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New York being New York, there's a niche bar for everything. Never mind gay bars and karaoke bars, New York has superhero bars. Clint's been to a few of them, usually after the Avengers have mopped up some B-grade asshole and want to wind down.

(They don't go drinking after A-list villains make an appearance; the come down after those is usually too messy to do in public.)

Despite that, they're not Clint's usual hang out. Supe bars are for folks with powers, really, and his aim is spectacularly good, but it's not actually outside the realm of human ability. Instead, he waffles between quiet, regular places and cop bars. The cops know he hasn't got a badge, of course, but they also know who he is, and they've got a way of letting him know that he's welcome, that they get that he's got some of the same issues.

Clint almost heads to one of the regular places tonight, but he decides at the last second that after what happened with Jessica, there's a chance he might get to talking, and if that happens, he probably isn't going to be keen to layer on the bullshit. So he heads to one of his favorite cop bars instead.

“Cop bar” is probably the wrong term, actually, 'cause there aren't many actual cops in this place. It's more of a mish mash of the Federal alphabet soup agencies. That's why it's Clint's favorite: Enough variation that he doesn't feel too much of an outsider, and almost no one in uniform. Clint might be on the side of the angels now, but too many blues in one place can still put him in the wrong mood.

He gets a few glances when he steps inside. They all recognize him; this isn't a bunch of civilians, who might wonder if that's really Hawkeye. But because they're not civilians, they also just turn back to their drinks after they spot him. Clint goes to the bar and claims an empty stool. There's a woman to his left and a man to his right. The woman--brown hair, sweater, black pencil skirt--has her back to the bar and is nursing her drink, either waiting for someone or people watching. The man is wearing a black suit and has both elbows on the bar, but he's not hunched over, just relaxed.

Clint orders a beer and thanks the bartender when it arrives. He's just raised it to his lips for a sip when the man speaks, though he doesn't turn from his study of the bottles lined up at the back of the bar. "Full disclosure," the guy says, "I work for SHIELD."

Well, shit. Clint puts his beer down and turns to the guy. "You on the clock?"

The guy turns to face Clint. He's got a calm sort of face and blue eyes. His hair is light brown, and thinning. He raises his glass, which has about half an inch of whiskey in the bottom. "Do I look like I'm on duty? I just didn't want to take the chance you'd find out, assume I was eyeballing you, and get pissed at me."

"Alright, then," Clint says, but he doesn't relax. "Just so long as you stay off duty."

The guy raises his eyebrows and takes a long, deliberate sip of his drink.

Clint snorts a laugh and toasts the guy with his beer bottle before taking a pull from it. "Clint Barton," he offers.

The guy actually sets down his drink to offer his hand. "Phil Coulson."

Clint can't remember the last time someone offered him a regular hello handshake. He takes it. The guy's palm is warm and dry and textured with gun calluses. Not an analyst then. Clint hasn't judged anyone's grip in a long time, but he likes this one. When Clint releases his hand, Phil turns back to his drink without comment. Clint sits there and studies him for a moment, but he seems happy to enjoy his drink.

"Seriously? That's it?" Clint asks.

Phil looks over at him without turning. "What?"

Clint shrugs. "I guess I just figured a SHIELD agent would be more interested, even off the clock. Would have a few questions, a least."

Phil's lips curl up at the corner. "SHIELD has its fingers in a lot more pies than those that pull in you high profile types. Granted, high profile type ops have a way of blowing up and consuming all our resources, but I generally work more on...developing situations. I'm intelligence gathering and evaluation--situation management rather than crisis command. My operations aren't going to be particularly impacted by who's gunning for you this week and whether or not your girlfriend dumped you."

Clint can't help it; he winces.

"Ah," Phil says. He shifts on his seat. "I apologize, I wasn't actually aiming for that nerve."

Clint waves off the apology. "Nah, it's okay, serves me right." Phil doesn't ask, but Clint can feel the curiosity radiating off him. "I cheated," Clint says, and takes a drink from his beer to stop any other words from coming out.

"Any particular reason why?" Phil's voice is mild, and Clint wonders if this is him getting the benefit of the doubt. Or maybe being an Avenger puts you automatically in the right, if you don't know who the other party is. But then, the gossip rags have made it pretty clear who Clint was seeing, so maybe not.

Either way, there's really only one answer to that question. "Because I am shitty at relationships, that's why," he says tiredly, and scrubs a hand over the back of his neck. His romantic life is a disaster. He's got an ex-wife and more ex-girlfriends than he can count, and most of them wouldn't piss on him if he was on fire. Except that's a lie--they would, because they're all goddamned heroes and better people than that. Better people than him, too.

"Most people like us are," Phil says, and what the actual fuck?

Clint frowns. "People like us?"

He's expecting Phil to say something like 'law enforcement types', if he's trying for comradely, or maybe 'heroes' if he's trying too damn hard. What he's not expecting is, "Mission-driven personalities."

"Mission-driven personalities?" Clint repeats, raises his eyebrows and settles himself a little more comfortably facing Phil, since this is turning into an actual conversation.

"People primarily motivated by an overarching philosophy," Phil explains. "Making the world a better place. Protecting people. That sort of thing. You can have negative missions as well, of course. Serial killers are sometimes mission driven. But putting other psychoses aside, people who prioritize an intangible are frequently bad at relationships."

"But aren't all--" he can't say heroes right now, he just can't "--folks like the Avengers mission driven? There are plenty of them who don't suck at relationships as bad as I do."

Phil tips a hand back and forth. "I would say that fewer of them are mission driven than you might expect. For some, it's guilt. For others, vengeance. For yet others, legacy or community. On the other hand, the mission-driven thing is probably only a part of it even for those types. People are complicated."

Only a part of it. That's one way to put it. You're a bad person, Clint Barton, Jess had said. You're so wrapped in hating yourself that any time anybody starts to care about you or, God forbid, you start to care about them--you push them away. Talk about a vicious cycle. Hate yourself for being a bad person, which makes you push people away, which makes you a bad person, which makes you hate yourself... He lifts his beer and finishes the bottle, throat working as he gulps it down.

When he lowers the bottle, Phil is still watching him. "You ever wonder," Clint says, "if taking yourself out of the world is the only way left to make it a better place?" Phil's forehead creases in concern, but Clint waves him off. "I don't mean suicide. I mean, just, take yourself out of the equation. Live in a hut on a mountaintop somewhere."

"I think there's not much you can contribute to life from a hut on a mountaintop."

"Can't do much harm, either," Clint points out.

"Yes, but..." Phil trails off for a moment. "'Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.'" Clint shoots him a look. "John Donne."

Clint snorts. "Sorry, Phil, I'm not a poetry kind of guy."

Phil tilts his head. "Why not?"

"I might not be your responsibility, but you have read SHIELD's file on me, right?" Clint said dryly. "I bet the phrase non-traditional education shows up in there somewhere."

Phil shrugged. "In my experience, formal education has very little to do with intelligence, knowledge, or literary inclinations."

"Fair enough," Clint says. "Prose, I can do. There's a lot of beat up classics floating around for a circus brat to score, but poetry was too..." he shrugs, "abstract, I guess, for a goal-oriented kid like me. I liked the adventure stories."

"Hawkeye..." Phil muses. He raises his eyebrows. "Last of the Mohicans?"

Clint grins. "Got it in one. Even if he did use a rifle. I tried it, later, but the bow always spoke to me better. Plus people don't get quite as uptight about, ah," Clint smirks, "recreational shooting when bullets aren't involved."

Phil tilts his head. "Done much recreational shooting lately?"

Clint shrugs and looks down at his bottle. "Work's giving me plenty of practice."

"I wasn't asking about practice. I was asking about fun." Phil finishes his drink and stand. "I'm done for the night, I think. I'll see you around, Clint." He gives Clint a nod and turns to stride out of the bar.

Clint watches him go for a moment. Then he turns back to the bar and signals the bartender. When the guy comes over Clint orders another beer, but motions for him to wait a second. "That guy, Phil, he a regular?"

The bartender shrugs. "Getting to be. He's only been coming in a couple months, and he keeps mostly to himself. Why? He a problem?"

"No, no," Clint says quickly. "Just wondering if I'd be seeing him again."

*

Clint stumbles down the stairs from his bedroom to the crackling sound of bacon frying and the smell of coffee. Kate is in his kitchen, pushing bacon around in the pan, a carton of eggs sitting on the counter next to her. Clint isn't actually sure if there were eggs in the fridge before now.

She looks up at him and tilts her head. "Huh. You look a lot less hung-over than I expected."

"Only had two beers," Clint says, hitching himself up onto one of the stools by the counter. "I'm not hung-over at all."

"In that case," she starts picking bacon out of the pan with a fork and laying it on a couple of pieces of paper towel, "you totally owe me breakfast sometime."

"I can do breakfast," Clint says easily.

Kate shoots him a suspicious glance as she cracks eggs into the bacon-greased pan. "So why are you not hung-over? After what happened with Jessica I was prepared to be scraping you off your floor for the next couple of days."

"I met someone."

Kate's face contorts in dismay. "Oh, Clint, no," she says, abandoning the pan of rapidly hardening eggs. "You broke up with Jess, like, twenty-four hours ago. Do not do this."

"Not like that!" Clint protests. Behind her, the eggs are sizzling. "Go rescue your eggs." She steps away, casting him a deeply skeptical look as she turns to stir the eggs in the pan. Clint rolls his eyes. "I met a guy, Kate." The skepticism doesn't waver one bit. "An off-duty SHIELD agent. Jesus."

"Was his name actually Jesus?" Kate asks, deadpan.

"Funny girl," Clint shoots back. "Phil. Phil Coulson."

"Never heard of him," she says, and lifts the pan of eggs off the heat.

"Me neither. Considering SHIELD, I'm willing to take that as a good sign, for now," Clint says, watching as Kate dishes the eggs onto two plates and divvies up the bacon.

She sets one of the plates in front of him and hitches herself up onto a stool of her own. Clint digs right in, but Kate pauses. "So what was it about this guy that short circuited your alcoholic plans?"

For once, Clint's shrug really is because he's not sure. "I dunno. He was just...no bullshit. Didn't talk down to me or anything. And then I didn't feel like getting plastered anymore."

"Huh." After a moment, Kate shrugs, too and digs into her own food.

Clint finishes first, and spends a minute watching Kate eat. There's an easiness to her posture that he kind of envies. When she's done, he says, "Hey, you wanna go shooting for a bit?"

She grimaces. "I've got training tonight with my team; I'd rather not do that twice in one day."

"Not training," Clint clarifies. "Just fucking around with the bow."

Kate raises her eyebrows. "Since when do you just fuck around with the bow?"

"Because shooting three arrows at once the distance of my living room is serious training," Clint fires back, even though that doesn't really count. That had been like...doodling, really.

The look Kate tosses him tells him that she knows that, but she lets it go. "Okay, then. But only for, like, an hour. I have places to be."

There's an archery club that Clint's on pretty good terms with; he does some exhibitions and fundraising shit for them, and they let him use their range when it's not booked for classes. He offered to teach for them, once, but apparently the form you learn in the circus is pretty shit in the eyes of the competition circuit. Never mind that it works; no one trusts it.

Clint might have entered a couple of open competitions just to say fuck you to the judges, after that.

Anyway, they don't want him to teach, but the arrangement they've got is okay. So Clint takes Kate over there and introduces her. They start off with a bit of one up-manship, but Kate starts getting this line between her eyes that Clint figures is not a good thing, so he starts drawing pictures with his arrows instead. Smiley faces and bullseyes and shit like that. Kate laughs when she gets what he's doing, and draws him a smiley face with its tongue sticking out.

It surprises Clint how good it feels to not think about where the arrows are going next. Well, not beyond deciding what he wants to draw. There's no wondering if this shot is hard enough to be a real test, no worrying that he might miss, that it might all go downhill from here. He could make these shots in his sleep; it leaves space in his brain to appreciate the flex of the bow and the twang of the string and the currents of air as the arrow goes on its way. By the time Kate begs off, after almost two hours, Clint's smiling, too.

