Clint thought that on the whole he was pretty good at adapting to new and challenging experiences. Taking down a six-truck convoy with two arrows, a busted collarbone, no cover, and a windstorm? Bring it. Figuring out a plan on the fly to get out of rural China when an op went to shit, the undercover guy they were bringing home was too drugged to find his own ass, the demolitions guy was dead, and the AOC had taken a hit that knocked him cold, without a working vocabulary in Chinese or any other backup? Done it. Dealing with Stark and Thor at Disneyland? With Thor in full-on magical-wonderment attitude and Stark attempting, repeatedly, against the admonitions of everyone, to improve rides while they were in progress? Worst day of his life up through last week, kind of (not really, but Jesus, totally in the running), and yet, he'd survived.
So far this week was looking like the week that might actually kill him dead.
It turned out that a raging case of diaper rash on the butt of a screamy, squirmy, barely-walking kid with the remains of a shiner and some nasty lingering fingerprint bruises on one arm, whose nose had never once stopped running in four days and whose entire vocabulary consisted of no, toppit, weo futter, and tuttup was the thing that was to be his demise--Clint had realized after hearing this run of vocabulary over and over with nothing else but snuffling and sobbing in between that this meant someone had called the kid a (little?) fucker and told him to stop it and shut up so many times he hadn't gotten around to learning any other words. He hadn't even called out for a mama or anything else that might be that once, and goddamn, Clint related to that a lot more than he was happy about.
Which was why, despite that he estimated himself to be somewhere between utterly and profoundly underqualified to be any kind of parent figure even for a little while, and also had had no prior intention of doing any such thing--hell, he'd taken steps to make sure it couldn't happen by accident before he'd ever gone undercover, just in case--he had found himself completely unable to turn the kid (Sam. His name was Sam.) over to the foster system until a 'forever family' (yeah, like those were a real thing, a part of him threw in with a snort, even though for a toddler he knew the odds were ...okay) could be found.
Apparently, just because Clint had taken himself out of his brother's life a good fifteen years earlier, he wasn't off the hook as Sam's only blood relative that wasn't dead or in jail. And he couldn't just leave him to the mercy of the system. At least the bruises were healing and it looked like nothing worse had happened. He hoped. Poor kid.
Poor butt, too; it was red and sore and only now finally getting any better, and Clint was pretty sure this only reinforced his belief the kid hadn't been well or even adequately cared-for in the days it took for the system to track him down in the first place, much less before that. Well, for the system to try to locate him, and then for SHIELD to notice and tell him, and for him to have no idea what the fuck drugs his mouth was taking that the rest of him wasn't when he told them to let him be found.
Seriously, maybe talking with the psych staff was actually, in this single isolated case, not that bad of an idea.
"Okay, little dude," he said, slathering on the prescription cream the social worker had left with him and wondering again at just how easy she had seemed to find it to trust him with an entire baby (toddler? What the hell, 14-month-old), "I hope this helps. But if not, I hope you at least believe I'm trying and maybe stop snotting at me for like ten minutes, all right?"
"Right, obviously. Ten seconds? Hey, a guy can hope." Clint fastened up the diaper tape and picked the kid up, carefully arranging him in his lap so that the least pressure was on the sore area, then handed him a cheerio. "Yes?"
"No," Sam said, taking the cheerio and cramming it in his mouth.
"Okay, so I think that was a yes, actually, but I'm not sure how to teach you that."
"Tuttup, weo futter."
"You got it." Clint offered another cheerio and picked up his phone to text Nat. "And for reference, if my brother hadn't already been taken out of the equation, I'd do some seriously unspeakable things to him for calling you that. Jesus, you'd think he'd have--anyway."
He thumbed words into the phone. Someone has to come help me teach this kid there are other words besides no and a bunch of shit no one-year-old should say.
She texted back, thirty seconds later, I do not associate with small children. Ask Stark. Same emotional age.
What if I keep him? Then you'll have to associate eventually, won't you?
I shall have to acclimate. In very small doses. Ask Stark. Fifty says he loves kids.
Loves messing with kids, maybe. Not a fucking chance. Clint held a small pile of cheerios in the palm of his hand and waited. Sam scowled. "It's okay, man. Have a cheerio."
"Toppit." Sam shoved Clint's hand away hard, sending half the o's flying as Nat's text came back, ARE you actually keeping him?
Dunno. Gotta go. Clint sighed, fished out one piece of cereal and offered it individually (Sam accepted), then picked his phone back up and punched in Phil's number, taking the moment to feel glad all over again that Phil hadn't stayed dead. Phil could handle anything, and was one of very few people Clint didn't mind asking for help. And didn't mind hanging out with for no good reason.
(Or, that he liked hanging out with, actually. Maybe if he was going to be some kind of--seriously, what the fuck--role model for a little kid, he ought to work on his forthrightness)
"Coulson," Phil said after one ring.
"How are you with toddlers?"
"...Clint?" Phil sounded surprised.
Cilnt held his phone away from his ear to look at it for a second. "Uh, yeah?"
"Where are you, and what does this have to do with toddlers?"
"I'm at home? With a toddler?"
Phil's response was slow. "I was under the impression you had gone to Iowa to deal with your brother's estate."
"Uh, no. Estate is probably a ridiculous word – Iowa came to me, more or less. I have his kid. Wait, didn't Hill tell you?"
This one was even slower, enough that Clint was starting to wonder if Phil was sick or something. "Maybe she misunderstood," he finally said.
"Don't think so. She was there when I told the guy to let them find me...? And I mean, I don't think she could have missed that they were bringing me a baby. Plus, Nat knows, and Stark."
"Well. That explains a very strange conversation I had yesterday." Phil sighed. "You're at home?"
"With a toddler."
"Did you get hit on the head while I was off the roster? Wait, you are okay, right?"
"I'm fine. No near-misses with tantruming gods. No mystery hammers, no explosions. No gunshots, even. It was a simple records-reconciliation trip."
"Hey, I have reasons to worry, and it's not like you would mention, if not asked. Yes, with a toddler, unless I'm supposed to use another word for kids that are a little more than a year old and sort-of walking, but I think that's the right term."
"And you want my help."
"He knows four words as far as I can tell, and one of them is shut up. Another one is an expletive that definitely should never be--I don't even know where to start. Also, I think he has a cold. Also, his butt is so sore it would probably be not only against the rules but actually not allowed at, say, Gitmo. I have no idea what I'm doing, and I know this is totally not your problem, but just ...do you know anything about toddlers?"
Phil paused again, then said, "I'll be right there," and hung up.
Clint clicked the end-call button and looked at his phone for a minute again, absently offering Sam one cheerio at a time. Something weird was going on with Phil, but he was totally going to take whatever help he could offer.
When Phil arrived, Sam had grown tired of the cheerios, didn't want to sit still, didn't want to walk by himself, didn't want to be carried, and didn't want to eat anything else, nap, bounce in the bouncy doorframe thing the woman dropped off with him (obviously; sore butt), or watch cartoons. Clint picked him up and went to the door to open it, and Sam picked up his head off Clint's shoulder to glare at Phil and announce, "No."
"I see that's another of your words. Hi." Phil set down a duffel and looked at Clint. "You look like poo."
"You want him to learn the other likely word I was substituting?"
"Maybe not. ...He might already know it, though." Clint looked at Sam. "You want down?"
"Toppit." Sam reached for Phil.
Phil paused for just an instant, a complicated expression crossing his face that Clint cataloged and put away for later because not much broke Phil's mild expression, then grinned and held out his hands. "And another one! Hi again. You're a regular chatterbox compared to your Uncle Clint when I first met him." Clint glared, but Phil just grinned bigger and took the baby. "Do you have a name?"
"No? I don't believe that."
Clint stared as Phil took Sam to the couch, talking to him the whole way, and sat down. "His name's Sam," he said as he closed the door.
Sam looked over Phil's shoulder at Clint. "No."
"Sam," Phil said. Sam looked at Phil. "Ah, so yes, your name is Sam. Yes! Sam!"
Sam scowled and scrubbed at his eye with a fist, then put his head down on Phil's shoulder. "Tuttup."
