The thing is about SHEILD is that, despite the high-tech weapons and the flying air craft carrier and super-secret science bases, the organization itself is cheap as shit. Or rather, Fury is one penny pinching bastard. Clint knows Fury buddied up with NASA on the tesseract project in order to lay hands on the already existing complex in New Mexico (and to then bury it), just like he knows the main reason Iron Man is part of the Avengers is because Stark’s willing to pay for their toys.
Clint’s not complaining about that, because he is no fool. Tony redesigned the material for Clint’s primary battle bow – not the bow itself, but the material it is made out of – in order to improve its stamina and tensile strength. It required four days of Clint re-learning the weapon but that is kind of like a four-day sex marathon, as far as Clint is concerned: no downside, even if he ended up sore all over and covered in string burns.
But that is the exception, not the rule. The top players get the fancy labs and per diem accounts while the heavy lifters like Clint and Natasha get Motel 6 and eight dollars for dinner. Clint is prone to romanticizing their history because he’s really a sap at heart (he accepted that fact long ago), but the truth is they started fucking because they had to a share a bed at a hostel in France. After a few years it just sort of became a habit. They both know that their friendship is not dependent on the sex, and Clint prefers men in general anyway, but he admires the irony that their relationship status is “classified” because SHEILD did not want to fork out forty euros for an actual hotel with two beds.
Mostly, though, it explains why the YMCA three blocks down the road from SHEILD’s New York offices is the most security conscious YMCA in the country. No one wants to actually set foot in the SHEILD office building’s workout room, with its circa-1995 elliptical machines and strange techno-house-disco music mix that repeats every forty-five minutes. Everyone decamps for the Y, which Fury claims is good PR. No one believes him for a second, but Clint figures no one ever does anyway.
What Clint has never done, though, is use the pool. He’s not a big fan of swimming. It’s not a skill that is taught to orphans or circus performers in general, and when he finally did learn how to swim it was mostly a defensive measure against being tossed off a boat or falling into a river. Or Natasha trying to drown him in the tub (it only happened that one time, but he won’t forget it). However during the last Avengers throw down he was, literally, thrown down off a roof and only escaped certain braining on the pavement because Iron Man caught him. Clint had wrenched his knee going over, and while it was not the worst injury of his career it was bad enough to put him out of commission for three weeks and under a strict physical therapy regimen that included pool exercises for strengthening.
Natasha laughed and gave him a speedo mini-brief.
And because Clint is a cocky bastard (with a very nice cock, thankyouverymuchboys), he decides to wear it.
At that Y, though, Clint is just one of a hundred beautiful, in-shape guys wandering around half-naked (not that he’s complaining, because he’s so not). He does not have the pretty, pretty movie-star looks of Agent Liu or the body-builder physique of Agent Hadlock (who could, maybe, give Cap a run for the money) but Clint is self-confidant enough to fill out a bright red, SHEILD-branded banana-hammock with no shame. He’s in the prime of his life, the best physical condition he’ll ever be in (barring the knee injury), and completely single. He’s got nothing to hide and no reason to so he winks at Agent Martinez when she stumbles into a guard rail because she was too busy staring at him to watch where she was going. It’s happened before. Clint knows his strengths.
He also knows his weaknesses, which is why he manages to catch himself before doing a header into the water at the sight of Agent Coulson climbing out of the pool, water shedding down him, light glistening off of his wet skin like a thousand daggers to Clint’s libido.
Clint decides to play it cool. He knows how, he’s been doing it for years, despite all the taunting Natasha has given him about his crush. Agent Coulson is one of the Untouchables, right up there with Agent Hill and Fury himself: too high on the ladder to even flirt with, and would probably gut you if you tried. Coulson has been Clint’s handler off and on for seven years, and they work well together, because Clint is very good at repression and compartmentalizing and Coulson is apparently made of stone.
