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A Flying Leap (Off the Helicarrier)

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Phil Coulson, senior agent in a secret organization and right hand man to Nick Fury himself prided himself on his unflappability and blandness, so he is a little ashamed to acknowledge that when he woke up alone in an underground, concrete room, strapped to a hospital bed, and missing both his clothes and his weapons he did not react well. He had once smiled affably at a towering Norwegian man who was ripping his fingernails out with pliers. He had once softly sung ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ to a Tangerine assassin who was being burned alive. Waking up in a room alone was not the worst, nor the weirdest thing he had experienced. Even waking strapped to a bed in nothing but a hospital gown was hardly something that should have freaked him out. He had survived being shot in the groin, partially scalped (SHIELD kept a whole slew of cosmetic surgeons on retainer for just such an occasion, thank god, or Phil would look very different due to that little run-in), and a faked seduction by Deputy Director Hill. Waking up in room alone should not have caused his heart rate to spike and his breathing to speed up.

And yet it did.

Phil blames this on the fact that he was obviously in a SHIELD facility. SHIELD had a very distinct flavor of bland, that was almost exactly like any other government organization, or hospital, but Phil had helped design that level of bland innocuousness. He knew. So, if this was a SHIELD facility (a hypothetical ‘if’ because, as previously stated, Phil knew) where was anyone? Never in his entire career at SHIELD had he ever wakened to an empty room. The staff in Medical were practically OCD about their patients, and no agent or operative was ever left completely alone. Even if no person could be in the room, a camera was trained on every bed 24/7. No one was left unwatched.

Phil looked around, focused his eyes on every corner of the room, on all of the equipment, but could not spot a single camera. Nothing. Which was ridiculous. Phil had helped design the security measures, and he knew (like he knew this was SHIELD, and knew that he was alone) that there wasn’t a single room, in medical or otherwise, that did not have some sort of recording device, even if what the cameras recorded were never watched they were stored and kept for emergencies. So, unless R&D had invented a new type of invisible camera and hadn’t told him (which was impossible, because the scientists were possibly more scared of him than they were Romanoff, and she had once blown up their entire department because a junior agent had stated that it wasn’t possible, and they would never keep something that useful from him), there really wasn’t any recording device in the room.

And what was more surprising was that neither Barton nor Romanoff was in attendance either. It was more than ten years ago that Phil had picked up and brought in Barton, and a hospital visit hadn’t gone by in those ten years that did not include Barton bursting in on him or him waking to see Barton’s cocky smirk and some pithy phrase. Unless, of course, Barton was on assignment, in which case he usually woke to his phone shrilly informing him that he had 81 missed calls from his asset. And, after Barton had kidnapped/adopted/inducted the Black Widow into SHIELD, she too had started showing up after especially dangerous fights. Yes, she often wore angrier glares, but she was always there by his bed beside Barton.

This was only fair, really, since whenever either of them had a stay in medical he took up vigil by their bedside. It was common courtesy. Plus, he looked after his own. So really, the fact that neither of them were there, and that there was no sign of anyone else either, raised Phil’s hackles.

But, thinking of Barton, memories of what had happened to him to make him wake up in a hospital bed in the first place started to filter to the forefront of his brain. Barton was compromised. The Avengers were acting like whiny piss babies. Loki had stabbed him through the back.

Well, that had been just rude.

But, more importantly: Barton.

His body tried to jerk into sitting position without his permission but the straps around his wrists and ankles kept him down. He frowned down at the black leather bands, and then at his chest, because trying to sit up hadn’t pulled at stitches on his chest beneath the hospital gown, but at a newly healing scar (and yes, he did know the difference between those two feelings enough to differentiate them without looking). A scar. Not stitches. That meant he had been in a coma for more than a month.

More than a month had passed since Thor’s brother had skewered him with a glorified glow stick. More than a month had passed, and he didn’t know if Clint Barton had ever been brought out from under Loki’s control. More than a month and he didn’t even know if the Avengers had gotten their shit together, if Nick had taken his advice and used his death to bring them together, long enough for them to save the world. Phil didn’t know, and judging by the lack of people in this room, no one would be telling him anytime soon.

Not like leather straps and an empty room were going to hold him back. Something was going on, and he was going to find out.

Being alone was one thing, not having Barton or Romanoff with him, or any medical staff, but it was another thing entirely to assume that Fury wouldn’t know exactly where he was, and Phil just wasn’t that stupid. And the fact that his heart monitor was going off, and exactly no one had come to look in on him meant that either his heart monitor was not hooked up to anything outside this room (which was unlikely as this was SHIELD, and even if he wasn't Fury's one good eye Nick liked having his fingers in every pie he could reach), or something so big was happening outside this room that they didn't have the manpower to come rushing in.

Phil narrowed his eyes at the sturdy door, the only door in the room, and then back at the leather straps holding him down. He allowed himself the luxury of rolling his eyes in exasperation, but only because he was the only one in the room. If they thought that four straps and a closed door were going to keep him in the room, than they were obviously underestimating him. Again. Which, granted, was one of his particular skill sets (being underestimated), but SHIELD, and Fury in particular should know better. He was able to scare R&D by smiling blandly at them. He once took down a gunman with a bag of flour. He could have escaped the room with half the equipment they had left in there with him. Leaving both needles (his IV) and electrodes in reaching distance of him was almost insulting.

As he gingerly got to his feet, the leather straps fastened around nothing and sitting innocently on the bed, Phil made a mental note to organize another seminar on underestimating coworkers. Everyone here was trained to be deadly and bland, they should know better.

Trying the door handle he sighed. It wasn’t even fucking locked. What had become of his beautifully organized and efficient organization while he had been asleep? He clucked disappointedly and reminded himself that he had to stop reacting outwardly. He supposed he could forgive himself for now because he had just woken up and was probably on drugs still (another thing upon which he could heap blame for his freak-out), but if he wanted to navigate SHIELD and find answers to all his questions he was going to need to rein it back in.

He stepped cautiously into the hallway and was immediately beset with flashing red lights and a whirring alarm.

Phil very pointedly did not raise his eyebrows.

Alright, that explained the lack of Fury or anyone else. Those alarms meant trouble, big trouble, and no doubt all manpower was being used to neutralize the threat. They wouldn’t have left anyone behind to watch a man sleep if something big enough to warrant these alarms was going on.

He mentally forgave Nick for not playing nurse.

He still wanted—no, needed to know whether Barton was compromised, however.

And, if he was being honest, despite having the lack of energy and muscle that came with long periods of being bedridden, adrenaline was pumping through his veins. That alarm meant shit was going down, and all that meant to Phil’s body was that he was needed. He was made to fight the good fight, and that was what he was going to do. And then he was going to find Fury and figure out what the hell he’d been doing in windowless room in a sub-basement strapped to a hospital bed.

He did not sprint down the halls, but his gait was swift, and he realized with an unerring certainty that he missed his personal firearm. And his suit. He wouldn’t be able to fight anything or anyone in a backless paper dress without even a bag of flour on him.

He rounded corner after corner, knowing instinctually how to get to the stairwell that would lead him somewhere more familiar. He had studied the blueprints of every SHIELD base on the off chance that he would someday need that information, just as he'd studied road maps of every large city in the world, and had taken ancient Sumerian in college, on the off chance that he would need those things. The memory of maps had come in handy. The ancient Sumerian hadn't as of yet, but knowing his life he would need it eventually, so he kept in practice. The knowledge of SHIELD bases was more useful in this instant, and Phil was unnecessarily pleased to recognize these halls as those from the blueprints of the main SHIELD base, where he had his office. On the way to the stairs he bypassed the elevator, which he momentarily considered using, as he was already horribly out of breath (he added a mental note to schedule some physical therapy sessions with Romanoff. She wouldn’t be kind, but she’d beat him into shape much faster than any of the physical therapists SHIELD kept on staff), but elevators could get stuck, and they left no place to hide or run, so the stairs were going to have to do.

The stairwell was dark, the only light coming in red flashes. It was a stark contrast from the fluorescently lit hallway, but Phil refused to focus on anything besides getting up the stairs. He stepped more slowly now, having noticed that his breath was coming in quicker and sharper bursts, and his legs were weak, refusing to do the work Phil would generally deem average. A few times he had to stop climbing in order to catch his breath and it was making him antsy, though he knew that if anyone had seen him they would have had no idea he was feeling anything except calm and collected. The fact that other agents, his peers and cohorts, were fighting and he wasn’t there to provide back-up irked at him. His duty was to protect SHIELD, and climbing this stairwell, out of breath and wearing a paper dress, he knew he wasn’t doing his duty. Every fight could be a life or death struggle, an attack that warranted this alarm system would definitely end in loss of life of SHIELD Personnel. It was his job, his honor to fight alongside his fellow agents. He would not play patient while agents lost their lives. He would not.

(And Clint Barton could be out there. Clint.)

Suddenly the alarm cut off and the red-glowing stairwell was plunged into a bright whiteness that hurt Phil’s eyes. He did not squint or blink rapidly but kept on moving. The abrupt silence held a harsh finality that Phil didn’t like.

He squashed the regret that was welling in his stomach and reminded himself that the battle ending was a good thing. It meant SHIELD had won (because they would have been burnt to the ground before they surrendered, and since Phil was still alive they must have won). It meant Phil could focus on the Barton situation.

It meant that the stairwell would not be empty for much longer.

Shit.

Phil leapt up the last few steps to the third floor landing and cautiously pulled open the door. He held his breath and listened. Nothing. Silence. He glanced upward and then closed the door again. He could probably at least make it to the fourth floor before agents started flooding in. They would be able to move faster than him, and he knew that while he could still incapacitate them if need be it would leave him exhausted and breathless and he couldn’t afford that right now.

His office was on the fifth floor, and he would be stopping there first, if for no other reason than he kept a spare suit (or five) in the closet in his office as back up and as much as he wanted to find Clint, he didn’t want to do it practically naked. If he could get to the fourth floor he could go up the back stairs.

If his verification code still worked that is.

On the fourth floor landing he opened the door a crack and held his breath once more to listen. Nothing…nothing… He leaned back and cocked his ear to the stairwell. A sharp squeal of the ground floor door opening forced his hand (and he would have to find who it was who had opened that door and lecture them on the correct way to move without drawing attention to oneself. Or reassign them. Whichever).

He stepped out of the stairwell and into the hall and instinctually took a step 2 ½ feet to the left. The camera in the hall would be able to pick him up, but if he shuffled against the left wall and kept his head bowed it would only be able to see the top of his head. If a techie caught a hostpital-begowned man walking through the halls they would raise the alarms again. His training and his plans both insisted he stay out of sight and unremarkable. He could work with that.

A third of the way down the hall, on a block of hall with no offices or doors, Phil realized that he could hear something aside from his labored breathing. He stopped and dropped a little lower so that he was leaning at an almost 90 degree angle, his whole weight on the wall. He held his breath and listened.

Ahead of him, in the direction he was walking he could hear muffled conversation and the quiet flipping of paper. Agents working on paperwork, or about to start filling it out. They were moving towards him.

(His fingers itched knowing that he would have to correct their filing mistakes.)

Behind him, coming from where he had recently been he heard the sharp slap of standard issue combat boots. They were heading towards him.

He grit his teeth at yet another person ignoring the fact that they were being loud in an organization that prided itself on staying innocuous. He would have to send out a SHIELD-wide memo about the disappointment of being able to hear fellow agents coming from that far away.

Alright, incoming from both sides with no place to hide. Perfect. Just the kind of challenge he liked. He would not be seen, he would not be heard. That was how good SHIELD operatives operated.

(He was so disappointed in these agents. Training of Junior agents must have declined severely.)

He blew a long breath out of his nose in exasperation and looked up, a motion inherited from his religious grandfather that had lost its meaning by his generation.

Then his eye caught on something and the corner of his lip curled into the tiniest smirk.

A ventilation shaft.

By the time the agents converged on the spot Phil had been at he was already looking down at them through the grate. They didn’t even notice that only three screws were in place. What had this place become?

On the plus side Phil knew that even after at least a month in a coma he still hadn’t lost his touch. Even if he had taken a page out of The Clint Barton Guide for hiding from superiors and inferiors alike.

The hall below him was empty once more, but he held his breath for another thirty seconds anyway. He listened, but could hear no one else coming down the hall.

Now he had options. He could go back through the grate and hope his verification codes still work on that back staircase and that if they do work, using them will not rain hellfire down upon his head.

Or he could stay in the vents and travel a la Barton up to his office. It wouldn’t be too difficult. He had done it before, years ago, back before Barton trusted SHIELD to have its agents’ backs. Barton had taken to sleeping and travelling in the vents in order to protect himself. Phil had started climbing in himself to leave Barton little incentives to trust, if not SHIELD, then Phil himself. Books, pudding cups, wrist guards, anything he thought Barton might appreciate and might make him feel more at home. He left them where he knew Barton would find them, and soon he didn’t have to go into the vents at all, as Barton had started coming to him. It was more than a decade since he’d entered the vents, but he still remembered how to climb through them with efficiency. His body remembered where to place his hands and feet, and how to pull himself up straight vertical shafts without falling to his death. It was harder work than he remembered it being, but he blamed it on the month of sleep and not on the fact that he was a decade older.

When he got to the fifth floor he saw that the halls were much busier. Operatives were rushing about, some still in their Tac Suits, some dressed like office workers. Phil let himself rest. He laid immobile, his eyes peaking out one of the grates so he could keep an eye on the happenings below. He rested there for a full minute and a half, and was just about to start moving again when the voice of a very angry Nick Fury echoed up through the PA system.

“Listen up, Motherfuckers,” Oh how Phil had missed those dulcet tones, “this building is going on lock-down. No one comes in, no one goes out. Report any suspicious people or activities. I do not care if you’ve seen this person every day for the past seven years, if they don’t have a badge you handcuff them to the fucking wall. We have a missing agent. Repeat, missing agent. Keep your eyes out for anything out of the ordinary.” His pause was menacing. “If I find anyone who did not report suspicious behavior I will have them made into my next eye-patch.”

His voice cut off abruptly, and Phil allowed himself a silent sigh. He had the unsettling idea that Nick had just found Phil MIA. Excellent. Moving about the base now would not be difficult at all. Phil rolled his eyes behind closed lids.

Below him there was absolute silence. SHIELD agents did not break into hushed whispers or anxious cacophony in the face of the unknown and the terrifying. No, they went silent, and they went still. After a few seconds the people below him began walking again, but there was no chatter now, and everyone moved with a sense of purpose.

Chapter Text

Phil followed the example of the agents below and moved, heading even more slowly now through the vents to his office’s grate. At the grate he looked down. His office was untouched. Everything lay exactly where he had left it, from the hastily thrown-down finance report to his clerodendron by the window. It had been a prank gift from Hill of all people, but Phil thought it especially appropriate in his line of work, as its common name was Bleeding Heart Vine. Very festive.

He stayed there a moment longer to make sure that it was unlikely anyone would enter the room. Then he swiftly unscrewed the grate. The camera in his office was near the vent, and when Phil had the grate removed he cautiously stuck out a hand shifted the camera so it was pointed out the window, and then gently lowered himself into his office.

He moved silently across the familiar landscape and twisted the lock on the door. Anyone who tried to enter would know immediately something was wrong, but it would at least give him time to reenter the vent before they bust down the door. He hoped it didn’t come to that, as he liked his door, but sometimes sacrifices had to be made.

He pulled an extra suit and pair of boxers from his closet and suited up. Donning the familiar black and white was akin to stepping into his skin. He pulled on his second best pair of patent leather shoes and grabbed his personal firearm from a hidden bottom in the top drawer in his desk. He tucked it into the back of his waistband and made a mental note (goodness he was making a lot of those) to keep an extra holster with his extra suits. It wasn’t the first time he had made such a mental note. Sometimes his lapses in memory could be forgiven.

His shoulders straightened. His chin rose. He adjusted his cuffs and he was ready to go.

Logging onto his computer to find news on Barton would have been a giant red light to anyone who was looking as to where he was. He could find another room with a computer and go searching from there, but seeing as how Fury was already looking for him, and would have all of the answers Phil wanted, he might as well go find his old friend.

On his way out he unlocked the door and pulled his body back into the vents. His arm extended to readjust the camera and then carefully screwed the grate back into place.

Finding Fury wasn’t easy (Thank God. At least someone in this organization beside Phil could pull off silent and effective), but it wasn’t impossible. Fury didn’t know that he should be be hiding for one, which tipped the scales in Phil’s favor. Also he was being very, very loud. Really, all Phil had to do was follow the long stream of “Just do your goddamned job and find my man. Who do you think you are? This is important you fuckers! Don’t make me show you what happened to the last douche who questioned my authority!”

Phil pulled himself over the grate from which Fury’s kind words were emanating and looked down. His eyes widened.

It was a conference room with Fury standing imposingly on one side of the table, leaning across it, and the Avengers lined up opposite him. The Avengers had their back to the door. They looked, for the most part, unimpressed. Stark lounged back in an office chair, dressed in an Iron Man suit Phil had not seen before. His helmet was off completely and the body of the suit was singed and missing paint in some places where it looked like he had been dragged across something rough. Bruce Banner sat on one side of Stark, looking completely comfortable in pair of SHIELD issue sweats two sizes too big. On the other side of Stark, stood Captain America looking tired and singed with his cowl pulled off his head. He stood opposite Fury, his arms crossed, and looked ready to launch himself across the table if Fury tried anything. Beside Captain Rogers stood Romanoff, looking as blasé and lithe as Phil remembered. She seemed unconcerned, but Phil could tell by the slight tightening of the muscles around her eyes that she was uncomfortable and suspicious. Next to her stood Thor, his arms crossed over his chest, and beside him sat Clint, sprawling loose-limbed across his chair, his upper body hunching across the table. He looked tired and seemed to be ignoring everything happening around him, but he was there and he was fine.

