“My shower was broken,” Simone tells Clint.
It’s three o’clock in the afternoon on a Sunday, or maybe a Wednesday, Clint doesn’t know. All he knows is that he was asleep, and then he wasn’t asleep, and then Simone. There’s a Simone.
He stands in his boxers, holding up or being held up by the door, and blinks at her.
She snaps her fingers in his face. He starts. “Shower,” he mumbles. Three week op in Baghdad following a six week op in Moscow following a four week op in Belize—the word sounds like it's in a foreign language.
“Landlord,” Simone says clearly. She prods him gently on the chest. He sways. “My shower was broken. You weren’t around. I had two kids I couldn’t wash, Clint. You’ve met my kids. You know how serious that is?”
Clint remembers children. Small, loud people. Easily breakable. Do not touch. “I’ll fix,” he promises muzzily, half-turning towards his apartment. “I have a wrench. I’ll whack it. I whack.”
“It got fixed,” Simone says patiently. “Phil fixed it. But you have to do something, Clint. You need to hire some kind of building manager. The place is falling apart. I don’t wanna complain, because it’s still better than it was when the Russians were trying to muscle us out, but if Phil wasn’t around, Grills would be in the hospital with electrical burns right now, and Karen would still be living with broken windows. Phil’s replaced some of the smoke detector batteries, he’s fixed that bannister on the third floor, and gotten new locks for the entrance, but it’s not fair to keep asking him to do all that. It’s not his job, and he’s doing it on his own dime.”
“Uh,” Clint says. “What,” he says. And then sadly, “You keep flickering in and out. In and out. Like.” He wiggles some fingers.
Simone frowns at him. Then she sighs. “Go back to bed, Clint. And then shower, and drink some coffee. And after you’ve done that, come find me. We need to talk.”
Ominous. Clint sways some more. “Okay,” he says agreeably. He can do that. He shuffles in place.
Four hours later, he sits up in bed and says, “Wait. Who’s Phil?”
So apparently, there’s this guy named Phil.
“Tell me again,” he mumbles into Simone’s kitchen table, half a carafe of coffee later. “He what?”
“He lives in 210,” Simone tells him, reeling a bundle of skinny limbs and overlarge head out from under Clint’s chair.
“Andy lives there,” Clint argues.
“Andy lived there, two months ago. Then Andy moved to Jersey, and the apartment was empty. Nick had a friend who was looking for a place. He seemed like an improvement over everybody else coming by about it.” She frowns at him. “We left a message for you about this at Stark Tower. You ran his background check.”
Clint never. He protests, “I don’t get messages at Stark Tower.”
“You sent over the paperwork,” she says, her patience starting to sound strained. She’s got her kid upside-down over her shoulder and he’s waving his legs lazily in mid-air, looking puzzled at the lack of footing.
“I couldn’t have. I didn’t do it.”
Simone gives him an exasperated look. Then she excavates through strata of kid art and magnets on her refrigerator, ignoring her kid’s grabby hands to show a stained, official-looking document.
Clint frowns at it. It informs him that Phil Coulson, age 47, writer, with no recent rental history, has good credit, no criminal record, no loans, and no outstanding judgments against him.
“Huh,” he says.
“I had Andy’s key, so.” Simone shrugs. “For the record? I’m not your building manager, either.”
Clint rubs the back of his neck, feeling tension settle back into his shoulders. Under the judgmental stares of Simone and her upside-down kid, he doesn’t feel up to admitting that he somehow managed to forget that he’s the landlord here. It’s not like he didn’t have more important things on his mind. Fury and Hill finding out last year that HYDRA had infiltrated SHIELD, Captain America blowing up Latveria, the Avengers staging a reunion tour to take out Project Insight: rebuilding an entire intelligence agency from the ground up is distracting, okay?
In the grand scheme of things, finding out he’s got a new tenant who’s been helpful with building repairs isn’t that big a deal.
“You should meet him,” Simone says.
He’s about to argue—he’s busy!—when he meets the eye of stern maternal authority. He folds like an origami chicken. “I should meet him,” he agrees meekly.
“And don’t scare him off. We like him.”
Clint’s hurt. “I wouldn’t—“
“No arrows, no explosions, no mafia goons, no secret agent shenanigans, no criminal activity, no felonies, no flirting.”
“In fact, don’t even talk to him,” Simone orders. “Just pay him back for all the repairs he’s been doing for you, and hire a building manager.”
In retrospect, Clint’s kinda disappointed in her. If there was ever a way to guarantee he’d fuck this Phil guy up, it was by ordering Clint not to fuck him up.
Now that he’s been reminded that he’s the landlord here though, Clint feels a belated sense of responsibility. His buyout of the building a year ago was one of those things that seemed a good idea at the time. (Most of the things in his life seem like good ideas at the time, right up until they turn into bad ideas. He can count on the fingers of one hand the good ideas that stayed good ideas, but if he second-guessed his decisions because of his 95% track record of failure, he’d be a shut-in or come down with a terminal case of dead.)