Looks like Phil was right about the recreational shooting.

Clint spends the rest of the day checking in with the building residents and doing shit like calling a plumber and trying to decide if it's worth it to scrub off a patch of graffiti. Sadly, he’s learned the hard way, owning a building turns out to involve more than throwing a bag of money at someone. It's not so bad--it lets him peek in on what normal lives are like. But it's not demanding enough to stop him from debating if Phil will be at the bar that night.

By the time dinner rolls around, Clint knows he's going back, just to see, but he makes himself wait until past nine. He's not going to lurk in the bar for hours like a stalker. If he misses Phil, then he misses him, but he doesn't think any SHIELD agent will be in early.

Phil's not there when Clint gets to the bar at about nine-fifteen, which isn't surprising, really. Most people don't go out every night. There was no reason to expect him. Still, Clint's come all the way out here, it'd be stupid to turn around and go right back to his place. So he orders a beer and a plate of nachos and tucks himself into a corner table.

About a third of the way through the nachos, he gets kind of bored, so he pulls out his knife, pops the blade, and starts idly digging into the table top. He's been at it about twenty minutes when someone says, "You do realize that switchblades are illegal in New York."

Clint looks up to find Phil standing over him with a beer in one hand and tilt to his lips that reads amused, at least to Clint's eyes. Clint widens his eyes innocently. "This isn't a switchblade."

"I'm sure the button on the hilt is entirely decorative," Phil says dryly.

"Entirely." Clint flicks the tip of the knife at the seat opposite him. "You wanna sit? I've got more nachos here than I can eat, and if I take 'em back to Lucky he'll probably puke all over my floor again."

Phil slides into the seat. "Lucky?"

"Dog," Clint says. He's honestly not sure if Lucky qualifies as his dog. He's kind of got free run of the building, even if he does tend to sleep in Clint's place more often than not. Clint drops his eyes, working the tip of the knife around the design he's working into the tabletop.

"Well," Phil pulls a wad of chips, cheese, and ground beef from the half-disassembled pile of nachos, "at least there's some meat on these."

Clint snorts. "You totally snuck food to your dog under the table as a kid, didn't you?"

Phil quirks a smile but shakes his head. "Never had one," he says. "I begged my dad. Made all the usual promises about how well I'd take care of him. Asked Santa three years in a row. Saved up all my allowance and tried to buy a puppy myself, once."

Clint hooks his little finger around the end of the knife to tip the blade out of the way while he retrieves his own beer and takes a drink. "Your parents didn't like pets?" he guesses. Phil doesn’t seem bitter enough about it for his parents to have been jackasses who just liked saying no.

"No, my dad wanted a dog almost as much as I did," Phil says. He tilts his head, watching idly as Clint goes back to work with the knife. "But we lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Chicago, and both my parents worked full-time jobs, plus commute. My dad knew it would be cruel to lock an animal like that up all day. Maybe we could have managed a really small breed, but even then, leaving it alone..." Phil shook his head.

"I live in an apartment," Clint admits. "But pretty much everyone in the building keeps an eye on Lucky, and he's a damn smart city dog. Saved my life, even. It's how I got him." The design he's carved is pretty well outlined, so he tilts the knife to a shallow angle and starts smoothing out the surfaces.

Clint's expecting Phil to ask what happened, how a dog saved his life. What he gets is, "You know there are packs of wild dogs in Moscow that use the subway to commute into the city center because the scavenging is better there?"

"You're shitting me," Clint says, pausing his work to look up at Phil.

But Phil shakes his head even as he separates more nachos from the pile. "It was on the news. There are scientists in Moscow studying them. Apparently they even learn how long to stay on to reach a certain stop."

Clint chuckles and shakes his head, setting aside the knife to reach for the food. "Animals are smarter than most people give them credit for. In the circus--" Memory rushes in, and the words choke off. Because even though he'd loved the horses he worked with sometimes, and the lazy old tiger they'd had, and the set of three dogs who'd do all sorts of shows together, it's hard to remember the circus without remembering how it'd all ended. So Clint stuffs some nachos into his mouth and pretends like he hadn't left the sentence dangling.

After a silent moment, Phil reaches across the table and brushes the curls and dust of wood away from Clint's work. It's nothing fancy, just a pinwheel, but all the sections are the same size, and Clint kind of likes how he got the rise and fall of each spoke of the wheel right. "That's pretty good," Phil says, rubbing his thumb over the relief.

"Eh, just fucking around," Clint demures. "I've gotten chased out of bars for that a couple times." He shoots a guilty glance towards the front of the bar, but no one is paying them much attention.

"Maybe bring your own wood next time," Phil suggests. "Save yourself the bartender's wrath, and then you can take your work home with you." He rubs his thumb over the carving again, trailing it out over the curve of the pinwheel.

Clint blinks. "Somehow keeping it didn't even occur to me."

Phil shrugs. "Or you could still leave it for someone else. Some people create for others. I had a friend in high school who made some pretty nice stuff out of metal during shop class and completely refused to keep any of it. Just gave it all away. I got an ouroboros keychain off him once. Made a decent good luck charm for a couple of years." Phil leaves off studying the carving and takes a pull from his beer before applying himself back to the nachos.

"Only a couple of years?" Clint asks. The nachos are mostly gone now, but he pries off a lingering cheesy bit for himself.

"Would have been longer, but I lost it on my very first tour with the Rangers," Phil says wryly. "But then, we got into some deep shit that mission. Maybe I just used up all its luck."

"Rangers, huh?" Clint prompts, leaning back in his seat and dragging his beer to the edge of the table so that he can cradle it in his hands.

"SHIELD agents are not actually grown in vats and rolled off an assembly line."

Clint waves that off, then pauses. "Do people actually say that?"

Apparently, people do. Not the folks Clint deals with--in his experience, the bad guys are pretty interested in knowing who you are and where you live and where you came from, because they're always looking for something to exploit. But Phil's area--intelligence gathering and evaluation, situation management rather than crisis command, Clint remembers--involves a lot more dealing with both the general public and the less secret agencies, and SHIELD strikes them as even more of a black box than the NSA does.

Clint's not sure how anyone could think that this guy was grown in a vat, with the smile always lurking just on the edge of his mouth, and anecdotes about dogs riding the subway, and the way he frowns at the nachos when he realizes they've used up all the sour cream.

They finish the nachos, sour cream or not, and another beer each, and then Phil looks at his watch and sighs. "I have to be up at six," he says.

Clint glances up toward the front of the bar to check the time, because using an early morning to ditch him is a pretty thin excuse if...he blinks at the clock in surprise. It's just past midnight, and shit, when did that happen? He looks back at Phil, who's watching him almost like he's waiting for permission. "Yeah, no problem," Clint says quickly. "I had no idea it was this late."

"Me either." Phil fishes his wallet out of his pocket and tosses a couple of bills on the table. "For my share of the nachos," he says, standing, and pauses before he leaves the table. "I'm glad you were here." Nodding sharply, Phil walks off before Clint can think of anything to say in reply.

It is getting late, and there's not any reason to stay, so Clint digs out his own wallet and tosses a few more bills on the table. He knows a big tip won't cover the cost of the carving in the table, but it wasn't exactly pristine to start with, so maybe it'll be enough to ease the irritation. Running a finger over the pinwheel as he stands, Clint thinks of Phil's admiring glance. Maybe it would be nice to take his work with him.

Which is how he ends up spending three days trying to track down a decent chunk of wood that he doesn't have to order off the internet. It's fucking wood, it shouldn't be that hard to get a hold of, but the shit that you find lying around is rotted or brittle or waterlogged and no good for carving. Clint is about ready to break down and have the damn stuff shipped when he bitches about it at one of the building's rooftop cookouts and discovers that Mrs. Harker on the third floor has a nephew who works for a custom cabinet maker, and his boss sells scrap cuts to hobbyists all the time.

After all that run around, Clint decides to save himself some trouble later and buys a dozen scrap ends of various types. He ends up being grateful for that, because it turns out that a switchblade isn't actually a very good carving knife, and he fucks up two blocks before he gives in and buys a proper carving knife.

It goes better once he has the right tools. Clint knows better than to think he's gonna jump in and be able to carve a picture perfect image on the first try. His fucking around with bar tops has always involved simple, geometric designs. So he finds an ouroboros pattern on the 'net that seems pretty basic, not too many fine, squiggly bits, and he works with that.

Unfortunately, Avengers business waits for no man or hobby, and he gets snapped up to help out with some new bullshit Hydra has cooked up when he's barely done outlining the carving. But the little piece of wood is small enough to fit in a pocket--it's meant to be a keychain, after all--and the carving knife hardly takes up more space, so he ends up bringing it to the Tower, where he's crashing while the team figures out what Hydra's up to.

Whatever it is, it involves a lot of missing persons, from a lot of different places. In some ways, it's harder when the people are missing instead of just dead. When they're dead, you curse the bad guys and pay your respects and maybe mourn some, but then you take that righteous fury and you burn it like fuel. When they're missing, there's a nervous tension that rises ever higher as you hope that you'll get them back, and grows sicker and darker as time passes and the chances of that plummet.

Clint spends a lot of time hunched over that carving, keeping his focus tight because he's not the one anyone is looking at to figure this out.

It's a surprisingly good thing to focus on. The wood is solid and warm in his hands, and the links in the body of the ouroboros are pretty much the same, just at slightly different angles and sizes, so he gets to practice as he goes along, learning how to turn the knife and how much pressure to use. He's got the body finished and has only the head left to do when they make their breakthrough and head off to bring the wrath of the Avengers down on the mastermind of this particular operation.

Of course, it's an hour by Quinjet to the guy's base. Clint slips the wood and knife out of his pocket without thinking, but he barely sets blade to surface before Tony drapes himself over the back of his seat and reaches over his shoulder to try to take hold of the bit of wood. "Hey, what's this?" Tony asks, flailing at the carving when Clint moves it out of reach.

"It's a carving," Clint says dryly. "Do you want me to take a piece off your fingers, or are you going to keep your hands to yourself?" He brandishes the carving knife.

Tony sniffs. "Sue me for being curious; I've never seen you do it before. What's the occasion?"

"No occasion," Clint says. He braces the ouroboros on his thigh and carefully sets knife point to wood by the head, his own head bowed as he focuses.

"Color me skeptical," Tony pushes onward. "You don't pop up with a new hobby for no reason."

"It's not new," Clint argues. He pauses in his work for a moment, afraid he'll spoil the carving so close to finishing it. "I've been messing around with it for years."

"That's more than messing around," Tony says, nodding at the ouroboros.

Of course, by now they've attracted the attention of everyone in the Quinjet. Clint scowls. "It's a gift," he says grudgingly.

That just makes everyone perk up more. "For who?" Natasha asks, leaning in to peer at the carving.

"A friend," Clint says. "And I'd kind of like to finish it, if you'd all give me a few minutes to focus."

"Seems like a lot of work for a friend," Tony hints.

"Yeah, well, maybe I didn't realize how much work it'd be before I got going," Clint shoots back. Which is bullshit. He knew exactly how much work it'd be, and he's been kind of looking forward to seeing the little smile Phil had displayed when he'd said 'Nice work'.

Tony doesn't seem at all mollified, but Clint bends to his work, steadfastly ignoring him, and eventually Tony surrenders. For now, anyway.

They get to the Hydra base, and the mission goes smoothly, at least according to Avengers standards, but they're all a bit green by the end of it. Hydra had been attempting to duplicate the abilities of some of the world's most famous superheroes, and they hadn't been shy about inflicting whatever they needed to on their subjects in their attempts to recreate the fluke circumstances that spawned most heroes.

There's something especially awful "there but for the grace of God go I" when you're seeing it reflected tangibly in an innocent victim. Any hope Clint’s ever had of being exempt on account of his lack of super powers is dashed by the lab housing a man with blood crusted around broken, blind bionic eyes.

Clint goes straight to the bar the night he gets back and drinks until the bartender has to have one of the other regulars drag him out to a cab waiting at the curb. He spends the next day curled up in his bed, the covers pulled over his head, and ignores Kate yelling at him from downstairs. But he drags himself back to the bar that night.

