OK, so this looked bad. Like really bad.
A complete clusterfuck.
I'm in charge of my life, I am a competent adult . Clint Barton almost laughed out loud. He was a starving, striving boy blindly thrashing his way through life and his luck was running out.
Everything was on fire.
Being a freelance assassin for hire was turning into a nightmare. Actually, it had always been a nightmare but Clint stupidly thought he had a grip on it.
Dummy! Who would ever think you had a grip on anything?
His cover blown and people all around him, civilians and gangsters alike, flailing and screaming; Clint decided maybe it was time to quit.
Suddenly, a fleet of helicopters descended on the panicking crowd. Black SUVs roared into sight, forming a loose barrier around the gangsters.
Clint turned to bolt, hoping he could make a clean getaway but of course, the driver of the nearest SUV stepped out, gun drawn right at him.
“Don't move please.”
Clint put his hands up.
“You're going to need to come with me.”
Clint tilted his head to the side and put on his best confused expression, gesturing that he couldn't hear him. It did not amuse the driver, his eyes hidden underneath dark sunglasses.
“I know you're an expert lip reader, Barton. I'm not going to hurt you. I want to make you an offer.”
Clint raised an eyebrow. “What kind of offer?”
It was a good deal that Sunglasses presented him. After Clint was transported to whatever headquarters all of the helicopters and SUVs worked in, Sunglasses introduced himself as Agent Phil Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D., an organization Clint had only heard whispers of until now.
“We could use a highly skilled assassin like yourself. Your skills in marksmanship alone are impressive but it was the lip reading that made my boss want to bring you in. We think you could be an excellent agent, if you decide to work with us.”
“If I decide?” Clint asked.
“We're not going to force you if it's not what you want. If you want to continue doing freelance work, we won't stop you. But you seem like a man who thinks he has a lot to atone for and we can help with that, if you let us.”
Sunglasses, as Clint was still calling Agent Coulson in his head, seemed sincere enough. He looked pretty bland like an accountant. Clint figured that was Sunglasses' special skill; looking harmless.
"A lot of people want me dead. Is there anything you can do about that?"
Agent coulson smiled. "If you join with S.H.I.E.L.D., I can guarantee none of those people will bother with you again."
S.H.I.E.L.D. proved to be right in the protection department. Clint's many enemies pissed off after word traveled through the grapevine that Barton worked for the bogeymen now. He started to feel like he had a real purpose, like it mattered what he did. It was simultaneously comforting and stressful.
Agent Coulson turned out to be a real ally in the organization. He met with Clint often during his first few weeks and the weekly meetings became a regular occurrence even after Clint's 90 day probationary period ended. They met once a month and Coulson would bring coffee and pastries from a local cafe they both liked. They discussed what went wrong and worked well in their missions and Coulson was always open to suggestions for improvement.
It didn't take long for the two of them to become one of the most efficient teams at S.H.I.E.L.D, if not the most efficient.
It also didn't take too long for Clint to fall in love.
The first and pretty much only time Clint went against Coulson's direct orders was in Russia. He was supposed to kill a dangerous assassin rumored to be working for the KGB and the Red Room. He saw the desperate look in her eyes and turned off his communicator.
Clint figured Coulson would be angry with him but the quiet, simmering disappointment he was met with when they got back to headquarters was much worse.
"What were you thinking?" Coulson gripped the table, knuckles white.
"I evaluated the situation and I made a different call."
"A different call that involved putting yourself and your entire team in danger?!?"
"She deserved a second chance!"
Coulson rubbed his eyes. "And that was your call to make? Without consulting anyone?"
"You gave me a second chance. I thought I should pay it forward."
"You can't go off mission like that without saying anything!"
Clint gritted his teeth. "You never needed me to consult with you before I went off mission any other time."
"You turned off your communicator, Clint! I thought she killed you!" Coulson shouted, his voice echoing in the small space. Clint froze. Coulson sank down into a chair, his face pressed into his hand.
"You can't do that again. I need to know what you're planning."
Clint nodded, his words stuck in his throat.
Coulson finally met his eyes and Clint almost flinched at the raw desperation and exhaustion in his eyes,
Clint nodded. "I promise." He murmured.