Of all his bad ideas, buying the building is one of the few that he hasn’t regretted. Not too much. Not enough to wish he hadn’t done it, say, though sometimes when he’s elbow deep in sewage he doesn’t know what to do about, he has a twinge or two. But it wasn’t like he wouldn’t have ended up in the same position—the sewage one, that is—even without buying the building. He can’t be too bothered by the messier consequences.
He ambles out into the hallway and starts knocking on doors. Middle of the afternoon on a weekday—weekend? Maybe?—there are still a few people willing to answer the door to a gypsy landlord who’s looking to do some guilty home maintenance.
The few he manages to find are gratified at the attention.
“Except there ain’t nothing left needs doing,” Jube tells him, sleepy-eyed under pink hair. “I mean, if you wanted to, you could take out the garbage, I guess.”
“You’ve been complaining about that broken outlet for three years,” Clint objects.
“Phil fixed it,” Jube says. Her face warms. “He’s a great guy. I like him a lot. If you’re looking for something to do, how about Deliberately Androgynous Chris’s hot water problem?”
Clint knocks on Deliberately Androgynous Chris’s door. After a while, Deliberately Androgynous Chris answers it dressed in a towel, dripping wet and steaming gently.
“Oh,” Clint says, clutching his wrench.
“Phil—” Deliberately Androgynous Chris begins apologetically.
“Never mind,” Clint says.
It’s the same all over the building. On the first floor, he pauses for a long time to stare at a wall. He’s there long enough for Apartment 114 to open his door and lean out, immediately squinty-eyed and suspicious.
“Didn't there used to be a hole here?" Clint asks, pointing.
114 doesn’t even bother to look. “Phil did it," he says.
"I did it. I remember. The track suit—“
"No, Phil fixed it."
"I liked that hole," Clint objects, more from principle than from any real attachment to the memento. He’s feeling a completely irrational resentment at this ongoing evidence of Phil's interference in his business. It’s petty, he knows. "Who the heck asked him?"
114 levels an unimpressed stare at him.
Clint sighs. It’s not like he doesn’t know he’s being stupid. "So what's he like?"
114 thinks for a second. “White?”
“That doesn’t actually help.”
Eventually, Clint washes up in front of Phil's apartment door. He thumps at it with the increasing conviction this guy will turn out to be some sort of supervillain. AIM, maybe. Leftover HYDRA. Nobody answers the door, though—middle of the afternoon, normal people go to work, or so he’s been told.
Clint could've legit keyed into the apartment, because Landlord. Landlord rights. More importantly, Landlord key. But. High road. It isn’t like he has evidence this Phil is anything more threatening than a do-gooder with an addiction to home repair and helping his neighbors. It could happen. In New York. In Bed-Stuy, New York.
He backs away from the door, eyeing it the entire way. Nobody jumps out to shoot at him.
Since nobody seems to want him as a source of repair and good looks, Clint retreats to his place to put a post-it on his wall: Do landlord stuff later. After a little thought, he puts up another post-it, Ask Jarvis what landlord stuff is.
He drinks some milk that tastes like it might've gone off. There are chunks in it. He finishes the carton.
He makes a third post-it. Buy milk.
Then he eats three power bars, a dry packet of ramen, grabs his bow and quiver, and heads to Stark's place to get some range time. Maybe he’ll do some patrolling around his neighborhood tonight. It’s been a while since he’s been home. Wouldn't hurt to see what’s changed.
Technically, Phil has only been back living in the United States for about a month. He’s aware that after fifteen years of working overseas, in war zones and famine areas and, when the occasion calls for it, prisons, he's developed unreasonable standards for the quality of his living situations. It’s the reason that the apartment he’s currently in is acceptable to him—practically luxury after seven months of living and working out of a refugee tent in Ethiopia—and it’s certainly nowhere near as bad as the places he considered before Marcus swooped down on him like a horrifying real estate shadchan out of his distant past.
He appreciates the assist. He does. He draws the line at actual matchmaking, though.
“I’m not looking for a partner,” he says tiredly, when Marcus shows up at the VA, twenty pounds of crazy in a five pound bag. “I have a job, a life, and another book I’m trying to finish—“
“This one better not have me in it,” Marcus growls.
“—that is not about you,” Phil finishes, tapping the eraser end of his pencil on some Medicare forms. He eyes Marcus sourly. “None of my characters have been a one-eyed, one-balled jackass with a Matrix fetish.”
“I’m packing a full clip in my pants,” Marcus counters. He slouches down on the guest chair, making it creak, and looks smug. “Your girlfriend's bullet never got near the goods.”
“Besides, fans love that character,” Phil adds prosaically, ignoring this. It’s true. Neville Flynn, the character that is Phil categorically denies is Marcus, has gotten lot of fan mail. He’s gotten almost as much fan mail as Richard Campbell, the ostensible author and main character categorically not modeled after Phil. The reading habits of the English-speaking (and internationally the French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean-speaking) public continue to frighten and baffle him.
He’s had arguments with his publisher about this. His publisher hired him a self-esteem coach.
“People are morons,” Marcus says. “Stop catering to them.”
“Says the man who’s spent a lifetime in public service.”
“I have a deep-seated instinct for public service. Like finding you a girlfriend. Or boyfriend. Or a fleshlight, whatever rubs your pickle, Cheese. Watching your pathetic, lonely ass moping around is giving me hives. What’ll we put on your eHarmony profile?”