Phil chuckled. "I think we won't be repeating that one." He patted Sam's back rhythmically and slowly, a pat, a pat, and every third pat a little rub, until Sam's eyes dropped closed, then switched to just rubbing gently.
"How did you do that?" Clint asked, bending to gather roughly three hundred stray cheerios into a pile and scoop them up. "That was, like, magic. The good kind, even."
Phil tilted his head in a shrug, although another complicated expression came with it. "I'll tell you, but not now. It's not that different from handling baby agents, you know. Except with different language and more cuddling."
Clint shook his head. "I've been cuddling him! Like, I've been holding him basically all the time for four days! He doesn't like me, doesn't trust me, and doesn't want any conceivable thing I could possibly offer except he does. I just ...Jesus. I'm fucking wiped out."
"And you look like it," Phil said. "I believe you. Go take a shower and a nap. Sam and I will hold the fort out here."
Clint paused. "There's a... thing. Not a crib for real because what the fuck why would I have a baby, but a crib-like thing in the other room."
Phil shook his head. "We're fine." He went and sat down on the couch, arranging Sam to lie curled up against him, head on his leg. He turned on the TV, volume down low, and dicked around with the remote until the closed captions setting kicked on, then found a news channel and settled in. "Oh, and Barton?"
"Have you seen a recent picture of your brother?"
"I looked him up on my way over. You always looked alike, and now with age and that much stubble you look a lot alike. If he's the guy that taught Sam no and shut up and that other word..."
Clint scowled every bit as hard as Sam had been all day. "Fuck him so hard. Jesus. Yeah, so, is the fort-holding offer extended for long enough for me to, what, dye my hair?"
"It might not hurt. But then, it might; he might feel you're yet another stranger. Maybe it'd be better to let him see the differences on his own. I'm just pointing out a reason he might feel like you aren't to be trusted, but he needs you. It's not personal."
"Except for how it totally is. Damn it. I..." Clint swallowed. "I am so, so not ready for this shit."
"Not least because you're surprisingly bad, for a professional spy and superhero type, at changing your language choices. No, I know. This might sound strange, but I know exactly what you mean," Phil said, gaze firmly on the television. "So, you're keeping him?"
"I think I am," Clint agreed. He stayed put for another minute, watching them and wondering where Phil had learned to absently stroke baby hair and put up with snotty snuffles on his thigh, then headed for bed.
If someone else was going to watch the kid, he was going to be a little bit of a hedonist about standing under hot water after that nap, too.
"So, I shaved at least," Clint said as he opened the bathroom door ninety minutes later. "Best I can do on short--" He stopped and stared at Phil, jacket off and trousers exchanged for a pair of Clint's sweat pants, sitting on the floor on a towel with a naked-butt little kid sleeping curled up on his lap. "Um. You know he's going to piss on you, right?"
Phil raised his eyebrows. "Not his fault, I've had worse things on me, and why do you think I swapped out clothes?"
"But nothing. No chance for that rash to stay wet or chafe further if he's like this, and I expect his disposition will improve markedly if it even feels ten percent better."
"Good point." Clint finished toweling his hair, then dropped the towel on the arm of the couch Phil was leaning back against. "Might as well have another towel on hand."
"Does he still take a bottle?"
"I don't know, should he? I mean, it seems like he can drink from a cup okay? He's been trying, anyway."
"Did they bring a bottle when they dropped him with you?"
Clint blinked. "Uh. Maybe? Yes. There was one in the..." He went and snagged the bag the social worker had dropped off, pawing through until he found the bottle "I didn't really think about it. Why?"
"Well, the reason I saw the rash was that he irritated it by peeing, and woke up. I found the diapers okay, but when I went to change him--"
"I would have paid cash money to see that."
"It will probably come up again, since babies tend to manage their bodily functions on an as-needed schedule and eventually he'll have a diaper on again. You and I both know you'll try to take pictures, so let's get this out of the way: no."
"Come on, you know I could sell them. I'll split the take with you."
"No. As I was saying, when I went to change him, I observed that he's probably dehydrated, and since he might find a bottle comforting and just easier, even if, strictly speaking, he could drink from a cup, I thought I'd see if you had one on hand."
Clint went to the kitchen and washed all the pieces of the bottle thoroughly. "What should I put in it?"
"Right now, nothing; he's asleep. But later, milk seems reasonable. Although I suppose he might be sensitive to cow's milk – maybe that's what brought about the rash, if it tends to upset his digestion."
"Yuck, that's a thing? Wait, what's the other choice?
"Soy, used to be. Now there are a lot of alternative milks, but we should probably check with a pediatrician – my information is possibly out of date. But they'd probably have mentioned if he had a known sensitivity when they dropped him off."
"Who knew milk was complicated? Wait, why do you know milk is complicated?"
"Long story, Barton, and in any case not relevant to what you feed your nephew."
"Nephew. Huh. It's so weird to think about that, you know? I've never had, like, family. Except Barney, and I thought I got out of that whole mess a long time ago. Thought I was done." Clint considered that for a minute, then shook his head. "Anyway, he seems so stuffy, though. I got all tangled up thinking about this earlier – kids drink milk, but I hate milk when I have the sniffles, so before I gave him OJ, but he didn't seem to be a huge fan."
"Sniffles. Barton, I have never seen you have sniffles. Pneumonia, yes. Bronchitis, yes. That god-awful virus that time in La Paz, yes. Sniffles, no. But, what would you want, then?"
"Hot tea with whiskey in it, but I assume that's off the table."
"Whiskey is. No reason he can't have weak warm or almost-hot tea – with sugar, even – from a bottle. Might even feel nice to him, for the same reason it might to you. Soothing to his throat and ears."
Clint set the bottle in the drainer and turned on some water to heat in case he wanted it soon, then came back out to the living room. "So, we?"
"You said we should probably check. And before, you said you'd probably change him again. So...?"
"Oh. We, you and whoever you want to help you with him. I assumed – you could raise him all on your own, I have no doubt, but unless you mean to resign, you probably need at least one non-field-rated person in his life, and how many do you know and trust? Plus, it's not more difficult than, say, handling you."
Clint stared for a good five seconds. "So, you – okay, not that you're wrong or that I mind, but – so you learn there is a baby and you immediately show up here to camp out, apparently indefinitely, for babysitting and extremely unexpected childcare lessons, no questions asked?"
"When have I ever questioned you, Barton?"
"Every day, but not about important shit. Stuff. Important stuff."
"There you go."
"So this is important."
"And I'm never going to be spending significant periods in the field again--command and control, sure, but not running around in harm's way--so."
Clint thought there was probably something wrong with Phil's logic, but just then Sam squirmed and then whined and sat partway up, grasping Phil's shirt and patting with his fist. Phil grimaced, but waved Clint off when he started to tell Sam no.
"Hey, buddy," Phil said instead, grasping the thumping little fist. "I have an ouch there, and it doesn't feel very good when you poke. Want to see?" Sam scowled, but Phil let go of his hand and pulled open the buttons on his shirt one-handed, showing the still-livid scar. "See? Ouch." He took Sam's hand again and touched gently to the scar. "Be gentle."
Sam looked at the scar, then at Phil's face. Then back at the scar. "Outs."
"Yes, ouch. Hey, you want some juice now?"
"No." Sam set his chubby palm flat against the scar. "Outs."
Phil chuckled and looked at Clint, who was so busy being transfixed by watching Phil Coulson, professional badass, teach a one-year-old vocabulary and gentleness that he hadn't moved since Phil waved him off. "How about some tea, then. We can all have tea."
Sam didn't comment on that, squirming some more until he got his feet on the towel and was standing next to Phil holding onto his shirt, so Clint went back into the kitchen, glad he'd put the water on before. Sam's tea only took a minute to make, tepid and weak, and sweeter than Clint thought he'd ever known a cup of tea to be in his life including the iced stuff that time in Kentucky, and while their hotter cups steeped, he got the bottle organized and took it out, offering it to Sam. "Want to get a head start?"
Sam grabbed the bottle immediately and shoved it in his mouth, sucking enthusiastically and then stopping, startled. He held it out to Phil.
"I'll have my own in a minute," Phil said. "That's yours. That's Sam's tea."