His head is full of mechanical irises and the startled, blank fright of the blind man. If he could just get it out of his brain--

Clint focuses on the ouroboros, instead. The bartender keeps a wary eye on him, whether for the integrity of the bar surface in the face of Clint's carving knife or for Clint's sobriety, he isn't sure, but he finishes one beer and the rest of the carving and goes home.

The carving is done after that, but Clint brings it to the bar with him the next two nights anyway, along with a scrap of fine-grained sand paper, and he polishes it smooth and oils it and rubs his thumb across the curves of it while he sips his drink.

Clint walks into the bar on the third night, gaze sweeping over the tables and across the bar almost on automatic, and his step hitches when he spots a familiar profile. His hand goes automatically to his pocket, where the ouroboros is tucked away, and he strides up to the bar and slides onto the stool next to Phil. "Fancy seeing you here," Clint says, and maybe it's not as light as he meant it to be, but he hasn't been sleeping so great the last couple of nights.

"Clint," Phil says, turning and leaning an elbow on the bar so that they're facing each other. Then he pauses and frowns. "You look like shit."

Clint signals the bartender and orders a beer before responding, "You don't pull your punches, Phil."

Phil snorts. "That wasn't meant to be a punch, metaphorical or otherwise, just a statement of fact."

"Keep talking like that and I might not give you your present." The bartender returns with Clint's beer and he takes a long slug from the glass before fishing the ouroboros out of his pocket and sliding it across the counter with a flick of his finger.

It comes to rest neatly in front of Phil, who slowly reaches out to run a finger around the curve of the serpent's body. "This is beautiful work," he says, eyes fixed on the carving. He glances up at Clint. "May I?" and gestures to pick it up.

"It's yours," Clint says, running a finger around the rim of his glass and shrugging. "Prezzie, remember?"

A small smile curves Phil's lips. Clint watches out of the corner of his eye as Phil lifts the key fob off the bar and examines it, tracing the lines, rubbing his thumb over the smooth back, turning it to see how it catches the light. The smile deepens the more he looks, and then he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a set of keys. "This must have taken you a lot of time," he says as he forces the split ring holding his keys open and works the ouroboros onto it, using the little hole Clint had bored at the top for that purpose.

Clint lets out a quiet breath of relief that he doesn't have to explain what the carving was for. "I had time."

Phil arches a skeptical eyebrow, and Clint presses his lips together and shakes his head quickly. "The latest go around with the Avengers was a lot of hurry up and wait," he says. "Too much downtime for the rest of us while the geniuses and the strategists solved the problem. It was good to have something else to focus on."

"You mean while the geniuses and strategists chased their tails in the absence of additional information," Phil says dryly. "Some people are no good at waiting; they'd rather beat their heads against a problem and hope that something shakes loose."

Clint snorts, and it's almost a laugh. "Or chase each other's tails," he offers, because sometimes Tony ended up practically driving Steve or Bruce around the room, tossing out ideas and waiting for them to be pitched out or thrown back.

Phil raises his glass to Clint's comment and takes a long drink from it, letting out a quiet, satisfied breath when he comes up for air. "I needed that."

"Long day?"

Phil hums. "Not the longest, but enough. I've spent a great deal of time cultivating a particular mystique at SHIELD, and while it serves me well in most circumstances, it also means that I don't ever get to vent about having a bad day, or watch the clock because I can't wait to get out of the office, or get excited about finding an original part for Lola."

Clint arches an eyebrow. "Lola?"

"My corvette," Phil says. "She's a classic. Bought her three years ago. Mostly in good condition, but I've been finding all the modernized bits and pulling them out, replacing them with the original parts. I'm," he hesitates, almost sheepishly, "kind of a stickler for that sort of thing."

"I don't blame you," Clint says. "They don't make cars like that anymore." He sighs wistfully. "I had a beautiful 1970 Dodge Charger for a couple weeks."

"Just a couple of weeks?"

Clint makes a face. "Hurricane."

Phil's expression twists up in sympathy in a way that no one else's had, not Kate, not the Avengers. A car was just a car, right? But-- "God, I'm sorry," Phil says. "A car like that, it's something special. They've got a...well, they've got a kind of soul to them."

"Yeah," Clint nods, leaning forward a little. "It's like they soak up some of the time they were made in, like they've got some of that attitude to them. Not just cars, either. I've got a bow that's like that. It's a longbow, and the way it shoots I swear I don't even need to see--" He falters, remembering a blank mechanical gaze. A chill takes root in his chest and squeezes.

There's a warm grip on his forearm. He blinks and focuses; Phil is watching him, his brow creased. "Clint? You okay?"

"Sorry," Clint mutters. He takes a quick sip of his drink, but for once the beer is too bitter. He almost chokes on it. "Just-- This last Avengers thing." He shakes his head.

"You want to talk about it?" Phil offers. "Might help to get it outside your head." Clint shakes his head again. Phil squeezes his forearm and lets go. "All right."

"They cut out a guy's eyes and stuck bionic ones in because they wanted him to be more like me," Clint blurts out.

Phil doesn't look horrified, or shocked, or afraid. Just the same amount of concerned as before, and a little confused, now, too. "I didn't think you had bionic eyes," he says.

Clint chokes out something like a laugh and rubs a hand over his face. "I don't," he said. "I guess they didn't have the patience to go looking for someone who came by their awesome vision naturally."

"That's not on you," Phil says.

"Isn't it?" Clint closes his eyes, thinks of all the times he's swaggered up onto some stage with the other Avengers, all the times he's saluted the news cameras with his bow, all the times he's picked out some detail from half a mile away just because he can. "I put myself out there, and I make a show out of the shit I can do, and people suffer for it."

Phil's voice is low and intent. "Awful people will do awful things regardless of the rest of us. Sometimes they get their inspiration from you and others like you on the world stage. Sometimes they get it from The Catcher in the Rye. That doesn't mean that the book should be banned, or that you should abandon your work."

"The book was banned," Clint points out.

"Because there are also scared people looking for easy answers out there," Phil returns. "And you're going to hear from them, too."

"Jesus, Phil," Clint shakes his head. "You're not so good at the comforting thing, you know."

Phil huffs a laugh. "I've been told."

Clint sighs and considers his beer for a minute before pushing it aside and waving the bartender over and ordering a Dr. Pepper. He needs something sweet. "I still don't think of myself as being on the 'world stage'," he says. "I mean, I know I am. You can't do as many Avengers press conferences as I have over the years and not know it. But I don't feel like that guy. I'm just...I never got my high school diploma, and the first time I tried to help someone I ended up on the run from the cops, and I fucked around on my girlfriend, and I got arrested trying to help out a girl I didn't even know. When folks look at me and go 'Hey, that's an Avenger!' all I can think is, 'If you knew, you wouldn't say that.'"

"I got beat up every year of school from sixth grade until my senior year," Phil offers. "When I graduated, I spiked the punch at prom with Tabasco sauce and let the air out of the tires of everyone who'd ever screwed with me in revenge. I double majored in English and History in college because I couldn't decide what I wanted to do, I joined the Rangers because my best friend did, and my last girlfriend broke up with me because I made her feel like her work was frivolous compared to mine and it made her feel guilty for doing something she loved. And somehow, I'm supposed to be a spy."

Clint looks at Phil for a long time, and then a snicker crawls up from inside him and breaks free. "The Secret Lives of Secret Agents," he intones.

Phil's lips curve. "A new reality show on ABC?"

"No, no," Clint says, raising his hand and pausing dramatically, "on Fox."

Phil laughs outright and salutes Clint with his beer before taking another drink from it. "It'd be a boring show, though," he says when he's done. "How many hours will he sleep tonight? Can he make it to a full eight? Watch as he burns another breakfast recipe!"

"Stick to scrambled eggs and bacon," Clint advises. "Almost impossible to screw them up. Not that I haven't managed it, but trust me, the margin of error is a lot bigger than for pancakes."

"I can't abandon my dreams of French Toast," Phil says mournfully.

Somehow, between debating breakfast foods, and peering over the pictures of his car that Phil actually has in his wallet, time slides by. Clint almost doesn't notice the buzzing of his phone in his pocket, but he catches it after a second and fishes it out. The screen is lit up with a text from Kate.

I walked Lucky, but you're not getting breakfast this time if you're STILL out drinking. Learn from your mistakes!

Clint blinks at the timestamp. "Shit," he says. "It's two a.m."

"I swear it was midnight just a second ago," Phil says, patting his pockets and pulling out his own phone. "Oh. It really is two a.m." His face falls a little.

"Yeah." Clint turns his phone over in his hand. "I gotta sleep." Phil nods, but neither of them move. Clint turns his phone over again. "Listen, you want my number?" he says finally. "Kate's gonna think I've got a problem if I come down here three nights running again." He holds back a wince at that admission, but Phil is already reaching out and pulling Clint's phone from under his fingers and making a contact for himself.

"There. Call me and I'll have yours," he says.

Clint smiles. "I will." He pauses for another second before sliding off his stool. Phil stands, too, and they walk out of the bar together, but it's only a block or two before they turn in different directions. Clint waves and walks backward a couple steps before turning back toward home.

*

He sleeps eleven hours the next night, and ten hours the night after that, and then ten hours again, and Kate starts teasing him about narcolepsy, but it feels so good to be rested that he just sticks his tongue out at her and goes back to making breakfast at two in the afternoon. The Avengers get a call, but it's easy, just a takedown, even if the guy does do some interesting things with force fields. If they can get his head straightened out, he might end up helping out the good guys, even. They call in SHIELD to arrange containment, and that makes Clint think of Phil, though of course Phil isn't on the containment team. Not his area.

Clint ponders the contact in his phone for two solid days before Kate catches him at it. Which is better than he should have expected, really.

"Has your phone done something to offend you?" she asks, nudging the door shut with her hip and coming over to join him at the breakfast bar.

"No," he says, reaching out to put it away.

She slides it out from under his hand before he can quite manage it. "Phil Coulson. Phil Coulson. Why is that name familiar?"

"Don't see why it would be," Clint says, leaning forward and reaching for it.

Kate leans back, holding it out of his reach as she peers at the contact. "Hey, is this the bar guy? Bar guy who stopped you from drinking yourself under the table that one time?"

"No," Clint says, lunging forward and snatching the phone out of her hands.

"It totally is!" Kate crows, not the least bit put off by his recovery of the phone. "It's been weeks and you still haven't called? Geez, Clint, even I know better than to leave it that long after a first date."

Clint rolls his eyes. "I told you already that it wasn't a date. And it's not like I haven't seen him since then."

Kate's eyebrows go up. "Oh really?"

"We go to the same bar," Clint says, shrugging. "I ran into him a couple times."

"Well, can't say that surprises me too much; you were out drinking every night for almost a week awhile back." Clint gets up off his chair and goes to rummage in the fridge. "Ooooh," Kate says. "You were looking for him, weren't you."

"You're making it sound weird," Clint mutters, head in the fridge.

"It is weird! You made a friend! I didn't think you knew how to make friends."

Clint emerges from the fridge with a block of cheese and a bag of bread. "Careful there, Katie. You're my friend, after all."

Kate tosses her hair. "Pshaw. That was all my doing and has no bearing on your friend-making abilities, or lack thereof. So if you've already hung out with the guy, why the sudden angst over calling him up?"

Clint shrugs as he drops a slice of bread into the toaster and gets a knife out of the block for the cheese. "We just ran into each other, before. Feels like presuming a lot to call him up."

"You're just asking, not holding a gun to his head," Kate says. "I don't see how that's presuming."

Wrapping up the cheese and remaining bread, Clint stashes them back in the fridge and leans against the counter while he waits for the toast. "I don't want to assume he's going to want to hang out." With me goes unspoken.

"He gave you his number, didn't he?" Kate points out.

"Are you always this invested in other people's lives?" Clint asks, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Only when they've got their heads up their asses," she shoots back.

He rolls his eyes and gets the toast when it pops up, laying the slices of cheese over it and giving them a second to melt. Then he eats his cheesy bread. He very pointedly does not reach for his phone.

