The fuzzy picture on the monitor slowly sharpened to show a pretty woman with dark, curly hair. Phil noted that the hair was shorter than it had been the last time he saw her and was vaguely dismayed to realise that their last conversation had been three months ago. Where did time go?
"How's my big brother?" Jeannie said with a wide smile.
There was a pause and then Jeannie said, "Phil, are you OK?"
"I just told you, I'm fine."
"Hmm." Jeannie's expression became the familiar, stubborn one he had learned to dread. "If you're fine, then turn on the camera. I know your camera works, you're you and you hate using broken tech."
Phil gave in and turned on his webcam.
"Phil! What happened?"
"I got mugged," he said calmly.
Jeannie's eyes narrowed. "That would have been so much more convincing if I hadn't seen you on CNN yesterday getting thrown around by some kind of giant robot."
"If you knew, why did you ask?"
"I'm trying to play into the little game where you pretend to be an accountant and I pretend to believe you, but I'm too tired for it today. I'm your sister, you think that I can't spot when you're lying through your teeth? It works on Mom but it doesn't work on me."
There were days when having a sister who was observant, intelligent and unafraid gave Phil a terrible headache. And then there were days like today when it was actually a relief because he wouldn't have to lie to her anymore. Phil was oddly unsurprised that she'd worked it out after all these years.
"That's a real shiner," Jeannie said with a smile. "And the sling looks great with your tie. Next time, try ducking?
"I'll try to remember that," Phil said as someone knocked on his door.
The door opened before he could say anything and Clint strode in waving a sheet of paper.
"Did you see this? They're telling me that I filled in the IR-887 wrong again! All I want is some fu-"
"Hi Clint!" Jeannie said brightly.
Clint stopped and closed his mouth so quickly Phil could hear his teeth click. He even flushed slightly. "Hi Jeannie?"
"I've heard the word fuck before," Jeannie said dryly. "Don't feel you have to stop for me."
Clint shrugged even though there was no way for Jeannie to see it with the camera angle. "Uh, yeah."
"You're as bad as my brother."
"Hey, did Lucy get that thing?"
"Lucy got that thing," Jeannie confirmed to Phil's great confusion. "Thanks for the lead."
"No problem." Clint waved the papers in his hand. "I'll just wait over here until you're done, boss."
He sprawled out on Phil's couch and Phil resigned himself to never getting a private conversation with his sister.
"When were you talking to Barton about Lucy?" Phil asked quietly.
There was a quiet rustle from Clint's direction but thankfully he said nothing, pretending deep interest in his misfiled forms.
"Last week," Jeannie said. "I called your cell and you were in the shower so I had a bit of a chat with Clint. He gave me a few leads to find the decorations for Lucy's cake, she's completely Brave obsessed right now and do you have any idea how hard it is to find Merida cake topper? You should bring him home sometime, Lucy's dying to meet him."
"And hey, I know just the thing! You should bring him home for Christmas."
"If you so much as think about telling me that you're not coming home for Christmas, I will kill you. I will hunt you down, there is nowhere on Earth you will be able to hide, and I will kill you in the most painful way I know. And believe me, over the last year I've thought up lots of really painful ways to kill people. You can thank Derek for that."
Phil frowned. "Jeannie, are you alright?"
"No, I'm not alright." Jeannie ran a hand through her hair, setting all her curls awry. "Derek's decided to spend Christmas in the Bahamas with the secretary he left me for on New Year's Eve. Abby's furious with him so that's probably not an entirely bad thing but Jake’s...Phil, our mother is coming for Christmas and she's bringing Danni and Tab. Jake is nine. He's going to be lost in a sea of oestrogen and he needs somebody with a Y-chromosome to balance things out."
"I thought Danni was with someone?"
Jeannie gave him a nasty look. "Phil, she broke up with Gary last year. Last. Year. Do you ever actually listen to the family gossip when I'm telling you?"
"I do," Clint called.
"Thank you, Clint. You, I like right now. My brother, not so much."
"He's got his good points."
Phil started to get a horrible picture of what Christmas would be like if he allowed Clint anywhere near his family.
"And if one of those good points was some consideration for my mental health, I'd love him a lot more." Jeannie glared. "Phil, our mother will be here. Please, come home. Bring Clint. Save me and my children from Mom and Danni."
"I'm still not sure how me coming home for Christmas will save anyone from our mother," Phil said tiredly.
"You won't. Clint will."
Jeannie's smile was pure evil. "She'll be so busy adoring your boyfriend that she won't have time to make anyone else's life miserable. It's a win-win for all of us."
"Barton isn't my-"
"Shit!" Jeannie turned away from the camera. "Lucy, take that off your head this instant! Phil, I've got to go before my youngest child suffocates herself. December twenty-third. If you're not here with Clint, you won't be able to run fast enough to escape my retribution."
The call abruptly ended and Phil was left staring at his monitor feeling vaguely like he'd been run over by something large and heavy.
"I like your sister," Clint noted from the couch.
"Barton, why did you tell my sister that I was in the shower?" Phil asked, deciding to focus on one thing at a time and suspecting that he was focusing on the wrong thing.
"Because you were?" Clint shrugged. "It was last week, after the slime thing."
"Why did you answer my cell?"
"It was your sister. She never calls your cell so I figured it was important."
Phil rubbed the bridge of his nose. "It was a cake topper?"
"Apparently these things are fucking important when you're organising a fourth birthday party," Clint said seriously. "She sounded stressed."
"I can't decide which is worse: my sister calling me with cake topper emergencies and expecting me know about them or you knowing where to find a Merida cake topper."
Clint shrugged. "I think that one is a close call, sir."
"Why are you here?"
"Apparently there's a new set of codes and I missed them." Clint rolled off the couch and threw the forms on Phil's desk. "I can't get any new arrows until I've got all the right codes for them, which are in the new manual that I didn't get."
"Have you tried looking under the massive stack of paper you call your desk?"
"I even tidied it. No manual."
Phil pulled out his copy of the account code manual out and handed it to Clint. "Don't lose it."
Clint flopped back onto the couch and began paging through the manual, a pen clenched between his teeth.
"So, boss," he said, his voice muffled from the pen. "Christmas? Meet your family?"
The headache was going to be a really nasty one and Phil rummaged in his desk for some Tylenol.
"I got a personal invite."
"Your sister sounded pretty desperate."
"My sister thinks you're my boyfriend."
Clint shrugged. "So we'll break up in February, she'll never have to know. Come on, it gets me out of the thing Stark is organising and you know how much I hate wearing a tux. It gets you Christmas with your family. When is the last time you went home for Christmas, anyway?"
"I can't remember," Phil said thoughtfully.
"Doesn't that make it even more important for you to go?"
"Barton, I'm not taking you home for Christmas."
"Do you want to disappoint your sister?" Clint scribbled something on his forms and closed the manual triumphantly. "I'm willing to take one for the team, sir, if it gets me out of Stark's party and gets you a nice, quiet, family Christmas."
Phil almost laughed at the concept of a quiet Christmas with his family but he hesitated, imagining the look on Clint's face when confronted with his mother.
"How hard could it be to pretend for a few days?" Clint continued. "All those kids around, we'd be able to keep it strictly PG and your sister would never have to know. It'll be great."
Phil stared. "You're actually volunteering to spend Christmas pretending to be-"
"Your boyfriend." Clint nodded. "I've had worse assignments."
"Fine." Phil pulled up a website and began hunting for flights. "Remember, you volunteered for this."
The airport was crammed with people and Phil was actually a little bit glad that Clint was there. He was useful for carrying luggage. Phil was out of the sling but his shoulder still pulled painfully when he tried to lift anything heavy and every baggage cart in the place was in use.
It was a little worrying to see the size of Clint's suitcase and bag, bearing in mind they were only planning to stay for four days, but Phil was trying not to wonder too much about that in case it drove him crazy. He had only been allowed to carry his small wheeled carryon and his garment bag, everything else was being dragged around by Clint.
"I'm pretty sure everyone in the northern hemisphere is in this airport," Clint said grumpily.
"Don't exaggerate," Phil said. "Most of New York is still queuing in JFK for cancelled flights."