Sam examined the bottle and then cautiously put it back in his mouth and crawled back into Phil's lap.
"If he drinks all that, he's definitely going to--"
"Yep," Phil said. "And yet, it will be considerably better than Panama."
Clint had to agree with that; Panama had involved a lot of sewers, an up-close encounter with a rotting animal carcass, and very little clean water. He went back to fetch the tea. "Black like your coffee?" he asked.
"No, if I'm having tea, I'm having sugar," Phil replied.
Clint glanced over his shoulder, then shrugged and added sugar to both cups.
"It actually does look a little better," Clint said, fastening on a fresh diaper over a thick layer of the ointment. Sam had finished the bottle over the course of half an hour, stopping four times to show it to Phil again and once, very cautiously, offering it to Clint and being clearly surprised to get it back (Christ, Barney had obviously never outgrown being an asshole), and then checked on Phil's scar again and crashed. If Clint thought about it, this was totally fair; he wasn't the only one that had been mostly-up for four days, and as far as he knew from sitcoms and commercials, babies were supposed to sleep more than adults in the first place. Phil had left him on diaper duty while he went to the head, and now he was back with a damp cloth. "What's that for?"
Phil handed Clint the cloth. "We just gave him a bunch of sugar-water. Probably ought to wipe off his teeth. You know how it is: good habits start early."
Clint raised his eyebrows, but used the cloth to feel around in the kid's mouth and wipe off the eight teeth in there. Sam puckered and sucked for one little pull, which felt weird, but he didn't rouse, and Clint handed back the cloth and went to set him down in the not-a-crib/playpen thing he'd been using as a bed.
When he went back out, Phil was stepping back into his own pants.
"Okay, so now that there isn't a toddler in your lap, are you going to tell me why you know about rashes and tooth washcloths and hot tea for cranky babies?"
Phil shook his head. "Not this afternoon."
"It really is a long story."
"I got time."
"You currently have time to nap again, while he does. Have you had a chance to figure out what all you need for him?"
Clint blinked at the subject change. "What?"
"Well, since you obviously can't drive anywhere because one to ninety-six is a lousy sleep to wake ratio, I thought--if you want, and you can tell me not to push, but I thought--maybe I'd see about getting him a car seat and some toys? What else do you need?"
"Your baby-managing skill-set includes knowing what to buy them?"
"For the moment, assume it does, since that will allow you to nap."
Clint shoved the heel of one hand in his eye, surprised to find that now that Phil had suggested he sleep again, he felt like he probably could for a couple of days. He patted his back pocket, shook his head, and ducked back into the bedroom for his wallet for cash. "Uh, how much does baby stuff cost?" He handed over three hundreds. "I have no idea. He needs, like, everything, and I can't believe I hadn't even ...wow, I'm terrible at this. They brought this carrier thing that can go in a car when they brought him, but they said he's getting too big for it, and I mean, shit, when I was little, before my folks died, we didn't have them at all I don't think, so... I have no idea how these things work. We went and got diapers the other day down the street because that seemed urgent, but he doesn't have, you know, actual shoes or anything."
Phil frowned at the money.
"You can pay me back if I go over," Phil said. He took the cash and slipped his feet into his shoes. "And I meant that about napping. When he goes down, for the time being, so do you. Although I think maybe now he'll sleep for a bit."
"And then you'll tell me your long story?"
Phil grinned. "If you're a good boy," he said.
Clint crinkled his nose. "Coulson, I know I have a lot to learn about whatever, you know, rewards and punishments things fake parents do, but you and I have a lot of history and you know I don't respond very well to shit like that."
Phil clapped him on the shoulder (which they both knew Clint did respond well to--friendly touches that said good job) and shrugged. "It was worth a try. Go to bed. I'll be back in a while."
Clint tossed Phil his keyring, which Phil looked at skeptically. "Yeah, yeah, you could let yourself in without it. Keep it on the straight and narrow this time,boss. We got a kid to set an example for."
Phil nodded and left, and Clint went back in the bedroom to lie down and watch his unexpected kid (his kid? Did he get to say that? Fake kid? Except, he was planning to keep him. And he wasn't fake. Shit, he was too tired for this. Well, fine. His kid.)--to watch his new kid sleep.
After a few minutes he picked up his phone and texted Nat. So, it turns out Coulson is a badass with babies, too. Think there's anything he doesn't know how to handle?
She replied quickly. No.
Clint chuckled, then another message came in. If you're keeping the child, you should keep Coulson, too. Civilizing influence. Before he managed to answer that, she followed up with, besides, you know you want to.
If I knew how to make a middle finger text icon thing, I would make it now. Clint paused, then also sent, And, obviously. He even knows about diaper rash. WTF.
Nat sent back an ASCII drawing of a finger, and Clint snorted and put down the phone to close his eyes. Napping had become a priority and later, he had a story to drag out of Phil.
Of course, when Phil came back, Sam was already up again, and the story had had to wait. They'd been busy for several hours with bags and boxes of all sorts of stuff that had definitely run more than three hundred bucks; in the mean time, Sam had tried and rejected a lot of different foods but been a huge fan of frozen blueberries and oatmeal with chocolate chips melted in (which Clint had sort of been hoping to get to polish off like everything else, frankly) and had an astonishingly energetic bath in the kitchen sink (Clint had made a note to just buy about fifteen more towels next time he went out) before finally going back to sleep, maybe even for the night.
And now, everything was mopped up and Clint was working on putting together some of the stuff and trying to figure out how to bring up either how much money he owed Phil or the mystery kid-managing experience again when Phil brought up the latter for him.
"So, the short version is," he said as he opened a beer and leaned against the edge of the kitchen counter, "when I was a teenager, I had a child for a little over a year and a half. Until he was a few months older than Sam is now."
Clint had a beer of his own to his mouth, although honestly, he was pretty sure he wasn't going to drink more than half of it; the week had been exhausting all around. He looked up at Phil and set down the beer. "What? You have a kid, and I don't know that? How do I not--wait. Had? For a year and a half? Did, um. Had?" Well. Now he was awake.
"He's still alive and well; he's just no longer mine," Phil said.
"I don't think you can just change whether a kid is yours, once he is, can you? If you're a decent human being, anyway, which, you know, you."
"I'll take that as a compliment? You can, and in case you're about to deck me, I didn't send him off to foster care. And I didn't dislike or resent him. I don't dislike or resent him. This is a different story than that."
"...Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm going to need the longer version, boss."
"Thought you might. But I've never told it to anyone, so this is a little weird for me."
Clint gestured at the tiny tricycle-ish scooter thing he was putting together. "Ya think maybe you're at the right place, given my life up to now?"
"There is that." Phil sat down and handed him parts as he worked. "So, the first thing is, when I was sixteen, my father decided I needed to become a man. Uh, sexually."
"So, what, he took you to a hooker?"
"Not exactly. Close enough. Uh, for reference, Fury and Hill know this story; I just never told it to them."
"Wait, seriously, your dad hauled you to a brothel? What the hell, that's a thing? I thought that was one of those urban legends, at least in families like yours. Respectable and stuff families."
"I think he was desperate. He died just a couple of years later, so it's not as though I had much of an opportunity to talk to him about his reasoning, but part of it was that he was already pretty sure I was gay--that's not the word he chose to explain what it would be unacceptable for me to be--and he was damn well going to make sure I knew what I was missing. Less clearly stated was the part about what I was definitely not going to be getting, having, or doing, but I heard him anyway."
Clint set down his screwdriver. "I can't, seriously cannot, believe I'm asking this question, and maybe it means you should take my temperature with that forehead rolly thing you bought, but have you told psych this story?"
"Nope. I'm comfortable with how it all turned out, but when I was sixteen, well. I wasn't comfortable, and I really, really wanted to please my dad." Phil paused. "One of the hard parts of this story is that Dad did die long before I was prepared to sit down with him and defend my sexuality, so it feels a little bit unfinished. Which is probably why I don't spend much time thinking about it."
