Phil Coulson loves superheroes.
He has loved superheroes since his mother gave him his first Captain America comic for his sixth birthday. It was #17 and opened in the middle of an extended storyline, but from page one Phil was hooked.
He bought #18 himself the next month with his allowance money, and slowly collected every other comic in the series over the next few years. He was thirteen when he got his first limited edition trading card from his grandfather as a birthday gift. He still remembers the way those weary eyes had crinkled into a smile.
But while Captain America was the first, he wasn't the last.
By the time school started that first summer, Phil had already devoured the comic-book section of his local library. He quickly started a brisk trade at school with the other kids for their comic books – never his Captain America's, but he had gotten a Green Latern and a Superman over the summer, and those he was willing to trade.
As the years went by, Phil branched into all manner of comics. He read Superman and Batman and, when he was older, Spawn. He even had a few editions of the Tick, which he kept in his bathroom beside his Calvin & Hobbes for years.
He didn't understand that Steve Rogers had been a man until he was thirteen. He still remembers the awe he felt, watching the old videos, of a tall man in scratchy black and white giving orders in the field.
Steve Rogers was a hero who became a superhero. The idea was revolutionary. Superheroes could be real.
Phil knew he could never be a superhero. He wasn't the kind of child to have those delusions. But he wanted to meet them, to serve with him. Phil would trace the outline of the secondary characters in his comic books, the men in the background who helped behind the scenes. Phil wanted to be them.
He committed himself to school, excelling in math and the social sciences. He joined army when he was of age, pursuing a college education and advancing quickly through the officer ranks.
Phil joined the army to serve with heroes. By the time Nick Fury found him, Phil had served with several.
But they weren't superheroes.
When he joined S.H.I.E.L.D, Nick promised that would change. Phil hadn't really believed him until he saw Clint Barton make a shot no human being should be able to make with a crappy circus bow and a broken arrow.
It took him three months of solid effort to track Barton down, and he's convinced he only found the man because he was tired, hungry and – deep down – wanted to be caught. When he made his sales pitch, Phil had done it with the absolute knowledge that Barton would join S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Why?" the ever-sarcastic archer had asked him, on his knees with a shoulder wound in a rain-soaked alleyway.
"Because you're better than this," Phil had told him.
Barton had stared at him. "I'm a circus freak."
Phil had shrugged. "That's just your origin story."
Phil hadn't really meant to say that, and he didn't think that Barton would understand, but the man had laughed, gotten up, and followed Phil back to his car. Phil had applied first aid and given Barton the basics while he drove them back to base. And the entire time he had been near giddy with excitement, because it turned out that Nick Fury didn't always lie.
After that Barton became kind of an ... obsession.
Phil didn't actually work with the man that often, which kept things under control. A few missions together, during which Barton always made impossible shots, let Phil feel comfortable. He could make civil conversation, at least, instead of doing something ridiculous like asking for his autograph.
Captain America would always have a special place in his heart, but Hawkeye was quickly becoming Phil's favourite superhero. If Clint had had trading cards, Phil would have bought the entire collection.
Instead he collected mission reports.
Phil had a special drawer for these reports. They stayed on base, of course, because he wasn't allowed to remove them. And he had to requisition a copy of every one, but he was Barton's occaisonal handler in the field, so that wasn't too unusual. But he named the folder HAWKEYE and would occaisonally relax by re-ordering the reports. Sometimes he would file them alphabetically, so he could run a finger down missions A through Z. Some day he would sit for several hours and layer them by geographical location. If he was having a really bad day, he would sit on his floor and very seriously debate the coolness factor of each mission, and put it 0 to 10 in the drawer, or sometimes 10 to 0.
Whenever Barton got seriously injured, the report was automatically a 0. Phil kept those ones at the back.
There were always new reports, so there was always more to organize. Occaisonally his name would be in there as well, which always made him smile. He could picture himself in the comic-book editions, the quiet man in the dark suits. He would be on the edge of the action, the voice in Barton's ear, his lines all done in italics.
And okay, he may have drawn a comic once. In his defense, he had been very drunk, and Clint had taken his shirt off in Phil's office that day. It was to check a bandage on his shoulder, because Barton hated medical, but whatever. Phil had been dealing with alcohol.
Besides, Phil felt his fanboy-enthusiasm was not wholly disruptive to his workplace environment. Sure, maybe it meant that he trusted Clint a little more than was completely appropriate, but it was only because Phil knew that Clint was worthy of that trust. And the very few times Clint had let him down, Phil had known – even as he'd been upset – that this was one of the middle-of-the-sequence storylines. The ones where the hero is beaten down and smashed into the dirt, only to rise again and with the next issue.
And Clint always had.