There are rumors of a cellist in Portland. There are also rumors that Coulson dated Pepper Potts, that Coulson is into BDSM and keeps a slave in his basement, and that Coulson is a robot. Clint suspects the last might be closest to the truth, because he’s been on missions with Coulson to some of the most depraved places in the world and never once seen the man even ogle a naked ass, much less naked breasts or naked cock. Clint also suspects that Coulson’s personal spank stash is probably office supply catalogs.
Clint knows that Coulson is the worst choice for him to fixate on, but that hasn’t stopped him. Clint has what Natasha called a “competence kink” and Coulson hits it hard. Coulson is what most people would describe as unassuming and forgettable, but that’s only because they haven’t worked with him. Clint has. Clint knows Coulson is a better strategist than anyone but Fury himself, almost as deadly as Natasha and in a pinch, a very damn accurate shot.
But he’s never, not once, seen Coulson in a bathing suit.
Which is funny because he has seen Coulson naked; more than once they’ve been shoved into decontamination chambers together, and there was that one memorable mission in Bulgaria with the leeches that Clint would pay good money to forget (another reason Clint does not swim for recreation). But that’s work; that’s keeping your focus on anything but your co-worker’s ass while undressing and pretending naked is the new black while you get hosed down with vinegar water by SHEILD specialists who are a little too gleeful about handling high-pressure equipment.
It’s not about see the object of his wayward lust walking around casually in a tight pair of swim briefs that stop right at the curve where ass meets thigh. They are racer-style square cut, Clint’s brain stutters unhelpfully, the product of too much time spent looking through Natasha’s International Male catalogs. They are bright turquoise and they are wet and sculpted to—
“Agent Barton. Need some help with the brace?”
Clint looks down at his knee, momentarily forgotten in the…distraction. The brace is a tightly velcroed piece of medical art with steel stays and it’s a bitch to dry if it gets wet. He hates it, and prefers forgetting he has it on when he can.
“No, sir, I think I got it.” Clint looks up, giving Coulson his best smart-ass grin, because Clint can play it smooth. He’s got this, oh yeah.
Coulson crosses his arms, and whoa, the man isn’t chiseled but it’s not like Clint gets to see Coulson’s pectorals flex and shift under his skin on a usual basis, or like ever. Coulson is solid and strong, Clint knew that long before he ever saw him without a shirt on, but he’s meaty in a way that Clint isn’t prepared for.
“Barton?” Coulson says softly, worry tingeing his voice as he leans in towards Clint.
“Sorry, sir. Just kinda zoned out there for a second.” Clint’s found that telling the truth is the easiest way to lie.
It backfires, though. Coulson reaches out to grab Clint’s arm as if to steady him. “If you’re still on the pain meds the pool probably isn’t the best place for you.” Coulson looks around as if he expects Clint to slip and fall down any second. It’s a touch that Clint has felt a dozen if not a hundred times in missions too numerous to count, but it is completely new and electric with both of them mostly naked and Coulson’s body still damp from being in the water.
“No, I’m not, except for the low-grade acetaminophen.” Clint shudders and tries to shake Coulson off.
“The pain then? Okay. So we’ll do this together?”
“Sir?” Clint is pretty sure his voice breaks as Coulson kneels down in front of him, eye level with Clint’s dick for fuck’s sake and starts to unstrap the knee brace. The brace is off in two seconds and Coulson hands it off to a junior agent—like he keeps one around just in case, Clint isn’t sure, or maybe they are just groupies, which makes more sense to him—then stands up, pulling the kickboard that Clint had been holding out of his arm. Then he’s steering Clint towards the shallow end of the pool.
“No really, sir, I just need to kick around for a bit. I’m good.” Clint tries not to limp without the brace to hold everything in place.
“Understood. Here we go.” Coulson is being purposefully dense, Clint recognizes the behavior and knows from experience that there is no point in arguing, so he lets Coulson tug him over to the edge of the pool. The far corner was designed for kids and rehab, so there are steps leading into the water. Coulson steps in, drops the kickboard and turns around to grab Clint’s forearms. Clint has absolutely no choice but to grab back and look down, where Coulson’s muscled thighs sink into the water, which laps at Coulson’s crotch, and Clint figures he deserves this for some unnamed cock tease game he played on someone, somewhere, who knows when. He vows never to do that again if he can just get in and out of the fucking pool without popping a woody.
