Steve would never have thought it possible if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes. Coulson was drunk.
Really, stinking drunk.
It was Tony’s fault. Of course, Tony tended to get the blame for things like this regardless of whether he was responsible or not (let’s face it, he usually was) but this time was definitely, without a doubt, Tony’s fault. He had been plying Coulson with drinks all night, buying them and slipping them into Coulson’s hand. Steve wasn’t entirely sure why Coulson had kept drinking them (maybe the stress of working for SHIELD was too much for even him sometimes), but he had.
And now he was drunk, courtesy of Tony Stark.
“Is he… smiling?” Bruce asked in a tone of complete wonder.
Steve nodded slowly. “I think so.” An actual, genuine, full-blown smile.
Tony came up behind them and slung his arms across their shoulders. “Amazing, isn’t it? I thought those facial muscles had atrophied from lack of use.”
“I don’t think that’s actually possible,” Steve said before getting distracted by the sight of Coulson laughing.
“Damn,” Bruce said.
Darcy left Coulson with Thor and Jane and walked over, looking extremely pleased with herself. “Hey guys, did you see that? I totally made Coulson not just crack a smile, but laugh. Am I awesome, or what?”
“Pretty awesome,” Tony agreed, “but I think I get an assist for that.”
“No way. That joke was all me.”
“But the vodka was all me.”
Darcy snapped her fingers. “Damn it. Okay, but it was still mostly me.”
“Fair enough. Hey, Clint!” Tony called over, catching sight of Clint weaving his way through the crowded bar to get to them. “Nice of you to finally join us.”
“I was with Natasha--” Clint tried to say but Darcy grabbed his arm.
She directed his attention to Coulson. “Tony got Coulson wasted. Did you know he actually has a sense of humor?” At Clint’s gob smacked expression, Darcy went to say, “I know, right? Hard to believe, but I have firsthand experience.”
“Tony got Coulson drunk?” was all Clint said.
Darcy seemed confused. “Um, yeah. Did you not get how amazing this is?”
Clint gave Tony a look that was halfway between anger and disgust and then strode off towards Coulson.
“Okay, what’s eating him?”
“I don’t think he likes me very much,” Tony said sadly.
“No one likes you very much,” Bruce said.
“Story of my life. Steve likes me though, don’t you, Steve?”
“Sure,” Steve said. Some of the time, anyway.
“You are so adorable,” Darcy said and Steve backed up a step because she looked alarmingly like she wanted to pinch his cheeks or something.
Steve didn’t understand Darcy. Sometimes she seemed to want to tuck a blanket around him like he was her grandpa and then sometimes she seemed to be restraining herself from squeezing his biceps or smacking him on the ass. Weird.
He watched Clint and Coulson through the crowd, Clint leaning in to speak into Coulson’s ear to be heard better above the music. Thor and Jane had vanished, possibly to start dancing. Or possibly not, as Thor dancing was sort of hard to miss.
After a while, Steve asked, “Is it just me or does Coulson keep looking at me?”
“Nah, he’s totally staring at you,” Darcy said.
“Why is Coulson staring at me?”
Tony clapped him on the back. “Because you’re Captain America, Cap.”
“What? That… That doesn’t help, Tony. Tony?” But Tony had already gone off to coax Pepper into dancing, by the looks of it, so Steve turned to Bruce instead.
Bruce shrugged. “You’re a national icon or something, I don’t know. And I think Coulson’s kind of a nerd.”
“I’m pretty sure the word you want is geek, actually,” Darcy supplied helpfully and then shoved Steve in Coulson’s direction. She caught him unawares so she did manage to move him a couple of inches. “Go on, don’t leave the poor guy hanging, look at him! You’ll crush his spirit if you don’t talk to him.”
“Don’t crush his spirit!” Bruce encouraged, making a small fist-pump and grinning. Bruce’s sense of humor was questionable, Steve had learned.
But he went over to Coulson and Clint anyway, because could they really be any worse than Darcy and Bruce? Denying Darcy was a losing battle.
“Hi, guys,” Steve said, trying for casual and hoping he didn’t look as uncomfortable as he felt.
“What a surprise,” Clint said in a tone that suggested he hated surprises. “We were just talking about you.”
