"Mrs. Peel, we're needed," Phil declared, smirking from the bathroom doorway, holding his crooked elbow out for Clint Barton to take, while his other hand twirled his cane (complete with hidden sword) jauntily.
"Natasha is your Mrs. Peel tonight," Clint groused, though she did hand him her crossbow to hold while she added a few more bobby pins to anchor her wig in place. Her meticulously assembled Katniss Everdeen costume (circa the 74th Hunger Games) just wouldn't look right with her normal spiky blondish mop. While Natasha's Emma Peel costume was simply her normal work attire with a belt and dyed brown hair, Clint had spent just over two months tracking down each piece for hers. She'd carefully made sure to select the items closest to perfect, and she wasn't about to stop with her hair.
She had plans for the 'fucking fantastic favor' Stark was offering as grand prize for the costume contest.
Having prepared for the Stark Industries Halloween costume ball by memorizing several select lines from the series, Phil had a ready rejoinder for his lover's anticipated reply, although he delivered it with perhaps a shade too much earnestness. "You'll always be Mrs. Peel to me."
Clint chuffed a laughed as she side-eyed him, and stepped back to examine her hairdo in the mirror.
"Besides, you're the one with Em in your name," Phil reminded her, coming to stand behind her at the sink counter. He set her bow and his cane carefully on top, nudging their toothbrush cup out of the way, then put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed briefly, giving her a soft smirk
Clint glowered at him for even mentioning that travesty, albeit in shortened form. "I don't let anyone call me by my full name, not even you, Phillip," she growled the reminder at him. Doctors should not be allowed to let women on drugs name their newly-born offspring. Clementine, really? And the nickname of 'Clem' given by her jackass father wasn't much better. She was just glad that when she was eleven, she'd discovered anagrams then subsequently Clint Eastwood, which resulted in her new name once she realized she could make Clint out of the letters of her first name.
"It's John tonight, remember?" Phil offered her a conciliatory smile, meeting her eyes in the mirror.
"Yeah," Clint sighed as she picked up her bow and headed towards the door. "I still don't see why you couldn't be Peeta," she continued her refrain of the past few weeks, ever since finding out Phil and Natasha were planning matching costumes. She really wished Natasha had taken Sitwell up on his offer, instead: to be the Natasha to his Boris (from Rocky and Bullwinkle, natch) and help him 'ketch Moose und Squirrel' (Agent Quartermain and Agent May, respectively). Instead, Agent Hill was playing opposite Jasper, and Clint had to admit she looked the part (and did a very convincing faux Russian accent). "You even have your favorite weapons in common!" Not entirely, since Phil had only used a spear that one time in Budapest, but he did favor misdirection above all else. Besides, Clint wanting Phil to be Peeta had more to do with the fact that he was like her personal Peeta – coming along at the lowest point in her life and offering her a ray of hope with the offer to join SHIELD.
"Aside from the fact that I'm much too old to make a convincing Peeta?" Phil raised an eyebrow into his receding hairline. "There's also the fact that really, you could play Peeta better than I could; you have the same hair and eye color. Your haircut is even similar," he added, referring to her short-and-spiky lack-of-a-style.
They were the same reasons Phil had given her every other time she'd mentioned him going to the party dressed as Peeta or Gale or even another Hunger Games character, but tonight, with full evidence that Phil's costume was meant to match someone else's taking on a more insidious meaning in her mind, Clint felt the old familiar hurt rising to clog her throat. "Ah, so that's why you didn't choose me for your Mrs. Peel – I look like a boy," Clint grumbled under her breath. Even though she knew Phil hadn't meant anything against her looks, this had been a sore spot ever since she hit puberty and puberty hit back by giving her barely any curves. It worked for her as an archer and acrobat, and most times it didn't really bother her, but…well, between that lack and her many other insecurities and trust issues, Clint had always had problems managing relationships with men and women both, making her sometimes (make that many times) question even Phil's attraction to her. Even now as an Avenger and 'superhero' with action figures and licensed Nerf bows to her name, it still stung that she wasn't considered sexy by the mainstream.
Clint had always found it ironic in the extreme that her most common complaints about such were the direct opposite of Natasha's.
Phil's eyes widened and his lips parted slightly, brow knitting up in a frown. "Clint…" Phil, of course, had heard her, though she had honestly not meant for him to. She'd never explicitly stated this one insecurity of hers out loud, though she was a bit surprised at his surprise to learn of it – she'd thought he had had her completely figured out before Budapest, at least.
