Most college students became resident assistants for the added perks of a single room with a monthly paycheck. Phil Coulson, however, became an RA to get experience managing people.
It wasn’t the sexiest reason, but it was the truth. Running a floor full of nineteen to twenty-one-year-old guys was enough to be a full-time job in itself, and deep down, Phil loved it. He secretly pretended sometimes that his floor of Stark Hall was his corporation, the residents his employees.
He never pretended not to be a dork. He just kept that part to himself.
By the time his senior year rolled around, Phil had been an RA in Stark Hall for two years. He’d seen plenty of guys come and go, had a few interesting stories he could tell, but he prided himself on keeping a low-profile, well-oiled floor. The guys liked him, but Phil wasn’t friends with them. That wasn’t part of his job.
“You know,” Fury had said one time, “you could open up to the guys a little more. I promise I won’t tell.”
Phil had rolled his eyes at his resident director. “I don’t have time to be buddies with them. Isn’t that a conflict of interest?”
“To make friends, no. Although in your case, sometimes I wonder.”
“I can do this job in my sleep. If they want a party, they can pledge Tau Sigma Kappa.”
Fury had snorted. “My mistake,” he’d replied with a smirk.
When all was said and done, Phil was ready to start the year without any surprises or complications. He was more than halfway through his six year plan, and everything was chugging along nicely.
Unfortunately, he hadn’t foreseen a cocky junior Art major waltzing into his life, or his floor.
And Phil’s life plan went all to hell.
It wasn’t that he avoided Clint Barton on purpose...he just tried really hard to avoid Clint Barton as much as possible.
There was just something about the guy that unsettled Phil, made him feel twitchy and uneasy. It didn’t make a lot of sense, since Barton didn’t shy away from anyone. Within the first week of class, he’d been on a first-name basis with all the guys on the floor, and with it was always a slow smile, a jerk of his head, and, “‘sup, Coulson?”
Phil never replied with anything other than “fine.” He was “fine” in the mornings before class and he was “fine” in the evenings when he got back to his room and Barton was sprawled out in the hallway, feet flat on the wall as he texted on his phone, his frighteningly complex-looking bow resting over his stomach. His running shoes would always be lying haphazardly in front of Phil’s doorway.
“Y’know, fine’s getting a little old, Coulson,” Barton said as he grinned at Phil upside down. The hand not texting absently stroked his bow as if it were a favorite cat. “Can I get a little variety here?”
“Peachy,” Phil said, and he kicked Barton’s shoes out of the way as he slammed his door shut.
Yeah, Phil didn’t like him at all. Barton was just one of those smirky jock-types who floated through college; he was an Art major, for God’s sake. Phil had no idea how the two went hand-in-hand, how Barton sat through art history classes and then spent hours on the archery range by the Greek housing complex. Phil had heard a rumor that Barton had tried to get a spot on the 2008 US Olympic archery team—at seventeen. Jesus, who did this guy think he was, anyway?
So he ignored Barton fairly successfully until Friday afternoon during the second week of school. The hall was quiet, which was the norm for the start of the weekend; the guys usually hauled ass off campus the moment they got back from their last class. Phil always enjoyed the calm of Fridays, and he took advantage of it by finishing his paper for Business Ethics. It wasn’t due until the following Thursday, but he wanted to give himself time for edits.
He was gritting his teeth in frustration over his citation page when he heard someone yawn obnoxiously, followed by a loud sigh and the sound of a body flopping down onto Phil’s bed.
Very slowly, Phil turned around in his desk chair to find Barton laid out like he didn’t have a care in the world, barefoot and sweaty like he’d just come from the gym. Without looking at Phil, he swiped the remote control to Phil’s flat screen off the floor and promptly started flipping channels.
“Don’t you get ESPN in here?” he asked, one leg dangling off the edge of the bed.
Phil opened his mouth, shut it, then said, “Yeah, I get cable. Not that it should matter to you, since this is my room.”
Barton just yawned again and burrowed down against the pillows on Phil’s bed. “Red Sox game is on and I don’t want go all the way downstairs to the damn lobby. You should share your wealth, Coulson.”
He had a biting retort on the tip of his tongue, because what the hell, except Phil became sort of sidetracked by the way Barton’s shirt looked a size too small for him and was slowly riding up his stomach, and his stupid shorts were too low on his hips and there was...a lot of skin showing. Skin, and hipbone indentations and a dark trail of hair disappearing—
“You’re not staying here,” Phil said sharply, turning back around to his laptop. “I’m not letting you watch the game just because you’re too damn lazy to go downstairs.” He blinked at the screen; he had no idea what he’d been doing a second ago.
“Dude, c’mon, you’re my fucking RA, you’re supposed to nurture me and shit, right? Aren’t you on the clock or something?”
“Quit making me sound like a mother lion, Barton,” Phil mumbled, deleting two whole lines of documentation. “And yes, I am, but that doesn’t give you blanket permission to commandeer my stuff.” He never let the guys railroad him during his hall hours. Fury would say that it was classic Type A Phil. Phil, on the other hand, would say it was being practical.
He heard a groan, a long sigh, and suddenly Phil had an image of Barton stretching on his bed, arching his back, lip caught between his teeth as he—
“Just let me watch the first two innings,” Barton said, and his voice was a low, smooth purr. He probably used that same tone on girls (and guys—Barton wasn’t picky, Phil knew that much) at parties when he wanted to get some.
Phil drummed his fingers on his desk. Every logical portion of his brain told him he could just kick Barton out and lock the door. Instead, he said, “Okay, fine. Two innings, then you go downstairs. Got it?”
“Awesome,” Barton said, and then Phil made the mistake of glancing over his shoulder. Barton’s arms were stretched over his head, hands lazily clinging to the headboard, and he smirked at Phil when their eyes met.
“Should be a good game. They’re playing Kansas City.”
Phil huffed, hating the low, irritating shiver of heat in his stomach. “Go Royals,” he replied, and swiveled back to his paper.
“Hey, excuse the fuck out of you, I think you meant go Boston.”
“Uh, no, I did not.” Phil turned back around to face him and crossed his arms. “I personally don’t believe in supporting major league franchises that thrive on over-inflated salaries and pretend that salary caps don’t exist. The reason teams like Boston and New York go to the playoffs every year is because they pay for it, which, sure if I had a billion dollars to sink into my team, I’d make sure they became division champions. Statistics show that revenue is equal to games won when it comes to these bigger franchises, and the little guys just can’t compete. I mean, look at the farm leagues, for fuck’s sake. That’s an example of talent over cash flow.”
He stopped when he realized Barton was staring at him. Phil cleared his throat. “Anyway, so. Go Royals.”
Barton sat up on his elbows and cocked his head. “Uh, hi, method of sabermetrics. Boston isn’t about that shit anymore.”
Phil blinked. “What?”
“Billy Beane? Moneyball? Jesus, Coulson, get with the times.”
“I’ve...never seen that, and besides, my argument is still relevant in regard to the Yankees.”
Barton raised an eyebrow. “Seriously, do you ever get laid?”
Phil nearly choked. “How is that—it’s none of your business, first of all—”
He waved Phil off as he looked back at the game. “Never mind, you answered my question.”
“I didn’t answer anything.”
“Yeah, you did. It’s okay, I get it. You’re one of those guys, it’s cool.” Barton said it so casually.
“I’m—what the hell does that even mean?”
Barton shrugged, kicking his foot that hung off the bed back and forth. “Y’know. The kind who’d rather talk shit about salary caps than watch the fucking game.”
Phil prided himself on not caring what anyone else thought of him. And yet he couldn’t stop bristling at every damn word that came out of Barton’s mouth. He didn’t want to be one of those guys right now, because—because he wasn’t. Barton didn’t know him, and he never would.
“Two innings, Barton,” he mumbled before going back to his paper.
Unfortunately, his citation page seemed to have morphed into the Greek alphabet. Phil glared at his screen, trying his best to focus, but his mind kept flitting back to the jock on his bed who kept murmuring things under his breath at the game. Halfway through the first inning, Boston got a hit, and Barton made the dorkiest little pleased yelp Phil had ever heard.
“Double-play, fuck yes! Keep it up, baby, you got this.”
Phil bit his lip and refused to turn around. The cursor on his screen continued to mock him.
Twenty minutes later, things weren’t any better.
“What the ever-loving fuck, are you shitting me? My ass that was a fucking foul! Coulson, look at this, tell me this shit wasn’t a foul, seriously.”
Phil hadn’t typed a word, much to his own dismay. He sighed and gave up, tossed his reading glasses on his desk (he hated the damn things, but at least he didn’t have to wear them full-time). Phil slammed his laptop shut as he turned to face the TV, where said foul was replaying in slow motion.
“That’s...not a foul,” Phil said against his better judgment.
“Thank you, yes, not a foul. Goddamn umpires are blind.”
“I wouldn’t say blind, but that’s definitely not a cut-and-dry call.”
“They should’ve walked him.”
“Probably.” Phil got up and went to his mini fridge, which only housed his precious supply of Mountain Dew and the occasional Red Bull. He grabbed a can, then paused, pursing his lips.
“You want a—” he started to say, but Barton said, “Oh hey, Dew, hook me up,” and held his hand out without looking away from the game.
Phil tossed the can at him. “Your room’s like three doors down.”
“I never have soda, are you kidding me? Too broke for that.”
He wanted to mention that Barton always managed to have a bag of Doritos handy, but he kept his mouth shut.
Somehow, Phil lost track of the time. Before he knew it, it was the top of the ninth inning and he was sitting on the floor with his back against his bed, Barton’s foot knocking absently against his arm whenever Boston scored.
He’d sort of forgotten all about his paper.
“Your room’s way better than the lobby, Coulson,” Barton said when the game was over. He rolled off the bed and onto his feet in one single, fluid motion, stretching his arms over his head as he popped the muscles in his shoulders.
It felt like the bottom dropped out of Phil’s stomach for a second. He got up from the floor awkwardly, shoving his hands into the back pockets of his jeans. “You could say thanks, y’know,” he replied for lack of anything witty to say.
But it made Barton smirk at Phil like he’d said something cute. “Thank you for bestowing upon me the glorious bounty of your cable television,” Barton said with a terrible fake British accent. He even went so far as to bow.
Phil bit his lip, because it wasn’t funny at all. Barton wasn’t funny, which meant Phil wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of smiling. “Get out of here,” he said, but unfortunately his voice came out higher and a little strangled, like he was laughing. Which he wasn’t.
“See?” Barton called as Phil shut the door in his face. “I knew you were human after all.”
That should have been the end of it.
Except Barton didn’t go home for the weekend, and come Saturday evening he was back in Phil’s room, monopolizing his bed and remote under the pretense of there being a Star Wars marathon on Spike.
Phil shut his Org Behavior book with a sigh. “Seriously?”
Barton flailed his arms out. “What, I can’t like fucking Star Wars? Are you telling me you don’t?”
He wasn’t about to tell him about the R2D2 sheets he’d had on his bed up until he was thirteen. “Again, there’s a community TV in the lobby—”
“The girls from the second floor are watching Switched at Birth, and let’s just say I can’t get in the way of that,” Barton replied.
“It’s Saturday night, Coulson, oh my god. I know you’re, like, secretly fifty, but for fuck’s sake, relax. Enjoy some Death Star action.”
Oddly enough, Phil didn’t feel nearly as annoyed with Barton as he should have. If anything, he felt...flattered? No, nothing like that. It was just that he was so used to spending his weekends alone without any interruptions; it had been a long time since someone had sought out his company.
Just for an hour or so, he thought, and set his book aside.
But an hour turned into an entire movie, which then became Barton bitching about being hungry, which then led to Phil rolling his eyes and getting on his laptop to order Domino’s. By the time eleven o’clock rolled around, an entire extra large pizza had been devoured, and they were twenty minutes into Return of the Jedi.
Barton had abandoned his spot on Phil’s bed and was now sprawled on his stomach with the empty pizza box at his elbow. Phil sat cross-legged on the floor beside him, laptop resting on his knees as he checked his email.
“Did you ever think Leia in the gold bikini was hot?” Barton asked.
Phil shrugged without looking up. “Not really. She’s dressed as a sex slave for an alien gangster. That’s not exactly appealing.”
Barton rolled onto his side and grinned at Phil, cheek propped on one hand. “Really, Coulson? You honestly thought that when you were fourteen and horny as shit?”
A flush crept up the back of his neck. “Look, she’s being held hostage! God only knows what Jabba probably made her do off screen, okay, and I just—when I was a kid, I wanted her to get the respect she deserved.” God, he sounded like such a nerd. So much for hiding the R2D2 sheets.
He didn’t expect Barton to sit up abruptly and narrow his eyes in thought, his expression weirdly pensive for a moment. His knee pressed against Phil’s.
“So,” Barton said quietly, and there was barely a trace of cockiness in his tone. “Bi or gay?"
It shouldn’t have made Phil’s blush grow even hotter. He’d never been ashamed of his sexuality, just private; it wasn’t something he broadcast to the world. And it certainly wasn’t something Barton needed to know.
“I...” Phil cleared his throat. “I like what I like.”
A slow, devastating smile tugged at the corners of Barton’s mouth. He ducked his head a little, looked up at Phil from under his lashes. “Yeah, it’s kinda nice, isn’t it?” he said, and there, there was flirty jock everyone knew, with his deep, liquid-smooth voice and loose limbs, blue eyes dark and teasing.
After twenty-two years, Phil had assumed he just didn’t care all that much about sex. If it was all it was cracked up to be, wouldn’t he know by now? The handful of partners he’d had in the past—way past, if he was being honest—were never anything to write home about. As far as Phil was concerned, sex was overrated.
But he’d never had anyone give him a look that made his heart give a startled thump and his palms sweat.
“I guess,” Phil replied as casually as possible, hitting reply on a random email from Fury and typing nonsense just to keep himself distracted.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Barton roll back onto his stomach, which did nothing to hide the fact that his jeans sort of moulded perfectly to his ass.
“Secret’s safe with me, dude,” he heard Barton say, and then, to Phil’s chagrin, he looked back over his shoulder and winked at him.
Phil grit his teeth and typed faster, wishing it wasn’t so goddamn hot in the room.
Thankfully, the week began like any other. Phil barely saw Barton at all, and when he did it was in passing through the student commons, or in the lobby of Stark Hall. Their eyes would meet for a split second, Barton would nod his head, and that was that.
Not that Phil expected anything different. It was a relief to get his room back to himself.
It didn’t explain why his chest lurched a little when he looked up from his desk on Thursday evening to find Barton slumped against the doorway, looking bemused.
“So, yeah, can I hang out here for a couple hours?” he asked.
“What is it now, an Antiques Roadshow marathon?” Phil drawled, even though there was an odd thrill curling in his stomach.
Barton pointed a finger at him. “I can get that on my own TV, thank you very much, but no. Cage’s getting laid right now and I kinda can’t study Geology with his girlfriend yelling ‘harder’ every five seconds. Believe me, I tried; sex and rocks do not work.”
Phil stared at him. “Cage is—?”
“Hey, it’s still visiting hours, so what can you do. Hence my last resort.” He held up his Geology textbook and a pink highlighter.
Phil was still stuck on the part where the guy next door to Barton was having too-loud sex. “But...I don’t hear anything.”
Barton rolled his eyes. “Of course you don’t, you’re not listening. If you went to my room, you’d hear ‘em fucking like rabbits at the end of days.”
“About twenty minutes or so, give or take. They can go for hours.” Barton waved his hand nonchalantly as he kicked the door closed behind him without waiting for an answer from Phil. He tossed his book down in the center of the room and did his usual careless sprawl.
“Just...don’t bother me or anything,” Phil muttered as he tried to go back to his notes. Except now he had Barton on his floor in those stupid jeans of his and sex images in his head and Phil sort of wanted to punch something.
He wasn’t normally this easily distracted, goddamn it.
But Barton was quiet for the most part; occasionally he’d hum under his breath as he read, or cluck his tongue before scribbling something with his highlighter. Phil wondered what a junior Art major was doing taking Geology, but he didn’t ask. It wasn’t his business.
He was glaring daggers at his project notes when he heard Barton say, “Jesus, you’re gonna set fire to that thing.”
Phil rubbed at his neck. “What?”
“You’re staring at your laptop like you want to murder it.”
“It’s nothing. My capstone project notes are a mess. I hate my group.” Which was putting it mildly. Phil did about ninety percent of the work, and that was only because he was desperate to get an A.
“Well, you look tense as shit. C’mere.”
He swiveled around in his chair. “Excuse me?”
Barton sat back on his heels, arms crossed over his chest. “What, you do! I give good back rubs, ask anyone.”
“You’re not giving me a back rub, Barton.” And Phil absolutely did not go just a little bit hard at the thought.
“Whatever. Just trying to be nice.” Barton shrugged and went back to his reading.
It took a good three minutes of Phil watching Barton absently play with the tips of his hair to finally talk himself into it. “Fine, okay, I could probably use it.”
“Now you’re talking sense, Coulson.” Barton promptly hopped on Phil’s bed. “Take your shirt off and get on your stomach.”
Phil’s instant, knee-jerk reaction was to sputter and give the fifty billion reasons why he was not taking his shirt off. But a part of him began to wonder if Barton was just baiting him, trying to get a reaction out of stoic, prudish Coulson who didn’t know how to unwind. And Phil didn’t like being baited.
So he stood up slowly and, with his heart thumping, stripped his t-shirt off and tossed it over his desk chair. Phil worked out when he could, knew he wasn’t terrible to look at, but this was Barton, who probably slept with models in his spare time.
Still, Phil couldn’t help tugging awkwardly at the waistband of his jeans as he walked toward the bed. Barton was watching him with a blank expression.
“So, on the bed?” Phil asked, wishing he could do that sultry purring thing with his voice like Barton.
“Yeah, perfect,” Barton replied. He leaned one shoulder against the wall as Phil got situated and didn’t say another word until Phil was on his stomach, arms tucked under his pillow and face turned away.
The second Barton laid his hands flat against Phil’s skin, Phil began to regret his choices. Luckily, he was able to hide his gasp in the pillow and cover it up with a cough.
“Definitely tense,” Barton said, digging the heel of his palm into the knot just below the top of Phil’s spine.
Of course Barton had fantastic hands—he knew how to shoot arrows, for fuck’s sake. But they were also wide and solid and spread down the length of Phil’s back easily. He could feel the tension leave his body as he gradually melted into the bed.
He was completely hard now, but Barton didn’t need to know. Phil closed his eyes and sighed, pictured Barton’s hands sliding lower, curving around his waist—
Phil groaned softly. “Yeah?”
“Open your eyes for a sec.”
That seemed like a lot of work, but Phil managed to do so. And when he did, he found Barton braced over him, mouth hovering dangerously close.
