Clint sat hunched on the bathmat, shuddering as the room filled with steam. Eventually he managed to crawl into the shower and under the cascade of scalding water. He peeled off his sopping clothes and left them in a heap to one side as he slowly unthawed.
Struggling to his feet he began to slowly wash. He needed to get himself back together enough that Phil wouldn’t take one look at him and commit him to a psych ward. Though it might be too late for that considering how spaced out he was earlier. He had been doing okay, not great, but he had been surviving. Why was one bad argument with Natasha enough to send him into a total tailspin?
“Clint, I’m bringing your clothes in.” Phil said, slowly opening the door and setting a bundle of clothes on the counter. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I’ll be out in a minute.” Clint managed, his voice rough.
“Stay in as long as you like.”
Clint stayed under the water until his fingers pruned before forcing himself to get out and dry off. Stumbling, he tried to take stock but nothing really registered under the overwhelming exhaustion that was muting his every reaction. He was sure his brother could show up right now and he wouldn’t even blink.
Phil had left him socks, boxers, a long sleeve tee shirt, sleep pants, and a stretched out sweatshirt with the Army Rangers emblem that must have come from his own bag. He pulled everything else on and brushed his teeth before considering the sweatshirt. It even smelled of Phil he absently noted, as he slid the too large sweatshirt on.
He opened the door to Phil sitting in bed in his own tee shirt and sleep pants. Steve must have left a while ago for Phil to have changed already. Clint shuffled his way to the other side of the bed and curled under the covers with a small sigh. Phil shifted, putting up his book and turning out the lights.
“I don’t want to make you uncomfortable…but, I would like…I mean.”
Clint shifted until he was facing his ex-handler. This was not a side of Phil he had ever seen before. If it wasn’t so dark he would bet the other man was blushing. He kept being shocked by the differences between Coulson, the resident bad ass of Shield, and Phil, the relaxed middle aged man who read fantasy novels in bed and watched crap TV.
“What do you need, Phil?” he asked softly, his voice slurring slightly with sleep.
“Can I hold you?”
“You want to hold me?” He repeated dumbly. He felt the other man start to shift away and reached out to snag a wrist. “Not saying no, Phil. Just asking.”
“Yes, I would like to hold you. If that’s okay.”
“Because I’m hoping it will help us both sleep and I want to.”
“Okay.” Clint said with a nod, shifting back on to his stomach, pulling at Phil’s wrist until he was half draped over his back, one ankle tangled with his.
“Okay?” Phil asked hesitantly settling his weight against Clint’s back.
“It’s good.” Clint sighed softly, letting the weight and darkness pull his muscles loose. He wanted to lay there and bask in having Phil this close but he was just too tired, slipping into sleep between one breathe and the next.
The next morning Clint jerked awake with Phil’s alarm. Right, he had to go into work today for a meeting. He watched blurrily as Phil gathered his clothes and disappeared into the bathroom to get ready.
Clint pulled himself up to sit at the edge of the bed, dozing in place until Phil exited the bathroom, Clint shuffling to take his place. Bladder and teeth taken care of he changed into a pair of worn jeans before collapsing back into bed.
“Want me to call for some breakfast?” Phil asked softly.
“Nah, gonna sleep some more.” Clint muttered, already halfway asleep cuddled around a pillow still wearing Phil’s sweatshirt.
“I should be back for lunch. It’s your turn to pick.”
“Okay. See you.”
Phil watched for a few minutes as Clint slept. He was moving around like he was recovering from a beating, stiff and bruised. Even without the flashbacks Phil would have been worried about the archer.
Clint had lost weight while he was in the hospital and not gained it back. He was leaner than Phil could remember him being in years. He looked more like the injured half-starved young man that he had recruited all those years ago than the confident, witty man he was used to working with.
With a silent sigh he gathered up his things and went to find a cab. After an hour long meeting that Phil could have honestly skipped, he made his way to the Director’s office, ignoring the few hardy souls who tried to interrupt him. He strode into Fury’s office waving away the secretary that was standing up to stop him. He shut the door behind him as the director eyed him for a second before wrapping up his phone call.