Phil sighed and rose to his feet, his face a calm mask once again. "Let's go talk to our new asset."
For a while, Natasha didn't talk to anyone unless they were a superior agent asking her a work related question. The rest of the time she spoke to no one and mostly hid in her S.H.I.E.L.D. issued dorm room. It had it's own bathroom but otherwise was barely larger than a closet.
Clint offered to help her apartment search but Natasha just shook her head.
He spent a lot of time with her when he wasn't busy with missions. They didn't do much, just sat in silence and read or watched a mindless TV show. Or rather Clint watched a mindless TV show and Natasha read her book and rolled her eyes at him.
She gradually warmed up to Coulson too after he lended her books to read and brought her coffee when they had meetings together. He never pushed her to talk if she didn't want to; Coulson could pretty much wait anybody out. The three of them became the most efficient active S.H.I.E.L.D. team, almost able to communicate completely silently to each other during a mission. Clint never felt more at home than during the years they all worked together.
Natasha and Clint trained together a few times every week without fail. During a sparring session about six months after they started working together, Natasha finally called Clint out on his bullshit.
"So you and Coulson huh? How's that going?" Natasha queried casually as she knocked Clint to the mat with a blow to his leg.
"We've collaborated for like three years on missions with an almost 100% success rate so I'd say pretty well." Clint replied as he attempted to knock Natasha down with a kick to her ankle on his way to his feet.
Natasha dodged his kick and swiped at his ankle with her leg, knocking him back to the mat.
"Quit playing dumb, Clint. You know what I mean."
"No actually I don't." Clint kicked at her other leg and Natasha jumped out of his reach.
"You're in love with him."
Clint blinked, flinging himself off the mat, aiming a blow for her stomach. Natasha dodged him again, grabbing his arm and twisting it."I-what-no-he's my boss-why would I love him, that's stupid. Where would you get that idea?" Clint tried to hit her with his free arm but she easily swatted him away. "Good people, truly good to their core people, don't come into your life often. When they do, you do your absolute best to keep them there."
"Ok, Tasha sure right." Clint rolled his eyes.
Natasha twisted his arm harder.
"Don't fuck around."
Clint nodded furiously. "Alright, I got it Tasha. Let me up."
Natasha let go of his arm and he rubbed it.
"Want to get coffee?" He asked, ignoring the feelings Tasha's words had stirred in him. He was not in love with Coulson. Of course not. She was just imagining things.
The next day Clint and Coulson had their usual coffee date. Coulson handed him a chocolate croissant, his favorite and they discussed their newest mission. They were supposed to start the following week. Coulson went over all of the precautions in place for Clint and how they would handle each potential scenario. Clint remembered when he had told Coulson how much he'd appreciated this discussion and how Coulson always did it after that, buying Clint a coffee and answering all of his questions. He was the first person who had ever listened with 100% sincerity to Clint's thoughts and suggestions. Even if they didn't use any of them, Coulson always made sure to ask. Coulson knew Clint's favorite things and never forgot his birthday.
Clint collected all of these variables and attempted to piece them together.
It took two more months for Clint to knock on Tasha's door late one Friday night and blurt out when she opened the door: "You were right!"
"Of course I am but which particular thing am I right about?" She smirked, letting him into her room.
“Coulson. Phil… I.. do…you know...have the feeling and all.” Clint stuttered, rubbing his arm and staring at the floor.
“The first step is admitting you have a problem.” Natasha pulled a bottle of vodka out from her desk drawer. Clint sat down on her bed.
“Vodka, really? Isn’t that a little overdone?”
She poured a shot and handed it to him. “Drink.” Natasha sat down next to him and knocked back her own shot.
“Have you said anything to him?”
“No, of course not! I figured I could ignore the problem until it went away.”
“You're an idiot.”
“Yes.” Clint affirmed. “File that under things I already knew. Besides, he doesn’t feel the same way about me. It would make things weird between us and I can’t do that. I value our partnership too much for that.”
Tasha patted his arm. “I wouldn’t be so sure Phil doesn’t feel the same way about you.”
“How can you be sure though?”
“I’m a spy. It’s my job to be sure.”
“Technically you’re a specialist.”
Tasha rolled her eyes. “You two, I swear. One day I'll just lock you both in a closet.”
