Act I, Scene I
"Darcy, what can I do for you on this beautiful day?"
"Are you drunk?"
Clint rolled his eyes at the phone. "It's not even ten yet. No, I'm not drunk. Why would you even ask that?"
"Because you're an actor, and it's before noon, and actors aren't this happy before noon unless they're high. Or drunk."
"I've been running."
"And running makes you obnoxiously cheerful?"
"They're called endorphins. Better high than booze and less damage to the liver."
Darcy hmm-ed sceptically. "Okay, whatever works for you. Now get your sweaty ass in gear, and make yourself presentable. You've got an audition in two hours."
Clint blinked. "I've got a what?"
"Audition," Darcy said patiently. "You know, that thing where you go into a room, and read some lines, and pretend not to be a giant asshole for five minutes in front of some film producers?"
"Stuntmen don't audition," Clint said. "We send resumes and headshots and shit. Nobody cares whether I can read lines."
"It's like talking to a brick wall. You're an actor, Clint, not a stunt guy. You're auditioning for a role."
"I'm not an actor," Clint said. "That one time was a fluke."
There was a strangled sound of irritation from the phone. "That 'fluke' got you a Golden Globe nomination. You're an actor! Go out there and act at someone, damn it!"
"Are you all right?" Clint asked.
"No, I'm not all right. I've got you an audition on one of the hottest films this year, and you're trying to pretend you're not doing it. Well, I've got rent and student loans to pay, and that means you're taking the damn audition and being brilliant in it and getting the fucking role, because I'm your agent and this, Clint, this is the role. The one that will get you a house in Beverly Hills instead of that box you call an apartment. The role."
"Breathe, Darce, suffocate and before you keel over."
"Fuck you, this is a franchise. They're looking for a new guy to take over, and they want to see you."
Clint froze for a moment. "Which franchise?"
Darcy seemed to sense something was up, because her voice suddenly became slow and measured, all hint of her ranting gone. "SHIELD. It's SHIELD, Clint, and they're looking to pass on the mantel to someone."
"SHIELD as in Agent Banks, or The Shield as in that cop show on HBO?"
"Why are you even asking me that? Seriously, why would you ask that?" Darcy's irritated huff echoed down the phone line. "Of course it's the damn film. Phil Coulson's getting old, so they need someone new, young, and hot. Right now, that's you."
"I'm texting you the details. Be there or start running again, because I will hunt you down and hurt you in ways you didn't even know were possible if you fuck this up."
"Two hours, Clint," Darcy said, and the connection went dead.
For a while, Clint just stared at his phone, where Darcy's text now blinked at him from the lock screen. The picture behind the text notification showed a man with slightly thinning hair and stunning blue eyes, sitting at the wheel of a red classic car. He was turning to look at the camera over his shoulder with a faint smile.
Clint finally let the screen die and tried very, very hard not to look at the posters he'd tacked up on the walls of his tiny studio apartment. They all showed the man from his phone in different poses, sometimes looking stern and enigmatic, and in a few, laughing at something just beyond the camera. One of the posters looked like it was twenty years old and had so many pinholes from being moved from place to place that the corners were ragged.
Another text lit up his screen. It just said, "AUDITION OR DIE. I MEAN IT."
He swiped the lock screen off and quickly typed "fuck you" into a reply, before deleting and replacing it with "i'll do it but theyre gonna hate me". Clint hit send before he could second guess his decision, and threw himself onto his ratty, uncomfortable sofa with a despairing sigh.
He was so screwed.
The audition went...
Clint had a mental list of his top five most embarrassing moments. The audition went straight to the top of the list.
The words swam on the page in front of him, so he stumbled over them. He wanted to shout that he was just a stuntman, not an actor. Jumping off buildings didn't require learning lines or Method or any of the other things he'd heard actors talk about over the years. He dropped his sides three times before he even got past the opening monologue he'd been given.
There were three men in the room watching him make an idiot of himself. Two of them looked so impassive that Clint thought they were asleep with their eyes open. The third man glared at Clint from behind an eye patch, his expression growing more appalled with every fumble and mispronounced word.
The crowning moment, though, was when Phil Coulson arrived fifteen minutes into the audition. Clint had fantasised many times (maybe too many times, to be fair) about finally meeting him. Usually Clint had been doing something heroic and impressive--maybe plunging through a fake-glass window and out of a building to land neatly at Coulson's feet. In his imagination, there was always a moment of surprised admiration and then...
He tried not to think about the X-rated scenarios he'd dreamed up, because this really wasn't the time.
Clint dropped his sides again. Somehow, they ended up under his foot and half the pages tore away when he picked them up, scattering everywhere. He muttered apologies as he gathered them up and shuffled them into something that looked like the right order. There weren't any page numbers, so he could only guess.
Meanwhile, Coulson waited patiently, with a mildly amused expression that made Clint flush.
"Phil Coulson," he said, when Clint finally had the abused pages under control.
Clint took Coulson's hand when he stuck it out and that, of course, was when Clint realised that his hand was sweaty and disgusting. In a mild state of panic, he gripped Coulson's hand so tightly it was a miracle no bones were broken, and then released it like he'd been stung.
Coulson's expression barely flickered, although Clint noticed he scrubbed his hand on his pants and flexed it a few times as he walked away.
The black man in the eye patch glared. "When you two have finished the pissing contest?"
Clint stared down at his sides, trying to figure out why the words looked so odd. Then he turned the page right-side up.
There was a muffled sigh from Coulson's corner of the room. Coulson's script looked immaculate, neatly annotated and clipped into a little leather binder, and Clint quietly gave up on any hopes he'd had of impressing anyone in the room.
He left the audition half an hour later, convinced that he'd not only flunked it, he'd probably convinced the man of his horny dreams that he was a complete idiot. Between mixed up script sheets, stepping on Coulson's foot while they pretended to block a fight, and the five minutes where he forgot the English language, Clint was fairly sure his potential acting career was in the toilet, too.
Just to hammer the point home, the heavens opened when he was ten minutes from his apartment, so he was soaked to the skin and shivering by the time he got home. Phil Coulson's blue eyes seemed to stare accusingly down at him from every wall in the apartment. Clint stripped out of his sodden clothes, turned off his phone, and crawled into bed with the blankets over his head so he didn't have to look at anything.
The audition definitely qualified as his most embarrassing afternoon ever.
Act I, Scene II
After such a disastrous audition, Clint was sure no one could blame him for trying not to think about the debacle again. If he'd been able to figure out a way to wipe the whole day from his memory, he would have done it.
The first step in Project Forget That Audition was taken after he'd drunk most of a pot of coffee the next morning. He took down all his posters. Even the special edition Moroccan Death one that he'd spent too much money getting framed five years ago. Clint didn't throw them out, but he did roll them all up carefully and push them to the back of his closet.
The framed poster went under his bed, wrapped in a ratty old sheet he kept meaning to throw out.
As soon as all the Phil Coulson eyes weren't looking at him, he felt much better.
Right up until he saw all the black marks, holes, and discoloured patches on the walls that he'd used the posters to cover. Most of them had been there since he'd moved in, but he recognised the dent from the time he'd knocked over a TV stand, and the scorch mark from that Christmas he'd accidentally sort of slightly set the tree on fire.
It was a very, very small fire. Really. Tiny fire. Almost not worth talking about, except for the burnt plastic smell that got into everything and the scorching on the wall.
Even the fire department had admitted that it was a completely minor fire and Natasha had overreacted by calling them.
Not that any of them had actually said that part out loud.
He tried to ignore the condition of the walls, but he lived in a studio apartment and the only place he could go to escape them was the bathroom. Hiding out there was going to get old in about five minutes. Maybe ten if he took a book, except he didn't really own any.
Clint went out for a long run, but the walls stared accusingly at him when he got back. He glared at the holes while he ate a Nutella and banana sandwich.
Eventually, he admitted defeat and went out to the store to buy paint and filler.
That was why, when Darcy called forty-eight hours after the audition nightmare, he was on a ladder with a paintbrush in his hand. He ignored the phone and let it ring through to voice mail, slopping some more cream coloured paint onto the wall.
The phone rang again. And again. And again.
On the fifth attempt, he gave in and tugged the phone out of his back pocket. He smeared paint across the screen when he swiped it, which was why he greeted Darcy by saying, "Aw, paint."
There was a brief pause, before Darcy said, "Clint? Is that you?"
Clint sighed. "Yeah, it's me. I'm kind of in the middle of something. Can I call you back?"
"They're offering you the role," Darcy said, speaking right over him. "You did it. You've got it. They're offering two pictures and the contract value is obscene. You're taking this, okay?"
Clint pulled the phone away from his ear, to make sure that it really was Darcy's number on the screen, and not someone playing a prank. Nope, definitely Darcy.
"What role?" he asked, before immediately smacking himself on the forehead. Of course, it had to be that role. He hadn't auditioned for anything else. "I mean...are you shitting me?"
There was a distinct sensation of wet paint in his hair, from the brush that he'd been holding when he hit himself, but that didn't seem important right now.
"Do I ever joke about money?" Darcy said. "Jeez, Clint, I am so not shitting you right now. I'm going to make enough on this to pay off my college loans. Fuck, I'll make enough to put a down payment on an apartment and pay off my college loans."
"They're offering that much?"
"They're offering that much," Darcy confirmed, before naming a figure.
Clint immediately fell off his ladder, sending the paint can flying through the air to liberally coat everything within a twenty foot radius. Darcy's excited squawking cut off when Clint landed on his phone, smashing it completely.
The ladder toppled in the other direction and made a new, larger dent in the wall. All Clint could do was blink up at the ceiling for a long time.
The sun was low in the sky when Clint drove over to Darcy's office on his bike. He hadn't bothered to change, so Darcy's eyebrows rose when he walked in past the desk she occasionally pretended belonged to a non-existent secretary.
"What happened to you?" she asked.
Clint shrugged. "I was painting."
"Is there any paint on the walls?"
"Some." Mostly in splatters. The rest was on the floor, his duvet, and the kitchen counters. The floor and counters had been easily to clean. The duvet, not so much. Clint resisted the urge to scrub a hand through his hair. It would just make the mess up there worse. "So I really didn't fuck up the audition?"
"I have no idea what you did, but they loved you," Darcy said with a wide grin. "Like, seriously, loved you enough to offer you a two picture, seven figure deal. If that's you fucking up an audition, you should do that every time."
"Pretty sure you don't want me doing that."
"Pretty sure I do. Seven. Figures." Darcy beamed. "We're rich! I mean, you're way richer than me, but who's counting?"
"Have you actually seen the contract yet?"
Darcy waved a thick sheaf of papers. "Yup! They biked it over half an hour before you got here. Everything looks legit. We should get your lawyer to look at it--"
"I don't have a lawyer."
"I hate you so much right now." Darcy took a deep breath. "Okay, tomorrow we'll get you a lawyer, get him to check it over, and then you'll sign it. Unless they're asking you to do something that goes over your hard limits...uh, what are your hard limits, by the way?"
"I hadn't thought about it," Clint said, mind scattering as he tried to think of something. "Um, should I have some?"
"We'll work it out if there's anything freaky in there," Darcy said. "I think they want you to stay off your bike while you're filming. Something about the last guy breaking his leg. That's not going to be an issue, is it?"
Clint frowned. "Last guy?"
"Um, yeah. Did I forget to mention that part?" For the first time since he'd entered the office, Darcy's expression lost some of its relentless cheerfulness. She coughed. "They had someone for the part, but he broke his leg. Some kind of bike thing. Or maybe a horse. Ugh. Anyway, the whole production is stalled until they can find someone else to play the part. They've shot, like, everything they can shoot without your character, and now they're in a total bind because the other guy--something something Ward, I think, nobody big--won't be walking again for another two months. But now they don't need to worry, because they've got you!"
"I'm taking over from someone else?" Clint asked warily.
"Yeah, but his broken leg is our gain."
"I'm not sure about that..."
Darcy leaned forward on her desk. "If you don't take this part, I will scoop out your intestines with a spoon."
"You're a really terrible agent," Clint complained.
"No, I'm a fucking brilliant agent, because I just got you a two picture, seven figure deal." Darcy's grin returned. "Seriously, you can't turn this down. It's the part of a lifetime. If everything's kosher, sign the contract tomorrow and you're all set. They want you in the studio on Friday to meet...people. Wardrobe and shit, I guess."
"This feels really fast."
"It's showbiz. You'll get the script the moment they get your signature on the contract." Her eyes roamed over him, and she tutted. "Maybe try not to get it covered in paint, okay?"
It was all moving too fast, even faster than In a Time of Elephants, but deep down Clint knew he was always going to say yes. It was the chance of a lifetime. Working on an Agent Banks movie, working for Nicky Fury; there was no way he could say no. Maybe meeting Phil Coulson hadn't been the experience he'd been hoping for, but Clint couldn't blame the guy for being a little wary. He hadn't exactly covered himself in glory during that audition.
Which did make Clint wonder why he'd been offered the part, because it definitely wasn't about what he'd done in that room.
It was probably that Golden Globe thing again.
Still, seven figures and two movies, working on the smartest spy movies anyone out there was making. He couldn't turn down a chance like this.
"I'm in," Clint said, pushing down his doubts and forcing a smile. "Tell me where to be, and we'll get this done."
Darcy beamed and reached across the desk to pull him into a rib-crushing hug, paint and all.
For a couple of days, Clint felt like there was never time to catch his breath between things that absolutely had to be done right now. There was the lawyer, Darcy, Nick Fury, Darcy again, some group of executives with damp hands, Darcy again...the list never seemed to end.
The promised script arrived the day after he signed the contract, and he stayed up all night reading. It wasn't the tightest Agent Banks script he'd ever seen, but it was a damn sight better than a lot of the scripts he'd had the misfortune to read when he was doing stunts. At least the plot holes wouldn't be too glaring if the action on the screen looked good, and the writer seemed to have a good grasp on the characters.
Clint found himself thinking about his part, Peter Wright, in odd moments when he was supposed to be doing other things. Figuring out backstory, working out motivation, trying to sound out lines in his head.
All the shit that actors did.
When he realised that he'd spent two hours on Thursday pacing around his apartment, rehearsing lines to thin air and trying out different deliveries, Clint stopped dead and stared down at the script in his hand. He was starting to sound like an actor. He'd actually been wishing there was someone there with him to bounce ideas off and figure out blocking with. That was...that was...
He wasn't sure what that was, but it didn't seem like him.
Except it kind of was him, or would be, and even though he ordered pizza with every intention of doing one of the things he'd seen actors complain they couldn't do...he ended up continuing to work through his lines between bites. He even stuck more than half of it in the fridge instead of eating until he couldn't move like he usually would.
The whole acting thing seemed to be difficult to shake off.
The studio hadn't been kidding when they included a section in the contract about not riding his motorcycle or getting on a horse. The motorcycle was the only demand they'd made, which was more reasonable than some contracts he'd heard about. Darcy had given him a long lecture about not breaking the rules, and Clint had reluctantly agreed with her.
It wasn't like he wasn't going to have much choice. He couldn't just turn up at the studio riding his bike and hope they wouldn't notice. They weren't that stupid, even if they had just signed a legally binding document promising him a fuckload of money in return for doing something he barely knew how to do.
On Friday, a car pulled up outside his building to take him over to the studio for all the fittings and meetings they'd crammed into the day. Clint had been expecting it, but he was still kind of amazed that the car actually turned up.
He didn't live in a bad neighbourhood. Not exactly. Just...rougher than most people liked. Maybe a little shady. Definitely not the kind of place where Brad Pitt or Channing Tatum or any of those kinds of people hung out.
A small voice in the back of his mind had been insisting that the driver would take one look at his street and drive right on by.
Clint hesitated before sliding in the front passenger seat. The driver looked at him over his sunglasses.
"Clint Barton?" the guy asked.
Clint shrugged. "If I'm not, you just got car jacked."
"In this neighbourhood, that wouldn't surprise me. You're not shoving a gun in my face, though, so I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt." He held out his hand. "Sam Wilson. I'll be your driver."
Clint shook his hand. "Hi. Am I not supposed to be up here?"
"Most of the guys I drive stay in the back," Sam said, as he checked over his shoulder before pulling out into the empty street. Very safety conscious. Clint approved. "You're the first one to sit up here and actually talk."
"I can't promise I'll be able to talk every morning," Clint said. "Some mornings my coffee machine doesn't work right."
"Ah, you're a caffeine junkie." Sam nodded. "I've got it. Need me to pick up something on my way over?"
"You can do that?"
"Tell me your order and I'll make sure it's ready for you when you hop in," Sam said. "All part of the service."
"First time with a driver?"
"Something like that," Clint said. "How long have you been doing this?"
"A couple of years."
They were into the heavier traffic now, and Clint noticed that Sam's eyes were darting everywhere even though they wouldn't need to change lanes for a while. He seemed to be a confident guy, but there was something in the way he drove, the way he constantly checked everything, that tugged at a memory.
"Were you military?" Clint asked.
Sam's eyes were mostly hidden behind his dark glasses, but Clint was sure he blinked in surprise. "How'd you know?"
"Lucky guess," Clint said. "I know someone. How long have you been out?"
"A couple of years." An easy grin appeared. "Landed this job almost as soon as I got out."
"How do you like it?"
"Nobody's giving me orders, I can quit whenever I want, and I get to talk to interesting people every day. It's a good job for me. How about you?"
"How about me, what?"
"How do you like your job?"
"I don't know yet."
Wardrobe was run by a woman named Pepper Potts, who frowned and him and sighed heavily as soon as he walked in. She wore terrifyingly high heels, and there was a tape measure draped around her neck like a scarf.
"You're too short," she said, walking a circle around him.
"I'm, uh, sorry about that?"
"If you were a couple of inches taller, I could just hem the pants and take up the cuffs and it would be fine," Pepper said, as she came back into his eye-line and stopped with her hands on her hips. "But you're probably six inches shorter than him and that's too much."
"Um." Clint scrubbed a hand through his hair. "I tried?"
Pepper sighed. "I know you probably did. It's not your fault that he was a freakishly tall giant. We'll work something out. I think your arms are bigger around, too."
Clint almost apologised again, but he sensed that continuing to apologise for being the wrong size and shape would only make her more exasperated. She seemed like a nice woman, underneath the frown, but today wasn't turning out to be a great day for first impressions.
"At least we won't have to build out your jackets or anything," Pepper continued thoughtfully. "In fact, we should probably keep you out of jackets as much as we can. It would be a shame to waste the arms and upper torso definition. At least you'll only need the shirt and pants for your first scene. I can get those made up in time. You'll need the jacket and coat for the first location shoot, though, and I really can't cut down the old stuff. The lines are all wrong for you. We'll need something different, and time is tight... "
She sent him into a changing area, where he stripped down to his boxers, and she measured him with brutal efficiency. The process of trying and fitting and pinning was equally efficient, and Clint's skin almost seemed to tingle from the speed that she had him in and out of his clothes.
He didn't even dare to think any kind of innuendo at that. Pepper Potts was definitely not that kind of woman.
After a long day of meeting people and being stared at, it probably wasn't surprising that Clint eventually hunted down the stunt coordinator's office. He had to ask a couple of people where it was, tucked away at the far end of a hallway, but he felt more relaxed the moment he saw the sign on the door. All he'd planned to do was introduce himself, see if it was anyone he knew and have a quick chat with someone from his world after all the weirdness of the acting world.
The door was standing ajar, so he pushed it open as he knocked. For a moment, all he could do was stare. "Natasha?"
She looked up from the papers on her desk, and a smile twitched at the corners of her mouth. From Natasha, that was almost as good as a wide grin. "Hello, Clint."
"You're working on this?"
"As of a week ago," Natasha said, sitting back in her chair. "I was going to call you about a job, until I found out you'd signed onto the cast."
The office was tiny and cramped, dominated by several large filing cabinets that barely left enough space around the desk to move. Thick files were stacked on her desk. Natasha's familiar rugged laptop had acquired a couple of new stickers since Clint had last seen it. Concept art and plans covered the walls so completely that there was no way to tell what colour the paint was underneath. Clint squeezed in and managed to fold himself down into the guest chair wedged between the desk and a cabinet.
He sighed gratefully, and Natasha chuckled.
"They running you hard?" she asked.
"I guess they're trying to make up ground," Clint said. "Seems like they've got to reshoot some stuff, and they're running out of shit to work on without me."
A faint line appeared between Natasha's brows. "They've shuffled the schedule around as much as they can, but I heard they were starting to talk about shutting everything down until you signed up."
"Yeah, I picked up the same thing," Clint said, staring down at his hands. He rubbed a thumb over the ring on his middle finger. "Guess that's why they hired me, even though I fucked up the audition completely."
"They hired you because you're good," Natasha said. "Fury isn't the kind of man who'd just hand the whole franchise over to anyone who walked in off the street, you know?"
"You know him that well?"
Natasha shook her head. "I've only known him for a week. But I'm not often wrong about people."
"I wasn't wrong about you," she said.
"You told me that I was an idiot the first day we met," Clint said. "And then you cursed me out in about five different languages because I wouldn't rig you up in that crazy harness that would have killed you."
"Like I said, I wasn't wrong about you." Another small half-smile appeared, softening the flatness of her tone. "You've never let me do anything that's unnecessarily dangerous, even when I hated you for it."
"And now you're the one in charge of making sure I don't die in a freak chainsaw accident," Clint said, smiling. "Should I be worried?"
"Nah. There aren't any chainsaws on this shoot."
"So, how are you the new stunt coordinator on this? Should I be worried about the turnover rate?"
"Probably not," Natasha said easily. "This isn't one of those shoots, don't worry. My predecessor's first grandchild arrived, and he decided that he didn't want to take any risks anymore. So he quit the business and moved down to Florida practically overnight to be nearer to them. It's all on the level, don't worry. We've talked a couple of times on Skype already."
"I wasn't worried."
"Sure you weren't," Natasha said. "I wasn't lying about calling you. You would have been my first call, if they hadn't already been talking about you. I know how much you've wanted to work with Coulson."
Clint made a face. "Yeah, I might have fucked that up, too. He thinks I'm an idiot."
"Really?" Natasha asked, raising her eyebrows. "What did you do?"
"Just acted like I was totally incompetent in front of him during the audition." Clint sank a little lower in his chair. "Dropped my script. Tore it. Dropped it a few more times. Tried to cripple him. Forgot how to read. You know, normal shit. He didn't look happy."
"Have you seen him since the audition?"
"Just try to remember this is hard for him," Natasha said, looking unusually tense. "He hasn't been happy about anything since I got here. Everyone says he's usually one of the nicest people they know, but I think he's angry about getting cut and that's not making him much fun to work with right now."
"You really think so?"
"I really think he doesn't hate you because you messed up in the audition," Natasha said. "He might hate you for a lot of other reasons, but I don't think it's about the audition."
"That's not very reassuring."
"Reassuring you isn't my job."
"Good, because you suck at it."
Natasha shrugged. "Like I care."
Clint felt some of the weight lift from his shoulders. He hadn't even been aware that it was there until it started to melt away. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it."
Natasha smiled, sharp-toothed and sly. "I hired Danny as your double."
"Rand?" Clint frowned. "Wait, double?"
"He's a good double for you," Natasha said, showing no concern for the outrage in his voice. "And yes, Clint, a double. I know that you can do some of this stuff with your eyes closed, but if you fall off something and break your stupid neck, the DoP might kill you. Or cry, but she seems more like the murderous revenge type."
Clint had already met Maria Hill. He shuddered. "Yeah, she probably would."
"Are you done here?"
"I think so," Clint said. "Want to grab a pizza and make fun of really bad fight work?"
"Sounds good to me," Natasha said. "I'll bring the alcohol, you bring the movies."
Act I, Scene III
A couple of days later, Clint sent up a small murmur of gratitude for the studio gods who had decided that he merited a driver. It was the first official day on the job, and the car arrived before the sun came up. Sam had the promised coffee waiting, and he allowed Clint to drink in silence and try to wake up as he drove through the quiet streets.
Clint had worked on a lot of films over the years, so he knew the rhythm of them. He should have been out on location already, but apparently there was a problem with that, so they were spending a couple of days working in the studio before moving out. Problems seemed to be normal on this shoot.
Natasha had hinted quietly that the location manager was having kittens trying to reschedule everything after all the delays. There were reshoots to fit in, now that he was on board, and those had to be slotted in around plans already in place that nobody wanted to move. Clint didn't envy that job.
He didn't mind working in the studio for a couple of days, though. The catering was never as good out on location. Clint had seen the Sitwell Foods trucks in the parking lot during his visits. His mouth was already watering at the thought of the breakfast burritos they served.
Someone hustled him straight into makeup when he arrived, without even letting him dump the bag of stuff he'd brought in his trailer. Clint hoped there was a trailer. He'd seen them from a distance when he had his tour, but nobody had actually pointed his out, if there was one. It was one of the things he'd been kind of looking forward to about being on the other side of the fence. He stuck his bag in the corner of the makeup room and hoped nobody would trip over it.
The makeup guy had messy hair and a crooked grin, but he seemed cool. He stuck out his hand and introduced himself as Bucky before guiding Clint into the chair.
By the time Clint's hair and face looked acceptable, according to Bucky, they'd bonded over a shared love for really bad eighties action movies, and Clint was starting to feel marginally more relaxed about his first day. At least the first part of each day would be fun, even if the rest of it sucked. Bucky had a good sense of humour and he knew the gossip about everyone on set. Not that Clint had asked, yet, but it was good to know where he could find it if he needed it.
Clint passed Coulson on the way out. He looked half-asleep, nose buried in a huge mug of coffee, which was probably why he completely ignored Clint even though their shoulders brushed.
A runner pointed him in the direction of his trailer, but all he could do when he got there was peer in through the window, because the door was locked. The sign on it looked fresh, and someone had smudged the down stroke on the 'B'.
Clint sat down on the step, trying hard not to touch his face or scrub a hand through his hair. It was kind of difficult to look properly dejected without doing either.
A tall blond guy with ridiculously wide shoulders saved him from that problem. "Mr Barton?"
Clint looked up. "Yeah?"
"You're supposed to be in wardrobe," Wide Shoulders said, frowning at his clipboard. "Pepper's been asking for you for the last ten minutes."
"I can't get into my trailer." Clint gestured down at the bag at his feet. "I don't have anywhere to stash this right now."
"Oh." Wide Shoulders' frown deepened. "Someone was supposed to give you a key when you were here last week."
"I guess that got missed."
"I guess it did. I'm Steve, by the way."
An approving smile appeared on Steve's lips, as if Clint had suddenly risen in his opinion because he wasn't insisting on formality. Clearly, someone in the cast was not being as friendly. Clint wondered whether it was Coulson, but dismissed the idea immediately. Nat said that Coulson was cool, so even though Clint hadn't seen any evidence of it yet, he was trusting that.
"Leave your bag with me," Steve said. "I'll have someone waiting with it, and a key, by the time Pepper's finished with you. Is that going to work?"
"That'll work," Clint said. "Thanks, man."
