap from Wade that Clint didn't tense under. Phil watched them approach him, unable to look away from the sweat that made Clint's already snug t-shirt practically mould to him. Phil had been right, he could see the steam rising off his skin, a faint white fog that curled and disappeared above his shoulders. His hair was spiked from where he'd run his hands through it, and his eyes: his eyes. Today would be one of the good days.
"Pancakes!" Wade announced, breaking the silence as he whipped open the door to the stairwell. "My place, two hours," he looked at Phil with an honest, pleased grin of his own and winked. "Think that will be enough time?"
"I've seen your place, and I'm not stepping in there without a hazmat suit," Phil kept his tone even, looking back to Clint, who was standing so close now he could feel the heat from his body through his own clothes. "Our place," he negotiated, becoming more distracted, "three hours."
He thought Wade agreed, but at that point Clint was pressing into him and Wade was disappearing down the stairwell, out of sight and hearing. Perfect. Phil grinned into Clint's mouth and pulled him closer.
When it happened, the breath was stolen from Phil's chest with the force of being hit by Hulk, and later he would wonder again and again how he didn't see it coming. Later he would know that it was impossible to see and stop everything, impossible to plan when you had no idea you were compromised, but knowing and feeling are two sides of a coin. That would be later.
His chest seized, he couldn't breathe, and he couldn't hear beyond a steady ringing in his ears. Agony that wasn't unfamiliar pressed in and in and around. It consumed him. He thought that it might never end- until it did. The sudden ease of pain was almost as shocking as its manifestation and Phil sucked air into his lungs desperately, his entire body numb and clumsy and out of his control. His vision was coming back with too much colour and the lights high above him were blurred and moving. His ears resonated a high-pitched whine, and muffled noises beat at the edges of his awareness.
He rolled his head.
He was on the ground. When had that happened? What had he-
They'd been out. They'd gone for dinner, too tired to cook and Clint had wanted to try that new sushi bar.
Clint. Phil blinked, his chest felt like a weight had been slammed into it, like he'd held his breath too long, and his body twitched and wouldn't respond to his wants. Too slow, too numb. He flopped his head to the other side, because he needed to know where Clint was, he had to know-
"Hlinnnt," Phil pressed his name out, and tried to reach for the gun in his ankle holster, or the knife in his belt. He tried to reach. His fingers flexed. Clint was there, not far away, but people surrounded him; three people wearing black masks and clothes and they had their hands all over him. Phil watched as they dragged Clint to his knees, his arms restrained behind him, his body as floppy as Phil's and his eyes wide. His nostrils flared like an angry bull. There was blood running down the side of his face and Phil couldn't stop looking at it. Clint always got fucking hurt.
"-want this one," someone said, and Phil realized that someone stood over him too, but they weren't making any effort to contain him, which could only mean bad things. He tried for his knife again; his gun too far, and the person hauled back and kicked him in his side, hard enough that his vision blurred once more. It didn't hurt. He thought it should hurt.
"No, they just want this one. No idea who he is. Kill him and lets get out of here."
"No!" Clint barked out sharply, like one of his bullets in the dead of night, and Phil watched him struggle against the people that dragged him towards a van. His legs kicked wildly, his nice shirt was all wrinkled and stained, and the look in his eyes was terrified. He was so terrified. Phil locked onto his gaze, hoped his own expressed even a fraction of what he felt for Clint, hoping that that would be enough, and he struggled to move, desperate to erase that look from Clint. The bag that was dragged over Clint's head, cutting him away from Phil, hurt.
Phil refocused on the person standing above him when he heard the unmistakable click of a safety being shifted. A small calibre gun, much smaller than Phil had been expecting, was aimed at his chest, the long nose of the silencer looking almost comically out of place on it.
"Nothing personal." Female. He noted that his assassin sounded female, and as far as last thoughts went he might have been embarrassed by it, but after that he wasn't aware enough to be anything but gone.
Chapter 6: Exactly What It Looks Like
They weren't gentle with him, but Clint figured he'd be more concerned if they were. The rough handling he expected, it was familiar and it helped keep him present. Behind closed eyelids, under the cover of darkness from the thick cloth bag cinched tight around his throat, Clint couldn't stop hearing the pings of muted gunshots. Three of them. Three shots and the gun had been pointed at Phil's chest. Clint had done nothing.
Phil had looked at him like he was the world, and he'd done nothing but flop around like a beached fish, his strength gone, his coordination gone, his body failing him; and he'd failed Phil.
Three unobtrusive gunshots and the slamming of a van's door, that was what he'd had to occupy his thoughts for a relatively smooth transport. So, they weren't gentle with him, but that was something he was glad for; he'd always functioned better when he had something to focus on, and right now every bruise was a welcome distraction.
They hauled him out of the vehicle with hands digging into his armpits and let him drop to the ground. With his arms secured by a pair of cuffs and his body still not recovered from whatever they had hit him with on the street, he fell like a sack of potatoes. He didn't need them to remove the bag to know there were six people surrounding him, or to know where each one was. But he couldn't seem to control his balance enough to launch an attack; couldn't find the coordination that normally came so naturally or the strength he'd spent a lifetime building.
The hands dug under his arms again and dragged him to his knees. A person flanked him on both sides, pressed hands into his shoulders to keep him down as the bag was torn away. He blinked into the sudden brightness and fingers curled into his hair, forcing his head back.
Ethan loomed over him, hair shiny with styling gel, suit jacket unbuttoned, and no tie. He hadn't dressed up for the occasion. Clint tugged at the grip on his head, and it tightened enough that his eyes watered. There was an unfortunately long list of people Clint would have guessed would be standing over him, but Ethan was a bit of a surprise.
"I thought we weren't meeting until Tuesday. Did I get the date wrong?" Ethan backhanded him across the cheek, letting Clint's head snap sideways from the force of the blow before wrenching him back into position.
"Sadly, it seems that some previously baseless concerns about our business arrangements have proven true," Ethan said conversationally, and backhanded Clint again before he released his grip and stepped back. He pulled out a fucking handkerchief and wiped at the smudge of blood that had appeared on his knuckles, courtesy of Clint's lip. "Imagine my disappointment when I was informed that my trusted supplier, after all these months, was actually a SHIELD plant. You understand, Agent Barton, how this looks to my superiors."
"Yep," Clint agreed, mind whirling because this sounded like there was a leak in the operation, and the only people who knew about his involvement in it were very limited. "I guess we could say both of our companies are having some loyalty issues." Clint twisted at the bindings holding his arms together, not much more than thickened handcuffs. He could work with this, just as soon as he could do more than be held in place on his knees.
"Unfortunately, you are not going to be my problem to deal with," Ethan sneered, and with theatrical timing a large, armoured transport pulled in through the warehouse doors. The engine rumbled and Clint's hearing must have still been wonky because he should have noticed it coming long before.
