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Phil went back to work six weeks after his non-death. It seemed a bit soon to Clint, but the doctors okayed it, and Phil was really happy when he put on his suit that Monday morning. At least it was part-time, light duty, and everyone from Fury on down was watching him very closely to make sure he didn't overdo it.

The first few days went well; Phil only tried to stay late once. It helped that they'd finally gotten their heads out of their asses enough to hire him an assistant while he'd been out on leave.

Clint figured out something was up that Friday. He had to meet with the psychiatrist again that afternoon, but when he'd stopped by Phil's office before his appointment, the only one sitting there was Darcy. It was still weird to see her at the desk they'd set up outside Phil's door; she'd only been working for SHIELD for a few weeks.

"Agent Coulson's in a meeting with the director," Darcy told him as he leaned against the door frame. "Top secret, hush-hush, Fury speaks and everyone jumps, you know the deal."

"Don't I ever," Clint said, hiding his disappointment with a smirk. Phil knew he hated his mandatory sessions with the shrink, and he'd said Clint should stop by before and after.

"He said to say he was sorry," Darcy offered. "And that he'd see you at home. I'll make sure he leaves on time."

"Thanks," Clint said.

She looked up at him and smiled reassuringly. "He's doing great, you know," she said, sitting back in her chair. "He doesn't seem tired, or like he's hurting, and he's not doing anything he's not supposed to. He had a check-up this morning, and he said it went well when I asked. He was even doing that thing, you know, where the corners of his eyes crinkle?"

"Yeah?" Clint said, smiling back at her, because that was one of his favorite Phil facial expressions. If Darcy was able to read him that well, odds were she might actually be able to tell if he was hurting.

"He's really adorable," Darcy said. "Don't you dare tell him I said that."

"I promise," Clint said, and left for his appointment feeling a little better.

Phil got home exactly on time, as promised, but his eyes weren't crinkling any more. He didn't look like he was in pain, just like he had something on his mind. "Hey," Clint said, leaning in for a kiss. It was probably a little more involved than it should be, but Clint couldn't resist when Phil nipped at his lower lip like that.

"Tony, Bruce, and Pepper are going out for sushi, but I told them I thought we'd probably rather stay in," Clint said, pulling away reluctantly. "There's some of Bruce's lasagna in the big fridge downstairs, or we could throw something together here, or order in, whatever."

"Maybe that Indian place?" Phil said, loosening his tie.

"Your stomach up for that?" Clint asked. Phil had only been eating regular food for a month. Well, okay, five weeks.

Phil shrugged. "I won't get the vindaloo. Something mild, maybe saag paneer. Where's the menu?"

"Drawer of the coffee table," Clint said, although he knew neither of them needed to look at it. "Order me the chicken tikki masala. And some samosas. Oh, and some of that rice pudding, I love that stuff. And maybe some soup." He was always starving after sessions with the shrinks. Not that he'd ever admit it to one of them; they'd probably start asking him about the times he'd gone hungry as a child.

"Mmmhmm," Phil said, going into the bedroom. He came out a few minutes later in sweats and a t-shirt, and Clint took a moment to be grateful he got to see Phil like this. "Hi," he said, kissing Clint again, nice and slow, his hands on Clint's hips. "Sorry I missed you this afternoon. How'd your session go?"

It was Clint's turn to shrug. "She's very focused on the specific criteria for PTSD; I think she's disappointed in me for not having classic flashbacks. I'm not sure being mind-controlled by an alien god is in the DSM."

"Probably should be," Phil said, staying close. "Along with being declared dead. We should write to the APA and protest."

"Better have Darcy do it," Clint advised. "You're done for the week."

"Still have to order some food for me and my husband," Phil said, and there were the eye crinkles. "JARVIS, did you get Clint's order? Add saag paneer for me, and two rice puddings."

"Make sure everything's mild," Clint added.

"Of course," JARVIS said.

"There, now I'm done," Phil said.

"Hey," Clint said, his hands moving gently on Phil's lower back. "Your meeting with Fury. You gonna tell me what's up?"

"Later--a lot later--if I can," Phil said, with a tiny grimace. "Can't tell you anything now. I'll let you know if and when."

"Okay," Clint said, wishing he hadn't said anything. His phone rang, so he fished it out of his pocket.

"Steve?" Phil asked. Clint looked at the phone and nodded, noting a shift in Phil's expression so subtle that he doubted anyone else would have caught it. The meeting, Fury--Steve was part of it. "Tell him hi."

"Hey, Steve, Phil says hi," he said, walking towards the bedroom, knowing Phil would stay in the living room.

"Tell him hello back," Steve said, his voice warm and crystal clear thanks to the genius of Stark technology. "How's he doing? Made it through the week at work okay?"

"Yeah, he did fine," Clint said.

He and Steve had talked just about every day since Steve left on his trip. It started out with Steve calling to check up on Phil (and Clint, he knew, although Steve had never come out and said it), but it had gradually morphed into a daily routine, something they both looked forward to. Sometimes they talked about baseball, or the changes in the countryside of wherever Steve was at the moment compared to the last time he was there (England first, then the continent, then various places in America).

More often, though, they talked about the shit that really mattered. Steve was stoic but basically okay when he visited Peggy Carter's family, a little less okay at the graves of Falsworth and Denier. When he'd called from a railway bridge somewhere in the Italian Alps, Clint had spent long minutes just listening to Steve's shaky breaths and the wind howling around him, wishing he were there to put a hand on Steve's shoulder.

"Tell me about Bucky," he'd said the next time Steve called. "I mean, you don't have to, but if you want. I'd like to know more about him. What he was like."

"Yeah," Steve had said softly. "I think I'd like that."

The thing was, Captain America was an open book, or so people thought. He was apple pie and doing the right thing. He kissed babies and held the door for women, never forgot to say please and thank you, and his smile could light up a crowd like nothing else. He believed in truth and fairness, and he fought for them.

None of that was a lie. But people looked at him and thought that was all there was, and they were very wrong. They thought they knew him, but they didn't have a clue who he really was.