He couldn’t breathe. “What?” Phil croaked.
Oh, fuck. “No.”
“Just do it.”
“You said this was a back rub.”
“This is part of that.”
“You don’t need me to turn over to get my back.” Phil’s heart started to have a seizure.
“Maybe I do.”
“Goddamn it, Barton, why—”
Phil didn’t know what else he would’ve said, because the words were lost in a wet, biting kiss. Phil wasn’t prepared for it, could only gasp and open his mouth and let Barton take over, and it was frightening, the way Phil gave over to it so quickly, like it was all he wanted in the world. He heard himself make an embarrassing whimpering sound as his eyes fluttered shut, and Barton whispered, “Yeah,” as he pressed his weight into Phil while simultaneously turning him onto his back.
It was—Phil couldn’t process the feeling of being held down under warm, solid muscle, and Barton wasn’t even naked at all. But it had been too long (if ever) since Phil had felt like this, overwhelmed and mindless and wanting to crawl out of his skin to get closer. He tangled both hands into Barton’s ridiculous spiky (soft) hair and tugged him down, kissed him messy and deep and tried not to think about when the last time was that he’d kissed someone breathless.
Barton shifted to one side, sucked hard at Phil’s lower lip as his hand splayed over Phil’s chest and slid lower.
“You’re so fucking sensitive,” he breathed with a hint of awed amusement.
Phil started to tell him to shut up, except Barton cupped his hand (fucking perfect hand) over the crotch of Phil’s jeans and squeezed, hard.
“Shit,” Phil panted.
“God, I knew you were hard,” Barton said in that stupid sex-drenched voice, and fuck, Phil was going to come in no time if they kept this up.
He was going to come on his own bed with Clint fucking Barton.
“C-Can’t do this here,” he managed to stutter as he grabbed Barton’s wrist. “Your room. Now.”
Barton whined. “Christ, Coulson, can’t we just—”
“Your room.” He scrambled out from under him and snatched his shirt from the desk chair, jerking it over his head as he yanked open the door. The coast was clear, thank Christ; Phil’s hands were shaking as he stormed down the hall to Barton’s room.
Thankfully, Barton wasn’t far behind. “You’re such a weirdo,” he murmured, slamming the door shut behind him and shoving Phil against the closest wall. He skimmed his hands up Phil’s sides, stripping his shirt back off. “Why’d you even bother putting this back on?”
“Because I—I’m not going to run around my—shit—floor half-naked, okay?” At this angle Phil could reach back and fill his hands with Barton’s ass, arch into him, get all the friction he wanted. It felt amazing and about as far from overrated as possible.
“My mistake,” Barton growled against his neck. “Are you loud? ‘Cause I want to know if we’re gonna have to compete with Cage.”
Phil gave a shaky laugh. “Give me something to be loud about and I’ll get back to you.”
“Oh, right, forgot you were a smart guy.”
“I’m also the only naked one, so take your fucking shirt off.”
Barton grinned deviously and ground his hips against Phil’s, making his head thunk back against the wall as he bit back a moan. “Also bossy. Should I call you ‘sir’, too?”
Phil was done with Barton’s mouth. Or least, with the talking coming out of his mouth. He surged up, licked filthily past Barton’s teeth as he thrust back against him, one leg wrapped around Barton’s thighs. That was enough to shut him up, and Phil felt ridiculously proud knowing he could make Barton moan like that.
Together, they managed to get Barton out of his shirt, although it meant having to stop their jousting match of a kissing session for five seconds. Phil made the mistake of pulling back to take in Barton’s bare shoulders, his chest.
“God, you’re—” Phil started, only Barton looked at him with wide, dark eyes and gasped, “I’m what?” and Phil didn’t really want to finish that thought. Not out loud. Besides, Barton didn’t need to be told he was hot.
They didn’t last long once Barton shoved both their jeans down and took their cocks in his big hand, fucking into his own fist and letting the head drag against Phil, too slick and too hot.
Phil bit Barton’s shoulder when he came, because he wasn’t about to let Cage hear him scream through the wall. Barton didn’t seem to mind; He held onto Phil’s waist hard enough to leave bruises and moaned into Phil’s ear like he was dying.
Phil was pretty sure Barton came first. Either way, his stomach was soon covered in come.
“So,” Barton gasped when they both could form words again. “I give a pretty kickass back rub, right?”
Phil looked down at the mess between them and smirked. “Am I supposed to make a joke about happy endings here?”
Barton waggled his eyebrows. “You said it, not me,” he drawled, nipping at Phil’s mouth.
Phil went back to his room like nothing had happened. He sat down at his computer, looked at his capstone notes still waiting patiently for him, and tried not fixate on the smell of sex still lingering on his skin.
His mouth was swollen, and he could still taste Barton. He ran his thumb over his lower lip, which was hot to the touch.
A half hour went by before Phil realized he’d been staring into space, replaying every single sound Barton had made.
He kept up the status quo, of course. Phil lived by his routines, and he was way too focused to let something like impromptu sex interrupt things. A crazy, impulsive moment lacking judgment didn’t count as a distraction from the bigger picture.
So Phil went to class and his RA meetings and the library and totally did not think about Barton naked and growling into the curve of Phil’s neck as his whole body shook.
If he jerked off more than usual, Phil just blamed it on his stress levels.
The status quo lasted for four days.
In those four days, Phil got little more than a jerky nod from Barton when they were out on campus. Sometimes he actually got a smirk and salute.
Phil hated it. He didn’t want Barton’s smirks and half-assed acknowledgments, because they were reminders. Phil didn’t want reminders; it wasn’t like they’d be having sex again or anything, and Phil was sick of obsessing over it.
Then he came back from class one afternoon to find Barton’s running shoes thrown in front of his room. A green Post-It note was stuck to the door that read, come 2 my room.
Phil huffed loudly and dumped his messenger bag in the hall without unlocking his room. He scooped the disgusting shoes off the floor and yelled, “Damn it, Barton, I told you to stop leaving your fucking shoes in front of my—”
Barton’s door opened, and he wandered out into the hall in nothing but a towel around his waist. His hair was wet and sticking up in all directions. Phil’s mouth went dry.
“I had to leave ‘em or you wouldn’t know it was me,” Barton said, blinking innocent blue eyes at Phil.
“You—” Phil stopped and cleared his throat. “The rest of the human race leaves a name, not fungus.” He threw the shoes at Barton, whose shoulders were still damp.
“I had to ask you something.” Barton reached up, scrubbed a hand through his wet hair.
“In my room.”
Like a flip of a switch, Phil felt a tightening in his stomach. He wanted to say no, or that anything Barton needed to ask him could be said in his own room, but every inch of his body was on alert, hyper-aware, and instinctively Phil knew. He knew.
They were going to do this again.
“Okay,” Phil said very calmly, very slowly. He tried to look completely at ease, save for the twitch of his hand tugging at the hem of his t-shirt.
Barton apparently saw that small tell and smirked.
I don’t want to talk about this, Phil thought as the door closed behind him, and luckily, neither did Barton. He was on Phil in heartbeat, kissing him fast and deep, his hands shoving their way under Phil’s shirt to splay over his stomach, his chest. Phil shivered and sighed into Barton’s mouth, feeling as if a lost puzzle piece had slotted into place, a piece that had been missing for four days, and wasn’t that a fucking stupid thing to be thinking right now?
His shirt went away, along with Barton’s towel, and Phil had to bite his lip to keep from groaning pathetically. God, and Phil thought he’d been obsessed with Barton’s chest—the rest of him was just as absurdly perfect, compact and solid, his thick cock standing almost parallel to his abdomen.
Phil sunk to his knees, dizzy with want, his hands sliding over Barton’s thighs to cup his ass.
“Oh, fuck,” Barton gasped just as Phil leaned forward and took his first lick.
He’d only done this once before, way back in high school, during junior year at a party. The guy was older and drunk, and Phil had hated every second of it, swore he’d never do it again.
Now, though...he felt like he was drunk, opening his mouth wide against the underside of Barton’s cock just to suck down his taste and make Barton’s voice crack and his thighs quiver. He took as much of Barton down as he could, held him in his throat until his eyes watered and Barton whimpered, “Oh, oh, God,” in a rough voice as his hips jerked.
“You’re gonna—fuck, Coulson, your mouth, you’re gonna make me come.”
Phil squeezed Barton’s thighs hard enough to dig his nails into the skin as his way of saying, Good.
He really must’ve been drunk, otherwise Phil never would’ve gone blindingly hard over the thought of Barton coming in his mouth. But he wanted it so badly, enough that he almost didn’t recognize himself as he held still and let Barton come on a long, shaky moan, coating Phil’s tongue and his lips. Phil lapped at him like a cat, pumped him through it with his right hand as his left rubbed desperately at the front his jeans.
“Fuck, wait, just wait, I want to—” Barton pulled out of Phil’s mouth and dropped down in front him, shoved Phil onto his back on the carpet and tore into his jeans, pushing his cock through the slit of his boxers and sucking him down in one smooth take.
Phil bit his fist and yelled as he came embarrassingly fast. Barton swallowed everything, kissed the head when Phil was done, his expression all soft and flushed and sated.
“Jesus,” Phil panted, cupping both hands over his face. There were spots behind his eyes.
“It’s Clint, actually.” Holy shit, his voice was wrecked, and if Phil wasn’t completely wrung out, he’d flip Barton over and fuck him through the floor.
Instead, he looked down the length of his body to where his jeans were tangled around his hips, watched the way Barton was sort of nuzzling at his softening cock. Coherent thought wasn’t easy in the face of that, to say the least. “Um. So. What did you need to ask me?”
“Forgot,” Barton murmured, and then he met Phil’s gaze and added, like an afterthought, “You should rim me sometime.”
Phil almost choked. “Oh?”
“Unless you’re not into that.”
He’d never rimmed anyone in his life, but for Barton...for Barton he might. Maybe. Possibly.
“I’m on duty tonight from five until eleven,” Phil said breathlessly, cock already starting to perk up again.
Barton grinned. “I can wait.”
At 11:05 that night, Phil was back in Barton’s room, naked, and with his tongue licking tentatively over Barton’s ass. He wondered why he’d never done this before, because according to Barton, Phil was a natural.
If it meant making Barton turn to shivering Jell-O and bury his head in a pillow in order to keep himself quiet, Phil would pretty much do it every night.
Then again, the part where Barton sucked him off again all slow and filthy wasn’t bad, either. After he came, Phil tugged him back onto the bed, made Barton straddle his hips as he licked at Barton’s mouth, wanting to taste himself.
“When was the last time someone touched you, babe?” Barton whispered, thumb against Phil’s jaw.
Phil didn’t like his tone, like he was giving him pillow talk. It felt too rote; Barton probably talked the same shit to everyone he got naked with, and Phil wasn’t spilling his guts just because he’d had his dick in Barton’s mouth. “I let people touch me when I’m ready.”
“And you’re ready now?”
“I’m naked, aren’t I?” And don’t call me babe.
Barton gave him a lopsided grin. “Obviously. You’re a fucking firecracker, Coulson. If people knew you were such an easy touch—”
“I’m not.” Phil sat up abruptly and kicked his legs out from under Barton, pawing around for his boxers. His stomach curled into a knot at the thought of Barton regaling stories to his buddies about how he was fucking his uptight RA. “This isn’t up for discussion. If we’re...if we keep doing this, it stays here. Only here.”
Barton stretched his legs out over the bed and folded his arms behind his head, still totally naked. He had come drying on his stomach. “And what, exactly, are we doing?”
“This,” Phil huffed, flailing his hand at said nakedness as he stumbled around into his jeans. “The whole ‘oh you should rim me’ thing.”
The bastard had the balls to look contemplative. “So...we’re fucking, right? Like, as in I should stock up on condoms, get some more lube, that type of thing?”
Phil hated that Barton could make snark sound so goddamn hot. He swallowed and shoved a hand through his hair. “I don’t know, do you want to keep...going?”
It was a mistake to ask. With a graceful ease Phil couldn’t begin to possess, Barton climbed off the bed and sauntered over to where Phil was yanking on his shirt. He slid two fingers up Phil’s arm, licked his lips as he pinned Phil with a dark, smouldering look that made Phil want to whimper.
“Yeah, Coulson, I’d like you to fuck me,” Barton purred. “If it’s all right with you.”
All brain function ceased for a moment. Phil clenched his jaw, breathed in through his nose, and told himself he physically could not come again just from Barton’s voice alone.
“Okay,” he said softly, staring at Barton’s mouth. “Okay, we—we can do that.”
“But it stays here. In my room.”
“Yes. We don’t talk about it outside."
“Like Fight Club.”
Phil bit his lip against a smile. “Yeah, like Fight Club. Fury would have my ass if he caught me diddling the residents in my own room.”
Barton snorted. “Diddling? Fucking Christ, you really are secretly a fifty-year-old man.”
“You don’t have a problem with a fifty-year-old fucking you,” Phil said before he could stop himself.
Barton blinked, then laughed, a genuine sound that made little crinkle lines form at the corners of his eyes. “Fuckin’ smart guy,” he mumbled, and he sucked sharply at Phil’s lower lip. “Better get back before people start to talk.”
There was a scary moment where Phil wanted to lean into him and fall into another kiss, something slow and easy, but that kind of negated the agreement they’d just made. Phil ducked away instead, double checked that his fly was buttoned, smoothed a hand over his hair.
“Don’t call me babe,” he said before opening the door and slipping out into the hallway.
Phil planned to treat the whole thing like an extracurricular activity, something he did in his spare time. Some people jogged or wrote a novel; Phil had sex with Clint Barton. He was an expert at compartmentalizing, and Barton was just something else he slotted into place along with class and studying and everything else that took up his days.
Except Barton took up more mental space than Phil had anticipated.
He found himself drifting off during Business Ethics, rubbing his thumb back and forth over a hidden bruise under the collar of his shirt and thinking of the way Barton’s shoulders flushed a certain pink whenever Phil bit at his hipbone. He could barely remember to take notes in Org Behavior because his skin would smell like Barton’s aftershave; they had a free hour in between classes in the morning, which meant Phil would haul ass back to the dorm and be more than half hard by the time he got to Barton’s room. Sometimes he was five minutes late or more getting back to class, and Phil never ran late.
It soon got to the point where Phil started to zone out during staff meetings.
“Um, Earth to Coulson?” Fury asked, leaning over to snap his fingers in Phil’s face. “You with me, bro?”
Phil blinked and glanced around guiltily. “Sorry, sorry,” he mumbled.
“You okay?” Sitwell, one of the first floor RAs, asked. “You look kinda twitchy...”
“Yeah, no, I’m fine, just have a lot on my mind, is all.” Too bad a lot really meant counting down the hours until I can have Barton’s ass under my hands.
Fury gave him a long hard stare and made an unconvinced humming sound under his breath. Phil wouldn’t look at him for the rest of the meeting.
God. Seeing Barton naked was like being introduced to crack.
He needed to get his shit together. It was as simple as that. Phil needed to organize his thoughts and fucking focus before he flunked out of school.
So Phil did what he always needed to do in order to iron out his mental state—he made a list.
He waited until he knew Barton was down at the archery range; knowing for a fact Barton wasn’t in his room made concentrating ten times easier. Phil sat down at his desk with a legal pad and his favorite pen—he never typed out the important lists. Writing them out by hand felt more organic.
He wrote THINGS I WOULD LIKE TO DO TO BARTON across the top of the page and underlined it twice. Phil chewed the tip of his thumb, a low-grade thrum of heat already starting low in his stomach.
1. Make Barton come from only my fingers in his ass, without touching his cock.
He’d gotten close, but Barton was always so desperate, panting hard by the time Phil slid two slick fingers inside him. “Fuck, just do it, need your cock, c’mon,” Barton would moan, and Phil was only human, hands shaking as he fumbled the condom on.
2. Find out how Barton responds to obscenities vocalized during foreplay.
There was never much foreplay, and even less dirty talk. Phil had never been one for porn, thought it was ridiculous and unrealistic, and yet Barton made him want to say every stupid cliched, porny phrase in existence. He usually kept his mouth shut, though; it felt awkward to say things like I could eat your ass for days out loud.
3. Barton has sensitive nipples. Would like to try to make him come from only touching/licking/sucking them.
Phil was...more than slightly obsessed with Barton’s nipples, to say the least. Even with his shirt still on, Phil could brush the back of his hand over them and make Barton’s eyes flutter shut.
4. Toys. Need to find an adequate dildo. Preferably one big enough to tide Barton over while I possibly suck his cock at the same time.
Phil was all about multi-tasking, especially when they were crunched for time.
The list went on and on, until Phil was on number twenty. He reached under his desk and absently rubbed at the fly of his jeans. It was par for the course—Phil wasn’t capable of thinking about sex with Barton without getting stupidly hard.
He licked over his bottom lip and wrote, 20. Can I convince Barton to switch? Would be willing to work on a compromise.
Phil stared at the words, bold against yellow paper. He’d never bottomed for anyone before, never fathomed he’d ever want to. It wasn’t just the logistics of it, either; there was a power shift involved that unsettled Phil, made him feel claustrophobic just thinking about it. He didn’t like the thought of being at the mercy of someone else’s control.
But he couldn’t stop thinking about Barton pressing him down into the bed, his thighs wrapped around Barton’s waist, and that thick cock of his buried inside him. Barton was strong, stronger than Phil; he could pin Phil down and never let him back up, not until he begged for it.
“Fuck,” Phil breathed, hastily unzipping his fly and shoving his hand down into his boxers. He was already wet and leaking everywhere.
He came in his hand after five strokes, imagining Barton’s low growl in his ear whispering, “Good boy.”
The list, unfortunately, didn’t help. If anything, it made things worse, because now Phil had goals.
He was staring at the damn thing in despair a few days later when he heard some of the guys on the floor gathering in the hall outside his open door, yelling about happy hour and half priced hot wings. Phil shoved the list in his desk drawer and sighed; if the guys were headed out to happy hour, that meant Phil had a ton of homework to get started on.
Phil jerked his head toward the doorway, heart pounding a little quicker. Barton stood there in his leather jacket, sunglasses hooked over the neck of his shirt. It felt like ages since he’d stepped foot in Phil’s room.
“Need something?” Phil asked with forced casualness. He hadn’t touched Barton all day; his fingers twitched.
“Happy hour’s starting at Mojo’s. Wanna come?”
His eyes flared, and Barton shrugged and glanced away, adding quickly, “With the guys. The whole floor’s going.”
Technically, he wasn’t violating their agreement. It was a floor event, so to speak; Barton was going to be one of a dozen guys there, and Phil was their RA. It made sense for him to be invited.
He still hated the warm little burst of pleasure in his chest, the same little burst that made Phil say, “All right,” and grab his coat.
