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The Art of Choosing

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Phil Coulson has done his best to keep out of politics. It was a smart idea in uniform, and it's proving to be an even smarter one out of it — both major political parties hire ex-soldiers like him to provide security, and Phil has never been one to limit his options or corral his thinking. He’s worked on both sides of the political fence for years now, guarding up-and-coming Senators and members of Congress as they've done the ass-kissing they needed to get into office. He’s even worked for a few ambassadors over the years, and had once — very memorably — assisted in protecting the president.

All in all, though, Phil prefers the up-and-comers. They’re usually less jaded than those who’ve worked the system, their idle chit-chat between speeches more candid, if too often catty. It makes them easier to tune out, too; Phil prefers to keep his attention on the road, the crowds, and the various security risks that surround them.

Clint Barton, though. He might be different.

Maybe Phil should have expected it. After all, Senator Barton has been the Left’s rumoured pick for VP from the get go, the party sincere — or so it seems — in their message of inclusivity. The candidate who wins the Left's nomination for president has been widely expected to pick a member of a minority group for their running mate, and there aren’t that many qualified candidates to choose from. Barton might be young, but he has the experience of being a Senator, and he has sat on several high profile Senate committees. He’s even served in the military and was decorated for his service.

But he's a werewolf. Every analysis keeps coming back to that. He's the perfect choice, great on paper, but…

But there's no way a vampire would ever pick him. Not a werewolf. Maybe if Victoria Hand, the pixie, had won more of the primaries, it might have been possible, but Romanova?

Except she has. She’s waded into the controversy, knowing she’ll alienate some big ticket donors, half her party, and all of the Vampires First movement, and has picked Senator Barton, the werewolf, as her running mate for the general election.

Which is why Phil now finds himself waiting while Barton gets the call, standing by the armoured, spell-proofed limousine SHIELD has supplied to transport Barton to the tarmac if the Senator agrees to be the Vice Presidential pick. Phil casts an enchantment to help him pick up Barton’s side of the conversation, standard practice during bodyguard assignments, so he’ll know if his services are even going to be needed.

Barton answers the phone with an easy camaraderie that surprises Phil. “Hey, Tasha! Congratulations again, that was a great win last week… Well, you know me, I like Hand, she’s fine, we can work together, but I don’t trust her not to send our people out into the desert and leave them there if it helps her score points back home…. Uh huh…. Uh huh… Wait, what?!”

The crack in his voice makes Phil grab for his wand, eyes scanning the house, the driveway, the street, the air — every sense alive for an attack that never comes. Instead, Barton begins pacing, his silhouette clearly visible through the sheer curtains of his house.

Those will have to go, Phil finds himself thinking, hand dropping to his side as Barton begins arguing with the Left’s presumptive nominee.

“You can’t be serious, Tasha, they’ll eviscerate you for this. No way, we’ve worked too long and too hard to get you to this point, and I’m not going to let you…” He trails off. “I know, I…. I know.” He stops pacing. “Tasha…”

Phil finds himself honestly curious and, for the first time, wishing he could hear the other half of the conversation. All he can see now are Barton’s shoulders sinking. “Of course I will, you know that. I just don’t want you to regret it later.”

Whatever her reply to that is, it must be blistering, because Barton actually winces and pulls the phone away from his ear. “Okay! Okay, I’m sorry. Yes. Yes! I’ll see you soon, I — what?”

Phil watches in amusement as Barton suddenly turns and stares out the window. He catches sight of Phil, grimaces, and then walks out of sight. Another thing they’ll have to work on. “Yeah, I thought he was a UPS guy or something. I don’t know, I… Fine. Fine! I’ll see you soon. Love you, too. Bye.”

Phil presses his lips together and carefully clears all amusement from his face, pocketing his wand. He’s ready when Barton finally appears, a duffle bag in one hand and a garment bag in the other. Keeping his expression bland, Phil steps forward as the Senator appears to be struggling with his keys. “Senator Barton?”

Barton scowls and turns to face him. “Yes?”

“My name is Phil Coulson, and I’m here to escort you to Wingfield Airport, where a plane is waiting. Do you need a hand with that?”

“I’m good,” Barton says, dropping his bag to the ground so he can reach his keys. The bag tips over, and Barton winces. “Sorry, I’m sorry.” Surprisingly, he actually sounds like he means it. Phil blinks as Barton sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “It’s been kind of a crazy morning. I wasn't exactly expecting this, but that’s not an excuse.”

Shaking himself, head and shoulders together, kind of like a dog, Barton blows out a breath before turning to properly face Phil. He sticks out a hand. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Coulson, I’m Clint Barton.” Their eyes meet, and Phil is struck by the intensity of Barton’s gaze. He looks earnest, truly sorry, and very sincere; but then a thought seems to occur to him and he makes a face. “But then I guess you already knew that.”

Phil can’t help but smile. “I did,” he admits, amusement leaking into his voice. He shakes Barton’s hand. “It’s a pleasure, Senator.”

“Just ‘Clint’, please,” Barton says, his grip strong, but not crushing — unlike most werewolves, Barton seems able to resist the urge to display his strength. “I’m still not used to people calling me anything other than ‘Private’, to be honest.”

Phil’s smile turns rueful. “I still stand straighter when someone snaps ‘Major.’”