Without Phil’s permission his heart soared.

“With all due respect, Sir,” Captain Rogers was saying to Fury, “I refuse to allow you to use my team on a wild goose chase, especially when you won’t even tell us who we’re looking for or even if they were kidnapped or just ran away. My people are tired. We just took down a legion of Hydra operative. We’re tired, we’re dirty, and some of us need medical attention.” He cut his gaze to where Clint was slumped across the table. Phil’s heart lurched and he told it to chill the fuck out. “So unless you give us a reason why we should be helping you,” Captain Rogers continued, “I’m going to have to politely decline.” He didn’t sound polite at all.

Fury glowered even more menacingly, if that was possible, and said, “Captain, I respect what you stand for, but this is not up for debate. If you knew what you were saying no to—”

“Well,” Stark drawled, leaning forward slowly, “you could always just, oh, I don’t know, tell us who it is we would be looking for.”

Fury’s lips thinned and Phil had to stop himself from laughing. “I am not at liberty to—”

“C’mon, Sir,” Clint spoke up slowly, and dragged himself back into a sitting position. “Just tell them what they want to know. It’s obviously important to you.”

Fury’s expression turned pained, and Phil thought that he’d punished his old friend long enough. He knew Clint was fine. Now he needed to know everything that had happened between being literally stabbed in the back and waking up alone in the subbasement of the organization he worked for.

Fury’s quieter response was lost as Phil slowly and silently backed out the way he’d come. He wiggled his way through the shaft until he came upon a grate that looked down into the hall outside the conference. The hall was empty. Apparently Fury’s warning that any suspicious behavior would end in a fate worse than death (implied) had cleared the public areas. This made sense. If no one could see anyone else, then no one could be punished for failing to report suspicious behavior.

Phil dropped into the hall and brushed the wrinkles out of his suit. He was still a touch out of breath, but it was barely noticeable. He took the three short steps to the conference room door, and then, before he could second guess himself, he quietly swung the door open. Stark was yelling something obnoxious, and all the superheroes backs were to Phil so at first none of them noticed that anything had happened. Fury met his gaze from across the room, and Phil could see the fight go out of him. His shoulders slumped and he slowly lowered himself into his seat. His eyes never left Phil’s face

“Cheese,” he breathed out and Phil winced. If Fury was using his nickname then it had been bad. He had really been freaked.

That really should have prepared Phil for the reactions of the Avengers. At Fury’s non sequitur the rest turned around.

Stark froze and dropped his hand from where he had been using it to gesticulate. It clanged against the thigh of his suit. Captain America’s eyes widened and his fists clenched. Romanoff’s entire body relaxed into a pose that Phil interpreted as her ‘People are about to be murdered’ stance. Thor’s expression was stormy. Banner looked just plain confused. And Clint…

Clint.

Clint had leapt to his feet and was practically shaking. His face was pale and pulled into an expression of agony with just a hint of rage.

“But you’re dead!” Stark exclaimed.

Phil allowed himself to blink once and raise his eyebrows. He looked at Fury who wasn’t looking too sharp himself. “Is that right, Sir?”

Fury’s one good eye narrowed and he seemed to forcibly pull himself together. “Where the hell have you been!? I thought I had a god-damned kidnapper running loose in my building, stealing my best agents out from under me!”

Phil settled into a passive stance. “I did come back, Sir.”

“About damned time!”

“What trickery is this?” Thor demanded in his booming voice.

Natasha stepped forward, and only Phil’s long friendship with the assassin allowed him to see her unsheathe her knife. She held it out between them like a life-raft. “You will explain what is happening.”

“You lied!” Stark crowed, pointing a childishly accusing finger in Fury’s direction. “For a year you let us believe Agent was dead.”

Well, that news was… staggering. Phil felt himself move, more than took an active role in his movement, and suddenly he was leaning back against the wall, his eyes impossibly wide. For him. He probably looked perfectly composed to those who did not work in SHIELD.

“A year?” he clarified.

Fury nodded.

“What’s happening?” Clint asked stepping towards Phil on unsteady legs. “We thought you were dead. Coulson, we buried you. How could you let us mourn you like that?”

Phil took in Clint’s expression, his hopeless gaze, and forced himself back together. He reached out and snagged the pieces of himself as they tried to fall around him and shoved them unceremoniously back into place. He waited half a second before speaking in order to make sure everything was back in its right position, even if there was nothing holding him together but wishes. Then, in his blandest tone, the same tone he used during operations to threaten Barton with evisceration when Barton was making a mess of radio silence and wouldn’t stop joking about anything, he said, “If it makes you feel any better, Barton, I did not think I would survive.”

Clint grit his teeth. “It doesn’t,” he growled and then pushed his way out of the door.

“That could have gone better,” Fury baited, and Phil graced him with an unconvinced look.

“I believe Agent Romanoff is correct, Sir,” Phil said in his most I-am-an-accountant voice, “I think an explanation at this juncture would behoove us all.”

Fury grinned, wide and terrifying, and rounded the table. “Right you are Cheese. You first, and then your team.” He stalked out the door, his coat flapping behind him like a cape. Phil gave Romanoff and the others a vaguely apologetic glance and then followed.

Fury’s explanation was less then exemplary. They had used some hokey magic thing from New Zealand to bring him back to life, but the actual healing had taken longer than they thought it would, and then he just wouldn’t wake up. He hadn’t told the Avengers that Phil was alive because he had actually died, Fury had used his death to manipulate them into playing nice, and then there had been no guarantee that Phil was ever going to wake up. Fury then debriefed him on what had happened when he’d awoken and had sent him on his way.

“Go coddle your superheroes, Agent,” Fury had demanded, and Phil had to roll his eyes because of course Fury was going to punish him for dying by making him retell what he’d just learned to the Avengers. Of course he was. Because he was that kind of person.

Once the Avengers (including Clint, they must have rounded him up somewhere) knew the whole tale they were accepting. Captain Rogers welcomed Phil back into society with open arms. Banner introduced himself formally. Stark promised him his own floor at what he was apparently now calling Avengers Tower, and told him he’d set him up with a way for Phil to catch up with everything he’d missed during his nap. Even Romanoff had nodded and told him she’d schedule him for sparring practice.

Clint said nothing. He stood silent and pale and did not speak. He did not scream or joke or run away. He just stared at Phil until Phil could do nothing but lower eyes.

Clint did not speak to him for three weeks.

Three weeks of the silent treatment. Three weeks of Stark nattering on about his new phone and Jarvis’s new protocols, and complaints about their missions. Three weeks of trying to assist Thor and Captain “Call me Steve” Rogers in getting caught up to date to the 21st century in the areas of governmental policy, social rights issues, and any technology besides a StarkPhone. Three weeks of getting Banner to trust him (though at least with Banner he didn’t have to learn how to climb through vents). Three weeks of Romanoff pushing him and pushing him until he could feel his strength returning, even as he again and again got thrown to the mat. Three weeks of getting nothing out of Barton in his presence at all. Three weeks.

But Phil was a patient man, and Phil knew Barton, knew Clint (they had known each other for a decade. If he could call Fury Nick why shouldn’t he use Clint’s first name as well? They were friends). He knew that all Clint needed was some space to think things through, and then everything would be back to normal.

And he was right.

(He was very rarely wrong.)

Three weeks into the silent treatment and one day, during a debrief, Barton told him to go take a flying leap off the Helicarrier he knew he had been forgiven.

Chapter Text

Steve didn’t know what to do. It seemed sometimes that his team, the Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, were just a rag-tag team of anti-social delinquents trying to make the world a better place, but even then he trusted that they would all be able to work together like a well-oiled machine. They worked. They were a good team and everything had been going fine.

And then it turns out that Coulson was alive, and had been all along (except for a short amount of time in the beginning which everyone was ignoring). Steve didn’t have a problem with Coulson, in fact he honestly liked the guy. Almost everyone on the team seemed to enjoy his company. Everyone made sure to spend time with Coulson, especially after he moved into the tower, and Coulson made time to spend with everyone.

Everyone except Hawkeye. The time directly following Coulson’s resurrection involved only silence between the two. Neither of them spoke a single word to each other. It was obvious to Steve that Clint disliked Coulson, but he thought that Coulson was at least enough of a professional to reach out to Clint like he had with everyone else. But no, there was only avoidance.

Steve wasn’t sure how he was supposed to work with two people who refused to talk to one another, but soon learned that that was not, by far, the worst relationship they could have. He was just starting to get used to Clint’s bouts of silence when Coulson entered the room, and was strategizing how he could use them in a fight without them having to interact with each other, but he was not prepared for outright aggression.

Three weeks after Coulson returned from the dead, the Avengers (minus Black Widow, who was on a need-to-know mission in ‘You don’t need to know. That is above your payroll, Captain,’ and couldn’t make it) were debriefing after an especially dangerous bout with AIM. It was disconcerting to know that in the 21st century scientists were that thirsty for power.

“And that’s when Captain Rogers went after the head, correct?” Coulson asked, consulting a clip board.

“Yes, Sir,” Steve responded, not moving from parade rest.

“Alright,” Coulson said, putting down the clipboard and meeting the eyes of each avenger in attendance, “I believe that is all for now. Any questions?”

Clint raised his hand in a mockery of school children everywhere. Coulson did not seem fazed, though he never really seemed fazed by anything, and he good naturedly called on Clint.

“I want to know why you recommended I set up on the north-west building when I could have had a better shot on the south-east building.”

Steve’s attention focused. He wanted to know the reasoning behind this one as well. Coulson smiled blandly in an approximation of what Steve assumed wasn’t a smile at all. “Besides the fact that the building to the south of the south-east building would create a wind vortex making it harder than necessary to hit the bulls-eye?”

Clint smiled and it was all teeth. “With all due respect, Sir, please go take a flying leap off the Helicarrier.”

There was shocked silence, and then Coulson quietly dismissed them and left the room.

Steve turned to Clint to reprimand him for antagonizing their handler, but he was gone too.

“What was that?” Tony demanded, and Steve turned to see that at least he wasn’t the only one with an expression of shock on his face.

“I do not wish to believe it,” Thor said with a tense voice, “but I do believe there is some past history between the Son of Coul and our Clint.”

“Clint seemed really angry,” Bruce put in softly, and Thor nodded.

“Aye, but the words the Son of Coul said before Clint’s outburst were perhaps antagonistic.”

Tony’s bark of laughter was sharp and bitter. “Coulson and Clint, enemies forever? Is that how this is playing out?” There was a pause. “Well, it would explain the whole refusing to talk to each other thing they had going on.”

Steve let out a breath. “So you saw it too?”

Tony snorted and then turned on Steve a mock-wounded expression. “Do you think me blind, oh valued leader? No, Cap, that one was pretty obvious.”

Thor nodded heavily, his blond locks bouncing on his shoulders.

Bruce sighed. “I wish Natasha was here. She’s known the two of them longer than anyone else. She could tell us how to make it so they could work together.”

“Hell!” Tony interjected, “She could tell us what happened to make them hate each other so much.”

The three of them turned to face Steve and he had to force himself not to take a step back. Captain America was no match for three sets of puppy dog eyes. “Sorry, I don’t know where she is, or how to get a hold of her.”

“But you know everything,” Tony whined, “Fury must know, go ask him. I’d ask him myself but he told me the next time I got within ten feet of him for reasons not concerning a direct emergency he’d tell Pepper I’m shirking my work.”

Steve straightened a little, “I asked him, when Black Widow was first sent off. He refused to answer.” He could see the three of them deflate a little. It brought out his mothering instinct, it must have, because that is the only explanation for the fact that Steve then said, “Don’t worry. We’ll get them to be friends somehow.”

Dear God, what had Steve gotten himself into?

Chapter Text

Clint lounged across Coulson’s couch, nursing a foreign-brewed beer and watching Coulson as he chopped onions. Coulson didn’t shed a tear, which only made Clint think him more of a badass. Coulson was making dinner, which Clint chose to interpret as “Sorry I let you think I was dead, but I didn’t even know I was alive or dead because I was in a coma, so, sorry about that, but not really” food. And he would accept it gratefully. Especially since it was actually going to be meatloaf, and the two of them had spent enough time in each other’s pockets decompressing post-op that he knew that Coulson’s meatloaf was sublime.

Clint reached for the remote, but before his hand even got close Coulson spoke. “Don’t,” he said in the monotoniest monotone Clint ever heard.

Clint rolled his eyes but leaned back in his seat. “Why? I’m bored. You’re boring me.”

“Because I don’t want you destroying my DVR. I have very important shows on there.”

“By that you mean horrible reality tv, don’t you?” Coulson didn’t answer, and Clint allowed himself a low chuckle.

“Barton, the day I take television advice from you is the day I shoot myself in the spinal column.”

Clint made a fake affronted huff. “Don’t you think that’s a little extreme? I mean, NCIS isn’t any worse than Bridezillas. One might even argue that it’s better.”

“Hmmm. You’re right. That is extreme of me. Instead I’ll shoot you in the spinal column and then use your lifeless body as a couch while I watch Supernanny.”

Clint batted his eyelashes though Coulson’s back was to him. “You’d really do that to little ol’ me?”

Without a moment’s hesitation Coulson nodded. And then, as if that agreement wasn’t enough, he said, “Yes. Of course.” He turned to face Clint without pausing in his chopping. His eyebrows were raised imperiously. “Did you ever doubt me?”

Clint shot him a shit-eating grin. “I’m not that dumb. Give me a little credit.”

Coulson harrumphed but didn’t say anything. Clint considered it a win that he was close enough to the man to even be allowed to hear Coulson grunt. Coulson was so high up in SHIELD, or he had been before his “death,” that he was practically contractually obligated to suppress any and all human characteristics. There was a rumor running among the junior agents that Coulson was actually an android, a rumor that wasn’t helped by Coulson’s sudden reappearance a year after his death. But Coulson never acted like a robot around Clint. A highly-efficient, assassin/badass secret agent, yes, but he always allowed some of his humanity to leak through. Clint had to suppress a smile at the thought that he was only one out of a few who were even allowed to see Coulson like this.

But if Clint went down that trail of thought it might lead somewhere Clint didn’t think he’d be allowed to go, so he quickly forced himself to bring up a separate subject.

“So, do you know where Nat’s been sent, Sir?”

Coulson hmmmed, which made something in Clint’s stomach flutter pleasantly, “Barton, after ten years with SHIELD you should know regulations better than that. If I did know where Black Widow was sent I wouldn’t be able to tell you, or even the fact that I knew. And as your handler, you should know better than to think that I don’t know that you do know exactly where Natasha Romanoff has been sent. You aren’t that dumb, and you know me better than that.”

Clint smirked and slid further down into his sprawl on the couch. “You wound me, Sir.”

“If you want me to wound you, Clint, I have three separate weapons on my person and at least fifteen possible projectiles in arms reach.”

“I don’t think so, Sir. I—”

“If you were about to bring up the fact that you are an Avenger and a SHIELD Agent I would think twice. I’m the one who brought you in, you’ll remember. If I can’t take you out I’m no good to this organization.”

“That was ten years ago,” Clint whined.

Coulson finished his chopping and scrapped the onions into a bowl. He then poured a liberal amount of salt, pepper, milk, bread crumbs, and ground beef into the bowl as well before whipping a wooden spoon out of literal nowhere and stirring his concoction together.

“That makes no difference to me. Objectively speaking, you’ve progressed in your skills at about the same rate as I have. Therefore, if I was once able to bring you down I should, by all rights, be able to do so again. Get out the ketchup for me, would you?”

Clint rolled to his feet and padded over to the refrigerator. “I’m not sure that’s how that would work, Sir. You’ve been playing pencil pusher for too long, while I’ve been honing my skills.” He opened the fridge and rooted around for a minute before pulling out the bottle of Heinz’s and tossing it over his shoulder. He did not look back before padding back to the couch and throwing himself onto it. He knew Phil (Oh god, he shouldn’t be calling his handler by his first name! Yes, sometimes Coulson called him Clint, but still…) had caught it. “I could beat you in a second, Sir.”

Phil—Coulson—Phil made a disparaging noise and Clint could hear the oven door slam shut. “Don’t make me shoot you in the leg again. I won’t even shoot the other one. I will shoot you in the same god-damned leg I shot you in before, and this time I won’t call a SHIELD medic to chopper you back to base. I’m just going to leave you here in my living room while I eat my damned meatloaf all by myself and then watch you bleed out with Say Yes to the Dress in the background.”

Clint looked up in time to see Phil enter the room, and he moved his legs so Phil could sit on the couch beside him. “You would never do that to me, Sir.”

Phil raised an eyebrow and grabbed the remote off the table. “And why ever not, Barton?”

Clint scoffed, “Because Natasha’s away, Sir.” At Phil’s unimpressed expression Clint continued. “Since Nat’s not here to help, you won’t be able to finish the meatloaf on your own. And since I know you’d rather be held by a Romanian BDSM torture gang than let your precious meatloaf fall into the category of left-overs, you have to let me live so I can help you finish it. It’s that simple.”

Phil flicked on the tv and turned on the next episode of Dog Cops (a compromise between the two of them). He settled into the couch, pulling his sock-clad feet beneath him. It made Clint want things he couldn’t have, so Clint forced his eyes to the tv. “Well,” Phil finally said, “when you put it that way, I guess I’ll have to wait to shoot you till after dinner.”

Clint’s lips twitched upwards. “Damn straight, Sir. Damn straight.”

Chapter Text

“Team building exercises? Really? That’s your plan?” Tony looked distinctly unimpressed.

Steve slumped in his seat. “Tony, if you have a better idea I’m all ears.”

Nothing.

Steve sighed again. “Well then team building exercises it is.”

