"Hey, Phil, you're there?" Clint's voice came softly over the radio.

"Did you spot our target?" Phil asked back.


Nothing but silence answered him.

"Phil?" He asked again.


"I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"Just, you know, generally. This wasn't how I imagined spending Christmas this year."

"You never made the impression that you cared for Christmas."

"Lack of opportunity, I guess." He tried to laugh it off but the movement made the gunshot wound in his side hurt even more than it already did. He reached down with one hand and found that the makeshift bandage was already soaked through. The target better showed her face soon or Phil would have to take her down on his own.

"Me, too." Phil said so quietly that it was nearly lost in the static.

"Maybe next year," Clint tried to sound optimistic, "with the whole team."

"Tell me about it." Phil sounded as if he was trembling. It had to be cold down there, exposed to the wind and the snow.

"Tony will buy the biggest tree that we can fit into the living room." Clint remembered how disappointed Tony had looked when Fury had told the team that Phil and Clint wouldn't be around for Christmas. "And Steve and Darcy will insist that we decorate it with homemade stuff, cardboard angels and crooked stars cut from construction paper. We will all sit around the kitchen table and make them."

"If we put Tony in charge, there will be mistletoe." Phil added. Clint thought that he could hear him smile but maybe he was imagining that. He shivered when a sudden breeze caught him unaware.

"Can't forget that," He agreed. "We'll have it on every doorway. Darcy and Tony will bet who gets the most kisses."

"She'll win."

"Only if Bruce doesn't give in to Tony's advances at one point," despite the whole fucked up situation Clint smiled when he remembered Tony's obvious crush on the other man. "But he won't get to kiss you."

"Why not?"

"I won't leave your side."

"Jealous?" That was definitely a chuckle, Clint hadn't imagined that. He clung to that sound when he tried to shift slightly to put less pressure on the wound.

"Maybe I don't want to kiss anyone else but you." This was as close to admitting his feelings as he had ever come.

"Me neither." Again the words were nearly drowned out by the static. Clint frowned. "Phil, can you change position? I keep losing your radio."

"No…sorry." He could hear Phil gasp or maybe it was only more static. It became hard to tell. He felt dizzy and light headed but he couldn't afford to lose his concentration. Not yet.

"Right…where were we?" He began to feel restless and sweaty. The blood loss was getting to him but he needed to stay still until their target was taken care off. He only wished that the two snipers she had put into this small cave as her backup hadn't been such a good shot.

"Christmas," Phil prompted. He sounded breathless, probably from the cold. The wind had to make the freezing temperatures so much worse. "You wanted to tell me about Christmas dinner."

"Did I?"

"And presents."

"I'll get you a tazer." Clint teased him.

"I thought you had more imagination." Phil replied dryly.

"A pet then?"

"I already got Tony. And the rest of you."

"Hey!" Clint felt obliged to protest.

"I'm sorry. I exclude the female team members from that generalisation of course."

"What would you like for Christmas dinner, then?" Clint asked. He knew Phil was rolling his eyes at the unsubtle attempt to change the topic but Clint needed to hear him, needed to focus on something. His hands trembled where they were wrapped around his bow.

"What do you traditionally eat?"

"You're asking the wrong one," Again Clint tried to brush over the topic as lightly as he could even though he knew that Phil had undoubtly read his file and knew all the dark and dirty secrets from Clint's past.

"Thor will probably bring some big, mythological beast. And met, lots of met. We'll be too drunk to remember anything and Pepper will have embarrassing security videos the next morning that Fury will use to blackmail us into missions like this one."


There was that silence again, that long dreadful silence where anything could have happened without Clint ever knowing about it.

"Phil?" He tried again.

"Sorry," Came Phil's voice finally.

Clint squinted into the white hell around them. Sweat was running into his eyes and made it harder to look but he could have sworn that he saw something moving. He remained absolutely still, not even drawing a breath until he saw it again.

"I've got the target. 11 o'clock from your position."

"Don't shoot." Phil ordered him.


"That's not our target-"

"-How can you know that?"

"That's the rescue team." Clint heard him take a breath, then Phil asked, "Clint, you were shot too, weren't you?"

For a moment Clint's hands tensed around the bow when he grasped the implications of Phil's words.

"How did you know?" He asked quietly.

"I know you quite well, Agent Barton," there was that breathless laugh again. It sent shivers down Clint's spine.

"They were waiting for us. Sorry I lied to you."

"Stop fucking apologizing!" Clint shouted which hurt badly. He took a couple deep breaths, trying to find his composure again.

Through the wind he could hear the distinct noise of an approaching helicopter.

"I want waffles," Phil said suddenly.

"What?" Clint asked confused.

"For Christmas dinner next year, waffles with powdered sugar and strawberries and that expensive coffee Bruce guards so fiercely."

"Sounds like the best Christmas dinner ever." His rescuers were so close that he could hear them shouting to each other over the wind.



"Everything will be fine."

Clint leaned his head back against the cave wall and tried not to cry.


When the helicopter finally took off, Clint tilted his head to look at Phil's still body. With the last bit of his strength he reached over, slipping his fingers between Phil's and felt the weak but steady pulse against his own wrist.

"Waffles with strawberry and coffee," he whispered. "I promise."