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Clint Barton did not believe that the customer was always right. In fact, Clint knew that customers sucked. So after he got fired from fucking Starbucks in college, for telling a fatty trying in vain to lose weight that there was no point in using skim milk if she was going to double her whip cream? Well, whatever the fuck. He promised himself that if he were to ever own a business, he wouldn’t give two shits about a fucking customer.

But, hey, he didn’t know he’d meet Phil Coulson, did he?

-

Clint got to work every morning at five. Well, he says, ‘got to work.’ He lived in the apartment attached to the back room. It’s more that he crawled out of bed, threw on the first pair of clean pants he could find and walked into the store shirtless.

He usually opened the door at five thirty, after sweeping and setting up the coffee pots and cleaning the expresso machines. First shift officially started at six, but he generally had one or two regulars that came in at about quarter of. One was a soccer mom out on her morning jog, before her kids woke up and her wife left for work. She had three kids, all blond and each more rambunctious than the last. She brought them in on Italian Ice Cream Thursdays. They’re good kids.

The other regular in before six was also a regular at eight, ten, two, five, and a half hour before they closed at seven thirty (well, officially they closed at eight, but Clint generally kept the door unlocked until midnight. A local artist, Steve, once asked him if he’d ever heard of business law and Clint replied with a smirk and an only barely innocent, “Law? What the fuck’s that?”). Her name was Pepper Potts, and Clint was pretty positive half of his revenue came right from her employer’s, Tony Stark’s, pocket. She didn’t always come in at all those times, because sometimes they were in Japan or France or wherever the fuck, but it was very rare that she missed their first “appointment” at quarter of six, so Clint made sure he always had her usual order when she got there. She was a busy woman, after all, and Clint had met Tony Stark (he not only usually came in at the two o’clock run, but they had also became pseudo friends from Stark’s pure inability to be anything but charismatic), he knew that she needed what help she could get.

He did his morning routine (Still shirtless. He generally didn’t put on a shirt unless one of his semi-regulars, the Captain of Police, Nick Fury, came in and threatened him with a visit from the Health Code Inspector, which never came into fruition solely because Fury had a soft spot for Natasha. Clint thought it was because Natasha was a young, female, Russian version of him.) in record time and opened the shop a bit early.

Natasha was working this morning, which meant it would be an easy shift. Natasha was, like, borderline OCD about everything and would push Clint around the shop, ordering him about with her eyes and giving him disgusted looks when he did something not to her liking. (Clint secretly thought she was an ex-Russian/Soviet spy under the protection of the Witness Protection Agency and didn’t really argue with her about anything, for fear of his life and, more importantly, his testicles.) Clint would complain about Natasha bossing him around, but, well, she was his best worker, no “probably” about it. And, you know, she’s hotter than hell.

(Not that he’d ever say that to her, because hey. Testicles.)

-

The morning got under way, regulars came and went, college kids took advantage of Clint’s free Wi-Fi, and the rare newcomer stopped in once in a while. (You see, Clint’s only repeat customers are customers that started coming to the ‘Shop when he first opened, back when he was still nervous about the ‘Shop being a flop and him having to concede to himself that he made a mistake. He’d been nice (well as close to “nice” as Clint got) and generally not rude, but as time passed and he got more comfortable, he became more Clint-ish and his repeat customers were okay with Clint’s Clint-ness, so. Anyway, Clint didn’t get many new regulars and new customers are generally scared away by his shirtlessness. The fact that new customers were first attracted to the view was not surprising to Clint.)

One such unknown was standing at the counter, staring at the board above Clint’s head. He was dressed in an impeccable suit that had not a single wrinkle or crease, finely groomed hair (with a slight, but not unappealing, receding hair line), and an erectness in his spine that suggested military.

“Can I give you some advice? Or are you trying to read Darcy’s horrible handwriting?” Clint asked. (Before the college senior had been hired two years ago, Clint had written the board himself. He had generally had to repeat the entire menu to the clientele, which Darcy had gotten bored of right off the bat and offered to re-do it for him. Unfortunately, she had bad penmanship in the exact opposite way of him (his small and sharp, hers fat and bubbly), but more people could read it, so it stuck.)

The man popped out of his reverie and looked at Clint, eyes straying down to his bare chest. Clint smirked and cocked his head in a way that symbolized, ‘Yeah, I saw that,’ and ‘No, really, I’m just here to help.’ The man raised an eyebrow and gave him a look that said, ‘Well, don’t you think you’re adorable?’ and Clint’s responding smile said, ‘Fucking adorable, thank you very much.’ (Clint had never had such a long conversation with someone without saying a word, well someone who wasn’t Natasha. And even with Natasha it had taken the ten years at the shop.)

“I’d like your, is it, ‘Get Your Ass Out of Bed You Lazy Fuck?’ with whole milk and no whip cream,” the man said.

Clint got about fixing his coffee, and said over the machine, “You know, if you’re going to splurge on whole milk, you might as well get the whipped crème.”

The customer’s face said, ‘Wow, you must think I’m dumb,’ or ‘Wow, you get a lot of dumb customers,’ but the words that left his mouth were laced in sardonicism, “Unless one doesn’t like whipped cream on one’s coffee.”

“And why’s that?” Two crushed caffeine tablets mixed with the quarter cup of sugar, slowly mixed into the cyclone of steaming liquid.

“I’m under the belief that whipped cream should be used in a chocolate ganache for an angel food cake or a garnish on a chocolate with raspberry mousse. I also believe it shouldn’t come from a can or a plastic tub one buys in bulk and keeps locked up in a freezer for months. Whipped cream should be hand whipped with love and placed on or next to something that can truly appreciate its value. Something worth the frivolous calories.” By the time he was done his diatribe, Clint was done making his coffee.

“You’re a foodie, aren’t you mister…”

“Coulson. Phil Coulson. And, yeah, you could say that.”

And Clint couldn’t help but hope with all of his being that this fucking fantastic, hilarious guy came back to his ‘Shop.

-

That evening, just as Clint was starting to clean up behind the bar, Tony walked in, but not at a normal Pepper time. It was eleven-thirty, and all but one of his patrons had cleared out.

Only Steve remained, in the corner with a sketchbook. Steve was a freelance artist (i.e. unemployed and made sporadic amounts of money and lived with his childhood best friend, Bucky Barnes, who came in sometimes, when he wasn’t on duty. Bucky was a Police Officer.) and spent most of his days at the ‘Shop. (He liked to “draw people, but not,” as he once told Clint. “You see,” he had said, “it’s rude to outright draw someone you don’t know who’s just going about their day. Not to mention a tad creepy. So I take bits and bobs. Someone’s hair. A nose. A necklace. The way they stand.” Clint had nodded and sat down with him, took a break at a slow moment, to watch him watch. Steve’s a good guy.)

Clint watched Tony look around and set his eyes on the blonde. His eyes were narrowed just on the wrong side of predatory, and Clint was a bit worried as Tony could be an ass when he wanted to be. He moved to the end of the bar closer to where Steve sat, so he could intercede if he needed to. (Steve might not have been as small as he was when Clint first opened the shop, and therefore, first met Steve, but sometimes Steve forgot that, and was still that tiny guy who didn’t know how to deal with larger than life personalities.)

He stepped up to Steve and pulled off his sunglasses. “Steve Rogers?”

Steve looked up at him in wonderment. “Yes?”

Tony offered his hand. “Tony Stark.”

“I know.” Steve took his hand briefly and shook it twice. He lightly kicked the other chair at his table out and nodded to it. Tony sat, placed his sunglasses on the table, and called over to Clint.

“Your usual, Tony?” Clint asked, and went to set up the correct machinery.

“Yep!” Tony turned back to Steve. Clint noticed how Tony was nervously bouncing his foot under the table and wondered what the billionaire could possibly want with a down on his luck artist, what Tony could want with Steve that would make him nervous to ask. “So, Pepper said you were an artist, a fantastic one at that.”

Steve’s eyes widened. “Well, I wouldn’t quite say that, Mister Stark. I’d say I’m a fair artist.”

Tony’s mouth did this bizarre twist that was someplace between a smile and a smirk. “Pepper has held Rembrandts and Picassos and van Goghs in her bare hands. When she tells me that an artist is fantastic, I believe her.” Steve’s mouth was making a fantastic fish impression, so Tony continued, “I want you to paint a mural in the new Stark Industries’ Manhattan building, that’s under construction. In its lobby, to be exact.”

Steve seemed to be broken, so Clint chose that moment to walk over with Tony’s coffee. That seemed to break Steve out of his shock. “I-Mister Stark-Tony. I don’t know what to. I mean. I need to think about. That’s to say that I-”

Tony cut him off. “Steve. I’ll give you a couple days to think about it, okay? I’ll meet you here, two days from now at six p.m. with a contract. If you want to do it, you sign the contract, if you don’t, you tell me to blow it up my ass, okay?”

Steve blindly nodded, brows furrowed, so Tony picked up his coffee, laid down a twenty, and quickly walked out the door. He left his sunglasses.

“Wow.” Clint sat in Tony’s vacated seat. He toyed briefly with the sunglasses and leaned back in his chair, crossing his legs. “What do you think you’ll say?”

Steve looked up at him, then down to the sketchbook which had lain on the table, neglected, during Tony’s time in the ‘Shop. He flipped through it (about half of the pages were used, and it was the second sketch book this month) and landed on one page. He folded the rest of the pages back and flipped the book around to show Clint.

On the page was a picture of Tony. It looked exactly like him, like a picture in black and white. Clint thumbed the edge of the paper and smirked up at Steve. “So...You have a crush on New York’s own Hugh Hefner?”

Steve rolled his eyes and huffed. “He’s not old... or misogynistic.” Steve took the sketch book back and briefly touched just about where the lips were, to Clint’s best guess. “He’s misunderstood. And Pepper said he doesn’t sleep with as many women as the papers say.”

Clint made a humming noise and shook his head. “Steve, I’ve known Tony for a long time, and I can, with no hesitation, say he’s an asshole and a playboy, and while Tony does sleep with boys, you’ll still get your heart broken.” Clint wouldn’t say how he knew Tony slept with boys, but let’s just say it came from a very close drunk eye witness account.