“I both loathe and despise you. I hope you realize that.”
“Successful writer,” Marcus says, ticking the achievement off on a finger. “Not homeless. Boring-ass job—though why the fuck you bother with this—“
“It’s the right thing to do,” Phil says, because he knows it’ll irritate him.
“—Movie optioned, don’t give me that look, Cheese, I run a goddamn spy agency. You don’t think I know how to turn on TMZ?”
“How do you even know what TMZ is? Aren’t you too old?”
“You know what this finger’s for?” Marcus demands, holding up the entirely predictable one.
“Don’t you have an agency to run?” Phil asks tiredly.
“I can’t hang out with my oldest surviving friend?”
“I'm at work, Marcus. I'm working.”
“There’s a bar around the corner.”
Phil rubs at his forehead. He’s been doing a lot of that since he returned to the U.S. and Marcus’s welcoming arms. “Did they know when they hired you that you have the work ethic of a Siamese cat?”
“Fuck you,” Marcus says agreeably. “I got plenty of work ethic. My entire life is a goddamn work ethic. I stopped a land war in Asia this morning. If I want to go to a bar, I’m fucking going to a bar, drinking the bar, and then going back to work, because my work ethic don’t give a shit how sober I am.”
“I don’t understand how you’re the director of a security agency.”
“It’s the eyepatch and the coat. Makes me look like I mean business,” Marcus says. He grins, showing more teeth than is really called for at this hour. “It was the black leather underwear that tipped me over the promotion board, though.”
Phil has the vague urge to rip out his eyeballs.
“Six years, Cheese,” Marcus says, slouching down further in his seat. “You pig-headed son-of-a-bitch. Six years I've been pitching SHIELD to you, and now that I’ve got you in the States, you want to waste your talents arranging medical insurance for vets? You want ideas for your damn books, let me show you what kind of shit is really going down out there.”
As though Marcus would let him write a novel about classified ops. “I object to the word ‘waste,’” Phil says.
“I object to the actual waste,” Marcus retorts. “You’ve brought down entire governments and extracted thousands of refugees through hostile territory. You telling me the best thing you can do with your time now is to fill out Medicare forms?”
“I’m good at forms.”
“You’re good at political analysis, international logistics, and being an accidental badass. SHIELD could use those qualities. And I know for a fact that you’re not HYDRA. I trust you. I can count the number of people I trust on the fingers of one hand. You know how badly national security was compromised by those fuckers? You could serve your country. You could work for me, Cheese.”
“And yet, I’m unmoved.” Phil says thoughtfully, “I suppose there must be something wrong with me.”
Marcus barks a laugh. “I have lots of guns. Experimental guns. And we work with Steve Rogers. You join SHIELD, you might even end up taking showers with him. Different stalls, mind.”
Phil decides not to touch the suggestion about Rogers. “My days of trying out every experimental weapon just for the sake of seeing what it does are over. In case you hadn’t noticed.” He nods down to himself, his hip and the scar and a whole sequence of bad life choices culminating in, in reverse order, the scar and his hip.
“I’m not asking you to come back as a field agent. I want you to come back to head up operations. And the Army’s experimental weaponry’s shit compared to ours,” Marcus says bluntly. He slouches back, hands folded across his stomach. “What’s it gonna take to get you to come join me?”
“I can’t think of anything, offhand,” Phil admits.
Marcus’s eyes narrow. “You know I’ll find something eventually.”
Phil knows. Marcus usually finds a way. He looks down at the stacks of paper waiting for him—veteran qualification forms, requests for transfer, appeals for judgment, patient referrals—and scrubs at his face. “Where’d you say that bar was?”
+ + +
It’s misting tonight, a cold damp that ignores Phil's umbrella and oozes cheerfully through all three layers and his overcoat. September in New York is unpredictable in the best ways, the weather still clinging nostalgically to the idea of summer while toying with wet rehearsals for winter. Rain at this temperature isn’t the trial that summer humidity is, but the cold still grabs at his hip and clenches tight; he was limping by the time he reached Herkimer. Standing still in this alley with his hands ludicrously raised in a show of harmlessness, he lists to the right and the support of the wall behind him.
It’s leaving stains on his coat. He can feel them. It pains him on a spiritual level.
Private Harris, previously of the US Army, is visibly in a mood to pain him on a more physical level. The gun he’s holding on Phil is rock-steady. That would be more comforting if it wasn’t for the rest of Harris, which is shivering intermittently.
Then again, from a certain point of view, it’s actually an encouraging sign that he’s managed to pull himself together well enough to mug Phil. “Sorry, sir,” Harris says.
“If you’d warned me you were going to hold me up, I would’ve planned ahead and gotten some cash,” Phil says reproachfully. He dislikes being taken unprepared. It’s a matter of professional pride. “You could have mentioned after group, or left a note with the front desk. What do you need, Harris?”
“Dog food, sir,” Harris says sadly. He shuffles in place. “It’s $19.98 a bag.”
That's outrageous. Phil opens his mouth to say something indignant about price gouging, when an arrow whacks into the ground by Harris's foot.
