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“I’m in position, and holding,” Clint Barton reported softly over the comm.

Letting out a shaky sigh, Clint wondered how much longer he could stay this tense and alert before he snapped.  His breath clouded the air in front of him, fatigue creeping at the edges of his mind.  The biting cold wasn't helping the throbbing ache from the combination of his injuries and the constant adrenaline, but at least it was keeping him awake.  After three weeks of chasing shipments and people across Russia, Alaska and Canada, Clint was running on empty.  Tracking AIM to a base in such a remote area of Northern Ontario hadn't been easy -- and that was before the added chaos of Tony Stark and Colonel Rhodes turning up in the middle.  Clint felt a pang of guilt that Phil was the one stuck dealing with the brunt of Stark, but Clint wasn't sure he could have dealt with the billionaire on top of everything else.

How Stark had caught wind of the mission, Clint didn't know, but he was betting on JARVIS.  Undeterred by what had no doubt been Coulson’s Eyebrow of Doom, Stark had declared himself and Rhodey as backup, and the pair were now waiting nearby in their suits.  Part of Clint got a kick out of Iron Man and War Machine ready to swoop in and save the day -- but mostly, Clint was just amused by Stark’s whining.  According to Stark, he should be the first choice for any operations involving AIM.  It didn’t seem to matter, to Stark anyway, that the mission called for infiltration, and Stark had all the subtlety of a herd of charging rhinoceroses.

 

Not that AIM - or Stark - were the only things to worry about.  Somehow, the deranged scientists had got their hands on an Asgardian artifact, and were experimenting on it.  Normally for this kind of mission, Thor would have been first choice, but he was still AWOL, so Clint and Natasha had been brought in.  Their priority was to secure the artifact, so SHIELD’s science teams could check it over before they sent it back to Asgard.   

Seriously, had no one learned their lesson the last time?

“Hawkeye, can you see anything from your position?” Phil asked, and Clint smiled faintly at his husband’s calm voice.  It had been too long since he’d been on a mission run by Phil.  He’d missed it.

Around Clint, the crumbling, grey AIM compound was lit by the weak, late autumn sunlight filtering through the snow-covered trees.  It was kind of pretty, even with the deep chill sinking into Clint's bones.  Even the specialized body suit he wore underneath his tight-fitting jacket wasn't enough to stop the cold.  Clint held his favourite recurve, an arrow nocked loosely on the string, although his fingers were half frozen.  His fingerless gloves could only do so much - Clint needed the mobility and grip to shoot his bow, so he gritted his teeth and ignored the discomfort.  At least he was wearing his lightweight body armour under his jacket.  Phil made him sleep on the couch when Clint did things Phil deemed unnecessarily stupid and reckless - like not wearing his protective gear.

Letting out another breath, Clint scanned the snowy landscape with sharp eyes, his survival instincts honed after years as a mercenary and a SHIELD agent.  “No people.  Just a whole bunch of standard military boot tread,” he grumbled, picking up the footprints in the snow nearby.  “Are we sure this is the right place?”

“Those are the coordinates,” Phil replied dryly.  “And the satellite feed hasn’t picked up anyone leaving the area within the last forty-eight hours.”

“We could have, of course, found the wrong isolated building in the large, snowy forest,” Natasha drawled.

Clint grinned.  Natasha was somewhere over to his left, watching his back even though Clint couldn’t see her.  It was just like old times - before the Battle of Manhattan and the Chitauri, before the Avengers, and before Loki.

“I still don’t see why the two ninjas get to have all the fun,” Stark grumbled.

“That would be because Agents Barton and Romanoff are not only trained for this kind of mission, Stark,” Phil said, “but were actually authorized to be on it.”

Stark snorted.  “I don’t believe you, Agent,” he replied.  “I think it’s blatant favouritism.”

“You’re just mad because his favourite isn’t you,” Natasha told him.  Clint could have sworn he heard Rhodey muffle a laugh.

Opening his mouth to reply, Clint snapped it shut again when the crunching of snow under boots caught his attention.  Turning carefully, he sank further into the shadows of one of the compound buildings, and peered around the corner.  He spotted two beefy guys in mismatched camouflage and parkas carrying a large crate.  They headed towards a wide clearing behind the main building, and the small cargo plane that sat at the top of a makeshift airstrip.  From the way the men held themselves, Clint guessed they were mercenaries.  The men were speaking in a mix of languages, none of which was English, but Clint could translate enough to know what they were talking about.  Muffling a curse, he ducked back out of sight.  “We’ve got trouble, Boss,” he breathed.  “Two men are loading a plane to the north of the compound.”

“I’ve got movement on this side, too,” Natasha reported.  “They’re definitely packing up the operation.”

“I can see the plane on the satellite feed,” Phil confirmed.  “Can you get close enough to secure the package?”

Scanning the distance between him and the plane, Clint smirked.  “Of course we can, Boss,” he replied.  “And we don’t need metal suits to do it, either.”

“Hey!” Stark protested loudly.  “I’ll have you know that these suits are the peak of brilliant engineering!  Iron Man isn’t just…”

“Stark, be quiet, or I’m kicking you off with the comms,” Phil ordered.

“I think I’ve got an idea,” Natasha said in the following silence, and Clint could hear the mischief in her voice.  “Permission to retrieve the package?”

“Granted,” Phil replied.

Keeping low, Clint snuck closer to the plane, using the cover of the other buildings to keep out of sight.  He was careful to keep his footsteps as quiet as he could, but the still of the forest was working against him.  Crouching down again about three hundred feet from the plane, Clint paused.  A few seconds later, Natasha appeared at the opposite corner of the building, and Clint couldn’t stop his grin.  When Natasha winked at him, he rolled his eyes.  Then, communicating with the hand-signals that only they understood, Clint asked for the plan.  Attack.  60 seconds.  Do you want to grab the package, or should I? Natasha signaled.

Glancing towards the AIM goons, Clint watched as several more men joined them in the clearing.  AIM had definitely got wind that someone was after them.  Five men in the clearing, then a clear run to the package.  I’ve got your back, he replied.