“Major world catastrophe I am not aware of?”
“Nothing that extreme.” Phil said with a small smirk. “I want to see the reports from Barton’s last mission and his medical records.”
“Those are sealed for a reason, Coulson.”
“Because of Loki, not from what he went through on his last mission.”
“Explain your reasoning, Phil.” Nick said with a sigh. “Do I need to be worried about Barton?”
“Then why do you need the files?”
“He’s pushing everyone away. He won’t let anyone other than Natasha and myself touch him and has started flinching even then. I need to know what we might be triggering so I can help him through this.”
“And this has nothing to do with the fact that you want in his pants?”
“I’ve always been professional with my assets, Nick.”
“You have but right now he’s not your asset. He’s just a roommate and an injured one at that.” Nick pointed out, gesturing for Phil to take a seat. “I need to know that you won’t use any of the information in here against him while he’s vulnerable.”
“The last thing I want to do is hurt him, Nick.”
“I’m not saying you would, Phil. I’m just saying he’s bleeding right now. This last mission probably touched on a lot of things from his past that are going to leave him unbalanced. You know how rough a childhood the guy had.”
“Clint had a horrible childhood but he grew into an amazing man.”
“A man that still carries the scars from his childhood, Phil. You push him too hard and you could trigger more than you bargained for.”
“I’m aware of that, Nick.”
“I’ll give them to you on one condition.”
“What would that be?”
“Barton has to agree that you can read them.”
“Call him. I’m sure he won’t have an issue.”
Nick picked up his phone with a raised eyebrow but Phil did not recant even if he did hate that Nick was waking Clint up for this.
“Barton, how are you doing?”
“Good to hear, son. I have a question for you. Coulson would like to view your files from the last mission. Are you okay with that?”
“Since he’s no longer your handler he needs at least verbal permission when the files have been sealed from both myself and the asset.”
“Of course. Keep up the good work, Barton.”
“You’re allowed to see the mission reports but not the medical. You have twenty four hours to get this back to me.” Nick said, digging through a file cabinet and handing over two thick files.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t break my asset, Phil.”
“Never, sir. If I do you are more than welcome to fire me for it.”
“Like we could get rid of you.” He said with a snort. “Get out of my office, Agent. We both have things to do.”
“Of course, sir.”
Phil took the folders back to his office and locked the door. He did not want to be interrupted while he was reading. The first folder contained everything Shield had on Clinton F. Barton’s past before he joined Shield. He almost skipped over this file but in the end, settled in to review everything. Fury might be right that something in Clint’s past was triggering this.
Four hours later he sat back feeling nauseous and worn out. Clint had been through hell on the mission and rereading the bare bones facts they had gathered from his past had just left Phil speculating over random comments and faded scars he had seen over the years.
Clint had been beaten and probably raped at a young age. He had suffered from malnutrition well into his teen years. Old fractures and healed breaks filled his x-ray films. He had come into Shield covered in scars and a mask of sarcastic bravado that drove even the friendliest person away.
There was no firm documentation to show how old Clint was. There was no birth certificate to be found and no records of hospitalization. Until he started to go to school Clint did not exist on paper. Even then the records are patchy as his parent’s died when he was possibly as young as four, more likely six. He spent at least two years in various orphanages and foster homes before he ran away to the circus with his brother.
They knew he had probably been trained by Trickshot, also known as Buck Chisholm, and the Swordsman, also known as Jacques DuQuesne while he was with Carson’s Carnival of Traveling Wonders with his brother, Charles Barney Barton. Clint had started training and possible performing while he was still in his early teens, possibly as young as ten.
The folder on the mission was more detailed. What should have been an easy surveillance mission had been complicated by Hawkeye refusing to let the terrorists murder a child on his watch. Taking out enough guards to let the child escape had compromised his position and led to his capture. He had been held for eight days before Shield was able to get a team to his location.
