Phil’s walkie-talkie crackles. He prefers comms, but standard procedure is to switch to an alternate form of communication when comms may have been compromised. “Gold Team has mobilized,” Cho says. “Waiting for your signal.”
He holds the ‘speak’ button. “Confirmed you are waiting for my signal. Continue to hold position.”
Phil lowers his walkie-talkie and shifts his attention back to the security monitors. The junior agents in the command room around him tense, but Phil ignores them as he tracks the man on the screen. The infrared cameras the S.H.I.E.L.D. team have placed in the ventilation system are low quality - the mercenary isn’t much more than a greenish blur - but they’re enough to gather some information. Their bogey is definitely male, of average height, with equipment as eclectic as his training appears to be. He’s wearing minimal body armour and has sunglasses covering his eyes. He’s also very good. S.H.I.E.L.D. had known Jimenez would hire someone to break into the building, but the mercenary still managed to get halfway to the server room before pinging their network. That means that if they really were an FBI field office like they’re pretending, and not a secondary S.H.I.E.L.D. base with enhanced security, they’d never have known he was there.
He’s intrigued enough to consider letting the man make his way to his target, curious how far he’d get if they played dumb, but he can’t allow Jimenez's man to actually wipe the drives. Jimenez is a middleman, passing information to a Russian banker Phil hasn’t been able to identify, and he’s trying to destroy the evidence the FBI has collected against him. Phil’s not interested in the case against Jimenez. He has much bigger fish to fry -- the Russian banker has links to a growing terrorist group in the middle east that calls itself the Ten Rings. Phil intends to barter the FBI’s files for the banker’s ID.
Still, Phil lets himself admire the stealthy way the mercenary is advancing for another minute before he gives the go ahead to Gold Team leader, Melanie Cho. “Release the gas.”
The gold channel beeps once - an affirmative - and then the ventilation shafts begin to fill with smoke. The mercenary starts. Phil knows the gas is harmless, designed to incapacitate rather than exterminate, but the mercenary doesn’t know that.
He’s quick, though, and prepared. Phil blinks as the man whips out a gas mask and holds it over his face. Even as Phil raises his walkie-talkie to his mouth, the mercenary pulls a small welding torch from his pouch, cuts a hole in the ventilation shaft, and falls out of sight into the hallway below.
“Switch the feed,” Phil orders the junior agents, thumbing on his radio. “Gold Team, be advised - bogey has left the ventilation shafts and is proceeding on foot down Corridor G, heading west.”
“Understood, Command,” Cho replies. “Turning west now. Is he on level three?”
Phil checks the blueprints an agent has loaded onto the screen. The other feeds are cycling, catching glimpses of the mercenary as he tears down the corridors, one after the other. “Level four.”
Phil’s heart rate picks up as he watches the man run - he’s graceful, like a mountain lion. The cameras in the corridors are higher quality than the ones set in the ventilation shafts, but the man keeps his head down, angled away from the feed. The gasmask has been tucked away again but he still has his sunglasses on. The purple-tinted eye coverings aren’t enough to impede a S.H.I.E.L.D. facial recognition software, which either the man knows, or he guesses. That means he’s both experienced and innovative, as well as tactically minded. The cameras are placed in non-traditional locations along the ceiling and floor, angled to capture corners and faces at above and below average height. That the mercenary manages to avoid a direct facial print is… impressive.
Phil’s esteem grows.
It stalls a little as he realizes the man is still heading towards the server room. The mercenary has to know that his information is out of date - whatever codes he possesses, whatever tools he had planned on opening the door with, are obviously not going to work.
Maybe he’s going for another access point. Phil glances over the techs and junior agents manning the control center. “Trigger the alarm.”
Rawlins, his second in command, nods. She presses a button and horns blare out of speakers while, all over base, entry points begin to close. Phil looks over his shoulder at the command center door. The lock engages with a loud click, making it impossible to open from the outside. Yet, on the screen, the mercenary doesn’t pause. He has to be aware of the alarm, but it doesn’t cause him to deviate from his course.
Phil glances at the blueprints, and then checks again. The mercenary’s path to the server room will actually take him right past Phil’s position.
Gold Team is catching up, but they’re a good thirty seconds behind. Phil sees the mercenary’s hand go to his belt and emerge with a small black ball.
Phil smiles. Clever boy.
With his intelligence in shambles and a stealthy exit impossible, the man is obviously planning to blow up the server room door. Not many people know that FBI drives are automatically wiped if an explosion is set off in close proximity. Jimenez shouldn’t have access to that information, which means either the Russian banker tipped him off, or the mercenary is a man with interesting connections.
Phil debates letting him get away with it, but Jackson, the FBI liaison, probably wouldn’t appreciate it if Phil not only bartered Jimenez’s case for the Russian banker’s ID, but lost the original FBI files in the process. He’ll have to stop the mercenary before he sets the explosion.
“Continue to the server room, Gold Team,” he orders, then steps away from the monitor and glances around the room. “Excuse me for a moment.”
Rawlins blinks. The other junior agents around him look up in confusion. Phil gives them a bland smile as he walks to the door. He waits for a beat, feeling the rumble of the mercenary running down the hall, and then steps out into the corridor and throws up his arm.
The mercenary swears and ducks, only half managing to avoid Phil’s strike, and getting winged in the shoulder as he goes. Phil lets the command center door close behind him as he follows, launching a punch at the man’s unprotected solar plexus.
Phil gets one hit in, but the man ducks. He drops into a crouch and sweeps Phil’s legs out from under him. Phil turns his fall into a roll, coming up with forearms lifted to protect his head against the expected strike.
The mercenary doesn’t disappoint. He rains punches down on Phil’s head, the blows glancing off Phil’s forearms, as Phil concentrates on staying on his feet. Phil waits for a pause in the assault. When it comes, he drops his arms and leans back, managing to put himself just out of strike range while he tries for a grab. The mercenary avoids his grip. He kicks, forcing Phil back, then goes for the gun strapped to his thigh.
Phil doesn’t let him reach it. He kicks at the mercenary’s knee. The man turns away from the blow, deflecting its strength, before spinning to come under Phil’s guard.
Phil ducks his chin, but he can’t avoid the hit - it hurts, glancing off his jaw with enough power to bruise, but missing his throat. The mercenary’s next strike goes over Phil’s head as Phil bends from the waist, keeping low so he can get in close. He lands two hits on the man’s stomach, but they strike body armour instead of flesh.
It hurts, but the move gets Phil under the man’s guard. Phil goes for a grapple, grabbing the mercenary’s arms even as he snakes a leg around his knee, pulling so the mercenary is jerked off balance and then pushing so he goes down.
It works and the mercenary ends up on his back, falling to the carpet with enough force to knock his sunglasses from his head. The purple-tinted glasses go flying, but the man recovers from the fall quickly, turning his wrists in Phil’s grip to try and break the hold. He tilts so that when he gets his wrists free, he can jerk and throw Phil off. Phil thanks his mother’s insistence that he take wrestling in high school as he shifts to straddle the man’s thighs, pressing down with the weight of his body as he jerks the man’s arms up and over his head, pinning them to the cheap carpet.
The mercenary jerks. His head comes up and he meets Phil’s eyes. It’s an instinctive reaction, and Phil knows why he kept his sunglasses on and avoided the cameras. The mercenary’s face is arresting, ruggedly handsome and very distinct. He has a bump in the bridge of his nose that says it’s been broken, a strong chin, too-thin cheekbones, and his eyes.
Phil finds himself lost in that gaze. For a moment, it’s just an appreciation of the colour, gold and blue and hazel green, but then the world shifts on its axis and Phil tips.
It’s like he’s falling, like he’s leaving his body behind and slipping forward, dropping down as the mercenary’s eyes widen.
There’s a rush of sound and light and presence. The sensation is alien, but instantly recognizable.
It’s nothing like school or the movies make it seem. There’s no warning, no swelling of music, no gasp of surprise. Phil meets the mercenary’s eyes - Clint, his name is Clint - and then Phil is just gone, his own body a distant, heavy memory.
His every sense is consumed by Clint. He’s three, five, and seven - his father is an alcoholic, and his mother is afraid, hiding her fear in cigarettes and drugs. He’s eight, and his parents are dead, ten, and the orphanage is a distant memory. He is fourteen and in the circus, sixteen and a star, eighteen and alone, using his only skill for money, betraying his bow by making her kill.
