Clint’s head hurts. It hurts so fucking bad that he wishes he was dead right now. Oh god, what did he do last night? His face is buried in something soft that smells like clean sheets after an all-night encounter with a sleeping body. They are maybe, possibly the most comfortable thing he has ever lain on. So it's a safe bet that last night didn't involve torture, copious bleeding, damage to his limbs (apart from his head, which is trying to split in half), or anything he would object to most strenuously when he got his wits about him.
He rolls onto his back with a groan, throwing an arm over his face. The bed is wide enough to accommodate his best starfish impression, so he can't be in his quarters on the helicarrier. He must be... on a mission? Undercover? Damn it, why is his head so fuzzy? Why can't he remember? It's starting to freak him out a bit because amnesia is not something he normally experiences after he drinks enough to pass out -- not to mention that he doesn't smell like he guzzled down a case of whiskey last night. This smacks more of some non-consensual substance abuse. He's pretty sure someone drugged him last night, with unfavourable intent. Makes it all the more strange that he feels perfectly fine, apart from the hangover that is threatening to kill him. It feels uncomfortably like...
"Fuck. Did someone roofie me last night?" he grunts, voice thick with gravel. He's so thirsty he wants to cry. Yep. That’s Rohypnol all right. Blood running cold, he checks himself. He doesn't feel sore in places he shouldn't, and his skin feels tight over his muscles in a way that bears no resemblance to the relaxation after getting laid, remembered or not. All right, so he appears to have dodged a bullet.
Now to find out how, and why.
The door to his room opens, and Clint's eyes follow swiftly, aching with the light. He forces his body to move, drops off the other side of the bed as quietly as he can, and peers under it, getting ready to spring. He feels light-headed with relief when he sees the man's shoes, shined to within an inch of their lives, and the way the pants of the suit the man is wearing fit perfectly over the tops of them, and the measured tread of the man's step.
Clint pushes himself clumsily off the floor, bracing his arms on top of the bed, and looks up at Coulson's concerned face. Coulson's holding two huge cups of coffee, which makes Clint want to moan with gratitude. He puts them on the table in the middle of the good-sized room, but comes no closer to the bed, hands held carefully still at his sides. Clint recognises Coulson's peculiarly considerate way of settling his assets, especially when they act like skittish animals. Considering Clint's scant deductions about last night, the small kindness makes him want to whimper pathetically. It's not an uncommon occasion as such; Clint has long since come to terms with the way Agent Phil Coulson makes him feel. His efforts these days run less towards denying it and more towards performing damage control.
Clint looks down at his hands, turning them to push himself off the hard floor --and freezes. This second shock feels much more violent than the initial one of him waking up without a solid memory in his head of how he got to bed. There's a ring on his left hand, a thin gold band wrapping around his ring finger like a vice, marking him in a way that makes him break out in cold sweat. His head jerks to Coulson's hands, and yes, there's a matching band glinting in the late morning light. His blood turns to lead in his veins. What had he done last night?
"Explain," he snaps, too unsettled for pleasantries.
Coulson sighs and comes closer to the bed, still holding himself completely open and reassuring.
"How much do you remember?" he asks calmly. The sound of his voice unclenches something in Clint's gut, helps him find his feet and push up to sit across from him.
"Not a damn thing, except for how I appear to have been drugged."
Coulson nods, sparse, measured movements. "We are in Las Vegas, on a reconnaissance assignment, suspected black market involvement tying in to one of Hammer Industries' execs. As the Avenger with the least exposure to the public, you got the gig. You were to infiltrate the guest circle around Tradewell, get an invitation to a private party where Intel suggests a deal is likely to go down. About three hours into the op, you were compromised. Someone thought they recognised you, not as an Avenger but as an agent. One of Tradewell's bodyguards slipped Rohypnol into your drink. They were about to take you in for interrogation. I had to act fast."
Clint considers all this. "So, what? You happened to have a pair of wedding rings on you, just in case?" he says, ignoring the sharp twist in his chest at the implications. It's not true. None of this is real. It's just Coulson, always prepared, a contingency plan or five tucked under the perfectly-turned-out cuff of his shirt.
Coulson shrugs, but there's a hint of pink in his cheeks that makes Clint's heart beat faster. "We're in Vegas," he says easily. Right. Clint’s right. Thinking on his feet, that's what Coulson does best.
"Let me guess. You pretended to be my enraged husband come to fetch me, magicked the ring out of my pocket, slipped it on my finger, and defused the situation." Clint has worked with Coulson long enough to be able to make an educated guess as to Coulson's solution to the problem -- a way that leaves the slightest possible impression, guaranteed not to be remembered.
