Tony is building each of them their own floor in what remains of the Stark Tower. Clint’s counting down the days until the renovations are complete. His room on the Hellicarrier grows more claustrophobic as each day passes (the walls close in every time he dreams), so he spends as much time at Tony’s as possible, looking at the plans.
He makes sure that he’s in Tony’s workroom when the others stop in to look at their designs. They ask about the dimensions of the space, about the facilities, about how much it’s going to cost. Thor’s getting a fireplace, Bruce’s floor is reinforced to a redundant degree, Steve’s getting a ‘retro’ theme, and Natasha’s has a meditation room.
Clint doesn’t think he needs any of those things. He can’t think of what he does want, though. Tony’s already giving him a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room. (Coulson’s house, Clint knows, from the few times he’d visited, had had all of that. Coulson’s house had also had a study, but Clint’s books are too small and too few to fill up more than one shelf.) So he listens when the others talk, and keeps track of what he might want for himself.
He stops by almost every day. He starts his mornings in the land-based SHIELD headquarters, steals breakfast from the cafeteria, and spends his days walking around. He hits up libraries, museums, various rooftops with nice views. When he gets tired, or lonely, he heads to Tony’s. Tony threatens to kick him out sometimes, but he hasn’t done it yet.
Clint’s starting to get invested in the apartment Tony’s building for him. He’s never really had a space of his own before—not like this—and he wants it to be nice.
When he shows up on Thursday, Tony’s already working, grease in his hair and two half-full coffee mugs stacked on top of each other on the table in front of him. Clint pulls the wheeled stool he’s appropriated over to an unoccupied desk and asks JARVIS to pull up the plans. He likes JARVIS. The plans for Clint’s floor come up right away, just like usual. He pans over to the living room.
“Hey, Tony—that rectangle’s gonna be a couch, right?”
“Yeah? What kind of couch?” He spins the graphic in a circle. “Can it be grey?”
“It’s green,” Tony says, pushing Clint’s stool away and flicking away from Clint’s floor on the display. Clint reaches over his shoulder and flicks it back. “And it’s already been ordered.”
“Yeah? When’s it getting here?”
“What time Friday?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t you have to be here when they drop it off?”
“That’s why I have JARVIS. And a multi-billion dollar company, which comes with people who do things like wait for deliveries.”
“What are you going to do if they don’t bring it on Friday?”
Tony lets his head fall forward onto the table. The coffee mugs teeter precariously.
Clint opens his mouth to say something, but stays quiet; he doesn’t feel like apologizing right now. He’s not even sure what he’s done.
In the entirely of Clint’s life, there are four places that he’s stayed for more than five consecutive months: his parents’ apartment before the accident, the orphanage, the Swordsman’s trailer, and his SHIELD barracks (which barely count; he gets shuffled between different bases each new mission).
He and Barney had shared a room in their parents’ apartment. The door hadn’t locked but there had been a little nook in the closet—set high up in the wall, high enough that Barney had to boost Clint to get up there—where Clint could tuck himself into when things got bad. Barney would hoist him up there and slip out the window. Barney had friends he’d stay with when things went bad. Clint would stay, waiting for the yelling and screaming to stop. Sometimes he would stay hidden until the morning, when Barney usually came back for him. Other times he lowered himself down, his fingers white-knuckled, fingernails digging into the wood, holding his breath until he dropped to the ground.
They were shuffled between three foster homes after their parents’ accident. They always got kicked out pretty quick. Their first placement had been nice, but short term; he hadn’t needed to hide.
The second house was huge and old and Barney said that it had ghosts. After the first week, when their foster mom started asking them to spend time alone with her, Clint found a new way to hide. He loosened the screws on the vents using an old quarter and hid there when they came looking for him. Barney just grabbed a knife and started yelling. They were gone within a day.
In the third house there had been nowhere to run. Eventually he and Barney raised enough of a fuss—screaming, yelling, calling their social worker nonstop, complaining in school—and got taken out. The social worker took pictures of them when they were removed from the house. Clint knows that Coulson has those photos of pale skin and dark bruises tucked into some old file marked Barton, C.
After that their social worker gave up on trying to find them a family that would put up with them and stuck them in a shelter. They had their own beds, but the rules were different; they were in a dormitory with twelve other boys. There wasn’t enough food for all of them. When the next group of kids was admitted, there weren’t enough beds.
Clint got better at stealing and Barney got better at fighting and they hung on for as long as they could. Then Barney saw a poster for a circus coming through town, and they decided to run.
Between them they had a whole garbage bag full of stuff. Their clothes, a book, some photos, as much food as they could steal, and a blanket. The circus was on the outskirts of town and they ran all night to get there.