Counting down the seconds in his head, Clint deepened his breathing and slowly loosened his muscles.  The adrenaline was humming through his body, taking the edge off the pain from his injuries, and his focus narrowed.  As soon as Clint hit zero in his mental countdown, a large explosion ripped through the main building of the compound.  The base interrupted into chaos, and Clint used the distraction to take out the five men in the clearing in quick succession.  Instinct kicked in a split second later, and Clint threw himself sideways into a roll.  A series of bullets slammed into the ground where he’d been crouched, sending up a flurry of white snow.  Scanning the shadows, Clint shot the mercenary aiming for him, before shooting a second coming up behind Natasha.  “Hawkeye, go!” she snapped, before kicking out another thug’s knees and going for a chokehold.

Nodding sharply, Clint sprinted in the direction of the plane.  Pushing his exhausted body to the limit, he leaped over a fallen tree trunk and skidded to a halt in front of the open rear door to the plane.  A dull roar was coming from the engines, but Clint had no idea if anyone was in the cockpit.  Bow in front, Clint slipped cautiously into the cargo area of the plane, but it was empty aside from the crates the goons had been loading.  “SHIELD base, this is Hawkeye.  I’m inside the plane,” he whispered.

“Copy that,” Phil replied.  “Can you locate the package?”

“Judging by the energy readings JARVIS is picking up, the artifact is definitely on that plane,” Stark added before Clint could answer.

Mentally rolling his eyes, Clint slung his bow cautiously over one shoulder and headed for the nearest crate.  Drawing a knife, he forced open the lock, but the crate was only full of weapons.  Clint checked two more, before finding the one he was after.  Inside, protected by some kind of foam, was a vaguely hammer-shaped stone about the size of Clint’s head.  It was carved with Norse-like designs that pulsed with a faint silver light, which was enough to send a shiver down Clint’s spine.  The whole thing was eerie, and Clint had had enough of strange Asgardian objects to last a lifetime, thanks.  “I found the artifact,” he said softly.

“Copy that, Hawkeye,” Phil said.  “You need to get out of there…”

Suddenly, Clint heard the scuff of a boot right behind him.  He pivoted, bringing up his knife, but something heavy and hard slammed into his temple before he could do anything.  Spun back around by the force of the blow, Clint crashed into the crate.  He lost his grip on his knife, barely catching himself before he smashed his face into the artifact itself.  The stone pulsed hot under the skin of his fingers, and Clint gasped, the silver light flaring bright for a second.  A wave of tingling energy rushed up Clint’s arm, and his vision swam, although that might have been because of the blow to his head.  Clint barely had time to think, this isn’t good, before everything faded to black.

~*~

Phil Coulson stared at the large screen in front of him, his eyes fixed on the red dots that showed Clint and Natasha’s position.  As always, the command center was a hum of activity around him.  A variety of junior agents were monitoring the live satellite feeds, while large screens covered most of the available walls.  There were even a few holographic displays, since the Triskelion was usually the first to adopt new technology.  Yet, despite the muted rush of an ongoing mission, Phil kept having to force his mind back on task.  It was hard not get distracted by Clint’s teasing voice in his ear.  Even without the Avengers Initiative, it was rare that Phil got to act as Clint’s handler anymore, and the banter reminded Phil of the early days of Strike Team Delta.  Back then, he’d been little more than Hawkeye’s handler and tentative friend.  Clint had snarked over the comms, breaking the long silences with flippant observations and unrepentant flirting.

These days, Phil was still the recipient of both Clint’s sarcasm and blatant seduction methods - only now it wasn’t just limited to the comms.  Considering that somehow, Clint had chosen to marry him, Phil wouldn’t trade things for anything in the universe.

“SHIELD base, this is Hawkeye.  I’m inside the plane,” Clint said softly.

Phil nodded, not that Clint could see him.  “Copy that,” he replied, watching Clint’s red dot and attempting to keep a tight reign on his emotions.  He could still hear the faint sound of gunfire over the comms, and the satellite footage showed Natasha efficiently dealing with the remaining AIM soldiers.  As much as part of Phil wanted to ignore the protocol of the situation because Clint and Natasha were in danger, he knew that wouldn’t help the situation.  Instead, he took and deep breath, and scanned the map for an alternate plan.  “Can you locate the package?”

“Judging by the energy readings JARVIS is picking up, the artifact is definitely on that plane,” Stark broke in.

Biting back the urge to roll his eyes, Phil ignored Stark because it was just better for his blood pressure that way.  He kept his eyes on the satellite feed, watching for trouble.

“I found the artifact,” Clint reported a few minutes later.

“Copy that, Hawkeye,” Phil said.  “You need to get out of there.  There’s a quinjet on standby ten minutes out.  Do you need exfil?”

When Clint didn’t reply, Phil frowned.  Then he heard a sickening thud and Clint grunted.  Phil’s blood froze.  Only his years of training and experience kept his voice level.  “Hawkeye, do you copy?”

His question was met with silence.

“Widow, do you have eyes on Hawkeye?” he asked, his words almost drowned out by Stark’s loud voice.

“Coulson, Rhodey and I can be there in two minutes!”

“Negative, SHIELD base,” Natasha reported, answering Phil’s question.  Phil didn’t think anyone but him could hear the faint tremble in her voice.  “The plane’s cargo doors are shut.”

Phil stared at the overhead screen, watching as the plane powered up.  Fear squeezed his heart, choking the breath from his lungs.  Around him, the tension in the room was almost unbearable.  The junior agents knew as well as Phil did that if the plane got in the air, things would get a hell of a lot harder.  It was moments like this that Phil hated.  For a second, he closed his eyes, before pushed aside the grim images Clint's silence had conjured.  “Iron Man, go,” he ordered.

“Rhodey and I are on it,” Stark replied.

“Widow, can you stop that plane?”

Phil’s heart nearly stopped beating as he watched Natasha sprinting after the plane, but she was too far away.  There was a sick sense of inevitability as the plane took off, and dread settled heavily in Phil’s stomach.