Clint's friend, a guy from Brooklyn named Steve Rogers, was a very private person, often an angry person, and he was a lot more complicated than he appeared when he was in his suit. He and Clint had a lot in common.

So when Steve called, Clint talked to him on his personal cell phone, sitting by himself in a room somewhere, even when he was at home with Phil, even when he was home alone and could have had JARVIS route the call through the speakers. It didn't matter that Phil knew about Bucky, and Peggy, that he knew all of the public and many of the private details of Steve's life. It didn't matter that Clint had told JARVIS to always engage his privacy filter when he talked to Steve. Even if they were just talking about the Yankees, Clint and Steve kept their conversations just between the two of them. It was better that way.

It was six months after Clint met Natasha before he told her about Barney, in an awkward and carefully negotiated conversation over a bottle of vodka. Phil knew without Clint telling him, of course, but he didn't ever talk to Phil about his brother until they'd gotten together, years after they met, and that first conversation was just as stilted as the one with Nat had been.

Clint told Steve after two and a half weeks, four days after Steve's visit to the place where Bucky fell. Steve was talking about his and Bucky's time in the orphanage after their mothers had died, how they'd aged out and gotten an apartment together. Clint said, "Yeah, my brother and I ran away to join the circus," and went on with the story, and it was easy.


"So, you still in Fresno?" Clint asked, stretching out on the couch in the bedroom. They often talked for an hour or more, so it only made sense to get comfortable.

Steve laughed. "Yeah, I'm at Jim's. I took your advice yesterday and went over to his place right after we talked."

"If you're still there, I'm guessing it went okay," Clint said, relaxing against the throw pillows.

"Yeah," Steve said. "It's good to see him."

"So why are you sitting in his backyard talking to me, man?" Clint teased. "You can talk to me any time."

"He's taking a nap," Steve answered.

"What?" Clint said, laughing.

"Clint, he's ninety-three!" Steve said earnestly. "He likes to take a nap after lunch!"

"Okay, yeah, I can see that," Clint said. "He's, uh, he's all right, though?" he asked cautiously, because, shit, ninety-three. He still sometimes forgot that Steve had been born in 1917.

"He's frail," Steve said, and, oh, there was some emotion behind that word. "I don't know how much longer he'll be around; it's good that I came when I did."

"It was," Clint agreed.

"But he's still sharp as a tack, remembers all our missions," Steve went on, his voice brighter. "He was showing me pictures of everyone; they used to have reunions. The last one was four years ago, just him and Gabe."

"I bet he was happy to see you," Clint said.

"First thing he said to me was, 'what the hell took you so long, Cap?'" Steve said. "He'd been waiting for me to get in touch ever since we hit the news." Steve took a breath. "I told him."

"Yeah?" Clint said cautiously.

"His granddaughter Melissa is a lesbian," Steve said, his tone conveying his wonder that such things were known by grandparents these days. "She was over last night with her girlfriend and their son. I figured he'd probably be okay with it."

"Was he?" Clint asked, because you could never tell.

"Yeah," Steve said. "He said he was sorry he hadn't known back when it happened. We drank some sake, toasted Bucky and the rest of the gang. Told some stories. It was nice."

"I'm glad," Clint said.

"Yeah, me too," Steve answered. "Thanks for the push last night. I needed it."

"Any time," Clint said.

Neither of them said anything else for a minute or so. It wasn't awkward; it tended to happen when they were on the phone.

"How long are you planning on staying?" Clint asked eventually, because it had been more than six weeks. It might be nice to talk to Steve face to face again.

"I think I'll head back tomorrow," Steve said. "I should be there in a few days."

"No more stops?" Clint asked, just to be sure.

"I've been to them all now," Steve answered, meaning all of his friends' graves. "Everything still quiet there?"

"Pretty much," Clint said, with a definite feeling of satisfaction. "Tony took out an evil scientist the other day. Nat's still off on whatever op they've got her on, but she texts me every few days. Bruce has been hanging out in the labs here at the tower since he got back; the other guy hasn't made any appearances. Phil says the Council's calmed down; it should be safe to come home."

"Home, huh?" Steve asked wryly. "Where is that, exactly?"

"You know Tony wants you here; he's got a floor set aside, same as for everyone else," Clint said easily. "But everyone will understand if you want to stay in Brooklyn."

"The water pressure in my apartment stinks," Steve said after a moment. "And Tony's coffee is the best I've ever tasted."

"Wait until you taste Bruce's cooking," Clint said, grinning.

Steve laughed. "Go ahead and tell Tony I'll move in, God help me."

"He's not that bad once you get to know him," Clint said. "And there's plenty of privacy when you need it. It's nice, though, to have people to hang out with when you can't sleep." If there was one thing they all shared, it was a tendency towards insomnia.

"That does sound appealing," Steve said wistfully. "Oh, speaking of sleep, it looks like Jim's up. I gotta go; I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"Call me from the road, let me know where you're at," Clint said, knowing Steve would understand what he meant. "Have fun with Morita."

"I will," Steve said, and hung up.

"How's Steve?" Phil asked when Clint came into the living room.

"He's good. Coming home soon," Clint said, sitting down next to him.

"That's great news," Phil said, putting his arm around Clint and pulling him closer.

"That it is," Clint said, shifting to avoid putting any of his weight on Phil's chest. Phil obviously noticed, but he didn't say anything about it.

He did say, "You two have gotten pretty close," his voice carefully noncommittal.

"We have," Clint agreed. "You jealous that I'm BFFs with Captain America, Coulson?" he added, smirking.

Phil snorted dismissively, but his ears turned pink.

"Nah, it's just…I think he was pretty lonely," Clint said. Phil nodded, his hand warm on the small of Clint's back. "And when we met, with everything that was happening, that had happened…. He trusted me, just like that. Not only that I could help in the fight, although that was huge, but after."

"Telling you about Bucky, you mean," Phil said, his thumb making slow circles under the hem of Clint's shirt. It felt really good.