"Travelling at Christmas is the worst."
Phil had to agree. It was one of the many reasons he hadn't been home for Christmas for so long. The crowds were terrible and there was no way he'd be able to spot Jeannie in this mess. He was about to suggest they wait closer to the exit when he spotted a familiar hideous orange hat heading towards them.
The wearer of the hat shouldered her way through the crowds and beamed at him.
"Philip!" she crowed.
Out of the corner of his eye, Phil could see Clint's eyes widen. Anyone not accustomed to Danni and her unusual taste in clothing tended to have that reaction.
"Hello, Danni," Phil said and then made an undignified squawk noise as she launched herself at him and attached herself to his neck.
Like a limpet.
He could see Clint's shoulders shaking and his mouth twitching but some survival instinct kept the laughter under control.
There was a long, uncomfortable moment where Danni seemed determined to strangle him and then she dropped back to the floor and grinned at him.
"Is this Clint?" she asked.
Phil nodded and allowed a smile to twitch at the corner of his mouth as Clint was greeted equally enthusiastically and looked terrified. Danni had that effect on people.
"So, where's Jeannie?" Phil asked when Danni finally let go of Clint. "I thought you weren't arriving until tomorrow."
Danni rolled her eyes dramatically. "Your mom happened. And it's supposed to start snowing soon - you know how much Jeannie hates driving in the snow. I volunteered to escape and get you."
"Mom's here already?" Phil said warily.
"Yes, Philip, she's here already. And no, you can't go back to New York."
As they followed Danni to the car, Clint silently mouthed 'Philip?' and Phil shrugged. There was no possible way to explain Danni to anyone who hadn't grown up with her.
The battered grey SUV she led them to wasn't one he recognised. Danni ordered Clint into the front seat after he loaded the cases into the trunk, placing Phil's garment bag carefully over them, and the slightly pleading look that Clint gave him five minutes after they set out just made Phil feel much more cheerful about everything. He was able to tune out Danni's non-stop chatter for most of the drive, until he heard Danni ask Clint where they had met.
"Work," Clint said briefly.
"Are you an accountant too?" Danni asked.
"You sound really certain about that."
"I'm more of a...um..."
"He's more of a trouble shooter," Phil said, taking pity on Clint. "An international trouble shooter."
"That must be tough," Danni said sympathetically. "Being away a lot."
"It's not that bad," Clint said. "I changed roles recently so I'm home a lot more."
They pulled into the driveway as the first snowflakes started to fall and there was a flurry of activity to get cases inside and the door shut before everyone could get too cold and wet.
Five pairs of eyes met Phil's when he looked up from trying to clumsily unbutton his coat. Clint was defensively holding onto the garment bag as though it would somehow protect him from all the attention. Phil smiled weakly.
Jeannie grinned and marched over to pull him into a hug where she whispered a quiet ‘thank you’ in his ear before she released him and turned to Clint.
"You must be Clint," she said with a wide smile. "It's good to finally meet you face to face. Phil's told me so much about you."
There was just the slightest hint of surprise in Clint's voice.
Jeannie rolled her eyes dramatically and stepped back without hugging, which showed a remarkable understanding of Clint's body language. "So. Much. So very much."
This was going to be exactly as awful as Phil had predicted. He was going to kill Jeannie at some stage.
"Everyone, this is Clint," Jeannie announced. "Phil's boyfriend. Clint, meet Abby, Jake, Lucy and Tab."
"Tabitha's mine," Danni added, suddenly materialising from the kitchen even though Phil had been sure that she had been behind him in the hall a moment ago. "I have no idea where she gets her fashion sense."
Tab was dressed all in black, from her sneakers to her dyed hair, and Phil hid a wince at the heavy eye makeup that had been applied with an unsteady hand. Fourteen could be a rough age. She acknowledged her mother's introduction with an odd little head bob that hopefully meant "hi" and not "I'm trying to kill you with my mind". It was a little difficult to tell.
Abby was still the blonde, cheerful girl that Phil remembered although she was thirteen now and just starting to lose that little girl look. Jake never took his eyes off his handheld game and his brown hair looked like it hadn't been combed yet.
A few blonde curls peeking out from behind Tab's long black skirt hinted at Lucy's location. Apparently she was still shy.
There was an awkward silence in the hallway and Jeannie cleared her throat.
"Right, well, why don't we all sit down?" She gestured to the living room door. "Leave the cases, you can take them up later."
Somehow Phil ended up squashed between Clint and the arm of a sofa. It put too much pressure on his healing shoulder and he didn't know whether to be grateful or surprised when Clint figured that out quickly and shifted to drape an arm across the back and ease Phil into a more comfortable position. Coincidentally it was a position that made it look like Phil was snuggled against Clint's chest.
There was a flash and Phil turned to see Jeannie grinning smugly and waving her phone.
"For the family album," she said cheerfully. "You look so adorable, Phil. I couldn't resist."
Phil glared at her and then looked up at Clint, who didn't seem to know whether to look pleased or terrified. That made him feel a bit better.
Lucy was sitting curled up in her mom's lap sucking a finger. She was watching them both warily and hid her face in Jeannie's cardigan whenever she caught them looking.
"So Philip, how's things?" Danni asked. "Accountancy looks dangerous."
Abby looked like she was about to say something but she subsided at Jeannie's sharp glare.
"I got mugged," Phil said.
Danni shook her head. "You have the worst luck. Last time I saw you, it was some kind of car crash."
There was a suspicious snort from Clint and Phil dug his elbow into Clint's stomach.
"Hey, is that lunch? I'm sure it's lunch time," Jeannie said, rising quickly and setting Lucy on her feet. "You know Mom, Phil, can't keep lunch waiting."
Watching Clint get accosted by his mother as soon as they entered the kitchen was the highlight of Phil's day so far. She was a tiny woman, barely clearing five feet tall, and she had all the subtlety of a rampaging grizzly bear. It was particularly startling in a woman who dressed like she was on her way to an expensive country club.
Phil hung back and watched as she cooed and then pulled Clint down for a hug. It was a little less amusing to watch her feel Clint's biceps and flutter her eyelashes but he took it well and even gave her one of his flirty smiles.
"Oh, honey, I don't know why Phil hasn't brought you home before," she said, shooting Phil her most irritated glare, "because you're just too delightful. Much too good for him. I'm June or Mom, whichever you prefer."
"Uh, it's nice to meet you," Clint said, diplomatically not choosing either option.
Phil smiled blandly and kissed June on the cheek as he passed on his way to the table. "Hi Mom."
"I'm stealing him, I hope you don't mind," she said, towing Clint to sit beside her at the grownup end of the table. "Phil, make sure the children don't eat too much garlic bread, there's a good boy."
Phil spent lunchtime surrounded by his nieces and nephew (Tab was always included as a niece because Danni's relationship to the family was too complicated to think about), all hopes of sensible adult conversation firmly out of reach. By the time the dishes were being cleared away, he knew all about Abby and Tab's favourite boy bands and TV shows, who was dating who in several grades of two schools and he was vaguely wondering whether he dared Google to find out what a 'Brony' was. Jake and Lucy couldn't get a word in edgewise and between them managed to silently finish an entire loaf of garlic bread.
June spent the meal peppering Clint with questions that Phil couldn't hear over the teenage-girl chatter. He hoped she hadn't been completely inappropriate and then reminded himself that of course she had, that was what she did. Jeannie and Danni spent the meal looking smug because Jeannie's plan had actually worked and June was completely distracted.
Phil just wasn't sure whether he was happy about it. He should have been feeling quite cheerful that Clint was already getting his comeuppance because he had asked for this, after all, but he wasn't. He couldn't identify what the tight feeling in his chest was and he wasn't sure he wanted to dig enough to work it out. It wasn't the smug happiness he'd expected, though.
Clearing up from lunch was chaotic and Phil found the stack of plates he was carrying being pulled out of his hands so Jeannie could push him gently towards the door.
"Go show Clint where to put the cases," she said with a kind smile. "We've got this. You're in the guest room. I presume you remember where it is even though it's been two years since you last stayed?"
"I remember," Phil said, refusing to roll his eyes at her unsubtle reminder about his lack of visits.