Barney had said that things at the circus would be better, but they weren’t. They slept under tarps for the first few weeks and ate the scraps left over after the others’ meals. Barney got picked to help out sometimes, which usually meant that he’d get fed at the end of the day. Clint hung out with the animals (and sometimes, sometimes when Barney had been gone for a while and the bigger kids had thrown their weight around, Clint would share their food).
The Swordsman found him hanging out with the elephants one day and pulled him into the big tent. He was redesigning his act and he made Clint part of it. He started out as little more than a prop, but after the first year, when he could hit the bullseye every time, the Swordsman would call him by his first name and talk to him sometimes.
Clint understands why Barney was jealous. He made fun of Clint, yell at him, take his food from him sometimes. Clint was just grateful that Barney was hanging out with him again.
When Clint stopped being useful, the Swordsman abandoned him. When Clint no longer had anything worth taking, Barney left him alone. He was seventeen when he stole a bow, filled another garbage bag half-full with his belongings, and left.
And now he is allowed inside Tony Stark’s house, and he’s going to have a giant bed in a floor of his own. A bed with pillows and a blanket, a bathroom, windows that open and doors that lock.
Clint asks Tony a lot of questions because he doesn’t know how these things are supposed to work. (And also because Tony has a lot to do and Clint is kind of worried that Tony will forget about Clint’s floor if he doesn’t bring it up every-so-often.)
He hangs around late one night when he knows there’s an event back at SHIELD headquarters. He browses through the layouts of the rest of the team’s floors, asking JARVIS questions and stealing Tony’s coffee.
The next morning JARVIS refuses to let him into the workshop, and Tony waggles his fingers at him through the glass in a teasing wave.
Clint could probably break in, if he tried hard enough. He flips Tony off through the glass and makes himself leave the tower. He spends a few nights sleeping on the streets, but the weather’s not bad, and it’s better than staying at SHIELD. He is pretty sure that Tony is still going to let Clint move in with the rest of the team. Tasha will be returning from her mission overseas soon, and she’ll insist.
It’s a month and a half before Tony throws his doors open (in a grand gesture made slightly less impressive by the automatic sliding doors) and invites them into the tower. They tour the common spaces together. Clint calls dibs on a chair in the living room, which everyone laughs at and ignores. He pushes towards the front of the group to hear what Tony’s talking about and tries to make some jokes. Eventually Tasha puts a hand on his shoulder, pulls him to the side, and tells him to be quiet.
Clint keeps his mouth shut until he takes the elevator to his floor—his floor, with six rooms that all belong to him. There’s a bed in Clint’s bedroom, and a bathroom with a tub and a shower, and a grey—grey, not green—couch in the living room. The windows all open and there are vent entrances in four rooms.
Clint has to pinch himself to remind himself that this is just like the circus. None of it actually belongs to him, and he’ll lose it as soon as he gets injured or replaced or kicked off the team.
None of his homes have lasted for long, but this is definitely the nicest one he's ever had.
He’s not used to fighting on a team. Not for more than a mission or two; his specialty is best suited for use on an as-needed basis. He knows that on this team, he has to earn his place, and that most days, he barely pulls his own weight.
Steve’s a good team leader. Clint’s crossing his fingers that Steve’s not quite good enough to realize that Clint’s the biggest weak spot on the team.
“I could have made those shots,” Clint says, when they return from a fight where Clint racked up the fewest kills and fewest saves of everyone on the team. He settles back in his chair and glares at Steve, who’s rubbing at his forehead like he’s getting a headache. Clint knows he can’t, though; he knows that Steve’s body is practically infallible. “If you’d let me stay in my perch, I could have made those shots,” he says, glaring at Steve. “The angle wasn’t that bad. I made a shot like that before, in Hong Kong—we’ve got the video of it somewhere.”
“That’s not relevant to the debrief,” Steve says, trying to cut Clint off.
“And later, when you gave me the order to back up Tony, I would have been more useful if I’d backed up the Hulk. See, I’ve got these new arrows, and since the Hulk pretty much only hits what’s right around him, I could have—”
“I do not care,” Steve says carefully, staring at the screen in front of him which is playing every available feed of the fight that SHIELD could find. Right now they’re all focused on Clint’s activities. “I can see what you did. And what you did not do. If I have any questions, I will ask you.” But Steve’s not going to ask Clint about what new arrows R&D had cooked up for him, he’s not going to ask Clint if he can do better—which Clint can. He has to. Clint spends the rest of the debrief grumbling.
He won’t let Steve forget about him. He won’t go down without a fight.
Steve doesn’t say anything to Clint when he leaves the conference room, which is the equivalent of a fuck you from anyone else.
Clint stays in the room, absolutely still, waiting for the motion sensors to turn off. It’s an old game he played in headquarters, back when playing pranks on the other SHIELD agents had been an option.
Coulson had kept track of Clint’s contributions for every mission. He’d made lists of them—annotated, cross-referenced lists—and had read them off at every evaluation Clint went through. He made shorter lists of the inevitable mistakes Clint made, along with training plans to make sure Clint would get better
But Coulson’s dead now. There’s no one left who’s going to do that for him.