“SHIELD base, I lost the target,” Natasha said.

“Copy that, Widow.  Retreat to exfil coordinates.”  Phil couldn’t quite manage the same inflectionless tone as Natasha had, but it was close.  He turned to Sharon Carter, who was overseeing the the nearest group of junior agents.  “Track the plane’s transponder,” he ordered.  “I want to know where it is, and where it’s going.”

“Yes, sir,” Carter replied.

“War Machine, what’s your status?”

“We’ve got the plane in sight.  Tracking it now,” Rhodes said, as Stark muttered orders to JARVIS in the background.

Phil let out a slow breath, and squashed down the protective instincts that were demanding he save his husband now.  “Copy that, War Machine,” he said.  “Hang back.  Let’s not spook the pilot.”

“Sir,” Carter called out.  “The plane just turned onto a flight path that will take it over the US border.”

Phil’s stomach clenched.  “Do you know where it’s headed?” he asked.

“Not yet, sir,” she said.

“Stark, do you have a way onto that plane?” Phil said, his mind grasping at options.

“Um, maybe?” Stark replied.

Maybe?” Phil snapped, not willing to risk Clint’s life on a ‘maybe’.

“Look, it’s not exactly easy,” Stark grumbled.  “We…”

“If we can get close enough to that plane, we can get inside,” Rhodes broke in.

Phil let out a breath.  “Let me know when you have a plan.”

~*~

Cracking open an eye, Clint slowly became aware of being somewhere else.  The… space around him was grey, hazy and indistinct around the edges.  Squinting, Clint concentrated, but he couldn’t focus for long enough to figure out where he was.  The only thing that was clear were the pulsing silver lights that surrounding him like tangled string, weaving Norse-like patterns in the air.  At least, Clint assumed it was air because he wasn’t suffocating.  He kind of felt like he was inside a large, fluffy cloud.  Maybe he was back at SHIELD on the really good morphine.  Only maybe not, because even drugged up to his eyeballs, Clint always found Phil waiting for him.

Phil.

Suddenly, everything came rushing back.  The mission.  Phil’s voice in his ear as Clint’s fingers touched the artifact, and then the warm tingles and the sucking darkness.

Okay, so this really wasn’t good.

Hello? Clint called out, only no voice came out of his mouth.  Yet, somehow, the word echoed in the blurred space around him.  Okay, what the fuck?

The swirling tendrils of light pulsed brighter, until suddenly Natasha was standing in front of him.  Clint blinked, wondering what was happening, and frowned even more when Natasha cupped his cheek.  I’ve missed you, Clint.  I love you so much.

Clint took a step back.  He didn’t doubt Natasha loved him, and he definitely loved her back -- but Natasha had never once looked at him with such naked adoration in her eyes.  That wasn’t Natasha.  Besides, she didn’t love him like that anyway.  They were partners, best friends and confidants, and they would always be there for each other, but it wasn’t romantic.  Not to mention that Natasha was romantically-in-love with Nick Fury, not Clint.

No.

Natasha shimmered, flickering like a staticky picture on TV.  Fear gripped Clint with icy talons, and he automatically reached out, before his brain caught up to the fact that this wasn’t real.  Natasha wasn’t real.  As Clint watched, she suddenly became Steve, then Tony, then Bruce, before flickering a bit more and settling on Maria Hill.  The image sort of flashed again, this time lingering on Jasper Sitwell, before finally sliding into Phil.  Clint let out a sharp breath.  Even knowing it was an illusion, he couldn’t stop his instinctual step towards his husband.

Phil?

The likeness of Phil cocked his head to the side.  You would chose him?  Then it blinked, and smiled.  He chooses you.  I can sense him worrying.  He loves you very much.

What the hell is this? Clint demanded.

The apparition smiled wider.  I have never felt mortals with such a strong bond before.  Clint opened his mouth to ask what this was and what that meant, when not-Phil placed his hand on Clint’s forehead.

Sleep now.

~*~

When a coffee appeared in front of him, Phil blinked and glanced to the side, not expecting to find Nick Fury standing next to him.  He hadn’t even heard Nick enter, which probably said something about how focused Phil was on getting Clint back.  “I came down to see how the mission was going,” Nick said quietly.

Gratefully, Phil took the coffee and nodded his thanks.  “We lost contact with Clint twenty minutes ago,” he replied in a low voice, not missing the way Nick tensed at the words.  “Natasha’s fine.  She’s almost at the exfil point.”

Nick let out a subtle sigh of relief.  Few people knew about Nick and Natasha’s relationship, but Phil had been there for Nick's first attempts at courting her.  Which was only fair, considering Nick and Natasha had to both weather Phil and Clint’s disastrous first dates.  “How are you holding up, Phil?” Nick asked quietly.  Belatedly, Phil realized some of his worry must be showing on his face.

“Several of the mercenaries working for AIM escaped on a plane,” he said.  “With Clint on board, presumably unconscious.”

Resting a hand on Phil’s shoulder, Nick sent him the ghost of a smile.  “Don’t count Hawkeye out yet,” he said, a trace of humour in his voice.  “Barton is particularly good at pulling miracles out of his ass.  He’ll probably be saving us all again very soon.”

If it was any other situation, Phil might have smiled.  “Yeah.  ‘Saving our collective asses’ is a Hawkeye specialty,” he agreed.

“Damn straight,” Nick replied.

Taking a sip of coffee, Phil stared up at the screen above him.  The two blips belonging to Stark and Rhodes were still following just behind the AIM plane, tracking it as it headed towards the border and US airspace.  Anxiety had turned Phil’s stomach into a series of knots, but Phil let none of his fear and tension show on his face.  He needed to be calm and controlled, so he could fix this mess.

“SHIELD base, this is The Awesome Superhero You Should Have Listened To In The First Place,” Stark’s voice cracked through the comms.  From Nick’s exasperated sigh, almost in stereo with Rhodes’, Nick could hear Stark too.  “Is that too long for a codename?” Stark continued.  “Nevermind.  Still no contact with Feathers.”

