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As You Are

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Phil blew out a long breath and leaned outward, tightening his grip ever so very slightly on the edge of the blasted-out floor-to-ceiling windowsill he’d chosen as his vantage point for today’s battle. The swath of destruction that worked its way through Midtown in the direction of Hell’s Kitchen might meander a bit, but it was a more or less straight shot that ended with a lump of greenish-brownish oozing… something… that appeared to be disintegrating sloppily at the corner of 9th and 42nd.

He didn’t envy the cleanup crew.

A burst of static in his ear preceded Maria informing him that one Mr. Elder had been once again remanded into SHIELD custody, and that he could stand down. There was a pause (during which he waited patiently, his eyebrows raised expectantly despite the almost perfect illusion of solitude of his current post) and then she added that, if he should see them, he should impart their agency’s gratitude to the current serving members of the Avengers for their assistance.

“Yes, of course,” he said, pressing his unit deeper into his ear, the better to catch any last-minute inflection on the director’s part. Maria spoke volumes with the things she didn’t say, but it appeared that today everything was Situation Normal. “Sure, ma’am, I’ll tell them when I see them. Coulson out.” And then he tugged the comm out, thumbed it off, and ran a hand slowly over his face. “Ugh, today,” he sighed, not making any move to leave his post in the window. There was something calming about the wind whistling down the corridor of buildings, the tinny whine of sirens in the distance, the isolation.

After today, he sure as hell needed it.

Which was, of course, why only his luck would have the sound of… whistling?... slowly make its way into his awareness.

Phil blinked twice and leaned out further past the ruined glass, careful not to slice his palms as he got a better grip. Whoever was whistling was apparently outside the building and coming down, and, ah. Well, that explained it.

Clint Barton—still all Hawkeye’d up in his armored leather battle gear—was probably three floors above him, tethered to the top of the building by the combination of his belt and a line that looked far too thin to hold his weight. Phil was fairly certain that last eyes-on had clocked Hawkeye at another building over half a mile away, but the fact that he was here, now, really wasn’t all that surprising. For not having any actual superpowers of his own, the man certainly was efficient at what he did.

(There was a betting pool in the bowels of SHIELD that had odds of Hawkeye actually being a mutant with at 1:2. Various theories on what ability he actually might possess circled, though teleportation had been leading the pack for at least the last six months. Phil wouldn’t lie and say he hadn’t been tempted to place a bet, though he’d yet to follow through mostly because he actually wasn’t positive either way. He should get on that.)

Clint was slowly rappelling downwards, only letting out a foot or three of line for every small hop he made down the cement exterior, and had a pensive, dreamy look on his face. Phil couldn’t place the tune he was whistling, but judging by how off-key it was, he doubted very much that even Clint knew what song he was going for.

“Hawkeye,” Phil said, but the Avenger’s most obnoxious didn’t look around. Phil leaned his weight slightly on the windowsill and watched his progress; he appeared to be moving easily. No stiffness, nothing jerky in his hands or hips. He’d probably lost his hearing aids in the melee again, is all. Or turned them off. Or blew them up on purpose, because really, who the hell knew with Clint. But no matter; he’d drop down almost directly over Phil’s position in a few moments anyway, so he’d spot Phil without needing to hear him.

Inspiration pinging, Phil took a step back into the building’s interior shadows and waited as Clint’s even bootfalls crept closer. And sure enough, perhaps ninety seconds later came two booted feet swinging into view, which Phil (because honestly, who could resist) reached out and tugged on lightly.

“Gah!” Clint released his hold on the line with uncanny speed, dropping five feet and centering himself in the window, bow drawn, in half an instant.

Phil grinned and awarded him a golf clap.

Clint blinked and deflated, reslinging his bow over his shoulder and giving Phil a murderous look. “Goddamnit Phil.” His voice was pitched slightly too loud, and there weren’t any telltale wires leading into his ears. Probably removed on purpose, then.

When Phil didn’t make any move away from the windowsill, Clint glanced behind him into the ruins of what had once probably been a law office. “This building’s not safe, man. Didn’t you hear the evac orders?”

/yes hear/ Phil signed. /disregard/ Clint was stellar at lip reading, but Phil preferred the ASL practice.

Clint narrowed his eyes. “How’d you know I lost my ears? I wasn’t on SHIELD comms. Don’t tell me you guys are hacking our band again, Tony’ll be pissed.”

/I say you name you no react/ Phil explained smoothly, and then screwed up his face exaggeratedly, tapping his ears lightly before signing, /you yell/

“Yeah, well, shut up, I’m tired,” Clint huffed, though he lowered his voice as a small smile crept onto his face. And then he just sat there, looking pleased for absolutely no reason, suspended in midair. “Right,” he said eventually. “Lemme in.”

Phil took a generous step backward, watching as Clint corrected his idle swing on the line with precise tugs and one foot bouncing off the edge of the broken window. Then he stilled for a moment before he started swinging his legs and edging closer to the opening. Phil waited, timing the swings, and then took the opportunity to catch a foot, hauling Clint in and away from the drop.

(He may have timed it a bit earlier than Clint’d been anticipating, but it was more amusing that way.)

Clint took this with his usual grace—which is to say none—and swore creatively. But he was grinning and laughing by the time Phil disentangled the two of them, though, so Phil counted it as a win.

“Hold on, hold on,” Clint gasped after they’d sloppily righted themselves—there’s no real graceful way to enter a building from fifty stories up off a line, especially when you’re being dragged around by your foot and your landing pad’s a minefield of broken glass—and dug around in one of his pockets before emerging with a battered pair of purple earbuds. “I didn’t put ‘em on,” he explained as he screwed them in, “’cause I didn’t think I’d be running into SHIELD agents at the top of abandoned buildings.”

“Well,” Phil said, amusement threading his voice, “clearly you should expect the unexpected when it comes to me.” /you know I like surprise you/ he signed.