"Not a problem. Sorry you got missed. It's been kind of hectic around here. More hectic than normal, I mean."
"I'm starting to get that," Clint said. "Pepper's that way, right?"
He pointed, and Steve nodded. "That's right. I can send someone to show you--"
"Nah, I've got it."
A relieved smile appeared on Steve's face, which told Clint exactly what kind of day Steve was having. Apparently there was actually someone on this set having a more difficult day than Clint.
Excerpt from "Out of Time" by S., adapted from the screenplay by Bruce Banner, page 54
"So, I guess we're going to be working together," Wright said, closing the door behind him and hurrying to catch up.
Banks walked quickly, not looking at him.
"I've got to say, it's an honour, sir," Wright said, trying again.
Without warning, Banks stopped in the middle of the hallway, so that Wright almost walked into him. Wright stumbled back a step, freezing when Banks glared at him.
"We should talk," Banks said.
Wright shrugged with forced lightness. "We can do that."
Banks rubbed the bridge of his nose, looking tired. "I don't doubt that you're a good agent. The director seems to think you're the right man for this job, and I trust her judgement. But don't think that means we're going to be friends. We're not friends. We won't be. Friendship within this organisation...just, take it from me. We're never going to be anything more than co-workers assigned to a case together. Is that clear?"
"I wasn't trying---"
"You were." Banks shook his head. "So stop."
Their eyes met and held. For a long moment, they almost seemed to be frozen in the moment. Competing to see who would blink first. The air was rich with tension, so thick it was hard to breathe.
Banks blinked. He turned on his heel, saying over his shoulder, "Tech is expecting us. Come on if you're coming."
Clint's breathing sounded uneven and shaky in his ears. He hoped nobody else had noticed.
Coulson was already walking away, back to the chair where he patiently read between takes. The way he seemed to be able to put aside all the emotions he'd generated during a scene was incredible. He looked completely unruffled, sitting there with his eyes moving rapidly over the page, even though it was only a minute ago that he'd been all fire and fury, and hard, angry glares.
By contrast, Clint couldn't get rid of the jittery feeling the scene had stirred up. This was why Clint had always stuck to jumping off things instead of acting. He could get into the role, no problem, but getting out of it again didn't feel as effortless as Coulson made it look.
Nobody was paying any attention to him, so Clint wandered off to the side to take some slow breaths and lean against the wall. Watching the bustle of the crew resetting everything, people moving cameras and equipment back into place, helped to get his body under control again. Maybe Coulson was onto something with the book thing.
Not that Clint had a book to read. He thought there might be a copy of War and Peace in his apartment that had been a gag gift from Natasha one Christmas, but that was all.
He wasn't even sure where the nearest bookstore was.
It was another fifteen minutes before the crew was ready for another take. Clint was bored enough by then to be considering sneaking off to see whether he could get into his trailer yet. He pushed away from the wall eagerly and found his mark, noting with amusement that Coulson continued reading for a moment before marking his place and hurrying over.
"Good book?" Clint asked, unable to resist trying to make friends even though Coulson had ignored him all morning.
Maybe he had something in common with Wright, after all.
Coulson didn't look at him. Clint pretended it was someone shouting "Action!" that prevented Coulson from answering. And not that he was every bit as unfriendly and unhappy as Agent Banks right now.
When Clint finally got to see his trailer, he didn't take in any details except for the long, wide couch that lined most of one wall. It was gorgeous; plush and soft, and possibly the best thing he'd ever seen. He threw his suit jacket over a chair--at least, he hoped it landed there--and flopped face down on the amazing, wonderful, fantastic couch.
Okay, maybe it was partially the exhaustion talking. Possibly.
It really was a great couch though. He wondered who he'd need to bribe to keep it, if he actually made it to the end of the shoot without getting fired. Seriously, it was an amazing couch.
He might have sighed and buried his face more deeply in the cushion. And, maybe, caressed the soft fabric a little.
That didn't give Darcy the right to say, "So, should I leave before you start humping your couch?"
Clint started, rolled over, and immediately fell on the floor.
"Ow," he complained.
Darcy snickered. "That's what happens when you start making love to your couch."
"I wasn't---" Clint broke off. It was kind of hard to argue that he wasn't doing more or less what she'd accused him of. "Why are you here?"
Clint tilted his head back so he could look at her, even though she was upside down from that angle. Darcy was sprawled sideways across a chair in the corner, which explained why he hadn't seen her when he came in.
"I came to see how my best client is doing on his first day," she said brightly. "I even brought you lunch."
She held up a paper bag. It was empty, but the logo was from one of Clint's favourite bakeries.
"You ate my lunch?" Clint asked.
Darcy shrugged. "I got hungry. You've been gone for hours. I thought acting was mostly about waiting."
"I was waiting. On set. Now I'm waiting in here."
"You're kind of testy when you're working."
"I'm not testy," Clint said.
Okay, maybe his voice did sound a little...irritated, if he was being honest with himself. That was something he usually tried to avoid doing, though, so he ignored it.
"Fine, that's fine, you're not testy," Darcy said with a lazy wave. "Whatever. I thought you'd appreciate some company on your first day of endless waiting, and I know you didn't bring anything to entertain you. So I'm lending you my Veronica Mars DVDs. Don't thank me; I know how awesome I am for lending these to you."
Clint pulled himself up to sit on his really, really amazing couch. "You know that I'm about ten years too old for Veronica Mars, right?"
"Please, you're way more than ten years too old," Darcy said. "But I didn't think you were the Game of Thrones type, and you don't pay me enough yet for me to have a good James Bond collection to lend you."
"Don't you have any other clients to annoy?"
"Sure I do," Darcy said. "I've got a ton of clients. But none of them have a two picture, seven figure contract yet. You're my special kind of client."
"Do any of them have any kind of contract?"
"Do I look like that bad of an agent to you?"
Clint surveyed her carefully, from the weird floppy hat, past the knitted coat, down to the skinny hipster jeans. "Yes."
She flipped him off with a grin. "Shows what you know. I'm an awesome agent. Also, I'm your agent, and that gives me access to your trailer and the set and...other stuff. Did you know the assistant director is really cute and has insane shoulders?"
"How did you meet Steve?" Clint asked.
"He gave me your key." Darcy squirmed as she extracted a key from her back pocket. "Ta da."
Clint caught it when she threw it. "I'll introduce you to Thor. His shoulders are even worse."
"You are my favourite client ever."
"Does that mean you'll go away now?"
But Clint didn't really mind, even when Darcy insisted on firing up the TV in the corner and subjecting him to Veronica Mars until he was called back to the set. The company was kind of nice. He'd always spent his down time with the stunt team, fucking around and playing video games if there genuinely wasn't any work to do.
The acting side of the world seemed like it was going to be much lonelier.
Act I, Scene IV
"I see they haven't fired you yet," Natasha said.
It was probably supposed to be a compliment, but Clint wasn't a hundred percent sure. Knowing Natasha as well as he did, it could equally be an expression of surprise that the studio hadn't caught onto him and his lack of acting ability.
He stepped back to allow her into his hotel room, deciding to go with compliment until he was proven wrong.
Natasha held up a bottle of wine as she passed him, and Clint caught the distinctive smell of Thai food rising from the bag in her other hand. His mouth immediately started watering. Some days, he suspected she was a mind reader. He'd been surveying the room service menu when he heard her knock, because his flight had got in late, and he was starving after a long day training with the fight coordinator before he left.
"They haven't fired me yet," Clint confirmed, as he closed the door. "Have you heard anything?"
Natasha dumped the bag and the wine on the small dining table in the corner of the room. It was a step up from any hotel Clint had ever been able to afford before. Anything that wasn't a motel with a faulty shower was actually a step up, but this room had a huge bed, a dining table, and a microwave. There was even a couch. Sadly, it wasn't as great as his couch back in his trailer on the set, but it was still a palace compared to what he was used to.
Somehow, Clint didn't think the trailers for location shoots would have the same quality of couch.
"We should celebrate," Natasha said, as she set out cartons and chopsticks.
"Celebrate that nobody's fired me yet?"
"Sure. If you last another week, you'll beat the previous guy's record. That's a good thing to aim for."
"Nat, he crashed his motorcycle. He wasn't fired."
Natasha smiled, sharp and vicious. "The motorcycle was an act of providence."
Clint sat down and pulled a carton of pad thai closer. "What did you hear?"
"Who says I heard anything?" Natasha asked, popping a strip of chicken in her mouth and chewing serenely.
"You always hear everything. The only person with more gossip on the set is Bucky, and he's pretty selective about who he lets in on it."
"The code of the makeup guys," Natasha said, nodding.
"Are you sure you want to know?"
Clint sighed. "If it'll help me not to fuck things up any worse than I'm already doing, then yeah, I want to know."
"You're not fucking things up," Natasha said. "Everyone's really pleased with what they've got so far."
"Yes. So stop assuming that you can't do this, and start believing you can."
"Easy for you to say," Clint said. "You're not trying to make Phil Coulson crack a smile. Or, you know, say something that isn't part of the script."
"And that's where you're an idiot," Natasha said. "Coulson likes you."
Clint snorted disbelievingly. "Right. And tomorrow the sky'll turn green."
"Trust me," she said. "Coulson likes you. Right now he's off his game, but he likes you a lot better than the previous guy."
"I fucked up my lines five times straight yesterday," Clint said. "He looked about ready to punch me by the time we finished. And then it turned out that I'd unbuttoned my jacket during the good take, so we had to do the whole thing again for continuity. The way he looked at me? That's not the way someone looks at me when they like me. It's the way they look when they're plotting how to bury the body."
Natasha popped another piece of chicken in her mouth and sat back, chewing slowly. The intensity of her gaze made Clint shift in his seat after a while. He ducked his head to concentrate on loading just the right amount of pad thai on his chopsticks.
It seemed like a lifetime before Natasha casually said, "How is training going?"
Clint almost choked on his noodles. "We're talking about that now?"
"You're not going to believe me, no matter what I say," Natasha said, shrugging. "I'm admitting defeat."
"You never admit defeat."
"Well, I am today." She pointed with her chopsticks. "Training. You've been working with May for a week. How did it go?"
"I never realised how much of a hardass she is until now," Clint said. "I've found muscles I didn't even know I had before. Mostly because there are now bruises on them."
"So it's going well," Natasha said with a grin.
Clint returned the smile. "Yeah. At least this is something I know how to do. I mean, I'm used to doing all the dangerous shit and figuring out how to look like the actors, not the other way around, but. It's stuff I know how to do. And I think the fight's going to look amazing when it comes together."
"Is Hill going to start having to lie to the insurance guys about how much actual fighting you're doing?"
"It'll be fine," Clint said. "We're all professionals, right?"
Excerpt from "Out of Time" by S., adapted from the screenplay by Bruce Banner, page 98
Two figures emerged through the thick fog. Here and there, the outline of stunted trees rose up. only to be immediately swallowed by the greyness. Underfoot, the grass was wet and yellowing, as if the half-obscured parkland was only just emerging from winter. The headlights from the car they'd arrived in created a glow in the fog that receded as they walked away from it.
"They couldn't have picked a spookier spot for the buy if they'd tried," Wright said, softly.
Banks chuckled. "I can think of a few places."
"There's a chateau just outside Paris," Banks said. "It's not somewhere you want to be without several strong flashlights, every knife you can get your hands on, and a large bag of salt."
"You believe in ghosts."
"I've seen enough strange things that I'm not prepared to swear on my mother's grave that they don't exist." Banks shrugged. "I wouldn't go back to that chateau on my own, anyway. Or if ghosts aren't your thing, try standing in the middle of Dartmoor after the fog's rolled in. That's almost like this place, except creepier."
"Creepier?" Wright made an unhappy face. "Think I'll take a pass on that. The next time I'm in England, I'll be looking for something with four stars and room service."
A smile started to twitch at the corners of Banks's lips, but he paused and pressed a finger to his ear, listening intently.
"Understood, Angel," he said, after a tense moment.
"They're here?" Wright asked.
"Five minutes out."
Wright checked the screen in his hand and nodded. "Then I guess we wait here. Are you sure about doing this? I can--"
Banks's lips tightened. "I'm sure. Angel can walk me through the technical parts; that's why she's on the other end of the comm. You just need to stand there looking intimidating and remember not to interrupt me, if you can restrain yourself that far."
Wright glared, but anything he might have said was interrupted by the muffled sound of an engine approaching.
Clint sneezed four times as soon as the cameras stopped rolling. There was a brief moment where he thought he was clear, before another three sneezes almost made him fall over from their force.
Damned artificial fog.
When he looked up, eyes watering, half the crew seemed to be pointedly not looking at him as they carried on with their jobs, while the other half stared in fascination. Great. Perfect. Exactly what he needed.
He took a cautious breath and his nose itched violently, but he managed to hold in the sneeze. The fog was starting to clear, swirling on the slight breeze as it dissipated.
Coulson's voice was so unexpected that Clint almost allowed another sneeze to escape. He pinched his nose until the urge went away. When he turned, Coulson was looking at him with a hint of a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.
"Um," Clint said intelligently. He wanted to smack himself in the face immediately, but that would just make things worse. So he gathered up the wits that hadn't been shaken loose by the prolonged sneezing fit, and said, "Kind of."
Which was a whole lot better...not. Ugh. Clint considered just turning tail and running to shelter with the techies, but this was the first time Coulson had voluntarily talked to him, and he couldn't make himself leave yet.
"Oh." Coulson seemed to consider that for a minute. "Is 'kind of' an actual allergy, or..."
Clint shrugged. "Or. Artificial smoke--or fog--makes me sneeze. Always has. And lilies, but that's an actual allergy, I think. My eyes swell up. It's really not a pretty sight."
"But the fog just makes you sneeze."
"Sneeze like crazy, yeah," Clint confirmed. "And it hurts like hell holding it in."
"You did well," Coulson said. "I wouldn't have known."
Coulson nodded. "It didn't come through in your voice at all."
Unexpected warmth swelled in Clint's chest. "Uh, thanks."
"Think you can do it again?" Coulson asked. "It looks like they're ready for another try."
The fog was already thickening again, making Clint's nose itch. He had to resist the urge to rub at it or allow it to twitch. Looking like something out of Bewitched during a serious scene would probably cancel out any temporary truce Coulson was offering.
"Maybe someone can find you a box of tissues," Coulson said diplomatically.
Clint sighed and began trudging back to his mark. "I'm not sure a box'll cover it, if we're spending the day in this muck."
There was a muffled sound that might have been a snort of laughter, but when Clint looked around, Coulson's face was completely straight. It must have been his imagination.
Clint had a headache from sneezing--and holding in sneezes--when the fog machine broke down, forcing everyone who couldn't wield a wrench to take an extended break. He considered retreating to the tiny trailer he'd been assigned, to get out of the damp cold more than anything else, but his stomach rumbled before he'd done more than take a couple of steps in that direction.
The catering station had been set up in the most sheltered spot available, between two of the huge equipment trucks. Half the crew had already headed for it by the time Clint joined the line. The tantalising scent of frying onions and pulled pork made his stomach tighten painfully.
Maybe he should have eaten more than a slice of toast at breakfast and a few melon slices for lunch. Natasha would laugh so loudly if she found out he'd been that nervous about his first location shoot.
He'd just taken a huge bite out of the burrito he'd ordered when someone cleared their throat behind him. With a sinking feeling, Clint spun around and tried to smile politely through the mouthful of tortilla and rice.
Coulson was holding out a small pocket pack of tissues. "My trailer seems to have been stocked up with dozens of these. I thought you might want one."
It was impossible to read Coulson's face. He was a master of the blank look. Clint tried to chew and swallow as fast as he could, which made his eyes water. He really hoped the lack of expression was just Coulson's resting face, and not a sign that he found Clint's eating habits revolting.
"Thanks," Clint said thickly, when he finally cleared the mouthful. "Yeah, these'll help. My trailer's got a thousand bottles of water and nothing else."
Coulson nodded. "If you need any more, just let me know."
"If you had a bottle of Tylenol in there, I'd probably do something really pathetic and embarrassing right now," Clint said.
"I'll let you know if some turns up."
He started to turn away, but Clint couldn't let the conversation drop yet. Maybe it was ridiculous, maybe he was reading too much into it, but this was the closest they'd ever been to talking like actual people who were supposed to be working together. He wasn't ready to let that chance die.
"The script's got a few holes," Clint said, and almost swallowed his tongue. Shit. What if Coulson was best buddies with the writer? Clint couldn't remember who the writer was, even though he'd been seeing the guy's name all over the script for the last two weeks.
Coulson hesitated, but he didn't look angry. He cocked his head thoughtfully, instead. "I've had worse. Which holes were you thinking of, specifically?"
Clint didn't quite let out a sigh of relief, but it was a close thing. "Look at what we've been working on today. Banks needs this Agent Angel to talk him through the technical side of the buy? He spent half of Rome by Nightfall posing as a scientist in a weapons facility! He's got the science down. He even had some scientific journals in his house in Seeing Deadly. Seems kind of off that he'd need someone else to walk him through something like that."
It was kind of funny to see Coulson look surprised for a moment, lips parting on a gasp and eyes going wide. He controlled it almost immediately, neutral mask sliding back into place, but Clint's guts did a slow roll that he refused to think about. It was just pride at being able to shock his more experienced co-star, that's all.
"I didn't realise you knew the films that well," Coulson said slowly, a small frown appearing.
The pleasurable warmth in Clint's gut suddenly turned into a cold, sick feeling. Clint tried to smile, but it felt more like a weird grimace. "I do my research?"
Clint wanted to take the words back immediately, because something in Coulson's eyes cooled immediately, and he knew that he'd done something wrong. Said something wrong. He just couldn't figure out what, out of all the stupid shit he'd just said, was the actual problem.
"Your burrito's dripping," Coulson said, nodding down.
Clint glanced down and swore: his burrito really was dripping all over the shoes Pepper had carefully chosen for him. There were another half a dozen pairs in wardrobe, but she was probably still going to be mad. By the time he looked up, Coulson was disappearing around the corner, and Clint didn't have the balls to follow him and try to find out what had gone wrong.
He'd probably only make it worse if he tried.
Clint was planning to spend some quality moping time in his hotel room that night, but Natasha appeared at his door with a determined expression.
"Cheetos are not an acceptable meal substitute," she said firmly. "Particularly if you've been skipping meals because you're so terrified of fucking up that you're throwing up. In fact, Cheetos are the worst thing you could choose to eat if that's the case."
It was impossible not to glance back guiltily at the bright orange bag sitting on his bed. One day, he'd figure out how she always knew.
"Are you planning to drag me out somewhere for too much food and way too much alcohol?" he asked. "Because I'm pretty sure someone'll kill me if I turn up hungover tomorrow. I'm just not sure whether it would be Steve or Hill."
"Both of them," Natasha said. "They'd take turns. So it's a good thing they're coming with us and there won't be any alcohol."
"Coming with us?"
"Hotel restaurant," Natasha said, with a casual shrug. "We've got a table reservation."
"So put on some shoes, and maybe find something to wear with fewer holes. You're eating with the crew tonight."
Clint glanced down at the ancient, baggy sweatpants and hole-filled t-shirt he was wearing. He looked back at the bag of Cheetos, sitting lonely and unappealing on his bed. He considered the ravioli he'd seen on the hotel menu.
"Okay, I'm in," he said.
Natasha made 'pshh' sound. "Like you had a choice."
The hotel had pushed together several tables to hold the huge group. After a couple of hours, Clint sat back, patting his pleasantly full belly, and mouthed a quiet thank you at Natasha. Getting out of his room and spending an evening with the people from 'his' world had been the best idea. They'd all traded tall tales and told bad jokes, and he hadn't felt out of place all evening. He hadn't realised how much he missed that feeling.
The only thing that hadn't been entirely satisfying was catching sight of Coulson out of the corner of his eye, sitting on the other side of the restaurant with his nose in a book. Clint wasn't even sure why he kept getting that pang of something heavy and uncomfortable in his chest every time he looked over in Coulson's direction. It wasn't as though anything was stopping Coulson from just walking over and joining them. He'd be welcomed and told to pull up a chair the moment he did it. Even if Clint couldn't get the words together to do it, someone from the crew probably would.
Natasha. Or maybe Hill; Clint had seen Hill and Coulson talking during filming.
But instead, Coulson stayed at his single table, eating and reading, without so much as glancing over at them. Unless he did his glancing when Clint wasn't looking. After all, Clint was trying to have a good time, and that meant he was mostly focused on the people around him.
It was just that the awareness of Coulson was always there, and he couldn't seem to shake it off. It was there under his skin, like a steady itch, contaminating even the funniest moments with a faint feeling of melancholy.
As promised, the party was dry, and they broke up hours before Clint would usually have expected. When Hill stood up and announced she was hitting the sack, with Steve at the other end of the table agreeing, it seemed like a natural thing to slowly filter out of the restaurant.
Clint didn't realise that Coulson had left with them until Steve and Bucky got out of the elevator on their floor, leaving him alone to travel up to the top where all the best rooms were. Coulson must have slipped in quietly, because Clint thought he was alone until he sagged back against the wall with a sigh and noticed Coulson standing in the corner.
"Jeez, you need to wear a bell or something," Clint complained. "You're too good at that."
Coulson raised his eyebrows, but didn't say anything. A soft 'ding' cut short Clint's attempt to formulate some kind of response--because eyebrow lifts were tough to rebut--and he gave up on it. They walked down the short hallway, Clint acutely aware of Coulson pacing along two steps behind him.
He wasn't finding Coulson's silence irritating. Nope. Definitely not. The part where he was gritting his teeth was complete coincidence.
Clint dug out his room key and unlocked his door, starting to push it open before pausing to look over his shoulder. The glance confirmed his suspicion: Coulson's room was opposite his. They'd been neighbours since they arrived, and Coulson hadn't even stopped by to say hello. Which, yeah, typical for his behaviour so far, but it rubbed at the irritation slowly building in Clint's gut and he had to say something.
"Goodnight," he said.
There was no response, no acknowledgement beyond a slight hitch in Coulson's attempt to unlock his door. Clint almost left it there, because throwing down with his co-star--he was starting to regret his old crush--seemed like a career suicide kind of move, but he couldn't. He'd been pushing the confusion and annoyance down for too long, and it suddenly boiled up out of him in an uncontrollable stream of words.
"What is your problem?" Clint allowed his door to swing closed again behind him. "Seriously, what is with all this? I've been doing my best to be nice and friendly and all that crap, but you've been practically ignoring me since the moment I walked on set. Did I do something so stupidly offensive during my audition that you can't stand me? I mean, I know that I fucked up in a lot of it and Fury hired me anyway, but I don't remember killing your dog or pissing in your coffee. And I'm pretty sure that me dropping a script and fumbling a few lines isn't a good enough reason for you to act like an asshole."
Clint snapped his mouth shut, choking down everything else that was trying to escape.
For a long, terrifying moment, Coulson was completely silent. The only sign that he'd heard anything Clint said was in the way his shoulders had risen and his knuckles were turning white where he'd wrapped his hand around the door handle. Clint wanted to take it all back immediately, but he couldn't speak. Couldn't move. Couldn't do anything except watch Coulson and wait for the axe to fall.
Coulson finally turned around. For the first time, there was emotion in his face that had nothing to do with any script. His eyes had narrowed, and his lips were tight.
"My problem?" he said, soft and dangerous. "Are you sure you really want to go there?"
"Yeah, I'm pretty fucking sure, because this is getting stupid." Clint balled his fists in frustration. "If it's just about this being your last Agent Banks movie, don't you think you're being really childish about it?"
Coulson's expression darkened, turning bleak. Clint wasn't sure why he was suddenly close enough to see the flecks of blue in Coulson's grey eyes, but somehow he'd crossed the hallway without even noticing. They were barely a foot apart, and he could have counted every eyelash if he'd wanted to. Not that he did, because it was taking everything he had to keep his hands at his side, and he couldn't afford the distraction.
"Childish," Coulson said flatly. "It's nice to finally hear what you think of me. Stupid and childish. That makes me feel so much better about being fired from the project I've put half my life--half my career--into."
"I didn't mean--"
"Not that it's important to you," Coulson continued. "You're just here to look pretty and replace me, with your hair and your extensive knowledge of the relevant Wikipedia articles about the universe we've built. Thank you, Mr Barton, for sharing your true feelings about me."
"That wasn't what I meant," Clint said. "I'm not trying to replace you...and what's wrong with my hair?"
The corner of Coulson's mouth tilted up in something that might have been a sneer, if he'd been the kind of guy who actually did that. It was more like a really weird and horrible half-smile, which was as unhappy and angry as anything Clint had ever seen.
"Explain what Agent Wright is doing in this film, if he isn't my replacement?" Coulson said.
"He's...he's..." Clint trailed off and glared. "I'm not replacing you. It's not like it's even a done deal that I'll be taking over, is it?" In the back of his mind, he heard Darcy's excited squeal over the seven figure, two picture contract. "There's always a chance--"
"Have you actually read the script?" Coulson asked. "Past the pages we're filming this week. Have you really read it?"
"Of course I've read it! What do you think I am?"
"It's best not to ask me that right now. You might not like the answer."
"Yeah?" Clint stepped closer, keenly aware that he was standing dangerously close, now. Lethally close, judging by the expression in Coulson's eyes. He wasn't sure whether the heat he could feel was from Coulson's body or his own welling anger. "Go ahead, lay it on me. What do you think of me? Because right now, all I know is that you have a problem with my hair and I'm the person you hate most on this entire production, and since you seem to hate everyone, that really takes some doing."
There was a tense moment where Clint braced himself and Coulson seemed to be gathering his strength, and then, somehow, they were kissing. Angry, biting kisses that made Clint's lips sting immediately, even as he opened his mouth for more. He didn't know who started it, and it wasn't important to figure that out because, fuck, it felt good. All the anger and frustration were transforming into greedy need, and Coulson was falling into it right with him.
Clint's fists bunched in Coulson's shirt without any conscious command, providing the leverage to pull him closer. Coulson's hands were on Clint's hips, clutching with just enough force to make some animalistic ancient part of his brain perk up and howl.
When Clint's back hit the door, he barely restrained a gasp. He'd never had a thing for being pushed up against walls before, but tonight...yeah, tonight, it was all good. Hard surface behind him, the warmth of Coulson's body rutting against him, it was exactly what he'd been itching for without even knowing it.
A door slammed somewhere down the hallway, and Coulson suddenly went tense in his arms. They both froze mid-kiss, mouths pressed together too intimately to be anything except awkward as sense began to return.
Clint tried to pull back, but he was being pressed against the door by the weight of Coulson's body. His head met the door with a painful thump.
Coulson's eyes were wide, pupils dilated, but it looked more like shocked horror than desire now. All the heat that had been flooding Clint's body only a moment ago fled, his cock wilting so fast, it probably set a record.
"I--" Clint began, but he didn't have time to finish.
Without saying a word, Coulson pushed away and almost threw himself at his door. He got the key in its slot correctly the first time, shoved the door open, and pulled it closed before Clint could do anything to stop him.