The doors opened and men spilled out; heavily armed and numerous. They were wearing specialized masks that covered the upper half of their faces and their heads. Clint would put money down that each mask had built in scanners of some kind, because they looked like something Tony might make when he was suffering from an epic hangover. Clint recognized the uniforms immediately, because he never forgot the targets he killed, and he'd killed a few men dressed like this back when he'd first met Wade.
Ethan looked like he was getting ready to greet the newcomers when one of the masked men stepped forward and looked down at Clint.
"We told you to secure him," the guy snarled, lips dragged down in a severe frown that accentuated the scar over his lip, and he waved two of his crew forward. They shoved the men holding Clint away and one of them pressed the tip of his weapon to the base of Clint's skull. Clint took the hint and froze. He'd been about to dislocate his thumb and slip from the cuff, planning to use the new guys' appearance for a distraction and see how far he could get.
"What do you call that?" Ethan said and gestured at Clint with his usual flare of temper.
"I call that a near miss," scar-guy said with a sneer and any hope Clint had of slipping these bonds disappeared as he was forced into new ones. They were ice-cold and they wrapped around his forearms like a glove. Secured from wrists to elbows, his shoulders were mostly immobilized as well, stretched back to accommodate the pull.
"I call that excessive," Ethan snapped, but the new head-honcho didn't seem to give a shit what he thought. It just proved to Clint that, as soon as these new folks got what they wanted from Ethan, he'd be just as expendable as Ethan thought Clint was.
"Get Barton loaded and dose him. Level 5 containment."
"Yes, sir!" The heavily armed men in the jacked-up black-ops getups jumped to do his bidding and Clint was once again hauled to his feet. He smiled at Ethan as pleasantly as he could as he was dragged passed. He could see Ethan falter at the look, because it was one Clint hadn't shared with him yet. It was one Clint very rarely shared.
"See you later," he promised, and meant every word, because he and Ethan had some unfinished business. The sound of hushed gunshots would echo in Clint's memories for the rest of his life. His stomach rolled and he forced the nausea down with pure fury.
A few steps and he was heaved, with more care than Ethan's people had shown, into the back of the armoured truck. He was forced onto a bench seat, and he was dragged back as the restraints on his arms wrenched into the wall; a giant fucking magnet was apparently designed to hold them in place. Fantastic. One of the guards knelt down in front of Clint. Clint kicked him, using as much force as his slowly recovering strength allowed. The man's head snapped back and he went crashing into the far wall, the weapon strapped across his back and the hardware attached to various places on his uniform clattered violently on the metal interior. He remained slumped on the seat, and Clint looked out the back of the van at Ethan and winked. Ethan's hand went to his weapon.
The next man to come and finish securing Clint brought a friend, and the friend brought a tazer, and Clint settled in and let them pin his thighs down with a built in metal strap. It was uncomfortable as fuck. Clint relaxed into it, glad for the ache.
The leader climbed into the back a moment later, the door slammed shut, and just like that they were on the move.
"Idiot," Scar muttered at the guy Clint had taken down, and shoved him off the bench with his boot, only to take the spot right across from Clint. He shook his head. "Ethan was hand fed the fact that you're SHIELD, but lacks the forethought to figure out exactly how dangerous you are," he mused and Clint remained silent as he was looked over. "I don't lack that foresight." Great. Clint took steady breaths, every bump jarring his shoulders and elbows, and said nothing.
"I was informed that you had someone with you at the time of your acquisition; please accept my condolences."
Fuck you and you're fucking condolences. The second I'm free I'm going to become the nightmare you've never been capable of imagining.
Clint said none of this, but Scar apparently picked up on the violent thoughts and was thoroughly unmoved. With a nod of his head the lackey that had been sitting off to the side slid over, and jammed a needle into Clint's neck. Blissful darkness reigned.
Phil woke up.
For a long minute he stared at the paneled ceiling. It was all a generic white, except for the one tile directly over his bed, which was an unskilled riot of colour depicting what he figured was a house with a rainbow coming out of it's chimney, and horses flying in the background. It had the unbridled charm of youth and innocence.
When the ache that encompassed his entire body stole his attention from the colourful painting, awareness of his location came to the forefront of his thoughts. He swallowed, his mouth dry and gummy, and looked around. He expected to see Clint.
He saw nobody; nobody but the monitors and bedside table and lack of windows. His memory came back like a slap: Dinner, Clint grinning, their shoulders bumping, pain, Clint's panicked eyes disappearing under a black bag, a gun aimed at Phil's chest.
The heart monitors kicked up a fuss as everything returned to him with fluid clarity.
Someone had taken Clint, and Phil had been shot. He looked to his chest, covered in hospital blue and a crisp white blanket that had been pulled over him, barely wrinkled he had lain so still. He moved to sit up and yes, his body hurt, but the stabbing, localized pain along his chest stole his breath. He collapsed back on the mattress, trying to minimize his breaths, tried to keep his lung from expanding too much. It didn't hurt enough that it stole his awareness, not like whatever he'd been hit with the night before, so he noticed the nurse and doctor as they hurried into the room. It was hard not to when they immediately set gentle hands on his shoulders to keep him from moving. He barely restrained himself from lashing out at the unexpected familiarity, but he recognized that they were only trying to help. Theoretically.
"Sir, you need to relax. You have a fractured sternum, fractured ribs and severe bruising. Moving could make things worse," the doctor said, no nonsense in his tone but a sympathetic light in his eyes.
"Where-" Phil started and coughed, throat practically sticking together and the nurse grabbed a cup from the side of his bed and stuck the straw in his mouth. He swallowed greedily, and then carefully pushed it aside. "What happened?" he tried again, this time successfully.
"You're in Kings County Hospital." The doctor explained with ill concealed curiosity. "You were brought here last night with serious electric shock injuries and three bullet shots to the chest."
Phil frowned and looked down at his chest, because it hurt like hell, but didn't feel like anything had torn him up. He knew what that felt like. The doctor seemed to understand his confusion as he continued quickly. "The bullets didn't penetrate. Your injuries reflect that you were wearing a bullet proof vest." Phil frowned, because he was pretty sure he'd remember putting that on. He'd just been wearing one of his regular white button-ups, one that Stark had provided as a gift months ago…ah. Right.
"Okay." Phil accepted the explanation with less fanfare than the doctor was apparently expecting.
"Can you tell me your name?" the man asked.
His name? Phil frowned, spying other medical staff moving outside his room, not paying them any attention. He noted the police officer that was watching him very closely from just beyond the door. They didn't know who he was, which meant that the asshole who shot him had taken his wallet for good measure. She clearly didn't know the meaning of 'nothing personal.' Still, there was safety in anonymity, both here and with the fake IDs he always carried.
"What time is it?" Phil asked.