“But Steve!” Tony dragged his name out into a whine. “That means we’ll have to do it too!” Steve nodded and Tony grimaced. “No! I can’t—I refuse!”

“It could be fun, I suppose,” Bruce spoke up from where he sat on the couch with his tablet.

“Fun!” Tony sounded personally offended. “Fun?! Bruce, Vegas is fun! Beating up Hydra is fun. Marathoning Lord of the Rings is fun. Doing team building exercises is not fun, especially when two of your teammates hate each other! Especially, especially if the reason you’re doing the exercises is so those two team members will stop hating each other. Ah! But there’s a flaw in the plan! Because team building exercises are not fun! It will make them hate each other more!”

“It sounds enjoyable,” Thor declared from where he sat, a bowl of ramen sitting small in his oversized hand.

Tony gaped at him, and Steve had to hide a smile. “Thor, man, point break,” Tony said in a cajoling tone, “did you hear what I just said? This is going to be torture.”

Thor virtually ignored Tony and turned to Steve, “When do we start, Captain? I wish to begin exercising my team by building things.”

“That’s,” Steve paused for a second, “not exactly how that works, Thor, but it’s nice to see some excitement. When do you think is a good time? I’m sure n—”

“Next Month!” Tony interjected. “Or next year!”

Steve smiled condescendingly down at Tony and had to hold back laughter at Tony’s affronted expression. “We’re all free for the rest of the day. Why not right now?”

Tony groaned dramatically and flung himself down onto the couch.

Steve sent him a small smile before turning his head upwards, towards the ceiling, despite knowing Jarvis did not actually live up there. “Jarvis?”

“Yes, Captain?” Came the cool tones of Tony’s AI.

“Do you mind asking Clint and Coulson to stop by the common area for a team meeting as soon as they can?”

“Of course, Captain,” Jarvis said, and then there was a long pause before he spoke again. “They’re on their way.”

“Excellent,” Steve said.

“Fuck,” Tony concurred.

“So what are we going to do?” Bruce asked, “Do you know any good team building exercises?”

“Yeah!” Tony exclaimed in triumph. “Do you even know any team exercises?”

Steve rolled his eyes and pulled out his phone. “I can use google, you know.”

Tony grumbled and rolled off the couch and onto the floor.

“Captain.” Coulson said as he walked through the door, Clint trailing closely behind him.

Steve nodded. “Agent Coulson, Clint.”

Clint gave a small nod as an acknowledgment, and then sped up to crouch by Tony on the ground. Tony didn’t move, and Clint began to poke Tony’s head with this index finger.

“What can we help you with, today, Captain.” Coulson said in a monotone. He fixed his cuff as he waited for Steve to talk.

“Yeah,” Clint spoke up, after failing to poke Tony into rolling over, “What am I doing here when I could be laying around, savoring the delicious meatloaf I just finished.”

“Barton,” Coulson softly reprimanded, “you must be willing to drop anything for Avengers business.”

Clint scoffed and flopped to lie beside Tony on the floor. “You know, Coulson, sometimes you make me want to take a semi-automatic to the face.”

Coulson did not even glance at Clint on the floor. “If you wish to requisition a semi-automatic weapon I can provide the appropriate paperwork.”

Steve exchanged a glance with Thor.

Clint didn’t react except to huff and roll across the floor.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt your dinner,” Steve started, but when Clint waved his hand dismissively Steve continued, “Well, I know that as the Avengers we work very well together in the field,” he got a nod of confirmation from both Coulson and Bruce, “but I think our actions in the field, and how we work together both in and out of the field would benefit from learning to trust each other more.”

“That’s an honorable ideal,” Coulson said with a small nod. “I do wonder if it wouldn’t behoove your plans to wait for Black Widow to return.”

“We can incorporate her upon her return, we will, of course,” Steve said with a small smile, “but as Fury won’t even inform us as to her whereabouts, I doubt he’ll tell us when she will return. Until then I thought you might take her place, Agent Coulson. You do work with us more often now, and it will increase team morale to know you have our back as much as we have each others’.”

Coulson seemed to consider this for a moment before nodding. “That is acceptable. I wonder what your plans are, however, on making us a better working unit.”

Tony made a low, pained moan and rolled over.

“Trust exercises,” Bruce explained with a small smile.

Clint moaned and got to his feet only to drop to the ground dramatically again. Coulson made a thin-lipped smile and said, “Intriguing. When do we begin?”

Steve smiled what he hoped was a convincing smile and said, “Well, if there are no objections, I thought now would be a fine time.” He looked around, but no one said anything. Well, Tony grimaced like he wanted to say something, but he didn’t actually open his mouth. “Excellent.”

“So what does our esteemed leader have planned for us?” Clint asked.

“Not trust-falls, I hope,” Tony intoned darkly.

Steve quickly scrolled to the next item on his phone. Without missing a beat, he said, “Of course not. I think we should start with an exercise called Lost At Sea.”

“That sounds sketchy,” Tony interjects.

“I think we should listen to Steven’s ideas before disregarding them,” Thor said helpfully, and Tony quieted.

Steve cleared his throat. “Well then. For this scenario we have to pretend that we’ve been stranded in the middle of the ocean. Shipwrecked. And we’ve only been able to rescue fifteen items. Now we have to rank those items according to how much we think we need them.”

“What does this accomplish?” Tony moaned.

Coulson straightened his back.“Being able to agree on certain items, and convince others of your opinion is an important skill to have. Not to mention that this will help teach how to better communicate with one another on important topics,” Coulson informed the childish billionaire, and then made his way to the sofa to sit beside Bruce.

“Exactly,” Steve agreed, and moved to the sofa area as well. He silently thanked whatever deity had given him Agent Coulson, because now he didn’t have to admit that he had no idea what this dag-blamed thing was about.

“So what are the items?” Clint said, and rolled into a sitting position, though he stayed on the ground.

Steve checked his phone. “A sextant, a shaving mirror, a quantity of mosquito netting, a 25 liter container of water, a case of army rations, maps of the Atlantic ocean, a floating seat cushion, a 10 liter can of oil, a transistor radio, 25 square feet of opaque plastic sheeting, a can of shark repellent, one bottle of 160 proof rum, 15 feet of nylon rope, 2 boxes of chocolate bars, and an ocean fishing kit and pole.”

Clint snorted. “How are we going to remember all of that stuff?”

“Jarvis?” Tony asked in an aggravated tone, the same one he got with people who questioned Dummy’s use or people who flaunted their iphones. The tv lit up with a list of what Steve had just stated.

“I call the chocolate!” Clint called out.

“I call the rum,” Tony seconded, and the two of them high-fived.

“What is a sextant?” Thor asked.

“Well,” Clint began, “it’s a tent you have sex in. They’re used mostly for consummation vacations. If this shipwrecked ship belonged to Stark here, which I’m guessing it would be because why the fuck else would we be on a ship in the Atlantic, then it makes sense that Tony would have it fully stocked for any pleasure to be found.”

“Ignore him,” Bruce said, “A sextant is a navigational tool.”

“Yes,” Coulson agreed solemnly, “I would recommend ignoring Barton whenever possible.”

This callous comment didn’t seem to faze Clint, which only cemented the fact in Steve’s mind that he needed to find a way to work whatever issue the two of them had out. They needed to all be able to work together and trust one another to have their backs.

“Well,” Clint said, seemingly ignoring Coulson’s comment, “I say our first step is to fish for food. We could use you, Sir, as bait.” He looked up at Agent Coulson innocently. Coulson merely hummed in response.

Bruce cleared his throat, and said, “Well, I think our most important item is actually the water. Dehydration is a serious concern, and all ocean water is completely undrinkable, of course.”

“Well, we won’t need the radio,” Tony stated matter-of-factly, “Jarvis will be able to contact anyone we might need for a rescue. In fact, Jarvis will navigate for us. We won’t need the maps or the sextant either.”

Steve pinched the bridge of his nose. “For the purpose of this exercise, let’s pretend, just pretend, that we don’t have contact with Jarvis.”

“Do any of us even know how to navigate the ocean?” Bruce asked, “Even with the maps and the sextant?”

“I do,” Coulson said, and Clint nodded.

“Yeah, I do too.”

“What?” Tony demanded, “Is that something SHIELD teaches all its agents?”

Coulson shook his head, a bland smile gracing his lips. “No. Agent Barton and I were once stranded on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic after a mission went FUBAR.”

Clint scoffed. “That’s one way of putting it.”

Steve frowned. “And you were able to navigate home because you had navigational tools? You taught yourselves?”

“That’s mightily impressive,” Thor boomed.

Clint snorted. “Nah. Well, I mean technically yes, but it wasn’t like we could steer the ship. It was just a burned husk of a ship. We just floated around in it for weeks upon weeks.”

The room was silent, a range of shocked expressions flitted across various faces. Coulson casually lifted a throw pillow from beside him and aimed it with unnecessary accuracy at Clint’s face. Clint fell back onto the floor dramatically.

“Don’t complain so much,” Coulson ordered, “we were only stranded on that ship for a month.”

“A month?” Tony squealed.

Clint pushed himself up from the ground and nodded. “Yeah. A whole freaking month.”

“Then you must already know the ranking of the list?” Thor boomed happily.

Steve’s eye twitched. “That’s not really what this is supposed—”

“Well, yeah,” Clint said, as if he were just waiting for one of them to ask him, and was a little irked it had taken so long.

“Well, what is it?” Tony demanded, and he sounded like he was half playing along, half genuinely curious.

“In order, things you will need most when shipwrecked: A can of shark repellent (Sharks are little bitches when you spray them in the face. With anything actually. You could use hairspray), a shaving mirror (because everyone brings shaving mirrors with them when they go on a yacht. Anyway, it’s good for signaling to other boats. If you know Morse code you can call the other passengers little bitches)—”

“Are you just giving us a list about things that are ‘little bitches,’ Clint?” Bruce asked, a frown on his face.

Clint waved him away. “Then the floating cushion (because it will make a sweet pillow when all the linen in the ship has burned up), the chocolate bars (obvious reason), oil (also for obvious reasons), we’re going to need the rum next (to bribe the ghosts on the ship)—”

Thor’s was frowning deeply. “You are speaking jest, are you not?”

Clint nodded solemnly. “No, then we’ll need a fishing kit (in order to rig up a fake ghost to give the rum to), a radio (to have white noise in order to give a creepy atmosphere to the husk of a ship you’ve now filled with fake ghosts)—”

“Wait,” Tony said, finding the real plot hole, “if there’s no linen, how are you making fake ghosts?”

Clint snapped his fingers together. “Damn. Ok. Rewind. Before fishing kit add the,” he squinted at the screen, “20 square feet of opaque plastic sheeting (for ghost reasons), mosquito netting (same reason), fast-forward: the rope (to tie up any unruly senior agents), maps (to burn as a signaling device), a sex tent (for getting off in), army rations (to eat, duh), and then the water (to wash the rations down).”

“Oh my, we’re all going to die!” Tony groaned pathetically and flopped onto his side.

“Could we take this seriously, please?” Steve asked, a feeling that he had bitten off way more than he could chew, settling in the pit of his stomach.

Bruce met Steve’s eyes, and Steve could see his own despair and resignation mirrored there.

Coulson’s expression looked especially pinched. “Are you trying to sabotage Captain Rogers’ plans? Or do you like lying about confidential SHIELD missions?”

Clint responded with a shit-eating grin. “Would you prefer me tell them the truth?”

Coulson frowned, which made Clint’s grin widen.

Steve looked to Bruce for silent advice, but Bruce didn’t seem to be having any better luck processing the situation. Steve looked to Thor, but Thor looked confused. As a last resort Steve looked to Tony, but Tony wasn’t even trying to keep his emotional flailing to the internal and was actively looking between Clint and Coulson like he was watching a tennis match.

Coulson’s frown deepened, and a corner of his eye twitched. “Agent Barton. I think you’ll find—”

Coulson was interrupted by the alarms in the tower going off.

“Looks like we’ll have to finish this later,” Tony said as he sprinted to the elevator.

Coulson stuck an earpiece in his ear and started talking to a SHIELD agent on the other end. He turned to the rest of the assembled Avengers. “A group of armed men are attacking midtown.”

Steve nodded, and then turned to the rest of the group. “Alright, suit up.”

Clint let out an unholy whooping noise and sprinted off as well.

Steve sighed but let it go. This exercise had been a bust anyway. There would always be next time.

Chapter Text

Dirty, covered in scrapes and dust, and panting slightly, Clint leaned against an over-turned car and watched as Coulson ordered about baby SHIELD agents. Coulson looked as stressed as Clint felt, though, really, that only translated to a small tightening around his lips and a quicker gait. The fight had been small, but destructive. No more than a single block, but almost nothing of those apartments would be salvageable. Hydra was a bitch like that. Thankfully they’d all been evacuated immediately and so there wasn’t a single civilian casualty. That didn’t mean that it was fair that Coulson had to not only organize events and play go-between during the fight but also organize the relief and clean-up efforts afterwards.

He worked too hard sometimes.

Clint reached out and grabbed a passing junior agent by the scruff of his suit. The baby minion paused and gulped, though he made a concentrated effort to look professional. “Tell Agent Coulson that if he doesn’t relax soon I’m going to hog-tie him and throw him into my cellar until he learns to fucking delegate.”

The baby agent’s eyes went wide and he scurried over to Coulson. Clint saw the baby agent relay the message and then flee before there could be any sort of retribution. Coulson gave a command to a more competent looking agent and then walked over to Clint. Clint straightened up, and stepped away from the car.

“Agent,” Phil said, in his blandest I’m-going-to-kill-you voice.

“Coulson,” Clint said with a small smile, “I think you’ve worked enough today, don’t you? Why not take a break?”

Coulson eyed Clint’s disgusting uniform, and then his own spotless suit. “Why don’t you go take a shower. You look disgusting.”

Clint perked up. “And afterwards we can have celebratory dinner at Hugo’s?”

Coulson’s eyebrow quirked. “I’m going to say yes, but only because I want you to stop terrifying junior agents. You don’t even have a cellar.”

Clint waggled his eyebrows. “That’s what you think.”

Coulson huffed. “Go. Go get showered and changed, and then invite your teammates, because if I have to suffer through celebratory hoagies from Hugo’s then they deserve that too.”

Something dark and heavy dropped in Clint’s stomach, but he kept his smile on his face. It wasn’t fair to Coulson that Clint wanted to monopolize his time. He deserved to be with the other Avengers as well. They were all friends after all.

(A small part of Clint’s brain objected, saying that Clint loved Coulson most, but he shoved it back down into the lock box he kept it in and threw away the fucking key.)

Clint gave a flippant little salute, and began making his way back to the tower to clean up. The others would probably already be on sight, and he reluctantly remembered that they’d all agreed to debrief in the conference room after every fight. The shower and dinner would have to wait just a little bit longer. On the bright side he’d only have to ask about dinner the once instead finding each of them individually.

In the conference room Clint found Steve, Bruce, Tony, and Thor sitting in silence, but it was more the silence of a broken off conversation than the silence of comfort. “What’s up, guys? Any injuries?”

Steve shook his head. “None of any real danger. You?”

Clint shrugged and subtly examined the room, trying to figure out the tenseness that he could feel just below the surface. “Not really.

Steve nodded and then gave Bruce a really compelling look.

Clint looked away, because he didn’t think Steve and Bruce were fucking, but that was a really intense protracted eye-lock and Clint did not need to know anything about his teammates sex lives, thank you very much.

Bruce, after a long silence, said, “So, should we wait for Coulson before we begin, or…”

“Which reminds me,” Clint said, done with the awkwardness in the room (whatever was going on was weird, because both Tony and Thor were being oddly silent and Clint didn’t want to have to think about his friends’ weird problems after they’d just finished taking and giving a beating, so promised himself he’d think about it later and let it go), “Coulson is taking us all out to dinner to celebrate tonight.” Which might not be technically true. But Clint was still a little vindictively upset about having to share Coulson with the others, and he figured Coulson’s seldom-used bank account could handle it.

And yes, he did know he was being petty.

Steve and Bruce exchanged another weird look (ok, definitely not fucking, unless their sex lives involved, like, soap-opera levels of confusion and sassery) and then Steve shook his head. “I think I’m going to stay in tonight.”

“Me too,” Bruce was quick to follow (wait, maybe they were fucking?).

After a short silence where Bruce surreptitiously kicked Tony under the table Tony said, “Oh, uh, yeah, me too?” He looked to Bruce as if for confirmation, and upon getting a wide-eyed glare he said more confidently. “Yes! I am staying in tonight. Boy, I am so doing that, wow. Yes.”

“Ok,” Clint said slowly, because his teammates were officially fucking weird.

“I will also be not going out tonight,” Thor said, with a weird awkward lilt to his voice.

(Maybe they were having an orgy? Without him? He wasn’t sure whether to be indignant or relieved that he wasn’t a part of that. If that was what was happening, anyway.)

“You know what?” Steve said, and then stifled an obviously fake yawn, “I think I’m going to turn in now. Why don’t we debrief tomorrow instead. Clint, go on to dinner without us.”

Clint stood immediately, happy to be getting away from any other freaky-deeky thing his mind could think of to explain his teammates being weird. “Yes. Definitely. Off I go right now. To eat. Well, first to shower, then to eat.”

Tony gave him a weird look. “That was easy.”

“Huh?” Clint asked.

Tony blinked a few times in what Clint usually attributed to minor panic (but what would he have to panic about here?) “I mean, getting out of the debrief?”

Clint rolled his eyes. “Sure, whatever. I’m absolutely starving and Coulson is paying. Peace!” And then he was out the door before any of them could call him back.