Not until Kate leaves, anyway.

After, he takes a breath and dials Phil.

It only rings twice before the line connects, not even enough time to have second thoughts. "Phil Coulson."

"Hey. It's, uh, Clint." Clint closes his eyes and grimaces; not awkward at all.

"Clint! I'm glad you called; I was beginning to wonder if I typed my number wrong."

"Yeah, no, just, you know, Avengers business." Clint lets out a breath. As excuses went, at least it was mostly true.

"I heard." Crap. SHIELD containment team. "Not my area," Phil goes on, "but gossip does get around. Things have quieted down now, though?"

"Yeah, yeah, they have. You, uh, wanna get a drink?" Clint forces the words out quickly.

Phil doesn't hesitate at all. "I'd love to. Tonight? I could be there about eight."

"Eight is good," Clint smiles. "I guess I better let you get back to it."

"Intelligence reports wait for no man," Phil says dryly, and they both snicker before saying their goodbyes and hanging up.

Clint checks the time. It's 3:30. He groans. "Making friends like a normal person sucks."

He has to force himself to get up and focus on what Kate calls his "conspiracy wall," and Clint calls "trying to do something useful when the Avengers didn't need him." He hasn't been through the news reports in a few days...

Of course, he inevitably gets absorbed enough that he loses track of time and ends up having to book it to the subway and pray he'll make it to the bar in time. God, he misses having a car. But he slips through the door of the bar quickly enough that Phil, seated at a table, doesn't even have a drink in front of him yet. Clint lets out a silent breath of relief and casually strolls over. "Hey," he says, sliding into the chair opposite Phil.

"Hey," Phil replies, "You mind if we do dinner?" There are a couple menus in front of him; he pushes one over to Clint. "I haven't had a chance to eat yet."

"No problem, me either." Clint flips the menu open. Their nachos were decent, but he's never actually bothered ordering off the menu; every bar has nachos or it doesn’t deserve the name.

"It's a pretty limited selection," Phil says, almost apologetically.

"Still more than I've got at home," Clint shoots Phil a quick smile and relaxes when Phil's eyes crinkle at the corners. "My cooking skills are pretty much limited to making toast and reheating things. I mean, I can feed myself if I have to, but I don't know that you'd call it cooking."

"I'm spoiled by New York's plethora of take out," Phil says. "That and a co-worker who is a dedicated foodie and hates to eat alone; I've probably eaten at damn near every restaurant in the city."

Clint chuckles as he skimmed the menu. "I wonder sometimes if anyone in New York knows anything about cooking except the chefs."

Clint ends up ordering a burger--surprise, surprise, but it's a safe bet--while Phil takes a chance on fish and chips, which arrive with a small mountain of coleslaw. For a moment they're quiet while they inhale their food.

With the burger gone and only fries remaining, Clint starts to slow down and nibble. "So," he begins, "you know the carving thing?" Phil nods, still chewing. "I've been trying to figure out what to do next," Clint goes on, "but I'm kind of stuck. I never really bothered with inspiration before."

Phil swallows and wipes his mouth with a napkin. "Do you want to make something for someone else, or just for yourself?"

Clint shrugs. "Don't know that anyone else would want something from me."

"Surely one of the other Avengers would appreciate it," Phil says. "They're your friends, aren't they?"

Clint shrugs again. "They're friendly, sure, but let's face it, sometimes I'm more trouble than I'm worth to that team."

"If you weren't worth having, they wouldn't have you."

"Cap's a soft touch."

"He's also a strategist," Phil shoots back. "And you can't tell me that Tony Stark, or Wolverine, would pull their punches if they didn't think you were pulling your weight. You've known some of them for what, better than ten years? You don't go through wars with people that many years running and not make friends."

Clint raises his eyebrows. "Voice of experience?"

"Army Rangers, remember?"

"Right." Clint swipes a fry through the pool of ketchup he's made at one side of his plate. "Still, I don't know that any of them need a homemade knickknack."

"Does anyone?" Phil asks wryly. "Need isn't the point. I don't need a cherry red classic Corvette, just like you didn't need a 1970 Dodge Charger, but they make us happy."

"I don't have the Charger anymore," Clint says. "Kind of wish I'd never gotten it, actually. Ruined something awesome, like I always do." He eats the fry.

Phil frowns. "I thought the hurricane got it."

Clint waves. "The hand of fate. Though, maybe that's reason enough to make a carving for someone else, if they'll take it; if it's not mine, it ought to be safe. It's part of why I tried to give my bow to Kate, when things started to go downhill at home. Hey!" Clint perks up. "Kate! I could make something for Kate."

Phil looks at him for a long moment before leaning forward and stealing a fry off of his plate. "New girlfriend?" he asks.

Clint chokes and frantically waves his hands, trying to communicate Hell no even as he gets his breath back. "No," he finally manages. "Not a girlfriend. I'm kind of her...mentor, I guess?"

Understanding lights Phil's eyes. "Oh, you mean Kate Bishop. Your counterpart on the Young Avengers. I didn't realize you were taking an active hand in her training."

How did he know who-- Oh, right. SHIELD. "That a problem?" Clint asks carefully.

"No, no," Phil assures him. "And if it was, it wouldn't be my area." Clint relaxes and nods. "But considering the audience," Phil goes on, "maybe a bow and arrow carving?"

"Nah, too obvious." Clint eats another fry and ponders. "She plays the cello, but that's kind of a her thing. Might be weird if I did something about that."

"She been up to anything else lately?"

"Just sticking her nose into my business," Clint says dryly. "Oh! That's it!"

Phil raises his eyebrows. "A nose?"

Clint shakes his head, beaming. "No, of course not. But sticking her nose into my business? I'd have gotten away with it,'" he quotes, "'if it weren't for those--'"

Phil chimes in on the last two words, "'--meddling kids!'" and the two of them break down laughing. When they've calmed, Phil asks if he'll just do the words.

"Nah," Clint says. "I want to make sure she gets the joke, and the characters are animated--should be good practice." He flips over a spare napkin and spreads it out to get a wide surface. Patting his pockets doesn't turn up a pen, but Phil quickly produces one; Clint accepts it with a quick smile. "Pretty much every villain said it," he says, blocking in the words in a rough arc at the top of the napkin, "so I'll leave them out and just do the kids and Scooby."

Phil scoots his chair around the table and leans close to Clint, gesturing at the forming sketch and murmuring suggestions. They trades quotes from the series until Clint's hand slips because he's laughing so hard and they have to get another napkin and start over. Phil has to go at ten, but every time Clint works on the piece for Kate, the sense memory of Phil's shoulder pressed against his and the sound of his laughter come back and Clint finds himself smiling.

It's a bigger piece than he's ever done before, with actual characters this time, and it takes him awhile, so he's still working on it the next time he and Phil meet up, for lunch at a diner instead of at the bar, and the time after that, for coffee between meetings because it was all the time Phil had. With Phil watching over his shoulder, engraving the kids' expressions doesn't seem so intimidating, and the words almost rise up out of the wood of their own accord.

Phil is away on a mission when Clint finishes the carving and smoothes it out with extra fine sandpaper, but it doesn't seem to right to finish it without him. Clint ends up tucking it away without oiling it and starting on a new carving instead. The new one is something different; he doesn't have a person in mind, so he buys a small box from the cabinet maker who saves the scrap ends for him and decorates the sides.

It drives Kate nuts, of course. She doesn't know the carving he's put on hold is for her, but he's been hiding it, and she knows it's almost done, so she practically chases him around, trying to get him to spill. He just grins at her and waits for Phil to get back.

When he does, they order take out and Clint sits at Phil's kitchen table and rubs the oil carefully into the planes and grooves of the carving while he tells Phil all about Kate's attempts to uncover the secret. Watching the wood darken under his fingers and breathing in the scent of the food and seeing the way Phil leans across the table is ridiculously satisfying. Clint almost doesn't want to finish with the 'meddling kids!' relief carving, except then Phil mentions that he's finally tracked down a pristine 1962 Corvette radio to replace the dented and scratched one he's been making do with for Lola. Before Clint quite realizes it, he's setting the finished gift aside and wiping his oily fingers clean while Phil carefully unpacks the gleaming chrome, grinning in a way that makes him look like a kid.

Clint heads home early, ten at night, but there's a weird light feeling in his chest, strange but good. When he steps into his apartment and sees Kate, sitting on the couch and scratching Lucky behind the ears, he can't help beaming at her in a way that makes her narrow her eyes. "What have you done?" she asks.

Flinging himself down on the couch so hard he bounces, Clint pulls the backpack holding her carving (and the wood oil and polishing cloth) around into his lap. She straightens up as he digs around in the bag, and blinks at him in surprise when he pulls out the carving and thrusts it into her hands. "Made ya something."

Kate looks down at the carving and bursts into laughter, and the light feeling in Clint's chest expands; he grins wider. "You bastard!" Kate accuses, but she's giggling and snorting and rubbing her thumb over the exclamation point. "Like you could do without my meddling."

"You like it?" Clint asks, even though he can tell she does.

She nods. "It's great." Then she laughs. "I can't believe this whole time I was bugging out about it, you were working on something for me."

Clint scoffs. "That should have given it away. Like I wouldn't have shared every gory detail if it wasn't for you. If Phil hadn't been playing confidante, I'd never have managed to keep my trap shut."

"He must make a pretty good confidante," Kate says, and for a second Clint thinks she's going to give him shit for being gone so much. "You seem lighter when you get back from seeing him."

Fighting down an inexplicable flush, Clint shrugs. "There's no reason he should want to spend time with me," he says. Kate starts to interrupt, but Clint waves her down. "No, I mean-- There's no reason he needs to get along with me. He just...does. I keep trying to figure out why he keeps showing up, and I'm starting to think maybe he just wants to." Clint ducks his head. "Which is stupid."

Kate smacks him on the shoulder. "You're a Hawkeye. You make his boring little SHIELD life six times more awesome by presence alone."

"That's an inherent property of Hawkeyes, is it?" Clint asks dryly.

"You know it," Kate shoots back. Suddenly a glint comes into her eye. "Hey, have you taken Phil to the range yet?"

"Phil's not an archer," Clint says.

"Which is a character flaw you ought to correct." Then she rolls her eyes at him. "You have fun at the range--share the bounty!"

"Not everybody's into archery," Clint says, but he's already thinking about it. The range is used to him bringing Kate by, now; another guest shouldn't be a problem. And they don't take down the regular array of targets, they just let him set up his own when he needs them, so there still ought to be a couple at beginner distances if Phil wants to give it a try.

"If he can't at least appreciate you with a bow," Kate is saying, "then he's not worthy."

Clint doesn't think to ask worthy of what, too preoccupied with planning how to get a practice bow set aside for Phil.

*

It doesn't even occur to Clint how badly this particular invitation could go until Phil has already said yes.

After all, archery is kind of Clint's raison d'être, and if Phil wasn't interested Clint doesn't know how he'd have reacted. Fortunately, for once he didn't over think it, just asked, and Phil's eyes light up and he agrees right away and that light feeling is back in Clint's chest.

Clint's already cleared a little time with the club--he'd have gone alone if Phil had turned him down--so they head right over. One of the instructors meets them and lets them into the range. He's a little guy, maybe five-six and whip thin, though Clint knows he can draw a pretty good weight. Nowhere near what Clint can draw, but few people can. "Phil," Clint says, "this is Mike. Mike, Phil. Mike teaches at the club, and lets me screw around on their range sometimes."

Mike holds his hand out to Phil, who gives it an easy shake. "Clint brings his 'star power' to our aid occasionally," he says, like he wants to make sure Phil knows they aren't just getting a favor for free, and Clint can hear the air quotes. Phil shoots him a look; Clint shakes his head quickly.

"We appreciate your flexibility," Phil says, crisply polite in a way that Clint has never heard before.

Mike lets them into the range and shows Clint the bow he's set aside for Phil. Clint waits until he's gone to test the draw and eyeball the size of it; it's seems well chosen, at least by the standard guidelines.

"What was that about?" Phil asks when they're alone.