Coulson has that patient almost-smile on his face, the one that would make you think he’s a kind hearted man if you didn’t know the bastard the way Clint does. Sighing, Clint steps forward and lets Coulson pull him gently into the water, and in all honesty Clint is glad for the balance because his knee really is a bitch. When they are both in the water, which only comes up their waists, Clint finally shakes him off and makes a grab for the kick board.
“Thanks, sir. I appreciate the help.” Because Clint can be polite. He can be grateful. Just as long as the great expanse of naked Coulson gets the fuck out of his face sometime soon.
“How many laps?”
Sighing, Clint drops his head in defeat. “Five. At least. I was going to aim for eight today.”
“That would be over exerting yourself, would it not, Agent Barton?” Coulson asks, disapproval clear in his expression.
“Don’t you have some laps to do yourself, sir? Or something?” Clint snaps back, losing patience. He’s only human.
“No, I was just finishing up my workout.”
“I’m sure you’ve got paperwork waiting for you.” Clint heads towards the deeper section, where the lanes are set up. He’s not looking forward to the experience; the body has a way of focusing all its energy on whatever wound is slowing it down, and doing anything else becomes exhausting. He knows he’s in great shape and if his knee were working, he could run five miles without breaking a sweat, but between the pain and the healing process, he’s going to be wrecked by the time he gets done shimmying around on the kickboard. He hates it, but that’s the way recovery goes and he knows it.
“On my day off? I hope not.” Coulson follows him, the jerk.
Clint ignores him, ducking through lanes to get to an empty one. Bad form usually, but everyone makes exceptions for injured agents, and they all saw him being led into the pool like a baby duckling by Coulson. He lines himself up with the kickboard and looks over his shoulder, where Coulson is hovering, treading water and swinging his arms to stay afloat.
“I’ll just follow.”
Clint looks back to the long, long lane in front of him. “Asshole.”
“Anytime you’re ready, Barton,” Coulson says, his dry professionalism firmly in place.
Snarling, Clint starts a slow steady kicking, and everything else disappears around him as he focuses on staying in his lane, balancing his muscles, keeping a regular pace and the thousand other things he has to think about because he’s no water baby and he’s injured. He gets to the end of the lane and he’s already tired, although not panting. Yet. He knows he will be. His knee throbs but not painfully, so he turns around to keep going rather than pause and then nearly yelps when he realizes how closely Coulson was following. He pulls up on the kickboard but he doesn’t have to, because Coulson is half dolphin or something and has already ducked. He swims right under Clint and comes up behind him again.
“Don’t forget I’m here,” he says, sounding amused.
“Asshole.” Clint repeats before starting up with the boring, annoying kicking again.
It’s on the fourth lap that things start sliding apart. His knee is almost hurting and he probably should have dosed up on the acetaminophen instead of trying to be macho about it, so he feels the start of that fuzzy-headed sensation indicating his body is close to telling him to back the fuck off. He’s not going to make eight laps, that’s pretty clear, but he’s damned if he doesn’t at least get to six. At the end of the fourth lap, he hangs on the edge of the pool, panting a little. He knows he’s dripping sweat but the water keeps sloughing it off him.
“One more.” Coulson, who has shadowed him relentlessly, comes up behind him, and what the fuck, he puts a thigh right between Clint’s legs, under his ass. Only years of training keeps Clint from hauling himself out of the water and shrieking like a virgin.
“What the hell!?!?!” He hisses instead, which he feels is a great compromise, considering.
“You’re exhausted and we’re hovering in water that is eight feet deep.” Coulson’s free arm comes around Clint’s waist as he pushes his very well-muscled thigh up against Clint’s ass. He’s basically holding Clint up, and if Clint weren’t nearly shaking from the exertion of the measly four laps, he’d be pissed off. But Coulson’s skin is slick and warm, his hand feels broad and sure over Clint’s stomach, and Coulson is using his other arm to prop himself against the edge of the pool. His biceps are bulging from the effort of keeping them in place. Clint wants to lean over and lick that muscle, so he decides that now is a good time to get back on track.