He’s twenty-seven and taking a job for Jimenez, a regular middleman who’s hired Clint in the past. Usually his contracts are typical infiltration jobs, a sneak and grab with good, hard cash at the end, but nothing about this op is standard. Phil understands Clint’s hesitance to infiltrate the FBI office that is obviously not what it seems - the traffic flow is unsteady, and there are cameras in secure locations where no cameras should be - but he also understands Clint’s dwindling account balance, and the three jobs he’s already turned down this month, rejected because he won’t kill innocents and he won’t endanger kids. Phil knows how long it’s been since Clint ate something, the lingering ache in the muscle of his left arm from a lucky hit last week, the calluses on his fingers, and the pattern of scars across his chest.
Phil knows Clint better than he’s ever known himself.
It’s incredible. He can feel everything from Clint’s perspective, too. The double-set of sensations is jarring. Those are his hands pressing down on Clint’s wrists, holding them still on the scratchy carpet. Those are his hips pressing down, a careful weight, holding Clint still. He’s aware of the heaviness of his own body in a way he’s never been. It’s odd, but not confusing - surprising, but not terrifying. Instead, it’s like completing a circuit, like fitting a key to a lock. Phil knows with a certainty he’s never felt before that this is the man he’s been waiting for all his life.
“Phil,” Clint breathes.
Phil sways forward. No one has ever said his name like that before, like it meant everything, like it meant the world.
“It’s okay,” Phil says, as much to himself as to Clint. This is… he had not expected this. Phil bows, resting his forehead against Clint’s, letting their breath mingle in the air between their mouths. “It’s okay. I’ve got you now. I’m here.”
Clint slips his hands out from Phil’s slackened grip and fists his hands into the fabric of Phil's suit jacket. He closes his eyes, but draws Phil closer. He’s confused, Phil can feel. Confused and unsettled, terrified and thrilled. Phil knows that as much as this is outside his comfort range, it is much, much farther outside of Clint’s.
Clint has never wanted this. That’s why he wears the glasses. He’s always been afraid of what would happen if this occurred.
There’s a rumble from the floor around them and then the confusion of several sets of boots stuttering to a halt, Gold Team having arrived to find their senior agent in a compromising position. “Sir?”
Phil shifts back, tugging on Clint’s shoulders to drag him up from the floor. He’s still practically sitting in Clint’s lap, but for once in his life, Phil doesn’t care about appropriate displays of affection.
“Stand down, Gold Team.”
“Acknowledged,” Cho says. She shifts from foot to foot. “Is this the bogey, sir?”
Phil smiles. “Yes, this is Clint. Clint, this is - ” He stops. “I can’t tell you.” He presses a hand to his temple. “There is so much to do. I’m going to have to get you security clearance, we’re going to have to bring you into the organization…”
“No,” Clint says, and there’s the terror again. “No, Phil, I can’t.”
“It’s okay,” Phil says, soothing automatically, even as he finds himself blown away by the amount of information pouring through the bond. There are things in Clint’s past he doesn’t want anyone to know about, a history of problems with authority he’s not proud of, and a redhead he needs to protect. Images flash by too fast to understand - a diner, a stack of pancakes, and is that Fury offering him a job?
“Slow down, Clint, slow down. It’s okay, I can - Clint!”
“Sorry, I’m sorry,” Clint stammers. Phil can feel him consciously trying to stem the flow of information. “This is - god, this is so strange.”
“It is,” Phil agrees, even though he can’t help but smile. He’d honestly never thought this was an option for him, not anymore, and as surreal as the entire experience is, it’s also incredible. He knows with bone deep certainty that whatever fears Clint has they can resolve, whatever problems he’s imagining, they can fix. Clint is the man Phil has been waiting for his entire life. He’s not going to give Clint up.
Clint looks at him and meets his eye. “You don’t know that.”
“I really do.”
Clint’s gaze shutters. Phil gets a glimpse of a hard man and a pale woman. He knows them, because Clint knows them. They’re Clint’s parents.
They were bonded, Phil realizes. That didn’t make them good people.
“We aren’t them,” Phil tells Clint.
Clint eyes are steady. “You aren’t. I’m not so sure about me.”
“Then let me be sure enough for both of us.”
Clint doesn’t look convinced.
Cho just looks confused. “Sir?”
“It’s okay, Agent,” Phil says. He stands, offering Clint his hand. “Come on. Let’s get debriefed, and then we’ll have a chance to talk.”
Debriefing takes a couple of hours. Phil realizes pretty quickly that he doesn’t like to be apart from Clint. The new bond hurts if they’re separated for too long - not physically, it isn’t like an ache or a muscle pain, but it’s like a void, an emotional vacuum he can’t fill on his own.
Clint feels it too, but he’s more hesitant than Phil. He’s very aware that he’s being generously escorted through a secret facility he broke into only hours before. Phil can sense his trepidation, the way he doesn’t want to make things difficult for Phil. Phil tries to send him calming thoughts - he isn’t going to get fired for this, Clint isn’t going to get disappeared - but it doesn’t completely reassure him. As soon as Phil's debriefing is done - Rawlins had been the next most senior agent on base, and she’d looked distinctly uncomfortable asking Phil questions - he slips out of the room to find Clint.
They’d put him in one of the interrogation rooms, the only secure space they could find on such short notice.
Hey, Phil thinks. Thought-sending is a lot easier when they’re in the same room.
Hey, Clint sends back. He looks uncomfortable in the hard plastic chair.
Cho glances up from her notepad. “Sir,” she says. She’d been the only person on base qualified to debrief Clint, since Rawlins had been taken. “We’re almost done here. Do you have anything to add?”
Phil shakes his head. “I’ve just finished. I can wait.”
Cho nods, and looks back at Clint. She’s gathering details on his work with Jimenez and prods him with a few more questions. Clint hesitates, but replies.
While Clint is distracted, Phil takes the time to look at his bonded. Clint is… gorgeous. He’d appreciated it earlier, before they’d locked eyes, but he feels it even more keenly now. Clint’s shoulders are broad, his waist trim, and his arms - god, his arms.
Phil has a lot of things he wants to do to those arms.
Clint blushes, and Phil is abruptly reminded that his mind is no longer completely his own. He swallows, trying to redirect the increasingly dirty nature of his thoughts. His libido resists. He hasn’t exactly been celibate, but he also hasn’t been getting very much action with anything beyond his right hand for years now. The bonding rate for people over the age of forty is dismal, and he’d given up years ago. He isn’t alone, and those who remain Unclaimed tend to flock together, but Phil has never had much luck dating for dating’s sake.
He’s too… old. Boring. Accountant-like, one ex had told him.
You’re not boring, Clint sends.
Phil glances at Clint’s face, but Clint is watching Cho, his attention seemingly completely on her as he nods along to her questions.
Maybe you don’t think so, Phil sends, but then again, you’re in my head. You have a unique perspective on my life.
I thought you were interesting before we bonded, Clint sends back, along with the mental equivalent of a wry smile. I’ve been watching this place for days, remember? I knew that if there was anyone I had to watch for, it was you. You were the only person who had a chance of taking me down.
He shows Phil a fragment of memory. This time it’s a deliberate sharing, not a flood of uncontrolled information. Phil sees himself walking into the building yesterday morning, a cup of coffee in one hand, his suit jacket flaring slightly in the breeze. An empty pop can rolls by and memory-Phil steps smoothly around it.
That’s it? Phil asks. Really?
Really, Clint thinks, not the least embarrassed. It’s just - the way you move, how you shift your weight on both feet… You fascinated me.
Phil can sense how true that is. He blushes. You’re the fascinating one. The bits that I’ve gotten…
Clint grimances. It’s not all peaches and cream. My past… I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of.
You’re not the only one.
Yeah, but this isn’t an ‘I saved the day because of orders’ thing, or even, ‘I shot that guy because he was going to shoot me first.’ This is - a tumult of images goes by, too fast for Phil to get more than a glimpse. This is different, Phil.
It feels different. The memories are… darker… than Phil’s own. Filled with heaviness. A weight. Regret?
You’ve made a lot of hard choices, Phil sends back, choosing his words carefully. I understand that, but Clint - I know you. Not just the surface you, not just what you’re thinking now or what you did yesterday or what you ate last week , but all of you, the deepest parts of you. I know that the person you are is not a bad person.
