In regards to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the newest agent, the asshole, is a shittastic actor. I would gladly blow up his character. He sucks. He's a duck, Skye deserves better, Coulson ought to be the uncontested lead, and ASDFGHJKLK SHEPARD BOOK IS THEIR Q HE'S THEIR Q I JUST ASDFGHJKLKJHFDSAASJK
Okay. I got it, I'm cool. Just. This show is perfect except for Agent Bad-At-His-Job McDickmelon and the fact that I had to watch with my Dad, and when it comes out on DVD, I'll buy two copies - one for me, and one that I'll let my family borrow. Occasionally.
My Dad stole my Firefly DVDs last weekend and scuffed two. I'm really pissed. So, yeah.
But I digress. This is my second 5+1, but I hope this'll be better than my old one. I loved that it was a ToshikOwen tribute, but I'm not satisfied with the content or quality. Granted, I was twelve. So. Yeah.
Five Times Clint Could Have Sworn He Saw Coulson And One Time He Knows He Did
1. Coulson is dead.
Clint knew it; everyone knew it. It hurt like a goddamn knife in the throat, like someone garroted him with barbed wire and filled the wounds with salt, but he can't get emotional over this.
If he cried, or got angry, or did anything but his job, they'd throw him into a Psych Eval and those are worse than bottling everything up, so he kept his mouth shut and his emotions in check.
He was flipping through their DVR, clearing out the various playlists they'd collected, and he hit Phil's. He spent too much time on paperwork, on fieldwork. He always complained that he never got to watch Supernatural on time; he full-on pouted when he ended up missing America's Funniest Home Videos.
Sometimes Clint wished he'd made Phil stop working. Phil could have spent more of his life relaxed, curled up under a blanket on the couch with hot cocoa and Clint. They could have spent nights together; his pillow in their apartment would have picked up his smell.
Instead, it just smelled like detergent.
The only thing that smelled like him in the entire apartment was his closet - full of suits, it smelled like warm wool and woodsmoke and a hint of brown sugar and black pepper. Clint had spent more time than he'd care to admit curled up on the floor of it, eyes shut, just breathing.
But anyways, as he filtered through the latter half of Season Eight, watching Sam grow sallow and weak and trembly, coughing up blood and barely aiming his gun, something non-show-related flashed across the screen.
Dark blue towel wrapped around his waist, brown hair so wet it was black, Coulson's reflection strutted past the kitchen and looked dead at the screen, blue eyes reflected so that they gazed into Clint's. He walked forward, reflection growing, and Clint's heart pounded in his ears, pulse roaring.
He rested his hands on the back of the couch and leaned down to kiss Clint's hair.
The archer whipped around - eager, desperate, searching - and found nothing.
The apartment was empty, save Clint and Coulson's suits and the faintest scent of sugar and pepper.
2. "Tasha, I know what I saw," Clint hissed, leaning in close across their brunch table, a cayenne pepper-dusted French fry pinched between his finger and thumb. "He was right behind me, in his towel. Like he'd never left."
"Oh, птичка," Natasha soothed, resting one small, smooth, pale hand over one of his rougher, darker one, shaking her head at him. "You're grieving. And you're trying not to. Something has to give."
"It was him, Tasha, I know it." Clint shook his head, dropping his fry.
A waiter slipped past, carrying a stuffed chocolate waffle topped with peaches and walnuts, and beneath the sticky sweetness of the dish, Clint could smell warm wool and brown sugar and black pepper. He looked up, eyes wide and alert, sniper-mode.
The waiter's hair was a familiar shade of brown and slicked away from his forehead; despite the casual air of the self-proclaimed Finer Diner, his clothes are ironed perfectly; he's wearing a silver watch that Clint remembers painstakingly selecting and anxiously presenting to his handler when they crossed the line, officially, from co-workers to partners.
"Look, Nat, look at him! It's Phil, I know it is." Clint tugged at Natasha's sleeve, trying to make her look at the waiter.
Natasha's head whipped around, bright curls flying, and she traced over the entire corner. "I don't see him, Clint. He's not here."
Clint shook his head, snorting out a hot, tear-clogged huff. "It was him."
And when their waiter - charmingly cheerful, knows their orders by heart, always so damned nice - swung by to drop off their check, Natasha asked, humouring Clint, "Have you hired anyone recently? We saw a waiter who looked like our friend, Phil."
The waiter shook his head, smiling. "Sorry; we haven't hired anyone new in a couple of weeks."
Clint nodded in thanks and dropped his half of the check, tugging one of Phil's old jackets tight around his shoulders, and quick-marched to the car.