Phil resisted the urge to tell Stark to use correct comm protocol, and to not call Clint ‘Feathers’.  “Iron Man, this is SHIELD base.  Can you deploy the parcel for entry into the plane?” he asked instead.

“Uh… about that,” Stark replied.  “We might be having a few - tiny! - technical issues.  Not even issues!  Just a… microscopic problem with actually getting the device to… work.”

Phil glared at the screen, because he couldn’t glare at Stark.  “Fix it,” he snapped.

“Hey, I’m on it, Agent Grouchy Pants!  If I don’t get the charge to detonate accurately, the whole plane could depressurize,” Stark grumbled.

Turning away from the screen, Phil glanced back at Agent Carter.  “How long until the plane reaches US airspace?” he asked.

The large, projected map on the screen zoomed out to a wider view.  “At its current speed, the plane will cross the border in fifty-seven minutes,” Carter reported.

Phil frowned, consciously easing his grip on his coffee cup.  “Any idea of their destination after that?”

“No, sir,” Carter replied, her tone faintly regretful.  “The plane crosses several popular air traffic corridors after the border, and the plane itself has the capacity to carry several more hours worth of fuel.”

“They won’t get to US airspace, Super Agent.  We’ve got this handled,” Stark cut in.

Letting out a slow breath, Phil nodded at Nick’s pointed look.  “Iron Man, can you confirm delivery of the explosive charge?”

“Well, we had a little trouble with postage… and seriously, is no one else getting tired of these postal metaphors?” Stark said.  “Anyway, we’re fine, I’m a genius, Rhodey is awesome and we’ll be ready to rescue Robin Hood in… three minutes, tops.”

Clint, Phil thought a little desperately.  If you’re going to do something, now would be the time to do it.  Carefully, he let out a breath.  “Copy that, Iron Man.  As soon as you have an opportunity, take it.”

~*~

Muffling a groan, Clint swam gradually back to consciousness.  Slowly, sounds began to filter through the fog in his brain, and as it grew louder, the roar of engines aggravated the throbbing at his temple.  Prickling warmth still skittered over his skin, reminding Clint of the tingling that had washed over him when his fingers brushed the Asgardian artifact.  Grimacing, he pushed that to the back of his mind.  He’d deal with it later.  Thankfully, when he finally managed to open his eyes, he was no longer in the hazy dream-world.  Instead, he was back on the plane, his hands tied loosely behind his back.

Awesome.

Waiting for his head to stop swimming, Clint tried to figure out a plan.  His internal clock said he hadn’t been unconscious for long, but there was no way to tell how long they been flying or in what direction.  The comm in his ear was gone, along with all his weapons, but if Clint could get his hands free, he could check for the backup comm in his pants pocket.  Luckily, whoever hit him hadn’t tied Clint up very well, so he slipped free of the ropes without too much trouble.  Blinking a few times to clear his vision, Clint winced when the movement jarred his head again.  Head injuries sucked.

The door to the cargo area slammed open just as Clint was climbing to his feet, and Clint froze.  He wasn’t sure who was more shocked - him, or the AIM goon.  With a shout, the AIM asshole reached for his gun.  “Fuck it,” he muttered under his breath, knowing he only had about three seconds to act.

Straightening to his full height, Clint surged forwards.  Grabbing the hand with the gun, Clint pivoted sharply on his heel until his back was to the mercenary.  Clint pressed his fingers into the pressure points on the mercenary’s wrist, making him drop the gun.  Then he slammed his elbow back into the man’s stomach, sending them both staggering back to slam into the wall.  In a fluid movement, Clint spun again and sent the mercenary crashing to the floor with a punch to the jaw.  Kicking the gun away when Clint saw the mercenary going for it, Clint grabbed the asshole’s arm and twisted, dropping his entire body weight onto the mercenary’s back.  Grabbing the rope, Clint secured the mercenary, making sure the knots were a lot tighter than his had been.  Picking up the gun, Clint also pocketed the knife from the man’s belt.  “Stay there, or next time I’ll shoot you,” he growled.

Hoping the thug would actually do what he said, Clint climbed back to his feet and headed for the cockpit.  He needed to get control of the plane, and judging by the lack of backup appearing at the mercenary’s shouting, Clint was hoping it was just the pilot left.  Gun out, Clint crept carefully down the short corridor to the cockpit, but the pilot was waiting for him.  A strong arm spun Clint around and wrapped itself around his neck a beat before he felt the cold metal of a gun pressed against his neck.  “Give me the gun,” the AIM pilot growled.  “Or I’ll shoot you.”

Carefully, Clint let the pilot take the gun from his unresisting grip, knowing that the pilot would have to shift his own gun away from Clint’s head to take it.  Using his opportunity, Clint grabbed the arm around his throat and shoved backwards, before twisting in the pilot’s grasp.  The pilot’s eyes widened in surprise at the move, but Clint was already throwing off the arm and ducking away.  Once he was free, it was easy for Clint to kick the pilot’s legs out from under him, and knock him out with a sharp punch to the head.

Surging back to his feet, Clint searched around for a few seconds, finding some loose cables in a small cupboard.  Clint secured the pilot, then gave the locked cockpit door a hard kick, and slammed it open with his shoulder when the lock gave.  A fast glance reassured him the plane was on autopilot and not about to crash, and Clint let out a huff of relief.  Digging the spare comm out of his pocket, Clint shoved it in his ear, grinning when it worked.  “SHIELD base, this is Hawkeye.  Do you copy?”

“Hawkeye?” Stark’s startled voice replied.  “Where are you?”

His grin widening, Clint slipped into the pilot’s seat and strapped in.  “Currently trying to fly a plane,” he replied.  “Do you have any idea why I can’t get through to base?”

“No clue,” Stark said, “because Coulson is yelling in my ear.”  He paused.  “Do you know how to fly that plane?”

“I have over 1500 hours of flight experience in just about every aircraft I could get my hands on,” Clint shot back.  “I’m pretty sure I can line this bird up and set her down, Stark.”

