During the first month after the battle of New York, Clint Barton was a ghost – even when he’s in SHIELD. Partly because he didn’t know how he could face the other agents after what he did. Partly because he couldn’t face himself. No matter what Natasha or any of the other Avengers say, he felt like he should have been able to do *something* to keep Loki out of his brain.
And he couldn’t bring himself to interact with any other agents than Phil Coulson and Phil’s gone. So, he mostly lurked in the ductwork and the other corners of the building to make sure they’re safe and does what he can to help beef up security. If he’s not there, he either down in the range practicing his marksmanship or in the gym working with Steve or Natasha on his hand-to-hand. And if he’s not *there*, he’s in the ductwork above Phil’s office.
Some of the junior agents have taken to leave food for him there on Phil’s too-neat-even-before-he-died desk, but no one tries to talk to him or force him out.
So it surprised him when Maria Hill entered Phil’s office one day. “I know you’re up there,” she had said, as if it’s perfectly normal to be talking to someone who’s in the air ducts. “This is for you.” She placed a sheet of paper on the desk. “If *anyone* finds out *anything* even *remotely* connected to this,” with each emphasis, she jabbed the paper with her finger, “even Tony Stark won’t be able to prove you ever existed. Got it?”
Clint didn’t reply, just stared at the paper through the grate, trying to divine its secret from the few words printed on it. Satisfied with his silence, Maria turned and left. Once he was sure she was gone, he carefully removed the grate and silently dropped to the floor.
He inspected the paper, but there were no further clues up close than what he saw from above. On the paper was a web address for a generic online email account, along with a username and password – both so mind-numbingly normal he doubted anyone would ever take a second glance at them. Which he guessed was the point.
Clint considered accessing the account right there, but knew there was a good chance that, at the very least, SHIELD was monitoring what was going on the office’s computers, never mind Tony and who knows how many other possible enemy groups.
Instead, he left the building and headed a few blocks away to an internet cafe. He reserved a computer in a back corner, away from the windows and front door, but close to the back door and with his back to the wall. He accessed the account and was surprised to find a handful of emails waiting in the inbox, all with the username being the same as the account he was now signed into, the bland subject of “Vacation: Day ___”, and an attachment.
He opened the first one and downloaded the attachment, surprised to find it was a video file. He started it and practically fell out of his chair when Phil came on the screen. His lover was pale and worn and looked like he hadn’t slept in the past month.
But he was alive.
“Do not adjust the picture on your screen,” Phil signed with a small smile and Clint grinned. “It really is me. Loki did technically kill me and I allowed Fury to use my death to bring the Avengers together. Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for Loki, I didn’t stay dead. I –” he hesitated, “I don’t know where I am, and even if I did, I’m sure a jailbreak would be unwise now, considering how I’m still healing from a magic scepter going through my chest. I’ll post a video every day to let you know how I’m doing. I hope they’ll let you see these. Just because they agreed, doesn’t mean it’ll happen. Keep yourself safe.” He flashed the “I love you” sign, and the video stopped.
Clint took a deep breath and for the first time in a month, actually breathed.
He quickly watched the rest of the videos, a total of seven in all, and Phil was blessedly alive in all of them. There wasn’t any day-to-day improvement that Clint could see in Phil, but just the fact that he was still alive and breathing and signing by himself was enough. Every day he told Clint how he was doing and made wry observations on how he was being treated, the staff in the facility where he was being treated, the food, everything.
Clint couldn’t keep himself from laughing – everything Phil said sounded like something Clint had said on a mission. By the end of the seventh and last, he has to wipe away a few tears of relief.
Phil was alive and would one day be coming home.
He practically ran up to the manager’s desk and asked, “The computers – do they have cameras?”
The kid behind the desk looked at him like he’s grown another head. “A couple do. What are you planning on doing with it?”
“I need to send a video. Nothing bad, I swear. What about the one in the back?” He pointed to the computer he’d been using.
“That one doesn’t, but I can hook you up with one.”
Clint paid for another hour, because who knew how long this is going to take, and followed the kid back to the computer. The kid quickly set up the camera and showed him how to record with it and, before heading back to his post, admonished Clint against being too loud.
Clint just nodded as he sat down, knowing it was a wasted warning. He wasn’t going to be uttering a word.
He stared at the computer screen for a long moment, trying to gather his thoughts into anything other than, “PHIL’S ALIVE!” but it was hard at first. Then he grinned, turned on the camera and started a recording session, and got to work.
“You have no idea how good it is to see you,” he signed back. “Fury still hasn’t told any of us anything. Not that I’m surprised at the bastard.” He considered mentioning the cards, but decided against it in case Phil didn’t know. “We’re all doing okay. Natasha’s… Natasha. She disappeared for a few days after the battle, but I don’t know if it was personal or for a mission. She didn’t seem worse for wear when she got back, though. Thor is still in Asgard dealing with Loki and the Tesseract on that end. We haven’t heard anything from him yet. Bruce and Tony have been holed up in Stark’s labs since we finished working on God knows what. Nothing’s gotten out of hand, so I’m assuming things are going well. Bruce actually looks relaxed, at least – so that’s something. I have a feeling he’s got something going on with Tony and Pepper, but no actual proof. Yet,” he added mischievously. “Steve’s doing okay and coping with the 70+ year jump surprisingly well. There have been a few… interesting conversations about various advancements, but he’s taken them in-stride. I guess you have to be able to when you’re a product of the Super Soldier Serum and dealing with the Red Skull, not to mention the Hulk, Thor, the Chittari, and everything else. Hell, Google and microwaves probably seem like child’s play.
“And I’m – God, Phil. You have no idea how good it is to know you’re alive. There were days when I considered ending it and the only thing that stopped me was knowing that both you and Natasha would’ve kicked my ass for it. But you’ll be happy to know that the air ducts have never been safer and I finally figured out how to deal with that blind spot on Level 12. Granted, Peters and Scanlin are *pissed* about that, but that’s what they get for taking so many ‘coffee breaks’. I’ll keep you up-to-date too. After everything that’s happened, when you get back, I don’t think anyone’s going to want any other agent than you taking care of us. Sitwell’s been doing a great job and Tony’s only giving half the flack because Steve and Natasha told him they’d kick his ass without the suit if he didn’t tone it down. So get your ass in gear and get better before something happens to us.” To me, he thought, but didn’t say it. He put the “I love you” sign up to the camera and then stopped the recording.
He rewatched it to make sure it recorded okay, then attached it to an email and sent it off for Phil. He signed off the computer, knowing he wouldn’t get a response today, and left the café feeling lighter than he had in a month.
On the way back, he debated telling the others that Coulson was alive. Regardless of what Fury and Hill thought, they had a right to know. But at the same time, he liked the idea of having something that was just his. He and Phil had so little that was actually theirs that he wanted to stretch this out for as long as possible. There was also the possibility that if Tony knew, he’d try to break Phil out and Clint wanted him somewhere that would have a better, however miniscule it might be, understanding of Loki’s spear in case of something went wrong. So, for now, he was willing to abide by the rules and not tell anyone else.
“What’s with the good mood, Katniss?” Tony asked when Clint entered the common area.
“What?” Clint asked, not having heard the question.
“What’s up? Your personal storm cloud finally vanished.”
Clint shrugged. “It was time,” he said as he headed into the kitchen. “Planning on blowing something up today?”
“Already did. Why? Were you hoping to help?”
Clint checked the coffee pot and, seeing it was empty, started a new pot. “Just trying to make conversation. Where’s your shadow?”
“Pepper has him,” Tony said, his focus back on his tablet. “Something about needing acceptable clothes for Stark Industries functions.”
“And you didn’t go along for the teasing that would have resulted? You’re slipping.”
“Pepper threatened to cut me off if I went. So I decided to stay home.”
“Smart move,” Clint replied, pulling out sandwich fixings from the fridge. Steve entered as he set them down and started looking for food as well. “We on for some sparring this afternoon?” Clint asked him.
“Sure,” Steve nodded. “Maybe you could teach me some more of that mixed martial arts stuff?”
“You got it. Any idea if Natasha’s around?”
Steve shook his head. “Haven’t seen her for a day or two.”
“Must be on a mission then,” Clint said. He was waiting for Sitwell to call him in for a mission, but he’d had nothing since before Loki’s invasion. He wanted to get back out in the field, but he wasn’t desperate enough to seek out the other agent.
Clint left the food out for Steve and sat down at the table. He watched as Steve fixed himself a sandwich and some juice, and snagged a couple handfuls of chips once he’d sat down. They ate in companionable silence, finishing at the same time and Steve cleaned up and left, leaving a surprised Clint in his wake. Steve normally ate at least two sandwiches and practically half a bag of chips like it was nothing.
He didn’t comment on it while they were sparring soon after, but Steve definitely looked like he hadn’t been sleeping well either. And when they stripped off sweat-soaked shirts, it was hard not to notice that Steve had lost weight – not a lot, but considering how he didn’t have much to lose to begin with, it was enough that his ribs were *just* starting to show.
“You feeling okay?” Clint asked.
“Yeah, why?” Steve asked before taking a swig of water.
“You just seem off today. Didn’t eat much at lunch and you’re a little slow this afternoon.”
Steve shrugged. “I feel okay.”
“Okay,” Clint dropped it, but could see that being called out had startled Steve. Not called out, even. Just that someone had noticed him, had noticed something was going on with him. “If you’re not feeling okay, the SHIELD doctors will take a look at you without too many questions.” He smiled slightly. “You don’t want to know how many times I’ve been in to see them after a stupidly risky move during a mission.”
As soon as they were done, Steve disappeared and for the next week Clint hardly saw him outside of meetings, sparring, and the occasional meal. And each time his attitude was worse than the previous time and he looked continually worse for wear. He brought it up to Sitwell and Fury, both of whom told him they’d take it under advisement, but nothing seemed to be done about it. And Clint got that it had to be hard telling an Avenger what to do – he himself had been a pain in the ass even before the Avengers – let alone Captain America, but Clint figured that if *he* was getting worried about Steve, then that should be raising red flags all over the place.
Clint didn’t mention it to Phil in his daily video messages, but it still wasn’t far from his mind. And getting to see Phil every day was a Godsend for keeping his sanity. It felt great to have that banter going with him again, even if he couldn’t be physically intimate with him. And on the way to and from the internet cafe, he kept turning the problem over in his mind, trying to figure out how to handle it.
When Natasha finally reappeared – from a mission in Australia, of all places – she wasn’t much help either, saying what he’d done and what he was doing (keeping an eye on Steve) was enough and to not worry about it. But Clint knew that he couldn’t leave it be. How no one else could see that Steve was practically wasting away and at the same time spoiling for a fight was beyond him.
He did what he could – he watched Steve a little more closely for a couple of days to figure out his schedule and then started adapting his own so he could turn off Steve’s alarm in the morning, switched his coffee to decaf (thank you, Keurig and the Avengers keeping odd hours!), added sleep aids to his evening meals, cooked more than enough for himself and innocently asked Steve to join him. But nothing quite worked. Well, the food bit did at least. He even tried asking Steve point-blank what was up again, but still nothing.
Clint began to think that maybe he should try the seduction route. It was either that or straight-out torture interrogation methods and the latter just seemed wrong to use on the guy whose alter-ego is Captain America.
At his wits’ end, he decides he’d going to try the seduction route because at this point he’s certain that something is up with one of them and he’s 99.9% certain it’s not himself. (The SHIELD shrinks, and a few other people he didn’t know the names or titles of, had completely cleared him for active duty again, but he wasn’t completely certain that you could come back completely from being under Loki’s spell with just a simple “cognitive recalibration”, but he’s willing to trust them. For now.)
The plan goes off fairly well to start. He doesn’t do much to make Steve completely aware of what’s going on, but enjoys doing a bit of flirting and making sure that Steve knows he’s totally interested in whatever Steve wants to do with him. When Steve does realize what’s happening a couple days later, it’s almost comical. His expression flits from surprised to “who, me?” to “why me?”, back to surprised, then to angry and offended in the space of about five seconds and before Clint has a chance to prepare himself, Steve belts him on the nose, sending him to the kitchen floor with a bloody nose and a loud “OOOW!” before stalking off.
“Did the chicken attack you or something?” Tony asked as he and the rest of the Avengers rushed in from the other direction.
“Yes,” Clint replied, his eyes narrowing as he stood. “It took offense to being tonight’s dinner. Feel free to help yourselves, everything’s ready.”
He left in the opposite direction as Steve and made a beeline to the bathroom to clean himself up. Afterwards, he made a detour to get a clean shirt before rejoining the group in the kitchen for dinner.
“If this whole superhero thing doesn’t work out, you could be a chef,” Bruce commented between bites.
“That’s what I keep telling him,” Natasha said with a smile. “But he doesn’t seem to believe me.”
“What happened with Steve?” Tony asked.
Clint shrugged, not wanting to drag anyone else into the mess he’d made of his relationship with Steve. “No idea,” he said. “Have any of you noticed any strange behavior lately? Aside from not being able to work Google,” he added before Tony could make another joke about it.
They all shook their heads. Clint wasn’t completely surprised with Tony and Bruce – they both spent most of their time in the labs, only coming out for necessities and when Pepper locked them out. (He still hadn’t gotten up the nerve to ask her how she’d done that, but he’s really curious.)
But he’s still surprised Natasha hasn’t noticed it either. She tends to be the one to notice things like that before anyone else. True, Clint’s gotten better since Phil had made it into a sort of “I Spy” on steroids sort of game between Natasha and Clint to see who could do better with reading other people, and even offered rewards such as coffee, but she’s still much better than Clint at doing it on the ground and over longer periods of time.
Late that night, Clint woke suddenly, sweating and his heart racing from a nightmare that included Loki, the Tesseract, Loki killing Phil right in front of him, and Clint being powerless to do anything about it. He flopped back on the bed, frustrated that it hadn’t dissipated now that he knew Phil was alive and doing well. He laid in bed for a while, taking deep breaths and felt the anxiety slowly leave his body, but he couldn’t make himself go back to sleep.
He finally gave up and padded down to the common area, figuring he could watch some TV and possibly fall asleep that way. He was surprised to find Steve sitting on the couch, his feet on the coffee table, the TV on with the volume down, and drawing. Clint smiled slightly when Steve looked up, but didn’t say anything as he sat on the other end of the couch and started watching the old sitcom with Steve.
They continue in silence for a while – Clint watching the show and Steve drawing with half an eye on the TV and chuckling in the appropriate places. Apparently sense of humor wasn’t that different seventy years ago. Or Steve’s just doing it for Clint’s benefit. He’s not sure which.
Out of the corner of his eye Clint sees Steve pause, putting the hand with his pencil down against the page and stare at the TV, but doesn’t comment even though he knows the drawing isn’t finished.
“I’m sorry,” Steve says softly, still looking at the television. “I shouldn’t have punched you earlier.”
“I deserved it,” Clint admits. “And I’ve gotten a lot worse for doing a lot less.”
“Still – doesn’t make what I did right.”
“Apology accepted,” Clint replies, knowing that’s what Steve needs to hear. He considered making a quip, but decided against it – Steve doesn’t need that added to whatever he’s going through. “If you want to talk about it, I’m willing to listen. Or I could tell you which therapists to stay away from.”
They’re quiet for a while longer and Steve’s gaze drops down and focuses on the curve of his forefinger and thumb. “I don’t know what to do. I have these feelings and I grew up being told they were wrong and a dishonor to my uniform and to America, but now they’re largely allowed to be open in public and even in the Army. Back – back then yes, we were more affectionate, but it was different.” He let out a shaky breath. “I don’t know how to describe it. Things were purer, I guess. You could hug and touch, to an extent, without anyone thinking you had ulterior motives. And it was enough because I had Bucky, who totally understood me, and I was fine with the prospect of getting married and having kids. I looked forward to it, actually, and I didn’t mind setting some of my feelings aside if it meant I could have everything else I wanted. Besides, I don’t want to dishonor Peggy and the feelings I had for her.”
And holy crap there was a lot there that Steve wasn’t saying along with everything he was. Clint took a moment to carefully think through a response. Steve didn’t need him running his mouth. He started with, “I don’t think being true to yourself will dishonor Peggy or what you had with her. Was what you felt for her true at the time, regardless of whatever else you may have been feeling for anyone else?” Steve nodded. Clichéd as it was, Clint knew it was a step Steve had to work through and so he had to ask, “Would she want you to be happy?”
“Then I’m sure she would want you to be happy with whoever made you happy and treated you well.” Clint hesitated for a second. “Have you looked her up?”
Steve nodded. “She was the first. But she died right before they found the plane. She married and had a long, happy life. I spoke to one of her granddaughters who said Peggy had always talked of me fondly.”
Clint paused again, letting Steve take his time with digesting all of this. “I know it’s a lot to take in – how much things have changed. And for you it’s an abrupt change, it’s not like you lived through it, were allowed the time to get used to it as it happened. But you’re not alone. There are some people who were born recently who are as conflicted as you – for other reasons, obviously,” and that garnered him a small smile from Steve, “but you’re not alone.”
“It’s not just that, though. I can’t think about just me. How does will this affect Cap? He’s such a pure entity that embodies everything that’s wholesome about America.”
Clint hadn’t thought of it that way. He was who he was, Hawkeye happened to be his codename and, being an archer, he tended to not be in the thick of things and therefore had retained more of his anonymity. Tony on the other hand was so larger-than-life and “Screw you, I’m Iron Man”, that it was hard to separate the two. Same with Bruce and the Hulk to an extent – both were so inexorably entwined. Without the uniform, Steve was just another guy, though with the media being what it was, it wasn’t hard for people to know who he was.
“Some people will be upset when it comes out,” Clint said. “But then they’ll probably be upset regardless. Others will try to use you as a champion of gay rights. Most probably won’t care.” He snorted. “Tony is a complete and utter womanizer in the press and yet you should see the amount of gay adoration he gets.”
“He is kind of hot, in an arrogant ‘I don’t care what you think about me’ sort of way,” Steve admitted.