Coulson put a hand to Clint’s elbow in a ‘be nice’ gesture. “Captain Rogers.” He was wearing a wide, boyish smile on his face that made him look years younger. “How nice of you to come talk to me. Us.”
“No, just… Just call me Steve.”
“Steve,” Coulson repeated, his smile getting bigger. He looked like he was moments away from deciding to give Steve a hug.
Steve felt a little embarrassed and wished he could leave without being rude. The fact that Clint was watching him with an altogether unfriendly expression didn’t help matters. Steve wasn’t sure exactly what he’d done.
Clint’s eyes strayed from where they’d been boring into Steve’s skull over to the bar. He gazed wistfully at it before looking away again.
“I’m gonna buy you a drink,” Steve offered and made his escape before Clint could argue. He found Thor and Jane at the bar, tossing back shots.
“Ah, Steve,” Thor said with one of his big, cheerful smiles. “Join us! Jane has been introducing me to the redheaded slut!”
Jane, who had clearly had a few too many redheaded sluts (okay, that sounded wrong even in Steve’s head), snorted laughter and almost knocked her empty shot glass off the countertop.
“Ask her for a blow job next,” came Darcy’s voice from just behind Steve’s shoulder.
Steve blushed. “I really hope that’s the name of a drink.”
Darcy winked at him and went to stand next to Jane, casually leaning slightly into her in a clear attempt to make sure Jane didn’t teeter off her stool.
Thor was frowning at her, eyebrows drawn in confusion. “Friend Darcy, I do not believe that is an appropriate request for this sort of establishment.”
“It’s a drink, big guy, don’t worry,” Darcy said and then turned back to Steve. “So what happened to Coulson? Because you lasted about five seconds before high-tailing it over here.”
And now Thor was frowning at Steve like he was incredibly disappointed. “He was very interested in speaking with you. He holds you in high regard.”
“Yeah,” Steve said and glanced in the direction of where he had left Clint and Coulson, lost somewhere in the crowd. He got the bartender’s attention and ordered a beer. “I’m not too sure Clint is happy with me at the moment.”
“Fuck Clint,” Darcy said dismissively. “I don’t know who shit in his Cheerios this morning, but he needs to lighten up.”
“I don’t believe he had any Cheerios this morning,” Thor said with a completely serious, earnest expression. “And I can’t imagine who would want to defecate in them if he had.”
Steve eyed Thor questioningly. He had to be fooling around with them. Right? Steve was pretty sure Thor was fooling around with them most of the time. He could sympathize with Thor’s obliviousness - after all, when Tony and Darcy started talking, sometimes Steve only understood half of what they said (though he was getting better, he was proud to note). Still, he suspected Thor had started making a game of it.
Darcy was grinning like she’d arrived at the same conclusion, but then she directed her attention to Steve again. Unfortunately. “You’re a big boy, Steve. Don’t let mean old Clint push you around.”
“You know we’re basically the same age, don’t you? Not considering the seventy years I spent frozen in ice? There’s no need to talk to me like I’m five.”
“Then don’t act like a five-year-old who’s been faced with cooties for the first time.”
Losing battle, Steve told himself with a sigh and trudged back to Clint and Coulson. “I thought you seemed like you wanted a beer,” Steve said as he offered the glass to Clint.
Clint stared at it like it might be a bomb before accepting it with a begrudging nod. Coulson was eyeing his own nearly empty glass with a puzzled crease between his eyes, as if he couldn’t understand how his drink had gotten to be empty.
“Sorry, Coulson, I didn’t think you needed anything.”
“He doesn’t,” Clint said at the same time Coulson said, “Phil.”
Clint raised wide eyes to Coulson’s face as Coulson elaborated. “Please. My friends call me Phil,” he said with disarming bashfulness.
“Um, okay. Phil,” Steve said, but it felt weird.
But then someone else called, “Phil!” and they all looked around to see Pepper dragging Tony by the arm. “Oh, Phil, I’m glad I caught you.”
Coulson was smiling blindingly at her. “Pepper!”
She touched her hand to his arm and the two of them started speaking quickly to each other, too softly for Steve to make out above the blasting music.
“I still don’t know how that happened,” Tony was saying to anyone who would listen. Basically that meant Steve.