Well. Not remembered by the mark. Clint, on the other hand, is going to find the prospect of not-remembering considerably more difficult. This is not how he imagined their wedding would go -- because he has thought about it. God help him, he knows it's beyond pathetic, but he has, in the dark of night, when he can't sleep and the memory of Coulson's voice in his ear is the only thing keeping him from crawling out of his skin. The Cupid's Wedding Chapel, Las Vegas marriage certificate that Coulson sheepishly hands him does not feature on the plan, far-fetched or not.
Strangely enough, the fact that Coulson had to fake Clint's signature on it is the part that rankles the worst, because god, Coulson doesn't know; he has no fucking idea how eager Clint is to put it there himself. Clint feels cheated, and god, isn't that the most insane fucking thing anyone has ever heard, because newsflash: none of this is real. Coulson does not want to be married to him. Fuck, they're not even dating. Clint is just a pathetic excuse of a man, an agent in love with his handler and too chicken-shit to say anything about it because he's dreading the look in Coulson's eyes, and the terrible kindness of it when he tells Clint thanks, but no thanks. Because, seriously, is there any other way for this to go? Surely, if there was even the smallest chance of something, it would have happened after Coulson died and came back, after Clint had survived his heart being ripped out of his chest, then had it stuffed back into place and shocked back to life when Coulson walked through the door of the helicarrier meeting room, cool as you please, looking supremely unruffled by the small mishap of dying and acting like nothing much had happened.
Granted, Clint might have been avoiding him since because, unlike Coulson, he was never and had never been that good at compartmentalising outside of mission parameters, and that little disaster had shaved years off his life. He had to be sure that he could control himself, seeing Coulson and working with him again; he had to be sure that he could push back the wrenching pain of losing everything that gave meaning to his life, and getting it back without the man in question having even an inkling of the number it had done on Clint. Still, things had gone back to normal, exactly the way they'd been before, not the smallest change, and hadn't that been a slap in the face. Message received, loud and clear.
Clint holds up the certificate between thumb and forefinger, like it might explode in his face, which isn't all that big a leap. This... is going to get complicated fast, he just knows it. He sighs wearily, head still throbbing.
Coulson's shoulders lose their rigidity just the slightest bit -- but Clint has made a hobby of studying the man, and he doesn't miss it. Coulson thought this was going to be a problem. Clint doesn't know whether to laugh or scream right now. He settles for leaning against the headboard and accepting the coffee Coulson hands him, waiting. This, at least, he's good at.
"Fortunately, our cover isn't blown. Tradewell thinks we're a pair of newlyweds here for a weekend break. We have been invited to the party you were meant to attend this evening. The mission is ongoing."
"By 'we', I assume you mean our married selves," Clint makes himself say. The ring pulses around his finger, foreign, a painful reminder of all the ways in which Clint is monumentally screwed.
Coulson nods, taking a long sip of his own coffee. His eyes fall half-closed in satisfaction, and Clint looks away fast. This pretending thing has gotten much harder since Coulson came back; Clint has had to work twice as diligently to keep his instinctive reactions at bay. He pushes off the bed and gets his legs under him after a long moment of weakness. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Coulson make an abortive movement towards him, before stilling. He looks faintly worried, like he's debating whether to make Clint go in for a check-up. Yeah, fuck that for a game of soldiers.
"I'm going to the gym," Clint says roughly. He can't wait to exercise the weakness out of his limbs and to clear his head. "I'll be back in time for tonight."
"All right," Coulson says, but Clint is already closing the door behind himself, deciding that the tank top and shorts he's got on are good enough for a workout. Besides, he can't stand to remain in that room a second longer, staring at what he can't have and acting like it doesn't mean a single thing. He's not that strong.
Pretending to be Phil Coulson's husband, when all you want in the world is not to have to pretend, is the single worst experience of Clint's life. Coulson looks stunning as always in a ridiculously well-tailored Dolce suit, charcoal-gray pinstripe on black, the kind of detail that no one without Hawkeye's vision can properly appreciate. Clint does. Oh, does he ever. Moreover, the fabric is deliciously smooth at the crook of Coulson’s elbow, where Clint’s fingers curl over Coulson's well-defined bicep as Clint makes a show of clinging to his side like the newlywed, stupidly-in-love man he's pretending to be. It takes less of an effort than he'd like it to.
"There's Tradewell at your two o'clock," he murmurs in Coulson's ear, pressing even closer. Coulson's arm flexes under his hand and he turns his head, exposing the smooth skin on the side of his neck to Clint's eyes. The scent that rises off it is torture, almost enough to bring Clint to his knees.
"He's with Jordanov," Coulson replies softly. "He's the guy that clued us in that the connection existed. We need to get closer."
"Sure, darlin'," Clint says a touch louder, gathering all the willpower he has left and smiling at Coulson like his heart isn't trying to tear itself apart inside him. "Let me."
