Most people didn't really think about the amount of effort it took to be able to sneak up on people and kill the shit out of them. Clint Barton thought about it a lot. It consumed a huge portion of his life, getting to be as good as he was, and staying that way. He had even broken down into a series of points that pretty summed up his life’s philosophy, too. In case anyone ever asked.
Clint took a great deal of pleasure in getting his colleagues to think about how much effort that stealth took. It was one of the main reasons half of SHIELD were terrified of him, not that he really cared.
He practiced for days and weeks and months, learning to approach any target unscathed and get away again un-found .
It took being in the Avengers Mansion for a total of about an hour for Clint to find an undetectable route from the roof to the sub-level where Tony Stark's work shop was. The third time he snuck up on Tony was also the last. Steve Rogers had a most excellent ass, but Clint did not need to see it naked in any context involving Tony Stark ever again. Ever. God!
The first time he dropped silently down from the top of a book shelf in a poorly lit room and startled Miss Potts she almost killed him with her briefcase. He had bruises for a week and had to endure an epically painful lecture about not traumatizing friendly civilians from Coulson. All the Avengers were annoyed with him. Stark was livid.
It didn’t help that Coulson was more annoyed than anyone else. Or that Clint saw him talking quietly to Miss Potts later. And hugging her.
Everyone was miffed for days, and Clint wondered if it was civilians in general he wasn’t supposed to terrorize or Miss Potts in particular. He got his answer when he scared the pizza guy so badly he ran away without his money and Tony gave Clint half of the 'special' he never shared with anyone but Steve.
So Pizza guy was fine but Miss Potts: completely off limits. That was cool though, she was really nice.
Clint didn't think there was anything brave about hanging off the edge of things and shooting at people. It was a skill that anyone could develop. It didn't mean he was anything special, he just worked really hard because if he didn't he was going to get left behind by a group of people that outclassed him without breaking a sweat. He was good enough he didn't feel a lot of fear in the moment, so it wasn't really brave to do something he knew he excelled at.
There was stuff he found hard. Most of it involved the things he could not share that were inside his own heart, where no one would ever know he was a coward. That was where bravery came in, getting over his own short comings and pushing past the stuff that scared the shit out of him or made him feel too much.
The way he felt about a lot of things made Clint itch and sometimes the only way he knew how to handle that was to take a step back from... people, until he figured things out. Get refocused and move on.
After the thing with the pizza guy (and Miss Potts) Clint mostly concentrated on sneaking up on Coulson. Tony was too easy to tag. Steve looked offended every time he tried, Dr Banner tended to have the kind of reactions Clint personally really liked to avoid, Thor was never around or when he was he was usually so moon-eyed over his astrophysicist that he was no damn fun at all. Natasha while fun to stalk tended to be not very much fun to catch.
That left Coulson, who turned out to be great practice. Coulson was completely unflappable and probably wouldn’t shoot Clint if surprised. Everyone else seemed to heartily approve. Also Coulson was a sneaky bastard himself, and thus very hard to actually sneak up on. So it was good practice.
Clint's new technique had nothing to do with the fact that he was maybe .. not avoiding the man exactly, just... spending a little less time hanging around him. It absolutely was not about invading the guys privacy while spying on him, or admiring his ass when no one was looking. It also didn't involve possibly catching him with Miss Potts to find out if they had a thing, because that would be none of his business right? It also would suck hugely if it turned out to be true.
Clint spent a lot of time training, honing not just his body but his mind as well. The training facilities at the mansion were some of the best to be had, and Clint spent more time there than ever, fine tuning his body and using the solitary nature of his training to get his mind right. Sometimes spending hours talking himself into and out of the things he wanted.
Clint was generally very careful to only want things he could actually have. Clint was a pragmatist, his life had taught him well. Ask for stuff you can actually get and that way you won't be too disappointed.
The few times he had strayed from that principal had gone spectacularly badly. When he was little he had only wanted a normal home. Later he wanted him and Barney to stick together no matter what. Even him and Natasha were a wash, but at least he still got be friends with her.
Now he mostly just wanted to be really good at his job help as many people as he could, have a few friends and not get killed too soon. He didn’t think about a life that wasn't all SHIELD, not anymore, and he didn't think about someone to share that life with. He just figured not everyone gets that. Besides he was never going to have what he really wanted. Best not to even think about it.
He could be a really fantastic archer and be happy with that. He could. He had worked really hard to learn the lesson of being happy with what he got.
“You're kind of an idiot.” was all the warning Clint got that Miss Potts was directly behind him. He absolutely did not bleat like a terrified sheep and almost fall out of his
hiding place observation post, on a dark corner of the staircase bannister that over looked the foyer. From there Clint could see everything without even turning his head. It was perfect concealment from which he absolutely had not been waiting for Coulson.
Clint was good at recovery,so after Miss Potts
Scared the crap out of him spoke, he still managed to lower himself gracefully to the floor.