Steve wasn’t sure why Tony was surprised. Pepper seemed to know everything and everyone and Steve had yet to come across a single person who wasn’t utterly charmed by her.
“He isn’t a robot, you know,” Clint told them. “He has a life. He has friends.”
“He even has a first name!” Tony said brightly. “Come on, Pepper, I want to get out of here. You promised you’d--”
Pepper pressed her finger to Tony’s mouth, silencing him. Steve wished that trick would work if he did it. “Alright, Tony, no need to be rude. Good night, everyone.”
“Good night,” they all chorused.
Before they left, Tony switched Coulson’s empty drink for his own still nearly full one. He patted Coulson on the shoulder and said, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” before setting his hand at the small of Pepper’s back and jostling his way through the crowd.
Clint scowled. “You don’t have to drink that.”
“Can if I want,” Coulson said and took a large gulp.
Steve snickered and Clint glared at him. “Phil, really--” Clint reached out like he was going to take the glass from his hand.
But Coulson drained the whole thing, licking his lips when he was done. He held out the empty glass. “Did you want this?”
Clint’s eyes dropped from Coulson’s mouth to the glass in his hand. “Oh... No, you keep that.”
Steve was biting his tongue. He probably shouldn’t be finding this all as amusing as he was.
“Steve,” Coulson said and Steve tried to focus again.
“You know you... never signed my cards.”
“Your cards?” Steve thought for a second and then remembered the set of vintage Captain America cards Coulson had showed him early on in their acquaintance. “Oh! Right. Um... You were serious about that?”
Coulson’s eyebrows pinched together. “Of course!”
Steve suddenly felt like a bit of a jerk. “I’ll sign them. Of course I will.”
“Thanks,” he said, brightening. “I missed your retrieval from the ice, you know.” His voice gained a wistful note. “I would’ve loved to have been there but Clint and I were on a field op.”
“Really?” Steve asked, trying desperately not to look at Clint.
Not looking at him didn’t prevent Steve from hearing the tightness in his voice, however. “I thought you liked our old two-man ops.”
Coulson shrugged. “Doesn’t quite hold up to meeting Captain America, does it?”
“I guess not,” Clint said and his tone could have cut glass. “At least you won’t have to worry about missing anything because of me anymore.”
Steve fidgeted. He was missing something, he really was. He wished Natasha hadn’t left already. “Well, you met me anyway, right?”
Coulson was smiling that little boy smile again. “I won’t forget it. Not ever. You were my hero when I was growing up, my dad saw you once. I used to ask him for the story every night. ” He touched Steve’s arm, his fingers spreading against Steve’s shirt.
Steve was pretty sure he wasn’t going to ever forget tonight though he suspected Coulson was going to wish he would. “Phil,” he said gently, the name still feeling unaccountably strange on his tongue. “I’m going to get you a cab. I think it’s time you went to bed.”
Which was the precise moment Clint loudly declared, “No!” and shoved his way in between Steve and Coulson. “I’ll take care of him.”
Steve backed off because Clint was glaring that death glare at him. “Okay, whatever you want.”
Coulson was simply blinking between the two of them, apparently utterly unconcerned with what was happening. Steve was astonished he was still on his feet, honestly.
Clint put his arm around Coulson’s back with a surprising amount of tenderness, something fiercely protective about it. “Let’s get you home, Phil,” he said and steered Coulson towards the door.
Okay. Steve might be slow but he thought he was beginning to get the idea.
When Steve came across Clint in the kitchen the next morning, Clint looked like he hadn’t slept at all. He was chugging a cup of coffee, his hair in disarray, still dressed in last night’s clothes.
“Morning,” Steve said and got the eggs out of the refrigerator. He was always starving after his morning work-out. “Want any breakfast?”
Clint blanched. “Hell, no.”
“Sorry. Bad night?”
The only response Steve got was a slightly toned-down version of last night’s death glare. Steve shrugged and started chopping up some peppers. He felt like having an omelet. “Did Coulson get home okay?”
After a moment of silence, Clint said, “Fine,” gritted out between his teeth.
“I bet he’s having a rough morning.”
“How the hell would I know?”
Steve stared at Clint. Was he blushing? “I never said you would.”