Clint was standing next to the small luggage mountain looking a bit lost. Phil grabbed his garment back and one of the smaller carryon bags.
"We're up here," he said, nodding toward the stairs.
"Thanks sir...uh, yeah," Clint said awkwardly, glancing to the kitchen door where Lucy was just peeking round. She ducked away as soon as she realised that she was being looked at.
Clint picked up both cases and the other bag before following Phil up the stairs. Not much had changed upstairs since Phil's last visit. The wedding photo on one wall had been replaced with a portrait of Jeannie and the kids and Jake's door was covered with 'keep out' signs. The guest room was at the far end, opposite Jeannie's bedroom.
Phil hesitated before pushing the door open but no, the bedroom was exactly as he remembered and he had been putting this out of his mind for the last few days. It was tastefully decorated with cream walls, oak furniture and pale green curtains. A door to his left led onto the tiny en-suite that Jeannie and Derek had fought over until Jeannie's practicality won out over Derek's reluctance to spend money. There were a couple of discreet art prints on the walls and the windows overlooked Jeannie's immaculate back yard.
Oh, yes, and there was a bed.
A huge, incredibly comfortable bed covered with a beautiful hand-stitched quilt and half a dozen fluffy pillows.
A bed that he would be sharing with Clint for the next four nights and it suddenly seemed a lot more problematic than the theoretical consideration of sharing a bed had been.
Clint shouldered him out of the way carefully so that he could drop the bags and cases with a tired sigh.
"Shit, sir, that bed looks amazing," Clint said with wide eyes. "Your sister is officially a goddess. It might actually be as good as the beds back at Stark's place."
He promptly flopped down on the bed and bounced a little, making a ridiculous groaning sound as he flung his arms wide and got comfortable. Phil's mouth went dry. This was such a bad idea.
"Coulson, this bed is the best," Clint said with a wide grin.
Phil hung the garment bag in the wardrobe and then moved across the room to put his carryon down on the desk under one of the windows. It gave him a little bit of thinking space and he hitched one hip onto the desk to lean against it casually.
"We should probably have discussed this more before we arrived," Phil said slowly.
Clint tilted his head back to look at him upside down. "Discussed what? Things like, your mother is very handsy and maybe you could have let me know before she grabbed my ass?"
"She grabbed your ass? When?"
Clint rolled his eyes. "About half a dozen times in the kitchen. Jesus, sir, how did she produce people like you and Jeannie?"
Phil sighed. "She got depressed a few years ago about life passing her by and getting older. Dad died a few years before and she was just starting to recover from that when she hit a major age milestone and started to sink back into it. Someone gave her a T-shirt with one of those stupid "I'm getting old disgracefully" mottos and she took it to heart."
"Ouch," Clint said with feeling.
"We try to be supportive because it's better than the depression," Phil said, "but you've seen her."
"I'm guessing that when she's not making free with her kids' partners' asses, she's trying to arrange your lives and live vicariously?" Clint asked, reluctantly rolling to his feet so that he could heave a case on the bed and start unpacking.
"Worse," Phil said, "she does it with her grandkids."
A very large and lumpy parcel emerged from the case. Clint immediately shoved it under the bed and plastered on a cheerfully innocent grin.
Clint froze, holding two sweaters uncertainly. "Sir?"
"We should probably have talked about this before," Phil said. "If we're going to convince Jeannie, we should probably stick to first names."
"Oh." Clint stared at the clothes for a moment before shoving them back in the case. "That's going to be...weird."
"Barton, it's just a-" Phil broke off as he realised his mistake. "We should have practised."
"Phil." Clint tested out the name, frowning and repeating it as though trying to memorise the feel of the word on his tongue. "It's going to take a bit of getting used to."
"This is a terrible idea." Phil sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I must have still been concussed when I agreed to this."
"From the mugging," Clint said with a smirk. "Seriously, how many times do your family think you've been mugged or in car crashes?"
There was a knock at the door. Clint mouthed 'later' with far too much glee and opened the door to Abby.
"Hi, Uncle Clint," she said, her face a mixture of awe and embarrassment. "Mom wants you and Uncle Phil to come help with the tree, if you're not too busy."
"What Jeannie means is that she want us to carry the tree in and set it up so she doesn't get covered in pine sap," Phil said after Abby left.
"Sure, we can do that," Clint said cheerfully. "How hard can it be?"
Phil suspected that putting up the tree would have been a lot easier if it hadn't been snowing hard by the time they got out to retrieve it from the shed. If Clint had had any clue about Christmas trees other than the kind that plugged into a wall it might also have gone more smoothly.
It took an hour and a half and a lot of half-formed swearing from Clint before they finally had Jeannie's enormous tree standing in the corner of the living room.
"People do this every year?" Clint asked, stepping back and trying to brush pine needles out of his hair. "They're all fu-...uh, crazy."
Phil's hands were sticky with sap and his shoulder was aching badly. "It's a tradition."
"Let's get washed up," Phil said, leading the way to the kitchen, "and you'll see why we do it."
Jeannie gave him a thumbs up as he entered the kitchen. She shooed the children out and picked up a plate of cookies to take with her.
Danni grinned at him, holding a plate of cupcakes. "Your mom's upstairs having a nap. We're going to sugar up the kids and let them loose with the baubles while she's not looking."
At Clint's questioning look, Phil offered a small smile and started trying to wash the pine gunk off his hands at the sink. "Mom likes an orderly tree."
"I'm guessing you don't?"
Phil raised an eyebrow.
"Just figured you'd be a fan of organised trees," Clint said with a shrug. "Didn't think you'd be the baubles everywhere, tinsel on everything type."
His hands were still sticky despite soap so Phil concentrated on scrubbing them again. "You sound disappointed."
"Nope, not disappointed at all."
Phil leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms over his chest, looking into the living room with a soft smile that he couldn't quite supressed. The kids were all lying in a pizza-stuffed sleepy pile on the floor, even Tab. Shards of light darted across their faces from the gently twinkling fairy lights on the tree. Clint was sitting on the sofa near them, a glass of eggnog cradled against his chest, and Phil hadn't seen such a relaxed, happy expression his face for a long time.
There was a sharp nudge of elbow in his rib and Phil uncrossed his arms to allow Jeannie to snuggle in next to him and wrap an arm around his waist. He draped his arm across her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. It was probably a good sign that he hadn't turned around and thrown her to the floor, but he'd heard her footsteps approaching so he'd been able to prepare himself.
"Thanks for this," Jeannie said quietly.
Phil shrugged. "It wasn't that much."
"Mum hasn't mentioned Derek since you got here," Jeannie said. "And look at Lucy, she's not actually clinging onto my leg or hiding behind anyone."
Lucy was curled on her side with her head on Abby's stomach and one hand clamped firmly around Tab's wrist. She looked tiny and blonde and Phil wondered for maybe the thousandth time how Derek had been able to just run off to the Bahamas for Christmas and miss out on all this. Even if he didn't want to be married to Jeannie anymore, and Phil privately thought he wasn't much of a loss as a husband, it seemed wrong that he could so easily ignore his children at this time of year.
"Danni and I are going to bed," Jeannie said. "We'll get the kids up there. I think Mom will want to start setting up the couch soon."
"I can help," Phil offered.
Jeannie squeezed his waist. "Phil, did you warn Clint about Mom's eggnog?"
"No." Phil frowned as he looked more carefully and noted the glazed look in Clint's eyes. "I didn't think."
"He's had two glasses," Jeannie said. "Just so you know."
"And I suppose you had nothing to do with the second glass?"
Jeannie rolled her eyes and kissed his cheek. "Go, pour him into bed. Goodnight."
Clint blinked up owlishly as Phil approached him and Phil wondered privately how many glasses of nog he'd got into that Jeannie hadn't seen.
"Your Mom's eggnog is lethal," Clint said slowly and carefully. "I can't feel my feet. Are my feet still there?"
Phil took the empty glass out of Clint's hand and carefully set it on a small table nearby. "Your feet are still there."
"Oh, tha's good." Clint held a hand up in front of his face. "I think I'm drunk."