"Nine-thirty in the morning. Sir, we need to know your name so we can learn more about your medical history. You can understand our concern based on the previous surgeries you've obviously-"
"I need to use the phone," Phil said, cutting him off, and the man frowned, sharing a look with the nurse. Phil didn't have the patience for this, but his basic understanding that they had no way of knowing how dire the situation was kept him polite. Barely. He levelled a look on the doctor. "I will answer your questions, but first I need to make a phone call," he ordered, and as he expected, the doctor capitulated. The nurse picked up the phone from the bedside table and gently deposited it on his lap. Phil snatched it up and- hesitated.
The ache in his chest was sharp and bitter, Clint's panicked struggle was bright in his mind, and Phil hesitated. Natasha would have been his first call, but she was under in Australia on a mission for Nick. SHIELD would be his second call, but…someone had very clearly targeted Clint. Clint who was known in SHIELD but not to the public. Of all the Avengers, Clint had actually managed to not be recorded close enough for facial recognition during the chitauri attack; he had been a blurred image up high and all but one person who had stuck around to record the battle had missed him entirely. He'd maintained his secret identity for now, and took care to wear a mask while on Avenger duties.
There was nothing indicating that he should be recognized as anything more than an acquaintance of the Avengers…unless someone in SHIELD leaked the information. Phil swallowed at the idea that they were compromised. He could call in the team, because he had no doubts they would get Clint back for him. He dialled.
Wade Wilson answered after a single ring, and Phil looked at the number displayed to realize that yes, he had called Wade.
"Yellow?" The relief Phil felt hearing his voice was new, and not entirely surprising. He swallowed thickly. "What's your favourite colour and how did you get this number?" Wade asked with a clearly distracted air.
"Wade," Phil said softly, and he could sense the man's entire attention shift to him, imagined him going still. "Are you busy?"
"Yes. Phil, what's wrong?" His unspoken 'you've never called me before' was heavy through the line.
"We got jumped last night on the way back from dinner. They took Clint." Phil explained it calmly, but he could see the alarmed looks from the people in his room.
"You're not mangled too badly?" Wade asked. Phil leaned back into his pillow and smiled politely at the doctor, who was beckoning the police officer into the room.
"I'm fine. I don't know who grabbed him, but I can give you a list-"
"Relax, Phil. I've got this. We'll be home for dinner." The last thing Phil heard before the line went dead was the slick metallic glide of a sword being jammed into its sheath. Phil very gently replaced the handset to its cradle and took a deep breath to settle the sheer relief that spread through him.
He was putting everything he was into trusting that Wade Wilson would bring Clint home.
It was one of the easiest decisions he'd ever made.
"I got a call from a friend today," Wade announced to the room at large, which brought everything to a halt pretty quickly. It was a bit gratifying, especially how quickly all the big men with guns dropped the boxes they were scrambling to load into the escape truck, so that they could focus on little ol' him. He hopped off the warehouses rafters, now that he had all their attention, and made sure to add a couple of fancy twists and twirlies before landing on the unforgiving ground floor. It hurt for all of an unformed thought, which meant it hurt not at all, and he bowed with a flourish to show his audience appreciation. Nobody clapped. Tough crowd.
"Which is generally a pretty great thing," he continued. "Friends are awesome! But you see, the problem is that he called me on my burn phone, which I just bedazzled last week." Wade fished the phone out of his back pocket and displayed it for the closest angry dude, turning it so he could see the glittering decal of his mask on the back, surrounded by shiny, shiny red. "So you can imagine that I was pretty upset because now I have to come up with another bitchin' design for my next phone." He looked around and was wholly disheartened that nobody seemed to understand the enormity of his plight.
~It took you six hours to make~ his thought bubble read sympathetically, and he nodded at it despairingly. Seriously, gluing all the fragments onto the plastic had been such a pain! He'd learn from this; he'd bedazzle the phone case instead of the phone next time. He should have some rubies left over, and there was that handful of purple stones mixed in with the diamonds he'd picked up last month, they might be pretty-
"Who the fuck are you?" Someone rudely interrupted his planning, and he turned around and picked a guy out of the crowd that was dressed waaaay better than anyone else here; he wasn't even carrying a knife for protection. ~Enter Dummy In Charge~ the bubble said.
"Right?" Wade shared a laugh with his floating words and looked the guy over. "Obvious. Anyway, as I was saying: I got a call from a friend… actually he might be more of a brother-in-law? I'm not sure how that works when I'm technically not related to my bro. Found family: hits the spot every time." He tapped his chest over his heart with a clenched fist, feeling the moment.
"I'm going to ask one more time-" the uppity in the suit seemed pretty tense now. He was a bit of an impatient dick.
"Rude!" Wade interrupted, annoyed now. "I'm trying to explain how my bro got snatched last night, and that his significant other is pretty freaked out about the whole thing. Did I mention that he called me from a hospital bed? I do not like it when my family call me from the hospital."
"Somebody shoot this asshole already and get back to work!" the man ordered and, predictably, a whole lot of them opened fire. The bullets were like little ants that had crawled beneath his shirt, tickling and annoying, and Wade didn't know if he wanted to giggle or scratch them away.
"Woah! Unfriendly fire!" he cheered when one of the bullets missed him altogether and hit someone behind him. The guy fell with a scream of pain and another one stopped firing long enough to check that he was alive. "Well, that was a waste of bullets," Wade decided when the shooting finally stopped. He poked at a hole in his uniform. "And I didn't even think to bring the spare uniform; this is how upset I was when I got that phone call!" He raised his voice, and the leader dude turned slowly to stare at him. Wade struck a pose, because really: he cut a pretty impressive figure and he deserved to be appreciated.
"Did you all fucking miss!? KILL HIM!" the man screeched, and then he was running away and Wade was just done. He pulled out his sword and got to work, and he was finished with the tertiary characters before his real target even reached the far door. It was a little messy, but such was life.
He threw his sword, and clapped when it pierced through the man's thigh like…well, like a fucking sharp sword would. The guy fell to the ground, crawling to get away. Wade did him the favour of removing the sword so it wouldn't get in his way.
"Finally alone," he purred and the man squealed as he knelt down next to him and cupped his jaw gently. "Now, maybe you'd like to tell me where my Clinton is? Because we have a dinner engagement and I hate being late."
Clint woke up without a headache, but it was more likely that his body ached enough to trump the pain in his skull. He was cold, and a glance down told him that that was because he'd been stripped of his clothes and dressed in a single pair of scrub pants; bastards had even taken his socks. That was a secondary concern, though, because he was absolutely certain the thing he should be most worried about were all the electrodes stuck across his chest, down his sides and arms. The IV running into his median cubital vein was definitely a problem; the amount of tape holding it in place almost hid his elbow.