"Okay. Um. You really don't have to tell me this whole thing if you don't want to," Clint said, suddenly very aware of how personal the whole thing was. "I mean, I'm dying of curiosity and usually you indulge my nosiness, but I'm pretty sure I'll make do if--"
"No, it's okay. I'm not sure whether you actually met all my sisters individually, but there are five of them. All older than me. The much-awaited son, the boy to carry on the name and business, you know. Well, or, you're probably aware of the concept."
Clint nodded. "Right, and gay boys can't possibly carry on the family name and also none of your sisters could, like, I don't know, legally name her kids Coulson if she wanted." He rolled his eyes. "No, I know it's not usual, but one of the advantages of my, what's the word we use instead of fucked up? 'nontraditional' upbringing is that I'm pretty sure names are the least important feature of families. But, you were telling me this story. So he figured if he got you laid, you'd, what, suddenly like tits?"
"It sounds so absurd when you say it like that," Phil deadpanned.
"I think there might be a reason it sounds absurd."
"There might. You seem surprisingly unsurprised about the part of the story where I said I was gay."
"You didn't, actually. You said your dad thought you were."
"But you knew before now anyway."
Clint blinked a couple of times. SHIELD, and by extension, Phil, was aware of Clint's bisexuality, and had used it several times in the field when they needed someone to get down and dirty with a guy that liked guys; Phil sounded worried, though, like it was a problem. Well, if they were sharing... "Um, suspected and maybe, not that I was going to do anything inappropriate because obviously I would never..." He grinned when Phil snorted. "But since we're revealing our hidden depths here, maybe I kinda hoped? Just so I'd have a chance, you understand. Were you expecting me to freak out or something?"
"Not really." Phil didn't directly address what Clint had just said, but he added, "It's just... I've tried very hard to keep my personal life, such that it is, hell and gone from SHIELD. It's a policy I've just recently had reason to rethink, apparently, but I've been more or less military--militaryish--my entire adult life. It's not something I've developed a habit of telling people I work with. But your opinion matters to me, so there's that."
"Good to know. But back to the story: so, your dad figured he'd make you a Real Man, and I do hope you heard the trademark on those capital letters there, by hiring you a hooker."
"In the grand tradition, yes. But he didn't take me to a prostitute, per se. He just found a young woman in a crappy job and offered her a chunk of money to 'date' me for a while."
Clint picked up the body of the tricycle thing and aligned the handlebars. "I sort of think that's the same thing, don't you?"
"Of course I do, but it was a distinction he later made to me, after everything fell apart." Phil drained the rest of his beer and went to the fridge for another.
"So, what, she hit on you, took you to bed...?"
"It's really just as well I've had a beer already because this is embarrassing--no, I wouldn't have come over here and entangled myself if I didn't want to tell it. Yes, pretty much what you said: it was a whirlwind, and even though in retrospect I don't find her appealing--even at the time, it was more that I was a teenager and didn't require much stimulation."
"And then she got pregnant."
"And then she got pregnant. Deliberately, as a matter of fact."
"Yes. At least, she said it was a decision, and I had no reason to disbelieve her; she was honest about other things."
Phil shrugged. "From her point of view, she'd been offered this money, and my dad probably told her exactly what he was worried about. She was ensuring I'd carry on the name, see?"
"It was pretty shocking, when she showed up at the house one day to tell me. That was when she was eight months in, and nearly six months since she'd dumped me. I think my dad probably already knew, based on his response, but it was startling to my mother, and to me."
Clint finished putting together the toy and set it on the floor, wheeling it back and forth and listening for squeaks. "So, from today so far, I'm guessing you were an involved father."
"You could say. She didn't actually want a child; she just wanted to shake down my dad. No, wait, that sounds judgmental, and I don't mean to be."
"You might have the right. What kind of asshole makes a baby as a bribe?"
Phil took a long pull off his bottle. "Distressingly many people every day, Barton, and usually because they're in bad places. Are you telling me you can't think of a time you would have done something shitty for a thousand dollars?"
Clint closed his eyes. "Yeah, you know the answer to that. I'm hoping that's a thing of the past, though."
"It is, and all we can do is move forward. You really wanted to know if you had a chance? I'm going to have to have a talk with Psych if you don't know why you would. Shut up, I know everything coming out of my mouth sounds like an inspirational poster. So. Back on task. She had the baby, I wanted it, so she signed away her right and and I took care of it. Him."
"So, again, I realize my teenage experience wasn't all that normal," Clint said after a minute, picking up the next box to see what else he might put together yet tonight, "but I have this feeling that might not have been what anyone expected."
"It wasn't. Still, since I had a son, my father had a boy to carry the name, and since I was too busy taking care of him, well. I wasn't acting gay or running around with disreputable boys because mostly I was bouncing a baby while I did my homework. My mom helped while I was at school, of course, but getting up at night and dealing with teething and stuff, that was all on me."
"And you liked it," Clint guessed, thinking about how easily Phil had taken to Sam and vice versa.
"Every bit." Phil smiled, remembering. "I liked how he looked at me, and how he wanted me to hold him. I liked how he babbled. Diapers weren't my favorite, and this was enough years ago that the array of disposable options wasn't like it is now, but mostly, I liked how he felt safe with me and how if I was calm he was calm, and I learned a lot about prioritizing and planning." He paused. "If you're about to guess it was a formative experience, you wouldn't be wrong."
Clint stopped trying to figure out how to put the train engine together. "So, what happened?"
Phil sighed and picked at the label on his bottle. "Dad got sick the summer I graduated high school. I joined the army instead of going directly to college. It wasn't fair to either Michael--
"Michael? You named him after your bro...ther, nope. The Michael at your mom's funeral was not your much-younger brother. Jesus, you need to send me on more recon missions, boss. I'm getting slow on the uptake."
Phil chuckled. "You've never been slow, Clint, and even when you were twenty-three and angry and needed a little work, you've always been worth more than a lot of other agents to me." Then he sighed. "And yes, It wasn't fair to Michael or Ma to expect her to take care of a toddler full-time in her fifties without him getting to call her Mama and without her having the security of a legal relationship. And she already loved him. And he already knew her. At first it was technically a guardianship situation, with papers and all, but then Dad died and I went overseas, and I couldn't see leaving any possibility of confusion over his parental status and making her have to deal with it while, well. If it was a worst case, while she was grieving me or trying to figure out how to care for me if I was damaged. So I signed over my rights and Mom adopted him officially when he was not quite three. Sharon and Donna--they're the two oldest--promised me if anything happened they would move heaven and earth to see he was secure. And so on."
"That all you got? I tell you all my sins and you say huh?"
"Fuck you, those aren't sins. All right, I got more: he know?"
"Michael? Of course. He didn't remember me when I came home, which hurt, although Ma tried to convince me that might have been at least a little related to the thinning hair, so we let it be. We told him when he was nine. He was mad at me until he was in college. I can't say I blame him; from his point of view I ditched him when he was inconvenient."
"Yeah, no. I have some serious authority on that topic."
"Doesn't make his feelings on the matter irrelevant." Phil started to say something else, then looked over his shoulder. "Is that Sam?"
Clint turned his head to listen. "What? I don't hear anything." He looked back at Phil and then stood. "But I'll go check on him." He headed around the corner to the bedroom and peered in, figuring maybe Phil needed a second; it was pretty clear he had thirty...three? Years of guilt about that whole story.
Sam had rolled onto his belly and had his butt in the air, and Clint stood there and watched him breathe until he snorted and flattened out, squirming the sheets into a tangle as he turned on his side.
"If you had any doubts he was related to you," Phil said quietly from a few inches away.
Clint turned and scowled. "One, warn a guy. Two, I'm not that bad at blankets."
"Oh, you really are. There was one time where I thought maybe you were actually going to tie them in a knot without using your hands or waking up."
"Like tying a cherry stem with my tongue?"
"I thought that was Stark."
"Anything he can do, I can do better."
"Oh, god. No. Because then you might have to try to take on a nuke alone, and I'd rather you didn't." Phil moved back into the living room and Clint followed. "So. That story wasn't as hard to tell as it might have been."
"Seemed pretty shitty."
"Eh. Maybe it's that I was telling you."
"What, because I'm the king of shitty teenager circumstances?"