"I think I agree," Phil said. "Need any help getting upstairs?"
"Nope! I got this." Clint stood up and immediately sat down again. "Um, OK."
Phil held a hand. "Come on, time for bed."
He ignored the quiet snicker from behind him and concentrated on getting Clint to his feet and mostly upright.
"Room's spinning," Clint mumbled.
"Mom's eggnog does that," Phil said. "Next time, less."
"'S probably a good idea."
Jeannie and Danni were herding and carrying the kids upstairs. Phil carefully steered Clint to the stairs behind them and followed him up, although if Clint lost his balance and fell there was more chance of him flattening Phil than there was of Phil catching him. They stumbled to the guest room and Clint looked ridiculously disappointed when Phil didn't just let him flop onto the bed fully dressed.
"You'll regret it in the morning," Phil said and then was struck by a thought. "You did bring something to sleep in, didn't you?"
Clint shot him an offended look. "'Course I did. This is your sister we're staying with."
Phil decided not to speculate over what Clint would have done if it hadn't been Jeannie they were staying with. He wasn't sure he wanted to know. Instead he gestured to the en suite and tried not to laugh when Clint missed the door by a clear two feet on his first attempt. There was a quiet crash a moment after Clint closed the door and Phil really didn't want to know. He took the chance to quickly change so he was waiting when Clint emerged.
Clint's hair was standing up in wet spikes where he'd apparently dunked his head in the sink and he barely looked at Phil before flopping face first onto the bed.
There was no sign of anything broken in the washroom and Phil decided not to look any further. The day was starting to catch up to him even though he hadn't indulged in the eggnog so he finished up quickly and he was yawning widely as he went back to the bedroom.
It was nearly dark in there, the only light coming from a lamp on the nightstand on Phil's side of the bed. He could just see the outline of Clint under the quilt, facing the wall and already breathing slowly in sleep. Phil slid into the bed, carefully making sure there was at least two feet of space between them.
Sleeping with someone else in a bed with him had always been difficult so he was certain he wouldn't sleep with Clint lying right there beside him. The thought lasted for half a minute before his thoughts went fuzzy and then he was asleep.
Phil had always been the early riser in the Coulson family so he was surprised to find Jeannie already setting up the coffee maker when he padded downstairs the next morning. Her hair was wild and she was dressed in an oversized cardigan over her thick pyjamas, but she was awake.
"Danni snores like you wouldn't believe," Jeannie said quietly as she pressed the button to start the coffee brewing. "Lucy was in with us last night and I don't know how she's still asleep."
"Is Mom awake?" Phil asked.
Jeannie shook her head. "Pretty sure I saw ear plugs and an eye mask when I looked in."
Phil reached into a cupboard and got down a stack of bowls while Jeannie began carrying boxes of breakfast cereal to the table. The scent of coffee was starting to fill the kitchen and Phil smiled as he inhaled.
"Enjoy the peace while it lasts," Jeannie said. "The kids will be up soon."
The bowls went on the table and Jeannie gestured for Phil to sit down beside her.
"So, I like Clint," she said cautiously. "Not that I didn't like him before, but you know how it can be when all you know is the gushing adoration from your brother and the occasional phone call when you can't get hold of said brother and his boyfriend answers his cell. Who would have thought, my brother dating a superhero who isn't Captain America."
Phil coughed, suddenly feeling guilty for the first time about the deception. Jeannie liked Clint, he could already see the children getting attached and none of this was real.
Jeannie cut him off. "Not Clint Barton, Hawkeye of the Avengers? That's even less believable than your latest mugging. I know all the merchandise stuff has him wearing sunshades or masks, but Lucy's got ten of those stupid cups from McDonald's with his face on and she'd have a dozen t-shirts to match if I wasn't totally creeped out by the idea of my daughter walking around with my brother's boyfriend plastered across her chest."
"Lucy's a fan?" Phil gaped at her.
Jeannie rolled her eyes. "She's a fan of anyone with a bow and arrow. You wouldn't have wanted to see the tantrum she pulled when I refused to let her see Hunger Games. Her Brave DVD is one of her most prized possessions."
"I had no idea."
"You bringing Hawkeye home for Christmas is just about the best thing that's ever happened to her." Jeannie grinned. "If she could get past the shyness, she'd be clinging to Uncle Hawkeye's leg for the entire holiday."
"Jeannie." Phil paused, cleared his throat and took a deep breath. "He's not my boyfriend."
"Uh huh." Jeannie raised an eyebrow. "You're hilarious, really."
"And why is he here if he's not your boyfriend?"
Phil shrugged. "You steamrollered us and he offered to help out."
Jeannie snorted. "Phil, you're my brother and I mostly love you. I know how smart you can be. But for a smart guy, you're awful dumb sometimes."
"Think about it." Jeannie stood and moved to the coffee maker just as it beeped that it was ready. "He's here with your family, supposedly pretending to be your boyfriend to get you out of a bind. He's pretending really well, Phil. And not many people would do that for a colleague they're indifferent about."
Jeannie rolled her eyes. "And you're being stubborn. Want some coffee?"
She poured a cup and set it on the table in front of him. Phil took a deep breath of the steam so he didn't need to say anything and he watched as Jeannie pottered around the kitchen, getting the rest of breakfast ready.
He was so distracted with deliberately not thinking that he jumped when a warm hand fell on his shoulder. Clint muttered a good morning and kissed him on the temple, just a light brush of lips as though they did it every day. Phil felt his face heat as Jeannie raised a knowing eyebrow at him.
"Can I have some coffee?" Clint asked.
Jeannie beamed at him. "Of course, help yourself."
Clint was dressed warmly in jeans and a beautiful dark grey sweater. Phil had never seen him wearing anything other than his field suit or combat pants and hoodies. The different look suited him and Phil idly wondered whether the wool was as soft as it looked. It probably was and he had a brief fantasy about walking over and running a hand down Clint`s arm, purely to check the fabric of his sweater, obviously.
Phil gave himself a mental shake and dismissed the image. From the way Clint buried his face in the coffee mug and the slight hint of green in his face, Phil guessed he was feeling hung over. Thinking about the way the sweater brought out the blue in his eyes was highly inappropriate right now.
A sound like a herd of elephants on the stairs pulled him away from the speculation and a moment later Lucy, Jake and Abby ran into the kitchen. Tab followed at a slightly more sedate pace but her eyes were also bright with excitement. Clint winced a little but didn't say anything, which told Phil more than anything else had that he was trying to be on his best behaviour.
"Mom!" Abby said excitedly. "Can we have a snowball fight?"
Jeannie put her hands on her hips and stared down at Abby for a long moment. "Two conditions."
Abby narrowed her eyes. "What are they?"
"Number one, all of you have to eat breakfast first. Including orange juice." Jeannie fixed her gaze on Jake. "And you chew it properly, no gulping and running."
"Mo-om!" Jake rolled his eyes.
"Number two." Jeannie's grin was wicked. "You take Uncle Phil and Uncle Clint out with you. They'll be in charge."
Lucy immediately hid behind Tab, although Phil noted that she peeked out just enough to watch Clint.
"I'm on Uncle Phil's team," Jake said stoutly.
"They get to choose the teams," Jeannie said. "That's the sub clause in condition two."
"Uncle Phil?" Jake said hopefully.
Phil couldn't help grinning. "OK, you're on my team."
Jake crowed cheerfully and immediately sat down to pour a bowl of cereal. Clint was looking a bit wild around the eyes but he agreed and sat down for breakfast. He even drank a glass of OJ when Jeannie gave it to him, even though Phil had seen him quietly avoiding it for years.
It made something warm unfurl in Phil's chest, a sensation that only grew when Clint grinned at him across the breakfast table and deliberately poured a huge bowl of Lucky Charms instead of the granola Phil had nudged over to him.
Phil hunkered down in the snow fort that he, Jake and Abby had built. They had a huge pile of snowballs ready to go and he'd been quietly taking notes on their opponents' preparations as they gathered up snow and formed it into ammunition. Jeannie was apparently an expert at getting the kids to work under the guise of having fun: most of the snow for the forts had come from the driveway, which was now mostly cleared.