With one hand, Clint reached up to fiddle with his comm, wanting to hear Phil’s calm voice in his ear, before he disengaged the autopilot and took control of the plane.  “SHIELD base, this is Hawkeye.  I’m going to need permission for an emergency landing pretty soon.  Do you copy?”

“Hawkeye?” Phil replied, and the rush of relief in his voice was obvious.  “Glad to see you’re still with us.  What’s your status?”

“Ah… well, I’m pretty sure the two assholes that tried to kidnap me won’t be trying that again, I’ve got plenty of fuel, and I’m in control of the plane,” Clint reported, glancing at the readouts in front of him.  Even used to the more familiar maneouverability of the quinjets, Clint couldn’t stop the rush at being back in a cockpit.  “But I’m going to need a place to set her down.”

“There’s a partially disused airstrip to your north-east.  SHIELD teams are en-route.  Can you see it?” Phil replied.

Glancing out the window again, Clint caught sight of the sleek red and gold blur of the Iron Man suit beside the plane.  “Shit, Sark.  How long have you been my escort?” he asked.  “I feel like I’m going to the prom.”

“We’ve been following your ass for about half an hour now,” Stark told him.  “We were about to do something thrillingly heroic.”

Blinking, Clint glanced over to the other side of the plane.  Colonel Rhodes in his War Machine armour nodded back.  “Fuck me, that’s not terrifying at all,” Clint muttered, returning his focus to the snowy landscape below.  He carefully eased the plane into a wide, gentle turn to the north-east, and before long he could see the small airstrip in the distance ahead of him.

“If you promise not to explode the plane in a fireball, I might be free to come by and be your date,” Phil said dryly.

“Promise?” Clint asked, fighting a grin.  “Because you know how I hate it when you get my hopes up, Boss.”

“Are you sure now is a good time to be flirting with Agent Agent, Hawkeye?” Stark asked.

Clint’s grin spread across his face.  “I’m pretty sure it’s always a good time to flirt,” he shot back.  “Particularly with Coulson.”

Clint wanted nothing more than to land the plane already so he could throw himself into Phil’s arms and kiss the crap out of him, no matter how unprofessional it would be.  Or how much Phil would hate the way it ruined his reputation with the junior agents and Stark.  Clint needed to know that both he and Phil were safe and alive, and that he’d come back to the man he loved.

Easing back on the engines when he got within range of the airstrip, Clint watched the airspeed drop, and adjusted for the final approach.  He fell easily into the familiar rhythm of flying, as he lined the plane up with runway.  Ignoring the sarcastic commentary from Stark, Clint sucked in a deep breath as he felt the jolt of the rear wheels hitting the tarmac.  The nose dropped with a bit too much force as the plane roared past the SHIELD vehicles on standby, but then the plane was on the ground and rolling to a stop.  Clint let out a shaky breath, before pasting a grin on his face and waving as Stark landed beside the plane.

“Nice flying,” Phil said in his ear.

“Thanks, Boss,” Clint replied.

~*~

Carefully guiding the large black SUV through the maze of SHIELD vehicles, Phil pulled the car to a stop in front of the cargo plane.  The field agent in him was already analyzing the mission, but the rest of Phil was straining to catch a glimpse of blond hair and a sassy, rebellious grin.  As usual, Clint was easy to spot in the crowd, and not just because he was flanked on either side by Stark and Rhodes in their armour.  Clint always had an easy grace and a confidence in his movements that set him apart from those around him, and these days he looked every inch the superhero he was, disciplined, warm-hearted and dangerous.  Even when he was stripped to a t-shirt, waving off the medic and loudly complaining like a cranky five year old.

Schooling his face into something appropriate, Phil climbed out of the car.  When Clint caught sight of him, the grin that split Clint’s face was bright and happy.  “Glad to see you made it, Hawkeye,” Phil greeted as he walked over the rest of the way, allowing himself to smile slightly back.  “Stark, Colonel Rhodes,” he added, nodding towards the other two men.

It took every ounce of will Phil had not to step forward those last few paces and drag Clint into his arms, audience notwithstanding.  Phil needed to assure himself that his husband was okay, but Phil probably shouldn’t do that by kissing Clint in public.  Aside from a select few, he and Clint had always kept their relationship private for a variety of reasons - although Phil was struggling to remember why they were all so important right now.

Clint flashed him a wry smile, like Clint knew everything that was running through Phil’s head.  He probably did.  “I’m glad I made it too, Boss,” he replied.  “Someone has to stick around to liven up your life a little.”

“Of course,” Phil replied dryly.  “My life would be so dull without your constant presence.”

“Damn right it would be,” Clint said with a smirk.

“Is it just me?” Stark’s voice broke through in a loud stage whisper.  “Or are they flirting?”

Phil dragged his attention away from Clint to glance at Stark and Rhodes.  Stark  was grinning madly at him, but Rhodes was frowning.  “Tony…” Rhodes began with a sigh.

“Oh, come on!” Stark protested.  “It wasn’t a complaint!  Coulson could use a little flirting in his life.”

Phil turned to arch his eyebrow at Clint, unable to hide his smirk at the words.  As always, Clint seemed to enjoy living dangerously, and winked outrageously in reply.  Phil couldn’t really say he cared at this point.  Allowing his expression to soften, Phil studied Clint for a moment as Rhodes excused himself, Stark following at his heels and still talking loudly.  No matter how triumphant Clint’s smile, he hadn’t come out of the mission completely unscathed.  There was a bruise blossoming at his temple, and another slightly faded one on his jaw.  Phil also noticed Clint had curled his right arm protectively around his ribs.  “Are you okay?” he asked Clint softly.

“Nothing I can’t handle,” Clint reassured him just as quietly.  “Promise.”

“Of course not,” Phil replied.  “You’re Hawkeye.”

Clint chuckled.  “Dork,” he said fondly.

Phil shrugged unrepentantly, doing his best to control the rest of his impulses before they got him into trouble.

Shaking his head, Clint glanced around quickly.  Phil opened his mouth to ask if there was a problem, but a second later, Clint’s hard body was pressing him back against the side of the SUV.  “Clint…” he said, his voice little more than a rough whisper.