"Yeah," Clint said. "He'd known me for two hours, Phil. Maybe it started as Cap being there for a team-mate, but when he saw what I was going through, he trusted me with the biggest secret in his life, just because he recognized the pain I was feeling."

"I'm sorry about that," Phil said quietly.

"Not your fault Fury lies, babe," Clint said. "Even if you did give him the idea."

Phil made a noise Clint chose to take as agreement. Clint shifted again so that he could rest his forehead against Phil's temple and breathe him in. Phil turned so that their cheeks were touching. He moved his hand up to Clint's neck, gently caressing. They stayed there a few minutes, until JARVIS let them know the delivery guy was down in the lobby.

Phil brought up Steve again after they finished dinner and an episode of Mythbusters, because Clint refused to watch Hoarders while they ate and they'd burned through the rest of their DVR backlog while Phil was convalescing. They put the Mets game on, but neither of them was really paying attention.

"I'm not going to pry," Phil said, which meant he totally was, "but what do you and Steve talk about?"

"Depends," Clint said, just to see Phil's barely noticeable frustration. "Sometimes I talk about Barney," he admitted.

Phil's gaze sharpened. "You told him about your brother?" he said. "That's not something you've shared with many people."

"Just you and Nat," Clint acknowledged.

"And now Steve," Phil said, his forehead wrinkling as he thought it through.

Clint could see him reworking his internal spreadsheet of Clint's relationships to put Steve Rogers in the correct row, next to Nat in the place reserved for friends. It was a tier above Tony and Bruce, where Phil had probably filed Steve before. Clint liked it that Phil needed to have these things figured out; a lot of the time Phil understood what was going on in Clint's head better than he did.

"And now Steve," Clint agreed. "He talks to me about some pretty personal stuff. Bucky, mostly. Like I said earlier, he was there for me, you know, when everything happened. And he's a good listener."

"So are you," Phil answered, although they both knew that wasn't always true.

"I can be, I guess," Clint said, taking the last swallow of his beer. He stared at the television for a minute, pretending to be interested in the score. "You know what he's been doing on this trip."

"He's doing okay with it?" Phil asked.

"Yeah, I think he is. He finally made it out to see Jim Morita last night," Clint said.

"The last surviving member of the Howling Commandos," Phil said in that awed tone he still sometimes got when they talked about this stuff. "He's what, ninety-two now?"

"Ninety-three," Clint said. "He takes naps, Steve says. And he's frail. I think seeing him like that was even harder than visiting all the graves."

"None of it's easy, I imagine," Phil said. "When did he say he'd be getting back?"

"A few days," Clint said. "As long as it takes him to bike back from Fresno. He said he'd move in to the tower, too."

"Really?" Phil said, smiling. "Stark will be over the moon."

"Just Stark?" Clint teased. "You're gonna have to get over your hero worship if he's living here. You know he's getting the floor just below Nat's."

"I'll do my best," Phil said dryly, but his eyes were twinkling. "It'll be good for you, too. For both of you, I think."

"If I admit I'm looking forward to having him back here, will you tell me what's going on?" Clint asked, mostly for form's sake.

Phil shook his head. "Sorry. It's Fury's call, not mine. And there might not end up being anything to tell."

Clint looked at him, slotting his own observations into the proper places. "Nat's op has something to do with it, too, I bet--she's been even more closed-mouthed than usual. No, I know, you can't tell me," he continued, but he was an expert at reading Phil Coulson's face, and Phil wasn't even trying that hard to mask his reactions. "Just promise me one thing."

"If I can," Phil answered seriously.

"This thing, whatever it is, I'm guessing it's a pretty big deal," Clint said carefully. "The kind of big deal that has the potential to blow up in our faces in a really bad way."

Phil's chin dipped a few millimeters.

"If it looks like that's about to happen, if it's going to do serious damage, especially to Steve, promise me you'll tell me, you'll tell Steve, no matter what Fury says," Clint said.

"I promise," Phil said, his gaze steady.

Phil was an incredibly capable agent, and that included his capacity for falsehood. Clint had seen him lie smoothly; he'd watched Phil lie by omission. He'd listened on the comm to Phil making completely outrageous statements with such perfect confidence that the person he was talking to believed him fully and completely.

But in all the years they'd known each other, Phil had never lied to Clint. So Clint replied, "Okay," nodding once, and relaxed.

Phil smiled at him softly. "It's been a long day. Would you mind cleaning up while I get ready for bed?"

"Sure," Clint said, even though Phil didn't seem particularly tired. He'd been acting a little off all evening; it must be the meeting with Fury. "I'll see you in there in a few."

He tossed his beer bottle in the recycling, capped Phil's fancy white wine bottle with the fancy cap, and put it in the fridge with the leftovers. He stuck the silverware in the dishwasher, the empty cartons in the trash. "JARVIS, do we have any plans for tomorrow?" he asked, because why use a calendar when you had JARVIS?

"Dr. Banner has indicated an interest in making pancakes for brunch, and Mr. Stark requests everyone's presence for pizza, beer, and a Lord of the Rings marathon, beginning at 4:30 pm. Ms. Lewis will also be in attendance. Neither you nor Agent Coulson has any scheduled appointments until Monday morning."

"Great," Clint said. "Any crazy terrorist threats or mad scientists or aliens threatening to destroy the world?"

"Not that I am aware of," JARVIS said. JARVIS was aware of almost everything, so that was good news.

"Thanks, JARVIS. Wake us if there's an emergency. Otherwise we're gonna sleep in," Clint said. "Tell Bruce to save us some pancakes if we're not up by then."

"Of course, sir. Have a good night."

The minute Clint finished his routine, Phil put his book on the end table and turned to face him. Unlike every other night since he'd gotten home, he was bare-chested, the t-shirt he'd been wearing discarded (folded neatly, because it was Phil) at the foot of the bed. There was a tiny hint of nervousness on his face, and an equally tiny hint of bravado.

