Clint Barton had a problem.
It was broad-shouldered, always wore a suit, made competence look sexy and happened to respond to the name Phillip J. Coulson.
With a sigh, Clint blinked up at the dark ceiling of his assigned quarters, before he ran a tired hand over his face. His mind was whirling and sleep was proving depressingly elusive. It also didn’t help that every three seconds his mind would drift back to thoughts of Agent Coulson.
Like the way his eyes would soften slightly and the corner of his mouth would curl upwards when he was fighting amusement. Or the way his shoulders would shift minutely right before he sent that sharp glare in some junior agent’s direction. Or even the way he looked like he desperately wanted to roll his eyes when he heard the latest piece of gossip people were whispering about him.
Clint liked to think that he and Coulson had formed a friendship during his time at SHIELD. He was certainly closer to Coulson that he was to anyone else – excluding Natasha – and Coulson shared his dry, witty remarks with Clint even when they were supposed to be maintaining radio silence. And if Clint secretly harboured the desire to strip the insanely competent agent out of his bland suit and lick every inch of his skin that was no one’s business but his own.
Except that, of course, that his feelings for Coulson went a lot deeper than mere friendship. Imaging Coulson naked on a regular basis was definitely not simple curiosity. Clint should have realised that feelings had passed the point of no return a while ago, but then he always got stupidly attached to people he actually liked. It was a legacy of his crappy childhood that someone was always trying to make him see a shrink about.
Clint groaned softly and shoved his pillow over his face. He hated having emotional epiphanies. It really messed with his sleep habits.
What made it worse, at least in Clint’s opinion, was that Coulson and his suits and his unflappable expression had become too much of a cornerstone of Clint’s life for him to risk everything by making some sort of confession. The idea of Coulson not being there made Clint’s stomach clench like he was going to throw up. He didn’t care how much of a coward that made him, he just couldn’t do it. The thought of being rejected if he ever confessed his feelings outright had Clint breaking out in a cold sweat.
Clint just wasn’t sure what else to do. Ignoring the problem until it went away had been a spectacular failure so far. He’d never really had a problem like this before either, mainly because aside from the circus, he’d never stuck around anywhere long enough for it to happen. In the past if Clint had wanted someone he’d just put on a pair of skin-tight jeans and flash his blue eyes a little and then the person involved would start chasing him.
Overt was pretty much the only way Clint flirted, but it would take a hell of a lot more than a provocative expression to get Coulson to somehow fall in love with a smartass former carnie. Or even in lust.
Deciding sleep wasn’t going to be coming anytime before dawn, Clint sighed again and climbed out of his bed to go in search of one of Tony’s many stashes of booze. Maybe getting drunk off his ass would help.
Silently, Clint padded down the plushly-carpeted corridors of Avengers HQ and tried to remember where Tony had hidden the good whiskey. The carpet was insanely soft underneath his bare feet and Clint had to admit that having Tony Stark set aside space in Stark Tower for the Avengers was pretty awesome. It definitely beat most of the places Clint had ever lived.
The rest of the place was quiet and Clint made it all the way to the kitchen without hearing a single sign of another person. It was kind of strange, because the Avengers could usually be as stupidly awake at three in the morning as they were at noon – particularly considering Bruce and Tony’s crazy working hours – but Clint was grateful for it all the same.
He grabbed the concealed bottle of whiskey from behind the cornflakes and headed for the lounge. The lights of New York glittered outside the floor to ceiling windows and Clint sprawled out on the insanely comfortable couch to watch them until he drank himself unconscious and he couldn’t think about Coulson anymore.
Clint wasn’t sure how long he lay there, but the edges of the world were nicely blurred when he heard the sounds of someone else entering his space. Rolling his head to the side, he tried to figure out who it was. He hoped it wasn’t an intruder hell-bent on killing someone, because Clint was a little drunk and his bow was in the other room.
Blinking, Clint tried to remember if he’d buried one of his knives under the couch cushions. He was pretty sure he could grab it before anyone stopped him and even drunk he was bound to hit something. He was Hawkeye, which meant he was awesome like that.
“…you can’t just treat women like that, Tony! They deserve respect and admiration, not…”
Clint recognised the sounds of Steve Rogers in Captain-America-lecture-mode at the same time he registered the heavy steps of someone else stumbling into the room. He still couldn’t see anyone from this angle, so he took another drink of whiskey and waited for whoever it was to walk around the couch.