Jake and Abby were both pink faced from cold and exertion and Phil couldn't help smiling at their eager expressions.
"Alright, here's the plan," he said softly. "Abby and I will set up covering fire. Jake, if you use the playset and the shed as cover you should be able to flank them. Clint and Tab have range and accuracy so they'll probably send Lucy out to capture our flag. They may try to set up some distractions so stay focused. Their fort is lower on the shed side, but don't be fooled. Clint probably has some kind of trap set there because it's so obvious."
"Uncle Phil," Jake said, "you know we're not actually soldiers, right?"
Phil raised an eyebrow. "Your point is?"
Abby held up a snowball. "We don't need an attack plan. We have snowballs. We throw them. And whoever comes to capture our flag gets buried in snow."
"This kind of plan feels very familiar," Phil said. "It's almost as bad as a Stark plan."
"Iron man!" Jake yelled before Abby could clap a hand over his mouth.
"Iron man's plans always work," Abby said loyally.
Phil made a resolution right there never to let Abby and Stark meet. The combination could be lethal for everyone around them.
"Are you ready?" Clint shouted from the cover of his fort.
"Ready!" Abby and Jake shouted eagerly.
"Ready!" came Tab and Lucy's loud agreement.
"Then Operation Capture the Flag is a go!" Clint yelled.
Phil thought Clint might be throwing himself into this with a bit too much enthusiasm, but he was also trying very hard not to find it charming so he was maybe a bit biased.
As with all good battle plans, Phil's didn't survive the first assault. Jake made it to the cover of the play set, but Phil hadn't counted on Tab's strong throwing arm so he and Abby were immediately pelted with snow from above despite the cover of their fort. They managed to get a few good shots in and Phil took a look above the edge of his fort to find all three of their opponents advancing on them rapidly.
Lucy was dragging a blanket laden with snowballs, acting as resupply while Clint and Tab pelted snowballs at Phil and Abby. Jake started running for the abandoned fort and dived in with a triumphant shriek, only to shout something Phil wouldn't be telling Jeannie about when he discovered the flag wasn't there.
Abby hurled snowballs for all she was worth and some of them even hit her targets. Phil concentrated his fire on Clint, which slowed him slightly but apparently his usual dislike for cold and wet didn't include snowball fights.
There was a confused moment where everyone was throwing snow too fast to work out who was doing what and then Phil was being knocked off his feet as Clint made a dive for the fort. The sudden impact of Clint landing on top of him knocked the air out of Phil's lungs so all he could do was lie in the snow and look up.
Clint's face was closer than he'd expected, so close Phil could see the snowflakes in his eye lashes. A wide grin and pink cheeks were testament to how much Clint was enjoying the fight. The weight of him on Phil's chest and legs was just right, warm and heavy, and if Phil instinctively grabbed Clint's hip to hold him there nobody was going to say anything. Their eyes met for a long, breathless moment and then Clint's eyes darkened as his gaze flickered down. Phil unconsciously wetted his lips.
Then there was a shock of cold and wet as four children threw all their snowballs at them and the moment was broken. Phil tried not to feel too regretful about it as he joined Clint in an all-out snowball war against the kids.
Everyone was wet and cold when they finally called it quits and Jeannie sighed when she surveyed the group that trooped into her kitchen dripping icy water and clots of snow everywhere.
"I don't know why I thought you two would be responsible," Jeannie said, glaring at Phil and Clint equally.
Danni and June were sitting at the kitchen table with a pot of tea between them. Phil supressed the urge to wince or hunch his shoulders at his mother's look and ignored the smug expression on Danni's face.
"Philip," Danni said, "I didn't know you could wear that much snow and still walk."
"Why did I think it was a good idea to invite you here?" Jeannie asked.
"I'm sorry," Clint said. "We'll clean everything up, just point me at the mop."
Phil shot him an incredulous look but Jeannie was beaming at him and showing him where to hang the wet outer clothes while promising hot chocolate for everyone when they had changed into dry clothes. Pointing out that Clint was the one who usually traipsed mud and worse everywhere felt mean-spirited.
Phil opened the kitchen door just enough to see Clint and June at the kitchen counter and he had to conclude that Jeannie's report was right. For some reason, Clint was spending the afternoon helping June with the sugar cookie production line. Judging by the grin and the laughter from Clint, June wasn't even behaving too outrageously.
It was hard to know whether to be surprised or horrified so Phil settled for trying to feel vaguely bemused by the whole thing.
Clint had stripped out of his beautiful grey sweater and there was flour dusted over his t-shirt, down his arms and even in his hair. Phil couldn't quite tear his eyes away from watching him and he wondered, yet again, what might have happened earlier if they hadn't been interrupted with snowballs. Thinking about that led to wondering whether Jeannie was right about Clint's motives for being here and then trying to work out how to test the waters without making things awkward if she was wrong.
Quiet footsteps behind him warned Phil that someone was approaching, which pulled him out of his thoughts. He didn't protest when Danni put her hands on his shoulders and steered him away from the kitchen door.
"How did you do it, Philip?" Danni as she led him to the den.
All the children were currently watching Brave in the living room and despite her loud protests, Tab was as engrossed as Lucy. Jeannie was using the distraction time to hide in her bedroom with half a dozen rolls of wrapping paper and three tape dispensers.
Phil eyed the bottle of whisky and pair of tumblers on the desk in the den.
"Derek's?" he asked as Danni opened and poured healthy measures for both of them.
Danni grinned. "If he didn't want us drinking his whisky, he shouldn't be divorcing Jeannie and leaving his whisky behind."
"Isn't it a bit early for this?" Phil asked, accepting the glass anyway.
There was a comfortable sofa next to the desk and he could already see the little touches around the room that meant Jeannie was slowly claiming it as hers: a photo of Phil, Jeannie and Danni as kids, a plant in the corner, her books on the shelves above the desk. Phil took a seat at one end of the sofa and Danni sat at the other, tucking her legs up so that she could face him.
She shrugged. "It's nearly five, I figure we deserve it for not killing your mother yet."
Phil smiled. "She's not being that bad so far."
"She's too in love with your boyfriend to bother us." Danni grinned. "Which brings me back to my question. How did you do it, Philip?"
Danni rolled her eyes. "You're the most boring man I know. You get happy over spread sheets and you're even boring when you're getting mugged. How did you find a guy like Clint and make him fall for you? Because seriously, I'd be hitting that right now if I thought there was any chance he was straight and not totally gone on you."
Phil tried not to choke too obviously on his whisky and Danni smirked at him.
"Philip, he's gorgeous, he's funny, he's great with the kids and he can bake," Danni continued. "I'm lucky if I get one out of the four when I meet a guy. Tab's father doesn't even like children, which I think we can agree is a problem when you've got one. How did you do it?"
"I'm not sure he's-"
Danni waved away the protest. "Totally. Gone. On. You. Take it from someone who watches it happen to everyone else. Gone. One hundred per cent."
Phil frowned because he'd never heard Danni sound anything less than happy and bubbly and right now her tone was almost...sad.
"Are you alright?" he asked.
"Me?" Danni didn't quite meet his eyes. "Of course, never better. Tabitha and I have a great time together."
Phil watched her sceptically. The brightness in her expression was brittle and her smile didn't quite reach her eyes.
"If you need to talk," Phil said slowly.
Danni wrinkled her nose at him. "If I need to talk, I'll talk to Jeannie. I love you like a brother, but you're crap at the relationship girly talk. No offence."
"I'm a bit jealous but mostly I'm happy for you," Danni said. "Seeing you and Clint together makes me hopeful that maybe there's someone out there for me, too. I mean, you aren't exactly the best catch out there and you still got the hot guy who adores you. Maybe there's hope for me. You know?"
This was why Phil usually tried not to get caught alone with Danni for serious discussions. Her outlook was a little...unusual.
"I'll take that as a compliment," he said carefully.
Danni made a rude noise and held up her glass. "Another?"
"Probably best not to."
"You're right. Jeannie will kill us if we get drunk tonight even if we are drinking Derek's precious twenty-five year-old single malt."
The last sip of whisky was smoothly fiery as it went down and Phil smiled at her. "We've got another couple of days to work on it."