All of the sudden, it was too cold.
3. Clint was packing like it was shameful.
He stuffed his clothes - assorted casual wear and far too many pairs of thick, fluffy socks - into one U-HAUL box, taping it shut as quickly as possible. The pale beige tape was wrinkled, lumpy, twisted; Coulson would have hated it.
Instinctively, he tore the tape off, crumpling it into a ball and throwing it into the trash, laying down a smooth new strip.
He packed books next; some historical texts, historical fiction, a few faerie tales and folk legends - textbook escapist material. If not for his job, spy books and political thrillers would have been included; they hit too close to home on a good day.
Since Loki had arrived, there was a marked decline in good days.
Toiletries were stuffed into his backpack, as well as his laptop and phone, and Clint was about to leave when he walked past the closet.
Still, Phil's scent hung around it like a fog, a tangible reminder that their apartment was half-empty like the proverbial glass. Clint wanted to take all the suits with him, but that would alert the Psych team, and he'd be taken off active duty. He needed active duty. If he kept moving, kept fighting, kept firing arrows through nameless, faceless baddies - one day, he'd reach someone high-up enough to lead him to Asgardian weapons tech. One magic arrow, one stupid fucking sword, and he could split the Trickster into little, tiny pieces and burn them all.
If he stopped moving, he'd have to start talking to people, friends, and they'd all see that there was something indubitably wrong. Natasha was safe, because she hated Psych as much as he did.
Thor just made Clint angry. He was so goddamned cheerful and cavalier, loud and boisterous and happy. He had more power than any of them, and he didn't give enough of a damn to use it. Clint didn't even know if Loki had been punished, or what kind of punishment they had for murder of a human on Asgard. Thinking about it made him want to shoot Thor in the gut.
Tony, who unprovokedly had promised to keep paying the rent on their apartment, would give him one of those looks - those battered-kid puppy eyes, full of silent understanding and apologies he didn't have to give - and then proceed to make some forcedly-blase comment. Tony was a friend, but Clint didn't want to face anything other than the barrel of a gun held out by his next mark.
Bruce, however, would be even worse. He was so fucking earnest; he'd offer Clint a mug of perfect tea and give him that same look, talk to him about grieving and acceptance and loving someone that you can't have, and when Clint inevitably spilled his beans - Bruce ought to be on interrogation detail; Clint was trained to keep secrets and he blabbered his family history within an hour because he just felt trustworthy - that little flash of green would come up in Bruce's mooncalf eyes. He'd be angry for Clint - for the fact that he felt so alone, for the fact that he's scared and empty and angry all the time, for the fact that he can't trust his own teammates enough to talk to them. And then he'd be a little disappointed, in himself, that he couldn't be trusted enough; he'd blame the Big Guy, or his own volatility. Clint hated seeing Bruce like that; he had enough of his own shit to handle without Clint messing everything up.
And then there's Steve. Big blue eyes with those stupidly pale lashes - they reminded him of that little neighbour boy from when he was four, who rescued puppies and cried when they cut down mouldy trees because little chipmunks and birds lived there - staring at him so sadly. He'd apologize awkwardly for the loss of his partner, and he'd just look so eager to help, and all Clint would be able to see is Phil, blushing over his Captain America cards; those same cards that Phil never took out of their protective Ziplock bags, loose and splattered with blood. Steve's face was the worst to see because just looking at that earnestly mournful little face made him want to cry.
So, one last time, Clint opened the walk-in and took a deep breath. Wool, woodsmoke, brown sugar, black pepper. He wanted to bring all the suits with him and slide them on a body pillow, pretend that Phil was curved around his back and hugging him.
He raked one hand down the soft wool sleeves of Phil's innumerable suits, feeling for a phantom hint of warmth, and sighed.
Something moved, in the corner of his eyes, and Clint turned.
The door of the closet had a floor-length mirror; Phil would try on suits in it, checking for signs of wear of a skewed ironing crease. Clint would hug him from behind and tug on his tie just to kiss him. Reflected in that mirror, Phil strode smoothly across the room, dressed like he's leaving for work.
Clint twisted around, eyes wide and wet. No sign of Phil.
Maybe he was going crazy; maybe Tasha was right about something having to give.
4. Flashbulbs kept going off in Clint's eyes; none of the cameras were expressly aimed at him, he's sure, but they're blindingly bright anyway, and they hurt his eyes.
Tony made him go; it's an Avengers press conference, about the battle of New York and the Hooded Hero and the sudden rise in superheroes. Clint is an Avenger. Ergo, his presence is necessary.