Is that you talking, though? Clint challenges, Or the bond? Isn’t that what the bond does? It forces you to know someone, to feel them, so that you have to accept them. So that you can’t leave.
Like Clint's mother never left, Phil knows. He swallows. I don’t think that’s true.
What can Phil say to that?
Just… think about it, he tries. Consider the fact that I’m not inherently repulsed by you. Contemplate the idea of working with me, and through me, with S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m not saying that you have to make a decision to marry me or even work with me now, I’m just saying that I’d like you to give me - us - a chance.
Clint’s silence is heavy.
Cho is staring at them, obviously having just realized that Clint’s attention is no longer on his debriefing. “You two are having a completely silent conversation without me, aren’t you?”
Phil gives her an apologetic look.
“Oh, fine,” she grouses, “I get your point. You’ve bonded. Congratulations. Now get out of here and go sign that paperwork you need to do. Barton has temporary security access, guaranteed through your account, with provision theta-seven.” She waves her stack of forms. “Go on. I’ve got enough for a preliminary report.”
“Thank you,” Phil says sincerely. He looks at Clint. “Shall we?”
Discomfort is still rolling off Clint, but he nods. “Sure.” He stands, and they walk out of the room together.
“So,” Phil says, pausing awkwardly in the corridor. “Do you want to go somewhere and talk?”
“I do,” Clint says, not meeting Phil’s eyes. “I’m not sure where, though. Maybe we could - ?”
“Go somewhere public, yes,” Phil agrees. Clint’s feelings are clear on that point. “You’ve been awarded temporary security access, which is effective as long as I remain with you. What about the diner down the street? The eggs are runny, but the coffee is decent.”
Clint's emotions shift to relief. “That sounds perfect.”
Phil leads Clint back to the office he’s taken over so Clint can change his clothes. The decision isn’t even conscious - he can sense that Clint feels grimy, that he’d rather change before going out. Phil looks over. Clint’s still wearing his tactical uniform, and it’s covered in drying sweat. “I didn’t bring a lot of non-work clothes to this operation,” he says as he opens the door, “but if you can find something that fits, you’re more than welcome to borrow it.”
Clint glances around the room. “What about that?” he asks, pointing to the largest non-work t-shirt Phil has. It’s threadbare, but at least it’s clean. Phil had taken it out of his bags earlier because he’d had a vague notion of working out tonight if the bogey they were waiting for never appeared.
“I guess so,” Phil agrees. “It’s probably the only thing I own that has a chance of fitting you. You’re much broader in the shoulders than I am.”
He hesitates for a moment, but when Clint grips his tac shirt with both hands and flexes, Phil turns away. He breathes unsteadily out. His libido very much wants him to turn back around. There’s so much skin he could be looking at.
It’s not just a sexual urge, either. There are scars Phil wants to learn. He has a shared memory of shrapnel, of a building that fell and almost took Clint with it, of a bullet that grazed his thigh. Phil steels his resolve not to look despite the temptation, but it isn’t easy. “Ready yet?”
Phil waits another beat before turning around. Clint’s still wearing his tac pants, but the body armour he’d been wearing is lying in a heap beside Phil’s borrowed desk, and Phil’s t-shirt is now stretched tight across his shoulders. The sight makes Phil’s palms itch. He wants to lift the t-shirt and lick the skin beneath.
Shit. He’s probably transmitting that. Phil reins in his libido, searching for the edges of the bond, and consciously trying to pull back his thoughts. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s okay,” Clint says, two points of colour high on his cheeks. “It’s, uh, very flattering.”
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. Phil feels a stab of embarrassment. Clint’s a pinnacle of perfection, and Phil is… Phil.
“No, hey - ” Clint raises one hand, hesitates, and then completes the motion by laying it against Phil’s arm. “Don’t think that, it’s not - ”
He struggles to marshal his thoughts. Phil can feel him sorting through memories, trying to convey something perfectly in his mind. The picture is much clearer now that they’re touching. Phil sees a flutter of images - they’re Clint’s impressions of him, from the first whoa, he’s handsome to Clint’s split-second he has gorgeous eyes before they soulgazed.
Phil blushes. “Oh.”
Clint chuckles. “Seriously, you have nothing to worry about.”
His laugh is intoxicating, familiar even though Phil’s never heard it before. It sends a tingle down his spine. “All right. How about we go and talk? We can get to know each other a little.”
Phil leads him back downstairs. They walk past the command room and the junior agents poke their heads out to watch as they go by. Phil catches sight of the ventilation shafts Clint was using to get around. “Was that how you got in? Cho had mentioned the alley on the northwest side might be a point of access, but in the end we ruled it too difficult to get to.”
Clint shakes his head. “I used the east facing side, second window, three floors up. Someone,” he consults Phil’s shared memories, “ugh, Jackson? Left it open this morning.”
“That was foolish of him,” Phil murmurs. He sorts through the flashes he’d gotten from Clint and finds the memory of this morning, of Clint pulling himself up hand over hand. “There should have been cameras on that window, though.”
“Only the one. I tipped it to focus on the wall instead of the window. It was a dim corner in an unused part of the building, so I wagered no one would notice.”
“You were right,” Phil admits. He shakes his head. “That was sloppy of us, but talented of you to find a weakness in our security grid and exploit it.” He hesitates. He’s curious, but he also doesn’t want to push. “Have you ever worked for an agency before? I thought I got a glimpse of Fury when we bonded.”
Clint follows Phil outside, ducking his head against the glare of the sun. “I’ve done some contract work for the CIA before, but I’ve always resisted signing on the dotted line. There was someone who came by a couple of years ago, I think his name was Fury, though he never said he was with S.H.I.E.L.D. He tried to recruit me but I turned him down.”
Phil leads him across the street to the diner he’s discovered. “A few years ago - was that three years ago? Wait - ” Phil stops in shock, several pieces and stray memories fitting together. “You’re Hawkeye?” He blinks. “I can’t believe I missed that.”
“The bond dumped a lot of information on us. You’re him, aren’t you? That guy. Fury had said he had someone I could work with, someone who’d give me a chance.” Clint sticks his hands in his pockets, rocking awkwardly back on his heels as he avoids Phil’s eyes. “I didn’t believe him.”
“No, I understand, you had no reason to trust us and no reason to trust him. It’s just - wow. Nick talked about you for months. He wanted so badly to bring you in.” Phil shakes his head. “Now I get why.”
“I didn’t want to give up my independence. I refuse about two-thirds of the jobs I’m offered, and I didn’t want - ”
“I know,” Phil reassures him. He can sense Clint’s distress, gets a hint of the kinds of missions the government has hired him for in the past. “You had no reason to think we were different, but - ” He stops talking and tries instead to send Clint a picture of his confidence in Fury and in the work that they do. “S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn’t just want you to assassinate people. We need agents who can do infiltration jobs, too. Jimenez is a second-rate middleman with contacts I want to acquire. He’s working for bad people, Clint. I know that you’re careful about the jobs that you take, and I know you try to double-check things when possible, but you’re still doing more harm than good. I promise we’re better.”
“Can you be sure of that?” Clint asks skeptically. “I don’t trust S.H.I.E.L.D.”
“You don’t have to,” Phil tells him. “You just have to trust me.”
Clint swallows. “I want to. God, I want to so much. That’s the bond pushing at me, though, and I don’t want - I want to trust you for you.”
Phil tries to make sense of the emotions swirling through Clint’s thoughts. He gets another flash of Clint’s parents. “You don’t trust the bond to have your best interests at heart.”
“No,” Clint admits. “I don’t.”
“I understand. My own experiences have been different - my parents loved each other very much, and their bond was a beautiful thing to see in action - but I can accept that you're coming from a different perspective. Plus, I can tell you right now that Director Fury is not a romantic at heart. He’s going to want the same assurance that I can trust you, that I know you’re not the sort of man to take S.H.I.E.L.D. secrets and run.”
“I don’t know any S.H.I.E.L.D. secrets.”
“You do now,” Phil says gently. “I’m a level six agent, Clint. By becoming my bonded, you’re inside my head. That means you have access to information, classified operations, and statistics about hundreds of things you’re not cleared to know.”
Clint swallows. “So what does that mean? I don’t have a choice?”
“You always have a choice. I mean that. No one can make you do anything - not me, not Fury, not anyone. I’d like you to think about it, though. I think we…” Phil hesitates. He can feel something huge, something wonderful on the horizon. He wants to share it with Clint. “I think we can be good together.”