“You.” Miss Potts told him stepping forward an intent look on her face. “Are kind of an idiot.”
“Not the first time I've heard that.” Clint told her. He wasn't really into hearing this from anyone right now. He headed down the stairs.
It had been a long week, he wasn't sleeping all that well. Maybe a glass of warm milk would help.
He didn't expect her to follow him.
“Phil is a terrific guy.” Miss Potts told him while he was waiting on the microwave. Clint wondered was there some kind of a point here? Was there a reason she was following him around stating the obvious?
“I already knew that.” Clint tried hard to keep the snappish tone out of his voice. It wasn't her fault Clint was a chicken-shit and a dumb-ass and had missed what ever miniscule chance he'd ever had. The thought pushed a defeated laugh out of him. As if.
Clint knew what kind of guy he was, what his own short comings were. Impulsive, defiant, uneducated, hot tempered and as Miss Potts had pointed out... kind of an idiot.
He also knew what sort of guy Phil Coulson was. Dedicated, loyal, hardworking, solid, and whip-smart. These were the things that made him amazing. Not to mention the fact that he was willing to work with a guy like Clint that had cycled though half the agents at SHIELD before Coulson got stuck with him.
Clint Barton didn't need anyone to explain Phil Coulson's strong points to him. Not even Miss Pepper Potts , who was kind of part of the problem any way wasn't she? Smart and funny and beautiful and pretty much perfect for a guy like Phil Coulson.
“Was there something you needed Miss Potts?” Clint asked as politely and neutrally as he could.
“Yes. I need you to explain to me why you are avoiding Phil like the plague while at the same time spying on him from various high perches all over the mansion, and I presume, SHEILD headquarters.”
“I'm not spying on him!”
Clint couldn't really keep the heat out of his voice. He hated getting caught at the best of times. But this could turn into a fucking nightmare. Did Phil know about this? and if he didn't was she going to tell him? Fuck! This might look really bad from – well actually from any angle. If she told Phil this, and Phil believed her, Clint was going to look even more like some kind of a weirdo stalker than he already did instead of a guy who- Shit. Enough!
“Look it's late Miss Potts and I have no idea what you're talking about, so if you don't mind.”
She let out a sigh. It was the kind Clint was very familiar with, the one that meant the other person was starting to really lose patience with him. And you know what, fuck this.
What the fuck was she even doing? Cornering him in the middle of the frigging mansion and giving him shit! For what? Not being a good enough friend to guy he had a massive unrequited thing for?
“Miss Potts. You seem like a really nice lady and everything, but I honestly don't get what your problem is. With me.”
She stared, and cocked that eyebrow at him, the one that had Stark backpedaling as fast as he could when ever she used it on him. Clint felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and he was struck with the mad urge to apologize. For what, who fucking new? Geez she was making him nervous. More nervous.
“ My 'problem' is that Phil is a really nice guy, and he's my friend, and he deserves to be happy. Not left wondering what the fuck he did wrong when you and I both know the reason you are hiding form him is because you like him and don't want him to find out. I'm just saying it's not really fair, and you should tell him.”
At that point the best response Clint had was to make a run for it. He was pretty sure that in his bare feet and her in heels he could make a clean getaway.
7) Courage in the face of Danger
The problem was, of course, that Phil Coulson was standing right behind him watching the whole thing. And listening, if the look on his face was anything to go by.
Clint could probably bluff this away till the day he died, no matter how much it would suck. Except what ever else the man wasn't and would never be, Phil Coulson was also his colleague and friend, and Clint probably owed his some kind of explanation.
“Is that true, Barton? Is Pepper right?” Phil asked all bland disbelief.
Clint had never lied to Coulson and wasn't looking to start now no matter how stupid the truth was gonna make him look.
“Well... yeah.” Clint answered, shrugging one shoulder as if 'what-are-you-gonna-do?'
Coulson pushed himself away from the doorway he was leaning against, Clint fought the urge to take a step back.
“Why didn't you say something?”
Clint couldn't help the disbelieving snort, because the answer was obvious. There was a reason Clint hadn't ever said anything about the way he felt. A whole list of reasons. The most important of which was that he could live with doing nothing a lot easier than he could live with the inevitable rejection that would come with making a move on his favorite SHEILD agent. He also didn't honestly think he would be able to get over the inevitable 'thanks-but-no-thanks' response.
Clint spread his hands wide and looked down at his ratty jeans and worn boots and faded black tee-shirt gesturing with one hand at all his short comings. He just looked at Coulson, put together and steady with so much more than Clint would ever have to offer, and waited, knowing that for a guy as smart as Phil it would click into place.
Phil shook his head and took another step closer and Clint wondered briefly if he was going to get a punch in the mouth for his admission.
“Miss Potts is right about something else you know." Phil said. “You are kind of an idiot....sometimes,” then leaned in and kissed him.