"No. Well, yes, but that and I didn't have very many secrets from you anyway, and we already have substantial trust between us. And I suppose, because I wanted you to know. Now you know just about everything, though I will warn you, beyond this age, I know very little about small children. You just caught me in the right window."
"You have like seventy-five nieces and nephews. Of which some are apparently grandchildren. How do you not know--"
Phil shrugged. "Seventeen, actually. And, because I've never had the time to really get to know any of them well, so better not to confuse them. Also, Karen and Marnie both had fairly unforgiving opinions about the possibility I might infect their kids with gayness, so."
"I think they've come to see the many problems with their opinions, but there was that whole period in the eighties where a whole lot of gay men got sick and they felt pretty justified. Ttheir kids are grown now, so it's hardly relevant. And in any case, it's not like I haven't been incredibly likely to be deployed or otherwise in the field and miss eighty percent of birthdays, recitals, plays, graduation speeches and so on."
"As I recall, the guy I thought was your brother had a couple of rugrats climbing him at your mom's funeral, though. They can't be more than like five and six now? And you've got more downtime, more reliability..."
Phil pursed his lips. "They have a lot of cousins and aunts and so on. They don't need me."
"Okay, one, that's stupid because if they knew you, they would need you, which I can tell because I know you. Plus, if your pop died a long time ago, they are definitely short a grandfather, so. And two, even if they don't, do you need them?"
"I don't know. Also, I'm not sure I'm ready to be a grandfather."
Clint nodded. "Well, you kinda are one, so I don't really see your point. But we definitely need you, me and Sam. Are you staying?"
"Brought my duffel," Phil said, glancing toward the bag still on the floor inside the front door. "Although really, you're doing fine. If you were worried you wouldn’t have the skills, you have nothing to worry about."
"I'm just pretending really well," Clint said. "Skills are all well and good, but there's also habits and training and fuck if I know what else. Plus, if you leave he'll go back to hating me, which might happen in the morning anyway." He stood. "We should make you up a bed."
"Couch is fine."
"Oh, yeah, good idea. I was thinking the right reward for showing up and saving my ass was definitely going to be to put you on the couch with your feet up on the arm. No. I do have a guest bed. It just doesn't have sheets on it. You want flannel or ordinary?"
Phil shrugged. "Surprise me. I haven't had enough surprises today."
Clint saluted. "Sir, yes sir. Short sheets it is." He turned crisply to go find some sheets, hearing the clink of bottles as Phil tossed them in the recycle bin.
Clint woke to the chime of an incoming text and picked up his phone, noting as he did that Sam was standing in the not-crib thing watching him with a very serious expression and a runny nose. The text was from Natasha. Coulson's file says he has a child.
Clint texted back, I've seen as much of Coulson's file as you have access to. Does not.
Not his regular file. Fury's secret one.
Clint paused and frowned. Fury has a secret file on Coulson? Does he on us?
Of course. Child explains skills. No mention in personnel file, though - maybe a security risk.
I can neither confirm nor deny, but it's okay, Nat.Clint thought about it a second and added, I might be keeping them both, I think. Maybe. Thanks for digging. Clint dropped the phone on the mattress and looked at Sam, who was grunting. "This is you making a disgusting mess of your diaper, isn't it?"
Sam scowled. "Tuttup."
"Kay, but do you want breakfast?"
"NO." Sam went back to grunting, and a moment later, Clint crinkled his nose at the smell.
Sam offered a fussy whimper, so Clint picked him up and arranged supplies to change him on the floor. There was a tap on the bedroom door. "Yeah?"
Phil opened the door and stuck his head in. "I thought I heard you talking. Sam, do you want more blueberries?"
Sam reached for Phil, but Clint shook his head. "Diaper first, bud. Is that a yes, more blueberries?"
"Booies." Sam squirmed again. Phil nodded and withdrew, leaving the door ajar.
"Okay, let's just get you cleaned up, and then blueberries."
Sam whined and pushed Clint away, but stayed when Clint set him down and started untaping. Apparently blueberries were important, but sore butt maintenance was more important. Although, okay, apparently regular care and some naked time were having a pretty decent effect on the sore problem.
One diaper, one marginally-successful nose-wiping effort, and one too-big Captain America t-shirt later, Clint gestured to the door. "Wanna go find the blueberries?"
Sam looked at the door, then at Clint. Clint opened the door. "Go on." He held out a hand. "Need help?"
Sam took his hand and peered out into the living room.
"Phil has your blueberries, Sam. Want me to carry you?"
"No." He took a few steps and called out. "Booies!"
Clint could hear Phil in the kitchen, but Sam clearly couldn't. "I think he's in the kitchen. That way." Sam looked over in time to see Phil lean into view from the sink, and immediately started that way as fast as he could go. Which was not very fast, and also not very efficient, since he fell three times on the way there. Clint followed, trying to figure out whether he was supposed to prevent falling, or let it be experience. Since there was no wailing, he chose experience.
"Hey," Phil said, looking down at Sam. "Ready for blueberries?" Sam reached up with both hands, so Phil picked him up. "How do you feel about scrambled eggs?"
Sam looked around and spotted the blueberries on the table. He pointed and leaned, and Phil ruffled his hair. "Okay, blueberries for sure, and we'll try eggs later and see what you think." He looked up at Clint as he set Sam in the booster seat newly tied to one of the chairs. "You?"
Clint shook his head. "Think I'll stick with eggs and toast--but I can make my own."
Phil shooed him away. "Go sit with Sam. I'm almost done here."
"So, to sum up," Clint said, sitting next to Sam and watching him shovel blueberries in as fast as he could go, "you're now both the cook and the nanny? How did this happen?"
Phil rolled his eyes. "You can make lunch. Here, scrambled on toast, with cheese." He set a plate in front of Clint and another across, then sat down and tucked in. Clint smirked and ate his food, watching Phil eat and watch Sam.
Sometime in the subsequent five minutes, it occurred to him that Phil was relaxed, smiling at a little kid with his shirtsleeves rolled up and a towel tucked haphazardly into his waistband as an apron, and oh, hey, the half-ignored crush he'd alluded to the night before and told Nat he might do something about this morning? had just turned into a driving need to see this every day. Starting now. He looked down at his plate and thought about it for a second, then mentally shrugged. Well, he'd certainly dealt with worse things.
"So, Nat says Fury has a file on you," Clint said, gathering up the wet towels and variously grungy tiny clothes and trying to decide if it made sense to run laundry mid-week with this much stuff.
"I'm sure he does," Phil said. He had his laptop out for the first time and was pecking away at some kind of document.
"She wouldn't have gone looking if I hadn't told her you were apparently a baby whisperer. She says this is explained by your secret child."
Phil looked up. "What's it say?"
"That he exists, nothing more."
Phil shrugged. "Could be worse, then." He went back to typing.
Clint grabbed a couple of things out of his hamper to round out the load of wash and watched Phil work for a minute, then went to the laundry closet built in at the end of the kitchen. As he dropped things in and measured powder, he considered whether to open the can of worms he'd been mulling all day. Well, fuck it, if Phil was going to flip out, might as well get it over with and start figuring how out have to deal. "So, I have a question about your story."
"I think I covered just about everything, Barton."
"About disreputable boys."
Clint dumped the detergent into the machine and closed the lid, then turned the dial. "You said he kept you from running around with disreputable boys. Would you have? Did you have a thing for bad boys?"
"I fail to see--"
"Well, I mean. I'm pretty disreputable, and you don't seem to mind hanging out with me..."
Phil frowned. "One, you are neither disreputable, see: superhero, nor objectively bad. Two, if you're just fishing for compliments about your ass, I assume you know better than to fish here. Three, if not, what's your point?"
"Not fishing, just trying to decide if at this point, now that I know all your secrets, according to you, if you'd kick my ass for hitting on you."
Phil's hands stilled and he pursed his lips. "Hitting on me?"
"Uh. Pursuing a, you know, thing. I mean, I realize my life is kind of complicated and so is yours and now there's Sam but I didn't think before you'd go for it, but if you were likely to go looking for disreputable boys maybe your taste hasn't changed. Also, I kind of figure my chances with everyone else ever are blown by the fact that I have about a thousand secrets a week and I keep vanishing for two to sixty days at a time, although, hm, now with Sam, um."