Clint swallowed and forced his knees to lock and hold him up. His body was too cold and his brain didn't seem to be working right, yet.
After a couple of minutes, he retreated to his own room. It looked even more soulless than before, all cream décore and blandly corporate branding on everything. Clint stripped to his boxers as he walked across the room to his bed, letting the clothes fall in haphazard heaps. The importance of what had just happened didn't seem to be sinking in.
He'd kissed Coulson. Or Coulson had kissed him. There had been kissing and Coulson's lips involved, and he was pretty sure it had been the worst idea ever.
Clint crawled into bed and turned out the light.
In a dimly lit room, Nick Fury sat at a desk watching footage on a huge monitor. He'd been there for hours, reviewing and replaying. Empty boxes with the logo from a local Chinese restaurant testified to the long night.
His eye was burning and gritty from staring at the screen for so long, but he couldn't look away. No matter how many times he re-watched, how many takes he sampled, the churning in his gut wouldn't disappear.
It could have been the Chinese. Maybe.
Except he hadn't got to where he was by ignoring his instincts. After ten successful Agent Banks movies, he'd learned what worked and what didn't, and the most important lesson he'd learned was this: if something unexpected shows up in the footage that's fucking amazing, play to it.
And right now, every fibre of his being was screaming at him to pay attention to what was unfolding on the screen.
He hit play again, intently watching the flicker of emotions crossing the new kid's face.
After another five minutes, Fury pulled out his cell and sent a text. He waited.
When Hill hurried into the room, her hair was a tangled mess and she'd pulled an old sweatshirt from Mission to Midnight on over her checked pyjama pants.
Fury gestured to the monitor. "Watch this."
Five minutes later, Hill sat back in the chair she'd wheeled over. Her lips twitched. "Fuck."
"You can see it, too?"
"Yeah. We're fucked. The audience will never buy the love triangle with Angel if they keep playing it that way."
"My thought exactly," Fury said, rubbing at the bridge of his nose.
"What do we do?"
"As much as we have to. Get Banner here, now."
Hill grimaced. "Frost won't be happy if we cut her part."
"So we won't cut it," Fury said. "Banner can figure it out, that's what we're paying him for. We cut the love triangle, rework a few things, add in a few extra scenes between Wright and Banks to increase the tension."
"Banner will be happy," Hill said, with a wry smile. "He always hated the love triangle. I think he hates those on principal."
"They're clichéd and overused," Fury said. "If we do this, it will be a genre first."
Hill frowned. "You know how much the fans hate queerbaiting. Banner won't be happy--"
"Who said anything about baiting?" Fury said, allowing himself a slow, vicious smile.
"The execs are never going to green light this," Hill protested.
"Let them try," Fury said. "Bring it on."
"We'll have to be subtle to get it past them."
"I can do subtle." Fury paused. "Banner can do subtle. That's what I'm paying him for. How is this going to affect the shooting schedule?"
"You're fucking it up for me again," Hill said. "I'll make it work."
"And that's what I pay you for."
Act II, Scene I
"So, if you accidentally kissed someone, or got kissed or...if there was kissing involved and it was a really stupid idea because you work with him, what would you do?" Clint asked. He hesitated and added, "Theoretically."
"Theoretically?" Natasha said. "Accidentally? Clint, what did you do?"
"Why do you think I did anything?"
Natasha lifted her eyebrows. "Because you're sitting on my bed at six in the morning, stealing my breakfast, and asking me about theoretically disastrous kissing."
Clint paused in the act of stealing another strawberry from the plate on Natasha's tray. He thought about it for a moment, and snatched the strawberry, stuffing it in his mouth and chewing obnoxiously. Strawberry juice ran down his chin, and he quickly wiped at it before it could hit the pristine white sheets.
"I didn't do anything," Clint said. "It was a completely theoretical discussion. About two fictional people who definitely don't exist. That's the point of theoretical shit."
"Uh huh." Natasha popped a grape in her mouth and chewed it. "You can get your own breakfast, you know."
"I don't feel like hitting the buffet this morning," Clint said.
"You can order your own breakfast now," Natasha said. "To your room. Like normal people."
Clint frowned. "I can?"
"You're the talent now," Natasha said. "That comes with perks. Room service perks."
"Why do you have room service?"
"Because I'm paying for it."
"We can do that?" Clint winced at the look she shot him. "Right, yeah, we can probably do that. But your breakfast is right here, and mine is theoretical, so maybe I'll try it out tomorrow."
He stole another strawberry, and Natasha only made a half-hearted attempt to stab him with her butter knife. So she probably wasn't that mad about the breakfast thing. He decided not to make an attempt on her chocolate croissant, though, because she had her limits and chocolate was usually one of them.
"Speaking of theoretical," Natasha said, "who did you kiss?"
"Who said I kissed anyone?"
"That guilty look, and the fact that we're talking about theoretical bad idea kissing." Natasha's brows drew together. "Oh, Clint, no."
Clint stole a melon slice, trying to look innocent and unconcerned.
Natasha sighed. "Clint. Did you kiss--"
"Hey, look at the time!" Clint exclaimed. "I've got a call. Someone's probably about to bust my ass for being late right now."
It was the least subtle get away he'd ever made, and that took some doing, but he'd sprinted across the room and was closing the door before Natasha could get more than two words out. A muffled shout that could have been a Russian curse followed him down the hallway.
"Is there something wrong with my hair?" Clint asked. He almost tried to take the words back as soon as they were out, but it was too late and it was easier to focus on that than...everything else.
Bucky paused with a wide makeup brush suspended halfway to Clint's face. "Should there be?"
"I don't know."
"Your hair looks fine to me. Could do with a better quality conditioner, maybe, but the style looks good on you."
The brush finished its journey, tickling Clint's cheeks as Bucky dusted some kind of powder over him to prevent shine. It was all going to get rubbed off the moment they started filming today's fight scene, but Clint appreciated the effort.
He had a feeling Bucky would be running around doing touch ups all day.
"What's with the sudden worries about your hair, anyway?" Bucky asked. He stepped away and rummaged on his table for a tube of...something Clint didn't think he could pronounce, let alone understand. "You been checking one of those shitty celebrity blogs?"
"No!" Clint said, way too quickly. He frowned. "Why, should I be checking them?"
"Not if you value your mental health," Bucky said with a wry smile. "Just trying to figure out your sudden hair worries."
Heat prickled the back of Clint's neck. "No reason, just...forget I said anything. Okay?" He glanced around the tiny makeup trailer, searching for anything to distract Bucky with. Several sketches pinned on the wall caught his eye, almost hidden behind all the reference photos tacked up around them. They were good, surprisingly good. Clint thought he recognised some of the scenes from descriptions in the script. "Who did those?"
Bucky followed his eye-line, and a soft smile appeared. "They're Steve's."
"Yeah, isn't he? Went to art school and everything, except it turns out that drawing doesn't pay shit, and he's really great at all the cat wrangling a shoot like this needs, so he kind of diversified."
"Is that concept art?"
Bucky nodded. "Fury knows talent when he sees it. That's some of the really early stuff. Steve always lets me have some copies to hang up, so I can get a feel for the look they're aiming at. The finished stuff is back at the studio; these are just the preliminaries, so it doesn't matter if they get torn or lost in transit."
"You must have known each other for a while."
"Since grade school," Bucky said.
Clint whistled. "That's...a long time."
"I guess so." Bucky held up fingers smeared in some kind of gloop that smelled like flowers. "Hold still, I need to make your hair look pretty now. Just in case you're still worried about it."
If Bucky hadn't been watching curiously, Clint would have buried his face in his hands. All of Bucky's efforts with makeup would be ruined, but it would have made him feel better. Instead, he just had to hold still and hope that the warmth in his face wasn't a blush.
He wasn't blushing at the memory of a kiss. He wasn't. That was just ridiculous.
Even if it had been a really memorable, amazing kiss.
Clint managed to keep himself from worrying about seeing Coulson again by thinking about pretty much anything except Coulson. It worked really well right up until he arrived on set, ready to work on the big mass fight scene, and the artificial fog machine made a sad whirring sound and gave up.
Coulson was nowhere in sight, so there was that.
But the fog machine was, according to everyone, crucial to the atmosphere of the scene and there was no point filming without it. Apparently an illicit technology buy happening in bright sunlight wouldn't work for the audience. It needed fog, subdued lighting, and the constant threat of a sneezing fit from Clint.
Okay, maybe the audience wouldn't know about the last part.
The cluster of people around the malfunctioning machine grew rapidly over the next ten minutes, even pulling in the SFX guy despite his protests that he was only there for the explosions. Apparently Stark was a mechanical genius, and that meant his advice was crucial.
Clint watched the mess for a while with Melinda May and Danny Rand. It was kind of creepy to stand around next to a guy wearing the same suit and even the same hairstyle as him. Weirdly, it had never freaked him out when he was doubling for someone, but now that Clint had a guy standing next to him pretending to be him, instead of the other way around...yeah, freaky didn't entirely cover it.
When the air suddenly filled with smoke and a stink that definitely wasn't artificial fog, but was equally good at triggering sneezes, Clint made a strategic retreat to his trailer.
There was a manila envelope sitting on the floor just inside his door. The label on the front only had his name and an obscure code on it.
Clint picked it up and took it with him to his tiny couch, grabbing a bottle of water on the way. Someone had restocked his fridge, and another case had been dumped on top since he left last night. Apparently they really didn't want him to get dehydrated.
There were still no tissues, though.
He'd just started peeling open the envelope, when his cell rang. Clint debated for a moment, but the caller ID showed it was Darcy, and he was starting to get a sense about this stuff.
"They're rewriting," Darcy said before Clint could get out a single word. "Have you seen the new script?"
Clint held up the mysterious envelope. It wasn't thick enough to be a whole script. "Um."
"It's not a bad thing," Darcy said quickly. "They promised your role isn't being cut. I think they might actually be beefing your role up, although I'm not sure what that actually means, because you already had the co-star billing, and the franchise, so--"
"Darce, slow down," Clint said.
He heard her take a deep breath, and her voice was a few tones lower when she started again. "They're rewriting."
"I got that."
"Nobody could tell me what the new script looks like."
Clint tucked the phone against his ear and finished opening the envelope so he could pull out the papers inside. There were only three pages, printed on pale blue. "That's probably because they don't have one yet."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, I've got a part of the script, but it's only for what we're working on today." He scanned it rapidly while Darcy made impatient noises in his ear. "Huh."
"The Agent Angel stuff has been taken out of the fight scene," Clint said. "Looks like they're reshooting some dialogue tomorrow as well. Taking out the huge sucking plot hole where they forgot that Agent Banks has a shit ton of experience playing scientists from Rome by Nightfall, so he doesn't need someone walking him through buying the cryptographic doohickey over comms."
There was a long pause. "It is freaky that you know so much about these movies. You know that, right? You're, like, a walking dictionary of useless Agent Banks trivia and it's weirding me out."
"I'm working on an Agent Banks movie," Clint said. "Feels kind of like useful trivia right now."
"You're the worst client."
Clint grinned. "Think about this for a moment: somewhere out there, Emma Frost is talking to her agent about her reduced part in this move."
There was a long silence. Clint sat back on the couch and sprawled a little, waiting.
"You are the best client," Darcy said eventually.
"That's what I thought."
Clint ducked under a swinging fist and grinned maniacally, grabbing and twisting in exactly the way they'd rehearsed. His opponent came down with a crashing thunk.
It didn't really hurt, but it sure as hell would look like it did on camera.
Someone shouted "cut", and Clint offered his hand down to his opponent, Rumlow, helping him to his feet. On the side-lines, Rand was watching with a bored expression. So far, that was all he'd done: watch the takes and fail to hide his boredom. Clint would have felt bad for him, except he was having too much fun. This was the stuff he was good at, the stuff he knew, and the thrill of movement and quick thinking was coursing bright and hot through his body.
Fury beckoned to him, and Clint jogged over to join him at the small monitor near the cameras. He suppressed a sneeze as a tendril of artificial fog snuck up his nose. Maybe by the end of the week, all the exposure would cure him.
"What's up?" he asked.
Fury pointed to the screen. "You're smiling again."
Clint scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Shit, sorry. Thought I got it this time."
"Only for the first couple of hits."
"I'll try again."
Clint walked away, the sound of Fury and Hill giving orders blending into the general background shuffle of the rest. Bucky darted in to touch up his makeup and restore order to his hair where he'd been breaking orders by running his hands through it. Clint was only half aware of what was going on around him. He'd been distracted by a familiar pair of shoulders.
Coulson was standing with his back to Clint, talking to May. It was probably a really bad sign that Clint knew those shoulders so damned well. Maybe he'd been obsessing about them for too long, even before he met the man attached to them.
There was a flurry of activity by the cameras, and someone shouted something, but Clint wasn't paying attention. His focus was entirely on trying to read something into the way Coulson was standing and the degree of tilt to his head.
Which was a really stupid thing to do, because a moment later there was a sharp burst of pain on the side of his head, and suddenly he was lying on his back, looking up at the sky.
Clint blinked as Natasha's worried face came into view. Cold dampness was seeping through his coat and suit already.
"What happened?" he asked.
Natasha's brow creased in a frown so faint, nobody else would have noticed it. "You didn't duck."
"Oh. Were we rolling?"
"Yes," Natasha said, with an irritated sigh. "You were somewhere in dreamland. If the medics say you're okay, I'm going to kill you."
"Medics? Wait, no...what?" Clint sat up gingerly, but nothing seemed to have been broken. He wasn't even dizzy. The soft, muddy grass had saved him from anything beyond a few slight bruises.
A hint of a smile softened Natasha's face. "Actually, I think that I'll let Pepper kill you."
Clint craned his neck, trying to see the back of his coat. "How bad is it?"
When Clint looked around again, Coulson was staring at him with an unreadable expression. Clint had half-expected to see disappointment or frustration there. A really optimistic part of him had hoped that Coulson would show some sign that he'd been affected by their kiss, even if it was just an inability to meet Clint's eyes.
No such luck. Coulson looked at him steadily without a flicker of anything, and it was Clint who flushed and looked away.
Yeah, kissing his co-star and long-term crush had been a really bad idea.
Naturally, when they did finally talk, Clint wasn't exactly at his best. It was the way nature's laws worked, right? Coulson couldn't find him when he was still looking suave in his beautifully tailored coat and jacket. No, Clint had changed into the scruffiest street clothes he owned, and his face was partially covered with thick, gloopy makeup remover. Of course.
The makeup trailer should have been empty. Bucky had disappeared a couple of minutes ago, in search of some cream he thought Clint should try--something to do with pores? All Clint knew was that it was probably going to smell like flowers--and he just wanted to go back to the hotel and fall on his bed. Preferably for twelve hours, but the reality was that it would be closer to five.
So when the door opened, Clint expected it would just be Bucky returning faster than promised with the cream. He grunted hello, eyes closed while he swiped across his eyes with a damp cotton ball.
"Was this you?"
The voice definitely wasn't Bucky's. Shit.
Clint's eyes shot open, and he met Coulson's in the mirror. He was waving a sheaf of familiar pale blue paper.
"What?" Clint asked.
"The script changes, was this you?"
Clint swabbed at the mess on his face, but all he managed to do was smear it more. Perfect. "How would I get the script changed? Who do I know who would actually change the script? It's not like Fury and I are best buddies or anything."
Coulson's lips turned down.
"Anyway, what's the problem?" Clint asked. "They fixed the stupid plot hole. That's got to be a good thing, right?"
"It's..." Coulson trailed away, frowning. He seemed to take a minute to gather his thoughts. "I told them about it weeks ago, and nobody seemed concerned."
Clint gave up on the cotton balls and yanked several paper towels free from the dispenser on the wall. He scrubbed his face until it felt clean and pink. When he emerged, Coulson's reflection in the mirror didn't look any happier.
"I still don't get how this is a bad thing," Clint said, picking up a tube of something that looked like it might be moisturiser. In French, but the words couldn't be that different right? "No plot holes has got to be a good thing. It's kind of what we're aiming for. I thought it's what we're aiming for."
"A good film."
"I'm just curious about how a plot hole that they'd refused to fix for me has ended up being fixed in a script revision less than twenty-four hours after you talked about it."
"You think I talked to someone."
Coulson shrugged. "I don't know. The timing--"
Clint squeezed some moisturiser into his hand and turned around, meeting Coulson's eyes without a mirror for the first time all day. "You were there for everything I did after filming yesterday. Explain to me exactly how I managed to talk anyone into a script revision when I was...ah..."
He could feel his face heating, and he instinctively scrubbed a hand through his hair.
Coulson coughed. "Yes. Um."
The sudden urge to press Coulson against a wall and kiss him breathless again almost overwhelmed Clint. He could still remember the taste and texture of Coulson's lips. The low, needy sounds he made.
Coulson's ears turned pink and he dropped his gaze.
"I apologise," Coulson said, so quietly Clint almost didn't catch what he was saying. "I jumped to conclusions with no good reason. It was wrong of me."
The words took Clint's breath away for a moment. Not just what Coulson was saying, but how he was saying it. Quietly, almost hesitantly, as if he was genuinely worried about Clint's feelings. The kissing urge rose up again, but this time it wasn't a sharp, needy want. It was gentler, a magnetic pull to taste and touch, to wipe away the uncertainty in Coulson's voice.
Clint opened his mouth, even though he had no idea what he was going to say, but the door flew open before could get past "Um". Bucky stopped partway inside, staring at them. His eyebrows lifted.
"I should let you go," Coulson said. "Goodnight."
Clint mumbled something that hopefully sounded like "goodnight", as Coulson squeezed past Bucky and left, so fast there should have been smoke rising from his tracks.
After a long, painful pause, Bucky asked, "Is that moisturiser in your hair?"
Clint reached up to check and sighed. "Aw, no."
There was a real possibility that Bucky sprained something from laughing.
Act II, Scene II
By the time the shoot moved to Las Vegas, Clint had a thick envelope filled with script revisions on blue paper. There were even a few pages on green paper, supplementary revisions to smooth out some of the new transition scenes. He was starting to understand why Coulson kept his script in a neatly clipped binder, and he made a mental note to buy one for himself, the next time he was near an office supply store.
It wasn't the first time Clint had worked on a film that changed shape as the shoot went on. Everyone who had ever worked in Hollywood had been on at least one. He'd heard urban legends about the worst, and he was about ninety percent certain that most of them were true.
He wasn't used to being on a shoot where the changes made the script better, though. It was kind of weird. The blue and green pages were close to outnumbering the white pages now. Usually that level of revisions over only a few days signalled disaster in the making. It ended up being a sloppy, disjointed mess that even the most talented editor couldn't pull together into a watchable film at the end.
The new script was tighter than the original. It flowed more organically. The most gaping plot holes had been removed with surgical precision.
The love triangle had been written out completely.
Clint had never been sure that subplot fit into an Agent Banks movie. Banks wasn't the kind of character who did dumb things to win a girl, and he definitely wasn't the kind of man who allowed competitive jealousy to endanger his mission. It was one of the qualities Clint had always admired about the character. Banks almost never ended up sailing off into the sunset with a beautiful woman, unless it was a woman he'd been building up a relationship with through two previous films.
The subplot where Banks and Wright's main disagreement was over who deserved to win Agent Angel had never sat right with him.
Now the focus was all on Banks's distrust of Wright, and his fear that the top brass might be trying to ease him out of field work, to be replaced by the new guy. Playing it that way made so much more sense to Clint. He suspected the fans--the other fans--would be happier with it, too.
Despite the pressure of learning new lines and trying not to mix them up with the old ones, Clint found the Vegas shoot far easier than the park. The lack of artificial fog definitely helped.
The fact that he rarely had to actually work with Coulson helped, too.
Most of Clint's shooting time involved playing cards in the casino and pretending to talk to Banks over the comm. The only time he saw Coulson was during the filming of a brief shot--a whole morning's work, in reality--of the two agents arriving on the Strip and entering the hotel. Everything else where their characters interacted would be filmed back in the studio.
Clint managed to avoid Coulson outside the shoot as well, apart from brief glimpses of Coulson disappearing into the room opposite Clint's in the evening. That suited Clint perfectly. Not seeing Coulson kept his gut and head calm.
He definitely didn't replay their kiss in his mind every night or anything. That would have been ridiculous.
The shoot moved to New York next. It was the location for the big climax of the movie, where the agents ran around the city searching for the McGuffin they had to disarm before the whole city was turned into a smoking hole. Most of the fight scenes would be filmed back on the set, but there was a big sequence where Wright, Banks, and Angel ran through New York streets trying to track the McGuffin, and the studio had decided to film on the actual location.
Clint figured there had to be some studio politics happening there. Toronto had been good enough as a stand in for most American cities in the films he'd worked on before. But the Agent Banks movies had the clout to get a couple of streets closed down overnight for a few days, so off they went to New York.
Night shoots were the worst.
By the third night, Clint was mostly living on coffee and donuts to stay awake and functional.
Coulson still had his nose in a book every time there was a break in filming, even though the lighting wasn't great and he had to be hurting his eyes. There was a constant little frown between his eyebrows from squinting, or possibly from the headache he was giving himself.
Sometimes there was a smear of powdered sugar at the corner of Coulson's mouth, but Clint had never actually caught him at the donut tray.
He chose not to examine why he was checking Coulson's lips. That was not something he wanted to think about too much.
Emma Frost looked like she'd eaten a lemon whenever there wasn't a camera aimed in her direction, which seemed fair enough to Clint. Her part had shrunk during the rewrites, now that she wasn't the love interest, and he suspected that it would shrink even more during editing. She glared at him so fiercely when he tried to be friendly that he gave up and retreated to hang out with the stunt crew during filming breaks. Frost must have noticed the extra scenes he'd been given.
Clint didn't even get glimpses of Coulson in the New York hotel for the first few days. He was starting to wonder whether Coulson had been put in a different one, even though the production had pretty much rented the whole place to ensure their privacy.
He told himself that was a good thing. Really.
At the end of the fourth night of filming, Clint hit the button for his floor and leaned back against the wall of the elevator with his eyes closed. He could have gone to sleep right there, except he suspected that would only make his tired body ache more when he woke up.
Clint was vaguely aware that someone else slipped into the elevator just before the doors closed, but he didn't open his eyes, and whoever it was didn't say anything. That suited Clint just fine.
He opened his eyes a crack when the door dinged, sighing tiredly when he saw that it was his floor, and he'd have to move. Ugh.
Clint almost jumped out of his skin when Coulson quietly said, "Tired?"
Coulson smiled apologetically and held the door open while Clint caught his breath. "I thought you knew I was there."
"Yeah, not so much," Clint said. "Didn't realise it was you, anyway."
"Who else would it be?"
"Pretty much anyone else." Clint fell into step with him as they walked down the hallway without even thinking about it. "You've been avoiding me. I figured you were staying somewhere else. Maybe in a different city or something."
The tips of Coulson's ears turned pink. "It wasn't deliberate."
Clint called bullshit on that in the privacy of his mind, but all he said was, "Never thought it was."
There was an awkward silence. Coulson cleared his throat. "So, are you tired?"
"I've never been great at night shoots. Kind of messes everything up, you know?"
Clint slowed to a stop outside his door. "Goodnight, then. Or good morning, or whatever."
Another awkward silence fell. Clint met Coulson's eyes steadily, more aware of his presence and the emptiness of the hallway than he should have been. It was late, way too late for them to do anything except head off to bed. Separately, in their own hotel rooms. Obviously.
The moment that thought set in, Clint couldn't help dropping his gaze to Coulson's lips. They were sadly lacking in powdered sugar, but Clint wanted to lick them anyway. Bite them and taste them, to find any remaining sweetness from the donut he was sure Coulson had sneakily eaten earlier.
It would be a really bad move. Clint knew that. Coulson was the guy he'd admired for too many years to count, and he was the most annoying bastard Clint had ever met. Those were both excellent reasons not to do anything.
Clint kissed him.
He dove forward, and their lips met in an awkward, painful clash that shouldn't have felt good, but it did. Coulson's arms wrapped around him immediately, and Clint fastened a hand behind Coulson's head to make sure he didn't escape. Not that there was any sign that Coulson might, not with the way he was opening his mouth and sucking on Clint's tongue.
Clint didn't let himself think. His brain would only get in the way, pointing out all the reasons this was a fucking awful idea and telling him to stop. He didn't want to stop, because Coulson was fantastic at this. Clint didn't know what they were doing, but it was clearly something they should keep on doing.
"We should--" Coulson mumbled against his lips.
"Yeah," Clint agreed hazily.
The buzz of the key releasing the lock sounded too loud in the silent hallway, but Clint didn't care. He dropped it somewhere on the floor when Coulson pushed him up against the wall, and he barely even heard the door slamming shut. He was too busy pulling Coulson into another kiss.
The room was dark apart from a single light over the bed. It sent shadows flickering over Coulson's face when he pulled back, hiding his eyes and highlighting the faint lines between his brows. Clint pressed a thumb against them and smoothed it over Coulson's eyebrows before cupping his jaw, enjoying the scrape of stubble against his palm. Coulson made a soft sound in the back of his throat and pressed Clint into the wall more firmly.
Clint trailed his lips along the edge of Coulson's jaw and nuzzled at the soft skin just above his collar. He wanted to suck and bite there, too, but even with lust clouding his brain, he knew that would be a really bad idea. Bucky would notice the hickey and make lewd jokes while he covered it up. Coulson would probably end up red-faced and ashamed, which made something twist in Clint's chest.
He settled for nuzzling and licking while Coulson made appreciative sounds and ran his hands up and down Clint's sides, until Clint's t-shirt rucked up and his warm hands were on Clint's skin.
Clint wanted skin as well, and he tugged at the shirt and undershirt Coulson was wearing as street clothes. It was way too many layers and Clint mumbled that, receiving a soft laugh in response.
The internal voice that was trying to point out what a bad idea this was grew quieter with every kiss and touch. Clint rubbed against Coulson's thigh, trying to get some friction, and was rewarded with a hand palming his cock through his jeans just the way he needed. He might have gone off right then and there, but Clint had some control left despite the urgent throbbing. It was probably some kind of miracle. Or maybe a sign of how exhausted he was.
He waited until they'd both managed to get their pants open and their hands on each other's cocks before giving up on anything like control.
It only took a few firm strokes of Coulson's hand before Clint's orgasm rolled over him, hot and real. Aftershocks were still making Clint shiver when he returned the favour, revelling in the weight and heat of Coulson's cock in his hand. He wanted to make it good, make it last, but Coulson made a desperate sound and his hips jerked, and Clint brought him over as fast as he could.
They slumped against each other for a short while, trying to recover. Clint had to lock his legs to keep himself upright. All he wanted to do was slide to the floor let the post-orgasm sleepiness take him. Coulson's face was tucked in against his neck, and Clint had an arm around his waist, holding him up. The feel of cooling stickiness between them was unpleasant, but Clint didn't want to push Coulson away yet.
When Coulson did eventually straighten up, his eyes were still in shadow. Clint was grateful for that a moment later.