The bar was a few blocks from the dorm, and the evening was mild enough to walk. Phil just happened to notice that Barton kept to the front of the group, while Phil hung toward the back, which was fine. It was exactly what Phil wanted, anyway.
Mojo’s was a hole in the wall dive that catered to Hamilton students, mostly the upperclassmen who didn’t need to use fake IDs. There was one shoddy pool table in the corner, a shiny new digital jukebox that looked completely out of place, and two tables surrounded by a crowd of bar stools. Phil didn’t come here much, but it was his kind of bar—dark, bare bones, and unpretentious.
He ordered a can of Coors Light, because Mojo’s didn’t serve beer on tap, and as Phil popped the tab he carefully watched Barton order the same from the other end of the bar, along with a shot of Jack. He downed both in a matter of minutes, and then slung his arm around one of the guys beside him, laughing brightly.
Phil stared down at his beer and drummed his fingers against the bar, an odd flush in his cheeks.
“Wow, you’re out on a school night,” someone said, and Phil felt a friendly nudge at his elbow. Maria Hill grinned and saluted him with her beer can.
“Hey, I get out,” he said with a laugh.
“Sure. Did you even know where this place was?”
“Everyone knows where this place is.” He liked Hill. She was a senior Business major in Phil’s capstone class, and knew what it was like to be stuck in a worthless group doing the majority of the work. They’d talked grad school and MBA programs frequently over the last year; Phil was pretty sure she worked off a six year plan very similar to his.
“Uh-huh.” She leaned back against the bar as she took a long pull of her drink and eyed him critically.
Phil frowned. “What?”
“Clint Barton, huh?”
“What about him?”
Hill raised an eyebrow. “You were staring at him for like five minutes.”
“Define ‘staring,’” Phil said with as much snark as possible while his chest went tight.
“Okay, ‘gazing longingly,’” Hill drawled. “Didn’t really think he was your type, Coulson.”
Phil snorted and quickly chugged the rest of his beer. “First of all, no, and second, he’s not, trust me. If I’m staring it’s because I’m really not looking forward to dragging all my drunk-ass residents home.”
“Who says you have to drag anyone’s ass home? You’re off the clock now, live a little. God knows I’d rather be here than staring at the utter shitstorm of a project I have waiting for me.”
Just then he heard Barton laugh again, louder this time. Without turning his head, Phil glanced out the corner of his eye. Barton was still hanging off the guy from before, only now his sunglasses were perched on his nose and he was leaning into a brunette girl who was taller than him by a good five inches. Another empty shot glass dangled from his hand.
“You’re staring again,” Hill said in a sing-song voice. “Geez, I was kidding before, but—are you really into him?”
“No,” Phil replied sharply, succinctly. He waved the bartender over and ordered another beer. “Let’s talk about that shitstorm project. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being first degree homicide, how much do you want to murder your group?”
Hill groaned. “Eleven.”
Phil tapped his fresh Coors against her can. “And this is why I like you.”
It wasn’t until he was five beers in and Hill eventually left to go talk to her roommate that Phil felt hot breath against his neck, sliding over his ear.
“She’s cute,” came Barton’s low rumble. “Maybe you two should have some alone time.”
Phil refused to shiver, which was always his default response whenever Barton growled at him like that. It didn’t help that his more-than-slightly tipsy brain wanted hear a wisp of jealousy in Barton’s tone.
“Business majors should never sleep together; they end up killing each other,” Phil replied without turning his head. He kept his gaze on the bar, where Barton had braced one hand parallel to Phil’s. Their fingers nearly touched.
“Are you speaking from experience, Coulson?”
“Not really. Jealous?” Barton was too close, way too close to stay in compliance with their agreement, but Phil hadn’t really stopped watching Barton all night, the way he swayed into everyone else’s space and gave them friendly, sloppy smiles, reminding Phil that when all was said and done, Barton didn’t make exceptions for anyone. Phil wasn’t some special fucking snowflake.
It pissed him off that he even cared.
Barton smelled like warm whiskey and aftershave. “You want me to be?” he purred back, and seriously, fuck him, Phil wasn’t that easy. So what if he was already hard in his jeans and Barton hadn’t even touched him?
“I think you should back the fuck off before I punch you in the nuts,” Phil said in a voice that sounded shredded. He swallowed and tried again. “Don’t you have groupies to flirt with?”
Barton made that low, throaty laugh that would never not make Phil think of sex. “Aw, baby, you were watching. Now who’s jealous?” He leaned closer, pushed the tip of his nose against Phil’s temple.
“I’m not, I—just stop,” Phil hissed, trying discreetly to back away, but it was half-hearted at best. Five beers were enough to make him give in a little more, an irrational thrill curling through him, making his heart race and his dick throb.
“Want you so bad right now,” Barton suddenly whispered right into Phil’s ear. “Wish I could lay you over that bar and strip you naked and make you beg for it, let everyone in here see what I can do to you.”
Holy fuck. “You’re drunk,” Phil breathed, tightening his grip on his beer can. He wouldn’t turn his head, he wouldn’t. Jesus fucking Christ, Barton still hadn’t touched him, and yet Phil could pretty much come right now with only a press of his hand to his fly.
“So are you. Bet I could get you to scream when you’re like this. You’re always so sensitive, it wouldn’t take much, yeah?”
And then, ever so carefully, Barton scraped his teeth over Phil’s ear.
Like a shot, Phil was off the bar stool, so close he was shaking with it. “Get the fuck back to the dorm,” he panted, his eyes looking everywhere but straight at Barton.
The bastard laughed again and said, “Yes, sir. After you.”
Phil wanted to punch Barton. Unfortunately, he wanted to do filthy, raunchy things to him more.
He ran all the way back to Stark Hall.
Barton didn’t make him scream. Phil wouldn’t give him that satisfaction.
He did, however, turn Phil into a shivering mess of sensation as he rimmed the shit out him, groaning and murmuring things like, “Fuck, I love your ass, love your taste, you take it so well,” and, “Will you come for me like this, baby?”
Phil immediately came all over the sheets without so much as a hand on his cock. He told himself it was the beer’s fault, and not Barton calling him baby during sex for the first time.
When he felt Barton rut between his legs, his cock sliding over Phil’s balls with every thrust, Phil thought of his list. He thought about how easy it would be for Barton to push inside him, fill him up like he belonged there, hands tight against Phil’s hips.
Barton came not long after that, draped over Phil’s back. Phil heard himself say, “Fuck yeah,” into the pillows.
He felt a kiss against his shoulder just before Barton’s weight pushed him down against the bed.
“No one fucks you that good, right?” Barton asked in a breathless, whiskey-slurred voice, words muffled as he buried his face into the curve of Phil’s neck.
Phil was on the verge of passing out, too gone to really think about the words and whether or not Barton said them too carefully. “No one. Just you,” he mumbled into Barton’s pillow. The room was starting to spin a bit.
Barton made a pleased humming noise. “Damn straight, no one but me.” He tucked himself tighter against Phil, leg thrown over the back of Phil’s thighs. They were a mess, and Phil was lying in the goddamn wet spot, but his eyes were heavy and Barton was like a warm, heavy, muscly blanket...
He sighed and closed his eyes, telling himself he’d just rest a few minutes. A quick nap wouldn’t hurt anything.
Three hours later, Phil crawled out of Barton’s bed. Barton had a vice grip around Phil’s waist, but he grumbled and turned over when Phil finally wiggled free, stumbling around in the dark for his clothes, still drunk and covered in dried come.
Phil emerged from Barton’s room like a zombie, blinking in the garish florescent light of the hallway, t-shirt on inside out and his jeans unbuttoned.
The coast, thankfully, was clear.
It wasn’t until the following afternoon, when Phil was hungover and grumpy and glaring at his Business Ethics homework, that he remembered just what, exactly, had been said the night before in Barton’s bed.
But instead of berating himself for being drunk enough and dumb enough to say the words out loud, he wondered how many others before him had said the exact same thing to Barton.
Earlier that day he’d seen Barton in the student commons, looking bedraggled and just as hungover as Phil. He’d been been curled into one of the plush leather couches in the lounge with a couple of girls who lived on the second floor of Stark Hall; one of them had absently petted Barton’s hair while the other had had her head in his lap, flailing her hands as she’d told some story that made him smile with lazy affection.
Phil had clenched his jaw and neatly turned away. The scene on the couch wasn’t his business, anyway.
“Not a special snowflake, Coulson,” he’d muttered under his breath.
Phil tried very hard to avoid Barton for the next few days. The irony of it all wasn’t lost on him, considering he’d started the year avoiding Barton without any second thought.
Barton seemed to take the hint, and they didn’t speak until that Friday afternoon. Phil pretended he wasn’t keeping track of how long it had been since he’d had Barton’s taste in his mouth.
He was on duty for a couple hours as a favor to Sitwell, who was off interviewing for an internship. Phil’s door was propped open like it always was during his RA hours, and he took advantage of the quiet hall by actually reading a real book that had nothing to do with finance or managerial business practices.
He curled up on his bed, back against the wall, and was a good thirty pages into the latest book in the Song of Ice and Fire series (Phil had never been a huge Tolkien fan, but George R.R. Martin was fantastic) when he heard someone stomping through the hall and yell, “Motherfucker,” before slamming a door closed.
The door happened to be attached to Barton’s room.
Phil kept reading, didn’t strain to hear more noise or pay attention when he heard more banging and a muffled fuck. No, Phil steadfastly kept his eyes on the page, even when several minutes had gone by and he’d read the same paragraph ten times.
But the final straw was a loud, shattering crashing. Phil set his book down, took a deep breath, and told himself he was the RA on duty. It was his job to check in on the residents.
When he lightly tapped on Barton’s door, all he got in return was a growled, “Fuck off, Coulson.”
“What the hell’s going on?” Phil yelled back, folding his arms over his chest in his best adult stance.
“None of your fucking business, it’s my room.”
“Jesus, Barton, what the fuck—” Phil shoved the door open to find Barton standing in the center of a small tornado of destruction. Papers were scattered everywhere, desk chair overturned, text books lay face open on the floor with bent pages, and a broken coffee mug lay in pieces at the foot of the bed. His bow, however, laid safe on his bed, completely unharmed.
Phil’s eyes widened. “What—”
“Don’t.” Barton held up a finger and shoved his other hand through his hair. “I can’t handle you fucking lecturing me right now, all right? Just leave me the fuck alone.”
“I’m not going to lecture you, okay, give me some credit.” Something very much like hurt spread through his chest, knowing Barton didn’t trust him. “This isn’t like you.”
“No, actually, this is totally like me.” Suddenly Barton thrust a set of crumpled papers in Phil’s face. It was a Statistics test, and scrawled across the top in bold red letters was a large D- and a see me after class to discuss.
Phil bit his lip and said carefully, “Okay, so you failed a test.”
“It wasn’t just a fucking test. I’m failing the whole goddamn course. My professor all but said I don’t have a chance in hell of getting anything over a D for the semester.”
“But September’s barely over—”
“Yeah, well, when you’re a dumbass like me and basically fail everything, you run out of options pretty damn quick.” Barton swore again and kicked his dresser, sending DVDs and more text books clattering to the ground.
Phil took a deep breath. “Have you tried tutoring?”
“Of course I have!” Barton yelled, flailing his arms out. There was a pinch between his eyes, and a high note of desperation in his voice. “I fucking try, but nothing works. I hate Statistics, and I realize I fucked up by not taking it my freshman year like everyone else, all right, I get it. I put it off. I’m not a fucking genius like you, I don’t have a head for this shit. This is why I’m an Art major, I get physical stuff, not equations.” He bit the words out, panting hard and glaring at Phil like he was daring him to argue.
Meanwhile, Phil was stuck on the part where Barton basically gave him a compliment. “I’m...I’m hardly a genius,” he said quietly. “I mean, yeah, okay, I happen to like Statistics, but I’m kind of a dork for that stuff, in case you haven’t noticed.”
Barton wasn’t amused with Phil’s self-deprecation. “No, what you are is someone who’s probably never been made to feel like a stupid piece of shit in their professor’s office.” He ripped the test out of Phil’s hands and wadded it into a ball, launching it against his closet door.
An image of Barton sitting slumped and dejected in a chair across from his professor’s cluttered desk flashed through Phil’s mind. “He shouldn’t have done that you.”
“Whatever, if I drop the course I’m fucked anyway. Might as well live with it.”
“You’re not stupid, Cli—Barton.” Phil’s heart beat a little faster—he’d almost called him Clint.
But Barton just snorted. “You have to say that. You’re my RA.” He held Phil’s gaze for a long moment, though, and Phil felt there was something unsaid hanging in the air between them.
Finally Barton looked away, his shoulders sagging. “Don’t worry your pretty head about it, Coulson. I’ll try not to break shit for the rest of the night, how’s that?” He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck and laughed weakly as he toed at the remains of his coffee mug.
A tightness formed in Phil’s throat, and it made him say, “So, I still have Moneyball on Netflix. Figured I might as well make sure you knew what the fuck you were talking about.”
Barton’s mouth quirked into a real lopsided grin. He looked...well, flattered. “Yeah? What’d you think?”
“I haven’t watched it yet, actually. But if you, y’know, wanted to, we could watch it in my room while I’m still on duty...if you want...”
It felt too much like Phil was crossing his own line, and even as he said the words he internally hissed stupid at himself, because this wasn’t what they did. They weren’t friends, they didn’t hang out, and Phil had no business feeling an uncomfortable clench in his chest over Barton looking fucking sad.
Barton watched him with guarded eyes. “Do you want to?” he asked softly, arms hugged to his chest.
God, this was a mistake. “No—I mean, yeah, whatever, it’s fine, but I’m not—you don’t have to, I’m just—throwing an offer out there, it’s no big deal. Forget I mentioned it.”
“I want to,” Barton said, and he took a step closer to Phil, his expression oddly open. “I just—wanted to be sure you weren’t...”
He ducked his head. “Feeling sorry for me,” Barton murmured. “I can take care of myself.”
“This isn’t pity, I promise. Just a movie about baseball.”
That lopsided grin came back, only it looked softer. Sweeter. “All right. You’re on.”
Phil gave a jerky nod of his head, his heart thumping hard.
Somehow, they ended up on Phil’s bed together. Phil managed to convince himself that it was because he felt guilty making Barton sit on the floor. They weren’t really touching, anyway; Phil sat up against his pillows while Barton stretched out along his side, head propped in one hand. At one point Phil turned on his side a little and noticed the way their bodies curved together, how natural it would be to spoon up against each other.
He shook himself and forced all his attention to the movie. But every so often Barton would hum under his breath at a certain scene, or smile to himself. His eyes never left the screen, and Phil tried not to be so damn enthralled with watching Barton watch a movie.
The tension eventually left Barton’s shoulders. He sighed and laid his head on his folded arm, his hair just barely brushing Phil’s hip.
He looked so relaxed and peaceful and happy, Phil did something stupid. He reached down and carded his fingers through Barton’s hair, just once, just a simple, soft touch.
Before Phil could pull his hand away and regret his actions, Barton sighed again and pushed ever so slightly into Phil’s touch.
Phil thought of the girls from the second floor, how Barton let them touch him this way without it meaning anything. He curled his fingers a little, scrubbed them gently back and forth.
“If—if you’ve got a couple free hours tomorrow, I could help you go over your assignments for next week, maybe look over the syllabus for you,” Phil said, relieved with how even his voice sounded.
He felt Barton stiffen, then roll back until his shoulder was pressed against Phil’s leg. The movement also caused Phil’s hand to slide deeper into Barton’s hair, until he was almost cradling his head.
“Really?” Barton asked, looking up at Phil. “You’re serious?”
Phil shrugged. “Sure.”
Barton blinked at him, like he actually thought Phil was fucking with him. Or maybe no one had ever offered to help Barton out when it came to academics. “I...yeah. That’d be great.”
“I’ll be here all day. Just come find me.”
“Yeah.” Barton turned back onto his side, but his body felt closer than before. He had yet to shrug off Phil’s hand.
Several minutes went by before he heard Barton add, almost in a whisper, “Thanks, Coulson.”
He let himself smile at the TV since Barton wasn’t watching him. “No problem.”
Phil liked to wake up early on Saturdays, get a coffee and a bagel from the shop near campus, and then go workout at the university gym, which was always deserted on the weekends. He liked having the place to himself, without having to contend with the jocks in the weight room or the sorority girls who took up all the treadmills.
He didn’t expect to see Barton well into a circuit with the free weights, sweating like he’d been there for hours.
“It’s nine in the morning,” Phil said by way of greeting.
Barton looked over his shoulder at him and grinned. “What, I can’t get an early start like Mr. Perfect over here?” he replied, waving his had at Phil as he wiped the hem of his shirt over his face. It gave Phil a perfect view of his abs, all sweat-slick and flexing with each hard breath Barton took.
I’m not the perfect one, Phil thought, suddenly feeling a bit self-conscious as well as turned on. “Since when are you up before noon on a Saturday?”
“Had a lot on my mind. This is kinda like me meditating.”
“You do yoga, too?”
“Tried it once. Pretty much bored me to tears.” He cocked his head at Phil. “I could spot you if you want to do the bench for a while.”
Phil fidgeted with his iPod. “That’s okay, I’m gonna hit the treadmill for a couple miles. Thanks, though.” The thought of Barton standing over him, smelling of sweat and reminding Phil that it had been days since they last fucked...Yeah, Phil didn’t need to be getting hard on a fucking weight bench. And definitely not where Barton could see.
“All right, suit yourself.” Barton shrugged.
Phil was almost out of the weight room when Barton called after him, “Hey, if that offer for the Statistics help still stands...I’ll come by your room around one?”
“Okay,” Phil said, fighting a smile. He’d figured Barton had forgotten about it.
He spent his entire treadmill run going over Statistics in his head, trying to remember the basics from when he took the class as a freshman. He’d just have to look up a good tutorial on Google, maybe print off some study guides. If anything, he could look over Barton’s past assignments and see where the disconnect was.
By the time Phil got back to the weight room, Barton was gone. Phil spent the whole time sitting on the bench searching for Statistics tutorials on his phone.
“How come you never go home?”
Phil looked up from the five page syllabus Barton had handed over. The amount of quizzes listed was making his head hurt; no wonder Barton was struggling. “What? I go home.”
“You’re always on campus,” Barton said, leaning back on his hands where the two of them sat on the floor of Phil’s room. “Swear to God, the only time I see your room locked is when you’re in class.”
“My parents live three and a half hours away. If I drive home, it’s for an extended stay, not just for a weekend.” He didn’t add that gas was expensive and he only had so much disposable income, not to mention both his parents worked weekends, anyway.
“Don’t you want to see them outside of holidays and shit?”