He yanks his eyes away from the surprised, appreciative blue of Coulson's and walks off, hips swinging. His path to the drinks table leads him right past the group of flashily-dressed men and women who surround Tradewell and Jordanov. The latter is wearing snakeskin pants and a shiny shirt that Clint just bets is making Coulson want to throw up (or shoot it, or set it on fire). The guy's a caricature -- long greasy hair tied in a ponytail, gold chain as thick as three of Clint's fingers and a gold tooth in the corner of his slimy smile. 'Inconspicuous' he is not.
Then the man standing next to him with his back to Clint turns, and Clint has to do a highly unprofessional double-take, because okay. Fuck.
He makes it to the drinks table and orders two beers, then turns to see Coulson quickly closing in on him. He passes by the group, too, eyes sticking to Jordanov and his identical twin brother, dressed much more somberly in a suit that rivals Coulson's for cut and quality, a light blue shirt open at his collar, showcasing his muscular throat and tanned skin. The guy's fucking hot. Too bad he's a scumbag. This isn't actually a distinction Clint would have heeded a few years back, before SHIELD and his unreasonable, ridiculous crush on his handler. A decade ago, the swanky Jordanov would have been exactly Clint's type -- tall, dark, sharp dresser, with an aura of menace clinging to his eyes.
Come to think of it, this predilection might explain a few things about Clint's current predicament.
"So what do you think? Up shit creek without a paddle? Or merely an inconvenience?" Clint speculates, leaning in close again.
Coulson hums, warm breath sliding against Clint's skin like something sinful, decadent. "This was not in the briefing. Remind me to have the researcher that compiled it reprimanded."
Coulson needs no such reminder from Clint but it serves the purpose of letting Clint know that his handler is pissed.
"Call it, sir," Clint murmurs close to his ear.
A fine tremor passes down Coulson's frame, starting at the top of his spine and turning into an almost imperceptible full body shudder. Clint blinks, but hasn't the time to react before Coulson's arm snakes around his middle, pulling him flush against Coulson's front. Clint sucks in a shocked breath that only serves to press their chests tighter together. Fuck.
"Hit me," Coulson says.
Clint blinks at him for a long, shocked moment. "Come again?" he blurts.
"Hit me, then go and pick up the suited Jordanov, as if you're getting back at me. The least we can do is postpone the meeting until I can talk to Fury and get our orders."
Clint stares at him, stomach tying itself into knots. "You want me to hit you, then hit on that guy." No one would believe Clint would choose him over his 'husband'.
Coulson frowns at him. "That's what I just said. Are you okay? Is this about this morning?"
Clint shakes himself out of the ridiculous unwillingness to lay a hand on Coulson that is anything but appreciative. "No, I'm fine. Right. Hit you, go hit on him, then what? You want me to fuck him, too?"
Coulson's jaw clenches minutely, and the arm around Clint tightens for a fraction of a second before Coulson lets him go.
"No, bring him out back. I'll wait for you there and we'll play it like they tried to play you. I have a syringe in my pocket. We'll drug him and let him sleep it off at the hotel."
Clint briefly considers making a 'and here I thought you were just glad to see me' joke, but his stomach is churning too strongly, and his heart just isn't in it. This mission has officially gone FUBAR, and the sooner it's over, the sooner they can get the fuck out of here and Clint can take a little time to think long and hard about how to get over this obsession that has apparently grown so bad that it’s messing up his work. He nods sharply and tries not to flinch when Coulson abruptly lets go of him.
"Come on, baby, don't be like that," Coulson says, a whining note in his voice that Clint has never heard from him before. "A threesome is not that big a deal. You'll enjoy yourself!"
Clint picks it up smartly. "On our fucking honeymoon? God, you're such an asshole. I can't believe I married you," he spits, telling himself viciously that it's a good thing that Coulson's face falls. It's part of their cover. It's just Coulson being his usual perfectionist self.
"Don't fucking call me that. You know how much I hate it," Clint lies, tearing his arm out of Coulson's grip with a jerk.
"You didn't have an objection when I asked Pepper to join us," Coulson says, eyes glinting, and Clint would appreciate how easy Coulson is making his job for him if he could see beyond the sudden, blinding flash of rage.
He doesn't pull his punch when he aims it at Coulson's face, and watches with a sick kind of satisfaction as Coulson's head snaps back and he reels, bracing himself on the wall behind him. Clint stomps away, knowing he's being an idiot, even if he's an idiot in character -- the thing Coulson and Pepper used to have is years past. It shouldn't still be making him want to smash his fist into the nearest wall out of sheer frustration, that he could never, ever compete with someone like Pepper Potts, and that if that's the kind of person Coulson's tastes run to, then Clint's as well as lost the game before he even touched the ball.
He heads straight for the suited Jordanov brother, eyeing him from under his eyelashes. Jordanov raises a dark eyebrow, eyes considering. Apparently the researcher didn't cock that bit up, at least -- Jordanov definitely looks amenable to being picked up.
"Trouble in paradise?" he says, thick Eastern European accent coloring his words.
Clint smirks. "You can say that again. Wanna buy me a drink to make me forget?"