Clint out-right laughed. “I think that’s a big part of the draw. They know they’ve got no chance with him, but it’s mostly harmless to let him know they think of him that way.” Sobering, he said, “There’s no time limit on this. You don’t have to decide how to deal with it and then act on it right now. Regardless of how things have changed, some things are still your own damn business and no one else’s, regardless of what other people might think. And regardless of what happens, I’ll always have your back. And so will the others, even if Tony will complain – and do it loudly – if you do something he doesn’t agree with.”
Steve chuckled. “So I’ve noticed. He’s definitely a piece of work. He’s a lot like Howard and nothing like Howard.” To the unanswered question, he added, “Both better and worse. But I guess that’s what happens when you’re a genius with the ability to do whatever you want.”
“You know you’re allowed to haul off and sock him, right?” Clint asked. “He’d probably even appreciate it.”
“He certainly deserves it at times,” Steve conceded.
“Most of the time,” Clint corrected. “But we’re not here to talk about Tony. Contrary to what he thinks, the world doesn’t actually revolve around him.”
“So are you –?” Steve stopped himself and blushed slightly.
“I am,” Clint admits with a nod. “Well, on the gay side of bi.” At Steve’s questioning look, he amended, “Bisexual. I’m attracted to both sexes, but tend to go for more for guys.”
“And you and Natasha?”
“Just very good friends. Not that I didn’t want to at first, but I do have actually have a certain amount of self-preservation, as small as it is. And wanting to not be hurt by someone who can kill me with her pinky finger tends to make that kick in. But if you decide you’re interested, I could put in a good word for you.”
Steve shook his head. “She’s very beautiful and I think she’d be my type if I was that way, but I was just curious. The two of you have a very interesting relationship.”
“We’ve had very interesting lives.”
Steve smiled. “We all have, I think.”
Clint yawned and smiled back. “That’s one way of putting it mildly. Is there anyone you have your eye on?”
Steve shook his head. “I’m not fit for a relationship right now.”
“Well, if you ever want information on gay sex, come to me, okay. Don’t go to Google and whatever you do, DO NOT go to Tony.”
“Why would I go to Tony for something like that?” Steve asked, confused. “Because of his relationship with Bruce?”
“That actually has nothing to do with it. It’s mainly because it’s Tony we’re talking about. I’m thinking more of a protective measure for your sanity.” Clint yawned again.
“Good point. Don’t feel like you have to stay up with me. I think I actually did sleep enough while I was frozen.”
“And there’s some things that can inhibit sleep – like bad memories and working through a sexual identity crisis. Can’t help you with the former unless you want someone to commiserate with, though I know my hard life couldn’t hold a candle to being in war. I’d suggest we make a drinking game of it, but we all know it’d be pointless with your metabolism.”
Steve gave him a small smile. “The thought’s appreciated, though.”
“And as for the latter, it’ll get better as you deal with it.”
“Speaking from experience?”
“When you’re worried about where your next meal’s coming from and general personal safety, things like who you’re attracted to kind of take a back seat.”
“I appreciate this,” Steve said. “It feels good to talk to someone else.”
Clint nodded. “Any time. I’ll be happy to do it again in the future too. And if you need to wake me up, I’m okay with that too.” He stood and stretched, feeling Steve’s eyes on him and smiled to himself. Steve blushed when Clint looked at him, but didn’t look away. “And feel free to look all you want. It’s nice knowing at least someone around here appreciates the work I have to put into this body to keep up with all of you.”
“If Agent Coulson didn’t, then he’s a fool,” Steve blurted out. Then his eyes widened and he looked panicked, his face flushing. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to say that, I swear. It’s just that – I mean – I’d heard rumors around SHIELD and – I know I shouldn’t have taken them at face value, but you know how it – that much talk and there has to be a grain of truth and –”
“It’s okay,” Clint interrupted. “We weren’t shouting it out to everyone, but we didn’t actively keep it a secret either. Like I said – it’s nobody’s business but ours. And a few people knew – like Tasha.” And it feels very weird using the past tense when Phil is still very much alive, but he knew he had to for now. “But a guy still likes to know he’s attractive.”
Steve still looked mortified, however.
“Death is a part of what we do, Steve. Granted, we both figured I’d be the first to go, but it was always a possibility it would be him. Still hurt like a bitch when it happened.”
“Of course,” Steve replies quickly. “It’s supposed to. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.”
Clint nods. “And with that, I’m going to give this whole sleep thing another try. Good night, Steve.”
Steve smiles softly and Clint’s happy to see some of the tension in his body’s gone. “Good night, Clint.”
When Clint goes to the internet cafe the next day, he quickly answers Phil’s questions and then, without really thinking, he starts with, “So I have a friend – don’t laugh, I actually do have a friend that’s not you or Natasha – who’s going through some stuff and needs some advice, but I don’t know how to help him and I was hoping you could give me some advice. He’s gay and he’s having a hard time figuring out how to reconcile that with who other people see him as. It’s something he’s kept close to the chest for a long time, but it’s causing him a lot of anxiety and he doesn’t want to anymore. You and I both know I’ve never cared about that and what other people thought of me, so I’m not really much help other than telling him things like, ‘I still think you’re awesome and I’ve got your back regardless and screw everyone else’. But even though you’ve never really said much about it, I know you’ve had to deal with the negative side of coming out more than I have. I, and he, will be really appreciative of any help you can pass along.” He then signed “I love you”, sent the video, and signed off.
Back at Stark Tower, Clint ran into Steve in the kitchen. “Hey,” he said, grabbing a soda out of the fridge and popping it open. “What time did you get to bed last night?”
“Technically, I didn’t,” Steve replied sheepishly. “I fell asleep on the couch. Thankfully, JARVIS woke me before Tony could catch me.”
“Regardless, you look a lot better. You should think about unloading yourself more often.”
“Who’s unloading themselves?” Natasha asked, coming into the kitchen.
“Nobody,” Clint replied, but Steve blushed faintly. “Though maybe you should – what took you so long in Australia? Normally your ops are a couple of days at most.”
She shrugged. “Intel gathering and a bit of vacation. Finally get some sleep last night?” she asked Steve.
“I did,” he replied with a nod. “And the appetite’s coming back a bit too.”
“Good,” she replied. “That was a weird stomach bug.”
Clint was barely able to keep himself from spewing his soda over the counter and Natasha arched an eyebrow at him. “Sorry, went down the wrong way,” he said, gasping.
“Yeah, no kidding,” Steve said. “But, honestly, I’m not surprised that I got something after being stuck in a block of ice for 70 years. We up for sparring tomorrow?”
“Sure,” she said. “Feel like some target practice?” she asked Clint.
“You bet,” he replied, even though he knew some paper models weren’t going to be the only targets in use that afternoon. “Meet you downstairs in five?”
She nodded and headed towards her rooms.
“Feel free to join us, if you want,” Clint told Steve.
“Not today,” Steve replied. “But I will. It’ll be good to use something more than just my shield.”
When Clint joined Natasha a few minutes later in the range, she already had everything but his bow and arrows set up.
“What’s up with you and Steve?” she asked as she checked over her guns.
“Nothing,” Clint replied, checking over his bow.
“That wasn’t nothing. What you’ve been doing for the past few weeks isn’t nothing. If you like him, it’s okay. None of us are going to say anything. And if you’re ready to move on from Coulson, you’re ready.”
“I swear to God it’s really not like that, Tasha,” Clint said as he notched his first arrow and let it fly. “And it’s not my place to say.”
“So a thousand points and this round to you, then,” she said before they put on earmuffs and Clint smiled. After shooting off a few rounds, she continued, “I really didn’t notice anything was wrong with him. I just thought he was having trouble acclimating to ‘the future’.”
“He is, but not how anyone would suspect,” Clint said. “And that’s all I’m going to say about it. I promised Steve I’d have his back on this and right now I think that includes not divulging anything to anyone until Steve’s ready to do it.”
Natasha ‘hmmm’ed, but let the subject drop as they continued target practice and Clint knew she wouldn’t say anything, but she was definitely going to be keeping a close eye on both of them until she’d figured out whatever she thought was going on.
When they finished putting everything away, Clint pulled Natasha into a corner that was only partially covered by the camera and, after making sure no one would be able to read their lips, quietly said, “I do have to tell you something, but it can only be between us, okay?”
“Of course,” she replied seriously.
Clint grinned. “Phil’s alive.”
Natasha’s expression softened. “No, he’s not, Clint. I checked his body myself – just like we promised.”
“Well, yeah, technically he was dead for a few minutes, but he’s not. I know what you’re thinking, Tasha, and I haven’t gone off the deep end. You have to believe me. Would I be making this up now if it wasn’t true?”
“If it is true, where is he? Why hasn’t he contacted us? Why hasn’t Fury told us?”
“Because Fury’s a bastard. And Phil’s still healing and doing PT in some secret SHIELD facility.” At her look, Clint shook his head. “Don’t go looking into it, Tasha. Hill threatened to make sure Tony couldn’t find out that I existed if I went looking for Phil or told anyone.”
“But you’ve talked to him?”
“Yeah, and it’s him. Believe me, it’s him.”
“Have you told any of the others?”
“Not yet. Only you.”
Natasha nodded seriously. “I believe you.”
“Want to go for a run in the morning?” Clint asked Steve later that evening.
“Everything okay?” Steve replied, brow furrowing. “You never ask me to go for a run.”
“Everything’s fine. I just want to change things up a bit and figured going for a run with you would make me push myself more than I usually do.”
“Okay. What time?”
“Okay,” Steve answered with a nod. “See you then.”
The run the next morning goes exactly as Clint had hoped. It’s a punishing run for him, but at the same time feels great, and Steve hardly breaks a sweat. They don’t talk much during the run itself, but during breakfast at a diner near the Tower, they trade stories of growing up and Steve is more relaxed than Clint’s ever seen him.
“How are things working out for you?” he asked as they walked the last leg back to the Tower.
“Okay,” Steve replied. “There’s a lot of information out there. Some of it’s been really helpful, some of it not so much.”
“That’s the double-edged sword of the ‘Information Age’. You can find out practically everything you want and *a lot* of stuff you don’t. If you need help sorting through any of it, let me know.”
“Why are you doing this for me?” Steve asked, turning to look at Clint.
“Why not?” Clint asked. “I know I have a reputation for being a loner and hard to work with – and I won’t deny it because I am and I know I’m a pain in the ass most of the time – but at the same time, we’re on the same team and you’re the leader and I want to make sure I can count on you in the field. But besides that, I like *you*, Steve. You’re a great guy and you deserve to be happy and if I can help you with that, I’d like to. I guess you could say I’m trying to pay forward some of the kindness Coulson showed me in the beginning.”
“I guess,” Steve paused and looked over Clint’s shoulder for a long moment before focusing back on him. “I don’t know. I guess I’ve let myself get too jaded by how much everything’s changed since my time. How people have changed. Even though I know people by and large tend to be inherently good.”
“You’re not wrong about any of that,” Clint agreed. He patted Steve on the shoulder, and quietly noted that Steve tensed as he did it, before starting to walk again. “But hopefully we can keep you from becoming downright cynical. We only need one Tony in that department.”
Steve laughed and easily caught up to Clint. “I don’t want to either, but it seems like people’s default setting now is to expect the worst in others and be proven wrong.”
“Sometimes it’s easier to do it that way so they can be pleasantly surprised when they’re proven wrong most of the time, instead of saddened when they’re continually being proven right.” Clint paused for a moment and made sure he had Steve’s attention before he continued. “I think you’ll find that most people are going to support you. Some may have to be won over, but overall, the general public will still be on your side. And the ones who aren’t are probably going to largely be the ones who haven’t been on your side anyway.”
“I know,” Steve replied. “And, funnily enough, back in my time, I never cared what anyone thought. Hell, I lied multiple times trying to get drafted. I just knew it was something that had to be done.”
“You know, you probably could do some good with that now,” Clint said. “And you wouldn’t have to come out to do it. Remember how you always said about standing up for the little guy and dealing with the bullies?”
“You could still do that. You’ve heard about all the bullying that’s going on in schools and stuff, right? Well, you could probably lend Captain America to that cause as well. A fair number of them are probably gay, but kids are getting bullied for everything you can think of. You could do a lot of good. It’s a thought, at any rate. Maybe Tony could put you in touch with someone from one of his philanthropic groups to at least talk it through and see what your options are.”
Clint watched as Steve thought about it for a moment before nodding. “It could be worth a sit-down, at least. I’ll talk to Tony about it.”
That afternoon, Clint eagerly sat down at “his” computer in the cafe. The guy behind the desk had hardly looked at him this time, just took the offered money with a grunt and handed over a camera. Once settled, he eagerly opened the new message from Phil – who was actually looking much better than the first video Clint had seen him in.
“Not knowing your friend,” Phil signed, “or his particular situation, it’s hard for me to give specific advice. There are many ways to go about coming out and no particular one is right. And for some people, it’s actually better if they stay in the closet. If he’s worried about how others will react, he could possibly start with telling a select few other trusted people and see how they take it and go from there. And then after that, come out as it becomes necessary. Usually in situations like that – where there’s a fear of job loss or personal harm, it’s not a good idea to come out very publicly and all at once – if at all. And the best thing you can do for him is to continue making sure that he knows he had your support and friendship. It’s going to be a rocky road for him.”
Phil sighed and continued, “I miss you. Don’t get me wrong – these videos help and I’m glad SHIELD is giving us this much leeway, but it’s not the same as holding you, touching you, seeing you at SHIELD or doing a mission. They’re still being evasive about giving me a timeline of when I’ll be out of here – though it’s obvious I’m definitely out of the woods by now and healing quickly. I hope you’re keeping yourself out of trouble.” He paused and looked away from the camera for a long moment. “I’m sorry, Clint. With nothing to do here but read and PT, I’ve had too much time to think and it’s made me a bit morose and cynical. Thoughts of you are what’ve kept me going. And apparently I’ve gone maudlin as well. I better stop now.” He held the familiar “I love you” sign up to the camera, then the video ended.
Clint smiled, feeling the familiar tug in his chest at seeing Phil and knowing he couldn’t be with him physically. He agreed – the videos were better than nothing, but still a poor substitute for being together. He started his own video and said, “Thanks for the info, I’ll relay it along to him and let him decide how he wants to handle it. Being in the public eye is a large part of his problem as is his upbringing, so there’s a few different factors in place.”
He gave the camera a small smile. “And I miss you too. I never thought I’d miss someone like I miss you. It’s gotten better since we can do this now, but you’re right – it’s a poor substitute. But Fury’s been keeping us busy with training exercises and a few small missions.” Though he didn’t want to tell Phil he hadn’t been called for one yet. “And Sitwell’s been doing a great job as your ‘replacement’. Tony even listens to him… most of the time without any prodding from anyone else. I can’t wait for you to get better and get back to us. To me. So do it quickly, okay?” He signed “I love you” and sent the video.
The next day in his video, Phil looked excited. “Oh my God, it’s Rogers, isn’t it? He’s your ‘friend’, isn’t he?” He took a deep breath. “I know you didn’t mean to tell me, but between what you said and the fact that you tugged at the A printed on your shirt after you said you’d talk to him, it was kind of obvious. Well, obvious to me anyway.” He blew out a breath. “Or I could just be reading too much into it. I did say I have too much time to think in here. Let me know if I’m right or wrong or close, okay? That would be insane if it was Rogers. And I can totally understand why he’d want to keep it a secret – with his alter ego, and with growing up when and where he did – it’s no wonder he’s not sure how to handle it. Either way, let me know how the discussion went.”
Clint laughed at Phil’s exuberance pouring through the computer monitor. Phil was right – his telling had been unintentional, but Phil had always been great about reading him, about knowing him better than he knew himself. And maybe he had subconsciously told Phil. And his excitement over Captain America would always be one of the most endearing things Clint Barton knew about Phil Coulson.
“Yeah, you’re right – it is Steve,” he signed back. “I didn’t mean to tell you, but you’ve always known how to read me like an open book. And he agreed that taking it slow and telling a few people at a time sounds like the best idea. He’s still figuring out who need to know first – like the rest of the team and Fury, that was his decision, by the way. He’s still figuring out who and how to tell after that. I think I’ve convinced him that he’ll know when it’s time to tell someone. And he seemed relieved to know that some people might never get told – either because they’ll figure it out for themselves and won’t need to be told, or it just won’t be something that’s important enough to tell.”
Clint paused for a moment and looked away from the camera for a moment, smiling at the memory of talking to Steve the previous afternoon. “I think you’d love helping him through this process, Phil. And not because ‘OMG, he’s gay! And I get to help him through coming out!’ though it’s a lot more adorable than you’d expect from someone his size and age. But he’s just so intrigued by the amount of information that’s out there and is available to him – sex tips, dating tips, dating sites, books – fiction and nonfiction, all of it. I’m surprised his brain hasn’t melted out of his ears over the variety of what’s available.”
Clint looked up and saw Steve walk by on the sidewalk outside. “I have to go,” he quickly signed. “I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.” He quickly signed off and rushed out of the internet cafe. “Steve!” he yelled, thankful Steve wasn’t moving very fast.
Steve turned, surprised, and grinned when he realized Clint was jogging towards him. “How are you?” he asked warmly.
“Good,” Clint replied, pretending like he hadn’t seen Steve two hours before in the Stark Tower. “What’re you up to?”
Steve shrugged. “Just going for a walk, getting some fresh air. Needed to get out of the Tower for a while, you know? What about you?”
“Had to take care of a few things – which I’m done with now,” he added quickly, though it sounded lame, even to him.
“Care to join me?” Steve asked.
“Are you sure you don’t mind?” Clint asked.
“I wouldn’t have asked if I did,” Steve replied.
“True,” Clint rolled his eyes and Steve smiled. “So where are we walking to today?” he asked as they started moving again. Steve’s walks around New York City were becoming legendary among the team and SHIELD.
Steve shrugged. “Anywhere. Just trying to get a feel for the city again. A lot’s changed since before. Buildings are mostly the same, but stores, restaurants, all of that are different for the most part.”
Clint nodded, knowing there were more than a few places around the city that had been around since Steve’s time. “It’s a good idea. You never know when it might come in handy to know what’s in the building and not just the intersection.” After a comfortable pause, he asked, “Did you tell the rest of the team yet?”