There was something a little off in Barton’s tone, like he was genuinely distressed that Phil didn’t go home much. “Of course I do, but—look, can you focus, please? I think I know where you’re getting frustrated, here...”
Phil proceeded to spend the next hour very patiently and methodically reteaching Barton the basics of Statistics. It was fairly easy, since Barton was an easy read; he glowered when he was confused, but his eyes narrowed into intense concentration when he finally understood. He chewed his thumb a lot when he was thinking, tapped his pencil against his notebook in a steady rhythm until everything clicked into place.
“You should be teaching this class,” Barton said later with a sheepish smile. “I think more people would pass.”
A satisfied blush crept into Phil’s cheeks. “I’m not a teacher, I just happened to like this stuff.”
“It’s like I’m one of the kids in my summer camp—I have shitty aim until someone who knows what they’re doing helps correct it.”
Phil didn’t glance up from the notes in front of him. “You teach at a kids’ summer camp?” he asked as nonchalantly as possible.
“Sort of. Just archery. I get paid for a month’s work even though I’m only there for like a couple of weeks, so it’s a pretty sweet gig. The kids are cool.” Barton cleared his throat, looking uncharacteristically self-conscious.
“How many summers have you worked there?”
“Three or four, I think? I started before I came to Hamilton.” The rhythmic pencil tapping started up again. “It’s one of the few orphan summer camps in the state,” he added in a quiet voice.
Phil didn’t know what to say to that. “Oh,” he said, a million different questions buzzing in his head. “I, um. Didn’t know they had those.”
“Yeah, neither did I until I read about ‘em online. My summers as a kid would’ve been way different.” His pencil stopped tapping as he suddenly began drawing what looked like a little alien in the margins of his notes.
“So...your parents aren’t...”
“Nope.” Barton kept his head bowed, continued doodling his alien.
Phil wanted to ask more, wanted to know how long Barton had been on his own, how he was paying for school, where he’d learned to shoot, but he didn’t feel like he deserved to know. If Phil couldn’t even tell Barton his parents were blue collar workers and had been his whole life, what gave him the right to demand Barton tell him about his life as an orphan?
“My dad’s a mechanic,” Phil blurted out.
Barton finally looked up. “Yeah? Does he own his own shop or something?”
“No. He works for a guy in our town, has for years.”
“Coulson, I never pegged you as a guy who knows shit about cars.”
Phil laughed. “I don’t. I hate being in the garage—I know how to change my oil and a flat tire and that’s it.”
Barton sat up slowly, rested his elbows on his knees. “And your mom?”
“She’s a substitute teacher. And, um, the head bartender at Applebee’s.”
“What does she usually teach?”
Phil smirked. “Math.”
“Of course she does. She’s probably where you got your geniusness.”
“I think my dad would take offense to that.”
“Not saying your dad’s not smart, just a different kind.” As he spoke, Barton started inching across the carpet toward Phil, until he was leaning into him, their mouths barely touching. “On the one hand, you’ve got someone to teach you about carburetors. On the other, you’ve got your own personal tutor and a built-in fake ID.”
Phil rolled his eyes, resisting the urge to press forward and kiss him. They were still in Phil’s room, after all. “My mom never let me drink as a minor; she was pretty damn strict about that.”
“I’m kidding. You Coulsons always stick close to the rules, don’t you?” Barton’s gaze flicked down to Phil’s mouth.
Then again, the door was shut. The hall was deserted. All Phil wanted was kissing, nothing more. “I swiped a beer sometimes at home, though,” he said, slipping his glasses off and shifting just enough so that all Barton had to do was tilt his head just so...
“Aw, crazy bad boy Phil,” Barton murmured, and there was something about the way he said his name, low and soft and maybe, possibly, a little bit affectionate—
Phil had never heard Barton say his first name before now.
He didn’t wait for Barton to move. Phil kissed him instead, barely open-mouthed and careful, like they were sharing a first kiss. It was stupid, but Phil felt a sense of absurd victory when Barton sighed and slid his hand over Phil’s jaw, kissing him back just as easy and slow.
And that was all they did for a while, a gradual give and take until Barton nudged Phil back onto the carpet and gently pushed his shirt up. Phil swallowed tightly, a little voice in the back of his head telling him they couldn’t do this here, it wasn’t part of their agreement, but his thoughts went a bit hazy when Barton splayed his hand low over Phil’s stomach and leaned down to kiss a random scar.
“Where’s this from?” he asked, tracing his thumb over the faded white line over Phil’s hip.
“Bike accident in eighth grade,” Phil breathed. His fingers itched to slide into Barton’s hair like they had the day before.
Barton skimmed his mouth lower, toward a puckered seam just above the waistband of Phil’s jeans. “And this one?”
“I had my appendix out when I was eleven.”
“You could’ve just told me it was another bike wreck. I’d totally believe you.”
“I’m not out to impress you, Barton,” Phil said, laughing breathlessly when Barton nipped at his belly button.
“Why not? You don’t want me to think you’re a badass?”
“Right, a badass from a bike wreck and a dozen stolen beers in high school.”
“You could throw in a gang story or two, or how you stole cars for a year.” Barton crawled back over Phil, kissed him in between words as his hand drifted back and forth over Phil’s skin.
“Maybe I ran off to Mexico for a year after graduation. I could have a tattoo you’ve never seen.”
“I’d have found it by now, trust me.” He kissed Phil a little deeper, a little wetter, and soon Phil was clutching at Barton’s shoulders to pull him closer.
“Your room,” Phil gasped.
Barton laughed, but it was thin, tapering off into a groan as Phil arched into him. “Be more specific, Coulson.”
“I want to fuck you.”
“Thought you weren’t out to impress me.”
“I don’t have to impress you.” Phil palmed Barton’s ass one-handed through his jeans. “You already know I’m good.”
Barton’s broken moan made Phil go from half-hard to desperate in an instant. “Fuck yeah, you are,” he panted, and then scrambled to his feet, pulling Phil up with him by the wrist.
He didn’t let go of Phil until the door to his room closed safely behind them.
Passing out in Barton’s bed was becoming a habit. Phil blinked his eyes open, sprawled out on his stomach, naked and blissed out with Barton’s arm thrown haphazardly across his back. He glanced at the clock on the dresser.
“Oh fuck, it’s almost five,” Phil groaned into the mattress.
Beside him, Barton stretched and yawned. “So?” he asked, scratching his nails lightly over Phil’s shoulder blades. “Got a hot date tonight?”
“No. Try a seven page paper on business practices in Brazil that I haven’t even started yet.” Shit, he’d wasted the whole day with Barton. Well, not wasted, he just...hadn’t spent it the way he’d originally planned.
“I have it on good authority that fucking helps with writing about South American business practices,” Barton drawled, and Phil couldn’t help muffling a laugh against the sheets.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” He rolled out from under Barton’s arm and sat on the edge of the bed. His skin instantly felt cold.
Also, his stomach made an obscene growl.
“You should probably eat something,” Barton said, tucking a pillow into his arms as he watched Phil search blearily for his clothes.
“Probably. I was gonna order in, maybe do China Kitchen or Mandarin House.”
Barton made a humming sound. “I could order for both of us. Mandarin House actually sounds really good.”
Phil buttoned his jeans and shrugged. “Yeah, okay. I’ve got cash.” He rambled off his order while Barton grabbed his phone. There was something extremely sexy about watching a guy order Chinese while completely naked and rumpled. The sheets had slipped down enough to expose Barton’s ass; Phil licked his lips.
“It’s on its way,” Barton said as he hung up.
“Thanks.” Phil had a scary urge to crawl back into bed with him. Instead, he yanked his shirt on and went back to his own room without saying another word.
Thirty minutes later, the scent of egg rolls and crab rangoon drifted down the hall. Barton appeared in Phil’s doorway. He still had severe bedhead.
“Food’s here,” he said. “The soda machine’s out, though, so I’m gonna run over to the Commons. D’you want anything?”
What Phil really wanted was a beer. “Just get me whatever you’re getting.”
Barton smirked. “Brave man. Everything’s in my room still in the bag. Have at it, I’ll be back.”
The food smelled amazing, but as he knelt down on the carpet to sort out the containers, Phil swore he could detect hints of sex still lingering in the air. Or maybe it was all in his head; God only knew what just the sight of Barton’s bed did to his libido.
Phil sat back on his heels and dug into a carton of noodles, telling himself he was too lazy to haul everything back to his own room. Besides, Barton had tidied up since his little meltdown the day before; the floor was relatively neat, with no signs of a broken coffee mug or shredded Statistics papers. His bow was packed away neatly in its case, which was covered in random stickers; there was a Hamilton crest, a Batman logo, a Red Sox 2007 American League Champions pennant, several Muppet heads, and a sticker supporting the local Humane Society, among others. There was even a bumper sticker that read I Break for Cupid!—it looked homemade, written in a feminine handwriting, like maybe it had been a gift from a past girlfriend. The I’s were dotted with hearts, and the exclamation point was actually an arrow.
Blushing faintly, Phil glanced away. Barton’s gray messenger back was thrown in the corner by his desk, iPod earbuds hanging out the side. It sat on top of a large, thick notebook that looked beaten to hell, its edges curled and worn. Down one side in messy capital letters read CLINT BARTON, but the handwriting was juvenile, like it had been written by a much younger Barton many years ago. A skull and crossbones punctuated his name.
Curiosity got the better of Phil. He glanced over his shoulder guiltily as he set the noodles aside, carefully sliding the notebook out from under Barton’s bag.
It wasn’t a notebook at all, but a sketchbook. The very first page was a mess of scribbled ballpoint pen doodles, barely legible. The date at the bottom was around the time Barton would’ve been eleven or so.
The following pages were about the same; scrawling, jagged images that weren’t coherent. But each had a date, and by the time Barton was around thirteen or so, the doodles started getting color. He’d switched from ballpoint to markers, but the drawings weren’t any less abstract. The one constant was that Barton filled the page, corner to corner, front and back, leaving no white space untouched, and always dated.
His images started taking actual shape around high school, random as they were. It seemed like there was nothing Barton wouldn’t draw—pop culture logos, blurry sketches of unknown faces, trees with changing leaves, cartoon animals and monsters—like Barton drew whatever was in his head.
And one thing was certain: Barton wasn’t an art major to just float through school until graduation. He was an art major because he was talented.
As Phil got toward the back of the book, the drawings grew sharper. They were still random, but there was also a sense of purpose to them. A page from a few months earlier was full of still life charcoal sketches, all from what appeared to be the same room. Gradually, the still life theme gave way to hands and bare shoulders, a graceful arc of a foot, a slope of a naked back. The pages became filled with pencil sketches of someone Barton apparently knew intimately.
Phil bit his lip, running the edge of his thumb over a pencil rendering of masculine jawline. Barton had watched this guy sleep at some point, kept it in his head enough to draw it.
He wanted to know who the guy was, why he was special enough to earn a place in Clint Barton’s secret, personal sketchbook. But there were never any faces, only bits and pieces of a body Phil instinctively knew belonged to the same person.
Phil shook his head, mumbled, “God, like it even matters,” under his breath as he flipped the book closed. He turned it over in his hands for a moment, and then he saw the faded remnants of a label on the back cover.
Property of St. Catherine’s Orphanage
Barton—Clint—was given this as a gift, something to distract an eleven-year-old from the fact that he was alone in the world. So he’d taken it and started drawing, even if it was nothing more than angry, incoherent scribblings.
Phil placed the book back where he’d found it, hands gentle as if it were made of glass. He thought of the sketched body only recently added and felt his stomach drop. What would it be like to have someone so focused on you, enough so that they took the time to draw you onto paper? Phil didn’t even know the guy, and yet irrational jealousy flared up inside him.
He didn’t wait for Barton to get back. Phil took his food to his room and immersed himself in his paper.
When Barton tapped on his door and said, “I got you Cherry Coke, that okay?” Phil didn’t bother looking away from his laptop.
“‘s fine,” he replied absently, but what he really wanted to say was, I wish it was me.
Things changed after that—or maybe they’d been changing and Phil had just been too distracted to see it. His days became less about racing back to the dorm in between classes to get laid and more about listening for the cadence of Clint’s walk down the hall as he came back from his afternoon studio hours, the way Clint would absently flex his hands after a long stretch at the shooting range, or snatching glimpses of him across the quad and smiling when Clint would do his usual salute with a lopsided, almost secretive grin.
The sex was still there, of course, but it was beginning to not feel like enough. It made sense, in a way; non-stop sex couldn’t last forever. Eventually you had to get burnt out.
Except Phil wasn’t getting burnt out. He was just...restless.
Every day he woke up and told himself he’d talk to Clint about letting this thing between them die out. If Phil was getting restless, it stood to reason that Clint had to be getting bored, and Phil wasn’t going to stick around to be on the receiving end of his awkward explanations as to why Phil just wasn’t doing it for him anymore.
That day he found Clint standing around one of the high tables the Starbucks in the commons. He had a book open in front of him and a giant muffin in his hand, one iPod earbud in. Phil was pretty sure he was humming Katy Perry.
“Hey,” Phil said, nudging the toe of his shoe against Clint’s ankle.
Clint glanced up, and his eyes flared as a lazy smile spread across his face. “Oh, hey, please tell me you’re hungry, ‘cause—” He tugged the earbud out of his ear and broke off a huge piece of his muffin, handing it to Phil. “—there’s no fucking way I’m finishing all this.”
Phil stared down at the muffin in his hand, grinning stupidly. “Thank God it’s blueberry,” he drawled, and took a bite.
“Please, like there’s anyone on the planet who doesn’t like blueberry muffins.”
“My mom likes to make banana nut, says it’s heartier.”
Clint raised an eyebrow at that. He rested his cheek on one hand and leaned closer. “And what do you say?”
“They’re fucking muffins, dude, I take what I can get,” Phil said around a mouthful. A warm flush crept up his neck as Clint laughed; he had to remind himself that this was about making a clean break, not the way Clint’s eyes crinkled at the edges when he really, truly smiled.
He finished his bite, wiped the back of his hand over his mouth, and said carefully, “Look, I wanted to talk to you about—”
“Oh, fuck,” Clint muttered under his breath, looking at a spot over Phil’s shoulder. “Goddamn it, not again.”
“What?” Phil tried to follow his line of sight, but suddenly Clint grabbed his wrist.
“Can you do me a huge favor?” he whispered urgently. “I swear to Christ, I wouldn’t ask you to do this otherwise, and I’ll make it up to you, but this girl, okay, she asked me out and I very politely said thanks but no thanks, except she won’t take no for an answer, and I’ve been ducking her for like three days now and she’s here—”
“What do you want me to do?” Phil hissed, noticing how close he was standing to Clint, the height difference between them; the two inches he had on Clint didn’t normally cause an overwhelming jolt of heat to curl in his stomach.
“Just—just follow my lead, yeah? Don’t get pissed, but—” Clint’s demeanor completely changed as he splayed one hand over Phil’s side. He leaned in and bumped his nose against the edge of Phil’s jaw, chuckling softly, his eyes gone soft and playful.
“Missed you today,” he said, thumb skimming aimlessly back and forth over the hem of Phil’s shirt.
Phil’s brain had utterly derailed in the face of Clint both touching him in public and looking at him like—like they were together. “I-I saw you yesterday,” he stuttered. He didn’t know what to do with his hands, so he fidgeted with the strap of his leather messenger bag, hating the fact that he was panting slightly.
“Yeah, you did, but...sometimes I want you there when I wake up, y’know?”
“I can’t stay in your room—”
“Just once. I’d just like it once. You’re all loose and sweet when you sleep. No one gets to see that but me.” And then, to Phil’s disbelief and maybe even dismay, Clint reached down and took Phil’s free hand, threading their fingers together. Phil could feel Clint’s thumb sweep over his palm, how warm and soft his hand was, offset by callused fingertips.
There was a roaring in Phil’s ears. He felt dizzy.
A girl brushed past them, sighing loudly as she tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Whatever,” she huffed, and disappeared around the corner.
Instantly, Clint dropped Phil’s hand. “Thank you, oh my god,” he breathed, slumping against the table and out of Phil’s space. “She had to get a clue. You were perfect, by the way.”
Phil licked his lips. “You’re...welcome.” His lungs felt very tight.
“Anyway, sorry, you needed to talk to me about something?”
He could barely remember what existed in his head ten minutes ago. Everything was a foggy blur. “Um...never mind. I have to get to class.”
Clint nodded and ducked his head. He rubbed both palms against his jeans, as if scrubbing away the feel of touching Phil so obviously. “Okay, yeah, sorry I had to—enlist your help,” he said with a sheepish grin. “Won’t happen again, promise.”
“I know that,” Phil heard himself say out loud before grabbing the rest of his muffin and fleeing to Org Behavior.
When Phil got back to his room later that afternoon there was a note on his door: still sorry. let me make it up to you.
Sometimes Phil was relieved he’d never given Clint his cell number. He’d never have gotten through class with that text sitting there, taunting him.
The second Phil slipped into Clint’s room, he was pressed up against the door and Clint was sinking to his knees, yanking open Phil’s jeans with a soft groan.
They didn’t talk about Starbucks. They didn’t talk about anything, and Phil was fine with that; Clint was too busy giving him the best fucking blowjob he’d had in weeks. After, Phil let Clint come against his hip, face tucked into the side of Phil’s neck as he panted.
Maybe they could just keep doing this. Maybe it could be enough for the time being, as long as Phil stuck to their agreement.
“I need to go to the library,” Clint murmured against Phil’s shoulder, loose and warm and draped over him like a sated octopus. He was so perfectly content after coming sometimes, Phil joked that he was waiting for the day Clint started purring.
Phil tipped his head back against the door and smirked at the ceiling. “Are you asking my permission, or for directions?”
“Asshole,” Clint grumbled, and pinched Phil’s side. Phil’s smirk turned into a real smile as he laughed, blocking Clint’s hand. “I’m just saying, I can’t...hang out for long. Gotta do some research.”
He sounded apologetic, which didn’t make sense. Phil wasn’t planning on staying in Clint’s room anyway; they’d fucked against the door, it wasn’t like they were going to cuddle.
“How’s Statistics coming?” Phil heard himself ask as Clint slowly peeled himself away, groaning and scrubbing a hand over his face.
“Yeah, that’s another thing—I, um.” Clint ducked his head, fumbling his jeans back on. “At some point, could you look over my notes? There’s a quiz tomorrow and I want to make sure—I mean, I think I’m cool with it, but—”
“No, sure, I’ll take a look.” Phil winced as he ran his fingers over the wet spot at his hip. “How ‘bout I go with you to the library? I can look over your stuff while you research, it’ll be two birds with one stone.”
A slow grin spread across Clint’s face. “Sweet, okay. Thanks.”