Clint got in bed and moved immediately into Phil's space. He placed his hand over Phil's heart, so that his thumb bracketed the biggest scar visible, the one left by Loki's spear. He bent his head and brushed his lips over a bit of unmarked skin on Phil's chest, between the scar and his nipple.

When he looked up, Phil was smiling at him. He carded his fingers through the short hair at the nape of Clint's neck and urged him up into a kiss. Clint tried to keep the kiss brief, but when Phil moved in, the feel of his bare chest against Clint's made it impossible to break away. Phil took advantage, deepening the kiss, hooking an ankle around his calves to pull him closer, until they were pressed together from head to toe. Clint wanted to sink into it, into Phil, like he hadn't since their last morning at the base in New Mexico.

His phone buzzed from the nightstand, and that gave him the impetus to pull back, like he knew he needed to. "Might be Nat," he mumbled, trying not to pay attention to the flush on Phil's face, the slickness of his lips, the way he was looking at Clint.

Phil snorted, but he dropped his hands and let Clint roll over to grab his phone. "It's from Steve," Clint said as he read the message. "He says Morita's got his family coming over to meet him tomorrow; they're having some sort of barbeque. So he's not leaving until Sunday, or maybe Monday." Clint really shouldn't feel let down by that; it was only a couple more days.

"Steve knows how to text?" Phil asked, peering over Clint's shoulder at the phone.

"Of course he does, and I'm totally texting him to tell him you think he's a dinosaur who can't figure out how to use modern technology," Clint exclaimed, widening his eyes in mock horror.

"You can't do that," Phil protested, looking a little flustered.

"Relax, Coulson, I'm just fucking with you," Clint said, grinning at him. "I won't do anything to damage your relationship with the Captain, I promise."

Phil gave him the "Agent Barton, you have disappointed me" look, all cool and bland and perfectly in control. Clint laughed at him. "You know that doesn't work on me at home, Phil," he said.

"Sadly, it rarely works on you at all," Phil said, his mouth quirking up. "Are you okay waiting a little longer to braid Steve's hair and paint his fingernails?"

"I think I'll manage," Clint said, looking down at the bedspread.

"Hey," Phil said, lightly grasping his chin, "it's okay to miss him, you know. To want to see him."

"He'll probably hug me when I see him again," Clint said absently. Phil's eyes widened in surprise. "No, it's okay, babe," Clint said quickly. "It's just, he's so tall, and he's really solid, all those muscles; it was kind of nice, you know?" Fuck, he was making it worse. "Shit, Phil, you have to know I do not have the hots for Steve. Sure, he's gorgeous, but you're you."

"Clint," Phil said firmly, "I know you're not going to cheat on me with Steve, incredibly handsome specimen of perfection that he may be. He's important to you, and I get that. I didn't know you'd hugged him--"

"He hugged me," Clint interrupted, because it was important that Phil understood. "It was when I found out there was a chance that you might not be dead, Phil, that's when he hugged me."

Phil's expression softened, with a hint of the guilt that always showed up when the subject of his reported death came up. "I'm glad someone did," he said. The "I'm glad you let him" was unspoken.

"Nat did, too," Clint said. "When Fury said you were alive."

Phil looked at him thoughtfully.

"What's going on?" Clint asked. "Are you updating the spreadsheet again?"

"The spreadsheet?" Phil asked, raising an eyebrow.

"You know, the one you keep in your head," Clint explained, smirking. "Perfectly organized, probably color-coded, with everyone's relationships identified and labeled."

"Ah, that spreadsheet," Phil said, deadpan. "I suppose I was, in a way," he went on after a moment. He was studying Clint very carefully. "You're not generally comfortable with people touching you."

Clint shrugged, because it was true. "Steve's different. He and Nat both are."

"You love them," Phil said, his hand on Clint's arm, thumb moving lightly over his bicep. "And they love you."

"I love you," Clint corrected tightly, suddenly feeling broken open, vulnerable. He didn't know why, because of course he loved Nat, that was never a question, and despite her protestations about children, he knew she loved him. But putting Steve in that category felt threatening.

"I don't mean you're in love with him, Clint," Phil said patiently, his blue eyes kind. Clint didn't miss the change in pronoun. "Just that you love him, like you love Natasha. Steve and Tasha are family, right?" he asked, and Clint nodded jerkily, not wanting to acknowledge all the feelings and memories Phil's words were bringing up. "It's okay to love your family. You're supposed to. They're supposed to love you back."

There was a subtle emphasis in Phil's words that Clint didn't miss. Supposed to didn't mean shit, at least not in Clint's experience, but Nat was different. So was Steve, and Phil…. Phil was the bedrock of Clint Barton's very existence, the one person he trusted to always tell him the truth.

"I guess Nat is kind of like my incredibly badass little sister," Clint said eventually, his voice cracking. He left out the part where they used to fuck, because that made it sound really creepy. Besides, Phil wasn't fond of being reminded of those months.

"And Steve's the brother you deserve," Phil said gently, so very gently, "the brother you should have had all along." He said it like it was obvious and true.

Clint stared at Phil, because it had been right there in front of Clint all along, and he never would have seen it in a million years.

"Clint?" Phil said after a minute or so of silence, his forehead starting to wrinkle.

Clint blinked and shook his head, reaching out to touch Phil's cheek. "How do you do that?" he said, falling forward into Phil's arms. "Fuck, Phil, how the hell do you do that?"

"I've devoted a number of years to the study of one Clinton Francis Barton," Phil said, his voice full of satisfaction. "Loving you helps," he added, running his fingers through Clint's hair.

Clint held up his hand, wiggling his ring finger. "Smartest thing I ever did," he murmured, his lips against Phil's neck.

"Mmmhmm," Phil said, kissing Clint's temple. Clint lifted his head and Phil bent his, their lips meeting. Once again Clint struggled to keep things light and easy, but Phil's tongue pressed inside his mouth, and his hand was splayed against the small of Clint's back, his fingers sweeping under the waistband of Clint's boxer briefs. When Clint tried to pull away, Phil moved his hand onto Clint's ass and squeezed while simultaneously thrusting his tongue deep into Clint's mouth. He could feel Phil's dick hardening where it was pressed against Clint's stomach.