“I did,” Steve replied with a nod. “Natasha just shrugged and said she was happy for me, but I could tell she was wondering why I was telling her. Bruce thanked me for telling him and said that if I needed any help working things out for myself, he knew of a few meditation practices that might work. And Tony told me he knew a few guys that would love me and for me to let him know the next time I wanted to get laid. I decided against telling Fury. I figured that for now he could be one of the ones that doesn’t need to know.”
“Smart choice. He’d probably tell you you were crazy for disturbing him for something so trivial.”
“It’s not trivial.”
“It is and it isn’t,” Clint gently admonished. “It’s important when things like sex and dating and marriage come up. Otherwise, it’s got as much importance as whether or not you’re left or right-handed.”
“Okay, I see your point. And you never felt any worry about it?”
Clint shook his head. “Like I’ve said – I had more pressing issues to deal with most of the time. But there were a couple times when I got the shit beat out of me for looking at someone with a little too much open interest.”
“What about Agent Coulson?” Steve asked gently.
“Phil? I know he had some problems, but then he came from an upbringing a little closer to yours – standard family unit, but with money, and there were certain expectations of him. So there were some problems and growing pains, but he managed okay. By the time I met him, he was out to the people he wanted to be out to and screw the rest.”
“I wish I could have known him. Everyone speaks very fondly of him – even Tony.”
Clint laughed. “Tony didn’t like the boundaries that Phil imposed on him, but at the same time he appreciated them and the fact that Phil was willing and ready to say no as often and as loudly as necessary. Not many people besides Pepper do that with him.”
“I met her yesterday afternoon – after I talked to Tony,” Steve interjected. “She was very nice. And I can see how she’s a good match for Tony.”
“That she is,” Clint replied with a grin. “So, do you feel any better now that you’ve had time to work out a little bit of this mess and tell a few people?”
“I do,” Steve replied with a nod. “Just knowing that the team knows and still has my back means more than I can say. I’ve seen it happen before – not with the Commandos, but with other groups – where one would fall out of favor of the others for one reason or another and they’d shut him out. He’d usually be the first to fall in a fight. It was sad.”
“Yeah, no kidding. I’ve had my fair share of that in the circus and it’s not pretty.”
They walked in comfortable silence for a while and Clint enjoyed the mindlessness of it. He didn’t have to be ‘on’ with Steve like he did with a lot of others – Phil and Natasha excepted – and he liked it. And he had to admit he was enjoying seeing New York from the ground. As breathtaking as it was from the tops of buildings, there was something almost magical about the sidewalk view. As they walked, they bumped arms and jostled against each other from time to time as they moved away from other people and Clint couldn’t help noticing that Steve tended to flinch whenever it happened. The touches weren’t much, and neither was Steve’s flinch, but it was enough for Clint to notice.
“You okay?” Clint asked when they got to a quieter section of the city.
“Yeah, why?” Steve asked.
“You just seem a little tense today.”
“I’m good. Still getting used to all of this, I guess. New York was crowded back when, but it’s different now. It feels like there’s so much more, you know?”
“I can definitely imagine.” Clint knew from his own experience – whenever he came back from a mission somewhere remote, it always took him a couple days to adjust back to the craziness and of the city.
“I like it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just so much more… vital than it was before. Do you think they know?” he asked.
“Know what? That you’re Captain America? Probably.” Clint smiled. “We’ve done enough PR stuff they probably know who *I* am.”
“No, I mean – you know – *gay*.”
Clint laughed heartily. “I’m sorry,” he said when he could finally catch a breath. “That was really rude of me. No, I honestly don’t think so, Steve. If they got to know you really well, maybe. But not every gay guy is a flamboyant stereotype and not every lesbian is butch. Hell, I know you pretty well and I wouldn’t have suspected.”
Steve looked skeptical. “You sure?”
“I don’t know. I know you said it wasn’t a bit deal anymore, but…” He trailed off and Clint waited for him to continue. Softer, he said, “I don’t know. When I’m from,” and both they both smiled at that, “it just wasn’t done. In any way, shape, or form to announce that you… ‘swung that way’ – at least not in public. I’m sure things were done, but just wasn’t talked about. And now it’s so blatantly out and in your face, you can’t escape it. It’s a shock.”
Clint stayed quiet, wanting Steve to go at his own pace.
“I guess it’s – why do they feel like they need to do that?”
“Be so out?” Clint asked and Steve nodded. “Some of them are just that way naturally. Why are Tony and Thor so loud and abrasive? And some are that way because they feel like they’re making up for lost time for their predecessors or as an act of rebellion against the government. It’s still illegal for us to get married in most states, though things are getting better.”
“I keep forgetting you’re this way too. I just –” He blew out a long breath. “I don’t know if I can be. It goes against everything I’ve been taught and it just doesn’t feel right. ”
Clint stopped and bit the inside of his cheeks and pressed his fingernails into his palms, willing himself to not say anything. He’d gotten into too much trouble over the years with it, there was no way he was going to mess up whatever friendship he had with Steve and who knows how much damage he’d do to Steve’s fragile psyche by mouthing off. He slowly counted to ten and took a couple of deep breaths before saying, “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Steve asked, surprised, and turned to face Clint.
“That you feel that way. That this is such a shock to you. That you feel the need to retreat.” He hadn’t meant to say the word, but he could see he’d hurt Steve with it by the way Steve’s nostrils flared and his eyes narrowed slightly.
“Sometimes it’s for the best,” Steve said evenly, flatly.
“How can it be for the best?” Clint asked in frustration. “You’re not being true to or honest with yourself. You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops.”
“I am being honest. I can’t hack it this way, so I’m choosing a route that I know has served me well in the past.”
“Why are you so scared?”
“I’m not scared. I just can’t do this.”
“Why not?” Clint pressed.
“Because I can’t lose you!” Steve finally exploded. “I can’t lose someone else I care about.”
Before Clint could say anything, Steve turned and ran, disappearing around the corner at the end of the block in a matter of seconds. Well, shit. Who would have thought Steve had a crush on him?
Clint took his time going back to the Tower, not sure how to process the information he’d gleaned. “JARVIS, is Steve here?”
“He is not, Agent Barton,” JARVIS replied. “Would you like me to try to locate him?”
“No thanks, I was just curious. What about Natasha?”
“Agent Romanoff is in Dr Banner’s lab. Shall I page her?”
“No thanks. I was just curious.” Clint smiled as he headed up to his apartment – his *floor* he had to remind himself. Natasha and Bruce had been dancing around each other ever since everything with Loki went down and he actually found it kind of cute. He had a feeling they’d be good for each other in ways no one – not even them – could guess.
He flopped down on his bed. How was he going to handle this? He couldn’t ignore it completely – at the very least something had to be said to let Steve know he wasn’t upset over what had been said. But at the same time, he had to be careful. Steve was in a bad way and Clint didn’t want to make it worse. He sighed and got up.
He headed down to the internet cafe and took his usual spot. “I know this isn’t usual,” he signed, “but I need help. I thought things were going well with Steve – he told the team, minus Fury, and they all took it in stride, like we figured they would. But he’s backtracking. He’s having trouble believing that it’s okay and natural for him to be gay and have feelings for another guy and I don’t know what to say to him because ‘Of course it’s fine and natural!’ doesn’t work on him because he doesn’t think it is. And to complicate matters, he has some sort of crush on me. I don’t know how deep it is or anything, but it came out earlier. He said it was because he couldn’t lose me – he didn’t want to lose someone else he cared about. I know that’s kind of vague because he cares for the rest of the team too, but it was the way he said it – like he was a bit stricken. And I don’t know what to do. Let me know what you think. Miss you and can’t wait until you get back. I love you.” He sent the video clip and headed back to the Tower.
“Captain Rogers is in his quarters and wishes to speak with you,” JARVIS said when he entered the private elevator.
“Thanks, JARVIS,” Clint replied as the elevator started to move. “Take me to him.”
When Clint stepped out onto Steve’s floor, he saw Steve sitting on his couch, his feet up on the coffee table, ankles crossed, a half-drunk bottle of beer in the hand in his lap, and he was staring at it, but he wasn’t really seeing it. Clint carefully cleared his throat. Steve looked up at him and blinked a couple of times.
“You wanted to see me?” Clint asked.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” Steve told him, his expression sad.
“Nothing to apologize for,” Clint said, sitting on the coffee table next to Steve’s feet.
“I wish I could say I believe you,” Steve replied, “but I’ve been treating you horribly the past few days.”
“What do you mean?” Clint asked, genuinely curious.
“You’ve been nothing but supportive and open with me and I threw it all back at you.”
Clint shrugged in lieu of agreeing. “It takes time,” he said. “It may be a natural part of who you are, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to accept. Especially when you’ve grown up when you did.”
“I just – I wish it was as easy for me as it is for you. I know you’ve had it rough, but life wasn’t all hearts and flowers for me either. I was routinely beaten up for being smaller, because I had a stronger sense of right and wrong than most, for a lot of things. And my home-life wasn’t the best either – the Great Depression, war, not to mention my family wasn’t exactly –” he paused for a moment, “Leave It To Beaver’?”
“There were a lot of guys in my position who couldn’t handle it either. The circus tends to attract those who can’t function in the real world,” Clint said, putting a hand on Steve’s top ankle and gently squeezing. Steve flinched slightly, but didn’t pull away.
“The army too,” Steve said, his voice ragged.
Clint withdrew his hand. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. I’ve noticed you’re a tactile person with those you trust. I get it. I just –”
“Are afraid to have it? Feel like you don’t deserve it? Afraid that if you feel it, you won’t be able to get enough?”
“Something like that.”
“I’ll go as fast as you want,” Clint said. He didn’t regret the words as he spoke them and knew exactly what he was offering, though he knew there was a very good chance he’d be screwed once Phil got back to him. They were exclusive, but there were always contingencies, Captain America being a hypothetical one of them, but Phil’s good-will would extend only so far – even with Captain America.
“What if I want more than you can give?”
“I doubt that’s possible. Unless you’ve got a *really* weird kink – and I’ve seen a lot of them. And don’t worry – most aren’t that weird.”
“I don’t – I don’t know.”
“I know you don’t,” Clint reassured. “And that’s okay. I’m not planning on going anywhere for a really long time.”
“I miss it. The easy touching,” Steve clarified. “Contrary to what a lot of people think – back then was a lot more openly tactile than you’d think. Sure, guys were a lot more macho than they are now, but they were also more open with their affections because they didn’t have the fear that they’d be read the wrong way. The whole gay… ‘thing’ wasn’t even considered. And now that’s an extra layer on top of everything else – people not being sure of how far to go with me in a lot of areas since I’m not from ‘around here’ and not wanting to be the one to break Captain America.” He bit his lip and looked away from Clint.
“And they forget that they’re dealing with Steve Rogers,” Clint supplied and Steve nodded almost imperceptibly. “The little guy from Brooklyn who was willing to go toe-to-toe with Hitler even though he weighed 90 pounds soaking wet with clothes on because he couldn’t stand the thought of a bully being allowed to continue doing what he was doing.”
Steve sniffed and carefully wiped away a tear, as if he was trying to do it without Clint seeing.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Clint said softly, shifting over to the couch. “Come here.”
He took the beer bottle and set it on the coffee table out of reach and carefully pulled Steve to him. Steve came easily – far more so than Clint was expecting him to. Steve turned so he was melded against Clint’s side and his temple against Clint’s shoulder, with one of Clint’s arms around his shoulders and the other around his waist. There were a few more sniffs, then Steve started crying in earnest against Clint’s shoulder, burying his face in it and a hand in Clint’s shirt, the other trapped between them. The hand around Steve’s shoulders came up and gently stroked Steve’s hair and Clint made soft, soothing sounds as Steve cried himself out.
When Steve had gone quiet, Clint continued stroking his hair and didn’t make a move to dislodge him. Finally, Steve wiped his eyes and nose against Clint’s shirt and pulled away, but he didn’t go far. Clint took his hand off Steve’s waist and let the one in his hair drop down next to the Steve’s. He gently rubbed his knuckles against Steve’s, and Steve turned his palm towards him. Clint gently laced their fingers together. They sat quietly, both looking resolutely looking at the floor, Clint’s thumb rubbing over Steve’s from time to time.
“Thank you,” Steve finally said.
“You’re welcome,” Clint replied. “Any time. Whatever you need. I mean it.”
“Are you sure you’re ready for ‘whatever I need’?” Steve raised an eyebrow.
“I wouldn’t have offered if I wasn’t,” Clint told him.
“Agent Barton,” JARVIS broke in. “Agent Romanoff is requesting your presence at your earliest convenience in her quarters.”
“Thanks, JARVIS,” Clint replied.
“Go,” Steve said, with a tip of his head. “I’m okay now.” At Clint’s skeptical look, he amended, “Better, at least.”
“Call me if you need anything,” Clint said, standing.
“I will,” Steve said with a nod.
Impulsively, Clint tipped Steve’s face up and kissed him on the forehead before smoothing it away. It was a small gesture of comfort, but from the small smile Steve gave him, it looked like Steve realized it for what it was and took it in stride.
Clint headed down to Natasha’s quarters. “What’s up?” he asked as he kicked off his shoes after entering.
“So Bruce asked me out on a date,” she replied from her closet.
“And?” Clint asked, flopping down on her bed. “Isn’t that what you were hoping for?”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t actually expecting it.”
She poked her head out and glared at him.
“Oh, right, it’s not The Russian Way.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
“You first,” he said.
“You are so full of shit.”
“I love you too. So give me details.”
“He wants to take me out for dinner tomorrow night. An Indian place, I think as a way of starting over.”
“You like Indian. You like Bruce. What’s the problem again? If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”
“But that’s the thing,” she said, coming out of the closet and climbing over to flop next to him. “I want it to happen. More than I think I’ve ever wanted anything.”
“Oh,” Clint replied, getting it.
“Yeah, ‘oh’,” she replied. “What do I do, Clint? What happened with you and Phil?”
Clint let out a small chuckle. “I honestly have no idea. There was a lot of flirting and pushing – mostly on my part and then one day it just happened. And it kept going. And then we were talking about living together and we did and it was *fantastic*. And then we started talking about getting married when –” He bit his lip.
“Oh, baby,” Natasha replied, propping up so she could look at him. “Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
Clint shrugged. “I don’t know. Didn’t want to jinx it, I guess. Everything about our relationship, about him, was just so great that I was going to do everything I could to *not* screw it up. You and me, Tasha, we both know we wore out our second chances a long time ago.”
She nodded in understanding. “And what about Steve?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Clint replied, honestly. “He’s working through a lot of things. Not going through Stonewall has really screwed him over.”
She giggled, but quickly stopped herself. “I’m sorry, that’s not appropriate,” she said.
“No, it’s not,” he said with a mock glare. “But it’s true. I think if he’d lived through all of that, he would’ve been able to get through all of his hang-ups and have a good, quiet life with someone. But now that it’s been thrust on him, it’s jarring him and he doesn’t know how to cope.”
“Is that why your shirt has snot all over it?”
“Something like that.”
“What does Phil say about all of this?”
“He’s excited about Steve being gay and he’s given me some advice. But I’m so screwed, Tasha. I’ve kind of developed some feelings for Steve and I know he’s got feelings for me. And I don’t know what Phil thinks of it yet.”
She laughed heartily before patting his stomach and said, “Take care of yourself, okay?” Clint nodded as she crawled back over him. “Do you think I should cancel on Bruce?” she asked as she headed back into the closet.
“If you do, I will drag you to the restaurant myself,” Clint told her, feeling a bit better. “You deserve this. Both of you.”
The next day, Clint practically ran to the internet cafe and was there when it opened. The owner just raised an eyebrow at him, but didn’t ask any questions.
Phil’s face was reassuring when it appeared on the screen. “It’s not always a simple thing, Clint,” he signed. “Some people can accept being gay and move on, and others go back and forth until they’re comfortable with it. Some never are. How do you feel about his crush? Are you okay with it? It doesn’t make things weird for you? And what do you need from me? Do you want me to tell you to have your way with him? I doubt it’s going to help him figure things out. Though, the thought of knowing what it’s like being with Captain America is tempting,” he teased. “I honestly don’t mind if it happens naturally between the two of you. He’s on my ‘free pass’ list, remember? And you always did better when you were in a relationship – and yes, I knew when you were in a relationship before we got together.” He laughed. “Maybe after I get out, we could even have a threesome if it wouldn’t melt his brain. I want you to be happy, Clint, and if I can’t be with you, I’d like to know someone is taking care of you. Natasha does a good job, but you need the physical intimacy too.”
Clint stared at the screen for a long time after it had finished, the visual of Phil frozen, his hand up shaping the “I love you” sign. Instead of providing him with an easy answer, Phil had only given him more confusion. Phil knew that Clint, for all of his flirting and bluster, was in it for the long-haul whenever he committed to someone. That didn’t mean he was completely a one-man guy, but he wouldn’t be able to just stop whatever he was doing with Steve when Phil came back. But at the same time, he wasn’t going to give up what he and Phil had either. It was true – he was better when he was in a relationship. Having someone to come home to grounded him more than anything.
And a threesome was one thing, but a three-way relationship was something completely else. He had no doubt that he and Phil could make it work if they wanted to, but Steve? Steve would really have a brain aneurism if they mentioned it to him. And he’d be pissed at Clint upon finding out that Phil is alive and most likely wouldn’t understand that Clint isn’t really cheating. And he’d feel all kinds of guilty too, because that’s just the kind of guy Steve is.
He sighed and started a new recording session, not completely sure what to say. “Thanks for the input. And for the free rein – I owe you big for that. But then you did always know me best. I’ll have to tread carefully with Steve because I think this could be good for him, but he’s going to kill me if he and I are still together when you come back. And he’ll kill me if I break it off abruptly right before you come back. I’ll let you know how things go with this. Could this have a fun nickname like ‘Operation Virgin Ass’ or something?” he asked cheekily, knowing it would rile Phil. Sobering, he said, “You should have seen him last night, Phil, he was wrecked from all of this. I have the snot and tear stains on my shirt to prove it. I don’t want to hurt him. I know you don’t either and you were always good at seeing the big picture. I sure as hell hope you’re seeing something here that I’m not. I’ll let you know how things go. Love you.”
