"Mom," Phil sighed into his phone. "Mom, I'm sorry you're disappointed that only your son is coming to visit for the holidays and not his so-called fake boyfriend. But these things can't be helped."
Clint tried not to overhear the conversation going on next to him, but it was a crowded airport, what with the holidays and delays, they were sitting tightly next to each other in the tiny attached seats by the gates.
"Mom..." Phil tried to interrupt his mother again, but she was on a roll. After a moment he got an opening. "Yes, I know you don't care that I'm gay. I appreciate that. I know you want to meet my boyfriend and show him off to your friends. I love you for your support, I really do." Phil smiled weakly at the handsome man in a combat uniform sitting next to him, hoping it wouldn't cause an incident later. "But I can't help it if my boyfriend, and really I hate that term, I am over fifty years old, but his company got deployed again. I barely get any time with him myself."
Clint eyed the man next to him discreetly, thinking 'over fifty??' he really didn't look it. The man next to him was trim, in dark wool pants and a rich dark blue sweater that Clint's fingers twitched to touch. He had a bit of thinning hair, but he also had a strong jaw and crinkles at the corners of his eyes that could only come from smiling, like the man was doing now, even though he was arguing with his mother. To top it off the man had dark thick rimmed eyeglasses on that just gave him that extra oompf of sex appeal that tended to get Clint in trouble.
"I know mom, you mean well and I love you for it. But it's just going to be you and me again this year. I know we'll make it good, just like always." Phil smiled sadly. "My flight is still delayed, but probably not more than an hour. I'll be there with you before it's time to go to midnight mass, I promise. Now, I've got to go, my phone battery is low and it's a war to get to an outlet to recharge." Phil paused while his mother signed off. "Mulled cider sounds wonderful. I'll see you soon, Mom. Bye."
"Sounds like your boyfriend is missing out." A voice to Phil's left startled him and he turned to look at the younger man warily.
"Is there a problem?" Phil put a bit of steel in his voice, well used to homophobic soldiers after almost twenty years in the military himself.
The young man shook his head and smiled. "Only for me, it means you're already taken."
Phil's eyebrows shot up, surprised that someone so ruggedly handsome was flirting with him.
"Uh, well, about that..." Phil said, blushing slightly.
The man laughed out loud. "Seriously? It really is a 'fake boyfriend'? I so bought that. Shame on you for lying to your sweet old mother like that."
Phil's lip twitched in a smile. "Self preservation, I assure you. She's not all that sweet and she'd hit you with a frying pan for calling her old."
"I'll remember that." Clint smiled as he held out his hand to Phil. "Clint Barton."
"Phil, Phil Coulson." Phil smiled in response as he took the younger man's hand in his. Felling Clint's calluses he asked, "Sniper?"
Clint instantly shut down, his smile gone, replaced by cold eyes. "I'll let you get back to your book." His head inclining to Phil's bag where he'd set the book he was reading down when his mother called.
Phil instantly regretted his words. "I'm sorry, it's not like that. I'm not looking for some gory war story, trust me. Its just the insignia on your tattoo." Phil nodded to the ink peeking out from under Clint's sleeve edge. "It's Rangers, 75th and the calluses on your hand gave you away as a sniper." Phil looked closer at Clint, "Master Sniper, I'd guess."
Clint looked Phil over more closely now, seeing the set of his shoulders, and the way he sat in his chair. The trim haircut with just a hint of buzz, the coiled strength and the way his eyes continually check the exits. He nodded his acceptance of Phil's reasoning. "Not everyone can recognize a Ranger insignia, let alone even know what a Master Sniper is."
"You can if you spent ten years as Recon, different branches, but like knows like."
"Recon?" Clint whistled low, ‘Swift, Silent, Deadly.' He looked over at Phil with new eyes and nodded. "I can see it."
Phil shrugged, he wasn't sure why he'd told Clint. Maybe it was the way he set himself away from the other Rangers in the airport. Snipers are different, and he knew how hard it was to be a part of something yet not.
"Eight years in, then intel school, then Recon for ten." Phil said.
"Eighteen years all told. That's a lifetime."
Phil nodded. "Yes it was, and it was a lifetime ago too."
Clint nodded his head. "I hear you. But at eighteen, you're pretty much a lifer. What happened? If you don't mind my asking. I'm coming up on fifteen myself."
"Fifteen? What, were you twelve when they recruited you?" Phil chuckled. "You're practically a baby."
"I'm older than I look. I moisturize." Clint smiled and batted his eyes comically.
"Well, as long as you're legal." Phil laughed and leered back.
Clint's eyes roamed over Phil appreciatively, making Phil color a bit. "Oh, I definitely am. And you didn't answer, why did you get out? Recon is pretty big time."
"It is. Especially back then. Gulf War and all. But things happen. And when you're the one sending your friends into danger and your intel is off... well, people get hurt." Phil looked down at his hands, tightly clasped. Why was he telling this guy everything? Sheesh, he'd withstood torture and not said a word and now a pair of gorgeous eyes and arms and he's spilling his guts.
“Someone you loved?" Clint's lips twisted wryly, knowing how hard it was to be gay in the military, and when you found someone how secretive it needed to be.
"Yes, but not in that way." Phil shook his head, "My best friend, Nick. My first commander, he saved my life and that was it, he owned me and I was happy to oblige. He was skyrocketing through life and dragging me with him." Phil licked his lips, and took a deep breath. "He face-planted on a land mine, where my intel said it was clear. He lost an eye and a shining military career in one split second and it was my fault."
Clint reached out and covered Phil's hand with his own, "I'm guessing a friend like that isn't blaming you at all. That you're doing it to yourself, even years later."
Phil looked up at Clint and chuckled. "Yep. Nick says losing his eye is the best thing that ever happened to him. And that I'm an idiot for thinking it's my fault.” Phil paused, hearing Nick's voice in his ear. "And since it's my lot in life to follow Nick like a lost puppy, when my tour was up, I left the military and helped Nick with rehab and to get ready for his new job."
"At some alphabet agency, that he made sure that it was a package deal?"
"I can neither confirm nor deny that assumption," Phil joked.
Clint relaxed in his chair and smiled back at Phil. "And now you're too busy for a social life and your mother's nagging you to settle down."
"Pretty much, especially now that Nick seems to have found someone to put up with him. He's just moved in with Maria, one of the other members of our team, so my mother has stepped up her campaign to see me married and 'happy'."
Clint tilted his head like he was mulling over something. Then like the breaking sun a smile split his face and Phil was caught breathless in its mesmerizing glare. "I have a great idea!" he exclaimed digging in his bag and pulling out his laptop.
Phil's brows furrowed, still distracted by Clint's smile, as he watched Clint fire it up. "What?"
Clint's screen flared to life and he hit a familiar blue icon. "We're going to Skype your mother!”