Clint bites his lip. “You honestly feel that way?”
Phil reaches out his hand, palm up, leaving it for Clint to decide. After a moment’s hesitation, Clint takes it. The bond deepens at the contact, letting him feel how much Phil believes in him, in them both. “I do.”
They finish walking to the diner, and then spend their meal talking about easier things - favourite movies they still enjoy, books they’ve re-read more than once. Typical get-to-know-you stuff. Phil finds the bond gives him access to big information and emotions, but less about the day-to-day minutiae that makes a person an interesting human being to know.
Clint, Phil learns over the course of the meal, likes purple. He enjoys fast cars, boats, and classic sci-fi. Phil shares that he catches broadway musicals whenever he has the time, watches bad reality television to unwind, and has always wanted a cat. “I couldn’t look after one, though. I’m only at my apartment one week in three.”
“I don’t even own an apartment,” Clint says, embarrassed. “At least not one I actually live in.”
“When we’re done here, maybe I could show you mine. Not,” Phil blushes, “for any nefarious purpose. I just want to show you around, let you see - ”
Clint laughs, relieving Phil of his awkward stammering. “I’d like that,” he says with a grin. “How much longer is this operation supposed to last?”
“Another two weeks. We’d hoped to take Jimenez and bargain for the information on his employer.”
Clint frowns. “What happens if he won’t give it?”
“Then we bargain harder. We don’t threaten people if we can help it, Clint, and we don’t kill anyone unless they’re very bad people.”
“Jimenez is... somewhere in the middle. I know he’s done things he isn’t proud of, but he’s a businessman above all else.”
Phil nods. “I thought so, which is why I figured he could probably be reasoned with.”
“Yeah. He wanted me to wipe the servers so he wouldn’t have to deal with - well, he thought you were the FBI - but I think he’ll deal. He doesn’t like his employer much.”
“Okay. Thank you for that information, Clint. You don’t have to give us anything else, though. I don’t want to put pressure on you in any way, shape, or form.”
Clint licks his lips nervously. “I was caught committing a crime, though.”
“You were,” Phil admits, “but I can argue that I offered you freedom from disciplinary action in exchange for your help. It’s even mostly the truth.”
Clint looks at him in wonder. “You’d protect me? Even if I decided not to join S.H.I.E.L.D.?”
Phil nods, hoping Clint can feel his sincerity through the bond. “I would. I will.”
“Wow. That’s just - ” Clint shakes his head and looks away. “No one’s ever offered me something like that before.”
Phil presses his lips together to stop himself from making a sound as a wave of loneliness sweeps over him through the bond. Clint suddenly looks small, and very young, and Phil just wants to wrap him in a jacket and bundle him off somewhere safe and warm.
He’s not sure how much of that leaks through, but Clint looks back up at him with a shy smile. “Thank you. That’s - ” He clears his throat. “That’s incredible.”
Phil blinks. “What is?”
Clint smiles. “You are.”
Phil blushes. “Not really.”
“No,” Clint interrupts. “You are. Maybe it’s the bond pushing at me, maybe it’s what the bond wants me to believe, but I can’t deny that I feel…” Clint shakes his head. “You deserve to know that the reason I’m hesitant has nothing to do with you and everything to do with S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Phil does know that. He can feel it through the bond. “Thank you.
“Come one,” Clint says, smiling. “I’m full. Let’s go back to your office.”
Phil’s still running on adrenalin from the bonding, but by the time they walk back, he can sense that Clint is starting to fade. Clint’s been pushing himself hard for the past few days - the past few weeks, hell, the past few years - and he’s due for a serious crash. Despite his continued reservations, the bond means he knows he’s safe with Phil.
He starts nodding off in the elevator, and by the time they make it back to Phil’s borrowed office, he’s starting to have serious difficulty focusing. “I just need to - a few more things. Talk. Sort some stuff out. Then I’ll go back to my hotel room.”
“There are still details to discuss,” Phil agrees, “and we’ll get to those, but for now I think you should rest, Clint. Sleep. We can sort everything else out tomorrow.”
Clint rubs a hand over his face. “Okay.” He yawns, and then his shoulders slump. “Yeah, maybe you’re right. Give me a minute and I’ll catch a cab back to my hotel.”
“You could crash here, if you like. Uh, on the sofa, it pulls out into a bed.” Phil blushes. “I’ve slept on it a few times this week.”
Clint shoots him a tired smile. “You’re such a perfectionist. What, you couldn’t spare the time it would take to go back to your hotel?”
“I’m not a perfectionist. We were in the middle of a crucial stage of - ”
“Oh, shut up,” Phil grumbles, but he’s smiling. “I’m just saying that if you want to, you’re welcome to stay.”
He can feel Clint thinking about it. It wouldn’t take too long to call a cab, but Clint would have to reset the traps in his hotel room, and keep one ear open for Jimenez while he slept. The middleman is sure to be wondering what the hold up is by now. “Am I cleared to sleep here? Do I need a guard?”
Phil huffs. “I’m perfectly capable of guarding you.” He’d certainly won the fight they’d had, even if he couldn’t be certain he’d come out on top a second time. Clint is wily.
Clint must catch some of what he’s thinking through the bond. Either that, or he’s just laughing at Phil, because he grins. “Uh-huh? I think there’s a bit of conflict of interest there, Phil.”
Phil rolls his eyes. “I’ve accepted the security risk of your presence onto my shoulders. If anything goes wrong, it’ll be on me, not on you.”
Clint frowns. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“No, I mean - ” He bites his lip. “I know I’m not about to turn around and shoot everybody on base, and you know I’m not about to turn around and shoot everybody on base, but S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t know that. You could get in trouble for this.”
“How about you let me worry about that?” Phil shakes his head. “It’s not an issue, Clint. The director trusts me.”
“You mean Fury?” Clint asks. Phil can feel him sorting through their shared memories. “You’ve been through a lot together, haven’t you?”
Phil nods. “We have, so trust me when I say that he’ll understand if I put you up for one night.”
“Okay,” Clint relents. “I guess so.” He hesitates. “Maybe you should, uh, stay with me, though. Just in case.” He blushes. “Make sure I don’t run off and sell state secrets, or anything.”
Phil smiles. “Clint Barton, are you asking me to sleep with you?”
Clint flushes bright red. Phil can feel his embarrassment like a flare of heat through the bond. “Well, in the interests of your career, I am.”
Phil laughs. “Okay, twist my arm. Now get up - I’ll show you how to pull the couch out into a bed.”
Clint does. The two of them manuever the sofa into place together, pulling the cheap cushions off, and unfolding the lumpy mattress into a slightly musty-smelling double bed.
“It’s hardly gold star quality,” Phil apologizes, “but the facility is secure. We’ve patched the hole you pointed out in our security features.”
“You added motion sensors to the cameras?”
Phil lifts his phone. “Rawlins did, and wrote a macro to inform us if the views change.”
“Sounds good.” Clint sits on the pull-out bed and listens as it creaks.
Phil winces. “Sorry. I did warn you.”
“I’ve slept on worse,” Clint says with a smile. Phil gets a flicker of hard floors and damp comforters. “Much worse.”
“You’re not the only one,” Phil laughs. He sends back a picture of his last op in Peru, along with the memory of a spider as big as his hand.
Clint flinches. “Eek.”
Phil grins. “Take your boots off. No spiders here.”
He puts actions to words by unlacing and removing his own dress shoes, bending to fit them under the desk. He also takes off his suit jacket and hangs it carefully on the hanger behind the door, making a mental note to have it sent away in the morning to be cleaned. He has a spare suit stashed in a closet down the hall.
Phil hesitates for a moment before undoing his belt, but Clint has turned toward the other side of the small office and is casually shucking his way out of his own clothes. Phil shakes off his embarrassment and follows suit.
They’re just sleeping, that’s all. A rest and recharge between action. It isn’t… they aren’t going to…
Clint faceplants onto the thin mattress with an audible “Oomph.”
Phil winces. “Don’t bust your head on the springs.”
“Mmm…” Clint burrows his way under the musty sheets. “Smells like you.”
“It smells like mildew.”
Clint takes a loud whiff. “It’s not that bad.” He pats the mattress. “Come to bed, Phil.”
Phil refuses to comment on the flash of heat that goes through him at the words. Instead, he focuses on doing as Clint’s asked. He climbs in on the side facing the door. If anyone attacks, Clint will want those few extra seconds to arm himself, while Phil is more comfortable with a close-range defence. “Come on, move over.”