“Just, ah—let me change first,” Phil said sheepishly. Without thinking, he started to lean forward and slide his hand over the back of Clint’s neck and—
—and kiss him. A quick, mindless kiss that had nothing to do with orgasms against doors and blowjobs.
He stopped with his hand in midair, blinking hard. God, what the hell was wrong with him?
Clint’s smile faded. “You all right?”
“Yeah, I’m—yes. I’ll meet you over there in fifteen minutes?” He didn’t wait for Clint to answer.
Somehow, that lead to Phil sitting across a table from Clint in the middle of the Hamilton library, books and papers spread out between them as he went over Clint’s Statistics homework and Clint researched for a Geology paper. Clint had his iPod earbuds in, humming Kanye West under his breath.
Phil never listened to music when he studied. But listening to Clint listen to music was kind of soothing in a weird way.
“Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it,” Clint murmured as he scribbled his highlighter over something in his notes. Under the table, Phil felt something knock against his foot.
Clint didn’t look up, so Phil discreetly leaned back to see. Their legs were both stretched out toward each other, casual and unassuming, except for how Clint’s left foot was now nudged up against Phil’s right.
He couldn’t be paying attention, as wrapped up in his music as he was. Phil considered just sliding his foot back, smiling politely when Clint would more than likely say, “Oh, sorry.”
But Phil didn’t move his foot. And either Clint thought Phil was the leg of the table or Phil was going crazy, but he swore Clint’s foot pressed up closer, fitting into Phil’s arch as time went on.
“Am I good?” Clint eventually asked. He pulled out one earbud and gave Phil a wide-eyed, eager look.
For the last twenty minutes, Phil could barely concentrate on anything but what was happening beneath the table. He cleared his throat and pushed his reading glasses up his nose as he replied, “Yeah, I think you’ll do fine. You’ve finally gotten the hang of this.”
Clint beamed, showing those damn crinkles around his eyes. “Because you’re a great tutor, Coulson,” he said, pointing his highlighter at him. “Don’t know what I’d do without you.”
It was a little too much—Clint’s foot against his, the smile, the earnestness Phil had never really seen before. His heart was pounding too hard; it felt like Starbucks all over again.
“Okay, well, I’m gonna—go,” Phil said quickly, shoving his glasses and the rest of his stuff back into his messenger bag. “Good luck with your, uh, rock research.”
Clint gave a hightlighter salute. “Will do, sir,” he drawled, but the snark didn’t reach his eyes, which still looked soft with something close to affection.
Phil took the long way back to Stark Hall, hoping the crisp night air would clear his head.
Yeah, he definitely needed to start figuring out an exit plan, because if he didn’t start now, he never would.
And that scared the living shit out of him.
The coffee shop was quiet, caught in the midst of a lull between the lunch and late evening rush. Phil had commandeered a table in the back all to himself, his laptop and capstone project notes spread out in front of him like a sea of endless frustration. His project was so fucked, and it wasn’t even his fault. He dug both thumbs into his eyes and considered calling Hill just to rant about the unfairness of it all.
As if sensing his thoughts, Phil’s phone suddenly buzzed against the table, buried under two legal pads. The number on the display once Phil dug it out was a number he didn’t recognize.
“Coulson,” he answered, thinking it might be Fury calling from a phone on campus somewhere.
“You don’t seriously answer your phone like that,” a familiar voice said.
A warm burst swooped through his chest. “How’d you get this number?” He hadn’t seen Clint all day, not that he’d been keeping track or anything.
“Your cute little Business girlfriend let me talk her into divulging all your secrets.”
“Hill? She’s not my girlfriend, I told you that.” Phil rubbed a hand over an annoying blush in his cheeks.
Clint chuckled. “She likes you, though. I don’t think you’d have to try too hard to win her over.”
Too late, she already thinks I’m into you, Phil thought with a chagrined smirk. “Is there a reason for this call, or did you just want to give me relationship advice?”
“Maybe I just wanted to hear your voice.” The way he dropped his tone into that deep, liquid-smooth drawl was so unfair.
Phil slumped lower in his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Clint, seriously, c’mon.” He only noticed the name slip a second later.
There was a long pause, and when Clint spoke again, his voice was no longer flirty or teasing. He sounded slightly dazed. “I, uh—was wondering if I could steal one of your junk drives?”
“Go buy one in the bookstore.”
“I’m broke until Friday, dude. I just need to save this paper and give it to my professor.”
Out of all the friends and all the groupies who’d do anything for him, why was Phil the one getting singled out for Clint’s office supply needs? He had a stock pile of emergency junk drives, but Clint didn’t need to know that. “Can’t you just email it to them?”
“I wish. This guy’s anal and wants everything saved on external drives or something, I don’t know, he’s a scientist, who knows, help me out here, Coulson, please?” Clint made a high-pitched pouty noise that was way too adorable for its own good.
“Okay, okay. Sitwell’s on duty, he should have a key to my room. Tell him to let you in. All my drives are in my top desk drawer in the red pencil box.”
“You’re the awesomest RA ever, have I told you that?”
Phil rolled his eyes, even though Clint couldn’t see him. “I think you mean I’m your own personal Staples.”
“Hey, I use you for your TV, too, let’s keep things real,” Clint laughed, and Phil suddenly wished he was back in his room, waiting for him.
He sighed. “All right, I’m hanging up now. Try not to steal anything else.”
“I’ll try real hard,” Clint said. “But your Mountain Dew stash is fair game.”
The line went dead. Phil stared at the phone in his hand, a ridiculous, loopy grin on his face.
He didn’t get back to the dorms until several hours later, a stress headache firmly lodged between his eyes. Phil hadn’t eaten anything except coffee and a slightly burnt bagle, and he hadn’t gotten any closer to fixing his crappy group project. The whole day felt like a bust; he just wanted to collapse into bed, ignore the world, and watch bad reality TV. If he was really lucky, he’d find a Jersey Shore marathon.
A couple of guys on his floor nodded at him as Phil trudged by, but everyone knew—especially the guys who’d had Phil as an RA in years past—that when Phil was in stress mode it was pointless to interact with him. He made a beeline for his room, silently daring anyone to come at him with a problem or issue. Fury himself could demand his attention and Phil would politely tell him to fuck off.
However, Phil didn’t expect to find a folded note lying just under the door of his room. Immediately he thought of Clint, but it wasn’t his style; this was a torn sheet of yellow legal paper, which looked vaguely familiar.
my room. right now, it read in messy, scribbled handwriting that was unmistakably Clint’s. The now was underlined twice, and bolded.
Phil turned the note over in his hands, then glanced at his desk. The top drawer had been left open, and the pad of paper he normally kept there was sitting on his desk chair, the top page ripped in half.
Why would Clint be using his paper instead of just leaving a Post-It like usual? Unless...
“Oh, fuck,” Phil breathed, scrambling for the open drawer. He pawed through it frantically, pens and office supplies scattering to the floor. He checked the second drawer, the third, but came up with nothing.
His list—the one concerning Clint—was missing.
His heart began to race. Phil hadn’t looked at the thing in a week or so, but every so often he’d take it out and make mental notes as he lazily beat off whenever he couldn’t get his hands on Clint. The list was rumpled by now, possibly a little stained from his more enthusiastic fantasy sessions.
Never in a million years would Phil have considered letting Clint lay eyes on it. A sickening drop of humiliation hit him right in the stomach; obviously that was why Clint wanted to see him, to discuss why the hell Phil had a worn, come-stained list of sexual fantasies listed out in bullet form and hidden in his desk.
Fuck. He dropped his head into his hands and groaned.
Well. If Clint wanted to be creeped out, that was fine. It would make up for the lack of an exit plan on Phil’s part. This was the break he needed.
But Phil’s palms were sweating as he went down the hall to Clint’s room, heart in his throat.
You were never meant to see that, it was just a way to clear my head, I swear it’s not as creepy as it looks, Phil thought desperately as he tapped on the door.
“Coulson?” Clint’s voice sounded tight.
“Yeah, hey.” He tried the knob, but it was locked. Odd, since Clint never locked his door. “Can I come in?”
He heard a soft click, then Clint said, “It’s open.”
Phil took a deep breath before he went in. And then all the air promptly rushed out of his lungs.
Clint was sitting on the edge of the bed, leaning back on his elbows, completely naked. His legs were spread, and he was hard. Fully hard.
Phil’s list dangled from his right hand.
“Um,” Phil said, blinking hard.
“Did you really mean all this?” Clint held the list up, and God, he sounded wrecked, like he’d been sucking cock for an hour straight. His chest was rising and falling in sporadic bursts, and his pupils were blown.
“I...” Phil couldn’t form words. All of his explanations and excuses evaporated, and all that was left was a sudden, overwhelming want. As he watched Clint, he could tell he was shivering, muscles held tight in anticipation—as if it were taking every once of his control not to pounce on Phil and devour him. Phil’s knees went weak even as his dick leaped to attention.
Clint sat up slightly, rubbed his free hand over the curve where his hip met his thigh. It was one of Phil’s favorite spots. “Did you really think you’d have to ask?” he whispered, fingertips ghosting over the head of his wet cock. “Do you really believe I don’t think about fucking you, like, every hour of my life?”
Phil swallowed. “I’ve never—I-I didn’t think you’d want—”
“You’re the smartest dumbass I’ve ever known.” Clint curled his hand around his cock, stroked himself once and bit his lip. “Now get over here and let me fuck you before I explode.”
The list fluttered to the floor as Phil walked toward the bed on shaking legs. “I meant all of it,” he breathed, “I think about every one of those, I’d do them all if you let me—”
“Fuck, of course I’d let you,” Clint groaned, grabbing Phil by the shirt and yanking him in between his legs. “I’d let you do whatever you want to me, thought you’d know that by now. God, you’re so—so—” He stripped Phil’s shirt over his head.
“So what?” Phil gasped, his hands threading through Clint’s hair.
Clint groaned again, softer, mouthing at Phil’s stomach as he shoved his jeans and underwear down his legs. “So fucking perfect and you don’t even know it,” he murmured, low enough that Phil wondered if he’d even meant to say it out loud.
The roaring was back in his ears. “I’m not perfect,” Phil whispered, because he wasn’t. He’d had enough people in the past say as much, shrug their shoulders after a few times between the sheets and tell Phil not to quit his day job. He was smart, yes, driven to a fault, and a perfectionist. But he wasn’t perfect.
Clint shook his head, hands palming Phil’s thighs as he slowly, carefully slid his fingers back, higher, until they skimmed the crease of Phil’s ass. Instinctively, Phil shivered.
“You said you’d never done it this way?” Clint asked softly.
Phil shut his eyes. “No, never. No one—” He stopped and licked his lips. “No one ever offered. And I never asked.”
He felt a press of warmth against his belly; when he looked down he saw Clint nuzzling at him almost tenderly, eyes closed as he kissed over Phil’s hipbones.
“I’ll go as slow as you want me to,” he said.
Phil didn’t want slow. He wanted Clint pinning him to the bed, unleashing all that pent-up energy begging to be released. “I can take it. Don’t hold back for me.”
“‘m not gonna hurt you.”
“I know you won’t.”
Clint’s fingers dug hard into his ass, and in the next second Phil was flipped on his back onto the bed. They’d made out like this plenty of times, but never with Phil breathless and waiting for Clint to grab a condom and slick his fingers. There was only a single light on, a lamp on Clint’s desk; it cast his body into stark shadow, all lean, solid muscle and spiky hair, his shoulders flexing as he held his cock and rolled the condom on. He was so gorgeous it made Phil’s chest ache.
Clint braced both of Phil’s legs over his shoulders and carefully slid one finger inside him all the way up to the knuckle. It was the total opposite of how Clint liked to be prepped, which was hardly at all.
Phil gasped and arched his hips. He liked fingers, but knew they weren’t quite the same thing.
“Okay?” Clint asked.
“Yeah, yeah, give me another.”
The second started the burn, low and shimmering. Phil thought of being filled, of this feeling being multiplied; he opened his mouth and groaned deep in his throat. The sound was quickly muffled by Clint’s kiss.
“You really are gonna kill me,” he said, twisting his fingers enough to make Phil keen and bite at Clint’s lower lip.
“Gonna kill you if you don’t shut up and give me another,” Phil panted.
“Always knew you’d be a mouthy bottom.” Clint gave him a wolfish grin just before pushing a third finger inside.
The stretch was beginning to border on uncomfortable, yet Phil wanted more. He thrust against Clint’s hand, fingers tight against the sheets as his neglected cock bounced against his stomach and smeared pre-come over his skin.
He was already close, and then he had Clint curled over him, growling in his ear, “You should see yourself right now. If you don’t think you’re perfect, I should give you a fucking mirror. Christ, I could come just looking at you like this, with my fingers in your ass and you begging me for it.”
“God,” Phil whined, and ground down harder on Clint’s hand. “Please, just—”
“You want my cock, Coulson? Want me to fuck your ass?”
Clint didn’t tease him anymore after that. He slid Phil’s legs off his shoulders to around his waist and slowly pressed inside, inch by inch. Phil held his breath until Clint was all the way in; he blinked up at him, unaware that he’d closed his eyes.
“You’re so fucking tight,” Clint breathed, and his expression looked almost lost for a moment, open and vulnerable. His arms, braced on either side of Phil’s shoulders, flexed as he held himself still.
Phil pulled his bottom lip between his teeth, waiting for his body to adjust. “You can move now,” he whispered.
The initial thrust made them both cry out, although it was likely more pleasure than pain for Clint. But that quickly changed as they gradually found a rhythm. Clint shifted his hips just so, and Phil felt a jolt of white-hot sensation.
“God, yeah, right there,” Phil gasped, locking his ankles at the small of Clint’s back.
Clint laughed breathlessly. “Shit, that didn’t take long,” he said with a shaky grin, then ducked down to give Phil a messy kiss. “You feel amazing,” he added against Phil’s mouth.
“So do you, oh fuck, never thought it would feel like this, I—don’t stop—”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Clint pulled back just enough to put a few bare inches between them and rolled his hips a little faster, balls slapping against Phil’s ass.
He could already feel his orgasm building low at his spine, but Phil didn’t want it to end just yet. Clint reached down to take his cock in hand, only Phil groaned, “No, don’t, don’t make me come, not yet—”
“But I’m gonna come soon, want you with me.” Clint laughed again, more desperate this time.
Phil released his deathgrip on the sheets and ran his fingers over Clint’s jaw, his chin, down his neck and over the gorgeous lines of his collarbones. “Well, s-since you asked so nicely,” he whispered, tugging Clint down to lick at his mouth, more sharing air than a kiss.
Clint moaned and grabbed Phil’s hand, pinning it to the bed with their fingers intertwined, his thrusts starting to grow uneven and choppy. Heat was blooming everywhere on Phil’s skin, burning from the inside out.
“Fuck,” Clint breathed, sweat-slick forehead pressed to Phil’s, “so fucking good, I can’t, I—”
It hit him out of nowhere, a punch of an explosion from deep within. Phil came without a hand on his cock, covering his belly with ropes of come. He was aware of gritting his teeth, his grip on Clint’s hand, and crying out.
Above him, Clint shuddered as his hips spasmed, his eyes fluttering shut, his face going slack. His voice cracked on a long moan, and eventually he gave one last weak thrust and collapsed against Phil. He buried his face in Phil’s damp chest, one arm tucked over his eyes like a little kid.
“Am I still alive?” he asked after several long moments filled with nothing but their labored breathing.
Phil could barely move. “If I am, you are,” he mumbled, managing to lift the one arm Clint wasn’t smashing into the mattress and trace his fingers over the line of Clint’s shoulders.
Clint hummed, and there was the familiar cat-like contentment. “Death by orgasm has a nice ring to it, though.”
“Yeah, that’s a classy headstone. ‘Here lies Clint, dead from awesome sex.’” Phil snorted at his own joke, then suddenly snapped his mouth shut.
He’d said Clint’s name. He’d said Clint’s first name out loud during sex. Phil went tense, all post-coital euphoria evaporating with the onset of a panic attack.
Clint, however, didn’t seem to notice as he laughed softly and burrowed closer to Phil. “If I gotta go, I’ll pick that any day.”
Phil stared up at the ceiling, wishing the floor would just swallow him whole. Jesus Christ, he was such an idiot.
“Hey.” Clint poked him in the stomach. “You okay? I didn’t—I mean, you are okay, right, I wasn’t too—”
“No, I’m fine,” Phil whispered, even though it was about as far from the truth as he could get.
In retrospect, it had been an understandable mistake. Phil was getting lost in his head again, wrapping his thoughts around things and emotions that weren’t relevant or important to the situation. As ironic as it seemed, Phil needed to make another list to counteract what had happened with the first list.
And yet, when he sat down with his legal pad and good pen and stared down at the clean, blank lines ready to help clear his mind and remind him just how he got to this point, Phil couldn’t think of a damn thing to write.
Eventually he wrote REASONS NOT BE IN LOVE WITH CLINT BARTON at the top of the page. He underlined “not” twice. After several minutes tapping his pen over the words, Phil huffed out a breath, clenched his teeth, and started numbering.
1. We have nothing in common.
2. He’s a cocky bastard with bad taste in music.
3. He’s a slob.
4. He flirts with everyone.
5. He has no future plans after Hamilton.
6. He hates rules.
7. He thinks I’m too uptight.
8. He thinks I’m boring.
9. He will get bored.
10. He would never stay.
Phil wrote the last number out slowly, lower lip caught between his teeth. He’d never let himself think about it much, but ever since he’d learned about Clint’s past at the orphanage the thought had begun to gestate in the back of his mind. There was no reason for Clint to want to be tied to anything; he was free to virtually do whatever he wanted once college was over, go wherever he liked. He was a talented artist, and Phil could easily see him traveling overseas to broaden his experiences, learn from other artists all over the world, living wherever suited him for the moment.
Clint didn’t know about Phil’s six year plan, but he’d probably roll his eyes, smirk and say, “Yeah, that’s totally you, Coulson. An MBA degree and a corporate corner office by the time you hit twenty-five? What else would you do?”
He could hear Clint say the words in his head, clear as if he were speaking them out loud. It made Phil’s throat tighten, and he gripped his pen a little harder as he drew a star next to number one on the list.
We have nothing in common.
He knew Clint would never think a quiet Saturday afternoon curled up with a book and a Starbucks coffee was the epitome of relaxation. Clint rarely sat still long enough to do homework, let alone read anything that wasn’t required for a grade. And Phil would look ridiculous walking into a random party, trailing along in Clint’s wake as he soaked up the affection and adoration of everyone around him. He’d probably blend into the wall while Clint would barely notice Phil was missing; someone would ask him, “Hey, is your boyfriend here with you?” and Clint would no doubt frown for a moment and then reply with a sheepish smile, “Oh, right.”
It made Phil’s stomach hurt just thinking about the embarrassed, chagrined look in Clint’s eyes.