“Phil,” Clint replied, tracing his fingers over Phil’s jaw.

The light touch made Phil shiver.  “I thought I’d lost you for a moment there,” he whispered.

“You know it takes more than AIM to hurt me,” Clint replied, pressing closer.  “Particularly when I have you to come home to.”

Phil tightened his arms around his husband, not wanting to let Clint go.  For his part, Clint seemed quite content to stay there for as long as Phil wanted, a warm light in his eyes and a soft, fond smile on his face.  “We should go.  We’ll both need to go through debrief before we can go home,” Phil said finally.

Clint leaned forward, one hand crumpling Phil’s jacket, while the other came up to slid around the back of Phil’s neck, so Clint could pull him down into a kiss.  “In a second,” Clint muttered against Phil’s lips.

Phil didn’t resist.  The kiss was passionate and needy, as if Clint had thought he might never have been able to kiss Phil again.  Phil kissed him back just as desperately, uncaring for once about his surroundings, or his reputation.  Distracted by Clint, it took  Phil a long moment to realize the tingling heat bubbling up in his chest wasn’t just due to the solid warmth of Clint pressed against him.  Phil gasped as the wave crashed over him, sparking off something deep under his ribcage.  For a moment, he swore he saw shimmering silver strings tying them together.  Then, the strings pulsed once with silver light, and faded.  A burst of pressure unfurled within Phil’s mind, stretching out, and suddenly he could feel Clint, a invisible cord humming between them.  Clint was a solid presence that Phil clung to, because it felt right.  Perfect.  Like a puzzle piece that had always meant to fit.

Phil wasn’t sure how long they stood there, lost in the sensations spiraling between them, but he still hated it when Clint slowly pulled away.  Grudgingly, Phil pulled his hands out from underneath Clint’s t-shirt and the hum faded a little at the lack of skin-on-skin contact.  “Okay…” Clint said, a little breathlessly.  “That’s new.”

Phil nodded.  “I guess we’re not just heading to debrief after all,” he agreed.

“And here I was looking forward to debriefing you,” Clint said with a ridiculous wiggle of his eyebrows.

Rolling his eyes, Phil nevertheless didn’t reach out to pull Clint back when he stepped way, no matter how much he wanted to.  “Clint,” he grumbled, but he ruined the effect by smiling as Clint stepped forward again to smooth Phil’s rumpled suit.

“Yeah, I know,” Clint said, his eyes turning serious.  “We need to report this to Medical.”

Phil stroked his fingers over Clint’s cheek, before pulling him in for a soft kiss, the bond flaring between them.  “Sorry,” he whispered.  When he glanced up a second later, Phil decided they probably needn’t have bothered to hide anything.  Stark was standing just beyond the SUV, gaping at them both.  Next to him, Colonel Rhodes shrugged apologetically.

“Is there something I can help you with, Stark?” Phil asked, pretending his heart wasn’t suddenly beating a million miles an hour.  He could feel the tension running through Clint’s body, because Clint had never found it easy to open up and show his vulnerabilities.

Stark opened and closed his mouth a few times, his dark eyes wide as they moved from Phil to Clint and back.  Then his eyes narrowed.  “I’m going to ask for an explanation about that.  You know, as soon as you stop glowing.”

Phil glanced down.  Sure enough, where he and Clint touched, Phil’s skin was glowing with a soft silver light.  Just like Clint’s.  The light blurred the edges, making it hard to see where Phil ended and Clint began.  Slowly, as Phil watched, the glow faded, until all traces of it were gone.  “Huh,” he muttered.

“At least we don’t have to worry about how the rest of the Avengers are going to find out anymore,” Clint said dryly.

Phil sighed.  “I guess not,” he said.  “But next time, let’s go with something a little more subtle.”

Clint chuckled.  “Sure,” he agreed.

~*~

Clint squeezed Phil’s hand, and tried not to let the huddle of scientists and doctors in the corner of the exam room unnerve him.  It had been hours since he and Phil had reported to the medical wing of the Triskelion, and so far, they’d been poked, prodded and tested by half the doctors and almost all the resident scientists.  With a yawn, Clint leaned more of his weight against Phil’s shoulder, curling closer to the reassuring presence of his husband.  Between them, the bond hummed with a warm contentment.  It was surprisingly easy to get used to, and Clint never wanted the link to fade.  Having Phil’s steady presence in the back of his mind was amazing.  He’d come so close to losing Phil, and the constant, permanent reminder that Phil was here and alive was something Clint wanted to keep forever.

Throughout the whole trip back to the Triskelion and the prodding by Medical, Phil had been more relaxed than Clint had expected.  Calm might have been Agent Coulson’s MO, but it wasn’t Phil’s when the whole of SHIELD was gossiping about his private life.  Back when they’d first got together, Phil had really worried about the gossip.  Despite the fact he’d asked for reassignment as Clint’s permanent handler, Phil hadn’t wanted anyone to think Clint was sleeping his way up the chain of command.  Clint had been happy to let Phil keep things private.  There’d been enough hard lessons in Clint’s life about getting to keep what he cared about, and the less people that knew, the less people that could take Phil away from him.  Phil has his own share of insecurities, too, but they’d worked it out.  By then, though, the people that needed to know already knew, and Clint had been happy to keep things the way they were.  His relationship with Phil was something they got to keep - something Phil or Clint didn’t have to give to SHIELD.

They would eventually have told the Avengers too, but Clint hadn’t really had a chance yet.  Not with going through debrief, and Thor traveling between Asgard and London, and Stark deciding to take on AIM by himself.

Not that it mattered now, anyway.

“I’m sorry,” Clint whispered to Phil, because he was.  This hadn’t been how he’d expected things to work out.

Phil blinked, and shifted slightly to face him.  “What for?”

Clint glanced away, his shoulders hunching.  “Well, I think we kind of ruined your reputation today,” he muttered.  “And, you know, I know this wasn’t how you wanted to tell the rest of SHIELD about things.”

