Coulson’s apartment looks strange. All of his personal effects are in boxes by the door and, even though he doesn’t have that many belongings, there are faded squares on the walls and the mattress on his bed sags in the middle.
He’s standing in the middle of his living room, hands on hips, when Barton comes out of the bathroom, carrying the last box of shampoos and cleaning products. Tony Stark himself has offered to help coordinate the move but Barton suspects it’s so he can satisfy his curiosity and confirm that Coulson doesn’t actually sleep upside down or in a coffin or something.
“That one’s yours,” says Coulson, pointing at a box, on the side of which CLINT is carefully lettered. Barton drops his toothbrush into it.
“Seems kind of redundant when they’re all going to the same place.”
That raises a smile and the little furrow between Coulson’s eyebrows vanishes and now Barton’s hands are on Coulson’s hands on Coulson’s hips and he ghosts a kiss over Coulson’s mouth. It’s a thank you and Coulson probably knows it. Barton hopes he does.
Coulson disentangles himself to go into the kitchen and it’s all Clint can do to keep from following him and curling around him because he thinks he’ll miss this apartment, too. There’s a pop and Coulson emerges with the bottle of champagne, the one that’s been sitting there for as long as Barton has been coming here.
Barton raises an eyebrow as Coulson raises the bottle to his lips but the glasses are packed and he’s hardly going to complain when Coulson hands the bottle to him. Moët & Chandon, straight from the bottle; of all the Queen songs in all the world, Barton didn’t expect to walk into this one.
He grins and tips the bottle back, taking a long swallow, before he asks the obvious. “What’s the occasion?”
Coulson smiles and takes back the bottle. “I’ve had this for eight years, you know.” He studies the label, dragging his thumb across it. “I was saving it for –“ He shrugs. “Something like this, I suppose?”
“The day you moved in with the Avengers?” asks Barton. He’s joking, of course he’s joking, but it’s worth it to see Coulson’s ready smile. “You’re going to need more than one bottle to get over the shock of it.”
“The day I moved in with Clint Barton,” says Coulson and a sudden silence descends on them like the moss they’ll never gather or the dust that will never settle on them, the way that it will surely coat everything in Coulson’s apartment. The illusion is broken by Coulson’s bright smile. “You’re right. I’ll need more than one bottle.”
The silence is less oppressive when they begin to move around, opening and closing cupboard doors and ensuring that no man is left behind. As well as the box marked CLINT, there are boxes for Coulson’s books and garment bags for his suits and, folded neatly at the top of the box marked BEDCLOTHES is the quilt. Barton drags his fingers over it. He knows the story now, about how, when Coulson was turning forty, his fourteen year-old niece decided that she didn’t believe in greetings cards. She proclaimed that she would make him a quilt. It hasn’t even mattered to Coulson that he was forty-five by the time the quilt was finished because it tells its own wayward story, with its mismatched squares and wayward stitches and a single panel that says ‘Happy 4
05th birthday Uncle PhiL’.
Barton feels suddenly very protective of it, and of Coulson, and of everything that Coulson is giving up, for his sake and for the sake of the Avenger Initiative.
“Stark wants to have a housewarming tonight,” he says, words light in the way that his thoughts are not.
“How long has he owned that building?” asks Coulson. Their fingertips touch each time the bottle is passed back and forth. “How many housewarming parties has he had?”
Barton shrugs. “He has one every time something explodes or he decides to redecorate.”
“Do I count as an explosion or a new piece of furniture?” The corners of Coulson’s mouth tilt into a wry smile. “Oh, to be a new lampshade in Tony Stark’s life.”
Barton’s heart aches at Coulson’s matter-of-fact tone, like he’s got to fit into one category or the other and he can’t just be Phil Coulson. He’s going to be Coulson the SHIELD agent for twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. The next time Coulson hands Barton the bottle (and there’s barely a mouthful left), Barton catches hold of Coulson’s hand and kisses his knuckles.
“You’re an explosion,” he murmurs, his voice low and gravelly. His hand is gliding up Coulson’s arm and he’s leaning in to kiss him, to show him what he means, to conspire and to ignite, when the door opens.
“Well,” says Stark. “There goes the neighbourhood.”