"That was..." Coulson trailed away and cleared his throat awkwardly. "That shouldn't have happened."
Clint had been about to say something cheesy and smug, but the words hit him like a cold shower. Fuck.
Wait, bad choice of wording.
"What?" he said stupidly.
Coulson was backing away quickly, now, tucking himself back into his pants and zipping and fastening with quick fingers. "That shouldn't have happened. I'm sorry."
Clint nodded slowly. "It was a mistake."
It might have been his imagination, or the dim lighting, but Clint thought he saw Coulson fumble briefly with a button. It happened so quickly that Clint couldn't be sure. He suddenly felt incredibly self-conscious and copied Coulson, tugging his pants up and holding them there with a numb hand.
"I'll go now," Coulson said, at the door.
"Yeah," Clint said. "Sounds like a plan."
The door closed before he finished speaking. Clint didn't move for a while. His brain didn't seem to be functioning properly.
Eventually he pushed away from the wall, stripping as he walked to the bathroom without caring where his clothes landed. He showered in the hottest water he could get, until his skin stung, and dried off quickly. It should have been exactly what he needed, scrubbing away all the tangible evidence of a really fucking stupid twenty minutes against a wall.
Except when he lay down in bed, he realised that he was still imagining Coulson's hands on his skin and hearing Coulson's breathy gasps in his ear.
Clint pulled his pillow over his head and tried to go to sleep.
There were ominous dark clouds in the sky when Clint woke up from a restless sleep. The kind of clouds that promised heavy rain and possibly thunder, which would turn the night's shooting into a nightmare. They were supposed to be filming in Central Park, outside some kind of pretend castle, and rain was going to fuck up the continuity. Worst of all, it would make everyone wet and miserable, which would lead to short tempers and arguments all night.
After reasoning all that out, Clint briefly considered calling in dead for the night. It was tempting, but he forced himself out of bed despite the dull sense of foreboding.
He wasn't a teenage girl, after all. Even if he'd had really badly thought out sex with the guy he wasn't supposed to be having badly though out anything with.
It hadn't even been the best sex he'd ever had or anything. It hadn't been terrible, but a frenzied hand job against a wall wasn't the kind of thing anyone sane got tangled up inside over. Was it?
By the time he'd showered and dressed and dumped yesterday's clothes in his suitcase, Clint was almost feeling ready to face everyone. To face Coulson. It took him ten minutes to find his room key, which had been kicked under a dresser somehow. He tried not to remember why it had been on the floor in the first place.
Okay, maybe it had been better sex than he wanted to admit. But he wasn't going to do it again. No way, no how. Sex with the wrong guy once was just a stupid mistake.
Repeating the mistake would be fucking stupid.
Except the first person Clint saw on set was Coulson, who was just finishing up in Bucky's chair and was actually smiling for once. Clint's heart thumped in his chest and he tripped on his own feet, landing sprawled across the second makeup chair with a loud "Oof". He was soaked through and dripping, thanks to the brief run from the car, so he probably looked ridiculous.
Clint could already feel his chances of a repeat of the really bad-idea sex fizzling completely, thanks to his amazing impression of an incompetent human being. That was a good thing, though. Right? Right.
Coulson's smile had disappeared by the time Clint dared to look up, but he didn't actually look horrified or angry. That was something to put in the win column for the day. Bucky's eyes were dancing with suppressed laughter. Clint was grateful that he was making the attempt, even if he wasn't great at it.
Reluctantly, Clint looked back at Coulson in time to see his ears turning pink. It was oddly adorable, which was probably not the right thought to be having right now.
Clint straightened up and met Coulson's eyes boldly. "Hi."
Coulson's voice was slightly hoarse. "Hello."
"Nice weather we're having."
"I've seen worse." Coulson paused. "I think there was a monsoon when we filmed Heart of Delhi that might have been wetter."
Clint grinned crookedly. "Think they'll add a mud wrestling scene to take advantage?"
He immediately wanted to clap a hand over his mouth and take the words back, but that would only have made it worse. Probably.
The corner of Coulson's mouth twitched, as though he was about to smile but couldn't quite allow himself to do it. "Unlikely."
"Yeah." Clint bit down the instinct to add "too bad". That would just make it so much worse. "Guess we won't get much done tonight."
"Maybe not." There was a short, awkward silence before Coulson stood up. "I should go."
Clint nodded and pretended not to watch him leave.
From the way Bucky looked at him in the mirror when Clint moved over to the chair, still warm from Coulson's body, he failed spectacularly.
"Am I missing something?" Bucky asked.
Clint shrugged. "Nope. Nothing to miss. Nothing happened."
"Riiiight," Bucky drawled. "Sure."
Clint flipped him off and Bucky dumped a towel on Clint's head, scrubbing at his hair with way too much enthusiasm.
The downpour lasted for most of the night, but they did eventually get a couple of clear hours. All they needed was a shot of Banks, Wright, and Angel running up to Belvedere Castle with the skyline in the backdrop. The actual fight outside the entrance had already been marked for studio work.
So Clint, Coulson, and Frost spent two hours running back and forth in front of the building, and Clint was exhausted by the time Fury called it a night. For the second night in a row, he was so tired when he got to the hotel that he didn't notice Coulson slipping into the elevator with him. He felt the presence of someone else, though, and he had a sinking feeling about who he'd find when he opened his eyes as the doors dinged.
Coulson was conspicuously staring at his shoes. He didn't look in Clint's direction as they left the elevator and turned towards their rooms. The silence was tense and awful, making Clint's chest tighten and his palms sweat.
Clint stopped at his door and fumbled with his room key. It clicked against the wood as he pushed it into the lock.
Coulson's footsteps paused for a moment. Clint forced himself to open the door without looking back. He wasn't going to be stupid two nights in a row. He had some self-respect, even if he sometimes had to look really hard to find it.
Unfortunately, he also had a self-destructive urge that competed with his self-respect, which was the only explanation for why he glanced over in Coulson's direction as he closed the door.
Coulson was standing at his own door, just down the hallway and on the other side. He was resting his forehead against it, shoulders slumped, and he seemed to be having some kind of debate with himself. His room key was in his hand, but Coulson hadn't put it in the lock yet.
Clint watched him for a long minute, having his own little internal debate. He thought about going over, putting a hand on Coulson's shoulder. Drawing him away and kissing him until he made those delicious little needy sounds at the back of his throat. Pushing him against the wall this time, and tasting the soft skin under his jaw.
About the shocked, guilt-stricken voice saying it shouldn't have happened.
Clint closed his door and went to bed alone.
Clint reached over and stole a slice of apple from Natasha's breakfast plate.
"So, what would you do if you maybe accidentally kind of had sex with someone you really, really shouldn't be doing that with?" he asked, voice slightly muffled by half-chewed apple. "Theoretically."
Natasha sighed. "Would this be sex with the same guy you theoretically kissed even though it's a terrible idea?"
"I'm not saying I really did have sex! This is all theoretical!"
The scathing look she gave him made Clint quail slightly, but he recovered instantly to steal another apple slice. He received a half-hearted rap on his knuckles with a spoon.
"You always assume I won't see through your obfuscation," Natasha said. "I'm not stupid."
Clint squinted. "Ofusc-what?"
"Look it up." Natasha began spreading butter over a croissant with a scarily sharp knife. "Why are you stealing my breakfast again, anyway?"
"It's not breakfast when you're about to go to sleep."
"It's five in the morning. The hotel classes it as breakfast. They'd even be willing to bring some to your room."
"Yours is so convenient," Clint said.
Natasha waved her knife threateningly when his fingers got to close to her croissant, so he stole a couple of grapes and another slice of apple, and crammed them into his mouth.
"How many times?" Natasha asked.
"How many times what?" Clint mumbled through his fruit overload.
Natasha's sigh was not the patient kind. "How many times have you had sex with Cou--" She broke off, rolled her eyes, and continued, "--the theoretical person you're not having sex with?"
"Just once. Theoretically. It wasn't that great."
Clint flopped back on the pillows. "How many times is really, really stupid?"
"What is twice?"
"Is there going to be a twice?"
"No. Probably. Maybe. Definitely no?"
He could feel her smirking at him without having to open his eyes. It was that kind of powerful smirk, the one Natasha only used when she thought he was being deeply foolish. To be fair, he was pretty sure she was right, just like he was pretty sure he needed to be more decisive about the future of his sex life.
"You should probably be more sure about that before it happens again," Natasha said, echoing his thoughts in a way that would have been freaky from anyone else. "Before your theoretical sex gets you in trouble."
Clint shrugged. "I'm being careful."
The silence from Natasha's direction was pointed.
"Fine," Clint amended. "I'm crappy at being careful, but this isn't a problem. It doesn't mean anything, and it wasn't that great, and I won't be doing it again."
"Really." He shifted against the pillows. It was just a symptom of how comfortable her bed was, and had nothing to do with his suspicion that he was lying to her. "Can I stay here tonight?"
"Because you kick, you drool, and you hog the covers."
"Yeah, but apart from that."
"Please leave my bed before I disembowel you." Natasha waved her knife, a wicked grin playing at the corners of her lips. "Slowly and painfully."
"You'd get along well with Darcy," Clint said, rolling to his feet reluctantly. "She threatens me with spoons."
"Introduce us when we get home," Natasha said.
Clint pretended to consider it for a minute before saying, fervently. "Fuck no."
Act II, Scene III
On the first day back in the studio, Sam arrived while the sky was still the dark grey of pre-dawn. Clint was still fast asleep when his phone buzzed.
He read the text message through bleary eyes and peered at the suspiciously dark clock on his bedside crate. "Aw, alarm clock."
Two minutes later, he stumbled out to the car wearing motorcycle boots, pyjama pants, and a hoodie he was still zipping up as he climbed into the car. Naturally, the zipper got stuck three inches up, baring most of his chest because a t-shirt had been beyond his mental capacity or laundry abilities. Hopefully nobody except Bucky would see him before he got into costume.
Stupid broken alarm clocks.
Thankfully, Sam had brought coffee and bagels. Clint almost kissed him in gratitude, but he'd already got himself in too deep with one kiss, and he wasn't about to do that again. Nope, no siree. He was keeping his lips--and every other part that could get into trouble--to himself for the rest of the shoot. The epic level of awkwardness that now filled every moment he spent in Coulson's presence was all the lesson he needed on that, thank you very much.
"Heard you did a good job on location," Sam said, when they'd safely pulled out into the almost non-existent traffic.
Clint sank down in his seat and tried to hide his face in his coffee cup. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," Sam said. "You don't think you did?"
Sam snorted. "You know it's not actually a sin to feel proud of your work, right?"
"I am proud of my work!" Clint protested. "Did you see the shit I did on Redemption's Arrow?"
"I did see it," Sam said with a nod. "I'm guessing you were the guy jumping off things and diving through windows, right?"
"And doing most of the fight work in the power station scene," Clint said. "Guy I was doubling for couldn't throw a convincing punch if you paid him. And they paid him a ton."
"But that was all stunt work," Sam said. "Right?"
"That's what I do. That's what I am. Stunt guy. Getting punched in the face guy. Falling off tall buildings guy."
Sam made a clucking noise, but he didn't say anything. There was a long silence while Sam negotiated the empty roads, and Clint concentrated on stuffing bagel in his face as fast as possible. It continued through the studio gates, where the guards looked at Clint with an odd expression but waved them through anyway.
"Do you just sit in the car all day, waiting for me to need you?" Clint asked, as Sam pulled up at the door nearest makeup.
"Yes, I absolutely do that," Sam said. "The studio pays me to sit on my ass all day with the window cracked open."
Clint shook his head and eyed Sam until he grinned and laughed.
"No, man, I've got other shit going on," he said. "Sometimes they need me to drive people during the day. The rest of the time...I've got some volunteer gigs nearby. It makes me feel useful."
"Feeling useful is that important?"
"It is to me." Sam made a shooing gesture. "Get out of here before someone has my ass for delivering you late."
Clint went, taking the remains of his coffee with him. He pulled his hoodie tighter around his body, but it flopped open as soon as he heaved the door open to head for Bucky's makeup room.
And because fate seemed to have taken an interest in laughing at him, Coulson was standing on the other side of the door to witness Clint's trash hobo outfit. He was wearing a beautifully cut suit, of course, and he looked fresh and awake.
Coulson stared at him, eyes roaming up and down before snapping up to Clint's face. A faint flush stained his neck, and the tip of his tongue flickered out to wet his lips.
"Um," Clint said intelligently, feeling his face heat.
Coulson's mouth moved, but no sound came out.
They could have stood like that forever, except someone inside called Coulson's name and a moment later, a tall, handsome, black guy jogged up. He was grinning widely and holding up a contraption that seemed to have way more silver and flashing lights than Clint could deal with this early in the morning.
Coulson's eyes lit up, and Clint's stomach did a weird uncomfortable roll. It definitely wasn't jealousy, because that would imply things, and they weren't doing those things, hand job against a wall notwithstanding.
His brain got tangled up in that thought, and he cut it off before he could confuse himself further.
"Is that--?" Coulson began.
"The original from Lightning Strike II?" the black guy said. "Yup. Wanna take a real look?"
Coulson's eyes slid back to Clint, just for a moment, but that moment was enough to make Clint's breath catch in his throat.
Coulson's voice sounded odd, too thick, when he turned back to the newcomer and said, with fake casualness, "If you have some time."
"For this thing, I got all the time in the world." The guy grinned, and turned to Clint with a vaguely apologetic look in his eyes. "Sorry to drag him away. You're Clint, right?"
Clint nodded, not entirely trusting his voice. He might say something he'd regret later, like asking what the hell was so exciting about a silver flashy thing and whether they were using protection. Then he'd regret it and feel thoroughly ashamed about the level of bitchy that comment would imply.
He wasn't jealous. Nope. Nothing to be jealous of here.
Because he didn't have anything going with Coulson that would make jealousy relevant.
"I'll see you on set," Coulson said, without looking back at Clint. "I think you have cream cheese on your nose."
Of course he did.
Clint waited until Coulson and his friend--the one Coulson hadn't introduced him to, for some reason--had disappeared around the corner, before scrubbing at his nose with the cuff of his sleeve. It was the most confusing Coulson-related exchange yet, and he really didn't want to feel this confused about a guy he was trying to keep his distance from.
He was still rubbing his nose when he entered the makeup room, and Bucky practically fell over laughing at his horrible trash hobo outfit.
Excerpt from "Out of Time" by S., adapted from the screenplay by Bruce Banner, page 120
Wright climbed off the weight bench and grabbed a towel to wipe the sweat away from his face and hair. The click of a door closing drew his attention, and he froze, towel draped around his neck, as Banks padded across the gym carrying his own towel and water bottle. He didn't seem to notice that anyone else was there until Wright moved out of the shadow of one of the machines.
Banks slowed to a stop and the two men eyed each other silently for a long, tense minute.
"I was just finishing," Wright said. "Room's all yours, unless you want someone to spot you."
Banks shrugged. "Actually, I'd been planning to spar, but my arrangements fell through. I'll just hit the treadmill."
A slow, lazy smile curved Wright's lips. A smile filled with anticipation. "If you're looking to spar, I've got some time."
There was a flicker of wariness in Banks's eyes. "I'm sure you have more important things to do with it."
"Nope." Wright's smile widened. "Unless you're nervous about the competition. Don't worry, I'll go easy on you."
"Is that how it is?" Banks asked, a fierce smile of his own appearing.
Wright shrugged. "Just saying."
They dropped their towels and water bottles on the floor and trotted out onto the sparring mats. As Banks stretched out, he muttered, "I'm surprised you didn't call me 'old man'."
Wright's graceful stretch wobbled for a moment, but that was the only sign he gave that he'd overheard.
After a couple of minutes, they squared off in the middle of the mats. Wright struck the first blow, a lightning-fast attack that Banks fended off with ease. As they pulled back, Wright's eyebrows lifted and he settled into a watching stance with more alertness this time. They circled each other slowly for a while, before Banks struck out with a series of punches and kicks that forced Wright to retreat across the mat.
Wright ducked a kick, diving into a roll that ended with a leg sweep designed to take Banks down, but Banks avoided the trap and stepped back. He barely waited until Wright was on his feet before attacking again. It was soon obvious that the two men were evenly matched, maybe too evenly, and the fierce grins and low grunts betrayed how much they were both enjoying the bout.
In the end, Wright's heel caught on a mat as he tried to hop away from a roundhouse kick and he went down heavily on his back. Banks didn't waste the opportunity, even though someone else might have offered a second chance. He dropped to straddle Wright's body and slam his wrists down to the mat. His grip was strong, his weight perfectly balanced, and even though Wright twisted and heaved against him, Banks didn't allow himself to be dislodged.
"Yield?" Banks said.
Wright licked his lips, glaring up at him wordlessly.
Banks tightened his grip on Wright's wrists, knuckles turning white. "Yield?"
"Yes," Wright said, grudgingly. "Fuck you."
Banks smiled triumphantly.
Someone shouted "Cut!" and Clint just continued lying there, completely unable to move, because moving would broadcast way too many things to everyone around them. Thankfully, Coulson seemed equally happy to stay right where he was as well.
Although that wasn't as helpful as it should have been, probably. Clint stayed as still as he could. He didn't want actual proof that Coulson was having as many 'broadcasting' issues as he was. Proof would lead to thoughts, which would lead to more thoughts, and he really needed to stop having those thoughts right the fuck now.
Bad choice of words.
They'd been shooting the gym throw-down scene all day. It had been both amazing--fighting! One of Clint's real talents!--and possibly the most uncomfortable day on a film set that Clint had ever endured.
Spending all day acting out what could be read, by some people, as a mating dance, with the guy he'd been trying not to think inappropriate thoughts about, was not Clint's idea of fun. Doing all of this in the privacy of his home without multiple cameras, dozens of people, and constant instructions might have been fun.
No, wait, it would have been really fun. And they would have been a whole lot more naked by the end.
He had to shut down that line of thought right there, because it wasn't helping his "broadcasting" problem.
Anyway, the scene had been both fun and completely excruciating, and Clint was just praying to whatever benevolent beings might be listening that this was the last take. He really didn't think he could manage another one.
He really didn't think he could safely stand up for at least another minute.
Coulson hadn't released his wrists yet, and he was staring fixedly at a point around three inches from Clint's left ear.
Clint tried to think of a casual ice-breaker comment he could make, but he drew a blank. Was there actually a casual ice-breaker comment to make when he was hard and horny under the guy he'd kind of had hand job sex with against a wall a week ago?
Nope. No. There was no comment that would be innocuous enough. Particularly when the guy in question had sweat tricking down his hairline, and appeared to be trying to glare a hole in the mat by Clint's head.
There was a bustle of movement somewhere to Clint's left, but he couldn't look away from Coulson's face. The grip on his wrists had loosened, so light that he could pull out of it if he wanted to, but Coulson hadn't straightened up and rolled away yet. He also hadn't stopped staring at that spot on the mat. Clint was fairly sure that was because the air might spontaneously combust between them if Coulson met his eyes.
Muttering floated across to Clint, too low for him to make out any words even though he strained to hear. It seemed to be some kind of disagreement from the tone, and after a minute he guessed that Fury won whatever argument he'd been having with Hill. Fury's voice was unexpectedly loud when he announced they were done for the day, and there was a muffled snort in Hill's distinctively feminine tone.
"Thank god," Clint muttered softly.
Coulson's eyes snapped to his and, oh crap, that was exactly what Clint had been both anticipating and dreading. The way Coulson looked at him made his heart race and heat flood through his body. All those feelings lurking behind the calm façade were too much to process.
Clint drew in a shaky breath. "I should go now. Somewhere else. My trailer, that's where I have to go. That's where actors go when they're not filming, right? Trailer. It's got an amazing sofa."
He snapped his mouth shut. After a long pause, Coulson nodded jerkily and straightened up, releasing Clint's wrists with exaggerated care. He stood up with more grace than Clint felt capable of and hesitated.
He extended a hand.
Clint stared at it until Coulson made an irritated huffing sound.
Clint remembered what that gesture usually implied, and allowed Coulson to haul him to his feet. His legs were wobblier than he thought they should be. The corner of Coulson's mouth twitched when he stumbled.
After another long pause, Clint remembered to let go of Coulson's hand. He made a vague attempt at a jaunty salute and turned to leave. Thankfully, most of the crew seemed to be making a bee-line for the exit, so nobody was looking his way. The sweats and t-shirt that had been his costume all day hid exactly nothing, although at least the problem was becoming a little less pronounced now that he wasn't pressed up intimately against Coulson.
He carefully didn't look back at Coulson as he left.
The trailer was wonderfully empty--Clint checked everywhere just in case Darcy was lurking--and he let out a small sigh as he locked the door. Tension was still crawling across his shoulder and down his spine, a low down ache that would probably go away if he focused on something else.
He didn't want to focus on something else. He'd been half-hard and horny all day, and trying to will away that constant need had drained him.
Clint stripped off his t-shirt as he headed for the tiny bathroom. He wasn't quite desperate enough to just throw it down anywhere and risk Pepper's displeasure at an unreasonably wrinkled costume, but draping it over the back of a chair was about as much neatness as he could manage.
His hand was on the shower control, preparing to warm the water, when a loud knock sounded as his door. Ignoring it would be so easy. Nobody could blame him if he did. Filming was done for the day, and the only person who could potentially want him was Sam, arriving half an hour earlier than they'd agreed.
Clint wasn't sure what instinct made him turn around and trudge across the trailer, but he did. Whoever was out there knocked again before Clint got there, so he was swearing under his breath when he opened it and--
He stared. Coulson was standing right there, on one of the lower steps. It had to be an illusion.
"What do you want?" Clint asked, before his brain could get into gear. "I mean, uh, is there something I can help you with?"
Coulson glanced around, almost as though he was making sure nobody could see him there. It was weird; there was no good reason he couldn't visit his co-star's trailer, but he did it anyway. Clint didn't know what to make of that.
"Can I come in?" Coulson asked, leaning closer.
A tentative flicker of hope ignited inside Clint's chest. He tried to push it down and keep his expression carefully neutral. Casual. Unaffected. "Is it something that can wait?"
Coulson's shoulders slumped. "Oh. Yes, yes it can wait. It's not important."
The defeated posture and the way Coulson's lips turned down at the edges made Clint's chest ache, almost in sympathy. He didn't want to feel that way, he really didn't, but he couldn't send Coulson away when he looked so thoroughly resigned to it.
There was also the little matter of being tormented and horny all day, but Clint was trying really hard not to think with his dick again. That hadn't worked out too well the last time, after all. Maybe Coulson just wanted to talk tonight. He could do that.
"Hey, wait," Clint said, as Coulson started to move away. "Don't go, please?"
Coulson paused on the last step. His hands clenched at his sides for a moment before he nodded, as if to himself. When he turned back and walked up the steps, there was a look in his eyes as though he'd resigned himself to some kind of terrible fate.
Clint didn't want to be a terrible fate.
Locking the door after Coulson got inside seemed like a sensible precaution, even though Clint was planning to be resolute about the whole "nothing happening" thing. If Coulson wanted to talk, about that night or anything else, then someone bursting in just as he laid his innermost secrets on the line wasn't going to be good for anyone.
Clint moved over to the fridge, which was a nice safe distance from the beautiful and incredibly tempting sofa. "Can I get you something to drink? I've got, like, a hundred bottles of water again. There might be a Coke in the back somewhere, maybe, but I've seriously got more water than anyone can drink, and they keep delivering more."
"This was a bad idea," Coulson said, retreating to the door.
"You said that the last time." Clint immediately wanted to clap a hand over his own mouth, but it was too late. The words were out there. He winced. "I'm sorry, that was--"
"Entirely justified," Coulson said.
"I don't know why I'm here."
Clint swore a little, internally, but he moved a step closer to Coulson anyway. So much for not thinking with his dick. "You could just kiss me. Get this ball rolling, kind of thing. I'm probably not going to say no."
Coulson wetted his lips, the pink tip of his tongue flickering out for a moment. His eyes dropped lower, and Clint's skin rose in goose bumps as he remembered that he was half-naked, which suddenly seemed a lot more important than it had a minute ago. He'd been primed and ready to go for too long now. Coulson's eyes widened when his gaze dropped lower.
"Are you sure about this?" Coulson asked, when he eventually dragged his eyes back up to Clint's face. They were a couple of shades darker than usual, a deep, heavy grey that made Clint's pulse speed up. "I didn't come here expecting anything."
Clint made a disbelieving sound, which brought a small, wry grin to Coulson's lips. It was a good look for him. Clint was torn between wanting to keep on seeing it and wanting to taste it.
The decision wasn't that difficult.
He crossed the room in three quick strides, cupped Coulson's face between his hands, and kissed him. Warm air puffed over his cheek as Coulson gave a startled grunt, but Coulson's lips immediately moved against his, so it wasn't the bad kind of startled. Maybe Coulson had expected to be the one initiating this. Too bad, Clint was too turned on to wait until Coulson got his shit together and made the first move.
He licked the seam of Coulson's lips, and Coulson opened immediately, allowing him in to taste and relearn the shape of his mouth. Clint stroked his thumbs over Coulson's cheeks slowly, carefully, and Coulson's sharply indrawn breath was a perfect, unexpected reward. Maybe Coulson hadn't expected the gentleness. Or maybe nobody had kissed him like this before, which Clint didn't believe for a moment.
There was something strangely intimate about this, about kissing deep and filthy while barely touching each other. The soft cotton of Coulson's t-shirt sometimes brushed Clint's chest, but otherwise the only points of contact were their lips and Clint's hands on his jaw.
If Clint hadn't spent so long pretending not to be turned on by their stage fighting, he might have been able to do this for hours. Days, even. It felt like the kind of thing he could do for days, even though he hadn't been into the make-outs-with-no-sex stuff since he was a teenager.
Clint didn't dare to think about "the next time", even in his head.
Instead, he slid his hands down from Coulson's jaw to rest on his hips and pull him closer. He broke the kiss, trailing his lips along stubbly skin and down to the warm, soft flesh under Coulson's ear. The shudder when he licked there went through his body as well, an echo ghosting over his skin where it touched Coulson's chest.
That seemed to do something to Coulson, awaken a more forceful instinct. Large, warm hands flattened against Clint's naked back, and he made a low approving sound, just in case Coulson needed the encouragement.
He was fairly sure that the sudden jerk of his hips against Coulson's had probably done the job already, but he it didn't pay to be shy when he really, really wanted Coulson's hands all over him.
"We should move this somewhere more horizontal," Clint said against Coulson's throat.
Coulson needed a couple of tries before he said, "Okay."
Clint grinned and began walking them backwards, tugging Coulson along by the hem of his t-shirt and refusing to stop nuzzling and licking at the hollow of Coulson's throat. It was an effective method, apparently, because Coulson followed easily and even allowed his hand to drift down to Clint's ass. Sadly, his hand stayed firmly outside Clint's pants, but a guy couldn't have everything right away.
Clint tried not to speculate on why Coulson, so bold a few nights ago, was now hovering like a nervous virgin.