He tightened his hands into fists and rotated them in the padded cuffs that secured him to the examination chair. His bare ankles suffered the same treatment, and every which way he looked, the wires stuck to his temples brushed through his hair.
Great. He was in a fucking lab. How was this his life?
"How do you feel?"
Clint's attention snapped to the pale man who moved out from behind him to fuss with the IV bag dangling from a thin metal pole beside him. He was dressed for an afternoon on a yacht: khakis and a pale blue button down, shades perched on the top of his thick red hair and face covered in freckles…Clint frowned.
"Ah, so you recognize me then?" the guy seemed pleased, and tutted at the goosebumps that pebbled over Clint's bared skin. Yeah, he recognized him.
"Alex Vigor." Clint didn't bother hiding his disgust.
"It's Doctor Vigor, thank you," he said, and stepped closer to Clint, probing the injection sight on his arm. Clint lunged at him, or tried to, satisfied as the man flinched even if Clint was well and truly stuck where he was. The sunglasses clattered to the ground and Clint leaned back in the chair. "That's about the maturity level I would expect from the infamous Hawkeye," Vigor said as he swept the glasses up from the floor and inspected them for damage. He cast a quick, smug, look at Clint. "What, you didn't think I would recognize an Avenger when they're delivered to my lab like a belated birthday gift wrapped in shiny metal ribbons? I'm more impressed you recognized me, but then I have heard you have a better memory than you let on. Spend a lot of time perusing SHIELD's most wanted files?"
"Not really, it's just that the ugly ones are easier to remember," Clint smiled.
"And here I thought we might get along," Vigor said, and glared. "Of course, seeing as you relieved me of a rather prized possession about a year back, I'm not very inclined to be hospitable to you. You set me back quite a ways as far as product testing goes." Clint looked to the doors of the lab, noted that the men standing guard were wearing the same uniforms that had been at Wade's lab. The same uniforms that had taken him from Ethan.
"I always figured you had a higher standard than developing a street drug, I guess I should have figured AIM wouldn't bring you in for anything bigger than that."
"You know full well that what I'm doing is far more complicated than a mere street steroid."
Yes. Clint was well aware that AIM, and apparently Vigor, were branching out to develop a drug that would temporarily turn a person into a raging Hulk. It was why Maria and Fury had been so adamant about carefully tracking down the source when they'd gotten wind of it. If it worked and even ten AIM mercenaries took a dose, it would be difficult to contain, let alone if a hundred, or a thousand, people took it simultaneously.
"Steroids are all the rage," Clint said, and Vigor's eyes narrowed with irritation.
"That certainly is a basic understanding of my work, yes," Vigor waved a hand and Clint was hard pressed to hear the quick footfalls of someone else approaching from beyond of his field of vision. "Of course, it is far more complicated and permanent than you were probably able to discern. No matter," he gingerly plucked a vial off of the tray a stern looking woman presented to him. Clint watched silently as he filled a syringe with the amber coloured liquid. "Seeing as you deprived me of my test subject ages ago I assume you'll have no problem stepping in? No?" He pressed the needle into the IV's injection port, watching Clint for the expected protest. Clint did nothing.
"If you're harbouring any thoughts that you'll gain ten times your strength and break out of here, don't bother," Vigor explained as he pulled the empty syringe from the port and placed it back on the tray. The assistant moved out of Clint's sight. "It's a two-step process, this is merely the binding solution that will prepare your body to accept the final serum. We've had a lot of… issues with people dying from the pain you see, so we've decided to divide and conquer. We had someone else lined up for the testing, but since you volunteered we've given them a reprieve."
Clint watched the yellowed liquid in the bag begin dripping through the tube, getting closer to his arm inch by inch.
"Oh, this is taking a long time," Vigor sighed dramatically and stepped closer to Clint. "Let me help with that." He opened the drip right up. It was a matter of seconds before the liquid flowed steadily into Clint. "You'll feel a slight burn," the man warned, and Clint looked up to glare into his whisky coloured eyes.
When the burn came it took his breath away. He didn't have enough air to scream.
Alex watched the Avenger writhe and tremble in his chair for ten minutes before he grew bored and went to monitor the readouts from his office. Calculations predicted that the subject would survive and they would be able to proceed to the next level of testing. He had high hopes that it would work, because he had visions of pumping the pathetic arrow-slinger full of the steroid and setting him down in the middle of Manhattan. Watching him tear all those poor little innocents apart and then come back to himself to see what he had done? That would be precious.
Serves the bastard right for robbing him of the man that was impossible to kill. Alex had had plans for that body, designs to apply to it that would turn it into an unstoppable machine. He'd had plans on learning the secret to its immortality.
"Dr. Vigor?" his assistant interrupted sometime later and he looked up from his game of hearts to see her smiling with triumph. "Scans indicate that the first stage bonding process was ninety-eight percent successful. He survived." Alex stood from his seat in a rush, a cry of success on his lips, and he practically skipped into the main lab. This was great news! Finally there was a success to report, and on an enemy no less.
"Get the tank prepped," he ordered with elation as he stepped into the main lab, and then he froze. His world fell out from beneath him, a cloying dread igniting in his chest so fast it made it difficult to breathe. In the middle of the room, leaning over the body in the medical chair, was a man decked out head to toe in a skin tight red and black costume. He didn't need to see through the holes in the mottled material to know that the flesh was free of hair and scarred horrendously. He knew the eyes behind the mask were brown and that the sculpted muscles were every bit as strong as they looked.
Glancing to the exit of the lab, he noted the two guards he'd kept on the ground, still. There were faint, bloody footprints leading from the door to where Deadpool now stood, crooning softly to the Avenger.
Alex swallowed thickly at the sight. He hadn't foreseen anyone being able to find them, his security measures had been top notch, only a handful of people knew and they wouldn't dare breathe a word on fear of their life…
He had not expected Deadpool.
Her body trembled. It was a response she'd never experienced before, which had been a matter of personal pride. The other AIM scientists called her 'verbal nitrogen' behind her back because she froze people with her cutting words. She ran the labs with an iron fist, didn't care for people's problems, and cared even less for her subject's wellbeing beyond the success of an experiment. Deadpool had never been something to fear beyond the abstract concept of 'what-if.' His physical strength had never been a threat and his speed and reflexes weren't an issue because he'd always been contained. She'd never bothered to learn his name.
Now she trembled at the sight of him, like the countless people and animals she'd once had at her mercy.
"Leaving so soon?" his voice was rougher than she remembered from endless hours, days of talking, and he lifted his covered head to where Dr. Vigor had begun backing away. "I thought the party was just getting started." Vigor froze, Deadpool cocked his head to the side like an intrigued bird, and then he was herding everyone in the room to stand in a line by the feet of the Avenger. The Avenger's respirations were still ragged, but they were steady, and the sweat from his struggles still shone across his brow and chest. There was a fresh IV bag hooked up to him now, feeding him nutrients to replenish his system because she wanted him recovered for the next stage. He wasn't conscious.