“Two more.” He shoves Coulson off of him because the water is cold but he’s acclimated and tired and he does not need to try and swim with a hard-on. He kicks away with a firm grip on the board and a determination to get the laps done quickly, so he’s halfway into the final lap when he realizes he’s hit the wall. He slows and plans on treading water, clinging to the kickboard like a five year old, until either someone pulls him out or he drowns. He doesn’t care either way because his knee is hurting and his head is throbbing and he really, really hates getting injured.
But then Coulson is there, right there in front of him—he probably pulled the dolphin move again—and he’s sliding his chest under the board while pulling Clint up on it, wrapping his arms around Clint to hold them together, and Clint hates the fucking kickboard because it is keeping him from smearing himself all over Coulson’s chest. Which he might have said aloud, because Coulson is laughing at him as he starts kicking, moving backwards, dragging Clint along with him.
“Nothing personal, sir.” Clint thuds his forehead down on Coulson’s shoulder. It’s like a totally pathetic extraction from enemy territory, and Clint knows he’ll be embarrassed about it later but for the moment he’s glad someone is here for him.
“I’m disappointed to hear it.” Coulson smiles, and Clint’s brain stalls because that is the smile, the “I’ve found a new vintage Captain America trading card” smile that Clint has seen maybe three or four times in all the years he’s been looking for it.
Clint processes the comment all the way until they are at the end of the lap. Coulson stops but doesn’t move, essentially lying under Clint, their legs rubbing together. Their wet, naked legs. Clint tilts his head.
“You look good in red, Barton,” Coulson grins, rubbing his thigh up over Clint’s not-uninterested anatomy. Clint maybe whimpers a little before biting his lower lip.
“You could call me Clint. Especially when we’re mostly naked together.” Clint says softly, his eyes glancing around to see if other agents are watching them. No one is, that he can tell, but gossip works in strange and mysterious ways.
“You know most of them think we’re a couple already,” Coulson says. He sounds amused, so Clint pulls back a little to look at him.
Coulson nods. “So, I don’t think this will look particularly out of place. Clint.” Coulson tips his head up and kisses Clint softly on the lips, tightening his hold and kicking his legs to keep them floating in place. Clint would admire that multi-tasking if he had the brain power to focus on anything but Coulson’s soft lips pressing chastely against his. At the last moment, Coulson’s tongue darts out and swipes over Clint’s lower lip, and Clint is done, totally gone.
“Take me home and fuck me, now now now.”
“That’s very demanding for a first date.” Coulson starts angling them for the shallow corner, ducking lanes again although it’s pretty clear everyone is giving them a wide, wide berth.
“Officially I think we’ve been dating longer than that, sir.” Clint snarks, working himself out of Coulson’s grasp to help the process along.
“Perhaps. But I’m an old fashioned guy, Clint. I like to take things slowly.”
Horrified, Clint hauls him up short, which isn’t easy in the water with the kickboard in the way. “No. No no no. Oh no. You are not doing this to me. We, you and me, we are having sex. Today.”
“I’m worried about your knee,” Coulson redirects, pushing Clint onto the pool steps.
“Oh my god, you’re serious.”
Coulson nods, standing up out of the water. Clint puts it all together then, for the first time really: Coulson has a swimmer’s build, solid and thick and strong, with a layer of fat to soften the angles and keep him buoyant. He’s not Olympic level but it’s clear that Coulson swims, and swims a lot. Water runs in rivulets down his gentle curves of muscles, making the fine hair on his legs mat down. He’s beautiful because he’s perfectly attuned to the sport, in the same way he’s perfectly attuned to everything around him. Like Clint. Like them. Clint sits there, stunned speechless for a second, because it has been a long time since he felt this way about anyone. He’s not sure, in fact, he ever has.
“Well shit, I think I’m in love with you.” Clint stares up at him.
Coulson looks down, blinking. “Good?”
“Take me home.”
Coulson smiles, nods, and reaches down to help Clint up.