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All I've Got Left To Believe In

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Clint is pretty sure that whoever invented English class did it just to make him feel stupid. He’s pretty good at math and he totally rocks at physics but shit like this, where he has to make a coherent argument with words, just makes him want to give up and go kick something hard instead.

“I’m sorry, dude,” he says, and he is, he would love to have something impressive and meaningful to contribute, if only because he likes to see Phil smile, “but I genuinely don’t give a fuck what the significance is of the way this kid treats her mom.”

Phil doesn’t sigh at Clint; he saves his sighs for when he really wants to make Clint feel like shit. He just rolls over onto his stomach on the bed and starts underlining things in Clint’s book.

“You don’t need to care,” Phil tells him patiently, pausing for a minute to suck the end of his pen. Clint looks down at the patterned comforter, up at the wall, anywhere but at Phil’s mouth. “You just need to understand it. No one’s asking that The Scarlet Letter becomes your favourite book of all time, just that you can write a damn paper on it.”

“Yeah,” Clint says slowly. “Still pretty sure I’m gonna fail.”

“And I’m pretty sure you’re not,” Phil says, looking at him hard, before getting back to whatever he’s doing to Clint’s book.

Phil keeps doing shit like that, keeps believing in Clint. Clint wishes he’d quit it; he’s way better at dealing with people who think he’s a screw-up.

Because he has no idea what to say to that, Clint completely ignores it. “The Hunger Games,” he says instead surprising himself.

“Hmm?” Phil asks, looking up. He’s gotten a smudge of blue highlighter on his cheek. Clint carefully doesn’t look at that either.

“That’s my favourite book,” Clint mutters, embarrassed now.

“Ah.” Phil nods. “Because of the archery?”

Clint blinks, surprised. Until Ms Carter tricked Phil into tutoring him, Clint didn’t even know that Phil knew who he was. In the past month, they haven’t talked about much but English class so it’s kind of a shock to find out that Phil knows about Clint’s hobbies.

“No,” Clint says because Phil’s actually looking at him, waiting for an answer, like he thinks Clint’s going to say something interesting. “Well, I mean, yeah. That’s pretty cool, but I liked how Katniss was really sneaky and played everyone all the time. She was awesome.”

She’d reminded him of Natasha. He doesn’t say that; he doesn’t ever talk to anyone about Natasha.

Phil smiles and nods. “Have you seen the movie?”

“Nah.” Clint shrugs like he didn’t count down the days until it came out. “Never got around to it.”

His foster mom decided that it would be nice to take the whole family, so he’d waited. It wasn’t any kind of surprise, when it fell through, but he was still stupidly disappointed.

“I’ve got a download, if you want to watch it?” Phil offers, looking weirdly uncertain for a second before he flattens his expression back to neutral.

“A download?” Clint asks. “How?” Because no way does Phil Coulson, school council treasurer and future valedictorian, engage in internet piracy.

Phil just smirks at him. “I have my ways,” he says mysteriously and then bites his lip a little. “Do you want to watch it?”

“Now?” Clint asks, surprised. “What about the stupid book?”

Phil shrugs. “You’re doing pretty well and we’ve been at it for three hours already.”

“What? No way.” Clint glances up at the clock on Phil’s bedroom wall, staring when he realises that it’s nearly four in the afternoon. “Oh shit man, you should have said. I didn’t mean to take up your whole Sunday.”

Phil shrugs. “It’s okay, it’s not like I had any other plans.”

Clint is pretty sure that’s not true; Phil does more extracurricular shit than anyone Clint knows, but if he’s happy hanging out with Clint instead, Clint’s not going to tell him that he’s wrong.

“Okay then, sure,” Clint says, because he’s an idiot and torturing himself by spending more time with Phil is obviously the best way to get over the crush he’s been nurturing since, like, ever.

Phil flashes him a quick, surprisingly open smile, and drags his laptop over to the middle of the bed, setting up the screen so that Clint’s only going to be able to see properly if he lies down next to him.

Clint lies down next to him.

“Have you seen this already?” Clint asks, once Phil’s hit play, noticing the way Phil’s drumming his thumb against the comforter, like he’s nervous or, way more likely, bored already.

“Shh,” Phil tells him, “pay attention.”

“Why?” Clint asks automatically. “Is there going to be a pop quiz?”

Phil tips his head, looking over at Clint. He looks like he’s not sure if he’s going to smack Clint or laugh at him. Clint isn’t sure what it says about him that he’d be happy either way.

“There might be,” Phil says eventually, low, and then elbows Clint in the side.

Clint twists away, grinning to himself, then settles down to watch the movie.

***

It’s late by the time the movie’s over. Clint’s eyes feel kind of hot, which is definitely to do with staring at the screen too long and nothing to do with anything sad that might have happened to Rue.

“What did you think?” Phil asks, closing the lid on the laptop and looking across at Clint.

Clint scratches a dry patch of skin under his left eye and shrugs. “Yeah, it was okay.”

Phil smirks at him. “I thought it was great. The way they conceptualised the Capitol was pretty cool.”

“Right?” Clint says, leaning across the laptop, closer to Phil. “And when they were on fire and, shit, the scene where she was showing off her archery skills and those assholes didn’t care but – ” He stops, coughing. “I mean, it was… good. Yeah.”

Phil’s smirk is less teasing now. “It was.” He sounds pleased and Clint wonders if this is some kind of double bluff to make Clint have literary thoughts, but Phil doesn’t push it. “Glad you liked it.”

Clint doesn’t know what to say next so he glances up at the clock. It’s six thirty. Shit. “Shit. I should go.” He starts to roll up onto his knees, grabbing his stuff that’s spread out across Phil’s bed.

“Sure,” Phil says easily, “Unless you’d like to stay for dinner?”

Clint hesitates. “What?” he asks, stalling. “I can’t just – ”

“I mean,” Phil says quickly, “if you need to get home, that’s cool, I can give you a ride, but you’re welcome to stay.”

Clint’s instinct is to say no, go home – he hasn’t got in too much shit with this foster family yet and he’d like to keep it that way – but it’s not like there’s anything much waiting for him there. And Phil’s here.

“Would your mom mind?” he asks, still thinking.

“My dad does the cooking during the week,” Phil says, shrugging. “And no, he won’t care.”

Never let it be said that Clint Barton can’t make dumb decisions on the fly. “Okay,” he says, “sure. Thanks.”

Phil shrugs again. “I’ll go tell him.” He waves a hand around the room. “Don’t break anything.”

“Aw,” Clint sighs. “Please can I?”

“Not unless my grandmother bought it,” Phil allows and then lets himself out, shutting the door behind him.

Clint grins at nothing and flops backwards onto the bed. He pulls out his phone and texts his foster mom:

Having dinner w/friend. C u later.

He puts his phone away again, trying not to picture the look of shock that May will get on her face at the thought of Clint having friends.

***

“Where were you?”

Clint’s eyes spring open at the voice that comes out of the darkness and finds himself eyeball to shiny eyeball with a floating pale face.

“Jesus, Peter,” he groans, rolling onto his back and away from the epic weirdo kneeling beside his bed, staring at him in the middle of the fucking night.

“Hey,” Peter says and crawls up onto the bed beside Clint, pillowing his chin on his arms and staring up at Clint from under his bangs.

Clint looks over at the clock and sighs. “Dude, it’s four in the morning. Go to sleep.”

“Can’t,” Peter tells him with a shrug, like he doesn’t care. Clint’s not fooled; if Peter didn’t care about being awake, he wouldn’t be bugging Clint about it.

“Yeah? Well I can.” Clint rolls over onto his stomach and hopes that Peter goes away.

He doesn’t. Obviously.

“It’s Sunday,” Peter says dramatically.

Clint glares pointedly at his clock but it’s probably too dark for Peter to notice. “Technically it’s Monday.”

Peter makes a sad noise. Jeez but this is an emo kid. An emo kid who’s latched onto Clint like a baby duckling, for reasons Clint will never understand.

“Fucking what?” Clint demands. He starts to sit up, planning to turn on the light and glare Peter into submission, but Peter slaps his hand down before he can reach the switch.

“Don’t do that,” he hisses. “Aunt May and Uncle Peter will know we’re awake.”

We’re not awake,” Clint has to point out. “You’re awake. I’m just collateral damage.”

Even in the weak moonlight, Clint can see Peter’s tragic attempt at a smile flicker and die. He always tries to look like he’s okay, but Clint gets the feeling he almost never is.

“Hey, brat,” Clint says, nudging Peter’s knee with his own. “What’s up?”

Clint is not Peter’s big brother, Clint will never be Peter’s big brother, but he’s occasionally okay with pretending. But only because it’ll get him back to sleep quicker, obviously.

Peter shrugs, scrawny shoulders going all the way up before flopping back down sadly. “School tomorrow,” he says, looking away.

Right. Like the problem could be anything else. Peter goes to a dumb middle school where he’s miserable, but he has some kind of like, on-going campaign to never upset his aunt and uncle so they have no idea about any of it.

How they keep believing that all the bruises Peter comes home wearing are from being clumsy and thirteen, Clint doesn’t know. But it’s not his business to clue them in, so he hasn’t.

“School sucks,” Clint agrees, even though his is actually okay, way better than any of the dozen others he’s been to.

Peter drags his legs up in front of them and rests his chin in the groove between his knees. “Mm,” he says quietly.

Shit. Clint’s actually going to have to say something. “Want me to walk you in tomorrow?” he asks and wait, what, where did that come from? That is away more involved than Clint tries to be with this family.

Peter actually fucking perks up, there’s no other word for it. “Seriously?” he asks, flailing out a hand before raining it back in. “Can you?”

Clint can probably get from Peter’s school to his before homeroom. He’d been planning to hang around the juniors’ lockers and maybe see if Phil walked by but probably – probably – stopping Peter from getting beaten up again is more important than that.

Probably.

“If I say yes, will you shut up and let me sleep?” Clint asks.

Yes,” Peter agrees happily and flops backwards onto Clint’s spare pillow. Which was not at all Clint’s plan but, whatever, as long as he doesn’t kick, Clint might let him live.

***

Clint’s late for school. For thirteen-year-olds with unevenly breaking voices, the asshole kids at Peter’s school take a lot of convincing to move out of the fucking way.

“Dog eat your alarm clock?” Clint hears from behind him and stifles a groan.

“Yep,” he says without taking his head out of his locker. Maybe Phil’ll keep walking, if Clint doesn’t look at him. (Clint really likes looking at him; it’s a shame.) “Never should have bought him that adamantium jaw.”

Phil laughs, this soft little brush of sound which Clint usually loves listening to. He stops and leans against the bank of lockers, way too close for Clint to be able to duck away without Phil getting a look at his face. Shit.

“Clint?” Phil asks. “Everything okay?”

“Mmhmm,” Clint agrees, and keeps rummaging. “Just can’t find my – ”

“Clint.” Phil’s voice is firm and the way he touches Clint’s shoulder is even more clearly an order.

“It looks way worse than it is,” Clint says and grudgingly turns toward him.

Phil’s eyes go wide. “Crap,” he says, fingers twitching against Clint’s shoulder before falling away. “What happened?”

Clint licks reflexively at his split and swollen bottom lip. “Hit myself in the face with my phone,” he lies.

“Right.” Phil nods. “Because your phone weighs two hundred pounds?”

Clint winces. “Yeah. It’s one of those new Stark phones, you know.”

Apparently that’s exactly as much bullshit as Phil has the patience for because he grabs Clint’s arm, before Clint can get out any more lies, and tugs him down the hallway.

“Wait, hang on, I need to close my locker,” Clint protests. “Coulson, stop.”

Phil lets go but keeps tapping his foot until Clint’s grabbed his books, locked his locker and come back to him.

“You need to get out of the hallway before a teacher catches you looking like you lost a prize fight,” he says sternly, and pulls Clint into the bathroom.

Clint has maybe had a thought or two about Phil and empty bathroom stalls but not a school bathroom; everything’s unsexily damp and smelly in here.

“If you wanted to be alone with me, you could have just asked,” Clint says, widening his eyes obnoxiously at Phil.

Phil blinks slightly slower for one beat then shakes his head. “Yes, Barton, this is my dream.”

He walks across the room, somehow managing to look dignified while stepping over balled-up lumps of soggy toilet paper and pulls a wad of hand towels out of the dispenser.

“Hold onto those,” he says, dropping half the towels into Clint’s hands. He wets the remaining few under the faucet and holds them up toward Clint’s face.

Clint takes an automatic step back, right into the row of sinks (there’s a cute boy reaching up toward his face while he’s all gross, okay, it’s instinctive). “What are you - ?”

“Would you rather go out there looking like you’ve been in a fight?” Phil asks. “You’ll get detention.”

Why do you care? We’re not friends, Clint thinks, but doesn’t say. “Wouldn’t be the first time,” he says with a shrug.

Phil doesn’t look impressed. Clint never really thought he would be. “Just come here,” he says and holds Clint’s face still with a very firm grip on his chin.

Clint freezes.

Phil’s determined expression flickers into something less certain. “Or you could do it yourself?” he says, sounding odd. He lets go.

Clint’s confused. Phil’s not touching him right this moment, though, so he maybe has a chance of getting his brain in gear.

“I, no, that’s.” He clears his throat and glances to the side, at their reflections in the spotted mirror over the sink. Phil’s skin’s a mottled sort of colour like he can’t decide if he wants to blush or blanche. “You’re okay.”

“Sure?” Phil asks. He moves in again, but he doesn’t touch Clint this time. Clint tells himself that he doesn’t mind. Phil’s quick and efficient, mopping up the blood on Clint’s chin and the corner of his mouth, pinky finger resting against the sore skin of Clint’s lip. He steps back as soon as he’s done.

“Thanks,” Clint says, twisting to check himself in the mirror. His lip’s still swollen but he looks less like he’s been brawling, which is good. Normally he wouldn’t care about it, but he doesn’t want the Parkers getting called down to the school, if he can help it.

Phil’s reflection shrugs. “If you get detention, we won’t be able to work on your English grade.”

Right. That makes sense. Except for the part where Clint isn’t really sure what Phil gets out of making Clint look less dumb in class. “Thanks, anyway,” he says awkwardly.

He dries his face off with a couple of the dry towels Phil pressed on him and wastes some time throwing them in the trash.

Phil hasn’t said anything else.

The warning bell rings just then, letting them know they have five minutes to get to class.

Clint’s first class is math which isn’t one of the shitty ones, so he picks his bag off the counter and slings it over a shoulder.

“Coming?” he asks.

“Yes, in a minute,” Phil tells him. He’s washing his hands, which apparently takes way more concentration than you’d think, considering there isn’t even any soap.

“Coulson?” Clint asks, hovering in the doorway. He doesn’t know why he’s pushing; he should just accept that this was a weird, awkward interlude in his day and get on with life.

But it’s Phil.

Phil takes a breath, straightens his shoulders and gives Clint a blank, expressionless smile. It’s the same one Clint’s seen him give teachers who he disagrees with.

“I know it’s none of my business, but if you’re in trouble, you can… I can help,” he says, which isn’t what Clint was expecting him to say, at all.

Clint blinks. “How?” he asks, rather than what he should say which is I’m fine; a thirteen year old punk got in a lucky throw with his basketball, that’s all.