"So, I got a phone call from a friend this morning," Deadpool started, walking slowly up and down their line like a drill sergeant assessing their troops. Her trembling grew when he paused to look at her, and the relief she felt when he moved on was a foreign and unwelcome emotion. "He was in the hospital- you know what?" he interrupted himself abruptly and threw his hands in the air, the sheathed swords on his back swaying with the movement. "It turns out that I'm actually tired of talking to the people in this room."
He raised his gun and shot Feelix in the head. His body crumbled and, she noted distantly, that left seven of them. Seven, in a building that had had at least thirty guards; she wasn't fool enough to think he'd missed any on his way to this room, otherwise they would have been here defending them. Maybe they'd garnered a modicum of survival instinct and run away.
"So," he continued with a jovial tone, "I'm going to ask a few very important questions, and if I don't like the answer-" he spun around in a twirl, raised his gun again, and shot Dr. Vigor between the eyes. She cried out as his tumbling body bumped into her, but held her place. Embarrassed by the sound she'd made, she straightened her shoulders. "I think you get the idea, right?" He asked Peppin, and Peppin nodded spastically, his glasses sliding down his nose. Deadpool stepped back and placed himself between them and the Avenger. He leaned his rear against the foot of the metal recliner, his lower back pressing against the unconscious mans toes.
"So," he clapped his hands together, and Peppin flinched as the gun barrel waved passed him. "I think it goes without saying that I don't like it when people that I consider mine up and disappear. He," he gestured at the unresponsive, restrained man, who had bruises on his wrists, ankles, and face. Nobody had wiped away the trail of blood from where he'd bitten his lip earlier. She swallowed nervously. "-is mine. Isn't it interesting that I would find him here? I feel like we've come in a full circle. Circles are boring." He paused, scratched at his jaw with the barrel of his weapon and gestured to the room at large. "Who is the most important scientist in this room?"
Everly instantly pointed to Vigor's lifeless corpse. Deadpool sighed and another ear crushing bark echoed through the room, followed the dull thud of Everly hitting the ground. They all flinched.
"This place is going to need soooo much bleach," the psychotic man bemoaned. "Was that question really that hard? Should we start with something easier? You," he gestured at Jojic, "what is your favourite colour?"
Jojic pointed at her without hesitation, and then his eyes widened in terror as Deadpool lifted his gun and he realized he'd answered the wrong question.
"Purple! I like purple!" Jojic cried, raising his arms to cover his head, and Deadpool paused. He considered him a long moment, and lowered his gun.
"Okay. You have good taste," he decided, and then slowly tilted his gaze to her. "I remember you," he said softly and she shivered. "Let's have a chat about my man Clint, shall we."
Clint woke up confused and disoriented. He felt overwhelmingly warm, crushingly weak, and the lights were too bright, sending spikes of pain into his head. He was swaying. He made to move, and was jostled carefully back into position.
"Easy there, I've got you but you are exactly as heavy as all your muscles imply and I don't think either of us want to drop you just now."
Wade. Clint tried to curl up a bit and realized that he was being carried; the swaying was Wade walking. Clint tried opening his eyes again, but the pain still attacked his brain. It was okay though, because if Wade had him than he'd be fine-
"Phil." The memory cut into him worse than any of the pain he'd suffered yet. He knew his breathing was getting ragged and he tried to control it. He was safe now, and all he could think of was that final look on Phil's face, of everything he had tried to tell Clint and-
"Hey, now. He's fine, Clint. Just fine. Well, relatively fine. He's alive, at least, and talking, so that's fine enough, right?"
It took a moment for Clint to understand what Wade was saying, because to be honest, thinking was a bit difficult at the moment, but when the jumble of words made sense…they…
Clint turned into Wade's shoulder, pulled one of his hands from where they were folded over his stomach, and shielded his face from the world.
Phil was alive. Phil was alive…
The next time Clint woke everything was clearer, a lot less painful, and comfortably warm as opposed to feverish. He blinked his eyes open and took in the unfamiliar room that was definitely in Stark tower, so long as the view from the floor to ceiling windows wasn't faked. He took a deep breath and looked to his left.
The tightness in his chest (that he wasn't going to acknowledge had been terror) eased minutely. The memory of Wade's reassurances echoed in his mind, and Clint smiled at him. He felt the warmth enveloping his hand from where Phil held on, and he smiled back so softly it made Clint's chest ache in a more familiar way. The way it did first thing in the morning when Phil had only had one cup of coffee and refused to talk; the way it did when they occasionally had time to curl together on the couch, warm, safe, and content; the way it did when Clint got him to smile in the midst of a lecture to the new recruits about the importance of constant vigilance and survival rate correlations.
The gunshots were louder in his memory now; the silencer had disappeared, but Phil was here.
"Hey," Phil squeezed his hand more firmly, drawing his attention back to the moment, and Clint shook away the memory to deal with another time.
"Hey," Clint croaked out, voice more hoarse then he'd expected. The door on the other side of the room gently pushed open and Phil's hand clenched even tighter in reassurance as Clint tensed and looked over. Bruce quietly entered, his warm brown eyes quickly tracking to where they lay on the stupidly large bed, and a pleased smile curled his lips, making him look younger. Bruce always looked younger when he remembered to smile.
"Sorry to interrupt guys, but Jarvis said you were awake and I wanted to get in here before the rest of them showed up," he explained unnecessarily, moving right up to Clint's side of the bed and poking at the small computer on a specialized stand. "It's good to see you're awake, Clint."
"Thanks," Clint croaked again, and cleared his throat. Bruce passed him the cup of water from the bedside table and Clint pushed to lean up on one elbow to sip at it before handing it back. HE collapsed back to his pillow with a relieved sigh and looked to Phil with concern. It hadn't escaped his notice how still his partner was being.
"Hairline fracture in my sternum and three cracked ribs," Phil explained softly, and a smile that was all pleased curled his lips. "Apparently the wardrobe Tony gifted me with was infused with his updated version of Kevlar fibre. I was the test subject."
"I am going to kiss that man," Clint declared, and Bruce huffed with amusement as Phil made a disgruntled face.
"Please don't, we'd never hear the end of it." Phil sighed dramatically, for him at least, and Clint grinned before turning serious again. He'd take the time to look at Phil's bruises later, make sure to kiss every one better, make promises he couldn't keep to never let it happen again.
"What's the damage, Bruce?" Clint asked. He forced his attention back to his friend, who was moving to sit in the chair that had been pulled to their bedside. Clint's body still ached and he hadn't forgotten about Vigor and his fucking amber juice, or everything that had come after. He did his best to sound nonchalant about it; he didn't know what they knew yet, and there was no point singing about his trials and tribulations to the group if he could keep it under wraps.