Still, Phil felt he had things more-or-less under control.
And then Clint had gone and brought in Natasha.
It had been on one of their few operations together, because Phil was pretty senior in the organization by this point and a mission against Natasha Romanov meant all hands on deck. But two days into the surveillence Phil began to worry, because Barton wasn't usually this quiet on the comms.
It took another day to be sure, but by the time Clint brought Natasha back to their shared hotel room with a hopeful look on his face and a story, Phil hadn't been too surprised.
Every hero needs a partner, and it was obvious that Barton had found his.
Natasha was every bit the superhero that Clint was. She was beautiful and deadly, an expert at infiltration and close combat. By training together they each made the other better, and when they moved, either on the practice mat or on an op, they flowed like equal opposites. Phil could practically see the ink on the page.
He managed to bury his jealousy in a well-deserved pile of hero-worship. Because the Black Widow was cool. The Black Widow was awesome. Phil started a new folder in his special drawer, and wrote BLACK WIDOW on it in block letters.
It didn't take long to start accumulating reports.
He still preferred Clint's, when he had a hard day and just needed to relax. But Natasha's were there as well.
But the world was changing. Phil had heard a lot about Tony Stark, but he hadn't actually considered the man superhero material until Hill's notes crossed his desk. Then he calmly informed a smirking Fury that he would be taking over the debriefing of Stark and Ms. Potts.
By the time Stark had fought a crazed Obadiah Stane in an armoured suit above the skies of his arc reactor facility, Phil had already had a mental folder labelled IRON MAN.
He had been very disappointed when Stark refused his carefully thought-out bodyguard decoy plan. Superheroes were not supposed to annouce their secret idenity. That was why it was called a secret identity.
He may have pouted over that, a little.
Banner was another suprise. Phil wanted to track him down but Fury cancelled the op, said it would be better to let the man work out some of his own issues until S.H.I.E.L.D needed him back. But Phil still had the file written out and waiting.
Thor had been unexpected, but Phil had been doing his reading. He may not have recongized the hammer for what it was, but he suspected what it could be. By the time he had wrapped things up in New Mexico, Phil had been mentally re-ordering his filing cabinet. He wondered if he should requisition a bigger one.
But the giddiness that had come with re-organizing his now extensive mission report collection had been peanuts compared to Director Fury telling him they had found Captain America. Phil would deny on pain of torture and death that he made any indecent noises at that annoucement, and Fury was a good man. He wouldn't tell.
And yes, Phil may have watched Steve Rogers – Captain America! – while he was sleeping. He had watched Clint and Natasha for years, he figured his childhood hero deserved as much.
Phil lay in bed some nights, wondering how it would all go down. How everyone would meet, what their reactions would be. He had a mental bet on Stark and Rogers hating each other, at least for the first few missions, and had already run a few scenarios about how to get them to trust each other in the field. He figured Clint and Bruce could bond over get-away bags and on-the-run stories, though Phil had a perverse loyalty that insisted Clint's would be better. He wondered if Natasha would get along with everyone, or if Thor's booming would get on her nerves.
When it actually happened, it was nothing like he had expected. He had never expected Barton - Clint - would be compromised. But Loki was definately a Big Bad, and Phil could understand the necessity of bringing everyone in to stop him from taking over the world.
He wanted to go online and read release spoilers about Hawkeye's next issue. He wanted someone to tell him there would be a next issue. He wanted Clint to survive.
Phil hadn't been concerned that he might not.
Loki had been on his way to the detention area. Everyone else had been busy, but Phil knew not to take his eye off the Big Bad. He had been trying to get Loki to start monologuing. At least that way he could have gathered intel for the superheroes to use in the next issue.
Instead he had gotten stabbed. So, really, not a great plan.
But still, staring up at Fury, bleeding out from a chest wound, Phil had known it was going to be okay. Because he had only ever been playing a minor character in this storyline. Nick Fury had to go on. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, and Natasha and (please god) Clint – they were important. They got the big panels, the large action sequences.
He was the bland-faced man in the black suit. The voice on the comm. He was an anchor point, maybe, a familiar face. But that was all. He could be replaced.
And, maybe, avenged.
Still, if he had realized it was going to be this bad when he woke up, he would have worked harder at staying dead.
Because apparently Nick Fury was still a lying liar who lied, and he had exaggerated (a little) some of the details regarding Phil's "death". And by the time he woke up Phil had mostly been adopted by his fanboy world of superheroes.
It was awful.
Phil felt like the world's biggest phony. Because apparently, and he had a seriously difficult time believing this – Fury had to tell him twice – the team had rallied around his death. They were even calling themselves the Avengers, and yes, he could blame Stark for that. Tony had apparently told Loki that killing him was a bad idea, because it made the entire thing personal.