Clint’s favorite room in the Avenger’s Tower (which has a new sign now, a sign with looping light-up letters; Clint likes to sit on top of the ‘T’ when he needs some fresh air) is the kitchen on the top floor. It’s got three refrigerators and more appliances than anyone except Bruce knows how to operate, and enough counters that Clint can perch on one without anyone getting mad that he’s taking up space.
He’s only gone grocery shopping a couple of times in his life, and most of those had been with Coulson. Everyone else buys a lot of food though, and they order a lot of food for delivery; there are always leftovers in the fridge. Bruce’s are Clint’s favorite, since Bruce cooks all of it himself, and there are spices and textures Clint’s only tasted on international missions. Tony’s food is either grotesquely gourmet or sugary cereals, and Natasha doesn’t quite trust them enough to leave her food on a communal floor yet. Everything that Thor has is microwavable, so Clint eats a lot of Thor's food.
About a month after they all move into the Tower, Thor catches Clint in the kitchen by himself. Usually Clint craves the company—it’s why he cleans his bow and arrows in the kitchen instead of his own quarters—but Thor doesn’t seem particularly pleased with him today.
“This box was not empty when I was last here,” Thor observes, looking inside an empty box of Pop-Tarts.
“They were delicious,” Clint agrees, from where he’s sitting cross-legged on the counter. “You should get marshmallow next time.” Jane and Darcy go shopping with Thor pretty much every time they visit him, so he knows that Thor’s food supply will be replenished quickly.
Thor frowns. “I was under the impression that the foodstuffs were not communal. I even identified the Pop-Tarts as mine.” His name, THOR, is written on the box with a permanent marker.
“I’m not a good reader,” Clint says, jumping off the counter and taking the box away. He’ll recycle it and make sure not to leave such obvious evidence behind next time. “Don’t be such a bad sport. Mooching is a respected Earthling tradition.”
Thor does buy more Pop-Tarts. He buys blueberry and cinnamon and marshmallow. After that conversation, Clint makes sure never to take the last Pop-Tart in the box, and he only takes the oldest ones, the ones tucked in the back, that Thor might not want—or sometimes, if Thor only eats one out of a package, Clint will finish the other one off before it can go bad.
Unfortunately Thor wanders down to the gym on a day when Clint’s working out and spots a foil wrapper in his gym bag.
“Is there ill will between us?” Thor asks Clint.
“What? No. Why?”
“You continue to eat my Pop-Tarts despite my protests. One could perceive this as an act of aggression on your part.”
“What are you going to do about it?” Clint bounces on his toes and puts his fists up.
Thor sighs and leaves without working out. Clint tries to work his energy out on the punching bags, but it just leaves him feeling violent and mean.
The next time Jane takes Thor shopping, Thor buys Pop-Tarts for himself and a box for Clint, and then marks separate shelves for everyone in the kitchen. Everyone else’s shelves fill up as time passes, but Clint’s just have the Pop-Tarts.
He mostly avoids Thor after that. And Tony, since Tony can be clever in a mean, teasing way that Clint doesn’t know how to handle. And Steve, since every time Clint sees him he’s seized with the urge to simultaneously apologize and argue.
He’s been spending a lot of time with Natasha, who always tells him to shut up when she needs him to, and sometimes he’ll go down to Bruce’s lab and just watch him work. He brings coffee when he visits Bruce. Coulson had told him once that bringing people gifts is a way to soothe their temper.
He’s in the air vent on his way to the kitchen—there’s a huge communal bag of rice in there, and Clint actually knows how to make that—when the rest of the team walks through. They’re all dressed up, the men in an array of tuxedos and Natasha in a red dress that Pepper had bought her.
“Clint’s not coming?” Natasha asks, adjusting her earrings.
“I told everyone about it,” Steve says with a shrug. “I guess he wasn’t interested.”
Clint’s not sure what they’re talking about. Probably—at their last debrief, Steve had mentioned some sort of official function. The New York Firefighters were honoring the Avengers’ clean-up efforts in the Chitauri aftermath. Steve had talked about it, but he hadn’t said that Clint was invited.
“We should leave twenty bucks for pizza,” Tony says. “Or hire a babysitter.”
Clint slithers down the vent after them, an uneasy smile on his lips. Maybe he can pop out at them in the entryway and see if there’s still an invitation to the event. Clint had helped, after all, even when he’d been exhausted and dehydrated and in shock. He’d needed to help.
“I don’t wish to be uncharitable,” Thor says, “but I believe I shall enjoy an evening without the archer’s company.” Clint freezes. Thor—Thor likes everybody and everything. Thor even likes Fury. Just—apparently, not Clint. “He can be very…”
“High maintenance,” Steve finishes. Clint bites his lip to keep the nervous laughter from bubbling out. His body feels like it might fly apart, torn away by the breeze through the vent and his teammates’ voices.