Jordanov returns the smirk. "How about a reason for your husband to regret letting something as gorgeous as you walk away?"
This is going to be easier than Clint thought. A few moments of batting his lashes later, Jordanov follows him out of the back door, ostensibly to get to the hotel. Clint turns just outside the exit and spies a flash of movement behind Jordanov's shoulder. A moment later, Jordanov is pitching forward, eyes fluttering closed. Coulson deftly removes the syringe he'd stuck in his neck, pressing a button so the needle retracts safely. There's a strange expression on his usually inscrutable face, something dark and furious. Clint wonders for a moment if he's mad that Clint hit him so hard, but then Coulson's face smoothes out, and he leads the way while Clint shoulders the unconscious body and deposits him in the cab that Coulson hailed.
The drive to the hotel is quiet after Coulson explains calmly that their friend has had a bit too much to drink; the driver merely snorts, clearly used to scenes of that nature. It's the job of a few minutes to drag Jordanov's unconscious body to the room where Clint woke up that morning, and Clint grunts gratefully as he tips the dead weight over the sheets.
Coulson excuses himself to make the phone call to Fury, and Clint trails aimlessly to the window for lack of anything better to do. The night glitters before him, the whole of Las Vegas sprawling under his window. Clint watches it tiredly, eyes half-lidded, close to blinking shut altogether. It's been a long fucking day and there's no telling when it'll be over.
Sooner than he thought, apparently.
"Yes, sir," Coulson says into his phone, closing it as he walks into the room. "We're to bring him in," he tells Clint's raised eyebrow, looking as weary as Clint's feeling. "Apparently the research team managed to uncover evidence of dealing under the table. SHIELD and the rest of the Avengers are coming in to pick up the strays."
Clint frowns. "The Avengers? Why are they coming in? There's nothing for them to do here."
Coulson sighs. "We're in Vegas," he says, like that explains everything, and honestly? It does a little.
"Stark found out, didn't he?" Clint says, grinning. The roll of Coulson's eyes says it all, really. It's not a bad thing; Clint can feel a bender coming on, and he could use the company even if there isn't enough alcohol in the fucking world to make him forget today.
"You started without me? Wow, I see how it is. That's harsh, man. I'm not feeling the love."
Tony slides onto the stool at Clint's side without much fuss, claiming it like it belonged to him already. Clint closes his hand around the wedding band he'd been staring morosely down at as he turned it in his fingers. He's not sure he's ready to answer questions about it, but he can't bring himself to put it away completely. He's just pathetic enough to want to keep it, like some macabre memento of the one day he could call Coulson his husband without sounding insane. He has no doubt that the marriage certificate will mysteriously disappear within the depths of SHIELD archives, never to be seen again, only mentioned in whispers when the next rumour about Coulson starts circulating. Being married to Clint isn't even the weirdest thing to happen to him that week.
The argument is moot -- the faint glint of light on its polished surface draws Tony in like a particularly inquisitive magpie.
"Is that--Barton, did you get married without inviting the rest of us? Dude, not cool. Not cool at all. You know Natasha's going to kill you, right?"
"It's not real," Clint growls, the words like jagged shards of glass in his throat. His jaw hurts from clenching his teeth so hard but it's that or send his empty glass crashing against the wall. This is far more dignified, not to mention presents less danger of getting cut off. He needs as much booze as he can get down.
Tony blinks owlishly at him, glass pausing at his mouth before he knocks the whole thing back. "Oh boy," he says dryly, signaling for another. "This is going to be one of those things, isn't it?"
"One of what things?" Clint grunts before emptying his own glass and raising a finger at the bartender.
"One of those things where we talk about feelings." Tony groans, swallowing another mouthful of whiskey and side-eyeing Clint's glass. "Gah. We're going to need a fresh bottle."
An hour later, Clint is blissfully, gloriously drunk off his face. The numbness is soothing and certainly preferable to the stupid, insistent ache from earlier. He can barely remember Coulson's face when he'd called him 'baby', which can only be a good thing, because Coulson had been acting. Damn it. How many times does he have to tell himself that?
"Thing is," Tony slurs. He’s been matching Clint drink for drink. "Thing is, Pepper says I have to face it. She says she doesn't mind, which, I'll just bet she doesn't, who minds Captain America in their bed, seriously? But thing is, I can't. I'm a coward, always have been. I can just imagine the look on his stupid fucking face, the way his eyes are gonna go all puppy-sad, and then I'm going to have to go kill myself, or drink myself to death, and then Pepper will be sorry!"
"Pepper," Clint snorts."Perfect Pepper Potts with those legs and those eyes and that mind of hers, perfect Coulson bait, I'm telling you. You'd better watch her, you might lose her one of these days. Those two are so fucking perfect for each other. Makes me sick."