Phil waves a hand, like that’s unimportant. “I’d find a way,” he says impatiently. “But if it’s drugs or… You just need to tell me what you’re into and then – ”

“Into?” Clint echoes. It’s dumb, it’s so fucking dumb to feel hurt, because of course that’s the conclusion Phil jumped to. Clint’s the new kid with no parents, a tattoo on his left shoulder, and a fuck-off attitude; he knows what his reputation is at school.

But Phil watched a movie with him on Sunday and introduced him to his dad. He’d just thought that maybe Phil saw him differently.

“Or whatever,” Phil presses carefully.

Clint hunches his shoulders and shoves the door open. “Or whatever,” his agrees. “I’ll see you around.”

“Clint?” he hears, but he doesn’t wait around to see what Phil’ll come up with next.

***

Ben has been staring at him all through dinner. Clint had a shitty day and it’s starting to get on his nerves, but Clint has a policy of not drawing attention to himself from foster parents, no matter how nice they seem, so he doesn’t drop his fork and demand fucking what? like he really wants to.

Across the table, Peter’s jittering in his seat and keeps shooting Clint guilty glances. He is the least subtle kid ever.

“Stop it,” Clint mouths at Peter, when Ben turns to say something to May.

“Sorry,” Peter hisses back and then concentrates really hard on cutting up his potatoes when everyone at the table looks at him.

Who even cuts up mashed potatoes, seriously?

“Clint,” May says kindly, “is something wrong with your dinner?”

“Hmm, what?” Clint looks at his plate. He hasn’t eaten much; his mouth is fucking throbbing and his stomach is still in hurt, angry knots over his conversation with Phil this morning. “No, it’s good, thanks.”

He ducks his head and tries to look like he’s really, really enjoying the food.

“Don’t choke yourself,” May says, sounding like she’s rolling her eyes. “I can make you something else.”

“No. It’s good. I promise.” Clint’s always hated mashed potato. When he was tiny and new to foster care, he asked the woman they were staying with for something different for dinner. She made him sit at the table and eat every bite of his dinner and all the leftovers. It took him hours. Every time he eats mashed potato now, he tastes snotty, little-kid tears.

May sighs. Ben says something to her that Clint doesn’t catch through the sound of his own chomping. Then, louder, “Peter, if you’re finished, you’re excused.”

“Can I stay?” Peter asks. “I need to talk to Clint.”

We need to talk to Clint,” Ben says and oh yeah, that’s not ominous at all. “Don’t you have homework?”

“No,” Peter says brightly. “I finished it on the bus on the way home.”

Clint snorts. Of course he did. He puts his fork down and catches Peter’s eye. “I’ll come see you later, yeah?” he says. “Do what your uncle says.”

Peter glares at him, betrayed, but Clint just stares back, accidentally trying on one of Phil’s Are You Seriously Questioning Me Right Now? glares.

It works.

“Fine,” Peter huffs and gets up from the table. He stomps all the way up the stairs and Clint has to bite back a smile. He’s got no business feeling fond of some random kid; it’d be dumb to start now.

“What’s up?” he asks Ben, trying to look casual and not letting himself tongue at his split lip. It feels like it’s pulsing in time with his heartbeat; he really hopes it’s not.

It’s May who leans across the table and pats his hand. “Did you get into a fight?” she asks, all straightforward and no-bullshit. Clint usually likes that about her, it’s so much more refreshing than the ones who tell him they understand his pain.

“Yeah,” Clint says, because he did, kind of. “Sorry.”

“Clint,” May sighs. Ben looks disappointed. Clint feels kind of sick and then hates himself for letting it matter.

“Do you want to tell us about it?” Ben asks.

Clint shakes his head. “It was just a dumb fight. No one really got hurt.” Clint didn’t even hit the asshole kid back. He totally deserved it, but hitting kids way younger than him just didn’t feel right.

You were hurt,” May points out, like that matters.

Clint shrugs. “It’s fine.” He glances longingly up at the stairs. This is a hundred levels of awkward; it’s not like they really care, not the same way they would if they knew it was Peter who’s really getting beaten up.

Clint wishes he could tell them, but he promised he wouldn’t, so he won’t.

“You’d tell us if you were in trouble, wouldn’t you?” Ben asks, in a tone that makes it not really a question.

Clint nods automatically, even though he really wouldn’t. “Yes, sir,” he promises. “Sure.”

Ben looks at him hard for a minute, but whatever he’s looking to find in Clint’s face, he obviously doesn’t, because he shakes his head and sits back.

“You can go,” he says, sounding resigned. “Unless you did your homework on the bus, too?”

“No one but Peter does homework on the bus,” Clint says, jumping up gratefully. He goes to pick up his plate to take out to the kitchen but May stops him.

“It’s fine,” she says, “leave it.”

Clint frowns. “But it’s my turn to do the dishes.” He’s not shirking his chores; he learned that lesson in more than one group home.

“Leave it,” May repeats firmly. She swats at him lightly. “Off you go. Scram.”

Clint manages to find a smile for her and does as he’s told. He can hear May and Ben start talking quietly before he’s quite out of listening range, but he just speeds up his steps until their voices fade into the background; he doesn’t want to know what they’re saying.

Peter’s lying in his bedroom doorway, legs up against the opposite wall like some freakishly bendy spider-monkey or something. “Are you in trouble?” he stage-whispers.

“Nah.” Clint shrugs. He seems to have spent all day shrugging off shit. “It’s cool.”

“Clint.” Peter rolls around until he’s kneeling up, reaching out to grab Clint’s wrist.

Clint jerks his hand away automatically, then feels bad when Peter’s face clouds over. “I’ll see you in the morning,” he says, trying to sound kind or calm or whatever it is Peter’s looking for from him.

“We could watch a movie,” Peter offers, hopefully.

“Some other time,” Clint says and shuts his bedroom door on whatever Peter’s going to say next. He leans back against it and closes his eyes.

It’s early still, but he doesn’t care; today has sucked, he’s going to bed. Maybe he’ll wake up in the morning and everyone will stop treating him like he’s one wrong move away from joining Barney in juvie.

That’d be a really nice change.

***

Clint’s Tuesdays have a pattern: get through class as unobtrusively as possible, so he can cut out early and run to his after school archery class.

It’s not the same as being back in the circus where he could shoot all day every day, if he wanted to, but it’s better than anything he’s had since and it’s basically the highlight of his week.

Which is why he really doesn’t need Peter texting him frantically and ceaselessly since lunch, begging Clint to come pick him up after school.

Can’t today, Clint texts back under the desk and hides his phone between his knees so his French teacher won’t get suspicious. Tuesdays are the one day a week where he can’t let himself get put in detention.

The buzzing starts to get constant and uncomfortable. The next time the teacher turns to the board, Clint sneaks another look.

Please?

Please??

PLEASE???

Fuck.

Whatve u done??? he sends back and then immediately dips his head back toward his exercise book, because he’s very, very focused on conjugating past participles. Totally focused. No one has ever been a better student than Clint Barton on Tuesdays.

Class ends pretty soon after that, thank god; he’s been getting some pretty weird looks from the girl next to him. It’s like she’s never met anyone with constantly vibrating thighs before.

He takes a look at Peter’s latest message and groans out loud.

Maybe possibly totally accidentally broke flashs skateboard?!?!!

Clint closes his eyes. Peter is going to get himself killed. It’s like he doesn’t realise what that’d do to May and Ben.

BE OUTSIDE IN TEN DO NOT BE LATE Clint sends back, as menacing as capital letters can be, and sprints for his locker.

Where he finds Phil waiting for him. Because of course.

“I honestly don’t have time for whatever it is you want to say to me,” Clint warns him, cutting him off at the pass. If Phil wants to accuse Clint of peddling smack to the freshmen or something, he can do it tomorrow.

Phil looks kind of awful, Clint notes in passing, but he doesn’t have time to check if he’s imagined it, just chucks his books into his locker and grabs the ones he needs for homework.

“What if it’s sorry?” Phil offers while Clint’s struggling to get his backpack to zip. “What if it’s I’m an idiot and I’m really sorry?”

Fuck.

Clint closes his bag with a determined yank and looks up at him. Yep, Phil looks like shit, all awkward expressions and bitten bottom lip.

He’s usually so blank faced and put together that this is weird enough to make Clint pause.

“Is it?” Clint asks suspiciously.

Phil nods quickly. “I really didn’t mean to offend you, yesterday,” he says, glancing around like this isn’t where he’d like to have this conversation. “It was a stupid conclusion to jump to.”

“It was,” Clint agrees. He wishes Phil looked less sorry; it really hurt and Clint would like to hold onto this grudge a bit longer.

“Can I- ” Someone slams their locker just behind Phil and he leans in closer to be heard, breath brushing Clint’s cheek. He smells like mint gum and copier ink. “I know you’ve got archery now, but can I make it up to you tomorrow?”

Clint raises his eyebrows, but doesn’t ask how Phil knows that. He’s not feeling curious, right now, he’s feeling harassed.

“The only way you can make it up to me is if you’ve got a flux capacitor hidden in your bag,” he says, kind of snappily, maybe.

“If I had one of those, I’d have already used it to go back in time and not offend you.” Phil actually sounds sincere. “Why?”

Clint sighs, slamming his locker closed and hurrying down the hallway. Phil keeps pace easily. “Too many places to be at once.” He’s going to have to miss archery; fuck, but he doesn’t want to miss archery.

Phil grabs the door before Clint can, holding it open for him so Clint doesn’t need to slow down. “I don’t have a flux capacitor and it’s not a Delorean, but I do have a car?”

Clint stops just long enough to raise his eyebrows. “At school?” This is New York; no one has a car at school.

“Well, no, but.” Phil straightens his shoulders, looking determined. “You know I live just down the block. Come on, it’ll be quicker than the bus or waiting for Doc Hollywood.”

Clint doesn’t mean to laugh, he doesn’t want to laugh. He laughs.

***

Phil drives a slightly dented turn-of-the century Toyota Camry. Somehow, he’s managed to find parking for it outside his family’s big, brownstone house.

Clint is more jealous of the car than the house, even though he’s seen inside that and it’s super nice. A car would mean freedom, though; he’d kill for that.

“Nice,” he says, throwing his bag into the throwing his bag on the floor by his feet then climbing inside after it.

Phil shrugs. “It’s my mom’s. She’s away and my dad gets the subway so they let me drive it.”
He buckles up and stares and Clint until he does the same. “So, you need a ride somewhere.”

Clint really doesn’t like inviting people into his life, but this is kind of an emergency. If he misses archery today, he can’t guarantee that he’ll get through the next week without flipping his lid at someone. Also there’s that thing where Peter may actually get murdered.

“I do,” Clint tells him and waits, seeing if Phil will do it without any more explanation.

After a second, Phil nods and turns the key. “Okay, then,” he says.

They don’t talk as they exit Phil’s street – Clint has two settings: way too talkative and awkward silence – and neither of them says anything until they’re on the main road and Phil goes to take a left.

“Right here,” Clint says, still staring out the windshield.

“You go to the gym on North Street, don’t you?” Phil asks, slowing down all the same.

“I’m not going to ask how you know that,” Clint tells him even though he, yeah, really does want to know. “But we’re not going there yet.”

“No?” Phil asks. When Clint doesn’t give him any more information, he just blows out a breath and takes a right. “Give me directions, then.”

Clint does, telling himself all the way that this is stupid idea. Phil doesn’t need to be mixed up in Clint’s home life; he sure as hell doesn’t need to meet Peter. Maybe if Clint doesn’t tell Phil where they’re going, he won’t notice that they’re pulled up outside a school and he’ll somehow miss the kid in his backseat.

“Hey, this was my middle school,” Phil says when they pull up out front.

So much for that cunning plan, then.

“Yeah? Cool,” Clint says, not really concentrating. He opens the passenger door, about to get out in search of Peter. “I told him to be ready.”

“Who?” Phil asks, just as a tiny, awkward blur of Peter comes tearing out of the main school building, bookbag bump-bumping against his leg.

Clint jumps out the car, because that is the definitely the run of someone being chased.

“Pete,” he calls and Peter waves distractedly, tripping over his own feet in his rush to get to safety. Clint was never that graceless, he’s sure.

“Hi, hi,” Peter says, stumbling into Clint and pushing him back toward the passenger seat while fumbling with the back door. “Whose car is this? No, wait, I don’t care. Get in, we need to drive.”

That last bit is said from the safety of inside the car, so Clint rolls his eyes at the still-empty schoolyard and slips back inside the car.

“Hi,” Phil says to Peter, while Clint gets the door closed. “I’m Phil.”

“Hello, hi, could you drive, please?” Peter asks. He’s probably turning the massive brown Bambi eyes on Phil; Clint can tell just by his tone of voice.

“Are we being chased by bandits?” Phil asks, putting the car in gear and taking the parking brake off.

“Yes,” Peter says firmly.

Clint takes a look out the window and yep, there’s Flash and his gang, coming from around the back of the school, like they were waiting for Peter to come out that way, the same way he usually does.

“Maybe,” he allows, then risks a glance at Phil.

Phil looks like he can’t decide if he’s worried or entertained. At least he probably doesn’t think Peter’s a drug dealer.

“Thanks,” Clint says softly, while Peter starts in on a story about how he’s just escaped from Certain Death (Peter’s the kind of kid who talks in capital letters).

Phil catches his eye and smiles. “It was more exciting than the student council meeting I had planned.”

Clint snorts. He doesn’t mean to, he means to still be pissed. “Even with Tony Stark there?”

Phil has to concentrate on the road, so he stops looking at Clint. “Trust me, I’d much rather spend time with you than with Stark.”

Clint should definitely not feel pleased about that, but apparently his heart doesn’t care about things like should.

***

They get into kind of a disagreement about where to go after the school. Phil wants to drop Clint off at archery then take Peter home. Clint thinks he can’t ask Phil to do that. Peter wants to stick with Clint.

Somehow – and Clint has no idea how, which says so much about his life – this leads to Phil and Peter going off for milkshakes at the diner across the road while Clint heads into the gym.

He has no idea what they’re going to talk about, and can only pray it’s not going to be him. (Who’s he kidding? It’s totally going to be him, isn’t it?)

“Wow, did that target personally offend you?” Clint’s instructor, Kate, asks, leaning back a little, like she thinks Clint’s bow is suddenly going to recoil on her or something.

“It’s looking at me funny,” Clint tells her, eyes already sighted down the length of another arrow. He blows out a slow breath and spreads his fingers.

The arrow hits the bullseye, slicing through the centre of the one before it, Brave-style.

“Well, you’ve sure taken its eye out,” Kate agrees, slapping him on the shoulder and heading down the range toward the kids who actually need her instruction.

When Clint was first told that he wasn’t allowed on the range without an instructor, he thought that was complete bullshit, but he doesn’t actually mind having her around. And she’s maybe – maybe – shown him a couple things that have helped with his posture.

She always gets pissed when he shoots things without looking though, so they’re still ironing out the glitches in their relationship.

Ninety minutes, and after more than one arrow has been tragically sacrificed, Clint is feeling immeasurably calmer in his general... brain area, and the kids filing in to take their turn on the range are staring at him with the appropriate levels of awe.

“Clint?” Kate calls, stopping him when he waves goodbye.