This is okay. They’re not being mean, they’re just being honest. Clint can be irritating. People don’t want him around. That’s just how things are.
They look nice. The five of them, four black tuxes and Natasha’s red dress. They’ll look good in the pictures, and they’ll have nice quotes in the paper, and they’ll behave correctly all night and eat their food with good manners (every time Clint eats somewhere fancy, he hears Coulson’s voice in his head, reminding him to keep his elbows off the table). Without Coulson there, Clint usually spills something or offends someone or says something even stupider than usual when a reporter’s around.
JARVIS whisks the rest of the team away in the elevator. Clint waits, making sure no one will be coming back for any forgotten items, and then gets down.
He’s in the living room when they get back, right in plain sight. He’s got a bag of Tony’s Cheetos and one of Bruce’s beers (he’s already had some of Natasha’s vodka, but he doesn’t want them to think he’s drinking for any reason other than pleasure). He turns up the volume on the game—tennis, which, if he’d been paying attention, he would have switched to something more masculine—and crunches loudly on his snack.
“Did y’all have fun at the fancy ball? Anyone turn into a pumpkin?”
“It was nice,” Natasha says. Clint can hear the sound of her kicking her heels off. She’s got to be tipsy if she’s treating her shoes like that. It’s not often that Natasha relaxes that much. She walks closer to the couch than absolutely necessary as she passes by, but she doesn’t say anything more. Doesn’t sit with him like she used to, before they’d started living in this tower together. Coulson’s not here anymore to fill the silent, awkward space between them.
“JARVIS and I bro’d it up in your absence,” Clint says. “Shame you had to come back.” Tony grumbles at him and takes back his bag of Cheetos. The rest of them just head to their rooms.
Clint stares at his feet. He’s wearing thick socks and a pair of Coulson’s old SHIELD sweatpants. He’d been trying to look casual. Like he hadn’t been at all bothered. He knew he should feel happy. It had worked.
On Phil’s birthday Clint goes out and gets into fights in three different bars. He makes sure to get punched in the face a few times in the first fight, so he wouldn’t be recognizable in any photos, wouldn’t bring any bad press down on the team.
He has to pay a taxi driver an extra fifty bucks to get brought back to the Tower. He drips blood all over the seat and laughs at his reflection in the window. There’s broken glass embedded in his left palm, which he’ll have to clean carefully, and bone-deep bruises on both his forearms and his right thigh. His ribs hurt but he finally feels like the oxygen’s actually reaching him when he breathes.
He ends up giving the taxi driver all of the cash in his wallet—which is a lot, since Tony’s started monitoring the team’s salaries and browbeating them into actually taking the money—because his vision’s too fuzzy for him to tell the bills apart.
JARVIS actually sighs at him in disapproval when he unlocks the door, but he’s apparently alerted the rest of the team. Natasha and Steve are in the lobby when he gets in, both wearing their pajamas.
“Captain America with bed head,” Clint says, sagging against the door frame. “Phil would—Phil’d—” Phil would get a kick out of it, he wants to say. Natasha's face twists, going tense in the way that he knows means that she’s sad, so he shuts up.
They don’t talk about Coulson. It’s a rule.
Steve pretty much carries him into the elevator. Natasha’s saying something in Russian, but Clint honestly doesn’t care enough to translate it. He’s too tired. He doesn’t want to hear any more mean things being said about him.
Back in the tower, bleeding on the floor, Steve’s arm around him and Natasha’s angry voice in his ear, Clint starts to feel like he lost.
He had gotten in three fights and won every single one of them. It had made him feel alive, the way fighting always has. He’d been alive and in pain and powerful, but all of that is fading now, and fading fast.
Steve deposits him in his bedroom, where Bruce is waiting with a bag of medical supplies. Natasha sits in a chair (a grey one with purple pillows that Clint had asked for and gotten) and glares at him.
Bruce picks all the glass out of Clint’s arms and cleans. Makes him take his shirt off so that he can see the bruises that are spreading there. "You must be in a lot of pain," Bruce says. Clint stares at his hands—the calluses, the split knuckles, the fingers that Phil had massaged sometimes—and tells Bruce to fuck off.
Natasha bullies him into taking a shower so that he won’t make his bed smell like a brewery. At some point he’d gotten hit over the head with a bottle of tequila. She tries to talk to him again—in Russian, because Bruce is close enough to hear them—and Clint tells her that he doesn't want her there. She actually leaves, which he hadn’t expected. It's Phil's birthday. Neither of them are being very reasonable.
He manages to stay upright until he’s done showering, but just sits down on the bathroom floor when he’s done. Bruce bandages him up there.
“I’m worried about you,” Bruce says, wrapping Clint’s knuckles.