It had taken years to wear away at the mask Clint wore to see the man underneath. Phil counted himself extremely lucky that he even knew as much about the man as he did. It hurt to realize that Clint’s masks were fully back in place after he got out of the hospital. He had barely started opening up again when Natasha’s actions pushed him into fleeing.
Clint was an expert at deflecting personal questions and dragging the person asking into a different conversation. Phil had considered trying to get him to teach the rookies how to do it at first before he realized that Clint sometimes didn’t even realize he was doing it. He was so used to pushing those around him away from personal topics that he no longer even realized he was doing it.
Phil sealed both files into several envelopes and gave them to Nick’s secretary to get refiled. He should have been surprised to see Natasha and Bruce waiting at the elevator for him but he had been waiting for the team to ambush him the second he stepped onto base. At least Bruce had the grace to look slightly sheepish about it.
“Agent Coulson.” Bruce said with a small smile.
“Dr. Banner, Agent Romanoff. Fancy meeting you here.”
“How is he?” Natasha asked once the doors of the elevator had sealed them in.
“Exhausted, suffering from flashbacks, and exercising too much.”
“Budapest or Loki?”
“Budapest.” Phil said with a sigh. “He can’t just get over something because you think he should, Natasha. It’s going to take time.”
“Would he not want me to visit?”
“I don’t think so but he’s going back to the tower on Sunday. You might want to wait.”
“Is there anything we can do to help?” Bruce asked.
“Maybe you could call him? Not even Shield has bothered to contact him yet.”
“He wanted space.” Natasha pointed out.
“Everyone likes to feel needed.” Phil said, suppressing a sigh.
“I’ll talk to Steve, Tony, and Thor. They will probably want to do a party or something when he gets back.”
“Stark still bouncing around the planet playing CEO?”
“Yeah. Tony’s convinced Pepper messed with his calendar as payback for forgetting her birthday. He’s already bought her two lines of designer shoes.”
“Did she admit to it?”
“No, utterly denies that she did it but she seems to be enjoying all the attention.”
“You know who did it, don’t you?” Natasha asked, eyes pinning and dissecting his every tick.
“I’ve been sworn to secrecy.” Phil said with his blandest smile.
“Pity, Tony has been trying to undo the bug for days now. He wants to hire whoever did it.” Bruce said laughing softly.
“I’ll be sure to let them know. It’s always to have options.”
“Very true.” Bruce said with crooked grin. “Can we give you a ride?”
“I’ll catch a cab. Have a good evening.”
“You as well. Tell Clint we said hello.”
“Of course.” Phil agreed, a small smile lighting his face as an idea popped into his mind. Flagging down a cab he gave the cabbie the address for the hotel and started the first of several phone calls. He had a lot to set up in a very short amount of time.
Clint woke when Phil came back in the hotel room. He fuzzily watched as he gathered up some clothes and disappeared into the bathroom to change. He blinked his eyes back open as Phil sat down next to him.
“Hey, you planning to get up?” Phil asked, rubbing one hand along Clint’s shoulders.
“Eventually.” Clint muttered, trying to not melt back into the mattress under Phil’s firm touch.
“I have a surprise for you if you feel up to it.”
“What kind of surprise?” Clint asked, forcing himself up to sit against the headboard. Phil had changed into jeans and a soft looking black sweater that made Clint want to touch it.
“Well, I thought I would take you out to lunch than we could go to the aquarium if you still wanted to.”
Clint really did not want to go anywhere but Phil looked so hopeful that he nodded and muttered, “Yeah.” as he peeled himself out from under the blankets. He felt like someone had scooped him out. He was hollow and stuffed full of cotton, clumsy and so achingly tired.
“Great. Do you want a shower first?”
“Yeah. Let me get cleaned up. Do I need to dress up at all?”
“No, wear whatever you want.”
Clint gathered up some clothes and headed to the bathroom. Glancing at himself in the mirror, he winced. Okay, his hair looked a mess, he probably did need a shower. He knew without Phil’s prompting he would have went out as is. He just didn’t have the energy to care right now.