“Yeah?” He winces. “Sorry about the arrows. I can totally pay for those.” He can’t, but he can save his lunch money for a couple weeks; he knows how to make cash stretch.

She waves that off. “Please. If they split that easy, the centre should be proving us with better ones already. No, listen, there’s a competition next week. It’s not a big thing, but it’s interstate. Are you interested?”

Clint grins at her. “Are you kidding?” he asks. “Of course.” Clint’s always interested in showing people he’s good at something.

“Good.” She looks way more pleased that she should, but whatever. Maybe no one else wanted to sign up. “I’ll put you down for it.”

Okay, now she’s just staring at him really hard. Clint has no idea what to do with that and no idea how to talk to her about anything that’s not archery, so he just kind of shrugs with his bow and hightails it out of there.

***

He finds Phil and Peter still in the diner where Clint left them. There are two empty milkshake glasses in front of each of them and a plate of fries between them, and they’re doing homework on the sticky diner table.

Because of course they are.

“Oh my god, please tell me you two haven’t bonded over your epic geekery,” Clint sighs, flopping down into the chair opposite them. “I bet you’ve gone and made each other worse, haven’t you?”

Peter grins down at his notebook, like Clint teasing him for being a nerd is good in some way. Phil – to Clint’s epic but secret delight – flips him off.

“Actually, we bonded over science fiction,” Phil says primly, like giving Clint the finger never happened. “Peter has very sensible opinions about Star Wars.”

“Han shot first!” Peter contributes, still without looking up.

Clint laughs, can’t help it. “You guys okay for food?” he asks. If Kate’s really not going to charge him for the arrows then he can probably afford one round of snacks.

“Milkshake, please,” Peter says, pushing his glass toward Clint and, yep, doing the Bambi eyes.

“Those don’t work on me,” Clint says firmly but takes the glass anyway. “Phil?”

Phil gives him a weird look. “I’ll come up with you,” he decides and walks with Clint to the counter.

Clint orders drinks for all three of them, then has to knock Phil’s hand down when he tries to pay for them all. “What are you doing?” Clint demands, handing over his own bill. “You’ve already bought him two. In fact, here, I’ll pay you back for those, too.”

Phil shakes his head when Clint tries to pour his change into Phil’s palms, stuffing his hands into back pockets and taking a step back. “It’s fine. Clint, seriously, it’s fine. He looked like he could do with some cheering up.”

Clint makes a face at nothing. “Yeah.” He sighs, deflating. “Thanks for, you know, staying with him.”

“It’s fine,” Phil says again, “I didn’t mind. He’s an interesting kid.”

Interesting is pretty much never a positive descriptor, Clint’s found, but, weirdly, it looks like maybe Phil means it in a good way.

“Yeah.” Clint shrugs. “He’s okay.”

Phil’s quiet for a minute, watching their waitress make their drinks, even though they could have gone back to the table and let her carry them over. Clint isn’t prolonging this moment for any real reason; it’s just because he likes talking to Phil. Even when it’s awkward, apparently. Go figure.

“Clint,” Phil says softly. “Peter told me about the boys who are picking on him. And how you got that swollen lip. I’m really so-”

“Stop it with the sorry,” Clint says gruffly. “We’ve done that, I’ve forgiven you, it’s cool.”

Phil opens his mouth, presumably to protest, then closes it again. “Okay. It was really decent of you to stand up to them, though. You’re a good big brother.”

Clint’s heart kind of spasms at that. It’s awful; it makes him feel awful. “I’m not his brother,” he snaps, way too loud, and can’t make himself look at Phil for the rest of their wait at the counter.

***

“Do you want to come in for dinner?” Peter asks, leaning over the back of Phil’s chair. “My aunt and uncle won’t mind.”

Phil glances at Clint. Clint wants him to come inside and doesn’t want him to come inside in pretty much equal measure, so he just shrugs and says, “Up to you.”

“Thanks, Peter, but I’ve got to get home,” Phil says.

Clint isn’t disappointed, because of course that’s what he’d say. People don’t want to have dinner with guys who yell at them in diners.

Peter kind of sags and Phil must see it too because he adds, “But it was really great to meet you. Clint talks about you all the time.”

“Yeah?” Peter asks eagerly then coughs, looking away. It’s ridiculous that Peter’s trying not to be excited about that and ridiculous how bad Clint feels that it’s a lie.

“Sure.” Phil smiles at him. “And we’re still on for the new Batman movie when it comes out, right?”

Peter nods quickly. “Yeah. And I guess Clint can come too?”

Phil laughs. “I guess so.”

“Hey,” Clint protests, because that’s what’s expected of him. The idea of Peter scoring a movie date with Phil when Clint can’t even ask him out is ridiculous, but whatever. Maybe it’s easier when you’re thirteen and have tragic eyes.

Peter climbs out of the car and heads toward the front door, which is standing open (they’re not late, but they’re not exactly not late, either), but Phil stops Clint following with a hand on his arm.

“I know,” Clint sighs, sinking back into his seat. “Sorry I yelled at you, that was shitty.”

Phil looks surprised, like he wasn’t expecting an apology, which, hey, Clint can totally apologise when he’s in the wrong. He might not like it, but he can.

“I seem to keep putting my foot in my mouth around you,” Phil says, wrinkling his nose up self-consciously.

Clint hesitates. He wants to say, yeah, you do, but that’s mostly because I have a fuck load of issues, but you don’t actually say things like that to people, not unless you’re a character from Dawson’s Creek, anyway.

Phil sighs. “And clearly you agree. Can we start over?”

“Sure?” Clint says, suspecting a trap. Start over with what? They’re not friends; Clint’s just the kid Phil tutors sometimes.

Phil smiles at him. It’s soft and not very certain and it gives Clint feelings he doesn’t need. “Cool. Good. That’s good. More Scarlett Letter after school tomorrow, then?”

Clint groans automatically. “Do we have to?”

“Yep.” Now Phil’s smiling properly. “Don’t front, Barton, I know you love it.”

Clint flips him off, which he thinks is fair, considering Phil did it first, and Phil’s happy laugh follows him out the car.

***

“Who’s that boy?” Ben asks, standing in the hall with his arms folded across his chest, watching Clint kick off his shoes.

“Just a guy from school,” Clint says with a shrug. “He gave us a ride home.”

“What for?” Ben asks and something about his tone puts Clint on the defensive.

“I don’t know, out of the goodness of his heart?” Clint says dragging it out, “I didn’t force him to at gunpoint.”

“Don’t sass me, Clint,” Ben says softly. “I was just wondering why. I’ve never seen him around before.”

Ugh. Clint shouldn’t be allowed to talk to people. “That’s Phil. I was at his house at the weekend? For my English assignment.”

“Stop quizzing the poor boy, Ben,” May calls from the living room. “Both of you come in here and eat; your pizza’s getting cold.”

“Pizza?” Clint asks. He widens his eyes at Ben, wanting to say sorry but not knowing how. It was easier with Phil. If he ruins things with Phil, he won’t lose his home.

“We thought you boys deserved a treat,” May says, voice coming cheerfully through the open doorway.

Ben nods once, firmly, at Clint and puts a hand on his shoulder. “Better get in there,” he says, walking them both forward. “Peter can eat enough for seven.”

“I know,” Clint says on autopilot. He doesn’t think anyone’s ever made a special dinner just because he deserved a treat before.

“Hey,” Peter protests, sitting down in the middle of the living room, a mega-sized pizza box clutched to his lap. “I’m a growing boy.”

May reaches out, squeezing Peter’s skinny wrist. “Are you? When’s that going to start?”

Clint grins and tucks himself into the one armchair, leaving the sofa for May and Ben. He reaches out and grabs a slice of pepperoni, catching melted cheese on his palm and slurping it off before anyone can tell him to go find a napkin.

They all stuff themselves with pizza, the three milkshakes Peter had earlier clearly making no difference to how much he can eat. Somehow, there’s still almost a whole pizza left, when they’re done.

“Oh dear,” May says, shaking her head sadly. “You should have invited your friend in to help us out, Clint.”

“I invited him,” Peter offers. “He said no.” He stills looks kind of disappointed about that. Clint knows it’s stupid to be pleased that Peter agrees with his taste in not-quite-friends, but that doesn’t actually stop him feeling it.

“Well, you’ll have to try harder next time,” May tells them both. “You boys know you’re welcome to have friends over, don’t you?”

Peter glances at Clint. Clint makes a face back at him. It’s kind of sad how neither of them has any friends to invite, and it’s sadder still how May has obviously clocked that.

“Thanks,” Clint offers, trying to sound sincere. He kicks Peter in the shoulder and stands up. “C’mon, kid, we’re gonna do the dishes.”

Peter groans. “But there aren’t any, that’s the magic of pizza.”

“You drink your juice out of your cupped hands?” Clint asks, picking up Peter’s sticky glass and bumping it against the side of his head.

Peter mumbles complaints under his breath but he drags himself up onto his knees, accepting Clint’s hand to get himself all the way onto his feet.

Clint doesn’t mean to look at May or Ben, but he catches them out of the corner of his eye while he’s collecting the rest of the glasses. They’re smiling at each other.

He looks away.

***

In the kitchen, Peter comes back to life out of his food coma, slapping on the radio and bouncing around the kitchen to some kind of bubblegum pop.

“You wash,” Peter says. “I drop less stuff when I’m drying.”

Clint isn’t totally convinced of that, but things are probably going to get smashed either way, so.

“So,” Clint says when they’ve got a rhythm going. “You broke Flash’s skateboard?”

“Totally by accident,” Peter says quickly, almost before Clint’s finished asking the question. “There was a thing with a door and thing with his foot and a thing with my foot and. Yeah.”

“Dude, why can’t you just keep your damn head down?” Clint asks. “They’re gonna fucking kill you if you keep this up.”

“No, but.” Peter’s chin comes up. “I’m just existing and I'm not going to stop existing just because it offends them. I’m not actually doing anything. Except for the skateboard thing. That was me; I did do that.”

Clint stares down at the bubbles in the sink. Peter’s totally right. Clint’s not going to tell him he’s wrong. “Don’t get too dead though, okay? I’m kind of looking forward to having you at school with me next year.”

He chokes on air as soon as he’s said that because, because wow. He’s thinking like he’s still going to be here by the time the next school year rolls around? He really thought he’d grown out of that kind of optimism like, a decade ago.

“Yeah,” Peter says, cheeks a burning, delighted kind of red. “Me too.” He stares at his dishcloth and Clint concentrates on washing the pizza slicer. Bieber plays tinnily from the crappy kitchen radio.

“Will Phil still be at your school next year?” Peter asks eventually.

Okay, Clint makes himself breath again. If Clint’s gone, maybe Phil will still keep an eye on Peter. “Yeah, sure. He’ll be a senior but he might like, remember to say hi to you once or twice.”

Peter looks pleased enough with that. “I liked him,” he decides, like Clint might have missed that. “How long have you known him?”

“Not that long,” Clint says with a shrug. It sounds better than I’ve had a crush on him since I first saw him and now he keeps talking to me and I don’t know what’s going on.

Peter nods then leans in close. “It’s okay, I won’t tell them,” he says, nodding his head toward the living room.

“Tell them what?” Clint asks cautiously.

Peter rolls his eyes. “That Phil’s your boyfriend,” he says. “Duh.”

Clint drops the plate he’s washing and it hits the side of the washing up bowl with a muffled clunk. “I’m, what?” he wheezes, completely flummoxed. “He’s not, we’re not dating.”

“Mm,” Peter hums, nodding. “Phil said that too.”

Fuck. Okay, Clint’s just going to die now. That’s okay, right? “You asked Phil if we were dating?” he asks faintly.

“Mm,” Peter says again. He’s starting to shuffle-dance to The Killers, apparently totally unconcerned that he’s just revealed his plan to ruin Clint’s entire life.

“No, but.” Clint stops himself. He’s not going to ask what Phil said and what Peter said and what Phil said to that. He’s not. “We’re not dating.”

“Okay,” Peter says, but he doesn’t sound like he believes him, too busy singing When You Were Young (badly) under his breath to really pay attention.

***

“My foster mom says you have to come for pizza next time,” Clint says, staring up at Phil’s ceiling and trying to sound normal and casual about it.

Phil looks up from colour-coding his notes and smiles. “Okay,” he says easily.

He wasn’t supposed to say okay. He was supposed to roll his eyes and offer some anecdote about how embarrassing parents (or pseudo-parents) are. That was Clint’s plan.

He’s maybe been thinking this through just a little.

“It was pepperoni,” Clint warns.

“My favourite,” Phil says, still smiling.

Clint sort of wants to drown himself. Possibly in Phil’s face.

“So, okay, like – ” Clint holds the book up over his head, hoping that’ll help it to make sense. “But seriously, what is Chillingworth even doing right now?” He thinks about maybe turning the book upside-down. It’s not like it could make less sense that way.

“I’m finding you my notes from last year,” Phil tells him, “They’re in the study somewhere, but I can get them out at the weekend. I wrote a whole section on him.”

“Aw, dude, you don’t got to go to any trouble for me,” Clint says awkwardly, trying to imagine Phil crawling around in a dusty attic just to help him out.

“It’s no trouble,” Phil says and then, weirdly, stops meeting Clint’s eye, looking down at the comforter instead. “How’s Peter?”

“Peter’s good,” Clint says cautiously, wondering where this is going. Or, rather, really hoping it’s not going where he thinks it is.

“We had kind of a long talk,” Phil tells the shadow under Clint’s knee.

“Yeah, about Star Wars and shit, right?” Clint tries, kind of desperately.

“Yes.” Phil smiles, finally looking up at Clint. “And then he asked me if I was your boyfriend.”

Even though Clint knew that was coming, he still coughs out a startled breath. “Oh?” he asks. “Right. Sorry. I don’t know where he… I mean, obviously we’re not…”

Phil shakes his head. “Obviously not,” he agrees quickly. “I was just thinking about the fact that he thought we might be, and you don’t have to tell me obviously but – ”

“I’m, yeah. I like boys sometimes,” Clint says then blinks at himself. He doesn’t tell people that. He told Barney and Barney told him never, ever to repeat it to anyone.

“Okay,” Phil says, “that’s cool.”

“I know that’s cool,” Clint says, way too defensively. He considers just hiding his face under The Scarlet Letter and refusing to come back up.

“Clint.” Phil slides off the computer chair and comes to sit next to Clint’s hip instead. Clint really wishes he hadn’t casually flung himself on the bed when he came in. Then he wouldn’t be lying down this close to Phil. “You know about me, right?”

He doesn’t look awkward anymore.

Clint thinks about acting confused, but that would be shitty, so he just nods. One of the first things Clint found out when he started his new school was that the kid running for school council treasurer had just come out. He’d liked how no one made that big a deal of it. Now that he knows Phil better, he bets that, if they tried, Phil just didn’t let them.

“And Peter knows about you?”

“Yeah.” Clint grimaces. “I was a total shit when I first moved in with the Parkers. Pretty much the first thing I did was tell them I might want to fuck boys in the really nice bedroom they’d just given me.”

Jesus Christ, why doesn’t he stop talking? Phil doesn’t want to know any of this, just wants to know what Clint’s been saying about him to Peter, probably.

“Right.” Phil nods. “Makes sense. It’s best to know upfront if people are going to freak out at you about sin and eternal damnation, isn’t it?”