Clint huffs, but consents to shuffle over enough that Phil can get in beside him on the narrow bed. The springs poke at him, but Phil has to admit the sofa bed is more comfortable with Clint in it than it has been all week. “This okay?”
Clint slings a hand over Phil’s chest, and buries his nose in Phil’s shoulder. “Perfect.”
Phil doesn’t think he’ll be able to fall asleep with Clint humming contently at his side, but the warm, solid weight of him, and the gentle cadence of Clint’s mind fading toward sleep, pulls him under.
He wakes up slowly, hours later. It’s an unusual experience for him. In the Rangers, Phil had learned how to wake up all at once. S.H.I.E.L.D. has only reinforced that predilection. Now, he swims to consciousness, rolling and ebbing with the tide. He can feel the poky mattress and the scratchiness of the covers, and the sensations are both familiar and strange. It takes him another minute to realize that’s because he’s feeling them from two different points of view.
The bond must have solidified in their sleep. There’s a warm presence against his back - or is that against his front? Either way, it’s comfortable. A solid presence beside his body and a warm light in his mind.
Phil’s honestly not sure which one of them has spoken, or if the words are out loud or in his head. He consciously focuses on his own mouth, touching his lips to make sure they’re moving. “Good morning.”
The warm body is lying against his chest. He’s the big spoon, Phil realizes, and Clint’s the little. He’s boneless and relaxed, waking up just as slowly as Phil is.
“Hi,” Phil says, his arms tightening around his bonded almost involuntarily. The urge to hold and keep him close is very strong. Phil has to deliberately relax his grip. “Did you sleep well?”
Clint nods, shifting a little against his chest. “Yes.“ He takes a deep breath. “I guess yesterday wasn’t a dream after all.”
Phil smiles. “No.” He blinks. “I did dream of flying, though. Did you?”
“I think I did.” Clint twists so he can look back at Phil. “This is so weird.”
Phil laughs. “I’m sure we’ll get used to it.”
“I’m sure we will.”
They share a sappy smile until Clint blinks and looks around. “Uh - what time is it?”
Phil glances up at the clock on the wall. He winces. “Late.”
Clint shifts onto one elbow. “Late? Oh - wow. We slept in.”
“Yeah.” Phil tries to turn over and stretch, but there isn’t much room on the narrow bed. “Are you hungry?”
Clint looks over and cocks an eyebrow at him. “Can’t you tell?”
Phil smiles. “I can definitely feel that one of us is starving.”
Clint laughs. “Okay, that would be me. I also have to piss. Where’s the bathr- Oh. Of course.” Phil can feel him consulting their shared memories. “Outside, and to the left.”
Phil nods. Clint gets up and walks to the small hallway bathroom. In his borrowed t-shirt and boxers, he looks adorably mussed. Phil tries to keep that thought to himself, but the boundaries between them feel lower than they did yesterday, and he’s not entirely sure what’s leaking through. “There’s a bigger bathroom down the hall, if you’re interested. It has a shower.”
“Maybe later,” Clint calls back. He disappears out the door.
Phil tracks him through their connection. It’s bizarre. He can feel Clint - it’s as if he can sense in his mind where Clint is at all times. It’s not a new sensation, precisely, but more like the way he knows that his arm is curled up over his head without looking.
He can also tell that Clint is getting farther and farther away, but amazingly the bond never feels strained. It stretches between them, stable and sure. It’s much less painful than it was yesterday.
Huh. It definitely feels more solid. Maybe that old wives tale about the first night together being the most important is true.
Even without the sex, Clint sends.
Phil blushes. Hey, no peeking.
Clint just laughs.
Phil shakes his head and gets up. He does a few light stretches, finds his towel and toothbrush, and joins Clint just as he’s finishing at the bathroom sink. “Here, you might want this.”
“Ooh, a toothbrush. Thank you. Are you going to shower?”
“I was planning on it.”
“Do you want some company?” Clint’s smile is evil.
“No. I - ” Phil gets a full-colour mental image of what Clint’s naked thighs looks like with water running down his skin. “No. Stop that. We have actual work to do today.”
“None of that,” Phil warns, a smile in his voice. “Jimenez will be expecting to hear from you. We need to know what we’re going to tell him.”
“All right, all right.”
Phil shakes his head, showers, and then realizes he’s forgotten to bring his new suit with him to the bathroom. Is the corridor clear?
Let me check. Yup. Why? Oh - naked Coulson, coming through!
Phil mentally rolls his eyes. “This is so much easier than texting,” he notes when he walks back into the office, clean and dressed for the day.
“It’ll be handy on ops,” Clint agrees, before he seems to notice what he’s just agreed to and stops.
Phil bites his lip to keep from smiling.
“Shut up,” Clint grumbles. “I haven’t decided anything yet.”
“I didn’t say a word,” Phil defends. “I didn’t even think it.”
“You didn’t need to. Come on, let’s go back to the diner. I’m hungry. You should feed me.”
Phil smiles. “If I must.”
They’re walking down the hall when Phil’s phone vibrates.
“Good morning, sir,” Rawlins says when he answers. “A few things came up during the night.”
Phil troubleshoots as Clint steers them towards the diner, dealing with a few minor issues, and assuring Rawlins that he will consider the major ones. He puts his phone away just as Clint orders them each a coffee.
“Is everything okay?” he asks softly. Phil can sense that Clint’s still nervous about making things difficult for him.
“It should be,” Phil reassures him. “Jimenez did a walk-by of our building last night, late, so we only caught it on camera. I guess he wanted to see if it was still standing. Did he know you were going in yesterday?”
Clint nods. “I’d told him I’d be making the attempt, yes.”
“So how long do we have before he starts to get suspicious?”
“Not long,” Clint admits with a sigh. “In fact, if I get a phone call within the next hour, it’s probably him. What do you want me to say?”
Phil shrugs. “I have a few ideas, but I want to know what you think first.”
Clint looks surprised. “Really?”
“Of course. Look, I’ve read Jimenez’s file, and I have a preliminary plan on how to deal with him, but you’ve actually worked with the man, and you know him better than I do. You’re aware of things I’m probably not.”
Clint still looks unsure, but a quick peek through the bond seems to convince him. Phil can feel him testing Phil’s sincerity, poking at their shared memories to see if Phil’s done this kind of thing in the past. He has, in Cairo, when their intelligence proved to be shit.
Phil lets Clint look his fill. “Better?”
Clint nods. “Yeah, sorry. I just - ”
“You had to see. I understand. So? What do you think?”
They talk for hours. Phil moves them out of the diner and back to his office when what they’re saying becomes too sensitive for outside ears. The plan is simple, but effective. Clint will say he wiped the drives, but that one of the suits - Phil - has a printed file. Clint will tell Jimenez that Phil wants to meet. Once they get Jimenez in the open, Phil will barter the file for the information about Jimenez’s mysterious Russian employer.
“I think that will work, but you should keep our new arrangement to yourself,” Phil says. “That way if anything goes wrong, Jimenez will never know your connection to S.H.I.E.L.D. You’ll still be able to work for him again.”
“He won’t want to hire me after I fucked up the job,” Clint argues. “Besides, you’ll need backup on site.”
“I’ll have it. I won’t just be walking into this op alone, Clint. I’ll have Cho with me, plus a few other junior agents. Jimenez is just a middleman; he won’t threaten me with danger.”
“I want to leave you an exit strategy. I can’t just demand you burn your bridges and come work for S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Clint gives him a pointed look. “That’s what you want me to do, though.”
There’s no point being dishonest. “I do, but that’s not all that I want. What I want most is for you to be happy.”
“Jesus,” Clint says, shaking his head. “Fine. Whatever. I’ll stand behind Jimenez and I’ll keep my mouth shut. I’m coming to the meet, though. If anything looks like it’s going down, I’ll be ready to provide support.”
Phil smiles. “Fair enough.”
They bring Cho and Rawlins in on the plan, hash out a few more details, and then move straight into its execution. Clint calls Jimenez and sets up the meet while Phil listens on an adjacent line, and then monitors Clint through the bond when Clint meets with Jimenez at his hotel. Phil had offered Clint some agents in plainclothes as backup, but Clint had refused. That puts Phil even more on edge, too acutely aware of the danger.
Clint tries to send him waves of reassurance, but Phil can’t help but fret.