“Not what?” Tony Stark protested. “I’ll have you know that… Lucy? Lacey? Well, whoever she was, she was greatly enjoying my ‘attention’!”
Tony staggered around the couch a second later, half supported by his arm around Steve’s shoulders and clearly having been dragged home from a bar. His usual sleek suit was rumpled and he had what appeared to be lipstick smeared down one side of his throat. Steve looked barely ruffled as per usual.
Both men stopped when they saw Clint sprawled out on the couch. Clint blinked back at them, before raising the half-empty bottle of whiskey as a toast. “Clint?” Steve asked, clearly surprised.
Tony, on the other hand, narrowed his eyes at Clint. “Barton, is that one of my three-hundred dollar bottles of scotch?” he asked. “Because you’re supposed to drink that out of glasses, not straight from the bottle like some sort of heathen…”
Clint looked at the bottle in question, before looking back up at Tony and shrugging. How was he supposed to know? He took another drink. It didn’t taste particularly special. Steve sighed and dropped Tony on the other end of the couch before he could protest, muttering something under his breath that Clint couldn’t quite make out.
He must have zoned out for a moment, because when Clint refocused, Steve was once again lecturing Tony on the proper treatment of women and Tony was attempting to steal Clint’s whiskey. It was ridiculously easy to stop the billionaire with a simple foot on the middle of his chest and Clint grinned at him as he took another drink.
A moment later Clint figured he was either far more drunk than he thought or he’d started paying too much attention to Steve’s lectures, because the words “like to be courted” had just gotten lodged in his brain. He handed Tony the rest of the whiskey without prompting, because he’d clearly had enough. There was no other explanation to the way in which he was considering applying that insanity to Coulson; to courting Coulson.
The idea was beyond insane. Trying to seduce Coulson by leaving him little gifts and doing nice things was completely crazy… and actually, might just work. Clint grinned. Courting Coulson was actually a pretty damn good idea because as long as Clint was careful, Coulson didn’t need to know what the gifts meant until Clint had figured out if Coulson could ever like him back or not.
Clint settled back into the couch with a pleased grin. This was a brilliant plan. He was going to court Coulson’s damn clothes off.
“You know, the silent staring is one of the reasons why people don’t like you.”
Clint made no attempt to hide his smile at the dry words uttered without even a glance in his direction. Pushing away from the door frame he’d been leaning against, Clint sauntered the rest of the way into the office before gracefully sprawling across one of the chairs in front of the desk.
After waking up a week ago with a blinding hangover, Clint had carefully been implementing his plan to court Coulson. So far he hadn’t gone beyond information-gathering – knowing your target and all that. However, one of the benefits of this phase of the plan was actually spending time with Coulson when bullets weren’t flying and Clint had to admit that he could definitely get used to it.
Behind his fortified walls of paperwork, Coulson refused to outwardly acknowledge Clint’s presence any further, but the little twitch in his wrist as he wrote proved that he knew Clint was there.
Clint was used to it; most people ignored Clint unless they wanted him to shoot something. Clint got it, he really did. He could be reckless and irritating at the best of times and boredom tended to make lesser men than Phil Coulson vow to never work with him in the field again. And okay, there might have been a few arrows and other sharp objects involved, but seriously, he was Hawkeye – he never missed what he was actually aiming at.
“Oh, come on, Coulson,” said with a cocky grin as he stretched languidly. “Who doesn’t like me?”
That got him a glance and an arched eyebrow in reply. Phil Coulson was the kind of man who would conduct entire conversations with that eyebrow and today was no exception.
Clint just grinned back, knowing the expression would exasperate Coulson, no matter how impassive his face remained. Of course, it would take more than Clint’s uninvited presence to get Coulson to show his frustration, but what was life without a little challenge?
Taking a rarely given opportunity, Clint studied Coulson for a moment. The other agent simply returned his attention to efficiently filling out his paperwork as if completely unbothered by Clint’s watchful gaze, because Coulson’s patience was legendary amongst the clandestine halls of SHIELD.