Well, actually, Pepper helped. She was the one who forced him to leave Phil's grey suit jacket behind, the one who corralled him into the car and made sure he actually looked vaguely human.
Tony had given him sympathetic looks and coffee, sassing Pepper just so she'd crack a grin; her smile - the real one, not the PR Goddess grins that had recovered Stark Industries from Tony's many disastrous drunken escapades - was infectious.
"What are you going to do about the destruction you've caused to this city in the process of defeating alien attackers?" one reporter shouted.
Steve, all hopeful blue eyes and respectful duty, recited his part: "We'll all be helping in the reconstruction and restoration of all damaged property - I love this city; I've loved it as long as I can remember. We've done our best to rescue it, and we'll keep doing it in future, but now? We're gonna extend that same effort to repairing it."
Another reporter, a distinctly fishy look on his sour-milk face, hollers, "Tony Stark, you've got more than enough money to fund this effort, but instead you're leaving it up to taxpayers' hard-earned money. You're the richest man in the nation, the tiniest fraction of the one percent - how can you morally expect the 99% to take care of the damages you caused?"
Tony laughed; half harsh edges, half genuine amusement. "Well, Mr. AM New York, I think your paper's been misinformed. Gramps, if I may?"
Steve chuckled, shaking his head fondly, and took a seat next to Thor, sipping from a water bottle conveniently provided by a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.
"What I and my CEO have been keeping under wraps is that I'm not only funding the repair of all public properties, but I'm also providing housing for those whose homes were destroyed in the battle of New York, and I've supplied robotic construction equipment to cut down on potential casualties and the waiting period for those whom the battle has rendered legally homeless.
"I'm not the most outwardly-humanitarian of heroes," Tony admitted, laughing. "I have a track record for acting like a dick. But if I didn't want to help, I wouldn't be here, as part of the Avengers. I love this city, and I'm sorry for my part in destroying so much of it. We couldn't stop the destruction; the best we could do at the time was save as many people as possible and draw the Chitauri off. But now? We're damned well gonna fix it."
He wasn't defensive; he was broad and cheerful and puckish, nowhere near as sweet or as practised as Steve, but he sounded honest in a way that so few public figures ever did.
Every reporter shot up, snapping photos and screaming questions, and somewhere amongst the bright lights, Clint could swear he saw that same sweet smile that had greeted him constantly at the end of brutal missions or in the morning, still bleary and sandy-eyed with sleep, but painfully happy to see him.
He lurched forward, a movement aborted by Natasha's hand on his knee and a near-imperceptible shake of her head.
Eventually, everyone sat down, but other than that flickering hint of his smile, Clint saw no trace that Phil had ever been there.
5. Clint walked out into the kitchen of the Tower, intent on grabbing a bagel and fleeing - somehow, someone had found a deli with blueberry bagels; while not as good as homemade, they were still glorious little wonders.
Instead, he was greeted with the sight of every Avenger sat in a ring around the kitchen, Natasha immediately at his side and guiding him to a chair. "They know something's wrong, птичка. Trust them like you trust them in battle. We're all safe here."
"You told them?"
Tony shook his head. "Some papers and magazines caught pictures of you at the conference; JARVIS collected the images and strung them up chronologically, then played them like a film clip. It's easy enough to read lips, and you've been acting... weird. Weirder than usual, anyways, Katniss."
"That's even worse," Clint laughed, dry and sharp, like he was gagging on a sort of betrayal. "You asked your AI butler baby to spy on me!"
"I asked him to check up on you," Tony said; now, he was defending. Now, he was protecting his own protective measures, and if that wasn't redundant, Clint didn't know what was. "He checks up on everyone's media presence, because I don't want any of you getting hurt or compromised."
"Master Barton, I feel the need to assure you that he did so with the best of intentions - "
"JAR, I love you, but shut up!"
"Anything for you, Sir," JARVIS sniped.
"I gotta put the kibosh on his sass," Tony sighed.
Clint shook his head. "So, what? You showed the whole team? I thought the whole purpose of this tower was privacy, Stark."
Steve winced sympathetically, standing up. "He thought we could help. He didn't want us to turn you in to Psych; he knows how much you need to distract yourself from everything. I'm really sorry about your loss, Clint, and I respect that you don't wanna be taken off active duty - I get it. I thought I saw people I used to know - "
Clint could see it in the softness around his eyes, the inward slope of his usually Atlas-strong shoulders; he saw his old girlfriend, in crowds and on strangers, reflected in coffee pots.
" - all the time. Once I adjusted, they went away, but..." Steve sighed. "I got to handle it, to accept it. You're not letting yourself, and it's not healthy."