Steve sighed and bit his lip. “Well, maybe if I get to know that side of him, I can get over him. That side that Pepper and you love, but don’t love. I just,” he sighed again and looked out the window.

“I get it, Steve. I get it.”

-

The next morning, like clockwork, Phil Coulson showed up at quarter of nine.

“Well. If it’s not Coulson, Phil Coulson. Want the same?” Clint asked, propping his head on his opened hands, framing his jaw with his fingers.

Coulson looked unimpressed with Clint’s flimsy attempt at flirtation. “Now how could I decide my favorite beverage at this fine establishment without first sampling everything you have?” Clint raised an eyebrow, as if to say, ‘Then what do you want?’ to which Coulson replied, out loud, “I think I’ll try your ‘Bitch, I’m Not Kidding, Wake Up.’ Who comes up with these names?”

Clint beamed and shrugged, “Oh, well, whoever comes up with the drink.” Which was true, it was just that Clint came up with all of them. But Coulson didn’t need to know that; he seemed to think the names were dumb. “Alright, man, here’s your drink. Hey, you don’t have any heart conditions, right?”

Coulson frowned and raised an eyebrow. “No?” He shook his head and took his change from Clint. He promptly placed it in the tip jar and turned to leave.

“Bye, Coulson!” Clint called after him and leaned back against the counter behind him.

And really Clint was as happy as a pig in shit, because Coulson had pretty much said he’d be back again tomorrow.

-

And Coulson came back the next day. And the next and the next, until he’d worn out all of Clint’s morning brews and was in the middle of the afternoon ones.

Clint was pretty happy with the turn out, for multiple reasons, really. One, it was always good to have new regulars: it’s guaranteed revenue. Two, it was always good to have new regulars that could also be new boyfriends: because, hey, little Clint needed some fun. Fast. (It had been three years since Clint’s last boyfriend, and he hadn’t been the kind of guy for casual sex since college. But Clint also didn’t have the time to go out and meet someone, so his dating pool was pretty much limited to his customers.)

And it wasn’t as if Clint was doing this baseless eating of his cake before it was baked. Through their momentary encounters every morning, Clint had learned a lot of stuff about Coulson. Like how he was a foodie. Like how he was a museum curator. Like how his best friend had been his best friend since sixth grade (they had even gone to college together). Like how he was born and raised in Brooklyn, but currently lived in upper Manhattan. Like how his old coffee place had been closed because the owner had died of a heart attack and he’d been looking for a replacement for two months before he stumbled across Clint’s ‘Shop.

He knew his favorite color was forest green (it reminded him of his grandmother’s house up state), that his favorite painter was van Gogh (he finds his bold, thick strokes of paint the most beautiful he’d ever seen) and that he’d never been kissed in the rain.

But most importantly, Clint learned that Coulson was funny (in that fantastically dry way), smart (so fucking smart, book wise and full of common sense), and good looking (in a lovely mix of classic attractive and quirky cute), and that Clint’s ‘Little Clint’ wanted to climb him like a mother fucking tree.

Clint also learned that he could be a real coward when he really didn’t want to be, and had yet to pluck up the courage to ask Coulson out.

-

“Hey, Pep,” Clint said. It was Pepper’s five o’clock run to the ‘Shop, so he set about to make Tony’s regular and Pepper’s after three tea.

“Hey, Clint. How’s life?” Pepper set her purse on the counter and pulled out her wallet and the twenty she dropped at every ‘Shop run (even though two large coffees only cost five dollars and fifty cents. But hey, Clint wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth).

He finished Tony’s coffee and got to work on Pep’s. “Pretty swell. You know, if you ignore my sudden crippling fear of asking out one of my new regulars.” Just as Clint finished his sentence, Steve walked up and barked out a laugh at Clint’s pain.

“It’s pathetic, Pepper. This guy comes in every day at quarter of nine, they flirt like their lives depend on it, then the guy leaves, and Clint pines for the rest of the day.” Steve shakes his head nods to Clint in that way that means he wants a refill on his tenth coffee of the day.

Clint glares at him and gives Pepper her change, which she puts in the jar, then sets about getting Steve’s done.

“Oh, Clint. Really? I thought you got over that little shy thing with Bobbi?” Pepper asks, moving along the bar to stand opposite of Clint. (Bobbi was Clint’s sort of ex-wife. They never lived together, and hadn’t really dated, but had had a friends-with-benefits situation, then got drunk on a trip to Las Vegas and had gotten married by a fat Elvis impersonator. They’d gotten the marriage annulled after they’d gotten back to New York. His relationship with Bobbi was one of Clint’s two past “serious relationships,” though Clint didn’t count her as she saw it as a giant blemish on her permanent record. The other was a scientist named Bruce, who ran off to Canada with his college sweetheart, Betty, after spending two years with Clint.) Clint shrugged and jerked his head a little bit. “And you’ve asked out a few people since her, too.”

Steve smirked and, with a slight giggle in his voice, started to say, “Well, whenever it doesn’t mean anything!” and was promptly cut off by Clint slamming his coffee in front of him.

“Look, Pep, it doesn’t even really matter, because I’m pretty sure he’s straight -” Steve snorted at him “- and he’s a museum curator what could I possibly do on a date with him that would be good enough?”

Pepper looks at him, frustrated, but then her eyes lit up. “Oh! Oh, the gala!” Pepper exclaimed and pulled a couple of envelopes out of her purse. “Tony’s hosting a gala next month. Well, it’s half-gala half-benefit, to go towards arts education for inner city kids. Your museum curator would be very happy with that, wouldn’t he?”

Clint looked at her dubiously for a moment, and then said, “Well, Pepper, I don’t know. I mean -”

Pepper cut him off and placed the two envelopes on the counter. “Clint, just take them. If you don’t use them, you don’t use them, but if you do, then, hey, you manned up.” Clint raised an eyebrow, which clearly meant, “You’ve been spending too much time with Tony,” but she didn’t seem to understand, so he took the envelopes, and shoved them into his back pocket.

-

Over the next few weeks, Clint tried and failed, multiple times, to ask Coulson to that mother fucking gala.

The first time was probably the single most pathetic and embarrassing moment of Clint’s entire life. Coulson had come in at his usual time, smiled his usual not-smile, ordered the next coffee on the list, and left with Clint’s eyes and heart trailing behind him like a lost puppy. But no, the embarrassing part came in with this little exchange:

“So,” Clint said, nervously dropping a couple sugar cubes on top of the cinnamon sticks, creating the ‘bridge’ part of the ‘I Swear to Your Deity of Choice That There Are No Trolls Under This Bridge.’ “So. Gala? You. I mean. Arts, right?”

To which Coulson raised an eyebrow, left the ten on the counter and walked out of the store.

Clint officially hated himself.

-

It was the Monday before the gala, and Clint was panicking. He was panicking because he’d yet to ask Coulson to the gala and Coulson hadn’t come in at his usual time. Coulson had never come in any later than ten of nine (but never missing a day since he’d stepped into the ‘Shop that first day, ignoring weekends), but when nine, then nine thirty, and ten o’clock came and went, Clint gave it up for a loss.

He was slumped over the counter, cursing himself and his horrible, pitiful excuse of a life when Darcy came up behind him with her ‘special’ hot chocolate (it was about twenty-five percent hot chocolate, seventy percent rum, and five percent whip crème. It was usually pretty quality in the stop-Clint-from-moping front).

“Oh, honey,” she said, petting his back. “You’re pretty gone for this guy, aren’t you?”

Clint nodded into the counter and pushed the drink away. He didn’t feel like getting drunk. Clint felt like he was past the point in his life where it was even moderately okay to drink before noon.

Even if Coulson was the most decent guy for whom he’d ever had a thing.

Even if Clint was a pathetic excuse for a human being, who couldn’t even stand the idea of rejection from a complete stranger who just happened to come to his ‘Shop every day and make meaningless small talk.

Fuck it, he was getting drunk.

-

Coulson didn’t show up the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that. But he did show up on Friday, the day before the gala.

When Clint noticed him approaching the counter, he smiled and said, “Well, look who is back from the dead! And here I was, about to send out a search party!” Coulson’s mouth went tight in an awkward way, but then he relaxed. It was then that Clint noticed the almighty shiner. And the split lip. And the slight limp in his gate. “Jesus, I was joking, but what the fuck happened to you?”

“I got in a car accident. A minor one. No big deal, really,” Coulson said, doing that head bobby thing he did when he was exaggerating the terms of which he spoke. (Really, Clint took the head bob as an indication that Coulson was lying.) He looked up at the sign and squinted. “I don’t remember where I left off.”

“The ‘Zombies, Vampires, and Werewolves, Oh My!’ Not one of my more aptly titled.” Clint got to work making the coffee (a Halloween treat he’d made up his first year in business. It tasted like candy corn). “So.” Clint paused (C’mon, man, just ask, ask him to that goddamn gala. DO IT!) and looked over at Coulson. “How’re you feeling?” (Weak, Clint. Way to pussy out.)

“Better. A couple days in bed helped.” Coulson tapped his fingers on the counter, and when Clint looked over, he saw that his knuckles were cut.

“Thinkyou’llfeelbettertomorrow?” Clint spat out, to stop himself from licking at the long, strong-looking, roughed up fingers next to his cash register.

Coulson raised an eyebrow and tilted his head to the side a bit.

Clint took a subtle deep breath and carefully said, “Okay, so, well, this customer, friend, customer-friend, he’s having a party. Gala, type deal, I guess. Well, that’s what Pepper called it. And I was, uh, wondering, I mean, I guess, if maybe you wanted to go? Because, like, it’s art and you’re a museum curator, and it’s also a benefit to raise money for the arts in inner city schools and, well, it’s tomorrow. At eight. PM.”

Coulson’s brows furrowed deeper and deeper as Clint continued. “Sure?” He paused and took a ten out of his wallet. He’d picked up his coffee and looked up at Clint. “Will I need an invitation of sorts?”

Clint couldn’t control the beaming smile that crossed his face, “I, uh, could just meet you here? At, uh. Seven thirty?” He took the envelope out of the cash register, along with Coulson’s change and handed both to him.

Coulson did that not smile of his and nodded. He grabbed the Sharpie from Clint’s pen basket and gestured for Clint’s hand. Once his hand was raised, Coulson held it up (in those beautiful broken hands) and wrote his phone number on it. “In case anything comes up, yeah?”