This is one disadvantage of working together in the field, Clint reminds him while Phil is waiting for Jimenez’s call, flexing his toes to keep from twiddling his thumbs.
It’ll be better when I have a job to do, Phil assures him, but let me know if I’m being too distracting. He’ll have to work on that. He knows his head usually buzzes while he’s on an op, but it used to be only his own mind that was affected.
You aren’t, Clint sends back. The words are accompanied by a wave of affection. It’s actually kind of... nice. I’m not used to anyone worrying about me.
That’s no longer a concern, Phil promises, but let me know if it’s too much.
I will, Clint tells him. The tone is serious, but Phil can tell that he’s smiling.
The bond quiets and Phil goes back to waiting for Jimenez to make up his mind. Thankfully for Phil’s sanity and reputation, Jimenez calls before Phil has to resort to actually tapping his toes. They agree on a location and Cho jumps into a car, determined to find a vantage point and provide at least some limited sniper support.
Phil does what he can to give her time and travels at a slower pace. Still, it isn’t long before he’s seated at the cafe Jimenez had decided on. He doesn’t know where Cho is, but he knows she has eyes on his location.
“Hawkeye and Jimenez have entered the building,” she says in Phil’s ear. “Ready for contact.”
“Ready,” Phil answers, speaking into his comm.
Heads up, Clint sends him now. Phil takes a sip of his coffee before glancing across the cafe.
“Agent Coulson,” Jimenez says, catching Phil’s eyes, and walking over to his table. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. Thank you for coming today.”
“Mr. Jimenez,” Phil answers, standing from his chair. He doesn’t offer his hand. Jimenez looks capable - he’s a short, stocky man with a handgun in a shoulder holster and a knife at his back. He’s keeping his hands open at his sides, though.
Clint is standing at Jimenez’s right shoulder. He looks like a bodyguard, glowering at the cafe staff, the table, and Phil. But Phil can hear Clint buzzing inside his head, and he’s amazed at the constant stream of vectors and analysis that Phil would never have guessed from his ‘just the dumb muscle’ expression.
Jimenez’s eyes are hard. “I want that file.”
Phil gestures to the briefcase he has under the table. “I have your file. Let’s talk.”
They sit and order a drink - Jimenez gets a double-shot of espresso, and Phil another americano with cream. No one orders Clint anything. Phil gets the impression that Jimenez considers him in the doghouse. Evidently Clint was right and Jimenez isn’t happy about the op’s apparent bust.
“I am willing to give you the file, Mr. Jimenez, but I want something in return.”
“What is that?”
“Information about your employer.”
“Who? I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand.”
“Come now, Mr. Jimenez, don’t be obtuse. You know exactly who I mean. I want information about Mr. Pustoy, or, in English, Mr. Blank.”
Jimenez’s shoulders tense at the name. He glances around the cafe nervously. “Agent Coulson, I know less about Mr. Pustoy than you do. We exchange emails only. Money is moved using confidential wire-transfers with no names attached. I did not even know his pseudonym - I know him only as Account 889142.”
“Well then,” Phil says, “that’s information we didn’t have. See, Mr. Jimenez? You’re already proving useful.”
“That is all that I know,” Jimenez says, his eyes flashing. “I can tell you how much he paid me for this job, and others. I can tell you that he - or she - will not be pleased with this week’s activities. He does not appreciate delay, Account 889142. No, he does not.”
Phil lays the coveted file on the table. “Tell me more, Mr. Jimenez. Give me your impressions of the man - or woman, as you say. Tell me everything, and I will let you have this file.”
Instead of taking the bait, Jimenez leans back contemptuously. “You think that will tempt me? I know the dangers. Even the smallest leak of information will have Account 889142 gunning for my head.”
“You’ve already given me information,” Phil dismisses. “All I want is more.”
“You’ll get more than you bargained for, and fast. If Account 889142 gets wind of this conversation, there’ll be a bounty on my head so big you might get caught in the crossfire.” Jimenez looks over his shoulder at Clint. “Is that why you insisted on coming today, Hawkeye? So you could shoot me in the back if I talked?”
Clint shakes his head. “No, Mr. Jimenez.”
Jimenez scoffs. “Of course not. Like you’d tell me if it was.” He shakes his head. “No, Agent Coulson, that is all you will get from me. I value my life more than information. You may keep your file.”
“I urge you to reconsider, Mr. Jimenez.”
“Or what?” He smiles coldly. “The FBI does not have scare tactics that work against me.”
“The FBI, yes. What about S.H.I.E.L.D.?”
Jimenez pales. “S.H.I.E.L.D.?”
Phil smiles. “So you have heard of us. I’m afraid the FBI cover was just a ruse, Mr. Jimenez, though it was kind of them to let us borrow their building for this op.”
“You - No. S.H.I.E.L.D. has no interest in me.”
“Not in you, perhaps, but we do have an interest in your employer.”
Jimenez licks his lips. “I don’t - ”
Phil feels a flare of alarm through the bond. Clint has been tense at Jimenez’s side, alert to his surroundings, but now he starts. Something has caught his attention.
“Sir,” Cho crackles over the comm. “There might be - ”
Clint throws himself forward. “Get down!”
Phil’s pushed to the ground. He barely has time to register the cool press of the floor tile against his forehead before the snap of gunfire breaks out overhead.
One shooter. Black sedan. I’m okay. Stay down!
Phil ignores him and rolls out from under Clint, grabbing his gun from its holster and sweeping it, along with his eyes, around the cafe.
No one appears to be hit, but several civilians are screaming. Phil looks for the image Clint sent him, of a car weaving in and out of traffic on the road.
There it is - a black sedan, speeding away. Phil aims at the tires, but he can’t get a shot off without hitting pedestrians. People are shouting and stampeding in panic. “Cho! Do you have a clean shot?”
“No! Fuck - I got shit from this position. Rawlins?”
Rawlins sounds out of breath from her location on the other side of the street. “There are too many civilians, I can’t - ”
Clint stands up. Phil has a moment to appreciate the single focus of his thoughts, the clear, pinpoint accuracy of his concentration, before Clint raises his gun and fires.
It only takes one shot. The black sedan jumps. Phil looks, but can’t see what’s going on. “Cho, report!”
“On the move, sir,” she pants. She’s probably running. “Hawkeye took out the driver. The sedan is out of control - it’s veering off course - it’s crashing!”
Phil rolls to his feet. Clint looks at him, fear and worry running through his mind, but Phil sends him reassurance that he’s all right. Jimenez is crouched between them, looking wildly around.
Phil locks eyes with Clint. We need to get to that car.
I don’t see any other assassins.
Good. I’ll go left down the street, you cover me from the right.
“Rawlins,” Phil says into his comm. “Get to the cafe and cover Jimenez. Hawkeye and I will approach the car.”
“Yes, sir,” Rawlins answers.
Phil looks over at Jimenez. “I want you to stay here, Mr. Jimenez. Stay low. My agent will protect you.”
He waits for Jimenez’s nod of acknowledgement before standing. Rawlins is already approaching the cafe, fighting against the fearful crowd.
Ready? Phil sends to Clint.
Clint holds his gaze. Ready.
On the count of three, Phil dashes out into the street. The black sedan had gone another hundred feet before crashing, its front end crumpled around a street light just up the road. Phil approaches the car carefully with his gun in his hand. “Cho?”
“On your rear, sir,” she replies. “No movement that I can see.”
“Me neither.” Clint?
Phil nods, and steps forward carefully. There’s a single bullet hole through the rear window. He can see the slumped body of the driver from here.
Clint warms. They don’t call me Hawkeye for nothing.
That’s certainly true. “My name is Phil Coulson,” Phil says loudly, his gun steady in his hands. “I am an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. If there are any survivors, please exit the vehicle now.”
He waits a beat. There’s no movement, so he takes a step forward. In a flash, an arm comes up from the passenger side backseat, grip steady around the butt of an automatic rifle. Phil ducks even as Clint shouts a warning through the bond.
Phil’s not quite fast enough. There’s a punch as a bullet catches him in the chest, and then the hard, unforgiving asphalt is digging into his spine. “Ow.”
The word is a scream that echoes in his mind. Phil’s vaguely aware of Clint running, his thoughts a swirling pit of worry and pain and rage.
Phil coughs. “I’m okay.”
God fucking damn you, you’d better be!
I’m okay! Really, Clint. He coughs again. It’s not wet. I’m okay.