“Fair enough,” Clint allowed, smiling. “But seriously, what’re you even doing here? I haven’t seen you since that shit went down with MODOK.” He scratched absently at the back of his head, and Phil belatedly realized that he had a stripe of dried blood crusted into this hairline. “I thought you were stationed in, uh, Bogota? Something like that.”

“Barbados,” Phil corrected him mildly, reaching out and turning Clint’s head to get a better look at the cut. Clint frowned but didn’t protest; the wound looked mostly superficial, though it was still bleeding sluggishly. “You should get this looked at.”

“Eh, head wounds and all that,” Clint said dismissively, waving Phil’s concern away with a flap of his hand. “Bogota, Barbados, whatever… But you said you were great last time we talked. Why’re you back in New York?”

“Mmm, this and that,” Phil hedged, but sighed in defeat when Clint crossed his arms, unmoved. He wasn’t in the mood to argue today, and Clint was a like a dog with a bone. “Oh, fine,” he huffed, and glanced around the ruins of the office. It was probably swanky enough… and sure enough, a snap of a locked drawer and a quick rummage resulted in a (faintly dusty) bottle of scotch. The accompanying glasses were broken, but Phil was sure that they’d be able to make do.

Clint grinned fiendishly when Phil passed him the bottle, and took an uninhibited, healthy swig before saying, “Okay, so what made Phil Coulson leave the dream post in favor of dreary old New York?”

“First of all,” Phil contested through a mouthful of his own, pointing a finger in Clint’s face, “New York is not dreary. It is the most exciting city on the planet.” Clint scoffed and muttered something about Rio, but Phil soundly ignored him. “Secondly, I needed a change of pace, is all. See some new faces.”

Clint snorted at that and took the bottle back, holding it by the neck as he turned and wandered deeper into the building. That decision may perhaps not have been the smartest thing, as the floors were definitely threatening to give way, but Phil followed gamely anyway. Clint had the booze, after all.

They walked in silence for a minute or two, inspecting the décor around them. Whatever the offices were that they were invading certainly were swanky, all glass doors and tastefully muted, fancy art. Everything was plush and clearly expensive, and even the conference room chairs looked comfortable. It was a far cry from SHIELD”s usual plasteel manufactured crap.

“New faces?” Clint said suddenly, picking up the vein of conversation. “Phil, you work for SHIELD. Nobody’s new at SHIELD.”

“We’ve got red shirts,” Phil disagreed, perhaps a touch callously. He poked at a potted plant; huh, real flowers and everything. “We get new recruits all the time.”

Clint barked out a laugh and shook his head. “Jesus, I can’t believe you just said that. You’re a terrible person.”

“Hey, you laughed, asshole,” Phil countered, but he cracked a smile when he saw that Clint was grinning. Clint shrugged.

“I never claimed that I wasn’t a terrible person,” he said, and finally stilled in front of a cushy-looking leather couch that bordered what had probably been the waiting area. “But I think we’re on similar levels of terribleness, as human beings go, so at least the company’s good.” He flopped down on the couch, ignoring how the floor under his feet creaked ominously. Phil settled a hair more gingerly after brushing away some broken glass, but leaned back and accepted the bottle when Clint offered it.

“Cheers to that,” Phil said seriously, taking a half-swallow. He considered the original question. “But as far as reassignment goes, I… well, I had a disagreement with my superior at the field office.”

Clint’s brow furrowed. “You bucked orders again? And who was it?”

“It wasn’t bucking orders. And: Gonzalez.” Phil took another swallow for good measure as Clint’s face clouded over even more.

That dickwipe,” he grumbled. “I hate that guy. He’s a tool. If you didn’t disobey, then the hell were you two fighting about?

“Nothing much. Personal stuff,” Phil prevaricated. “Look, it’s not… it’s really not a big deal. I wanted to come back to New York anyway, but then even that’s going up in flames, so…” he trailed off and glared at the bottle accusingly. He was starting to feel a little fuzzy. Maybe he shouldn’t have said quite that much.

Clint sat forward on the couch. “Wait, what’s going up in flames?”

“Nothing,” Phil said churlishly. Clint took the bottle back, probably out of spite, but didn’t drink from it.

“Dude,” he said instead, all soft edges and concern. “Trust me. If anyone knows anything about stuff going up in flames, it’s yours truly.”

Phil hummed in resigned agreement. And, perhaps lubricated slightly by his suave friend Johnnie Walker, said, “I was on a date when today’s call came in.”

Clint cocked his head. “Aw, Coulson, that sucks.”

Phil shook his head. “No, you misunderstand: it was a break up date.” He scratched uncomfortably at his forehead. “And I just punctuated the point when I got called away to deal with today’s cluster perpetuated by Mr. Elder.”

“Futzin’ Mole Man,” Clint agreed sympathetically. “He’s a dickwipe, too.”

“Mr. Elder’s assignation as a dickwipe or not,” Phil said dryly, “is not the point of contention. Rather, the point remains that this was just the latest in a long string of failed attempts at dating.” He sighed. “And coming off my argument with Gonzalez, and after the mess that was the last Secret Avengers mission…”

“That wasn’t a mess,” Clint said defensively. “We saved the world and shit.”

“And shit,” Phil agreed. “Some of which resulted in a booby-trap of acid to Nick’s face, Natasha trapped for an extended time in a horror dimension with an assassin who wanted her head, eldritch abominations almost making it onto our plane of existence, and my near-brush with mental collapse.”

“Don’t forget MODOK’s boner for Hill,” Clint added unhelpfully.

Phil took a deep breath. “However could I have forgotten that. Please, remind me at every possible opportunity.”

Clint smirked. “Your wish is my command, boss.”

“Terrible,” Phil muttered, and leaned back against the couch and covered his eyes. “God, the mental images…”

“Okay wait,” Clint said, interrupting Phil’s unfortunate train of thought. “You said breakup date?” He looked righteously indignant on Phil’s behalf. “Erratic schedule aside, who the hell would want to break up with you? I mean, you’re hot stuff, Phil.”