Chapter Text

Clint and Coulson found a small booth in the back of the long dining area of Hugo’s Hoagies and settled in. They were regulars, though they hadn’t been in since before the Chitauri incident, so the furniture and windows looked newer, having been replaced. The staff still remembered them, though, and it was only a few minutes after sitting down that their waitress, Evelyn, was returning with a cherry coke and a lemonade that they hadn’t needed to order.

Coulson gave her a small smile as she left, and Clint was secure in the knowledge that their sandwiches would be out soon, all without having to order a single thing.

He waited until Coulson was in the middle of sipping his cherry coke before saying, “I think Steve, Bruce, Tony, and Thor are having an orgy right now.”

Coulson did not choke on his drink, because that would have been too unseemly for a SHIELD senior agent to do. Coulson also did not spit out his drink dramatically or spill his drink or anything like that. He did quickly swallow what was in his mouth and cautiously place the glass back on the table. “Excuse me?” Coulson said, “I don’t believe I heard you correctly.”

Clint gave him a shit-eating grin. “I said that I think my teammates, minus Natasha, are having an orgy up in the tower right now.”

Coulson blinked. “What made you come to that conclusion?”

Clint rolled his eyes. “When I talked to them they were all super shifty, they kept giving each other these really weird looks, and they all practically insisted that I leave the room immediately. They wanted me out of the area, and they all turned down dinner, and, well, Steve made this really obvious, “I’m going to turn in now, because I am an old man who needs lots of sleep,” thing but I don’t believe it for a minute.”

Coulson raised his eyebrows. “And this led you to the conclusion that they are all sleeping together?”

Clint huffed. “Not really, but it’s the only fun explanation I could think of.”

Coulson hummed a note. “Nothing good can come of this, can it?”

“It, sir?”

Coulson sipped at his drink again. “Whatever they’re planning is probably harmless, but I bet it will be hell to clean up. Rogers and Stark working together?”

Clint chuckled. “I see your point, Sir.”

Coulson rolled his eyes, and Clint’s stomach flopped. “Either way, what they do off the clock is not my issue. As long as it doesn’t hinder their working relationship, they could be having a really steamy orgy right now and I wouldn’t care a whit.”

“I’m not sure Jane and Pepper would be happy about it.”

Coulson gave him an unimpressed look. “If you think I’m going to be the one to tell those two horrifying women that their respective boyfriends are cheating on them with each other than you’ve got another thing coming to you, Barton.”

Two simultaneous pings interrupted Clint’s response and Clint and Coulson both checked their phones.

“Well,” Clint said after reading, “I guess our worrying was for nothing, as Steve just texted me and is therefore probably not mid-coitus.”

Coulson nodded. “About another team-building exercise?”

Clint nodded. “Yep. I’m assuming you got one too.” Coulson nodded. “Tomorrow at 10 am. Meet in the common room.” He crossed his arms over his chest and pouted. “I don’t wanna.”

Coulson rolled his eyes, but his expression was almost fond, and it made Clint’s stomach flip flop again. “Too bad, agent. Needs must.”

Chapter Text

Coulson and Clint were sitting on the common room floor, cross-legged and back-to-back. Coulson looked bland. Clint looked sullen and annoyed. Steve took a moment to worry his lower lip between his teeth before realizing that stalling was only hurting himself. He sighed and turned to Bruce for support. Bruce was quickly becoming Steve's only sane companion, but in this instance all he did was nod that they should start and gesture that Steve should begin. Thor was sitting on the couch, watching the proceedings eagerly and flipping mjolnir in his hand almost subconsciously. Tony was pouting in an armchair by the entrance. He had a tablet in front of him which he was pretending to use, but it was obvious that he was torn between storming out and refusing to participate, and watching gleefully as Clint and Coulson were “tortured to within an inch of their lives” (his words) with the trust exercise.

Steve let himself stew in regret (this would never work) and lowkey hope (maybe this would work and everything would return to being hunky dory by the end of the week?) and then finally just forced himself to start talking before he took up Tony's idea and fled the room.

“Alright,” Steve started, and immediately he had the attention of everyone in the room, “this exercise involves drawing. I'm going to give one of you a pad of paper and a pencil, and the other a picture. The one with the picture has to describe it to the one with the paper, without saying what it is or expressly using the names of the thing in the photo. The other has to draw it. At the end we'll compare the drawn picture with the one I gave you to see how close you got.”

“I think I got it?” Clint questioned slowly.

Steve caught the quick roll of Coulson's eyes, but cut him off before he could say something scathing to Clint, which would undermine this entire charade they were going through. “Just—” He passed a pad of paper and a pencil to Coulson, and then stepped in front of Clint. “You guys have to stay facing away from each other,” Clint nodded, “and I'm going to give you a picture. You need to make Coulson draw it without saying what it is.” Clint nodded again but he didn't look completely certain.

Bruce must have caught Coulson about to say something else because he cut in. “Let's use an example. Say you were given a picture of a house. You couldn't tell Coulson to draw a house, but you could say to draw an obtuse triangle, with a square at the bottom.”

Clint's expression cleared. “Alright. Gotcha.”

“Do I need to put you in remedial lessons, Barton?” Coulson asked, and Steve's eyelid twitched.

Tony let out a hissed, “Oooooh, burn...” Which Steve didn't quite understand but somehow knew was inappropriate and unhelpful.

Clint just looked mildly exasperated. “Oh go headbutt a unicorn, Sir.”

Steve stepped forward, trying to head off any more bodily threats. “So, remember, no stating what the thing is, just use shapes and stuff, and...uh...” he handed the picture to Clint, “uh, go ahead.”

Clint took a moment to study the picture.

“Are your eyes broken, Barton?” Coulson asked calmly.

Steve bit his lip to stop himself from interrupting. Thor caught his eye, but Steve shook his head. They could try and make them cooperate, try to show them that being friends was better than being enemies, but in the long haul, Clint and Coulson were adults and Steve had no right to tell them how to communicate, even if it was awful and stupid.

“Wow, impatient much,” Clint muttered, and then louder, “what's the deal, big daddy-o, you got somewhere important to be? Maybe you're late for an appointment with a lobotomist?”

“Hah,” Coulson said, sounding extremely unamused. “No. By all means, take your time. Let's just sit here all day while you scope out a 2D photo less than a foot from your face.”

“Shut up, Sir. I'm trying to make this the most complicated I possibly can.”

Steve shook his head. “That's not really—”

“Challenge accepted, Agent,” Coulson said, and from where Steve stood he could just barely see Coulson's face light up with a perfectly maniacal grin.

“Now, the point of this challenge,” Bruce started in his most calming voice, “is to—”

“We got this,” Clint and Coulson said simultaneously, and immediately Clint full-body shuddered.

Bruce closed his mouth with a sharp click, and Steve took a step back before lowering himself to the couch. They were going to ruin team building exercises forever. Might as well have a front row seat to the destruction. Bruce obviously agreed with him as he too took a seat on the couch, and Tony lowered his tablet.

Clint cleared his throat and held the photo up to eye-level, Coulson readied his pencil on the pad.

“Ok,” Clint said, “do you remember that op with the bodega? The eggplant one, with the carpenter?”

Coulson hummed.

“Do you remember how you almost let the crook free because you were having an attack of morals?”

The pencil was still poised above the paper. “I remember you bleeding out onto my favorite leather shoes, insisting that you weren't going to medical unless you had the man's bleeding heart clenched between your teeth. You were being stupid.” Coulson began to run the pencil lead against the paper almost lazily, not drawing anything identifiable. Steve flinched. This was going to fail miserably.

“No, no, you were being stupid, I wanted to leave after we got our guy, but you were preoccupied.”

“Yeah,” Coulson snarked, “your blood was leaking into my shoes. My nice, Italian shoes.”

“I could have still got him, you dictator. I could have shot him, easy-peezy.”

Coulson drove his pencil into the pad in quick short bursts that didn't seem to have any rhyme or reason. “Your medical records and my memory of you on bed-rest for two weeks begs to differ. You couldn't have shot your way out of a paper bag. You were practically unconscious.”

Tony cleared his throat, “Uh, guys?”

Coulson and Clint shushed him simultaneously.

“Sorry,” Coulson said immediately, “I’m trying to concentrate past Barton's stupid.”

“Hey!” Clint said, “No need to be rude, you ugly hag.”

“I’m not a hag, you troglodyte. Hags are, by definition, almost exclusively women. Do I look like a woman to you, agent? And you had better think before you answer that.”

“Well you do have such a pert little butt, Sir.” Clint said, and then twitched, as if he hadn't meant to say that, but Steve thought he must have interpreted Clint's expression wrong because he immediately continued with, “Not to mention your long beautiful locks, giant rack, and preference for stilettos. Hey, Sir, remember the Martinez case in Guam?”

Coulson almost full-body twitched and Tony squeaked.

“I would like to hear of this case of Martinez,” Thor said calmly, “I am most intrigued—”

“No,” Coulson said quickly. “Barton, if I hear one more word out of your mouth that does not have to do with this training exercise I'm going to stab you with a stiletto, and I'm not talking about the shoe.”

Clint very deliberately folded his picture in half and slid it away from his side, into easy sight of Coulson's periphery. “Ooooh, Kinky,” he said with an almost over-exaggerated leer.

“And how do you know I've finished my drawing, Barton?” Coulson asked, back in his unflappable tone.

Clint shrugged. “Don't you always finish prematurely, Sir?” There was an expression on Clint's face that Steve recognized from times Clint knew he was toeing the line and was deciding to just fuck everything and do it anyway. Steve was intimately acquainted with this expression, because it usually heralded an emergency pick-up from SHIELD or a stay in medical for the archer.

Tony must have also recognized the face because he cut in with, “Well? Have you finished, Agent Agent? Let's see how well you've done.”

Tony sounded skeptical about this entire endeavor, which made sense because what the hell had just happened? Clint had definitely not said anything helpful, and Coulson looked like he'd been sketching abstract art, though from Steve's angle he could be wrong. Steve felt similarly skeptical, but reminded himself that they were all adults here and he couldn't run away and hide. Coulson and Clint obviously had no qualms about their weird whatever-had-just happened, so Steve forced himself not to worry overly much either.

Coulson handed his drawing to Tony, and then picked up the folded picture at his side and unfolded it, revealing a simplistic drawing of a candle. A rectangle with a wick line, and a flame shaped squiggle. Coulson sighed audibly. “Barton, you couldn't have made this simpler for everyone by saying geometric words?”

Clint got to his feet and stretched his arms above his head, leaning back until everyone heard his back crack. Steve winced. “I said I wanted to challenge you, Sir. Saying ‘Oh, draw a rectangle with a line and swoop,’ would have been easier but it's so much funner to rile you up.” He leaned forward to give Coulson a smarmy smile.

Coulson remained seated in the same position, looking for all the world as if he was sitting in his leather office chair, respectable and straight-backed, instead of on what Tony called a faux-shag carpet.

Tony waved the picture in the air. “Ok, this is nice and all, actually really nice, Agent, why didn't you tell us you could draw, but I don't see how this is a candle.”

Bruce caught Tony's hand and held it still, which allowed Bruce, Steve, and Thor to examine the picture. Clint gave it a cursory glance before sprawling back on the carpet, loose-limbed and carefree.

“Is that Mary? Mother of God?” Steve finally made himself ask. The sketch was beautiful, if quickly done. Mary stood in a long dress with a cloth covering her hair, her hands up in prayer. Her expression was demure, but a halo surrounded her head and upper torso. She was cut off on either side as well, despite the paper being much wider.

“That woman is neither Frigga nor Bestla,” Thor stated, a deep furrow in his brow.

“No,” Bruce explained calmly, “Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ in the Christian faith. Not your mother, nor—I’m sorry, who is Bestla?”

Thor straightened, his expression jovial once more, “Bestla is she who begat Odin, the Allfather, who—”

“Yeah,” Stark cut him off, “She's grandma Bestla, we got it. What I want to know, is why Coulson here thinks God's baby-momma is a candle.”

Bruce frowned. “You've never seen those? They're like,” he made a vaguely cylindrical shape with his hands, “really tall and cheap? They're in gas stations.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Because I spend so much time in gas stations.”

Clint raised his head off the ground. “Seriously Tony? You've never seen a Mary Candle? They're everywhere! I mean, Cap and Thor I get, but not even you?”

Tony shrugged. “I've got better things to do then sniff candles in sketchy gas stations. But enough about my many and varied flaws,” he huffed and tossed his head, “and make Agent Agent tell me why a firefight in a bodega made him draw the Virgin Mary.”

“Oh, easy,” Clint said, before Coulson could open his mouth. “The fight, I got shot, couldn't do anything—”

“You were bleeding out,” Coulson inserted smoothly through a vicious smile.

“—and the first projectile Coulson could get his hand one was one of those Mary candles, which was for some reason jumbled in with the eggplants. Chucked it at the guy with the gun and brained him. Knocked him out cold.”

“And the carpenter?” Thor asked, looking extremely intrigued. “You spoke of a carpenter at the beginning of your tale.”

Clint shrugged. “The bodega's owner's brother was a carpenter. He built me a bookcase as a thank-you for saving his brother's life.”

“Yes,” Coulson agreed, “despite the fact that all you did was bleed helplessly on my good Italian shoes and plead that I not tell medical because you hate bed rest. I was the one who knocked out the killer.”

Clint rolled his eyes. “Which is why the carpenter built you something even better, which you refuse to share with the class!”

Coulson stayed immobile, though a small smile was playing around the corner of his lips. “That, Agent Barton, is none of your business.”

“Self-righteous prick,” Clint said sweetly and rolled into a sitting position.

“Now I gotta know,” Tony said. When Coulson said nothing, Tony continued, “C’mon Agent Agent. You can't leave us hanging like this!”

“Of course I can,” Coulson disagreed kindly, like an elementary school teacher informing a student that yes, the other students are allowed to play with the class toys too.

“But I am curious,” Thor said, sounding slightly put out.

“And I'm afraid you must stay curious.”

Thor pouted slightly, but Steve was not about to waste this tentative truce. Coulson and Clint were being mostly civil, and Steve decided to test his luck. Maybe they could learn to be, if not friends, then not-enemies at least. “Well, let's switch it. Clint can draw while Coulson describes the photo.”

Clint rolled his eyes sulkily and crossed his arms. Coulson merely smiled kindly and said, “Oh good. Revenge.”

Steve's eye twitched. Perhaps he should not have pushed it.

Bruce looked resigned, and Tony and Thor looked almost eager.

Clint slid to he was back-to-back with Coulson again and nodded to Steve. “Alright, let's get this torture over with.”

Chapter Text

Phil knew that Clint knew that the picture Phil was holding was of a sun. It was just a circle with lines jutting out from it. Fairly simplistic. However, Phil also knew that Clint didn’t know that Phil knew that Clint knew that the picture was of a sun.

Phil also knew that Clint was not, perhaps, the best artist, realistically speaking. Clint had once confided in Phil that he dreaded Pictionary night with Natasha because he “couldn’t draw for shit.” Knowing all of these things, Phil also knew that he was going to try to make this as complicated as possible for the archer, because Clint had just let slip that that he liked Phil in at least a slightly more than platonic way.

Which they would be speaking about later, when this torture was over. Torture for Clint that was. Phil was going to enjoy himself. He thought he deserved it after years of pining after the man without so much as a returning glance.

Yes. He was being petty. He accepted that. He could stop being petty after they talked about their feelings which, Phil knew, Clint would hate.

Phil knew a lot about Clint. He knew enough to know that saying Phil had a “pert butt” out loud had been an accident, no matter how fast he tried to cover it up. He knew Clint hated these team building exercises because he was secretly scared that he’d somehow fail and would be kicked out the team, which was ridiculous. Phil also knew that Clint knew it was ridiculous.

What Phil didn’t know, was how Clint was able to keep his attraction to Phil a secret, because Phil was the best of the best and he was usually able to notice things like that about people. Who liked who. Who was already dating who. Who was secretly married to who (Maria Hill had some ‘splainin’ to do if her secret ever got out). Who liked him. And Clint had never pinged. But that was beside the point, because now Phil knew Clint liked him and there was nothing Clint could do to get out of the very stern talking-to he was going to get when they ever got a moment alone. And perhaps a very stern kissing as well. Phil was looking forward to that.

But all of that would have to wait because, oh right, the Avengers had decided for some no-doubt catastrophic idea that team building exercise were necessary, and Phil was succeeding in fooling Clint into thinking that he didn’t know that Clint knew that he had a picture of a sun.

Clint had known since Phil had started speaking, which Phil found ridiculous, since Phil’s first sentence had been: “Speaking of “God’s baby-momma” as Stark so colorfully put it.” Though, no wait, The Father, The Sun, the holy ghost…

When Phil thought about it, it made sense. Clint and Phil had been living in each other’s pockets for around a decade, they knew each other’s thought patterns. Which, yes, was how Phil knew that Clint knew it was a sun.

“Let me guess,” Clint had continued, “It’s the picture of a swan.”

“Barton, I believe you are mixing mythologies. And it was Zeus who turned into a swan, technically the baby-daddy.”

Clint scoffed. “That’s beside the point. Anyway, it’s totally your turn to say words at me, not the other way around.”

Phil straightened his back. “Very well. Listen closely.”

Off to the side Phil heard Thor say, “I am much excited to see the outcome of this quest,” and Phil felt Clint tense minutely in restrained laughter.

“Well?” Clint asked after a moment. “You gonna actually speak words at me, or have you lost all cognitive abilities? If, it turns out, you had any to begin with.”

Phil let the edges of his lips quirk up into a small smile. “I see you are impatient as ever. Very well. This thing which you must draw is big.”

“Elephant it is!” Clint exclaimed and began drawing what was no doubt going to be an awful sun.

“I’m not done, Agent,” Phil mock-reprimanded.

Clint let out an exaggerated sigh. “Well get on with it. We haven’t got all day here.”