When his legs hit the sofa, he only hesitated for a moment before turning and shoving Coulson's chest so that he fell back, landing with an "oof". Coulson blinked up at him, mouth open. Clint shrugged, and plastered on the wickedest grin he could manage. There was an audible gulp from the sofa.
"This okay?" Clint asked.
"Very," Coulson said, sounding slightly stunned.
It was kind of a thrill to see Coulson looking undone and thoroughly ruffled. Until now, Clint hadn't realised how much he wanted to make Coulson's impassive mask crack outside the film set. Even years ago, when his admiration for Coulson had still been more like a teenaged crush, he hadn't understood how it would make him feel.
The way Coulson's eyes widened and his breath quickened when Clint shucked out of his pants only made him feel more powerful. He allowed Coulson to look for a long moment, feeling his cock harden impossibly more at the heated gaze, before dropping down to kneel between Coulson's legs.
"Hi," he said cheerfully, directing his gaze pointedly at the thick bulge in the front of Coulson's pants. "Mind if I...?"
Coulson shook his head, chuckling. "Do you always talk to people's body parts?"
"Only the ones I like," Clint said, tugging at Coulson's waistband.
Coulson obligingly lifted his hips to help. Clint only got the pants down to his knees before temptation overcame him, and he leaned forward to kiss the skin just below Coulson's bellybutton. He heard the sharply indrawn breath and the skin under his lips twitched. Kissing and suckling there, tracing the line of hair leading down with his tongue, was almost more fun than anything else he'd tried. Coulson's cock kept bumping against his throat, hot and throbbing, and Coulson made little needy sounds each time.
They were beautiful, perfect sounds. Clint could have listened to them all day, but Coulson seemed to get impatient with the teasing far sooner than Clint would have liked. Unsteady hands scrabbled at his shoulders, tugging him upwards, and Clint went willingly enough. He allowed Coulson to pull him up onto the sofa, stretching out between Coulson's legs and sinking into another kiss. He groaned as their cocks met, hot and hard in exactly the right way.
"You're easily distracted," Coulson mumbled between kisses. "It's unhelpful."
"It's one of my failings," Clint said, and bit down lightly on his bottom lip.
He wanted to savour the moment, draw it out as long as possible, but now that he could feel Coulson's hot length against his, it was all he could do not to come like a teenager. They'd been teasing each other for too long to last for any time.
He was still surprised when Coulson reached down and took both their cocks in his hand. Not that Coulson had done it--he already knew Coulson could do it--but that Coulson had finally made the first move in some way. That was what took him by surprise, which was the only good explanation for the loud moan he made.
Not that Coulson was much quieter, but Clint didn't mind that noise. He swallowed it down in another filthy kiss, and then had to break away the first time Coulson stroked upwards. Coulson's roughened palm contrasted with the silky heat of his cock, surrounding Clint's with so many contrasting sensations, his brain melted a little. It felt incredible, better than incredible, and Clint should have been embarrassed by how quickly he was panting and shuddering, except Coulson was, too. The air filled with soft grunts and low moans, the quiet slap of heated skin.
Far too soon, but somehow not soon enough all at once, Clint's orgasm hit him with unexpected power. It curled in his belly and spread through his body, raw and wonderful. His climax seemed to be all Coulson needed to tip over the edge and join him.
Clint was still catching his breath and enjoying a really great post-orgasm glow, when he heard his phone buzz. Coulson was rubbing a hand slowly up and down Clint's naked back, sending warm tingles through him even though he was too spent to do anything about them. All he wanted to do was bask in the moment, let the world go fuck itself somewhere else while he rode the buzz of some pretty fantastic sex.
"Should you get that?" Coulson asked sleepily.
"No, it's probably--" Clint broke off, suddenly going cold all over. "Shit."
He scrambled off the sofa despite Coulson's protests, landing awkwardly when he didn't stick the landing off the sofa. His phone was on a table across the trailer. It buzzed again as he picked it up and read the message, swearing again.
"Coulson, you need to get out," he said. "Now."
Unease filled Coulson's voice when he said, "What?"
It almost seemed criminal to send Coulson away now. His t-shirt was rucked up to his armpits, his pants had been pushed off one leg completely--Clint didn't even remember doing that--and he looked better than Clint could ever remember, even in the best movie posters from twenty years ago. His mouth was red and his hair was standing up in fluffy clumps, and Clint desperately wanted to keep him there for the rest of the night just to see that again.
"My driver's here," Clint said. "If you really want to make sure no one knows we're doing this, you need to be out of here in the next thirty seconds. He's on his way over to find out why I wasn't waiting for him."
"How did you know I didn't...?"
"It wasn't that hard to figure out. You weren't subtle."
Coulson nodded curtly. He was upright, dressed, and smoothing down his hair faster than Clint would have thought was possible. Clint was still digging out jeans and a clean t-shirt when Coulson paused at the door.
"I'm not..." he began before trailing away.
"Yeah, I get it," Clint said. "Now go."
And Coulson went.
Act II, Scene IV
A few days later, Clint scrabbled desperately at the edges of the sofa cushions, trying to find something to hang onto so that he didn't reach down and just grab at Coulson's hair. He couldn't catch his breath; there were too many sensations coursing through his body.
Coulson had the most talented mouth. He really, really did. Really.
Why he'd decided that Clint could have that wonderful mouth still confused him, but Clint wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Not when Coulson was apparently attempting to kill him through epic blow jobs, anyway.
Clint bit his lip on a moan, and sent up a silent prayer of thanks to the gods of filmmaking. He deliberately omitted Stark's name, because the man's ego was big enough already, but the three hour delay due to a tomato that refused to explode on cue was turning out to be fantastic.
Possibly the best blow job Clint had received since...fuck, longer than he could actually remember.
Clint lifted his head and looked down his body, even though the sight of Coulson sucking him off threatened to make his brain explode. Coulson was frowning in concentration, which might have been worrying, except Clint had learned that Coulson was always deeply serious about making sure Clint lost his mind every time they did this. Apparently, Coulson had some Strong Opinions (TM) about sex and reciprocity.
Clint hadn't figured out what his specific opinions about sex and Clint were, yet, which was incredibly confusing. He turned up at Clint's trailer door at least once a day, usually after filming unless they were on a big break like this, and he always seemed to be checking to make sure nobody saw him there. There was never any discussion of feelings, but he didn't just roll off and leave the moment everything was over either.
Post-orgasm Coulson was a snuggler when he had the chance, it turned out.
Outside the trailer, Coulson still barely exchanged more than a few words a day with Clint. He seemed easier on the set, more inclined to laugh and share jokes with the crew and the rest of the cast. He even showed more patience than Clint had expected with Jemma Simmons, the woman playing the new tech in the film's spy organisation, despite the nerves that had caused them to reshoot the same short scene thirty-four times yesterday.
Natasha said Coulson was behaving more like he usually did. It was a relief for everyone, although Natasha had then looked pointedly at Clint as she mused about what could have caused the change.
Clint had coughed and changed the subject quickly, biting down the urge to protest it had nothing do with any sex he might or might not, theoretically, be having. Doing. Having.
He was pretty sure Natasha would give him one of her looks if he tried.
Not that he didn't deserve one, but it wouldn't make him feel any less unsettled about everything.
It was much better to just let it go, roll with whatever was happening, and allow...er, encourage Coulson to talk him into amazing sex for as long as Coulson wanted it. As long as it all stayed here, on the set in his impersonal trailer, Clint figured he could enjoy it and then let it go when filming ended. It wasn't like his heart was getting involved, was it?
Coulson did something with his tongue that made all the thoughts dribble out of Clint's brain, and he instinctively tried to arch up into that hot wetness, seeking more of it. The strength Coulson used to hold his hips down only made Clint's need ramp up higher. He thrashed his head, hands scrabbling at the sofa cushions again, and then it was all too much and he came with a shout.
Clint was dimly aware of Coulson pulling off, air cool against his sensitive cock. He heard the soft sounds of clothing being pushed out of the way and Coulson's breath getting uneven. His limbs still had the strength and coordination of limp dishrags, though, and his eyes refused to open. All he could do was vaguely pet in the general area of Coulson's hair and listen as Coulson finished himself off, burying his face in Clint's belly to muffle the long, low grown when he came.
The trailer was starting to feel more like a home away from home than it had in the early days. Clint grabbed a couple of the never-ending water bottles and joined Coulson on the sofa, claiming part of an old hand-knit blanket and enjoying the warmth it had already absorbed from Coulson's body. Their suits were still draped over the chairs around the tiny dining table in the kitchen nook, ready to be put on as soon as the set was ready again. Unless Coulson got itchy feet and left first, which was the way their midday meetings usually went. If that happened, Clint usually got dressed anyway, because where was the point of hanging out in his boxers if there was nobody around to appreciate the view?
Coulson didn't seem in any hurry to move today. He'd dug out a book from somewhere, and he shifted to accommodate Clint next to him without looking up from the page.
For a while, Clint was content to lie there on the wide sofa, head pillowed on Coulson's chest. He was at the wrong angle to see the book's pages, and Coulson's arm brushed his hair every time he turned one.
Eventually Clint stretched up and craned to see the cover. "Why are you reading Nietzsche?"
They didn't usually talk much after sex--or before, or even during, actually--and it seemed to take Coulson by surprise. He blinked and peered down at Clint. The tips of his ears had turned pink.
Clint leaned up on an elbow so he could see Coulson's face better. "No, really, why are you reading that stuff?"
Coulson's usual impassive expression was firmly in place, but he wetted his lips before speaking. "It's for a class."
"Oh." Clint frowned. "What kind of class?"
"The college kind."
"You're studying for a degree?"
"In a way."
Coulson marked his place and closed his book. He didn't exactly snuggle in or anything, but he did rest a hand on Clint's shoulder and his thumb began rubbing circles over the skin. "What does that mean?"
Clint dropped his head back to Coulson's chest. "Nothing."
"Yeah." After a long pause Clint added, "I never really did the whole school thing. Got my GED when I needed to take some health and safety shit for the job. That's about as far as I got. Didn't even take much in the way of acting classes; just a couple of evening things so I could figure out what the hell the actors were talking about. Guess it shows, huh?"
"Well," Coulson said, slowly, "you don't talk about your method much."
"Really? That's all you can say?"
Coulson shrugged. "Formal education isn't everything."
"Says the guy who's reading Nietzsche and taking college classes."
"Just because it's important to me, that doesn't mean it should be important to other people."
Clint picked at the edge of the blanket where it draped low over Coulson's belly. It was so old that the acrylic yarn was starting to pill. "So, you don't mind fucking around with a guy who couldn't even spell Nietzsche without a dictionary, let alone read it?"
"Clint," Coulson said.
It was the first time he'd said Clint's name--his actual name, not an exasperated "Barton". The sound of it in Coulson's smooth, kind voice made something tighten in Clint's chest. He didn't want to examine it too closely, that hard lump, because it was a terrifying thing that needed to be left alone before it could hurt him.
So Clint stretched up and caught Coulson's lips in a kiss, licking into his mouth and turning it as wet and filthy as he knew how. His hand wandered down under the blanket almost without any conscious decision, palming Coulson's soft cock through his boxers. There was a twitch under his fingers that made him chuckle wickedly, right up until a hand closed around his wrist and pulled him away.
Clint broke out of the kiss and fixed Coulson with a disappointed glare. "You don't want to?"
"I couldn't even if I did," Coulson said, a smile pulling at the corners of his lips, "but I think we've pushed the acceptable risk boundaries far enough for now. I should go, before they figure out how to get that damned tomato to blow up."
"Have you figured out how it's relevant to the plot?"
"Glad it's not just me."
A couple of days later, Clint was just pulling on an old t-shirt at the end of a long day when his cell rang. He'd been dawdling along, half-hoping that Coulson would turn up on his doorstep even though it was later than normal.
He frowned when he saw the caller ID. "Nat?"
The tinny sound of a crowd drifted through the phone, and Natasha's voice sounded strained. "Clint! I'm going to kill you if you don't get over here in the next fifteen minutes."
Natasha made an exasperated sound that came through clearly, despite the background noise. "You forgot."
"No! I mean, uh..." Clint searched his brain desperately and came up blank. "Yeah, okay, I forgot. What am I supposed to be doing?"
"Saving me from a trivia quiz," Natasha said. "Crew versus actors. You're supposed to be on the crew side."
"Why is there a trivia quiz?"
"You can ask Banner when you get here."
Of course, that was when he heard the familiar rat-tat of Coulson knocking on the door. Clint pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment and sighed. "I'll be there as soon as I can get my driver. Okay?"
"I might consider letting you live."
Clint hung up and tapped the phone against his forehead a couple of times, before swiping the phone open and shooting off a quick text to Sam. He was stamping into his motorcycle boots when there was another, more urgent, knock at the door, which only made him feel worse.
Coulson was standing on the middle step, his hopeful smile dying as soon as he saw Clint. "You're leaving."
Clint finished shrugging into his leather coat. "Yeah."
"No, no, it's fine." Coulson offered him a faint, sickly smile. "It's late, I understand."
"It's not that I don't want to," Clint said. "I made plans. And we didn't...um, make plans?"
"I understand," Coulson repeated. "I'll see you on Monday. Have a good weekend."
He walked away without even bothering to check and see whether anyone was watching him. Too late, Clint wondered whether he should have asked Coulson to come along.
To do what, though? It wasn't like they had that kind of relationship. They had great, amazing, mind-blowing sex, but that was all. Outside Clint's trailer, they were just co-workers. And really, most of the time they weren't even that close.
He locked up the trailer and jogged away to find Sam's car.
In a room deep in the Furious Productions studios, half a dozen monitors were playing different scenes from the weeks of filming. There was no sound apart from the occasional rustle of someone shifting in a chair to tap on a keyboard.
One monitor showed Wright, Banks, and Director Savage talking intently in a beautifully appointed office. The lighting team had done a particularly good job of making sure that the bright red streak in Savage's hair almost glowed as she pushed it back irritably. Fury made a note to compliment Thor on his work. That set was a nightmare to shoot, with all its dark furniture and polished wooden panels.
Another monitor played a scene inside the film's version of the UN headquarters. Savage and the UN Secretary General were standing side by side, tension almost rolling off them as they watched a blank screen that would eventually show the leader of TERRA threatening to blow up New York. Victoria Hand and Akela Amadour had only been available for a couple of days, but they were both amazingly professional, and they'd nailed their scenes with a minimum number of takes.
A wide-angled shot of a blond man crashing through a window and falling two storeys into a pile of boxes filled another monitor. Rand really was a good body double for Barton, and that was one stunt Fury had firmly refused to let his ex-stunt guy lead actor attempt.
The screen directly in front of Fury was showing the best take from the throw down in the gym between Banks and Wright. It had been one of the first new scenes Banner wrote and it was...Fury couldn't think of an adjective that didn't make him feel uncomfortably like he was marketing a porn movie.
The door behind him opened, and he nodded to Hill as she entered and flopped down in the chair next to him.
"How did it go?" he asked.
Hill sounded tired, but pleased. "Rayes chewed the scenery like a pro, but it looks good on the screen. You've got the take-down of a terrorist base in the can, sir."
"Thank you." He pointed to the screen in front of him. "What do you think?"
"Are you still worrying about that scene?" she asked. "We've already struck the set. You can't re-shoot it now."
"I'm not worried," Fury said. "I'm just wondering whether it's too much."
Hill snorted. "I'm not worried about that. It's perfect. The only thing you should be worrying about is what will happen if they actually do something about the UST they're drowning in. You can't lose that chemistry now."
Fury curled his lip in a sour smile. "You're not helping."
"Keep it in, sir. That's not the scene I'd worry about the execs wanting to cut."
"Oh? What do you think'll be the problem?"
"The new mid-credits sequence. That's pretty blatant, sir."
Fury's smile turned into a wicked grin. "That's why we're not shooting it yet."
Hill slowly turned in her seat. "We're not?"
"We're not. We'll film it a couple of weeks before the release, maybe during the press tours, and slice it in just before it goes for board certification."
There was a long pause, before Hill whistled her appreciation. "That's low-down and incredibly devious, sir."
"Thank you, Hill. I knew you'd appreciate it."
Act III, Scene I
Excerpt from "Out of Time" by S., adapted from the screenplay by Bruce Banner, page 142
Wright ran through the back hallways of the casino, swearing under his breath each time he checked a room and found it empty. Through his comm, he could hear fighting and pained grunts. The Egyptian Royale wasn't one of Las Vegas's largest casinos, but even so, there were a lot of doors to check. The fourth room he tried was a bathroom, and that's where he found Banks trying to take on three men all larger than him.
Their target, a TERRA scientist, crouched in the corner watching with wide eyes.
Wright threw himself straight into the fight, taking on the largest man and almost instantly getting thrown backwards against a mirror. The bathroom was beautifully appointed, filled with gold taps and expensive fixtures, and within a couple of minutes it was trashed. Fragments of porcelain crunched under foot and the shattered glass from the mirrors glittered among the remains.
Banks eventually took out one of his men with a sweeping kick to the knees, following it up by pounding his head against the floor until the guy passed out.
Wright's teeth were blood-streaked and his tuxedo was ruined, but he'd knocked his guy out as well.
The final goon's eyes darted between them. Wright and Banks exchanged a glance, and then, almost as though they'd planned it, they punched him out together.
Agent Angel arrived as the final goon toppled to the ground, just in time to stop the TERRA scientist crawling out of the door. "Yours, I believe?"
Wright and Banks looked at each other, shock evident on their faces.
"Who are you?" Banks asked eventually.
Later, Clint blamed what happened on having his brain melted by a fucking fantastic orgasm, pun definitely intended. He was aching in all the best ways and his throat felt raw, even though he'd managed to stifle his shouts in Coulson's shoulder when he came. The sheet he'd draped over the sofa to protect the fabric was rucked up under his back, but Clint didn't have the energy to move yet.
Coulson seemed as bonelessly wrung out as he felt. He'd managed to half-flop over so that he wasn't squashing Clint, but that was as far as he'd made it. It was a good thing the sofa was so wide, otherwise one of them would have ended up on the floor. Instead, Coulson was kind of wedged between Clint and the back of the sofa, and he'd slung a leg over Clint's thighs to aid his stability.
Clint was trying not to hope that it was because he liked the contact, because that would probably lead to disappointment.
So, anyway, Clint was loose and happy, and maybe still way too blissed out from some amazingly intense sex. That had to be why he didn't think before saying, "Hey, so, there's a party on Saturday at Stark's place. Want to go?"
The words registered in his brain just after he finished speaking, and Clint tensed.
Shit. Fuck. Shit.
Filming had stopped for the night a while ago, but the sounds of people moving around and metal clanging as they worked were still drifting into the trailer. The set builders were probably out there working on something overnight. Again.
Clint focused on those noises instead of listening for changes in Coulson's breathing.
After a while, Coulson said, "Would I be welcome there?"
Clint shrugged casually. "Probably. They all like you. It's a crew thing, but you've got friends. Pretty sure Trip'll be there, and I've seen you talking to Thor and Jane a few times."
"If it's at Stark's place, though..."
"Coulson," Clint said, with an irritated sigh. "How many films have you done with Stark? Pretty sure he'd welcome you with open arms and a fuckload of alcohol, just because that's what Stark does when he likes you. And Pepper likes you, even if Stark pretends to grumble about you."
Clint frowned. "What?"
Coulson flattened his hand across Clint's chest, thumb not quite brushing his nipple. It felt more intimate than Clint had expected.
"You should call me Phil," he said.
"Um," Clint said.
"You don't have to," he said quickly. "It just feels odd hearing you call me 'Coulson' when we were having sex ten minutes ago."
"Oh." Clint swallowed. "It wasn't a...I mean, it was a respect thing. You're kind of lucky I didn't call you 'sir' when I first started here."
"Yes, that would have been a terrible thing," Phil said dryly.
Clint grinned. "I could call you 'sir' now, if you want. Sir."
Phil made an odd sound at the back of his throat. "Maybe not. 'Phil' will probably be fine."
Clint made a mental note to try calling him "sir" the next time they fucked, just to see what it would do to him. "Okay, Phil. So, how about that party?"
"What time is it now?"
Stretching up, Clint fumbled and grabbed his phone from the table next to the sofa. "We've got ten minutes before Sam's supposed to take me home."
"We should probably get cleaned up," Phil said.
Clint was mostly dressed, just shoving his feet into his boots, when Phil looked up from buttoning his shirt. "What time is the party?"
The boot that Clint was holding suddenly shot away from his fingers, and he accidentally kicked it under the end table. Fishing it out meant he didn't have to look at Phil, though, so it wasn't a bad thing. "Kind of eightish, but mostly it's just drop in any time."
"Does he blow anything up at these things?"
Clint finally finished putting his boots on and stood up. "Only sometimes, if he's got something new and cool to demonstrate and Pepper gets too distracted to monitor him. Is that a problem?"
"No." Phil tugged his jacket straight and smoothed down his hair. "I'll think about it."
"Okay. You should leave. Sam'll be here in a minute."
"Do you have a ride to the party?"
Clint shrugged. "Probably."
Phil smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "That's good. I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"Yeah, tomorrow," Clint said, and busied himself with checking his jacket pockets so he didn't have to watch Phil leave.
Sometimes he thought about kissing Phil goodbye when he left. It was the kind of thing people did when they were sleeping together. He'd never done it, though, and he wasn't sure whether he'd ever have the guts to. What they had--great, no strings sex--was good enough, and kissing Phil goodnight would turn it into something else.
Something huge and terrifying.
There was no sign of Phil or his driver when Clint jogged out to Sam's car a few minutes later. Sam gave him an odd look when he slid into the passenger seat.
"They're keeping you late a lot, aren't they?" Sam asked, as he put the car into gear.
Clint shrugged. "I guess that's the acting life."
"Uh huh, I guess it is."
There was a note in Sam's voice that Clint couldn't interpret. He slid lower in his seat and casually asked Sam how his day had gone, which Sam seemed to think was a hilarious thing to ask for some reason. Huh.
Clint's knuckles stung when Natasha rapped them with a fork, but he stole a loaded potato skin anyway and ate it defiantly. She wouldn't have ordered it if she hadn't intended to let him share, right?
"You know, the pizza place could have brought potato skins for you, too," Natasha said.
Clint shrugged. "You'll never eat them all yourself."
The boxes and cartons from their pre-party feast were scattered all over Clint's kitchen counter. It was kind of a tradition, loading up on good greasy food before they hit parties where everything came on toothpicks and was impossible to pronounce.
She stole a pepperoni slice off Clint's pizza, and he shrugged. It was fair.
"So, I heard a rumour," Natasha said, with one of the wicked smiles that Clint hated.
"I didn't do it," Clint said, immediately.
She lifted an eyebrow. "Did I say it was anything you did?"
"But if you were, for example, staying late in your trailer after filming every day, there would be a good reason. Right?"
Clint swallowed hard.
"You wouldn't be doing anything really stupid, would you?"
She gave him a look, and Clint's resolve crumbled. He stuffed half a slice of pizza in his mouth to keep himself from speaking and damning himself forever.
Natasha reached over and patted his cheek gently. "That's what I thought."
"But if I was, er..." Clint swallowed and scratched the back of his neck. "If I was doing something really stupid, would it really be that stupid?"
"That made no sense."
"If, by really stupid, you mean 'having sex with someone even though it's a really terrible idea'," Natasha said, "then, yes, it really would be that stupid. You're going to get yourself hurt."
"What if I don't?"
Natasha gestured with a potato skin. "That seems unlikely. You always get in too deep, because you are terrible at casual sex, and then you get hurt because the other guy wasn't terrible at casual sex."
"You really think it's that bad?"
He refused to let Natasha's death glare kill him, even though he could feel his stomach churning. It was probably the cheese on the potato skins.
"You can't even admit you're actually having sex," Natasha said. "It's that bad."
She popped the last potato skin in her mouth, chewing with cheerful relish while she watched him.
Clint began stacking up the empty containers in the corner as an excuse to avoid her eyes. "How does this shit happen to me?"
He pretended not to hear the poorly-suppressed laughter.
When they arrived at Stark's place, the party was already going strong. It was barely half past eight, but the music was pumping and most of the eager young techies from the crew were laughing and dancing in the living room.
Clint wasn't sure whether that made him feel old, or if they were just really, really young kids.
Natasha smiled when Pepper greeted them and pointed the way to the bar, which was a definite improvement over the scowl Natasha sometimes wore at parties. To be fair to her, she usually only did it at the kind of wrap parties where she had to make nice with people who had spent most of the shoot trying to get handsy, or refusing to take orders from "a girl". Having to make nice with people like that drove Clint nuts sometimes, too, and he didn't get groped as often as Natasha did.
They grabbed beers at the bar and Natasha towed him out to the pool, where the grownups were mingling. It was quieter out there, which meant it was completely Stark-free for now.
Someone--probably Pepper--had thoughtfully set up a table of snacks, and Thor seemed to be attempting to eat all the wings while Jane watched him with an indulgent smile. Sam, Bucky, and Steve had set up shop with a couple of bowls of chips, and they beckoned Clint over as soon as he caught their eyes.
Natasha split off to join Melinda and Hill, sitting on the edge of the pool to dangle their feet in the water.
It felt good to just kick back and forget all about filming, and acting, and the constant nagging fear that someone would figure out he was a fraud. Clint listened to the guys telling bullshit stories and teasing each other about bad jobs they'd taken and the ridiculous situations they'd been in. He even contributed a few of his own, although most of his stories tended to end with "and then I jumped off it", which hopefully said more about his profession than anything deeper about his psyche.
He was a stunt guy. He'd spent most of his life being paid to jump off things, fly into walls, and pretend to get beaten up.
Clint was well into his second beer when Steve's eyes widened. He turned in his seat, and his heart skipped a beat as he caught sight of Phil, framed in the doorway to the house. For once, he wasn't wearing a suit. The grey t-shirt and dark jeans were just the right kind of casual for a Stark party, and the fabric pulling tight across his chest emphasised the breadth of his shoulders in a way his suits always seemed to hide.
He was wearing thick-framed glasses, too, and Clint wondered how he'd managed not to know about them before.
It was kind of embarrassing to realise that he'd been close enough to know how Phil's skin tasted, but he hadn't known about the glasses. Even rationalising that he'd always tried not to follow the celebrity shit, because that felt too creepy, didn't make him feel any better about missing such an important detail.
Clint started to take a casual sip of beer, to ease the tightness in his chest, but Phil turned slightly, as if he was searching for something. Their eyes met across the pool and Clint choked as he suddenly tried to breathe his beer instead of swallowing.
He gasped for air, coughing and spluttering.
"Are you okay?" Sam asked, looking concerned.
Clint blinked back the tears streaming down his face and tried to say that he was fine, but another bout of coughing overtook him. By the time he could breathe again, Phil was sitting on the edge of the pool with his back to Clint, laughing softly with Melinda and Natasha.
Somehow, that didn't make Clint feel better about anything. He couldn't keep his eyes off Phil, even though he could only see the back of his head, and he couldn't follow the thread of the conversation with Steve, Bucky, and Sam anymore, either.