“Not the utility closet. It smells like that horrible cleaner they use in the men's bathroom.”
“At least think about telling him or if you’re not going to, maybe tone down the puppy dog faces you keep giving him when you think nobody’s looking.”
“I don’t have a puppy dog face!”
“Yes, Clint. Yes you do.”
They spent the rest of the night arguing and polishing off the bottle of vodka. They fell asleep curled around each other and Clint had to crawl through the air duct the following morning to avoid detection by junior agents. He didn’t want to encourage the S.H.I.E.L.D. rumor mill. He managed to get back to his own room in time to shower and get dressed for his weekly coffee meeting with Phil. Coulson, Clint reminded himself. It’s Coulson.
It took one more year after that (and many more late night drunken confessions to Tasha) for Clint to tell Phil how he felt.
It was of course during a mission that was quickly going south. Phil was undercover as a personal financial consultant for a CFO that was running an inhuman trafficking ring, primarily with women and children; selling them to the highest bidder to do whatever they wanted with them.
Phil was tied up in a basement being tortured and Clint could barely breathe. Natasha was sneaking in to retrieve him and Clint was in charge of distraction.
Clint’s focus narrowed to the people surrounding Phil, an arrow notched and aimed right at the main dude’s head. He fired and the arrow brought the guy down. The rest of them whipped out their guns to fire at Clint but they were too slow. Clint took them all out and dropped down from his hiding place in the rafters, running straight for Phil and Natasha. Phil leaned on Natasha’s shoulder, barely able to stand. Blood dripped from a gash in his head and there was a bullet in his shoulder.
Natasha called for a S.H.I.E.L.D. medic and Clint ducked under Phil’s other arm, offering his support. Phil sagged between the two of them, on the verge of passing out.
“The ambulance is on its way, Coulson. Hang in there.” Clint pleaded as they stumbled out of the warehouse.
“The….people...are...ok?” Phil slurred.
“Yes, everyone’s safe. We got them all out.”
“Good...job..team.” Phil passed out as the ambulance roared up.
The medics dashed out of the truck and extracted Phil from Clint and Natasha to relocate him to a stretcher.
Clint insisted on riding with them. The EMT’s let him in and Natasha jumped into a S.H.I.E.L.D. van to follow behind.
The medics checked Phil’s heart rate and breathing, determining that both were still there, he was still alive. They hooked him up to an IV and starting cleaning the large gash in his head. Clint was pretty sure Phil would need stitches.
When they got to the hospital, doctors ran out to meet them and rolled Phil into surgery to remove the bullet still lodged in his shoulder.
Clint installed himself in the waiting room, pacing back and forth until Natasha arrived. She guided him to a chair and sat next to him, his hand squeezing hers in a death grip. After what felt like hours of waiting, the doctor came out to tell them the surgery was a success. Phil was sleeping off the anesthesia and they could go in to see him.
They walked into his room and Phil was lying in the bed, asleep. Clint ran his fingers through his hair, brushing it gently off of his forehead.
Natasha stayed for a few hours and tried to get Clint to leave and come back in the morning.
“You go ahead, Tasha. I won’t be able to sleep away from him.”
She kissed him on the forehead, kissed Phil too, and made Clint promise to call her if he needed anything.
Clint held Phil’s hand, curled against the railing around Phil’s bed, using his own arm as a pillow.“Goodnight, Phil. Love you.” he whispered and closed his eyes.
Clint was awakened the next morning by fingers gently running through his hair.
He opened his eyes to Phil smiling at him.
“Phil, you’re awake!”
“Is everyone safe?”
Clint glanced at his watch. “Everyone’s safe. Tasha’s helping them get back to their families and/or find places to stay.”
Phil relaxed. “Good. How long was I out?”
“It’s morning so like 16 hours. You were in surgery for a while.”
Phil glanced down at his shoulder. “Ah, now I remember. That’s going to be a fun recovery.”
Phil went to move his hand from Clint’s hair but Clint grabbed his wrist.
“Are you alright, Clint?”
Clint swallowed. “They tortured you and shot you.” His voice shook and his grip on Phil’s wrist tightened. “I...I couldn’t...I thought they were going to kill you.”