She hadn't meant for him to hear her worries, and she really didn't want to get into this now – or ever, truthfully. "Never mind, let's just go," Clint said, giving him a bright, and equally obviously fake, smile, and hoping he would just let it go – at least for now.
But Phil was never one for putting off the hard stuff. He'd told her more than once that it only made things harder in the end, and despite that being one of the many things she loved about him, she didn't always like it. Placing a hand on her forearm, he said with calm sincerity, "Clint, honey, you know I think you're beautiful."
Flushing – as always – at the pet name, Clint ducked her head. Phil had said that, yes, quite often. But sometimes it was hard to believe, especially when she needed a wig to have an actual hairstyle.
And when her 'competition' was her gorgeous best friend.
Not that Clint thought Phil would ever cheat on her – or that Natasha would participate – but then, jealousy was never logical. "But not beautiful enough to be your Mrs. Peel?" came from her traitorous, traitorous mouth in a soft voice that actually fucking cracked on the penultimate word. Inwardly cursing, she gave a sub-vocal growl of frustration and turned away to blink a few tears from her equally traitorous eyes, tears from sadness and anger both, though mostly disappointment (in herself). She shouldn't be still hung up on this, after all these years. Especially since she'd had Phil for the past five (minus those two weeks Fury had let everyone think he was dead, but he was really recuperating in Tahiti, of all places). She especially shouldn't want to cry over a fucking costume choice. It wasn't even like she thought couples should automatically wear matching costumes to parties, but that her boyfriend's costume matched someone else's…someone prettier than she would ever be…
Well, it hurt. A lot. A lot more than she had apparently let herself realize.
"This is about Natasha's and my costumes?" Phil asked, eyes narrowing as his keen analytical mind tried to figure out the heart of the matter.
Normally, Clint loved watching Phil figure things out – it was smoking hot. But only when he was psychoanalyzing other people. She nodded reluctantly, still refusing to meet his eyes directly.
"Have you ever seen The Avengers TV show?" It would have been a non sequitor if not for the calculating look on Phil's face.
Frowning as she gave a decidedly indecorous sniff, Clint replied (a bit petulantly, truth be told), "I watched a few episodes with you." Well, mostly she'd listened as she'd filled out her ever-increasing backlog of paperwork. That was how she'd recognized the lines he'd been using all week.
Phil's eyes gave that shrewd sparkle that she knew (and loved) so well. "But none of the other episodes?"
Now she was getting annoyed on top of everything else. "No."
"Ah." Realization or something similar dawned over Phil's face. He took a deep breath and settled himself, then gently turned her chin so he could look her straight in the eye. "Mrs. Peel is Mrs. Peel because she is married to Mr. Peel," he said in the same voice he used when outlining mission parameters: calm, steady, and impossible to ignore or question. "For the majority of her time on The Avengers, he was missing in action, but while Mrs. Peel works with John Steed, at the end of her time on the show, she leaves Steed for her husband. And Steed was single."
"Was?" Clint asked through the lump in her throat, noting the change of tense halfway through Phil's impassioned speech.
"Was," Phil repeated, capturing her hand in his. "And Natasha," he continued, "is my friend. Our friend. Who didn't want to go to this party, let alone wear a costume, and when I flippantly suggested Emma Peel, she watched a few episodes and decided I would make a perfect John Steed. I agreed, because you already had your costume, and I knew that while you can pull off looking seventeen, I can't manage looking that young anymore." The self-deprecating look on his face as he said that last was familiar to Clint – from the other side.
The realization that maybe Phil was just as insecure about some things as she was gave Clint the proverbial kick in the pants she needed to realize just how silly her own insecurities were. No, she wasn't a model, and Phil looked within a few years of his age of 42 (older or younger, depending on how stressful the last 24 hours had been), but neither of those were bad things.
They stood there for a moment, basking the cliché romance of being lost in each other's eyes – for about fourteen seconds. Then the awkwardness threatened to take over.
Luckily, Clint knew exactly what to do: apologize. No matter how embarrassed she was about her behavior, it wasn't really Phil's fault. And he was right about not putting off the hard stuff. "I shouldn't've–" she started.
Phil shook his head. "No, you should talk to me about things like this," he interjected. Then paused. "Or, ah, at least, you should feel you should, uh, be able to. Share your feelings with me, I mean." His mouth twisted up in that half-frown he got when his words weren't as eloquent as he liked.
Giving Phil a small, crooked smile, Clint asked, "Should I be able to doubt you, too?" while reaching out for his hand in apology.
Smiling back, Phil said, "Able to, yes. But not employing it too often, I hope."
"I'll try," Clint agreed, and sealed her promise with a kiss.