"Huh," Tony grunts, and when nothing follows, Clint turns to look. A moment later he really, really wishes he hadn't. Steve is glaring disapproval at them from the other end of the bar, and at his side--
Clint turns back to the front, swallowing whatever's left in his glass and wondering if he can manage taking off the wedding band, which has somehow found its way back on his ring finger, without arousing suspicion in his inebriated state. Knowing whom he's trying to fool, he wonders why he even bothers contemplating it.
Tony looks caught-out and sheepish and Clint is sure he doesn't look much better. He is so tired fighting the hopeless yearning inside him; some days he just wants to walk away and keep going until no one can find him, least of all Coulson (not that he's going to bother going after him at all, unless it's to put a bullet in him).
"If I had known that you were going to use coming to Vegas as an excuse to get drunk, I would never have agreed to it," Steve says, arms crossed firmly over his chest, mouth downturned into that expression that makes even Clint feel like a guilty schoolboy.
Tony rolls his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, you think I don't know that? Jesus, Rogers, live a little."
Clint shakes his head at the pigtail-pulling. Before he's thought it through, his eyes have caught Coulson's, who lifts a wry, resigned eyebrow. Clint bites the inside of his cheek so he doesn't groan out loud over how fucking hopeless he is. He can't even do avoidance right. Fuck.
"Come on. Up. Time to go," Steve says, cajoling Tony upright with a hand on his elbow and ignoring his semi-resentful protests. "No, you've really had enough. In fact, by my estimate, you had enough a full half-hour before Coulson found you two. Why are you getting drunk anyway?"
His voice fades as he and Tony walk away. Steve's hand is still at Tony's elbow, bracing him so he walks more or less in a straight line. Clint is left sitting at the bar, Coulson no more than two steps away, watching him silently. It should make his skin crawl, this relentless scrutiny. Instead, Clint has never felt safer.
After a long moment, Coulson steps closer, coming to lean on the bar next to Clint, so that their elbows almost brush. He looks at Clint over his shoulder, eyes still sharp despite the lateness of the hour -- too sharp, considering the giant neon-light-flashing tell that Clint is sporting on his left hand.
"You planning to drink the rest of that bottle?" Coulson says, eyes on Clint's fingers tightening around his almost-empty glass. Oh well. Nothing for it now; it's too much to hope Coulson hasn't seen it. Still hope he might fake blindness, though (although Clint is torn on how he ought to feel about that).
He gives Coulson's question due consideration. Fuck knows he could use it but drinking the rest of the bottle would also mean losing all hope of censoring himself-- god knows what might slip out. On the other hand, Clint's at least 89% sure Coulson already has notes on everything Clint is trying to hide, horrible notion though that is.
He wants to say yes, stubbornly give it a go anyway, but something tells him Coulson will not stand for that.
"You here to take me home?" he grumbles resentfully. "Am I out after curfew? I thought we were off the clock."
Coulson frowns with his eyes only, mouth still a thin straight line in his face. Then he sighs, and god, it sounds so weary, like it's coming through the soles of his feet. Clint feels it like a punch in the gut. This day does not seem to have been easy on Coulson; he has to wonder how much all the pretending to be married to Clint has cost him.
"Get in the car, Agent Barton," Coulson says at last, completely flat, no inflection whatsoever. Clint is many things -- an asshole, stubborn, bitchy, borderline-insubordinate, but he has never actually crossed that line. It's not going to happen tonight, either, no matter how much he wishes he could tell Coulson to go fuck himself.
He pushes off the bar, proud of how his legs hold steady despite his clouded head. Coulson just stands next to him, arms loose at his side, expression carefully neutral. Clint has a feeling he's not doing nearly as well on the guarding his thoughts front -- a suspicion that is confirmed when people just melt out of his path, repelled by what his face must look like.
The walk through the bar parking lot is silent, or as silent as Vegas can be in the middle of the night. Not a word is spoken and the beep of the car lock disengaging is startling in the dark. Clint climbs inside, curling up to take the least bit of space possible, out of habit.
--Well. It hasn't been habit for some time now but that's not something anyone needs to know. There are certain times in life that can only be endured by curling up in as small a ball as he can.
Coulson gets in the driver's seat and clicks his seatbelt on conscientiously. He's moving a touch slower, every gesture painfully precise. He only gets like that when he's got something on his mind but, for a change, Clint can deal without knowing what that might be.
They aren't staying at one of the big hotels on the Strip, even though Tony insisted they could do so on his dime if they wanted. Instead it's a smaller place, off the beaten path, which is a really good idea if someone should find out that a bunch of superheroes and their sidekicks are kicking it up in the city. The property damage alone could result in Tony having to stay in his workshop for months thinking up patents to mollify the City of Las Vegas. It's not particularly close to the bar Clint had chosen (intentionally so, for all the good it had done). And okay, so Clint would probably have needed a ride to get back, with the amount he'd drunk. The grudgingly pleased twist in his chest that Coulson had noticed, that he’d had gone out of his way to make sure Clint got in safely, wars with the aching emptiness that insists there's nothing special in the gesture. This is just their handler doing his job. He's not even solely Clint's handler anymore.