Harris looks down. Phil looks up.
“Don’t move,” says a voice. Against the fuzzy glare of street lights and windows, Phil can just make out the shape of an arm and hip on a fire escape landing several floors up. “You must be new,” says the same voice again: male, drawling, baritone. “I mean, you’d have to be new, right? Out-of-towner, or just lost? Because I don’t see how you could be a local and decide this is a good place to hold someone up. There’re lots of better spots out there. Logan’s good. Put down the gun before I make you—”
Phil’s moving almost before Harris hits concrete, his weak leg almost buckling when he kicks the gun across the alley. It skitters away before smacking into the opposite wall, disappearing into a stack of cardboard boxes on the rebound. Phil, though, is already struggling down onto one knee, his trousers be damned. Harris’s breathing is stentorian, whuffled through his scarf. Phil pushes it carefully out of the way before doing a quick check for injury.
It isn’t the first time Harris has fainted or had a seizure. The IED that invalided him out did a number on his blood pressure.
Phil hears the rattle of the fire escape, then the crunch of feet landing behind him. “Aww, socks, no,” says the voice. Harris’s pulse is steady, so Phil checks his eye dilation one by one before checking his scalp for damage. Out of the periphery of his vision, Phil catches motion; the archer is investigating Harris’s gun.
“Hey,” the archer discovers. “This gun isn’t loaded.”
Reassured that Harris is simply unconscious, Phil struggles back to his feet to inspect the arrow he snagged on his way down to the ground. It’s too dark to see with clarity, but it’s light enough to see essentials. The shaft is some kind of carbon fiber, the tip blunt, the fletching dark, not quite flat enough to be black.
Phil pulls out his phone and thumbs across it for emergency services.
“Who holds up a guy with an empty gun?” his would-be rescuer grumbles.
“A man who doesn’t want to hurt anyone,” Phil says. He frowns at the archer. Blond hair. Blunt, bulldog features. Impressive arms. T-shirt, ripped jeans, and tube socks. No shoes. In September? He says severely, “Where’s your jacket? Yes, I’ll hold,” he adds into the phone.
“That’s my arrow.”
“You have a gun, I get an arrow.”
“There aren’t any bullets,” the archer complains.
“Then it’ll be about as effective as an arrow without a bow.” The emergency system is playing soothing hold music at him. Phil sets it to speaker. “If you don’t mind.” He opens his hand expectantly.
The archer wrinkles his forehead at it. “What?”
“I’m not giving it to you.” He hunches his shoulder. “You took my arrow and you didn’t even say thanks for saving you from the fainting guy who was mugging you.”
“You didn’t save me. You scared PFC Harris, who has a tenuous grip on reality and a dog.” There’s something wrong with the construction of that sentence. Phil considers fixing it, but the archer has already plowed on.
“Why’s he mugging people?”
“He wasn’t mugging people. He was mugging me.” Phil pinches the bridge of his nose and pushes back the headache that’s crawling up the back of his neck. “He needed to borrow money to buy dog food. I understand the presence of the gun makes it look suspicious.”
“Is dog food some new term for crack?”
“Not unless Alpo is doing something excitingly avant garde with their formula. May I have the gun, please?”
The archer looks down at the gun, then looks suspiciously at Phil.
“Thank you for trying to save me from an apparent mugging,” Phil adds politely, because good citizenship should be encouraged, even if it comes armed with poor judgment and breathtakingly obsolete weaponry. “I’m happy to trade it for the arrow, if you like.”
“I can’t give you the gun,” the archer objects, though he looks torn.
“What, exactly, do you think I’m going to do with it?”
“You might throw it at me?”
Phil's mouth twitches. “I’m tempted.” A groan at his feet brings his attention back to Harris, who stares glassily at both of them before wobbling back to his feet.
The archer has another arrow on his bowstring, though it isn’t pointed at Harris yet. He’s shoved the gun into his waistband.
Harris focuses on him. “Hullo, sir,” he says after a second.
The archer blinks. “Uh,” he says. The bow lowers further. “Hi?”
“I have a dog,” Harris announces.
The archer tips his head. “Me too. He likes pizza.”
Harris thinks about that. “I like pizza,” he says shyly. He gives it some more thought. “I like cats, too.” He’s been working on expressing wants and likes in group. The archer appears to find nothing wrong with this.
“I’m a kangaroo man. They have built in man-purses.”
Phil’s phone chooses this moment to stop being on hold. “You have reached—“ begins a bored voice, before Phil switches it off speaker and holds it up to his ear. Through the nasal insistence of the emergency operator, he can hear the archer and Harris begin a surreal conversation about inappropriate pets. It takes a while to dispense with the operator, who seems to be taking it personally that Phil doesn’t need emergency services anymore. “I’ve only got sixty-five bucks in my pocket,” he hears the archer say in the background.
By the time he hangs up, Harris is gone. Damn it. He frowns at the man left behind.
“Don’t look at me,” the archer protests, raising his eyebrows. “I don’t know where he went.” He points out of the alley, which is exactly as unhelpful as he’s been so far, so at least he’s consistent.