Reason number one was convincing enough. The rest was just evidence.
But Phil was thorough, and for the sake of getting all the emotional shit out of his head, he made a new column.
REASONS TO BE IN LOVE WITH CLINT BARTON
He made the letters smaller, gave himself less space for numbers. The list would be short, anyway.
1. He’s talented.
2. He’s funny.
3. He doesn’t realize how smart he is.
4. He makes me feel
Phil stopped, pen tip pressing into the paper. His heart stuttered as he forced his hand to finish the sentence.
He makes me feel special.
That one little word terrified Phil. He waited for it to burst into flames, burn through the paper and disappear. It sat on the page in bold judgement, and after a full minute Phil scribbled out the entire sentence, drawing a giant X through the list.
He ripped the page out and shredded it into tiny pieces, carefully putting every single one into his trash can.
That night he went to Clint’s room and said, “Let’s fuck. Right now.”
Clint’s eyes flared, and without hesitating he pulled his t-shirt off. “So it’s gonna be one of those nights, huh?” But then he leaned in close and nosed sweetly at Phil’s jaw as he splayed his hand over Phil’s chest. “Which way d’you want it, babe?” he whispered.
Phil pulled back with the pretense of getting naked. “You on your knees, ass in the air,” he replied in a flat tone. “And don’t call me babe.”
Something flickered over Cint’s face, but it was gone in a flash. He shrugged and got out of his jeans. “Whatever, Coulson, you’re calling the shots.”
“Damn right,” Phil said, hating the hitch in his voice. He did call the shots, and this was his arrangement, one Clint—one Barton—had agreed to. This was fucking, pure and simple. Phil wasn’t his babe, and when he went back to his own room, there would be nothing between them but this.
He fucked Clint with hard, punishing thrusts, hands bruising his hips. He waited for Clint to tell him to stop, to relent, to get it over with, but Clint only moaned louder, burying his face into his pillow to muffle the sound, his knuckles white from the grip he had on the sheets. He pushed back, met Phil’s thrusts every time, his back a gorgeous, smooth arch of skin and muscle.
“God, you’re fucking amazing,” Clint groaned, and he lifted his head to glance back at Phil over his shoulder. He smiled at him, all open and naked and honest, his cheeks flushed pink. He said it again, and Phil broke.
He came curled over Clint’s back, hands sliding around his body, one spread over Clint’s sternum and the other fumbling for his cock. Phil thumbed the head, jerked him tightly once, twice. Clint shuddered and cried out in a high, breathless voice, “Oh, fuck,” before spilling over Phil’s fist.
When Phil came back to himself, he was mindlessly kissing over Clint’s shoulder blades and stroking his hand gently over Clint’s softening cock. He hadn’t even pulled out.
“Stay there a little longer,” Clint whispered, like he could read Phil’s thoughts. “I like feeling you.”
“This isn’t exactly comfortable,” Phil whispered back, licking at a line of sweat running down Clint’s spine.
“I don’t give a fuck. Like being full. Like having your weight on me.” He’d never heard Clint sound so...careful. Tentative.
His mind still muddled and hazy, Phil eased Clint down onto his stomach and slowly turned them over to their sides, until he was spooned against Clint’s back, cock still buried inside him. Clint’s chest rose and fell with sharp beats, as if he couldn’t quite get his breath back.
They stayed like that for a long time, until Phil finally rolled away and tied off the condom. Clint made a tiny grunt, but didn’t move.
Phil’s hand was still covered in come. With a sigh, he climbed off the bed and went in search of a tissue.
“You’re staying here in the dorm this weekend, right?” he heard Clint ask, voice muffled by the pillow.
“Yeah, I’m on duty during the day on Saturday.” He dug through a pile of dirty basketball shorts and eventually found Clint’s tissue box. “Why?”
Clint didn’t answer right away. Phil occupied himself with wiping his hand clean, glancing around the floor for his shirt. He didn’t look toward the bed; the urge to resume his place curled around Clint was dangerously strong.
But out of the corner of his eye he saw Clint sit up and actually start to dress, which almost never happened after they fucked. Clint liked to stay naked for as long as he could; now he pulled on a pair of boxers and an old Red Sox t-shirt, looking young and vulnerable as he hugged a knee to his chest.
“So...I’m in this acrylics class, right?”
Phil shrugged as he started to button his shirt. “Okay.” He only had a vague idea what Art courses Clint took.
“We’ve been doing these portraits, and my professor, who’s fucked in the head, decides at the last minute that he wants...he wants us to have a fucking gallery show for our final grade. Like, with a caterer and wine, the whole goddamn nine yards.”
Phil finished with the last button and tugged his jeans on. “Have you done this before?”
“Yeah, with advance notice. No one pulls this shit with three days to prep.”
“Maybe he has a lot of faith in your class.”
Clint snorted. “No, he’s just nuts.” He ducked his head and scrubbed a hand through his mussed hair. “But he’s not why I’m telling you this.”
An uneasy feeling settled in Phil’s stomach. Something wasn’t right. Clint sounded far too serious and pensive, which wasn’t Clint at all. He sounded nervous.
“I can’t give you tutor help on painting, that’s all on you,” Phil said with an awkward laugh as he balanced on one foot to pull his socks on. He just had to get his sneakers and he’d be out of there, no more small talk, no more wanting to nuzzle Clint’s hair to get a hint of his mint shampoo.
Clint shook his head. “I don’t need your help on this.” He unfolded his legs and stood up from the bed, took slow steps toward Phil with his arms hugged tight to his chest.
Phil paused with one sneaker in his hand, suddenly unable to look away from Clint’s wide blue eyes.
“We’re...” Clint licked his mouth. “We’re supposed to...bring dates. To the show.”
Phil’s heart stopped. “What?”
“I guess what I’m asking is...just. I mean. I-I’d like it. If you went with me.”
He seriously couldn’t breathe. Phil dropped his shoe, blood roaring in his ears. Every emotion imaginable crashed over him like a brutal tidal wave. Fuck, was he supposed to answer that?
He blinked at Clint, opened his mouth, shut it, then opened it again and said, “Why would I do that?”
Clint made a twitch like Phil had shoved him. “What—what do you mean, why?”
“What do I mean? Jesus, Barton, what do you think? I’m supposed to just, just show up with you like I’m—like we’re something other two guys who happen to fuck each other sometimes?”
All the tentativeness in Clint’s demeanor vanished. His expression went completely blank, but the line of his shoulders was ridgid. “I wouldn’t tell anyone that,” he said in a low voice.
“Oh, what would you tell them, huh? That I’m just your RA, who doesn’t have a fucking life except to go with you to gallery shows?”
“Maybe we’re friends.”
“You said this was a date. Friends don’t date, and guys who fuck each other don’t pretend to be friends.” He felt like he was hyperventilating; the walls felt too close, Phil felt trapped.
Clint’s blankness cracked, and suddenly he was in Phil’s face, eyes flashing and dangerous. “Who the fuck are you to say I don’t think of you as a friend?”
“You think of me as the guy down the hall who comes at your beck and call.”
“Hey, you had just as much fucking say in all this as I did, don’t turn yourself into a victim here. You made the rules.”
“Rules that explicitly stated that this thing with us did not leave the confines of your room. Rules that never stated you get to assume I’m your fucking boyfriend whenever it’s convenient to your social calendar.”
Clint’s eyes narrowed, and he gave Phil a nasty, hateful smirk. “Sorry the idea of being my boyfriend’s so fucking beneath you.”
“You honestly think people would buy it? Look at us! I’m on the dean’s list, for fuck’s sake, and you’re just a dumb jock who’s flunking Statistics.” The second the words left his mouth, Phil wanted to sink to his knees and cling to Clint, tell him he was sorry, he didn’t mean it, he was just scared out of his mind at the moment.
But Clint started laughing. “God, you’re a pathetic piece of work. No wonder no one wanted to fuck you—with an ass as tight as yours, it’s a miracle you’re not still a goddam virgin.”
It hurt just as much as if Clint had punched him. “Fuck you,” Phil hissed.
“What happened, Phil? Did your pathetic whining turn them off before they could really get their hands on you? Or maybe they realized you’re just plain, and plain guys who whine and obsess over the rules never get laid.”
“Shut the fuck up, you fucked me.”
“Yeah, ‘cause you begged me for it. Unlike some people, I’m not uptight about sex. I love it, and I’m not picky.”
To Phil’s horror, he felt his throat tighten, and his vision began to blur. “Yeah, I noticed. Knew I’d get the best tips from Hamilton’s favorite slut.”
Clint’s eyes were very bright as he barked out another laugh. “Don’t flatter yourself, dude. I took what I could get at the time. Like you said, you’re convenient. Not like your schedule was full or anything.”
“You sure as fuck weren’t complaining thirty minutes ago when I had you screaming.”
“I like having a dick in my ass, sue me! Just ‘cause it’s yours doesn’t make you fucking special, Coulson.”
That was the final hit. Phil blinked hard as he looked away; if this was how it was going to end, he’d be damned if he let Clint see him cry.
“Take someone to your show who actually gives a shit, Barton,” he said over his shoulder before slamming the door behind him.
He went straight to his room, and once his own door was safely closed, Phil collapsed onto the edge of his bed, dropped his head into his hands, and let out a long, shaky breath.
“God, what happened to you?”
Phil looked up from his laptop as Hill dropped into the seat across from him with a blueberry scone in one hand and a latte in the other. “I haven’t really been, um, sleeping lately,” he mumbled, scratching absently at the two-day-old stubble on his cheeks.
“I can see that,” Hill said, narrowing her eyes at him. “You look like shit. Please tell me this isn’t about your capstone project and you’re not sitting in a coffee shop on a Friday afternoon contemplating the best place to slit your wrists.”
He gave her a weak smile. “I’m fine, seriously. Just. Things have been a little...” He didn’t know how to finish. Rough? Exhausting? Miserable? “...complicated lately.”
Hill sighed as she broke her scone into little pieces. “My group’s finally come to the realization that our financials are completely fucked, so that’s my one piece of good news. I no longer want to murder them all in their sleep. Maybe just stick them in a coma.”
“Oh wow,” Phil said, and actually laughed. “Progress.”
“I know, right? I might actually want to present with them when this is all over.” Sitting back in her chair, she gave him a hard look. “Seriously, though, what’s wrong? Capstone hell or not, it’s not like you to get this stressed out. Everyone knows you’re like the ice man when it comes to stuff like this.”
The thing was, he’d been doing his damnedest to get lost in his project and everything else school-related that had nothing to do with Clint. Phil could blame his lack of sleep on the fifteen-page Micro Econ paper he’d spent the last two days writing, but in reality it was that he couldn’t drift off without replaying the fight over and over in his head, and remembering the sharp, angry look in Clint’s eyes.
He rubbed a hand over his face. “I did something I shouldn’t have. Something I knew better than to try.”
“That’s awfully cryptic,” Hill replied.
“That’s all you’re getting.”
She rolled her eyes. “So you’re going to make me sit here and guess? Okay, fine—this ‘something’ you did wouldn’t happen to be Clint Barton, would it?”
Phil scowled at his laptop screen. “I’m not talking about this,” he said, and started furiously typing.
“Right, we’re not talking about this. I get it.” She took a sip of her coffee, looking suspiciously innocent. “By the way, Clint draws you in his sketchbook.”
“I told you, I’m not—what?”
“Never mind, we’re not talking about this, remember?”
“How do you even know that he—how do you know that?”
Hill shrugged casually. “Last week I was going for a run in the park and he was sprawled out on one of the benches with this giant notebook in his lap. I stopped to say hi, and eventually he asked me for your number, which, quite frankly, I was shocked he didn’t already have. When he was getting his phone out, I happened to glance at what he was drawing.”
The last thing Phil wanted to think about was the collection of intimate pencil sketches he’d found what felt like ages ago; it made an all-too-familiar yawning ache open up in his chest, one he’d been fighting to ignore for the past two days. “He likes to draw people. It’s not a big deal.”
“Phil, he was drawing you, okay. I’m pretty sure sitting alone in a park and drawing someone’s face means they’re seriously smitten.”
He shook his head. “It doesn’t really matter,” Phil said tightly.
“How can it not matter? I saw the way you looked at him in the bar, I know you’re into him.”
“It doesn’t matter because I don’t have time for it to matter, all right? Having a love life is just—it’s superfluous in the scheme of things. A boyfriend’s not going to get me into grad school, and he’s not going to help me graduate with honors. I do that for myself. It’s all on me, and I can’t—” He paused, swallowed past the sudden memory of Clint’s voice saying you’re just plain. “—I can’t let distractions get in the way after all the work I’ve done.”
Phil waited for Hill to contradict him, to tell him he was being too hard on himself. Instead, she tapped her fingers against the table and gave him a long, pensive look.
Finally, she asked, quietly, “What happened with you two?”
He could feel himself start to crack. “Nothing. I made a mistake.”
“I cared too much.” Phil cleared his throat, not meeting Hill’s eyes.
“How do you know?”
“He basically told me.”
She didn’t seem to have a response for that, and Phil couldn’t handle the sympathetic silence. He started typing again, wanting nothing but facts and figures filling his head, not Clint’s stupid fucking voice saying how pathetic Phil was.
“You know, there’s something I’ve never told you,” Hill eventually said after a good five minutes of Phil’s incessant keyboard clacking.
He glanced up over the top of his glasses and managed a smile. “Yeah? What’s that?”
Hill chuckled. “It’s embarrassing, but...I had the biggest crush on you during freshman year.”
Well, that was about the last thing Phil expected to hear. “Wow, seriously?”
“We were partners in that Intro to Finance class, remember? I thought you were so smart. And, y’know, kinda hot,” she added with a smirk.
His blush got worse. “Um, we’re talking about me here, right?”
“Of course we are, and that’s my whole point—you’re oblivious. You’re possibly one of the most single-minded guys I know, and while that works great for you in terms of school, you don’t even realize the effect you have on people. I crushed on you for an entire semester, but never once had the guts to ask you out because I knew you couldn’t see it. You block yourself off from everyone thinking it’ll make you more focused, but you’re missing out on the bigger picture.”
Hill reached across the table and laid her hand on top of his. “It’s okay to get distracted,” she whispered.
Phil looked down at their hands. “But I’m not...enough for him.”
“If you weren’t enough, he wouldn’t be lovingly sketching your likeness in the middle of a park. Contrary to what you may believe, Coulson, you are worthy of someone’s affection.” She squeezed his hand.
He let that roll around in his head for a moment, sink into his skin. “Thanks,” he whispered back.
“Hey, I’m always up for letting you know when you’re acting dumb.”
Phil laughed, and for the first time in two days the weight on his shoulders felt the tiniest bit lighter. “He asked me if you were my girlfriend, by the way.”
Hill snorted. “And you think he’s not nuts about you.” She set her empty latte cup in front of him. “Now show me your gratitude for ironing out your love life and buy me another round.”
Clint had been all but MIA from the dorm since the night of the fight, and Phil had done his best to keep his head down and not look for him on campus. He wasn’t sure what he’d do if he saw Clint casually draped over one of his admirers, or heard that lazy, flirty laugh of his echoing through the student commons.
Phil thought about showing up at the gallery show unannounced, but the idea absolutely terrified him. He didn’t want to make a scene, or a grand gesture in front a crowd, and God knew what Clint’s reaction would be; Phil wouldn’t blame him at all if he just punched Phil in the face and left it at that.
But later that Friday afternoon, Phil swallowed his pride and went down to the art gallery to check the times for the show. He wasn’t making any decisions yet, just gathering information. He still had another twenty-four hours to make up his mind.
He was almost to the glass side doors when he spotted Clint just inside amongst a group of students, arms crossed as he leaned against the wall, his hips cocked like he didn’t have a care in the world. He looked tired, that couldn’t just be Phil’s imagination, but he also looked so fucking beautiful Phil bit hard against the inside of his lip.
Clint was talking to a big tall blond guy Phil vaguely recognized as an underclassman. He was smiling broadly at Clint, talking animatedly with his hands, and Clint laughed at something he said, kicked playfully at the guy’s shin.
Phil’s stomach bottomed out. He started to turn back, forget the whole thing. Obviously he’d missed his chance.
He stopped and glanced back over his shoulder. Pepper Potts poked her head out of the side door, smiling curiously at him. He hadn’t seen her much since the new semester started; normally they had all their Business classes together, but since Pepper had started her fancy internship, she’d been fairly scarce.
“Uh, hey,” he replied sheepishly, awkwardly waving a hand at her. “I forgot you still worked here.”
“Just Fridays and the weekends. What are you doing lurking around here for?”
“I...” He rubbed at his neck. “Just wondering when the show was. For the, um—”
“For Dr. Farris’ Acrylics class?” Pepper’s smile softened, one eyebrow raised.
“I guess that’s the one, yeah.”
“It’s tomorrow night at seven.”
Phil huffed. “Okay. Okay, that’s...all I needed, thanks.” He made the mistake of glancing back at Clint, who was leaning toward the blond guy and smirking like they were sharing a secret.
Pepper titled her head to one side. “I didn’t know you were interested in portraits,” she said, a knowing lilt in her voice.
“I like art. Culture’s good.”
“Yes, it is.” She carefully followed Phil’s line of sight. He looked away and cleared his throat, but he knew Pepper had already figured it out.
“I should get back to—”
“That’s Steve Rogers, and believe me, you have absolutely nothing to worry about,” Pepper said.
Phil blinked. “I don’t?”
“They might be each other’s dates, but I can guarantee you it’s strictly platonic. Painfully platonic, actually.” She patted his shoulder. “See you tomorrow evening, then?”
He felt like he’d missed something. “Maybe,” Phil replied as he watched Clint push off the wall and trail after Rogers.
Pepper rolled her eyes. “Good God, it’s like there’s something in the water,” she mumbled before giving Phil a pointed jab in the chest. “I’ve already given this lecture like twice now, but it bears repeating—stop making assumptions and just tell him.”
Phil almost choked. “I don’t know what you’re—”
“Oh, please. I’ve seen enough dejected pining in the last few days to last me for the rest of my life.” She shook her head and ducked back inside the gallery, heels clicking against the tile.
Saturday came like always. Phil woke up early, got his coffee, went to the gym, and came back to his room to diligently work on his papers and research. He didn’t look at the clock, didn’t watch the time creep slowly toward seven o’clock.
Around six o’clock, he heard a door down the hall open and close quietly. Somehow, Phil knew it was Clint, but he refused to look toward his open doorway and prove himself right.
The hall wasn’t quite as deserted as it normally was, however, and Phil heard one of the guys yell, “Hey, Barton! You going out tonight?”
“No, I have, uh, my show. Sorry,” he heard Clint reply. Fuck, just hearing his voice for the first time in days made Phil’s skin grow hot. He grit his teeth and tried to focus on his deathly boring Macro notes.