After a while, he excused himself and went into the house, where Darcy magically appeared at his side and dragged him onto the dance floor. It kept her from meeting Natasha for a few more minutes, so he allowed her to tow him into the middle of the crowd. The solid beat and her determined cheerfulness combined to get him moving, and he easily lost himself in the music and the freedom of dancing and not giving a shit about anything else around him.
Clint wasn't sure what time it was anymore, only that it was very late. The music was now slow and mellow. Pepper and Stark were swaying together in the corner, and there was a contented look on his face that Clint hadn't seen before.
Steve and Bucky were dancing in another corner, although it was really closer to holding each other close with an occasional attempt at shuffling feet rather than actual dancing. There was a surprised, but delighted, look in Bucky's eyes that Clint was trying not to speculate about.
Small groups had broken off to talk, and Clint could hear splashing from the pool mingled with giggling. Hopefully nobody out there was so drunk they'd drown, although he suspected Melinda and Hill, at least, had stayed relatively sober.
The sofa he'd crashed on was occupied at the other end by one of the CGI wizards--he thought her name might be Summer, or Skye, or something weather-like beginning with S--and Jemma Simmons. They were whispering together, and Clint was pretending not to see that they were snuggling together in a way that definitely hinted at being more than just friends.
Not that it was any of his business what anyone was doing. As long as they were happy, he wasn't going to start outing them anywhere or doing any kind of shitty jealousy thing just because he wasn't happy.
Clint blinked and frowned down at his water bottle. He'd switched to it after his third beer, figuring that getting drunk with Phil around was probably just setting himself up to do something stupid.
So why was he getting maudlin when he was barely even buzzed?
He looked up and met Phil's eyes. His brain felt too slow, like he was trying to think through molasses.
"You came," he said.
"I did," Phil said, with a small smile. "Thank you. For inviting me."
Clint shrugged. "Stark would have if he'd known you'd be interested."
"I haven't been very friendly lately, have I?"
Clint felt himself blush, the heat spreading across his face until his skin seemed to burn with it. "Um."
The tips of Phil's ears went red, visible even in the dim lighting.
After an uncomfortable moment, Clint coughed and tried to make his voice sound normal. It didn't work, but at least he put in the effort. "I should go. Looks like the party's mostly over and I've...um...got nowhere to be tomorrow, but I'm pretty sure I've got lines to learn or something."
If Phil was disappointed, he didn't show it. He just nodded and said, "Do you need a ride?"
"I--" Clint broke off as he heard a loud splash, followed by Natasha cursing loudly and what might have been Darcy's muffled giggles. He didn't want to think about that. "Um, maybe? Shit, I miss my bike."
"You ride a bike?" Phil asked.
His eyes dropped to Clint's heavy boots for a moment, and he seemed to take a fraction too long dragging his eyes back up to Clint's face, which only made the heat return to Clint's cheeks again.
"The studio made me sign a contract not to ride it until filming's done," Clint said. "But yeah. A Harley. Best way to beat the traffic."
"Oh." Phil looked as if he was going to say something, but he changed his mind at the last minute and shook his head. "I could drive you home, if you'd like. It's probably on my way."
"Do you even know where I live?" Clint asked, amused.
Phil shrugged. "Not yet."
Clint surveyed him carefully. He had no idea what was happening or where this was going. This was outside the script of what they did together. But Phil was watching him carefully, and Clint suddenly didn't care that they were doing something new, something terrifyingly like being more than just fuckbuddies and co-workers.
"Okay then," Clint said. "I'll text Natasha when we're on the way."
Phil's smile was wider than anything Clint had ever seen on him before. It took all of Clint's strength and restraint not to kiss him right there in the middle of Stark's living room.
The drive to Clint's apartment seemed to last forever and be over in a moment, all at once. His stomach kept doing an odd fluttery thing that was incredibly disturbing, and he couldn't seem to concentrate on the directions he was giving. They ended up driving past his street and having to backtrack.
Clint tried to pretend that the problem had nothing to do with the way his eyes kept getting drawn back to Phil's hands on the steering wheel.
That would be ridiculous, after all. He was a grown-ass man who could keep his mind on a simple job without getting obsessive about another man's fingers.
Even if they were great hands that felt amazing on his skin.
Clint dragged his attention back to reality just in time to tell Phil to stop in front of his apartment. Phil turned the engine off, and Clint tried not to read anything into that.
They were just colleagues sharing a ride. Nothing more.
Because whatever they were doing, it didn't exist outside the film set.
"You live here?" Phil asked.
Clint tensed. "Is there something wrong with here?"
"No," Phil said quickly. "I just expected something..."
Phil hesitated, before cautiously saying, "More modern."
Clint snorted. "You can say it. Darcy isn't afraid to say it."
"I live in a shitty apartment, and I need to move," Clint said.
"I try not to judge a book by its cover."
They sat in silence for a long moment. The urge to lean over and kiss Phil had mostly subsided...okay, maybe only barely subsided. But it was still less urgent than it had been, and Clint didn't know how it would be received, so he didn't try it. Making out with Phil in a parked car seemed kind of juvenile.
Also, like it would be a really stupid idea in his neighbourhood.
Phil cleared his throat and said, "Can I walk you up?"
It surprised Clint so much that he couldn't immediately find a reply, sitting in the car with his mouth slightly open instead, while he tried to process the request.
Phil's shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry, forget I asked."
Clint reached out and grabbed Phil's hand before he could finish reaching for the key in the ignition. His heart was thudding painfully, but he managed to find some words. "I'd like you to walk me up."
They didn't hold hands or anything cheesy as they walked up the path. Phil didn't even put his hand on the small of Clint's back. Clint told himself that was fine. It was better this way. Their shoulders brushed while they waited for the elevator that never came, probably because it was stuck on the third floor again.
Clint led the way up the stairs, telling himself firmly that it still meant nothing. Phil was just being polite and kind of old fashioned, which was sweet in a weird way, and definitely not a good reason to feel a little breathless.
He was probably out of breath because of the stairs.
A quiet voice in the back of his head started laughing at that, but he shut it out. The voice sounded too much like Natasha--or maybe Darcy--for his sanity.
At the door, Clint turned the three separate locks and started to push it open. He paused, turning back to where Phil was waiting. Half the lights in the hallway were out, so Clint couldn't see the expression in his eyes.
"If I asked you in, would that be too weird?" Clint asked. His heart was beating too fast, but he forced himself to keep his eyes on Phil's face instead of staring at his shoes the way he wanted to.
Phil took one small, careful step forward. "That depends."
"On what you'd be asking me in for."
Clint licked his lips. "Coffee."
There was a hint of disappointment in Phil's voice, which instantly sent a surge of hope through Clint's body. He pushed the door wider and took a step backward, into the apartment. "Doesn't mean we have to drink coffee right away. Not if you don't want to. We could do other stuff first."
The speed that Phil moved with took Clint by surprise, despite the hours they'd spent working on fights together. His back was against the wall, with Phil's body covering his, so fast he almost swallowed his tongue. The door swung shut with a bang, but Clint didn't even notice.
He was too busy clinging onto Phil and trying to devour his mouth to care about anything as mundane as home security.
Dawn was just starting to turn the sky grey when Clint leaned against the counter, waiting for the coffee to slowly drip into the pot. From where he stood, he could only see the crumpled sheets at the bottom of his bed, but the sight of them made him smile.
The quiet creak of bedsprings probably meant that Phil was awake and trying to stealthily get dressed. Clint told himself that it was fine, it was cool, there was nothing weird about Phil wanting to get out before anyone was awake to see him. He'd kind of anticipated it, anyway, which was why he was making coffee.
A cup for the road, that kind of thing, because he was good at this whole casual sex thing. No matter what Natasha thought.
His elbow knocked a takeout container as he grabbed cups from the mug tree Darcy had given him for Christmas. That gave him pause, and he took a moment to stuff the boxes out of sight under the sink. Phil had probably been too distracted earlier to notice the garbage, right?
He poured the coffee and padded across the apartment, his bare feet silent on the cold laminate. The unexpected warmth, which he might even have called happiness, curdled in his gut as soon as he rounded the corner.
Phil was sitting on the edge of the bed, a sock in one hand and a framed poster in the other. There was an expression on his face that Clint couldn't read, and he was pretty sure he didn't want to know what it meant. It was something bad, he could tell that much.
"Phil?" he said, cautiously.
Phil looked up. The ratty sheet that had been wrapped around the frame had puddled around his feet. "I was looking for my sock."
"I found this." Phil nodded down to the poster. "It was a limited edition. I remember."
"I don't..." he trailed off. Tried again. "Why?"
Clint shrugged, feeling weirdly vulnerable standing there in only his boxers, knuckles slowly turning white where he was clutching the mug handles too tightly. "Why do I have it? I bought it. People do that, buy things. It's a thing people do."
"You're a fan," Phil stated, flatly.
"Is it a problem?"
Phil set the poster on the bed gently. Very gently. He slowly pulled on his sock. Picked up his shoes.
Clint couldn't think of anything to say, so he watched.
"I don't sleep with fans," Phil said. "It's one of my rules. I don't...it's always a bad idea. I've never broken that rule before."
"If it makes you feel any better--"
"I'm not sure there's anything you can say to make me feel better right now," Phil said, without letting Clint finish. "This...all of this was a bad idea. I'll see you on set."
Clint was still holding the cups of coffee when Phil left. The door swinging shut sounded depressingly final and he stared at it for a long time, before dumping the coffee in the sink and flopping down on his beaten up old sofa to sleep.
Act III, Scene II
Excerpt from "Out of Time" by S., adapted from the screenplay by Bruce Banner, page 225
Wright hurried into the lab hot on Banks's heels, heading straight for Doctor Rickard's station. She was frowning at a screen that showed a rotating wireframe, the spidery lines complex and almost mesmerising.
"What do you have?" Banks asked.
Rickard jumped, eyes widening. She pushed her safety glasses higher on her nose. "I may have a way for you to track the Verdage Device."
Wright nodded to the monitor. "Is that the tracker?"
"No, that's the Verdage Device," Rickard said. "It's quite brilliant. Almost beautiful in its way...which is a way that will kill ten million people, so I'm going to stop now."
Banks pursed his lips. "The tracker?"
"Yes, the tracker." Rickard nodded and picked up a tablet no larger than Wright's hand. "The Verdage Device emits a very specific frequency of radiation, but its signal strength degrades quickly. If the schematics you recovered are correct--that is, if the key you stole to decode them was right, which I'm sure it was--you'll be able to track the Device using this tablet, but only when you're within five miles of it."
"Sounds great." Wright frowned. "Except the part where we need to be within five miles of it."
Banks quirked a small smile. "That shouldn't be difficult to do."
"Do you have some telepathic sense that tells you where TERRA put the thing? Because if you do, it might have been useful about four hours ago."
"No," Banks said, "but I can reason. TERRA is threatening to destroy New York. Therefore, the most logical place to have planted the Device is somewhere in the centre of the city. If we start our search there..."
"We'll probably be within range for the tracker," Wright finished for him. "What are we waiting for?"
"Tasha, I think I did something really stupid." Clint paused, considering. "Or maybe I did something stupid at least a dozen times and then I did something really, really stupid to fuck it all up."
Natasha looked at him for a long moment, and Clint squirmed in his chair. Eventually she sighed and grabbed her teapot and a canister.
She wasn't gone long, but it was enough time for Clint to get antsy and start fiddling with the stuff closest to him on her desk. He'd been finding excuses not to go to his trailer for the last couple of days, hanging out with just about everyone on set who was willing to talk to him, instead. His trailer held too many memories right now. It was impossible to look at the sofa without remembering the way Phil's skin felt under his hands and lips. Or make coffee in the tiny kitchen nook without remembering the way Phil's eyes lit up when Clint brought a cup to share while they sprawled after sex.
This afternoon, some complicated lighting thing had gone wrong, and the set they'd been working on was currently the site of an argument between Fury, Steve, Hill, and Thor that promised to turn into an epic battle. Everyone was trying to find somewhere to shelter until the worst was over.
Clint hadn't made a conscious decision to go to Natasha. It had just happened; his feet took him there, and Natasha's office soothed him more than he'd expected. The walls were covered with plans and maps. Every flat surface was filled with the detritus that gathered near the end of a complicated shoot. Bits of harnesses, scraps of rope, even a few shards from a shattered "wall" that had caused most of an afternoon's delay two weeks ago: it all painted a picture of the way she saw the film.
For the first time, it was a different picture from the way Clint remembered making it.
The scent of peppermint accompanied Natasha's return. She settled in her chair behind the desk and poured mugs of tea for each of them. Clint curled his hands around the hot ceramic mug, the warmth loosening something in his chest that had been hurting since Saturday night.
"So, you're finally going to admit it," Natasha said.
"That you've been sleeping with Phil Coulson."
"No!" Clint paused, before adding, "Okay, maybe. Yes. I did kind of sleep with Phil Coulson."
"Kind of? How does that work?" Are you somehow unclear about how sex works, because I can draw you some diagrams if you need it."
Clint flipped her off. "Kind of, as in, I did exactly what you said I was doing. Casual sex, no sleeping involved. Maybe a nap or two, that was it."
He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. When Natasha was sympathetic, he knew that it was bad.
"What happened?" she asked.
"What usually happens? I messed up, it all went wrong, and now we're not having any kind of sex or even talking, actually, because it's all weird and awkward."
She eyed him over the rim over her mug. "You got hurt."
"It was just sex."
"I'm going to kill him."
"No!" Clint said quickly. "It's not all his fault."
"It's not all yours, either. But you're the one looking like you got kicked in the stomach."
He shrugged and took a sip of tea. It wasn't his favourite, but the warmth helped. "He's a professional."
"You are, too," Natasha said. "You're still doing a good job out there. And whatever you fucked up with him, you're both still great in front of the camera, so you're not fucking up the movie at the moment."
"Because my accidental film career is so important," Clint said.
Natasha put down her tea and leaned forward on the desk. "It's important. Stop thinking about this as an accidental blip in your non-existent life plan, and start thinking about it as a good future for you."
"Have you tried talking to him?"
Clint took a long sip of his tea, buying some time. "Um."
"You know, if it was just some casual, no strings fun, you wouldn't be this tied up in knots over whatever you did to fuck it up."
"It was really amazing sex," Clint protested. "A guy can't be sad about missing some awesome sex without it meaning something else?"
Natasha closed her eyes for a moment before giving him a flat look. "I didn't need to know that."
"Talk to him," Natasha said. "It's a new and unusual relationship technique for you, I know, but I've heard it's effective."
"We don't really talk," Clint said, his face heating. "Actually, we mostly try not to talk."
"I didn't need to know that, either," Natasha muttered into her tea. "Talk to him. Just try it."
"I'm no good at talking."
"Which is probably how you got into this mess in the first place."
Clint shrugged. Natasha's phone interrupted his attempt at a clever come-back. She glanced at him once during the short call, and picked up her tea as soon as it was over. "Thor worked his magic. They're ready to go, but they're missing a key element."
"Can I just hide here for the rest of the day?"
"Get out, before I shoot you," Natasha said.
"That would be an OSHA violation."
Natasha smiled serenely. "I'd pretend that I thought I'd loaded blanks."
Clint grinned at her and gulped down the rest of his tea, somehow managed not to dribble half of it down his shirt. "You're a terrible person. Thank you."
"Talk to him," echoed down the hallway as he left. Clint thought he might actually do it, maybe.
The problem with the talking plan, was that it would involve talking. Probably about feelings, which Clint tried to avoid talking about at all times.
He suspected that Phil was just as unwilling to talk about actual feelings as he was. It didn't help much with his reluctance to go to him and do the talking thing.
Clint told himself that he wasn't avoiding the discussion because he was waiting for Phil to apologise. He wasn't. That was the kind of shitty behaviour that would guarantee they'd never talk again, because he was still pretty sure whatever had happened was about fifty-fifty in the fault department. Okay, maybe it was little more Phil than him, but he was still at least partly responsible for the mess. If he'd said from the beginning that he was a poster-collecting fan for a long time...actually, no, he could figure out how that would have gone.
Phil wouldn't have touched him with a ten-foot pole, that's how it would have gone. All puns intended.
Clint couldn't blame him. It hadn't happened to him yet--and never would, a voice in the back of his mind murmured--but he could kind of imagine what it would be like to make out with someone who immediately confessed to being a huge fan.
Creepy stalker would have been the politest thing he would have thought. He probably would have been dialling 911 instead of having awkward hand job sex against a wall.
So, yeah, he could see why Phil had freaked out and run. He was skittish enough about the whole sex with a co-star thing. Sex with a guy who had a framed poster of him under the bed...yeah, Phil had some good reasons for freaking out.
And Natasha was right about them. Clint wasn't sure what to call what they'd been doing, but he wouldn't be this torn up inside if it had just been sex to blow off steam on a difficult shoot.
It hadn't been a hearts-and-flowers kind of relationship, but it had been more than just a good fuck, at least for him. He'd been starting to think--to hope--it was for Phil, too.
Talking, though, just the thought of it made his palms sweat and his heart beat too fast. Not in a good way, either. In a way that felt like he might forget to breathe and possibly throw up if he tried to actually go through with it.
It was a few more days before Clint finally made himself go back to his trailer. Time hadn't dulled the memories of what they'd done there, but he needed somewhere to talk to Darcy privately, and with her voice in his ear, it was manageable. She was extolling the virtues of three new scripts to him while he tried to shuck out of the suit he'd spent most of the day working in, which at least distracted him from thoughts about sofas and Phil.
Annoyingly, the scripts sounded intriguing despite Clint's half-formed plans to never, ever act again.
"Seriously, Clint, you should just read them," Darcy said, for at least the third time in as many minutes. "If you still want to go back to throwing yourself off buildings, there's nothing I can do to stop you--"
"Bullshit," Clint said with a snort, as he tried to pull up his jeans without dropping his phone. "Pretty sure I told you that I wanted to go back to stunt work before you signed me up to this movie."
"You signed your own name," Darcy said. "I just gave you a push."
"You didn't give me a choice."
"You're weak-willed and easily lead."
"No, thank you," Darcy said, with a snicker. "Are you going to read the scripts or not? Because I can probably find someone some who doesn't have a giant stick up his ass to give them to if--"
"I'll read the scripts," Clint said, giving in. "Just send them--" He broke off at the sound of a knock on his door. "Hang on, my driver's early."
Ignoring Darcy's mocking "Oh, your driver", he padded across the trailer to open the door, half-expecting to find Sam on the other side, already rolling his eyes and making a sarcastic remark about timing. Instead, his chest seemed to seize up and all he could do was stare.
"Hello," Phil said quietly. "Can we talk?"
"I'll call you back," Clint said, ending the call despite Darcy's squawk of protest.
Phil waited for a moment, before appearing to decide that Clint wasn't going to let him in. He took a careful breath and straightened his shoulders. "I wanted to say that I'm sorry. I mess--"
A loud thump accompanied by a high-pitched yelp echoed around the lot, and he broke off mid-word. The sound made a cold shiver run down Clint's spine. He was pushing past Phil and running towards it before he was even aware of moving. The squeal of tires pulling away tore through the night, and Clint ran faster, angling toward the soft whimpering he could hear now. It was the kind of pained, breathy crying that an animal made when it was wounded, and he couldn't ignore it.
He found the dog lying in the middle of a parking lot where most of the production staff usually left their cars during the day. It was empty apart from a huge Hummer he recognised as Fury's.
Orange streetlights gave just enough illumination for Clint to see that one of the dog's front legs was angled in a way legs shouldn't be. There was blood everywhere. He dropped to his knees and put out a cautious hand, barely daring to touch the fur on the dog's shoulder.
"Hey, boy," Clint said, in the most soothing tone he could manage. He thought he recognised its scarred face. The dog had been hanging around at the edge of the lot for days, and he'd petted it a few times, but it hadn't shown any interest in following him home. Sometimes he'd left a box from the catering truck in a quiet corner, and it was always empty when he checked later. "Hey, boy. Hey. Let me see you, okay?"
The dog continued the low whining as Clint cautiously passed a hand down its back. It yelped when his fingers brushed its ribs, but it didn't snap or snarl. Clint couldn't decide whether that was a good sign or not.
Pounding feet alerted him to Phil's arrival, and he looked up. "He's hurt. I need...I don't know what I need."
Phil had a phone in his hand, and Clint realised he must have dropped his as he left the trailer. It had been in his hand, but now it wasn't. It was in Phil's hand.
"I can call someone," Phil said. "Your driver?"
Clint nodded. "Sam. Call Sam--we need to get to a vet. Fuck, do you know any emergency vet clinics?"
"I don't, but I can find one," Phil said, already thumbing through the numbers. "I'll get Sam here, and we can find someone."
Clint nodded gratefully, turning his attention back to the dog. It was still whimpering, which he was taking as a good sign for now. Somehow, he sensed that if it went quiet, that would be a bad thing. Dying kind of bad, and Clint couldn't stand the thought of something dying just because some asshole was too blind to see a big golden dog in the middle of a parking lot.
"Hey, boy, you're going to be okay," he murmured. "We'll fix this."
He continued petting it and talking to it softly until he heard a car approaching. It pulled up a few feet away, and Phil talked to Sam too quietly for Clint to make out what they were saying.
Someone touched his shoulder, and Clint started.
"Sam and I are going to lift him," Phil said. "You should get in the back seat and we'll put him in with you. Is that okay?"
Clint patted the dog one more time and nodded. "Yeah. Thank you."
His feet stung when he stood up, and he was dully surprised to look down and see they were bare. It was no wonder they were hurting. He was still wearing the shirt and jacket from his Agent Wright costume, too, and the knees of his jeans were splashed with blood.
There was no time to go back to his trailer, though, so he climbed into the back seat of the car. Phil and Sam seemed to take forever to carefully lift the dog and slide him onto the seat next to Clint. It was probably only a couple of minutes in reality, but time seemed to be moving strangely. Clint let the dog rest its head on his thigh and continued stroking its shoulder, swallowing hard at the blood staining its fur.
He wasn't aware that Phil had climbed into the front passenger seat until he heard Phil's voice and looked up. Phil must have Googled something, because he had a map on his phone and he was directing Sam.
"You didn't have to come with us," Clint said.
Phil shrugged. The back of his neck looked pink. "I told my driver to go. Sam offered to drive me home later."
It wasn't really an explanation, but Clint nodded and went back to comforting the dog. Its whimpers were quieter now and it seemed to be breathing weirdly. Kind of short and gaspy, which made Clint's chest tighten with fear. He had to force himself to take normal breaths instead of matching the dog's rhythm in sympathy.
They rolled to a stop in a quiet street, in front of a building with a lit-up sign announcing that it was an emergency clinic. Clint waited in the car while Sam and Phil ran up the path and knocked at the door until a sleepy woman in scrubs opened it. They gestured wildly, and she instantly looked more alert. She disappeared inside for a moment, and Clint almost panicked, but she reappeared wheeling a gurney, and his heart started to beat normally again.
The dog didn't make much noise when Phil and Sam helped the vet to get it out of the car. Clint scrambled out after them without any care for his feet, and he helped Phil to keep the dog steady on the gurney as the vet pushed it back into her clinic.
"Which one of you owns this dog?" the vet asked when they were inside.
Clint shook his head. "None of us. He's a stray, I think. Out at the set. I feed him, sometimes."
The vet pursed her lips. "If he's a stray--"
"I'll pay for it," Clint said, cutting her off before she could mention anything about euthanizing it. "Whatever the dog needs, I'll pay. I've got money now."
The vet's face softened. "I'll do what I can. I'm Doctor Harris. One of my nurses will be arriving soon." The clatter of a door closing somewhere in a back room echoed through the quiet clinic. "One of my nurses is here, actually. She'll help me. You can all go, if you'd like. Just leave your contact details at the front desk."
"I'm staying," Clint said. "Just until I know how he's doing."
"All right," Doctor Harris said easily. "Wait out here."
She turned and wheeled the gurney through a pair of doors with brisk efficiency. Clint shifted from foot to foot for a minute, before moving over to some uncomfortable plastic chairs and sitting down. His feet were aching dully, now, and there were tiny dots of blood on the floor that he was fairly sure didn't come from the dog.
When Sam and Phil sat down on either side of him, Clint looked up in surprise. "You don't have to stay, too. I can get a cab."
"Not happening," Sam said. "You look like some kind of crazy hobo right now and I bet you don't even have your wallet with you."
"Um." Clint patted his pockets. "No?"
"I'll drive you home," Sam said.
"I'll take care of anything that needs taking care of tonight," Phil said. "I've got my wallet."
"I can," Phil said firmly.
Clint swallowed, hard. "Thank you. Both of you."
It wasn't enough, couldn't be enough, but they both seemed to understand, and Clint felt more comforted than he had for a long time as he settled to wait for news.
Sam left after a few minutes, muttering something about getting Clint's stuff from the set and checking to make sure everything was locked up. Clint's feet were getting cold and the stinging was getting worse, so he nodded gratefully when Sam clasped his shoulder supportively before leaving.
The waiting room was quiet apart from the low hum of the fluorescent lights. Clint couldn't hear the dog anymore, which he was trying to take as a good sign. They must have given him something for the pain. The alternative wasn't something he wanted to think about too much.
It felt kind of ridiculous that he was so worried about a dog he barely knew, but he'd always found it hard to see animals in pain.
"Did you see the car?" Phil asked after a while.
"The car that hit the dog," Phil said. "Did you see it?"
Clint sighed, staring down at his feet. "Didn't get there in time."
"I can see whether there's a security tape tomorrow."
"You'd do that?"
Phil didn't answer for a while. When he did speak, his voice was softer than Clint could remember hearing it before. "Whoever did this, he knew he'd hit something, and he drove away anyway. Even if it was an accident, he drove way. If we hadn't been there, the dog might not have been found until tomorrow. That kind of thing makes me angry."
"Fury's Hummer was still there. He would have seen it when he left."
"He often sleeps in the studio at this stage in the shoot."
"Oh." Clint hesitated before adding, "Is that why you're here? You're angry about what happened to the dog?"
The pause before Phil answered was longer this time, as though he was trying to find the right words before he dared to say anything. "It's not why I've stayed, no."
Clint didn't look up. He couldn't. It was easier, somehow, to keep staring at his feet and not looking at Phil's face. "Why were you coming to see me?"
"To apologise," Phil said. "I've behaved badly. Very badly. To everyone, actually, but mostly to you."
"I haven't exactly been a saint, either."
There was a faint rustle of clothing and Phil's shoes appeared at the edge of Clint's vision as he stretched his legs out. "You've been friendly and professional on set at all times. You always know your cues and you work as hard as anyone I've ever worked with. I know it wasn't easy coming in so late in the shoot, and then having so many script changes thrown at you, but you've handled it admirably."
Clint's face felt too warm, and he couldn't say anything. His mouth had dried up.
