Asleep, the lines in Phil’s face relax, making him look ten years younger (and closer to his actual age—it’s no secret that being a SHIELD agent is the sort of job that speeds up the aging process). Clint had him pegged for the type who keeps to his side of the bed, regardless of whether or not he’s got company, but Phil sort of sprawls in the middle, right arm flung out across the mattress towards his gun on the nightstand, left arm tucked beneath his pillow. It’s the sleep of a man who’s been single for a long time and has gotten used to not sharing. Clint knows because he sleeps the same way (or he would if his bed in SHIELD HQ weren’t an extra-long twin, like he’s a fucking college freshman and not a grown-ass man).
Clint feels strangely like he’s intruding, sitting here watching Phil sleep. But they’re in a shitty motel somewhere in East Jesus Nowhere, Tennessee and even though Clint’s ninety-nine percent sure there’s nobody following them because the phrase like a bat out of hell was clearly coined for Coulson’s driving, they agreed to sleep in shifts anyway. So Clint sits at the table jammed in the corner of the room, his feet on the table, balancing the chair on its back legs. He’s used to things like this: getting comfortable in uncomfortable places, staying awake when he’s so bone-tired he thinks he could sleep for a week if he actually had the time, pretending not to notice the endearing way Phil snuffles in his sleep.
(Okay, so the last one is pretty new for him, but Clint’s a good compartmentaliser. He can deal.)
The sky is changing slowly from pitch black to navy when Phil jerks awake two minutes before the alarm. Clint thinks about telling him to go back to sleep, but a yawn escapes before he can and Phil kicks free of the covers and rolls out of bed.
“Sleep, Barton,” Coulson says and even though his voice is rough from just waking up (and Jesusfuck, that’s another thing Clint’s gonna have to compartmentalise) it’s still a tone that leaves no room for argument.
So Clint lets the front legs of his chair hit the ground and he pulls off his t-shirt but not his boots, because if he’s gotta get going in a hurry laces will just slow him down. He flops down onto the bed while Coulson sinks into the chair, no longer relaxed. His shoulders are tense and the lines around his eyes look deeper. The sheets are warm where Phil was laying and the strange intimacy of it burns into Clint’s skin.
“There’s nobody following us.” Clint says, mostly just being stubborn for the sake of it.
Coulson clears his throat. It’s a damn shame, because Clint wants to hear more words in Coulson’s sleep-scratchy voice.
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Clint sighs. “Protocol.”
The threat had come in just as they were getting ready to leave New Mexico, and they’re used to death threats in their line of work and a lot of them end up being bogus, but this one had been just specific enough to put them both on edge. So they’d gone to ground, rented a car with cash and started a meandering drive back to New York.
There had been a slight incident in a Texas diner but nothing worse than Coulson’s gas station incident on the way to New Mexico, and they got out of there before the news crews showed up, so yeah, Clint’s pretty sure if anybody’s been tailing them, they’ve not had an easy job of it.
Coulson shrugs. “Not just protocol. Things are starting to happen. We’re going to need you in one piece.”
“Not that Avengers bullshit again.”
If Fury and Coulson didn’t want Clint to know about the Avengers Initiative, they shouldn’t have had a meeting about it in the conference room closest to Clint’s favourite air duct. He’d been minding his own business, honing his Sharpie graffiti skills; it’s not his fault he overheard about Captain America (still defrosting) and the latest attempts to make contact with Dr Banner (useless, and nobody wants to try harder and risk making him angry) and the shortlist of SHIELD agents to be included in the fold (a very short shortlist, just him and Natasha and it’s not like Clint’s surprised, but he’s pretty sure he wants no part of it. He’s an agent, not a superhero, and he’d like it to stay that way.)
“You know, the destruction of an entire New Mexican town by an alien would suggest to most people that assembling a team of elite fighters isn’t the worst idea in the world.” Coulson says dryly.
“I’ve already been in the circus, I’m in no rush to join another one.”
“Not even if Tony Stark’s involved?”
That’s not playing fair, and Coulson knows it. There’s probably a line somewhere in Clint’s file about what an Iron Man fanboy he is. (Although Coulson’s been doing a pretty poor job of hiding his Captain America love, so maybe its just par for the course.)