Clint nodded and as soon as Coulson was out the door and around the corner, jumped up on the counter and proceeded to happy dance.

The two customers that weren’t regulars left quickly and Steve sighed, shaking his head.

-

Clint had precisely one suit. Pepper had arrived with it the week before (and when Clint had refused to take it, Natasha had given him a look, taken the suit from Pepper with a nod, grabbed Clint by the ear and tossed him into the back room with it, and told him to “Shut the fuck up and try it on, you dumb fuck, and come out with a grateful smile on your face!” Clint did as told) and to tell you the truth, it looked pretty fucking fantastic on him.

‘It,’ to be precise, was a slim fit suit, with a black, woven check shirt, and was accented with a skinny cut grey tie. The only thing Clint had been dubious about was the fact that the suit was purple (Pepper called it deep amethyst, but it was fucking purple), but the way the girls cooed over him when he walked out of the back gave him the courage to meet Coulson in it, holding two coffees.

However, the suit did not give him the courage to deal with Coulson showing up at the ‘Shop with a mother fucking date.

-

Clint plastered on a smile with all of his strength. It felt like someone was pulling out his wisdom teeth - without Novocain.

Coulson did his not smile and gestured to the woman walking with him. “Barton, this is Maria Hill, my best friend. Maria, this is Clint Barton, the best barista in New York.”

(Best friend. His mother fucking best friend! YES! His best friend, Maria Hill, who worked with him at the museum, who met him in sixth grade, and who, most importantly, was a lesbian, who had married her life partner of fifteen years, two days after marriage equality was passed in New York.)

The plastered on smile quickly became a genuine one and Clint stuck out his hand. “It’s nice to finally meet you, I’ve heard a lot.”

She nodded, “Likewise. I swear if I hear one more bitch-fest about your ridiculously named drinks, I may shoot someone.” Clint’s smile faltered, but came back full force when he saw Coulson blushing out of the corner of his eye.

Coulson cleared his throat and folded his hands in front of him. “The card said, ‘Invitation Holder Plus One Guest,’ and when Maria noticed that the gala was the Maria Stark Collection, she got a little too excited for me not to invite her.”

Clint handed Coulson his coffee and started fishing his keys out of his pocket. “If I’d known you were going to be with him, I would already have had a coffee for you. As it is, we have enough time to fix you one? Or tea, or something?”

Maria smiled, but shook her head. “No, thanks. I’ll wait for the open bar at the gala.”

-

On their way to the gala, Clint finally took in the way Coulson’s suit fit him so goddamn well. It was a classic black tuxedo, with a black tie, the only thing extravagant about it was the silver Rolex peeking out from his sleeve. But, damn, he pulled it off well. With every step the black material hugged his butt, and the jacket accented his broad shoulders.

Maria’s gown was equally understated, a simple black, floor length gown, with a slit going all the way up to her hip. But the way it flowed as she walked, and glimmered in the moonlight, made it look ten times more expensive than it probably was.

-

They’d been at the gala for half an hour before Clint found Pepper. She was standing at the bar, drinking a martini and chatting with Natasha. They both looked like sex on legs, and if Clint wasn’t so fucking pathetically hung up on Coulson, he’d probably have suggested a threesome (probably only forty-five percent joking, with a ninety-five percent chance of failure). As it was, he approached the two and called his order to the bartender.

“Hello, ladies, you both look beautiful this evening!” Clint said, bowing slightly in greeting. The women smiled and tipped their glasses at him. “So, he kind of brought a date.”

They both whip their heads so fast to stare where Clint was looking, he thought they’d have whiplash. They stared at where Coulson and Maria were standing, staring at a painting that Clint couldn’t identify if he was given a hundred years. Coulson’s hand was lightly resting on the small of her back, and she was talking animatedly, gesturing wildly.

“You did specify this was a date, right, Clint?” Natasha asked, raising an eyebrow and taking a deliberate sip from her Vodka.

Clint looked at Pepper and back to Natasha, then to where Coulson and Maria were moving on to the next painting. “I thought so, but apparently not.”

“But, wait, Clint, how is it he ‘kind of’ brought a date?” Bucky said, jumping the shit out of Clint, who realized he’d been staring at Coulson. Bucky was standing just behind Natasha, arm braced on the bar behind her. (And, really, it was not unexpected that Bucky was all but draping himself on Natasha. He was needy as fuck, but in that stand-offish way of men in uniform. It is, however, unexpected that Natasha would stand for such shows of machismo. In fact, it was surprising she finally agreed to go out with him, especially in such a public venue.)

“Well, Maria’s his best friend,” Clint said, “and also a lesbian, but, I mean, look at them. They’re here together; he’s not here with me.”

Natasha and Bucky rolled their eyes and Natasha sighed heavily. “You dumb shit,” she said, “go ask him to dance!”

-

The trip over to where Coulson and Maria stood was one racked with anxiety and self-doubt. (And also momentary glee, when he saw Tony and Steve. They were sitting at a table, off to the side, huddled into each other in a way that screamed, ‘Not quite there,’ but whispered ‘Soon.’)

When he finally caught up to the two, they were stopped in front of another painting Clint would never be able to place and didn’t really care to.

“So, how are you two liking the party?” Clint asked and Maria beamed, nodding as she started to gush over the diverse collection Tony (i.e. Pepper) had cultivated. Clint nodded along, but his face must have shown how far in the dark he was, because Coulson interrupted his friend.

“Maria, why don’t you go introduce yourself to Pepper, I’m sure you’ll get along quite well.” (During that month that Clint had failed at being anything resembling a functioning human being, Pepper had come in twice while Coulson was there. The first time, she sat with Steve and merely observed Clint blushing and failing to ask Coulson to the gala. The second time, she made sure to be at the counter when he walked in, and introduced herself. They had talked about art and shit for about twenty minutes and Clint had nervously paced behind the counter, barely containing his mixture of jealousy and nerves.) Coulson pointed Pepper out to her and sent her on her way.

There was an awkward moment of silence that Clint normally would have babbled through, but he somehow managed to contain himself.

“You’re not big with art, are you, Barton?” Coulson asked, turning back to the painting.

Clint shrugged and looked at the painting, then back to Coulson. “I understand aesthetics. I generally like to look at pretty things.” When Coulson looked at him from the corner of his eye, Clint promptly blushed, realizing how anyone with half a fucking brain would have taken that, and Coulson’s mouth quirked into the closest his face had ever gotten to a real smile in front of him. “I-I mean, I understand when a painting or whatever is pretty. But I never really got into it, no. I never really had any form of formal education until fucking community college, and even then I didn’t really have to take any classes that weren’t for my bachelors in business. I didn’t really have time for the artsy stuff. No one to really worry if I was a well-rounded individual.”

Coulson hummed lightly at him and looked up to the painting. All Clint saw was paint spattering a small child could do. Coulson seemed to get that and turned slightly toward him. “This is a Jackson Pollock. In fact, this is arguably Jackson Pollock’s most famous piece of art, Number 8. He single handedly introduced the ‘all-over’ style of painting, which was a movement in abstract expressionism which emphasized the lack of emphasis in a painting.”

Clint smiled awkwardly and bumped his shoulder to Coulson’s. “All I see is spattered paint.” Coulson snorted and turned the flute of champagne in his hand.

It was then that the song changed, the 1940’s style jazz band Tony had demanded (Pepper had complained about finding a quality ‘40s band in less than a week, and Steve had been blushing in the corner of Clint’s eye, meaning that Tony’s demand had been a result of finding out ‘40s music was Steve’s favorite), started playing Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable.” “Now, Mr. Coulson, while I may know jack shit about art, I do know good music when I hear it.” Clint offered his hand, “May I have the honor?”

Coulson snorted, but took his hand, and they moved it to the dance floor.

-

Clint fell into the movements, not caring that Coulson was leading. He could distinctly feel every place they touched.

The warm heat of Coulson’s hand in his.

The strength in the corded muscles in his shoulder.

The way their thighs brushed with almost every step.

Clint looked in Coulson’s eye, not being able to look away, transfixed by how blue they were. Like a clear spring day.

Clint slid his hand down Coulson’s arm, holding his second hand in his own, and brought them closer together to rest his head on the older man’s shoulder.

They continued to dance that way until the band stopped playing.

-

Just because the next day was Sunday didn’t mean that Clint didn’t have to wake up at five thirty, but somehow it was easier the next morning.

There was a spring in his step that Darcy couldn’t let pass when she got there at nine, “Well, someone got laid.”

Clint glared at her and continued making Steve’s second coffee of the morning. “Not that it’s any of your business, but I didn’t have sex last night.”

Darcy raised an eyebrow, looking at him incredulously, as if to say, ‘Then why the fuck are you so happy?’ (Clint is only now beginning to realize how little his friends speak with their words.)

“Perfect first dates will do that to a guy,” Steve said, and at Clint’s ‘fuck off’ look, raised his eyebrows innocently. “What, do you not consider that a date?”

“While I’ll admit that it was a lovely evening, it was not a date. People don’t bring their best friends on dates,” Tony said, from next to him. (He’d been in the ‘Shop all morning, poking at Steve and harassing the shit out of Clint. If happy/flirty Tony was going to be a reoccurring thing in Clint’s life, he was probably going to need more of the special ingredient in his ‘Irish As Shit Shamrock Cappuccino’ for his own personal use.)

“Thank you, Tony,” Clint said, shoving his expresso over to him. (Or maybe he’d put laxative in one of Tony’s drinks.)

“Ah! Barton got cock blocked by the best-friend!” Oh, yay, to add to his misery here came Loki the hipster and his golden retriever of a boyfriend, Thor. Fantastic. (All Clint really knew about them was that Thor and Loki were raised as brothers, found out that Loki was adopted, and started fucking like bunnies. Clint tried not to think about it too hard, and didn’t really have to, as they were more Darcy’s people than his. The same way Fury, Pepper, and Bucky were ‘Tasha’s.) “I thought that only happened in cheesy rom-coms.”

“I was not cock blocked; he didn’t know it was a date. The sexing party needs to know it’s a date for it to be cock blocking,” Clint defended.

“Come, now!” Thor exclaimed, “You didn’t make yourself clear when you asked? Poor luck! Is he daft?”

