Clint never actually expected to make it to retirement. He’d hoped that maybe he’d die doing something good and honorable. He’d expected for a long time just to die, probably alone, but that vague thought had slowly been chipped away by SHIELD. SHIELD had planted a seed of belief that Clint was worth more than the sum of his skills. More often than not, Clint began to believe he would not only be asked to do good things, but that he’d more than likely to do good things without prompting. That he could do good things.
His childhood slowly became a long dead specter to a Clint Barton that apparently no longer existed.
It was one of the things he was so grateful to SHIELD for. And Fury and Natasha and Coulson and Hill and DeLaguardia and Woo and Constance (From HR) and lots of other people who trusted him with a weapon at their back, among other things.
Eventually, at some point, a few years into his SHIELD career, Clint started thinking he might just be cashiered out. Injured beyond the point of functioning as an active agent, the idea of sitting at a desk still repellant to him. He spent a long time coming to terms with the thought of losing a limb, arm more than leg, because then his bow would become nothing more than a reminder of things he could no longer have or be.
Then Fernandez came back to active agent status with a fancy new arm and hand courtesy of the bio sciences division. It had been a trial run, Fernandez, but it had led to a lot more agents both coming out of retirement and choosing not to go into it in the first place.
And Clint started to imagine a future in which he got older and older. No longer if someone asked about him in 5 or 10 or even 15 years and what his plans might be did he have to find a way not to say ‘probably dead’ anymore.
Then one day, a day that felt like it only took weeks to come instead of years, his last debrief was done. His last class taught (he might come in for something special still, but that was different) and his last bit of paperwork signed. There’d been other things too. Arranging finances and safe houses, handing off whatever last pies he might have his fingers in, looking at furniture and appliances meant to help aging bones and creaking joints. Clint’s life had been rough on him, all of those hard falls eventually caught up with him and he could no longer guarantee the ability to spring out of bed unaided on any given morning, with anything even remotely close to a spring.
The process had started 18 months earlier, a little short notice according to SHIELD but Clint couldn’t bear the thought of spending two entire years looking down the deep dark tunnel of retirement. It had helped that Phil, about 10 years older than him, had started his around the same time. Retiring at 49 seemed young, but Clint never thought he’d live to 35, so when his shoulders had started to object to the strain of pulling his bow, not because he’d lost muscle tone but because his shoulder blade, ball joint and ligaments were just that abused. He’d been through joint replacement surgery with his non dominant (barely) arm, the doctors were unconvinced that both shoulders, even with the advancements SHIELD science divisions had come up with, would leave him field ready. Clint wasn’t sure he could live through a second surgery, especially on his dominant arm.
Retirement (at least semi retirement) had seemed like the obvious choice. When it had even started to be potential choice at all Clint had no idea.
He and Phil had started on the paperwork together. Talking various options and choices out. It had surprised Clint to see how difficult that process also was for Phil. Maybe he’d never thought he’d live this long either. It took a long time to figure out their answers to some of the questions raised and in some cases, Clint was still uneasy about it, but they’d coaxed each other along until finally they had managed to shape a life outside of espionage and sniper blinds. Clint even agreed not to rule out the surgery completely, he had a lot of potential years left and that shoulder might eventually get too hard to ignore.
That night, the first night Post Career, alone in his apartment, he was uneasy. There was plenty for him to do, they’d both made sure of that in their planning. The thought of Clint with empty, metaphorical, hands wasn’t pretty. He fidgeted a little and then squared his shoulders and proceeded with his original plan. He watched a celebratory movie, with a celebratory beer (but only one) and going to bed while setting his celebration alarm clock (for NEVER). The morning (late afternoon) was deliciously slothful and lazy and he even enjoyed it, to a point.
It took him a few days to figure it out, what he’d somehow managed to miss through the whole thing. It was when he realized that despite having found all sorts of projects and even jobs he could eventually dig into so his life didn’t turn into one long slug like haze until death, that there was one thing he hadn’t planned for. Had always assumed would be there and wouldn’t need to account for.