“No fucking way is Stark on board.” Clint snorts, because he’s been with SHIELD for long enough to know better. Stark is a vigilante and a liability and he’s heard enough from Natasha to know the guy’s just not cut out for most forms of human interaction, let alone teamwork.
“He’s agreed to be a consultant.”
“Yup, and you’ve got some lovely oceanfront property in Kansas to sell me.”
“Go to sleep, Barton,” Coulson rolls his eyes, but Clint’s got the best eyesight in all of SHIELD, and he doesn’t miss the way the corners of Coulson’s mouth twitch up.
When Clint opens his eyes it feels as if he’s only been asleep five minutes but the room is light and Coulson is standing at the edge of the bed, suited up and waiting. Clint doesn’t startle because he’s trained not to, but waking up to Phil Coulson standing over him is second only to waking up to Natasha looming over him in terms of intimidation factor.
“Five more minutes, Mom?” Clint grumbles.
Coulson rolls his eyes. “We can stop for breakfast if you get your ass in gear.”
Clint doesn’t need to be told twice. Coulson hands him his shirt and Clint grabs his bow and they’re in the car not five minutes later.
Turns out he really meant more like brunch, because they’re almost in Virginia when Phil pulls off the highway and into a Waffle House parking lot.
“You always take me for waffles.”
“Are you complaining?” Phil arches an eyebrow at him.
“No. Just sayin’.” Clint shrugs, although he’s not really that sure what he’s trying to say. It’s not like Clint is picky, you can’t grow up in the circus a picky eater, so they don’t have to get waffles even though they are Clint’s favourite. Then again, they’re both creatures of habit, so maybe they do.
Phil is probably one of the only men on the planet who goes to Waffle House and doesn’t order waffles, but Clint more than makes up for that. He meticulously fills each little square with maple syrup until his breakfast is so sweet it almost makes his teeth hurt.
“You’re lucky SHIELD has a good dental plan.” Phil remarks, hiding his smirk behind his coffee cup.
“I don’t have a single cavity.” Clint protests.
“Half of your teeth are fake.”
That much is true. A guy can only get punched in the mouth so many times before he starts losing teeth, and Clint’s been getting punched in the mouth since he was six years old.
They finish breakfast without incident and stop for gas and this time Clint goes in because Phil’s taste in gas station food is terrible. Nobody likes stale donuts. He gathers enough snacks to get them through the final push to New York.
They’re driving through rolling green hills in Virginia when Clint learns that Phil knows every single word of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’. Phil’s singing voice is…pretty bad, flat and toneless but it’s such a surprise to hear him sing at all that Clint doesn’t mock him, he just joins in for the choruses and the few lines here and there he does know. He finds more Bob Dylan on the iPod plugged into the jack, and Phil’s laugh when Clint sings ‘Rainy Day Women #12 and 35’ at the top of his lungs is another thing Clint’s gonna have to file away in the steadily growing Phil-shaped box in his brain.
“Your music taste doesn’t exactly match your suits.” Clint teases, and Phil shrugs.
“My parents met at Woodstock.”
“They did not.” Phil doesn’t really talk about his family much (which suits Clint just fine; it means he doesn’t have to talk about his either) but there’s no way Phil Coulson is the product of hippy parents. Clint frowns, “I’m pretty sure Bob Dylan wasn’t even at Woodstock.”
“He wasn’t. They bonded over his absence. I was allegedly conceived during The Who’s set.” Phil says with a completely straight face.
“I can’t tell if you’re fucking with me or not.”
“I swear on Tony Stark joining the Avengers that I’m not fucking with you.” Phil smirks.
Clint huffs out a put-upon sigh. “That’s not fair.”
“Nope,” Phil agrees cheerfully.
“So this Avengers thing is really happening then?” Clint asks. The sun is setting and the New York City skyline looms ahead of them.
“One way or another, yes. It will.”
“Is Natasha in?”
“You could ask her that.”
“Is it classified?”
“Yes, Agent Romanoff is on board.”
“That’s why you sent her to be Stark’s assistant. You were trying to recruit him.”