"Maybe. Wait, no. I just noticed that might sound like I was suggesting I couldn't do better, and while that's true, it's only because you're you." Clint sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "This kind of thing is so much easier when it's over the comm, or when I'm talking to a mark, or pretty much any other circumstance. And when there are no stakes. You know what? Forget I even--I really need to go shoot things and get my head together."
Phil went back to typing and said mildly, "You must be nearing a record for consecutive lucid days with no range time."
"That's it? I tell you I want you and you agree I need range time?"
"You said to forget it, so I forgot." Phil looked up. "But, fair warning, once you're done shooting things and getting your head is together, I might remember and respond. No, scratch that; I will remember and respond. So. You should go do that. Shoot things."
"Yeah, no, I can't take Sam to the range."
"Do you honestly think I was suggesting you should?" Phil pointed at his screen. "I have things to do, but they're interruptible; when he wakes up, I'll stop."
"You seriously don't have to babysit my new kid for days on end."
"Told you. It's not that different from keeping an eye on you." Phil shrugged. "Also, I don't know if this came across in the story, but I like little kids--not that the presence of a kid alone is the reason I'm here. I'm here because of you, with bonus Sam. Go on. We'll work on more words that aren't the ones he came with."
Clint considered, then decided if the offer was there, he'd be stupid not to take it; he was feeling the strain of not enough activity and too many days at home, and he probably would make a lot more sense if he worked some of it out in the gym. He went to get his bow and put on something he could move around it. "I might get in some sparring, too," he said, leaning back through the kitchen door. "You're sure you don't mind?"
Phil nodded and waved him away, and Clint checked on Sam one more time and headed out.
Having a kid around is fucking with me. I think I just started by telling Coulson I want to jump him because who else would help me with Sam., he texted to Nat as he walked down the stairs. Also, shit, I just told him I want to jump him. See you in five, I'm on my way to the tower for the range-and a spar, if someone has the time.
She didn't reply, but when he arrived at the tower, she was waiting for him and rolling her eyes. "Tell him something we don't all know," she said.
"Hey. Not everyone knows."
She smirked. "That's sweet, but I bet even JARVIS knows. JARVIS?"
"What did Clint tell Coulson that we all already know?"
"I believe there are a number of alternatives, but from context I suspect you mean me to guess there was a confession of feelings. Did Agent Coulson confess as well?"
"Cheater," Clint said. "You totally told him what I texted."
"She did not," JARVIS replied. "And I only monitor text transmissions during missions or if I'm asked to retrieve the data. My next guess involved your poorly-concealed secret love of period romance novels."
Clint flipped off the ceiling in general with a grin, and turned back to Nat. "So, you have time to spar?"
"Of course. But don't let me wear you out completely. In case you weren't listening, JARVIS just asked you if he confessed back."
"JARVIS is a computer. Sorry, J."
"No offense taken, although I would note that I am an intelligence, which is a discrete concept, although it is sometimes a type of computer. Calculators are computers; intelligences use heuristic decision-making and learn independently."
"Whatever. My point is, JARVIS can know facts but that doesn't mean he's right about, like, motivations."
"Ah, but I concur with him." Natasha offered an evil grin.
Clint knew when he was being ganged up on. "So?"
"So clearly," Natasha said with another roll of the eyes, "there are things the two of you need to--ahem--discuss, and I ought not to wear you out completely because I wouldn't want you falling asleep in an awkward moment. Or position, I suppose."
Clint offered another finger, but figured he was just going to lose if he tried to argue with that, so instead he just led the way to the gym.
Clint arrived home to a quiet apartment and had dropped his bag in the bedroom before it occurred to him that was weird. Sam wasn't in the crib thing, and no one was in the living room. The other bedroom door was open so he could see half the guest bed, and it was pretty clear Coulson wasn't in there. Which left the kitchen.
No one was in there, either. "Sam? Phil? Where are you guys?" No one answered.
Okay. Okay. Obviously Phil Coulson wouldn't just leave without saying anything unless something really serious had happened, right? Clint checked his phone. No messages. He felt his pulse start to elevate and tried to take a breath to slow it down, but the breath was a little jittery, and what the hell. He was a grown-ass man who faced extremely alarming criminals on a regular basis and Phil was a fucking ninja that definitely would never have been, say, kidnapped without a struggle, which would be apparent. Obviously things were fine, right? There wasn't even any blood on the floor.
He looked in the bathroom and in the bedroom again. No one. He looked out the window; Phil's car was still on the street.
His confidence that all was well was rational, but rational wasn't winning. "Phil? Sam?" His fingers were already punching Phil's number into the phone. He put it to his ear and heard a ring, and then Phil answered with a Hi, we'll be back in about two minutes. He sounded a little winded, but Sam was yammering about something nearby and neither of them sounded upset or worried.
Clint let out a breath and tried not to sound like a complete lunatic as he croaked, "Where the hell did you go?"
Phil was starting to say something else, but he stopped mid-word and said, after a brief pause, "I left a note on the fridge and another on the bathroom mirror. I figured those were pretty likely first stops after a workout. No?"
Clint leaned back into the kitchen and saw the note on the fridge. "Oh. I... that's a really normal thing to do, isn't it?"
"And you've never lived with people who would do it." Phil sighed. "Sorry. We went to the park for the big swings."
"There's a park near here?"
"Six blocks. Even in my current shape I can carry a twenty-pound kid that far."
Clint's heart had finally started to slow a little. "Okay. But you're on your way back?"
"End of the block. Look out the window you'll see us."
Clint shoved the window up and leaned out, waving at Phil, who had Sam on his shoulders and his phone to his ear. "Okay," he said. "See you in a minute, then." He ducked back inside and closed the window, then went to look on the bathroom mirror. Sure enough, there was a sticky note there that said see note on fridge.
Well. New rule: look for a note before panicking. Because apparently that's what people in normal households do. Jesus. When the front door opened, he was standing in the hall trying to decide whether he wanted to sit down or take a shower and pretend everything was fine. He glanced over at the door, to Phil crouching to avoid bonking Sam's head, and Sam, who was grinning broadly.
"Wing!" Sam exclaimed, throwing his arms in the air. "Wing, wing!"
"I guess he liked it?"
"Would you have?"
Clint arched a brow. "Now, or then?"
"I think you know the answer. Also, what, you duped my key yesterday?"
"Seemed prudent." Phil lifted Sam off his shoulders and over his head, then set him on the floor and took off the backpack diaper bag thing he'd bought yesterday. Sam hung onto his pant leg.
"Did you have fun?" Clint asked, looking at Sam.
"Oh. Okay." Clint chuckled and reached slowly to ruffle Sam's hair. He looked up at Phil. "Did he eat?"
"We ate, but I bet he'd eat again before he crashes."
"He's been up a good three and a half hours. You were gone for a while."
"Yeah, well. Nat."
Phil nodded and detached Sam's hand from his pants, guiding him toward Clint. "You guys work on a snack while I wash up." Clint took Sam's hand and started toward the kitchen, glancing over his shoulder in time to see Phil rolling his shoulders and flexing an obviously-sore wrist. He looked down at Sam and then picked him up.
"We'll snack in a sec, okay?" he asked.
Sam grumbled a little, but let himself be carried as Clint caught Phil's wrist and turned him around.
"What--" Phil blink as Clint crowded in close, then he smiled. "What's this?"
"This is what happens when, a couple hours after I suggest hitting on you, I notice I'm freaked out in equal parts about not knowing where he is and not knowing where you are."
Phil pursed his lips. "Barton, you don't have to worry that I can handle myself. It's a scar, not a mark of incompetence."
"I know. And yet, when you weren't here, all I could think was I was an idiot for leaving things hanging. Also, Nat and JARVIS both think it's not just me. Is it just me?"
"Seriously? I dropped everything because you called, and I told you an entirely personal secret. I said I would forget what you said for a bit, but now that you've gone and shot things: it's not just you."
Clint leaned in slowly. "I'm kissing you now."
Well, not slowly; slowly enough for Phil Coulson, professional badass, to escape if he wanted to, but Clint had been sitting on his crush for a long time, and moving slower than necessary seemed like a lousy idea.