“You shouldn’t be,” Clint says. He’s invisible. He’s going to be gone soon. He’s tired.
Clint’s world stutters and restarts when Fury summons them into his office for a meeting and tells them that Phil Coulson is alive.
Tony yells, and then Steve yells, and soon Fury’s office is echoing with anger and all Clint can think is Alive. Clint’s not sure how second chances are supposed to work—he’s only been given one (offered with a smile and Phil’s outstretched hand)—but Coulson’s alive; what else can this be?
He’s watched the tape of Phil dying enough times to memorize it. He’d watched it, learned, it analyzed it, and accepted that Phil was dead and that it was Clint's fault. He’d held that truth, sacred and unquestioned, inside of himself, for ten months. He’s never learned not to let go.
The team goes to the medical bay together. Clint hangs towards the back of the group, making sure to stay out of everybody’s way, keeping quiet. This is not something he wants to get kicked out of.
Coulson’s awake when they get there. Coulson’s awake, alive, and seeing him feels like getting hit in the chest with Mjolnir. Clint’s breath leaves his body in a rush and it takes him a few seconds to remember to inhale again.
Stark is at Coulson’s bedside first, telling Coulson off at great length for not submitting the appropriate resurrection paperwork. He’s also holding Coulson’s hand, really gently. Stark makes way for Steve, snagging the clipboard at the foot of Coulson’s bed. Clint would have been tempted to steal it himself if he thought there was any chance in hell he’d be able to understand any of it.
Bruce and Thor are somewhat underwhelmed, having only briefly met the man, but they’re both kind and respectful. Coulson seems kind of awed by the attention.
Natasha waits for the rest of the team to leave before stepping up to Coulson’s bedside. She touches their foreheads together and Coulson puts his hand on the back of her neck to hold her there. A physical ache sweeps through Clint. It has been a very long time since someone touched him, and it will feel so good to be able to touch Coulson again, to reassure himself that they're both alive.
Coulson looks tired, and the doctor that comes in and kicks them out apparently agrees. Clint leaves without saying anything.
He goes home with the team, all of them wrapped up in their own thoughts. Clint actually wouldn’t have minded talking for once, but he doesn’t want to impose. He’s getting tired. He’s getting tired of asking people to care for him, to like him, to be his friend. And he’s not even doing that right, since most of the Avengers pretty much just want him to go away.
He goes back that night by himself. He creeps into Coulson’s room while he’s asleep (because if Coulson doesn’t know he’s there, he can’t tell Clint to leave), and stays until the sun rises. He leaves before Coulson wakes up. He doesn’t want to waste his second second chance so soon.
Clint goes back to the Avengers Tower and stays there, keeping to himself, for two days.
Natasha comes to his floor a few times, but Clint’s perfected his hiding spots, and eventually, she leaves him alone. JARVIS gets him out by claiming that Phil’s asked to see him. JARVIS calls Coulson Phil, which Tony for some reason find hilarious.
Clint passes Tony on his way out of the building. Tony calls him an asshole and points to the door. Clint’s not sure what he did this time, so he just rolls his eyes and leaves. There’s a Stark car waiting for him, so he gets in and concentrates on not being nervous. There’s no reason to be nervous. His palms are sweating.
When he finally gets to the hospital and enters the room—through the door, this time, instead of the vent—Coulson’s sitting up in the bed.
“You look better,” Clint says, stepping inside the room. The door clicks shut behind him. He eyes the vent, the window, surreptitiously turns the knob behind him to make sure it hasn’t locked.
“So you were here earlier?” Coulson asks. Clint shrugs. “I’ve been awake for a while now. Is there a reason you didn’t come talk to me?” Coulson sounds like he’s debriefing Clint after a rough mission, but Clint’s not sure why; he’s not the one who’d come home injured.
“No,” Clint says. Coulson looks—looks sick, looks pale and tired, but he looks like Phil. Clint can’t look at him for too long. He’ll do something stupid, like cry, and then he’ll have to jump out of the damn window.
“I thought you were dead,” Coulson says quietly.
“I thought you were,” Clint says.
“The last I heard, you were under Loki’s control. They told me that—when the Tesseract fell—that all of Loki’s forces fell with it.” Clint had felt the Tesseract’s power being pulled from his bones. Had staggered in the aftermath of its loss, and filled that empty space with anger. That space—where his heart and loyalty and free will are supposed to be—used to be Coulson’s. Clint wants to offer it to him again, but this time, he wants to offer himself, not just his obedience. (He is not just a soldier. He thinks that maybe Coulson already knows that. He thinks that maybe Coulson already likes him because of that.)
“Natasha fixed me first. Banged my head against a railing. Worked pretty good.”