It had been so long since the last time Phil spent Christmas Eve not buried in paperwork or out on assignment that he'd almost forgotten how magical it could be. Jeannie, Danni and June took the older children with them after supper to visit friends before going to church for the midnight service. Clint looked so pathetically grateful when Phil volunteered their services to keep an eye on Jake and Lucy that Phil knew he'd made the right call about staying at home.
They turned off all the lights except the Christmas tree and settled in to watch really cheesy Christmas movies, which was apparently the tradition of the household. Jeannie had the foresight to make sure both children were in PJs and wrapped in blankets before she left. Lucy made it forty-five minutes into the first movie before she fell asleep, snuggled next to Clint now she'd lost all her shyness around him. Phil found his gaze drifting back to them throughout the movie because Clint had a soft smile Phil had never seen before and he didn't seem to mind Lucy leaning against him even though her elbow in his side must have been uncomfortable.
When the movie finished, Phil carefully picked Lucy and her blankets up to carry her to bed. She sighed quietly but didn't protest as he left the room while Clint and Jake started chattering quietly about whether they'd have another movie or see if Jake could beat Clint on one of his PS3 games.
He carefully put Lucy in bed, tucked her in with her teddy and tiptoed out of the room. Carrying her upstairs after the vigorous day of snowballing hadn't been the best plan because his shoulder was now aching fiercely again. Phil rolled it carefully as he walked to the guest bedroom. It took him a minute to dig out the pills medical had prescribed and he swallowed two dry.
Sitting on the bed while he stowed the pills in the table next to it was a major mistake. Phil told himself to get up but it was so soft and comfortable. He promised himself that he'd only lie down for just a moment.
The next thing he was aware of was the bed dipping next to him and the covers shifting. He rolled his head to see Clint trying to slide into bed without disturbing him.
"Sorry, I was trying not to wake you," Clint said softly.
Phil frowned. "How long have I been out?"
Clint shrugged, looking a little sheepish. "Couple of hours. Jeannie got back a few minutes ago, Jake and I lost track of time. Have you considered recruiting him? He's got some serious skills with that control pad."
"I'm not recruiting my nephew," Phil said firmly, or as firmly as he could while still sleep-muddled.
"You're right, he's much too young. Maybe in a few years."
Phil reluctantly stood and grabbed his sleep clothes, trying to pretend he wasn't watching Clint settle down and punch his pillows into the right shape. Clint seemed to be asleep when Phil emerged from the washroom a few minutes later but he opened his eyes when the door clicked quietly and smiled drowsily.
"Turn out the lights and come to bed." Clint's voice was sleepy and a little hoarse. "Going to be a long day tomorrow if I'm reading it right."
The words and the tone combined to send all sorts of inappropriate thoughts flooding through Phil's brain. He didn't look at Clint again as he padded across the room, turned out the light and slid into bed. The bed was warm and comfortable and even though Phil felt too keyed up to rest, somehow sleep captured him and dragged him down anyway.
In a house containing four children, sleeping in on Christmas becomes a foreign concept. Phil was just grateful that they waited until an hour or so past dawn before the shrieking, running and shouting started.
Clint sat up at the first yell. He scrubbed a hand through his hair, making it even more sleep mussed than it had been, and looked around blearily. "What the fuck?"
Phil lay where he was, looking up at the ceiling tiredly. "Merry Christmas."
"Oh." Clint flopped back onto the bed, bouncing as he hit he mattress. "They're kind of shrill."
"Don't worry, it gets louder."
Phil turned his head so that he could look across at Clint just as Clint did the same. Their eyes met and suddenly there seemed to be a lot less air in the room. Clint smiled slowly and his eyes did the thing again where he seemed to look at Phil's lips for a moment. It wouldn't take much effort just to roll closer and touch Clint's cheek, maybe trace the line of his jaw with a finger, and Phil nearly did it.
Except there was suddenly a loud thud against the door that made them both jump and then Jake's voice roared impatiently, something about Jeannie not letting anyone open presents until everyone was up. It sounded like the kind of thing she would do.
Phil sat up and rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Sounds like we're not getting any more sleep."
"Yeah, I got that." Clint threw back the covers and sat on the edge of the bed. "Think we've got time to shower or are we likely to get killed for trying?"
"Jake might explode if we try."
Phil dug an old hoodie out of his suitcase to throw on over his t-shirt and pyjama pants and ducked into the washroom long enough to throw splash water on his face. The bedroom door was open and the bed was empty when he finished so he pulled out the bag of gifts he'd shoved under the bed when he arrived and tracked the noise downstairs. He found Clint in the living room with everyone else, looking stunned at all the chaos. Clint had found another beautiful sweater, this one in a dark blue that highlighted his eyes and looked as soft and touchable as yesterday's grey number, but he hadn't found time to brush his hair so it still stuck up in wild directions. There was a large bag at Clint's feet that Lucy was already eyeing with interest and Phil couldn't help feeling a little curious himself.
June had somehow found time to shower and dress, unlike everyone else. Phil suspected it was one of those talents people with children somehow acquired, although Danni was wearing red sweatpants and a violently green cardigan over a purple shirt so apparently it wasn't a trait all parents picked up.
Jeannie appeared from the kitchen with a tray of steaming mugs and Phil exchanged smiles with her. She looked as elegantly put together as their mother. Maybe it was a Coulson women trait.
Somehow Phil ended up squeezed into the small space between Clint and the arm of the sofa again while Tab took possession of his present bag. Jeannie smirked at him as though she'd personally arranged it and Phil wouldn't have put it past her. She gave him a cup of strong coffee and he was pathetically grateful for the bitter taste of hot caffeine. Clint thanked her politely for his coffee and cradled it as though it might protect him from whatever the Coulson family threw at him next.
Between them, Tab and Abby acted as postmen. They emptied the bags from Phil and Clint, grabbed stacks of presents from under the tree and carefully delivered everything. It was the first time since he'd arrived that Phil had seen Tab without heavy eye makeup and although her clothes were still unremitting black, she'd conceded to the season with a twist of silver tinsel in her hair.
Soon there were piles of presents in front of everyone, including Clint who just looked completely shocked each time Abby added something to his collection. When the last present had been delivered, the orgy of ripping and tearing away wrap and ribbons commenced. Phil was more careful, peeling away tape and unknotting ribbons in case anything could be reused later. He caught Clint's smirk and rolled his eyes because Clint was almost as unrestrained as the kids.
There was a brief pause when Lucy shrieked loudly and threw herself at Clint, holding a small bow and arrow set aloft. Phil was fairly certain that it was handmade and the total joy in Lucy's face as she hugged Clint around the neck told everyone how perfect the gift was. Clint looked pleased and worried all at once, as though he had no idea what to do with a four year-old openly displaying her hero worship.
Phil watched Clint as he showed Lucy how to hold and draw her little bow, how to aim the sucker-tipped arrows and then release them to fly across the room to hit the door. His eyes shone with laughter and when Clint glanced at Phil quickly as though looking for his approval, it was as though something Phil's brain clicked.
There had always been a quietly simmering attraction there, a pull that Phil had grown used to as a background buzz whenever he was around Clint. He'd never tried to examine it more closely because other things always seemed to get in the way.
Phil could think of a thousand times when he should have realised it, so many glances and moments of heart stopping terror when he could have lost Clint and hadn't. There had been cold nights in safe houses and happier times in his office and everything in between when he should have realised what was growing between them.
Instead it was happening right now, watching Clint as he returned to his own presents and tore off the wrapping to reveal an ugly sweater from Danni, and Phil was finally realising that he'd been in love with the man for a long time.
It should have been terrifying but it felt exactly right.
"Phil?" Jeannie's voice broke into his reflection. "You're getting behind."
Phil looked down at his small stack of gifts, most of them still wrapped, and shrugged. He didn't quite dare look at Jeannie because he was sure she'd caught him staring. Instead he concentrated on opening presents and making appropriately appreciative noises at the pens and joke mugs and woollen mittens he'd been given. His last gift was small and flat, slightly squishy, and the tag was from Clint.
He looked up and found Clint watching him, an oddly bashful expression on his face. "I've got the receipt if you don't like it."