The lines around his eyes were showing today, which meant he was tired and stressed and probably running on more coffee than sleep. Clint wanted to reach out and ease some of the tension he could see running through those broad shoulders and was man enough to admit that only part of that impulse was because he just really, really wanted to touch Coulson.
“Did you want something, Barton?” Coulson asked finally.
There are a lot of things I want, Clint thought to himself, but he knew better than to say any of them out loud. Yet. Instead, he shrugged and threw a leg over the arm of the chair. “I’m bored,” he said.
There was a faint twist at the corner of Coulson’s mouth, as if he was suppressing a frown. “I fail to see how that fact is relevant to your presence in my office,” Coulson replied dryly.
Clint let his face morph back into the cocky expression that he knew got under Coulson’s skin, not matter how unwilling Coulson was to admit it. “Well, you are my handler, Coulson. I thought it was your job to ‘handle’ me?” Clint quipped with a practiced leer.
Had it been anyone else, Clint’s words would have been met with a frustrated sigh, threats or, in one memorable case, a report of sexual harassment. Coulson had not been happy about that – although strangely it was the junior agent who seemed to have disappeared, not Clint.
So instead of acting like a mere mortal, Coulson simply arched his eyebrow again. “Barton, isn’t there someone else you could be aggravating this afternoon?” he asked in his characteristic dry tone.
Clint shrugged. He probably could be annoying any number of other people. Tony was buried in his workshop and it was always fun to rearrange his tools when he wasn’t looking. Or Clint could be sending hilarious text messages to Captain America; Steve was getting better with modern technology, but he still jumped or blushed every time Clint changed his ringtone to something inappropriate or loud.
He could also head to the range and practice shooting or find Natasha for a sparring session – not to mention the newest crop of junior agents didn’t seem to be suitably awed and fearful of his stalking and hunting skills. Yet, despite all of that, Clint didn’t really want to be anywhere else. Coulson was sharp, intelligent and always had a comeback. Sitting in Coulson’s office was also kind of... peaceful, which was a feeling Clint’s rarely found outside of the range. And if other softer, warmer emotions were involved in his decision making process, who was to know?
“So you’ll admit that I have the power to aggravate you then, sir?” Clint said, realising he’d been quiet a beat too long.
Coulson put down his pen, his eyes softening for a moment. “Is there something you want to talk about, Hawkeye?’ he asked.
“No, I’m good,” Clint covered with a smile.
Coulson had been gone for the past four days on a mission and Clint had missed him. A lot. It figured that Coulson spotted it. Not that Clint should have been surprised. Coulson saw everything. The man was a freakin’ ninja.
“Well, if you’re going to continue to sit there, you might as well fill out the blank spaces in your latest field report,” Coulson said, picking up a folder from one of his many piles and placing it in front of Clint. “It will save me chasing you down later.”
For a moment, Cling thought about arguing or making up some excuse to get out of there, but he didn’t really want to leave. He wasn’t sure when hanging out with Coulson had become the best part of his day, but it was – despite the paperwork. So with a shrug of his shoulders, Clint flicked open the folder and reached for a pen.
Across the other side of the desk, Coulson gave a slow, surprised blink, before his sharp eyes narrowed. Thankfully, however, Coulson didn’t say anything – he just picked up his own pen and returned to filling out his own paperwork.
Clint ducked his head and hid a smile. Coulson was finally getting used to long periods of dealing with Clint on a non-mission-scenario type basis and not regarding Clint’s presence with outright suspicion anymore, which Clint was going to count as a resounding success of Phase One of his plan.
It was probably time for Clint to move onto Phase Two.
He just wasn’t expecting anyone else to notice.
Later that evening, Clint found himself gazing at the black depths of coffee in his mug, trying to figure out the logistics of what he was about to attempt. He’d need subtlety, which he had plenty of, contrary to everybody else’s opinions.
At the sound of someone else entering the break room, Clint looked up just in time to see Natasha gracefully sink into the chair opposite him. She arched an expectant eyebrow at him as Clint caught the faint scent of cordite mixed with vanilla.
“What are you up to, Clint?” Natasha asked with her characteristic bluntness and a knowing look.
“Why would I be up to anything?” Clint replied, taking a large drink of coffee and grimacing when he realised it had gone cold while he’d been staring at it.