Clint’s shoulders fell a little. “Right. Sorry.”
“Clint, have I done something wrong? Because I’m getting the feeling you’re upset with me.”
“No, I...” Clint brushed his hand through his hair. “Shit, I don’t want to do this. Can we not do this?”
Given that Clint looked like he was either going to collapse face-first into the table or possibly punch Steve in the face and then collapse, Steve said, “Yeah, okay.”
Which of course was when Tony made his appearance, looking cheerful and well-rested. “Morning, Cap, Barton,” he said and helped himself to a handful of Steve’s peppers.
“Tony,” Steve said and moved in an effort to block the rest of his vegetables.
“So,” Tony began, that tell-tale spark in his eyes, and Steve made a vicious slashing motion across his throat that obviously went ignored. Tony never listened to him. “I have it on good authority that someone never returned to the mansion last night.”
And then Clint exploded. “I slept on his fucking couch, okay? He passed out and I was worried and it’s no one else’s fucking business! Especially not yours, you asshole, all you did was get him shit-faced and then leave him!”
Clint’s outburst faded into silence. Steve tried to pretend he was completely focused on his eggs.
Then Tony said, “Well. Someone needs to get laid.” And he left.
Clint grabbed Steve’s knife and threw it at the wall, where it embedded and hung there. Steve pretended not to notice.
That afternoon at SHIELD headquarters Steve ran into Coulson in the hall. “Hi, Agent Coulson. I hope you’re feeling okay.”
Coulson’s face twitched. “Captain Rogers, I’m glad to see you. I wanted to apologize for my behavior last night. I hope I didn’t make you feel uncomfortable.”
“No! No, don’t worry about it.”
“I’m afraid I… Well, my memory is a bit hazy but I think I might have made a fool of myself.”
Steve smiled. “Like I said, don’t worry about it. I may not be able to get drunk anymore but I still remember what happens.”
“Of course. It’s just… I might have said some things…”
“Darcy says you were fanboying over me and that I should be flattered.”
A brief spasm of discomfort passed over Coulson’s face. “Miss Lewis has an interesting way of viewing the world.”
“Basically everyone else agrees, though, too.” In the back of his mind, Steve realized that he could probably make this a lot easier on Coulson. And yet… he didn’t want to. If they were going to be friends, then a bit of teasing was definitely in order.
“With Mr. Stark leading the way, I’ve no doubt,” Coulson said with a sigh. Changing the subject, he continued, “Have you seen Agent Barton?”
“Not since this morning. He… he hasn’t talked to you at all?”
“I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but he can be quite adept at avoiding people when he chooses to.”
“No, I’d noticed,” Steve said wryly. He was definitely avoiding Steve, that was for sure. “I just didn’t think he’d ever want to avoid you.”
Coulson frowned. “Why-- Never mind.”
Steve reconsidered his last statement. Actually, maybe he could entirely understand Clint avoiding Coulson. “Well, I hope you find him.”
“I’m sure he’ll turn up.”
“You know, I was thinking.” And Steve had been thinking, a lot. “I thought it might be nice to go around New York with someone, someone who knows what it’s like now.” At first, Steve absolutely hadn’t wanted anyone with him at all, which meant that he’d frequently had to duck the tail Fury put on him. But Steve was tired of being alone.
“I could ask Miss Lewis, perhaps…”
“No,” Steve interrupted. “I’d like you to do it, if you have the time.”
There was a flash of surprised excitement and, maybe, gratitude on Coulson’s face. “It would be my pleasure. Really.”
Coulson nodded, looking ever so slightly pleased. “And you can still call me Phil.”
After his talk with Coulson, Steve went to find Natasha. “Hey, Natasha. You know Clint pretty well, right?”
She rolled her shoulders in a tiny shrugging motion that Steve took as a yes.
“So is he... um... I’ve been noticing lately, or really, just since last night, I thought maybe...” Steve rubbed the back of his head, feeling a hot blush rise on his face.
Natasha was smirking at him. “Are you trying to ask me if Barton’s fucking Coulson, Steve?”
He blushed harder. “Not exactly, but, yeah, I guess so.”
“He isn’t. But he wants to be.”
“You’re not going to be an asshole about this, are you?” Natasha asked, her eyes glinting. “It isn’t 1943 anymore.”