It took everything he had to break away with a muttered, "Fuck, Phil, come on," because this was seriously not fair.

"That's the general idea," Phil said, looking very much like Clint was missing something that should be obvious.

Which he was. Holy shit. "You had a doctor's appointment today," Clint said accusingly, pointing his finger at Phil's chest.

Phil nodded smugly and put his hand down the front of Clint's boxers. "No," Clint said as firmly as he could manage, grabbing Phil's wrist and pulling his hand out again. "Not yet, not without a sitrep, Coulson."

"I think the situation's fairly obvious, Barton," Phil said dryly.

"I'm not fucking kidding, Phil," Clint warned. "You went to see your cardiologist today, and I want to know what she said. All of it."

"Fine," Phil said, rolling his eyes. "My heart rate and blood pressure are back to baseline. My lungs are clear. They did bloodwork to see if I've built up my red count yet, but those results won't be back until Monday. I had an exercise stress test, which I passed with flying colors. They checked my lung capacity, which is also back to baseline. My skin is intact, with no signs of infection or poor healing. I've graduated from cardiac rehab and can start lifting and running again, as long as I take it slowly."

"Did you ask Dr. Lu about sex?" Clint asked bluntly.

"No," Phil said. "I asked Susan."

"The nurse practitioner?" Susan struck Clint as kind of a badass, for a nurse, anyway, so if she'd said it was okay, it probably was.

"I met with her after the stress test," Phil said. "Dr. Lu was called to the hospital for an emergency."

"Okay, so you talked to Susan," Clint said. "What did she say when you asked her? Word for word, and don't leave anything out."

Phil snorted. "Based on my current state of health and the results of my stress test, it's safe to resume sexual activity," he recited. "My partner and I should take things slowly--she suggested I let you do most of the work--and avoid penetration at first. Foreplay is apparently a good idea, as it allows the heartrate to increase gradually. I shouldn't have sex immediately after eating. If I feel any chest pain, I should stop; if the chest pain continues, I should call 911. But she doubts I'll have any problems, based on the results of the stress test."

Clint groaned, putting his head in his hands. "Would it have killed you to tell me this when you got home?"

"You wanted to order dinner, you were talking to Steve, we had to eat, you wanted to talk," Phil said, like that was a reasonable response. "I thought you'd figure it out eventually; I wasn't exactly being subtle."

"You weren't exactly being direct," Clint pointed out.

"You want direct?" Phil said, and put his hand down Clint's boxers again; fuck, that felt good. "Stop talking and put your mouth on me."

"Better," Clint said, grinning. "Ground rules: let me do the work, and promise me you'll tell me if anything feels the slightest bit wrong."

"Done," Phil said. "Now get on with it."

"Lay back," Clint instructed. "Get comfortable, because you're going to be there a while."

Phil raised an eyebrow, but he did as Clint instructed, throwing back the covers, fluffing a couple pillows, and stretching out on the bed, his arms at his sides. Clint knelt over Phil's hips, bracketing his head with his hands, and kissed him slowly, his tongue moving against Phil's, as Phil's hands came up and rested on his waist. "Clint," Phil said, a tiny bit breathless, when Clint moved on to his neck.

"Mmmhmm," Clint murmured, licking under Phil's ear.

"I won't break," Phil said, his hands on Clint's back, pressing down.

Clint lifted his head and looked at Phil. Phil gazed back at him patiently, although his cheeks were flushed. "I didn't think I'd ever get to do this again," he said. His tone was conversational, but his hand was shaking a little when he touched Phil's face.

Phil inhaled sharply, his eyes squeezing shut and then opening again. "Neither did I," he said. "Good thing we were both wrong."

Clint nodded once and carefully stretched out over Phil, lowering his body until they were touching from their chests down. Clint couldn't help rolling his hips against Phil's when he felt the welcome pressure of his erection next to his. Phil moaned, his hands tightening almost painfully on Clint's hips.

"Okay?" Clint said, because he needed to hear it.

"Fuck, yes," Phil said, and pulled him down into a wild, messy, dirty kiss, all tongue and teeth and absolutely no control.

Clint gave it back to him for a minute, then gradually slowed it down until he could whisper, "Easy, babe," into Phil's ear. He kissed Phil's ear lobe, mouthed along the line of his jaw, the bridge of his nose. "I got you," he murmured, tonguing from Phil's neck down to his collarbone. "Nice and slow, okay?" he asked, looking up.

Phil nodded, his pulse beating visibly in his neck. His fingers curled around the shell of Clint's ear. "It's been seven weeks, Clint," he said pointedly. "Not too slow."

Clint huffed a laugh into Phil's chest and started working his way from one collarbone to the other, then down to each nipple. He nipped at Phil's pectoral muscles, pausing when he got to the first new scar, from the drain they'd put in and taken out a couple days later. It was barely visible, unlike the larger ones, which were raised and various shades of pink. He brushed his lips over it as a reminder, then moved on to the next one. He traced every millimeter of every scar with his tongue and lips, even though he knew the skin around many of them was numb. It was for him more than Phil, anyway.

Phil seemed to understand that, resting one hand in Clint's hair, the other idly moving from his neck to his shoulder, with no trace of his earlier impatience. "Okay?" he asked softly when Clint finished and rested his chin on Phil's belly. "You need me to turn over?"

Clint blinked against the burning in his eyes. "Yeah," he breathed, "yeah, could you?" He sat up so that Phil could roll to his side, moving his arm over to expose the scars from the chest tubes between his ribs. The long, jagged one next to his spine was impossible to miss. Clint leaned his forehead against Phil's shoulder-blade, trying to control his ragged breathing. "Jesus, Phil," he said helplessly. "How are you even here?"

He felt Phil take a breath, felt him reach out and take Clint's hand and press it to his heart. "Nick Fury ordered me not to die," he said, his words vibrating against Clint's hand and his forehead, and Clint let out a shaky laugh.

