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"What the hell took you so long?" Agent Romanoff demands dryly as she comes into speaking distance. Even for the middle of a mission gone wrong, her voice is uncommonly breathless. Tired and strained. Coulson chalks that up to the fact that she's mostly-carrying Barton and hopes she isn't injured as well. Almost without a conscious decision he starts working on a back up plan to get her medical attention if need be.

"60 miles inside a country we're not supposed to be anywhere near? Even I can't just make the border move."

"That's disappointing," Barton rasps, lifting his head a little. He sounds terrible and looks worse. "Next you'll tell me there's no Easter bunny either."

Coulson tilts Barton's face with his fingertips. His pupils are uneven and his skin is hot. The wound is infected.

"I'm afraid that information is outside your security clearance, Barton," he says, taking the man's weight off Agent Romanoff's shoulders. She manages a tight smile. Her eyes are worried.

"It doesn't hurt so much," Barton assures him. "Natasha packed something into it."

Coulson raises his eyebrows at her as he gently encourages Barton to start walking again.

"Cocaine," she says shortly. She doesn't ask how Coulson knew they would come this way, partly because she probably knows how he looked at the satellite footage and guessed, and partly because this is simply the level of omniscient competence she's come to expect from him.

He doesn't ask where she got pharmaceutical grade cocaine in this godforsaken place, or how she persuaded its possessors to surrender it to her.

There's a shout from somewhere behind them. Romanoff looks hunted. "How far to transport?" she asks shortly. She half turns and fires three shots before her borrowed gun clicks empty.

"Thirty yards," Coulson replies. He pulls his own gun and passes it to her. "Can you run?" She nods once. Knowing her as he does, he knows that actually means, 'only if I absolutely have to and not for very far.' He shifts Barton's weight slightly, not liking the way he lists, stumbling, delirious for days now. "Will it hurt if I..."

Barton cuts him off in a voice that's more gasp than actual words. "Anything you're thinking about doing will hurt less than getting shot again, sir." He staggers for a few more steps and manages to add, "If I pass out don't let Natasha draw things on my face."

Coulson hears Romanoff fire again, and an accompanying yelp from much too close behind them.

"No promises," he says to Barton, who may or may not still be able to hear him. Coulson bends suddenly, pulls as gently as he can on Barton's arm, catches him at the knees with his free hand and tosses the man across his shoulders. As he straightens he catches Romanoff's glance. She mouths 'cover' and proceeds to do just that.

She presses close to let him guide her as she's moving backwards and sideways and together they stagger for the tree line.


By the time Phil punches in the code, shoulders through the front door, drops his keys and his briefcase and gets to the foot of the stairs, the shouting has stopped.

He stands in the silence, listening for trouble, and hears nothing but the soft groan of the floorboards and a quiet, tired sigh. The most noise Natasha ever makes. He walks in the middle of the steps so they'll creak. It's never a good idea to sneak in this house.

"Did you kill him?" he calls softly from the door of the master bedroom.

Natasha looks over her shoulder at him and smiles. "No," she says, equally soft. "But some of his antibiotics may have accidentally been sedatives."

Phil nods, because this is only sensible. Natasha puts the backs her of fingers against Clint's neck, checking both his pulse and his temperature. He doesn't wake, but he does make a soft sound and turn into her touch, her hands cooler than his skin. A relief.

Natasha touches his face lightly, in reassurance, and then stretches one leg out to step backward off the bed in a move half balletic, half feline. Phil stands back from the door and lets her precede him down the stairs and into the kitchen.

"His temperature is little high still, but not dangerously so," she says, taking a bottle of sparkling water from the refrigerator. "And I'm easing him off the painkillers more slowly than he'd like. You know how he feels about them."

"I know how he'll feel if you cut him off suddenly, too. Do as you think best."

Natasha smiles. "I always do." She turns and hands him a scotch and soda. "How was the debriefing?"

"They still want to talk to you. I could maybe get you off another week, if you want."

She folds her arms and leans against the counter. Puts her weight on her left leg, extends the right, pointing her toes at the tiles then bends her knee and brings her foot up against her left thigh. Flamingo pose, Clint calls it. It's the way she stands in this house, with them, more often than not.

She shakes her head and shrugs a little. "I've had about as much rest as I can take. I'll go in tomorrow, or maybe wednesday."