Where are you hit? He’s suddenly there, dropping to his knees beside Phil on the street. “Tell me where!”
Phil shakes his head. “My vest. It caught me on the vest.”
“Are you sure?” Are you sure?! “Are you hit anywhere else?”
“No, I don’t -” Phil bats Clint’s hands away. “I’m sure.”
Clint’s face is pale, his jaw clenched. “No bleeding. Your pulse is steady. Turn over, let me see.”
“Clint, we don’t - ” Vaguely, Phil’s aware of Cho pulling the suspect out of the car. The man has his hands on his head, his automatic rifle lying kicked away on the ground. “Oh. Never mind. Apparently, we do have time.”
Clint shoots him a dirty look. “Turn the fuck over, Phil.”
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry.”
Clint runs a hand up and down his back, as if checking for holes. “There’s no blood.”
“Because I’m fine. I told you, Clint. It caught me on the vest. I was just stunned.”
Clint slumps like a puppet whose strings have been cut. “Okay. Jesus.”
Phil hesitantly pats his shoulder. “Are you all right?”
“Am I all right?” Clint huffs weakly. “Jesus Christ, Phil. You’re a piece of work.”
Phil winces. “So I’ve been told. Come on, help me up. Those bullets pack a punch. I’m still sore.”
Clint breathes out. “Sure.” He reaches one broad, strong arm around Phil’s waist. “Here we go.”
“Oomph,” Phil exhales as he gets up. His chest really does hurt. His vest had taken the hit, but it’ll still leave a bruise. He looks over to where Cho is standing with one foot on the gunman’s chest, her weapon pointed unerringly at his face. “Any more?”
“I don’t think so, sir.”
“Let’s make certain,” Phil says, and gestures for Clint to check the vehicle.
Clint looks inside, popping the trunk to make sure no one is hiding there. “Clear.”
“Good.” Phil walks over to the gunman, crouching down next to his head. It hurts, but he ignores the pain, focusing on the man lying on the asphalt in front of him. He notes the short brown buzz-cut, the angry, squinting expression, and the Cyrillic letters tattooed down his arm.
“Hello,” Phil says in the even tone of voice he uses for all of his interrogations. “My name is Phil Coulson, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. I have a few questions for you regarding your employer.”
It doesn’t take long for the gunman to talk. He’s a low level employee, bottom of the totem pole, and he doesn’t know much, but Jimenez is upset enough to give them the rest. He doesn’t appreciate being shot at, and somewhere along the line he’s apparently decided that he wants to be on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s good side more than he wants to protect Account 889142.
“So,” Jimenez says to Clint, when he slips into the interrogation room as Phil’s finishing up, “you were a plant all along. The infamous Hawkeye.”
Surprisingly, Clint shakes his head. “No,” he answers. “I took the contract without prior obligations, but that’s changed now. I work for S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Phil blinks, and Jimenez looks between them. “Ah,” he says, “you’ve Bonded.”
Clint gives him a ghost of a smile. “Is it that obvious?”
“Yes,” Jimenez says, “but then again, I’m a romantic. What can I say? Fuck you for giving me up, but I understand. Congratulations.”
Phil can’t help but smile. “Thank you.” He looks at Clint. “Was there something you came in to tell me?”
Clint nods and tilts his head to indicate Jimenez. “Cho says his transport has arrived. He’ll be relocated with a cover story in place, as per the terms of his agreement. Rawlins is waiting for him outside.”
Phil gathers up his things, his notes and the digital recording of Jimenez’s interrogation. “Thank you, Hawkeye. Mr. Jimenez,” he says, inclining his head. “If you would?”
Jimenez stands. He gives them both a nod before stepping out of the room.
Rawlins pokes her head in. “I’ll escort him out.”
“Thank you, Rawlins.”
She leads Jimenez away, and the door closes.
Phil looks at Clint. “Well,” he says. “That op didn’t go quite as planned.”
Clint crosses his arms in front of his chest. “You mean you didn’t plan on getting shot?”
Phil winces. “No.”
“You weren’t shocked, though,” he points out sharply. “You were wearing a vest.”
Phil nods. “I do try to minimize the risks of my job.”
Clint blows out a breath. “Right, because this is something you do all the time, walk into situations that can get you killed.”
Phil smiles wryly. “Now you know how I felt when you went back to speak to Jimenez at his hotel.”
“I guess so. Jesus.” He runs a hand over his face. “How’d we both end up with such dangerous jobs?”
“Because we’re soulmates,” Phil explains, knowing the truth of that in his bones. “We understand each other.”
“Understand what it’s like to be terrified?” Clint grumbles.
Phil smiles. “Exactly. Could you have bonded with someone who didn’t?”
He can feel Clint’s glimmer of understanding through the bond. “Probably not,” he admits. He looks at Phil. “So what now?”
Phil hesitates. “Did you mean what you said? Do you want to work for S.H.I.E.L.D.?” He thinks Clint did, it felt like he did, but he needs to make sure.
Clint takes a deep breath, the nebulous uncertainly clarifying in his mind. “Yeah, I do. I’m not comfortable with the idea, but I want you - I want this - and I won’t be able to go back to my normal job knowing that you’re out there risking your neck.”
“You mean while you risk yours?”
“Maybe,” Clint allows, “but at least as a mercenary I could control which jobs I took.”
Phil shrugs. “Perhaps you could, but this way you’ll have backup, and a voice in your ear.”
Clint smiles. “Will it be your voice? Because I’ve got to tell you, I don’t want anyone else.”
Phil looks at him, trying to decide if he’s serious beneath the grin. He feels serious. “Are you sure?”
“I am. I don’t - Phil, I’m not going to lie to you, this entire situation scares me, but - ” He reaches out, offering Phil his palm. Phil takes it. The bond deepens and Clint’s feelings become clearer. I want this. I want you. “No one but you. God, Phil. You’re perfect, and I think we’ll work well together.”
Phil can feel the truth of his words through the bond, but he still has to ask, “Are you sure that’s not just the bond talking?”
Clint shakes his head. “That’s what I’ve always been afraid of, that’s why I wore the glasses and avoided people’s eyes, but I think I understand soulbonds better now. The bond shows me who you are, the kind of person you are. What I do with that knowledge is up to me. I admit that it’s hard to resist loving you, especially knowing you from the inside out like I do, but, Phil - I think you’re right. Who you are is why we could bond in the first place. You’re compassionate and kind and responsible and good. I need that. You’re perfect for me.”
The utter sincerity in Clint’s voice shakes Phil to his core. “God, I hope so.”
“I know so.”
They smile at each other. Phil feels a burst of love in his chest so strong, it would stagger him if he had to carry it alone. He doesn’t, though. He never has to do anything alone anymore.
“I love you,” Phil says. “I want to make this work.”
“I do, too.”
“Okay.” Phil takes a deep breath. “We can do this. Together.”
Clint grins. “Yes, we can.”
He leans forward, and Phil meets him halfway. When they kiss, it’s just a simple brush of dry lips. It hangs like that for a moment, and then the bond ignites like it’s on fire.
Phil gasps. Clint flares to life in his mind, the connection going instantly deeper, fuller, than they’ve experienced so far.
They both reel, but Clint recovers faster, licking his way into Phil’s mouth. The warm, wet heat of him spurs Phil to action, and he retaliates by sucking on Clint’s tongue.
“Fuck,” Clint chokes, when they break apart. The word reverberates through Phil’s mind. Lust, trust, and need come at him through the bond, which vibrates like a plucked string.
Phil paws at Clint’s shoulders. “I - I need - ”
“Yes,” Clint groans. “Yes, we do, like this - ”
He sends a mental image of Phil bowed backward over the table.
“No,” Phil says, breaking off. “Not here.” He sends another picture, this time of his hotel room across town.
“Too far,” Clint argues. “Here.” He tugs Phil to his feet, sharing an image of the stairway, the short hallway, and then Phil’s borrowed office with its pull-out couch.
“Okay,” Phil agrees, feeling breathless. “Upstairs. Now.”
Clint grins and jumps back, opening the interrogation room door and then speed walking down the hall. He reaches for Phil in the stairway, but Phil fends him off. Phil knows that the instant he gets his hands on Clint’s sinful shoulders, his resolve will crumble and he’ll end up naked, pressed against the cold tile of the stairway floor.
Good. Yes. Let’s do that. Now.