"I'll have to remember to thank him for that," Clint said, his voice unsteady. He kissed Phil's shoulder and went back to tracing the marks on his body with his lips and tongue, his hand remaining where he could feel Phil's heart beating against it, steady and strong. It was a long time before he could lift his mouth from the bottom edge of the biggest scar. "Okay," he finally said, backing up so Phil could turn over again.

"Sorry," he said when Phil looked at him.

"Don't be an idiot," Phil said, pulling at him until his head rested on Phil's chest and Phil's arms were around his shoulders.

They stayed there for a minute or two, until Phil opened his mouth to say something and Clint put a hand over his lips. "If you're about to say 'we don't have to do anything tonight,' Coulson, you can forget it." He could feel Phil's smile against his palm. Then Phil pulled Clint's first two fingers into his mouth and sucked, and all of a sudden Clint's dick, which had checked out for a while, was back in it.

"And slow can go fuck itself," Clint added as he used his free hand to take Phil's cock out of his boxers. He could feel it hardening in his hand. He shifted lower. Phil reached down and pulled his boxers off and tossed them onto the floor, and Clint took Phil's cock into his mouth.

Despite his words, he took his time, savoring the silky feel of Phil against his tongue, the musky scent in his nostrils, the way Phil gently moved his fingers through Clint's hair. Clint kept one hand on Phil's chest, the strong beat of Phil's heart anchoring him. The familiar gasps, moans, and muttered expletives mixed with Clint's name were a reassuring reminder that whatever else had happened, this hadn't changed. When he could tell Phil was on the edge, he pulled off, which triggered a few more expletives.

"Need to see you," he said roughly, moving back up Phil's body, using his fist on Phil's cock in a rhythm he knew as well as any he'd used on his own.

Phil grabbed the nape of his neck and kissed him, open-mouthed and panting, his hips jerking up, then threw his head back and came with a long, guttural moan. Clint held himself up on one elbow and watched every shift of Phil's features. It was god-damned gorgeous.

He eased Phil through the aftershocks, carefully keeping his weight on his elbow. He ignored the increasing urge to take care of his own erection, currently trapped against Phil's thigh, still encased in the thin cotton of his boxers.

As soon as Phil caught his breath, though, he pushed on Clint's shoulder until he rolled onto his side. "It's my turn now, Barton," he said, shoving Clint's boxers down his hips and taking firm hold of his dick with one hand, the second hand clamping onto his ass.

Clint had learned the importance of silence at a very young age. There's no better teacher than knowing someone will come and beat you if they hear enough to find where you and your brother have hidden. When he was older, even when he was able to protect himself, even when he didn't feel much need to hide who he was, who he wanted, there were other issues, like open barracks or rooms with paper thin walls, if he was lucky enough to have shelter at all. By the time he joined SHIELD, silence was so much a part of him that he could go days without talking to anyone.

Phil was the first handler who realized Clint only mouthed off on ops when he was feeling relatively safe, and that his sarcasm was a way of avoiding saying anything real. Of course, he said far more when Phil was his handler than he did with anyone else, and with much less sarcasm.

He didn't need to say anything now; Phil could read his silence, his body, as well as he could any words. Clint shut his eyes and sank into the feel of Phil's hands on him, Phil's lips on his throat, and the constant, reassuring sound of Phil's voice, murmuring "Clint," and "so fucking hot," and "love you." His whole body shuddered when he came, his hands tightening on Phil's hips, but the only noise he made was the harsh rasp of his breathing.

He opened his eyes to see Phil with the completely joyful, relaxed look on his face that only Clint ever got to witness. Clint sat up long enough to grab the t-shirt from the end of the bed and use it to wipe them both off, then pressed himself up against Phil's side. He watched Phil breathe for a minute.

"If you even think of ruining my post-coital bliss with questions about chest pain I will shove you out of this bed," Phil said, looking at him. He took Clint's hand and kissed it, then moved it to his neck, where Clint could feel Phil's pulse beat steadily against his fingertips. "Okay?" Phil asked, looking at him.

"Okay," Clint murmured happily. He kept his fingers there until Phil mumbled something about needing more of a blanket than just Clint and shifted to grab the covers from the foot of the bed.


Sex, even really great sex, wasn't the cure to everything. Phil woke Clint in the middle of the night when he went rigid, caught in the grasp of a nightmare he didn't bother describing. Instead he went into the bathroom and came back a few minutes later, and Clint held him until they both slept again. Clint managed to avoid disturbing Phil when he opened his eyes, far too early for a rare morning when they could sleep in, adrenaline rushing through his system in the aftermath of a dream tinted ice-blue. He controlled his breathing, relaxed his body, and watched Phil sleeping peacefully next to him for half an hour before he gave up and got out of bed.

Tony had prioritized their living quarters first, his and Bruce's labs second, so the range he'd promised Clint wasn't ready yet, but the gym was on a lower floor and hadn't been damaged by the Chitauri attack. Clint worked his way through the stations until he was dripping with sweat and no longer consumed by the desire to find Loki and tear him to pieces--in other words, his typical morning routine. JARVIS confirmed that Phil was still asleep, so he showered and changed in the most luxurious locker room ever built and headed up to the penthouse for some coffee.

Pepper was sitting on the couch along the window, drinking coffee and reading something on her tablet. He waved at her on his way to the coffee machine, but she was too intent on whatever she was reading to notice. She looked up when he came back and sat down at the other end of the couch. "Oh, hi, Clint. We missed you at dinner. You and Phil have a good night?"

He couldn't have kept the smile from his face if he'd tried, so he didn't. "Yeah," he said. "It was great."

Her eyebrows went up at that, but all she said was, "I'm glad. Where is he, anyway? Still asleep?"

"Yep," Clint said easily.

"You know, I always figured Phil was the early to rise type," Pepper said, smiling at him. "It surprised me that you're usually up before he is."