And just – what? What even?
Phil was the guy in the suit. The voice in the ear. His lines were in italics. Phil was not the main character. He had never wanted to be the main character. That was a role left for real superheroes. Men like Clint Barton, women like Natasha Romanov.
He worked with heroes like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. Phil could never stand out in a group like that.
But he did.
Stark moved him into the Avengers Tower. He gave him his own floor with specialized rehab equipment and a fully-stocked fridge. Every time Phil walked onto the common room floor, everyone stopped what they were doing and immediately jumped up to assist him. Rogers shot him eager, enthusiastic looks. Stark always appeared shiftingly guilty.
But Barton was the worst.
Phil had nurtured a low, simmering crush on Clint Barton for years. Barton had never given any indication that he had known. He treated Phil the same as his other handlers in the field, and yes, maybe he hung out a little after hours in his office. But that was only because Phil had nefarious contacts and managed to secure the most comfortable couch in S.H.I.E.L.D. It had nothing to do with Phil personally.
But now Clint was ... everywhere. And he was always watching him. When he made coffee in the morning. When he struggled through physiotherapy. And every time Phil dared to meet his eyes Clint looked ... hopeful. And still terribly guilty. As if Phil's death were his fault. As if Phil's death mattered.
Phil didn't know what to do with that.
He did the best he could. He spent time with Stark in his workshop until the man stopped looking guiltily at Phil from the corner of his eyes. He forced himself to have normal conversations about baseball with Captain Rogers until the hopeful expression on his face eased. He let Natasha help him with his physiotherapy, and Banner explain his new research, and Thor wax eloquently about the fair characteristics of his dear Lady Jane. By the end of a month, he had everyone mostly settled.
Except for Barton.
No matter what he did, what he said, Barton did not get any better. He stopped looking as guilty, at least, but he never looked less besotted. In fact, he seemed to get worse. He started showing off slightly, flexing his biceps when reaching for items over the table, and spending even more time in the range.
As if Phil had ever not noticed the man's skills. As if needed another reason to stare.
"You're being an idiot," Natasha finally told him, one evening after dinner when Clint had done more blushing than speaking around the dinner table. Phil had excused himself after the awkward post-food conversation and escaped back to his room.
"I'm being an idiot?" Phil asked her, incredulous.
"Yes," Natasha told him, matter-of-fact. She perched herself on the edge of his bed while Phil sprawled on his back on the covers, telling himself that was because his shoulder ached.
"I'm not the one acting like ... like ... like a teenager with his first crush!" Phil protested.
Natasha actually rolled her eyes.
"No," she told him, "you're the one acting like the chess-club geek who finally clued in the quarterback was hitting on him."
Phil groaned and squeezed his eyes closed. "That's a terrible comparison," he told Natasha, not willing to admit it was apt. "He's just confused."
She snorted. "Really?"
Phil glared at her. "Yes, really. He got his mind fucked with and then I died, and he just ... he just ..." Phil let his head drop onto bed. "He's just got some weird transference thing going on. It will pass."
"It will?" Natasha questioned.
"Yes," Phil said, firmly, telling himself he was relieved.
He couldn't see Natasha, from this angle, but he could swear he could hear her roll her eyes. "You're acting like this is a bad thing."
That shocked Phil enough that he lifted his head again and met her eyes. He had thought Natasha understood the situation. "Of course it is!"
She looked at him steadily. "Is it? Why? Because it's an abuse of your authority?"
Phil couldn't help himself, he laughed. Because the mental image of Clint Barton ever respecting authority was too hilarious to let pass.
"No," he finally said, breathlessly. "Because this ..." he waved a hand through the air, "... is just a phase that will end. The quarterback never really wants the chess geek. He just gets confused, for a while."
Natasha stared at him. "You've been in love with him for years," she said.
"Yes," Phil agreed, patiently. That much was obvious.
She cocked her head at him. "Is it too much of a stretch to think he has been the same?"
Phil blinked at her. "Yes," he said again. Because: duh.
Natasha rolled her eyes at him. She muttered something under her breath in Russian about idiots and boys.
"Hey!" Phil said, with feeling, but then Natasha snatched his pillow away and threw it at his ceiling and a voice from the grating said "Ooof!"
Phil startled and looked up. The grate shifted and Clint dropped guiltily into the room. "You're a dirty cheating cheater," he told Natasha spitefully.
Phil just stared at him. "How long have you been up there?" he asked faintly.
Clint shifted a little. "Umm .. kind of since yesterday? I mean, I left for breakfast, and dinner. And those few hours you went to see Tony in his lab."
Phil stared at him. "You what?"