The tie he unwrapped was beautiful, dark grey and fairly plain but with a subtle pattern that only appeared when the light hit it at certain angles.
"Thank you," Phil said and this time he really meant it.
Clint beamed. "Glad you like it."
"I love it."
Jeannie cleared her throat before anything could get awkward and started directing the clear up. She shooed Clint away to shower and dress while everyone else gathered up paper and ribbons in bags and organised presents with tags so that thank you notes could be written later.
The scent of Clint's shampoo was still lingering in the bathroom when it was Phil's turn to shower and he resolutely made himself think of next year's budget figures instead of letting his mind drift to images of Clint in the shower.
The sound of breakfast was loud in the kitchen when Phil went downstairs again but underneath it he could hear quiet voices in the living room. He peeked in, slightly surprised to find Tab and Clint sitting opposite each other on the sofa. It all became clear when he spotted the bag of makeup on the floor next to them. Clint was carefully applying eyeliner to Tab's left eye, talking quietly and explaining as he went. Tab examined his work critically in a mirror when he finished and then took the wand and began duplicating what he'd done on her right eye.
Even to Phil's unpractised eye, he could see how much better she looked when she'd finished. Tab was still playing a bit too hard at the disaffected goth, particularly after watching her unbridled enthusiasm for snowballs and presents, but without the wobbles and smudges in her makeup she looked happier. She thanked Clint quietly and bounced to her feet, only spotting Phil at that moment. A faint flush reddened her cheeks but Phil shrugged.
She kissed Phil's cheek as she left and nodded up above his head significantly. Phil looked up and hid a sigh when he spotted the mistletoe someone had fasted over the door. It had to have been Jeannie; she was the only one corny enough.
Clint grinned and walked slowly across the room. "Tab asked for some makeup pointers."
"I didn't know you were an expert."
"Who do you think did my face on some of those ops?" Clint shrugged. "Nat usually pokes me in the eye if she tries."
Clint looked up and his grin suddenly turned wicked. "Hey, look at that."
There was a loud wolf-whistle from the kitchen and Phil turned to see Jeannie and Danni leering at him unrepentantly.
"Go on, you know you want to," Danni said with a wide grin.
"Guess we should," Clint said, so quietly Phil knew he was the only person to hear him. "Stay in character and all that."
"You don't have to," Phil said equally quietly.
Apparently Clint took his words as a dare because suddenly he was right there, crowding against Phil and pressing their lips together for a long moment.
Another wolf-whistle from behind was abruptly choked off and Phil heard the kitchen door close firmly. Clint pulled back a little to look at him searchingly and whatever he saw put the smile back on his face. This time when they kissed, it was a slow slide of mouths together and Phil closed his eyes to concentrate properly on the feel and the taste of Clint's lips.
He rested his hands on Clint's hips, discovering that his sweater was just as soft to touch as it looked, and got lost in the slow exploration of heat and new sensations.
They parted eventually, breathing hard and resting foreheads together because pulling back further wasn't something Phil wanted to do right now.
"Just for the record," Clint said, "my acting isn't good enough to fake that. Thought you might want to know."
"That's a relief," Phil said. "Mine isn't either."
"Yeah?" Clint pulled back just enough to meet his eyes and there was something warm and intense there that sent shivers down Phil's spine. "Huh, I guess we're on the same page then."
"I guess we are."
"Uh, you know how I said that I was taking one for the team coming up here with you?" Clint said. "I might have lied a bit. I wanted to do this. I was hoping maybe something like this might happen. You know, having to kiss me to maintain the cover or something. Didn't expect it to go quite this well, but I figured it was worth a shot."
"I told Jeannie we weren't together yesterday," Phil said. "She told me I was an idiot. I think she set us up this morning."
"I knew I liked her."
Phil was leaning in for another kiss when something cold and wet hit him on the side of the neck and fell to the floor. He looked around to see Lucy hold her bow proudly.
"Jeannie is going to kill you," he warned Clint.
"Jeannie loves me," Clint said.
"You gave her daughter sucker arrows," Phil said. "Trust me, she's going to hate you."
"Mom says you're on potato peeling if you can stop face sucking long enough," Lucy recited before running back to the kitchen.
"OK, maybe Jeannie hates me," Clint said thoughtfully.
Potato peeling duty turned into carrot peeling duty and vegetable chopping. Phil only caught June flirting with Clint a couple of times and he suspected that was largely because everyone was too busy to focus on anything except the food. Danni was assigned to keeping the children busy as soon as breakfast was over so the adults could work uninterrupted.
Phil had seen Danni's attempts to help with meals in the past. It was much safer for everyone to keep her away from knives and hot things.
It was difficult to keep his mind on the job when all Phil really wanted to do was marvel quietly at the idea that Clint had kissed him and apparently wanted to do it again. The whole thing didn't seem quite real yet and Phil pinched himself a couple of times as the day went on, just to check he wasn't dreaming.
And it could so easily have been a dream. Every time Phil looked up from his tasks, he caught Clint looking at him or smiling. Clint seemed to find endless excuses to touch, brushing fingers together or bumping hips or, just a couple of times, pressing Phil against a counter to reach for a bowl or plate just behind him.
"It's like watching two teenagers who just discovered sex," Jeannie whispered to him as she passed by his vegetable chopping station carrying a dish of dressing.
As Phil was feeling a little flushed from Clint's latest "Darn, I'll just have to reach over and around you for that serving dish" moment, he couldn't actually think of a good retort to that. He had a feeling there wasn't one. Jeannie probably deserved the chance to say 'I told you so' a few times.
When the food was finally on the table, June captured Clint to sit next to her where she could make up for lost flirting time. Phil wanted to protest but Jeannie maneuvered him to a seat between her and Tab, which happened to put him opposite Clint, so he didn't. Instead he tried not to grin too foolishly whenever his eyes met Clint's. The meal was raucous and chaotic and it was growing dark by the time everyone finished. Somehow the clearing away went smoothly and Jeannie manipulated it to leave Phil and Clint alone in the kitchen drying dishes at the end.
"So," Clint said, polishing a glass intently. "Your family seem pretty great. I mean, I knew Jeannie was nice but they're...uh...pretty great."
"They like you, too," Phil said.
"Really." Phil moved closer and took the glass out of Clint's hand, putting it safely on a nearby counter. "They like you a lot. And so do I."
"I've been getting that impression today." Clint grinned. "I'm not saying I couldn't do with some positive reinforcement right now, but..."
It was a good kiss, the kind that was slow and thoughtful but with just a tiny bit of fire. Phil ran his hands down Clint's spine, enjoying the softness of the sweater over Clint's shifting muscles, and then slid a hand under the hem to feel warm skin under his fingers. Clint pulled him in closer and groaned softly.
A burst of laughter from the living room reminded Phil that they couldn't let things get out of control. He couldn't resist nuzzling where Clint's jaw met his neck for a moment, though, just to find out how he'd react.
He made a note to try that again when they had some privacy.
"You're going to insist we stay mature and responsible and all that shit, aren't you?" Clint said suspiciously.
"We are supposed to be drying dishes in here," Phil said. "Unless you want my Mom to start getting curious about what's taking so long?"
"Fuck no," Clint said immediately.
Phil stepped away and threw a dish towel to Clint.
Over forty years of experience had taught Phil that sisters could be evil so he wasn't completely surprised when Jeannie gave him an unsubtle wink later as she began herding the children to bed. Phil followed Clint to the guest room, trying not to think too much about what might come next. On the one hand there was a shared bed and Phil wasn't going to deny that he wanted Clint. Maybe wanted him too much to wait until they got home if Clint wanted the same thing.
On the other hand, they hadn't really talked properly about anything and Phil was trying not to make any assumptions. In the back of his mind, there was also the fact that this was a guest room in his sister's house.
So maybe he was a bit old fashioned sometimes and felt weird about having sex under the same roof as his family. Phil didn't think he was alone in that type of old fashioned.
Of course, Jeannie had also given him that wink so it wasn't as though she was expecting them to stay chastely on the edges of the bed with two feet of clear space between them. This was one of those times when his sister was just that bit too insightful.