Clint shrugs. "Eh. Serious sport archers don't like me much. My form is for shit, and I wasn't exactly properly trained. As far as they're concerned, I'm as much a proper archer as Zorro is a proper fencer. It pisses them off when people come in and want to shoot like me, or ask them why they don't."

"Why don't they?" Clint bursts out laughing. Phil smiles back at him. "What? You get results, don't you?"

"Sure," Clint says, wiping amused tears out of his eyes. "My way is more adaptable, but it requires a shit ton more muscle and control to get precise results. Their way is more repeatable and involves a lot less wasted effort--and it is wasted effort when no one is expecting you to spin around and shoot six different arrows at six different moving targets."

Phil's lips are still curved up. "Well. Adaptable sounds good to me."

Clint grins. "I thought you'd say that. Okay, first of all, which eyes is your dominant eye?" Phil uses a gun; he probably knows already.

"Right," Phil answers immediately.

"Sweet. That much easier to aim. Okay, guards first." Clint straps on his own shooting glove and arm guard, then shows Phil how to put on the loaners Mike left for them. The muscles in Phil's forearms are firm under Clint's fingers as he settles the guard. He takes a quick breath and steps away, reaching for the bow Mike selected for Phil. "So, bow in your left hand," Clint picks it up and hands it to Phil, "bowstring in your right hand. Don't draw yet, though."

While Phil settles his grip and gets a feel for the weight of the weapon, Clint crouches and sets his case on the ground, flips up the catches and withdraws his own weapon. He can't help but smile when he sees it; his bow is a work of art. Looking up, he finds Phil watching him, mouth turned up at one corner. Clint flashes him a quick smile and rises to his feet.

He starts off modeling stance and shooting action, but shooting while looking at Phil instead of at the target isn't doing Phil's stance any good, so Clint sets his bow down and comes over to stand behind him, adjusting Phil's body with his hands instead. As strong as Phil is from training for field work, archery doesn't use the same muscles, and he keeps slipping out of position. Clint nudges him back with a hand on his elbow or his hip and steps close and leans in so that he can look down Phil's arm and make sure he's sighting correctly.

Maybe it should be frustrating, making the same corrections over and over while arrows flop sadly short of the target, but Phil is relaxed and attentive, not frustrated at all, and the contact is...nice. Clint finds his hands lingering on Phil's body.

"Okay," Clint says as he gets Phil straightened out again. "Bow up." Phil raises the bow, sighting down his arm, not tilting his head in too far this time. "Draw." He pulls back the string, holding the bow firm, his shoulders flexing. "Steady." Phil lets out a slow breath. "And release." Phil's fingers relax; string and arrow leap forward, and the arrow lodges in the target with a satisfying thunk.

Phil lowers the bow and twists to grin over his shoulder; Clint beams back at him. "Now you've got it."

Phil laughs, and they're standing close enough that his shoulders brush Clint's chest. "I think that's premature," he says, but he reaches for another arrow, and with Clint's hand on his shoulder, keeping it low and feeling the muscles bunch and flex, Phil makes another shot, and then a third.

"My shoulders are kind of killing me," Phil says, lowering the bow and turning around, but he's still flushed with triumph.

"You did great," Clint assures him. He rubs his fingers together, missing the warmth of Phil's shoulder.

Phil laughs. "For a beginner, maybe, but I doubt it. Come on," he nods at Clint's bow, set aside while he taught Phil, "let's see the master at work."

Clint can't help the way his smile slides into a smirk. He scoops up the bow and plucks an arrow from the quiver he'd left on the table and shoots without taking his eyes off Phil. Phil looks, though, and his face creases in delighted laughter because Clint has, of course, hit the bullseye.

*

Clint walks into the bar one night to see Phil already perched on a stool, looking tense and obviously waiting for Clint, considering the way he immediately straightens up when he catches Clint's eye. Clint's stomach rolls nervously; when he gets close enough to see that Coulson's drinking water, it rolls faster. "Hey," Clint says, resting a hand on the bar top and hitching himself barely halfway onto the stool next to Phil. He doesn't try to catch the bartender's eye, keeping his attention on Phil instead.

"Hi," Phil flashes him a quick smile. Then he takes a breath. "I, um, brought Lola. If you wanted to go for a drive."

All the conclusions that Clint has been jumping to dissolve so abruptly that it's actually disorienting. For a moment all he can do is balance himself and try not to fall over. Phil starts fiddling with his water glass. Phil never fiddles. Clint finally manages to get his brain back into gear. "Yeah," he says. "I've love to. You just--" caught me off guard, he wants to say, but it seems strange to be so surprised. "I was beginning to think Lola never left the garage," he says instead, and manages a teasing smile.

Phil's expression relaxes and he chuckles at Clint's comment. "I never take her out on SHIELD business, which means I almost never take her out. But I thought...well, I've been going out more lately."

That light feeling is back again, not so weird this time, and Clint slides off his stool. "Well, come on, then. Can't keep a lady waiting."

The car is parked a couple blocks away, probably to keep her safe from drunk patrons stumbling out of the bar. Clint can imagine she'd be an irresistible target, her bright paint drawing the eye, sleek lines inviting a touch. He glances at Phil for permission before letting his palm come to rest on the swell of the hood just above the headlights, trailing his palm over the body of the car as he walks until the side mirror gets in the way and he has to let it drop. "She's gorgeous, Phil. You've done an amazing job restoring her."

Clint looks up to find Phil beaming and just a little bit pink. Clint's stomach does a flip.

"Come on," Phil says, hurrying up to unlock the passenger door before circling around to the driver's side. "Get in."

Clint opens the door and takes a quick look. The passenger side upholstery is pristine, not even a crease in it, and while that might have been because Phil took excellent care of her, a glance at the driver's side demonstrated that not even excellent care could preserve the seat quite so well after repeat use. Clint gingerly slides into the car and pulls the door shut with a soft thump. He runs his fingertips over the dash and all the little details of the inside of the door, and turns to look at Phil when he seals himself into the driver's side. "Jesus, Phil, have you ever let anyone else in her before?"

Phil slips the key into the ignition and gives Clint a sheepish sidelong glance. "Once? Twice, maybe." He goes pink again, darker this time, and runs tender hands over the car's steering wheel.

"Would you rather I leave you two alone?" Clint teases even as his stomach does another roll.

"Oh, no," Phil says, heartfelt. He catches Clint's eye. "I've never really been able to share her, before. I want to."

Clint thinks he might be blushing now. He smiles quickly and looks out the window as Phil pulls out of his parking space.

They don't speak as Phil navigates toward the outskirts of the city, where there are more open roads. Clint know he's supposed to be enjoying the ride, appreciating all the tiny careful details of Lola's restoration, but his eyes keep being drawn back to her driver. The longer they go, the more relaxed Phil gets. He discards his tie and opens the collar of his shirt. After awhile he sort of slouches into the seat, hands resting on wheel and shifter lightly rather than gripping. The only other time Clint has seen him so soft has been when he's had a drink or two too many.

It's dark, only the dash lights and the occasional flash of a streetlight illuminating Phil. With the bustle of the city behind them it's quiet and private, just the two of them and the warm hum of the car around them. Phil must feel Clint watching him, because he takes a brief look away from the road and smiles at Clint. It's such a warm look, so sweet, and this time the sensation that turns over in his belly slides deeper and blooms and oh, oh God. Phil's smile, and the crinkles at the corners of his eyes, and his steady hands, and his trim waist, and the flex of his thigh as he works the clutch, and the hollow of his throat. Clint's breath catches, and he's not sure how he's ever going to get it back, because Phil.

Clint quickly looks out the window, heart pounding, and concentrates on breathing for a minute. Part of him just wants to jump straight out the car. Hell, he's done it before, jumped out of a car moving at speed.

"Clint?" Phil asks. "You okay?" His expression is open and calm despite the concern, and Clint's heartbeat steadies despite himself.

"Yeah," he says automatically. "Just thinking too much."

"Anything you can share?"

God, that's so like Phil. Not a demand for information, no assumptions made about what he can and can't talk about. "Just wanting things I shouldn't," Clint says. He breathes, not quite a sigh. "Again."

"I can't think of too many things a person shouldn't want," Phil says. His eyes are on the road, but there's nothing distracted about his tone. "And none of them seem to apply to you."

Clint huffs a laugh, because that's more faith than most have in him. "I don't mean shouldn't because they're wrong. More, shouldn't because it'll only end badly." He leans against the glass of Lola's passenger side window. It's cool against his forehead and he closes his eyes.

"Like what?"

Like to be with a man, which is almost entirely new territory, when Clint hasn't even been able to make a relationship with a woman work, and he's had years of practice at that. But he can't say that. He blows out a breath and turns away from the window. "Like one of these," he says, running his palm over Lola's pristine dash. "I mean, not a '62 Corvette, specifically, but a classic of my own."

Out of the corner of his eye, Clint can see Phil glance away from the road at him, but Clint doesn't lift his eyes from where he's watching himself rub a thumb over the detailing on Lola's dash. "I know it wouldn't be quite the same," Phil says carefully, "but you can buy another Charger. There's a pretty decent market for classic cars, both in need of restoration and already restored."

"What's the point?" Clint asks, rubbing a hand over his face. "I'd just ruin it, like I always do. Better to leave it with someone who can take care of it. Better for it to be out there, gorgeous and safe, than for me to get a few months--or, hell, just a few days--pleasure out of it."

"I don't think another hurricane is going to come along and wreck the new one," Phil says, gently teasing.

Clint snorts a laugh. "With my luck, it would. But if it wasn't a hurricane, it'd be some asshole villain, or the tracksuit mafia that've been fucking around with the folks in my building, or just a damned car accident." He shakes his head. "I don't get to keep this kind of thing, Phil. It's better if I don't try."

They fall into silence for a long moment, but somehow it isn't strained. Clint leans back in his seat and closes his eyes and tries to just let go.

"Well," Phil says eventually, "when it comes to classic cars, at least, you can live vicariously through me."

"Yeah?" Clint rolls his head on the headrest to face Phil.

Phil shoots him a smile. "Yeah."

*

Clint does his best to shove his newly realized attraction to Phil into the box in his brain marked 'This is really fucking bad idea, don't even think about it.' Problem is, that box has always had a big fucking leak in it. If that box wasn't so fucking leaky, he might still be married to Bobbi. If that box wasn't so fucking leaky, he'd definitely still be with Jessica.

If that box wasn't so fucking leaky, he'd be having a drink with Phil right now, instead of getting plastered alone in his living room because he's afraid of what he might say if he lets his guard down around just about the only person he can let his guard down around, these days.

He's working on his second six pack when his front door unlocks and Kate walks in. She takes in the scene and groans loudly. "I thought you were done with this, Clint," she says, throwing her bag down on the chair by the couch and standing over him, hands on her hips.

"Done with what?" he mutters, picking at the label on his beer.

"With the pity parties," Kate shoots back. "Ever since Phil--" She breaks off when Clint lifts the bottle and finishes it off in one long go. "Oh, it's like that, is it? What happened?"

"Nothing," Clint snapped. "I've been very careful to do nothing."

Kate hums and takes a seat. "Sounds like that might kind of be the problem."

Clint glares at her. "Are you seriously going to start matchmaking? Weren't you the one who told me not to get into a rebound relationship?"

Kate rolls her eyes. "I told you not to hook up with someone you just met less than a day after your girlfriend dumped you. It's been, like, eight months since then. And you've been much less of a dick since meeting Phil so, you know, major brownie points there."

"I hate you."

"I hate you back," Kate says cheerfully. "So what's the problem? Is it because he's a guy? Are you having a sexual identity crisis?"

"Fuck you, I've been with a guy before," Clint snaps, and then hunches his shoulders.

"Oh really?" Kate's eyebrows go up. "This I gotta hear."

"You really don't."

"I really do."

Clint sets his empty bottle aside and rubs his hands through his hair. "I was sixteen and running around with the circus, okay? Experimentation was kind of the name of the game. I tried a bit of everything. It's a fucking miracle I'm clean."