"We just don't want to see you like this," Bruce said, quiet. He smiled comfortingly over at Clint, eyes wide and empathetic, and Clint bit the inside of his lip. This was exactly why he couldn't do this, couldn't talk to them about this: he couldn't keep a lid on his reactions when they all cared so much. "And we promise, Psych won't ever know. S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't have access to the CCTV here, and Tony's got everything cut off right now. The highest-tech thing still working besides JARVIS is the blender."
Clint nodded, sucking in a quietly shaky breath. "I miss him."
Thor shot up like he couldn't stop himself, wrapping his arms around Clint. He was warm and solid and he smelled like rainstorms, and he squeezed like he wanted to squish Clint into him, swallow him up and absorb everything bad. "I feel that this pain is my responsibility, friend Hawk. It was my brother who took your beloved from you; he slew Son of Coul, and had I been even slightly more aware of affairs at Asgard..."
His voice cracked, eyes red and wet. "Had I known of his plans, or been more focused on his actions and his troubles, I feel that I could have stopped all of this.
"Clint, I am so sorry," he finally rumbled, and with that, Clint broke completely, pushing away from Thor.
"You shouldn't blame yourself," he managed, eyes burning. "This is none of your faults, okay? None of you killed him. None of you had anything to do with this. If anything, it's my fault.
"I was on guard when Loki came through. He took over my mind, and Selvig's; if I'd done my job right, he wouldn't have gotten a chance to get near Phil. It's my fault he's gone, and it's my fault that I'm gonna have to live without him. I killed him. I killed the love of my life, and that's my cross to bear!"
Clint realised, in the vaguest of ways, that he was shouting. Shouting and sobbing and falling to pieces; he'd never been so thankful that S.H.I.E.L.D. couldn't see into the tower. He'd never had to be before.
Phil was their handler; he was the only Agent who got to look in on them. S.H.I.E.L.D. used to mean safety, but that was gone now; Clint deserved every inch of this, and he knew it.
Natasha - who didn't like touching, not unless it was necessary, not unless she trusted you explicitly - wrapped her tiny arms around him, one hand stroking through his hair, tugging him down to whisper soothingly in his ear.
It worked - Clint felt calm, comforted. But he didn't want to be calm.
He'd spent months forcing himself to be calm; now he wanted to rant and rail and rage.
"Just... leave me alone," he gritted out.
Natasha let go instantly; she understood not wanting to be touched, understood craving it so much that having that need fulfilled felt wrong. "We're always going to be here if you want us, Clint," she promised.
With that, Clint ran to the elevator, JARVIS immediately opened it. Clint vaulted up and opened the ventilation grate, sliding through the steel tunneling with instinctive ease, tears dripping silently down his cheeks - once a sniper, always a sniper, and he couldn't escape his training. He was safer here than in the open, but he couldn't be loud here.
It took him less than eight minutes to reach his room, and he dropped down straight onto his bed, bouncing once before the mattress stilled and he could cover himself in blankets. Here, it was dark and small and quiet; here, he could mourn.
Clint didn't know how long he'd been in there, crying, but when he finally stopped - too dehydrated to waste his reserves on tears - he tugged the blankets off his head, sniffling as he wiped his cheeks dry, burying one side of his face in the left-hand-side pillow, the pillow that Phil would have taken.
A grey wool-clad hip - suit trousers, perfectly pressed, a cream and burgundy glenn plaid pattern so faint that it's only visibly because it's so close - appeared right before his nose, which fills with that scent. He's tried recreating it, tried figuring out why and how he always smelled like that, but never could - it wasn't his shower gel or detergent or shampoo. It was all Phil.
He heard the soft rustle of sleeve brushing against jacket, and his eyes closed in anticipation. He knew Phil was going to touch his cheek, one thumb caressing the tear-swollen bags under his eyes, and then he'd say, "Budge up, sweetheart. You're on my side of the bed."
It never came. Clint kept his eyes closed for an hour, never once opening them or going to sleep. Phil was there. It was all okay again, because Phil was back and any minute now, his smooth hands and trigger-callused fingers would cover Clint's right cheek and he'd speak, and the weight would melt away from Clint. His spine would decompress and he'd sit up to kiss Phil, and the stars would fall back into their normal rotations.
That night, Clint crept out of his room and up to the common floor, to where he knew the rest of his team would be.
"I keep seeing him," he admitted, whispering. "I see him all the time, and it hurts. I need..." He couldn't articulate it, kept tripping over the thick, wet wad of loss on his tongue, and Natasha and Tony were immediately at his side, helping him to the couch and sitting down next to him.