"Wade found you in one of AIM's labs." Bruce gave Clint a knowing look and Phil squeezed his hand. "From what we've been able to discover from the…surviving scientists, they were designing a drug that could give a normal person temporary super-strength. They were trying to make an army of pop-and-go hulks."
"Yeah, I figured that bit out," Clint grunted, immediately feeling guilty for the miserable look Bruce tried to hide. "Not your fault they're a bunch of power-hungry amoral jackasses, Bruce," he tried to comfort, which didn't do much good but at least Bruce didn't look so much like a kicked bear cub.
"Well, they injected you with a proto-serum designed to shift the molecular basis of DNA to, theoretically, allow for a cohesive bond with their strength-serum," he took off his glasses and cleaned them on his t-shirt.
"Theoretically," Clint repeated and from where the left side of his body was pressed into Phil's warmth, he felt him tense.
"Theoretically." Bruce nodded. "The proto-serum did open up your body to be susceptible to transformative bonds, but they were still a ways off from perfecting the second part of their drug. Even trying to use Wade's blood as a stabilizing base for the bond, I have doubts that the second part of the serum wouldn't have burned you up from the inside out."
"Well, that's pleasant," Clint decided, and made a note to not tell Bruce how much the initial bonding-serum thing had hurt when he noted how upset he looked. "Relax, Bruce," he tried to reassure, "it never got to that point, and I'm still kicking so I consider this a win."
"That is the worst pep-talk ever," Tony declared as he entered the room like he hadn't been hovering just outside the door, waiting for the right moment to interrupt. Bruce and Phil didn't seem surprised to see any of them as Steve and Wade followed. Bruce had warned Clint that he'd wanted to get here before the rest of them realized Clint was awake.
It might have felt a little odd to be lounging in a big ass bed in what amounted to his pyjamas with Phil resting at his side while in the presence of his team. Maybe it was a bit awkward, but honestly he was just happy to be in a safe place with his people. Screw awkwardness, he owned this.
He'd earned this.
"I've never been accused of being a motivational speaker. That's Phil's department," Clint pointed out, and collectively they all looked to Phil, who had his eyes closed as he pretended to ignore them.
"The good news," Bruce went on, apparently not finished yet, "is that with the information we extracted from AIM's files, and the enthusiastic aid of their scientists," he cast an uncertain look to Wade at this. Wade was in the process of draping himself over the foot of their bed, one arm flopping out to rest over Clint and Phil's feet. "We were able to nullify the molecular bond effect of the proto-serum, which basically means you're back to normal with no complications. Just…try not to get injected with anything that might change your physiology, because your body's a little more adaptable now."
Clint swallowed at the news, nodding his thanks because the relief at knowing there was nothing long-term to be concerned with was pretty heavy.
"It's good to see you awake," Steve said with a warm smile, looking between Clint and Phil with that sincerity that just made a person feel, well, cared for.
"Yep, real good," Tony agreed. "Now you can explain to the taxi driver, who's currently in my nicest conference room talking to some SHIELD agents, that you are in fact alive and that Wade was not the one who stripped you down, did evil sciency things to you, and then carried you to safety."
Clint blinked at that and looked to Wade, who was being notably quiet where he was sprawled by their feet. Clint remembered his voice, his reassurances, and being carried, but that was about it. He nudged Wade with a toe. Wade flopped his head to look at Clint, dressed in a pair of dark cargo pants and a sleeveless red shirt. He was wearing his holo-imager. Clint hated the holo-imager; it made it a shit-tonne more difficult to get a read on the guy.
"You rescued me with a taxi?" he asked.
"Like I would risk the van," Wade rolled his eyes.
"A taxi," Tony agreed, though Clint could see how hard he was trying to suppress his glee at the fact. "He had it wait outside for him while he played the Link to your Zelda. Wade forgot to mention that he'd be carrying you out of there. The drivers a bit traumatized."
"No he's not," Steve sighed, and it sounded like the reality of this actually pained him. "He thinks he played a crucial role in rescuing an Avenger and SHIELD's trying to convince him none of it ever happened."
"With some incentives of course," Tony chimed in and Clint smirked because it was expected.
"It's not like I brought him in with me," Wade groaned and looked imploringly at Clint. "He wasn't side-kick material." Wade was sitting up in the next moment, a hand skimming over their ankles as he pushed abruptly to his feet. "On that note," he announced, too jovial, "I have to go help a friend in the future deal with this thing that happened years ago. Stay out of trouble, my little timbits!" He called to the room at large, and then left. Just like that.
Clint's attention lingered on the door for a long moment, waiting for him to come back.
"Do you think this is something we should worry about?" Steve asked the room at large, a concerned furrow between his eyebrows.
"I'm sure it's fine," Phil said softly. "His friend is…a good person."
"I didn't even know he had friends outside you two," Tony muttered, but he pushed off to leave the room as well. "Food will be here in half an hour," he called over his shoulder and with a soft, reassuring smile, Bruce followed.
"We'll keep an eye out, in case he needs a hand," Steve reassured Clint with a severity that meant he considered Wade one of theirs now, whether he liked the guy or not. Then he looked at Phil. "Fury called. He said to tell you that the leak was a technician working under Agent Langer, and that Langer and Hill are taking care of it. Is this something I need to be concerned with?"
"No," Phil assured. "At this point, they've got it covered. The investigation won't end there, but it will need to be discreet. I'll keep you in the loop if I think there's something that might be of concern."
"Great," Steve nodded, and then kind of shuffled into awkward mode as he realized that he was the only one left in the room where Clint and Phil were practically snuggling before him. "Well I'll just…leave you to it then," Steve grimaced at himself and then just turned and left, closing the door softly behind him. Clint couldn't help grinning even before he got a good look at Phil, because he knew what he'd find.
"Your face is red," he laughed at him.
"Shut up," Phil moaned, and Clint leaned over to press his lips to Phil's, unable to wait any longer. Phil reached his free hand up and rested it on the back of Clint's head, holding him there a moment longer, before they broke apart with tired sighs.
"This was the worst weekend ever," Clint said softly, and he could tell that Phil really wanted to roll onto his side and pull Clint into him. He wouldn't be able to do that for a while though, so Clint carefully curled into Phil, pressed his forehead against his shoulder and gently laid an arm over his stomach. The muscles bunched and relaxed. It wasn't the most comfortable position for Clint, but he wasn't planning on going anywhere anytime soon.
Three weeks later, Clint was sparring with Natasha. She made him come into SHIELD headquarters for the match, because she had no patience for his avoidance tactics and was a firm believer that it was one of the best ways to tell the few (very few, it turned out) agents who still had issues with Clint to go fuck themselves.
It was an effective strategy.