There’s a wry quirk to Phil’s mouth and Clint really wants to know if he’s speaking from experience.

“Yeah,” Clint agrees. “That can be a nasty shock otherwise.”

Phil smiles at him sadly and Clint manages one in return. After a minute, he laughs. “Wow, how did that get so heavy so quick?”

Phil shakes his head. “I’m not sure. Come on, give me the book.” He snatches it out of Clint’s hands before Clint can react. “Let’s work out this Chillingworth guy together.”

Then he stretches out along the bed, right next to Clint. Clint’s lying on his back and Phil’s on his stomach now and it puts them way, way too close together.

Clint rolls over onto his stomach as well, shoulder to shoulder with Phil for his own preservation.

***

“Clint, can you wait behind for a minute?” Ms Carter asks, just as they’re all filing out of class.

Clint winces. That can’t be a good sign. Never in the history of ever has that been a good sign.

He hangs out by her desk, fiddling with little rubber stamp things that she keeps in a row behind her laptop. He ends up with a palm full of black ink and can’t decide if he looks badass or five.

“You answered a question in class today,” Ms Carter says, once they’re alone in the room.

Clint frowns. “Yeah? Was I not supposed to?”

Ms Carter rolls her eyes. Most of the time, she’s all proper and British but then she goes and huffs at him and Clint suspects she’s secretly kind of awesome. Or as awesome as teachers are allowed to be, anyway.

“You’re supposed to answer a question every time.” She smiles at him like they both know that’s never going to happen. “But this is the first time you have ever volunteered an answer in my class.”

“And I was right,” Clint can’t help pointing out. He’s still kind of weirded out about the fact that he had an opinion about a book, but whatever. It happened.

Ms Carter nods. “How are you getting on with Phil Coulson? It looks like the tutoring’s going well?”

“Um.” Clint shrugs. “I guess? You should ask him.” He thinks Phil would say it’s going okay. Hopefully. Clint still hopes she doesn’t actually ask Phil though. Best not to remind him that he's only hanging out with Clint for extra credit.

“Excellent.” Ms Carter actually claps her hands together. Clint’s concerned. “I want you to do a presentation on the next chapter in class on Monday. Okay?”

“No?” Clint tries, wondering if that’ll work. Judging by her expression, it won’t. “I… Do I have to?” Clint hates speaking in public, hates it. Clint’s entire life plan is to stay at the back of every class, out of the way.

“You have to,” Ms Carter says, not unkindly. “I really want you to pass my class, Clint.”

Clint nods jerkily. He really wants that too. He missed so much school when he was with the circus and he doesn’t think he’s done a bad job catching up -- he’s a little bit smart maybe; who knew? -- but English has always kicked his ass, even when there wasn’t an eighteen-month gap in the middle of his schooling.

“It’ll be okay,” Ms Carter tells him; her next class starts pouring in and Clint gets trapped against her desk, making helpless faces at nothing until he can escape.

As soon as he’s outside the classroom, he sends a text to Phil. Desperate times call for random acts of bravery.

To: Phil
Help!

It takes less than a minute for Phil to text him back.

From: Phil
What’s wrong? Where are you?

Clint thinks back over the last time he needed a favour from Phil and realises his message maybe made it sound like there was a real emergency. Which there is, but not the Peter-getting-bullied-again kind.

To: Phil
Nothing. Sry. Nm.

He’s just about to stuff his phone in his pocket and pretend that never happened when Phil messages back.

From: Phil
Assuming you’re not being murdered? I’m in Starbucks.

Clint rereads the message, trying to work out if that’s information or an invitation. It’s probably an invitation, he decides. He can at least wander past Starbucks on his way to the bus and glance inside. That wouldn’t be too desperate.

***

Starbucks is crowded, full of kids from his school and a few clumps of people who look like they're really starting to wish they’d picked a coffee place further away from any high schools.

Clint can’t see anything through the window, so he steps inside, figuring he can always grab a take out and keep moving if Phil catches him.

“Clint! Over here!” he hears, Phil's voice carrying over the soulful Sarah McLachlan playing on the overhead speakers.

He looks around, looking past a group of senior girls and zeroing in on Phil, sitting at a tiny table half under the condiments stand. He’s sitting with Pepper Potts, student council vice-chair and all-round really scarily cool person.

“Hi,” Clint says, forcing his voice to stay level and just the right amount of casual.

“So you weren’t being murdered?” Phil asks. “Do you want to sit down?” He stands up before Clint answers, then looks a little unsure where to put himself.

“Not in your seat, dude,” Clint says, raising his eyebrows.

Phil either blushes or the lights are weird in here. “No, I was going to… I’ll get you a chair.” And then he walks off and actually asks a mom with two screaming kids if he can steal the chair she was using for her shopping bags.

Because he’s Phil, she says yes rather than telling him to go fuck himself, and Clint finds himself sitting down between Phil and Pepper.

It feels strange sitting in a chair Phil got him, like he should somehow make a show of really enjoying his seat. Except it’s a seat and that would be weird, so mostly he just feels uncomfortable.

Pepper smiles at him. “I’m not sure we’ve met,” she says, “but I’ve heard a lot about you.”

You have? Clint wants to ask, but doesn’t. He grins at her instead. “I’ve heard a lot about you, too,” he says. He’s not flirting, he’s just not very good at talking to people without a little flirting.

Pepper just smiles at him again then stands up. “It’s my turn to buy the coffees,” she says. “What are you having?”

“I’m not sure I’m staying,” Clint says, even though he is sitting down.

“Oh, please stay,” Pepper says, “I want to get to know you better.”

Why? Clint thinks, frowning. She doesn’t seem like she’s expecting any answer other than okay though, so Clint stays where he is.

“Sorry,” Phil says when it’s just the two of them. “I didn’t mean to trap you here. Do you have to pick up Peter?”

“Nah.” Clint fiddles with a piece of paper wrapper left over from someone else’s straw. “He’s got some kind of parent-teacher thing today, so Ben’s giving him a ride home after.”

“Ben?” Phil asks and oh, right, Clint doesn’t actually talk about his life.

“Peter’s uncle. My, um. The guy who’s fostering me.” Wow, this straw wrapper is fascinating. Clint really needs to concentrate hard on it.

“Okay,” Phil says and then doesn’t ask Clint any awkward questions about what it’s like to be fostered the way most people do. “So what was the emergency, anyway?”

“Eh, nothing,” Clint says, feeling kind of silly now. He can wing the presentation; it doesn’t matter.

Phil scuffs at Clint’s ankle under the table. “You’ve never texted me before,” he says. “It must be something.”

Clint groans. “Ms Carter wants me to do a presentation is class on Monday? See, it’s nothing. I just wigged out for a minute.”

“That could be fun,” Phil says brightly then obviously catches sight of something in Clint’s expression because he ducks his head, biting back a smile. “Or not?”

“Definitely not,” Clint assures him. He shrugs. “But don’t worry about it. I’m not actually like, expecting you to do all my English homework for me. I just wanted to vent.”

Mostly Phil is reassuring by existing. Clint decides not to tell him that.

“You can vent at me whenever,” Phil says. He rushes the end of the sentence a little like he’s trying to get it out quick, and then Pepper’s back, putting coffees in front of them both.

She’s holding a to-go cup and she doesn’t sit down. “Tony called,” she says, rolling her eyes up toward the ceiling. “I’ve got to dash.” She leans forward and gives Phil a hug over the back of his chair. “Sorry. And sorry, Clint. I really do want to spend some time together, soon.”

“S’okay,” Clint says easily. “Nice meeting you.”

She beams at him for some reason, then slides easily between the growing clusters of chairs blocking the path out the shop.

“Tony like Tony Stark?” Clint asks, sniffing his drink to see what she’s bought him. It smells like vanilla.

“Yes,” Phil says and rolls his eyes too. That seems to be a common reaction to Stark’s name. “He’s always losing his keys or blowing something up or having to share lab space with Bruce Banner and needing her to remind him how to talk to real people. I don’t know how she puts up with him. I would have maced him after a week.”

“Maybe she loves him,” Clint says then wonders if he should add a dismissive shrug of ew, feelings so that comes across less mushy.

Phil just laughs. “Well, obviously,” he says and smiles at Clint.

Phil’s eyes kind of glow when he smiles; it’s really distracting. Clint’s sure other people's eyes don’t do that. Certainly not when they’re pointed at him, anyway.

“So,” Clint says, clearing his throat. He can’t think of anything to say after that and sticks his mouth in his coffee, hoping to maybe drown himself a little.

“What are you doing this weekend?” Phil asks, taking pity on him.

Clint licks cream off his lips and thinks about it. He doesn’t have any plans, but he kind of feels like heading to Jersey for some hiking. He wonders if that sounds stupid, then tells Phil anyway. It’s better than saying he’s not doing anything.

“That sounds cool; I’ve never done that,” Phil says, leaning forward slightly.

“Yeah?” Clint asks. “It’s okay. I mean, if you like dogs and poison ivy and getting blisters.”

“I love getting blisters,” Phil says very seriously, then cracks a grin.

Clint can’t help laughing back at him. You can come if you want, he thinks. He could say that. That’d be totally innocent.

He doesn’t say anything.

After another minute, Phil leans back in his chair and picks up his coffee.

***

“May?” Clint says, taking the plate she hands him to dry.

“Mmhmm,” she hums, frowning down at a plate that has tomato ketchup on the underside. “What does Peter do to food? For goodness sake.”

“If someone asks you what you’re doing at the weekend then tells you it sounds cool, are they angling for an invite?” Clint feels kind of dumb asking her about it, but it’s not like he has any other options and it’s been nagging at him.

“A girl someone or a boy someone?” she asks after a beat, where Clint wonders if it somehow wasn’t okay to ask her. When she looks over at him, she’s smiling.

“A boy someone,” he says, with a shrug. “Just a, just a guy at school. I don’t know, it doesn’t matter, I was just thinking.”

“Would you like to hang out with him?” she asks, waiting for him to put away the plate and handing him a glass. She could just put them on the rack but for some reason, she likes to make it a teamwork-bonding thing.

These bubbles are particularly stubborn so Clint has to concentrate really hard on drying and not looking at May. “I guess.”

May reaches over and tugs on the corner of Clint’s dishcloth, raising her eyebrows. “Maybe you should call him,” she says. “And stop torturing that poor glass.”

“Maybe,” Clint echoes and tells himself he’s just talking about the glass.

***


To Phil:

Busy 2morrow?

From Phil:
Does homework count?

To Phil:
Not even a bit. Come get blisters w/me?

From Phil:
… okay :)

From Phil:
I mean, ‘sure, why not’ #cooleranswer

Clint drops down onto his knees to dig his hiking boots out of his closet, grinning wide enough that the corners of his eyes hurt.

***

“Since when do you tweet?” Clint asks. They’ve just navigated over a tricky rocky path and it’s the first thing either of them has said in ten minutes.

“Hmm?” Phil asks. He’s wearing a sweatshirt because it’s early and the sun’s still watery-white but there’s sweat building along the dark line of his hair.

“You, uh. You hashtagged at me in your tweet last night.” You wanted to sound cool when talking to me, Clint thinks.

“Oh that.” Phil smiles bashfully. “I look after the school council twitter account.”

“The school council has a twitter account?” Clint laughs. It’s much easier to talk to, and tease, Phil out here for some reason, like the early morning and all the fresh air is giving him an excuse.

Phil bumps his shoulder into Clint’s as they start walking again. “I’ll have you know it’s a mine of useful information. I’m very witty.”

Clint looks at him out the corner of his eye.

Phil laughs. “Stark thought it was a good idea and Bruce agreed but we can’t let either of them actually run it.”

“Why not?” Clint asks. He knows of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, but he’s never spoken to either of them. They’re not exactly cool but they somehow still run everything important at the school.

“Stark would insult everyone and get it taken down in the first five minutes, and Bruce would become incensed by the first troll and refuse to take part anymore.” Phil sounds like he’s rolling his eyes but, when Clint looks over, he actually looks totally fond.

That thing Clint just felt in his chest was a hunger pang, not a sudden stab of loneliness. He’s never been lonely.

There’s one specific route that Clint always takes when he hikes this trail and it doesn’t occur to him to go a different way this time until they round a corner, coming up against the vertical face of a ten foot wall of uneven rock.

“Okay,” Phil says, stopping and tipping his head, assessing the obstacle. “How do you get over that?

“I kinda just.” Clint shrugs. Does he want Phil to know he was in the circus? Fuck it. “I’ll show you?”

Phil nods and steps back, making a have-at motion with his hand.

Clint stretches his arms above his head and does a couple quick lunges to limber up, then takes a run at the wall. His feet hit just below halfway up, he reaches up and catches the same jut of rock as always and swings himself over onto the rocky ground above.

He dusts off his hands and squats to look down at Phil.

“Like that, normally,” he calls, unable to hide his grin at the openly surprised way Phil’s staring at him.

“Well,” Phil says and then shakes his head, expression settling back into neutral. “I’m not doing it that way.”

Clint laughs and lies down on his stomach, dropping both arms over the edge. “Take a run up,” he says, “I’ll catch you.”

Phil continues to look unimpressed, but also like he’s thinking about it.

Clint wiggles his fingers encouragingly.

“Fine,” Phil says and runs. Neither of them are particularly tall but it’s not that far and he catches Clint’s hands easy enough. Clint braces his shoulders and pulls, Phil helping himself up with the toes of his sneakers against the wall.

Phil’s laughing by the time he tumbles onto his knees next to Clint. “Ow,” he says, rubbing his left shoulder. “Nice catch.”

Clint grins and sits down on his ass, waiting for Phil to get his breath back.

Phil leans back, looking down over the edge of the rock, apparently unbothered by the height. “I thought hiking was more peaceful than that.”

“I like taking things to extremes,” Clint tells him, winking. His pulse is beating in his ears, alive and strong; he feels good.

Phil laughs again, shaking his head. “I’m getting that,” he says. He kicks his legs over the side of the rock face and tips his head back, looking around. “It’s beautiful up here.”

Clint only lets himself think you’re beautiful for a fraction of a second, because some things just aren’t okay, even inside your own head.

“Yeah,” he agrees, then looks around and realises that that’s true. Usually, he comes hiking because he’s trying to get away from something, and stopping to admire the scenery doesn’t help with that. Right now though, he feels great.

The sun’s finished coming up and it’s bright and warm, making the trees around them glow bright green, and further out, the roofs of the houses in the town are sparkling.

“Thanks for letting me tag along,” Phil says, looking over from the view and straight at Clint. He lifts his hand to shield his eyes from the sun; he’s already picked up a smear of pink on each cheek.

“S’okay,” Clint says, then, feeling bold, “I mean, we’re friends, right?”

Phil drops his hand and does a thing with his mouth that isn’t exactly a smile. “Friends,” he says, but something about it doesn’t sound like agreement.

Clint feels weird inside. “I didn’t mean,” he starts quickly, trying to backtrack. “We don’t have to be friends. I just meant – ”

Phil rolls his eyes, looking more certain. “Don’t be dumb, Clint,” he says. “Obviously we’re friends. But I was – ”

Clint leans forward. Phil looks nervous, which means Clint totally wants to hear this. “What? You were what?”

Phil straightens his shoulders, looks at him dead on. “I was wondering how you’d feel about something more than friends.”