Phil limps to the mouth of the alley and looks out onto the street. No Harris. Bother. While he thinks, the archer ambles up beside him and cranes his neck to look, too. No luck. Since there doesn’t seem to be anything else to do, Phil just shakes his head and heads towards his apartment building, his forehead still creased over the growing headache.
For some strange reason, the archer trails after him.
“So, this is like some kind of rom-com,” the man says, slinging the bow over his shoulder. “You know, like those . . . what do you call them, meet cutes?”
“I saved you from a mugger,” the man argues.
This man might actually be an lunatic. Phil reminds himself he has to be courteous to the deranged and focuses on him. He has the hopeful air of a dog who’s been repeatedly kicked, but is convinced that this time will be different. Despite his exhaustion and low-burning irritation, Phil softens. “Thank you.”
“You want to get coffee?” the man asks.
He wants a shower, his dinner, and his bed, in that order. He wants to lock out the rest of the world, because he’s spent the entire day around people, and people are not his preferred drink. He wants to watch television until he falls asleep, or maybe read a book if television isn’t offering anything mind-numbing enough. He especially wants to be silent and still for the foreseeable future, until he has to crawl out into the real world and pretend to be anything but the introverted, socially impaired hermit he is at heart.
“Maybe some other time,” he says, politely, and climbs up the stairs to his apartment’s door.
“Are you visiting someone here?”
Phil pauses and half-turns. At the base of the stairs, the man is peering up at the building. “I live here,” he corrects.
“What,” says the man. “You what?” he says, and embellishes further with, “Are you sure?” And then he says blankly, “Shit. Are you Phil?”
There doesn’t seem much to be said to this, so Phil just nods.
The expression of dismay on the man’s face isn’t especially flattering. “Of course you are. So, okay. I’m Clint.”
“Nice to meet you,” Phil says, and offers his hand. Clint’s is callused in interesting ways, rough from labor and what Phil suspects is regular use of a gun on top of the bow. Strong grip, but not competitive.
Clint holds it a little longer than Phil would have expected, his forehead wrinkling. “Clint Barton,” he clarifies, like that should have some sort of meaning to Phil.
It does. Of course it does. Phil says, realizing. “Clint Barton.” His absentee and hopelessly irresponsible landlord. Suddenly, so many things about this building start to make sense.
Clint’s shoulders hike up, a sheepish look crossing his face. He rubs at the back of his neck. “Yeah, I know. But I’m not like Tony or Steve, you know? I’m just a regular guy.“
Phil considers and discards several appropriate responses to this apparent irrelevance. Finally, he says, “My kitchen sink needs replacing.”
It’s not like Clint’s the most famous Avenger around. Tony and Steve, they have that covered between them, and Clint, well, he’s fine with that. Being recognized is a liability in his line of work; it means he can’t do the kinds of ops that are in and out, blend in with the crowd. He’s okay with being more famous than memorable. He doesn’t like attention. It paints a target on his back.
But, you know, it’s not bad to be recognized as an Avenger. It’s kinda nice. It’s a thing. It’s an icebreaker and a conversation starter on really bad dates, and gets him out of stuff sometimes, like a 'get out of detention free' card: sorry ma’am, I know this book is overdue, but I was out of town on Avenger business. Sorry sir, I know this looks bad, but the cat was already purple when I got here and I’m an Avenger.
Phil obviously doesn’t recognize him as an Avenger.
The night ends with him trailing after Phil up the stairs and down the hall, getting an eyeful of Phil’s ass and shoulders once he takes off the overcoat—it’s a nice ass, really nice, the judges give it 9.5—and then meekly nodding while Phil shows him where the patch job on the kitchen sink is falling apart. Phil makes him strip off his socks before entering into the apartment, though. And brings him a warm, wet cloth to wipe his feet down. And then fleece-lined slippers. And after the inspection’s done, a cup of hot, sweet tea, which he watches Clint drink before somehow maneuvering him out of the apartment so smoothly, Clint’s blinking at the closed door before he realizes he’s back in the hallway still wearing the damn slippers.
He’s never felt so cared for and put in his place, all at the same time. And he’s pretty sure Phil doesn’t even like him that much.
Natasha’s in his living room when he breaks back into his apartment. She’s stretched on his couch, flipping through a battered Richard Campbell paperback that he recognizes from his bookshelf.
“Nice look,” she congratulates, her nose still in the book.
He shoves his makeshift paperclip lock picks back into his pocket. “You could’ve opened the door when you heard I was trying to get in.”
Like that would’ve happened. “Eighteen seconds. You’re getting slow. What were you doing?”
Clint sneezes, sniffles, and puts his equipment in the corner. “Saving my new neighbor from a mugger, I thought.”
She looks up at that, faintly interested. “You thought? What were you actually doing?”
“Apparently, preventing a homeless former vet from buying dog food. Not my neighbor. The mugger.” When Natasha’s expression turns expectant, he admits, “I gave him some money.”
“I’ll bet that made an impression on your neighbor.”
“It wasn’t that much,” Clint lies. "Phil was going to do the same thing anyway." He shoves his hand into his newly emptied back pocket. His fingers encounter a little tickle of paper. He frowns.
“Is this your new neighbor Phil?”