"Oh my god, I do not need the gory details!" Kate says. "So if the guy thing isn't an issue, what's the problem?"

"I don't know what to do with a guy," Clint says desperately.

Kate smirks. "That's what the internet is for."

Clint groans. "Not like that. I mean with...with dating and, fuck, I don't know, how to be together."

"Clint," Kate says seriously, "based on past experience, you don't know how that works with a woman, either."

Clint deflates, because that couldn't be more fucking true. "I wish I knew how to stop thinking about it," he says. "Because I really like him, Kate. I liked him before I ever thought about him like that. And now I've ruined it."

Kate leans over and puts a hand on his arm. "Nothing's ruined yet."

Clint shakes his head. "Just a matter of time."

*

Thankfully for Clint's sanity, the Avengers get called up about a week later. He grabs his latest carving project and the knife and meets the Quinjet on the roof. Cap, Iron Man, Widow, and Spider-Man are already on board when he climbs into the hatch, which he presumes to be their load-out for this mission; they all live closer to HQ than he does, so there's not likely to be another pick up.

"Whose turn is it?" he asks as he takes his seat. He hopes it's Doombots again--they blow up really nice, once you figure out the latest trick to it.

"This one is new, actually," Cap says. Natasha is flying and Stark is helmeted, his head tilted in the way that means he's talking to someone. "The NYPD was called to the Central Park Zoo when some guy started climbing into the enclosures and harassing the animals. When the police confronted him, he started transforming parts of his body; they figured they could use some high powered back up."

"Mutant?" Clint asks, checking his quiver to make sure he has tranquilizers and low grade electrical arrows loaded. Both are there.

It's Tony who answers. "We don't know yet," Iron Man's filtered voice echoes a little in the Quinjet. "He's too old to have expressed recently, and the X-Men don't recognize him, but that doesn't entirely rule it out."

"The media will assume he is," Peter says.

Clint grimaces, because yeah, they will. They always cry 'mutant' when new abilities show up, and they never mean it in a compassionate way. "Any idea why the zoo? It's not exactly a center of money and power."

"For him it might be," Tony says. "Given the way he was harassing the animals, he might be absorbing his abilities from them."

"Well," Clint says philosophically, "at least that means he probably doesn't have an unlimited number of options available."

Tony snorts "The Central Park Zoo houses over 130 species, and that's assuming he didn't make a few stops before this one."

Well, shit.

Clint sighs and automatically reaches into his pocket for his latest carving, the logo of 'Dog Cops'. It's not a long trip to Central Park, but hell, might as well get in a notch or two.

"Hey," Peter comments, leaning over. "That's really good!" He tilts his head, clearly admiring despite the mask, and Clint pauses.

"You want it when I'm done?" he asks, ducking his head a bit.

Peter straightens up a bit. "You don't want to keep it?"

Clint shrugs. "I like giving them away."

"Then, yeah, sure!" Peter grins. "Thanks, man."

Clint shoots him a smile. "No problem."

"How did your friend like the ouroboros?" Natasha calls back from the front. "You never said."

Clint fights down a blush and focuses on his carving. "He liked it. He's still using it, anyway." He catches the curious look Tony shoots him and shrugs, then looks away. "I made it into a keychain."

"Having a hobby is good," Steve says, approving. "You've been a lot more relaxed since you started."

"I have?" Clint asks, pausing. The chorus of 'yes' makes him flush. "And now I feel like I should apologize for being a jackass, before."

Tony scoffs. "Nah, we've all been there."

"You don't ever have to apologize for being unhappy," Steve says, catching Clint's eye. "That doesn't mean we aren't relieved when you stop being unhappy, though."

Clint ducks his head again. "It's just a hobby," he mutters, and they let it go.

Of course it's not the hobby.

He met Phil about the same time he started carving. They've been hanging out more or less once a week, barring work and Avengers interruptions, ever since. Except for now; it's been better than two weeks since Clint last saw Phil. Clint's been pleading building business, since he knows Phil would have heard about Avengers business through the SHIELD grapevine.

Looking down at the wood in his hands, Clint suddenly misses Phil. He misses how easy it is to be around Phil, and the way his eyes crinkle at the corners when he smiles. Two weeks isn't that long, but feeling like he shouldn't be talking to Phil weighs on Clint. He's going to screw it up, he knows it, but he wants--

The Quinjet arrives at the zoo and it doesn't matter what Clint wants anymore. He gets what elevation he can from the enclosures and visitor buildings that have roofs while the team surrounds their guy. It's not hard -- the NYPD haven't engaged, but they've got him pretty well penned up. That's a good sign; it means he at least doesn't want to risk getting shot, and maybe even doesn't want to actually kill any of the cops.

That doesn't stop him from unloading on Cap before Cap can get more than three words into a talking-him-down speech. The guy screeches--and fuck, that is not a human sound--and lunges at Cap, arms extended, hands transforming into talons. Cap takes it on the shield and comes up swinging, but the guy is already leaping away, dodging the gob of webbing Spider-Man fires at him. Clint switches to tranquilizers and gets a bead on the guy. He lets the arrow go.

It flies true, striking the guy right in the arm, but either the tranquilizer doesn't deliver correctly or something about his physiology renders it ineffective, because the guy just shudders all over, yanks the arrow out, and spins to face Clint. He screeches again, and his legs shimmer and bend backwards, kind of like a grasshopper--oh, fuck.

Clint has just enough time to sling his bow across his chest before the guy leaps. The jump takes him all the way across the enclosure and onto Clint's roof. He knocks Clint's hands away from his knives with a blow so sharp that Clint actually hears the crack. Scrambling backwards, Clint yanks an electrical arrow out of his quiver despite the pain shooting up his forearms, but jabbing the guy just makes him screech again.

Spider-Man swings up onto the roof with them a second later and pins the guy with a couple globs of webbing, now that his attention is on Clint. He doesn't stop screeching until Black Widow joins them and repeatedly stuns him until he passes out. Iron Man jets up from below and considers the scene. "Well, that was anticlimactic," he says.

"Speak for yourself," Clint grunts, cradling his hands against his chest. "I need medical."

The medical staff that the Avengers keep on retainer confirm what Clint has been pretty vibrantly aware of since transforming-guy smacked his hands: both of his wrists are broken. He can feel an itchy feeling creeping up under his skin even as he sits slumped on the exam bed and watches the doctor apply the casts. No shooting. No carving. No nothing that would put even the slightest strain on his wrists. If it was his ankles, Clint would say fuck it and walk on them when he needed to, anyway. But his wrists...he needs them to shoot. He can't afford to have weak wrists, which means following doctor's orders to the letter, and a truly infuriating amount of training to rebuild the muscles after the casts come off.

He'll be lucky if he makes it the four weeks the doc is recommending.

Natasha sits with him while the casts are applied. Neither of them speak until the doctor finishes and leaves the exam room. Clint sighs. "I wish I'd broken my legs instead," he mutters. "I can handle broken legs."

"You can handle broken wrists, too," she says briskly. "Come stay at the Tower. There'll be plenty of people to help."

"Help?" Clint frowns.

Natasha rolls her eyes. "How are you expecting to get dressed? Cook? Answer the phone if it rings? Your fingers are stubby, and you're not meant to be using them, anyway."

Well, shit. "I can't stay at the Tower," Clint says. "I'll go batshit whenever the Avengers are called out. I can't be there and not go. I'll end up on a roof with my bow and I'll fuck up my wrists and have to have my hands cut off or something." He sighs. "I'll just go home and live in my robe and order a shit ton of take out or something."

Natasha stands and heads for the door without another word. She pauses halfway through it to swing around and arch her eyebrows at him. "Don't drown in your well of despair," she says dryly.

He can't flip her off with hands cast up to the second knuckle, but he tries anyway. She just laughs.

Getting back to his apartment actually isn't too bad. The cabbie doesn't much like opening the doors for him, but he's a lot happier about getting Clint's wallet out of his pocket and putting the charge through himself. Clint doesn't protest the size of the tip; the guy earned it.

Getting into his apartment is a bit trickier. He lurks by the front door of the building and only has to wait about twenty minutes for one of the residents to let him in. Fortunately, owning the place means that they know him on sight and are actually willing to let him in--they're not really supposed to do that. His apartment door he has to manage on his own. Getting the key out of his pocket is just painful--it's turning in the lock that's really agony. By the time he gets inside, Clint is willing to take the painkillers the doc gave him.

Which are in a press-and-turn style bottle. Of course. Clint fumbles it onto the counter and is trying to open it with his face when his phone rings. He rests his forehead on the counter and then thumps it a couple of times for good measure. The phone keeps ringing, so Clint gets that out of his pocket, tears pricking his eyes, and thanks God that it's a touch screen when he answers. "What?"

"Clint?" It's Phil. Of fucking course it's Phil. Clint goes to put fingers on his eyes and smacks himself in the nose with the cast. He drops the phone, and swears, and just slides down to sit on the floor, leaning back against the breakfast bar. He sits there for a minute, Phil's increasingly worried voice coming tinnily over the line, and only manages to scoop the phone up again when Phil announces that he's calling 911.

"No, it's okay," Clint says. "I'm here. I just, I broke my wrists about six hours ago and nothing is easy right now. And I don't think I'm allowed to drink with my painkillers, so I can't go out tonight, except I can't get the fucking bottle open, so maybe I ought to just drink instead."

"Did you say 'wrists', plural?" Phil asks.

Clint sighs. "Yeah."

"Stay where you are, I'll be there in an hour."

"Where am I gonna go?" Clint asks, but the line is already dead. He stares at the phone for a second, then sets it down on his thigh in case it rings again and just sits there on the floor. It's easier than getting up, anyway.

An hour later--his phone displays the time--there's a knock on his door. Clint is pondering whether or not getting up to answer it is really worth the pain when it swings open. Right--he didn't lock it, before.

Fortunately, it's Phil. Phil carrying two suitcases. Clint blinks. "Are you moving in?" he asks.

"Yes," Phil says. "But one of these is for you."

What? "I'm confused. Why are you moving in?"

Phil looks down at him, and his expression is sort of sad and amused and soft at the same time. "We'll talk about it later. Right now you're tired and in pain and not thinking clearly."

Clint frowns. "I'm thinking just fine."

"Which is why you're still sitting on the floor."

"You have a point."

Phil opens the pill bottle, puts two tablets right into Clint's mouth for him, and holds a water bottle up to help him swallow them, and then he grips Clint by the elbows and helps him stand up. Phil is awesome.

Everything gets a little blurry after that, because Clint hasn't eaten in...God knows how long. The pills hit his system really fast, anyway.

Phil must not have been able to get him up the stairs to his bed, because Clint wakes on his back on the sofa, his mouth all cottony, sleep crusted in the corners of his eyes. The light leaking through the blinds onto the ceiling is soft and uncertain. Dawn light. Clint doesn't often see dawn.

Slowly, carefully, he pulls himself into a sitting position without using his hands. His abs are going to get a workout over the next four weeks. There's a water bottle and another pill--just one this time--sitting on the coffee table, proof that he didn't just dream Phil showing up and saving him from the floor. Clint takes the pill, pinching it gingerly between two fingers and swallowing it dry in favor of lifting the weight of the water.

He manages to stand and pads into the kitchen, flipping on the light with the edge of the cast, and contemplates the coffee maker. He could probably manage it, if only he didn't need to fill the reservoir. Maybe he can rig a hose from the tap or something. He's fumbling cabinet doors open, looking for something hose-like, when he hears footsteps on the stairs. He spins, and there's Phil, padding down the stairs wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants.

"Did you sleep in my bed?" Clint asks, staring. He's seen Phil casual once or twice, but this is a whole other level of casual. It looks really...nice. Really nice.

"The couch was taken." Phil joins Clint in the kitchen and takes a bemused look around at the open cabinets. "What were you looking for? This is your kitchen."

Clint goes to scratch the back of his neck and then has to stop. Casts. "Um. Possibly a hose to connect the tap to the reservoir of the coffee machine?"

Phil chuckles and lifts the carafe off the warming plate and sticks it under the tap to fill it. "You don't need a hose. Just come get me next time."