Oh. “Oh,” Clint says. Oh. For all that he’s fantasised about this happening, he has no idea what he wants to say. Other than fuck yes, obviously.

“Or not,” Phil says. “Not’s fine too.” He laughs shakily. “I probably should have waited until we weren’t miles away from civilisation to say anything.”

Clint shakes his head hard, flailing a hand out at Phil. “Hang on,” he says. “Hang on, don’t just. Yes. Yes. More than friends sounds, um. It sounds awesome.”

Phil smiles, a tiny, pleased thing that Clint wonders if he’ll be allowed to kiss. “Awesome,” he echoes and then makes a face at himself.

“I’ve liked you for a while,” Clint forces himself to say. He slides across the gap between them, ignoring the bite of rocks under his knees. “Hi.”

Phil’s hands slip unerringly under his knees, clearing a space for them to rest on. “Hey. Don’t damage yourself.”

Clint nods. He’d agree to anything right now. He wants to ask why? or seriously? or even are you sure? But even if this only lasts the length of this hike, he’s not going to question it.

Phil’s fingers walk over Clint’s knees, curving around the start of his thighs. “Can I kiss you?”

Clint chokes out a laugh. That’s a ridiculous question. “Duh. I mean. Yeah. Go ahead.”

Phil rolls up onto his knees, leaning his weight into Clint’s legs and his upper body toward Clint’s.

Clint pushes up to meet him, maybe a little quicker than he means to, or maybe Phil speeds up, and their mouths bump awkwardly, Phil’s lips catching Clint’s top lip only.

“Here,” Phil says quietly, lifting a hand and pressing it to the side of Clint’s neck, holding him still and leaning in again.

Clint feels ridiculous and shaky and like he’s never kissed anyone before, but Phil’s back in control, kissing him carefully, and there’s no way Clint’s missing out on a second of that.

It’s kind of a weird kiss, really slow when all Clint wants to do is stick his tongue in Phil’s mouth and makeout with him right here. But Phil wants slow, so that’s what they do: cautious, clinging kisses and just a peek of Clint’s tongue against Phil’s bottom lip before they break apart.

Phil laughs, leaning his forehead against Clint’s. “I’ve liked you for a while too,” he says. He sounds like he’s teasing, but Clint doesn’t care.

“Cool,” Clint says, even though it’s so much more than that.

Phil rocks back and sits down on his heels, reaching back for his backpack. “Brought you something,” he says. The corner of his mouth is still quirked up. It doesn’t look in any danger of going back down.

“Shucks, Coulson, it’s a bit early for a promise ring,” Clint says, widening his eyes.

Phil throws a balled up pair of spare socks at him from the bag, then moves back to his side and thrusts a thermos at him.

“You brought me coffee?” Clint asks, sniffing it.

“No.” Phil pulls out another mug for himself. “I brought us coffee.”

“Same difference,” Clint says and lets himself lean into Phil’s shoulder a little, just to see if he can.

Phil leans back.

***

"Have you planned your introduction?" Phil asks, tapping his finger on the trackpad so the presentation slide on the screen is highlighted, not highlighted, highlighted again.

"What? Yeah. Sure," Clint lies.

He's kind of distracted: Phil's lying on his stomach on Clint's bed. He's not wearing socks or shoes and his feet are really nice-looking. Clint probably shouldn't be thinking like that, it's kind of weird, but he hasn't kissed Phil since yesterday - and that was only twice - so basically everything about Phil is distracting him, right now.

"Barton," Phil says, raising his eyebrows meaningfully.

Clint jumps guiltily and tries to act like he wasn't just staring at Phil's feet, wondering if two kisses mean that he's allowed to touch the pink arch of Phil's left foot. "Coulson," he agrees, trying to stick to the same tone that Phil used.

Phil smiles at him, just a quick burst of a thing, like he didn't mean to, before he goes back to looking stern. "You need to pay attention. Your presentation is tomorrow."

"Sure, but, today is today." He winks, grinning his cheekiest grin. "YOLO, you know."

"YOLO?" Phil asks suspiciously. "I don't want to know, do I?"

"You only live once," Clint tells him and pulls both feet up onto his computer chair, spinning from side to side to distract himself from how much he wishes he were lying down next to Phil. He's not angling for sex yet, wouldn't presume that Phil wants to go there with him anyway, but it'd be nice to make out a little bit, maybe.

No, not maybe. Definitely.

"Exactly, so you only have one chance to graduate high school," Phil says primly. He looks at Clint again, steady and unblinking, until Clint groans and twists the laptop around on the bed so it's facing him instead of Phil.

Screwing up all of his concentration, Clint thinks back over whatever it was he decided to focus his presentation on and manages to produce three fairly okay bullet points without too much pain.

"There," Phil says, after he's looked them over. "That wasn't too hard, was it?" He glances back at Clint, lowering his eyes a little so he ends up looking at Clint from under his eyelashes. It's got to be an accidental move, but the effect is still fucking breath-taking.

Clint clears his throat. When that doesn't do much good, he spins his chair all the way around in one fast circle, hoping that you can't spin and look like you want to jump someone’s bones at the same time.

"I was thinking we could work on a rewards system," Phil suggests, still looking at Clint in that fucking distracting, fucking coy way. He bites his bottom lip for a second before straightening up and looking Clint dead in the eye.

"Rewards?" Clint echoes. "Do I get candy and a sticker when I do good?"

"No," Phil says slowly. "I was wondering if you'd like a kiss. Although I can get candy and stickers, if that's what you'd prefer?"

"Hell, no," Clint says and almost - screw that, does - fall off his chair in his rush to kneel by the bed.

Phil laughs, looking down at Clint's face. Specifically, his lips. "Hey, who said you'd done enough to get a reward, already?"

Clint pouts. He's not expecting it to work, but for some reason, some miracle reason, it actually does. Phil braces a hand on Clint's shoulder and leans in, kissing Clint quickly.

"No, hey, that wasn't enough." Clint catches hold of the front of Phil's sweatshirt, just a loose grip, just enough to make a protest. "Those were some quality bullet points, dude."

"Oh, well in that case," Phil says and slides his hand up from Clint's shoulder, pressing it to the underside of Clint's jaw and tipping his face up for another kiss. This one is slow and there's tongue, and it's probably a dumb thing to think, but it feels really real.

Clint is kind of dizzy when it's over. "Shit," he says, staring at Phil with just a little bit of dismay – mostly lust, but a little dismay mixed in. "How the hell am I supposed to concentrate after that?" He means it, he's not spinning a line, but Phil rolls his eyes anyway, huffing a bit, although he also turns a really excellent red.

"That's why it's a reward system," Phil tells him patiently, obviously deciding to style out the blush. "If you manage to concentrate on your homework, you get another kiss."

Huh. That really is a good system. "Yeah, okay," Clint decides and forces himself to take his hands off Phil, look very firmly at his PowerPoint instead. "So, I need a middle part, right?"

"Right," Phil agrees and rests his hand on the back of Clint's neck, this warm, heavy weight that sits there like a promise, while Clint forces his brain to think about other things.

***

Even with Phil's (excellent) reward system, it still takes Clint the best part of Sunday afternoon to get his presentation done. It doesn't really feel like it’s his work, once it's done; he reads it over and is actually kind of impressed by the content. If you squint, it almost sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.

He's going to owe Phil a giant fucking fruit basket or something, if all of his hard work actually leads to Clint getting a passing grade in English. (Clint kind of thinks it will. That's trippy.)

"Thanks, I guess," he says awkwardly, saving the presentation and emailing it to himself just in case. He puts the laptop on the floor and kicks it under the bed, because it's expensive and May and Ben aren't going to buy him a new one if he accidentally steps on it.

"That's fine. It wasn't exactly a hardship to spend the afternoon with you," Phil tells him, sounding like he means that. Now that there's no laptop between them, it's suddenly way hotter to think about how he's lying on Clint's bed, his collar a little crooked from where Clint couldn't help grabbing it during their last kiss.

"Yeah, um." Clint doesn't know what to say to that. He looks down then up at the clock. "What time do you need to get home?"

Phil twists, looking at the clock too. He smiles. "Not yet," he says, or Clint thinks that's what he says, anyway. Turning like that has rucked up Phil's shirt, a patch of pale skin exposed over his hip, and Clint can't look away.

"No?" Clint manages, hoping he sounds like he's interested in doing more than ogling Phil. Conversation, he can so totally do conversation.

"No," Phil says firmly. "So you should come over here."

That gets Clint's attention. "I, what? I should what?"

Phil pats the side of the bed next to him, then holds out his hand to Clint. Clint does not need telling twice. He scrambles up onto the bed, lying on his side too so he's a mirror to Phil. Their knees brushe, and Clint's not sure if that's okay. He doesn't know if he should like, pounce on Phil or what. Pouncing sounds hot, but also sort of rude. Maybe he should let Phil decide.

"I, um," he tries, wondering if you can convey over to you, without it coming out sounding like I haven't been horizontal with someone since I was fifteen and I've never been horizontal with a boy before.

"It's okay," Phil says softly and puts his hand over Clint's where it's resting on the bed between them.

Clint doesn't mean to, but he finds himself turning his hand over, clutching onto Phil's harder than is maybe sexy or confidence-inspiring.

"How would you feel if I kind of just grabbed you and kissed you?" Clint asks, because there's no point wondering, when he can just ask Phil.

"I wouldn't complain," Phil tells him, laughing at him slightly, but not in a way that puts Clint's back up. "But I might have to grab you and kiss you straight after."

"I am totally okay with that," Clint promises and then, because he's got permission now, he slides his hand into Phil's hair and kisses him hard, pulling him in close like he's wanted to, but hasn't been able to, every other time they've kissed.

Phil breathes out hard into his mouth and then Clint finds himself being pulled down, lying down as Phil does, until Phil's on his back and Clint is propped up over him.

Clint can't work out where to rest his weight, doesn't want to squish Phil, but also can't support himself on his hand with the pillow in the way. Phil solves that by running his hand down the inside of Clint's arm until he gets to his elbow. He presses his thumb into the soft, sensitive part of Clint's inner elbow, almost but not quite tickling until Clint's arm goes weak and buckles, landing him fully on Phil's chest.

Everything about Clint's life right in this moment is sexy as fuck.

"There," Phil says against the corner of Clint's mouth and wraps an arm around his back. He’s holding Clint and kissing him and this is far more than Clint ever thought he was allowed to wish for.

"Phil," Clint says, sort of desperately, even though he isn't desperate for anything, really, just for this never to end.

"Hi," Phil says, unbearably, endearingly dorky and strokes Clint's hair back off his face before kissing him again.

They make out forever. Clint's never done this. There was no build up to the first time he had sex. He and Natasha were on the run, they didn’t have time to stop and cuddle and kiss when they felt like it.

Phil, though, seems delighted by just kissing and touching.

Phil's hand slides to the small of Clint's back and Clint can't help pushing back into it. He hopes that, if he wants it bad enough, Phil might put his hand on Clint's ass. Wishing seems to have gotten him everything else he wants with Phil, so why not this.

"Can I?" Phil asks, because apparently he can read Clint's mind.

"Fuck, yes," Clint says. It comes out kind of needy, but Clint doesn't have time to be embarrassed by it, because Phil's hand curves around his right ass cheek and all of Clint's concentration goes on trying not to moan out loud.

Phil doesn't seem to know what to do with his hand, now that it's there, but that’s okay, this feels great all on its own. Still, Clint pushes back into it, just so Phil will know that he likes it. Phil strokes his thumb over the denim stretched across Clint's ass and, this time, there's no stopping the groan.

"Shh," Phil says, but he says it right into Clint's mouth and he's laughing and he doesn't stop touching Clint's ass, so Clint doesn't care, groans again.

"There's no one else home," Clint reminds him, screwing up his courage and taking his hands off Phil's hips to stroke them up his chest instead. Even through his sweatshirt, Phil's chest is nice and firm and surprisingly solid.

“What if Peter comes home?” Phil asks. “Do you want him to hear you sound like that?”

“Dude.” Clint wrinkles his nose and thinks about withholding kisses. For a second. “Anyway, Peter’s at this… thing for art nerds, right now. They let him play with cameras; he won’t be back for hours.”

Phil goes tense suddenly, looking sort of distant, somehow. “I can’t stay for hours,” he says, glancing up at the clock again.

Clint tries to think what he could possibly have said wrong. Confused, he stops moving his hands on Phil’s chest. He thinks about taking them away completely but doesn’t, just in case he’s imagining the tension and accidentally causes some instead.

“You okay?” he asks, because that seems pretty neutral.

“Yes,” Phil says, totally inflectionless. Okay then, Clint’s definitely done something, somehow. Stomach squirming nastily, he lifts his hands away.

That gets Phil’s attention snapping back to him. “No,” Phil says, “don’t. Sorry.” He grabs Clint’s hands at the wrist, holds on tight and presses his thumbs into Clint’s wrist bones.

“What’s wrong?” Clint asks, looking down at Phil’s hands on his skin. “If I fucked up, you just need to tell me.”

“You didn’t,” Phil tells him. “I’m just being stupid. You said we had hours and I, uh.” He wrinkles his nose, looking adorable and awkward.

Clint frowns. “You… don’t have to stay?” he tries. “You’re not my prisoner.”

Phil laughs quietly, shakily, and moves in to kiss Clint. “I’m just not ready to have sex with you yet,” he says, fast. “And I figured that was what you were implying.”

“Oh.” Clint blinks. Then he laughs because, fuck, he’s so relieved. Phil looks sort of wretched when Clint laughs, though, and Clint can see how that might look bad. “That was seriously not what I was implying. I really, I really liked what we were doing? With the kissing?”

“Really?” Phil asks sceptically. Clint thinks about maybe being offended by that.

“What?” he asks, trying to keep it light. “You think I expect you just to jump right into bed with me.”

Phil looks pained. Clint thinks it might be at himself. “I assumed that everyone else does. I mean, you’re gorgeous.”

Clint feels a hot rush of embarrassed happiness at that, even though he knows it’s ridiculous. “How many everyone elses do you think there have been?” he asks, shaking his head. “There… haven’t been that many.” One, there’s been one.

“Really?” Phil says again. Then he lets go of Clint’s wrist so he can cover his face with one hand. “I’m not being very smooth right now, am I?”

“You’re always smooth,” Clint promises. “Seriously. I… I’d rather make out with you than have sex with, like, I don’t know, Angelina Jolie? Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt together.”

Wow, talk about making things more awkward. But Phil, amazingly, looks flattered, not like he’s thinking about backing away slowly.

“I’m going to take that as a compliment,” he says, smiling. Some of the tension starts to leech out of his shoulders. He reaches over and strokes a line across Clint’s mouth. “Can we pretend that I didn’t overreact just then? Maybe I said ‘we have hours? Oh, good,’ instead?”

Clint grins, which feels weird since Phil is now exploring the corner of Clint’s mouth with his fingertips. “That’s totally what you said, isn’t it?” he asks.

“Exactly,” Phil agrees. He tugs on Clint’s t-shirt. “Now come here. We have hours of making out ahead of us, apparently.”

***

By the time Phil gets a call from his dad, telling him to come home for dinner, Clint has had his hands on Phil’s bare chest and explored the smooth curve in the small of Phil’s back with his fingertips.