Phil turned his head and regarded Clint seriously. He had no idea what exactly were Clint’s thoughts on attractive men, but experience had shown that he trended toward the, er, more buxom end of the spectrum of classically gorgeous women. He’s not sure what that clear preference said about his ability to trust in Clint’s assessment of his level of desirability. (To be safe, Phil glanced mistrustfully down at his chest, which was currently hidden under three layers of ash-smeared suit. No breasts, so… that was a thing.)

“Thanks, I think? And he’s an architect. Also, to be fair, the last six months have seen nine buildings he’s designed destroyed, and I was at the forefront of every op.” Phil sighed. “I think he’s started taking it personally.”

But then when he looked back over at Clint, he found that he was being stared at. While this usually isn’t something that would ruffle him, Clint’s stare was known for being very… penetrating. Phil crossed his arms defensively. “What?”

“Dude,” Clint said, and leaned forward, clasping Phil’s shoulders between broad, calloused hands. “Dude!”

And now Phil’s alarmed. If he were a lesser man, he’d say that his spider-sense was tingling, but Parker’s an annoying ass of a sometime asset, so he settled for labeling himself as wary of such obvious enthusiasm. “What?” he asked again, with a touch more emphasis this time around.

Clint’s grin started to border on manic. “Did you just come out to me?”

Oh. Oh, shit. Phil replayed the last minute of conversation in his head, and coming up wanting, glared at the bottle of scotch that Clint had deposited on the ground next to their feet, betrayed. Damn it all. “I… I suppose I did,” he said slowly. This had the possibility of becoming a problem, though Clint probably wouldn’t react negatively… “Look, I promise, it’s not… I would never take advantage of our working relationship. If you’re uncomfortable…”

Clint’s face fell with every stuttered word, and when Phil said ‘uncomfortable,’ he held up a hand, halting him. “Whoa, whoa. Hey, Phil, I’m not… why would you think…?” Phil just looked at him, and understanding dawned on Clint’s face, because despite his reputation, he could more than put two and two together. “Gonzalez. That’s the disagreement you were talking about.”

With a sigh, Phil said, “There are… the anti-homosexual sentiment near where I was stationed can be extreme. Gonzalez said that certain aspects of our mission were unsafe for a man like me.” He pressed his lips together, annoyed. “Besides the fact that I’m smart enough to keep it in my pants, there was nothing about the mission… He was just angry because I’d smiled wrong at one the new…” He shook his head. “Nevermind.”

“Well,” Clint said after a beat of silence. “I’m about as far from homophobic as possible, so no worries there.” He clapped Phil on the shoulder. “And while I’ve never had it given to me by anything other than a strap-on, I can certainly see the appeal.” At that, he gave Phil an extremely blatant once-over, and Phil blinked.

“Wait—” he said, but the building chose that moment to rumble ominously, and the floor beneath them tilted by several noticeable degrees. Clint stood up, glass crunching under his boots, and extended a hand.

“You know what’s fun when you’re tipsy?” he asked, and grinned when Phil shook his head, slowed by the booze and the rapid realignment of his mental order regarding one Clinton Francis Barton.

“Um,” Phil offered lamely.

Clint took pity. “Rappelling down the sides of collapsing buildings,” he said, sounding positively gleeful—or at least too thrilled than he should be when the very structure of the building you’re in starts collapsing. “C’mon.” Phil didn’t argue; they turned as one and beat it back toward the window Phil’d pulled Clint through earlier.

“You know what’s more fun?” Phil countered, his brain finally catching up as the window loomed into sight. He held up his key fob as they bolted through the abandoned office and approached the shattered glass. Underneath them the floor tilted even more, now at enough of an angle that smaller items started to slide sideways across it.

“Huh?” Clint asked. He was still grinning, the adrenaline junkie.

“Flying cars,” Phil proclaimed just as Lola swooped into sight just outside the building. He grabbed a tight hold of Clint’s wrist; no time to secure a line for safety. “Jump!”

Clint whooped and landed in the back; Phil slid smoothly into the driver’s seat and pressed the pedal down all in one motion. Behind them, the building started collapsing into itself.

They were already gone.


“Hey,” Clint said a half-week later, rapping his knuckles lightly on the doorframe of Phil’s shiny new office at the downtown office as he leaned against the jamb. “What’cha up to this afternoon?”

Phil surveyed the mess of paperwork spread across his desk with the air of a condemned prisoner. This transfer—lead field ops coordinator for North America—was resulting in so much more bureaucracy than he’d expected. Just because he was good with paperwork didn’t mean he enjoyed it.

“Drowning,” he sighed. “I’m fairly certain that the paperwork on this desk alone has contributed to the extinction of at least three previously undiscovered Amazonian species of tree frog.” He picked up a sheet of paper: an inventory request for stock of inventory requests. “I imagine that they were patterned in spots of neon pinks and purples and ribbited righteously while valiantly liberating their territories from the scourge of giant malarial mosquitos, and in their memory my goal is a paperless office by the end of the fiscal year.” He put the paper down and pointed a finger in Clint’s direction. “Or earlier,” he added fiercely.

Clint nodded sagely. “Well that’s weirdly specific.”

“Don’t mind me,” Phil told him, deflating, the corners of his mouth drifting up. “I’m slap happy. I don’t remember the last time I left this damn office.”

“Then I have the perfect solution,” Clint decided, unfolding from his slouch against the door and taking a step or two into the room. He smiled, and Phil narrowed his eyes; he seemed a touch nervous. “Come shoot things with me.” Clint gestured to the collapsible bow and two full quivers he had strapped variously about his person. “Ororo and Logan gave me use of their situation room under the school for the afternoon, and I want someone to play with.”

“You’re not helping the cause of convincing people you’re not a mutant, you know,” Phil pointed out as he stood, shrugged into his jacket, and pulled out a duffel from under his desk. He didn’t need any convincing. The mood he was in today, Director Hill could take his office and burn it to the ground for all he cared.