"Come get you," Clint repeats. "From my bed?"

Phil shrugs. "Or from the couch, if you make it up to your bedroom next time." He takes the carafe from under the tap and fills the reservoir with it, replacing it on the hot plate before quickly checking the grounds and filter and setting the machine brewing.

Meanwhile, Clint leans out of the kitchen and yup, turns out he wasn't imagining the bit with the suitcases, either. He turns back to Phil. "So tell me again why you're apparently moving in?"

"You broke both your wrists," Phil says, rather unnecessarily. Kind of hard for Clint to miss the casts, or the aching pain that filtered past the drugs. "You can't be expected to take care of yourself alone." He frowns. "I don't understand why the Avengers let you come home like this; they know you live alone."

"I insisted," Clint admits. "Didn't think I'd be able to handle watching them all run off to assemble without me, you know?"

Phil's expression relaxes. "That makes sense. Did you call Kate, at least?"

Clint shakes his head. "I'd been home all of two minutes when you called."

"I better call, then," Phil says briskly. "She'll worry. You remember I said the second suitcase was for you? I've had broken hands before, I know what it's like, so I brought some button front shirts for you. I know you don't have any and they'll be a lot easier for me to help you in and out of than t-shirts. Plus I have some things you can hook around door knobs to make them easier to open, and a few other conveniences."

Clint ends up hitching himself onto a stool by the breakfast bar and watching, bemused, as Phil bustles around his apartment, arranging it to his liking and the apparent convenience of a guy with two broken wrists. Clint has actually broken both his hands before--not all that long ago, in fact--but he was in hospital for the rest of his injuries long enough that the casts were off by the time he could be safely released. Any protests he makes now are summarily ignored, or silenced with food. Clint is pretty hungry.

Kate shows up after the whirlwind of apartment organization is done and just before lunch. Kate has excellent timing. Phil isn't much of a cook, but he doesn't mind taking the time to pull a few things together, which means instead of just soup, it's soup and cheese and rolls and these crunchy sweet pea things with a bit of dressing on them. Kate keeps shooting glances between Phil the Domestic Wonder and Clint, and Clint just keeps shaking his head when Phil's not looking.

"So," Kate says as she clears away the remains of lunch--Phil, she reasoned, had cooked--"I'm guessing you're going to need me to stop by every now and then?"

"That would be nice," Phil says, "but you don't have to; I should have things covered."

"You have to go to work," Kate points out.

Phil's shifts on his seat. "I, uh, I don't actually. I took some time off." They shoot him twin startled glances and he shrugs. "I was owed the time."

"So not the point," Kate says.

Phil looks her in the eye. "I don't have too many friends. I like to take care of the ones I've got."

The pause that comes after that stretches weirdly. "Uh, something I'm appreciating right now," Clint says finally, just to break the moment. Phil shoots him a smile.

As it turns out 'some' time off turns out to be two entire weeks. It should be awkward, it really should, because before this Clint had spent almost two weeks avoiding Phil. But apparently Phil didn't notice the avoiding part, and now he's walking around in t-shirts and sweatpants, and Clint gets to see him break down his suit at the end of the day, shirt cuffs first and then tie and then collar and then untucking the shirt... Now he's helping Clint into and out of his clothes, and helping him towel off after showers, and feeding him. It really, really should be awkward.

But it...isn't.

Yeah, there's times when Phil comes into the bathroom too soon (Clint handles his own underwear, even when he's damp from the shower; there are limits) and there is yelping and turning and apologies. And there's times when Clint gets tired and snappish and Phil just leaves the room. But most of the time Phil is as matter-of-fact and straightforward about things as he's always been.

They watch TV together; Clint finally catches up on Dog Cops. Phil has seen the whole thing, but he valiantly keeps his mouth shut about it, though Clint can tell when a good bit is coming by the way Phil starts glancing at him a lot, checking his reaction. They sit at the kitchen table and brainstorm new carvings, matching them to the grain of wood, since they have time to think about it. Phil takes another shot at learning to cook properly--"If I keep trying, it has to take eventually, right?" he says--and they eat a lot of take out.

By the time Phil has to go back to work, Clint can't help but think that maybe this could work. Not a relationship, not with his track record, but being just friends with someone he likes that much. He wants too much, yeah, but maybe he can manage not to ask for it. Remembering the Charger washing away in a hurricane-driven flood is a pretty decent reminder of what happens when he gets too attached. Maybe that'll be enough to stop him from fucking this up.

Phil doesn't move out once he goes back to work, so he's still there to help Clint put himself together in the morning, but the hours when he's away drag like molasses. Clint cracks on the third day and calls Avengers Tower.

"You're still on medical leave," Steve answers the phone.

Clint rolls his eyes. "Yes, I know, Mom. Which is why I'm going stir crazy. This is a preemptive call--if someone doesn't get over here and entertain me, I'm going to be your next mission."

Steve laughs. "You only had to ask, Clint. I'm surprised you made it this long."

"I had company, before," Clint says. "But he's gone back to work so you're up."

"Company?"

He really hasn't told them much about Phil. "The friend I did the carving for," Clint says. "Just get over here, okay? Holding the phone ain't all that comfortable."

"Of course," Steve says. "Hang tight."

When Steve shows, he has Logan, Bruce, Thor, and Carol with him. They end up going up to the roof and having a lunch time barbeque. Clint forgoes his meds--the pain has subsided a lot--in favor of a beer and almost strains something laughing at Thor's dramatic reenactment of a couple of their recent calls.

The gathering starts to break up around three, first Logan and then Bruce and Carol drifting off to other commitments. Clint waves goodbye and has another beer with Thor before he leaves, too. Steve stays to clean up, though Clint does carry what he can. Mostly, that's boxes of empty cans, but it's something.

"Hey," Clint says awkwardly, as Steve steps out of his apartment, the last of the barbeque stuff stowed. "Thanks."

"What are friends for?" Steve asks, smiling, and claps Clint on the shoulder. Clint flushes a little, but it's okay, because Steve doesn't look back as he strides away.

He tells Phil all about it over the Greek food they order in. "You sound surprised," Phil says as he picks olives out of his Greek salad and deposits them in Clint's.

"I was." Clint pokes at his salad for a second. "Is it stupid that I didn't really know they were my friends? I mean, we get along fine, but I figured, they kinda had to, being on the same team." He forks up at chunk of cucumber and stuffs it in his mouth.

"No, I know what you mean," Phil says. Clint's eyebrows go up. "You can like your work friends a lot," Phil goes on, "but you don't know if they're really your friends until you spend time together outside of work. Considering how often you've lived with the people you work with, no wonder it was all a bit fuzzy."

Clint chews and swallows. "Plus I never really invited them out, before," he admits. "Wasn't sure what I had to offer, compared to Tony's gadgets and Steve's art and everyone else's...everything." He shrugged.

"Well, now you know," Phil smiles.

Clint tilts his head. "What?"

Phil rolls his eyes. "You," he says, stabbing a fork at Clint.

Clint ducks his head again, but he smiles, too.

*

Eventually, the casts come off and Phil moves out and life goes back to normal. Clint misses him, but asking the guy to move in with him is definitely over the line. He compensates by texting Phil a lot, since Phil can choose when to answer those, and by making sure a week doesn't go by without a beer at the bar or a drive or something.

As often as they see each other, it's still a bit odd for Phil to call him not even 24 hours after they last had a drink. Clint frowns as he picks up the phone, a little worried, and tells himself that he'd probably be getting a call from SHIELD, not from Phil's personal cell, if there was a serious problem. "Phil, what's up?" he answers.

"I need you to do me a favor," Phil says. Then nothing.

Clint pinches the phone between cheek and shoulder and starts getting his field suit together. Just in case. "What kind of favor?"

"The kind you won't tell anyone about?" Phil says, and Clint would be grabbing his quiver except that Phil sounds plaintive. This is not an official kind of not telling.

"Of course not," Clint assures him.

Phil lets out a heavy breath. "I...I've been locked into a men's room at the Manhattan Mall."

"You what?" Clint blurts.

"You heard me," Phil mutters.

"How on Earth did you get locked into a men's room?" Clint asks. He puts his field suit away again and digs out his lock picks instead; it's nearly 11pm, long past the mall's closing time.

"I was shopping when my dinner very abruptly decided not to agree with me," Phil says. "I must have been in here awhile, because by the time I felt...safe...to leave, security had come around and locked the place up."

"And you can't get out of a mall bathroom on your own," Clint teases gently, already shrugging into his jacket and heading out of his apartment.

"I can, but I'd have to break the door down," Phil replies. "I'm not going to commit destruction of property to save my ego."

Clint grins as he jogs down the stairs. Of course he wouldn't. "You could take the door off its hinges."

"I tried." Clint can't hold back the laugh. He thinks he hears Phil smiling when he goes on, though. "With my tie pin." Clint laughs harder.

"It's gonna be a bit," Clint says, exiting his building. "I don't have wheels, so you're at the mercy of the subway."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"How's your phone battery?" Clint ask. "You want me to entertain you while you wait?"

"Please," Phil says. "I've already beaten my high score at Angry Birds working up the courage to make this phone call." Clint laughs again, Phil definitely laughing along this time.

It takes him forty-five minutes to make the trip, including walking and waiting time, which is pretty good. The conversation never falters, ranging from Angry Birds tips to the criteria for rating the quality of a bathroom (apparently an important consideration during Phil's traveling years) to stupidest actions taken due to boredom to the psychological and physiological effects of long term exposure to fluorescent lights.

Clint braces the phone against his shoulder again while picking the lock for the mall entrance. He only has to duck one security guard on the way to the men's room. "All right, I'm here," he says, bracing the phone again as he crouches down to pick the lock.

"Thank God," Phil says. "How long to get me out?"

Clint pauses, trips the last tumbler, and answers by opening the door. Phil is sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, his suit rumpled, tie discarded. He looks up at Clint, phone still pressed to his ear. Clint grins. "Pretty fast," he says. "It was an easy lock."

Phil hangs up the phone and levers himself to his feet, throwing Clint a grateful look. "Thank you," he says. "If you hadn't picked up, I'd have ended up sleeping in here."

Clint makes sure the door locks behind Phil and scoffs. "Come on, there have to be plenty of other people you could've called."

"Sure, if I wanted to completely ruin my professional reputation." Phil shakes his head. "Didn't I tell you once I didn't have too many friends?"

"You told Kate," Clint says, leading Phil to the exit without seeing hide nor hair of the security guard. "But I was there."

"Well, for the record," Phil says, and pauses while Clint makes sure the door is locked. When Clint looks back up at him, Phil smiles. "For the record, Clint, I spent a lot of time alone before I met you, and there wasn't anyone in my life who'd've stayed on the phone with me for forty-five minutes just because I was bored."

Clint can feel his cheeks heat; he can't think of anything to say, just smiles and ducks his head. "I guess you need to head home," he says. It's almost midnight now, after all.

There's a pause, and then Phil touches him lightly on the arm and Clint looks up. There's something soft in Phil's expression. "You came all the way out here," he says. "You want to get something to eat?"

'Something to eat' ends up being ice cream at a little frozen yogurt place a few blocks away. It's surprisingly busy at midnight, but they tuck themselves into a corner with their cups of ice cream and Clint stops noticing the rest of the customers, because not getting a cone doesn't stop Phil from licking up ice cream in a really, really distracting way. They talk, but Clint isn't really paying attention, too absorbed in the curl of Phil's fingers around his spoon and the little sounds of pleasure he makes over the treat.

They finish too fast, and the walk to the subway feels even faster. It doesn't matter that he can see Phil again any time he wants, Clint still doesn't want to watch him walk away. They pause where Phil would normally break off and head for the line to his own home. It's a long, quiet pause. Eventually Phil takes a breath, like he's going to say something, and then he stops and leans in and kisses Clint on the mouth instead.

A startled noise escapes Clint, because Phil. But his body knows what it's doing better than his head does, like always, and he's pulling Phil closer and kissing him back before he really decides to do it. Phil's lips are soft, and his cheeks are a bit rough from stubble accumulated over the long stretch of the day. His hands on Clint's hip and back are broader than Clint is used to, but they're familiar. He knows Phil's hands. For a month, Phil's touch was a frequent presence.