In response, Clint felt a burst of affection and sadness through their new bond.  Gentle fingers lifted his chin, and Clint glanced up.  Phil was watching him intently, a mix of emotions in Phil’s beautiful blue eyes that Clint couldn't parse.  “Clint,” Phil said softly.  “If you doubted, even for a second, that I’m not proud and amazed that you’re my husband, then I’m sorry.  I’ve clearly failed to show how much I love you.”  He shrugged, a little aborted movement.  “If it’s the gossip you’re worried about, we’ll deal with it like everything else.  I promise it will be fine.”  When Phil smiled softly, Clint couldn’t stop his own mirroring it.  “As for my reputation…”  Phil’s smile turned wry.  “Stark was never properly terrified of me anyway, and I can deal with the junior agents.  Whatever happens, we’ll face it together.”

“I love you,” Clint whispered.

Phil glanced at the scientists, but they still weren’t paying any attention to the rest of the room.  “There was one thing I wanted,” Phil began.

Clint tensed automatically.  Then he read the hopeful expression on Phil’s face, as he registered the solid feeling of home filtering through the bond.  “Yeah?” he replied.

Smiling a little nervously, Phil pulled out a small, black box from his jacket pocket.  “I was wondering, now that everyone knows, if you’d want to wear your ring more often?”

Clint almost snatched the box from Phil’s hand.  Without their fingers tangled together, the emotions humming the bond were muted, but Clint didn’t need their new connection to tell that Phil was happy.  The bright, bashful smile dawning over Phil’s face was enough for that.  “Hell yes,” he replied.  Clint had always hated taking his ring off, even when it was necessary for missions.  He thought he’d been pretty obvious about it, too, but if Phil was hesitant, maybe he hadn’t.  “From now on, I’m only ever taking it off for missions,” he added firmly.

Phil ducked forward to press his lips to Clint’s.  The kiss was brief, but the bond still hummed brightly between them.  “Me too,” Phil agreed.

Slipping his own ring back onto his finger, Clint grinned and did the same for Phil.  For a moment, he smoothed his thumb over the cool silver band, before reaching out to grip Phil’s hand again.  Phil tucked the box back into his jacket pocket, and bumped his shoulder with Clint’s.  Clint bumped back, glad the scientists were too busy to notice them both acting a little ridiculous.

Finally, what felt like another twenty minutes later, Director Fury appeared wearing one of his patented long-suffering expressions, the kind that said ‘your end is seriously fucking nigh if there is no adequate reason for what you just did’.  For a moment Clint wasn’t sure if it was directed at him or one of the scientists.  He wasn’t exactly a stranger to that particular expression on Fury’s face, except this time he was pretty sure it was all that stupid Asgardian artifact’s fault.  Thankfully, Thor entered just behind Fury, as always looking like the hero on a romance novel cover.  Flowing locks and chiselled jaw or not, Thor would hopefully be able to help explain this mess.

Thor stepped forward, bringing with him the scent of ozone and apples, and carefully touched Clint on the arm.  Blinking a little at the face suddenly in his, Clint stayed where he was until Thor had finished his examination.  Clint smiled a little when Thor did the same thing to Phil, but the smile faded when he saw the serious expression on Fury’s face.

“Is it bad?” he asked softly, his stomach clenching.

“If Thor’s right, then no,” Fury said, before he smiled wryly.  “At least, not for you.  For me, it’s going to be a pain in the ass.”

Phil squeezed Clint’s hand reassuringly, and Clint let out a breath.  “Aren’t I always a pain in the ass?” he quipped.

Fury huffed.  “You’re not the one who’s going to be a problem,” he grumbled.  “It’s your asshole of a husband who’s going to be in my office every three seconds when you’re on a mission he isn’t.”

A smile broke across Thor’s face.  “The Hawk and the Son of Coul are wed?” he asked.  “This is wondrous news.”

Clint shrugged, but he knew his smile was ridiculously sappy.  “That was pretty much my reaction too,” he agreed.

Phil sent him a fondly exasperated look.

“It also explains much,” Thor added.  “From the photographs I have seen, the artifact which you touched, Clint, is known as Frigga’s Binding.  It was given to my mother years ago by the Alfar, so that she might bless and protect those who had special bonds between them, but even on Asgard such bonds are rare.”  He smiled.  “And let the bonds encircle thee, chosen by vow, and unbroken by time,” he quoted.

“So…” Clint said in the following silence.  “Are you saying that Phil and I just got Asgard married?”

“In a way, yes,” Thor replied.  “Though these bonds do not always form between lovers.  Love and sex are different things.  You are simply bound to the one you love, Clint.”

Clint turned to Phil.  “Guess you’re extra stuck with me now,” he joked.

Phil rolled his eyes.  “Like I would ever be stupid enough to let you get away,” he replied, tugging Clint closer.

Clint grinned.

Arching his eyebrow, Fury cleared his throat pointedly.  “Thor assures me there will be no ill effects of his bond, so it looks like you’re free to go,” he said.  “Although I’m going to expect your mission reports on my desk first thing in the morning.”

“Yes, sir,” Phil replied.

Frowning, Clint narrowed his eyes.  “We can really walk out of here now?” he asked.  “Just like that?”

Fury smirked.  “Yes,” he replied.  “I’m feeling generous because you’re the one who’s going to have to explain this to Stark.”

Clint grimaced, as Phil sighed beside him.  Great.

~*~

When Phil stepped onto the main floor Stark’s penthouse at Stark Tower, he couldn’t help the tremor of nerves that flooded his stomach.  It seemed stupid to be so nervous about telling the Avengers something that, thanks to Stark, they probably already knew, but his and Clint’s relationship had been private for a long time.  Phil was not ashamed of his husband, and he never would be, but he’d also never been great at sharing his feelings with others.  The thought of all the cupid jokes Stark would make was a little daunting.  Thankfully, there was no sign of Stark when Phil walked in, Clint’s hand still wound around his.  Pepper Potts, Colonel Rhodes and Steve Rogers were sitting on opposite couches in the living room, while Natasha appeared to be playing chess with Sam Wilson near the windows, sprawled out on a pile of cushions.