“No!” Steve protested. “No, I don’t care about that.” It was another of those things that was going to take some getting used to, but Steve figured it wasn’t any of his business what people chose to do with each other behind closed doors. Clint and Coulson were his teammates and his friends, so he wasn’t going to suddenly shun them for liking each other more than guys usually liked each other.
And anyway, Steve wasn’t dumb enough to cross Natasha. She was strangely protective of Clint and Steve didn’t have a death wish, thanks.
“But what do I have to do with any of it?” Steve found himself asking. “Why is Clint mad at me?”
The trace of amusement on Natasha’s face made Steve think that she was enjoying this far too much. “Because you’re Captain America.”
Which was exactly what Tony had said last night, but somehow it all made sense now. Fragments of the previous night came back to him and suddenly Steve realized that Clint was actually jealous of him.
Well, that was awkward.
Steve still liked to sketch. He liked to go to the park and sketch the passers-by and he liked to sketch the buildings of New York. He drew Peggy still, sometimes, and Bucky, and even Howard Stark on occasion, from memories that hadn’t yet faded (but that he was afraid would). He drew his new friends, too, the Avengers and Darcy and Pepper and Jane, all of them, in unguarded moments.
But in the days after his night at the bar with Clint and Coulson, Steve started to pay more attention to the two of them. He sketched Clint in a meeting, the way he slouched in the corner but carefully kept his eyes on Coulson, the way he couldn’t quite keep all that feeling off his face.
Steve was proud of it. He thought Clint would probably be embarrassed by it, by how open he looked, but he also thought Coulson should have it.
So he purposely sat around the mansion with his sketchpad when he knew Coulson was going to be there and waited to be found.
“I didn’t know you drew,” Coulson said curiously.
“A bit,” Steve said and congratulated himself on a good plan.
“These are really very good.”
“Oh, they’re just doodles, really,” Steve said modestly and then pulled out the one he’d done yesterday of Clint. “I thought you might like this one.” He handed Coulson the sketch.
Coulson examined it for a long time, his fingertips pressing tightly on the paper and something emotional glittering in his eyes. Finally he looked at Steve. “I’m not sure why you think I’d want this.”
Steve patted him briefly on the shoulder before going around him to leave. “Yes, you are.”
A sketch wasn’t going to help Steve with Clint, though. Clint needed the direct approach.
Besides, Coulson was way too guarded. Steve probably would have had to resort to stalking in the hopes of catching him in the right moment for a sketch. Or else asking Tony to get him drunk again, but that hadn’t gone very well the first time.
Clint was really hard to find when he didn’t want to be found. Happily, though, Steve located him in the first place he looked - the firing range, up in the sniper’s nest. Clint dropped down lightly in front of Steve, his bow in hand. He didn’t say anything, so Steve did.
“I think there’s been a misunderstanding,” Steve started.
“You don’t have to be jealous.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Clint said but his cheeks had flushed red.
“I mean, Natasha thinks it’s sort of sweet. Not that she would ever actually say that, but that’s the impression I got.”
“Please stop,” Clint said with a pained look on his face.
Steve continued blithely, “Coulson really isn’t interested in me. At all. And trust me, I’m not interested in him either. Not that he isn’t a great guy--”
“I got it!”
“Right. Anyway, you should talk to him. If you want my advice.”
“I really, really don’t.”
“Okay, great, well, you have it anyway. Talking. Talking’s good. Especially for two people who might have developed some feelings for each other that they’re afraid to admit to…”
“Oh my God,” Clint said and then fled.
Steve choked back a laugh. He could fool around with people, too.
He could even be helpful at the same time.
The next time Steve saw Coulson, he had the edge of a bite mark barely visible over the top of his collar. “You might want to have Medical check that out,” Steve suggested. “Bites can easily get infected, you know.”
Coulson’s expression was as bland as ever but Steve had gotten better at recognizing the hint of humor in his eyes. “New kitten. Turns out he’s a biter.”
“Shame. I hope he makes up for it in other ways.”
And that was very nearly a smile. “Oh, he’s an excellent cuddler.”
So if the next time Steve saw Clint he burst into laughter, he felt it really wasn’t his fault.