Natasha rolled her eyes and said something non-complimentary in Russian. Then she slid from the bed and sashayed out of the room, closing the door behind her.
Clint shifted from foot to foot again. The silence stretched for a moment.
"I'm not the school quarterback," Clint said, suddenly.
Phil blushed and looked away. "You kind of are," he said, awkwardly.
Clint waved his hand as if that was ridiculous. "I'm really not," he said, staring at Phil. "That would be Tony, or Rogers." He laughed, a little hollowly. "God knows you've had a crush on him for forever."
Phil whipped his head back to look at Clint. "No I haven't."
Clint smirked, but there was something else behind his smile. "I've seen your secret collection, Phil. You really, really have."
Phil shrugged. "Steve Rogers is my hero," he said, and watched the smile shift into resignation on Clint's face. "But you've always been my favourite," he continued.
Clint's head shot up at that. "Your favourite?" he said, sounding stunned. "Your favourite what?"
It was Phil's turn to shift awkwardly on the bed. "My favourite superhero."
Clint stared at him. "I'm not a superhero," he said.
Phil snorted, because that was ridiculous. "Of course you are," he said, waving a hand slightly. "I have the records to prove it."
Clint blinked at him. "Records?"
Phil blushed, feeling his cheeks redden. "Well, you didn't have trading cards, yet," he said. "So I collected mission reports."
Clint hadn't moved. "Mission reports?"
Phil rolled his eyes, because it wasn't that unbelievable. "Yes. Yours. For years. And then Natasha's, too, when she came on board. And Stark and Banner, and now, well, Rogers." He blushed again. "I'm going to have to requistion another filing cabinet."
Clint's gaze looked far away, all of a sudden. "You mean the filing cabinet in your office? The one with all the mission reports?"
"Yes," Phil's blush deepened. "I keep ... well ... everything there."
Clint re-focused on him, a smile slowly growing on his face. "And the rumours around S.H.I.E.L.D?" he asked. "The ones that said you sit on your floor after really bad days and reorganize all your reports?"
Phil shifted in his sitting position on the bed. "I ... may ..." he warned, feeling his own answering smile echo Clint's, "have a numerical system organizing your mission reports from coolness factor 0 through 10."
Clint laughed, a free open sound, and Phil grinned. "'Coolness factor'?" he teased. Clint walked towards Phil, hips slinking forward. Phil licked his lips as Clint straddled him on the bed, and he felt himself harden as Clint tracked the movement.
"Barcelona was particularly cool," he told Clint, hands coming up without his consent to grip the archer's hips.
"Mmm," Clint said, griding down a little. Phil moaned and tipped his head up. Clint leaned forward to brush his nose against Phil's. "Shang-hai?" he asked against Phil's lips.
"A 7," Phil said, breathlessly, hips bucking up to press himself up against Clint. He could feel an answering hardness in Clint's groin.
"A 7?" He protested with a moan, grinding down again. "That shot was at least worth an 8."
Phil reached his hands up and craddled Clint's face, angling his head down into a kiss. "Madrid was better," he murmured once they broke apart.
"Oh, fuck," Clint whimpered, sounding wrecked. "How ... long ...?" he asked, breathless, as Phil continued to press up into his hips.
"Since I saw you in Brazil," he confessed, nibbling on the soft skin of Clint's neck.
"Brazil?" Clint leaned back, pressing his groin into Phil's lap but escaping the trail of Phil's lips. "I've never worked a S.H.I.E.L.D mission in Brazil."
Phil shrugged, feeling as if he could have blushed, if all his blood hadn't been pooling in his dick. "I took over the chase for you in Brazil."
"Fuck," Clint said suddenly, surging forward to capture Phil's mouth in a punishing kiss. "I thought I was the only one who found the gunshot wounds in the rain hot."
It was Phil's turn to blink and lean back. "You ... even then?" he asked, stunned.
Clint looked a little uncomfortable, though that didn't stop him from rocking forward on Phil's lap. "Why do you think I came in so easily?"
"Because you wanted to work for S.H.I.E.L.D?" Phil asked, feeling stupid.
Clint rolled his eyes. "Because I wanted to work for you," he said, emphasizing the point with another roll of his hips.
"Oh," Phil said, putting his hands wonderingly on Clint's waist again. "Well," he said, pulling him down, "in that case ..." Phil bucked up, throwing Clint's weight forward, and then twisted, taking Clint over and down using his uninjured shoulder.
Clint went with him willingly. He sprawled on the bed and tipped his mouth up for Phil to kiss it.
Phil did, wondering as he leaned forward if this would be the side-panel that trailed off with "..." into a black square with white lettering.
Phil didn't want to have his own comic book. But he would willing be a recurring character in Hawkeye's.
He was okay with that.