He sent the video and left, feeling a strange mix of better and worse than when he’d arrived. On one hand, he’d been given the ability to seduce Captain America – something at least half of America would be envious of – but on the hand, it would also destroy Steve when Phil came back, regardless of the need for secrecy. And Clint hated to lie to Steve – not because he was Captain America, unlike most he definitely got the distinction between the two, even though they both overlapped on many levels, but because Steve deserved someone who was straight with him in everything.
“What’s with the long face, Katniss?” Tony asked, joining Clint in the elevator.
“Love problems,” Clint replied, both to be truthful, and to see how well he could throw Tony for a loop.
“Love problems?” Tony repeated. “How can you have love problems when you’re a grieving widower? Or is that part of the problem? You’ve met someone you really, really like but feel conflicted because you think everyone expects you to grieve longer for Phil?”
“You know I don’t give a fuck what other people think about my grieving process. But sort of yes to the other part – I’ve met someone I really, really like and I think he likes me too, but he’s a bit skittish about all of it.” And Clint was surprised at the truth of that – he really did like Steve a lot. Maybe not *quite* love, but he was definitely attracted, though it would be hard not to be.
Tony looked a bit baffled. “Why would he be skittish? Does he have a thing? You know – where he likes the idea of being able to brag that he’s dating an Avenger, but doesn’t like the fact that you actually put yourself in danger on a semi-regular basis?”
“That doesn’t really bother him. It’s more of the being gay part that does.”
Clint laughed as Tony boggled at him and the elevator doors opened onto Tony’s lab. “How can that be an issue in this day and age?” he finally managed.
“You’d be surprised what can be an issue, Tony. Not everyone has your devil-may-care attitude.” Clint pushed Tony out of the elevator. “Have a good time blowing shit up.”
The elevator door closed and started to climb again as Clint asked, “JARVIS, is Steve in his quarters?”
“He is,” JARVIS replied. “Shall I tell him of your impending arrival?”
When the doors opened, Clint stepped out and JARVIS said, “Captain Rogers is currently in the shower. He asked me to invite you to make yourself comfortable while he finishes.”
“Thanks, JARVIS,” Clint said, and sat down on the couch.
Steve came out a few minutes later wearing a flattering pair of jeans and pulling on a t-shirt. And looked magnificent.
“What can I do for you?” he asked, fixing the hem of his shirt.
“Just stopped by to see if you wanted to go to breakfast,” Clint said. “It’s got to be a bitch having to cook for your metabolism.”
Steve laughed. “Sometimes. But I like cooking – always did. That is one thing I like about now – so many more options. But, yes, breakfast. And while we eat, I’d like a SITREP on how badly I screwed things up yesterday.”
Clint laughed. “You didn’t screw things up yesterday. That’s what friends are for – to be there for the good, the bad, and the ugly. Come on – let’s go discuss this over breakfast. I know a place that serves the best eggs and pancakes almost anywhere.”
“Almost anywhere?” Steve asked with a raised eyebrow, but pulled on his shoes.
“You haven’t had Phil’s,” Clint replied. “No matter where we were or how he was cooking them, they were always the best.”
They headed to a diner a few blocks away and slid into a back booth. Once they ordered, Steve said, “I know I’m beating a dead horse with this, but I want to make sure we’re okay. I don’t want this to come between us as teammates.”
“It won’t,” Clint insisted. “And it won’t come between us as friends. The rest of us had a pool going about when and over what you’d break down over being out of your time, but now I feel kind of bad and don’t want to cash in on it. Things are what they are and that’s the way they are.” He accepted his coffee and poured a liberal amount of sugar into it. “I think the bigger question is ‘now what?’”
“‘Now what’ what?” Steve asked, taking a sip of his coffee.
“Exactly. How do you plan on dealing with your shit so you don’t have to worry about letting us down?”
“I wasn’t?” Steve asked. “Therapy was never a thing we did back then and not something I really want to start now.”
“Okay, then go out on a date with me.”
Steve’s eyes went wide. “What?!?”
“Go on a date with me. Or sleep with me. Either or. Or both, even. It doesn’t have to be an either or sort of deal.”
Steve gaped at him for a long time, only stopping when their food was placed in front of them. Then he resolutely focused on his food.
“I’m not. I’m not that type of guy, Clint,” he finally said.
“I know,” Clint replied. “Neither am I. I’m sure I come across as being a lot like Tony, but I’m really not. I use the flirting and stuff to disarm the other person, make them feel comfortable and see me as less of a threat. But really? I really am the monogamous sort. When I commit to someone, I mean it. Phil knew that and he wasn’t worried about it.”
“Are you really trying to use Phil to make me go out with you?” Steve asked, but he was laughing.
“If it works,” Clint replied. “I just mean that you’ll always know that I’m yours and I mean it.”
“So this hypothetical date – where would we go? What would we do?”
“What do you want to do? Where do you want to go?”
“Somewhere there won’t be any press,” Steve said, wrinkling his nose in distaste. “I don’t want to have to worry about headlines like ‘Captain America dating fellow Avenger’.” The paparazzi had been pretty decent with respecting the team’s privacy, and Clint had a feeling that a mix of SHIELD and Tony’s legal team had a lot to do with that, but he totally got where Steve was coming from.
“We can do that. And I can be very low-key,” Clint said.
“I know you can. I just want to make sure that this is just us.” He paused. “It may be selfish, but I want something that’s just mine. Ever since I signed up for Operation Rebirth, I’ve had very little that is.”
“So not a problem,” Clint said. “And I get it.” Between the circus, then being recruited for SHIELD, he’d had very little privacy of his own over the years and knew how to cultivate a persona where people felt like they knew him without really knowing him. “Think about it. We don’t have to do it today – whenever you’re ready.”
“You might be waiting a long time, then. I don’t know if I’ll ever be really ready.”
“Then we’ll wait or we could throw a dart at a calendar and go from there.”
Steve laughed and Clint smiled at the carefree sound.
Later that evening, Clint’s phone chimed with a text. He checked it and was surprised to see it was from Steve. He knew Steve knew how to text, but it was still jarring to actually see proof of it. “Tomorrow night – the pizza place a few blocks north. Six pm.”
Clint knew the place. It was the preferred pizza place of all of them and would be a safe spot to go. “Sounds good,” he replied. “Will there be other activities as well? Or just pizza?”
“TBD,” came the quick response and Clint laughed as he put the phone down and picked his book back up.
“If ‘Operation Virgin Ass’ ever comes out of your mouth – or your hands – again, I’m going to wash it or them out with soap,” Phil signed the next morning. “There’s no way that doesn’t not sound wrong – regardless of how true it is. And thank you for being there for him. I don’t mean that because I’m your handler and will be the Avengers’ handler when I get back. Or because of my infatuation with Steve. It’s good to see you making the connection yourself and putting yourself out there. You’ve come a long way since you first started here. Unlike me.” He grimaced. “Who knew a magic spear going through you would take so long to heal and so much physical therapy? Definitely not something I advise doing in the future. Let me know how things are going. How are the others?”
“Everyone’s fine,” Clint replied. “Natasha and Bruce went on a date. All I can get out of her is that it went well. I haven’t tried asking Bruce about it. Tony and Pepper are doing good. Thor is still in Asgard – haven’t heard anything yet about what’s going on with Loki. And Steve and I are going on a date tonight – to that pizza place just north of the Tower. I’m excited and nervous at the same time. Which is weird, because I was never this way with you. What do you think it means? Any idea yet when you can blow that popsicle stand?”
As he was leaving, his phone beeped with a text from Steve. “Run?”
“Sure, be there in five,” he texted back.
The run was similar to their previous one, which Clint enjoyed. They didn’t talk much while they ran, but that was okay by him. Afterwards, they went their separate ways and Clint showered before joining Tony in his lab to work on some new arrow designs and so Tony could feel out whether or not Natasha would appreciate some new guns and how her date with Bruce had gone – apparently Bruce was being just as tight-lipped. Clint gave Tony the bit he knew, but was happy he didn’t have any more to give – they both needed something that was just theirs.
A few minutes before six, Clint got in the elevator to go get Steve, to find Steve in the elevator coming to get him. They both laughed and headed down to the street and walked to the restaurant. They got a few appreciative stares, but for the most part were left alone.
“I don’t know if I’m ever going to get used to this,” Steve said once they were seated in a back booth and Clint approved of being able to see without being able to be seen as much.
“Get used to what?” Clint asked.
“Just all of it – there’s just so much always going on. And people definitely recognize us.”
“They recognize you,” Clint gently corrected. “I wasn’t near any cameras for most of the battle, remember?”
“But you did some press with us afterwards, so your face has been around. And even if not, you’re a good-looking guy.”
“Thanks for noticing,” Clint teased.
Steve bit his lip and began studying the menu intently. After ordering, he fiddled with his hands, not looking up at Clint and Clint debated what to do next. He finally settled on popping his hearing aids out and, after taking a second to adjust to the loss of sound, gently took one of Steve’s hands, uncurled it, and dropped the aids in with the other hand. Steve stared at them for a long moment before looking up at Clint questioningly.
“They’re my hearing aids,” Clint said, doing his best to ignore how odd his voice sounded to himself. “I lost my hearing not long after I joined SHIELD,” his fingers itched to sign as well, “one of the first sonic arrows we made went off in my quiver during a mission.” He gestured to the aids. “They also double as comms. Tony’s tinkered with them a few times and made them better.”
“How bad is it?” Steve asked, “Your –” he pointed at his ear and then to Clint.
“Practically completely gone. I can still hear a little in my right ear, but it’s mostly bass.”
Steve nodded and handed them back. Clint easily popped them back in his ears and grinned as the sound whooshed in. “Thanks for telling me,” Steve said. “That’s good to know in the field.”
“Or wherever.” Clint didn’t really want to tell Steve that he hated taking them out unless he had to. That the only other people who knew were Natasha and Phil, and that was because Phil had freaked out one morning when Clint didn’t respond and Natasha was Natasha. Phil was the only one of the two of them who knew how to sign, however. “I don’t tell people lightly, though,” he said. “I’m telling you partly because you’re the team leader and I think you should know. And I’m also telling you because I want to show you how much I appreciate the trust you’ve shown me and I want to reciprocate in some way. I know it’s not the same as being gay, but it’s still perceived as a weakness, even with all the technological advances. Just like being gay is perceived as a weakness by some – though more a weakness of character than physical prowess, even if there’s some of that too. See where I’m going with this?”
“I think so,” Steve said. “I shouldn’t let what other people think of me dictate what I can and can’t do.”
“Bingo,” Clint said as their pizza was placed on the table. “And if you say it’s not that easy, I will trounce you with a piece of pizza.”
“I have no doubt you could,” Steve replied, the corners of his mouth tugging into a smile as he served Clint the first slice. “I –” He stopped and bit his lip. Clint waited expectantly, but Steve shook his head and served himself.
They ate in silence for a while before Clint said, “Had you ever thought about being with a guy before?”
“Before what?” Steve asked. “Before I was frozen?” Clint nodded. Steve thought for a long moment before shaking his head. “I don’t think so. Not seriously, anyway. Sure, I noticed guys were attractive – some of them it’s hard not to. But I did the same with women.”
“You could be bisexual, if it helps you any,” Clint said. “I’ve heard it does for some people.”
“Maybe,” Steve said with a shrug. “It still doesn’t help that I have these feelings that are stronger than anything I’ve ever felt before and I don’t know what to do with them.”
“Same as you would with a girl, I would think,” Clint replied with a grin. “Believe me, I’m receptive to your advances.”
Steve glared at him for a long moment before laughing. “You’re one cocky SOB, you know that?”
“That’s what Phil kept telling me. But he’d let it slide with how damn good I am.”
“That you are. And I have to keep reminding myself you’re naturally this good.”
“There was a lot of practice involved too,” Clint said, sounding indignant as he helped himself to another piece of pizza.
“I’m surprised you’re not cocky about that.”
“Not with the team. Or when it makes good PR. Besides, Natasha would kill me if I didn’t mention that.”
“So what do you want to do after this?”
Clint shrugged. “It’s up to you. I want to do whatever makes you feel the most comfortable.”
“So you have a higher chance of getting me into bed?” Steve laughed. “I’ve known guys that have used lines like those.”
“If that mode of thinking makes you feel more comfortable, sure,” Clint replied with a laugh of his own. “But, seriously, I don’t want you having a meltdown over this, so if you want to go back to the Tower after this and call it a night, that’s cool. If you want to go out and keep hours that would make Tony envious, I’m all for it.”
“Let’s,” Steve hesitated. “Let’s see.”
Clint nodded. He had a feeling it was starting to dawn on Steve that he wasn’t planning on running because Steve was still on the uncomfortable side of things with his sexuality and he was willing to help him through it.
When they finished, they had a small argument while waiting for the waiter to bring the bill over who was going to pay, until the waiter came and said that another party had paid for their dinner, but declined to tell them who.
“If someone else noticed we were eating dinner together without the rest of the Avengers, do you think people are thinking we’re together?” Steve asked once they’d hit the sidewalk.
“I think they think that either a) we’re good friends going out to dinner and it’ll evolve into an epic bromance or b) I’ve taken it upon myself to teach you the ways of the 21st century or c) you’ve asked me to help you out with understanding the ways of the 21st century. For as sex-obsessed as we are as a cultures, most people don’t spend *that* much time thinking about other people’s sex lives.”
They wandered around the neighborhood for a while, enjoying people-watching and generally heading towards Broadway and Times Square.
“We could slip in and see a show,” Clint commented as they started passing theatres.
Steve shrugged. “They’re so different from the ones I’m used to. Besides, I was always more of a movies kind of guy.”
“There’s some cinemas around here too – some show all the big movies and there’s a few that do just the indie-art house types. We’ll have to check them out, if you want.”
When they got to Times Square, they began crossing to go towards Madison Square Garden, but in the middle island, Steve pulled Clint out of the flow of pedestrian traffic and stopped. They took a few minutes to look around and absorb the lights and billboards and people.
“When I woke up,” Steve said, “I was being held in a building near here.” Clint watched as Steve scanned the buildings around them. “I can’t pinpoint which one – I was so disoriented when I left the building, I just knew that things were wrong – I shouldn’t be listening to a ball game on the radio that I had *actually* been to, you know what I mean?” Clint nodded, but didn’t interrupt. “Not that they would have known I’d actually been there. But at least they were right about the New York team. At least that’s one thing that’s comforting – there’s still the division between Mets and Yankees fans. And then Fury was there and offering me a job and knowing I would be able to keep doing what I’d done before, not with the Commandos obviously, but a similar group, definitely appealed to me. And then things got crazy.”
“And the Red Skull wasn’t crazy?” Clint asked.
“Not really. Well, he was, yes, but not that he existed – especially when you take me into account.”
“Point taken. How do you feel this time?”
“Good,” Steve replied. “It’s still disorienting, but now I can see why people, even back in my day, wanted to come here. There’s so much promise and hope here.”
They looked around for a while longer and watched as people swirled around them, before heading back to the Tower.
In the elevator, Clint asked, “Want to come up and watch a movie?”
“Sure,” Steve replied. On the way up, he asked, “Can you do signs or however it is deaf people communicate?”
“Sign language? Yeah, I’m fluent. Granted, SHIELD made me do it, but I’m glad I know it – it’s helped a lot more than you’d think. Phil knew it too.”
“Could you maybe teach me?”
“Sure, if you want. Whenever you want to start.”
“How about tonight?”
“Tonight?” Clint asked in surprise and Steve nodded. “Okay, sure.” They entered his apartment and Clint toed out of his shoes and left them by the elevator door. “Make yourself comfortable. Take off your shoes if you want.”
“Natasha does the same thing,” Steve commented.
“It’s something we picked up on a mission we were doing together,” Clint said. “Plus, it fits in with our backgrounds – mine growing up poor in the circus and hers in the Red Room, or so I’m guessing. I think she was taught a lot of gymnastics.”
“Makes sense, regardless,” Steve said, his shoes joining Clint’s.
“Would you like a drink? I’ve got water, beer, juice, milk.”
“I’m good for now,” Steve replied.
They sat down, Steve in an armchair and Clint in the closest side of the couch. They went through the alphabet and numbers and Clint showed Steve the name signs he and Phil had devised for everyone on the team, most of which made Steve laugh. “Want to keep going?” Clint asked after that.
“I think it’s a good start,” Steve said, “I don’t want to get too overloaded. Maybe we could make this a regular thing?”
“Sure. How regular?”
“Sure,” Clint replied. “I could fit it every day.”
Steve stood. “I should get going. Thanks for the great evening.”
“You’re welcome,” Clint said, walking Steve to the door. “I had a great time too.”
They paused by the door, neither making a move for the handle, and Clint felt the moment stretch on, relaxed and comfortable. He smiled and leaned against the wall next to the door, crossing his arms over his chest. Steve looked like he was going through a million different things in his brain, not sure which order to process them. Clint considered taking the decision out of his hands and just leaning forward and kissing him, but he wanted Steve to come to that conclusion on his own.
And, finally, when the moment started to turn brittle, Steve leaned forward ever so slowly and carefully kissed Clint, one hand braced against the door, the other hand hovering above Clint’s cheek, almost as if he was worried he’d find Clint was made of spun glass and would break with the least bit of pressure. Clint groaned into the kiss and moved into it, deepening the kiss and putting his hands on Steve’s hips to bring him closer. Steve made a surprised squawk that Clint swallowed and returned as a chuckle. When Clint moved a hand up to cup the back of Steve’s neck, Steve pulled away in surprise and quickly fled.
Clint sighed, knowing he could easily go after him while Steve waited for the elevator, but made the better judgment call and didn’t. He closed the door behind Steve and headed back to the couch, flopping down and stared up at the ceiling. The kiss had been amazing and he wouldn’t deny that he wanted more. He did feel a small twinge of guilt at knowing he wasn’t being fully forthcoming with Steve about Phil, but it currently wasn’t a secret he was allowed to reveal.
The next day brought more unexpected good things, as Phil told him that he’d finally been given the vague timeline of “a few weeks” until his release. And Clint happily shared the events of the night before, knowing Phil would want to know every detail, regardless of how minute.
Afterwards, he went to find Steve, intent on not letting him stew on the kiss and whatever wrongness he perceived it entailed.