Clint sighed and Darcy laughed. “No,” she said, “It’s Clint that’s daft.” The little group laughed (except for Steve, who frowned sympathetically) and with that, Clint shooed them off and told Darcy to go clean the girl’s bathroom (serves her right for thinking he jumps into bed on the first date and calling him dumb). Once he was certain that they weren’t paying him any mind, he leaned against the back counter and threw his head back, groaning and rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hands.

“Bad morning?” asked a familiar voice, and Clint jerked forward, hands shooting to his sides. He blushed when he met Coulson’s eyes and realized how very shirtless he was and how much judgment he was getting from Maria.

“You know, he said you walked around half naked, but I didn’t want to believe him,” she said, moving her eyes up to the menu. She placed her thumb on her chin and swung her forefinger around to tap her nose. “As I don’t know what any of that means, I’ll take something bitter and black, with a shit ton of sugar.”

Clint nodded and said, “Good, because if I remember correctly, that’s also what up next for Coulson, Phil Coulson, here. For the record it’s called a Black Widow.”

Coulson rolled his eyes and Maria raised an eyebrow, “Wow, you actually call him that. I don’t know if it’s more ridiculous that you call him that or that he introduced himself that way.”

Clint shrugged and smirked. “Y’all can sit down; I’ll bring it over to you. Unless you have somewhere to be?”

Coulson opened his mouth, but Maria smiled and pulled his arm, “Thanks.”

-

Clint was done shortly, and went over to their table, placing the two coffees on it. They had sat in the back corner, about twenty feet from where Steve, Tony, Loki, and Thor sat, for which Clint was very thankful.

“Anything else? Darcy made some killer cookies yesterday, and I’m pretty sure they kept.” They both shook their heads, so Clint headed back to the counter.

He stopped on his way at Steve’s table and asked the group if they needed anything.

“Well,” Loki began, “Since you shooed me away before I could even order-”

“Yes, Loki, I’ll fix your usual pretentious fucking tea. Thor, do you want a hot chocolate, or a latte?”

“Hot chocolate, please, good sir!” Clint smiled and patted the taller man on the head, sticking his tongue out at Loki on his way to the counter.

-

Coulson and Maria coming by on Sunday mornings became a thing, just as Thor and Loki coming in had, after the ‘Shop had become their weekday coffee shop. Technically, the ‘Shop wasn’t open on Sundays, but he let his regulars in that had crossed over into friends and pseudo-friends. (It used to just be Steve, Darcy and him, with him and Darcy cleaning the ‘Shop in a very thorough fashion while Steve drank coffee and drew. But then, one day, Thor and Loki were walking by and Thor begged at the door like the overgrown puppy he was and Loki smirked, knowing no one could defend themselves from his boyfriend’s puppy eyes. Then, when Steve got the job to mural-ize Tony’s lobby, Tony started coming by, sometimes with Rhodey or Pepper attached. Natasha didn’t like dealing with all of them at once, but occasionally came in if she knew Bucky would be there.)

Maria stuck with the ‘Black Widow,’ but Coulson continued on his way to find Clint’s best cup.

It was Coulson’s third Sunday at the shop when he reached the last on the list of beverages.

“Attention! Attention ‘Shop goers!” Clint said in his loudest voice, without screaming, and Steve, Tony, Loki, and Thor looked up, because they were the only ones in the shop. Darcy had called in hung over and Natasha was probably just as incapacitated, because according to Steve, she and Bucky had been out until three that morning, drinking, then had a three hour long marathon of sex. “Our dearest Coulson, Phil Coulson has gone through my entire menu! The first ever to do such a feat!”

“How have you not dropped dead?” Tony asked, “You know he puts speed and caffeine tablets in his morning brews, right?”

Coulson’s eyes widened and looked at Clint, “Is that what you meant when you asked me if I had any heart conditions?” It was the most emotion Clint had ever seen him express in one moment.

Clint shrugged and smirked, and leaned forward to brace his head on his upturned hands, fingers framing his jaw. “So, what’s your favorite?”

Coulson opened his mouth, but Maria cut him off. “How about he tells you at dinner?” Coulson froze and Clint’s eyes widened, darting over to the table of his friends, close to the counter. He kind of desperately wished he hadn’t gotten their attention, now.

It felt like all their eyes were drilling into his head as he stuttered, unsure of what to say. On one hand, he desperately wanted to go out with Coulson (and climb him like a mother fucking tree), but on the other hand, it wasn’t Coulson asking him out, it was Maria. And Maria could be a bitch when she wanted to be, and seemed to live to embarrass Coulson.

But Coulson’s so pretty…

“That sounds lovely.”

-

That night, Clint was dressed in a muted burgundy button up and coal grey slacks, and standing in front of the counter, waiting for Coulson.

Natasha was hovering behind him, looking at him every five seconds while fixing Steve another coffee.

Clint pulled on his sleeve and shifted his weight. Steve kicked him lightly and Clint frowned, “What was that for?”

“He’s gonna show up. And, you’re going to wrinkle your shirt,” he said, taking his coffee and walking back to his table with Tony. (Tony was constantly at the ‘Shop now, under the guise of planning the mural with Steve, but Clint knew better. Everyone was susceptible to Steve’s charms and Tony was no different, he’d been following poor Steve around like a puppy, but Steve “wasn’t having it,” according to Natasha, “because he’s afraid people will think that’s the only reason Tony’s having him do the mural.” She proceeded to smack Clint upside the head and told him to get his head out of his ass and start paying attention to what was happening around the ‘Shop, not just in his pants.)

Clint glared at his back and shifted his weight again, biting the inside corner of his lip.

Coulson was half an hour late.

-

Coulson didn’t show up that night.

And he didn’t show up the next morning at his usual designated time.

Clint tried not to think about how much he felt like an idiot.

Fuck.

-

Coulson showed up the following Friday, around noon, looking pretty worse for wear. Really, the entire situation felt like when Coulson got in the car accident, just before the gala, except he looked much worse than before. He had a walking cast on his leg, along with a sling on his opposite shoulder, and two black eyes.

“Coulson, man, what happened this time?” Clint asked, hopping over the counter to usher Coulson to a chair. He shouted to Darcy to take care of the other customers, and to make Coulson a ‘Forget My Pains.’ He sat down with the older man and took in his face. “Seriously, man.”

“Another car accident,” Coulson replied, smiling at Darcy, who was gawking at him as she made his tea.

“Maybe you shouldn’t be driving, man,” Clint teased, or tried to. It came out more of a plea.

He was unable to look away from Coulson’s swollen eyes. Individually, they were less swollen than when he only had one black eye, but because there were two, it somehow seemed worse.

Coulson sighed and took a sip of the tea Darcy had just delivered. “I wasn’t driving this time; I was crossing the street,” seeing that Clint was opening his mouth, he countered, “Legally, mind you. Which I know is a rare thing in New York City, but it’s true.”

“I was worried about you, man. When you didn’t show up Sunday? It seemed out of character for you to just not show, you know?” Clint said, finally looking away from Coulson’s eyes, casting his gaze to where he was picking at his nails. He carefully didn’t mention the date-not-date, and how fucking disappointed and hurt he had been when Coulson didn’t show. He hoped it didn’t show on his face.

Coulson hummed lightly and said, “Well, that’s why I’m here. I felt bad for not showing. I wanted to...explain, I guess. I didn’t want you to think-” he cut himself off, and Clint looked up to his face again. There was a slight flush, high on his neck, but Clint was pretty sure it had been there. Probably from the exertion of the walk into the store on that boot.

“Not that I didn’t understand!” Clint quickly said, picking up where he thought Coulson was leaving off. “I mean, like, Maria’s great, but she seems to not respect your boundaries. I was going to tell you that, last Sunday. It. It didn’t need to mean anything.”

Coulson looked at him for a second, blinked twice, and nodded. “Yeah. Good.”

Clint forced out a smile (What did he expect? That Coulson was going to suddenly profess his love? Say, no, baby, I want to make sweet love to you? Clint knew the limitations of his person. He knew smart, fantastic, cultured Coulson would never plausibly go for a guy like him. A guy who runs a coffee shop off of money he saved up from working at dead end jobs and the fucking circus, for Christ’s sake.) and said, “But we should definitely hang out sometime.”

“Yeah,” Coulson said, presenting his not smile. “There’s a pre-season game on tonight, Yankees, Red Sox. We could have some beer at mine?”

Clint’s smile turned real and he nodded, “Yeah, man, sounds great! I’ll have ‘Tasha cover for me.”

-

Clint would be completely embarrassed if anyone knew how many times he’d changed his outfit before settling on the threadbare t-shirt that showed off his arms and the Levi’s with artfully ripped holes and stress marks.

He was still doubting his choice when he knocked on the door to Coulson’s house. It was a beautiful two story house in Manhassat, with a little yard. (It was about forty-five minutes from the ‘Shop, so Clint had to break out Lucy. Lucy was Clint’s 1994 Harley Davidson Fatboy. It was bright purple and Clint’s proudest possession (which is how ‘Tasha had defended Clint’s purple suit. To which Clint had said, yes, purple was his favorite color, but he’s not fucking Liberace). She lived in the back room of the ‘Shop, with the stock, so Clint only broke her out when the health inspector was visiting, or he had to go further than a half hour walk.) Clint thought the house fit Coulson. It wouldn’t have been out of place in a Shakespearean hamlet, a cottage stuck between a progressive monstrosity of glass and metal and a standard, boring two-story house you’d see in any sit-com.

It took Coulson a moment to get to the door, probably due to his injuries, but Clint was okay with waiting.

“Hello,” Coulson said when he opened the door, shuffling aside to let Clint through. “Is that your Fatboy?”

Clint nodded and smiled, running a hand through his windswept hair. “Her name’s Lucy. Or Lucille when she’s being a bitch.”

“Ninety-four?”

“Yeah, man, you know motorcycles?”

Coulson shook his head and closed his front door. “No. I know Harleys. My dad was an enthusiast. Seemed to stick.”

Clint hummed and looked around. The house was decorated with prints of all kinds of paintings, though most were famous-famous or by famous-famous people, as Clint only vaguely recognized them. Coulson pointed him into the TV room, and went to the kitchen to grab some beers.

