Clint had never really thought much about Coulson's ties. They were just there, a part of his suit that never seemed to change except sometimes in colour. Even on that mission in Marrakesh when the temperature was over a hundred and Clint had barely tolerated t-shirts during the hours in his sniper's nest Coulson had kept the ties on. His only concession to the heat had been to remove his jacket and roll his shirtsleeves up three precise turns.
In fact, Clint could not remember ever seeing Coulson without a tie now that he thought about it. Not that he had been keeping track or anything, but with a guy like Coulson there were some things that stayed memorable.
This mission was going to be memorable.
It wasn't just the dirigible that they had woken up on after being gassed and captured by Hydra during a raid on their base, although that was definitely unusual. What was going to be memorable was this moment.
"Are you sure this is going to work?" Clint asked, looking dubiously at Coulson's legs, which were the only part of him not inside the contraption at the centre of the dirigible's control room.
"Have you got a better idea, Barton?" Coulson asked.
That was the problem with a dirigible built by mad scientists: great for flying, not so great for steering or landing. Right now their dirigible was heading straight for a cliff and a link had broken in the steering mechanism so they couldn't turn or pull up.
In fact, the only thing keeping the dirigible from waggling madly in midair as it crashed was Coulson holding onto the two ends of the part that had broken. Even that wasn't going to work for long because they were both needed at the frankly ridiculous controls if they wanted to have any hope of actually turning the thing before it hit the cliff. Clint had half a mind to send a memo to Hydra or AIM or whoever had designed the dirigible pointing out how stupid it was to have a steering system that required at least two operators.
For now there were much more urgent problems to consider and there was, admittedly, a small chance that he was panicking.
"Rope," Clint muttered. "What kind of fucked up aviator doesn't keep rope around?"
"My tie," Coulson said. "Use my tie. It should hold for long enough. I hope."
“Your tie. Right. Of course.”
Half of Coulson’s upper body was currently inside the steering mechanism, because of course the stupid broken bit wasn’t easily accessible, and that meant his tie was in there with him.
“Barton, I need a hand here."
Clint knelt and peered into the mess of pipes, tubes, chains and cogs that made up the dirigible’s steering mechanism. He could sort of see where Coulson's hands were, but it was going to be a tight fit to get in and take over while Coulson took off his tie.
"What are you doing?" Coulson asked.
"Panicking," Clint said.
Coulson huffed irritably. "Well, can you take my tie off me while you panic? I'm sure your last eval praised your multitasking skills. Let's not make that a lie."
Clint swallowed. There was something terribly intimate about removing another man's tie and he wasn't sure that he wanted to think about Coulson that way because it would lead to more trouble than he wanted to deal with.
"Or you could continue to look for some rope while we smash into a cliff in slow motion, burst into flames and go down in SHIELD history as the only agents to die in a ten mile an hour dirigible crash. It's your choice."
Clint took a deep breath and wriggled into the steering mechanism, trying not to dig his elbows into Coulson's ribs even though it was a tight fit with very little maneuvering room. He ended up with his arms stretched overhead, his chin resting on Coulson's surprisingly muscular abdomen and a thankful appreciation for all the yoga that Natasha had forced on him over the years.
Coulson tilted his head up as much as he could to give better access and Clint carefully began unknotting the tie.
There was an undignified squawk and then Coulson said, "Barton, I'd appreciate it if you didn't strangle me."
"Have you ever tried this, sir?" Clint was operating mostly by feel and all he could feel was silk and a knot that didn't want to loosen. "Until you've tried to get another guy's tie off you don't get to complain about my technique."
There was complete silence and Clint glanced up to see just the faintest hint of red in Coulson's face.
He filed away that little piece of information for consideration later and slid the tie free. "Now what?"
"Well, if I let go the entire linkage will probably fly apart," Coulson said. "So you'll have to get up here and get everything tied off while I hold it together."
That required a lot more wriggling and then a couple of minutes lying almost on top of Coulson, their faces barely inches apart, and Clint was cursing every crazy Hydra scientist in existence by the time it was done. Getting out of the steering mechanism was as difficult as getting in had been and Clint was left with no illusions about Coulson's fitness levels by the time he was out.
Any illusions about his own indifference to Coulson himself had also been completely trashed and Clint knew that this mission would be memorable as the one where he acknowledged that he had a stupid crush on his handler. Nat was going to laugh herself sick when they eventually got home.
Coulson slid out of the mechanism smoothly, undid the top two buttons of his shirt and pointed at one of the work stations.
"It's too late to turn completely," he said, hurrying to another station, "but we might be able to crash in a controlled manner. Otherwise that was a waste of a two hundred dollar tie and you know that SHIELD won’t replace it."
Clint sighed, rolled to his feet and put all thoughts out of his mind beyond figuring out the controls.
As they trudged away from the burning dirigible to start the six hour hike to somewhere with a cell signal, Clint cursed himself silently. He had never thought too hard about Coulson's ties but it turned out that Coulson without a tie was something he would be thinking about for a long time.