“Yeah. I don’t think he’s AIM or HYDRA,” Clint says, and pulls out a wad of cash that he knows for a fact wasn’t there when Harris went to find his dog. He stares at it. Even without looking, he knows how much it’ll turn out to be.
Tasha is saying something else, but Clint isn’t listening; he’s working back, trying to figure out where and when Phil could’ve slipped that much into his pocket. There was an initial offer of repayment, that Clint had refused, pretending he didn’t know what Phil was talking about. There was Phil showing him the kitchen sink and explaining the leak beneath it. There was crawling into the eerily tidy space under the sink to check out the water— that was it, then, when Phil bumped into him trying to get down to show him, and Clint said no, he got this, it was all under control. That was when he managed to slip sixty-five dollars in twenties and ones into his back pocket without Clint even noticing.
“Wow,” he blurts out, breaking into Natasha’s commentary. “That’s hot.”
He becomes aware of Natasha looking at him with a raised eyebrow.
“These jeans are tight, right?” he asks.
Tasha opens her hand to him, so he puts the folded bills in her palm and plops down next to her, crowding her space. She lets him. He figures they probably look like those youtube videos that Steve keeps sending around the Avengers mailing list, link after link of puppies lying down next to crocodiles, or wolves tolerating inquisitive baby sheep. Off-camera, the crocodile probably ate the puppies and had weird cravings for kibble and squeaky toys the rest of the week, but nobody’s gonna say that to Steve.
He’s definitely the pug in this scenario.
“Phil,” Tasha prompts, while Clint tips his head back and stares at the ceiling. There’s a stain from an old leak up there.
“Mid-forties, 5’9”, one-sixty, blue eyes, brown hair, thinning. Nice face. Good shoulders. Excellent ass. No obvious distinguishing marks. Right-handed, paper cuts and ink stains on his fingers. Maybe administrative? Weak left leg, probably the hip. Really sexy pickpocket skills.” And the kindest eyes Clint has ever seen. He doesn’t say that part.
“Hot,” Clint says, tilting his head back further until he can see his kitchenette upside-down. “Soccer dad hot. He wears a tie. A brain-damaged guy had a gun on him, and he didn’t bat an eye. He stole my socks.”
“Is that a metaphor for something?” Tasha asks, amused.
He takes a foot out of the slipper and wiggles the bare toes at her. “I need to get laid,” he sighs.
Tasha gives as a clinical opinion, “You all need to get laid. All of you. Except for Tony. If I wanted to live in a monastery, I’d go live in a monastery.”
“You don’t live with Tony or me,” Clint objects.
“Like I said,” Tasha says, and allows him to put his bare foot on her lap, even though it’d hamper a quick getaway. This is how Clint knows she really loves him. That, and the whacks upside the back of the head, the constant attempts to set him up with someone, and the way she sometimes puts paralytics in his coffee to try them out.
She turns the page of her book and makes a satisfied noise. “I’m taking this with me,” she informs. “Are you going to ask him out?”
Clint makes an offended noise and closes his eyes.
+ + +
So, like, Clint isn't incapable of being a good landlord, exactly. He just knows what his strengths are. Shooting things? Strength. Surviving falls? Strength. Being a badass and kicking Evil’s ass? Strength. Home improvement? Not a strength. He breaks more than he fixes. Forbes Magazine actually did a piece on how much shit he breaks. Helicopters. The Port of New York. Baltimore. He’s pretty sure none of his tenants read that article.
Well, maybe that guy Phil. Phil probably would have read that article. Except he didn’t, obviously, because there were pictures. Mostly of helicopters, the Port of New York, and Baltimore, but the point stands.
The next morning he makes a few phone calls and arranges for a new sink to get delivered and installed for Phil the following week, which is nice because it’s a landlordy thing to do, and he gets to bask in the warm glow of doing something right. He spends the next two days at the Tower, not avoiding Phil at all because that would be stupid. He’s got no reason to avoid Phil. The guy’s a better landlord than Clint is, saves messed-up vets off the street, has mad pickpocketing skills, and watched Clint make a fool out of himself. It doesn’t bother him. Clint’s got self-confidence coming out of his ears. He knows his street value.
Anyway, he’s spent his entire lifetime not really giving a fuck about what other people thought of him. He’s not going to start now.
He goes on a date in his downtime—nice girl, accountant, but it’s all kinda dull and doesn’t get any better when it turns out she’s a groupie. She invites him up for coffee. He politely turns her down. Tony offers to get him strippers, and Clint appreciates the thought even though he doesn’t see the point. On the third day, he packs up his clean laundry—Jarvis is the best, the absolute best—and goes back to Bed-Stuy.
Simone takes one look at him and says, “Damn it, Clint, I told you—!“
“I didn’t do it!” Clint yelps reflexively. Then he stops dead. He turns around to stare at the hazy air. Simone’s hair is powdered grey. “What’s with all this dust?”
“So here’s the thing,” Clint says. And then he stops.
Phil, standing in the hallway outside what used to be his apartment—or rather, the hallway that is now part of his apartment, since the actual wall separating said hallway from apartment has mysteriously disappeared—blinks once. “Yes?”