When he got back, Clint was jizzing over his seventy inch LCD TV with surround sound. His entire system was state of the art, with every appliance anyone could possibly need, plus an entire wall of DVDs and Blu-rays. “Have enough movies?”

Coulson shrugged and not smiled. “I’m a bit of a movie buff.”

“Museum curator, foodie, movie buff,” Clint said thoughtfully. He ran his fingers over the row of remotes and looked over to where Coulson was arranging his damaged limbs in the most comfortable manner on the plush, crushed leather couch. “I like it.” If only he could tack on ‘interested in guys’ with at least a little certainty.

The game didn’t start for about half an hour, so Clint figured he could look around. On one side of the TV there was a print on the wall of a tree in a moor, with only half its leaves. The other side of the TV sat a print of a flowered twig with a book. Somehow they fit Coulson. Clint leaned closer and noticed they were both signed with a faded ‘Vincent’ and they were also real.

“Are these van Gogh’s?” Clint asked, looking back to Coulson.

His eyes widened and his lips thinned. “Private collection. Comes with being artsy-fartsy.”

“Do you have more real stuff?”

Coulson gave him a confused look. “I don’t have any fake stuff.”

Clint didn’t really know what to say, so he moved to look at the library of movies. He spent a few moments looking, taking in the collection of classics and new and everywhere in between. They didn’t seem to be in any sort of order, which clashed strongly with Clint’s idea of Coulson.

But then he stumbled across gold.

“You have Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood on Blu-ray?” Clint asked excitedly.

This excites you? You just breathed on a van Gogh, but good God, I have an Errol Flynn movie on Blu-ray!” Coulson mocked, rolling his eyes. He took a delicate sip of his beer and shook his head.

“Hey, man. Errol Flynn’s the man. Him and Bogie, man. Oh! And Gregory Peck!” Clint said, “You gotta respect those guys!” (Clint’s only good memories of his mother, between her drunken verbal assaults and her hateful contempt, was watching the classics with her. Her favorite was Gone With the Wind. Clint blames her for his thing for men who are men who are men.)

“You want to watch it? Instead of the game?” Coulson asked.

Clint couldn’t control his excitement. “Really! I mean, if the game matters to you, we can watch it, but I haven’t seen this since I was a kid!”

“Yeah, let’s watch it. I haven’t seen it since I bought it.”

-

 

-

They watched The Adventures of Robin Hood, then The Private Lives of Elisabeth and Essex, but Coulson fell asleep during The Secret Six.

That is, fell asleep on Clint’s shoulder. He didn’t want to move for two reasons.

One, Coulson was asleep on Clint’s shoulder.

Two, Coulson was obviously still in a lot of pain, and Clint didn’t want to jar him by trying to snake out from underneath him.

So he watched the movie and when it finished and he wasn’t asleep, he manipulated the dozen remotes so that the TV was on Nick at Night.

(One would think Clint would be sick of coffee shops, but he had a bit of a weak spot for Friends.)

-

When Clint woke up the next morning, he and Coulson had slipped down and around in the night so that they were laying on the couch. Coulson’s head was still on his shoulder, his arm was also around his waist, and leg between his.

Clint tried to regulate his breathing, so he could just take in Coulson’s face without waking him.

The age and stress and exasperation were gone from his face. All that was left was his fading black eyes, his crooked nose, and his stubble. Clint wasn’t going to wax poetic about how peaceful and young sleep made the man look, but there was definitely something relaxed about him. Maybe like he was happy.

He thought vaguely like worming his way out of Coulson’s grasp, to fix coffee for the two of them when he had the realization that it was eight in the morning.

Eight in the morning on a work day.

Well. Every day is a work day, that’s what comes with only having two employees, but whatever.

He gently shook Coulson’s uninjured shoulder (the one connected to the arm around his waist) and Coulson was instantly awake, jerking into sitting position. “Sorry, sorry, Coulson, man, but I gotta get to work.”

Coulson looked confused, “Do you work every morning shift?”

Clint looked at him, confused for a moment, before moving to grab his jacket and went to grab his shoes. He pulled on his Chuck’s without unlacing them (as he’s wont to do) and pulled on his jacket. “Sorry to rush out, Coulson, but I’m already a few hours late, and it’s morning, and Saturday, which means the douche-bag art kids will be in there, hung over, and ‘Tasha’s going to kill me.”

“Yeah, I get it. See you tomorrow.” Coulson said, and Clint opened the door, but stopped when Coulson called after him, “And Clint? You spent the night at my house, I drooled on your shoulder - I think we’re on a first name basis.”

Clint smiled crookedly back at him and sent him a lazy salute. “Bye, Phil.”

-

It turns out that Natasha thought Clint was out to get laid last night, because she slept in the back room so she could sleep until the last moment. (Natasha didn’t like mornings and mornings didn’t like Natasha. When Clint had first gotten there, he was really confused as Natasha wasn’t the pristine, weirdly perfect-looking person she usually was, instead some haggard version of herself. Her hair was a rat’s nest, her button down shirt rumpled, and she wasn’t wearing shoes or pants.)

There was no convincing Natasha that they hadn’t had sex.

-

The next Wednesday, Phil was out of his boot (It turns out that he had a minor sprain that needed a little rest. He went from the boot to a wrap that made his designer Gucci shoes puff out a little on either side of his ankle.) and sling (dislocated shoulder) when he came in at his regular time. (He hadn’t missed a day since he’d come in the day of their game turned movie night, but hadn’t gone to work either. He’d left about ten minutes after he usually did and mostly complained about having nothing to do. Clint had offered him a stay at Steve’s regular table, “To increase the ambience of the place,” but Phil had declined, saying that he had some paperwork he needed to do anyway.)

“Really, I’m just happy I can go back to work now. I hate medical leave,” Phil said, taking his coffee from Clint.

“Man, it’s weird that a museum curator can say that with such certainty. It’s more expected from, like, a CIA agent’s mouth,” Clint joked, and Phil rolled his eyes.

“Well I’m sorry my bad luck is so weird to you.”

“Not weird, just pseudo-ironic.”

Phil sighed and rolled his eyes. “Anyway. I bought To Kill A Mocking Bird, remastered, on Blu-ray yesterday. If you want, you can go over to my house tonight, I’ll pick you up on my way home from work, we’ll grab dinner on the way?”

Is this a date? “Yeah.” Clint grinned, and he knew it was that kind of grin that made him look a little crazed, but he could not give two shits, right now. “Yeah, man, I’d love to.”

“Okay. I’ll pick you up at about six?” Phil said, starting toward the door.

“Yeah.”

Clint had a date with Phil.

-

“Man, it’s not a date!” Tony said. (He was doing that thing where he was hanging off Steve without hanging off Steve. The seats of their chairs were touching and Tony had one arm along the back of Steve’s chair, his entire body turned toward the blond, but they weren’t actually touching. Steve didn’t seem to take anything sexual from the stance, because he was so not used to people flirting with him.)

Steve looked at Tony with confusion. “How is it not a date? It’s the classic date night, dinner and a movie.”

Tony shook his head, “Oh, my little flower. No. This is a guy putting Clint in the friend zone.”

Clint rolled his eyes. “That term is utter bullshit.”

“Regardless,” Tony said, “He’s trying to distance himself from you. Lord knows why, but he is. If you don’t proceed with caution, Clint, you’ll never tap that.”

“I don’t just want to ‘tap that,’” said Clint angrily. “I like him. And if he doesn’t like me back, whatever. Let him put me in the ‘friend zone.’ I’m okay with being his friend.”

Steve and Tony shared a look. “Dude. That’s heavy for you,” Tony said. “I’ve never heard you talk like that.”

“Well, whatever.” Clint stood up, taking Tony’s empty cup and wiping the table down.

A customer had just walked in.

He had work to do.

-

Phil showed up at five of six, as Clint walked out of the back in a clean shirt and freshly showered.

He nodded to Natasha, waved to Steve, and walked with Phil out to his Acura. They both slipped into the car and Phil asked, “What’re you in the mood for? It’s on me.”

Clint raised an eyebrow, “I can pay for myself, man. No big deal.”

“I invited you out, I’ve got it.” Phil turned at the end of the block. “So. What are you in the mood for?”

“Chinese?”

“Yeah.”

-

They decided to eat in the restaurant, a little hole in the wall place in Queens that Phil loved, about half way between the ‘Shop and Phil’s house.

They were quickly seated and they ordered right off the bat. In the quiet lull after the waitress had left, Clint took in Phil’s fading injuries. “You’re not limping anymore.”

Phil not grinned and looked down to where the cuts on his hands were fading into scars. “Yeah, I’m lucky. Maria broke two ribs, she’s on bed rest for another couple weeks.”

“Maria was with you?” Clint asked, as the waitress sat their drinks on the table. Phil was driving and got coffee, but Clint had gotten a beer.

“We were on our way to the museum from-”

“Would you like anything else, gentlemen?” the waitress asked, but dismissed herself when they both shook their heads.

“So, you were on your way from the ‘Shop?”

“Yes, and we were crossing the street in from of the museum and a Hum-v-er came out nowhere-”

This time it was Clint cutting him off, grinning, “Hum-v-er? What exactly is a Hum-v-er, Coulson, Phil Coulson?”

Phil rolled his eyes, “I almost said Hum-vee. I don’t know why.”

Clint laughed and patted Phil’s hand with his own, as he was retracting it, Phil flipped his own palm up and held on. Clint stopped laughing, but the smile didn’t leave his face.

They continued talking about whatever until their food got there, and even then carried on.

They never once let go of the other’s hand.

-

When they got to Phil’s house it was raining cats and dogs, flash floods style. During the twenty foot sprint to Phil’s back porch from the garage, they got soaking, sopping wet.

“The meteorologist didn’t say anything about rain this morning,” Phil said as they burst through his front door. Clint didn’t even see him pull out a key, it just seemed like he held the door knob for a second before the door opened. Phil went over to the security system’s panel; he typed in the pass-code and turned back to Clint. “If you want, I’ve got some pajamas that will fit you, I can dry your clothes while we watch the movie.”

“Yeah. Yeah, sure. In fact, if you don’t mind, I’ll just strip down right here in your kitchen, so I won’t track wet through your house.” Clint said, smiling innocently.