“Hmmm. Fine. This picture it is of something big. And…” He held the moment for as long as he could, “moving.”

“Wow, Sir. You are exceptionally suck-ish at this.”

Captain Rogers made a small disparaging noise from the couch but Phil ignored him. He’d looked uncomfortable all afternoon, but had not yet said anything so Phil continued to let it go. It obviously had something to do with the other Avengers. When, or if, they needed Phil’s help they could come to him. He was much too busy playing babysitter to the lot of them to worry over-much about Captain Rogers. Rogers was an upstanding, reliable man. If he had questions or worries, he would come to Phil.

“Are you telling me,” Phil said in his haughty I-know-something-you-don’t-know voice, which he saved for just such occasions as quipping with Clint, “that you couldn’t tell what my picture was of by some ancient carnie trick? Perhaps the fortune-teller taught you some of her dark arts?”

“Next you’ll be telling me that I should have learned some crazy wacko Russian voodoo from Nat.”

“Is anything that comes out of your mouth culturally sensitive or appropriate?”

Phil could practically feel the cocky smirk Clint was projecting. “Not a single thing, Sir.”

They both paused for a second, long enough for Phil to take in Stark’s unholy expression of glee, and Dr. Banner’s of consternation. A side of Phil’s brain that didn’t usually pipe up because he had hit it over the head with a shovel and buried it years ago said that perhaps it was too bad there weren’t wild orgies happening in Avengers tower, because sometimes Dr. Banner looked like he need a good lay.

But there was a reason that part of his mind was buried, and so he buried it again. Phil did not need to be thinking about the sexual habits or practices of any of these people.

Well, maybe Clint, but that was only because he hoped to soon be involved in those habits and practices.

The silence stretched, until Phil grew bored of looking blandly out into the face of the two scientists. There was only so much he could do to perfect the blandness. He didn’t need the extra time, especially after all his years at SHIELD.

“Barton,” he barked into the quiet, and was pleased when he didn’t even feel Clint flinch, though he did see both Banner and Stark jump a little in their seats.

“Yes, Sir?” Clint asked

“I don’t hear your pencil moving. Does that mean you’ve finished?”

Banner’s eyes flew wide. “But you hardly gave him anything!”

Rogers obviously agreed as he piped up, “He couldn’t possibly have figured it out by big and moving. That isn’t fair, Agent Coulson. I think you should—”

“It’s fine,” Clint interrupted with a flap of the paper. “I got it. It’s a sun. No biggie.”

Stark squawked. “How? What—?”

Phil set his paper on the ground to his side and Clint placed the pad of paper next to it. The drawing and the picture were identical except for the number of lines around the sun.

“This is truly extraordinary!” Thor exclaimed.

“Yeah,” Clint agreed with a self-deprecating laugh, “I’m a regular Da Vinci.”

Do you know some future-telling magic or psychic bullshit?” Stark demanded.

Phil got to his feet gracefully, ignoring the fact that his left foot had fallen asleep and he was now suffering from the feeling of pins and needles stabbing repeatedly into his foot. Clint, probably just to be contrary, flopped back onto the carpet. “No,” the archer said, “didn’t you hear me before. Nat taught me Russian voodoo.”

Clint met Phil’s gaze for just a second, but it was enough for Phil to cock an amused eyebrow at him. “Barton, am I going to have to sign you up for a mandatory political correctness seminar?”

Clint kicked his feet up into the air and then crossed them. He looked like he was sitting cross-legged and comfortably on an invisible sideways couch. Or was doing some strange yoga. Phil had a sudden picture of exactly how flexible Clint could be in bed, a thought that would normally have been smothered in its sleep long before it got to the front of Phil’s mind. Nothing had caught it this time, and Phil came out of his mind with a new fantasy of exactly what Clint could do with his legs and torso, and a mild blush.

He did not break Clint’s gaze, even as Clint’s face began to heat as well.

Captain Rogers awkwardly cleared his own throat. “I’m sure Clint didn’t mean anything malicious by it, Agent Coulson.”

Phil blinked once to bring himself back to the present, and then smirked when he realized that he had given them a perfect excuse to leave.

“I’m sorry, Captain,” Phil said in his blandest tone. “I believe Clint—Barton and I have some things to discuss. If you would excuse us.” Phil pointed first at Clint and then the door. “Agent?”

Clint’s expression was stony, a mask to cover his embarrassment if Phil was reading him right. Which he was, because Clint might be able to control his expression, but his face was still bright red. Phil smirked at him. A small, almost nonexistent smirk, because they were still in mixed company, but a smirk all the same.

Clint nodded slowly and got to his feet.

“C’mon Agent,” Stark said in a wheedling tone.

But Phil wasn’t going to get sidetracked. He was going to have a very thorough conversation with Clint, and the others would have to live with the two of them walking out. Phil was in no mood to do anything except straighten everything out with Clint, and then maybe kiss him, if the moment seemed right.

“I apologize, Stark,” Phil said, instead of saying that they could suck it, because apparently finding that the man he loved definitely loved him back had reverted him to a middle schooler, “however, as Agent Barton and I have finished our portion of the team-building exercise, there is no point to us staying here. We need to have a very serious conversation.”

“About cultural sensitivity?” Dr. Banner asked incredulously.

Phil gave Dr. Banner his blandest look, the one he reserved for when Fury was doing something decidedly stupid, and the good doctor blanched.

“Now if you’ll excuse us,” Phil said, and headed towards the elevator, knowing Clint would follow.

Chapter Text

Clint found himself subconsciously worrying his lower lip as the elevator made its way up to Coulson—Phil’s—Coulson’s floor.

He wasn’t sure what to call him.

He wasn’t sure what was going to happen to him.

Clint had been so good. So good at hiding his feelings about his handler-slash-friend. He’d been so good, had done it for years, and now he’d gone and ruined it all with a slip of the tongue.

Phil hadn’t looked displeased, but he had started giving Clint some worryingly mischievous looks since Clint had, to his utter mortification, called Phil’s butt pert.

God, what had he been thinking?

There was no way he was getting out of this, there was no lie that Phil would now believe. This was it. Phil knew, and Clint was just going to have to live with the consequences, no matter what they were.

What if Phil insisted that Clint leave the team because he didn’t think they could work together professionally anymore? What if he told Clint that Clint’s feelings made him a liability?

It would be utter bullshit, obviously, because Clint had been sitting on these feelings for years and it had never been a problem before. He could bury them again, it wouldn’t be a problem, but Phil might insist anyway.

Of course, as an Avenger, Clint probably had more power than when he was merely an asset. The others wouldn’t let Phil push Clint off the team.

…if Phil asked nicely though, Clint would probably resign. Phil had a way of making Clint want to do whatever Phil asked, and Clint had a feeling that that was less about Phil’s skills as a SHIELD agent, and more about Clint’s feelings toward the man.

But the others would still protest, and Phil wouldn’t want that.

Or maybe Phil would leave. Maybe he’d say that he didn’t feel comfortable working with Clint now that his emotions were in the mix and he’d transfer somewhere else, work with other assets. And then the Avengers would have to break in a new handler, which would be ridiculous because they all loved Phil and would probably revolt against anyone else, even if it was Fury himself.

(Well, probably especially if it was Fury himself, but that was beside the point.)

And then they’d all hate Clint for making Phil leave and Clint didn’t think he could handle losing Phil and his teammates all in one blow.

It would devastate him.

Clint was subconsciously hunching further and further into himself, but it wasn’t until the elevator stopped that Phil said something.

“Clint,” he said, and his voice was kind, but then he paused, as if he wasn’t sure what to say. Phil stepped out of the elevator and walked into the living room, where not too long ago they’d shared meatloaf and watched Dog Cops. Clint didn’t like thinking that whatever conversation they were about to have was about to sully a place he usually associated with safety.

Phil sat down on one end of the couch, allowing Clint to choose how close he sat, and Clint chose the corner farthest from Phil.

Phil sighed and started again, a slightly aggravated expression on his face. “Clint, I can almost guarantee that whatever you’re thinking I’m going to say right now is not what I’m actually going to say.”

Clint tried smirking at him, but even he could feel how fake it must have looked. The thought that he had ruined something great just because he couldn’t shut his god-damned mouth made his stomach roil.

Phil rolled his eyes. “Stop it. I know your internal monologue is being a drama queen and flinging itself every which way, but just stop it. I didn’t bring you up here to reprimand you or dismiss you or something. I wouldn’t do those things to you even if I somehow hated you. Which I don’t, for the record.”

Phil was rambling slightly, which made Clint frown. Phil didn’t ramble. Ever. And there was a light dusting of pink across his cheeks that made Clint’s stomach feel funny in an entirely different way. Clint straightened his shoulders. “Whatever you’re going to say, Sir, just spit it out. I can take it.”

And he could. Clint was very adept at acclimatizing to uncomfortable truths. He’d had his whole life to prepare him for this moment. Every time his father had called him stupid, every time Barney looked down on him for being a little better, a little faster, every time Trickshot had hit him for missing the bull’s-eye, and every time Clint added a little more red to his ledger, all of that had prepared him for getting his heart broken.

Which of course meant that he was not at all prepared for the glare Phil leveled at him as he said, “Clint, you are such a moron. I love you, you dimwit. I’m not here to ostracize you or cast you out. I’m here to ask you on a date.”

Clint gaped at him, not even ashamed that his mask had just shattered across the floor, because what?

Phil rolled his eyes, but the corners of his mouth were twitching upward in what Clint was now recognizing as fondness. “Clinton Francis Barton, would you do me the honor of going on a date with me?”

“A… date?” Clint heard himself ask slowly, as if he had misheard.

Clint watched as Phil rolled his eyes in fond exasperation, and felt his heart stop short and then pick up in double-time. “Yes, Barton. Do you want to go on a date. With me. Friday perhaps?”

Clint couldn’t help the wide grin breaking across his face. “You’re asking me on a date.”

“I know. Are you actually going to answer me? A yes would suffice.”

Clint pinched his arm to see if he was dreaming. It hurt. He pinched it again. It still hurt. He let out a bright laugh. “Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes!”

Phil moved himself closer on the couch. “Excellent. And what should we do on this date?”

Clint’s heart was pitter-pattering so fast he could barely think, barely push a sentence past the wide smile his lips pulled across his face. “Whatever you want. Anything. Everything. Dog cops and meatloaf. I don’t care.”

Phil rolled his eyes again, but relaxed slightly, leaning into the back of the couch. His eyes hadn’t left Clint once. “I’ve wanted to ask you out for ten years, Clint. I’m not going to let our first date be a recreation of every post-battle dinner we’ve ever had.”

“Well then what do you want to do?” And then the beginning of Phil’s sentence sunk in. “Wait! Ten years? Phil! Ten years?”

Phil nodded, seemingly unconcerned.

“Phil! You’ve liked me since we met, and you didn’t say anything?”

Phil lifted an eyebrow. “Because you were spewing your emotions everywhere, unlike myself. I’m actually quite cross with you about that. This could have happened quicker if you’d just said something. Also, how did you hide something this big from me? Huh?”

Clint rolled his eyes in fond exasperation and subconsciously leaned closer to Phil. “How was I to know you liked me back? I didn’t want to ruin one of my best friendships on the off-chance that my boss returned my crush.” Phil didn’t look impressed, but Clint let it drop. In fact he wanted to let everything drop forever if it meant getting closer to Phil right now.

“But how did you hide it?” Phil asked, because he was worse than a dog with a bone, and didn’t seem to realize that if they just stopped discussing this they could do other…things.

“I don’t know. Early days it was necessary, didn’t want to get myself dropped from SHIELD as a probie, I’d never live down the shame, and then, well, ten years is a long time to perfect that kind of thing.”

“Ten years?” Phil asked incredulously. “You’ve been hiding this attraction for ten years?”

“Like you’re one to talk, smart-ass.”

Phil harrumphed. “I guess I can let you off the hook, since I was just as bad. However, I am disappointed that you didn’t risk everything to kiss me when you were young and stupid. I thought foolish risks were right up your alley.”

“No offense, Sir, but I’m going to toss you out the window.”

Phil flushed, which made Clint’s heart do that floppy thing it kept doing around his (Boyfriend? Lover? Partner?)…Phil.

“Is this going to be a thing?” Phil asked. When Clint cocked his head to the side Phil explained further. “Calling me Sir in private?” Clint blinked quickly, and Phil’s expression got minutely more mischievous. “In…bed?”

Clint flushed. “Sir!” he objected, and then flushed further when he realized what he’d said.

Phil smirked, let his entire face move into that one expression, and Clint’s heart melted. There was a sticky puddle of heart somewhere by Clint’s feet that he didn’t quite know what to do with.

“On that note,” Phil said, still smirking widely, “did you notice how strange these team-building exercises are?”

“C’mon Phil!” Clint complained. “Don’t make me talk Avengers business when I’m trying really hard to get into your pants.” And then he suddenly realized what he’d said and flushed wildly.

Phil flushed too.

Abruptly, and probably belatedly embarrassed by what he’d said, Clint tried to change
the subject and latched onto the last thing Phil had said. “What—” he cleared his throat, “what do you mean strange?”

Phil was still flushed a becoming shade of pink, and was studiously avoiding Clint’s eyes (which Clint found absolutely adorable and made him want to jump Phil all over again), but he still answered. “I find it odd that so far the only people to actually participate in these team-building exercises are you and I.”

“You think—What? The others have been trying to set us up this whole time?”

Phil’s expression evened out. “You’re right. That is ridiculous.”

“Besides,” Clint continued, despite Phil’s ready agreement, “the first one I stole all by myself. No way could they have set me up like that. And this time it was you who insisted we run away before the others had their chance at weird reverse Pictionary.”

“You’re right.”

And—” Clint said, with a less than subtle smug grin, but Phil cut him off.

“I get it. Don’t make me rip out your larynx.”

Clint’s grin turned decidedly less smug. “You know, Sir,” he started, deliberately calling Phil by his honorific, “Friday is a long ways off.”

“Only a few days,” Phil said in mock protest.

Clint’s grin turned sultry. “Friday is a long, long ways away. I think we should probably do something to occupy our time until then.”

“What did you have in mind, agent?” Phil asked, pulling Clint to his feet.

Clint let his hand linger in Phil’s before twinning their fingers together. “You have a bed somewhere on this floor?”

Phil’s eyes dilated, and he squeezed Clint’s fingers, “I’m sure I have one around here somewhere.” But he didn’t bother moving anywhere but closer to Clint. Clint’s heart flip-flopped again as he surged forward to meet Phil’s lips, and the world glowed.

Chapter Text

“That,” Steve said to his remaining teammates sitting in the room, “was a disaster.”

“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Tony agreed.

“I just don’t understand,” Bruce added. “They work so well together. Honestly they do. They seem to practically read each other’s minds, and yet they’re always at each other’s throats. How can two people know so much about each other, be able to anticipate everything the other is going to do or say, and still be so hostile?”

“Do you think,” Thor started slowly, “that Son of Coul is going to punish Clint in some way? I do not wish to have helped cause even more unrest in their already fragile relationship.”

Steve let out a low groan and rubbed at his eyes. “This is miserable. How do we fix this?”

Tony shrugged in mock-carelessness. “Why do we have to? Nothing we do seems to help at all. We’re obviously making it worse. And as much as I find their barbs hilarious…”

“They’re awful,” Bruce said softly. “All of the threats they throw at each other… if someone said that sort of thing to me…” he shuddered.

“And they do it for no reason!” Thor exclaimed. “They insult and threaten bodily harm for miniscule misdemeanors. How can these two men even stand to be in the same room when they spit such volatile things at each other?”

Tony scratched the back of his head. “I know what you mean. The other day Clint stuck his food in the microwave as Coulson was about to do the same thing, in the common kitchen, and Coulson just went off on him. Said, and I’ll never forget this, Agent told Clint that he was going to carve his spleen out with a rusty spoon.”

Steve winced. “What?!” he squawked.

Tony nodded. “Yeah, and Clint didn’t even blink twice just made some quip about it serving Coulson right if the spoon gave him tetnus.”

“We must fix this soon,” Thor intoned gravely.

“If we don’t,” Bruce added, “then we need to inform Fury or something, because this cannot be a healthy working environment for them. And it’s certainly not for the rest of us.”

Steve sighed, feeling even more put down than he had before. “But we’ve been trying so hard. All of these team building activities, shouldn’t they have done something?”

Tony rolled his eyes. “I don’t think team building exercises are enough to solve this little spat, or whatever it is.”

“Well, I don’t have any other great ideas, here,” Steve grit out.

Tony winced a little in apology. “Have we tried just forcing them to hang out with just each other? That’s got to help them out. It would certainly give them time to have it out with each other about whatever caused this mess in the first place.”

Steve shook his head. “We sent them off to have a nice dinner, just the two of them, that one time, remember? Nothing. Nothing changed at all.”

“Then what is our next course of action, captain?” Thor asked.

Steve shrugged.

“Ok,” Bruce said, noting Steve’s defeated posture and trying to stay lively to keep up morale, “well, let’s try once more, alright? We’ve only done two exercises so far, and the first one Clint himself hijacked. Let’s just try one more, and if it doesn’t work we can switch strategies.”

“To what?” Tony asked, slightly incredulous.

Bruce shrugged. “We’ll think of something when the time comes.”

“Fine,” Tony said, straightening his back, “I work best under improvisation anyway. No plans necessary.” He shook himself out, like a wet dog might do to dry himself. “Alright, Capsicle, you got another team building exercise to throw at Agent and Birdbrain?”

Slowly Steve nodded. “Yeah. A big one. We’ll need the gymnasium in the basement for this one.”

“Alright!” Tony rubbed his hands together. “Let’s do this.”