Phil gently scratched Clint’s head. “They didn’t. I’m right here, Clint.”
“Phil, I...I….” Clint took a deep breath. “I love you.”
Phil froze, his fingers still in Clint’s hair. Clint let go of his wrist.
“I’m sorry, I just...you were almost killed by those men and I thought you would be dead before I could tell you how I felt and I probably just fucked up our friendship and I’m really sorry but I just-” Phil pressed his hand to Clint’s lips.
He smiled at Clint. “I love you, too.”
Clint grinned and kissed Phil’s fingers, wrapping his hand around Phil’s. Natasha came by to check on them and found Clint curled up in Phil’s bed, sound asleep. Phil was reading a newspaper, arm wrapped around Clint’s shoulder, his fingers tracing patterns against Clint’s skin.
She smiled, waving at Phil, and handing him a coffee. She put a coffee on the table for Clint and sat down in the other chair.
They read their respective reading materials in silence for a while until the doctor came with the discharge paperwork for Phil.
Phil, Natasha, and Clint all got a week off work to rest and relax. Clint stayed with Phil in his apartment to help him recover. They spent most of the time watching movies and making out. Cint’s need to keep a hand on Phil made him antsy.
“I’m fine,Clint.” Phil shrugged his hand off but when it returned less than five minutes later, Phil laced their fingers together and didn't let go. Clint nuzzled his neck, pressing kisses against his skin, and soon Clint was on his knees in front of Phil, his hands on Phil’s thighs with Phil’s fingers in his hair. Phil came with a cry of “I love you!”
Clint tried not to think of what would happen when they returned to work. He knew that Fury would come down hard on both of them for the unprofessional turn their relationship had taken.
Phil insisted that he would just ask Fury for a transfer but Clint knew there was no other voice he could handle in his ear on a mission than Phil’s.
“We can’t do this.” Clint murmured against Phil’s shoulder as they lay curled up in bed on the last day of their vacation. “If you transfer, I’ll never see you because we’d both be on different missions all the time. If you don’t, we’d see each all the time but we couldn’t be together.”
Phil sighed. “Neither choice is ideal.”
“Or we just hide it.”
“Do you really think we can hide a relationship from Fury? He’ll figure it out in one day and we’ll be transferred to bases on opposite sides of the world.”
“It would be a fun challenge.”
Phil laughed. “I’ll bet you a hundred dollars Fury figures it out within one work day.”
“And I’ll bet you that our effectiveness in the field can be applied to clandesdine sex in utility closets.”
Phil rolled his eyes. “I am not having sex in a S.H.I.E.L.D. closet.”
“Awww, come on. Where’s your sense of fun?”
“Somewhere far from those utility closets.”
Clint snaked a hand between Phil’s legs. “Is it here?”
Phil squirmed. “I don’t know, maybe if you keep doing that it will come back.”
Clint smirked and put his attention into making Phil come as many times as he could handle before morning.
They went back to work the next day. After a quick blow job in the apartment, Phil kissed Clint and headed to work. Clint usually got to work about an hour after Phil so he followed his usual schedule and meandered into headquarters, heading straight for the archery range which is what he usually did first after a vacation.
He practiced for an hour and then went in search of Natasha. They had a briefing scheduled soon for their next mission. She’d finally moved out of the S.H.I.E.L.D. issued dorm room into an apartment. Clint had visited it on a few brief occasions and it had as much personality as a hotel room.
Clint found Natasha sipping coffee with Phil in the cafeteria. He grabbed a coffee and wandered over to join them.
“Hey favorite people, how were your vacations?”
“Peachy.” Natasha replied, a faint, fond smile on her face. Clint made a note to tease her about it later.
“Very relaxing.” Phil murmured, sipping his coffee. “How was yours?”
“A little boring, I think.” Clint smirked, winking at Natasha. “Nothing to shoot, you know.”
Phil grinned. “I forgot your interests are limited to archery and caffeine.”
“Hey, I like more than arrows and coffee. Dogs are pretty neat too.”
“Didn’t you adopt that stray dog that kept hanging around your building?” Natasha asked.
“Oh, yeah Pizza Dog!”
Phil raised an eyebrow. “Pizza dog?”
Clint shrugged. “He likes Pizza.”