Clint shrugged, still grinning like an idiot. "I know it might not fit with his image, but Phil Coulson has never been a morning person," he said, taking a sip of his coffee. Steve was right; Tony had the best coffee. "Besides, I figure he's got about twenty-five years worth of sleep debt to get through, and medical leave is the only time he ever gets to try to catch up."

"He's doing okay, though?" Pepper said, her forehead wrinkling.

"He saw his cardiologist yesterday," Clint said. "He's doing great; they'll probably have him back to full time by next week."

"No more sleeping late, huh?" she said wryly.

"Who's sleeping late?" Tony asked as he got off the elevator and headed for the coffee machine.

"Not you, I guess," Clint said. Tony was in jeans and a t-shirt, with the slightly manic look on his face that indicated he'd been in the lab, possibly all night.

"Too much to do," Tony said, waving the hand that wasn't holding a coffee cup. "How do you feel about compound bows, by the way? Because I think I can get you a lot more distance that way."

"I've always just used a rifle if I needed that kind of range," Clint said, thinking. "Might be nice to have another option."

"I'll let you know when I've got something for you to try," Tony said. "JARVIS, where's Bruce? I was promised pancakes."

"Dr. Banner is meditating, sir," JARVIS answered. "He'll be done in approximately thirty minutes."

"Okay, fine," Tony said, and went to work on a hologram of something Clint didn't bother to look at. He went back to enjoying his coffee and the view of the city in the morning light. He had to admit it was a nice view.

An even better view appeared when Phil got off the elevator. He was dressed in a pair of khakis and a blue button-down, the tails hanging down untucked, the first few buttons undone. When he saw Clint he smiled. Clint set his coffee down and walked over. "Hey," he said, putting his hands on Phil's hips.

"Good morning," Phil said quietly, looking into his eyes. As they stood there, a flush crept over his cheeks. Clint licked his lips, and Phil's pupils dilated.

"See you guys later," Clint said loudly enough for Pepper and Tony to hear. "Save us some pancakes."

"Sure, whatever," Tony called back, but by that time Clint had already followed Phil back into the elevator. They were kissing before the doors finished closing.

"You know," Phil said thoughtfully as they entered their apartment, "the prohibition on penetration doesn't apply to you." Clint nodded, finished unbuttoning Phil's shirt, and pulled his own over his head. Phil popped the button on Clint's jeans and pulled the zipper down. "I'm certain we could manage things so that you continued to do most of the work."

"I can always rely on your strategic thinking, Coulson," Clint said, pushing him towards the bed.


Clint argued for skipping the pancakes entirely, but Phil was hungry, so after a short nap and a long shower, they headed for the kitchen. Tony greeted them with a slow clap. Clint flipped him off with a grin and Phil ignored him completely in favor of coffee. Apparently he'd gotten the okay for caffeine along with the okay for orgasms.

"I put some batter in the fridge," Bruce said, and made to get up from the table.

"It's okay, I've got it," Clint said, waving him off. He was no gourmet, but he could flip pancakes with his eyes closed. Darcy showed up as he was about done, but there was just enough batter to make up a plate for her as well.

He sat down next to Phil and picked up his fork. Now that he had the pancakes in front of him, he was starving. "I talked to Steve last night," he announced after he'd gotten through half of what was on his plate.

"How is he?" Pepper asked, leaning forward.

"Good. Coming home soon," Clint replied, stealing a sip of Phil's coffee. "This, by the way," he said, gesturing with the coffee cup, "is a key factor in his decision to move in to the tower with the rest of us."

"Glad to hear he's finally seen reason," Tony said. "Does he need a ride, or is he insistent on driving all the way back?"

"He's taking the bike," Clint said. "He's in Fresno, and he'll leave tomorrow or Monday, so I figure he'll be here by next weekend. He's not planning any more stops."

"Any word on Natasha?" Bruce asked.

"She's reporting in as scheduled," Phil answered. "Fury's hopeful she'll finish up her current assignment in another few weeks."

Clint could see Tony open his mouth to ask for details, but Phil gave him a look and he shut it again.

The rest of the weekend was as pleasant as that morning had been, and Clint faced Monday morning feeling more relaxed than he had in months. He knocked on Dr. Solomon's door just after ten, and she ushered him inside, looking surprised for an instant before she regained her poker face.

"Are you all right, Agent Barton?" she asked. "We didn't have an appointment scheduled until Wednesday." He appreciated that she didn't call him "Clint;" they weren't friends.

"I'm fine," Clint answered, sprawling onto a chair. At least her chairs were comfortable; she had that going for her. "I'm great, actually. I had a great weekend."

"I'm pleased to hear that," she said, steepling her fingers. "Was there anything in particular that made it a great weekend?"

Clint nodded, grinning. "Sex with my husband. Oh, and some good news, but mostly it was the sex. Lots of it."

Her mouth twitched. "I'm glad Agent Coulson is recovering," she said after a moment. "What was the good news?"

"Cap's headed back soon," Clint said, sitting up. "And that means finishing our sessions, because I need to be ready to have his back, his and the rest of the team's."

"Agent Barton, it's only been seven weeks," Solomon said, frowning at him. "You need to give yourself enough time to get past the trauma and the guilt you're feeling."

"That's a load of crap," Clint said firmly. "I'll always feel guilty for what happened when Loki had me; no amount of time is going to change that. But it's not going to affect my ability to do my job. You've read my file."

"I have," she agreed. "You've suffered from insomnia and nightmares as long as you've been with SHIELD, probably for all your life. You have problems with authority figures, and you're extremely reluctant to trust. You're a perfectionist who feels guilt whenever a mission has complications, even if your actions had nothing to do with those complications. You have an aversion to anyone but your closest friends touching you. Shall I go on?"

"Every single one of those things was true before Loki," Clint pointed out, sitting back in his chair again. "I'm willing to bet my file also has a few requests for my return from senior agents, and I'm not talking about Coulson."

Solomon inclined her head. "Agents Sitwell and Hill have become fairly insistent over the past two weeks," she said. "But Director Fury said it was up to me to decide when you were ready."

"I'm ready," Clint said, meeting her eyes, careful not to sound too eager.