"If there's been anyone behaving unprofessionally, it's been me," Phil continued. "I shouldn't have taken my frustrations out on everyone else. On you. These films have been an important part of my life for a long time, and knowing that my time was coming to an end...feeling too old for it all...well, I haven't been fair to anyone. Believe me, I wouldn't have told Fury to hire you if I hadn't thought you were the right person to take over."
It took a few seconds for the words to make sense in Clint's head. When they did, he snapped his head up and stared at Phil, eyes wide. "You told Fury to pick me?"
Phil turned his head slowly. "You didn't know that?"
Clint shook his head mutely.
A rueful smile pulled at Phil's lips. "I thought you knew. When you started flirting with me, I thought..."
The pink staining Phil's neck was probably not something that Clint should have found endearing, but it made his chest tighten anyway. He tried to shrug casually despite the fluttering in his gut. "I didn't know. I figured Fury was desperate and you didn't have many choices."
"I've been feeling guilty about that for weeks," Phil said, the flush in his face deepening. "I kept telling myself to stop what we were doing, but then you'd look at me and...I lost my mind a little, I think."
"You were worried that you were taking advantage of me?" Clint snorted. "You know I'm a grown man with a whole lot of options, right?"
"It hadn't escaped my notice," Phil said dryly.
Clint grinned. "I kind of figured that."
"But I couldn't figure out why you were interested in me," Phil continued. "No, listen to me. Please."
Clint swallowed down all the protests he'd been gathering and made himself nod.
Phil shuffled in his chair until he was sitting sideways on it, which looked uncomfortable, but Clint guessed it was better than straining his neck. He tried to do the same and almost fell backward off his chair, until Phil grabbed his arm and steadied him. Clint looked down at Phil's hand, noticing for the first time how much blood had been smeared all over his white shirt. Pepper was going to kill him for ruining one of her costumes.
Phil's fingers twitched, as though he was considering pulling his hand away, and Clint quickly covered it with his own.
"I have rules for myself," Phil said. "I made them a long time ago. Don't sleep with the people I work with. Don't sleep with people who own posters of me."
"Don't sleep with anyone who might cause trouble for your career?"
Phil shrugged. "Something like that."
"I don't kiss and tell," Clint said. "That's never been my thing."
"I didn't think you would."
"Until you saw the poster."
"That did throw me, I'll admit." A brief smile flashed across Phil's face, but it was gone too fast for Clint to interpret. "A couple of years ago, my agent heard some rumours about me. About my preferences. He decided to make them go away without telling me. Probably in case I told him something that he didn't want to hear. A few weeks later, I met someone at a premier and we hit it off. She was...she seemed to be perfect. She was funny, and brilliant, and we started seeing each other. Quietly, I thought. The story hit the papers before we'd even gone on our second date, but I told myself it wasn't that strange. Gossip sells, and nobody gets to keep secrets long in this town."
"I'm starting to get a bad feeling about where this is going."
"Not where you think it is," Phil said. "No bunny boiling."
"That's a relief. I think."
Phil shrugged. "I found out that my agent had met her on the set of Spiderweb. She'd been an extra on the last couple of Agent Banks films. I'd never been able to figure out why she looked familiar. After it was all over, I found out that she'd taken the jobs in order to meet me, so when my agent approached her..."
"She said yes, because she had posters of you," Clint guessed, his stomach curdling. It wasn't that he'd never heard of agents setting up relationships, but not like this. He was starting to understand things better. "What did you do when you found out?"
"We'd already split up by then," Phil said. "There was something off about the whole thing, it didn't feel right, so I called the relationship off a few weeks after it started. My agent made sure it looked good in the press."
"You didn't fire his ass?"
"Not for another month." Phil's lips turned down. "It was bad timing. The negotiations for Out of Time were just starting. You've seen how that worked out for me."
"Ouch." Clint hesitated, but the question had to be asked. "Is this why you've been so weird about being seen with me?"
Phil winced. "Was I that obvious?"
"Oh, yeah." Clint made a face. "I figured it was the whole sex with a guy thing you were hiding."
"It was...a lot of things."
"And you still had sex with me?"
"I did mention that I lose my mind around you, didn't I?"
Clint chuckled, but the laughter died quickly. If they were in full confession mode, then maybe it was time to make one of his own. "I kind of, maybe, had a crush on you. A long time ago. And on Agent Banks, too, I guess. He did all that cool shit and saved the world without drooling over every woman he met, and I needed that back then. You know, the guy who can be gorgeous and be amazing without fucking everything in a skirt."
"You were kind of a gay role model for a while," Clint added. "Guess that's what freaked out your agent."
"I swear, when we were fucking, I wasn't pretending you were Banks or anything weird," Clint said. "It was you. The real you. The one with powdered sugar on his lips and really weird philosophy books. I know it looks kind of like I'm a crazy stalker fan, but I'm not. Promise. I didn't take the role because of you. Shit, I almost didn't take the role, period. Darcy talked me into it. When I did that audition, I didn't even know you were going to be there until the moment you walked in. I'd had about two hours' notice that I was doing the audition, I didn't prepare anything, and I knew that I'd messed it up as soon as I started reading. Then you walked in and I lost it." He paused and closed his eyes. "This isn't helping with the 'not a stalker fan' thing, is it?"
"You looked like you were about to bolt," Phil said, ignoring the question. "I was in a bad mood that day, but even through that, I could tell you were terrified."
"Why did you tell Fury to hire me?"
Phil's cheeks turned pink again, and the flush spread to the tips of his ears this time. "I saw you in A Time of Elephants. If we'd ever gone back to my apartment, you probably would have noticed that I have it on DVD and I've watched it...too many times."
Clint swallowed. "Oh."
"I thought you were magnificent," Phil said. "You're not the only one who might look like a stalker fan if you were examined too closely. I'd been itching to see what your next project would be, and then I walked into that audition room, and there you were."
"I wasn't planning on doing another project," Clint said. "Darcy bullied me into it."
"You were going to stop acting?"
Clint shrugged. "I'm not an actor. I'm a stunt guy. This shit, it's all just a fluke."
Phil leaned forward, his fingers tightening around Clint's arm. "It's not a fluke. You're a fine actor. You'll be a great one with more experience."
"Is that the crazy stalker fan talking," Clint asked, with a teasing smile, "or the guy who watched me fuck up my lines fifty times in one scene yesterday?"
"Both," Phil said. "And if I hadn't been so busy feeling sorry for myself, I would have been helping you. Or maybe laughing with you."
"I would have liked that," Clint said before he could stop himself. "I mean--"
"I know what you mean." Phil smiled. "I've behaved very badly. You've been more patient with me than you should be."
"I did yell at you a couple of times." Clint paused, feeling his face heat again. "Except the yelling led to sex, which probably cancels it out in some way."
"It might have confused issues," Phil said cautiously. "I don't regret what we did, but I'm not sure I behaved well there, either."
"You were pretty good at the sex thing," Clint said. "Definitely no complaints there."
Phil looked like he was trying to fight a pleased smile, and losing. "The way I acted before and after, though..."
"So we both messed up," Clint said. "We're talking now, right? How about we agree that we've both been idiots, and we need to start over."
"It's that easy for you?"
"You're sitting with me in a vet's clinic, in the middle of the night, waiting for news on a dog you don't even know. That's kind of making up for a lot."
Clint took a deep breath. "We should start over. From fresh."
"Pretend we never got involved?"
"Pretty sure I'm not going to be forgetting any of it," Clint said, smiling. "But maybe we could try being friends. I think we kind of missed that stage in the 'with benefits' thing we've been doing."
Phil frowned down at the place where his hand was still resting on Clint's arm. Where Clint's hand was covering his. Clint slowly rubbed his thumb over Phil's knuckle, waiting patiently for a response. He wasn't quite holding his breath, not really, but it took an effort to remember to breathe.
Eventually, Phil looked up. There was a small smile curving his lips and crinkling the skin around his eyes. "Hi. I'm Phil Coulson. It's a pleasure to work with you."
Clint grinned. "Hi, Phil."
A small light of mischief appeared in Phil's eyes. "Do we need to stop doing the 'with benefits' part of this friendship while we work on the other part?"
Clint didn't have time to work out what his response would be--or should be--because the clinic door opened right at that moment to admit Sam. He was carrying Clint's leather jacket and boots, and there was a small first aid kit tucked under his arm.
"Am I interrupting something?" Sam asked, raising his eyebrows.
Phil looked up, smiling politely. "Not at all."
Clint barely remembered not to scowl at the bad timing.
Sam rolled his eyes, but he didn't have a chance to say anything. The doors to the examining rooms opened with a clatter and Doctor Harris strode through, a wide smile plastered on her face. Her scrubs were blood-stained, and her short hair was standing up messily.
Clint jumped to his feet, barely wincing even though movement made them sting painfully again. "Doc?"
"He'll be fine," Doctor Harris said. "He's got a broken leg and a lot of cuts and bruises, but he'll pull through. He's a tough little guy. I'd like to keep him for a couple of days, just to keep an eye on him, but then he can go home with one of you, if you'd like. Or I can send him over to one of the animal shelters."
"I'll take him," Clint said immediately.
Doctor Harris' smile widened. "I hoped you'd say that. You can settle pay when you pick him up. Would you like to see him now? He's still sleepy from the anaesthetic, but he might respond."
"We'll wait here," Sam said, and Phil nodded his agreement.
Clint smiled his gratitude and started to follow Doctor Harris, who stopped and looked down at his feet.
"Do you have anything to put on your feet?"
Sam held up his boots. "If someone can pin him down long enough, he's got boots, and I've got some iodine to clean him up with. Phil, can you give me a hand, my man?"
Clint tried very hard not to flush at the startled look Phil shot him, but it was a losing battle. Sam made a strange sound that might have been a stifled laugh, and Clint wondered how much he'd guessed.
Probably everything, he decided, and allowed himself to be pushed down into a chair, where he whimpered almost as loudly as the dog while Phil and Sam cleaned his grazed and bloody feet.
Act III, Scene III
Excerpt from "Out of Time" by S., adapted from the screenplay by Bruce Banner, page 285
Wright rammed an elbow into his opponent and the man dropped like a stone. He whirled around, ready to punch the next guy, but the men he'd been fighting were all groaning on the ground.
Not far away, Angel was fighting her own group of TERRA-uniformed goons. She was holding her own, kicking and striking out with a pair of silver batons to keep the rest of the troops pinned down in the stairwell leading to the roof. Without her, they would have been swarmed under a long time ago.
The muffled sound of a gunshot caught Wright's attention, and he turned to where Banks was fighting the last goon. It was the bodyguard who'd escaped when the technology buy went bad in the park. He smiled cruelly as he pulled the trigger again.
Banks shuddered as the bullet hit him in the gut, and he slowly fell to his knees. The goon took a step back and raised his gun, aiming at Banks's forehead. Banks was defenceless, his empty sidearm lying several feet away.
Wright shouted something incomprehensible and charged. He caught the goon around the chest, throwing him off his feet just as his gun discharged and skittered out of his hand. There was a muffled grunt of pain from Banks's location, but Wright couldn't spare him a glance. He was too busy defending himself, rolling out of the dive and away from the goon's flailing fists.
It wasn't an even match. The goon had six inches on him and he was good. Very good. Maybe better than Wright. He could move just as fast, he had a long reach, and he anticipated every dirty trick Wright threw at him.
The solid blue glow from the Verdage Device on the far side of the roof was growing brighter as Wright fought. They were running out of time.
Wright ducked and threw himself under the goon's arm, trying to roll closer to the device, but the guy was already ahead of him. A boot came down on Wright's chest, knocking the wind out of him for a crucial moment.
The goon produced a knife from a pocket in his vest, and Wright could only stare up at it, trying to suck in a breath, and failing.
Two gunshots. The goon jerked as each one hit him, and he toppled backward.
Wright sat up slowly, looking over just in time to see Banks drop the gun and fall back against the low wall around the roof. There was a trail of blood behind him and a thin dark line ran down from the corner of his mouth.
"No!" Wright shouted.
He started to scramble across the roof, all thoughts of the mission clearly gone, but Banks shook his head and pointed at the Verdage Device.
Wright hesitated, torn. His distress was written over his face. Banks whispered something too softly for anyone to catch, and slowly tried to pull himself up as though he was going to crawl over to the device himself.
Finally, Wright moved. He waved Banks back and scrambled to the device. The blue light around it was almost too bright for Wright to look at. He squinted and reached out to carefully pry open a panel on the front with a thumb nail. Lights flickered inside, a dozen different colours flashing urgently as relays switched and code ran. Wright fumbled inside his vest and pulled out the tiny circular drive Rickard had given him before he left.
He pushed it inside, holding it against the circuits while it sprayed sparks and flashes of fizzing light. The Verdage Device began to whine, the sound growing to a painful pitch before it suddenly went dead in Wright's hands.
Wright dropped it to the ground, and scrambled across the roof to Banks's side. He pressed a hand to Banks's gut. It came away red and shiny.
"Not so bad for an old guy, huh?" Banks said quietly.
"You did all right," Wright said, a reluctant smile tugging at the corners of his lips even though his eyes were shining with unshed tears.
"We did all right," Banks said. "We did it together."
Wright swallowed and swiped his clean hand across his eyes. "Yeah, together. And that's how it's going to be from here on out, okay?"
Banks coughed, but somehow he managed to smile. "Might not be able to do that. I'm sorry."
"No, don't you do this," Wright said, grabbing Banks's hand between both of his and holding it against his chest. "Don't you fucking die on me."
"I'm not sure I'll have a choice," Banks said.
"No, you have a choice," Wright said fiercely. "You have a choice. Choose not to die. Please, choose to live."
Banks closed his eyes and said, "I'll try."
The studio was quiet. Almost too quiet. Clint's eyes were stinging, and lines of wetness down his cheeks marked the tear tracks he hadn't even known he was capable of.
Bucky and Tony had done such a good job with Phil that he really did look like he was bleeding out. The sticky red fluid slowly spreading out from his body could have been blood, and his face was so pale that the blood on his lips looked bright and terrifying.
After a pause that felt like a lifetime, someone called "Cut". Clint couldn't have said who it was. All his attention was on Phil, lying pale and still in front of him. In his head, Clint knew that it was all makeup and fake blood, but it looked so real, and some deep seated instinct wouldn't let him trust that it was make believe yet.
Phil opened one eye. "Do we need to go again?"
A few feet away, Rumlow sat up and stretched. "Fuck, I hope not. I've already got bruises on my bruises from all the times you've shot me."
Clint sat back and dropped Phil's hand, forcing a shaky smile. "Tony might actually kill me if Fury lets him set up another sparking Verdage Device."
Fury marched forward and surveyed them, his usual scowl firmly in place. "If I needed you to go again, you'd go again. Is that clear? We'd go again and again until we got it right, because I'm the director, and that means something around here. That means this is my picture, and you're all going to make it the best damned Agent Banks movie the public has seen."
Phil smiled, and the blood on his chin cracked a little. "But?"
Fury glared at them for a beat, before finally smiling. "But, that's it. Barton's starting to look dehydrated from all the crying."
"Hey!" Clint protested, but Fury was already walking away with his leather coat swirling around his ankles, announcing loudly that it was a wrap.
Rumlow stood up and slapped Clint on the shoulder as he went past. "See you guys at the party, right?"
"Right," Clint said, not looking away from Phil's face. "Party. Parties are good."
Rumlow's laughter floated back to them as he wove his way around the cameras and other equipment. The sound of people talking and the clang of metal being moved echoed through the studio, but Clint ignored it. He couldn't seem to shake off the headspace he'd been in during the scene.
Phil sat up carefully. He hadn't pulled his hand away from Clint's yet, and there were worried lines between his brows, visible even through the makeup.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
Clint swallowed and nodded, trying to shake off the odd mood. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. It was just...intense."
"You were good," Phil said. "It's going to be a great scene when it's edited together."
"It felt weird," Clint said. "Too much, or something. I don't know."
Phil curled his fingers around Clint's and squeezed. "Exactly right. Trust me."
"It's easier filming the fight stuff," Clint said. "All this emotional stuff...it felt weird."
"It's supposed to be hard," Phil said, smiling. "Otherwise anyone could do this job."
For the first time in a long time, Clint didn't feel like making a joke about his own work. He nodded, instead. "I guess you're the guy who knows this shit."
"I am," Phil said dryly, "and that means you should trust me when I tell you that you got it right. You'll see in a few months."
"Do I have to watch myself?"
"Not unless you want to. But I think your reviews are going to be phenomenal."
Clint ducked his head. "Um."
There was a soft sigh, and Phil tugged his hand free so that he could climb to his feet. "Time to go. I need to get cleaned up before the party."
Fake blood was still slowly dripping from Phil's costume, which was going to create a nasty mess on the way out to the trailers. Not that it was important anymore, though. It would be months, potentially a year or more, before Clint was back filming here again.
Clint almost offered to help Phil scrub the hard to reach areas, but he couldn't seem to make himself flirt so casually. The after-effects of the last scene, it had to be.
So he stood up and forced himself to grin. "I'll catch you there. I've got to take Lucky home first."
If Phil was disappointed, he didn't show it. He just nodded. "Sounds good."
The party was at Stark's place again. That seemed to be the normal thing for this crew. Stark had a big house with a pool, while everyone else seemed to live in apartments. It probably helped that Pepper and Stark seemed to be a package deal, and Pepper had the kind of contacts and organisational talents to pull off something like this.
Clint guessed pretty much everyone else had better apartments than he did. He should probably do something about that, now that he'd made it to the end of the shoot without getting fired or anything.
They did say property was a good investment, right?
He made a mental note to ask someone about that. Tomorrow. Maybe.
Everyone who had been involved with the shoot in any way seemed to be at the party. Even Darcy was there, drinking mai tais with Natasha, Melinda, and Pepper. It was a quartet that honestly made Clint flinch every time he passed them.
He couldn't decide whether Darcy was there as his agent, or there because the other women had taken her under their wings. He suspected it was a bit of both. Whatever it was, the four of them seemed to be enjoying themselves, and that was scary as hell.
Clint spent most of the party moving from group to group, nursing his beers as slowly as he could so that he didn't end up shitfaced. Steve, Bucky, and Sam seemed practically inseparable, and Clint was definitely not going to try to guess the dynamics of that group. Nope, no way.
Skye and Jemma were much easier to figure out. Clint still wasn't sure why they smiled at each other that way when they asked him about Lucky, though. Maybe that was another thing he needed to not think about too much.
Fury and Hill spent a lot of the party sitting in a corner, talking intently while Hill sketched stuff on a napkin. They only stopped when Natasha and Melinda marched over and towed Hill away to talk about...whatever the hell was making the whole group cackle and switch to Manhattans.
That briefly left Fury alone, and Clint almost wandered over to do the polite career-advancing thing, but then Phil sat next to him, and Clint changed direction to crash the Stark-and-Leo-Fitz geek out party. Except they tried to drag him into a discussion about computing shit he was never going to understand, so he retreated to the pool where Bruce, Thor, and Jane were dangling their feet in the water.
The weird thing was that Clint didn't feel out of place anywhere he went. It didn't seem to matter whether he was sitting with some of the actors or hanging out with the crew--or in a mixed group of both--they all seemed to welcome him and he felt...at home.
It was a strange group of people with the most disparate range of backgrounds and personalities he could imagine, but it worked. Clint could see why so many of them returned for film after film: they were a family.
And they'd let him in. It had taken him a long time to figure it out, but it had happened. Somehow, he didn't think this would be the last night he'd see them all.
Thor and Jane were glowing happily, and there was a flash of something shiny on her finger every now and then. Clint half-expected to end up out of his depth again, because Jane's head was always at least half in her research even when she was scowling at a sound desk, but Bruce steered the conversation carefully away from the technical stuff. They talked quietly for a long time, and after Thor and Jane wandered into the house to get a drink, Bruce seemed content to stay at the pool and debate the merits of old spy movies.
It was getting late--or maybe it was more accurate to say early--when Clint found himself sitting alone on the side of the pool with a half-finished bottle of beer cradled in his hands. The party was quieter now, and he was feeling mellow and content with the world. Soft jazz floated out through the patio door, overlaid with the occasional hint of feminine laughter.
Clint was vaguely wondering if it was time to call it a night, and whether he could find somewhere in the house to crash, when the scuff of footsteps woke him up. He turned in time to see Phil approach from the door and slip off his shoes.
"Do you mind?" Phil asked, gesturing to the pool with a mostly empty glass of wine.
Clint shook his head. "Nope."
Phil took a moment to roll his pants up to his knees, before sitting down and dipping his feet in the water with a sigh. His shoulder brushed Clint's, warm and solid.
"Are you drunk?" Phil asked.
Clint looked down at his beer bottle. "Not really. This is my third?"
"Ah." Phil raised his glass. "I might be. I don't usually drink much. This is my second. Or third. Huh."
"So you're a cheap date," Clint said, with a small smile. "Noted."
Phil made a face. On anyone else, Clint would have called it a pout. "Not cheap. Stark assured me this was very expensive wine."
"Guess that puts you out of my price range, then," Clint said, trying to ignore the sharp ache in his chest.
"Not anymore," Phil said. "I doubt much is going to be outside your price range, from now on."
Clint shrugged. "I guess. Maybe I should look for a less shitty apartment."
"Property is a good investment."
"That's what everyone tells me."
"What are you planning next?" Phil asked.
"Darcy's got a whole bunch of scripts for me to read," Clint said. "Some of them look pretty interesting."
"And I think she's trying to book me for photo shoots with every magazine she can find."
Phil nudged his shoulder. "You should be on the front of everything."
"Would you buy them?"
"In a heartbeat."
Clint smiled at him and leaned against his shoulder. "What are you doing next?"
Phil swallowed the last sip of wine and set his glass aside. "I'm flying out tomorrow morning, actually. There's a small independent film shooting down in Mexico. Then I'm going straight to London after that wraps, to start rehearsing for a play. If I'm not going to get the big action roles anymore, it's time for me to find another way to do this."
"Oh." Clint stared down at the bottle in his hand. "That's soon."
"There was supposed to be a break, but then this overran," Phil said.
"Guess it's a good thing we wrapped today."
"I could have changed my flight again, if I'd had to. My part isn't that big."
Clint didn't ask why he couldn't change his flight by a day or two so they could have time together. That wasn't the kind of thing they had together.
"I guess I won't see you again until the press junkets, then," Clint said instead.
Phil turned towards him. "I guess not."
"It was good, though. Right?"
The skin around Phil's eyes crinkled the way Clint loved when he smiled. "It was good. Very good. Maybe...it was good."
Clint wasn't sure which one of them initiated the kiss. It felt too natural, too right, to be a conscious decision. He leaned in and met Phil halfway, their lips brushing lightly before Phil opened his mouth to deepen it. Clint tasted the wine on his tongue and felt the warmth across his cheek when Phil sighed. He lifted a hand to trace the line of Phil's jaw with his finger; not to hold him in place, but because he needed that extra bit of contact.
He couldn't have said how long they sat there, kissing slowly, but his lungs felt like they might burst and Phil's lips were red and wet when they pulled back.
"I'm going to miss you," Clint whispered.
Phil raised his hand and brushed a thumb over Clint's eyebrow and around his eye, the touch so delicate it raised shivers in its wake. His fingers shook slightly when he cupped Clint's jaw, but his voice sounded even. "I'll miss you, too."
Clint leaned into the touch for a moment. "We could talk. While you're gone. There's no good reason we can't, like, send texts or something, if you have some down time."
"We could do that," Phil said. "I'd like that."
"Nothing heavy," Clint said quickly. "Just...let me know how you're doing. You know?"
Clint forced himself to sit up, even though his skin felt chilled when Phil's hand dropped away. He coughed to clear the strange thickness in his throat. "How early is your flight? You should go."
Phil glanced down at his watch, and his lips turned down. "I should. My flight is in six hours and I haven't packed."
"Then go," Clint said. "No, hey, wait. Your number. You never gave it to me."
He set his beer bottle aside and leaned away from Phil to tug his cell phone out of his jeans. His fingers shook more than he expected them to when he unlocked it, and he stared at it hopelessly for a moment before handing it to Phil.
Phil lifted an eyebrow enquiringly, and Clint shrugged. After a few taps, Phil passed the phone back. There was a sent message sitting open on the screen.
"Thanks," Clint said.
For a long moment, they sat on the side of the pool. Part of Clint desperately wanted to lean in and steal another kiss, but another part of him was scared.
Afraid that Phil would turn away, or someone would catch them, even though they were probably invisible from the house.
Afraid that he might put too much into the kiss and Phil would guess how he felt.
Afraid that he wouldn't put enough into the kiss, and Phil wouldn't guess.
"I'd better go," Phil said eventually.
"I'll see you in a few months."
Clint forced himself to smile. "Yeah, in a few months."
He was too surprised to respond when Phil leaned in for a hard, almost desperate kiss. By the time he recovered, Phil had gathered up his shoes and disappeared into the house.
Clint sat by the pool until dawn started to lighten the horizon, and then he found a spare empty bedroom and slept for twelve hours.
Act III, Scene IV
"Will you sit down before I have to hurt you?" Darcy asked. "You're making me dizzy. I might hurl."
Clint stopped pacing, but he didn't sit down. The furniture looked way too expensive and kind of fragile. "You don't have to be here. This isn't my first interview."
Darcy made an undignified sound. "That's exactly why I'm here. Have you seen your interviews?"
"Uh." Clint scrubbed a hand through his hair. "They're not that bad, right?"
"Half of them, I've seen cardboard cut-outs with more animation." Darcy glared. "I don't want to think about the rest. I'm here to make sure you don't panic and drink a whole pot of coffee again. The energiser bunny looked low-key next to your Good Morning America mess."
"I was jet-lagged!"
"Uh huh. Point still remains."
"I'm starting to get the hang of it."
Darcy sighed. "You're the worst client."
"I'm a great client," Clint said, fighting down a smile. "You've paid off your student loans, and I've turned up on time for every audition you sent me on. I even got some of them."
"You're still making me regret all my life choices," Darcy grumbled.
"Yeah, but when was the last time you had to bail out my ass because I got caught soliciting with cocaine in the car?"
"Fine. Point." Darcy held up a finger. "One point. You get one. Okay? If you get through these interviews without turning into a plastic person or talking like a hyped up teenager on sugar, maybe you'll get another point. Maybe."
"What does a point get me? Something good?"
Darcy rolled her eyes. "Quit flirting with me, and sit your ass down. You're making me dizzy."
Clint hadn't even realised that he'd started pacing again. He surveyed the chairs and picked the one that looked least like it would collapse if he shifted around too much. It was probably going to rumple the suit that the PR people had stuffed him into a while ago, but as he was going to be spending the whole day sitting down, he didn't think they could complain too much.
Somewhere, in a room down the hallway, there was a room with chairs and a herd of journalists waiting to torment him.
Okay, maybe not a herd. Apparently they'd be allowed in one by one instead of as a marauding army, as though that made it better.
If he was being honest, which he usually tried to avoid, it wasn't the journalists that were making him pace like a restless teenager. Somewhere in the hotel, maybe even on the same floor, Phil Coulson was also getting ready for the interviews. It would be the first time they had seen each other for over six months, and they were supposed to spend the day doing joint interviews in front of the world's most beady-eyed reporters.