Unfortunately, the guy decided to stop right in front of Phil’s doorway. “Yeah, but after? They’re doing two-for-one Jager bombs at Mojos tonight until midnight, you totally need to go.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Phil could see Clint hovering at the edge of the doorway, shifting from foot to foot. He looked clean-shaved, his hair still damp, and was neatly dressed in a soft brown sweater over a white collared shirt; Phil didn’t even know Clint owned a sweater.
“Thanks, dude, but I don’t know how long this thing’s gonna last. I’ll text you if I get out early?” Clint said, shoulders slightly hunched. It did nothing to take away from the fact that he looked like an artfully rumpled model.
Phil swallowed. Clint’s jaw looked very tight, as if he were painfully aware of Phil watching him and doing everything within his power not to acknowledge it.
The other guy was completely oblivious. “Sure thing, Barton.” He gave Clint’s shoulder a friendly slap. “Must be a big night, d’you do your own laundry and everything?”
“Fuck you, asshole,” Clint laughed, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “And for your information, yeah, it is. Gallery show, final grade, all that shit.”
“All the more reason to do shots!”
Clint laughed again, only this time his gaze flickered toward Phil’s, quick and almost unconsciously. “Naw, need to be sober for my professor. And my date,” he replied very succinctly, a hard edge to his words.
Phil felt a hand reach into his chest and squeeze.
“Shit, no wonder you broke out the church clothes.” The guy held his fist out to Clint, who bumped it with a smirk. “Break a leg, dude.”
“Thanks, man, I’ll need it.” Then he was gone from Phil’s sight.
A good twenty minutes passed before Phil realized he’d been reading the same two paragraphs over and over again, tapping his pen against his legal pad in time with the pounding of his heart.
Ever since he was a kid he’d been good at planning, practically treating it like an art form by the time he’d reached college. He’d spent the last twenty-two years laying his future out, a carefully-built road map to making an actual career for himself, something more than his parents’ blue collar lives.
One thing Phil was not good at was taking risks. He’d always shied away from the unpredictable.
But that had been the old Phil, the one who didn’t really date in high school and thought sex was overrated. The same guy who, deep down, believed he wasn’t meant to fall in love.
The new Phil had taken a risk the day he’d let Clint watch a baseball game in his room.
He set his notes aside, cupped both hands over his face as he took a deep breath. In twenty-two years, Phil had never wanted anyone more than his tightly-designed life plans. He’d never thought anyone would be worth it...or think he was worth it in return.
It was an utterly terrifying thought. But then, wanting something (someone) unpredictable wasn’t exactly safe and secure.
Phil was done being safe.
The gallery was bright and buzzing with energy when Phil arrived. Immediately, he regretted not dressing a bit more formally; he’d been so wrapped up in his thoughts, and his last-minute decision to show up at the gallery had been so abrupt, he’d completely forgotten to change. He was still in his old, worn-out t-shirt advertising the garage his dad worked for, the same shirt he’d had since the ninth grade. It was a size too small for him now and the hem was steadily coming unraveled, but it was soft as hell and reminded him of home. At least Phil’s jeans were clean.
He shoved his hands in his pockets and tried to keep a low profile as he took in his surroundings, feeling grubby and totally out of place. Frank Sinatra filtered through the speakers as waiters in black shirts circled the room with appetizers. A small bar was set up in the corner; Phil seriously considered ordering a double shot of Jack.
He was about to throw caution to the wind and go in search of Clint himself, until Phil spotted the same tall blond guy from the day before, the guy Pepper had said was Steve Rogers. He was chugging a bottle of water, looking all broad and perfect in his navy blazer and tie. Of course Rogers was Clint’s date.
Phil swallowed against a hot surge of jealousy and said, “Hey, uh, could you tell me where I’d find Clint Barton?”
Rogers turned to him, swiped the back of his hand over his mouth as he finished off his water. He gave Phil a polite smile, only to pause and reply tentatively, “You’re...Phil, aren’t you?” His impossibly blue eyes narrowed in amused consideration; Phil kind of hated how even that looked perfect, like Rogers had materialized off the pages of a Banana Republic catalog.
It didn’t help that Clint had obviously mentioned Phil to Rogers in passing, probably as a joke for the two of them to laugh about.
“And you’re his date tonight, I take it,” Phil said too defensively. He had Pepper’s voice in his head telling him he had nothing to worry about, but standing face to face with the guy made Phil want to punch him.
He certainly didn’t expect Rogers to start laughing.
“Something funny?” Phil felt angry, embarrassed heat rise in his cheeks. God, what was he even doing here?
Rogers shook his head. “No, actually, it’s—kind of awesome, really. Sorry.” Then he practically beamed at Phil for some bizarre reason, a bright, cheerful Boy Scout grin that had Phil blinking in confusion.
“Look, whatever he told you, it’s...I made a mistake.” He ducked his head, kicking the toe of his sneaker against the pristine tiles.
“I get it. Trust me.” Rogers sounded giddy.
Phil felt like he was definitely missing something as he gave a short jerk of his head. “Okay, so. Just so we’re clear. Clint’s not—not—”
“Single?” Rogers asked.
Phil winced. Fuck it, he’d gotten this far. “Yeah. That. Like I said, mistakes were made and I was...” He sighed loudly, rubbed a hand over his neck. “Anyway, do you know where he is or not?”
Rogers pointed over his shoulder. “Clint’s back that way, around the corner and to the right.”
“Thanks.” Dread sunk into Phil’s bones, making his heart slow to a steady, anxious beat as he turned in the direction Rogers had indicated. There was no turning back after this, once Clint laid eyes on him.
He waited for Rogers to politely tell him Clint didn’t really want to be bothered, that he didn’t want Phil there, that he was better off going back to the dorm—
“Just so we’re clear—he’ll be glad you came.”
It was hard to fight the bloom of hope in his chest at Roger’s bright-eyed smile. “Hope so,” Phil said softly, letting the corner of his mouth quirk up.
Rogers nodded, as if giving Phil the go-ahead to proceed.
The gallery, the dull roar of mingled chattering, the quiet lilt of Sinatra—all of it faded into the background as Phil made his way around the corner, palms sweating in his jeans pockets, his mind frantically listing all the reasons he should leave. His throat was dry, and the air had grown stuffy, but Phil was after closure. If he left here with anything, that would be enough.
He caught sight of Clint first, his back to Phil, arms folded behind his back in a military stance as he spoke to an older man who kept gesturing to a painting in front of them. The portrait was beautiful, and so clearly done by Clint with all its jagged angles and bright, bold colors. But the details were what made it special; the woman’s secret smile, the tilt of her eyebrow, a slight flare of light against her cheek. They were details a true artist would see and take the time to lovingly render.
God, I am so in love with you, Phil thought with a start. He stood frozen in place, the admission playing over and over in his head for the first time.
He wasn’t terrified anymore, because it felt right.
It wasn’t until the man wandered off and left Clint alone that he finally turned and met Phil’s eyes. For a moment he looked stunned, almost scared, which quickly morphed into the cold blankness Phil remembered with aching clarity from their fight, until that eventually gave way to a fierce, deadly-sharp blue-eyed glare. His hands twitched into fists at his sides, and Phil thought, You can punch me. I deserve it.
They held each other’s gazes for several long, painful moments, until Phil couldn’t take anymore of Clint’s silent anger. He hugged his arms around himself and for once let Clint see every single emotion on his face, every single regret and want. He laid himself bare for Clint, right in the middle of a damn art gallery.
With a simple shrug of his shoulders, Phil tried to tell him everything he couldn’t put into words.
Somehow, that was enough. Clint’s entire expression crumbled, and he suddenly looked as vulnerable as he had just before he’d asked Phil to the gallery show. “Seriously?” he whispered, and there was no anger in his voice. That one word sounded like more of a plea than a question.
Phil wanted to touch him more than anything in the world, but he wanted it to be Clint’s choice. Instead, he nodded, once, because he couldn’t make his voice work. His throat was too tight.
Clint made a choked groaning sound, and there a frightening second where Phil thought he might be wrong. He didn’t expect Clint to come storming toward him, mouth twisted up as if he were in pain, and grabbing Phil by the neck of his t-shirt. When he yanked Phil into a hard, unrelenting kiss, Phil didn’t think about where they were or who was watching. He didn’t think at all, only clung to Clint with shaking hands and kissed him back like he would never get the chance again.
He could feel Clint’s hands digging into the soft cotton of his shirt, heard a tiny, desperate whimper come deep from Clint’s throat as Phil tried to press closer. He bit at Clint’s mouth, splayed his hands over Clint’s chest to find the frantic drumming of his heart.
I want this, it’s mine, I’ll take better care of it, I promise, Phil thought with a breathless moan before Clint jerked out of the kiss. He rested his forehead against Phil’s, panting harshly.
“You’re a fucking asshole,” he whispered in a broken voice that all but ripped Phil up inside.
He nudged his nose against Clint’s, eyes shut tight as he whispered back, “I’m sorry, babe. I’m so, so fucking sorry.”
Clint’s hands flexed against Phil’s back. “Me, too,” he finally said.
Phil knew he should let go soon, that they were still in an art gallery and couldn’t exactly stay stuck to each other like this for long. But he couldn’t stop kissing Clint’s cheekbone, the corner of his mouth, the scar over his upper lip. He never wanted to give this up again.
“I...God, I have to stay here for at least another hour,” Clint breathed. His hands slowly relaxed their grip on Phil’s shirt to fan out and rub idle circles over Phil’s shoulder blades. He kept leaning into Phil’s kisses, his breath hitching with each touch of his mouth.
“I know,” Phil murmured, “your grade depends on it.”
Clint huffed, and Phil kissed the first tentative hints of a lazy, familiar smirk. “I do follow rules sometimes.”
Phil gave a shaky laugh. “So I guess me asking you to come back to my room is out of the question?”
Clint pulled back, eyes wide with startled amazement as Phil’s meaning sank in. “Your room?”
“Well, I mean, once your show’s over, of course, I won’t make you jeopardize—” He got cut off with another hard, fast kiss that had Phil melting into Clint all over again.
“You’ll—you’ll hang out here? Until I’m done?” Clint whispered against Phil’s mouth.
He cupped Clint’s cheek with one hand, curled the other tight into Clint’s sweater. “I don’t have anywhere else to be tonight.”
Clint’s smirk bloomed into a full-fledged smile, one that made the crinkles pop at the corner of his eyes. “Yeah?”
“Nope, I’m off-duty. You’ve got me for as long as you like.” It should’ve freaked him out more, the fact that he wasn’t referring to just that night, but Phil had never felt more calm.
Clint didn’t say anything else as he took Phil’s hand and tangled their fingers together, then slowly led Phil through the gallery. They were stopped every so often by people complimenting Clint’s painting, his talent; Clint beamed proudly, a gorgeous, happy pink blush in his cheeks.
Phil just squeezed his hand.
They didn’t leave the gallery until well after nine. Clint kept apologizing, a chagrined look in his eyes as he said, “I really didn’t think it’d go this long, I swear, plus Rogers ditched me and we can’t exactly both be MIA, Farris isn’t that dumb—”
“Where’d Rogers go, anyway?” Phil asked, his shoulder nudged against Clint’s as they walked back to the dorm. The night air was warm for early fall, and the soft gusts of wind toyed playfully with Clint’s hair.
Phil hadn’t let go of his hand all night. Clint didn’t seem to mind.
“Ha, long story, but I’m pretty sure he had a better gig to get to,” Clint drawled. He swiped his thumb along the inside of Phil’s wrist. “The guy’s kind of gone for Tony Stark.”
“Isn’t Rogers, I don’t know, a little too...”
“Too much of a Boy Scout for Stark? Totally, yes. I wouldn’t have pictured that combo myself, but they’ve got history. Plus, Stark’s been fucking him for like a month now.”
“Wow, seriously?” His fingers twitched around Clint’s, but Clint shrugged.
“Weirder stuff’s happened, y’know?” He came to a stop outside the lobby doors of Stark Hall, glancing skyward in an unfamiliar display of shyness Phil had never seen before. “So...about your room...”
“I’m not taking it back,” Phil whispered.
“But—we don’t have to. Just you showing up tonight is enough for—” He stopped and ducked his head.
Phil leaned closer until they were nearly chest to chest, pressed a feather-soft kiss against Clint’s cheek. Hearing Clint Barton of all people stutter and look so endearingly unsure of himself made something warm and precious crack open deep in Phil’s chest. “I want to,” he whispered. “Need the change of scenery.”
Clint laughed. “Fuckin’ smart guy,” he murmured, turning his head just enough to push up into a slow, shallow kiss.
In the last month and a half, Phil had done a lot of things with Clint—desperate, filthy, loud, heated things that had only existed behind the safely locked door of Clint’s room.
But within the quiet stillness of Phil’s room, every touch suddenly had a weight to it, every sigh infinitely careful. There was a fragile tentativeness that hung between them, full of things that needed to be said, were waiting to be said. Phil watched as Clint eased his hands under Phil’s shirt, pushed it higher until he sunk to his knees and mouthed at the soft trail of hair that disappeared into the waistband of Phil’s jeans.
Phil slid both hands into Clint’s hair, not holding him so much as keeping the connection, reminding himself that this was happening, Clint was real, kissing at his skin like he’d forgotten how Phil felt under his hands, his mouth.
“I didn’t mean it,” Phil breathed, words thin and small in the calm half-light of the room. “You’re not—I never thought you were—”
Clint wrapped his wide hands around Phil’s hips, thumbs pressed to the indention of muscle at his hipbones. He licked over the appendix scar and glanced up at Phil through his lashes. “Just wanna feel you right now,” he said, voice dark and heated, but there was a pinch between his eyes.
So Phil didn’t say another word as Clint undressed him with slow, hesitant movements, like he was remembering Phil’s body all over again. But Phil didn’t stay silent; he shivered and bit his lip and cried out to show Clint just how much he wanted this, how much he wanted him.
When Clint eventually pushed Phil down onto his bed, arms spread at his sides, Phil thought, Yes, do it, fuck me, and arched into him, already hooking his ankles at Clint’s lower back.
“No, wait,” Clint gasped, and he grabbed the lube, covering the first three fingers of his right hand.
Then he reached back and slid two into his ass, tilting his head back with a sigh.
Phil’s mouth fell open. “I-I thought you were gonna—”
Clint looked down at him with hooded eyes, his smile filthy and bordering on predatory. “Next time,” he purred in that sultry tone Phil had missed. “You okay with me takin’ you for a ride?” He leaned over Phil as he spoke, nipped at Phil’s mouth with a ghost of a smile, his free hand trailing down Phil’s arm.
Fuck, they’d never done it like that before. Phil always took Clint from behind, always; the only exception had been the one time they’d switched. “I’m okay with anything you want to do to me,” Phil said into the kiss, and he tried to laugh, tried to lighten the mood somewhat to keep himself from going to fucking pieces and embarrassing himself.
It was a moot point when Clint leaned back with a flicker of stunned awe in his eyes, as if he honestly didn’t believe what he’d heard. Phil swallowed whatever pathetic words were in his throat and held his hand out for the condom.
Clint shook his head, though, and all Phil could do was lie back and watch those gorgeous broad hands slick him up and gently roll the condom on. He was panting hard by the time Clint went up on his knees and wrapped his wet fingers around Phil to position him.
“Fuck,” Clint hissed as he slowly, inch by inch, sunk down onto Phil.
It felt completely different like this; Clint felt tighter, hotter, or maybe it was just the clutch of his thighs against Phil’s hips, or how he could look up to find all of Clint’s compact, solid body braced above him, his thick cock nearly parallel to his stomach. It was fucking overwhelming, and Clint hadn’t even moved yet.
“Yeah, yeah, gimme a sec, shit,” Clint gasped, his bottom lip bitten between his teeth. His expression was pinched, close to painful, but soon he gave a careful roll of his hips and the pained look melted into something softer, blissful.
He moaned, “Oh, fuck, yeah,” and Phil gritted his teeth to keep from coming.
“This, this, fuckin’ this, I love it.” Clint pulled his knees in closer to Phil’s body, used the leverage to fuck himself down onto Phil’s cock harder, faster. His hands, splayed out in star bursts, pressed into Phil’s chest with bruising force, slid higher with each thrust until his fingers framed Phil’s throat.
It sent a spark fizzing and exploding in Phil’s blood, making him arch his neck and moan.
“Gorgeous,” Clint growled, “you’re so fucking—God.” He clenched tightly around Phil, body fluid, rolling above Phil.
He had to touch him, feel the energy shivering in the muscles of Clint’s arms, his shoulders. Phil tried to lift his arms, draw Clint in, but Clint growled again, low and breathless, and grabbed Phil by the wrists, pinning them to the bed. He held him there in a vice grip as his rhythm stuttered into desperation.
Phil was panting, his throat suddenly sore. “Fuck,” he said, trying to give back, trying to meet Clint’s thrusts, but Clint held him down hard and fucked Phil’s cock with an almost brutal intensity as sweat pooled in the hard valleys of his arms, his abdomen.
A thought flickered into the red haze of Phil’s mind: He’s claiming me. It sent a warning jolt of heat spiraling into his stomach.
“I’m gonna—gonna—God, baby, I’m—” Phil heard his voice crack, felt his hips jerk against the bed sheets.
Suddenly Clint groaned roughly, managed to keep his punishing rhythm as he stretched out over Phil and buried his face in his neck. His hands flexed against Phil’s wrists.
“S-say it again,” Phil thought he heard him moan.
He didn’t know what Clint wanted, couldn’t think past the frantic need blaring like a bullhorn through every inch of his body. Phil opened his mouth against Clint’s sweat-damp jaw and gasped, “Baby, you’re gonna make me come.”
Clint broke above him, muffling his shout into Phil’s neck. Phil felt the sharp pinch of teeth against his skin, and that was it—he shook apart with Clint’s name stuck in his throat, hands clenched into fists. A second later his wrists were freed as Clint reared back and jerked himself with unsteady hands, head bowed and eyes tightly closed. He came with high-pitched, shredded huh-uh, splattering Phil’s stomach and his own hand.
Eventually, Clint opened his eyes and took in the mess he’d made. His shoulders rose heavily with each breath as he uncurled his wet fingers from his spent cock, and ever so slowly, he spread them through the come coating Phil’s skin.
Phil didn’t take his eyes off him. He was dizzy, breathless, could feel himself softening deep inside Clint. He swallowed a few times to get his voice back.
“You scare the shit out of me,” Phil whispered.
Clint’s hand paused. He finally met Phil’s gaze, smiled crookedly. “Didn’t think anything scared Phil Coulson.” There was a hint of self-deprecation in his tone.
Phil shook his head. “It’s just. I didn’t—plan. For any of this.”