“How are we about last night?” Clint asked quietly as he sat down next to Steve, who was attempting to copy the drawing style of a modern cartoon.
“I don’t know,” Steve replied neutrally, his volume matching Clint’s, his eyes flicking between the TV screen and the sketch pad in his lap. “I did enjoy dinner and the things you showed me immensely, but I don’t –” He paused. “I don’t know.”
“I’ll let you know that I really enjoyed that too,” Clint replied. “And I was hoping we could do it again in the very near future.” He carefully put a hand on Steve’s knee to gauge his reaction and Steve tensed, but didn’t pull away. After a couple seconds, he relaxed.
“I want that too,” Steve finally replied. “But it scares me how much.”
“The first throes of love usually are scary because they’re so strong,” Clint replied.
“And you’d be happy to help me navigate that territory?” Steve asked, a hard edge to his voice.
“If you want,” Clint replied, withdrawing his hand in surprise. “I’d like to.” When Steve didn’t say anything else, Clint carefully said, “I’m not a fuck ‘em and leave ‘em kind of guy, Steve. I’m not Tony. Or Howard, if the stories are to be believed. This is about you and me and how much I like you, and I’m guessing how much you like me. Or at least, that’s what I’m hoping.”
Steve looked around the room before saying, “I do.”
“Then be willing to go out on a limb here. Wasn’t it scary and exciting with Peggy?”
“You have no idea. She could take down guys my size with Tony’s attitude like they were nothing.” Steve bit his bottom lip for a long moment before glancing around the room again. Then he leaned over and kissed Clint, soft and chaste. He pulled back and smiled shyly at him.
“How about we go back to my quarters and I’ll show you some more signs and we’ll see where this goes?” Clint asked.
Steve nodded almost instantly – quicker than Clint expected – and they headed up to Clint’s floor.
This time they sat next to each other on the couch and went through a range of common signs, as well as grammar and Clint had Steve review what he’d learned the night before. After a couple hours, Clint couldn’t take it any longer, and he could tell Steve was having a tough time holding it together too. He called a stop to the lesson.
Almost immediately, they were kissing each other and Steve was making hungry noises in the back of his throat, or maybe it was Clint – he wasn’t exactly sure. Not that it really mattered, because kissing Steve was intoxicating and Clint’s hands roamed from his face to the back of his neck up into his hair and down to his chest and then his hip and back again and it seemed like Steve was having the same problem of deciding where to place his hands. Instinctively, Clint climbed into Steve’s lap and straddled his legs and Steve’s hands moved to cup his ass and Clint groaned into the kiss as he cupped Steve’s face. Then he moved one hand so he could kiss along Steve’s jaw.
“God, Phil,” he murmured in Steve’s ear. “You really don’t have any idea how much I’ve missed doing this.”
Steve froze. Clint continued, kissing the spot just under Steve’s ear. Steve pushed Clint away and scrambled out from under him, quickly putting a few feet between them. Clint looked up at him from where he’d been unceremoniously dumped on the couch.
“What’s wrong?” Clint asked. “Not a good position? Not a problem.”
“You called me ‘Phil’,” Steve said.
“Oh, God,” Clint replied, realization dawning. “I am *so* sorry, Steve. I honestly didn’t mean it.”
“I know you didn’t,” Steve said, “but I just – I don’t know.” He looked away as he ran a hand through his hair and sighed. He put his hands on his hips and stared at anywhere but Clint. “Agent Coulson isn’t dead, is he?”
Clint bit his lip, debating which would do the most damage – the truth or a lie. “No, he isn’t,” he finally said. “But I only just recently found out myself. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s been playing it pretty close to the vest. He’s been recovering from Loki’s spear.”
Steve let out a bitter laugh before glaring at Clint. Pointing at Clint, and jabbing at the air, he angrily said, “You *knew* he was alive, and yet you led me to believe you’re available. You *let* me fall in love with you, knowing full-well that whenever Coulson was released, that the two of you would resume your relationship.”
Clint looked at him sheepishly. “Yes. Though, actually, I’ve been talking to him regularly for the past few days. And he –”
“You – you –” Steve sputtered, eyes widening. He turned on his heel, grabbed his sketch pad, and stalked out, slamming the door behind himself, his shoes still by the door.
Clint sighed and fell over onto the couch.
The next morning, Clint knocked on Steve’s door, shoes in hand, but he got no response. He left the shoes by the door and went down to the internet cafe.
He couldn’t help smiling through Phil’s giddy response to Clint’s description of the date. “I’m sorry,” he said, “Steve found out about us and, you know,” he gestured around, hoping Phil realized he meant the messages and not just that they’d been together, “and he’s pissed. I’m not sure what to do. Obviously, he was going to find out sooner or later, I just didn’t handle it so well and he may not talk to me again, which is going to be interesting when we’re on a mission together. I’ll have to let you know how things go.”
Natasha was waiting for Clint when he got back to the Tower. “What happened with Steve?” she asked as they rode up in the elevator. “He let me beat him up today while we were sparring. If you broke Captain America....”
“I didn’t break him, Tasha,” Clint replied. “At least not intentionally. He found out some stuff about me and Phil and he couldn’t handle it and didn’t give me a chance to explain.”
“So you two *were* into the kinky shit! I knew it!” she crowed triumphantly.
“No, we *weren’t*,” Clint replied.
“Do I need to follow through with what I told Steve and kick your ass?”
“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t. Actually, he found that Phil’s still alive. I’ll talk to him and straighten things out.”
“See that you do or I’ll kick your ass on principle.”
“I love you too.”
The elevator stopped at Natasha’s floor. “I have to go – Bruce and I are going out for the afternoon,” she said, stepping off the elevator.
“Have fun,” Clint told her.
For the next few days, Clint did everything he could short of picking the lock on Steve’s door and ambushing him when he got home, and Steve continued to ignore him and all of his advances. And Clint hated it.
Finally, he waited in the foyer between the elevator and Steve’s door until Steve came back to his apartment and grabbed him before Steve could flee back into the elevator.
“Oh, no you don’t,” he said, pushing Steve up against his apartment door. “We are dealing with this.”
“What is there to deal with?” Steve spat.
Clint grabbed Steve’s keys and, after unlocking the door, pushed him inside. “JARVIS, privacy please,” he said, locking the door behind them.
“Of course, Agent Barton,” came the disembodied reply.
“Yes, Phil is still alive,” Clint said after a moment. “If it had been my choice, everyone would have known as soon as I did, but I was ordered to secrecy. I know that regardless of your personal feelings for me right now, you won’t tell anyone and I appreciate that. And, yes, he and I are still together. I told him what was going on with you because I was worried about you and wanted his advice so I could help you. He freely gave me permission to see where things went with you – I didn’t ask for it. And I was actually dreading you finding out about Phil being alive because no matter how you look at it, no, it’s not fair to you. And if we were still going strong when Phil came back, I knew it was going to be awkward for you – which is the last thing either of us wants. Both Phil and I are willing to see where this goes with you and for the three of us to come to a compatible agreement. I do honestly like you and everything I’ve told you is true. And Phil is interested in you too and we’d both like to include you in our relationship once he’s back.”
Through the course of his explanation, Clint could see Steve get more uncomfortable by the moment and at the mention of a three-way relationship, he looked perilously close to having a meltdown.
“Like I said, I’m sorry for hurting you and I hope we can at least repair our friendship so we can work together in the field. And I’d like you in my life even more, but I’ll understand if that’s not something you want. It’s not for everybody.”
Clint let himself out before Steve could say anything. He half expected Steve to follow him out to the elevator but at the same time is glad when he doesn’t.
It was a few more days before Clint saw Steve again. And each day he rehashed with Phil what he’d done wrong and how he could fix it, until the whole thing was a bloody pulp and he’s no better off than he was to begin with, even if Phil keeps telling him that he did what he should have, given the circumstances, and that it’s now in Steve’s hands.
So it’s a surprise when JARVIS announced, “Captain Rogers is at the door, Agent Barton.”
“Thanks, JARVIS,” Clint replied and answered the door. He considered taking his time and making Steve sweat, but decided against it, curious how Steve was going to handle things.
“Hi,” Steve said shyly, his hands pushed deep in his pants’ pockets. “May I come in?”
“Please,” Clint replied, moving aside for him. “Can I get you anything?”
“I’m good, thanks,” Steve replied. “We need to talk.”
Clint gestured to the couch and chairs and Steve sat down in the recliner. “Since I’m not sure of the direction you’d like to take this, please start,” he said as he sat down on the couch.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” Steve signed. “Since I haven’t been able to sleep, I’ve been – I believe the term is ‘mainlining’ – ASL videos and books, but I’m still a bit out of my depth. I wanted to say I’m sorry. I’ve been acting like an asshole to you when you were just following orders and acting in good faith with Agent Coulson – Phil,” he stuttered a bit on finger-spelling the names and Clint smiled.
“It’s a big thing to take in,” Clint replied, also signing, and making sure he went slow enough for Steve to catch everything. “Relationships are crazy enough between two people, let alone when you’re dealing with a sexual orientation identity crisis.” He paused and waited for Steve to nod that he’d gotten all of that. “Never mind adding in a third person to the relationship. I’m sure that I could have handled things better myself and laid the groundwork with hypotheticals so you wouldn’t have freaked out when you found out.”
“I can’t stop thinking about you,” Steve signed. “Your friendship over the past few weeks has been an anchor for me and I really appreciate everything you’ve done to help me out. And I really am attracted to you. Even with how pissed I am at what happened, I keep thinking about you, wondering about what you’re doing, what you think of things,” he blushed, “what you looked like while we were kissing, how great the kissing felt.”
“What do you think about my relationship with Phil?” Clint asked – first spelling out his name, then using the sign he and Phil had made up. “Because I don’t think I could give either of you up. I know he would be okay with coming to some sort of agreement where I would be able to see both of you at the same time, but I don’t want to do that – where I’m living two lives, even though you both know about each other. I want the three of us to make a life together. I know Phil would be willing to do whatever it takes to make that work.”
“I don’t,” Steve hesitated. “I don’t know. It’s not something that’s easy for me to comprehend. Even though I’ve been having a hard time accepting that I’m gay, it’s not a completely foreign concept. I did know guys from my time who were together. Obviously, they had to be very quiet and careful, but they were able to make a life out of it. But three people? Let alone three men? I can’t see it working.”
“It’s not that common, I’ll grant you that, but it does happen from time to time. Neither Phil or I have experience with doing it as a long-term relationship, but we want to make it work. Phil’s been a fan of Captain America since he was a boy –”
Steve snorted in amusement. “His excitement in meeting me while we were on our way to the Helicarrier was one of the most amusing things I’ve ever seen. I remember boys being so excited to meet me during the war, but I figured that they’d grow out of it when they got older. Most I’m sure have, and while it was awkward, it was a bit flattering to see.”
Clint grinned. “I wish I could’ve been there to see it – the unflappable Agent Coulson getting all flustered while meeting his hero. The junior agents would never believe me. Seeing him in action is a thing of beauty. And when you meet him while he’s off the clock, it’ll make you wonder who the real superhero is.”
“And what about you, Clint?” Steve copied the name sign that Clint automatically made. “What do you want?”
“I want both of you. I want to make both of you happy and see the two of you make each other happy. I think you’d get along great.”
Steve was quiet for a few minutes and Clint watched him as he stared at his hands, wanting to let him take his time and parse things out. Finally Steve spoke and said, “I want to take things one day at a time. I want to be with you for as long as I can, even if it’s only until Phil comes back to you. And for all I know, whatever it is we’re feeling for each other will die naturally before then and all of this will be a moot point. Also, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious how a threesome would work. I have been doing a bit of research into... alternate relationships? And with the way you, and the others, have spoken of Phil, I would like to get to know him better as a person, and not just as an agent.”
“Sounds good to me. I’m willing to go with that.”
“Can we just hang out tonight?” Steve asked.
“Sure. What do you want to do?”
“Can we watch a movie?”
“Sounds like a great idea. You pick one out and I’ll go make popcorn. JARVIS, pull up the movie list for Steve.”
Clint went into the kitchen to make the popcorn and half-listened to Steve talking to JARVIS to go through the huge list of movies available to them. When he came back a few minutes later, a Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn movie was queued up and waiting for them to start. Clint grinned and handed Steve a can of soda before sitting down next to him on the couch, putting the popcorn between them. By the end of the movie, they were leaning against each other’s shoulders, their hands entwined on the cushion between them.
“Thanks for this,” Steve said, straightening up. “I appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome,” Clint replied. “I enjoyed it. I really do want you to be happy, regardless of what you decide to do. And if all of this is too much for you, I’ll understand.”
“One day at a time,” Steve said with a smile.
“One day at a time,” Clint agreed.
The next morning, Clint knocked on Steve’s door before going to the internet cafe. When Steve answered, he said, “Come on, I have to show you something.”
Steve grabbed his keys and wallet and followed him out of the building. They walked in companionable silence to the internet cafe and Clint stopped at the door as Steve looked confused between him and the sign on the door. “What’s wrong with your Stark tablet?” he asked.
“The fact that it’s a Stark tablet,” Clint said, pulling the door open. “You’ll see why in a minute.”
The guy behind the counter raised an eyebrow at seeing Steve with Clint, but didn’t say anything when Clint gave a small shake of his head as he handed over his money, and handed over a camera instead. Clint led Steve to his usual computer and Steve pulled up the adjacent chair as Clint got things set up.
When Clint downloaded the newest video and opened it up, a picture of Phil appearing on the screen, Steve’s mouth made a small ‘o’ in understanding. “Ready?” Clint asked.
“As I’ll ever be,” Steve replied.
Clint pressed play and quietly translated for Steve what Phil was saying. “I don’t know what else to say to you, Clint. You have to stop beating yourself up. You did the best you could with a shitty situation and, at this point, it’s up to Steve how he wants to play it. I hope two of you are able to mend your fences enough that you’ll be able to work together in the field. I’m sorry for suggesting it – I should have thought it through more. Regardless of how careful you were, there was always a chance of heartache and there was no way it wouldn’t have been awkward and bad for Steve because he was the unknowing one in all of this. I should have thought of that before. Please tell him I said so. And if you’re *still* beating yourself up over this, I am going to leave this facility early and come kick your ass – damn whatever damage it may do. But it shouldn’t be much longer before I’ll be able to leave.” He made the “I love you” sign up to the camera, and then stopped the video.
“I got most of that,” Steve said with a small smile.
“Then we’ll just have to work on it as much as possible,” Clint said. “We could drive Tony crazy thinking we’re talking about him.”
“Do you and Phil sign a lot to each other?”
“When we’re alone, we do. It’s kind of our thing. And I’m under no illusion that the higher ups aren’t aware of what we’re saying on the videos, but as long as we keep things as above-board as possible and in-line with how we’ve always been out in the field, I’m not too worried.” He smirked. “I’ve always been a mouthy SOB in the field and Phil’s always been my long-suffering handler used to using his amazing wit to keep me inline.”
“So what do we say back?” Steve said.
“Whatever we want. Obviously, I’d like to have you on camera and show him we’ve made up and have you vouch for that. Other than that, whatever you want to say is up to you. Ready?”
“I guess so. You go first and I’ll follow your lead.”
Clint nodded and started the recording session. “Hey, Phil. Look who I’ve got here.” He pointed to Steve with his thumb and Steve gave a little wave. “We’ve patched things up and, as an act of good faith, I brought him with me. We’ve agreed to taking things slowly and seeing how things go and what happens, happens. So we’re back to where we were before and I can’t wait to see you.” He made the “I love you” sign, then whispered, “Your turn.”
“Hi, Phil,” Steve signed slowly. “I can’t wait to get to know you better once you’re back with us. A guy with balls like yours and the skills I’ve heard you have will be a great asset on our team. And it’ll be great to see Clint happy again. I know he’s missed you a lot, regardless of whatever he might say about feelings for me. And I,” he paused, “I’m intrigued by the offer he’s placed on the table that he says is from the both of you. I’m definitely willing to discuss it with the two of you when you get back and see how things go. Well, we best let you go. Have a good day.”
Clint stopped the recording. And started laughing. “‘Have a good day’?” he said.
“What was I supposed to say?” Steve asked. “It wasn’t exactly like I could tell him I loved him. We could go back and I could fix that.”
“Oh, we are *so* not fixing that,” Clint said between giggles as he sent off the video. “Come on, let’s go get breakfast.”
Inside the diner, Steve asked, “What’s going on between Bruce and Natasha?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
“So he’s not in a threesome with Tony and Pepper?”
“As far as I’m aware he’s not. Or not anymore. I don’t – I never paid much attention to Tony’s love life.”
A few days and some ecstatic messages with Phil later, Steve asked, “Do you think Phil will mind if we have sex?”
Clint practically choked on his soda. After finally getting it down and wiping his nose, he replied, “No, I don’t.” He settled back against the couch and Steve leaned against his shoulder against Clint’s again. “He’d probably want us to give him a blow-by-blow, though. I take it you’re interested in having sex?”
Steve looked up at him. “Yeah, I am. At least in how the mechanics of it work. Tony has explained the concept of porn on the internet to me, but,” he made a face, “that just seems disrespectful to everyone involved.”
“It is and it isn’t. Porn’s a weird thing,” Clint said. “You sure you don’t want to give Phil – probably Captain America’s biggest fanboy – the honor of deflowering you?”
Steve laughed. “Is Captain America the reason he became a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent?”
“No one knows why he became an agent. He was military before this and, as far as I can tell, he could have made a career out of it, but decided to do this instead. And nice redirect, by the way, but you haven’t answered my question.”
“Would you rather he be the one to ‘deflower’ me? Do you have a thing about being the ‘top’, or whatever the term is?”
Clint shrugged. “Not really. Phil and I do both almost equally. Just, you know, thought I’d throw that out there. Are you sure you’re comfortable with taking the next step?”
It was Steve’s turn to shrug. “As comfortable as I can be right now. I want to be more comfortable with it. And I think if I have experience being physically intimate beyond kissing, it’ll help me continue dealing with coming out.”
“Okay, if you want to, we’ll do it. But you’re going to be setting the pace and if you’re even the tiniest bit uncomfortable, we’re slowing down, if not all together stopping. Got it?”