Efficient as always, he double checked his usual gun and ammo before crossing to the locked cabinet where he kept his personal-use weapons and pulled out a spare stunner, a rifle, another Glock, and extra rounds for all three for good measure. Clint did say they were going to shoot things, after all.

“Dude,” Clint sighed, tapping his foot as Phil gathered his things and then hovered at his office door, keys in hand (though the thought of anyone breaking in to steal his paperwork was completely unfathomable). Phil seriously considered leaving the lock open for a long moment, but the resulting inevitable write-up for failure to secure documents would just result in more paperwork, so he resignedly capitulated to reason and turned the deadbolt.

“Dude?” he prompted Clint, who he found was watching him with a faint air of disbelief. It was probably the arsenal he kept in his office, but a man could never be too prepared, not when he worked with SHIELD. And like hell he was going to leave his favorites in the armory; it was thirteen floors away. That would be like asking for a coup.

Clint shook his head back to reality. “Dude,” he affirmed. “Why would I dissuade rumors of my mutant-ness? I’ve got serious money riding on that pool.”

“Of course you do,” Phil muttered, and followed Clint up two floors to the roof where a Stark Industries Quinjet was waiting. “So you just train with the X-Men on your free days?” he asked as they climbed in. Clint shot him a grin and buckled up, gesturing magnanimously for Phil to take the copilot’s chair.

“Sometimes.” Of course he didn’t expand any further, and they spent the next several minutes strapping in, settling their headsets, and checking that systems were go.

Still curious, Phil stared over at him once initial pre-flight check was finished. “What’s the connection there, then? I’ve seen your bloodwork, I know you’re not a mutant.” He’d accessed the files immediately after running into Clint during the Mole-Man debacle, and had been oddly pleased with himself to see that he’d been right in his gut assessment: Clint did all that he did with nothing more than normal human blood.

Clint pressed a hand to his heart and then flicked several switches before pulling back on the yoke; the ‘jet’s engines thrummed as they rose to a hover ten feet over SHIELD headquarters. Phil’s stomach swooped happily. He loved flying. “Aw, Phil. That’s sweet that you pulled my bloodwork.” Clint winked, and Phil frowned, residual pleasantness of the G-forces lost. What on earth was Clint doing? Was he flirting?

Clint dropped aggressively purple sunglasses over his eyes and shot him a wide grin. “So you know I’m clean, I mean.” He angled his microphone closer to his mouth and glanced over the top frame of his glasses. “Regarding all the sex we should have,” he said in stage whisper.

Phil blinked slow, now completely discombobulated and unsure if Clint meant it, or… Better just not to go there. He crossed his arms. “Always good to have all the information,” he allowed. “I’m a stickler for the details.” Clint turned away, ostensibly to concentrate on the flight path, but he wasn’t quick enough to hide the smirk that crept onto his face.

“You give me hope like that,” he said, “and I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

“Lord save us from insufferable archers,” Phil intoned. Clint laughed at that, and pointed the ‘jet toward Westchester.

It was a short flight and they didn’t talk much; these smaller model ‘jets were great for efficiency but balls for conversations. Too much thrust with too little structure to dampen the roar of the engines. Phil watched with interest, though, first as Clint grinned and traded good-natured barbs with someone on the mansion’s end of the line, and then as the basketball court split open to reveal a sleek hangar, into which Clint guided them deftly.

“C’mon,” Clint said a few minutes later, as the ‘jet’s engines ticked over into powered-down cool. They abandoned their flight helmets and headphones and hopped free of the cockpit, Phil with duffel in hand, Clint leading the way out of the hangar and down an underground corridor with the ease of someone well-used to the maze of tunnels that made up the X-Men’s base. Phil looked around with interest; while he was privy to the basic workings of this exceptionally powered superhero group, he’d never met any of them other than Kitty and Logan. And while Ms. Pryde was a delight, Wolverine was decidedly less so.

“We probably won’t run into a lot of people,” Clint said, a touch apologetically. “Class is in, and all that.” He gestured overhead vaguely. “I mean, it is a school.”

Phil shrugged. It was all fine. “I was promised the opportunity to shoot something?”

Clint grinned in response and stopped abruptly in front of a nondescript door set into a reinforced wall. “Oh, man, Agent Coulson. You have no idea.” The door slid open in front of them, revealing… four bare walls and a floor lined with the some sort of safety covering. It was firm enough that it wouldn’t throw off your balance, yet slightly giving in the case of a fall. Phil rocked slightly on it and shot a glance in Clint’s direction.

“This is less impressive than I’d pictured,” he said dryly as the door swished shut behind them.

Clint’s responding grin turned something two steps from deranged. “Hey, Bobby, we’re in,” he said into thin air. Phil’s eyebrows lifted, but then there was a click and an amused voice drifted out over speakers.

“Hey, Clint. You and your friend ready?”

“Bobby’s the best,” Clint imparted with a crazy smile. “He programmed us up something nasty, I’m sure.”

Phil had precisely three seconds to worry about the wisdom of ‘nasty’ programs, when the walls shimmered and grew, the floor sprouted smoking debris, and he and Clint found themselves facing down what appeared to be a legion of somethings that looked sort of like rolling trashcans. Bulbous dots marched up the sides of the robots(?) and each had two little arms that nebulously resembled eggbeaters and plungers.

“Well alright then,” Phil muttered, and dropped the duffel. “This is—”

“Ex-ter-minate!” the robots declared. Clint laughed like a crazy person and rolled to the side, taking cover and coming up with his bow.

“Move your ass, Phil!” he shouted with a grin. “You get hit with one of their lasers, you lose the game!”

“The game?” Phil shouted back, ducking just in time to avoid one of the promised lasers, which vaporized a rock behind him instead. “What’re the rules?” He covered and took aim, frowning when his bullet just pinged off the metal exoskeleton. Recognition niggled at the back of his mind; these robots looked very familiar.