Tony moved to get to his feet, but Thor interrupted him. “Do not yet leave. We never did get to do this drawing entertainment ourselves.”

Bruce raised a hand to stifle a chuckle.

Tony slumped dramatically. “Do we have to?”

Steve shrugged, though he too had a smile tugging at his lips. “Not necessarily, Tony,” he said in a soothing voice, but then he gestured to where Thor was sitting with a forlorn expression on his face, looking like a dog who’d just been told No, you cannot go for a walk, “but I think it would be a good idea.”

Tony looked at Thor, then to his tablet. He looked back to Thor with a decidedly resigned expression. “Fine! Let’s get this over with.”

Thor perked up and moved to sit with his back to the room. “Friends! I am ready for this feat of camaraderie!”

Chapter Text

Phil sat on a barstool at his kitchen island, watching Clint cook them both breakfast. Of the two of them, Clint was the better cook. He was a quick learner anyway, but when it came to food he was a prodigy. For all that Clint seemed to swoon over Phil’s meatloaf…and his lasagna, and his fettuccine alfredo, and his pasta fagioli, and his, well ok, Clint seemed to love all that Phil cooked. But to Phil, Clint’s food seemed more genuine. Phil made it a point to perfect a recipe and then stick with it. Why change perfection? But Clint was always improvising and trying new things. And his omelets. Dear God, Phil would take down a strike on the Russian embassy single handedly if it meant that he could have Clint’s omelets every day. They were sublime.

And watching Clint cook in Phil’s kitchen, watching him pad across Phil’s apartment barefoot, with no shirt on, in stolen sleep pants slung low across his hips, that was better than any food Clint could have made. Standing in Phil’s kitchen, wearing Phil’s clothes with sleep-ruffled hair, Clint looked like home.

And Phil was glad to be home.

Clint flipped an omelet in the pan, and without looking back at Phil, said, “So, what are we going to tell the crew?”

Phil snorted, and Clint threw him a wide smile. “The crew?” Phil asked. “Are you honestly calling a group of the deadliest and most fierce superheroes a crew?”

Clint winked at Phil. “You know it, baby-cakes.”

Phil didn’t bother trying to hide his smile. “Baby-cakes? Dear god, what have I gotten myself into?”

“A whole mess of trouble,” Clint said as he plated an omelet and set it before Phil.

Phil lifted his face to give Clint a peck on the lips. “Perfect.”

Clint brought his own omelet and sat next to Phil at the island. “Back to my original question, you conversation-hijacker. What are we going to tell my posse.”

Phil rolled his eyes. “Now you’re just trying to hurt me. Posse? The Avengers aren’t cowboys, you insufferable idiot.”

Clint brushed his lips against Phil’s cheek before taking a bite of omelet. He chewed, swallowed, and then spoke. “You’re ignoring the question again, Phil.”

Phil’s heart fluttered at the use of his given name and he didn’t stop his smile from widening. “Ok. We can talk about what we’re going to tell your teammates.”

Clint nodded. “Good.”

There was a pause. “Ok,” Phil said slowly, “What do you want to tell them?”

Clint looked at Phil. “What do you want to tell them?”

Phil rolled his eyes. “They’re your teammates. The choice is yours.”

“You’re their handler. Don’t you want to have a say?” He shrugged, looking slightly lost. “Aren’t you afraid they’ll look at you different because of—” he motioned between the two of them, “—this?”

“No,” Phil said without any hesitation. “Or, to be more specific, I don’t care. I’ve loved you since you shot that Latverian minister through the head in what was supposed to be a milk run on your first assignment with me as your handler. I’ve loved you for a decade Clint. If you want to tell your teammates about us, or not tell them about us, I’ll go along with it. If you wanted to get married tomorrow and have Fury officiate, I wouldn’t say a word against it. If you wanted to quit SHIELD and rejoin the circus, Clint, I’d be right next to you, trying to figure out how to juggle. I’ve followed you through jungles, deserts, snow caps, sewers, I’ve been with you through bombings, heists, seductions, assassinations, Clint, you could literally say to me ‘Phil, I think it’d be a great idea to take up super-villainy and destroy the free world’ and I’d be right there with you. I wouldn’t be happy about it, certainly, and I’d have to try to talk you out of it, but I wouldn’t leave you. I have a very serious problem, and you’re it. But you’re also the solution. So if you want us to hide our relationship from the Avengers we can do that, we can act like nothing’s changed, or if you want to tell them that we’ve been secretly married for seven years, we can do that, though if you do that I want to record their faces, so tell me ahead of time. Or if you want to give them the truth, tell them that it was their insistence in team building exercises that caused the ‘Pert Butt’ incident, and that we’ve just been up here since then, having wildly athletic and completely satisfying sex, we can do that. We can—”

Clint cut Phil off with a deep kiss that tasted of omelets and toothpaste and Clint, and Phil adored it. They broke apart with a pant, and Clint pecked Phil once more on the lips. “As much as I’d love to tell the team that you’ve finally made an honest man out of me, I really would like your input. You know how bad I am with people. I don’t want to say something that is going to ruin our team dynamic or something. There might be some problems if they assume that you’ll start playing favorites now. If you think it’ll be less awkward if no one knows we’re dating we can keep it on the down low. I wouldn’t mind.”

Phil gave Clint a small smile. “But what do you want, Clint?”

Clint looked down, and for a moment didn’t speak. Phil didn’t push him, knowing that Clint was weighing the pros and cons in his head, and that he’d come to a decision sooner or later. Phil finished the rest of his omelet before Clint spoke.

In a small voice, Clint said, “I want them to know. I want everyone to know that you’re mine, and I’m yours.”

Phil gave Clint a small kiss on the cheek. “Then that’s what we’ll do. We can tell them together, if you want. Whenever you want.”

Clint grimaced. “Should we do it now? Get it over with?”

Phil pursed his lips. “As much as I agree, I want everyone to know that I finally caught you, what do you think Natasha will do if she finds out we told the rest of the team before she found out?”

Clint gulped reflexively. “Good point.”

Phil nodded. “So we’ll wait until she returns and then tell the whole lot of them?”

Clint nodded. “Yeah. We should be safe then.”

Phil hmmm’d. “Well then, now that we’ve got that settled, how do you feel about retiring to the bedroom once more?”

Clint chuckled as he stood. “Who says that anymore? ‘Retire to the bedroom.’ What are you, some Victorian gentleman?”

Phil got to his feet gracefully, and began pushing Clint slowly backwards towards the bedroom, guiding him with a steady hand on his waist. Clint’s eyes never left Phil’s, trusting him not to let Clint run into anything as he walked backwards.

“I am,” Phil said softly. “I am a Victorian gentleman, and now I’m going to retire with you to my bedchambers and positively ravish you.”

Clint’s face heated up, becoming an alluring shade of red. “Oh, Mr. Coulson. How forward of you.” They entered the bedroom and Phil practically flung Clint onto the bed. “Forward indeed.”

Phil crawled onto the bed over him. “I think this is where I’m supposed to say that I’m going to have my way with you.”

“Oh honey, you can have your way with me any which way you want.”

Phil’s answering smile was practically maniacal.

Chapter Text

It was with grim determination that Steve met with his co-conspirators the next morning. This was their last chance to try to mend whatever rift there was between Clint and Coulson. If this didn’t work, and Steve was feeling less and less hopeful that it would, then they would have to go to Fury. They liked Coulson as their handler, and they would fight tooth and nail to keep him if Fury decided that Clint and Coulson’s dislike warranted a new handler. Steve wished that he could just order Clint and Coulson to like each other. They wouldn’t listen to Steve, he was too much their equal. But, maybe they would listen to Fury if he told them to.

Who was Steve kidding? Fury couldn’t go around ordering people to like each other any more than Steve could. But Fury could probably convince them to stop antagonizing each other all the time, something Steve was not comfortable doing at all.

But this first. They would just throw this one team building exercise down, and if it helped even a little, then he wouldn’t have to think about getting the Director of SHIELD to mediate a spat between two of his agents.

Jesus, what had Steve gotten himself into?

He shook his head, bringing himself back to the present.

Steve turned to Tony. “Is the gym set up?”

Tony nodded. “Yeah, set its program last night. Completely randomized, don’t worry. And the holographs are set to change color with motion sensors, so—”

Steve raised a hand to stave off any possible scientific jargon. “Thank you, Tony. I’m sure you did a great job.”

“I too am much excited,” Thor interjected, “I can’t wait to see what it looks like.” Tony nodded, looking half pleased, half determined.

Steve turned to Bruce. “And Agent Coulson and Clint? You texted them?”

Bruce nodded. “Yes. They said they’d meet us at the Gym around—” Bruce looked at his watch “—now.”

Steve nodded once more. “Alright. Let’s go.”

The four of them made their way down to the Avengers’ communal gym, which was really just a giant open room with mats piled against the walls that could be brought down for tumbling, bars and hoops hanging from the ceiling for acrobatics, and hooks hanging from the ceiling on which to hang punching bags. Steve felt guilty enough with having to replace the punching bags he kept wrecking, he was at least glad that they were easy to remove.

Clint and Coulson had gotten to the room before them and were waiting outside the doors, having a low conversation. They were standing close to each other, and for a moment Steve’s heart fluttered with the hope that they were finally having a decent conversation, but as they drew closer and Clint and Coulson’s conversation became audible Steve’s heart began to sink again.

“If Nat was here she’d agree that you were being a giant dumbass about this entire thing. I don’t understand how you can be this stupid all of the time. I’m almost personally offended that something so idiotic was said in my presence.” Clint was leaning towards Coulson as he said this, sinking into his personal space with seemingly practiced ease.

Coulson did not seem off-put by Clint’s proximity at all, and maintained a bland, devil-may-care expression even as Clint berated him. Steve did not think he’d be able to imitate it if he tried.

Coulson didn’t hesitate for a second before responding with, “If Natasha were here then I wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not I’ve offended you by being, as you so eloquently stated, “idiotic.” If Natasha were here she would remind you exactly how ridiculous you are almost constantly. If Natasha were here than she would tell you that she’d rather you go crawl under a rock and die than—”

“Look, Sir,” Clint interrupted, “I’m going to punch you in the face.”

Coulson leaned back, a distinctly unimpressed look on his face. “I’m sure you want to, Agent Barton, but that does not change the fact that whether or not Agent Romanoff would agree with you, she is not here, and so can do neither.” Coulson glanced over at Steve approaching with Tony, Thor, and Bruce, and in a quieter tone, not meant for eavesdroppers, said, “You will see.”

Clint harrumphed, and, as far as Steve could see, ignored that strange comment. Instead he scanned Steve and the group following him and said, “So what is it this time? We have to train rabid bears? Bake coconut cream custard muffins? Talk about our—” he cut off himself off to shudder dramatically, “—feelings?”

“Down, boy,” Coulson scolded, as if Clint was nothing more than an unruly dog, and Clint sent a piercing glare his way.

Steve tried to school his expression into something neutral, but inside his stomach was rolling. He felt as if he’d been scalded. How could Agent Coulson act so disrespectfully towards someone he was superior to? Where was his professionalism? How could he treat someone else like a dog?

But Clint didn’t seem even remotely affected by it, so Steve swallowed any possible words of disgust, and opened the doors to the gym. Clint stepped up next to him as they walked through.

“So, Steve, what sort of torture do you have planned for us today?”

Steve smiled at him. “Today’s exercise is called minefield.”

“Mine? As in goes boom? That kind of mine?” Clint asked.

Steve nodded. “Well, we aren’t using real mines obviously, but…”

Tony stepped up a pace as well. “Can I show you now? It’s going to be fantastic.”

Steve led them to the opposite wall and then gestured to Tony.

Tony clapped once. “Jarvis. Protocol ‘Be Mine Valentine’ initiate. J, let’s start with 20%.”

Blue boxes seemed to pop up from the ground in varying sizes and shapes across the room. Some were small, like packs of cigarette, some were refrigerator sized, some were long and skinny, some flat, some fat. They were all a pale electric blue, which Steve knew was an oxymoron, but it was true nonetheless. The electric blue was bright at the boxes’ corners, but as the planes moved away from any overlap the color dimmed, became more translucent, paler. Steve’s fingers itched to try and capture the color, the way it seemed to brighten and drain, fluctuate not unlike between shadow and highlight, but actually, physically unable to be affected by the world around it.

Coulson stepped forward. “Stark, is this the same technology used in your lab?”

Tony nodded, and moved towards one of the boxes with a spring in his step. “Yes! I programmed it last night because Mr. Depression over here wanted to gather up actual cardboard boxes and chairs and stuff from around the tower. I couldn’t have that, could I?”

Coulson raised an eyebrow. “So you took it as a challenge and did one better?”

Tony grinned cockily. “Exactly, Agent Agent. But look at this.” He stepped up to one of the boxes and kicked it. It skittered across the floor and turned a luminescent magenta.

“One mine detonated,” Jarvis’s informed them.

“What happens if a mine is detonated?” Thor asked.

“Woah, back up,” Clint cut in before Steve could answer. “What’s the actual point of this exercise?”

“Ok,” Steve said, more than willing to explain the rules in chronological order so everyone could be on the same page. “The point of this game is to get across the room without stepping on any mines. One person is going to start on that end,” he pointed to the far wall of the gym to his left, “and will walk across the floor, trying not to step on any bombs, till he reaches the other end.” He moved his finger, motioning across the floor and then to the opposite far wall of the gym.

“Ok,” Clint said very slowly. “That doesn’t seem that difficult.”

Tony smirked at the confused archer. “Did he mention you’ll be blindfolded?”

Coulson sighed. “I should have guessed it wouldn’t be that easy.”

Clint smirked. His eyes had lit up at the mention of the added challenge, and Steve could see him leaning in to berate Agent Coulson, and Steve wanted to say something, anything, to put off whatever mean-spirited thing was going to come out of Clint’s mouth, but he didn’t know what to say. And then it was too late.

“Why?” Clint asked, “You scared of a little challenge?”

Coulson cast a baleful look at Clint. “I’m not frightened of walking blindfolded through holograms, you raging lunatic. Who do you take me for? Some junior agent with no back-bone?”

“I’m sure you’d be the cutest little probie, Sir,” Clint retorted with a sickly-sweet voice.

“And!” Bruce interrupted, heading off whatever spiteful thing Coulson could think of and saving Steve’s jack-rabbiting heart, “The person walking across is helped by one person standing against this wall. Giving directions. So you’ve got to work together.”

Clint turned to Bruce with a curious expression. “Why? I could probably walk through this minefield blindfolded right now. I know where everything is, and the boxes are few and far between anyway.”

Tony smirked, and in an I-know-something-you-don’t-know voice said, “Jarvis, Protocol ‘Be Mine Valentine’ randomize.”

The boxes flickered and within seconds were scattered in a new layout.

“That is quite entertaining,” Thor said. “How many different positions are stored with our good Jarvis’s memory?”

“Oh, millions,” Tony said casually. “It’s all randomized, so really, there will be a different pattern every time until every possibility has been exhausted. But since I don’t plan on randomizing this protocol every second of every day until I die, I’m not going to worry about it.”

And,” Steve said, trying to bring everyone back to why they were there in the first place, “If you hit a mine you lose that limb.”

Clint nodded as if this all made sense. “Get across the room blind. Don’t hit any boxes. Got it. Easy. Now who’s going first?”

“Well,” Bruce said softly, “Why don’t you go first? You seem excited about it.” Clint nodded. Bruce turned to Coulson. “Agent Coulson, why don’t you team up with Clint?”

Clint and Coulson exchanged a weighty glance, and for a moment Steve thought either of them might object, but neither did. Instead Clint threw up his hands.

“Fine.” Clint said, “But I’m giving directions. You can make your way to your starting point.” He pointed at the wall to the left.

“Blindfold?” Coulson asked, holding his hand out to Steve. Steve pulled a long strip of black fabric from his pocket and gave it to him.

“Good luck, Agent,” Steve said, and Phil nodded in muted agreement.

“I’m going to need it,” Coulson elaborated, “with our own Agent Barton calling the shots.”

“Oh shut it. God, sometimes I wish I could get away with pushing you down an elevator shaft.”

“Very creative,” Coulson said, in a proud voice that Steve could only explain by assuming he was being patronizing.

“Stop stalling,” Clint insisted, “or I’ll rip your fingernails off one by one.”

Coulson began making his way to the far left wall, but that didn’t stop him from retaliating. “It wouldn’t surprise me. You’re probably going to rig the game to make me fall flat on a bomb.”

“Oh that wouldn’t help me any,” Clint spat back, “I think I’d be in a bit of trouble if I got my partner,” he put a weird emphasis on the word, “blown up.”

Coulson got to the far wall and spun to give Clint a wild grin that made Steve freeze, because that was the most emotion he’d ever seen on Coulson’s usually politely bland face. “I suppose now is when I’m supposed to make some joke about blowing you” there was an infinitesimally small pause, “up.”

Clint made a strangled noise, but Steve spoke before Clint’s rage got the better of him. “Alright, Agent Coulson, why don’t you put on your blindfold? Clint, you can tell him when to start and where to go.”

Coulson wrapped the black fabric across his eyes and tied it behind his head in one quick motion.

“Can you see anything?” Bruce asked.

Coulson shook his head.

“It begins,” Thor intoned with graveness that team building exercises did not warrant.

“Jarvis,” Tony said authoritatively to his AI, “Protocol ‘Be Mine Valentine,’ increase to 60% and randomize.”

The boxes flickered, and then a new pattern appeared with an increase in boxes of varying sizes scattered across the room.

Clint whistled. “Well, boss, I think you’ve got your work cut out for you.”

“I’m sure,” Coulson rejoined, back to his usual bland self.

“Alright, boss-man, start walking forward. I’ll stop you before you kill yourself.”