Phil looked at him for a second, face decidedly blank and gave a tight nod. Clint smiled wider and pulled his soaked shirt above his head. Next were his Chuck’s and socks, and finally he shimmied out of his black skinny jeans. (They were his favorite pair of pants, which was obvious if someone looked at them, they were threadbare at the knees and back pockets, with the hem ripped on the left ankle. There was a square in the right leg where his phone sat, and another in the left back pocket from his wallet.)

Clint looked over to where Phil was watching him, still in his water logged suit. He stepped over his pile of wet clothes, then turned and bent down to pick them up, lingering for a second while collecting them, to make sure Phil got the message. He snapped back up (what he may or may not have learned from Reese Witherspoon movies was none of anyone’s business) and smiled at Phil. “Where do I bring these?”

Phil stared at him for a moment, then nodded towards the door in the middle of the opposite wall. “It’s the only door on the left. I’m going to go get out of this suit.” Clint nodded and moved toward the door. “You can come back in here and make some popcorn if you want, when you’re done. I’m going to take a quick shower, just to warm up.”

“Yeah, okay.”

-

Somehow it just felt right to putter around Phil’s kitchen in his boxer-briefs.

They seemed to follow the same logic when it came to organizing their cupboards, so Clint easily found the popcorn, along with a tea pot and some hot chocolate mix.

By the time Phil had come back, in sweat pants and a t-shirt (toting the same for Clint), the popcorn was in the microwave and Clint had prepared them both hot chocolate. Phil not smiled at the sight and tossed Clint the clothes he’d procured.

“Ready for the movie?”

“Yeah! I’ll be right in with the popcorn. Can you grab the hot chocolate?”

-

It became a regular thing. Once or twice a week, they would get together to watch movies or just have dinner. Clint was quite happy with the progression of their relationship, but Phil didn’t seem that into PDA. Ever since the time at Ming Lee’s, they hadn’t held hands, and they hadn’t kissed yet.

Overall, Phil was quite private, so Clint didn’t say anything; he was willing to let Phil explain his intimacy issues in his own time.

-

Clint stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for the little symbol to change from a red hand to a white walking person. He and Phil were on their way back from Steve and Bucky’s apartment, where the latter had been hosting a small gathering to watch a baseball game. Clint considered himself lucky that his friends took well to his - well, his Phil.

He wasn’t exactly sure what to call him. They hadn’t really talked about it, but Clint was pretty sure they were going steady, but they hadn’t called each other boyfriend, and partner implied something a lot more serious than movie nights that they woke up from tangled in each other and dinners where they casually bumped feet and brushed hands delicately.

He looked over to his travel mate and decided to risk brushing his hand with his own. It turned out well as Phil turned his hand slightly and allowed him to twine his fingers with his own. They walked for an entire block that way, before they got to the alley just before the ‘Shop, which led to a small parking lot that was wedged between the ‘Shop and the two clothing stores it was attached to.

Clint jerked his head toward the door and asked, “Wanna cuppa?”

Phil not smiled and nodded. “Something to help me relax would be nice.”

“I got something in mind.” Clint led him to the side entrance that he rarely used. To tell the truth before he started dating Phil, he’d barely left the shop, except to maybe drink a beer with Steve and Bucky, in which case he’d leave out the front with them.

-

Clint left Phil in his apartment-loft-thing, which made him a little nervous, as Phil had never actual spent any time there. They almost singularly hung out at Phil’s house, which was okay with Clint, as he’d gotten quite bored with his four room dwelling in the back of the ‘Shop.

It consisted of a small kitchen which was separated from the living room by a swinging door and one of those counters with the wall that was a door kind of thing. He barely kept it stocked, except with beer and a bottle of Vodka that Natasha had given him for his birthday a couple years ago. There was some sandwich meat in the fridge and bread he was pretty sure was growing penicillin, but whatever, he mostly ate out.

His living room held a ratty L shaped couch that he’d inherited from the last tenant (Lord only knew how they got the beast in to begin with, which is probably why they had left it there for him), along with a Barcha Lounger that he’d bought a month after he bought the shop, and a TV that had definitely seen better days.

The only good thing about the shit hole was the bedroom. It was massive, massive enough to fit his second splurge as a small business owner, a California King sized, pillow top bed. Of course, he had mere jersey knit cotton sheets and a comforter he’d had since his circus days adorning it, but, hey.

California. King. Sized. Pillow. Top.

Leaving his musings on his apartment and the less than savory opinion Phil was sure to have of it, he grabbed the coffees he’d made and went back out back.

-

When he got back to the kitchen he left Phil in, the older man was staring at the pictures stuck to the fridge with magnets. (Most were from the past few years, or, that is to say, the only good years of Clint’s life, since he bought the ‘Shop. They were pictures of Natasha and Darcy and Steve and Bucky and Clint in the places in between. There were a few of Loki and Thor, a couple of Tony, and one or two of Pepper. The entire front of the fridge was a collage of photographs that reminded Clint of why he shouldn’t hate himself anymore.)

There were only two photos of before. One was of his family, him, Barney, his mom and dad. Clint tried to ignore the bruises on his bare arms in the picture, but he couldn’t when he noticed Phil’s eyes linger on them. The other was from the circus days, a picture of him, Barney, and psychic who taught him to take photographs.

“When I was a kid,” Clint started and Phil turned to look at him. “When I was a kid, my dad was a drunk. A mean drunk. And he took out all his hatred and pain on Barney and I. Mostly me. I’m a bit of a smart Aleck, you know?” Phil’s eyes turned concerned and looked back to the picture. “Barney only really got hit when Daddy Dearest found out he’d failed one test or another, but whatever.

“So Dad, his drinking got worse and worse until one night, him and mom didn’t come home. Barney and I waited up all night, until at about six in the morning, the cops showed up. Daddy the Drunkard drove them off an overpass. Barney and I were at the orphanage for almost two years. No one wanted us. We were damaged goods. Barney was an asshole with a problem with authority. I was a smart Aleck who flinched whenever someone tried to touch me.

“So Barney came up with this idea. You see the circus was in town, and you know, he thought, let’s go there. I remember his words exactly, ‘Clint. Clint it will be just like one of your adventure stories. We’ll run away to the circus and make ourselves a family.’ So I followed him, because I was twelve and dumb and hated myself. But, Jesus, that circus. I was in it for six years and people kept trying to recruit me to their evil ways. I knew better though. It was like my gut just screamed at me not to trust them.

“But this woman, the psychic, she took me in. She was a fraud, of course, but she taught me a few tricks. Got me my own act. They called me Hawkeye. I could notice anything about anyone, a regular Sherlock Holmes.” Clint caressed the edges of the photographs from now. “Most importantly, though, she taught me how to trust people again. She helped me get my GED, and get scholarships for that fucking community college. She taught me to take pictures and how to make a perfect cup of coffee.”

Phil was looking intently at the picture of his family. There was something tight in his face, but when he spoke his voice was as even as ever. “Do you still talk to Barney?”

“Nah,” Clint said ushering Phil, with his coffee, into the living room. “I haven’t even seen him since he took off with one of those people recruiting children to the dark side.”

Phil sat on the couch and Clint sat next to him, less than two inches from his side.

They sat in silence for a few moments, before Phil opened his mouth, and Clint took that as incentive to kiss the shit out of him.

Phil’s lips were dry, but plush under his lips. Clint licked into them, tasting the coffee and salt from the chips at Steve’s and something that was so innately, wonderfully, perfectly Phil. Clint felt his hands, one at his face, gently touching like he’d break, but the hand on his waist was holding hard, hard enough to bruise, like he was going to float away if Phil loosened his grip even the slightest bit.

Suddenly he was in the older man’s lap, pulled there as if it was nothing. Clint pressed their hips flush together, grinding down, and making Phil grown under his breath. Clint nuzzled into his neck, licking and kissing and nipping at the juncture of his throat and shoulder. Phil bent his neck to kiss him again, a peck, then another, until they were tasting each other’s mouth again.

The hand that had been on Clint’s cheek had slipped to the back of his neck, thumb behind his ear, fingers playing with the hair at his nape. Then both hands moved to meet at the center of his back, then Phil’s arms curled around his waist.

He easily picked Clint up and laid him out on the couch, following his mouth with his own and-

Then he was gone.

Across the room.

Grabbing his jacket.

Apologizing for doing such a thing.

Leaving.

-

Clint sat in shock for a moment, confused as fuck and not knowing how to deal with this situation. It was normal for - for whatever the fuck they were - to kiss. It was normal. He hadn’t stepped over the line.

Or had he?

Did Phil-Coulson-Phil (Phil, definitely Phil. Clint knew the taste of his mouth and the feel of his hands on his waist, he could never be Coulson again. Only Phil.) think they didn’t have a whatever? Is that why he never put a label on it?

Was this all in Clint’s head?

-

It had been a while since Darcy and him had given the ‘Shop a proper clean down, so they decided to do that the next morning. Any chair not occupied was on top of the tables, and all of the machines were being taken apart to be completely cleaned, filters replaced, whatever. Full maintenance.

All of them were looking at him with worried expressions, especially Natasha and Steve. (Clint only cleaned like this when he was really depressed. When he found out Clarice the Psychic died. When Bruce left for the Congo with his ex and decided to never come back. When Bobbi demanded the divorce (she didn’t know he’d been secretly pining after her, it wasn’t her fault). Cleaning was never a good thing to see Clint doing. Not at this caliber.)

It seemed like the entire ‘Shop froze when Phil and Maria walked in, why Clint didn’t know, because it was the same time they came in every Sunday. They also didn’t know what happened at Clint’s apartment last night, so Clint supposed it was mostly speculation on their part.

He forced a smile onto his face and asked them if they wanted anything.

“Yeah, Barton, I’ll take my regular,” Maria said, and Phil nodded, which Clint took to say as the next on the semi-finals list. (The semi-finals list was a list of the coffees from Clint’s menu that Phil had liked. It was about half the list, and Phil had said that he was then going to cut it in half again, and again, until there was only one left.)

Clint got to work on their coffees and nodded them over to the others.

He watched them approach their newest seat, the one right next to Steve’s regular table, but upon their frosty reception, they moved to their original seating, in the back corner. Maria looked agitated and was furiously whispering to Phil, who, uncharacteristically ruffled by her response, was whispering furiously back.

As soon as their coffees were done, Clint brought them over to them, and their instantly stopped talking once he was in hearing range.