“Hey, Lightening Rod is back,” Stark greeted, sauntering out of the kitchen with a drink in his hand.  Bruce followed bemusedly behind him, clutching a tea mug.  “And he brought Super Agent and his Love Bug.”

Phil blinked at the greeting, before frowning.  This was probably going to be worse than cupid jokes.  Thor slapped him on the shoulder.  “Indeed!” he said, before heading for the kitchen.

“Phil!” Pepper Potts said, putting down her Starkpad and rising gracefully to her feet.  “It’s good to see you!”  Smiling, Phil accepted Pepper’s hug, breathing in the soft scent of vanilla.  “And of course, Agent Barton,” Pepper added, before hugging Clint too.  Pulling back, she glanced at Phil expectantly.  “You don’t know what’s going on with Tony, do you?  Did he get into the SHIELD computers again?”

Phil blinked at Stark, amazed he hadn’t told everyone Phil’s secret yet.  Stark clearly read his surprise on his face, because he frowned.  “I didn’t want to spoil your announcement!” he protested, waving his hand in an abortive gesture, before shrugging.

“You have an announcement, sir?” Steve asked, putting down his sketch book and climbing to his feet.  “Is there another mission?”  His eyes cut to Clint.  “Is there something wrong with Hawkeye?  Is that why you were in Medical?”

“There’s always something wrong with Clint,” Natasha said dryly, from where she was sprawled out in the corner playing rummy with Sam Wilson.  “You learn to live with it.”

“Hey!” Clint protested.

In an attempt to control the situation, Phil arched an eyebrow at Natasha.  “There’s nothing wrong with Clint,” he said.  “Nor do we have a mission, Captain.  The announcement is… personal in nature.”

Natasha straightened up, and gave Phil a curious look.  He nodded back, resisting the urge to roll his eyes at her smirk.

“What kind of personal, sir?” Steve asked, looking no less tense than before.

Phil hesitated, suddenly unsure of what to say.  As the Avengers watched with varying degrees of interest and amusement, Stark smirked and gestured between Phil and Clint again.  “How about you start with why you had your tongue down Hawk Brain’s throat?” he suggested.

For a moment, the entire room was silent as everyone gathered digested Stark’s words.  Clint shifted closer to Phil and squeezed his hand in reassurance, their bond a humming connection like a different kind of touch.  “Remember that no matter what is about to be said, I still love you,” Clint whispered.

Pepper was the first to recover, a happy smile on her face.  “Congratulations,” she said warmly.  “Both of you.”

“Thank you,” Phil replied, unable to not return Pepper’s smile.

Before Phil could say anything else, Sam cleared his throat.  “Okay, just to make sure I have this right - Barton’s sleeping with Agent Coulson?”

“What I want to know is how long this has been going on,” Stark added with a lecherous wiggle of his eyebrows that was more than a little disturbing.

“Tony,” Rhodes cut in.  “Can you keep your mind out of the gutter for more than five seconds?”

“Have you met him?” Bruce replied dryly, prompting Stark to grasp his chest theatrically, as if betrayed.

“Actually,” Phil said.  He took a deep breath.  “Clint is my husband.”

Husband?”  Stark spluttered.  His eyes were slightly wide as they flicked between Phil and Clint.  “You married Super Agent?”

Clint shrugged, but Phil could feel the love he was projecting.  “Well, yeah,” Clint answered.  “I fell in love.”

“We both did,” Phil added, smiling at Clint.

Sniffing slightly, Pepper hugged them both again, while Colonel Rhodes and Bruce offered handshakes.  “Uh, congratulations, sir,” Steve offered when it was his turn.  “Like Miss Potts said.”

“May I too give my congratulations?” JARVIS added.

“Thanks, J,” Clint said.

Stark narrowed his eyes at Phil.  “I suppose this would be a bad time to mention that if you hurt Barton, I’ll get Bruce to break your knee caps?”

“Tony!” Pepper snapped.

Bruce just sighed.  “Why me?  You’ve got two functioning arms, and I like Agent Coulson.”

“The Son of Coul would sooner hurt himself than his beloved,” Thor admonished from the doorway to the kitchen, a plate of sliced apple resting on one hand.  “That is clear to anyone with eyes, even without the bond they share.”

“Exactly,” Natasha agreed, sending a pointed glare towards Stark.  “Besides, Phil is good for Clint.”

Clint grinned, bumping his shoulder against Phil’s.  “That, and he has a great ass,” he added.

Phil turned to him with an arched eyebrow, but he couldn’t quite stop the smile tugging at his mouth.  “What?” Clint defended.  “Shouldn’t you be glad I like your ass?”

“Yeah, okay.  You’re adorably sappy.  I get it,” Stark muttered.  Then his eyes brightened, and Phil had an immediate sense of foreboding.  “So what’s Coulson like in the sack?  Does he wear a suit?”

Phil sighed, but he’d mostly expected this reaction.  He was just grateful everyone else was happy for them.  Not that he’d thought they wouldn’t be, but he’d never been 100% sure.  Maybe 95%.

“Relax, Phil,” Clint whispered in his ear, as he felt strong arms wrap around him.  “Breathe.”  A kiss brushed across Phil’s temple.  “I got this one.”

Everything they’d been through over the last 24 hours suddenly crashed into Phil, and he drew in a shuddering breath, resting against Clint’s strength for a moment.

“Shut up, Stark,” Clint growled, cutting off Stark continued questions about their sex life.  “As far as I’m concerned, none of those things are any of your business, and besides, Phil is hot and perfect and amazing, okay?  I’ve got no complaints.”

Phil smiled wryly as Stark squawked.  “While I thank you for the defense, I’m not sure that statement is actually going to stop Stark’s questions,” he said quietly.

Clint shrugged, smirking.  “That doesn’t mean we actually have to answer,” he replied.  “Which will drive Stark absolutely crazy.”

Wrapping his arms more securely around Clint, Phil lost himself in Clint’s eyes for a moment.  “I love you,” he whispered.  “And your devious brain.”

Clint laughed.  “Love you too, babe.”

 

Fin.