“Director Fury wanted to assess him.” Coulson corrects.
“I already told you. He’s agreed to be a consultant.”
“So your parents are hippies then.” Clint grins.
Coulson shoots him a look halfway between amused and exasperated.
“Bet they hate your job.”
“They hated it more when I was in the army. They took paper-pushing G-man surprisingly well after that.”
“You and I have very different definitions of paper-pushing, sir.”
“What my parents don’t know won’t hurt them.” Phil says, and Clint laughs. He’s still laughing when Phil switches back into Agent Coulson mode and says seriously, “I know you think we don’t, but we need you on the Avengers, Barton.”
They’re a few blocks away from HQ when Clint says, “Tonight’s questionable meatloaf night. Let’s get food somewhere else.”
“You turn in sitreps full of holes, but you’ve memorised this month’s menu.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my sitreps.”
“They’re three sentences, four if I’m lucky.”
“You’re being sizeist about my sitreps. I think I can report you to HR for that, sir.”
Phil snorts and it’s so undignified and not Coulson (because there’s Phil and there’s Coulson and it’s taken a few years but Clint’s mostly worked out the difference now) that it makes Clint grin.
He drives past SHIELD anyway, to their favourite Chinese place and they order their usual sweet and sour pork and chicken fried rice and won ton soup and bring it all back to Coulson’s office and eat on the floor in front of his desk. This is a post-mission ritual that’s become a tradition, something they started back when Coulson was still just Agent Coulson and Clint didn’t realise what he was missing, not knowing Phil.
Clint leans back against Coulson’s desk and stretches his legs out, nudging Phil’s foot with the toe of his combat boot.
“Yes, Clint?” Phil says, his tone dry but his expression fond, and Clint knows he’s never gonna get tired of hearing Phil say his name. Any of his names, actually, since Barton and Hawkeye sound just as good coming out of Phil’s mouth.
“I’m in. I’ll do this Avengers bullshit.”
“It’s cute that you think you actually had a choice,” Phil deadpans and Clint knows he’s mostly joking.
“Oh I definitely didn’t. If Fury wasn’t gonna force me, Natasha would’ve.” Clint grins. He relaxes, letting his leg press more closely against Phil’s. Phil doesn’t pull away, just leans closer so their shoulders touch.
“Besides,” Clint says softly, “I think I would’ve missed you, sir.”
“You think?” Phil arches his eyebrow.
In their line of work, they don’t exactly have the luxury of time to take things slow (although according to Natasha there’s a betting pool that says they’ve been taking things way too slowly—they’ve held out a full year longer than most people wagered) and the way the corners of Phil’s mouth twist up is really all the encouragement Clint needs. Phil tastes like coffee and Chinese and that should probably be a little gross but it isn’t and he kisses back like he’s been waiting for this as long as Clint has (or nearly, anyway, considering Clint has pretty much wanted to do this since the day they met and he doubts that’s true of Phil, since he was busy arresting Clint).
“About time. I was starting to think you needed an engraved invitation,” Phil says when they separate, and Clint huffs out a feeble laugh.
“I think this counts as one of those pot/kettle situations.”
Phil’s ears go red and he shrugs a little and Clint can’t resist curling his hand around the back of Phil’s neck and pulling him in for another kiss, more urgent and needy than the first. Phil seems to remember that they’re sitting on his office floor with the door cracked open, because he pulls back and Clint tries to follow but Phil’s hand on his chest stops him.
“Wanna get out of here?”
“Is that a rhetorical question?” Clint grins, already scrambling to his feet and pulling Phil up with him.
They actually fall asleep in the same bed at the same time and nobody has to keep watch and Phil steals all the covers but Clint was sort of expecting that anyway.
He wakes up the next morning to find Phil in the kitchen making waffles and whistling Bob Dylan (and he’s a better whistler than he is a singer, but only marginally so) and Clint’s not an idiot, because he knows every morning isn’t going to be waffles and whistling and that they’re asking a lot of each other and risking even more and there’s still a pretty decent chance it’s not gonna work out.
Still, when Phil hands him a plate of waffles with all the squares already filled with syrup, he can’t help thinking there’s also a pretty decent chance it just might.