No. I will not have our first time be in a stairwell. Shut up and get your ass up these stairs.
Clint grins, and starts running. Phil experiences a minor heart attack at the image of Clint’s ass in front of his eyes. Somehow they manage to make it to Phil’s office without tearing each other’s clothes off, but it’s a close call. The instant the door closes, they pounce on each other, by some miracle not bumping elbows in their rush to get the other undressed.
It’s the bond, Clint thinks.
You’re right, Phil agrees.
It’s still humming, vibrant and strong, but it also coordinates them, letting Phil know when to lift his legs for Clint to pull off his socks and how to divest Clint of his boxers while Clint pulls off his own shirt.
It’ll be useful on ops.
“Shut up. No work talk now. Skin, skin, skin,” Clint chants, running hot palms over every inch of Phil he can find. His hands feel like magic, the calluses catching on Phil’s hair and making him groan. “I need to see you naked.”
Phil reels Clint back in for another kiss. “You’re not the only one,” he pants into Clint’s mouth.
The last of their clothes hit the floor. They hold each other upright, licking and sucking at each other’s mouths, until Clint rocks their groins together and Phil groans. When his knees give out, Clint takes advantage, pushing him onto the couch and straddling him, bracketing Phil with his knees on either side of Phil’s hips. The sheer expanse of skin-on-skin touch makes the bond shine; Clint’s thoughts, desires, and emotions so achingly clear Phil wants to fall into him and never come out again.
“You’re perfect,” he babbles. “Perfect, perfect, perfect.”
“Not me, Jesus, look at you,” Clint gasps. He runs his hands over Phil’s chest and down his arms, hips bucking as he ruts his cock against Phil’s. “Fucking gorgeous.”
Phil can see what he looks like through Clint’s eyes, eyes shining with lust and hair in disarray. There are spots of colour on his cheeks that mirror Clint’s own, and in retaliation Phil sends Clint a picture of what he looks like, a naked Adonis sitting on his lap.
Clint groans, rocking forward again. “It’s you, it’s all you, working me over like this. Jesus Christ, Phil, touch me.”
Phil doesn’t know how long he will last if he does, but he gives in regardless, running his hands up Clint’s chest and bracing himself against those delicious shoulders. “Fuck.”
“Next time,” Clint promises, leaning forward to capture Phil’s lips in another searing kiss. “Next time, you’re going to fuck me and it’s going to feel so good. Next time I’ll be able to take it. I’m not going to last now, though, Phil. Right now I just want to make you come.” He reaches down, grasping Phil’s rapidly stiffening cock in his perfect hand. “Come on, Phil. Fall apart for me.”
“Fuuuuck,” Phil moans. “Clint, Clint, Clint.” Clint is all he can feel, all he can taste. He surrounds Phil, inside and out, touching him with his skin and caressing him through the bond. Hands shaking, Phil reaches out and wraps one palm around Clint’s cock, achingly hard and leaking at the tip, and rubs the pad of his thumb over the sensitive skin.
He likes this, Phil knows. He’s sure that Clint likes this.
“Yes,” Clint keens, agreeing with him. Oh fuck, do that again.
Phil obliges, swimming in Clint’s pleasure through the bond. The long line of his throat beckons, and Phil can’t resist sucking on that glistening skin.
Clint groans and rolls his hips. “Like this,” he tells Phil, sending pictures through the bond. “Like this. Stroke me like this.”
Oh, Phil gasps. He changes the rhythm of his hand. Like this?
Yeah, yeah, like that, Clint encourages. Fuck, Phil. Just like that.
He fumbles Phil’s cock, stuttering in his rhythm when Phil hits a sweet spot. Fuck, baby, that feels so good. Slow down, slow down. I want to see you come first.
Phil pushes his hips up into Clint’s hands. “Both, both. We’ll come together. Fuck, I don’t think we’ll be able to wait. You feel so good, Clint.”
“You feel better. I should know, I can feel us both. Jesus. This is such a head rush.”
Phil groans. It is. He can feel Clint’s cock in his hand, and he can feel it from both his perspective and Clint’s. Clint’s also stroking him at the same time, and - fuck. It’s getting hard to tell where one of them ends and the other begins.
“Here,” Phil says. “Like this, do this.” He sends Clint mental instructions on how to cup Phil’s balls and roll them around in his hand.
“Okay, yeah, good idea.” Clint shifts to run his other hand under Phil’s cock, gentle under his sac. “Do me, do me like that, too.”
Phil groans, both mentally and out loud. “Fuck, Clint, your hands.”
“All for you, baby,” Clint pants. “All for you now. I’m going to make you feel so good. Going to learn every way you like it best.” He punctuates his words by pulling on Phil’s cock, rolling his balls around with his other hand.
It feels so good, Phil knows that he’s lost. He tries to hold on, tries to hold back, but he can’t. Like that, like that, keeping doing it like that. Fuck, Clint you feel so good, I - I, oh! Clint!
Phil gasps and comes, white light exploding behind his eyes. Dimly, he can hear Clint moaning his name, but it’s lost in the giant wave that swamps him. He floats for a moment before tumbling again - it’s Clint’s orgasm now, coming quickly on the heels of his own. The dual sets of sensations run like electricity up his spine. The bond shines. For a second it’s like they’re one person, one human being with two thoughts and two memories, but one shared moment of being.
Then they separate, each coming down from his own personal high.
Phil sucks in air through his mouth. His skin feels tacky. He gasps for a minute, catching his breath, and then touches himself. His chest is smeared with come.
“Mm,” Clint murmurs. He’s flopped forward, his back bowed as he rests his head against Phil’s collarbone. “I don’t think I’ve ever come so hard in my life.”
“Me either,” Phil agrees, panting. “We’re going to have to be careful. Sex this good might just kill us both.”
Clint grins, angling his mouth up for a kiss. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
Phil smiles and leans forward. They brush lips, more sharing space than kissing, but it still sends residual shocks through the bond. He can feel Clint’s amusement and contentment loud and clear. Phil pokes at their connection. “It feels even more solid, now.”
Clint presses kisses down Phil’s chin. “I guess the old biddies got it right. The sex really is important after all.”
Phil chuckles. “Sex and sleep.”
“Trust,” Clint says, tipping his head up to smile at Phil. “That’s what it demonstrates. Trust.”
“And love,” Phil agrees. He presses a kiss to Clint’s shoulder. “I never thought I’d be lucky enough to have this.”
“Me neither. I spent so long being afraid of the bond, and now I’m just happy to have you inside my head.” Clint laughs. “I never thought I’d say that.”
Phil grins. “I’m glad.” He brushes their noses together. The bond settles around them in a contented hum. “No second thoughts?”
“Not about the bond,” Clint says, shaking his head.
“But you’re still nervous about S.H.I.E.L.D.?”
Clint nods. Phil can feel his reluctance through the bond.
“I think you’re right, you know,” Phil tries to reassure him. “I think we’re going to work well together in the field.”
Clint snuggles closer to his chest. “We’ll have some time to ourselves before we have to find out how well though, right? Because as comfortable as this couch is, I plan on getting you horizontal before S.H.I.E.L.D. sends us somewhere with spiders as big as my head.”
Phil holds him tight. “Definitely. I’ve already put in the request to the director. I’ll take a week’s leave, and then we’ll start the paperwork to get you officially signed on with S.H.I.E.L.D.”
“Good. Come on. Let’s pull this couch out and nap for a while. I want to thoroughly debauch this office before we have to give it back to the FBI.”
Phil makes a face. “I feel as though I may need to leave an apology letter.”
Clint laughs. “What about a thank you card?”
Phil smiles. “That’s not a bad idea.”
Jackson from the FBI calls five days later, just as Phil’s setting the pot of coffee back on its base. “I hate you,” the FBI agent spits. “I’m getting the entire office fumigated.”
Phil grins. “I’ll transfer you money for a new pull-out couch. I’m afraid we broke the springs.”
“This makes up for Orlando. And Pennsylvania. And Cape Canaveral. Consider my debt paid!”
Phil hums in thought. “What about Oklahoma City?”
Jackson hangs up with a growl of frustration.
Clint reaches around him to steal the coffee. “Don’t send too much, sir, that couch was awful.”
“I don’t know,” Phil says, tipping his head up for a kiss. “I think it’s the thought that counts.”
Clint obliges. The bond between them sings happily.
Clint smiles. “None whatsoever.”
~ The End