Pinned on his side with Natasha stuck to his back, one arm tight around his throat and the other effectively trapping his free hand, he finally relaxed enough to ask:
"What if he doesn't come back?"
"Don't be an idiot," she hissed in his ear, straining, because she was definitely better at this style of fighting than he was, but he was also her best match within SHIELD and he made her work for it.
He managed to slip her grasp and slammed an elbow back, only to hit the floor as she'd already pulled away. He rolled to his feet and was forced into a back handspring to avoid a sweeping kick aimed at his legs.
"I'm serious, though," he grunted as he dove towards her, aiming for her throat, then head, then kidneys. She blocked each attack with ease, grabbed the front of his shirt and snapped him forward over her head. He landed hard on the mat with her straddling him, his arms pinned once more and a forearm back against his throat. "What if he decided we're even now, and that's it? Acquaintance over."
She sighed from above him and released the press on his throat.
"You're being a moron."
"He's been at his place in San Diego for two days! He hasn't even called."
She shook her head at the ceiling, like she was looking to it for answers. He tried for a triple punch combo and was shut down before the first fist got a chance to land. Properly pinned again, she frowned at him.
"He bought an apartment one floor away from yours, he's invited himself into the Avengers because you're there-"
"-it's because Steve's there," he grumbled petulantly, and choked a little as she pressed on his windpipe. Nat thankfully continued like he hadn't spoken.
"He painted a giant purple dragon on his van for you," Clint had no idea what a purple dragon had to do with anything and knew his face said so. She gave him an almost hopeless look, which was completely unnecessary. "He had a shovel talk with Phil. That he sought out and instigated. On purpose," she stressed. "Of his own volition-"
"Okay, okay, I get it. I'm being an idiot," he agreed, and swallowed a bit thickly. "When was this?" he asked, because neither Phil nor Wade had mentioned ever having a heart to heart about where Wade stood in Clint's life. The idea that anyone would bother would never stop being surprising. The irritated look in her eyes softened a bit. She'd had her version of the shovel talk with Phil, too, years before they'd gotten together, years before Clint realized he could have more than friendship with him. As far as Clint knew, she was the only person who'd ever done that for him.
"About six months ago," she said. He blinked, because that was a long time ago. That was about the time he'd come home to find Phil and Wade reading comics together…
Okay, yeah, he was being a big idiot.
He bucked her off of him, or more accurately she let him knock her off, and they rolled back into fighting stance. He felt smoother then he had minutes before, more focused and graceful. You had to be graceful when fighting Nat, or you would never stand a chance.
"So," he asked, getting ready to attack or defend, "when did you have the shovel talk with Wade?"
She grinned and aimed her first kick at his head.
Three days later Clint came home to find Wade parked on their couch, his bare feet on the coffee table and five boxes of pizza stacked beside them. Clint hadn't been surprised when he stepped through the door, because the aroma had met him halfway down the hallway and only gotten stronger on approach. Phil wasn't due back for a few hours yet.
As soon as he stepped through the door Wade twisted on the couch, spine bending almost unnaturally to accommodate his need to look at Clint.
"Miss me?" He asked with a grin.
"No. Were you gone?" Clint tossed his jacket onto its hook and dropped his helmet on top of the shoes piled up by the door. It maybe rolled off the pile and into the middle of the hallway. He pretended not to notice and left it there.
"How did you ever become a spy when you're so bad at lying? I'm embarrassed for you," Wade snorted, but he didn't turn away from watching Clint as he went into the kitchen. He opened the fridge under the pretence of looking for some kind of vegetable to add to the pizza, spotted the big bag of carrot sticks and ignored it. He pulled out the milk instead. He didn't know why he did that because he didn't want milk, but he grabbed a mug from the dish rack and filled it halfway.
"You sure I'm lying?" He asked and took a drink, because he'd poured the damn thing now and he hated waste.
"Nope," Wade said, popping the 'p.' He looked a little tired around the eyes in a way that Clint rarely saw, but more settled than he'd been just after he'd saved Clint's ass and then run off. Clint stopped stalling, chugged the milk, and went to join Wade on the couch. Wade watched him the whole way over and practically bounced in his seat when Clint parked it beside him.
"How's Nate?" Clint asked, casual as you please because he wasn't at all bothered by the fact that Wade had run off to, presumably, help Cable without even telling Clint where he was going. Jackass.
"Dusty," Wade said with a grin, still staring at Clint. "We spent a lot of time in a desert. You should come with me next time, we can shoot some jackaroo's together."
Clint parsed that one out.
"Do you mean jackalope's?"
"Sure," Wade agreed in that way that meant he didn't but he wasn't shutting down the possibility. He handed Clint a beer, tapped his own to it. "Cheers, mate."
"Don't do that accent, I'm not in the mood to listen to you insult other countries."
"But you haven't heard my ancient Aztec yet," Wade pouted, which: no. "It took me forever to convince them to learn English so I could figure it out-" Clint relaxed and pretended not to listen as Wade gave him a rundown of the last few weeks under the guise of story time. Wade handed him pizza without prompting.
After a while, they both settled into their regular rhythm, and Wade stopped trying to not have conversations with what he'd once described as sentient word bubbles from omnipotent and occasionally assholish beings. Clint was half way through his second beer, picking at the label's corner and flattening it down, before he'd had enough of just sitting here and not saying shit that needed to be said.
He'd spent time thinking while Wade was gone, and more when Wade had come back on the grid but not back to New York. Well, he'd spent some time thinking about their situation in between the attack from the Electric Man, dismantling some tectonic-shifting machines for SHIELD, training with Nat and the team, and going to Phil's mothers birthday. The point was he'd realized that for all the time he and Wade hung out and fought together, and even fucking lived together for those few months, Clint hadn't really reciprocated. On the personal level. Sort of. Well, the sword skills had been pretty personal for him, but that had been Nat's doing and not…it wasn't the same.
Shit, Wade had sat on this couch with Clint and Phil and brought up his dead family and Clint had reciprocated by telling him later that week that he hated bananas because he'd eaten too many of them growing up. Clint wasn't good at sharing, not really sharing, but it was time and he didn't want to risk the guy thinking that he didn't appreciate him, or whatever. So he picked at the label, the bottle's glass still damp and cool under his fingertips, and took a steadying breath.
"So-" he had to clear his throat, which was fucking pathetic and he played it off like it was just because he hadn't spoken in a bit. Beside him Wade stilled, and Clint could feel the man's undivided attention turn his way. It was a familiar feeling now.
"So, I spent some time in the circus when I was growing up," he started, staring intently at the bottle. "My brother and I got in as roustabouts, doing jobs around the shows, helping out with the tents and animals and stuff. We were always stopping for the performances, setting up in all kinds of towns and cities, and there were these booths we always worked. You know, the popcorn stand, ring-toss, wack-a-mole," he trailed off, waiting for Wade to interrupt with something crudely amusing for the last stand, but Wade didn't say anything, he just kept sitting still. Kept watching. Kept quiet. Clint took a drink and went back to picking at the paper.