Phil coughed into his coffee and Natasha smirked at the both of them.
To both Phil and Clint’s surprise, they managed to make it through the day without arousing suspicion. It wasn’t until two weeks went by that Clint realized maybe he was actually right. He and Phil worked so well together and Phil was so good at restraint that no one besides Natasha ever found out. Clint was sure that plenty of people had suspicions but Fury seemed to let it slide, maybe because he respected Phil too much. Clint could never be sure.
Fury assigned Clint and Phil to tesseract duty in New Mexico. After the Thor incident, they aren’t taking any more chances with 0-8-4’s. Clint found a perfect place in the rafters to perch and watch everything happening below. Phil was busy all day monitoring progress but they both had time in the evening to hang out together. Phil usually made dinner and they ate together, watching a movie or a silly reality TV show. Later, they kissed and made each other come and slept curled up next to each other. Clint had to hold onto Phil while they slept. He settled for their fingers entwined since Phil got twitchy when Clint clung to him like a barnacle.
They camped outside sometimes in the desert outside of the S.H.I.E.L.D facility.
“I haven’t camped this much since boy scouts.” Phil announced, getting comfortable in his sleeping bag. Clint had his own sleeping bag positioned next to him but for the moment had wedged himself into Phil’s extra large one and curled up against him, head resting on Phil’s chest, their fingers laced together as Phil used his other hand to point up at the sky and name all of the visible constellations.
“Why am I not surprised you were in Boy Scouts?” Clint chuckled.
“My family was involved for decades. My dad was in the scouts and so was his dad. After they kind of kicked me out for being gay, no one in my immediate family kept up with it anymore.”
“Ugh, they didn’t deserve you anyway! I bet you were the best at wilderness survival. And making food with those portable burners right?”
Phil laughed, his breath stirring Clint’s hair. “I could make a mean s’more.”
Clint smiled and lifted his head off of Phil’s chest so he could lean up and kiss him. Phil cupped Clint’s jaw with one hand and kissed him slow and sweet. Clint broke their kiss to roll on top of Phil, straddling his waist. He leaned down again and lost himself in kissing Phil and rocking his hips gently against him. They made love under the stars and Clint drifted off to sleep, his body relaxed and warm with pleasure. Phil was already asleep next to him with his arms around Clint.
He was awakened in the early morning hours to the feeling of Phil’s fingertips brushing and teasing him over the front of his sweatpants. Clint wished he could wake up every morning to sweet warmth rolling through his body, Phil’s hands on his skin, and whispered ‘I love you’s’ in his ear.
And then one morning was cold and blue. Clint didn’t sleep. Phil didn’t hold his hand. He didn’t know why he kept thinking about Phil, who was that? Only the blue and the cold existed. If he followed orders, sometimes he was warm for a brief time.
When he woke up, Clint was alone.
He's benched. No missions for him until they're sure Loki is gone. Clint woke up every morning and did every stupid test S.H.I.E.L.D. forced on him to prove he wasn’t crazy and he didn’t say ‘I told you so’ to Fury when they all come back inconclusive. He knew they'll never be completely convinced. So he ran away. It was Natasha who found him, breaking up a human trafficking ring in California. She helped him finish the job, get the children to safety and dragged him kicking and screaming back to New York.
The only thing resembling work that Clint still did was assemble with the other Avengers when they were needed. The others still trusted him. More importantly, Natasha still trusted him to get the job done. He leaned on her trust so hard for the first few months that he was sure he would have jumped off of a building freestyle and been glad to hit the concrete without it, without her.
He told her every day that he loved her because he had to tell someone if Phil was gone. Tasha would call him ‘little hawk’ in Russian and rub his back. They spent a lot of time together for a while after New York. Clint knew she missed Phil almost as much as he missed him.
After a particularly exhausting battle fighting Dr. Doom’s latest creations, Clint sank down onto the rubble and destroyed buildings. He tilted his back, gazing up at the sky black with smoke from all of the explosions. Exhaustion washed over him. The thought of hauling his body off the ground and dragging it anywhere, to the tower, to S.H.I.E.L.D. for debriefing or more conversations about Loki, to his shit hole of an apartment made Clint want to lay back down in the dirt and debris, fall asleep, and hopefully never wake up again.