Clint opens his mouth. Then he closes it again. He rubs the back of his neck. “I expected you to be yelling already,” he says sheepishly. “I didn’t actually have any kind of explanation.”
“It would have to be a pretty impressive one,” Phil says thoughtfully. He steps over the threshold, carefully avoiding the piles of drywall and splintered wood that are all that’s left of the front wall. Once inside, it’s not much better. The kitchen cabinets have been dismantled to their component parts, and now all that’s left is white-splotched steel piping and wiring. The leaking sink, he notices without surprise, is still intact.
He looks over at the wall between the living area and the bedroom.
It’s possible his shoulders slump. Just a little. Well. At least he made his bed this morning, so wherever it is, it has hospital corners.
“I was trying to get your sink replaced,” Clint says, hovering behind him. Hopelessly, he adds, “I packed up your stuff so it wouldn’t get all dusty?”
Phil follows his glance to the floor next to his plaster-covered sofa. There are a couple of boxes and a suitcase sitting next to them. He doesn’t recognize the suitcase. “I used to have more stuff than this,” he reflects, looking down at the collection. It’s disturbingly small.
“Oh,” Clint says, looking hangdog.
There doesn’t seem to be much to say. Phil has lost worldly belongings (such as they were) to fires, military actions, and floods. Once, in an incident with Newark TSA that he’s still bitter about, to a controlled explosion. He’s never lost his worldly belongings to an inept landlord and a kitchen sink replacement though.
He should, he supposes, be angry. Mostly, all he feels is resigned. “Should I ask what this means for my security deposit?” he asks, distantly curious.
“Uh,” says Clint.
Phil nods to himself and limps to pick up the suitcase. He doesn’t recognize the suitcase. He doesn’t let that bother him. He’s already rehearsing what he’ll say to Marcus and his apartment-finding skills the next time they meet, when Clint makes a small squawking sound like he’s run head-first into a wall.
Since all the walls have disappeared, Phil just raises an eyebrow at him.
“Where are you,” Clint begins, then coughs. He goes after the back of his neck again, rubbing at it like he’s trying to dig his way through to his spine. “Do you have a place to go?”
It’s a good question. “I imagine there are hotels somewhere.”
“You don’t have someone to stay with?”
“I’m new to the city. I hadn’t exactly planned a contingency for having my apartment surgically extracted,” Phil says dryly. The devastation is almost awe-inspiring. He’s never had a landlord go to such lengths to evict him from his home, and that includes Mugabe sending the Fifth Brigade after him in Zimbabwe.
Maybe Marcus will put him up. If Phil can find him.
Clint makes another flattened duck sound.
“You should have a doctor look at that,” Phil says absent-mindedly, wondering if he should keep his keys or just leave them here because, as it were, no more door.
“You can stay. With.” Clint squints through his lashes at Phil, unbearably awkward. “Um.”
Silence. Phil focuses on him. Courtesy towards the deranged. Right. “I beg your pardon?”
“Me,” Clint says. “You can, in my bed, loft, I mean—“ He jerks his thumb over his shoulder. “At least until I get this fixed.”
“Your loft,” Phil echoes flatly.
“I’ll change the sheets?”
Phil’s forehead starts to wrinkle. He can feel it.
“To clean ones?” Clint volunteers, as though there were some doubt. Since he feels the need to articulate that, there apparently should have been. “It’s a nice apartment. You wouldn’t be in the way. I mean,” he corrects himself, “I wouldn’t be in the way. Just for a few days, until, you know.”
“Until you get this fixed?”
“You wouldn’t have to pay rent or anything?” Clint hastens to say, phrasing it as a question like he’s checking for the socially appropriate move.
Phil shoots him an incredulous glance.
“No rent,” Clint says quickly.
It sounds about as appealing as dysentery. It isn’t as though Phil has too many options, though. He has plenty of savings, it’s true, but hotels in New York are damned expensive, as he knows from the three weeks he spent looking for an apartment when he first arrived. Marcus is who the fuck knows where; the last number he gave Phil currently goes to a speed-dating service, because Marcus is a dick.
He needs a place to stay. Preferably one where complete strangers can’t wander by to watch him sleep. He’s done enough of that in his lifetime.
“Fine,” he says, resigned to the inevitable. Clint’s eyes open wide, shocked and, Phil thinks, more than a little horrified by the agreement. It makes Phil feel better. “Do you mind getting the other two boxes?”
He limps past Clint with the suitcase. After a few seconds, he hears Clint go to pick up the boxes and trail after him. If the man can do this much damage just trying to replace a sink, he’ll be interested to see what’ll happen when he tries to rebuild an entire apartment.
It will probably end poorly. In the meantime though, Phil will get ringside seats to a debacle that promises to be more entertaining than the last few disasters he was up close and personal for. With luck, it’ll involve far fewer fatalities. And hey, no rent.
Phil’s always been one to look at the bright side of life.
Phil moves in.
Like, whoa. It’s weird.