Phil didn't escape. Didn't try to escape. Didn't move at all, except to open his mouth under Clint's and make a sound as Clint's free hand came up to cup the back of his head.
"Toppit," Sam said, way too soon and from four inches away.
Phil grinned against Clint's mouth. "I think further exploration of this might need to wait," he said quietly. "But, about that..."
Clint stepped back. "About that? About what?"
"Exploring. Based on that thing I forgot earlier, Sam and I may have put together his actual crib in the guest room. So that he wouldn't be in your room. So that, well." He shrugged. "Exploration is possible."
Clint heard himself making a sound that might have been a whimper, then nodded once and glanced into the guest room more carefully than he had before. The crib was out of sight from the hall, against the interior wall, made up with sheets and blankets and looking totally ready for a kid to nap in. "So I see." Phil continued his interrupted trip into the bathroom, and Clint started back to the kitchen. "So, kid, applesauce or bananas?"
Sam, predictably, just said no, but by the time he was in the booster seat, he'd evidently changed his mind. "Nana," he said, pointing in case Clint couldn't find them on the counter. "Nanana."
"Banana it is." Clint peeled a banana and broke off a chunk to hand over, and Sam went to work gnawing on and squishing it. Which seemed to be the usual approach; Clint was already wondering how the hell anyone ever taught a little kid to use utensils. "You mind if we share?" he asked.
Sam didn't seem to have an answer for that, but when Clint made to put a piece of banana in his own mouth, he didn't like that at all, so Clint sighed and handed that piece over, too. And added to his mental checklist, 'show Sam how normal people share.' Although, maybe that was just a baby thing and not particular to babies who had shitty parents.
"Why the sigh?" Phil asked as he came through the door.
"I asked if we could share and he didn't want me to eat any. Is that normal?"
"Barton, you don't even like sharing your stuff."
"Shut... you know, something. Um. I had my reasons for a long time. And I don't kick anyone in the nuts any more for poaching."
"Yes, but you've been safe a long time, too. He's been safe for five minutes." Phil checked that Sam was watching them (he was; he was always watchful, a trait that made Clint wonder if it was innate or genetic, or was learned due to the same circumstances that had brought about bruises that seemed to be completely gone today), then picked up another banana and popped a chunk in his mouth and broke off another piece. "Clint, would you--and it occurs to me I should say if you make this dirty I will make you fill out all the forms related to his adoption by yourself--would you like to share my banana?"
Clint snorted, but nodded. "Yes, Phil, I would like to share your banana." He waggled his eyebrows ridiculously, which made Sam laugh and Phil frown, but when he opened his mouth again, Phil fed him the chunk.
"Sam, would you like a bite of my banana?"
"Nanana." Sam pointed.
"Good! Banana!" Phil held out a piece. "Would you like to share?"
Sam looked at both of them and beamed, trading Phil the gooey mess he already had for the new piece. Phil chuckled. "I didn't really need a trade."
Sam squished the new piece through his fingers and shoved some of the fragments in his mouth. Clint had always thought of bananas as pretty easy to eat, no mess, no fuss; Sam was quickly leading him to rethink that. He broke off another piece of the banana in his hand and put it in his mouth, then offered another piece to Sam, who traded again. "I sort of think you're ending up only getting about a quarter of each one," Clint said, but Sam didn't seem to care.
Well, at least he seemed happier than before. Which was mostly because of Phil, but Clint was starting to think maybe he wasn't totally inappropriate for the job, either.
Sam was also one entire fuckload messier; neither of them managed to catch his banana-gooey hand before it went into his hair for no good reason, and two seconds later he was smearing his other hand down his belly.
"I guess we're going to be having another bath," Clint said. He handed Phil the rest of the first banana, got another chunk fed into his mouth for his trouble, and went to grab some towels.
"Give him a minute and you can just take him in the shower with you," Phil said when he came back.
"Seriously? Soap is slippery."
"I think you can manage to hold onto an entire kid. It'll be like a naked water park, as far as he's concerned. Go, you get in the water and I'll bring him to you in a minute."
"Okay, yeah, I needed the image of you showing up in my shower. You sure this isn't just an opportunity to ogle? ...and that he won't be scarred?"
"He won't be scarred," Phil promised.
"I heard that omission, just so we're clear."
"I made that omission, just so we're clear." Phil made a shooing motion. "It'll be fine."
Clint took the towels and went in the bathroom. He'd gotten in the shower while Phil was in the next room a hundred times, but this was different and weird, but he put that aside and stripped off his t-shirt and sweatpants, making a pile behind the door and getting in the shower. A minute later, he was lathering his hair when he heard the door open.
"I assume you didn't go for a scalding temperature?"
Clint tipped his head back into the spray. "Nope. Hey, did you bring the baby soap in here?"
"I did." Phil's hand came past the curtain with the baby shampoo bottle, and then a minute later he was lifting a squirming naked Sam over the lip of the tub. "Sam, no jumping."
"Oh, you had to give him the idea." Clint picked Sam up and turned so the spray was running down his back. "Water now."
Sam twisted to look at the water, then flailed his hands in it.
"I think he likes it," Phil said. Clint turned back to find Phil standing outside the shower, arms folded over his chest as he leaned against the tile peering in. "You got him?"
"Yeah, um. Can you get a towel organized so I can hand him out to you when he's cleaned up?"
"In a minute." Phil looked up and down Clint's body.
"Okay, seriously, that's going to end in scarring him."
"Yes, but I promised to ogle. By omission. And I like to keep my word. Still, there will be time for this later. You wash, I'll dry." Phil pushed away from the wall and Clint heard him moving around as he set Sam down on his butt on the floor of the tub and crouched to soap him up. Soap was slippery, after all. He picked him back up for rinsing, holding a hand like a visor over his eyes as they ducked into the spray together, and then he looked out to find Phil standing there holding up a towel.
He handed him Sam, closed the curtain tight, and turned to finish up his own shower.
"What? It's been like two seconds!"
"No, not that. I require advice. The team is assembling. You're on parental leave; I'm not."
Clint ducked under for one more rinse and smacked the lever to turn off the water as he yanked the curtain back open. "What? Wait, I'm what? And but. Sam, and." He blinked. "Jesus Christ, how has it not at any point including while I was with the rest of the team today occurred to me that this would come up this soon? I'm an idiot."
"You've been preoccupied." Phil shrugged. "But we'll have to put off any expl--"
"Yeah, no, I got that. But what the hell do you mean on leave, and wait, so you get to go? Doesn't the team need me?"
"They do, but Kate's on until we figure out a Sam system."
"Ittem," Sam echoed. He was standing in a diaper and an Iron Man t-shirt, hanging onto Phil's leg. He looked worried, lip quivering.
Clint scrubbed his hand on his face and yanked a towel off the rack to wrap around his waist. "Bud, it's okay, okay? Uncle Clint is just freaking out a little. You're fine, right? Here, come here." He crouched and picked him up, wondering how having a little kid nose up into his neck had become a necessary part of his life in less than a week. "What's he--he was fine in the shower!"
"He might be responding to certain words. He's probably heard I-D-I-O-T before, in a crappy context. But look, if you feel like you need to go, I can be Sam's system tonight--I should have talked to you before I filed the forms yesterday."
"You filed my forms? Without even--?"
"I should have asked."
"I was going to say, without even one guilt trip? My god, you must be in love or something."
"Or something." Phil narrowed his eyes. "So, we need to decide--"
Clint looked down at Sam's back. "No, shit, no, they probably need you in the van and in their ears a lot worse than they need me jumping off a building. Kate's, um, pretty good."
Phil shook his head. "Kate's very good, and the Sam System will be the first order of business when I get back."
"Which will be soon, right? No running into harm's way? No getting out of the damn van?"
"I will stay in the van and do my part from there." Phil stepped in close, kissed Sam's forehead, and brushed his lips across Clint's. "Promise."
"Right. Okay. Um. Right. You should go." Clint hugged Sam and stepped out of the bathroom to watch Phil leave, then picked up his phone. Nat, he texted, I know you're assembled. Um. Don't let Phil get hurt.
You with the kid?" came back.