Natasha narrowed her eyes at him in a way that usually signified imminent pain for whoever was testing her patience. “You’ve been acting weird,” she said.
Clint rolled his eyes. “No, I haven’t,” he denied. “I’m eating, sleeping and being as awesome as usual.”
Natasha snorted. “You haven’t pulled a prank on Stark in over a week,” she shot back with an expression that suggested she saw through his bullshit. “Steve’s phone hasn’t rung once. And none of the junior agents fear you leaping out of the ceiling to land on them.”
“Maybe I’m just trying to curb my impulsive behaviour?” Clint said, hoping vainly that Natasha would just drop it.
Her eyes narrowed a fraction, but she didn’t call him on his deflection. “Coulson is worried about you,” she said instead. “He said you voluntarily did paperwork.”
Clint blinked. “Coulson’s worried about me?”
Natasha’s gaze sharpened like she scented blood in the air. She stared at Clint for a long moment and Clint had the uncomfortable feeling she was discovering all his secrets. “Should I be worried?” she asked finally.
Clint had no idea what conclusion his partner had come to about his behaviour, but he certainly wasn’t about to give anything away. “Hey, you know me,” he said with a fake smile. “When have I not been fine?”
Natasha simply gave him a look. “You haven’t been fine ever since you realised you’re in love with Coulson,” she told him.
Thankfully Clint had stopped drinking his cold coffee or he would have spat it all over the table. His whole body froze as his gaze snapped to Natasha’s smirking face. “What?” he coughed.
“It’s cute,” she replied, still smirking. “Especially the way you try to spend time with him and following him around the building. You’ve just got to stop being so weird about it and try asking Coulson out on a date.”
“I... but... he wouldn’t...” Clint spluttered. “I’m not in love with Coulson.”
Natasha gave him another look, but this one was tinged with warm amusement. “Yes, you are.”
For a moment, Clint considered fleeing, but he knew Natasha would have him on the ground before he even made it close to the door. And okay, what she was saying was also the truth. He just wasn’t sure he was ready to admit his plan to Natasha, mainly because he didn’t know if she’d hit him for it or not.
Clint felt his entire body deflate with a sigh. “Okay, fine, I totally am,” he admitted grudgingly.
Natasha rolled her eyes. “So ask him out on a date already,” she repeated.
Clint snorted. “Yeah, ‘cause it’s that easy,” he muttered sarcastically.
The punch Natasha gave him made his arm throb. “Ow,” he muttered sulkily as he rubbed the beginnings of a bruise on his skin. Then he sighed at her dark look. “Seriously, Tasha,” he said, some of his insecurity bleeding into his voice, “I don’t even know if Coulson swings that way. Or would be interested in me. I’m trying to be subtle about this.”
Natasha arched her eyebrow again and Clint figured if he was anyone else in the world he would have been bleeding by now. The look she sent him told him without words that he was being an idiot, before her eyes softened again with a hint of amusement. “He swings that way,” she said.
Surprised, because he’d always secretly thought he never had a chance, Clint blinked. “How do you know?”
Natasha shrugged. “He told me.”
“He told you?” Clint echoed. “Just like that? But why..?” He trailed off when he caught sight of Natasha’s smirk. “Oh my God, you asked him out!” he said.
Natasha’s smirk grew. “And why wouldn’t I?” she asked.
The more he thought about it, the more Clint realised that Coulson was just Natasha’s type – competent, observant and seriously scary. Clint ignored the stab of jealousy that came with that realisation.
Rising gracefully to her feet, Natasha paused to cup Clint’s chin and gently raised his gaze to hers. “Ask Coulson out, milyi,” she said. “Or I will do it for you.”
Clint grimaced, taking Natasha’s threat for what it was. Even with her reassuring words, he wasn’t sure he would ever screw up the courage to do it though. Natasha’s hand briefly squeezed his shoulder, before she was gone, leaving Clint alone with his thoughts all over again.
Slumping down in his chair, Clint sighed. Natasha’s threat changed things, but at least Clint knew he was in with a chance now. Natasha would never purposefully set him up for heartbreak. The idea of a confession still had him breaking out in a cold sweat, so Clint was going to stick to his original plan.
He’d just have to hurry things up a little.
“I know what you’re doing you know.”