Phil sips his drink. It's unsurprisingly strong. Russians. "Had about as much of babysitting Clint as you can take?"

Natasha rolls her eyes, takes the glass out of his hand and swallows half of it. "It's an art at which I am very practiced. At least no one's shooting at us here."

“Yet,” Phil says, dry as salt. Natasha grins and unfolds herself to cross the negligible space between them. It’s only one step but she makes it look like a dance move. Tips her head up as she moves into his arms.

The kiss is corroboration and reassurance. No less passionate for being unhurried and familiar. There’s a cut on the inside of her cheek, where her teeth would split the skin if someone hit her in the face and he kisses her until he can no longer tell the taste of her blood from whiskey and club soda.

She settles herself against him, turns her face into his neck and he ghosts his hands over her hair.

"Were you worried for us?" she asks in a murmur.

Phil thinks about the comm link going dead, both of them deep in hostile territory. The checkpoint photo four days later of a woman supporting an injured man, a scarf failing to disguise the curve of Natasha's cheek. The shape of her mouth. No way of knowing how long Clint would last.

"Not unduly," he says. He feels her smile against his throat.

It's the truth.


'Natasha knows best' is the first house rule. There are a lot of unwritten corollaries to it like, 'except in the kitchen' and 'unless Coulson is diametrically opposed', but it still holds in most situations.

Clint is arguing fruitlessly against this tenet.

“I know my body!” he protests.

Natasha raises an eyebrow. “Are you suggesting I don’t?”

Clint proves he’s recovered enough to have the blood pressure to blush.

In the tongue-tied pause Phil says, “We’re not leaving you alone in the shape you’re in. It’s entirely up to you whether you stay here awake, or drugged into unconsciousness.”

They don’t write rule books for bisexual threesome relationships where all the committed parties are trained government killers, so Phil isn’t sure if this situation counts as ‘ganging up’ or ‘democracy’. Since it’s how they settle almost all disputes he decides to give them the benefit of the doubt.

“So you’re going to send Natasha in alone?” Clint demands.

Natasha rolls her eyes, but fondly.

“To a routine SHIELD debriefing,” Phil says. “I think she can handle them.”

Clint scowls, convinced, as he always is, of the perfidy of any government organization that would employ him. But he’s clearly tiring.

“Come on,” Phil says. “I’ll let you watch Food Network.” He holds out a handful of pills.

Clint sighs, defeated. “Even Paula Deen?”

“We can marathon her if you want.”

The scowl hasn’t retreated an inch, but when Natasha holds out a glass of water from his other side he takes it and the pills without further complaint.

“I do wish I could go in with you,” Phil admits to Natasha at the front door. She’s checking the creases in her suit, which are, as always, perfect. Phil would know; he does the ironing.

“It’s a routine debriefing, I don’t need my handler,” she says, and she smiles a little to take the sting out of the words.

Phil quirks a corner of his mouth at her which she correctly interprets as him expressing total confidence in her ability to handle anything at all, but wishing he could be there for her all the same.

She kisses him quick and light and walks out the door like their front walk is a runway. Her lipstick is still perfect.

“You got a goodbye kiss didn’t you?” Clint accuses as soon as Phil comes back into the bedroom with another glass of water, a bowl of (take out) soup, and the DVR remote.

He puts all three on the table at Clint’s side. “Are you telling me you didn’t get one?”

Clint crunches a painkiller between his teeth thoughtfully. “Yeah, but I’m on my sickbed. I get kissed practically every time one of you leaves the room.”

Phil sighs, settling on the far side of the bed. He can’t taze Clint. “She’ll be fine,” he says for the millionth time. He’s been saying it to himself all morning. “She knows how to send me an SOS if she needs to.”

Clint mutters rebelliously under his breath, unconvinced, but he turns his attention to… to deep fried macaroni and cheese. Good lord.

“No,” Phil says, immediately. Clint is grinning.

“I’m making a list,” he says, “of all the things I want to try making when you finally let me out of this bed.”

Phil considers several courses of action in response to that and settles for sliding the rest of the way across the bed and catching Clint’s mouth in a kiss that makes Natasha’s look like something you’d give your maiden aunt.

The remote hits the table with a clatter and Clint hums into his mouth, lets him tug his lower lip between his teeth, sweep his tongue across his palate, rough and dirty and deep. They’re both panting when Phil pulls back, and Clint watches him, his eyes wide and his lips bruised, as Phil settles against the pillows and daps a finger delicately at the corner of his mouth.