"Any nightmares during this great weekend, or were you too busy having sex to sleep?" she asked, studying him closely.

"A couple," Clint answered matter-of-factly. He'd realized years ago that it worked best to tell as much of the truth as he could. The good ones could usually figure out when you were hiding something, and that meant more sessions. "The blue one where I'm falling on Saturday morning, and one about my brother this morning. But I got a solid eight hours every night."

She nodded. "Any flashbacks, changes in your vision, or feelings of numbness or loss of control?"

"Nope," Clint said.

She studied him for a moment longer, then nodded again and said, "All right. I'll fill out the paperwork and get it to the director by this afternoon."

"Great," Clint said, getting up.

"Agent Barton?" she said before he could leave.

"Yeah?" he asked, masking the wariness he felt.

"My door is always open, if you need to talk."

"Sure, thanks," he said, and got out of there before she changed her mind.

He spent a couple hours on the range before he met Phil for lunch. "I hear you're back on the rotation, Barton," Phil said when he got to his office. "You're meeting with Sitwell at 1400 to discuss your next op."

"I guess Sitwell's okay," he said, grinning, "but you'll always be my favorite, sir."

"I'm well aware of your preferences in handlers, Agent Barton," Phil said, doing the eye crinkle.

Lunch was a couple of hotdogs from the vendor down the street, and then it was back to the range until his meeting with Sitwell. He figured he'd be on a milk-run for his first mission back, but it sounded like they needed him for something pretty serious, not that they were telling him much beyond "Southeast Asia" and "human trafficking."

"You'll receive full briefing materials on your flight tomorrow evening," Sitwell said. "1830, Barton. Be on time."

"Yes, sir," Clint answered. Vacation was over, but at least he'd have time to talk to everyone before he left. He called Steve as soon as he got home, and he sent a text to Nat's secure phone. Tony insisted on taking them all out for dinner, but he was smart enough to make sure they got home relatively early.

He and Phil sat on the couch and made out while an episode of Sister Wives ran in the background. They moved to the bedroom after that, and Phil insisted on demonstrating his improved cardiovascular status by getting on top of Clint and fucking him slowly, lovingly, and with the dedication and thoroughness he was known for.

"When you get back," he said after they'd cleaned up and gotten under the covers.

"I'll need a note from Susan," Clint mumbled, pulling Phil close and falling asleep.

It was always hard when one of them had to leave on assignment, but this time was worse. They went through their usual routines that morning, Clint leaving a note for Phil on the nightstand which he pretended not to notice, just like Clint pretended not to notice the envelope in his go bag. That evening, Clint stopped by Phil's office.

"I need you to take care of something," he said, taking off his ring and putting it in Phil's palm. It was the first time he'd been without it on his finger since the night Phil woke up in the secret medical wing. It felt wrong to take it off. "Keep it safe for me."

"I will," Phil said, placing it on the chain. He loosened his tie and collar and pulled the chain over his head, dropping the ring down inside his shirt. "I have something for you, too."

This was new. "What is it?" Clint asked.

Phil handed him a replica of Captain America's shield on a keychain. "For luck," he said. "It should fit in your vest pocket."

"Thanks," Clint said, running his thumb over the tiny grooves in the shield.

"It's a collector's item," Phil said, putting his hand over Clint's. "I expect it back. No scratches. No damage of any kind, understood?"

Clint nodded slowly. "I'll do my best," he said, because he never lied to Phil.

"You'd better go," Phil said. "Don't want to keep Sitwell waiting."

"Yeah," Clint said, his chest tight. "I'll see you when I get back."

Phil hadn't let go yet. "Clint," he said, and swallowed.

"Yeah," Clint said again, bringing their hands up and brushing his lips over Phil's knuckles. "I know, Phil. I'll text you when I get there if I can, okay?"

"Okay," Phil said, and dropped his hand.


The op involved men who sold children to other men for sex, which was pretty much what Clint had expected. The fact that they sent some of the proceeds to Hydra was different, and a matter of some concern; Clint wondered if Steve knew that Hydra was still active so many years after Schmidt's disappearance. They set up their surveillance the first day, and the heat and humidity were brutal enough that Clint was grateful that the plan was to execute the operation at night. He napped in the air-conditioned van whenever he could, keeping an ear open for any problems.

Sitwell kept him on task, and if the voice in his ear wasn't Phil's, it was at least one he trusted. There was a brief hiccup when a junior agent almost screwed them all with a complete lack of operational security, but Clint and Sitwell managed to salvage the situation with what he had to admit was a masterful bit of undercover work. Listening to Sitwell rake the guy over the coals in the van almost made the fuck-up worth the delay it caused; Sitwell had clearly learned a few key phrases from Phil over the years.

In the end, Clint found some good sightlines, made himself a nest, and when it was time, he took out the targets, one-two-three. Not the most difficult kills he'd ever made.

He kept the shield in his inside vest pocket, next to his heart, the entire time. He caught himself rubbing at his ring finger with his thumb approximately a hundred times a day. He texted Phil while they were setting up with "The coffee here sucks," one of their code phrases. Once they were mopping things up, he sent another text that read, "No scratches," imagining he could hear Phil's sigh of relief when he read it.

They made it back to New York in three days. Sitwell moved towards Hill's office to debrief when they got to headquarters, but Clint shook his head. "I have a stop to make first," he said. "I'll be there in a minute."

Sitwell frowned for a split second before his expression cleared. "Of course," he said, nodding. "Take your time."

When he leaned on the door frame of Phil's office, Phil looked up and said, "Darcy, would you give us a minute, please?"

"Absolutely, boss," Darcy said, flashing Clint a grin and patting him on the arm as she moved past him. He barely noticed. "I'll be right outside, making sure no one interrupts." There was a soft click as she closed the door behind her.

"Hey," Clint said, moving towards the desk and reaching into his pocket. "I've got something of yours I need to return."

Phil stood up, already loosening his tie and pulling at the chain around his neck. "Likewise," he said softly.