“Whoever kills more, wins,” Clint declared as he let an arrow fly. The robot nearest him squalled in melodramatic defeat as theatric electricity surged over its chassis before it stilled and went dark. Clint whooped in victory. “One!”

“Like hell,” Phil countered, starting to grin himself, and switched out to his stunner rounds. “You’re on, Barton!”

The next hour was a blur of dramatic robot deaths and blue lasered vaporizations, and both Clint and Phil let out identical shouts of victory when the last hostile shuddered to a halt, toppling with a sort of drama that shouldn’t have been possible with such a wide base. Phil rose from his crouch and walked over to it, kicking his feet through imaginary dust as he went. They’d come out even in the count: 35 each.

He was sweaty and tired, his hair mussed, had several irreparable scorch marks on his suit, and couldn’t remember a time in recent history where he’d had more fun. “What are these things?” Phil asked, pinging the reinforced toe of his field dress shoes (what, he liked to be prepared in all eventualities) off a scrap of metal that had met the wrong end of an exploding arrow.

“Daleks,” Clint said from where he was perched a couple yards away, ten feet in the air on a half-collapsed wall. “From Doctor Who?” He gave Phil an incredulous look. “I thought you were a nerd, Phil, c’mon… you’re losing cred, here.”

Ah. Phil knew the damn things had been familiar. “Huh. Never really got into the show.” He crouched down and picked up a plunger, inspecting it closely. “They can’t possibly look like this in the real show.”

“Oh, they do,” Clint assured him, swinging down and coming to stand next to him. Phil looked up at just the wrong—or right—time, and his breath momentarily caught in his throat. Clint was just as dirt-smeared and mussed as he was, and had a sizeable hole seared into the purple chevron pattern on his t-shirt over his heart. His dirty-blond hair was slicked with something more viscous than sweat-oil from faulty robots, probably—and the satisfied grin on his face was radiant.

He was absolutely gorgeous.

“They…” Phil said dumbly. “Um.”

Clint’s grin morphed seamlessly into a smirk. He extended a hand, which Phil managed to gather enough wits to grasp, and hauled Phil to his feet. “Whaddya think of the Danger Room?” Clint asked.

Phil blinked back to reality. “Well—” he glanced around the smoking debris field surrounding them. It looked like it extended for miles, despite Phil distinctly being aware that the room couldn’t actually be more than a couple hundred feet square. “Beyond awe-struck, honestly.”

“Yeah, I have no idea how they do it,” Clint imparted with a low voice, leaning close. He smelled like clean sweat and dirt, and Phil had to consciously rein himself in from taking a lungful and licking up the line of Clint’s throat. What was wrong with him? He’d never reacted like this to Clint before.

“It’s our wily mutant wiles,” another voice said, and Phil blinked away from Clint’s face in favor of turning to see who was talking, which—well, there was a doorway standing open in the middle of thin air, framing two grinning men. Phil recognized both of them from SHIELD files, actually—Bobby Drake and Kurt Wagner.

“Bobby, Kurt,” Clint said with a grin, and stepped away. Phil belatedly realized that Clint had still been holding his hand only when it slipped out of his grasp, and he took a deep breath to center himself before turning to follow.

The blocky mutant resembling an ice shard, Bobby, grinned back and stepped into the room. He seemed roughly Clint’s age—though with no actual visible skin it was rather hard to tell—but had eyes that seemed older than his years. “You two have fun?”

“Yeah, man,” Clint gushed. “Thanks for this, it was great.”

“I programmed it,” Kurt chimed in, his accented voice soft, his graceful tail twitching behind him. He brushed thick, gloved fingers over a panel in the doorway and a moment later the debris of their battle started to fade. Phil watched in fascination as a smear of oil evaporated from his skin. “I am glad it was enjoyable.”

Clint clapped him on the shoulder and Kurt smiled back with sharp teeth. “You’re a master,” Clint declared.

“Yes,” Phil agreed, walking over and extending his hand first to Kurt, then Bobby. “I needed this. Phil Coulson, and I am awfully grateful for the use of your facilities.”

“Aw, manners,” Clint mumbled, scrubbing a hand through his sweaty hair. “Sorry, sorry. Phil, this is Bobby—Iceman—and Kurt—Nightcrawler. Guys, I’ve worked with Phil on and off with SHIELD for years. He’s my favorite one there.”

Phil couldn’t resist shooting him a wide smile, still a little drunk on adrenaline and the nearness of Clint. “Why Clint, I didn’t realize.”

“Well, we’ve had our moments,” Clint said softly.

“That we have,” Phil agreed, and there was a heartbeat of charged silence that Phil couldn’t easily explain. Bobby broke it with an amused snort and clapped his hands together.

“Well, any friend of Clint’s is a friend of ours,” he declared. “You’re welcome back anytime you’d like, Phil, and maybe we could even talk you into giving a couple weapons demos to the older students. You had a couple moves out there that I’d never seen before.” Around them, the remaining detritus had fully faded and Phil glanced around, getting his first good look at the room.

It was just as bare-bones as he’d first seen: four walls, floor and ceiling, though there were carefully-masked panels of some different materials than the rest of the room inset to the walls in an even pattern throughout. There was also a small viewing window set up over the door—presumably the control room—that Phil had missed before.

“Sure,” he said, turning back to the Bobby and Kurt. “Though I don’t know what use my weapons training would be to people with your sorts of abilities.”

“Self-defense is important to us,” Kurt said with a smile. “Not all our students have mutations that can be used to inherent offence. We protect all mutants, here.” This was said with such an air of gravitas that Phil didn’t doubt him even a hair. These men would no doubt kill for their charges. He approved.

“And Clint’s a favorite around here, anyway,” Bobby added, turning and subtly leading them out of the room. Their borrowed time was up. “He gets all sorts of privileges,” he continued, elbowing Clint in the side for good measure.