Barton — Clint — laughs. It’s a surprising sound, even more so than his handshake — politicians rarely sound so sincere. But Clint’s head is thrown back and his voice is echoing. “Yes! You understand, then. Okay, you take this bag and I’ll lock my door, and then we’ll see what madness Tasha has planned for us. You know, it’s a good thing that woman is running for President, because otherwise I’m pretty sure she’d spend her days micromanaging my life.”

Phil tries to dampen his curiosity as he bends to retrieve the bag, but without success. “I gather you two know each other well?”

“For ten years now,” Clint says, flashing him a grin. “She saved my furry ass somewhere neither of us should have been, and I helped her out a time or two later. We're sort of in each other's debt, and she’s the closest thing to a sister the Mother Of All ever gave me.” He locks the door and then turns, garment bag in hand, to follow Phil to the car. “I should have known she’d drag me into this madness, but I honestly thought she’d go for someone with more experience.”

Phil tries to keep out of politics, but even he’s heard the buzz surrounding Romanova. She’s supposedly cold and rational, and has a serious PR problem. “I understand Senator Romanova values loyalty very highly.”

“She values competence, and yeah, she’s not exactly the warm-and-fuzzies type,” Clint defends. “It’s not just the vampire thing, either, that’s pure her. Still, she’ll be an amazing Commander-in-Chief, and when she wants something done, by the Goddess Herself, she gets it done.

Phil unlocks the car, scanning the street again, and opens the rear door. “You don’t have to convince me.”

“Right, sorry,” Clint says, sounding sheepish. He drapes his garment bag across the back seat and takes the bag from Phil. “I’ve been defending her to the press for years now; it’s kind of second nature.” Placing the bag carefully on the floor of the car, Clint steps back and closes the door, then walks around the car to the passenger side. “She’s amazing, though.”

“Excuse me, Senator Barton,” Phil says, caught wrong-footed as he hurries to catch up. “I’m sorry; Clint,” he amends, when the other man throws him a look, “but you’re supposed to sit in the back.”

Clint shakes his head and opens the passenger door. “I prefer to see the road.”

“I insist,” Phil says, reaching out and putting a hand on the door, blocking Clint from completely opening it. He’s fully aware even as he does so that it’s a purely symbolic gesture; he might be a warlock, but Clint is a werewolf, and could likely rip the door from its hinges, pick up the entire vehicle, and throw it across the street. Phil’s seen it happen. “You’ll be safer behind the additional shield spells.”

“Phil, can I call you Phil? Phil,” Clint says, his eyes once again earnest, intent, and right there. “I served a tour in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, I’ve sat in the Senate, and I once had to pull Jasper Sitwell away from a food truck with my bare hands.” He raises his arms and wiggles his fingers, shooting Phil a grin. “I know what danger looks like.”

Phil can’t help but smile. “Senator Sitwell does love his food trucks.”

“He was going to get salmonella,” Clint agrees earnestly. “Plus, it was roll call and we had to vote on the Health Care Act that day. I couldn’t risk it.”

“You’re a brave man,” Phil deadpans, and is rewarded when Clint laughs again. His resolve crumbles. “Okay,” Phil relents, stepping back so Clint can open the door, “you can sit in the front, but I’m casting an extra shield spell on the front of the vehicle, and if anything happens, I want you to stay out of the way and get yourself to safety.”

“Yes, sir, Major, sir.” Clint salutes, but happily, without mocking. He slides into the passenger seat. “Though, to be honest, I don’t think I’m in danger yet. Tomorrow, after Natasha announces that she’s chosen me as a running mate and the Vampires First movement starts arming their followers, then we’ll buy a new protection amulet for the car.”

“Don’t jinx us, please,” Phil says with a groan. He closes Clint’s door before walking around to the driver’s side and taking his seat behind the wheel, relayering the shield spells with a wave of his hand. “They Vampires First movement is crazy. They’ll be pissed enough to actually consider some form of attack.”

Clint makes a face but doesn’t argue as Phil puts the limousine in drive and smoothly pulls away from the curb. “You’re with SHIELD, aren’t you?” he asks instead. “I heard you’re supposed to be almost as good as the Secret Service.”

Phil shrugs. “We do our jobs. We’re the Security Hazard Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division of the Securities Group. We have several different kinds of assignments, but I’ve worked mostly political bodyguard duty and events for the past ten years.”

“SHIELD has a good reputation,” Clint says. “Director Fury actually approached me a few years ago when I got back from my second tour.”

“He offered you our services?” Phil asks, glancing over.

Clit shrugs and turns to the window. “He offered me a job.”

Phil blinks in surprise. “Really?” That information hadn’t been included in his briefing, and Nick is usually thorough. He also only recruits the best. “I didn’t know that.”

“It was years ago,” Clint dismisses. “He probably doesn’t even remember me.” He smiles self-deprecatingly. “I turned him down, obviously; had some crazy idea about finding a new way to serve my country, to make the world a safer place.”

Digesting that, Phil returns his attention to the road. “Well,” he says finally, signaling before turning onto the highway, “I guess you’ve succeeded.”

Clint chuckles. “We won’t know until November, will we?” He makes a gesture with one hand. “We did good work in Iraq, but I want to fix policy, want to make sure no one else ends up the murky waters that I did. I think Natasha can do a better job than Pierce.” He presses his lips together. “And The Goddess help us, but she wants me by her side while she does.”

Phil finds himself, for the first time in a long while, seriously considering his vote in November. “I’m sure you’ll both get your chance.”

“I hope so,” Clint says, his eyes on the road. “I have to admit, I really do hope so.”