Clint had almost gone to see Phil's play. He'd bought tickets and everything, but then he had to do some last minute ADR, and the dates didn't work out, and who went to London just for a play anyway?
He'd felt crappy about ten minutes after cancelling the flight. At least he'd been planning it as a surprise thing, so he hadn't needed to send a text to Phil to say that he'd bailed on the play.
Apparently Phil had been good. Really good. According to all the reviews Clint read, anyway. The two reviews that had torn into him were obviously by people who didn't know what they were seeing.
He'd told Phil that during one of their late night texting sessions. They never actually called each other, that would be weird, but they'd exchanged more messages than Clint had sent anyone, ever. Mostly they'd talked about stupid little things and sent random photos of stuff, like the towel sculptures Clint kept finding in every hotel he stayed in, and the weird presents people sent to Phil's dressing room.
"Do you think I've got time to knit?" Darcy asked, out of the blue.
Clint blinked. "Huh?"
Darcy held out her phone, displaying a photo of a hat. "I should make something. For Jane's baby. That's what godmothers do, right? Do you think I've got time to learn how to knit, or is it bad karma to make shit before the baby's born?"
"Why do you think I'll know?"
"Because the person I usually ask is Jane, and I can't ask her, obviously." Darcy began flicking through photos on her phone again. "It can't be that hard to figure out how to make a hat and some booties, right?"
Clint was saved from having to answer by a knock on the door. He jumped to his feet, but Darcy shoved him down again as she hurried over to answer it. The chair rocked when he landed and Clint braced himself, which was why he didn't see who she was letting in at first.
He heard Darcy's excited squeak, though, and he looked up to find Phil giving her a quick hug. Their eyes met, and all the air suddenly left Clint's lungs in a rush. It was a good thing that he was already sitting, because he might have done something really embarrassing otherwise.
Darcy released Phil and stepped back. Clint tried to remember how to breathe, which was a lot more difficult than it looked.
After a long pause, Darcy made a complicated gesture with her hands that Clint couldn't read. "I'm just going to go. Check that there's water in the interview room and stuff. You guys should catch up."
She was gone before Clint could say anything, not that he had enough breath yet to do it. Phil's eyes were still on him, brighter and warmer than he remembered, and the air in the room seemed too thick and sticky to be real. He should probably get up or something. Do whatever it was people did when they were being normal.
He was an actor. He should be able to fake it, right?
Clint stayed right where he was, watching Phil cross the room to stand just within arm's reach. If he leaned forward, he could probably tug Phil down into a hug.
Except that would wrinkle him, and if Phil's PR people were anything like Clint's PR people, then "no wrinkling or crumpling" was probably just below "thou shalt not murder" on their list of rules.
Maybe not below, actually.
Clint tried to smile, but it felt wrong. Too tense against his skin.
"Hello," Phil said.
Clint licked his dry lips. "Hi."
"How are you?"
"Pretty much the same as yesterday," Clint said, with a shrug. The air was getting easier to pull in, even though he still couldn't look away from Phil's face. The grey suit he wore brought out the flecks of silver in his eyes. "Would you really have sent Natasha after me if I hadn't been here?"
Phil smiled. "Yes, in a heartbeat."
"That's not playing fair."
"I never said that I was fair."
"The suit looks good on you," Clint said, without thinking. He almost tried to take the words back, excuse himself somehow, before deciding to fuck it all and just go with it. If Phil hadn't intended to flirt, then he wouldn't have sent photos yesterday of every potential outfit the publicists had been trying to shove him into. "It looks really good on you."
Phil's smile turned bashful, and Clint's heart went thump. It was a good feeling.
"Thank you," Phil said. "You look good, too. I like that shirt on you."
Clint's cheeks felt warm. He'd changed his mind three times about the shirt, until Natasha handed him the darkest purple one and threatened to shred the others if he didn't put it on.
There was another long pause, and Clint searched desperately for something to say. Something safe, innocuous, and not in any way a come on. Because propositioning the guy he'd been kind of unable to stop thinking about since their first kiss was definitely not something he should be doing just before he faced the press.
Phil cleared his throat. "You can tell me if I'm out of line--you definitely should--but would you like to go out for coffee after this?"
Or maybe it was something Phil would do for him.
Clint tilted his head, trying not to let the hope surging though his heart show on his face. "Are you asking me for coffee-coffee, or date-coffee?"
Phil licked his lips, the tip of his tongue appearing for a brief moment that drew Clint's eyes. "Date-coffee. Unless that's not something you're interested in anymore. Coffee-coffee is fine, too."
Slowly, Clint made himself stand up. Phil took a half step back, but Clint reached out and grabbed his wrist, trying to show him without words that he could stay. That he should stay, right there, where Clint could lift his hand and press a kiss to his palm without looking away from his face.
"Date-coffee would be great," Clint said.
Phil let out a shaky breath, and Clint couldn't resist anymore. He released Phil's wrist and cupped Phil's face between both hands lightly. For one, timeless moment, he paused there. He waited for Phil to pull away; to give some indication that he hadn't meant what Clint wanted him to mean.
It never came. Phil's eyes darkened and Clint tugged him forward slightly, tilting his head so that their lips could meet in perfect alignment.
Kissing Phil was like drinking for the first time after walking through a desert. It was warm and wonderful, and everything he'd been missing. Phil tasted the way Clint remembered, made the same tiny, greedy sound at the back of his throat. His lips parted easily and Clint licked inside, kissing deep and filthy the way he'd been dreaming about for months.
Phil's fingers were in his hair, one hand firm at the back of his neck. Clint sighed and pushed closer, putting everything he felt into the kiss. This was it, the moment he'd told himself not to hope for, and he wanted it more than he could express with words. And the thing that shook him to the core, was that Phil seemed to feel the same way.
Time didn't stop, but his sense of time got lost somewhere. An endless while later, that might have been a minute or an hour, Clint reluctantly pulled back to catch his breath. He rested his forehead against Phil's and rubbed a thumb over Phil's cheek.
"Would it be so wrong if we ran away now?" Phil asked, his voice rumbling low and throaty.
Clint chuckled, even though he privately agreed with the sentiment. "Darcy would kill me."
"And Nick would kill me."
"Being a responsible adult sucks sometimes." Clint tilted his head and kissed the corner of Phil's mouth. "I'd rather suck you."
Phil made a strange strangled sound. "Maybe we could do coffee at my place."
Clint lifted his head and stepped back, dropping his hands to Phil's shoulders. "That's not a date."
"I'm not saying I don't want to do that, but it's not exactly a date." Clint grinned and let his hands fall away from Phil entirely, before he gave into the temptation to wrinkle Phil thoroughly. "At least, not the kind of date you were originally proposing. The kind where we do date-like activities outside our apartments, instead of hiding and going straight to the fucking. Is that accurate?"
"It is." Phil's gaze dropped to somewhere around feet level. "I'd like to be more than what we were. More than just 'something with benefits'. I'd like to date you, and hold hands in public with you, and not hide all the time. If that's something you'd be okay with."
"That sounds like something I'd be more than okay with," Clint said, allowing himself a smile at last. "Is your current agent on board with this plan?"
Phil looked up. "I fired him, too. Yesterday. Do you think Darcy has room for another client?"
"Pretty sure I could talk her into it." Clint didn't think she'd need any persuading, actually, but he didn't say that. "I'm just...why now? Why not then?"
"Filming can get intense," Phil said. "I didn't want to make that kind of decision while we were both still feeling the effects from what we'd been working on."
"Have you seen the newest posters yet?" Clint asked.
Phil nodded, a wry smile tugging at his lips. "Nick showed me the mock-ups before they were printed up."
"Think we'll get asked about them?"
"What should we say?"
Phil shrugged. "Not much. It's not as though anything is explicitly stated."
Clint nodded. "I like them. The posters, I mean."
"So do I."
It was tempting to reach out, to tug Phil closer again, but Clint was pretty sure that if he did then they'd never leave the room. He didn't think the spindly furniture would survive if that happened. Phil was right there, though, with his beautiful smile and the skin around his eyes crinkling, and his perfectly pressed suit begged to be rumpled. It wasn't fair.
A knock at the door startled Clint, and he snatched back the hand that had been traitorously reaching for Phil's. An unfamiliar voice announced that it was time, and footsteps moved away before he could answer.
"We should go," Phil said.
"Can't be late."
Except Phil pressed Clint up against the door before they left for a slow kiss, so they were late anyway. It was perfect.
It should have felt like the longest day ever. The journalists who paraded past, asking questions about character motivation and fight training, definitely tried to make it feel that way, but somehow it didn't. In fact, Clint had a great day.
He could have examined the reason why, but he didn't need to. The reason was sitting right next to him all day long, making jokes and charming the reporters with impressive professionalism. Their shoulders brushed constantly, and Phil sneaked in little touches and warm smiles whenever no one was looking, which made Clint feel all kinds of warm and happy.
So, yeah, it was the best day Clint could remember for a long time, and when it was all over and Phil asked if he was too tired for coffee, Clint was quick to reassure him.
Coffee turned into dinner, which turned into more coffee and then a cab ride to Phil's apartment.
Clint's new apartment was nice, but it wasn't uniformed-guy-behind-a-desk-in-the-lobby levels of nice. Phil nodded to the concierge as they passed, hand in hand, and Clint could feel the tension in his arm that turned his easy smile into a lie. It didn't surprise Clint anymore that they'd never gone back to Phil's place when they were messing around during filming.
Clint snatched glances at Phil during the elevator ride up to his floor, and he frowned at the lines of tension around Phil's mouth. He wanted to kiss them away, but he sensed that for Phil, walking through the building's lobby with a guy who was obviously going to spend the night had been a big enough deal for one day. Maybe they could make out in the elevator the next time.
Which was when it hit Clint that there would be a next time, and his heart jumped.
There would probably be so many next times that he'd lose track eventually. It was a good thought.
Phil ushered Clint through his door politely, and Clint only barely stopped himself from swearing in time.
He'd managed to forget that Phil had been a successful movie star for years, right up until he saw the size of his incredible living room. And the floor-to-ceiling windows with the kind of view people paid stupid money for. And did he mention the entertainment system yet?
"It's a little big for me," Phil said. "I got told to invest in property."
"I got told the same thing," Clint said, trying not to sound as overwhelmed as he felt. "I haven't invested in this much property yet, though."
"I'd like to see it," Phil said.
Clint shrugged. "I mean, it's not great like this. But it isn't crappy anymore. It's got, like, paint on the walls that matches, and the plaster isn't falling off. I even got a sofa set, and Stark made me buy this huge TV and a bunch of other stuff that's kind of awesome. Don't tell him I said that, though."
"Your old apartment wasn't that bad."
Phil paused thoughtfully, before conceding. "Okay, it was that bad."
Somehow, the easy, flirtatious atmosphere they'd kept up all day had disappeared. Clint blamed it on the huge apartment. He searched desperately for something to say that would bring it back, or at least not sound like a cheesy come on, but he came up blank. From the way Phil was looking at him, Clint didn't think he was the only one having a sudden case of nerves.
He took a steadying breath, and completely failed to actually say anything again.
"Would you like a drink?" Phil asked eventually, nodding to a corner where several bottles and decanters glittered in the light.
Clint started to agree, but cut himself off and changed his mind. "If I start drinking now, I'm probably just going to pass out drunk on your couch and that would be a shame."
"I wouldn't blame you," Phil said. "It's been a long day."
"Yeah, but..." Clint frowned. "Unless you really did invite me back for coffee? Which wouldn't be terrible, and I totally get it if you want to take things slow, because we already know we're compatible in bed, and we've never tried to do the rest of the relationship thing."
Clint lifted one shoulder, feeling even more awkward. "I've missed the sex. With you. I've missed sex with you."
"Passing out on my couch would be fine," Phil said, "but not passing out is fine with me, too. If that's what you want, and I'm not pushing you too fast."
"Definitely not too fast." Clint took a half step closer. "You know it's kind of ridiculous that we're freaking out about how fast we take this, right? I mean, I've had your dick in my mouth and now we're acting like school kids on a first date."
"It is a first date," Phil said. "We didn't date before."
"We did everything else."
"I'm not sure whether I'm the kind of guy who puts out on a first date."
Clint grinned. "Really?"
"Can I change your mind on that?"
"Maybe," Phil said, a smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. "You can try, anyway."
"That sounds like a challenge," Clint said, as heat curled low his gut at the prospect. "Can I kiss you? Is that something you'd be okay with on a first date?"
Clint didn't move straight in for a kiss, even though it was tempting. Diving right in, pushing Phil down on his expensive sofa, would have felt good. He'd never been into delayed gratification before. That was how they'd begun the first time, though; a quick hand job against a wall, no finesse or deeper feelings allowed. It had been good; he wasn't going to deny that.
It hadn't been great, though, even if they'd made it to great with a bit of practice.
He didn't want the first time in this new thing they were doing, this thing that was about feelings instead of blind lust, to be like that. It needed to be more than a fast, hungry fuck on Phil's pristine furniture.
Clint took one step, and then another, until he was so far into Phil's personal space that he could smell Phil's cologne and hear the unsteady breaths he was taking. He lifted a hand and slowly traced the contours of Phil's face, running a thumb over his lips and smiling when the tip of Phil's tongue traced its path.
The skin of Phil's neck was warm and delicate when Clint brushed over it, and he ran one finger along the open collar of Phil's shirt down to the top button. Fine hairs brushed Clint's fingertips as he flattened his hand over Phil's chest, feeling the heat of him seeping through the fine cotton.
Clint leaned closer and breathed in Phil's familiar scent, closing his eyes to savour it. He allowed his hand to slide lower, down to Phil's waist, as he placed one careful kiss below Phil's jaw.
Phil's sharp intake of air made Clint smile. He'd done that; he'd made Phil gasp from one simple kiss.
It was a powerful thought.
He did it again, a delicate brush of lips against skin, and Phil made a soft sound at the back of his throat. Clint paused there for a moment, breathing lightly against Phil's throat, before sucking gently over his pulse point.
They'd always been so careful about marks and bruises. Clint wasn't usually into the whole claiming territory side of hickies, but the idea that Phil would be wearing a mark for the next couple of days woke a sense of primal satisfaction he hadn't even realised slumbered deep inside. From the way Phil sighed and leaned into the contact, head tilting back, it seemed that he was just as affected by the idea.
Clint gave one last sucking kiss and pulled away slightly, so that his mouth barely brushed Phil's skin when he asked, "Is this okay?"
It took Phil a moment to answer, and his voice sounded husky. "God, yes, it's okay. More than okay."
"So have I changed your mind yet?"
Phil took even longer to answer this time. "About what?"
Clint chuckled and moved away so that he could look into Phil's face. His eyes were closed, but there was a sly smile that Clint hadn't seen before. "About putting out on our first date."
"Oh, that." Phil's opened his eyes, and Clint's breath caught in his throat. "I'm definitely reconsidering."
"Can you reconsider with less clothes?"
"Wouldn't that be counter-productive?"
Clint shrugged. "I don't see how. Less clothes would make the whole putting out thing easier for both of us."
"But if we're wearing less clothes, my integrity might be compromised," Phil said. "I wouldn't be making a fully rational decision."
"Are you saying that my naked body is a bad influence?"
Clint nodded, stepped back, and shrugged out of his jacket. "Okay then. Noted."
"Did I just make a mistake?"
The tie that Darcy had forced him into refused to unknot, so Clint loosened it and pulled it over his head, throwing it aside. His fingers felt clumsy as he tried to unbutton his shirt. "That depends on your definition of mistake."
Phil's gaze dropped, to around the level of Clint's fingers, and he sounded slightly breathless. "I could find a dictionary for you, if you're unclear on the term."
"I'm pretty sure that I'm not supposed to find grammar talk arousing right now." Clint pulled his shirt tails out of his pants and continued unbuttoning. "You're unfair."
"I'm not sure you're one to talk about unfair right now."
When Phil swallowed, it sounded unnaturally loud in the quiet apartment. His fingers were twitching at his sides, and Clint couldn't help grinning. He wasn't even sure what point he'd been trying to make anymore. All he knew was that Phil was watching him, eyes hot and heavy, and he couldn't remember the last time he'd been this turned on after barely being touched.
He reached the last button, and worked it free slowly. Carefully.
Phil's lips parted on a soft sigh as Clint allowed the shirt to slide off his shoulders and fall to the floor. He lifted his chin and waited, watching Phil.
They were teasing, he knew it, but a small voice inside still wondered whether this would be the moment when Phil shut down again. Whether it was all too good to be true, too much, and he was about to have his heart broken after getting this chance. Whether he should have been content with coffee, and cut the date short before dinner and everything else made him too hopeful.
Phil made a quiet, broken sound, and crossed the gap to pull Clint into his arms for another kiss. This wasn't soft and sweet, all clinging lips and tiny sighs. It was deep, drugging, a kiss that made all sorts of promises that Clint really wanted to fulfil.
His bare chest was pressed up against Phil's suit, the fabric rough against his skin in the best way. Phil's hands were on his hips, pulling him closer, and Clint clutched at Phil's shoulders and neck to stop him from leaving again. He didn't want the kiss to end, even though breathing was getting difficult, and his heart was hammering in his ears. Ending was bad, worse than bad, and if this moment could last forever then he'd be the happiest man.
Except ending the kiss wasn't the end, not the kind he'd been afraid of. He had Phil's face buried in his neck, and he could feel the wet, sloppy kisses Phil was pressing there while he caught his breath. Each one sent a tingle across Clint's nerve-endings.
"We should find your bed," Clint said, as he tugged Phil's shirt free and slid his hands under to feel warm skin. "You'll have to lead the way. It might be in the next county, considering the size of this place."
Warm air puffed against his neck as Phil chuckled, before finally lifting his head. "Aren't you still supposed to be trying to talk me into putting out on the first date?"
Clint grinned. "You've got your hand inside my pants, and I'm not the only one turned on here. Are you sure I haven't already talked you into it?"
"You don't play fair."
"I never said I did."
Clint's heart seemed to skip a beat when Phil pulled back and took his hand, looking unexpectedly cautious. Phil had always been as aggressive as Clint about his needs, about getting them both off, but he seemed almost...shy.
Or maybe hesitant was a better word.
It didn't stop him, though. He led the way across the huge living room, down a hallway, and into a bedroom that Clint barely looked at. There was a bed, wide and neatly made, and that was all Clint needed to see. He could investigate anything else in the morning, because he'd been hard in his pants since Phil's first sigh, and he needed more.
Phil stopped him at the door, though, and cupped his jaw with a hand that shook.
"You'll stay the night?" Phil asked.
Clint turned his head to kiss the base of Phil's thumb. "I'm not going anywhere."
They kissed there, in the doorway, until Clint pulled away and tugged Phil toward the bed. It took a while, because they kept getting distracted, and he'd lost his pants and shoes by the time they got there. Phil was still overdressed, but Clint didn't mind that.
It gave him an excuse to undress him, something he'd never really had the chance to do before. They'd always been too turned on, too desperate, and half the time they'd still been partially dressed by the time they came, because tearing off clothes took too much effort.
Undressing Phil slowly, kissing each inch of skin he revealed, was simultaneously the most beautiful and the most painful experience of Clint's life. Phil made quiet, startled noises each time Clint found a new place to lick or scrape his teeth over, and each sound made the heat curling in his gut ramp a little higher.
Clint learned that Phil's nipples were sensitive, and he was ticklish along his ribs. He tasted the trail of hair leading down from Phil's belly and mouthed at the delicate skin on the inside of his thighs. He pushed Phil down onto the bed when they were both naked, and Phil grabbed him and pulled him down on top.
"Am I squashing you?" Clint asked.
Phil smiled. "I like you squashing me."
Clint kissed him for that, sucking on his tongue until Phil writhed and gasped underneath him. He might never get enough of this feeling; knowing that he could make Phil lose control. It felt like a precious, incredible thing that he needed to keep safe.
When Clint pulled away, lifting his head to catch his breath, Phil smiled and said, "Fuck me."
Clint choked for a moment as all the air left his lungs, and the room suddenly felt twenty degrees hotter. "What?"
Phil rolled his hips, grinding up against Clint's thigh. His cock was hot and wet already, almost seemed to brand the skin it touched, and Clint couldn't help the way his hips jerked and stuttered against him.
"You're serious?" Clint asked, even though the expression in Phil's eyes told him he didn't need to.
Clint paused to pull in a shuddering breath. "Okay. We can do that."
"Unless you're not into that...?"
Clint dove down for a fast, hard kiss. "Yeah, I'm into that. I didn't know if you were into that."
Phil's smile widened. "I'm into that. My nightstand, check the drawer."
The lube and condoms were unopened, brand new, and Clint's fingers shook as he opened them. Phil's lips twitched into a smirk when he noticed, and he spread his legs wider because he was an evil bastard. Clint retaliated by drawing out the prep, kissing and licking the base of Phil's cock, and sucking his balls until he was panting and whining and making loud demands to just do it already.
Their gazes locked when Clint slowly slid inside, groaning at the hot, tight heat, and the perfection of the moment. Even when he leaned down to lick away the sweat beading in the dip in Phil's clavicle, he didn't let his eyes close. It was an intensity he hadn't realised they could have, even when they were rutting against each other in his trailer, and he hadn't known that it was missing until right now, looking into Phil's eyes as they began moving together.
It started out with slow, careful thrusts in to meet Phil as he rolled his hips up. It didn't stay slow. Clint was too close; he'd been waiting for too long, and Phil seemed just as desperate.
Phil lifted his hips to meet Clint's as they moved faster, almost frantically. The soft sound he made with each thrust wrapped around Clint's heart, igniting a fire of want and something much, much deeper that was almost too much to bear. Clint didn't have the dexterity left to reach down and wrap a hand around Phil's cock, to help him over the edge, but it didn't matter. Phil's mouth went slack when he came, silently, his eyes rolling shut despite his efforts. After a couple of short, staccato thrusts, Clint's orgasm rolled over him in a wave of hot pleasure that seemed to last forever.
Sweat was starting to cool on his skin when Clint finally lifted his head from the comfortable place he'd found in the crook of Phil's neck. "Are you okay?"
Phil hummed, low and satisfied. It rumbled through his chest, vibrating against Clint's skin. "I think so."
Clint carefully pulled out and got rid of the condom. He tried to roll away, to find something to clean up with, but Phil held onto him and he gave in without any protest.
"We should clean up," he said after a while.
"Later," Phil said, sounding sleepy.
"You're going to regret this."
Clint chuckled. This sleepy, contented version of Phil was a new delight he planned to see again, as many times as he could.
He was surprised when Phil took the hand he'd wrapped loosely around Phil's waist, tangled their fingers together and lifted it to his lips.
"I might have forgotten to tell you," Phil said quietly, "but I'm falling in love with you."
Clint stretched up and kissed the corner of his mouth. "Good thing the feeling's mutual."
He settled more comfortably and drifted to sleep, with Phil's breath in his hair and Phil's hand in his.
Post Credits Scene
Footage from "Out of Time", screenplay by Bruce Banner, directed by Nick Fury, Furious Productions, post credits.
A black screen slowly lightened, the sound of swishing waves growing louder. The unfocused brightness slowly resolved into a beach, white sand and blue skies, with a single-storey house with a veranda in the background. Two deck chairs had been set out under an umbrella, one of them occupied, although the man's face couldn't be seen yet.
The patio door of the house slid open and another man emerged, carrying two tall glasses with condensation streaming down them and a file tucked under his arm. Agent Wright was wearing ragged old jeans, ripped at the knees, and nothing else. He looked relaxed and happy as he strolled down the beach and handed the two glasses to his partner, before flopping into his chair with a contented sigh.
"Flight delays?" Agent Banks asked sympathetically, holding out one of the glasses.
He was wearing a loose, white collarless shirt and khaki shorts, shirt only buttoned partway, which was more casual than anyone ever saw him. The smile Wright shot him showed how much he appreciated the effect. Wright's gaze flickered to the red edge of a scar, showing just above the top button, before returning to Banks's face.
"Had to catch a later flight," Wright said. "The director wanted to see me before I left."
"Don't worry, I'm still on leave," Wright said. "For a few days, anyway. We've got a mission when you're up to it."
A soft smile curved Banks's lips. "We?"
"Yeah. I guess we're working together again."
"I can live with that."
"You'd better." Wright scowled fiercely. "I'm counting on you living for a long time."
"I'll do my best."
Wright took a sip of his drink, and the scowl slowly faded, replaced by a softer expression. "Good. Want to hear about it, or...?"
"Or," Banks said. "Definitely or."
The scene slowly faded to black. After a moment, the words "Banks and Wright will return" appeared.
Fury smiled at the screen as the words slowly dissolved into blackness. Even though he'd watched them film that scene after the world premiere, could remember the green backdrop behind them, he couldn't tell they'd been in a studio. Skye and Fitz had worked their magic better than he'd hoped for, and they'd done it so fast that they'd be able to add it to the reels on both sides of the Atlantic before it hit general release.
The execs would probably be furious when they saw it, but Fury was already anticipating the fan reaction with pleasure. The trailers alone had generated some amazing reactions on Twitter.
A door opened behind him, and Hill cleared her throat.
"Did he sign?" Fury asked.
Hill sounded satisfied. "He signed. They both did."
"Actually, they sounded surprisingly happy with the outline I gave them for the next film."
Fury grunted. "They should. They're both going to end up with award nominations coming out of their ears if we pull it off."
There was a long pause, and Hill sounded oddly strangled when she spoke next. "Sir? You might want to see this."
For the first time in a couple of hours, Fury looked away from his monitors, and found Hill standing at the window. It had grown dark out there while he wasn't watching, and Hill had opened the blinds so she could peer down at something happening outside.
"What?" he asked.
Hill shook her head. "Better if you see it, sir."
Reluctantly, Fury pushed back his chair and went to the window. He followed her eye line down to the parking lot, where Phil was standing next to a motorcycle, pulling on a leather jacket over the sweater and jeans he'd been wearing when Fury saw him earlier.
Clint hadn't taken his leather jacket off for the meeting, and he was leaning against the bike with a satisfied smile. Fury felt his eyebrow rising.
He swore under his breath when Phil leaned in to kiss Clint, slowly and thoroughly.
"I said you needed to see it," Hill said.
"Guess they're not going to have a problem with any love scenes, then."
Phil pulled back from the kiss slowly, with a big show of reluctance, and Clint grinned at him. He unhooked the helmets and handed one to Phil, before putting on his and mounting the bike. It was obvious that they'd done this a few times, because Phil climbed on behind him easily, with the helmet still in his hand.
Fury might have been willing to believe that neither man was aware they were being watched, until Phil looked up towards the window and gave a small nod. Well, fuck.
As Phil pulled on his helmet and put his hands on Clint's hips, Hill whistled.
"Call Banner," Fury instructed. "I've got some new ideas for his script."
If he had his way, Fury was going to make Operation: Hellfire into the best damn SHIELD movie the world had ever seen.