They stop at a red light, and Clint can't miss the eyes on him, even though he's looking out of his window and trying to ignore them. It's too deeply ingrained, this sixth sense for knowing when he's being scrutinised. It has saved his life more than once. Now, in the safety of the car, next to the one man he trusts unreservedly to have his back, it's only an itch at the base of his neck.
The silence shatters when Coulson speaks. That's not what startles Clint; he and Coulson can be silent together but it's not always a requirement, not even on missions. What does startle him is what Coulson says.
"You're still wearing it," Coulson points out quietly. Clint has to follow his line of sight to work out what he means, though let's be honest, he knows already. There's only one thing Coulson can be referring to -- and yes, his eyes are fastened on the ring stupidly remaining on Clint's finger, even after he had the chance to stealthily take it off. Clint covers his hand self-consciously, furious with himself.
"Will you tell me why?"
Coulson's voice is soft, tentative. Nothing at all like the flat order he'd issued at the bar, or the confident murmur when he'd outlined the game plan for them both at the party. It's a request, too, and that, more than anything, makes Clint want to be honest. He's got nothing to lose, anyway; if their work relationship is going to become awkward, there's no saving it now. Clint already did the damage when he couldn't manage to force his stupid emotions back in the cage that served him so well before.
"I wish it was real," he whispers, feeling safe in the darkness of the car, streetlights painting orange strips across Coulson's arms, his face hidden by the shadows.
Coulson sucks in a sharp breath, almost a gasp. His fingers clench on the steering wheel, knuckles white with the force of it, and Clint's heart plummets to his feet, lost and not quite whole. He turns away again, feeling abruptly, unwelcomely sober, and refuses to look back for the rest of the ride to the hotel, not even when Coulson makes a couple of small, strained noises at his side. He stares out of the window instead, cursing himself savagely in the privacy of his head.
Finally, finally they turn into the hotel car park, and Clint can make his escape, except--
"Clint," Coulson says quickly, voice a little rough. Clint collapses back in his seat, so fucking tired all of a sudden. The haze of alcohol has dissipated without a trace, and all Clint feels is alone and way too exposed.
"Is this going to make things awkward?" he says, cutting through whatever Coulson is trying to say, because god, if he's fucked this thing up, too, if he has lost Coulson's respect on top of the rejection he always knew was coming, he doesn't think he could stand it.
Coulson's fingers unclench from the steering wheel. He turns off the engine, removes his seatbelt, and for the first time a glimmer on his left hand catches Clint's eye, unmistakable even in the low light.
"You're wearing it, too," he blurts out, too shocked to stop himself. It's right there. Some Hawkeye he is, to have missed the way the matching gold band curls around Coulson's ring finger, too.
Coulson smiles a little, just the corner of his mouth lifting. The sight is so enchanting that Clint feels a desperate urge to kiss him, see what that smile tastes like off his lips. "Would you look at that," Coulson says, self-deprecating, eyes holding Clint's.
Clint bites his lip so he doesn't let slip any one of the ridiculous things running circles through his head right now.
"Why?" he says instead, because that's so much better, nice going, Barton, you idiot.
"For much the same reason as you," Coulson says, calm like he's commenting on the amount of stars visible through Las Vegas' light pollution; like he isn't dropping a nuclear warhead in the middle of Clint's ordered universe.
Clint blinks, trying to process. "You... wanted it to be real, too?" he says, voice gone rough all of a sudden, like he can't trust what he's saying.
Coulson's watching him carefully. Something he sees in Clint's face must make his choice for him, because he's pushing off the back of the driver's seat, leaning across the gear shift and crowding Clint against the passenger door, invading his space with purpose. Clint's breath tangles in his chest; anticipation clogs his throat as Coulson's clean, achingly familiar scent teases his nose. Coulson is right there and Clint isn't going to get a better invitation than this.
He leans in and, just like that, their lips are touching and Clint is making this pained, needy sound in the back of his throat that he can't quite recognise as coming from him, and Coulson is just drinking it up, opening his mouth, drawing Clint's tongue inside. Clint feels dizzy, close to shaking apart as the heat from Coulson's body sinks into him and Coulson's fingers thread in the short hair at the back of his head.
The sound Clint makes when Coulson pulls back is way closer to broken than it ought to be for just a kiss. It's not just a kiss, though. It's the way Coulson's breathing has quickened, the way his lovely blue eyes have gone dark, all pupil, and it’s the way he licks his lips, like he can taste Clint on them. The sight alone punches Clint in the gut, making his fingers spasm where they have come to curl over Coulson's hip still covered by that delicious suit.
"I want to go inside," Clint hears himself saying, sounding drunk even though that moment has long passed. There's more than one way to get intoxicated, though, and being drunk on Coulson, on the way Coulson is making him feel, is something that Clint thinks can fast become his favourite way of losing himself.