Kurt leaned in and said sotto voice, “You know that your Mr. Barton kicked Magneto in the face during their first encounter? It’s made him something of a legend amongst the children.”

Phil fought down a proud laugh. Typical of Clint to piss off one of the most notorious mutant terrorists in recorded history. “I can imagine.”

They waved goodbye to Kurt and Bobby in the hangar, and Clint steered the ‘jet back to NYC as the sun was setting. “You have fun today, Phil?” he shouted over the roar of the engines.

“You have no idea,” Phil yelled back, and they settled into easy silence as Clint flew.

Back at base, Clint jumped out of the ‘jet and walked Phil to the hangar doors, his face screwed up with some emotion Phil couldn’t place.

“What?” he finally asked. “If you’re worried, know that I truly had fun today, Clint. We should do this more often.”

Hope bloomed on Clint’s face. “You mean it?”

Phil shrugged, a little wrong-footed. He really had had a blast. Nothing like shooting fictional robots in a state-of-the-art mutant secret facility to blow off some steam, though he wasn’t sure why Clint suddenly seemed so nervous on the drop-off. “Sure.”

“Okay,” Clint said, nodding. “Good, okay.” He glanced around. “I sorta wish I wasn’t bringing you back to work, though. You should probably get some sleep.”

Phil thought about the mountain of paperwork on his desk, and his empty apartment all the way on the other side of town. He might just cut his losses; shower here and pass out in one of the temporary bunks. He could at least get an early start that way. “I’ll sleep,” he promised Clint. They halted in front of the elevators that would bring Phil back down to the office floors.

“So…” Clint said, and rocked back on his heels. “Um. I guess I’m gonna go home.”

Phil looked at him. “…Okay?” He half-turned toward the elevator door. “I’ll see you around, Clint.”

“Just—” Clint’s hand was warm on Phil’s arm, imploring Phil to turn back around. Phil did so, utterly unprepared for Clint to bite his own lip in a show of nerves that hit Phil with such a wave of lust that his knees nearly buckled. He really needed to get some sleep. He was reading far too much into this whole situation.

But then Clint was stepping close, and Phil sucked in a breath just in time for Clint’s lips to cut off his air; a firm, unapologetic press that left Phil reeling when Clint pulled away a long moment later. “Call me when you’re free,” Clint murmured, much too close, not close enough. “I liked today a lot, Phil. Don’t leave me hanging.”

“I—” Phil stammered, but Clint was already gone, blue energy ramping up from the ‘jet as he swung in, giving Phil an energetic wave as he took off.

Phil nodded to himself as the Quinjet disappeared into a speck of black against blue. “Right. I should talk to Nick.”


“And?” Nick appeared epically unimpressed for all that Phil had woken him from his post-mission nap. He suppressed a yawn behind his hand.

“No, you don’t get it,” Phil complained, stilling in his pacing for half a second before resuming, locking his hands behind his back so he wouldn’t mess further with Nick’s fastidiously arranged knickknacks. “You didn’t hear me. I went on a date. With Clint Barton.”

And?” Nick stressed. “You’re gay, he’s apparently bi, who the shit cares?” He waved a hand in the air, his eye glinting evilly. “I mean, it’ll blow up in your face eventually, because we’re talking you, and you and I both know you don’t got exactly the best track record with boyfriends,but why not have some fun while you’re at it?”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Phil said dryly. “Dick.”




“Douch—” Phil waved away the insult. Don’t get distracted. “Point is that I didn’t know it was a date.”

“And yet you scored yourself a good-night kiss,” Nick pointed out through another yawn. “Cheese, I don’t know why you’re upset. Explain it to me like you would a child.” He rested his chin on his hand and assumed a condescendingly mocking listening stance. Phil ignored his assholery and settled on the opposite side of Nick’s couch.

“I didn’t even mean to come out to him,” Phil shrugged. “I mean, you know I’m not in the closet—”

“Still a closet it you just don’t say shit,” Nick grumbled under his breath, but that was an old argument, and one Phil wasn’t getting into right now. He never denied it if asked outright, but the issue of his sexuality didn’t usually come up in day-to-day SHIELD life. He flapped his hand in Nick’s direction.

“—but I was hours off that shitstorm argument with Gonzalez, and then had that disastrous pity-date with Sean, and it sorta came out. And then in the same conversation, it came up that he’d never—with a guy—and that’s a red fucking flag, Nick. Besides, I work with the guy! I liaise with the Avengers. I can’t get involved with one of them!”

“They involve amongst themselves enough,” Nick said mildly, “if you know what I’m saying.”

Phil buried his hands in his hair. “This is a ridiculous proposition.”

Nick leaned over and patted him on the back consolingly. “There, there, it’ll be all right. Who’s a big boy, now?” His voice wibbled and lifted up an octave. “Oh no, I’m Phil Coulson and I can’t believe I’ve got a pretty straight boy with Greek god arms wanting to fuck me into the mattress! My life is so difficult!”

Phil rolled his head to the side and glared. “I fucking hate you.”

“There he is!” Nick grinned, and then poked him in the side with one vicious finger. “Now get the hell out of my rooms and go get your dick sucked. Barton’s got a purty mouth.”

Phil let out a noise of inarticulate frustration and tackled him.


Clint answered the door to his apartment in a pair of sagging pink sweatpants and very little else. His hair was sticking up at all angles and he was knuckling his eyes, and Phil froze on his doorstep, suddenly certain that he might have made a mistake.

But then Clint’s eyes cleared enough to see who’d knocked on his door at going on midnight and his look of comedic befuddlement switched to one of epic concern. “Shit, Phil,” he said, reaching out and grabbing tight on Phil’s shoulder. “What’re you doing here? Are you okay?”

Phil pressed his tongue against the inside of his split lip and tried not imagine how bad his black eye must be for Clint of all people to be looking at him like that. At least he’d gave Nick as good as he got. “Uh, I’m fine.”