Clint let out a long sigh that probably conveyed more than Phil could ever know. He winced as he pushed up onto his knees, letting Phil slip from his body. “Got a towel or anything?”
“Yeah, lower dresser drawer.” He pointed Clint in the right direction and tied off the condom. He considered wrapping in it a tissue for discretion, then promptly rolled his eyes, tossing it as-is into his trash can.
There was something soothing and contented about Clint hunting around his room naked, completely at ease with himself and his body. Phil leaned back on his elbows and let himself appreciate the dimples at Clint’s lower back, the subtle ripple and pull of muscles over his shoulders.
Clint came back to the bed with a plain blue washcloth, wiped up the come over Phil’s stomach. “Should probably shower,” he said with a smirk. “But I guess we’re not to sharing showers yet, huh?” He laughed softly, but the pinch above his eyes was back.
Phil caught him by the chin. “We’re not showering together because I could get my ass reamed if we got caught, not because I don’t...want to.” It was embarrassing to blush after all they’d just done.
Clint dropped his gaze, concentrated on the cloth in his hand. “I didn’t meant it, either,” he said. “About—you’re not plain. God, you’re like the opposite of plain, and sometimes it kills me inside that you fucking believed me.”
His heart did a slow pirouette in his chest. “It’s not the first time I’ve heard it.”
That seemed to make the pinch worsen. Clint dropped the cloth on the floor with another sigh, then crawled under the blankets on Phil’s bed, facing the wall. He burrowed down into the pillows and said, voice slightly muffled, “You comin’?”
Phil turned out his desk lamp, sending the room into blue-gray darkness before climbing in behind Clint, not bothering to find his boxers. As he pulled the comforter up over them, Clint wriggled around until he was facing Phil, the back of his hands pressed to Phil’s bare chest. Phil tucked his arm under a pillow, his other falling into the smooth dip of Clint’s waist.
“Who told you that?” Clint whispered in the dark.
“Told me what?”
“The...plain stuff.” His hand turned over, fingertips cold as they traced absent circles over Phil’s skin.
Phil closed his eyes. “Just...people I’ve, y’know. Been with. Before. I’m not exactly known for making an impression.”
“Bullshit.” Clint’s voice was sharp. “You don’t even—how do you not know how people look at you?”
He laughed. “Not everyone’s you, Barton.”
“I don’t want you to be me, don’t you get it? That’s the whole thing—you’re so...” Clint huffed and leaned his forehead against Phil’s. “You don’t give a shit what people think of you.”
“Believe me, I care.” I care what you think.
“Not like most us do. You’re all ‘fuck you, I was valedictorian, assholes, suck it.’”
Phil rubbed the tip of his nose over Clint’s cheek. “I was salutatorian, actually. Casey Dunham beat me out by like half a percentage point in our GPAs, it was total crap. She’s already flunked out of Duke.”
He could feel Clint’s grin. “I rest my case.”
“Just because I’m smart doesn’t mean people are lining up to fuck me.”
Clint slid his leg between Phil’s, pressed closer until their bodies were lined up chest to thigh. He palmed Phil’s hip, skimming his thumb gently up and over his ribcage. “Worked for me,” he murmured.
“Thought it was my sex appeal,” Phil snarked, wanting to hide his blush in his pillow.
“Well, that, too. And has anyone told you your eyes are fucking spectacular?”
It was harder than he wanted to admit, accepting the compliment. A heavy tightness pushed against his chest, spread out along his nerves and into his fingertips. “One time I was...sort of dating this guy the summer after graduation. He always told me I was lucky to be so smart, since...that was all I really had.” He’d never told that story to anyone, hadn’t even allowed himself to think about it in years.
Clint went very still against him. “Why did you stay with him?”
“I don’t know, I just did. He was a couple years older, worked for my dad; I thought he was worldly or something. It was only until I left for Hamilton. We didn’t keep in touch.”
“If I ever meet that guy, I’ll punch him in the fucking mouth.” Clint said it so abruptly, so angrily, Phil blinked at him in the dark, then started laughing.
“It’s okay, babe, I don’t really think about him.”
“But he obviously did a fucking number on you.” He nuzzled at Phil’s jaw like a cat, the tension slowly leaving his body. “You called me ‘babe’ again,” he added in a whisper.
Phil trailed his hand over Clint’s spine. “That—is that okay?”
“Never really thought I’d hear you say it, ‘s all.” He burrowed tighter into Phil suddenly, like he was forcing himself into a smaller mould.
Then, in a terribly young voice, he said, “My parents died when I was eleven. Car crash. I was at a friend’s house with my brother.”
Even though Phil had more or less known this for a while now, it didn’t make the information easier to hear. He wrapped his arm around him, just breathing for a moment, letting the words sink in. “What happened after?” he finally asked.
“We didn’t have much extended family, so they sent us to an orphanage in the city. Iowa’s not exactly known for its foster care, but there was a Catholic place run by some really nice nuns. They took me and my brother in, and it was—it was okay for a while.”
“Is that...where you started drawing?” He thought of Clint’s sketchbook, the worn label on the cover.
Clint gave a weak little laugh. “I had anger issues. We both did. The only difference was, Sister Katherine gave me a sketchbook. Barney wasn’t the drawing type, though.”
“Where’s your brother now?”
Clint shrugged, tucking his face against Phil’s chest. “Haven’t seen him since I was seventeen.”
It all made sense now: the way Clint surrounded himself with friends and admirers, his agitation over Phil not going home enough, his casual attitude toward sex: he was terrified of being alone.
Guilt swooped through Phil, threatening to choke him. He kept picturing Clint’s face after Phil had rejected him, how he’d flinched like Phil had punched him.
I’m sorry, he wanted to say for the millionth time.
But Clint kept talking, a wistful lilt in his voice. “I knew he’d never stick around. I met this guy at the local Y who got me into archery when I was fifteen, and—it just came naturally to me. He got me hooked up with some people connected to the Olympics, and the next thing I know, I’m trying out for the Beijing trails. Me, some nobody from nowhere. The thing was, Barney wasn’t impressed; anything that wasn’t stealing cars and shit wasn’t for him.” He didn’t sound sad at all, only resigned. Disappointed.
Phil hugged him tighter. The guilt made him ache. “That’s how you found the camps.”
“Yeah. And the nuns got me to apply to Hamilton, helped me fill out scholarship forms.” His sigh was a burst of warm air against Phil’s throat. “I owe them a lot. Someday I’m gonna go back and show them their hard work paid off.”
He stopped talking after that, as if saying the words out loud had worn him out. Phil wondered how many people knew this side of Clint Barton. Selfishly, he wanted to believe nothing existed outside his bed and blankets, their little cocoon of secrets.
“I hope you go back,” Phil whispered into Clint’s hair. “They’ll be so proud of you, how fucking talented you are.”
He felt a hand slid up his chest to stop just over his heart. “I’ve never had a future,” Clint breathed. “Everything’s been this blank canvas in my head since I was a kid. When I got into Hamilton, I was so excited, ‘cause for once I had some kind of purpose.”
Phil thought of his six year plan, the carefully constructed road map to his career. He couldn’t fathom having all that disappear and be left with nothing.
“You’re not a dumb jock,” he blurted out into the dark, eyes tightly closed.
Clint laughed, kissed Phil’s lower lip. “Sometimes I am. But I like hearing you say it.” His voice dropped back into a careful whisper. “If anything, I’m your dumb jock.”
Phil didn’t know how this had become his life, what he’d done to deserve this kind of trust and adoration from someone. But he did know he was fucking gone for this ridiculous, obnoxious, perfect guy tucked in his arms, and no matter where they went from here, he’d do everything he could to make Clint feel like he was wanted, that he still had a purpose, a future.
He was so close to opening his mouth and saying the words, only Clint said with sweet smirk, “Y’know, I draw you. Like, all the time. It’s kinda gross, actually, how much I draw your goddamn mug. I even drew you once when you were sleeping. Sickening. I’ll probably wake up tomorrow and start carving your fucking initials into my desk chair.”
There wasn’t any holding back after a confession like that. “I’m in love with you,” Phil mumbled against Clint’s temple, biting his lip against the insane urge to laugh.
Clint made a low rumbling sound, that familiar contented cat purr Phil had come to know well. “‘Course you are,” he said, biting lazily at Phil’s mouth. “‘Cause the feeling’s mutual. Sir.”
Phil dissolved into laughter right as Clint pinched him in his most ticklish spot. He tried to wiggle away from Clint’s hand, but Clint ended up pushing his weight against Phil, pressing him into the mattress as he draped himself over Phil’s body.
“Oh, hey,” Clint said absently, his tickle assault coming to a halt as he stretched out his arm out to Phil’s nightstand. Phil couldn’t see what he grabbed, but a second later he had his own ancient iPod waved in his face, Clint beaming deviously. “Always wanted to know what you kept on this bad boy.”
“It wouldn’t interest you. There’s not a single Taylor Swift song on there,” Phil deadpanned.
Clint rested his chin on Phil’s chest as he scrolled through the album library, chewing the corner of his lip. “Uh, Coulson, I hate to break this to you, but the only thing on here is a bunch of Talking Heads and Depeche Mode. And a shitload of techno, what the fuck.”
Phil rolled his eyes and folded both arms behind his head, letting his body arch slow and languid underneath Clint. “So? I’m eclectic.”
“You’re weird. Is that The Matrix soundtrack?”
“It’s a classic.”
“Jesus.” Clint kept scrolling, feigning a look of dismay. “At least tell me you like Adele.”
“Lady Gaga? Jay-Z?”
“Is that a serious question, Barton?”
“You don’t know who Adele is, but you own five separate Daft Punk albums. I don’t even know who you are anymore. And what the fuck is M83 and why are all these titles in French?”
Phil plucked his iPod neatly from Clint’s grasp and tossed it on the carpet, smirking as he dug his hand into Clint’s hair and tugged him into a lazy, messy kiss. He managed to dig his thumb into the sensitive spot just under Clint’s armpit, making Clint yelp and wrestle away from him, laughing breathlessly. The two of them ended up tumbling over each other beneath the blankets, all soft hands and playful insults, until they melted back into a kiss that went on and on, push and pull—
—the perfect give and take.
“Another round, guys?”
Phil smiled politely at the bar waitress, but unsurprisingly her attention was all for Steve and his sheepish grin.
“Yeah, might as well,” Steve said, nodding pointedly at the two empty bar stools across from them. “Uh, they’ll be back. Eventually.”
The waitress laughed, all high and flirty, and Phil shook his head in bemusement. Being out with Steve wasn’t all that different from being out with Clint; the only difference was, Steve was endearingly oblivious. “Can I talk you into adding a round of shots?” she asked in sultry purr Clint would’ve been proud of.
“No, thanks, just the beer,” Phil said smoothly when Steve started to blink owlishly at her.
“Maybe your boys would like some?”
“Um.” Just then a familiar drunk voice yelled, “Fuck, yes!” followed by a different, yet equally drunken voice adding, “I told you, I fucking rule at this shit.” Phil absolutely did not look in the direction of the tiny stage at the back of the bar as he said, “Yeah, no, I think they’re good for now.”
“Suit yourself.” She winked at Steve as she headed off for their drinks.
“One time Clint told me that the nicer the waitress, the better your drinks are,” Steve said, spinning his Bud Light on the table. “I don’t know if I believe that.”
“You’ve been twenty-one for, what, two months now? Clint’s been at legal drinking age for over a year and a half, and I can tell you it’s not the waitress, it’s whether or not you flirt back,” Phil replied with a smirk.
Steve laughed. “At least you don’t go to clubs where the bouncer knows your boyfriend’s name on sight,” he said. “Not to mention all the waitresses, the bartenders, and the owner.”
Phil saluted Steve with his own bottle. “Nope, that pleasure’s all yours.” He couldn’t imagine dating someone that filthy rich and obnoxiously well-known, but then, he’d been around Steve and Tony enough now to see the subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways Steve looked at Tony. It wasn’t about the money or the notoriety; Steve was just stupid in love with him, end of story.
Phil could relate. A lot.
Funny how he once felt jealousy toward Rogers. Now, three months after that fateful gallery show, Phil honestly considered him a friend, thanks to Clint and the friendship they’d struck up (Pepper had been right, of course; if she ever saw Clint and Steve in their dudebro art talks and Phil happened to be hanging around, she’d point to them and mouth painfully platonic at Phil.). Tony, however, was a long and arduous acquired taste, but he was growing on Phil. Much like an exotic moss, one that could only be eradicated with fire.
Clint thought Tony was hilarious, mostly because Tony had admitted to Steve that he’d been horribly jealous of Clint at one point and Steve had made the mistake of telling Clint. There had been a lot of preening and “no seriously, Tony fucking Stark was jealous of me!” until Phil had told him to shut the fuck up already or he’d make him.
Threatening Clint never really did anything but lead to fantastic, mind-blowing sex. Not that Phil was complaining.
His mind drifted a bit on that particularly nice thought, only to be interrupted by Clint’s mildly slurred voice announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, this song is for a guy. A guy named Philip Coulson, who is, I might add, fucking hot as shit.”
Phil’s head jerked up, heat exploding over every inch of his face. Clint stood center stage, microphone in his hand, pointing straight at their table with his half-empty bottle of Sam Adams. He beamed at Phil and winked, not unlike their waitress.
“Oh my god,” Phil murmured, horrified yet bursting with affection. “Please tell me again why we let them do this?”
“Uh, we didn’t let them do shit, it’s all Tony’s fault. He’s the one who lives for karaoke, dude.” Steve shrugged one shoulder as he grinned dopily at the stage, where Tony was involved what appeared to be a very serious conversation with the deejay handling the songs. “Five bucks says he found Styx.”
“If I get serenaded with ‘Come Sail Away,’ we’re leaving.” He watched Clint down the rest of his beer just before Tony gave an over-exaggerated thumbs up to the deejay and then promptly high-fived Clint, yelling, “Showtime!”
Phil held his breath, heart pounding as he waited for the song to start. This was the first time he’d seen Clint do karaoke, and knowing what little shame Clint had vanished the instant he got a couple of beers in him made Phil’s palms sweat. And yet, he couldn’t help but mirror Steve’s stupid grin, even if he did try to hide it behind his hand.
He didn’t expect to hear the first few bars of Pink’s “Raise Your Glass,” or hear Clint’s voice carry over the music, clear and surprisingly lovely, even for a sober guy.
“Wow, I didn’t know Clint could sing,” Steve said.
“Me, neither,” Phil replied hazily, unable to look away from the stage. Clint had stolen one of Phil’s white button-downs to wear that night, the sleeves rolled to his elbows and the top two buttons undone. As the night had progressed, the front shirttails had come untucked from Clint’s jeans, and now, singing out so raise your glass if you are wrong in all the right ways, he looked like a cross between a J.Crew model and an X-Factor finalist.
He looked straight at Phil as he sung every word, holding up his empty bottle at raise your glass.
Phil knew his blush was disgusting. He didn’t care.
Then Tony took over the second verse, and needless to say, his genius did not extend to vocal prowess.
Steve grimaced, ducked his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. “This is actually pretty decent,” he said with chagrin. “Wait ‘til you hear him do ‘My Way,’ it’s epic.”
Phil only half-heard him. He was too busy mooning over the other drunk guy on stage, the gorgeously rumpled one who’d put his ridiculous sunglasses on halfway through Tony’s verse and slung an arm around Tony’s shoulders (Tony yelled, “It’s so fucking on right now!” in time with the song and Steve dropped his head into his hands) before joining him on the chorus.
Regardless of Tony’s tone deafness, it was easy to catch Clint’s rough baritone. Granted, they did look like a couple of wasted frat guys, especially when Tony handed Clint his own mic and started signing into his beer bottle. But they were also two guys with charisma and charm to spare; the bar loved them, cheered them on when Tony did victory arms at nitty gritty dirty little freaks.
Steve propped his chin up with both hands, laughing softly, the tops of his cheeks bright pink.
Phil tucked his face further into his hand and bit his lip.
He wasn’t prepared for Clint to jump down off the stage as the bridge started, pushing his sunglasses far enough down his nose so Phil could see the blue of his eyes. He walked straight toward their table, hips swaying with his lazy gait as he sung out so if you’re too school for cool, and you’re treated like a fool—
Phil swallowed hard, aware that every eye in the bar was suddenly on him.
—you can choose to let go— Clint came right up to Phil’s stool, set his empty bottle on the table. Then he reached for Phil’s beer and took a long pull from it, the hand with the microphone resting on Phil’s knee for a split second.
—we can always party on our own. He set Phil’s beer back down, grabbed the fresh one the waitress had just left behind, and quickly kissed Phil on the mouth before running back to the stage for the last chorus. Everyone applauded and yelled out good-natured catcalls, but it was all a dull roar in the back of Phil’s head.
He blinked at the stage, where Clint clung to Tony like a monkey while Tony completely fucked up the lyrics in favor of making faces at Steve just to make him laugh.
“Maybe we should rethink this double date thing,” Steve tried to say with a straight face.
Phil shook his head as the song ended and the room went nuts, screaming for Clint and Tony to do an encore. Clint bowed and waggled his eyebrows at a table of middle-aged ladies nearby who cackled happily, and Tony announced they were open for requests and children’s birthday parties. “I think it’s working out pretty well, don’t you?”
Steve grinned at him. “It’s not too bad.”
“Steve Rogers, please report to the main stage with beer and your hot ass,” Tony’s voice boomed over the speakers.
“Okay, scratch that. Ask me when the night’s over.” Steve went about ten different shades of red, rolling his eyes as he grabbed Tony’s fresh beer. But he looked infinitely fond, like there was nowhere else in the world he’d rather be.
Phil glanced back at the stage, where Clint still hung off of Tony, twirling the microphone around his fingers. The sunglasses were back in place, but somehow he caught Phil staring at him, and a slow, gorgeous smile spread across his face. It was one of his completely open smiles, the kind Phil secretly, fiercely adored, because it meant Clint was truly and unabashedly happy.
He watched as Clint stuck the microphone in the back pocket of his jeans and dug his cell out, typing one-handed while Tony tried to kiss Steve with tongue and simultaneously pick a new song.
A few seconds later, Phil’s phone buzzed with a text. love u, it said.
He quickly typed back, feeling’s mutual.
He saw Clint grin at his phone, then kiss the screen before putting it back in his pocket.
Tony yelled into his mic, “Who wants some Sinatra shit up here?” and the room erupted in applause.
Steve eventually came back to the table. “Told you,” he sighed, flailing his hand toward his drunk boyfriend, who was placing a sloppy kiss on the top of Clint’s head. “We’re just getting started.”
“Yeah,” Phil said, letting anyone who cared to look see his sappy, ridiculously lovesick grin. “We are.”