Clint’s hands feel tingly and he can’t help wondering if it’s okay to just never wash them again.

He sees Phil out, then forces himself to shut the front door, so he doesn’t lean against the doorframe and watch Phil drive away. Clint is maybe experiencing a feeling or two about Phil (okay, a feeling or two thousand) but there's a limit to how pathetic he's prepared to be in public.

As soon as the door's closed, he does a very quick run around the house to make sure that no one's sneakily come home while he was distracted, then tears up to his bedroom and locks the door.

His hands are down his pants before he even makes it all the way back to the bed. He's so hard. He doesn't remember ever being this turned on before; his skin feels a million times more sensitive than normal, maybe because he's been keyed up for so long. He flops backward onto the bed and pushes his pants down his thighs and wiggles until they're over his knees, far enough out the way that he can spread his legs and imagine Phil lying on top of him, heavy between Clint's thighs.

Clint thought he liked being on top of Phil until Phil rolled them over and it turned out that Phil on top of Clint was a mind-altering, mind-blowing experience.

Clint plays with the head of his cock, getting his fingers all sticky with pre-come and closes his eyes, trying to work out what it would feel like to have Phil's hands on him instead. Then he realises that not only would Phil's hand on Clint's cock feel a bit like this, but that this is also how it would feel to have Phil’s cock pushing through his fist instead of his own.

It kind of doubles up the hottest factor and he lets himself moan, long and loud because there's no one here to hear and because it feels good to let loose.

He gets up a nice rhythm really quickly. It's not going to take much at all; he's pretty impressed that he hasn't come already, to be honest. Then his phone buzzes. He's going to ignore it, totally going to ignore it, except what if it's Phil?

Clint flings himself across the bed, hand still on his cock, and ends up with his dick and his fist jammed up against the comforter while he fishes around on the floor for his phone. It feels amazing. It feels like rutting against someone else's firm, clothed body.

Eyes going a bit hazy with lust, he manages to check his messages and fuck against the bed all at the same time. It's pretty impressive, he thinks.

The text is from Phil.

Driving home with a hard-on is surprisingly difficult it says. Asshole didn't even sign his fucking name.

Clint laughs and imagines Phil's voice, low and rough like it had gotten after hours of touching, saying 'hard-on' right in his ear, and then there's nothing Clint can do but come all over everything.

"Oh fuck," he groans to himself, still laughing. That was a good one. He stretches out across the bed and lets his still-sensitive cock rub against the sheets. The air's cool, he just made a mess of his comforter, but none of that matters. He feels amazing.

He thinks it's maybe not all from the orgasm, either. He really likes how his life is going, right now.

***

Once he can make himself move again, Clint sticks the comforter cover in the washing machine - he knows May and Ben won't ask; they're awesome like that and never do - then goes to take a shower. By the time he comes out, Phil hasn't texted him a progress report on his hard-on, but Clint does have three missed calls from Peter.

Worried, he calls him back, while pulling on jeans and a clean t-shirt one-handed. It goes to voicemail. Clint has a bad feeling.

"Hey," he says to Peter's voicemail. "You okay?" Then he feels weird; he doesn't have a right to check up on Peter, not really. "Anyway, you called me. Call me back, or whatever."

He hangs up and makes himself put down his phone and not worry.

Then it rings and he moves so fast to grab it that he almost knocks it onto the floor.

"Peter?"

There's a long moment where no one says anything. Clint would check that the call hasn't dropped, but he can hear someone breathing shakily at the other end.

"I, um," Peter says and then his voice catches on a wobble. "I'm home now. Let me in?"

Clint takes the stairs two at a time.

Peter's bleeding on the front stoop.

"Holy fuck, what happened?" Clint asks, dragging him inside. There's a graze all up Peter's right cheek and his chin is gummy with drying blood, little bits of gravel poking out of it. He's got a bruise on his cheek and his shirt collar's ripped.

"What do you think?" Peter demands, but his tone comes out all wrong. That's not belligerent; that's scared. Clint is carefully not paying any attention to the tear tracks smudging the dirt on his cheeks.

"I thought you went to art club," Clint says, appalled. He grabs Peter's sleeve and tugs him up the stairs. "Since when do Flash and his goons go to your art club?"

"They don't, they just waited outside." Peter shrugs, but doesn't resist Clint's tugging. He's limping too, hand pressed to the small of his back. Clint remembers how it feels to be kicked in the kidneys and winces in sympathy.

Clint pulls Peter into the bathroom and sits him down on the edge of the tub. "You mouthed off at them, didn't you?" he asks, wetting a face cloth with warm water. He doesn’t mean to sound accusing, he’s just had to do a one-eighty in his head and it’s jarring.

Peter mutters something while he kicks his feet against the side of the bathtub.

"What?" Clint asks. He holds up the facecloth and waits for Peter to lock eyes with him and nod permission, before he starts wiping at the blood. Peter still winces with every touch, but he toughs it out like a trooper.

"I said, they tried to take the camera," Peter repeats. He pauses while Clint mops at his lip then adds proudly, "I didn't let them."

"Good for you," Clint tells them, then thinks maybe that's the wrong kind of advice. But he can't tell Peter that he would have been better off giving up his camera to Flash's goons; Clint would never do that, and the hypocrisy would burn so bad, that he keeps his mouth shut instead.

"There are going to be marks, aren't there?" Peter asks quietly. "Uncle Ben and Aunt May are going to notice?"

"Kid, you're going to have a black eye like a prize fighter," Clint says, patting him on the shoulder sympathetically. Peter's face looks less like a horror movie now Clint's cleaned it up some, but it's not good.

"Darn it," Peter mutters. Because he's a cartoon character, apparently. "Can I say I got hit in the face by a really heavy camera, do you think? Some of them have really big viewfinders."

"Maybe," Clint says noncommittally, because Peter sounds so hopeful and Clint doesn't want to dash his hopes when he's already had a pretty shitty afternoon.

He finds some antiseptic in the cabinet and shows that to Peter too, because that's really going to hurt and Clint knows from experience that it sucks to get surprised by more pain after someone's already hurt you.

“If you use enough of that, maybe the cuts will magically go away?” Peter suggests.

Clint puts antiseptic on Peter’s chin and Peter sucks in a loud breath. He blushes and won’t meet Clint’s eye, but there’s no way Clint’s going to tease him for showing a bit of pain, not when he’s being so fucking brave.

“I don’t think I have magical healing powers,” Clint says apologetically. “That’s… which one of the X-Men, is that?”

“Elixir,” Peter tells him promptly, then sighs. “Wouldn’t it be cool to have super powers?”

“Eh, maybe.” Clint shrugs. “Super heroes probably get bullied, too.”

“No way!” Peter looks so appalled at the idea that he forgets to wince when Clint moves on from his chin to his cheek. “Once you’re a superhero, you don’t have any problems, that’d just be dumb.”

“Right, right, makes sense.” Clint nods. He doesn’t know. As soon as he worked out that Professor Xavier only rescued extraordinary kids, Clint kind of lost interest in him. “We got any band aids?”

“Under the sink,” Peter tells him, then freezes, head snapping up.

It takes Clint a second to realise what he’s hearing, then he swears because someone has just opened the front door.

Peter fixes Clint with a panicked look. “Shh?” he begs.

“Hello?” May’s voice calls from downstairs. “Boys?”

For a second, Clint thinks he’s going to go along with Peter’s plan and help him hide from May for a bit longer. Then he realises that he’s maybe been doing that too long already; maybe if May and Ben had known about the bullying already, they would have stopped it before Peter could get hurt.

“Sorry,” he says to Peter then, louder, “We’re up here, May. You better come on up.”

“What are you doing?” Peter hisses. He tries to sink backward, but there’s nowhere to go unless he wants to fall into the bath.

Clint reaches out and squeezes Peter’s shoulder, trying to be reassuring. “Trust me,” he says, “I think it’s going to be okay.”

Peter still looks betrayed, but he stops trying to get away, at least.

“Clint?” May asks from outside the door. “Can I come in?”

Clint looks at Peter and raises his eyebrows.

“Yeah, Aunt May,” Peter sighs and looks glumly at the floor.

May’s still holding her purse when she opens the door. She takes one look at Peter and drops it, rushing over to him.

“Peter, my god, what happened to you?” she demands, grabbing his shoulder in a tight, frightened grip. “Who did this?”

Peter looks up at her for a second, then his lip wobbles and his whole face crumples.

“Oh, sweetheart,” May says and gathers him up into her arms.

Clint feels suddenly, totally in the way. He presses the bottle of antiseptic into May’s free hand and scoots around her, slipping though the bathroom door and leaving them alone.

Peter doesn’t need Clint anymore, not now May knows, but Clint’s still left feeling like he needs to do something. He leans against the wall, body thrumming with it, with the need to protect Peter somehow.

He listens to Peter cry and May hush him, and stops trying to pretend to himself that he doesn’t know exactly what he needs to do.

He grabs his coat and heads down the stairs. He knows where Flash and his gang hang out; maybe a visit from Clint will keep them away from Peter for good, this time.

***

Just like he expected, Clint finds Flash and one of his friends down the block, hanging around in the playground next to the elementary school. They're always there, scaring off the kids who are actually young enough to be playing there.

"Hey," Clint yells, marching straight up to them. He remembers all the reasons why he wasn't going to beat up on fourteen year olds, but as sensible as those reasons maybe were, all he can see right now is Peter's sad, bleeding face and all he can think about is making them sorry.

The way the protective rage has risen up inside Clint kind of scares him. He's careful to never, ever use his fists on anyone - he isn't his father - but right now he doesn't care.

"Yeah?" Flash asks, folding his arms and lifting his chin up in the air.

On any other day, Clint'd laugh at him. Flash's tall for his age and he's starting to build up some muscles, but he's still basically a scrawny middle-schooler, with a voice that dips in and out of even.

"You Flash?" Clint demands, even though he knows he is. Flash is the one who hit Clint in the face with the basketball last week. He looks at Flash's friend. "And who's he?"

The other kid is smaller and dressed far too nice to be from around here. He half stands up from the swing he was been rocking on like he wants to shake hands, but Flash waves him back down. "Harry Osborne, hi," he says uncertainly.

"Hey, you’re the jerkoff from the other day. Who are you?" Flash asks. His eyes are flicking past Clint's shoulder, like he's looking to see who Clint brought along with him. Clint didn't bring anyone; Clint grew up in foster care and learned to protect himself in the circus; he doesn't need backup.

"I'm Peter Parker's brother," Clint tells him. It comes out smooth and easy, confident, like it's actually true.

Flash's expression flickers but then he laughs. "Puny Parker doesn't have a brother," he scoffs. "He's got no family at all. It's why he cries like a little girl all the damn time."

"When?" Clint snaps. "When you hit him?" He's not worried about the other kid right now; he doesn’t look like he’s going to be a problem and Flash is the one he really wants to thump. He takes two steps forward and gets right up in his personal space.

Flash doesn't falter, clenching his hands into fists at his side and looking Clint up and down.

When Clint puts a hand on his shoulder and shoves him one step backward, he goes where Clint wants him. He's got to be a hundred pounds top, whereas Clint trains with a bow at least twice a week; there's no comparing the size of their biceps.

Which, Clint realises, is why he can't hit him first. No matter how much he wants to.

"Hey, stop," Osborne says, darting around in Clint's peripheral vision, but not doing anything.

One of you hit me, Clint thinks. Come on.

"What do you want him to say?" Osborne asks. "He's really sorry, okay? He shouldn't have hurt Peter. I've told Peter just to stay out of the way, but he's always there, following us around, getting in the way."

Right. Of course he is. Because Peter apparently thinks self-preservation is for other people.

"I want him to feel half as shitty about himself as he tried to make Peter feel," Clint tells Osborne then turns all his attention back to Flash. "Maybe he didn't have a brother before, but he's got one now, and I'm not going to let you hurt him again."

"Right." Flash scoffs. "Hard guy, right?"

It's easy, scarily easy, to think about the sneer Barney used to wear, the one that said leave us alone, don't think you can touch us. "Yeah, something like that."

Flash swings at him.

It's a telegraphed and messy punch and Clint ducks it, easy. He swings without straightening, punching Flash once, right in the stomach. Flash doesn't even get up a hand to block it in time. Bullies are all the same; they never know what to do with guys who can actually fight back. And they never expect Clint to be left-handed.

"Fuck, stop," Flash whines. "I'm sorry, okay? I'll leave Peter alone."

"Yes, you fucking will," Clint tells him, dropping down so that he's in front of Flash, currently on his knees and gasping, and getting right up in his face.

Flash's eyes go satisfyingly wide.

Clint isn't going to hit him again, he isn't a threat anymore, but luckily Flash doesn’t seem to know that.

He isn't sure how long they would have stayed there, staring each other down - Clint doesn't know how to back away from a fight while still being menacing. He's never actually won a fight before - but just then, a car horn blares, making them both jump.

Clint doesn't look away from Flash, even though he can hear footsteps running over from behind him, sees Osborne fidgeting out the corner of his eye.

"Clint," Ben's voice cuts through the silence and Clint groans inside.

"Mr Parker, he's threatening us," Flash says quickly, scrambling to his feet and backing away from Clint putting Osborne between them. Osborne doesn't look impressed.

"I know what he's doing and what he's not, Eugene Thompson," Ben says very seriously. "Go home and take your friend with you. The school will be talking to your parents tomorrow."

Flash has finally gotten his breath back. "Hey, but that's not fair, we never - "

"Go away," Ben says, very firm and with this sort of kindness that sounds like I think you're scum, but I'm still trying to help you, here.

They go.

Clint doesn't have an excuse not to look at Ben now. He hunches his shoulders and shoves his hands in his pockets, before turning around, glacial slow.

He makes himself meet Ben's eyes.

Ben looks the kind of worried that leaves lines all over your face.

"You been home, then?" Clint asks, trying not to shuffle his feet.

Ben studies him closely, eyes scanning all over Clint's face. Clint doesn't know what he's looking for, maybe making sure he doesn't have two kids with black eyes to worry about. "Not yet. May phoned me and told me what happened. She was worried when you disappeared, but I had a pretty idea where you would have gone." He holds his hand out slowly, indicating the park. "And I was right."

“I wasn’t going to hurt them,” Clint tells him. His rage is draining away so fast that he feels kind of shaky. He fucking hates confrontation, even when he’s the one instigating it.

Ben just keeps on looking at him. “I know,” he says at last, and pats Clint on the shoulder. “Come on, we’re going home.”

He turns toward the car and heads back to it without a backward glance. Having Ben Parker look disappointed at you is basically the shittiest thing ever, but Clint can’t do anything except follow along after him.

They sit in the car with the engine running, but Ben doesn’t start driving them anywhere. Clint sits in the passenger seat and fiddles with the glove compartment, clicking it open then shut over and over.

“You knew Peter was being bullied,” Ben says eventually. It’s not a question. “But you didn’t tell us?” That is a question, but Clint doesn’t have a good answer.

“Peter asked me not to,” he says. It sounds really inadequate, when it’s said out loud like that.

“Peter’s a child,” Ben snaps.

Clint doesn’t think he’s ever heard Ben shout before and it’s dumb and it’s stupid, but it makes something clench up so tight inside him that he thinks he might throw up.