“Here’s your coffee. Can I do you for anything else?” Clint kept his voice carefully monotonous so it wouldn’t crack. Even thinking about Phil this morning had made his voice crack like a pubescent boy, which was what made Steve give him a worried look to begin with.

They both shook their heads, so Clint nodded and moved away.

-

Thor and Loki left earlier than they usually did, as they had something to go to for Loki’s work, which, even if you gave Clint a thousand years, he could never guess what he did. Natasha begged off for ‘hanging out’ with Bucky, which, by Steve’s scowl, meant monkey sex in Steve and Bucky’s living room. Only Darcy, Steve, Phil, and Maria remained. Steve was drawing at his table and Darcy was counting stock in the back, so really, what Clint was doing wasn’t eavesdropping, it was just that it was quiet and he needed to clean the chairs and tables.

So what if he started with the ones right on the edge of hearing Phil and Maria’s whispered argument.

-

“Look,” Phil said, sipping his coffee, “Yeah, he’s adorable, he’s fantastic, really, but he’s a barista, Maria.” Clint froze for a brief second before he forced himself to keep moving, dropping another chair to the floor and wiping down the seat.

Maria sighed and wiped her hand down her face. “Phil, I think you’re being a bit too judgmental.” In that moment, Clint had never loved Maria Hill more. “So what if he’s a barista? So what if he rents out the back room? And I’m not saying it has to be anything serious, for Christ’s sake. But, man, you need to get laid.”

Clint was confused for a moment. He didn’t rent out the back room, he owned the back room. He owned the entire building, including the apartments above. But he shook it out and listened.

“That’s just a bad idea,” Phil said, shaking his head.

Of course it was a bad idea. Of course.

Clint quickly wiped the cleaner off the table and started back to the counter. To the back room. Where he could ignore everything going on, and take a nap in his not good enough apartment and hate his not good enough life. He heard the tail end of their conversation, though.

“Why?” Hill was always quite stubborn.

Coulson started to make an excuse, but Clint was too far away to hear it.

Clint had never felt so dumb. So mother fucking dumb. Just because they started hanging out outside of the ‘Shop didn’t mean Coulson gave two shits about him. Didn’t mean he was special in any way to him. Didn’t mean that those fleeting thoughts of happiness would come to any fruition.

-

Clint was about to go back to his apartment for the night when Coulson came up behind him. Ironically they were standing in the same exact positions as the day they meant, but instead of wanted to leap across the bar to kiss the handsome man, Clint just wanted to punch him in his stupid beautiful face.

“So I bought a new Sinatra album last night on my way home, and I was wondering if you wanted to come over and listen to it? With some dinner? I’ll even cook.” Coulson’s voice was as unvaried as it ever was, but Clint had become a bit of an expert in reading him, as of late. So he took what Coulson said as a desperate plea to talk to him.

Clint just didn’t understand why, and asked as much, “Why would you want me to do that?”

A brief look of shock overcame Coulson face before falling back to passivity, “What do you mean?”

“Well, I am just a barista after all.” Clint’s voice held a venomous tone he hadn’t used before, but really, Clint had never been this hurt before.

Coulson let the shock show and floundered for words. “You- That’s not what I meant, Clint.”

And that was the last straw, because if anything, Clint knew people. He knew when people didn’t think he was enough. He grew up not being enough. “No, Coulson,” Clint spat out the word, and enjoyed the flinch he got from him. “It doesn’t fucking matter. It doesn’t matter that I fought my way through business school. It doesn’t matter that I scraped tooth and nail to buy this place. It doesn’t matter that I’ve fought every day since then to keep it fucking afloat. It doesn’t matter because you don’t matter, Coulson. You and every white collar asshole like you, who think just because I’m a fucking orphan from the fucking circus, that I’m fucking below you. So fuck you and the fucking high horse you rode in on. I don’t need you. I never needed you. So get the fuck out.”

Coulson stared at him in shock, his face blank of anything else.

“And I would appreciate it if you no longer gave us your patronage, in the future.”

-

After Maria dragged Ph-Coulson (who appeared to be in a catatonic state) from the ‘Shop, Clint leaned against the back counter. He slid down the cabinet and curled up around his knees. He laid his head on top of them and covered his neck with his forearms.

Fuck.

Fuck.

Clint had never hated himself more than he did in this moment.

“Clint?” Clint flinched at Steve’s worried tone, but didn’t look up. Clint didn’t think he could. “Clint. I-What happened?”

“I guess I’ll never be good enough for anyone,” Clint mumbled into his knees. But Steve understood him and sat down next to him, curling his arm around his shoulders.

He seemed to understand that Clint didn’t want words, so they just sat there.

Sat as the sun slowly lowered on the horizon of New York City.

Sat as the sun slowly lowered on the last bits of Clint’s dreams of love.

Sat as the sun slowly lowered on the minute chance of Clint ever being happy.

-

Unfortunately, the store really needed to be cleaned, but Clint really, really, didn’t want to be around people, so he shooed Steve and Darcy out. He locked the doors, flipped the sign to ‘Closed,’ and closed all the curtains.

He went over to the iPod dock under the cash register, which, during work hours, played music typical to that of a coffee shop. He put on the playlist merely marked ‘>:(’ and his ears were instantly barraged with the thudding baseline of a lovely, angry metal song.

He started with moving all the machines on the counters to the tables in the sitting area, so he could scrub down the counters. He moved the machines back, one at a time, replacing and cleaning the things that needed replacing and cleaning. Then he moved to the tables, wiping down the chairs, legs and back and seat and underside, then the tables, going so far as to flip each one over and washing the feet.

It was almost midnight, and Clint was working on the second to last table when he heard the bell over the door ring.

He knew he had locked it, so he didn’t turn around, merely calling over his shoulder, “So I guess Steve told you what happened?” Because ‘Tasha was the only one with a key.

He sure as hell didn’t expect the blinding pain to the back of his skull.

And then there was only darkness.

-

When Clint woke up, he was fucking confused.

(Well, he was more than confused. He was miles and miles and fucking light-years away from confused, but because he was in that state, he couldn’t think of a better word.)

The back of his head hurt like a bitch, and he didn’t know how to deal with it. He was pretty sure that tickling sensation on the nape of his neck was blood, and when he reached up to feel, he realized that, wow, he couldn’t reach up to feel because his hands were tied to the arms of a metal chair. He wriggled for a bit, contorting his neck to see that his legs were also tied and that the chair was bolted to the concrete floor.

What. The actual. Fuck.

-

Clint lost track of time in the concrete, well the only word that came to mind was ‘cell,’ and it was only then that he realized he had no way of telling how long he was knocked out.

Whoever had kidnapped him (And really, what the actual fuck was his life that he gets kidnapped. Out of all the people in his life that he had ever though would get kidnapped, his best guess would’ve been Tony, because he was rich and worth the ransom.) had taken his watch, his shoes, his belt, and his apron that he’d been wearing.

-

If Clint had to guess, he’d say he’d been awake about three hours when he finally got company. The man was tall, and broad, and strong looking, and Clint got a bad feeling.

He approached and placed his booted foot in between Clint’s legs on the chair. He leaned forward on his knee so that his face was merely an inch from Clint’s.

“You know of SHIELD?” he asked, his German accent beyond thick. Clint didn’t, so he shook his head. “You lie.” He proceeded to fucking punch Clint in the fucking face. Clint spat out the blood that flooded his mouth, not thinking about where it would land until it landed on the German’s face. That earned him another punch, this time in the ribs.

“Tell me what you know of SHIELD.”

“I know shit about SHIELD, man, I don’t even know what SHIELD is. I’m a fucking barista, man.” If Clint was getting a little hysterical, he felt the situation warranted it.

“Lies.” Another punch to the face. “You know Agents Coulson and Hill, you know of SHIELD.”

And, wow, of course. Of course this would be about fucking Coulson. “They’re customers. And Coulson was a friend, but I don’t-”

Another punch to the ribs, and this time Clint felt and heard a snap and all the wind was knocked out of him. He gasped for breath as the German did a circle around him.

“Lies. We have been tracking him. He goes to your home. You go to his.” The German grabbed his chin, hard enough to leave bruises (which only reminds him of the ones Coulson left on his hips and Clint has this all-encompassing want to cry) and looked dead in his eyes. “What is SHEILD planning?”

“I DON’T KNOW! I thought he was a museum curator, for fuck’s sake!”

The man stops for a second and abruptly changes tactics. “Then where is Black Widow?”

Clint freezes. No. No way. No way was fucking ‘Tasha in this bullshit too. “Who?”

But Clint’s poker face didn’t seem to win out, because the German smirked and grabbed his left thumb. He bent it back until it just barely hurt, and whispered furiously, “Where is Black Widow?”

“I don’t know who you mean.” And wow, so that’s what a broken thumb feels like.

“We will pick this up tomorrow. Maybe you will be more cooperative then, nein?”

The man walked to the door, smirked over his shoulder, and slammed the door shut behind him.

-

At first, Clint thought it was the echo of the metal door slamming reverberating around the concrete room, but then the noise got louder and sharper, until the buzzing was everything and nothing and Clint couldn’t think.

He was hungry and thirsty. His stomach was growling desperately and his mouth was so parched that his lips were starting to crack. And he couldn’t breathe without feeling a shooting pain go all through his body, starting at the rib he was certain was broken and dispersing through the rest of him.

The only good thing was that he couldn’t feel his thumb, but whenever he looked down at it, hanging limply next his hand, he felt this ghostly weird feeling shoot up his arm.

-

“YOU THINK I COULD GET SOME FUCKING WATER?” Clint shouted at the door. His mouth was disgustingly dry and was starting to develop a film on it, and around his lips. “COME ON, I WON’T LIVE FOR YOU TO INTERROGATE ME IF YOU DON’T GIVE ME-” He’s cut off by the same giant German banging the door open (which stopped the horrid noise), followed by two only slightly smaller men.

One of the men was carrying a bucket and towel, while the other went directly to a set of switches and knobs on the wall.

Suddenly he was tilting backwards, stopping when his head was only a couple feet off the ground. The German walked over to him, so he was standing just behind Clint’s head. “You are thirsty, nein? We will give you water.”

And Clint knew what was about to happen.