A hand rested on his shoulder and he squinted up to see Natasha towering over him.
“You’re pretty tall, you know.” Clint murmured.
Natasha reached a hand down to him and Clint grabbed her, allowing her to drag him off the ground.
They went to back to Clint’s apartment to eat pizza and Clint couldn’t even look at the food. Natasha put her foot on the bottom rung of his chair. Clint gave up on pretending to eat and put his head on Natasha’s shoulder. She wrapped her arm around him and rubbed his back.
“Little Hawk.” Clint heard Natasha’s whispered Russian rustling his hair.
“You can’t keep going on like this; you are hurting yourself.”
“I’m fine.” Clint mumbled.
“Eventually Fury will send me on a mission again. I need to know you will be OK without me.”
Clint bit his lip to keep from begging her not to leave him. Instead, he muttered. “I’ll be fine, Tasha. Don’t worry about me.”
Natasha frowned at him and reached a hand up to gently run her fingers through his hair.
Days passed. All Clint wanted was a solid quality nap. The level of exhaustion he’d achieved deserved a prize or something. His bones ached from keeping himself upright. His eyes refused to stay open. He leaned against the wall of the archery range in Avengers tower, his head throbbing with a sleep deprivation headache.
Three months since the Battle of New York. Three months since sleep. He wondered how much
more he could take before it killed him. At this point, he almost looked forward to it.
Phil wouldn’t have let him do this to himself.
Even thinking his name made Clint’s heart lurch with pain.
“Today sucks.” He murmured as he put his arrows back in the quiver. Every day sucked.
S.H.I.E.L.D. had no use for him at all lately. Sometimes he helped train the new recruits when he had enough energy but most of the time he spent keeping up his skills and working out for no particular reason other than he had to do something or he’d go crazy.
Fury wanted him with the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D. maybe not. Clint didn’t know how he felt about that at all. He hid in the vents all day above Phil’s office. It had been seven months since he died and Clint couldn’t get used to the new name on the door, the new art on the wall, the new pictures on the desk. Clint shimmied out of the vents one day when the new person in Phil’s office was away and looked at all of the pictures. One of what looked to be their parents, one of a girlfriend maybe, one with some friends. Phil had only one picture on his desk which Clint had stolen before they could clean out his office. It was of him and Phil gazing into each other’s eyes while Natasha photobombed, rolling her eyes at them.
Clint missed Phil’s arms. He missed Phil’s fingers entwined with his, palms pressed together. He missed wrapping Phil in his arms while he was cooking; Phil wearing one of his dorky aprons, sauteing vegetables, completely absorbed in his task. He missed walking up behind him, embracing him and rubbing his cheek against Phil’s back. He missed feeling safe and loved by someone who knew all the darkest parts of him and still stuck around.
One morning about eight months after Loki, Natasha knocked on his door, earlier than usual for their daily training session.
“Hey Tasha.” Clint opened the door for her and let her into his trash heap of an apartment.
“Clint, I’ve been assigned.” Natasha announced, never one for beating around the bush.
“Assigned? Fury’s sending you on a mission?”
“Yes, it’s classified. He hasn’t even told me what he wants me to do so I guess I’ll find out.” Natasha shrugged.
Clint opened his mouth to make a stupid joke but instead he murmured “Please come back.”
Natasha hugged him. “I’ll always come back to you, Clint. Promise me you’ll be here.”
“I promise.” He choked out.
She left to catch her plane and Clint sank down onto his couch. A few minutes later, his phone rang. Clint glanced at the caller ID. Why was Tony Stark calling him?
“Hey Katniss! How’s Bed-Stuy treating you?”
Clint rolled his eyes. “Fine. What’s up?”
“A little spider told me that you might need a place to stay for awhile.”
“What exactly did that annoying spider say?”
“It involved a lot of threats and mostly came down to ‘watch over Clint while I’m gone, he can’t be trusted to take care of himself.' So come stay in the tower. I have a lot of empty rooms I need to fill. You would be doing me a favor. Plus, Bruce needs more friends.”
Clint heard a snort in the background and guessed that it was Bruce.
“I’ll think about it.”
And that was how a week later, Clint arrived at Avengers Tower with a suitcase and his bow.