"There was this dunk tank, too. Me and a couple of the younger kids used to have to dress up as clowns and sit on the ledge, egging people on and teasing them when they couldn't hit the trigger with the baseball." It had been a good booth on the really hot days, even when the water warmed from hours in the sun. "There was a group of guys that were trying to impress their girlfriends, and they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. I might have gotten a little lippy with them." He hadn't thought much on it at the time.
His hand tightened around the bottle and he had to consciously relax it, because he'd shattered more than one in his grip when he wasn't paying attention and he didn't need the hassle of picking glass from his palm just then.
"They came back later that night, during the big performance and found me emptying the trash bins. Hauled my sorry ass back to the tank, and I was a stick thin ten year old, you know? Couldn't put up a fight worth shit back then-" but he'd tried. He got one guy in the balls, sent him crying to the ground, which was probably what really set off their tempers; he'd never been sure, it was all kind of hazy. "They held me under so long I stopped struggling, and then they hauled me up and laughed while I caught my breath, and then they did it again." And again, and again. He remembered that part, remembered the aching burn, the spasms in his chest, the desperation, the hands. He put his beer bottle on the table to be safe.
"My brother, Barney, found us. Fourteen years old and he kicked the living shit out of each one of them and hauled me out of that tank." He'd never seen his brother so angry at anyone before, not even at their dad, or that one foster family they had both decided to never acknowledge. Later the look of rage would become more familiar, more painful, but at that moment Clint had cried he'd been so relieved. And choked and coughed. He'd gotten pneumonia, but Carson had paid for the doctor and meds without blinking an eye, so it had worked out. It was the last time Clint remembered Barney truly being on his side about anything.
"I never did care much for water," he finished, his throat dry.
He'd only ever told this story to Phil, over a lot of vodka after he'd flat out refused to get into the pool at SHIELD for a swim test when he'd been recruited. Phil had helped him work some of that shit through, at least enough to get him swim certified and capable of surviving any water based missions. That had been when Clint first started to realize that Phil was more than just another agent, at least to him.
The only sound in the room for a long moment was the hockey game on the TV. Clint wasn't expecting Wade to suddenly lunge at him, but he supposed he'd been trained into expecting this sort of action around Wade. He didn't do a thing to defend himself beyond a startled grunt (it was not a squawk, Clint didn't squawk) as he was hit with a hug from the side, which effectively pinned both his arms. He knew he was stiff as a board under the friendly onslaught but he allowed the contact until Wade started tugging Clint towards his end of the couch. Startled, Clint made to move away. Wade tightened his grip and dragged Clint over bodily, like he was a giant fucking teddy bear or something. Clint ended up half sprawled in his lap, his arms pinned by Wade's own and his back to Wade's chest.
Naturally, Clint started struggling under the hold, but maybe not as much as he should have.
"Wade, what the fuck?" he demanded.
"We're having a moment." Wade explained, far to close to his ear. "A bonding moment. Don't fight it, just accept it."
"We can bond without cuddling," he pointed out, preparing to dig his elbow into the closest nerve cluster.
"Just let our fans have this," Wade crooned, and Clint stilled in his arms.
"Fans? If you put camera's in here somewhere-"
"Shhhhhhhhh shhhhhhhhh," Wade stroked his hair gently and Clint, like some kind of freaking child, actually felt himself settling. "Let them have this moment, it's the least we can do since we ignored the best part of a story arc like this."
"What?" Shit, Clint should really be trying to get out of this…whatever this was. He made to pull away again, but Wade's arms were almost as strong as his own, so it would be tough to break, and it had been a long day.
"You know," Wade explained, voice cheerful but soft and content. "The one where we forged the bonds of bro-ship through adventure and strife only to have a massive fallout that crushed our friendship into sharp, bitter shards of loneliness and despair. Then one of us gets abducted, which was you this time around, and I burn down the world trying to find you so that we can remember that ours is a love like no other and our bond is forever. That story arc: we skipped the traditional fight part."
"Wade, either let me up, or shut up and watch the game," Clint demanded, and tried once more to get out of his grip. No dice.
"Stop trying to ruin our moment," Wade chastised and Clint gave in, at least for a little while. What? Wade was warm and awkwardly comfortable. Clint had been forced to cuddle in worse conditions.
When Phil came home he let Dog trot into the apartment ahead of him, because the cat had met him by the building's front door and had been chasing his heels all the way up to their place. He wondered if he should try putting its food out on the fire-escape landing again and hope that it forgot how to find its way back inside. His thoughts were derailed, however, when his gaze drifted to the couch. He could see two heads and one set of shoulders that were far closer together than normal. Curious, he padded around to get a clearer visual, and found Clint being clutched to Wade's chest, one leg sprawled across the couch and the other braced on the floor. Both men's attention shifted from the game on the TV to him as soon as he came into view.
"This is exactly what it looks like," Wade announced with a wide grin. Phil looked to Clint, who was putting on a pretty good disgruntled look, one that Phil might have even believed in the early days of their acquaintance.
"Can you pass me my drink?" Clint asked, and managed to sound just as grumpy as he appeared. Phil looked to his pinned arms, to his face, and then to his bare feet pointedly.
"You're flexible, I think you can manage."
"I am not drinking beer with my feet, Phil," he growled.
"Then you shouldn't have left your helmet lying in the middle of the floor, Clint," Phil said, and went into his room to change. When he came out in sweats and a t-shirt, ready to do nothing but slump for the night, Wade still hadn't let Clint go. Phil wondered if there was something wrong with him that this scenario didn't bother him, but he shrugged away the thought as soon as it formed and grabbed his own beer. Sitting down he lifted Clint's leg, settled it over his thighs and wrapped a hand over his calf.
"You have to give him back when the game's over," he told Wade, grin curving his lips when Wade ignored him. Clint had once asked if Phil thought he was crazy for not being concerned about Wade in his life, ever, and Phil had told him he trusted his instincts. It was one of the best answers he'd ever given.
Feeling good about life at the moment, he lifted his beer to take a drink, only to startle when Dog leapt into his lap, clambered over Clint's leg and sprawled between it and Phil's stomach. Phil glared down at the cat, refusing to move his grip from Clint even though the monster was lying right on his forearm. He looked up to see Clint watching him from where Wade clutched him like a giant stuffed animal. He had an amused glint in his blue eyes as he looked between Phil and Dog. Phil squeezed his calf, took a pointed drink of his beer, and turned his attention to the game.
He still didn't know where the hell to rest his hand with the cat in the way, but if that was the only problem he had to deal with then he would consider this night pretty close to perfect.