Clint didn’t jump at the sound of Tony’s voice as he silently slipped out of Coulson’s office, but if he’d been anything other than a badass SHIELD agent, he would have. Instead, his stomach clenched and his blood went cold because there was no way Tony Stark could know that Clint was subtly trying to court Coulson’s clothes off.
Fixing a cocky look on his face, Clint turned to the billionaire. “Oh?” he said with a mildly arched eyebrow that would have done Coulson proud.
Tony nodded smugly. “I know everything.”
“No, you don’t,” Clint replied with a roll of his eyes. “Fury knows everything. Coulson knows everything. Natasha knows everything. You just hack into the security feed in an attempt to get gossip.”
Tony scowled and waved an arm through the air, almost knocking the Stark Industries tablet out of his other hand. “Okay, so how I know, isn’t important,” he said haughtily. “What is important is that I know.”
Clint ignored the way his body automatically tensed for a second time at the words. “And what exactly is it that you know, Stark?” he asked, injecting a note of warning into his voice.
“That you’re bribing Coulson,” Tony said resolutely, his eyes narrowed in either suspicion or outrage. “I don’t know whether it’s so he gives you the better missions or does your paperwork, but I do know that it isn’t fair. You’re already his favourite.”
Blinking, Clint tried to wrap his head around Tony’s accusation. It actually took him a long moment to realise that Tony didn’t actually know what Clint was up to, although Clint did have to admit that bribery wasn’t a bad guess. Clint just happened to know that bribery didn’t work on Coulson.
Then his eyes brightened. “I’m his favourite?” he asked.
Tony almost went squinty-eyed in annoyance. “You know you are,” he shot back sulkily. “And if you don’t stop, I’m going to tell the Captain.”
Clint rolled his eyes, thoroughly amused by the situation now that his secret wasn’t in danger of being discovered. “What are you, five?” he said.
“Fine,” Tony muttered darkly. “I’ll tell Natasha.”
“Oh, come on, Tony,” Clint grinned, because messing with Tony Stark would never not be fun. Today was turning out to be a good day. Coulson had even finally stopped treating every anonymous gift Clint left on his desk as either poisonous or explosive; although watching Coulson glare down a cardboard cup like it was the latest threat to global security had been pretty hilarious. “What makes you think Natasha doesn’t know already and isn’t already helping me bribe him?” Clint added because he couldn’t resist.
“I’m on to you, Barton,” Tony threatened, pointing a finger at Clint’s chest before he stalked off down the corridor, presumably to his workshop to do some more hacking.
Or make JARVIS do it.
By lunchtime, however, Clint’s day had dramatically soured. It seemed the rest of the Avengers had also worked out that Clint was up to something – or more likely Tony had told them. Either way, he was being subjected to a Steve-Rogers-disapproving-stare, which was making even his awesome turkey sandwich tasteless.
“Clint, are you bribing Agent Coulson?” Steve asked finally.
Clint sighed and dropped his uneaten sandwich back on his plate. Behind Steve’s shoulder, Tony was smirking at him and Clint decided he’d think of something appropriately evil to get even with the billionaire later.
On the other side of the kitchen, Natasha was looking at him with wide eyes. Then her gaze sharpened, as if she’d figured out what Clint had really been up to with his gifts, before she buried her face in her palm. Clint scowled at the implied insult from his partner, before he flicked his eyes back to Steve.
“No, I’m not bribing Coulson,” he said.
Steve nodded, before turning to look at Tony. “See, I told you Clint wouldn’t do that, Tony,” he said and Clint had to admit that the fact Steve was on his side was kind of comforting.
“I caught him sneaking out of the man’s office after leaving coffee on his desk!” Tony protested. “And the surveillance cameras show him doing things like that at least once a day all week!”
“Well Clint said he’s not bribing Coulson and I believe him,” Steve said firmly.
“So what was he doing?” Bruce’s soft voice asked in the following silence; Clint hadn’t even realised the scientist had been paying attention to anything other than the pile of notes on the table in front of him.
Everyone’s eyes snapped to Clint and he froze, half out of his chair in his attempt to sneak out of the kitchen. “Um...” Clint began, starting to sweat. “There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for that...”
“I think it is honourable that Clint is showing his appreciation for one of the veteran warriors of SHIELD,” Thor piped up from where he was apparently eating peanut butter straight out of its oversized jar. “Son of Coul should greatly appreciate these gifts of respect.”