“Clint—come here.” Clint’s been doing really good, been doing a really good job of not looking at Coulson for too long, of not running to him, of not acting like he’s entitled to any of Coulson’s comfort. But now Coulson’s reaching for him with a pale hand, tugging at his IV, and Clint can’t let Phil hurt himself.
He sits down at Coulson’s bedside and holds his hand. It’s the first time he’s felt real since Loki stole his heart.
“I missed you,” Coulson says. Clint closes his eyes tight and bends forward, his forehead pressing against Coulson’s shoulder. Clint’s got no words left, he’s got no explanations, he’s got no way to share his fear and longing and gratitude.
Coulson pulls Clint’s hand up to his mouth and kisses the back of his hand. Kisses his knuckles and the tips of his fingers and Clint’s breath catches in his throat and he pulls their hand away so that he can kiss Coulson, kiss his dry lips, kiss him and feel him smile. Coulson's lips are drier and softer than Clint had imagined they would be. He pulls back and Coulson rests Clint’s hand on his chest, over the scar. Coulson’s skin is warm.
“I missed you too,” Clint whispers. “It’s been really lonely without you.”
Phil moves into the Avengers tower three weeks later. Clint gives him a grand tour of his quarters, his arm wrapped about Phil’s waist the whole time. It’s odd to feel so comfortable around Phil—they’d lived out of each other’s pockets for years—and yet so nervous at the same time. He knows how Phil likes his tea, knows why Phil prays, he knows Phil’s siblings’ middle names, but not what he will do if Clint kisses the back of his neck.
He tries it. It makes Phil smile.
Phil says nice things about the furniture, about the one painting Clint had bought and hung himself, admires the bathroom and moans distractingly when Clint helps him into bed.
Clint fills him in on the SHIELD gossip that he missed and traces patterns around the IV injection points on the back of Phil’s hand. Phil falls asleep pretty quickly. Watching Phil sleep—so still, just like the last glimpse Clint had seen of him on the Hellicarrier footage—is painful, so Clint leaves the room, asking JARVIS to keep an eye on things while he’s gone.
He goes up to the kitchen. Thor and Jane are already there, cooking something in the oven. Clint likes Jane. She’s smart enough that Bruce and Tony fight for her attention every time she stays for more than a few days, but she’s never made Clint feel dumb.
Clint was going to bring some food for Coulson, in case he woke up and was hungry, but Clint doesn’t know how to make anything. He’d been thinking about maybe stealing someone else’s food, but he’s not going to do that in front of Thor and his perfect girlfriend. Taking a box of Pop-Tarts, now that he knows it had been a fuck off message and not a gift, would be kind of tacky.
Jane sees him before he can make his escape. “How’s Phil settling in?”
“Fine,” he says. “Um. Good.”
Jane’s leaning against Thor’s side. She’s wearing one of Thor’s shirts, and it falls practically to her knees. Clint’s wearing one of Phil’s shirts, but it’s just got the SHIELD logo on it, so no one would be able to tell. “I had no idea that the two of you were together,” Jane says, smiling at him like it’s nothing.
Clint freezes. “We’re—we’re not,” he says, because they’re not, not really. They were just…they’d been close, close in a way that Clint hadn’t quite been able to trust, for years. Close and now kissing.
Thor frowns. “Perhaps I misunderstood—Natasha told me that the two of you were together.”
“Yeah, together, like, partners,” Clint says.
“Partners who bed each other,” Thor elaborates. “Natasha was very explicit.”
Clint digs his fingernails into this palm for a second, to center himself, before he swallows down his fear. He’s not sure how Natasha knows—Coulson had probably told her, since the two of them talk about Clint sometimes when he’s not there. He trusts that they never do it to hurt him. If Natasha had brought it up, she must think it's okay to tell the others. She must think it’s real. “Yeah.”
“He must love you very much,” Thor says. Clint freezes, his hand still in the drawer, grabbing some take-out menus.
“We’ve worked together for a long time,” he says, because he’s not going to explain to Thor how their relationship works. Phil’s his handler, his supervisor, and his partner, in and off the field. Love is as unlikely as it is unnecessary. Clint is grateful for everything Coulson gives him.
“Are you hungry?” Jane asks. “The baked macaroni and cheese is almost done. It’s got extra cheese. One of Darcy’s recipes.”
“I also have more Pop-Tarts,” Thor says, looking earnest.
“No, I—I’ll just order something.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Jane interrupts. “We’ve got plenty of food right here. You don’t want it to go to waste, do you?”
Of course he doesn’t. Most of his meals are the things that other people leave in the fridge and forget about. He’s spent too much time without food to be able to treat it so casually.
He stays in the kitchen while the macaroni and cheese finishes baking. Jane piles some on a plate when she takes it out of the oven, and Thor hands him a fork.
Phil eats a little when he wakes up during the night. He kisses Clint when he’s done eating and his mouth tastes like cheddar. Clint teases him about brushing his teeth and, when Coulson laughs and falls asleep soon after, Clint gets under the covers and joins him.