“Jesus, come in,” Clint said, pulling hard on Phil’s arm and checking behind him in the hallway. He shut the door with a bang and then backed Phil up against it, running his hands carefully down Phil’s sides, checking for injury. “Who did this? Did they follow you here?”

“Clint,” Phil tried, but Clint was getting frantic. He took a step back. “Lemme get my bow, and, and maybe some clothes, you tell me where they were, I’ll kill ‘em, I swear Phil—”

Phil stilled him with two hands on his shoulders, only pulling back when Clint paused, his eyes wide. The pale wires that usually snaked discreetly up his ears weren’t in place, and Phil shouldn’t have been surprised. It was almost midnight, after all. /stop/ Phil signed. /I O-K/.

“Who?” Clint said forcefully.

Phil shot him a quelling look. /N-I-C-K/

Clint’s eyes narrowed. “Fury?” Phil nodded, and then tapped one ear. Clint inclined his eyes momentarily toward the ceiling—heaven give me strength—and then sighed. “Hold on a minute, lemme get my ears.” He started to turn, but then rounded back on Phil and stuck a finger under his nose. “But I want a damn good explanation about why I shouldn’t go kick Fury’s ass right this instant.”

/yes/ Phil tried to look as cooperative as possible.

Clint disappeared down the hall then, and for a few short minutes the sound of slamming drawers and shuffling drifted toward Phil, who still standing in the living room. Clint eventually reappeared, looking more settled, and gestured for Phil to join him on the threadbare couch. There was a longbow mounted crookedly over it. Phil would bet his life that it wasn’t decorative.

“So, explain the black eye,” Clint prompted once he’d settled with false nonchalance against one arm of the couch. Phil hesitated for a moment but then sat closer than Clint’d anticipated, if the smile he cracked in Phil’s direction was any indication. Phil knocked their knees gently together and rubbed absently at his face.

“I went to Nick for some advice. We got into it, but not in a bad way.” He shrugged and smiled faintly. “This is just how we show we love each other.” Clint looked unhappy at that, and Phil’s eyes widened. “Wait, no, not like that. Brotherly love. Nick’s like my brother, Clint.” He leaned forward and shook Clint’s shoulders lightly. “I am not fucking Nick Fury.”

Clint laughed a little, but it didn’t quite cover how relieved he sounded. “No, I totally didn’t think you were.”

“Okay,” Phil nodded. “Right. Sex with Nick is a big no. We just have a ridiculous relationship built on insults and fistfights.” He took a breath. “Also, I absolutely knocked out one of his teeth.”

“Well that’s good,” Clint said. “Ten points.”

Phil snorted in amusement and then winced, his split lip protesting all this smiling he was doing. “Well now that we’ve covered that bit of nightmare fuel…” Clint looked at him expectantly. “I should probably explain why I’m here at almost midnight.”

“I mean, sure,” Clint said, and smiled easy. “Always nice to see you, Phil, long as you aren’t giving me a heart attack.”

“See that’s…” Phil screwed up his face. He might as well just out with it. “I thought you were straight.”

Clint leaned back against the armrest, his expression settling into something wary and half-defensive. Phil remembered that look from when Clint got recruited, though; he could work with that look. “Considering I kissed you earlier today,” Clint said slowly, “I’m pretty obviously not.”

“I didn’t realize what we were doing was a date,” Phil admitted. “Though I did have more fun than I could remember in my recent history.”

“Yeah, that I did figure,” Clint told him with a smirk. “You seemed pretty gobsmacked back in the hangar.”

Phil looked down. Clint’s couch was covered in an old bedsheet, something that was probably purple once that had been laundered so often that it’d faded to a washed-out blue. It was fraying at the edges, so he picked at a thread. “I—I won’t be an experiment, Clint. I do enjoy your company, though, and you’re, well, you have to know how gorgeous you are. But I don’t want your pity or your curiosity. I don’t do well in situations like that.”

Clint reached out and tugged Phil’s hand away from worrying the thread. “Hey. Hey, look at me, yeah?” Phil did, and Clint smiled an honest sort of smile, entirely devoid of his usual self-satisfied smirk. It was an unfairly attractive smile.  

“I’m not gonna lie,” Clint began. “I’ve never been with a guy. It’s not for lack of interest, though, but more ‘cause women are… the path of least resistance. If it’s sex you’re worrying about, like I said the other day, I know my way around a strap-on, so nothing you could do to me would be entirely new. I’m not scared of your real-live dick, and while I am curious about where this could go, I’m not curious about my sexuality.”

“You’ve never shown any hint of interest before,” Phil pointed out.

Clint huffed out a small laugh. “Shit, I had no idea you swung this way before you said so last week. You keep shit buttoned up, man. But let me tell you, Agent Coulson, the fantasies I’ve had about you… mm.” Clint chewed his lower lip briefly and then licked it, plumping it shiny red.

Phil raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“Venezuela.” Clint said.

Phil tilted his head. Non-sequitur. “…Not the most enjoyable place.”

Clint smirked in response. “And yet we had a moment. Don’t deny the moment.”

Phil considered. He’d not been in the best place mentally at that point in their last joint mission. Very confused, and fighting hard against what he now recognized was severe trauma from his fall from space. He’d gotten help since then, but still. Venezuela wasn’t really a high point.

There’d been a forest, and a thunderstorm, and an armed standoff at point-blank range. After, there’d been Clint’s arms wrapped around him, both of them chilled from the deluge, Phil burying his face in the sodden material of Clint’s t-shirt and trying not to cry.

“I wanted to kiss you so badly then,” Clint said softly. “I mean, wow, talk about inappropriate, but jeez, Phil, having you that close… and you were so sad, I just wanted to wrap you up and never let you go.”

“Not very…” Phil trailed off, cleared his throat. “Erm. Masculine.”