“Yeah, I totally don’t think it’s that,” Tony interrupted with a wave of his hand, before he pulled out a chair from the table and sat down, leaning forward in eagerness. “Does Coulson have something on you?” he asked Clint. “Did you miss a target or something and are trying to make him forget?”
“No!” Clint scowled, outraged. “I don’t miss,” he added, folding his arms over his chest and narrowing his eyes at Tony; Stark was so going down later.
“Huh,” Bruce said a moment later in the same tone he used when he was making some sort of scientific discovery. “Clint’s in love with him.”
At his words, Natasha burst out laughing so hard that she almost fell over. Clint sent her a dark glare for her clear lack of support, while the rest of him froze in fear. He could literally feel his blood turning to ice in his veins, even as he desperately tried to pretend it wasn’t. Clint felt his hands twitching for his bow.
“You love Coulson?” Tony said in disbelief.
Steve sent him a scathing look, before turning sympathetic eyes on Clint. “Did you try asking him out?”
“I believe that is customary on Earth, is it not?” Thor added. “My Jane tells me this is what you call dating.”
Clint couldn’t take it. He knew Steve meant well, but right now he couldn’t take the sympathy. It drove a spike into Clint’s chest that was almost as painful as Tony’s mocking laugh. He needed to run, he needed to shoot something, he just needed to be gone. He was so stupid. Hadn’t his life taught him feelings only ever ended in pain and ridicule?
Springing to his feet, he ignored the loud scrape his chair made against the kitchen floor and the way conversation stopped at the noise. “I...” he began. “I need to go.”
Before anyone could stop him, Clint fled. He didn’t stop until he’d grabbed his bow and locked himself inside the firing range. He knew it probably wasn’t the smartest place to hide out, but he needed the comfort to settle his emotions long enough to ask Fury to give him a mission to Siberia.
Six hours later, Clint was still on the range. For the first time in his life, shooting hadn’t been the soothing ritual it always had been. The calm blank space that Clint sank into whenever he drew his bow was proving elusive and no matter what Clint tried, he just couldn’t find it.
He’d given up actually trying to shoot the targets about two hours ago, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to leave. He wanted to banish the turmoil of emotions from his mind, to sink into the moment where it was just his bow and the target, but he couldn’t and that was unsettling him worse than everything else.
Clint told himself he was being a coward. He should just screw up the courage and go and speak to Coulson before someone else did so he could get the heartache and pain over and done with.
Except that every time he’d stepped out of his booth to go and find Coulson, his courage had deserted him or he’d caught a glimpse of Coulson, which had sent him darting back into hiding. And even if Clint didn’t catch sight of the other agent, some junior lackey was inevitably talking about Coulson.
“Are you avoiding me now, Barton?”
Clint cursed at the sudden presence of the clearly-psychic object of his thoughts. His whole body tensed and he was pretty sure if he’d actually had his bow drawn, his arrow would have gone flying way off target. Damn sneaky ninjas.
Pasting a neutral expression on his face, Clint turned to find Coulson standing just inside the doorway to his corner of the range. In deference to the late hour, Coulson’s tie had been loosened a fraction and his shoulders slumped a little in exhaustion, but the gaze that fell on Clint was as sharp as ever.
“Just getting in some more target practice, sir,” Clint answered.
Coulson’s eyebrow quirked slightly Clint’s tone; even Clint noticed it lacked his usual hint of impertinence. “At one in the morning?” Coulson asked mildly.
Clint shrugged, turning his attention back to the row of targets he long since stopped doing anything but stare at. “Why not?” he replied.
“You know, we can find a way to deal with whatever it is that’s bothering you, Hawkeye,” Coulson said after a moment of silence, his tone as soft as it ever got.
Closing his eyes, Clint didn’t know whether to be grateful that no one had told Coulson about his feelings yet or worried about Coulson’s concern. Clint’s stomach clenched with the thought of admitting the truth to the older agent, even though he knew he needed to do it. If for no other reason than to get his focus back.