“Peter’s a child,” Ben repeats, quieter this time, but Clint still can’t really breathe. “You’re not.”

Clint stares fixedly at the dashboard and tries to disappear.

“Clint,” Ben prompts.

“I’m sorry,” Clint says quickly. His heart’s still pounding way too fast, and he knows it’s not Ben that’s doing it to him, it’s his own fucked up memories, but it still makes him lash out. “But Peter’s not my responsibility, and if you’re too shitty an uncle to – “ He grinds to a halt. He can’t even mean it long enough to get it all out. “I’m sorry,” he repeats miserably and turns his head to stare out the side window, so Ben can’t see his face.

The silence stretches again. Clint wants to jump out of the car and run to… well, he wants to run to Phil, but he’s not going to let himself do that, so he’d settle for just running.

“Since we fostered you, we’ve tried to make you part of our family, and part of that should be knowing when to come to us,” Ben says at last. “I’m sorry if we’ve failed.”

“You haven’t,” Clint says quietly, maybe not loud enough to be heard at all. The idea of trusting adults with problems just never occurs to him, but then he’s never known any adults who cared as much as the Parkers.

He hopes this isn’t going to be what finally convinces them to send him back, but yeah. With the way Ben’s talking, it probably will be.

Ben sighs heavily. “Let’s go home,” he says. Clint knows that tired, defeated tone; every foster parent he’s ever had, even his own damn brother, has sounded like that about him eventually.

***

The four of them don’t eat dinner together that night. Considering May and Ben always make them eat dinner together, every night, the mac and cheese sitting on a tray in the middle of Clint’s bed feels like a giant neon sign screaming EVERYTHING SUCKS; YOU’VE RUINED EVERYTHING.

He picks at it and manages to chew down a couple lumps of pasta, but that’s it.

His phone keeps lighting up with texts and it’s going to be Phil or Peter, since no one else cares enough to have his number, but Clint doesn’t want to deal with either of them, tonight. He’s a giant screw-up who messes up, even when he’s trying to help, and they would both be so much better off without him.

The hours tick by and Clint spends them all staring up at the ceiling. There’s no cover on his comforter, because it’s still sitting in the washing machine, getting mouldy, and he can’t believe that he was lying here, feeling amazing just a handful of hours ago.

Sometime after midnight, he hears Peter start to move around restlessly next door.

Suck somewhere between half asleep and half asleep, Clint rolls over to the far side of his bed, expecting an invasion of flailing, badly controlled limbs to arrive any second.

Except it doesn’t come.

Peter stays resolutely in his room and Clint lies in his, suddenly wide awake again, trying to work out how his day could have started off so well and still end up this shitty.

***

Clint doesn’t realise he’s forgotten his laptop at home until he’s sitting down in third period English class.

Ms Carter’s cool, he could probably beg permission to go to the computer lab and grab the copy of the presentation that he emailed to himself, but he doesn’t.

He keeps his head down and tries to hunch his shoulders low enough that she won’t spot him behind the kid in front. It works okay for a while, but then she starts walking between rows, heels click-clacking in a really ominous way that means Clint’s probably doomed.

Clint is starting to get really fucking tired of being doomed all over the place.

“Mr Barton,” she says. He makes himself look up and finds that she’s smiling, which is way worst than the familiar scowls that teachers normally point at him.

‘Hi,” Clint says, smiling back at her and hoping she finds it charming. “Did you have a good weekend, Miss?”

Ms Carter just looks at him. “Do you have a presentation for us? We’re all looking forward to it, I’m sure.”

The girl behind Clint coughs out something that he doesn’t catch, but it’s definitely either rude about him or rude about The Scarlet Letter in general.

“Nah,” Clint says, shrugging. “Forgot, sorry.”

Ms Carter’s expression flickers slightly, like she’s surprised, like she maybe actually expected him to do it and is disappointed in him now.

She watches him for a long minute, like she wants to ask if everything’s okay. He hopes to fuck that she doesn’t ask him anything like that in front of the rest of the class. Or, at all, really. Clint never wants to talk about shit like how he’s doing, thank you very much.

“Stick around after class,” is all she says though, then she walks away, back up to her desk at the front of the room.

Clint spends the rest of the period staring fixedly at his notebook and trying really hard to concentrate long enough to take good notes.

He mostly ends up doodling arrows in the margins. And he doesn’t wait around to see her once the bell rings, just grabs all his stuff and runs for the door.

***

Usually, Clint eats lunch under the bleachers with the other kids who don’t have anyone else to sit with. Mostly that involves sneaking cigarettes from jittery, blank-eyed Wade Wilson and trying not to disturb this tiny freshman, Jane something, who always has her nose stuck in a text book.

Today though, he’s only half way through the lunch line when someone touches his wrist. He looks up from choosing between two Mystery Puddings to see that Phil has snuck into the line behind him.

“Hey,” Clint says and seriously, again with his voice going breathy. “Cutting in line? That’s an abuse of student council privilege, isn’t it?”

“My actions are my own and are not condoned or endorsed by the Council,” Phil says, deadpan, then smiles at Clint, all wide and unaffected. “How did the presentation go?”

Fuck. “Good,” Clint lies, trying to pour exactly the right amount of enthusiasm into it. “I’m betting they’re gonna make me Valedictorian off the back of that alone.”

“Well done, I knew you could do it.” Phil squeezes his wrist, keeping their hands down low between them, so no one else can see. “What did Ms Carter say?”

“Shit.” Clint makes himself laugh. “I don’t know. I don’t memorise everything teachers say.”

Phil shrugs, looking unapologetic. “Maybe you should.”

“Maybe I have better things to memorise,” Clint says, leaning into Phil. It doesn’t make sense as a line, but it still makes Phil go pink. Screw school, Clint would be totally happy to spend all day coming up with nonsensical things like that, just to make Phil blush. “For fuck’s sake,” someone complains in the line behind Phil, “get moving.”

They catch each other’s eyes and laugh, and do start moving, even though just standing still with Phil is somehow the best thing Clint has done today.

“Come sit with us,” Phil says, once they’ve gotten their food.

Clint totally means to say yes, he does, but then he looks where Phil’s pointing, and it turns out that ‘us’ is Pepper Potts, Tony Stark, and a handful of other kids who Clint really does not belong with.

“I can’t,” Clint says quickly. “I’ve gotta.” What does he have to do? “I’ve got a test sixth period, I kind of need to just sit and study?”

Clint has never in his life sat and studied over lunch. If Phil knows him even slightly, he’ll know that that’s bullshit, but it’s the best Clint can come up with at short notice. Besides, it sounds like something someone hardworking like Phil might appreciate.

“Okay,” Phil says slowly. “Okay, that’s, sure. Good luck.” He smiles unevenly and turns away from Clint, heading over to his friends.

“Wait, Phil.” Clint smiles at him hopefully, when Phil looks back to him. “What are you doing this afternoon?”

“Nothing,” Phil says then gives Clint absolutely no help, because he’s a bastard.

“Do you…” Clint casts around in his head for something that isn’t Do you want to hide away from the world and kiss like we did yesterday? “We could go see a movie?” Ugh, tragic, Clint, really tragic.

“We could,” Phil agrees. He lowers his voice slightly. “Or we could go back to my house and makeout until my dad gets home?”

Clint very nearly drops his lunch tray. “Yeah, yes,” he says. “Yes, I vote that.”

Phil finally gives him a facial expression. It’s a smile that’s way more than a little teasing. “Me too. Meet me at my locker, after school?”

“Sure,” Clint says, and doesn’t even care that he then has to find a seat by himself and pretend to study for a test that doesn’t exist.

He gets to spend this afternoon with Phil and he can put off having to go home to face the Parkers; both those things are worth a bit of accidental learning.

***

Phil’s late to meet Clint after school.

Clint sits on top of the lockers, swinging his feet, and pretends not to see the looks he gets from the other students. He plays with his phone and spends a couple of minutes texting Kate from the archery club, who is really weirdly keen to make sure that he’s still on for the interstate competition tomorrow.

Apparently the fact that she hasn’t seen him practice is making her nervous or something. Whatever. Like he needs to practice.

“Hi,” Phil says suddenly, appearing next to his feet. “Sorry, I got caught up.”

“S’okay,” Clint says, sliding down to the floor and trying to give the impression of someone who wasn’t worried that they’d been stood up.

Phil steps back to let Clint jump down, but they still end up pretty close together. Clint wants to kiss him right here, but Phil’s been pretty obvious today about wanting to hide this thing between them so Clint’s going to respect that.

Specifically, he’s going to respect it and pretend like it doesn’t hurt at all.

Phil waits though, like maybe he’s thinking about kissing too. Hell, if he wants to, Clint is going to be enthusiastically reciprocal. But they both pause too long, and nothing happens, and then Phil steps back.

“My house?” he asks, not quite meeting Clint’s eyes.

“Yeah,” Clint agrees and follows Phil out the school when Phil opens the door for him.

Phil’s quiet on the walk back to his place. It’s not like he’s the chattiest guy normally – he doesn’t run his mouth like silence might kill him, like both Clint and Peter do – but he usually has enough to say to keep a conversation going.

This afternoon, he’s either concentrating really hard on putting one foot in front of the other, all of a sudden, or he’s got something else on his mind.

Clint is pretty sure that Phil wouldn’t bother to take Clint home just to dump him – and Clint can’t think of any dump-worthy thing that he’s done since lunch – but the silence still makes him itch.

“Did you have a good day?” he asks, then hates himself for sounding like May when she’s trying to get him to talk to her.

Phil glances over at him and smiles quickly. “I did. Did you?” There’s something weird about the way he emphasises that last part. Clint doesn’t get it. Why would Phil have any idea that Clint’s week isn’t going well; it’s not like Clint’s told anyone.

“Sure,” Clint says, shrugging. “It’s school. School sucks.” Then, for some reason, he keeps talking: “Apart from the times when I see you, obviously.”

That makes Phil laugh, some of the tension easing from his shoulders. “You really need to work on your pick-up lines, Barton.”

“Why?” If Phil’s relaxed, Clint can relax. “They work on you already, don’t they?”

Phil opens his mouth then closes it again, stumped because obviously Clint’s right. It’s pretty funny. Also encouraging for Clint’s hopes of not-getting-dumped.

They reach Phil’s house and head up the steps. Phil surprises the hell out of Clint by taking his hand before they get inside.

Clint’s hand kind of spasms around Phil’s, not sure what to do except that he really wants to hold on. So he does. Maybe he holds on a bit too hard, but Phil doesn’t mention it.

“Do you want a soda or something?” Phil asks once they’re inside. He unlocked and closed the door one-handed and didn’t seem to mind that it was awkward.

“Sure, thanks,” Clint says. He doesn’t want a soda so much as he doesn’t want Phil to think he’s only here for potential making out. He’s trying to do this maybe-dating thing right. Partly because Phil deserves it and partly because, that way, even if he does get sent back to foster care, maybe Phil will still want to keep in touch.

Once they both have tall glasses of soda in their hands, they lean against opposite counters and make awkward faces at each other.

“Look,” Phil says and his expression turns serious. “In the interests of full disclosure, I talked to Ms Carter today.”

Clint’s stomach clenches up nastily. “Yeah?” he asks, trying for casual. He forces himself not jump to any conclusions, just in case Ms Carter talked to Phil about something that had nothing to do with Clint.

Phil puts down his glass and crosses over to Clint. “You didn’t do the presentation.”

Okay, now Clint can wince.

“Yeah,” he says, “no? What, were you checking up on me, or something?”

Phil’s only response to that is to roll his eyes. “Yes, when my… when someone lies to me, my first thought is to go check it’s true with a teacher. No, I had English last period and she kept me behind to find out if I knew what was going on with you. So what is?”

Your what? Clint wants to ask. But that’s not the topic of this discussion. “I just, I couldn’t.” He swallows hard. Okay, he can be a little bit honest, right? He looks down at the floor. “Peter got beat up yesterday.”

“Fuck,” Phil swears and is suddenly all up in Clint’s space, hand on his shoulder. “Is he okay?”

“Yeah, he’s.” Clint puts his glass down hurriedly, because apparently someone being nice to him makes his hands shaky. “He’s fine. I mean, he’s all shaken up, but he’s not hurt bad. May said he could skip school today, but he’s dumb and stubborn, so he went in.”

“Is he going to be okay getting home?” Phil asks. One part of Clint wishes he wouldn’t be constantly awesome like that; Clint doesn’t need to feel more for him that he already does.

“Yeah.” Clint smiles at him, hoping he can read thanks for asking from that. “Ben’s picking him up and talking to the principal and all that.”

Phil’s hand slides from Clint’s shoulder to the back of his neck. Clint is grateful to let his forehead lean against Phil’s when Phil presses gently.

“I’m not surprised you didn’t feel like doing anything in school today,” he says softly. “You should talk to Ms Carter about it; she’s pretty okay. For a teacher.”

Clint huffs out a laugh. “You think teachers rock, Coulson. Tell me I’m wrong.”

Phil doesn’t say anything, just kisses Clint’s temple. “Don’t change the subject.”

Clint just wants to kiss him back. He wants to climb inside Phil and pretend like it’s still yesterday afternoon, before everything went to shit.

“Okay, sure, fine, I’ll talk to Ms Carter tomorrow,” he promises. Maybe he actually will. Then, because there’s still something weird in the air between them, adds, “I’m sorry I pretended it went well.”

Phil shakes his head. “I get it. But you can.” He pauses like he’s looking for the right word, or maybe just a word that won’t rile Clint up. Clint resolves to be less of a headache for him from now on. “You can talk to me. Whenever you want.”

“What, like a shrink?” Clint can’t help asking. It’s the sincerity; it makes him act out every time.

“I was thinking more like a boyfriend,” Phil says then kisses Clint quick before Clint can do more than make a stunned noise.

***

“Is this okay?” Phil asks and slides his hand up under Clint’s t-shirt, spreading his hand out over Clint’s belly.

They’ve moved up to Phil’s bedroom, but kind of stalled again after that. It’s pretty hard to just like, fling yourself into making out after deep and meaningful conversations in the kitchen.

“Yeah,” Clint says and lies back, pulling Phil down with him.

He spreads his legs and nudges Phil to lie in between them. Phil seems more than okay with blanketing Clint, which is damn useful since that’s all Clint wants in the world, right now.

“Maybe,” Phil says, then stops.

“Maybe, what?” Clint asks. He puts his hands on Phil’s hips, playing with the waistband of his jeans.

“Nothing,” Phil says and kisses him.

Clint thinks about breaking the kiss, demanding to know what Phil wanted to suggest, but then Phil’s tongue is in his mouth, tangling up with Clint’s, and Clint is not pulling away from that.

Time passes weirdly when you’re lying on a bed, kissing Phil Coulson. This is something that Clint feels pretty darn lucky to have gotten the chance to discover.

It feels like they’ve been kissing for hours by the time they have to take a break, because they’re too hot and sweaty to breathe, but, when Clint manages to look away from Phil’s lovely, flushed cheeks to check the time, it’s still early.

“What I was going to say,” Phil says, smiling down at Clint with smug, kiss-swollen lips, “is that I would fully support you if you wanted to take your shirt off.”

Clint laughs. “Yeah?” he asks, innocently.

“Not that you have to,” Phil says quickly. “But it’s hot in here and you’re hot, so.”