“You be as masculine as you want to be, baby,” Clint said. “You be whatever you want.” He paused, clearly considering his next words. “But Venezuela was the first time I saw you as, as really human. You were always something—someone up on a pedestal before that. Agent Badass. Do Not Touch.” And then he added, his voice still pitched low, his fingers squeezing lightly on Phil’s, “We’ve gotten a lot closer since then, too, and man am I happy about that.”

Phil squeezed back.

Clint smiled. “Good talk?”

Phil nodded. “Good talk.”


“Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod,” Clint gasped, his fingers curling in Phil’s bedsheets. “Please, oh, please—”

Phil shushed him, one hand spread wide over Clint’s broad back, pushing him down into the mattress. Clint’s ass was tilted up to ease the angle on Phil’s other hand, his knees wide and bracing him on the bed, the very picture of debauched inhibition.

Phil spread three fingers and leaned down low over Clint’s back. “You ready for me?” he asked, his lips brushing Clint’s ear, his swollen tip brushing the backs of his own knuckles as he edged close into Clint’s crack. He recalled Clint’s phrasing from roughly four weeks prior and smirked. “For your first real-live dick?”

Clint huffed something into the pillow, unintelligible, and Phil tugged him lightly back by the hair. He’d discovered over the past couple weeks that Clint liked a firm hand, and lucky him, Phil was willing to provide one.

Clint took a deep breath. “If you don’t—unnnh—Phil, I’m, please I could really, I want—”

“Words, dear,” Phil murmured. “I’m not even inside you yet.” To prove his point, he pulled his fingers away, though he pressed his head lightly against Clint’s hole, admiring its dusky red tint against the golden down that ringed Clint’s entrance, made dark by the sweat and lube he’d been working in for the past, oh, forty minutes.

Clint whined and rocked back on his knees. “Goddamn it Phil, fuck me, c’mon, get inside me, I want you inside me, I—ahh!”

Phil twitched his hips forward another inch, pleased by Clint’s effusive reaction. The vise grip around his cockhead tightened, squeezing like nothing else could even come close. “Fuck,” he said under his breath—he wasn’t as composed as he’d been making Clint think he was, that was for damn sure. The urge to slam in, to take what Clint was offering—nearly impossible to resist.

But resist he did, opening his eyes wide to watch the slow slide in, the gleam of lube dripping down off his dick and onto Clint’s hanging, heavy balls, the way Clint writhed and squirmed under him, his mouth open and gasping on Phil’s pillow.

“You’re big,” Clint panted. “Oh god, I can feel every inch of you.”

Phil stilled. “You okay?”

Clint buried his face in the sheets. “Nuuhh, don’t stop, dammit Phil!” And he forced his ass backward, swallowing down another inch of Phil’s cock.

Phil broke, gasping out a stuttered breath as he shoved in the rest of the way. Clint wailed in pleasure as Phil began fucking him in earnest, the piston slick slide of his knob brushing along Clint’s insides, catching hard on each withdraw to rub over Clint’s prostate.

Phil leaned forward to plaster himself over his back, locking their fingers together on both sides of Clint’s head. He kissed messily at Clint’s spine, at his sweaty neck and hairline and shoulders, panting hard as a tight coil of heat started growing in his abdomen.

“You’re fucking beautiful,” he growled, his hips bucking in, out, in, out. “Clint, you’re something else, you’re perfect, you’re mine—”

Clint clenched down on him at those words, gasping, and tugged one of their joined hands to his center, wrapped their fingers together around him. He was leaking in a steady stream, sloppily messy from Phil’s earlier prolonged blowjob, spit and the remnants of his first release. He’d gone off like a rocket when Phil’d dropped to his knees, nosed into his pubic hair and swallowed him down.

“Yours,” Clint agreed easily enough, pliant like putty in Phil’s hands. “Yours as much, oh god, Phil, as much as—as you’re mine, just, oh, just touch me, touch me—Phil!”

He came his second time for the night with Phil’s hand wrapped tight around his cock, Phil buried to the hilt inside his ass.

“Fuhh…” Phil bucked; he couldn’t talk through the heat, the clench that orgasm gave Clint’s muscles. He just needed a touch, a hair more… “Clint,” he whined.

Clint delivered, grinding back against him and arching his back like the acrobat he used to be. Phil dropped his forehead between muscled shoulder blades and came with a jolt, Clint still tight enough that some of Phil’s come burbled back along his shaft and dripped immediately from the edges of Clint’s stretched, red hole.

Phil took a deep breath as his climax faded and stayed inside, both of them breathing hard, their fingers still locked together and turning white from lack of blood.

Eventually though, his dick softened enough that it slipped away. Phil fell to the side and dragged Clint with him, manhandling him so that their legs could tangle and Phil could spoon up to Clint’s back. He wiggled his hips, slotting his soft cock into Clint’s cleft—just because he couldn’t get it up again right now didn’t mean that Clint’s ass wasn’t a good place to keep it—and nipped softly at the broad shoulder he found in front of him.

“Mm,” Clint hummed, pressing back against him. “That was,” he blew out a breath. “Oh, just, perfect, Phil.” He tilted his head back and their mouths met in an off-center kiss. Clint’s eyes were closed, exhausted. “Should do it again in the morning.”

Phil agreed with a sleepy hum of his own. “You’ll probably be sore. You should do me.” His hand drifted down and cupped Clint’s plump endowment. “You’re huge, so you’ll have to get me ready slow,” he murmured. “Four fingers, I think. Maybe use your mouth.” Clint shivered, and in Phil’s hand, his cock gave a valiant twitch.

With a quick movement (though Phil caught the slight surprised—and quickly masked—wince) Clint flipped over, again tangling their legs and this time pressing their pelvises, their chests, together. He tilted his head and leaned in, kissing Phil deep and thorough.

“You’re gonna be the death of me,” Clint teased.

Phil affected a faintly alarmed look. “I certainly hope not. I was under the impression that we’re just getting started.”

A grin cracked Clint’s face—one of the honest, open ones that were becoming more at home there. “Yeah,” Clint agreed. “Yeah, we are.”