Coulson draws back from him, hand falling away from where it was gently squeezing Clint's upper arm. Clint feels the loss keenly and sways closer, wanting the feeling back. "Okay," Coulson says. He sounds winded, too; triumph joins the flames of want in Clint's belly.
They manage to get out of the car somehow, immediately gravitating to each other's side, so close that their shoulders touch when they walk. Clint is frankly shocked they look so composed in the reflection of the sliding doors at the entrance of the hotel, only the slightest flush in their cheeks, a faint reddened sheen on Coulson's lips. Clint wants badly to kiss him again, wants to press him against the wall and suck a bite onto his neck, right at the edge of his collar. He knows he's staring, and he doesn't give a single damn.
Neither does the receptionist, who looks like he's seen it all. A key gets passed over the counter once Coulson flashes his ID at him, and Clint follows right at his heels, not even bothering to ask for the one that's probably waiting for him as well. He doesn't care for a room that doesn't contain a Coulson as well as a bed.
The elevator is the real trial. They stand on opposite ends, backs pressed to the corners behind them. The way Coulson's eyes burn into his makes Clint's skin itch, makes the shirt he's wearing stick to his shoulders, driving him nuts. He wants it gone almost as desperately as he wants to take Coulson's off with his teeth.
They're barely through the door of their room before Clint's on Coulson, flattening him against the wall right beside it, pressing his whole body against Coulson's, feeling the fine tremor that runs down him when they're flush together. Clint can't, physically cannot wait any longer; the invitation in Coulson's eyes could not be plainer if he'd told Clint to kiss him. Clint leans in and takes his mouth, slow and thorough. It's wet and messy, Coulson's tongue stroking against his, Coulson's arm curling around Clint's neck, holding him there. The urge to touch is too strong; Clint flicks open just a few buttons on Coulson's shirt, leaving the rest done up, slides his fingers through the gap, his whole hand, all the way to his wrist, relishes the way Coulson's stomach muscles contract when Clint's fingers trail over them. Coulson exhales roughly into his mouth, a whine caught and swallowed between them. The arch of Coulson's body is a dead tell; he presses himself against Clint, tight, no space between them, and Clint reels with how hard it makes him, Coulson’s obvious need to get closer.
Coulson's teeth catch on Clint's lip; Clint grunts, surprised, when Coulson bites down and nibbles along the edge of it. At his hip, he feels the nudge of Coulson's hard-on, a twitch that makes Clint's vision white out.
"Fuck, baby, yeah," Clint says, pressing in, hips snapping forward, until the bulges in his and Coulson's pants line up.
Coulson whimpers, high and thin, and tries to crawl inside his mouth. His other hand trails down Clint's back, gets a good grip on Clint's ass, and yanks him in, until their trapped lengths mash together just this side of painful. Clint's fucking knees shake, he's that turned on. He has serious doubts that they'll make it to the bed.
Coulson's mouth tears away from his on a gasp; Coulson sucks in harsh pants of air, licking along his lower lip again. He seems to have some idea of what the sight does to Clint, because there's the faintest hint of a smirk on him. It's devastatingly sexy, all that competence with all that confidence.
"I want you to fuck me," he says, and Clint loses what little air he has left when Coulson adds, "and I want you to say my name as you come inside me."
"Fuck, Coulson," Clint starts to say; then, at the last moment, on a hunch that he has no idea where it comes from, amends it to "Phil."
Phil fucking shakes for him, head falling back, baring his throat. "You've never said my name before," he says roughly, and Clint proceeds to fix that, over and over again, watching, fascinated, as Phil falls apart before him from that alone.
Yeah, that bed? Not a fucking chance in hell.
The jacket of Phil's suit feels just as good coming off as it did on Phil's body, better still because it uncovers the way Phil's shirt fits his shoulders, the neat way it hugs his middle, ridiculously hot once Phil has tugged his tie off. It's trim, tight, messed up only slightly by the three undone buttons that show a sliver of skin, the thin trail of hair leading down his stomach. Clint's mouth waters. He wants to suck Phil off, listen to him lose it above him; he wants to take Phil's balls in his mouth, nose further along, lick a teasing stripe over his ass, feel it flutter around the tip of his tongue. He wants Phil begging for his cock and, when that doesn't work, ordering Clint to fuck him. He kind of has trouble not coming on the spot just thinking about it, thinking of Phil telling him to fuck me Barton come on come on get that cock of yours inside me that's an order soldier because if ever there was a pushy bottom, Phil Coulson is one.