“So encouraging. Thank you, Barton. I don’t know what I would do without you here telling me that I’ll only barely survive.”

But Coulson stepped forward. He walked with confidence, not a single moment of hesitation. Each foot was placed in front of the other without a single thought, without any uncertainty or indecision. Steve didn’t think he could possibly walk with such conviction if he were blindfolded, even if he trusted the person calling the shots explicitly.

“I’m not sure you will, Sir,” Clint said, as Coulson approached his first obstacle, “if you don’t move out of the way.”

Which way, Barton?” Coulson asked without slowing or pausing, without even a second of wavering.

Clint huffed. “Three paces ahead of you step twice to the left, forward four paces, three to the right, two paces ahead, a foot off the ground, walk forward eight paces.”

“How is he supposed to remember that?” Steve heard Tony whisper into Bruce’s ear and Bruce shrugged.

“Very precise,” Coulson commended Clint, and some of Steve’s tension evaporated. Perhaps this was working after all. But then Coulson had to add, “for a trained monkey.”

“You know, if you keep insulting me like this I might just make you explode.”

Coulson hummed to himself, even as he flawlessly executed the planned footwork that Clint had laid out for him. “I think that was a compliment, actually,” Coulson said.

“You’re right,” Clint said, “and such a compliment deserves more precise and intimate a death than letting you explode.” Coulson stepped over a box and began his eight paces. “I think I’ll rip your intestines out myself. Feed them to a dog while you watch.” Behind him, Steve heard Bruce gag. “Swivel to the left, forward three paces, to the right, Kyoto in the rain, and then three boxes in a row that I think you should just step through. Live on the edge a little.”

“Kyoto?” Steve asked, turning to Clint.

Clint shrugged, his eyes never leaving Coulson. In a voice too soft to carry to their handler, Clint said, “We had a mission in Kyoto once, and this hit-man broke my collarbone so Coulson had to take him down himself while I tried to not pass out. He executed this move,” Clint gestured to Coulson, and Steve turned head in time to see Coulson drop into a roll beneath a box lying horizontally over two other boxes like a bridge, and then kick to the left, making himself roll to his feet at an angle, “like that to get behind the hit-man. Took him down.” Coulson paused only long enough to straighten his cufflinks, and then moved forward to step lightly between each of the three smaller boxes before him.

“More directions might be nice,” Coulson said blandly. He was a third of the way across the room, and he was already making Steve feel inadequate. There was no way Steve could walk across that room with as much confidence and poise as Coulson was exuding.

“Oh shaddup,” Clint said, “before I murder your soul. Turn to your left. There’s a skinny break before you, swivel right, no two degrees more, shimmy.”

Coulson edged between two boxes it would have been easy to step around, and said, “You can’t murder someone’s soul.”

“I’ll just set you on fire then, for being so annoying. Turn 90 degrees to the left, sidestep once to the right, then you can walk forward eleven paces.”

“I’ll stop being ‘annoying’ when you stop wasting oxygen by breathing.”

“You’re almost there, Sir,” Clint said instead of responding with an insult.

“Thank you, Agent.” Coulson said, and Steve’s heart soared. They were getting better after all. Maybe they could come out of this as friends.

“Alright, now twist to the left, 30 degrees, forward five paces, Prague with the dance company, and then the wall should be three paces to the right.”

Coulson twisted to avoid a box to the right, stepped forward five times, inexplicably spun a full 360, and then made three steps to the right and unerringly reached for the wall.

Thor clapped his hands together. “You have made it, Phil, Son of Coul! There is much to rejoice.

Coulson pulled off his blindfold and examined his surroundings. “Thank you, Thor. Barton, did you make me pirouette for no reason?”

Steve turned his head to see the archer giving Coulson his widest shit-eating grin. “I just like to see you spin, Sir.”

Coulson sighed and began making his way to the wall. “You’re a hopeless nitwit, did you know that?”

“Your face is a nitwit.”

Coulson approached Clint and held out the blindfold. “That doesn’t make any sense and you’re being immature. What are you, twelve?”

Clint snatched the blindfold from Coulson’s hand and made his way gracefully to the starting wall. “Twelve inches.”

Coulson shuddered dramatically. “Dear god no. Get away from me you mutated freak,” he said in a monotone.

Clint bared his teeth and then quickly wrapped the cloth around his eyes, securing it tightly in the back.

Chapter Text

Clint bared his teeth and then quickly wrapped the cloth around his eyes, securing it tightly in the back. Coulson stood with his back straight, feet apart, his hands resting behind his back. He looked like he gave people orders to march through minefields ever day of his life. Which, actually, wasn’t too far from his real job, so Steve didn’t second guess Coulson’s relaxed expression at all.

Coulson turned to Steve, and with a completely polite, and even totally kind smile, he said, “Clint just has to get from one end to the other? Without touching any boxes?”

Steve nodded.

“There are no other specifications, correct?” Coulson continued.

Steve shook his head with a frown.

“I’m holding you to that,” Coulson said softly, as if he were confiding in Steve something important.

“Ready?” Clint asked, loudly enough to carry to the group against the wall.

Coulson nodded to Tony who said, “Jarvis, Protocol ‘Be Mine Valentine’ randomize.”

“Ready,” Coulson told Clint.

“So how do you want to do this?” Clint asked. “Step forward, to the left, to the left, three hops now ya’ll, slide to the left, slide to the right, criss-cross, criss-cross, cha-cha real smooth?”

“I swear on my mother’s grave, Clint Barton, if you do not start taking this seriously…”

Clint gasped dramatically. “You’d evoke Mama Coulson? How dare you!” Then with less drama, “Fine. But you better tell me what to do soon or there’s not going to be much of you left to say anything at all.”

Coulson hmmmed. “Alright. Well, I recommend a Carson.”

Clint frowned. “Is that legal?”

“I asked the good Captain,” Coulson said, and Steve whipped his head to face Coulson, “and he didn’t say it wasn’t.”

“Ooooh,” Clint said with a small smile, “You’re getting sly in your old age. I like it.”

“Barton, don’t call me old.”

Clint gave him a smarmy smile. “How much free space do I have?”

“About six paces. Use it well.”

Steve leaned in closer to Coulson. “What are you doing?”

Coulson shrugged. “You said he had to get across the room without touching the boxes. He’s about to do just that.”

And that is when Clint stepped forward about four feet, turned a one-eighty, and ran at the wall. Tony squawked somewhere to Steve’s left, but he didn’t look because Clint had launched himself at the wall and used it as a spring board to attach himself to one of the acrobatic bars hanging from the ceiling.

“What was that?” Bruce demanded.

Coulson rolled his shoulders. “Captain said that he needed to get across. No other specifications. He can get across using the acrobatic equipment easily, and will be in no danger of touching any boxes. It is the most efficient route.”

“Excuse me?” Bruce squealed. “He’s going in blind. He’s going to fall and break his neck.”

Steve nodded emphatically, because as they had spoken Clint had launched himself higher and higher on the hanging hoops and bars until he was more than thirty feet off the ground.

Coulson frowned, seeming unconcerned. “Well, I suppose if it will make you feel better we could lay down some mats, but it is unnecessary.”

“He’s blind,” Bruce hissed, looking at Coulson like he’d never seen the man before. To be fair to Coulson, he looked mostly confused about what was happening.

“He’s blindfolded, correct,” Coulson said slowly, like he was missing some information but was trying to put together the puzzle anyway.

“How can he possibly remember enough to catch all the bars?” Tony demanded. “He’ll miss one and kill himself.”

But Steve wasn’t so sure. Clint was already more than half-way across the room and he hadn’t missed or even hesitated yet. He looked like he knew exactly what he was doing. And he looked happy doing it. He had a wide grin across his face and kept opening his mouth to let small breaths of laughter out.

Coulson’s expression cleared. “Oh. No, Barton has an eidetic memory. I thought you knew since you didn’t question earlier when he said he could walk amongst the boxes unaided.”

Bruce’s expression evened out, but he still looked slightly worried.

“Seriously?” Tony exclaimed. “Man, that must be so useful.”

“What does that mean?” Thor asked, sounding intrigued.

“It means that everything he’s ever read or seen he can remember perfectly,” Coulson explained. “He will never miss a bar in acrobats or a shot as long as he’s seen it before, and as long as his body keeps working. From what he’s seen he can calculate trajectory. He never misses his mark.”

“Is that why he calls himself the world’s greatest marksman?” Tony asked.

Coulson scoffed. “No. He calls himself the world’s greatest marksman because he is the world’s greatest marksman. Even without an eidetic memory he’d be able to—”

“Bullseye womp rats in my T-16?” Clint asked as he swung down to the ground. He hit the ground in a crouch and then stood and tapped the wall. “I win. Quicker than you were, anyway, Sir.”

“That was an amazing feat!” Thor exclaimed. “Friend Clint, I must congratulate you on your abilities of memory.”

Clint took a sweeping bow that was more showmanship and flare than substance. “Why thank you. I’ll be here all week.” He drew off his blindfold and made his way back to the rest of the group.

“What’s a Carson?” Bruce asked. Steve shot him a look and he explained. “When Coulson was telling you to travel high, he said he ‘recommended a Carson,’ right? What does that mean?”

Clint waved a dismissive hand. “I grew up in a circus called The Carson Carnival of Traveling Wonders. I had an archery-slash-acrobatics gig. That’s what Coulson was referencing.”

“And that is where Coulson recruited you?” Thor asked.

“Hah!” Clint laughed. “No, I didn’t join SHIELD till long after I left the circus life.”

Steve scratched at the back of his neck and turned to Coulson. “So how did you know to tell him that? This is the first time I’ve heard one of you reference something to help in these exercises that did not directly involve the two of you together.”

Coulson and Clint exchanged confused looks.

“It’s practically common knowledge anyway,” Clint said slowly, “especially among the higher-ups at SHIELD. But also, you know, we talk.”

Coulson let out a sharp bark of laughter. “More like you never shut up. Not over comms on missions. Not at the tower. You’re constantly yammering away.”

“Shove a fire poker through your eye,” Clint demanded in retaliation and Steve winced. They had been acting civil. Why did this keep happening?

“Enough about us,” Coulson said and glanced at Clint for the smallest of moments, “let’s get on with this exercise. Who’s next?”

Steve blinked, trying to think fast. He hadn’t actually planned this far ahead. He glanced at Bruce, hoping the scientist would have an answer, but Bruce looked to be floundering just as much as Steve was.

Coulson made a soft noise in the back of his throat. “I thought there might be something going on here.”

Steve waved his hands erratically. “No. No, no. Nothing is going on here at all.”

Clint grinned at Steve’s no doubt confused expression. “You don’t lie so well, do you know that?”

Coulson smoothed out any wrinkles in his suit with a practiced hand. “Why don’t we all just talk this out—”

A loud blare cut through the rest of Coulson’s sentence and Steve thought he might have heard the man sigh. He didn’t have time to examine that observation though, as that was the alert meaning that the Avengers were needed. They could think about this last team building exercise later. Now they had places to be.

Chapter Text

The fight had gone about as well as expected, which meant that Clint felt dirty and sore despite the Avenges having come out of the battle victorious. Clint still couldn’t get Thor’s battle song to stop echoing through his head, and he desperately craved a shower, but the only thing he could think of after debriefing with the rest of the team was that Coulson had been right that morning, and now he was curious too. So Clint tracked Phil down, a simple task since Phil was in his kitchen as was to be expected, given that Clint and Phil still had a long-standing agreement that after battles they were to have dinner together.

So, it was either Phil’s kitchen or a restaurant, and since Phil hadn’t informed Clint of any out-of-tower dinner plans, Clint made his way to Phil’s rooms. Clint found Phil making smoothies while some fantastic smell wafted from the oven.

“What’s cooking, good-looking?” Clint asked, sauntering into the room.

“Get out, you heathen,” Phil said pointing towards his bedroom. “You have time for a shower and a change before food is ready. I don’t want your disgusting body touching any of my furniture.”

“Oh go step into some cinder blocks and jump into the Hudson,” Clint exclaimed as he made his way towards the Phil’s bedroom, and thus his master bath. “You got clothes for me to wear when I get out or are you going to keep me naked and vulnerable in order to better have your way with me?”

Phil snorted, but it was barely audible over the sound of the blender. “There are some loose sweats and t-shirts in the bottom left drawer of my dresser. Feel free to wear any of those, or walk around naked. I don’t have a preference, one, because I don’t need you naked to have my way with you, and two, because my thermostat is exact and comfortable with or without clothing.”

“I guess I’ll just surprise you, then,” Clint said saucily and made his way into Phil’s shower which Clint was renaming ‘Heaven.’

He showered quickly and efficiently, using Phil’s soap and shampoo which only made him slightly giddy, and threw his dirty Tac suit in with Phil’s suits in his hamper inside his closet. He found the shirts and sweatpants where Phil said they’d be and pulled on a loose gray pair of sweats and an Army Rangers t-shirt that had a hole in the hem and a stain that might have been blood, might have been ketchup on the sleeve. He left his boxers in the hamper with his Tac suit and made his way back to the living room/kitchen area where he found Phil laying out dishes of what looked like breaded chicken with a side of broccoli, and glasses of deliciously pink-colored drinks.

“What kind of smoothies are they?” Clint asked, grabbing his plate and glass and settling down onto the couch. They weren’t dining room type people, and curling up on Phil’s soft sofa sounded much better anyway.

“Strawberry banana,” Phil answered as he joined Clint on the couch. “I thought I’d go with a tried and true favorite rather than experiment tonight.” He tucked his feet beneath him and set his drink on the end table before digging into his food with gusto, which shouldn’t be surprising considering that Phil, while not as physically active as the Avengers, always worked just as long, sometimes longer, and had more responsibilities.

Clint examined his breaded chicken, rolled into a tight spiral. “And what is this I’m eating?” he asked.

“Chicken Kiev and broccoli, you uncultured swine,” Phil said.

Clint hummed appreciatively and took a bite. “This is delicious!”

“Thank you. I made it with you in mind.”

Clint smiled before leaning over to kiss him. “Alright,” Clint said when they pulled apart. “I just want to say, before we dive into some truly, devastatingly horrid reality tv, that I’m sorry I ever doubted your prowess in discovering weird plots the people you’re living with are harboring. By which I mean that I totally see where you’re coming from with the weird team building exercises affecting only us two.”

Phil took this in stride, as if being commended for discovering unlikely plots was an everyday occurrence. Clint wouldn’t put it past him. “I’m glad you see, especially considering how adamant you were before today’s excursion into team building that there was nothing strange happening at all.”

“How was I supposed to know?” Clint asked, throwing up his arms. “I thought we’d already decided that that was crazy talk back at Hugo’s. Then you toss it back in my face. I thought you’d finally lost all of your brain cells.”

“I know,” Phil said drily. “You said so, quite loudly, in front of all of your teammates.”

“My sketchy-ass teammates, you mean.”

Phil rolled his eyes but couldn’t keep the fond look from his face. “I thought for sure you’d keep saying these were all coincidences that had us as the only victims of these exercise.”

“That might be because they are all weird coincidences,” Clint admitted. Phil narrowed his eyes at him and Clint continued, “But that doesn’t mean that they way they continue to shove us out first isn’t strange.”

Phil leaned back and took another sip of smoothie, looking satisfied.

“What do you propose we do about it?” Clint asked. “Why are they convinced that we need the most team building?”

Phil shrugged, while slicing his chicken into meticulously small bites. “I don’t know.”

Clint raised his eyebrows. “You don’t know. You don’t know? What does that even mean? Aren’t you supposed to know everything?”

Phil shrugged with a little too much innocence to be completely guileless. “I actually don’t know.” He was telling the truth. Clint could hear it in his voice. “I have no idea what sort of weird agenda they’re playing at. What I do know, is that it isn’t hurting anyone besides themselves. It’s certainly making them anxious all the time, but despite what you all say I’m not the Avengers’ babysitter. If they have a problem concerning either of us they can approach us like the adults Stark keeps trying to convince me you all are.”

“You just like making them suffer, you sadist!” Clint accused, lips twisted up, trying to hold back his laughter.

Phil sketched a half-hearted bow. “You’ve caught me.”

“They’ll be so disappointed,” Clint said, his voice amused, “when they find out that you don’t actually know whatever’s bothering them. They all think you’re omnipotent or something.” Phil shrugged. “Oh well,” Clint continued, “it isn’t like we’ll have to wait long to find out. Natasha should be back the day after tomorrow, and she’s good at ferreting information like that out of people without them even knowing. Unlike you, she actually is omnipotent.”

Phil gave a non-committal nod. “I’m more concerned with the fact that you somehow know information about a mission that you are not cleared to be privy to. Agent Romanoff’s return date is not public knowledge, Agent.”

“I’m hurt. How can you think so little of me? Of course I know when Nat is coming home. She’s Nat.”

Phil sighed in resigned acceptance, as if that explanation actually explained anything. “I shudder to think of what will happen if any of the others found out how much secret intel you have knowledge of. Stark would be unbearable. Please, if you love me at all, never let them know.”

Clint set his now empty plate on the coffee table, moved Phil’s to the table as well, and crawled over to take its place in Phil’s lap. “I love you a lot,” Clint confided to Phil in a whisper.

Phil made a satisfied noise in the back of his throat, like a cat, but a big one: a lion. “I know. Shall I do something about that?” he asked.

Clint nodded.

Phil pushed him backwards down onto the length of the couch. “Good.”

Chapter Text

“What do you want, Captain?” Fury asked without raising his eyes from the papers scattered across his desk. “I hope it isn’t more questions on the location of Agent Romanoff.”

“No,” Steve said, “of course not. No. I…um…” Steve had come in early enough in the morning the day after the minefield exercise, hoping that Fury wouldn’t have had time to be busy yet, but it looked like he might always be busy.