“Got it. Can we start now?”
“Sure, if you’d like.” Clint stood up and Steve followed. “Let’s go into the bedroom. It’ll be more comfortable there. Unless you think you’ll be more comfortable if we do it in your quarters?”
“No, this is good.”
Clint led the way into his bedroom and sat down on the side of his bed. Steve hovered in the doorway, looking like he suddenly couldn’t decide if this was actually a good idea. “If you don’t want to, we don’t have to,” Clint said after a long moment.
“No, I want to. It’s just – wow.”
Clint nodded and patted the spot on the bed next to him. “Like I said – slow.”
Steve nodded once and joined him on the bed, his back ramrod straight and his hands on his knees. When it didn’t seem like he was going to make the first move – or any move at all, Clint inwardly rolled his eyes and leaned in to capture Steve’s mouth with his. That mobilized Steve into turning towards him with a small groan and gently cupping Clint’s jaw with one hand. Clint grabbed Steve’s shirt just above his belt and carefully pulled it and his undershirt out of his pants so he could touch Steve’s skin. Steve stiffened tighter than one of Clint’s bowstrings and stopped kissing him.
Pulling back, Clint asked, “You okay?”
“Yeah. I think,” Steve replied hoarsely.
Clint gently brushed his fingers over the skin on Steve’s sides again. “How does that feel?”
“Good,” Steve replied.
Clint continued to slowly move his hands over Steve’s chest and sides, continually getting confirmation Steve was doing okay. He slowly lost the shell-shocked look and relaxed. Then Clint pushed Steve’s shirts up and over his head, depositing them on the floor next to the bed. And in one fluid movement did the same with his.
Steve looked over Clint’s chest with interest, cataloguing the scars from numerous fights over the years, as well as his time in the circus, that recorded his unorthodox life. And Clint inwardly crowed when the look switched from assessing to desire. He took one of Steve’s hands in his and placed it on his stomach, over one of the more defined scars.
“That was from a bad fall in the circus. I was working on the highwire and fell onto some badly finished lumber. I looked like a porcupine.”
Steve laughed, but he automatically brushed the skin beneath his fingers. Clint let go and Steve slowly explored, his other hand joining in. His fingers tickled as they gently made their way over Clint’s torso, but Clint enjoyed the feeling. It’d been way too long since he’d had this.
Slowly, trying to not startle Steve, Clint leaned in and pressed a light kiss on Steve’s shoulder. Steve shuddered, but didn’t stop. Clint slowly worked his way up to Steve’s mouth and claimed it again, his hands roaming over Steve’s broad shoulders and chiseled torso. Steve ran his nails over one of Clint’s nipples and Clint groaned into the kiss, pushing Steve back onto the bed.
They kissed languidly, Steve slowly gaining confidence as venturing a bit further into finding out how Clint liked to be touch. Clint, on the other hand, had no such qualms and enjoyed himself as they continued to learn each other. When Steve rolled them over so he was on top, Clint went easily and grinned at the feeling of Steve’s half-hard cock pressing against him. He arched up against it, his own half-hard cock enjoying the pressure, and Steve was off of him like a shot.
“What’s wrong?” Clint asked, sitting up and looking at Steve, who had his back to Clint and was sitting as far away as he could while still being on the bed.
“I wasn’t ready for that. For this,” he replied, turning slightly and pointing at the bulge in his pants. “I knew it would happen at some point, I just wasn’t expecting it to happen already.”
“You do realize that’s what happens when two people who are attracted to each other spend some ‘quality’ time together, right?” Clint asked, crawling to kneel behind Steve. He pressed against Steve’s back and wrapped his arms around Steve’s shoulders.
“Yes, I do realize that’s what happens,” Steve replied with a huff and Clint could just imagine the eye roll that went with it. “It just caught me off-guard that it happened so quickly. The... the girls I was with, it took a long time to get an erection, if I even did at all.”
Clint was a bit surprised that Steve wasn’t a complete virgin, and was glad Steve couldn’t see his face, though he guessed it shouldn’t be a complete surprise. “Then that should be an even bigger clue that you’re doing the right thing,” he finally said, lightly trailing his fingers over Steve’s chest.
Steve shivered when Clint gently ran his nails over his nipples. Clint kissed along Steve’s shoulder as his fingers slowly went south. He got to Steve’s waistband before Steve stopped him with a hand on his wrist and a quiet “not yet”. Clint kissed Steve’s temple and pulled him back up the bed, so they were stretched out again, facing each other on their sides. They went back to languidly kissing and touching, but it was slower and more chaste this time.
Finally, Steve’s fingers did brush against the clasp on Clint’s jeans and he paused and looked up at Clint questioningly.
“If you’re ready,” Clint said.
Steve nodded and opened Clint’s pants. Clint shimmied out of them and deposited them on the floor. He stretched out on his back, his hands behind his head, and let Steve make the next move. Steve slowly looked him over, starting with his face, and Clint guessed to gauge his reaction, then slowly moved down over familiar territory before continuing down to Clint’s cock. His cock was still half-hard and curving off to the side, and he resisted taking himself in hand and teasing both himself and Steve by slowly jacking off. Steve licked his lips and bit his lower lip.
“Go ahead,” Clint said, enjoying the attention and feeling himself harden a bit more. “You can touch if you’d like.”
Steve reached out, stopping himself a few times, before carefully wrapping his hand around the base of Clint’s cock. Clint ‘hmm’ed in pleasure at the feeling, loving the feel of someone else’s hand on his cock. His cock was average length, but thick, and was hardening quickly. Steve slowly stroked his hand up and down Clint’s erection, his thumb swiping over the head and taking Clint’s precome with it to help smooth his way.
“So, when are you going to show me yours?” he teased, partly to distract himself from the hand on his cock and partly to hopefully egg Steve on.
“Impatient, are we?” Steve asked, distracted, but his hand didn’t faulter.
“Maybe just a bit. But it’s something I’ve always been, in all areas of life.”
Steve laughed. “Wait and see.”
Clint bucked up into Steve’s hand, his orgasm building behind his balls. “I don’t think I can wait much longer.”
“Then don’t,” Steve replied, his voice calm and his hand steady.
“You are an evil, evil tease, Steve Rogers,” Clint ground out. “And I have a feeling Phil is going to love you for that. I can’t wait to see who drives who crazy first in bed.”
Steve shook his head in amusement and squeezed just a tiny bit tighter, but it was enough to make Clint come, splattering his stomach and chest. Steve milked his cock through the aftershocks before reaching over to the nightstand to get some tissues to clean him up. Clint smiled lazily up at him before pulling him down for a hungry kiss.
Pulling away, he said snagged a finger in Steve’s waistband and said, “Your turn.”
Steve hesitated, but Clint rolled over, pushing Steve onto his back. He opened Steve’s pants and when he started pushing them and Steve’s briefs down, Steve easily raised his hips so Clint could keep going. After dropping the unneeded garments on the floor, Clint settled between Steve’s legs and came face to face with Steve’s erection. As Clint had suspected, Steve’s cock was long and thick and he couldn’t wait to feel it inside of him.
Steve watched Clint eagerly, but with a hint of trepidation, as Clint covered the head of Steve’s cock with his mouth and gently sucked. Steve moaned and Clint sucked a bit harder. Steve balled his hands up in the sheets and his thighs were taut with the effort of keeping himself still. Oh, yeah, this would be great when Phil got back – that way one of them could hold Steve down while the other sucked him so he could relax more. Clint slowly made his way down Steve’s cock, sucking along the way, until he’d completely deep-throated Steve. Steve groaned and arched up a bit when Clint sucked him hard. He slowly let him go, sucking at various intervals along the way as he went. Once he’d released Steve, Steve whimpered and Clint grinned.
From there, he did his best to drive Steve crazy. He alternately licked and nipped his way up and down Steve’s cock and suckled the head of his cock, enjoying the gushes of precome and soft moans that it all elicited. He gently licked Steve’s balls and felt him arch up hard. Steve’s breath became more labored and he became tenser as Clint continued his ministrations. Finally, he flailed a hand against Clint’s shoulder and head and Clint turned his attention back to the head of Steve’s cock, suckling it hard until Steve came, swallowing his come and sucking through the aftershocks until Steve relaxed back against the bed. Then Clint released him and joined him up on the bed.
“How do you feel?” he asked after a moment.
“Great,” Steve replied. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Clint replied. “And there’s a lot more for us to do when you’re ready.”
Steve grinned and snuggled into him and they fell asleep.
After that evening, things settled into a weird sort of normal. Steve was more comfortable touching and kissing, but he didn’t seem very concerned about sex, and Clint figured Steve had decided he wasn’t ready to go further and didn’t push him on it. What did surprise him was that Steve was actually comfortable doing some of the kissing and touching in front of the rest of the team.
Of course, Natasha didn’t care and made no comments about it, unless they’re in her way. Bruce made no comments either, and looked a bit flustered by all of it at first, but finally settled on amused fondness. Pepper only tells them she’s happy for them. Tony, being Tony, made a few ribald comments at first and seemed to enjoy teasing them every chance he gets, but there’s no real malice in it – which Clint is thankful Steve seems to get.
It all does come grinding to a halt one evening when they were having an impromptu team dinner (aka they all decided to eat at the same time). Tony was once again teasing Clint and Steve as Tony and Clint were making dinner, so Clint sauntered over to where Steve was watching them from the table with an amused smile, dropped down on Steve’s lap, and kissed him hard, to catcalls from Natasha and Pepper.
There was a quiet cough from the doorway followed by an “Am I interrupting anything?”
The group turned as one to find Coulson standing there, one bag slung over his shoulder, another at his feet. Steve quickly stood, blushing furiously, and only Clint’s quick reflexes saved him from landing on his ass as the whole group erupted into excited greetings and crowded around Phil to welcome him back.
Clint grinned and wormed his way through the group to Phil’s side. Once the furor had died down, he said, “We’re just making dinner. Care to join us?”
Phil shook his head. “They made me eat one last meal before they released me.” To Tony, he asked, “I was told there was room for me here?”
Tony was still gaping at him as Clint replied, “Of course there’s room! Come on, you’re staying with me tonight and we’ll sort it all out in the morning.” He grabbed Phil’s free bag with one hand and Steve’s hand with the other and dragged him along he led the way out, Phil following behind a moment later after taking his leave of the rest of the group.
Once in the elevator, Clint kissed Phil desperately, and Phil returning the kiss just as energetically. A small cough from Steve just before the elevator dinged and the doors opened made them pull apart and Steve quickly moved past them and off the elevator.
“Hey,” Clint said softly.
“Hey yourself,” Phil replied.
“Are you gentlemen coming?” Steve asked.
That seemed to do the trick and the three of them quickly moved into Clint’s apartment. Shoes off on one side of the door, bags set on the other, and Clint pulled Phil to the couch. Steve hovered by the door, looking completely unsure of himself and more than a bit lost.
Seeing him, Clint said, “Come join us, Steve.”
“I can’t,” Steve replied, looking like he was about to flee.
Quickly joining him with a questioning look from Phil, Clint quietly asked, “What do you mean you can’t?”
Steve shrugged. “I thought I’d be okay with this, but the closer it got to Phil coming back, the more uneasy I got. I figured we’d get notified when he was coming back and I was going to break it off the night before. He’s your best guy, Clint, and you’re his and that’s how it should be.”
“And what if you’re my best guy too?” Clint asked. “When I look at you, I feel almost the same as when I look at Phil, the only difference is I’ve known him longer.” The truth of the statement was a surprise to Clint’s own ears, but he wasn’t going to let that on. “And I know Phil wants to make you his other best guy too. Give us a chance? At least for a bit?”
Steve bit his lip and looked over Clint’s shoulder at Phil. Clint fought the urge to look back at Phil as well, knowing Steve needed to make the decision on his own. “You two should have a chance to get reacquainted,” Steve said. “We’ll talk tomorrow?”
“If that’s what you want,” Clint replied, knowing Steve was backing out at graciously as he could and there was no way Clint could stop him, and Steve nodded. “Okay, we’ll see you tomorrow.” He leaned up and kissed Steve, who kept the kiss chaste and short before pulling away.
“Good night, Phil,” Steve said. “I’m glad you’re back safe.”
“A word, Steve?” Phil asked, joining them. He squeezed Clint’s shoulder, then pushed him towards the couch and Clint smiled, taking the hint and sitting down. Clint watched them talk quietly for a long moment, unable to hear what they were saying, before Phil leaned up and kissed Steve on the cheek and Steve blushed.
Steve quickly excused himself and Phil rejoined Clint on the couch. “What was that about?” Clint asked, taking Phil’s hands in his.
“I told him that if he didn’t join us for breakfast in the morning, he was going to regret it. And I thanked him for taking good care of you.”
“How do you feel?” Clint asked.
“Tired, but great. You have no idea how happy I am to be out of there. I’m still healing, however, but now it’s mostly jus scar tissue.”
“I want to see.”
“All in good time, Barton,” Phil reproved, but he couldn’t keep from smiling.
“So I take it this means you didn’t see our video from this morning?”
“I saw it. And I think you’ve done a great job with helping Steve. We’ve got our work cut out for us, however. We both know theoreticals and actuals are hardly ever the same thing when it comes time to put words to actions.”
“Yeah, no kidding,” Clint replied, thinking of a number of missions that didn’t pan out quite as planned for that reason. “Are you really okay with this?”
“Okay with a chance to have both you *and* Captain America in my bed? Maybe you’re the one that needs to have his head checked regularly.”
“Just checking. What do you want to do tonight?”
“I think you know what I want to do tonight,” Phil replied, running his thumb over Clint’s knuckles. “I’m not ready for anything too athletic, but I’m sure we can figure out something that will be mutually satisfactory.”
“With you, everything is more than satisfactory,” Clint said with a grin. He stood and carefully pulled Phil up and into his bedroom.
They took their time getting reacquainted with each other’s bodies, with Clint spending a long time just stroking the scarred tissue where Loki’s scepter went in, a sad look in his eyes.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Phil said, making Clint look at him. “Not your fault. With the intel Thor gave us about the scepter before they left, there was no way you could have done anything to stop Loki.”
“I know,” Clint said, “but it still hurts.”
Phil rolled Clint onto his back. “Then let me kiss it and make it better.”
By the time they fell asleep, they were completely sated and entwined in each other’s arms.
The next morning, Clint woke curled around Phil, a grin spreading across his face. Looking up at Phil, he saw he was awake and had a matching grin.
“I’ve been thinking about this moment for a *long* time,” Phil said. “Some days it was the only thing keeping me going. Though, thinking of you and Steve was a close second.”
“If you don’t want him, then it’s done,” Clint said. “I enjoyed what he and I had, and I know he did too, but you and I are solid and I want to keep it that way. Like Steve said – you’re my best guy.”
“But you would like him to be too, don’t you?”
“I’ll only admit that I very much enjoyed his company while you were gone and I would like to continue that acquaintance in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed.”
“Now you just sound like a damn Victorian novel.”
They both laughed and Clint leaned up to kiss Phil. “It’s up to you.”
“I think I’d be doing myself a huge disservice if we didn’t at least try to make it work. Because, honestly, how many people can say that their boyfriend is okay with them seeing Captain America?”
Clint chuckled. “Very true. He’s going to take some convincing, though.”
“I’m up to the challenge. I’ve dealt with worse – before breakfast.”
“Okay, then let’s go get him and get breakfast.”
It was hard to let Phil get a shower alone, but Clint knew the man had hardly had any privacy since he’d woken up in the rehab facility and he didn’t begrudge him wanting the shower. He made himself get Phil’s bags while he did so and unpack them into Clint’s drawers, like they had been at Phil’s place, leaving out a change of fresh clothes.
When Phil came out of the bathroom buck naked, Clint grinned and let his eyes roam over his partner’s body in appreciation. “We’re going to have to get you working out again,” he said, wrapping his arms around Phil’s body. “You’ve let yourself get a bit soft over the past few months.”
“I’ll take it under advisement,” Phil said. He kissed Clint before turning them both and pushing Clint towards the door. “Don’t take too long.”
Clint practically flew through his morning ablutions and dressing and they were headed to Steve’s floor in record time, reassured by JARVIS that he was in quarters.
Clint knocked on Steve’s door and it was opened a second later. “JARVIS announced you were on your way,” he said by way of greeting.
“Breakfast?” Clint asked.
Steve hesitated and Phil said, “If you say no, I’ll take it as a personal slight.”
“That settles it then,” Steve replied, joining them in the foyer and shutting the door behind himself.
They headed down to the street level in silence, Phil and Clint’s hands entwined and Steve doing his best to not look at the two of them. Clint was thankful no one else seemed to be up that early. The walk to the diner was quiet. They did get a few appreciative glances from others who were out that early, along with a few surprised and questioning looks, but most seemed not to notice.
Seated in a back booth, Clint wrapped his hands around a steaming mug of coffee as he looked across the table at Steve and Phil, both of whom were intently studying the menu. Clint wasn’t sure why Phil was, he knew what he was going to get, but he figured it was a tactic to help put Steve at ease, though he could probably order for Steve too.
Once the waitress had taken their orders, and Clint had nailed both Steve and Phil’s orders, Phil leaned back against the cushion and stretched and arm behind Steve. “I wanted to thank you again for taking care of Clint while I was away,” he said.
“It was nothing,” Steve replied, blushing slightly. “Though you seem to have a skewed version of ‘taking care of’.”
“Not really. At least not when it comes to Clint.” Phil looked across the table at Clint with a sly smile. “He’s an interesting case and requires some unorthodox care. And we were, and are, both serious about having you join us in our relationship.”
“Are you –” Steve looked between the two of them.
Clint nodded in agreement. “We’re serious.”
“We want you to be our best guy too,” Phil told him. “And we’d like a chance to prove it to you.”
“But there couldn’t be enough room in your relationship for me.”
“What makes you so sure of that?” Phil asked, his tone conveying genuine curiosity.
“Because,” Steve hesitated, “then threesomes would be more common.”
“Most people just aren’t built that way,” Phil conceded, “but we think we are and we’d like to try it and see.”
Steve looked away without replying and studied his reflection in the window next to him.