Knew before the man with the bucket dunked the towel into the bucket.

Knew before he came over to him and draped it along his face.

Knew before the first sloshing of the bucket above his head.

And then he was drowning. He was drowning. He was going to die in this fucking cell. He was going to die without telling Coul-Phil. Phil. Philphilphilphilphilphilphil!

And then they were done, but not, because he was still leaning back and the big one was yelling questions at him and then he was drowning again…

-

Clint has no clue how long they did that to him, but by the end of it, he couldn’t tell the difference between the water and his tears. His ribs hurt from his sobbing and he was starting to dry heave from all the water he was swallowing. The men left and the door slammed and the noise was back, but at least he wasn’t drowning.-He was still dry heaving and throwing up phlegm and stomach acid when the big one came back, on his own this time.

“You be more complacent, ja? No need to do anything more.”

Clint nodded, and he would have told him anything, but he didn’t know shit.

“Man. I-” he broke off and let out a ragged sob, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know shit. I would fucking tell you, but I-”

He’s cut off by a commotion in the hallway. The German frowns and looks out the window to the hallway, but then the German is falling backwards, and fuck, yeah, the guy was shot in the head.

Clint starts screaming. Just screaming and screaming and nothing has prepared him for this in his entire life. He had a broken rib and thumb and he’d been fucking water-boarded and he just couldn’t. He screamed and screamed and it felt like years, but it was probably only seconds.

Because then Phil burst into the room, gun high and wearing what could only be called a cat suit.

-

Clint doesn’t remember much of what happens next; it’s a blur of Coulson’s soothing voice telling him that he’s safe now, that it shouldn’t have happened, that it would never happen again, that he’d be safe from now on.-Clint wakes up again without knowing where he is. He suffers from a brief period of panic, before he remembers Coulson coming to his rescue. And wow, fuck if that isn’t weird, Clint doesn’t know what is.

He lays back on the hospital bed, not knowing where he is, but oddly okay with it, because he has Coulson’s promises under his belt this time.

And also he’s not restrained, which is always a good sign.

-

The next time he wakes up, Coulson is sitting in the chair next to the bed, coffee in one hand and a file folder in the other. He looks up to Clint almost immediately, laying the papers on the bedside table and the coffee follows.

Clint stares at him for a moment before he sighs. “Well. Since I was tortured for the information, I guess I have the right to know. What the fuck is SHIELD?”

“The Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division. Long in short, we deal with weird covert operations that the general public isn’t supposed to know.”

“So, you and Maria. You’re agents?” Clint asks, staring at the ceiling. He doesn’t want to meet Coulson’s eyes.

“Yes and no. We used to be, and we manage field work, usually on location, but we’re actually assistant directors.”

Clint nodded and closed his eyes. “And Natasha. She used to work for you.”

Coulson hesitated. “Yes.” He paused and sighed again, “It’s complicated. Double, triple agent stuff that only her and the Director really understand. She was a field agent. Mostly worked in espionage.”

“Why’d she get done?”

“I don’t know.” Coulson shifted in his chair. “That’s really something you’ll need to discuss with her.”

Clint took a deep breath and it aggravated his ribs. “The car accidents. Those were ops gone wrong?”

“Yes. Well. The first one, I got a little too close to the action than I should have. The second one, the story I told you was mostly true. Except the street was in the middle of nowhere Germany and the car was less a car and more a small-ish tank and it was less of an accident and more a Hydra agent’s attempt to kill me.” Clint flinched and shook his head. “At that point, I couldn’t stand the idea of lying to you, so I tried to tell as much of the truth as possible.”

Clint quickly turned to scowl at him. “Our entire rela-friendship was a lie, Coulson.” He sees Coulson start to open his mouth and cuts him off. “No. I don’t mean the SHIELD shit, I understand that you couldn’t tell me. I mean that you led me on for months. We dated. We held hands. We kissed, for Christ’s sake. And then I have to hear that it won’t be anything serious or anything less, because I’m a fucking barista. I thought that you cared about me. And even if you only wanted to be friends, then I deserved to know that and not to be teased along like a dog with a bone.”

Coulson stared at him for a second then said, “Clint I don’t know where you got the idea that I thought you being a barista made you any less than me, but it’s not true.”

“I overheard you and Maria talking on Sunday.” Coulson looked confused for a second then not smiled and dipped his head a bit.

“Clint. I wasn’t saying that you were ‘just’ a barista because being with a barista is lower than me, I was saying you were ‘just’ a barista in that you could get hurt being in my world of secret government organizations and terrorist cells and pain. I didn’t want you to get hurt.” Clint gave him a look that said, ‘Good job on that one,’ and he sighed. “Well, obviously that’s moot in hindsight.”

Clint laughed and jerked forward in his bed, kissing Phil with all the energy he had.

-

Clint was dismissed after twenty-four hours observance, so Phil brought him home.

Clint made a vague gesture to where there was a hidden key in between two loose-ish bricks, and Phil let them in. He helped Clint hobble through the kitchen and living room into his bedroom, which Clint only just realized Phil had never seen.

“So, what you deny your average company in anything resembling decorum you make up for ten fold in your bedroom?” Phil asked, looking at Clint’s over indulgence of a bed. Clint smirked and nodded, as if to say, ‘Well obviously the bedroom is the only place I take my company,’ to which Phil rolled his eyes and scoffed, which obviously meant he knew better than that.

Clint hobbled to the edge farthest from the door (also the side he slept on) and made grabby hands at the bed clothes still lying on the chair next to his dresser. Phil rolled his eyes grabbed them, before gently helping him out of his boots, pants, and shirt, all with a clinical detachment that let Clint know there would be no hanky-panky tonight.

But once Clint was down to his underwear, Phil stopped. He stared at Clint, taking in the bruises and bandages and frowning as intensely as Clint had ever seen. His eyes had somehow hardened and softened at the same time and Clint bit his lip.

Clint at his fastest was still pretty goddamned slow for Special Agent Coulson, so Clint supposed that when Clint grabbed the other man’s hand, it was more Phil allowing Clint to take his hand.

“Hey. It’s not your fault,” Clint said, pulling lightly on the hand in his grasp.

Phil let him pull him into sitting next to him. “Except in all the ways it is exactly and irrevocably my fault,” he said, matter-of-factly.

“Oh, fuck that, Phil. You didn’t kidnap me and torture me for information.”

Phil looked intensely dubious, as if that wasn’t his point at all. (Which Clint would concede, it wasn’t.)

“If it weren’t me, then it would be some other person getting tortured ‘because of’ some other agent. These Hydra goons are just that. Goons that desperate for information about something they’re afraid of. And I’d rather it be me than some poor person that really couldn’t have taken it.”

Phil’s face was just as emotionless as ever, but one side of his mouth was higher than the other in the way that meant he was a surprised kind of happy. (For the record, it’s the left side that raises when he’s happy, it’s the right side when he’s rueful, and if it’s both (but still not a smile)...Well, Clint had only seen both sides raised once, and that was when Phil had just shot a German Hydra agent in the head.

“You’re right.” Clint’s eyebrows jumped, so Phil quickly followed with, “Only time you’ll hear it, Barton.”

Clint rolled his eyes and laid back, so that he could shimmy on his pajama pants with the least amount of effort. He continued to lie there, even as Phil stood before him with a loose t-shirt that had definitely seen better days. He heard Phil’s huffy noise and choked down a laugh.

He stretched as best he could, but broken ribs didn’t heal in twenty-four hours, so it hurt more than it relaxed his muscles. It must have shown on his face, because Phil made a small worried noise and slid onto the bed with him. “Clint.”

“I’m fine. I’m fine. I just shouldn’t have stretched like that.” He had Phil help him flip over and onto his knees so that he could get under the covers.

Phil got off the bed and looked down at him with some unknown expression. It was times like this that Clint hated that Phil could be so hard to read.

“I guess I’ll-” Phil started, but Clint cut him off.

“Stay with me tonight, so that you don’t have to worry about me being safe.”

And there was that left-sided smile.

-

A few weeks later and Clint was finally off bed rest, but Natasha wouldn’t let him get back to work (neither would Phil, for that matter, but Clint would have easily ignored him, because it would be easy, but Natasha was scary).

So after missing so many Sunday get-togethers, Clint was finally hanging out with the entire crew (minus Rhodey, as he was off in the Middle East, fighting for freedom, or whatever). It was one of those rare occasions were Loki was letting Thor treat him like something to be coddled, so he was sitting in Thor’s lap, his hair being pet by his boyfriend’s giant paws. Tony and Steve were still in that weird place of not-but-close, in that way that made people around them horny strictly from the tension in the air. Darcy was bustling around, refilling peoples’ drinks and cleaning. Natasha was sitting next to Bucky, her arm on the back of his chair, as he leaned forward, playing cards with Steve, Tony, Thor, and Clint. Pepper sat next to her, legs crossed at the ankle and chatting away, while doing work on the newest Stark Tech phone/tablet. Maria and Phil sat next to Pepper, and sometimes they would contribute to whatever Pepper and ‘Tasha were chatting about, but they mostly made fun of Clint for sucking at poker (“C’mon,” Maria said, “You’re the amazing Hawkeye! You’re supposed to notice everything!” And Clint was bitter about government agents that knew everything).

Darcy came about the table again, grabbing Phil and Clint’s cups after pouring some water into Loki’s and handing him a tea diffuser.

Somehow, this jogged Clint’s memory. “Phil.” He turned and raised an eyebrow. “You never told us what your favorite cup is?”

This got the rest of the table’s attention and Phil not smiled at them. “What if I haven’t decided yet?”

“But Darcy’s been giving you the same drink all day!” Steve said.

Phil looked at Clint for a moment, then sighed and shook his head. “‘Starbucks Can Suck It.’”

“What’s that?” Maria asked as the same time as Tony exclaimed, “Typical!”

Clint smiled and leaned on his elbow, so he could look at Maria easier. “The first drink I made after I was fired from Starbucks. It’s a basic Columbian brew, served black with two sugars and a dollop of honey.”

Maria rolled her eyes and sighed. “Typical.”

“I do not understand!” Thor said in his booming voice. “How is this typical of the Agent?”

“Because, Thor.” Maria turned to smirk condescendingly at Coulson and Clint. “It’s Coulson in a cup.”