The next day Clint finds a Tupperware container in the fridge with more, a piece of masking tape on it, labeled with Thor’s scrawl: PHIL AND CLINT.
The next time Clint goes into Tony’s workshop, it’s because he’s been invited. DUM-E whirs and bumps into his knee when he hesitates inside the door, so he sucks it up and smiles, pretends he’s not nervous. “You needed something?”
“Yeah,” Tony says. He’s bent over the counter and he’s got his goggles on. His hair’s going up in about eight different directions and he’s wearing what looks like a pair of Pepper’s yoga pants and a giant NASCAR sweatshirt. The only times Clint’s seen Tony this distracted before is when he’d been working on his suit. “You said you ran out of exploding arrows in the last debrief, and apparently it’s my job now to fix all your problems.”
It makes sense that Coulson’s the reason that Clint’s been allowed back down here again; Coulson trying to fix everything, making friends for Clint because he doesn’t know how to do it himself. “So? I managed just fine without them.”
“If someone asks me to make better exploding things, you know I’m going to do it,” Tony says, looking frustrated. “I like exploding things.”
“SHIELD makes me everything I need.”
“And I make them better. Come look, okay? Steve will be all over my ass if I don’t get a prototype done soon.”
Clint just stops for a minute. “Steve asked you to do this? Not Coulson?”
“Oh my god, for all that is holy, stop thinking about your boyfriend and look at your shiny new toys, okay?” Clint obeys, coming over to the counter, making sure to keep his hands to himself until Tony tells him it’s okay to touch.
The arrows are awesome. Tony’s doubled up their functions so that his exploding arrows can also be electric arrows, and the grappling hook/net spreaders are high up on Tony’s to-do list.
“What do you think?” Tony’s practically bouncing. He’s pushed his goggles up on his forehead; they left red pressure lines around his eyes. “Awesome, right? They’re awesome.”
Clint runs his hands down the smooth surface of the arrow. “It’s great. It’s—it’ll really help. Thank you.”
Tony beams and then shoves his goggles back on. He picks up a blow torch and one of the robots picks up a fire extinguisher. Tony keeps talking, his volume rising and falling with the burn of his torch. Eventually Clint perches on the edge of a table—after clearing off some papers and screwdrivers—and hangs out for a while.
“This isn’t the first time your family’s housed me,” Clint says a few weeks later, the newest arrow prototype in his hands. The words feel awkward in his mouth. (He hasn’t said any of this to Coulson, so he’s probably not going to manage to explain it right to Tony. Coulson has a way of making Clint’s words work.)
“I’m pretty sure I’d have remembered any sleepovers with an arrow-happy circus kid,” Tony says with a crooked smile.
“No, I mean—your mom’s Maria Stark, right?”
“She passed away a long time ago.” Tony sounds serious, like he does sometimes when his mask’s on. It sounds different outside of the suit, not mediated by the speakers.
“She had a foundation? Maria Stark Foundation. It closed a while ago, but it—she did a lot of work with—with kids.”
Clint takes a deep breath and lets it out in a big gust. “Her foundation sponsored a lot of homeless shelters in the Midwest.”
“Those closed a long time ago,” Tony says slowly. “You can’t have stayed there, you’d have been—”
“Young,” Clint says, cutting him off. “It doesn’t matter. Me and my brother—” He winces, because he hasn’t told anyone but Coulson and Natasha about Barney; he really should have practiced this on Coulson. “There were some rough patches. Anyway, I just—I never got to thank her, so. Figured I could thank you for her. And thank you for this—I mean, for the room here.”
He pushes himself off the bench and bolts for the door, but Tony’s voice stops him before he makes it to the door. “You know this isn’t a shelter, right?” Clint nods but doesn’t turn around. “This is permanent,” Tony says. “You get to stay here as long as you want to.”
Bruce and Clint make dinner together once a week. It’s a deal they struck so that Bruce wouldn’t report Clint’s private celebration of Coulson's birthday to SHIELD medical. Clint doesn’t mind so much. He’s pretty shit in the kitchen—Bruce has to give him constant direction—but Bruce doesn’t seem bothered. Bruce is good at putting up with irritation.
Clint has JARVIS take note of what meals and tastes and foods each person likes. Clint’s part of a team now, and they keep having fucking birthdays. He figures cooking can’t be harder than buying presents— which, he’s discovering, he’s really crap at.
After the third meal where he and Bruce serve apple-based entrees (Natasha’s favorite), she volunteers to help him do the dishes. They start in silence. She bumps against his shoulder every so often, and he leans against her every time she does. He figures she might need someone to touch her, too.
“I need to apologize,” she says, drying the last of the plates and avoiding eye contact. “I’ve never known you without Coulson. I hadn’t realized how much his presence calmed you down, and I thought—well, you were been kind of an asshole without him.”