Clint’s not used to having a person in his living space. He’s used to Natasha being in his space, sure, and Blake, who’s about as cuddly as a pterodactyl, and Jasper, who’s a bobblehead with snark moderation issues, but other than that . . . . oh. There’s also Tony, who doesn’t understand about mine versus thine, and Thor, who thinks Clint’s either his best friend or a talking teddy bear, and okay, that thing with Wade is kind of odd, bromance with a side of major psychosis, and Barnes, holy shit, who lost all his body shyness with HYDRA and doesn’t see anything wrong with showing up when Clint’s on the pot to ask him ear-burning questions about the latest thing he found on the internet, “and what do ‘goat see’ about this image, I don’t understand,” Jesus Christ.
The point being, those guys are all at the Tower. Clint doesn’t live at the Tower precisely because when he’s there, he’s got all these people in his space. He needs his space, yo. He needs to be able to stretch his wings and be free. He’s gotta be the Lone Ranger, the rogue, Shane riding off into the sunset. With his dog.
And now there’s Phil.
Clint gets some clean sheets out of his underwear drawer—long story, laundry’s complicated—and makes up his bed to make it okay for a guest like Phil. He even does some housekeeping, too: empty beer bottles in the recycling bin, dirty socks in the hamper, shoes in the garbage (long story, footwear’s complicated) electronics in the bathroom (long stor— you know what? Never mind.) Lucky’s interested and follows him around, because he’s never seen Clint do housekeeping before.
Phil just looks around a bit, like he’s not surprised by anything he sees, and takes his stuff up to the loft.
Too late, Clint realizes that whatever makes Phil limp will probably make climbing up to the loft really hard. He’s just about to offer the sofa instead—it unfolds into a shitty bed, but at least it’s on the ground floor—but Phil just looks at him when he opens his mouth, like he knows exactly what’s about to come out of it.
Clint snaps his mouth shut. Phil nods once to himself and limps up the stairs.
Wait. What just happened. Did he just . . . stop Clint with a look?
That first night, he comes back from trying to track down the rest of Phil’s stuff to find his apartment smelling of something amazing. He finds Phil in the kitchen, wearing an Iron Man apron. It’s the kind of gift that Clint keeps because he thinks it’s funny, and then never uses. Kind of like his entire kitchen, with the exception of the coffee pot.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Phil says. He’s doing something on the stove, Lucky sitting at his feet and staring up at him like he’s a walking, talking milkbone. “I thought I’d make us dinner. You’re not vegetarian, are you?”
Clint says, “What?” because this is a guy whose entire apartment he accidentally destroyed, and usually that sort of thing doesn’t end up in him getting a home-cooked dinner. At least, it hasn’t the last eleven times.
“Fried quinoa cakes with roasted peppers and feta,” Phil says, while his pan sizzles. “And fajitas, if you want them. I assume you’re not a vegetarian.”
“What?” Clint demands again, diverted, and, “No. What?”
“The meat-lovers pizza in the refrigerator gave me a clue. Any allergies?”
“No.” The entire kitchen thing is fascinating. Clint finds himself wandering closer, mesmerized by the idea of having an actual home-cooked anything. Steve and Bruce cook at the Tower, sometimes, and Tony sometimes has a chef up, but it’s just not the same.
Phil looks up from the pan to look him over, and suddenly Clint is distracted by a whole lot more than the food.
He thought Phil was hot when he was standing over the unconscious mugger in a suit and overcoat, Clint’s arrow (heh) in his hand. Now Phil’s standing at Clint’s stove, wearing an apron over slacks and a rolled-up shirt that's unbuttoned at the collar, making food for him. When he puts that together with black-framed glasses, it’s one of the sexiest things Clint’s ever seen.
He wants to lick Phil’s spatula. He wants to churn Phil’s butter. He wants to fork Phil’s sausage and lick his plate clean. Clint's a little too old to be discovering he has some kind of domestic superkink. Shit. He wonders if Martha Stewart does a gay pin-up calendar.
Lucky stares up at him like he’s judging him, all, hands off the man who’s making us food, asshole. The dog’s smarter than he is. Damn, he needs to get laid.
“Do you want to set the table?” Phil suggests.
Clint reroutes some blood to his brain to process that. Aw, plates, no. He doesn’t own any.
Dinner (on one paper plate and a pizza box lid) is amazing. The quinoa cakes, which sounded kinda hipster, is dotted with salsa and incidentally is the most incredible thing he’s ever eaten. The fajitas taste like the real deal, straight off of a street cart on Isla Mujeres. Phil watches with fascination while he inhales his first serving, then gets up and serves him more before Clint can work up the nerve to try licking the plate.
He gets up to fourths before he cries uncle.
After they throw away the plates and clean the kitchen, Phil sits at the table and starts doing some work. It looks like he’s writing some kind of report, from the files he keeps referring to. Boring. Clint sprawls out on the sofa and turns on the TV to watch a rerun of Community. Tony’s convinced the characters are modeled off of the Avengers. Clint calls dibs on being Troy.
It’s a nice, quiet night. Eventually, Phil packs up his work and says good-night, so Clint turns off the TV and rolls up on the sofa with a blanket and a Lucky-shaped, hairy body pillow while Phil goes upstairs.
Surprisingly, Clint has no trouble falling asleep, even with a stranger sleeping in his place. He’s out almost as soon as the lights flick off.
+ + +
Phil’s got a dental hygiene routine. It involves floss and mouthwash.