He doesn't know how he gets the patience for it; it must come from some hitherto untapped reserves, but he strips Phil down, doesn't come while Phil keeps up a grumbling commentary egging him to go faster, manages to keep his control from snapping when Phil pushes back against three of Clint's fingers, knuckle-deep inside his ass, demanding that he go faster. He insists that Phil kneel on the bed, comfortable against the pillows, before he finally, finally allows himself to rub the head of his painfully hard cock over the slick, stretched entrance, and start pushing inside. Phil goes quiet then; Clint slows, almost stops, anxiety spiking -- how long has it been since Phil's done this? Is he hurting him? -- before Phil's whole body shudders, and he spreads his knees, lets his spine arch, takes Clint inside so beautifully that Clint has to slow down for another reason entirely. He grits his teeth, pushing back his orgasm by sheer force of will; and when that isn't enough, he growls, "For fuck's sake, Phil, stay still unless you want me to come before I'm even all the way in."
Phil stills for a long, long moment. His shoulders tighten, and Clint sees him lean down until his forehead almost touches the bed, and his hands curl tightly around the metal bars of the headboard.
"You will not come before you have made me come, Barton. Is that understood?" he says and fucking hell, his voice sounds so calm, so level, Clint would never believe he was almost balls-deep in Phil's ass if he wasn't looking right at his cock disappearing inside the tight, slick channel. It's Phil's "you will do as I tell you, Barton" mission voice, and god, Clint had no idea it was even possible to get more turned on than he already was without exploding.
"Fuck, sir," he pants, and Phil chuckles shakily, says "That's the idea," and okay, Clint can admit as much: he loses time after that. The heat of Phil's ass gripping his cock is the only reality he knows for a while. All he can do is catalogue the way Phil's back takes on a faint sheen of sweat, the way his spine bows when Clint finds the right spot and fixes the position in his mind, going back for it again and again. All he can hear is the way Phil's breathing starts to fracture the closer he gets, the way he keens when Clint's fingers find a stiff nipple and twist, the way he says Clint's name, half-lost, half like he's found the only steady point in a storm.
"Harder," Phil orders, and Clint is good at following orders when they come from this man. He does as he's told, and Phil starts coming apart beneath him, ass pulsing fitfully. His control slips a little as Phil gets one hand under him, to palm his cock Clint assumes, because the muscles around him tighten like a shock to the system. He is not going to last long with this going on, orders or not.
Phil comes with a groan that sounds like it's being torn out of him. His wild, uncontrolled whimpers shatter the rest of Clint's restraint that’s been hanging by a thread for far too long now; he slams forward one last time, letting the way Phil's ass spasms milk him through to done, biting hard at his lip so he doesn't scream the place down. His throat feels raw with the effort of holding back, and he slumps like his strings have been cut, flattening Phil to the bed, probably way too heavy for him but he can't move, not just yet. He feels utterly wrung out; all he can manage is to place soothing kisses to the skin under his mouth, over Phil's loosened shoulders.
His softened cock slips out, and Phil flinches just a tiny bit. Clint has not been particularly gentle but it’s not like Phil had let him slow down for a second. Still, Clint musters what strength he has to roll over off of him, so at least Phil can move freely. Clint knows, better than most, what a monumentally bad idea it is to make an agent of their caliber feel trapped, intentional or not.
Time passes. Clint's breathing evens out, slowly matching itself to Phil's. Phil sounds okay; he can hide it better than almost anyone else, but Clint has made a study of him for too many years now, and he knows what Phil sounds like when he's hurt. This isn't it.
This is something else. Something new. Something that Clint is going to memorise so thoroughly that he couldn't forget it if he tried.
"Let's do it," Phil says eventually. Clint blinks at the non-sequitur and lets his head flop to the side to see him, propped up on one elbow, looking down at Clint with this impossibly warm expression on his face.
"Do what?" Clint drawls, feeling fucked-out and languid. He loves it.
"Let's make it real."
Clint stares at him for a long moment; then, with a rush of feeling that leaves him breathless, he realises that they have just fucked, their fake-but-maybe-not-so-fake wedding rings firm and heavy on their fingers, marking their skin in ways Clint can't even begin to comprehend. He wants it so bad his insides cramp. For Phil to be his, for him to be Phil's, the tangible proof of it right there to see... It's beyond anything he could have hoped for.
"Okay," he breathes, giddy with a strange, overwhelming kind of happiness that he never thought he could, would ever feel. "Yes. Let's do it."
Phil grins, sudden and wide enough that the corners of his eyes crinkle with it. Clint is maybe so in love with him that he thinks he might burst.
"Fair warning, though," Phil tells him, with a glint in his eye that makes Clint grin back for no reason but because Phil is letting him see it. "You fuck up one of my shirts when you do the laundry, you'll be in the doghouse."
Clint lets the laugh that has been building escape, careless of how besotted it makes him sound. It's freer than he's heard come out of his mouth for a long time, since long before the Battle of New York.
"Yes sir," he says happily. There is no need to let Phil know that there's more than one way to ruin a good shirt -- or that Clint appreciates Phil's clothes enough to learn to avoid every one of them.
He is no ordinary husband, after all.