He compromised and dressed a bit nicer than he wanted to but pulled his bulky hoodie over the V-neck sweater and khakis. He could not seem to get warm. Maybe he was getting anemic or something. He’d get something with meat for lunch today.
Clint shuffled obediently after Phil, giving him a small tired smile as another cab was magically waiting on them. Phil climbed in next to him and Clint did not bother to protest when he sat pressed against one him in one long line of heat. Phil was just so damn warm.
He only raised an eyebrow at Phil when they were dropped off at the aquarium. Phil gave him a small smirk and led him to an unmarked side entrance. One quick flash of ID later they were lead deep into the bowls of the aquarium, and ushered through an unmarked steel door.
Inside Clint froze only a few steps from the door. The walls and ceiling of the small room were solid glass. A curving glass shell separated the dark room from a tank full of different colored fish and a massive shark that prowled past as he watched. A table of steaming dishes had been set to one side but Clint ignored it, moving to sit at the low bench next to the tank.
“Sir, please let me know if you need anything else. I’ll cover the food until you’re ready.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it.” Phil said, a soft smile on his face as he watched Clint absorbed in the fish.
“I don’t mean to be rude, sir, but can I ask, is it cancer?”
“No, no. Nothing like that.” Phil said, finally turning fully to see the young man. “He was a soldier, special ops.”
“Yes.” Phil bit out, wanting the man gone.
He moved away to stand behind Clint, dismissing the waiter from his mind. Clint did look worn out but that was no reason to assume he was dying of cancer. He was sleep deprived, not sick.
“Surrounded by idiots.” Phil said huffing a breath through his nose before sitting down next to Clint.
“Do we need to leave?” “What? No. We have the rest of the day, the room’s booked until closing.”
“I can’t believe you did this.”
“Just called in a few favors.” Phil said, watching the tension bleed out of Clint. “Come eat something. You didn’t have dinner last night or breakfast.”
“Alright.” Clint agreed, letting Phil pull him up.
He picked at his food, most of his attention on the moving fish but Phil did not call him on it. Clint needed to eat more but watching the stress and tension easing from his face and posture was worth a missed meal or two.
“Come on.” Phil said abandoning his own meal pulling Clint over to the bench next to the glass.
He didn’t let himself think about what he was doing as he pulled Clint back to lean against him, arms loosely wrapped around his middle. Clint went tense in his arms but did not fight the hold. They stayed that way for several long minutes before Clint shifted slightly closer.
“I don’t know what you want from me, Phil.” Clint said, his voice rough.
“Just want more of this.” Phil said with a small squeeze. “More mornings waking up next to you, more dinners after work and nights watching bad TV and the action movies you like.”
“I want to spend time with you. Take you out to dinner, maybe out hiking on the weekends if we can get time off.”
Clint needed to make sure he understood exactly where they were going. He tried to ignore the press of memories and abuse the conversation was pulling up. How many times had he lost a friend because they wanted to date him? How many times had his heart been broken when that friendship was destroyed? When he was abandoned all over again?
He did his best to ignore the sarcastic chorus of Trickshot and Barney in the back of his head. God, he was such a fuck up. Too broken to even deal with normal life.
“You want to date?” Clint asked, feeling like he was being stupid about this but he needed to be sure of exactly what Phil was asking for.
“If you are willing, yes.” Phil said running one hand along Clint’s side in a soft soothing motion.
“I don’t,” Clint choked, fighting for air. “I don’t think I can do sex right now.”
“We wouldn’t have to, Clint. I’m good with whatever you are willing to offer. I like this, just getting to hold you. I’ve been thinking about this for years.”
“Had a crush on you.” Clint muttered, feeling the back of his neck heat. “You in those damn subtle suits making everyone think you were an accountant before you wiped the floor with them.”
“My suits?” Phil asked, laughing softly. “Your suit should be illegal. I spent so many missions trying to not stare at you.”
Clint shifted deeper into Phil’s hold, letting himself enjoy this for now. He almost never got what he wanted and never got to keep it in the long run. Maybe this time he would just take it day by day, enjoying the moments he could until things finally turned to shit. He could hope at least.