Clint had fought long and hard for Coulson’s respect and the idea that that could change was enough to keep him silent, despite everything. He wasn’t sure if he could face the rejection and disappointment just yet. “There’s nothing bothering me, sir,” Clint lied, punctuating his statement by knocking an arrow into his bow and sending it flying into target. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine,” Coulson countered. “Stark hasn’t been in my office to complain about you all week. Not even once.” Coulson paused. “And truthfully, I’ve missed your presence in my office all day. I’d kind of gotten used to the noise.”
Clint let out a deep sigh and lowered his bow, but he couldn’t quite find the courage to turn around and look Coulson in the eye. Maybe rejection would be easier if he didn’t have to see it written all over Coulson’s face.
The warm hand that settled on Clint’s shoulder was a surprise and the heat of the touch spread through Clint’s tense muscles. He felt hyper-aware of the other man’s steady presence behind him, like the ghostly impression of strength and heat. “What’s wrong, Clint?” Coulson asked.
Hearing his first name from Coulson stunned Clint enough that he tensed again, before he turned wide eyes on the other agent. Even though he dropped his hand at the movement, Coulson’s expression was unguarded as he watched Clint, his eyes filled with worry and concern. It was an uncharacteristic show of emotion from the usually deadpan agent and with a jolt, Clint realised it was because Coulson genuinely cared.
Standing this close, Clint could see the blue mixed in with the grey in Coulson’s eyes and he wondered why he’d never noticed that before. “I’m not sure you really want me to answer that, sir,” Clint replied, his voice rough and his mouth suddenly dry.
“Whatever you tell me doesn’t have to leave this room,” Coulson said, his eyes reflecting the seriousness of the promise.
Clint swallowed and steeled his nerve, like he was attempting to hit a particularly difficult target. “Okay,” he said. He took a deep breath and looked Coulson straight in the eye. “I’m in love with you,” he admitted.
He waited for the distaste and dismissal to show in Coulson’s expression, but instead all Clint saw in Coulson’s eyes was a profound sense of relief. “Oh,” Coulson said. “Is that all?”
Clint felt as if his entire world had been turned inside out and upside down. There was a vague sense of hurt at Coulson’s words, but the rest of his brain was still trying to process the fact that Coulson hadn’t outright rejected him.
“I thought it was something life threatening,” Coulson added.
It took a moment for the words to trickle through Clint’s daze, but when they did, Clint’s unseeing eyes focused sharply back on Coulson. “Wait... what?” he said.
Coulson smiled – an honest to God smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes. If Clint hadn’t already been in love, that smile would have sent him falling. As it was, it made his heart do a long, slow flip in his chest.
“I thought whatever was bothering you so much was life threatening at the very least,” Coulson said. “Or perhaps an accident that caused some sort of minor international crisis.”
The warmth and affection in Coulson’s eyes was making Clint’s head spin. He blinked. “And this isn’t?” he managed.
Coulson smiled again and the expression was just as devastating the second time. “No,” he replied. “It’s quite the opposite, in fact.”
“Oh,” Clint said eloquently.
This time, Coulson chuckled and the low sound skittered down Clint’s spine like a physical touch. Gently, Coulson reached out to take the bow from Clint’s unresisting fingers and placed it carefully on the nearby table. The movement somehow kick-started Clint’s brain and he realised he was being far more silent and passive that he’d ever imagined being in this situation. Not that he’d ever really let himself imagine it for very long. “So we’re not going to talk about this?” he asked, a trace of his normal cheek in the tone.
Coulson moved a fraction closer as if he wasn’t sure how much Clint was going to let him get away with. “Do you really want to?” he shot back with an arched eyebrow.
Truthfully, no, Clint didn’t want to talk about his feelings at all. But he did want to know where he stood with Coulson, because after this afternoon, he wasn’t sure he could take even a hint of heartbreak.
When Phil stepped forward to finally close the distance between them, Clint held up a hand to stop him for a moment, his palm resting on the soft fabric of Coulson’s shirt, just above his heart. For a moment, Clint let the steady heartbeat beneath his hand calm him, before he risked a glance up at Coulson. “Maybe I need you to spell it out for me,” he whispered.
Coulson’s – Phil’s – eyes were soft and warm and he looked as if he understood. Clint literally felt his knees weaken. It was amazing to think that Phil was letting Clint see the softer side of his personality – the part where he actually cared about Clint.