Fury looked up at that, his expression set somewhere between pissed off and curious. “Spit it out, Rogers. I don’t have all day.”

Steve straightened his shoulders. He hadn’t come in with a plan of what to say, only knowing that he’d have to say something because his team couldn’t go on like this. He had decided to just wing it, thinking that once he was standing in front of Fury the words would just come to him. Now he wished he’d written everything down ahead of time. But this was something that Steve had to say, so he squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and said, “I don’t know what to do about Clint and Agent Coulson.”

Fury’s face went blank, which Steve chose to interpret as confusion rather than anger. “What do you mean, soldier?”

“They are increasingly hostile towards each other. The rest of us are floundering. They genuinely don’t seem to be able to get along.”

At this point Fury’s expression had turned to almost genuine confusion. “We are talking Agent Phil Coulson, menace in a suit? And Clint Barton, also known as motherfucking Hawkeye?” Steve nodded. “And you are telling me that they are, what, ignoring each other? Refusing to work together?”

Steve shook his head. “No. They work together fine. It’s on our off hours. It’s—” Steve shuddered, admittedly a little on the theatrical side, “—I thought you might be able to talk to them, smooth things out.”

Fury sat back in his seat, giving Steve his full attention. “Have you talked to them, Captain?”

Steve shook his head and looked down, a little ashamed. “I didn’t want get in the middle of whatever problem they are having. This might sound selfish, but I don’t want to get on either’s bad side, especially since we don’t know why they seem to hate each other. I thought someone who knows them better might have a chance at settling whatever tiff they’re having without ruffling any feathers in the meantime. I would have consulted Natasha, Sir, however—”

“However she is on a mission and you don’t know where she is or when she’ll return,” Fury was nodding, a strange expression on his face, “I agree. I’m glad you thought to come to me. If the two of them really are arguing…” he trailed off, looking deep in thought.

Steve almost startled. He didn’t think he’d ever seen Fury look anything except alert and commanding, but he looked distant and confused. However, before Steve had time to worry on what to do Fury shook himself out of it.

“Rogers,” Fury barked, his voice back to his normal commanding tones, “I will arrive at the tower at eleven-hundred tomorrow to investigate this disturbance.”

Steve blanched. “You sure you don’t want to just call them here?”

Fury’s lips curled slowly upward into what Steve was forced to classify as a smile. “I also have other business to attend to in the tower, might even bring along a surprise.” He gave Steve a once-over, during which Steve snapped to attention. “Dismissed, Rogers. Remember eleven-hundred, tomorrow.”

Steve saluted and quickly left the office, and it was only Steve’s superior hearing that caught Fury’s quiet, “Jesus, Phil, what have you got yourself into this time?”

Chapter Text

Clint was expecting Natasha to walk into the tower sometime in the morning, looking as graceful and as cat-that-got-the-canary as she always did after a successful mission, so he had positioned himself and Phil on the communal floor’s couch pretty early to keep an eye out for her. Phil was answering emails on his phone while Clint channel-surfed, every now and then complaining about whatever Clint put on the tv. Clint could hear Steve cooking in the kitchen, Bruce and Tony arguing softly over the dining room table, and Thor regaling his cell phone (and Jane, who was possibly on the other end of the line) with stories of their latest battle.

Clint was expecting to see Natasha walk out of the elevator doors any second now, which was why he was so surprised when, at eleven o’clock on the dot Natasha and Fury stepped out of the elevator doors. Fury never visited. He was a horrible friend like that. And now that he was visiting he hadn’t even thought to bring a welcome gift. A bottle of champagne would have been nice.

Clint’s disappointment in Fury’s courtesies aside, Natasha was home, so Clint decided to ignore Fury and do what he always did when Natasha returned from a solo mission. He bounded across the room only to sweep her up into a giant hug that, while strong, only lasted a few seconds. Natasha didn’t like being unable to reach her weapons for long periods of time, even in the safety of her own home. And Clint could feel at least three firearms and seven knives on her torso alone. After he’d squeezed the life from her, and she’d ruffled his hair affectionately, he set her down and gave her a giant grin.

She glanced at his cheek, then over his shoulder to where Phil was slowly standing from the couch. She quirked her eyebrow at him. “About time, Младший брат.”

Clint shrugged. “You know how it goes.”

She bared her teeth at him in a semblance of a smile, but before she could say something biting, possibly challenge him to a fight to see if he’d been keeping up with his work-outs under the guise of giving him her own patented shovel talk, Fury stepped past them and over to where Phil was standing a few feet behind them. Clint followed the motion with his eyes, too curious to mind Natasha. She’d give him the shovel talk later. And then she’d probably give one to Phil too, but that was immaterial in the face of Fury and Phil both trying to stare each other down.

“Coulson,” Fury said in a voice that meant, ‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing?’

“Nick,” Phil replied, meaning, ‘Why are you here? I don’t see what problem has got your eye-patch in a twist but if it’s important you’d better tell me now.’

Clint was sometimes impressed Fury and Phil could communicate with facial expressions and small gestures in the same way that Clint could with Natasha, only better, because Fury still managed to look menacing and Phil still managed to look bland the entire time. Clint could understand them both when they went into their own little world, but he’d never be able to talk to Fury with only his eyebrows, and really, the only reason he could do it with Nat was because Nat was better at reading people than he was. He could read her, he could read Fury, and Phil. Nat could read him and all of the sub-thoughts he was having. He couldn’t give that to Fury. Phil, Phil already had that. Phil had his everything, and the thought left him breathless.

Fury glanced back at Clint, and even Clint could see that Fury was more confused than mad. And seeing Fury confused only served to make Phil even more confused.

“Nick?” Phil asked. ‘No seriously, what the fuck is up? Not that I don’t love visits from old friends, but you haven’t visited me recreationally since you made me join your weird secret government organization.’

Clint’s translations might be a little off, but he was getting the gist of it.

Fury cleared his throat, which meant, ‘I thought there was a problem. I was obviously mistaken. However, I still want answers.’

Phil shrugged. ‘How the fuck am I supposed to know? I’m just as curious as you are as to what the fuck is going on.’

“Captain!” Fury barked, and Clint’s eyes flew to Coulson’s face.

Coulson tipped his head to the side, which Clint interpreted as, ‘Maybe this has something to do with the strange team building exercises? I don’t have a clue. Whatever it is, either Fury will get to the bottom of it or Natasha will, since she’s here now.’

Clint nodded and turned to face Nat, who’d been standing at his side. She looked vaguely amused, probably at Fury and Phil’s confusion, but when she saw Clint looking at her she nodded, as if to say, ‘Yes, little brother. I’ll keep an eye out for you.’

Steve stepped into the living room, Tony, Bruce, and Thor following close behind him.

Steve might have thought that Fury would say something then, as he was the one to call them out, but this was apparently Avengers business, and so Fury, as Clint was expecting, deferred to Phil.

Phil wasted no time. “Captain,” Phil asked, and Steve looked confused for a moment before reining it in and straightening his back, “would you mind explaining Director Fury’s presence here?”

Steve seemed to flounder for a moment. He looked to Fury of all people for help, but Fury was just as confused as Clint and Phil were and so remained silent. Steve finally spoke. “Well, you see, Clint and—”

Phil cut him off and rounded on Clint. “This is about Clint? Agent Barton?” He pinched the bridge of his nose in faux-exasperation. “I should have known. You always were a trouble maker.”

Clint scoffed. “I resent that! You’ve got a stick shoved so far up your ass that anything even remotely recreational probably smells like trouble. I bet you reprimand agents for laughing in the field.” Which was blatantly untrue, as ten years of Phil working as Clint’s handler will attest to. Phil was firm but lenient in the field. Joking was practically encouraged to ease minds.

“Or perhaps,” Phil said, obviously losing track of why they were there when confronted with Clint, not that Clint was doing a stellar job at being respectable either, “it’s just you who set my teeth on edge.”

Clint’s heart fluttered and he glanced around. Was that too obvious? It was a little more personal than their teasing usually was and he was afraid that Phil had given it away that they were together before they’d had time to tell his team properly. But Natasha already knew, Fury had probably also already figured it out, and the rest of them didn’t look any different, so Clint let his shoulders relax.

“That isn’t—” Steve started to say, but Clint paid him no mind and started speaking as well.

“I’m flattered, Sir. Really, especially coming from someone as robotic and emotionless as you.”

Fury sighed in exasperation. “I don’t want to be here for this. Agents, keep it to private rooms.”

“But sir!” Steve called out, before Fury had time to walk away.

Clint met Natasha’s eyes, and she was able to convey both an expression that was 100% holier-than-thou, and look supremely fond at the same time. Clint took a step back. “Creepy,” he muttered. She bared her teeth at him again and he relaxed. “Better.”

Fury sighed again. “What now, Rogers. I don’t have time for this bullshit today.”

“But Coulson—” Steve started, and Clint rounded on his (boyfriend? Partner? Lover?) Phil.

“Hah! Called it, Sir!” Phil graced Clint with a fond expression that managed to also come off as extremely peeved.

“What now, Agent?” Phil asked.

“I called it. Steve’s not upset with me. You’re the problem.”

Steve’s voice sounded dangerously strangled when he spoke, “That’s not—what?”

Bruce stepped forward and started making placating gestures, “Let’s everyone just calm down, shall we?”

“My only problem,” Phil said, “is having to be with you all the time.”

Tony spoke then, in a surprisingly serious tone. “I agree with Bruce, let’s just all settle down.”

“I’m leaving,” Fury announced, but didn’t actually move, though he did cross his arms over his chest so everyone could see how disapproving he was of everything.

“With all respect, Sir,” Clint said, his lips involuntarily curling up into a smile, “I think you should go drive your car into a lake and stay there till you drown.”

“I do not think—” Thor said, at the same time Steve began, “If you could just stop—”

But Phil was getting caught up as well, and he interrupted them with, “Well, that’s very creative, but not everything calls for murder. In this instance I think I’d choose torture.”

“You have to give it to them that they’re quick,” Tony interjected quietly, but Clint ignored him.

“Good idea,” Clint said with a grin, “in this case I think I’ll just scalp you.” And then his face fell at the implication of what he’d just said. He gulped and stepped quickly over to Phil’s side. In a quieter, sincere voice he said, “Jesus, Phil. I’m so sorry. I forgot.”

Phil’s expression softened. “Don’t apologize. I’m not traumatized by it.”

Clint stepped forward to run his finger along the invisible scar where an underground French terrorist group had tried scalping Phil to get him to give up his intel back before Phil had ever brought Clint in to SHIELD. Phil didn’t look upset, but Clint couldn’t believe that he could have been so insensitive to forget that Phil had had to live through something like that, and had brought it up to tease him. “I am sorry,” Clint said in a softer tone.

Phil nodded. “I know.”

“Now that that’s out of the way,” Fury said with his customary gruffness, “may I leave? Do you think you can handle everything?”

“What just happened?” Tony demanded, ignoring Fury. “What the hell is going on?”

“Well,” Phil said, returning to bland and polite, “I was almost scalped as a junior agent. It’s a bit of a touchy subject, though it doesn’t bother me anymore.”

Almost,” Fury hissed, apparently unable to actually leave, and unwilling to let Phil’s torture be undermined by the man himself. “I’ll have you know, Cheese, that those plastic surgeons worked on you for thirty-seven hours straight to get you back to looking in tip-top shape.”

Phil shrugged, unconcerned.

“But,” Bruce faltered, “the apologies?”

Clint and Phil exchanged confused looks. “What about the apologies?” Clint asked.

“We did not expect,” Thor said slowly, “that you would apologize at this offense, when it is no worse, seemingly, than any other offense either of you have rained down on one another.”

Clint glanced at Phil who had one eyebrow raised imperiously, and then back at his teammates.

“Yeah,” Tony said in an almost dismissive tone, “Weren’t expecting two guys who obviously hate each other’s guts to be so apologetic. I literally heard you threaten to gut him.”

Clint blinked. “Wait, you guys think we hate each other?”

Bruce made this expression as if he was trying to say ‘Well, duh!’ without actually forming words.

Phil’s expression of blandness was only doing so much to hide his surprise. “Clint and I don’t hate each other.” He glanced to Clint, looking for permission, and Clint nodded. “We’re dating.”

Natasha huffed and rolled her eyes. Fury looked irritated at having to hear this obvious piece of information. Thor dropped his hammer, Tony gaped, Bruce gasped, and Steve said, in the most deadpan voice Clint had ever heard him use, “What?”

“Look at that,” Clint pointed at his stunned teammates and glaring at Phil, “you’ve ruined them. Four perfectly good Avengers, and look at them, you’ve given them anxiety.”

Phil rolled his eyes. “Jesus Christ, Clint. I’m going kill you and use your body fat to make decorative soaps, which I will then gift to all of our coworkers at SHIELD.”

“Oh shut your lie factory, you Macedonian elephant turd.”

“Oh god,” Bruce whimpered, “how are you dating?”

Tony scrunched up his face. “Is this a kink? Not that I’m judging, only I’m kind of judging.”

Clint pulled a face. “It’s not a kink. Ew.”

Phil scoffed. “Don’t kinkshame.”

“Oh, jamb a pinecone up your urethra,” Clint said.

“Why don’t you go try and sunbathe in a bonfire?” Phil suggested politely.

Clint stuck his tongue out at him.

“Please,” Steve begged, “Please, someone explain.”

Clint pointed to himself, and then to Phil and back again. Slowly, he said, “We’re dating each other.”

“Yeah,” Tony said, “We got it, Merida.”

“No,” Bruce disagreed, “I don’t get it. You guys are constantly fighting. How can you stand to be around each other if all you do is tear into one another?”

Clint frowned at Phil, who was frowning back at him. “We don’t fight.”

Steve gaped at them. “You just told him to shove a pinecone up his urethra.”

Clint shrugged, and then paused. He turned to face Phil. “You know, that does sound kind of mean out of context,” he admitted to his lover/partner/boyfriend/guy.

Phil nodded. “I can see that.”

“Speaking of which,” Natasha interrupted, “I totally saw this coming and you owe me for not waiting till I was around to make fun of you.”

“We owe you bupkis,” Clint spat.

And,” she continued, as if Clint hadn’t spoken, “I think you should lay off the endearments around the team. It freaks them out.”

Clint and Phil exchanged a glance and then nodded in sync.

“Wait,” Steve said, sounding desperate, “I’m still confused about all this.”

Fury gave a long suffering sigh and uncrossed his arms. “Well, Captain, the way this goes is that with these two idiots, insults might as well be declarations of love. I mean, these motherfuckers have obviously been pining after each other for years with how much they’re always threatening to dismember each other or blow each other up.”

Thor frowned. “So this treatment of one another has been going on for a long time?”

“Years,” Natasha stated simply, with a miniscule smirk.

Clint groaned dramatically. “I get it. Jeez, Nat, let it go.”

“This guy,” Fury added pointing a finger at Phil, “has been gone on Barton since they met. Even got the guy a handcrafted bookcase, as if that was some grand declaration of love or some shit.”

“You what now?” Clint asked, only to see the lightest of blushes darken Phil’s cheeks.

“You didn’t tell him?” Fury exploded, losing all semblance of being put-together. Clint noticed that Fury tended to lose his cool way more often around Phil than anyone else.

“A bookcase?” Thor asked quietly, and then louder, “Do you speak of the Candle of Mary story? Where the worker of woods built our fine Clint a bookcase?”

Phil cleared his throat. “Well, Clint, you’ve been asking for years what that Carpenter made me, after the fight in the bodega. It was the bookcase he gave you.”

Clint shook his head wildly. “Why? You’re the one who stopped that guy. You did all the work. All I did was bleed into your fancy-shmancy Italian slippers.”

“Ooooh,” Tony said, “this is getting good.”

Phil shrugged. “You had just moved into your off-SHIELD apartment and you had no furniture. None. And you seemed fine sleeping and sitting on that ratty futon you’d pulled out of the dumpster, but you were buying books in hoards and just leaving them lying all over the place.”

Clint could feel his eyebrows trying to migrate to his hairline. “So you decided that instead of convincing me to go to Ikea, you were going to ask a master craftsman to build me the most beautiful bookcase that I will treasure forever because you couldn’t stand my apartment looking like a mess?”

Phil rolled his eyes. “Stop being so melodramatic you hack. I’m going to tie you to the ceiling fan and leave you up there, spinning and puking, for days, I swear to god. No, I didn’t do it because your house looked a mess. Though it obviously did. I did it because you were spending all your money on books over a mattress or quality food, obviously you treasured them. And something you treasure should not be left lying around. So I got you someplace special to put the things you hold dear.”

Clint crooked an unimpressed eyebrow at Phil. “Oh yeah, hotshot? Well, how do you propose I try and stuff you into my bookcase, hmmm?”

Phil rolled his eyes.

“Dear god,” Bruce said with awe in his voice. “You’re right. This is how they flirt.”

“Should I try this form of flattery with my dearest Jane?” Thor asked.

“Please don’t,” Steve said, “I don’t think I could handle two couples acting like this.”

Clint rounded on him, looking pleased. “Does that mean we can stop doing those team building exercises?”

“Excuse me?” Fury said, his face having regained its old expression of indifference mixed with irritation. He rounded on Steve. “You thought two of your teammates wanted to kill each other, and you tried implementing team building exercises?”

Steve shrugged helplessly.

Fury leaned back on his haunches. “Huh, I’ll have to remember that one.”

Natasha glared at Fury with her own brand of pissed-off mixed with you’re-my-boss. “Don’t even think about it, Director.”

“I don’t know, Nat,” Clint said with a shrug, “there was this one called Minefield that was actually pretty fun. It’s like a blind obstacle course.”

“No!” Tony yelped, hiding his face in his hands. “Please! No more team building exercises. I can’t take it!”