“Are you feeling greedy because you want it too?” Clint asked, the sudden insight making a lot of sense.
There was a very slight nod from Steve, but no other outward sign he’d heard Clint.
“Love and desire are tricky things,” Phil said. “At least this way you know we both know what’s going on and want the same thing you do.”
“I know,” Steve said quietly. “But it’s just so weird to know that not only am I gay, but I’m attracted to two guys. Before – back in my time, before – I would have been happy finding one person, one woman, and had no idea that something like this was possible. And now, I don’t even know if it’s something I could formulate, let alone ask for.”
“Then let us help you,” Phil said, bringing his hand up and gently stroking the back of Steve’s neck.
Clint smiled at the familiar gesture – Phil had always done that to him whenever he was stressed out or frustrated. Steve looked like he was about bolt, if it wasn’t for Phil being between him and his escape route and the waitress showing up with their food.
They ate in silence and Steve slowly relaxed. After they finished, Phil said, “Feel like a walk? I’ve been cooped up for too long.”
“Sure,” Clint said. “We could show him the neighborhood,” he said to Steve.
“Okay,” Steve replied slowly.
“Lead on,” Phil said and they ambled away from the diner. After a while, Phil was the first to speak. “I don’t want you to feel like you have to join us, Steve. While we genuinely would like you to, we understand how insane this is – even for people who are completely modern.”
“Except for maybe Tony,” Clint said.
“Except for maybe Tony,” Phil agreed. “Mostly. I can’t see him settling down with two people – even if the other person was completely Pepper-approved. I just mean that if you need time and space to think about our offer, then tell us so.”
Steve was quiet for a long moment and Clint fought the urge to look at him, before he finally said, “I don’t know. I want this, but it feels so unnatural. And yet, being with Clint has felt like the most natural thing in the world. And I trust his judgment, so if you’re his best guy, then why wouldn’t I feel the same with you?” He shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s all too new, I think.”
“We’ll take it slow, then,” Phil said. “Is that acceptable?”
“Yes,” Steve replied with a nod.
“Good, because I was determined that we weren’t going to head back until we had sorted this out one way or the other. And I’m getting tired. I think you’re right,” he said to Clint. “We’ll have to set up a training schedule.”
“No problem,” Clint replied. “Steve and I will have you in top form before you know it.”
“We’ll start tomorrow?”
“Sure that’s wise?” Steve asked.
“The doctors released me, didn’t they?” Phil replied. “And it doesn’t need to be anything hard at first, we can work up to that. Do you remember my exercise routine?” he asked Clint.
“Yep,” Clint replied. “We’ll work back towards that. I’ll have Tony hack your files from your rehab and see where they were at, and we’ll work from there.”
“No need, I have copies in my bag.” At Clint’s surprised look, he said, “They were in the front pocket – where you never look.”
Clint laughed as they stopped on a corner for a light signal. “You got me there. I should have known – you always put the important papers there.”
“Of course I do,” Phil replied and ruffled Clint’s hair. Clint looked up in time to see the bemused look on Steve’s face and smiled at him. He quickly squeezed Steve’s hand as the signal turned and they headed across with the rest of the crowd.
Back at Stark Tower, Clint said, “If you don’t have any plans, come up with us and help me plan Phil’s regimen.”
“Are you sure that’s wise?” Steve asked. “Shouldn’t we talk to his doctors?”
“I think they’d prefer no one knows they existed,” Phil replied. “Maybe I should start telling people that no, I wasn’t really dead – I was just on vacation in Tahiti or something.”
“Tahiti is a pretty magical place,” Clint replied with a grin, remembering a trip they’d taken there for an op that had turned into an impromptu vacation.
“That it is,” Phil agreed. “We’ll have to take you sometime, Steve. Plus, I trust Clint’s judgment – he’s had to do enough PT and recovery that he knows what he’s doing.”
“Then what do you need me for?” Steve asked.
“Another set of eyes,” Clint replied. “Variety.”
“He does tend to get monotonous in his training,” Phil agreed as they entered the elevator and his finger hovered over the button for Steve’s floor. “I’d appreciate it.”
“Okay, I’ll do it.”
They spent the rest of the morning consulting Phil’s doctors’ reports and made a plan based on that and Phil’s previous workout levels and times, as well as how long SHIELD was giving him to get back up to speed. Phil stayed out of it and watched in amusement as Clint and Steve talked it over quietly, papers spread out over Clint’s coffee table.
When they’d finally finished it, Clint beckoned Phil over and made room for him to sit between them so they could show him their plan.
Phil looked it over quietly before nodding. “Looks good,” he said, putting the papers back down on the table and settling back against the couch. “And I’ll need both of you,” he looked first at Clint, then Steve, “to help keep me on track. But I’m sure that’s why you designed it this way,” he said to Clint.
“Partly,” Clint admitted, knowing it was going to be hard for Phil, but it would get him back into SHIELD shape way before SHIELD’s deadline. And also so he’d be field-ready as soon as possible because Phil was as bad as Clint was if he wasn’t doing a mission.
“Okay, then what shall we do for the rest of today?” Phil asked Steve.
“Why are you asking me?” Steve asked. “You’re the one that just got out of the hospital.”
“And you’re the one who was frozen in a plane in the Artic for about 70 years and the first thing you did when you got out was help fight an alien invasion led by a crazy, revenge-bent Norse god. I think you win.”
Steve smiled and Clint chuckled. “I don’t know,” Steve said. “I’ve become pretty well-acclimated to this time period and have caught up on the people I knew back when. And Clint’s been great at keeping me company and sparring with me, along with Natasha. I don’t really know what more I could ask for.”
“You forgot to mention Pepper took you shopping,” Clint said.
Steve laughed. “She did take me shopping. That woman is a formidable power in her own right,” he said to Phil.
“She has to be,” Phil agreed. “She voluntarily puts up with Tony on a regular basis, as well as is the CEO of Stark Industries.”
“We could go out to Coney Island,” Clint suggested.
“You’re still banned from Coney Island,” Phil said.
“It’s not my fault I was able to win all the games, even if they were skewed. I’m just that good.”
Clint saw Steve smiling at them in amusement out of the corner of his eye as he leaned in to kiss Phil, his hand automatically going over the scar on Phil’s chest. Steve’s look turned wistful and as soon as Clint was finished thoroughly kissing Phil, he leaned over and pulled Steve in for a kiss as well.
When he pulled away from a stunned Steve, he affectionately patted him on the cheek. “You were expecting anything less?” he asked him.
It took Steve a moment to collect his thoughts. “I don’t know what I was expecting.”
“Good, because now we don’t have as much pressure when we blow them out of the water,” Phil said, turning slightly so he could kiss Steve.
Clint grinned as he watched Steve’s eyes widen and then flutter closed as Phil kissed him thoroughly. Steve melted into the kiss, a hand coming up to carefully rest on Phil’s shoulder and Phil wrapped a hand around the side of Steve’s neck to keep him in place. It was one of the hottest things Clint had ever seen.
“Mmmm,” Phil said when he finally pulled away. “I’ve been waiting ages to do that. Totally worth it.”
“I could have told you that,” Clint teased, pressing against Phil. “Everything about him is totally worth it.”
“I have no doubt,” Phil said and Steve blushed deeply, even the tips of his ears turned red. “I can’t wait to discover that for myself. If you’ll let me, Steve,” he said diplomatically.
“Let’s take this a day at a time,” Steve replied. “By the time we finish your training regimen, you may not want to have anything to do with me.”
“Oh, I’m sure I will. I’m sure the more sadistic elements of it are all Clint’s fault.” He turned back so Clint could fully see his hands and signed, “They always are.”
Clint grinned and signed back, “You know me too well.”
“At least now we don’t have to worry about being impolite,” Phil signed, with a tilt of his head towards Steve.
“Nope,” Clint replied, with a smile in Steve’s direction. “So your call, Rogers – what are we doing for the rest of today?”
Steve shrugged. “I don’t know,” he slowly signed. “I’m still trying to keep my ‘flee’ reaction in check.”
“We could go down to the range and practice,” Clint said. “You and I could use the practice and we could see where Phil’s levels are.”
Steve nodded. “Sounds like a good idea.”
“Sounds like a great idea,” Phil added and stood. “Let’s go.”
Clint grabbed his bow and quiver and the three of them headed downstairs. Only Natasha was there when they arrived. She nodded to them and said, “Good to see you, Coulson.”
“You too, Natasha,” he replied with a smile. “Barton hasn’t been too much of a pain while I was gone, has he?”
“No more than normal, sir. Steve’s been a good influence on him.”
“Then we’ll have to make sure we keep him around,” Phil said, with a sly smile to Clint and Steve.
Natasha went back to decimating her targets and Steve and Phil looked over the available weapons while Clint worked on his bow. When they’d finally decided, they took them over to where Clint was waiting. Clint made Phil take apart each of the weapons and put them back together, timing him as he did so.
“So no lag there,” he said when Phil finished with the last one.
“Please, this is child’s play,” Phil replied.
“For you, it probably was,” Clint replied. “Did you always want to be an Agent?”
“Oh, I entertained a few other ideas over the years, but regardless, I was always planning on being a complete badass.”
“I don’t think you could be anything but,” Clint replied. “Okay, have at it.”
They put on their protective earmuffs and Phil went through his selection of guns – each one working perfectly and Phil getting perfect marks for all of them.
While Phil was putting the guns away, Steve studied the paper targets. “If he had no problem going for center mass, what are these ones for?” he asked Clint, touching the holes at different outer sections – such as shoulders, wrists, and hands.
“Because sometimes you don’t want to go for the kill shot, you just want to disarm to capture for information,” Clint said. “Those are the best spots to do so with the smallest amount of damage and recovery time. If it was a full-body target, there would have also been a couple in the knee caps too.”
“Interesting,” Steve replied.
“It is. And Phil tends to prefer those shots in general. I think it has something to do with the time he spent in the Army. He doesn’t talk about it much, but I have a feeling it was a mostly bad experience for him.”
“War’s never a good experience,” Phil said rejoining them. “And I have a feeling Steve would agree with me.”
“Completely and whole-heartedly,” Steve replied.
“Come on, let’s see your skills,” Phil said to them. “And be advised, I will be very put out if you both have been lagging while I was gone.”
“I’m miffed you would even consider entertaining that thought,” Clint replied, picking up his bow.
“There were some days, especially in the beginning, where this was the only place we knew we could find him,” Steve agreed.
“I’m not surprised,” Phil replied.
Both Steve and Clint quickly went through their own paces and Phil nodded in approval. “Good.”
Natasha was finishing up at the same time and Phil said, “Interested in joining us for a meal?”
“Not tonight,” she replied with a small smile. “Bruce and I are going out.”
“And how is that going?” Phil asked as they left the range.
“Slow, but good. He’s really a great guy underneath it all.”
“We’re hardly ever what we seem on the outside,” Phil agreed. “I wish you both the best of luck.”
“Thanks,” she replied as the elevator dinged on her floor.
“I want details later,” Clint called after her.
“Of course you do,” she called back with a laugh.
They went up to Clint’s floor. “I want to cook,” Phil said as they exited the elevator. “What do you have?”
“A little of this, a little of that,” Clint replied.
“Perfect. You’re staying,” he said to Steve and it wasn’t a question.
“Phil’s cooking, you need to stay,” Clint agreed.
“Okay, I guess I’m staying,” Steve replied. “What are you making?”
“You’ll see,” Clint replied with a grin. “One of Phil’s hidden talents is he can cook like nobody’s business. He’s kind of like MacGuyver.” As Steve was about to protest, he quietly said, “Don’t worry – we’ll show you MacGuyver – you’ll love it.”
Clint and Steve sat at the bar to Clint’s kitchenette and watched as Phil pulled out odds and ends of various things Clint had leftover from the meals he’d recently made as well as various pots, pans, and utensils. Steve watched with an almost rapt amount of attention as Phil deftly worked.
“You okay?” Clint signed when Phil had his back to them while putting a pot on the stove.
Steve nodded and signed back, “It’s like watching my mother cook. Back during the Depression, we couldn’t afford to waste anything and some days she had to get... creative with meals.”
“I think Phil and your mom would have gotten along – he’s much the same way.” Switching back to speaking, Clint said, “Going to fill us in on what you’re making?”
“It’s a Coulson special,” Phil replied, going back to chopping up vegetables.
“Meaning it’s probably a type of stew, but you never know,” Clint replied and Phil smiled.
While they waited, Clint began tracing designs on the back of Steve’s hand with his fingers. “Have you done any more drawing?” he asked Steve.
“Some,” Steve said.
“I’d,” Clint glanced up at Phil, who nodded, “we’d like to see them some time.”
Steve blushed. “I don’t think they’re quite fit for public consumption,” he said.
“Then it’s a good thing we’re not the public,” Clint teased. He batted his eyelashes at Steve. “Pretty please?”
“He’s not going to give up,” Phil said as he washed off the cutting board.
“I know,” Steve replied. “It’s probably both his most endearing and frustrating quality.”
“How about we do it now while we wait for the food?” Clint asked, looking at Phil again for confirmation.
“We do have a few minutes,” Phil allowed.
Steve sighed and got up. “I’ll be right back.”
“You’re awesome,” Clint said, and leaned in to kiss him. Steve tensed, but quickly relaxed. A quick glance to Phil when it was over showed an amused look on the other man’s face. “Go!” Clint said, playfully smacking Steve’s ass.
Steve quickly left to get his sketchbook and Phil signed, “That was a bit evil.”
“I know,” Clint replied, not feeling the least bit guilty. “But he’s one of us now and he has to get used to it.”
Phil came around the counter until he was standing in front of Clint, who opened his knees so Phil could step into his personal space. “I hope we don’t break him,” he signed.
“I doubt we could,” Clint said as he reflexively grabbed Phil’s hips and Phil placed his hands on Clint’s shoulders. “Steve’s remarkably resilient, even if it takes him a bit to process and catch up to things.”
“Think he’ll be able to do it with this? With us?”
“I sure as hell hope so because I really want both of you.”
“Are you just saying that because you think that’s what I want to hear? Because of my fanboy crush on him?”
“Maybe a bit? But I really did fall for him in his own right all by myself while you were gone, Phil. And I think you’ll love the real Steve Rogers just as much as you love Captain America.” He laughed. “God, he can be so earnest most of the time, but he does have a wicked sense of humor that kind of creeps up on you. He loves cartoons and coffee and wandering around the City. Tony didn’t warn him about Youtube comments and you should have heard that argument. It was in Tony’s lab and I swear to God, I heard them up here.”
Phil laughed. “That was just plain evil.”
Clint nodded. “I think it was revenge for Steve saying he didn’t like Dexter’s Lab or something silly.”
“Of course it was.” Phil’s hands came up and cupped Clint’s head just below his ears and he tilted Clint’s head up so he could kiss him deeply. Clint ‘mmm’ed into the kiss and easily submitted to Phil’s tongue.
There was a soft cough and they broke the kiss, but didn’t move away. “So let’s see these pictures,” Clint said, waving Steve over. Steve looked like he was ready to bolt. “If you take one step towards that door right now, I’ll tell Tony exactly what you think of Dexter’s Lab.”
“He already knows,” Steve said, lifting his chin slightly. “I told him when we were fighting about Youtube.”
“Then how about you get your fantastic ass over here anyway and show us your awesome pictures? Believe me, we’ve seen a bit of everything already, so you won’t be surprising us.”
“I highly doubt it,” Steve said, but he complied anyway. And Phil moved so Steve could stand between them. Steve set the pad on the counter and took a deep breath before opening the pad.
The first few pictures were as expected – buildings around New York some new, some old. Then they started being interspersed with the different Avengers doing various things – some from the Battle, others just ordinary things like Tony or Bruce working in the lab or Natasha reading a book. There was even a couple of Phil in there.
Steve looked sheepish and said to Phil, “I’m sorry. I, uh, I googled you after the Battle. I wanted to know more about you, but no one wanted to talk about you.”
“I would’ve talked,” Clint said.
“You were still in the air vents most of the time.”
“We’re talking about that later,” Phil said levelly.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Clint replied. “I didn’t want to interact with anyone and SHIELD’s security needed to be beefed up.”
“We’re still talking about it.” To Steve, he said, “Don’t be afraid to be the adult with him. Sometimes he still has the mentality of a five-year-old. Let’s see more.”
Steve bit his lip and a blush crept into his cheeks. He turned the page and they were confronted with a picture of Steve and Clint kissing, both fully-clothed. From there, they slowly got more pornographic with less clothes and more compromising situations. And Clint could tell when they’d had sex – it was the first time the pictures were completely X-rated.
Leafing through the pictures after that, Clint said, “I would totally be on board for trying this stuff out,” he said.
“We both would,” Phil said.
And then there were more cityscapes – it must have been when Steve found out Phil was still alive. And then there were a few of Clint and Phil together and there was a bit of sadness in the pictures, as well as how hopelessly in love they were. The last few pictures were of the three of them, but the hesitancy with which they were drawn easily came across on the page.
“Those are beautiful,” Phil said when they finished, placing a hand on Steve’s back. “Thank you for showing them to us.” He leaned up and carefully kissed Steve. Clint watched as Steve tensed, then slowly melted into the kiss, though he kept his hands to himself. Breaking the kiss off, Phil said, “And we would very much like to make these be a reality – however long that takes.”
“It could be a very long time,” Steve said.
“Okay,” Phil replied, moving away to check on his stew.
Clint caught Steve’s hand before he could move away, and pulled him in close. He kissed the back of Steve’s knuckles, then pulled him in even closer for a kiss of his own. “Please don’t fight us,” he said quietly. “Or yourself.” As Steve started to respond, Clint said, “I’ve heard what things were like back then. That doesn’t mean you fit that completely, no matter how much you were a product of the time. How many times did you think of having Bucky and Peggy together at the same time? Or Howard and Peggy? Or even Howard and Bucky?”
Steve’s jaw clenched and he looked away. Clint ran a hand up and down Steve’s arm. “It’s okay now. There won’t be any retribution here. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work and that’ll be it. If it does work, it’ll be great and we’ll all be each other’s best guys.”
“But what about when people ask me about who I’m seeing?” Steve asked.