Except without SHIELD, there was no tether hanging between them anymore.
So Clint did what he’d been doing for over a year. He looked at his options and then planned.
The irony was that Phil’s place, his semi-retirement place, wasn’t the far away. They were within the same chinese food delivery zone. For New York City, that wasn’t very far at all. Which should have been the first clue. Because there were places to meet in the middle. Friends get together all the time. From further away. These options all should have been obvious and comforting. Clint thought of them, but discarded them just as quickly. Maybe they were obvious, but they weren’t the answer Clint was looking for.
Clint, with SHIELD’s help, had spent a long time learning what the mess inside his head really wanted and after a lifetime of organizing his mind for work (and the occasional date), he figured it was his chance to do it for himself.
So he showed up at Phil’s place for lunch, with a steaming bag of food and a six pack to keep his hands busy.
Phil answered the door in a worn henley and jeans, glasses perched on his nose, his eyes looking a little wide and so very blue. Unlike the many years of working together in which Phil has answered Clint’s knock, the man in front of him was so much like the calm and self assured agent of SHIELD and so very little like him.
“So,” Clint said quietly, “I realized, we forgot one little detail.”
“Yes?” Phil’s entire body leaned in just a fraction.
“I…” Clint trailed off suddenly unsure of how to ask for what he really wanted. “You. I forgot about you. I always assumed that you were…” His voice croaked out.
Phil gently took the bags and the beer from Clint hands and stepped back away from the door way to let him in. Then, because retired or not, decades of being efficient weren’t something you just shook off, he closed the door and put the bags on the table before coming back to face Clint who hadn’t stepped much further into the apartment than he needed to.
Clint took in the changes around him. They weren’t big, but they were visible. An extra hook on the wall, the kind Clint used to store his emergency quiver and bow, extra pillows, the kind Clint liked, on the couch. Empty spaces on the bookshelves, the faint whiff of drying paint coming from the open room in the back. It had been storage once upon a time, now it looked like it was being prepped for human life.
“There,” Phil said quietly, settling back in front of Clint. “Now that that’s taken care of,” looking as scared as Clint has ever seen him, Phil gently reached up and cupped Clint’s cheek, his thumb rubbing softly against his skin. “Me too.”
“Oh thank god.” Clint threw his arms around Phil and hugged him tightly, savoring the the feel of another body, of Phil’s body, breathing so close to his and the way his nose seemed to tuck perfect behind Phil’s ear.
“I wasn’t sure,” Phil whispered, “I made assumptions and then I realized we’d gotten so far into the process and I’d never actually… spoken to you about it.”
“Me too,” Clint’s throat threatened to close up and his eyes got suspiciously wet.
Eventually they pulled back, only far enough to let their foreheads bump together softly. “Your place looks big enough,” Clint was still hoarse, but slowly getting his equilibrium back, “we’ll start packing my place up tomorrow.”
Phil laughed, a bit high and out of control. “Maybe we should try dating first?” Like he hadn’t just been in the middle of making his apartment ‘their’ apartment.
“What do you think the last year and a half was?” Clint smiled, something inside him finally calming down.
Phil looked genuinely surprised but he took to the idea fast. “Okay,” and then there was kissing. A lot of kissing, the kind that made Clint’s lips puffy and sensitive, his knees weak and his cock start to fill. God bless Phil’s decisive nature.
Somewhere along the way one of them moaned, and the other shuddered and their hips pressed together in that age old way rocking gently against one another. There wasn’t any real urgency, they were more than old enough to savor waiting for the right time and far too old to choose rutting against each other against the wall, or on the floor. Clint however didn’t rule out the couch just yet. However, he was hungry for that chinese food and they had time.
Each careful roll of their hips, nudging their half hard erections against each other and the soft fabric of their pants was enough to catch their breaths in their throats between kisses. It whetted Clint’s appetite for more, but before he could even find enough brain cells to make any scheduling suggestions Clint’s stomach rumbled. Loudly. They both split apart laughing hard and loud.
There was time. After lunch.