Clint apparently had no such worries. He closed the bedroom door, wedged the chair from the desk under the handle to stop any accidental interruptions and then advanced on Phil with a definite prowl in his gait. Phil stepped back until his knees hit the edge of the bed and Clint cheerfully pressed in close, keepings his hands at his sides.
"So, I was thinking," Clint said. "It's a really great bed."
"My sister is sleeping across the hall," Phil said.
He had a feeling they both knew it was a token protest, made because Phil felt he should make it rather than out a genuine wish to stop anything happening.
"How about if we're really quiet?" Clint asked.
Phil raised an eyebrow sceptically.
"I like how you think I'll be the noisy one," Clint said with a smirk. He leaned in and his lips brushed Phil's ear as he whispered, "Bet I can make you scream."
Teeth lightly grazing his earlobe and then a nuzzled kiss on his neck sent shivers down Phil's spine. He had to take a couple of careful breaths before he trusted his voice to be steady.
"We're aiming for quiet," he said. "Maybe another time."
"I can work with screaming another time." Clint's voice was muffled against Phil's throat, which was incredibly distracting. "That kind of sounds like a promise."
Clint still hadn't touched him except for where he was mouthing kisses on Phil's neck. He didn't need to: Phil couldn't have moved away now if his life depended on it. He put a hand on Clint's jaw and nudged him up a little so he could capture Clint's lips in a kiss. This time there didn't need to be any restraint; the kiss could be as deep and frantic as they needed.
And apparently they needed a lot. Phil lost himself in the fire and strength of it. Clint raised his arms when Phil tugged at his sweater, barely allowing Phil to tug it away before diving back into another kiss. There was warm skin under Phil's hands now and he could touch and hold as much as he wanted. He quickly learned the places were a kiss or a lick could make Clint shudder and Clint learned just as quickly, pushing Phil's shirt aside eagerly so he could kiss and nibble across his chest.
Clothes were stripped away and then they were tumbling onto the bed, where skin could meet skin with delicious friction. Phil had expected Clint to be a talker in bed and maybe he would be when this first rush was sated. The groans and gasps were more than enough for now and when Clint came, he buried his face in Phil's neck to stifle the noise. Phil felt teeth on his skin and followed moments later.
Waking up sprawled over Clint with Clint's arm firmly wrapped around his waist was definitely something Phil could get used to. He was fairly sure that he wanted to try waking up with Clint as a heavy weight on his chest as well and any other combination they could work out. Phil was looking forward to a lot mornings with Clint in his bed in general. Right now, though, he was content to enjoy the whole Clint experience and the way that Clint's expression had softened and relaxed in sleep.
Clint frowned and slowly blinked awake. For a moment he looked uncertain, then his eyes met Phil's and a bright smile gradually appeared.
"I guess I didn't dream yesterday, then," Clint said, his voice still raspy from sleep.
"If you did then this is a great mutual hallucination," Phil said.
He stretched up so he could steal a kiss and felt Clint smile against his lips.
"I could get used to this," Clint said.
"That's what I was just thinking."
They were interrupted by a thud against the door followed by a loud shriek and then what might have been the sound of three sucker arrows clanging off a light fixture. Phil felt Clint freeze under him, eyes widening as the door rattled again.
"Shit, the kids," Clint said. "Think the door will hold?"
Phil rolled away and sat up. It wasn't that anyone would see anything indecent if the door didn't hold, they'd pulled on t-shirts and shorts before going to sleep, but that wasn't the point. He would never be able to look at Jeannie again if her children caught him in bed with their hero. Particularly if they spotted the bruise he knew Clint had sucked onto his neck.
"I guess that's our signal to get up," Clint said.
"It probably is." Phil threw back the covers. "We can't hide here forever."
"We could try."
"No, we really couldn't."
"Guess not." Clint stood and stretched, the motion pulling up his t-shirt to reveal a band of golden skin. "We could share a shower, save a bit of time."
Phil narrowed his eyes. "I don't think the stall is big enough for two."
"That's kind of the point."
"And whatever you have in mind wouldn't save any time, either."
"Me?" Clint grinned. "I'm not the one who immediately went there, Coulson. My plan was completely innocent, just getting cleaned up and presentable."
"Hmm. Why don't I believe you?"
With the chaos of Christmas mostly over, the day was mostly about being lazy and eating leftovers. Jeannie shooed the children, Phil and Clint outside in the late morning ostensibly to build snowmen. Phil suspected it was mostly an attempt to wear everyone out and maybe keep the levels of sappy happiness in the house down to reasonable levels.
June surprised Phil by sitting him down and spending ten minutes extolling all of Clint's virtues with dire warnings about what would happen if he let Clint get away. A couple of days ago it would have been deeply uncomfortable, but now Phil just nodded and smiled and promised to do his best.
Sneaking away to kiss Clint in quiet corners and unused rooms reminded Phil of being a teenager and from Jeannie's knowing look whenever they reappeared, she was remembering her comments from yesterday. He rolled his eyes and she smirked.
It was late in the afternoon when she finally dragged him into the kitchen to help her make another pot of coffee. Everyone else was busy arguing over who got to be the Monopoly boot.
Jeannie pressed the button to start the coffee brewing and began getting clean mugs out of the dishwasher.
"So, Clint wasn't just here to get you out of a bind, huh?" she said. "I told you so."
"That's what I love about you." Phil leaned against the counter. "You're so gracious when you're right."
She poked out her tongue. "If you'd just accept that I'm always right about everything, your life would be so much better."
"You were wrong about putting baking soda in Dad's shampoo."
"I was five, Phil." Jeannie glared. "Are you going keep bringing that one up?"
"Just remember, I've got your baby photos and I'm not afraid to use them. Think Clint will enjoy seeing you in the Captain America onesie?"
"That's a low blow."
"I'm your sister, it's kind of expected."
They grinned at each other and Jeannie hugged him briefly before turning her attention to the coffee machine.
"So, can you make it less than two years before you visit next time?" she asked. "We missed you. And I want to find out all the stuff you haven't told me about over the years. I mean, my brother works with superheroes. You've got to have some great stories about that."
"How long have you known I'm not an accountant?" Phil asked curiously.
Jeannie fiddled with the coffee pot instead of looking at him. "After that accident five years ago? Mom bought it but you didn't look like a guy who'd been in a car crash so I started adding a few things up."
"You told them Rio was a car crash?"
Phil looked up to see Clint leaning against the kitchen door with a strange expression.
"You actually thought anyone would buy that one as a car crash?" Clint continued.
"He did," Jeannie said. "I guess he'd had two 'muggings' that year already so he had to come up with something else."
"I couldn't tell you what really happened," Phil protested.
"Find better stories, Phil." Jeannie said. "And keep your face off CNN if you don't want Danni and Mom to figure it out eventually."
"I keep trying," Phil said tiredly.
"He really does," Clint added. "But he's just so damn photogenic."
"That's not the word I'd ever use about my brother." Jeannie tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. "Clint, do you mind if I ask a question?"
"Natasha." Jeannie paused. "You didn't really bring home a stray cat one day and persuade Phil to keep her. Did you?"
There was a long pause and then Clint began laughing. "Jesus, Phil, Nat is going to fucking kill you when I tell her."
They were scheduled on an early flight the next morning so Phil used that as an excuse to say goodnight early. Much later, when Clint was sprawled across his chest and Phil was idly rubbing a hand up and down Clint's naked back, there came the inevitable question.
"What happens when we go home?" Clint asked. "I mean if you want to keep this quiet, not advertise that anything's changed, I can do that."
Phil felt Clint shift slightly and then there were dry lips kissing his shoulder.
"Or, we don't hide. I can do that, too." Clint settled back with his head on Phil's shoulder. "Stark's aneurysm would be the funny kind of aneurysm the first time you stayed over so it's a win all round if we go that route."
"You're assuming we'll be staying over at your place," Phil said. "I like my apartment."
"Did I mention how amazing the bed in my place is?" Clint poked Phil in the ribs. "Also, the showers. You're never going to want to leave them."
"We should probably pre-warn Pepper about the aneurysm," Phil said thoughtfully. "Make sure she has EMTs on standby."