When they break apart, Clint can't help it--he gasps, "Come home with me."

"Okay," Phil says, beaming at him.

"Wait, really?"

Phil chuckles and leans in to kiss Clint again. A current of yes, please runs down Clint's spine. "Did you think I was going to say no?"

"I hadn't actually thought that far ahead," Clint admits.

"Apparently speaking before thinking isn't always a bad idea," Phil teases dryly. "Come on." He takes Clint's hand and draws him toward the subway.

The ride back to Clint's neighborhood is quiet; Clint can't think of a thing to say that's appropriate in public, and Phil is apparently content to silently sit next to him, his hand resting warmly on Clint's thigh. But forty-plus minutes is a long time to think. By the time he closes his apartment door behind them, Clint has mostly figured out what he wants to say.

Clint watches Phil drape his jacket over the back of the couch and pull off his tie, then moistens dry lips and makes himself start. "Phil." Phil looks up and Clint shoves his hands in his pockets and blurts out the rest of it. "I've never tried to make anything work with a guy, haven't even been with one since I was sixteen and experimenting, and I can't make any promises, and I'm probably gonna screw this up."

"I know," Phil says simply.

"Gee, thanks for that," Clint mutters.

Phil walks up to him and puts his hands on Clint's hips, leading in to rest his forehead against Clint's. "Me too," he says.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I'll probably screw this up, too," Phil clarifies. "And I can't make any promises, either. But I like being with you, and I want to be with you more, and I feel like when we screw up, we might remember that long enough to come out the other side together."

"You romantic, you," Clint says, smirking, but he relaxes and tilts his head to kiss Phil again, open-mouthed and a little sloppy.

Phil kisses back and hooks his fingers into Clint's pockets, pulling him towards the stairs and the bedroom at the top of them. They stumble up the stairs between kisses, dropping Clint's t-shirt and somehow walking Phil out of his pants along the way, and when they tumble into bed Clint is almost sorry that the trip is over, except that now he's got Phil's warm, solid body pressed up against his. They lay there and kiss for awhile, Phil's hands half down Clint's pants, Phil's shirt rucked up to his ribs. They kiss until Clint's lips feel swollen and he's so hard that the ache of arousal spreads into his belly and the muscles of his thighs.

He finally pulls away to finish stripping Phil out of his shirt because Clint needs more. Phil takes advantage of the break from kissing to get Clint out of his pants and yeah, not going to complain about that. They roll around a bit, squirming out of the last of their clothing and tossing it over the side of the bed, and Clint ends up on his back with Phil sprawled over him.

"How is it possible that you are this hot?" Phil pants, licking and sucking at the arch of Clint's throat, slowly working his way down over Clint's collarbone and across Clint's chest.

"There's a lifetime allowance for hotness," Clint says, running his hands over Phil's shoulders. "I blew mine on my early thirties; I'm going to be hideous by 38." Phil snorts and stops to laugh into Clint's navel. When he lifts his head to look at Clint, Clint grins back at him. "Glad you caught me in time?"

"Glad I caught you at all," Phil shoots back. He crawls back up to claim Clint's mouth again. Clint slides a hand down to Phil's ass and pulls their hips together as they kiss, heart picking up speed as Phil's hard cock rubs against his, hot and urgent. Phil breaks the kiss, sucking on Clint's lower lip for a second as he pulls back. "What do you want?"

"Want you to fuck me," Clint says, arching his hips to rub harder against Phil.

Phil licks his lips. "Ever done that before?"

"Not with a man," Clint grins, "but a couple girlfriends have been pretty handy with a harness."

Phil groans and leans in to kiss Clint hard, sliding his tongue eagerly into Clint's mouth. Clint presses up into the kiss, sucking on it, hands squeezing Phil's ass. They're both short of breath when they finally break apart, but they're definitely on the same page--Phil gets the supplies out of the bedside table while Clint snags an extra pillow and stuffs it under his hips.

Clint's so turned on by the time Phil gets a finger inside him that he can't choke back his moan at all. It's loud, and long, and Christ, his neighbors are going to be in no doubt at all about what is going on in here, but the hungry look on Phil's face and the way he twists his hand, deliberately drawing another loud moan out of Clint, are worth it. Clint figures fuck it, and lets himself curse and groan and spread his legs shamelessly. Phil's hands are shaking by the time he gets up to three fingers, and fuck, that is hot, that Phil could want him that much.

"I'm good," Clint says, pressing his head back into the bed and arching his back to push down harder on Phil's fingers. "I'm really, really good."

"You really are." Phil's voice is thready, breathless. Clint makes himself open his eyes when he feels Phil's fingers slide out of him so that he can watch while Phil rolls the condom onto his cock, standing up hard and eager, and slicks it up with lube. A shiver of uncertainty goes through Clint, but then Phil puts his hands on Clint's hips and yeah, he wants this.

Phil's cock nudges into him carefully, but Clint is so turned on he doesn't think he could tense up if he tried, and Phil is taking it slow; it doesn't hurt. Clint closes his eyes and loses himself in the feeling of his body opening up, letting Phil slide inside him. Phil's cock is hot, hotter than Clint really expected and fuck, yeah, he likes that. He lifts his hips a bit, lets Phil push in deeper and yeah, that's good, more of that.

Phil groans, hands tightening on Clint's hips, and moves faster, until he's pressed tight against the curve of Clint's ass, Clint's thighs pushed up and out to give him space. They pause there for a second, catching their breath more than giving Clint time to relax, because he's already as relaxed as he can get while being this fucking hard, thank you very much.

When Clint feels like he can speak without passing out, he says, "I've decided I really like your dick."

"And to think, you've hardly met him," Phil replies. Clint laughs, which makes his body tremble, which moves Phil inside him, which makes him moan. "I like it when you laugh," Phil says.

"I like it when you move."

Phil chuckles, but he takes the hint, pulling out smoothly before sinking back inside, faster than before. Clint grabs onto his own knees to keep himself spread for Phil, and Phil curses and thrusts harder next time. It feels so good to be full, to have that pressure deep inside him, that Clint is babbling "yes" and "please" and "more" even before Phil finds the right angle to rub over his prostate. Clint's hips jerk when he gets it, moaning so deep it almost hurts his throat. "Again," he begs, and Phil is already moving, driving into him at just the same angle, and Clint shouts, hands gripping his knees tight, chest heaving as he struggles for breath.

Phil fucks him faster, until Clint can hear their bodies slapping together, and sweat drips off Phil and splashes onto Clint's chest and belly. Clint looks up at him, devours the sight of Phil's flushed, shining skin, the cords of his muscles bunching as he drives his cock into Clint, the intent, focused gaze fixed on Clint's face.

Clint's whole body is throbbing, and all he wants to do is spread himself wider, take Phil's cock deeper. Every withdrawal is a hot stroke over his nerves and the heavy, stuffed feeling of Phil thrusting back into him pushes eager, welcoming gasps and whimpers out of Clint.

And then Phil moves one of his hands from where he's gripping Clint's hips and wraps it around his cock instead.

Clint cries out, body jerking. He's close, so close, but he's got no words left and Phil is pumping his cock and Clint just loses it and comes, head thrown back, body frozen, his ass clenching down on Phil, huge and perfect inside him. Clint shudders and shudders as he spends himself over Phil's hand, come dripping down to spot his skin.

He goes limp, after, and Phil is still hard inside him, his breath puffing out over Clint's skin where he's resting his forehead against one of Clint's bent knees.

"Phil," Clint says hoarsely.

Phil whimpers, but he pulls out and sort of sprawls back on the bed. Clint forces his lax muscles into motion and fumbles a fresh condom out of the bedside table drawer. It takes a couple of tries to get the used one off of Phil and the new one on him. It's been a really fucking long time since Clint's done this, but Phil's splayed hard and needy before him, so he wraps his hand around the base of Phil's cock and wraps his lips around the rest.

"Oh, fuck," Phil shouts, but his hips don't do more than twitch, thank God. Clint starts sucking and he must be doing okay, because when Phil isn't swearing he's letting out these gorgeous, sharp gasps. Getting some tongue in on the action tips Phil over the edge. He comes with a long groan, his cock throbbing between Clint's lips, though the condom saves him from the spit or swallow decision.

Clint keeps sucking until Phil slumps back against the bed. Then he pulls back and gently strips off the condom and disposes of it. When he turns back from tossing it into the trash, a shiver of satisfaction goes through him. Phil, sprawled over the bed, looks about as wrecked as Clint feels. Clint lays down next to him even though they're gonna need to clean up and change the sheets, eventually. After a minute Phil rolls over and plants his face on Clint's chest. "We have to get up, don't we?" he mumbles.

Clint puts an arm around him. "In a minute."

*

Clint wakes the next morning with a warm body spooned up behind him and an easiness in his muscles that reminds him he had some really good sex last night. He smiles into his pillow, but doesn't move, because he knows Phil is a light sleeper. Instead, Clint lets himself drift, and ponders breakfast. Does he have pancake mix? He really feels like having pancakes. Normally he wouldn't have pancake mix, but he thinks Kate brought some over awhile back, and it doesn't really go bad.

"What're you thinking about?" Phil murmurs against the back of his neck. One of his hands shifts against Clint's belly.

"Pancakes," Clint says, covering Phil's hand with his own.

"Pancakes sound good."

Well, that settles it. If they don't have mix, Clint will have to go out and get some.

Fortunately for his lazy mood and complete lack of desire to put on any more clothes than a pair of pajama pants, they do have pancake mix. Phil makes coffee and parks himself on one of the stools at the breakfast bar while Clint gets the stove going, and they're sneaking stupid glances at each other when a key rattles in the front door and Kate walks in. "Do I smell pancakes?" she asks, nudging the door shut behind her.

"You do," Clint says, and goes to mix more batter.

"Hey, Phil," Kate greets him, and then she catches sight of Clint, shirtless and barefoot and grinning into the pancake batter. He doesn't have any hickies, but he knows exactly how he looks anyway. Kate hitches herself up onto another stool and leans against the counter. "So," she says. "In the interests of not repeating past mistakes, let's be clear about this: Are you two boyfriends now?"

Clint glances at Phil, whose mouth quirks up at the corner. They look at her and say, "Yes," in unison.

Kate beams at them. "Excellent." She reaches out and pokes Phil. "I told you so."

Clint raises his eyebrows. "What's that about?"

Phil coughs and colors a bit. "I may have bemoaned the hopelessness of my affections to Kate. She disagreed."

"Well." Clint nods at Kate. "Thank you, Hawkeye."

"You're welcome, Hawkeye," she says solemnly.

Then they all break down laughing.

*

Epilogue

*

Clint takes a deep breath and knocks on Phil's door. It opens after only a moment, revealing Phil in a pair of jeans and a sweater that clings in all the right places. God, Clint loves Phil in sweaters. He leans in for a quick kiss hello.

"Hey," Phil says when they part. He steps back to let Clint into the apartment, but Clint shakes his head.

"I've got something to show you," Clint says. "Grab your jacket and wallet."

Curiosity lights Phil's eyes, and he does as directed. Clint takes another steadying breath as they leave Phil's apartment behind. Phil shoots him a concerned glance, but just brushes his hand against Clint's. Clint gives him a quick smile. They exit Phil's building and Clint tilts his head left. "It's a couple of blocks." Phil nods and follows.

A couple of blocks later, Clint stops, reaches out, and puts his hand on the roof of a 1970 Dodge Charger.

It's dark blue, rather than burnt orange like the first one, and it's not perfectly restored, but it's still a gorgeous machine. Clint runs a gentle hand over the roof and looks over at Phil. He's beaming. "She's yours?" he asks.

"Yeah," Clint says. "Bought her off a guy in Jersey, just drove her up today."

Phil pushes him up against the car and kisses him. Clint leans back against the warm metal and settles Phil against him as he kisses back, a bubble of happiness rising up and spreading through his chest. It's a good day for a drive.

~!~