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Appropriate Motivation Is Required

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Most of the time, when Clint gets like this, Phil just counts to ten, bites his tongue, and remembers that when they're on the clock Clint actually does do everything that Phil tells him to, so there has to be some balancing. And it isn't like they haven't spent large amounts of mostly tedious time together; that's how this all got started in the first place. Generally Phil lets Clint drive and choose their meals, and it all works out in the end. But there's an edginess to Clint today, a little extra something that isn't getting burned off in driving 100 mph down nearly empty desert highways or pulling over to little Ma-and-Pa shacks for whatever local specialty they're dishing out today, and Phil suspects it has to do with their recent change in status. He prepares to dig in and wait it out.

They get to the closest safe house around 4pm—not that they need to be in a safe house, but Phil swung the time off by merging the meandering cross-country road trip Clint wanted with an inspection tour of SHIELD's domestic safe houses, any of which are nicer to stay in than some no-name motel. It isn't much more than a bungalow sitting low and unobtrusively among some scrub brush, but it means that Clint can make them something relatively healthy for dinner, which he's eager to do. The house is clean enough, so the San Francisco office is on top of it, though Phil makes a note for them to stock more sheets and towels—nine times out of ten at least one person at a safe house is injured, so there can never be too many clean linens. And while there's no trash, there's an appalling number of empties in the pantry, which Clint eyes greedily.

"There's a wall out back," he says.

"Sure," Phil replies as he pulls out another bug and crushes it under his heel. Four, not bad really, and he wouldn't bother except that SHIELD really doesn't need audio of what he and Clint are going to get up to.

They head straight for the local Wal-Mart and Phil is weirdly proud of the diversity of their cart: veggies and a rather nice steak plus a half dozen eggs and some fruit for breakfast; some postcards because Clint likes to carry them around and send them out-of-context (on this trip he's using a bunch he grabbed in Tashkent a few years back); a case of small water bottles for the car; charcoal briquets; cinnamon toothpaste; a small cooler and some blue ice so they can buy more fresh food; a six-pack of something local; and of course some ammo. The cashier doesn't flinch at any of this, nor the fact that the man pushing the cart bears a close resemblance to one of the action figures upstairs.

Clint puts the steak into a quick marinade of lemon and garlic and while the coals heat up in their chimney the two of them work up an appetite fucking in the shade on the back porch. They dine on steak and tomatoes and while Phil cleans up Clint arranges beer and whiskey bottles and soda cans on that back wall.

"Best two out of three?" Clint asks.

"No," Phil replies, because there's a difference between being a very good shot and being the best shot in the world, and besides he's better at assessing situations quickly and doing what's required than standing still and making a shot with nothing at stake. But he humors Clint, because the shooting is putting him into a better mood, which these days Phil supposes is more his responsibility.

(A few days before, they'd had the pre-ceremony fight that Maria had warned him about. Phil was worried that the ring would be uncomfortable for Clint in the field and after about an hour of Phil thinking of all the possibilities and Clint accounting for all of them, the other man finally exploded and let Phil know in no uncertain terms that the entire point, as far as he was concerned, was to make it public.

"I want to wear it," he'd said. "Jesus, I would change my name if you asked me to. I want everyone to know."

Phil had just blinked, because he hadn't really expected that. "Okay," he'd replied, and that was that.)

Clint's holding his gun in two hands, his ring glinting yellow-orange in the setting sun, and he picks off a row of Dr Pepper cans easily. Phil goes three for five on the whiskey bottles, and Clint smirks even though Phil shoots the other two on his second try.

"You can do better than that," he says, walking closer and shooting bottles all the while, almost without looking. "I've seen it."

Phil shrugs and goes for the Sprite cans, getting most of them. He feels Clint behind him.

"I could help you with your stance, sir."

"You don't need to make cheap excuses to cop a feel anymore," Phil replies.

"Yeah but it's more fun that way." He's snickering now, not exactly fair, and close enough that Phil can feel his breath against his ear when he speaks. "Unless I'm distracting you."

"No more than usual," Phil says, and shoots three glass Coke bottles to prove it.

"Tell you what," Clint says, backing off a little. "You get the rest of the beer bottles, and you can do whatever you want to me tonight."

Phil turns, an eyebrow raised. "You mean that?"

"Well, something we've already done," he qualifies, "and remember we'll be sitting in the car all day tomorrow."

Phil checks the wall and sees nine bottles left, stranded at various points with a cluster of them just in front of him. He reloads and blasts each one in quick succession.

"That's the man I married," Clint says, grinning.

"All right you, inside," Phil says, "and I'll give that smart mouth of yours something else to do."