Everyone crowded around him, filling the empty spaces so that everything was compacted, pressed so tight that it spilled out, manageable for once.
They left no room for terror or mistrust; for the first time since Loki had stepped through the Tesseract's portal, Clint felt completely safe.
+1. He knows it's not sane, but the ads he's been seeing for the Supernatural Season Eight DVDs are stuck in his brain and he knows Phil would have died to watch the special features.
Clint looks on the Barnes and Noble website, unwilling to waste time on something he knows is probably detrimental to accepting Phil's loss, and finds that the only damned location in the city is in TriBeCa.
He gets into the building just fine, makes it up the escalator past Bed Bath And Beyond, but he gets lost looking for the DVDs. "Fuck, fuck, fuck," he hisses, twisting like a wet sheet in a strong wind. It's too big and too bright and too much, and he shouldn't even be here, but he is. He needs this.
Finally, he makes his way - almost totally by accident - into the DVD section, where he searches around for Supernatural for twenty goddamn minutes before finally seeing the box.
There's one left, just one, and he runs towards it like a man possessed.
He makes it, grabs hold of it, and another hand clamps down on the opposite edge, trigger-callused fingers clamping down over Sam's face.
Warm wool, woodsmoke, brown sugar, black pepper. Clint breathes it in, deep and satisfying, before murmuring, "When I open my eyes, he won't be here. It's just a hallucination." He closes his eyes.
"I'm here, sweetheart."
And it's his voice, but it's more than that. There's body heat floating into Clint's shoulder; and he can feel slow, measured breaths coming from behind him; and when he inches his ring finger out to touch the Phillucination's finger, it's there and warm and solid - smooth fingernail, rough cuticle, deeply furrowed knuckles and a scar near the middle knuckle from an onion dicing accident.
"Phil," Clint breathes, and he lets go of the DVD in favour of grabbing Phil's lapel - a deep navy colour, cashmere wool, one of Clint's favourites on him - to pull him in and kiss him.
Phil's arms fall around his waist and tug him close, the corner of the boxed set digging into the base of his spine, and kisses him like he's starved for it. Clint can't find the heart to care - not about the corner jabbing at his vertebrae, not about the teenagers tittering appreciatively at them over a Girls boxed set or the geeks grinning over a Doctor Who DVD, not about anything but keeping Phil as close as he can.
When they finally pull back to breathe, to look each other over, Clint bites his lip and rasps, "I thought you were dead. I thought you were dead."
Phil shakes his head, hugging Clint as tight as he can. "I've been healing, but I'm okay now. I'm back. I love you so much, Clint."
"I love you, too. Fucking hell, Phil, don't leave me again. I don't think I can handle it." Clint laughs, hoarse, eyes bubbling over.
Phil strokes a thumb under one eye, swiping away tears and cupping one cheek. Foreheads pressed together, he swears, "You'll never have to. I never want to be away from you that long."
They pay, as quickly as they can, and they both step into Lola. "I, um," and Clint blinks, a quiet rush of shame burning his cheeks. "I moved into the Avengers' Tower in September." He doesn't say why, because Phil already knows; he saw it in seconds. "Tony's kept our apartment paid for, and I didn't move any of your stuff."
Phil kisses his temple, and Clint goes molten. "We can do whatever you want."
Within twenty minutes, zooming through the skyline like a child slaloming through an obstacle course, mindlessly joyful, they reach the Tower.
Clint drags Phil in, rushing him up to their room, and JARVIS doesn't have time to begin the 'Unidentified Visitor' alert before Clint shouts, "He's safe, JAR, it's Phil. He's home."
"Master Coulson, welcome to the Tower," the AI says, clearly excited. "Shall I inform the others of your arrival?"
"No, thank you, JARVIS," Phil replies, beaming. "Let them know in about an hour?"
"Give us two," Clint amends. "I haven't seen him for real since August."
They practically roll into the elevator, Phil eagerly clinging to Clint, groping his arms, while Clint tugs his button-up out of his trousers. He wants to see him, to feel the reality of him, and there's no feasible outcome in which Phil doesn't let him.
"I love you."
"I love you."
The door to Clint's room slams shut behind them.
Natasha's pet name for Clint is Russian for "little bird/birdie."
I'm very sorry to all Supernatural fans who have yet to see S8; I hadn't seen it until last weekend, but it's so good. I'm very sorry for any vague spoilers.
Read and review, pretty-pretty please! For these two reunited love chickens. They deserve all the love in the world.
Also, I may be persuaded to add a not-so-TV-appropros ending if eight reviewers ask.