Kate's pinch-hitting, Clint replied. Seriously, promise me. We got unfinished business.
Natasha didn't say anything else, and after a minute Clint punched in Stark's number.
"Busy being Iron Man, here, Hawkeye. Where's your comm?"
"Coulson's in so I'm out. Because, um. Kid, and... Just, you're eyes on high, okay. Don't let him, or anyone else, get in the way of badness, or--"
"On it, kid. I had today in the get-together pool for you two, by the way, thanks for that. Anyway, gotta run. This one's probably gonna be a cakewalk anyway. Don't wait up, and I'll send Agent back in no more than two pieces. One, probably. I'll shoot for one."
"I'm holding a toddler, so I'll just think words that start with F."
"Fellatio? Fornication? Figging? Fisting? Ooh, hey, if it's that one and he's bottoming, I want video."
"What? Seriously? Pervert."
"Oh, that word's okay?"
"Your job, babe, but okay, for serious, I got to go. Read the kid a book, try not to flip out, don't fret if there's lightning. Iron Man out." The line went silent, and Clint put away his phone.
"Okay, little dude. I guess we're reading. What book should we read? I hear it doesn't matter what I read you, it's all in the tone of voice, but I'm not sure I trust that."
Sam lifted his head and stared, then said something that it didn't take much imagination to realize was an attempt at 'phil.'
Clint swallowed. How the hell did Pepper not actually die twice a week? "Sorry, babe. He'll be back. Come on, I think he bought like fifty books, right? There's got to be one we like?" He headed for the stack of stuff they hadn't found a real place for yet in the living room, picked up a handful of cardboard- and tagboard-covered books, and settled in on the couch.
"Soon, Sam. Come on, let's see what happens to, um. This turtle, who is apparently called Yertle."
"Yeah, I get it. I'm not nearly as cool, huh? Still, let's give it a try, okay?"
"'Ay. Tuttup." Sam pushed the book toward Clint and pointed at Yertle, so Clint figured that was his cue, and opened to the first page.
"On the far away island of Salamasond... Salamasond? Jeeze, seriously? Okay, anyway. Yertle the Turtle was king of the pond. Sounds like a guy with issues, if that's a thing, but I guess that's okay. Right?" Clint looked at Sam. Sam grinned and pointed at Yertle again. "Right. I should have gotten dressed first, huh? Oh well. Okay, king of the pond. A nice little pond..."
The key in the lock startled Clint awake, but he hadn't slept very deeply what with Sam being conked out draped over his chest, so he just lifted his head. "How'd it go?"
"Part marine mammal, part robot, part chicken. What do you think? I swear, mad scientists don't actually have to earn the title, but they all must think they do."
Clint chuckled and wrapped his arms more securely around Sam to sit up. "How do you feel?"
Phil shrugged. "Little tired, you?"
"It turns out we have a huge fan of piggies." Clint nodded toward the paperback of the same name on the top of the pile on the coffee table. "I read it like eighteen times, and then we had mac and cheese and watched some bizarre show with foam people with shapes on their heads, and then I read it another eighteen times before he fell asleep."
"Could be worse." Phil reached for Sam and cradled him against his chest for a minute, then went to the guest room. Clint followed along and watched as he transferred him to the crib and covered him, waiting a minute while he settled. Then he reached up and flipped a switch on a little plastic radio thing resting in a wire rack on the wall.
"I was wondering about that thing earlier. What is that?"
"Monitor. Other end's in the other bedroom. In case he needs us."
Clint raised his eyebrows. "Wow, you really did plan ahead. How long until he gets his own comm?"
"First we have to identify options and teach him some skills. And also let him be a kid for a number of years." Phil pulled the door closed, then pressed Clint back against the wall. "You were serious, before?"
"Did I look like I was kidding?"
"And it's not about helping with Sam, which I will do regardless."
"It is not about that and also you just went out hero-wrangling and I was napping, so at least for the moment I can probably kick your ass if you want to keep doubting my motivation. Sir."
Phil shook his head. "None of that."
"No sirs. I don't kiss my subordinates." He leaned in and pressed his lips against Clint's again, keeping them connected as Clint shoved a hand between them to unbutton Phil's shirt, as Clint yanked the jacket off his shoulders, as he tugged the tails of Clint's t-shirt out of his jeans.
"Good to know," Clint said when they broke for air. "Also, us thumping against his wall is only going to wake him up. We need to move this."
"Always were good at strategic thinking." Phil said. He took his shirt the rest of the way off on the way to Clint's bedroom, then stopped and looked over his shoulder.
"Optimism." Clint dragged his shirt over his head. "Problem?"
Phil turned around slowly, unbuckling his belt. "No. No, I don't think that's a problem."
"Good." Clint kicked out of his jeans and reached for Phil. "So, exploration, huh? I've always been good at recon, too."
"I know." Phil stopped, hand on the button at his waistband. "Clint, honestly. I don't know if we can--if I can--go back, once we do this, so I need to be sure. You really want--"
"Jesus. I really want. I really, really want." Clint dropped to his knees and undid the button himself, chuckling at the sudden gasp overhead as the pants started to come down. "Seriously, not-at-all-sir, I want this. I want to take your cock in my mouth and make you fall to pieces, and then I want to get in bed with you and do it all over again--"
"Barton, I'm fifty-two years old. I don't think again is a possibility."
"Maybe you're a ninja and I'm a superhero and between us we can fucking think of something. Seriously, you want to argue against me sucking you off?" Clint nuzzled forward, nosing at Phil's cock through his boxers
"No, but I want, shit." Phil stepped back and dropped to his knees as well, leaning forward into Clint's kiss. "I want to take the time to do this right." He stood, hauling Clint up with him, and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Come here."
Clint shoved down his briefs and yanked off his socks, tossing them to land on Sam's not-crib, still set up in here, then pulled Phil's t-shirt up and off and sent it to join the socks. He ran his thumb down the scar in Phil's chest, then peered at the twin on his back. "Anything I need to know about this?"
"Don't jab it?" Phil reached to the nightstand to turn on the radio thing that matched the one in the other room and turn off the lamp, then fell back, pulling Clint with him. Before Clint could get settled there, he hooked a leg over for leverage to roll them, straddling Clint's hips and resting his hands on his shoulders, looking down at him. "All right?"
Clint nodded. "Think I can handle that."
"So, if this is a thing," Clint said, bringing Phil's hand up from where it was wrapped around his waist, "should we both be on parental leave?"
Phil's breath huffed into the short hairs at the nape of Clint's neck as he answered. "I think that might require something a little more formal than this."
"Yeah, but right now--okay, so I'm asking. A week ago I didn't know I needed all this and now I can't even imagine what I'd do without it. And I don't want to. And I need you. And just... Wanna make it more formal and both be Sam's parent types? His uncles? I don't know, whatever."
"You just want to get to shoot at things when the assembly call comes."
"Yes, but just think. If we're both parents then we can both be on leave for a little while, and then any time Sam is asleep we can do this. Plus, when he takes a header down the stairs, which I hear they sometimes do, you'll be there for the freakout with me anyway, so you might as well have rights, right? Like your mom?
Phil laughed. "There you are again with the strategy." He kissed Clint's shoulder. "I left the papers with Hill before I came home."
"Home?" Clint twisted to look back at Phil in the dark bedroom. "You want to stay?"
"I want to stay, Clint. I've wanted that for a long time, and all of a sudden, somehow my life arranged itself to my whims." Phil lifted his head to meet Clint's lips again. "As for formality, it's just a matter of papers. I'm good at papers. I have everything filled out; you only need to choose what we're doing, and sign."
Clint yawned. "And take them to the courthouse or something?"
"Or something, Clint, yes."
"And then we'll start working on your grandkids?"
"I...Yes, I should call Michael. We should talk." Phil adjusted his grip, arms around Clint's waist, and added, "You know how you said you never expected this?"
Clint nodded. "Didn't expect it. Didn't know I wanted it. And yet."
Clint was quiet for a minute. "Phil, how did I never realize until now that unexpected is sometimes kind of awesome?"
"Circumstances, I suppose." Phil tightened his grip in a squeeze momentarily. "Kind of awesome is nice, though, isn't it?"
"Kind of is."