“I would have thought the past week I’ve spent worrying about you would have made my feelings fairly clear, but if you need to hear the words, Clint... I’ve been in love with you since the Darvaz mission,” Phil confessed, his voice holding the barest trace of uncertainty.
Clint blinked, trying to think back to that particular mission and when he’d last been in Turkmenistan. His eyes widened almost comically when he realised how long it had actually been. “Two years?” he said, stunned. “You’ve been in love with me for two years? Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Well, it was hardly appropriate,” Phil replied dryly, but the trace of uncertainty still lingered in his eyes. “I’m your handler.”
Feelings of shock at Phil’s confession and its implications were fast giving way to an astounding wave of happiness that burst through Clint the longer he stood there. Even so, he knew that he didn’t like the uncertainty in Phil’s gaze at all.
As a slow, joyful grin spread across Clint’s face, he slid the hand still resting on Phil’s chest slowly downwards. Clint felt the grin turn into a smirk as Phil’s eyes darkened, before his hand closed around Phil’s belt and he yanked. Phil was surprisingly heavy as he landed against Clint, pressing his body to the partition behind him. Clint could feel all the warm, hard muscle Phil had clearly been hiding with his boring suits and had to fight a whole body shiver.
“Since when is anything involving me ever even close to ‘appropriate’?” he teased as Phil shifted his weight and let his warm hands settle on Clint’s hips.
Phil smiled with amusement that went all the way to his eyes. “You raise a fair point,” he agreed.
Clint couldn’t help but laugh softly before he leant forward and pressed his lips to Phil’s. This kiss was soft and chaste and endearingly hesitant, but God it felt right. Something inside Clint sighed as he realised that after all the pain and the confusion and the longing he was finally kissing Phil.
He found himself laughing again, the sound muffled by Phil’s lips, as Phil suddenly gripped his hips tighter and pulled him closer. Clint felt his hands slide up to bunch in Phil’s shirt at his shoulders as the kiss deepened, his blood heating at the soft moan Phil made in the back of his throat.
Pulling back when his lungs began to beg for air, Clint rested his forehead gently against Phil’s, his hands still tangled in Phil’s shirt. “Wow,” Phil said, laughing a little bit, his hands still resting on Clint’s hips.
“Yeah,” Clint agreed, happy to stay exactly where he was.
Phil reached up with one hand to trace a thumb across Clint’s cheekbone, making Clint shiver at the calloused touch. “Before I forget,” Phil said softly. “Thank you. For the coffee and donuts. Second best part of my day.”
Clint pulled back with a teasing look, trying to take offense, but unable to hide the grin that still covered his face. “Only second best?” he said. “I’ll have you know those were damn good donuts!”
Phil actually rolled his eyes in response. “Well, having you do your paperwork was the best part of any day,” he quipped dryly, but Clint caught the faint blush that dusted his cheeks.
Clint realised with a flood of warmth that Phil really did miss Clint when he wasn’t in Phil’s office. “Liar,” Clint grinned, leaning forward to steal another kiss. “The best part of your day is totally basking in my awesome presence.”
Phil rolled his eyes again, but didn’t actually deny anything. With a final chaste kiss, Phil pulled back and straightened his tie and jacket. Clint tried to not feel disappointed. With a small smile, Phil simply reached down to grab his hand and started tugging Clint towards the door. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
A million comments rolled through Clint’s head about walking hand in hand with the infamous Agent Coulson through the halls of SHIELD, deserted as they were, but strangely, Clint didn’t voice any of them. Instead, he moved closer and laced Phil’s fingers with his. “You know, the coffee and the donuts and everything were all kind of my plan,” he found himself admitting.
Phil sent him an amused sideways look. “Clint, were you trying to court me?” he asked.
“Maybe,” Clint confessed, glancing away. “I know, I know,” he added a beat later, rolling his eyes and waiting for Phil’s reaction. “I should stick to shooting and leave the planning to others.”
“Actually,” Phil disagreed, tugging Clint closer to his side. “I was going to say that was a pretty awesome plan.”
Clint turned a surprised glance on Phil. “Really?”
Phil grinned and leaned close, as if he was about to tell Clint a secret. “It worked, didn’t it?”
Letting the words sink in for a second, Clint felt another wide grin spread across his face. “Yeah,” he answered. “It totally did.”