Paula Deen is frying something else on the television, but Clint doesn’t make a sound for several minutes.

Phil smiles down at his book.


Clint is sleeping again when the front door opens. Phil slides his eyes aside without lifting his head, but there’s no further sound.


She’s standing at the sink when he gets into the kitchen. He leans against the counter and watches as she toes out of her shoes, abruptly sinking five inches, and drinks 16 ounces of water.

“Went that badly, did it?” he asks.

Natasha doesn’t say a word, pivots from the sink to face him, fists one hand in the front of his shirt and pulls him to her.

The kiss is off center and vicious, immediately deep and nasty and she slides her hands up under his shirt, nails scratching along his spine.

Oh. That badly.

Phil lets her kiss away his brain cells, wraps his hands around the backs of her thighs. She jumps a little as he lifts and, well, they may or may not have had the kitchen counters raised for this exact reason.

He holds her still, hands on her thighs, lets her hook him in with a leg over his hip and he rocks against her, slow and inevitable.

She bites his lip, runs her tongue along his teeth.

“If you’re going to have sex while I’m incapacitated you could at least let me watch,” Clint yells down the stairs.

Natasha pauses with her teeth in Phil’s lower lip, so he tries not to laugh as he pulls back. He leans his forehead against hers and gives a tired little chuckle.

“It’ll only take a minute to smother him with a pillow,” she offers.

Phil straightens, still pressed in place by her legs. “Five, at the very least,” he counters.

Natasha looks thoughtful. “We could pretend we didn’t hear him,” she says. She’s staring at Phil’s mouth.

“Maybe before the forty-five second pause,” Phil says. “Besides, he’ll probably just come down here and guess who’ll be redoing his stitches then.”

Natasha rolls her eyes.

Upstairs she drops backwards onto the bed and pulls Phil back in with her legs. Phil, being intimately acquainted with Natasha’s legs, knows it’s come or be dragged. He lets her pull him where she wants before he looks up at Clint.

“While I’d like to point out that Natasha did most of the work in getting you out alive…”

“Again,” Natasha interjects. She’s folded her hands behind her head and is tracing one foot slowly back and forth along his side. Phil ignores her as much as is humanly possible.

“… it’s true that you are the injured party. What would you like?”

“I want to watch her ride you,” Clint says with barely a hesitation.

Natasha tweaks one of her own nipples and smiles as Clint’s face goes slack. “Your psyche is appallingly teenaged,” she says. “But…” And she brings her other leg up, locks her knee at Phil’s hip, and rolls them over. She smiles down at him, pinned to the sheets.

“Whatever you want,” she says to Clint.

Natasha is tight and hot and perfect and Phil’s seen her strangle men to death between her thighs but it’s never made him regret being here, pinned beneath her while she sways to a rhythm only she can hear.

Clint is quiet because he always is, but over the pounding of his own heart Phil can hear his breathing catch and go ragged.

Above him Natasha’s rhythm hitches as he jerks up into her, helpless. Her nails are clipped short but they still raise welts as she scratches at his chest, her breath starting to sob.

Clint hisses something unintelligible and Phil turns his head. Clint drags his eyes from Natasha for a second, reaches out and slides three fingers into Phil’s mouth and that’s just… that’s just it.

When he can see and hear again Natasha is shaking above him and he’d love more than anything to touch her, but he can’t seem to control his limbs.

This is not atypical.

Clint sighs, long and drawn out. Lying sprawled against Phil’s side, Natasha doesn’t bother to react, but Phil looks over at him.

He’s staring at Natasha’s ass like a man deciding between two terrible fates.

“If you say anything about your completely logical enforced abstinence in light of your recent gunshot wound, I will personally guarantee you a lack a blow jobs for the rest of your convalescence,” Phil says.

“You’re a cruel man, sir,” Clint says mournfully. “And that could constitute a form of abuse.”

Natasha backhands him lightly without turning over. “I will show you an abusive relationship if you don’t let me sleep,” she mumbles against Phil’s shoulder.

Clint, wisely, forgoes any further comment.

When Phil looks over at him again after two minutes of incomplete silence, he’s asleep again. Natasha’s snoring softly.

Phil turns out the light.