“I’m not sure how that’s an apology,” he says, trying to smile.
“When I was a child,” she says slowly, “we were made to keep in line. If we failed to meet expectations, the reprimands were…severe. The goal was to not be noticed.”
Clint shifts his weight back and forth. His experience had been different. With his parents, who were drunk more than they were sober, he had to yell to be heard. He had to remind them that he was hungry, over and over and over, until food was physically in his hands. The orphanage hadn’t been better, since there had been more kids than food, and he’d needed to fight for every available scrap. At the circus he’d had to fight for food and approval , and he hadn’t gotten either often.
“I notice you,” she says.
They do movie night in the tower once every couple of weeks, whenever they’re all free and there are no impending attacks. Everybody gathers in the living room, sharing blankets and popcorn. Clint’s used to sitting on one of the end tables or, if Natasha’s sitting on one end of the couch, he’ll perch on the arm of the couch next to her. There aren’t enough chairs for everyone, and he’s never bothered getting one for himself.
It’s not until he and Coulson finally get the same movie night free for the first time that he realizes that won’t work anymore. Coulson's still healing; he can't sit on the floor. Coulson can probably take the spot on the couch where Natasha usually sits, and Clint can sit on the ground at his feet. Clint helps ease Coulson onto the couch. He’s mostly healed, but the skin is taut and new; it pulls uncomfortably. Natasha tugs Clint up when he tries to slide down onto the floor.
“Sit with him,” she says. “No one’s going to mind.”
“I know,” he says, even though he barely believes it. Everyone’s been weirdly okay with the whole gay thing—even Steve, which Clint and Phil had both worried about. Bruce teases Clint about it sometimes, and Tony calls him Mrs. Agent every so often, but none of it’s mean. “There’s just not enough seats for everyone.”
“Then I’ll sit on the floor,” she says, rolling her eyes at him like he’s being especially stupid.
“We’re still one short,” he says. “We’re always one short.” He gestures at the rest of the room, hoping that she won’t make him explain—in front of Coulson—how Clint just doesn’t always fit in. He’d rather perch than not be there. But, if he’s being honest (and Coulson’s here, so he’s trying his best) he’d rather be part of the group. He just doesn’t want to impose. He knows he’s irritating, that people don’t always want him around. Making a space for himself here might make the others move somewhere else.
Natasha frowns at him, looks around the room, and then leaves, taking Steve and Thor with her. They come back a few minutes later. Steve’s got one of the chairs from the dining room and Thor’s got a lounger from the balcony. Tony follows close on their heels and starts complaining, but Natasha just shakes her head at him and he shuts up. Thor lays down on the lounger and Steve sits on the dining room chair, moving it so it’s closer to Tony’s recliner.
Clint sits down next to Coulson and nudges him. “Captain America’s slouching,” Clint whispers.
“It’s a metaphor for our country’s morality,” Phil says solemnly.
“I’m pretty sure Tony’s a better representative of that,” Natasha says, settling on Clint’s other side. Bruce walks in just then, carrying two huge bowls of popcorn. He hands one to Coulson, then hands a bag of crumbled Andes mints to Clint.
“You should try putting them in with the popcorn while it’s still hot,” Bruce advises. “They melt and make chocolate popcorn clumps. Messy and delicious.”
“I like Andes mints,” Clint says, passing the bag back and forth between his hands.
“I know,” Bruce says. “You told me that weeks ago.”
Clint glances at Coulson and waits for the nod of approval before he dumps the bag into the popcorn. “I plan on licking this chocolate off of your fingers later,” Phil murmurs into his ear. Clint grins and settles himself more firmly against Phil and the couch, keeping the popcorn in his lap. The first handful is delicious and sticky, and he has to stop himself from wiping his hands off.
“What are we watching?” Tony asks. Clint ignores him at first, trying to get another especially chocolatey handful, but soon realizes everyone’s looking at him.
“Everyone else has picked,” Tony says. “It’s your turn.”
“All four Lethal Weapons,” he says.
“Pride and Prejudice,” Coulson says, talking over him.
“Hey, movie hog, it’s not your week,” Tony says.
“No, Pride and Prejudice is Clint’s favorite. The Colin Firth version.”
“You’re such a sap,” Natasha says, kicking him in the thigh before tucking her toes under his leg. She got a bowl of apple slices and caramel tucked in her lap. She looks content, looks comfortable. Thor and Tony complain about the movie choice; Steve’s thrilled that there’s a movie version of Austen.
“I sense a marathon in our future,” Tony says mournfully.
JARVIS cues up the movie and the grumbling dies out pretty quickly. Clint carefully arranges himself so that he won’t be putting any pressure on Coulson’s chest and relaxes against the cushions. He looks around the room once he’s settled, but no one’s paying any attention to him. For the first time that he can remember, Clint’s okay with that.
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