“You tell them whatever you want. Phil and I were an open secret at SHIELD. Most people won’t blink an eye once they see you’re added to the mix. With Phil’s crush on Captain America, most people with think ‘Well, duh!’ and it’ll be as boring as toast.”
The corners of Steve’s mouth quirked up. “‘As boring as toast’?”
“You know what I mean. They’ll see me as the indulgent boyfriend, and start taking bets about who’s doing what with whom and how long it’s going to last – both in general and until I get thrown out on my ass.”
Steve looked a bit stricken. “I don’t – I mean –”
“Oh, we know,” Phil said rejoining them, putting one hand on the small of Steve’s back, the other around the back of Clint’s neck. “But they don’t know that. And a little mindless gossip between the junior agents is good for morale. Gives them something to do between missions.” To Clint, he said, “Go set the table, dinner’s almost ready.”
Clint nodded and stood, easily extracting himself with a kiss on Phil’s temple. He did his best to not listen as Phil said something softly to Steve, who nodded seriously before replying just as seriously. Phil grinned and said something else and Steve relaxed fully.
Rejoining them, he said, “Don’t go giving all my secrets away.”
“Please,” Phil replied. “You’re as easy to read as the newspaper. You have no hidden depths.”
“Maybe I just don’t want you to know about them to keep you interested.”
“Your supposed hidden depths are not what keep me interested.”
“I knew it! You only love me for my body! And as soon as I start looking old, you’re going to trade me in for a newer model.”
“Maybe I already have,” Phil replied archly.
“I knew you were only using me as a bed warmer until you could get in Captain America’s pants!” Clint sputtered. Out of the corner of his eye, Clint saw Steve looking torn between fleeing and crying and he dissolved into laughter. Steve’s expression turned to confusion as Phil also started laughing. “Don’t worry,” he told Steve. “We’re not really breaking up or anything and this really isn’t about you.”
“Clint’s preferred method of telling someone he loves them is through teasing and sarcasm,” Phil added. “If you aren’t put off, he figures you’re worth the effort.”
“Then why haven’t you done that with me?” Steve asked.
“Because you’re Captain America, man,” Clint replied. “You don’t go fucking with a national treasure. Plus, I wanted to help you out, not hinder your soul searching. Come on, let’s continue this discussion over food.”
That night, Steve went back to his apartment alone again, but this time it was a more comfortable parting.
“Think we’re doing the right thing?” Phil asked as he and Clint got ready for bed.
“I sure as hell hope so,” Clint replied. “He’s definitely in a much better place than where I started with him, but it’s still tough. I can’t imagine going through any of this back when he did.”
“Things were a lot different then. People knew about it, of course, but it just wasn’t talked about – at all.” Phil spat toothpaste into the sink. Looking at Clint in the mirror, his expression softened. “I had an uncle who was gay and had a live-in partner and everyone just assumed they were two confirmed bachelors living together to save money. I only knew because I caught them kissing when I went over for a visit. They went within days of each other. Even for me, it wasn’t the easiest. You got off lucky in that regard with your upbringing.”
“But I would’ve traded that in a heartbeat for an actual family.”
“You have one now.”
“I know. I don’t deserve either of you, though.”
“Has it ever crossed your mind that we don’t deserve you?”
Clint laughed bitterly. “That would be the day.”
Phil turned and grabbed Clint’s hand, pulling him in. “I love you.”
The next morning they were up early to go for a run. Steve met them in the elevator and Clint kissed him good morning as soon as the doors closed. Steve smiled into the kiss and kissed him back without hesitation.
When he pulled away, Clint grinned. “What changed?” he asked.
Steve shrugged. “I don’t know. I think it was seeing the two of you together since Phil’s come back and how easily he’s accepted me.”
“I won’t be so accepting if you don’t give me my morning kiss,” Phil grumbled and moved in for a kiss of his own.
Clint watched attentively, wishing they could fast-forward to Steve being comfortable with sex, because the sight of Phil and Steve together was an awesome thing and they were only sharing a quick “good morning” kiss.
The run was an easy one, but Clint was just happy to be out and moving and he could tell both Steve and Phil felt the same way, even if Phil was looking a bit worn by the end of it.
“Are you sure it’s a smart idea to be going in to work?” he asked on the ride back up after dropping Steve off.
“Probably not,” Phil replied, “but I have a lot of paperwork to get through and junior agents to scare.”
Clint laughed. “Yeah, they’ve become a bit rowdy in your absence. I would’ve put the fear of your ghost in them, but Fury’s still a bit twitchy about me going near them without adult supervision. And supposedly Sitwell doesn’t count.”
“No, Sitwell just knows better than to deal with your antics. He prefers to do as little paperwork as possible.”
“Which is why he didn’t go after the Avengers Initiative?”
“He didn’t want the Avengers Initiative. More accurately, he didn’t want Tony Stark.”
“Yeah, you’d think one of these days I’d learn.”
“Actually, I think you love the challenge.”
“Maybe I do,” Phil replied as they got off the elevator.
While Phil was working, Clint spent most of the day wandering around SHIELD. He tried to find Maria to thank her, but she was either working on her evasion tactics or she wasn’t actually in the building – Clint wasn’t sure which. He did go down to the range for a bit to work with some of the bows that weren’t his own (he didn’t like it, but who knew when it might come in handy) and scary some of the baby agents with his precision shooting while the older junior agents egged him on.
After he shot the last arrow in his quiver and it made its intended target, a dry, “Are you quite finished?” turned his attention behind him.
Everyone turned and there was a slight gasp as Phil and Steve came to joint Clint. “Good to see you’re taking advantage of using other bows,” Phil said.
Clint shrugged. “Could pay off in the future. Done for the day?”
“We are,” Phil replied with a nod. “Don’t the rest of you have things you could be doing?” he asked and the junior agents scattered and Clint went to retrieve the arrows.
“Dinner?” Clint asked Steve when he returned to them.
“What does Tony say? ‘I could eat’?” Steve replied with a smile.
“Good. I was thinking that Vietnamese place we always go to,” he said to Phil.
“Sounds good,” Phil nodded. “Take out or dine in?”
“Take out.” Leaning in, he quietly said, “I think we should do something before we leave.”
“You’re not stoking the office betting pool,” Phil told him and pushed him towards the door with Steve trailing behind.
“Why not? It’s fun cleaning up.” Clint deposited the bow and quiver at the desk.
Phil rolled his eyes and said, “Keep going and you *might* be getting sex tonight.”
“You’re quiet tonight,” Clint said to Steve as they hit the sidewalk.
“Just trying to keep up,” Steve replied with a small smile.
A new normal settled over the three of them and as frustrating as it was most days, Clint enjoyed it. The three of them worked through Phil’s training regime, and while Phil worked through a backlog of paperwork, Steve taught a class on tactics to baby agents, and Clint would work with them on marksmanship. They would usually eat lunch together in Phil’s office or in the cafeteria, then Phil would go back to his paperwork and Steve and Clint would work on hand-to-hand combat either together, with Natasha, or with some of the more senior junior agents. When they collected Phil from his office promptly at five, they would have to pry him away and Clint had to convince Steve that this was normal and okay.
But throughout it all, Steve was too damn careful for Clint’s liking. There were none of the casual touches or quick pecks on the cheek that he was used to with Phil and Steve did everything he could to discourage them – along with any sort of innuendo or double-entendres Clint could think of (and there were a lot).
But it was so painfully obvious that Steve wanted to be with them completely, and enjoyed being with them, but he still allowed his hang-ups to dictate how he acted with Clint and Phil the majority of the time. There was more two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back than Clint would have liked (which was to say – any), but he respected Steve’s need to work things through. Phil seemed to get it more and acted as a buffer on days when Steve’s hesitancy rubbed Clint the wrong way.
Only when they were alone in either Steve’s or Clint and Phil’s apartments did Steve seem to fully relax and allow them in. And while he still hadn’t worked himself up to having sex – or watching Clint and Phil have sex, or even just sleeping with them – he’d become comfortable with kissing and touching both of them without prompting. And when Clint complained one afternoon in Phil’s office while Steve was working with Natasha and some junior agents that he felt like he was “in a goddamn fifties movie,” Phil laughed until his face was red and he was gasping for breath and Clint was worried Phil had reinjured himself and had his hand hovering over Phil’s desk phone. After Phil regained his composure, he told Clint he wasn’t the only one who felt that way, but they’d get through it.
The one ray of light in all of it was Clint knew Steve was frustrated by his own issues as well. He never wanted to talk about it, no matter how many times Clint or Phil (or both) left the verbal door open for him to walk through, but Clint could see by the clench of his jaw and the tension in his body that he wanted to be able to be a complete member of their triad.
Returning home one evening from an overnight mission, he heard some quiet giggling from the kitchen and yelled, “Hello, honeys! I’m home!” as he shut the door behind himself.
When Clint entered the kitchen, both Phil and Steve were still laughing at something one of them had said and Phil signed, “How did it go?”
“Great,” Clint signed back. They’d slowly moved back into signing when they were alone to get Steve comfortable with it. “What’s so funny?”
“Some of the new recruits are,” Steve paused and looked at Phil, who supplied, “in a class of their own.”
Clint chuckled and nodded. “We get a few of those every so often.” He leaned in and kissed Phil hello and then Steve. “So what’s for dinner?” he asked.
“You, preferably,” Phil replied. “Steve and I talked it through last night and,” he held up a hand to stop Clint from interrupting. “Don’t get your dander up. We needed some alone time that was just ours. If this mission hadn’t come up, I think I would’ve kicked you out for an evening or two. We need something that’s just ours.”
As soon as Phil finished, Clint felt the light bulb go off and mentally kicked himself. Of course it made sense that they would need some time alone. What had happened between himself and Steve had happened organically. But Phil and Steve had never really had time alone together to get used to each other. Clint was always there, doing his best to make sure everything ran as smoothly as possible.
Phil snapped his fingers in front of Clint’s face, bringing his attention back to him. “As I was saying, Steve and I talked it through and he thinks he’s ready to watch us have sex.”
Clint nodded, grinning. “Whenever you two want.”
“Let’s do it now before I talk myself out of it,” Steve said.
“You two go ahead and start,” Clint told them. “And let me know when you’re ready for me to join you.”
Phil closed the distance between Clint and himself and quietly asked, “What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Clint told him, kissing him softly. “Like you said – I’ve been doing too much to make sure we all work and I need to back off. And Steve and I had some intimate time together while you were still recuperating, so it should be your turn alone with him before the three of us start doing it. Plus, I’m sure it’ll make him feel more comfortable.”
The worry hadn’t completely gone away from Phil’s brow. “You sure?”
Clint grinned. “Of course I’m sure. Like I’ve said, I can’t wait to tell people my boyfriend, who is Captain America’s biggest fanboy, popped Captain America’s cherry. Oh, and by the way, Captain America is *also* my boyfriend.” He kissed Phil’s forehead. “You have my blessing to have your wicked way with him on your own. Not that you need it.”
Phil shook his head in amusement and they rejoined Steve. “Go,” Clint said, wanting to erase the worried look from Steve’s face. He leaned up and kissed Steve chastely before adding, “You two deserve some alone time together. And I’ll join you two later.”
“As long as you’re sure,” Steve said. “I don’t want to –”
“Believe me, you’re not.” Clint grinned. “You deserve to have Phil’s complete attention focused on you.”
Phil blushed. “I don’t know about that.”
“And you need to believe me – people have it wrong when they say you’re the lucky one. Now, do I have to push the two of you into the bedroom and lock the door until you’re done?”
Phil rolled his eyes. “We’ll call you when we’re ready.” He kissed Clint hungrily and Steve shyly followed suit before following Phil into the bedroom.
Clint flopped down onto the couch, stretching out on it, and tucked his hands behind his head as he listened for clues to how things were going between Phil and Steve. It was quiet for a few minutes, then there was the rustle of fabric and a light smacking – kissing? – sound. Phil hummed and Clint smiled, imagining how Phil looked right now. Things got quiet again and Clint bit his lip, wanting to know what was going on. Phil had always been a quiet lover, and he had a feeling Steve would be too.
There was another rustle of fabric and then Phil’s “Yeah, baby, just like that.” Oh, God, this was going to be the death of him. “God, yes,” Phil breathed. Clint screwed his eyes shut, willing his body to remain composed. There were a couple of shuddered breaths, then a rhythmic slapping sound. Aside from scattered groans and some murmuring Clint couldn’t make out, they were quiet. With a final groan, things were quiet again.
A few minutes later, there was a “Clint, get your ass in here,” from the bedroom. And Clint was in there like a shot. The visual of Phil and Steve, both completely naked, curled up on the disheveled bed together stopped him short and for a moment he almost forgot to breath. He was totally the luckiest man alive.
“How was it?” he asked.
“Fantastic,” Phil replied. “And you’re way too overdressed for this party.”
Clint quickly disrobed, leaving his clothes in a pile on the floor. Before getting on the bed, he carefully wiggled Steve’s foot. “How are you doing?” he asked.
“I think I get what all the hype is about,” Steve replied, barely turning his head from Phil’s shoulder.
“Yeah, no kidding,” Clint replied. “Phil’s definitely worth it.” He carefully settled on the other side of Phil, not wanting to scare Steve away. “And still no pressure now,” he said, stroking Steve’s arm. “You join us for as much or as little as you want. You want to stop and watch and then rejoin us? You want to go all the way? You want to just clear out now? That’s all totally cool.”
“I’d like to give it a shot,” Steve said. “Especially since you and I didn’t get very far before.”
“We got far enough,” Clint replied with a reassuring smile. “It is what it is. And we’re here now.”
“And enough with the platitudes and let’s get down to business,” Phil said.
Phil kissed Steve hungrily and Steve melted even further against him. Clint grinned as he watched them, totally enjoying the view. Then Phil turned and kissed him with the same passion and Clint felt himself relaxing. When they pulled away, Clint leaned over Phil and kissed Steve hungrily, a bit surprised at the furor with which Steve returned the kiss. They started touching each other in a heady mix of reassurance and desire and Steve was with them each step of the way. A couple of times, he backed off a bit and moved to put a bit of space between himself and Clint and Phil and they would offer him a reassuring smile and keep going and he would watch them avidly, eyes dark with desire.
Finally, Clint broke and choked out, “God, Phil, suck me.”
Phil chuckled against his stomach and continued down to Clint’s straining cock. After pulling Steve to him for a quick kiss, Clint whispered, “Watch this.”
They watched avidly as Phil licked around the head of Clint’s cock before sucking it in, eliciting a hiss from Clint that morphed into a low groan as he sucked the head hard. Phil worked Clint’s cock slowly and thoroughly, making sure each patch of skin was licked, sucked, and nipped, all the while reducing Clint to a quivering mass of nerves.
And somewhere along the way, Clint grabbed a hold of Steve’s revived erection and began stroking it in time with Phil’s sucking. Getting close to his own orgasm, Clint tore his eyes away from watching Phil to look at Steve, who was watching Phil with rapt attention, his breathing shallow and his erection a solid weight in Clint’s hand. Clint carefully tapped on Phil’s temple seconds before he came and Phil swallowed his come easily and milked his cock for a moment after he finished before licking him clean. Phil moved up to kiss both of them and as soon as he and Steve locked lips, Steve came on both of them.
After a moment, Clint said, “Okay, now one of you needs to fuck me. I don’t care who.”
Steve looked at him with wide eyes, like he was about to bolt. “It’s okay if you’re not ready,” Clint reassured him, patting Steve’s cheek. He turned onto his stomach and looked expectantly at Phil. “Do me?”
“I think I’m going to leave the honor to Steve,” Phil replied easily. “But while we’re waiting for him to be ready, take care of me.”
“Gladly,” Clint replied, winking at Steve and moving on top of Phil before sliding all the way down to take his cock in his mouth.
He didn’t get very far before Phil’s hand tangled in his hair and held his head still so Phil could fuck his mouth. Clint groaned in response and relaxed so Phil could have his way with him. Clint looked up at Steve, who was watching them with undisguised desire. Clint grabbed Steve’s hand and squeezed it reassuringly and a moment later, Steve squeezed it back. Then he turned his attention back to Phil’s cock. Phil came with a grunt and Clint happily swallowed him down. After licking Phil clean, Clint moved up to join them.
“So, what do you say?” he asked Steve hopefully. “Fuck me?”
“You don’t think I’ll hurt you?” Steve asked, worried.
“Why would you do that?” Clint asked, confused.
“You know – the super-strength.”
“I don’t think you could hurt me,” Clint replied. “But if you’re not comfortable, we’ll do something else.”
“No, I want to, I just –”
“Then let’s start it and see how things go and if it’s too much, we’ll stop.”
Phil handed over the lube from beneath his pillow and Clint turned onto his stomach and spread his legs. With a bit of guidance from Phil, Steve opened Clint up and had Clint begging for his cock in record time. Steve slowly pressed his cock inside, pausing when he was all the way in.
“How are you doing?” he asked Clint.
“Great,” Clint replied. “You’re a bit bigger than Phil, so it’s just taking some getting used to.”
“But it’s definitely worth it,” Phil said, from where he was watching them and Clint grinned, glad to have confirmation of what they’d been up to.
“I’d expect nothing less,” Clint replied. “Okay, I’m good, Steve. Have at it.”
Steve took it slow, not wanting to hurt Clint – much to Clint’s frustration. But the slow build of his orgasm felt good and by the time they both came, Clint was begging and babbling to come and the wayward touches and kisses from Phil only served to heighten the experience.
They collapsed onto the bed in a heap and after a few minutes of cuddling, Phil carefully got up to get a washcloth. After cleaning them all off, he dumped the damp cloth on Clint’s clothes and rejoined them on the bed. A bit of shuffling later, Phil was in the middle, Steve and Clint’s arms around him and one of Clint’s legs over Phil’s.
Sleepily, Steve said, “I’ve been meaning to ask – what’s a BAMF?”
Both Clint and Phil let out a small huff of laughter and Clint asked, “Where did you hear that term?”
“Some of the junior agents around SHIELD.”
Clint tapped Phil’s chest where Steve could also feel it. “This is a BAMF,” he replied. “Love you guys.”
“Love you both too,” Phil added.
“I think I’m falling in love with you both,” Steve replied.