“I’m just teasing,” Clint says and leans up to kiss him. “Give me a bit of space, yeah? Black eyes aren’t sexy.”

Phil opens his mouth like he has a retort for that, then closes it. Clint’s glad, because he didn’t think that quip through and now he’s thinking about Peter again.

“We can just go back to what we were doing?” Phil offers, but fuck that.

“Fuck that,” Clint says seriously and strips off his t-shirt.

“Oh,” Phil says. Clint drops his t-shirt on the floor and maybe flexes his arm muscles slightly. Just a little bit. “Oh, wow.”

Clint smiles up at him from under the hair that’s flopped into his eyes, before shoving it back. “You too?”

“Right, because I look just like that with my shirt off,” Phil mutters, but he strips his sweatshirt off too without any real complaint.

Clint has no idea what he was grumbling about; he takes one look at Phil’s naked chest and thinks about swallowing his tongue. Phil’s a little skinny, sure, but Clint likes skinny and he likes Phil, so he really likes all this skin that is suddenly right there.

“Shit,” he breathes and puts his hand over Phil’s right pec. Phil sucks in a breath and leans into the touch.

It feels totally different to pull Phil down on top of him now that they’re both shirtless. They’re still sweaty and their skin sticks together every time they shift around, and that feels great, like, really great. The kind of great that makes Clint both sad and glad that they still have their pants on.

“When are your parents coming home?” Clint asks.

“Dad’s working late,” Phil says, settling himself back between Clint’s legs. “And Mom will be home in March.”

Clint pauses. “What?” He’s never met Phil’s mom, but he assumed he just kept missing her.

“She works away,” Phil says shortly then kisses the corner of Clint’s mouth. “Can we not talk about my mom while we’re doing this?”

Clint laughs and turns his face to catch another, better kind of kiss. “Yeah, fair point,” he agrees. “I can think of better things to do than talk, anyway.”

Phil laughs. “You’re just so smooth, Barton, I don’t know why you don’t have all the boys flocking around you.”

“I don’t want any other boys,” Clint says automatically. It’s true. He doesn’t want anything at all, at least nothing he can have, except for Phil and the chance to kiss him whenever he can.

“Okay, shut up now,” Phil says, even though that wasn’t Clint attempting another line. He puts one hand on Clint’s breastbone and curls the other around his upper arm, fingers tracing the line of his triceps and thumb tucked under his bicep.

“Shutting up,” Clint agrees, swallowing, and tips his head back when Phil hovers over him before leaning down for another kiss.

Clint isn’t sure at first how much it’s okay to touch Phil while they make out, but Phil squirms when Clint draws his palm down the smooth line of Phil’s back and gasps straight into his mouth when Clint touches his stomach, so Clint keeps getting more and more adventurous.

Phil kisses Clint’s cheek, which should feel weird, since that’s where moms kiss you, Clint’s pretty sure, but it’s just kind of… fuck, it’s nice when Phil does it. And it’s nicer still when he moves down to kiss along Clint’s jaw, spending a really long time on the skin just below Clint’s ear, which turns out to be unexpectedly sensitive.

Clint grabs hold of Phil’s hair, trying not to pull while still making it very clear that he wants Phil to keep doing that for absolutely as long as Phil wants to do it.

“Okay?” Phil asks, soft in Clint’s ear and so close that it tingles something deep down under Clint’s skin.

“Shit,” is about all Clint can manage. He lets himself slide down the pillow a little so Phil is all the way above him, caging Clint in with hands on either side of Clint’s head.

It turns out that Clint really, really likes to be loomed over.

“Where are you going?” Phil asks, frowning at Clint slightly.

Clint opens his mouth to say that he wasn’t going anywhere, he just kind of wanted more of Phil, always wants more of Phil between him and the rest of the world.

That would sound stupid, though, and Clint probably isn’t eloquent enough to explain it properly, so he makes his grin turn wicked, and curls forward to fit his mouth over Phil’s tiny, pinked-up right nipple.

A full-body shudder runs through Phil and he makes this deep, startled sound that Clint wants to hear a hundred, a million more times.

“Do that again?” Phil asks, voice going all quavery in the middle.

Clint hasn’t stopped kissing Phil’s nipple yet, so he’s not totally sure which part Phil wants him to do again, so he tries sucking, just lightly.

Phil’s breath breaks on a gasp. “Okay, I’m impressed,” he says, tone clearly aiming for his usual brand of blandly unmoved, but really not making it there. “My nipples normally do nothing for me.”

Clint wonders who else has tried playing with Phil’s nipples and refuses to be jealous. Much.

Clint really hates to use his mouth for anything as boring as talking now that he knows what else it can do, but the opportunity to banter is too great to pass up. “Didn’t I mention? I’m in the AP class for nipple sucking.”

Phil laughs, which makes his chest ripple against Clint’s mouth. “I can believe that,” he says. “How do I get into that class?”

Clint rolls them onto their sides, tangling their legs up together. “Pretty much like this,” he says and picks Phil’s hand up to put it back on Clint’s chest.

Phil’s fingers find Clint’s right nipple and he strokes it between his thumb and forefinger. It feels amazing, little tingles of heat that fizzle along his skin.

“Does that feel okay?” Phil asks quietly, eyes locked on what he’s doing.

“Way more than okay,” Clint promises. He doesn’t add that, as good as it feels, watching the expression on Phil’s face is maybe even better. He looks rapt, the very tip of his tongue skimming along his bottom lip as he concentrates on Clint and making Clint feel good.

That makes Clint feel great.

He curls forward and kisses Phil, groaning when Phil sucks on his tongue while they touch each other.

Halfway through the next kiss, Phil’s leg shifts between Clint’s, thigh coming into sudden, unexpected contact with Clint’s dick.

Clint sucks in a moan, tearing his mouth away from Phil’s to catch his breath, because that feels so good that the shock of it almost made him come. Phil doesn’t want to have sex yet, so that can’t happen.

“Sorry,” Phil says, “too much? I didn’t mean to - ”

“No, it’s – ” Clint tells himself that he’s not going to press his hips down against Phil’s thigh, even though Phil hasn’t moved his leg away, but then Phil moves his thigh up again and Clint’s gone, rolling his hips down and biting his lip hard.

It seems kind of rude not to do the same for Phil that Phil’s doing for him, so he slides his hand down to Phil’s ass and pushes slightly, just enough that Phil will know that it’s okay for him to introduce his cock to Clint’s thigh, if that’s something that sounds good to Phil.

Apparently it does. Phil rocks his hips and so does Clint and they kind of meet in the middle for kiss after kiss while they rut together.

It helps that they’re both still wearing their pants; as awesome as it would be to be naked and really having sex with Phil, the idea of that sounds huge and kind of scary to Clint, right now. But this, this feels so good. Phil’s arm is tight around Clint’s waist and the way they’re kissing makes it feel like maybe Phil’s on the same wavelength as Clint; maybe he never wants to stop either.

Then Phil suddenly tears his mouth away from Clint’s, making a harsh, startled ‘uh,’ sound that sounds like it’s torn out the back of his throat. He hands clench down hard on Clint’s waist and he starts to shake, the hard line of his cock twitching against Clint’s thigh in a way that Clint knows exactly how to read.

He just made Phil come in his pants.

“Shit,” Phil breathes. He drops his head down and Clint rolls them over automatically, landing on his back so Phil can tuck his head into Clint’s neck.

Clint doesn’t know what Phil likes, but he knows that he always used to wish Natasha would hold him after he came, so he pats awkwardly at Phil’s back, then decides that’s dumb and strokes his sweaty, dark hair instead.

“Shit,” Phil says again after a minute. He laughs shakily. “That’s embarrassing.”

“No.” Clint holds on tight, just in case Phil’s thinking of running away to be embarrassed anywhere other than right here. “No, that was amazing. Unless, fuck, I’m sorry, I know you didn’t want to – ”

“I’m not sure that counts as sex, does it?” Phil interrupts, before Clint can talk himself into knots.

Clint shrugs; he’s always thought that anything was sex as long as it involved orgasms with another person, but what does he know. He settles for letting his thumb run along the soft skin behind Phil’s ear and enjoying the way Phil trembles every now and then with aftershocks.

“Either way, I’m good,” Phil says. “Mortified, but good.”

“Don’t be mortified; it was crazy hot,” Clint promises and nudges Phil’s head up so he can kiss him.

Phil kisses lazily when he’s just come, apparently. He’s all slick, satisfied and lazy. It makes Clint want to purr, but that’s probably weird, so he tries not to.

“It occurs to me,” Phil says against Clint’s mouth, “that there’s a way to make me less mortified.”

“Mm?” Clint hums. “What’s that?”

Phil’s hand drifts down Clint’s bare chest and rests against the bulge he’s got going on in his pants.

Clint groans, and pushes up automatically into Phil’s hand.

“Is that a yes?” Phil asks, sounding completely serious, not teasing at all.

“Fuck yes,” Clint says. “But you don’t have to if – ” He loses the rest of the sentence when Phil starts touching him through his pants, rubbing and squeezing, and applying almost enough pressure.

It’s maybe not the most suave thing Clint’s ever done, but he can’t help grabbing Phil’s hand and pressing it down harder, rocking up into his palm for embarrassingly few strokes before his orgasm hits him too.

He forgets for a second that he’s coming in his pants and it’s going to be messy and gross and cold in just a minute. He even forgets that, at some point, he’s going to have to take his sticky mess of a self home and face the Parkers. All he can think about right then is Phil.

He thinks maybe that he says that out loud, Phil’s name over and over again, until he’s hoarse with it.

“Clint,” Phil’s whispering when Clint comes back to himself. He’s kissing all over Clint’s face, stroking his stomach and it makes Clint feel so fucking cared for that he can barely breathe.

“We quits now?” Clint asks croakily. “On the mortification stakes?”

Phil laughs and kisses him. “I guess we are,” he agrees. He looks so fond, when he pulls back, that Clint can’t stand it.

“Come here?” Clint says and keeps pulling at Phil’s arm until he’s lying mostly on top of Clint, arms around him and his head right next to Clint’s on the pillows.

“Am I squashing you?” Phil asks softly.

Clint shakes his head and turns his face to tuck it into shadows under Phil’s chin.

“Can I stay here a while?” he asks, quietly enough that Phil can pretend not to hear him if the answer’s no.

“Sure,” Phil says and curls himself tighter around Clint. The fact that he doesn’t ask why Clint needs to stay makes Clint’s sneaking suspicion that he’s falling in love with him pretty much turn into fact.

***

The viewing gallery is packed, when Clint gets to the archery range on Tuesday. He blinks upward, shielding his eyes against the lights but yes, it’s definitely standing room only.

Clint isn’t sure he’s ever seen anything more than a half-dozen people up there before, and those have only ever been bored-looking parents.

“What the hell?” he mutters under his breath, pulling his bow out of its case and trying not to feel self-conscious.

There are groups of kids dotted around the range. A lot of them are wearing bullshit homemade t-shirts declaring their club pride. Clint wonders if he should write Yay, Go Team Me! on his t-shirt in sharpie to fit in.

Then he remembers that he doesn’t give a shit about fitting in and settles for looking around for Kate, instead.

He sees her standing next to a dark-haired boy about Clint's age, who Clint doesn’t recognise, and half-waves when he catches her eye.

Kate waves back enthusiastically and comes hurrying over, dragging the boy behind her.

“Clint,” she says, bumping her knuckles against Clint’s shoulder. “Glad you’re here. Do you know James?”

“Hey, there,” James says, holding out his hand for Clint to shake. “It’s Bucky.” He’s hot, all long dark hair and smouldering blue eyes.

Clint’s boyfriend (fuck, Clint has a boyfriend) is so much hotter, though.

“Hi.” Clint shakes his hand and asks, “Are you new around here?”

“No, but I’ve been away.” Bucky shrugs. The way he says away makes it sound a little bit like he’s been in prison, but Clint’s doesn’t ask.

“You any good?” Clint asks.

Bucky grins with all his teeth. “I’m fantastic,” he says confidently. “Are you?”

Clint winks at him. “Let’s see, yeah?”

Kate slaps them both on the side of their heads. “I can’t tell if you two are flirting or comparing the size of your... bows, but either way, stop it; they’re about to start.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Bucky tells her cheerfully.

Clint frowns up at their audience again. “Kate? What’s with all the gawkers?”

“Oh.” Kate’s mouth does a funny, guilty grin thing. “Did I mention that this competition is kind of a big deal?”

Clint looks around again. There are a lot of people with clipboards and official expressions. “No?”

“Huh,” she says and pokes him in the spine. She’s far too free with her physical contact, Clint thinks. “Do your best.”

Bemused, Clint takes his place at the end of a lane next to Bucky. “Do you know what’s happening, here?” he asks.

Bucky cuts his eyes to the clipboard people. “See them? They’re looking for kids with promise to join this national programme thing.” He raises his eyebrows at Clint. “Still think you’re good enough?”

“Yeah, bring it,” Clint says automatically, mind whirring. He’s sure he’s good enough, but he’s not sure that there’s any point in winning a place on this programme, when he doesn’t know where he’ll be living once the Parkers send him back.

Clint guesses that he must look worried, because Bucky elbows him. “Hey. Let’s forget the rest of these guys and just try to beat each other, yeah? Kate says you’re my only competition, anyway.”

“Okay.” Clint nods firmly. Who knows, maybe Bucky is so good Clint won’t even make the grade. He’ll worry about everything else when, or if, he comes to it. “Want to bet on it?”

Bucky laughs and claps Clint on the arm. “Sure, buddy,” he says, “Loser buys dinner at that burger joint down the road?”

“Not like a date, right?” Clint asks, just to check.

Bucky snorts. “Jesus, you’re fully of yourself, kid. No, I was thinking more like friends.”

“Huh.” Clint decides not to say sorry, I don’t have any friends because that would be weird. “Cool.”

One of the clipboard people steps forward just then and clears her throat. “Good afternoon, everyone,” she says. “Up first, can I have Argent, Barnes and Dunbroch?”

Bucky steps forward and shrugs off his leather jacket. The left sleeve gets caught on his shoulder and, when he tugs it down, Clint sees that Bucky’s whole left arm is prosthetic.

Maybe that’s what he meant by being away for a while.

Clint stares, just for a second, but long enough for Bucky to notice. “Don’t worry,” he says. “It won’t stop me beating you.”

“Right,” Clint laughs. “I was just checking that it didn’t give you an unfair advantage.”

Bucky waggles two fingers at him and pulls out a gorgeous black compound bow. If it’s been modified to work with his arm, Clint can’t see where.

“Good luck,” Clint says.

“Think about what you’re gonna buy me for dinner,” Bucky calls back and takes his place in the line-up.

***

It turns out that there are a surprising number of kids, in New York, who are really good with a bow.

The clipboard people hmm and consult and scribble notes, then thank everyone for coming and say they’ll be in touch. Then they leave and everyone’s left blinking at each other in their wake.

“Well, that was fun,” Kate says, slinging one arm around Clint’s shoulders and the other around Bucky’s. “Come on, I’ll take you both out to dinner.”

Clint glances across at Bucky and shrugs. He beat Bucky by 0.5 points, so this seems fairer than making him pay.

“That work for you, Barton?” Bucky asks.

“Works for me,” Clint agrees. He knows he should probably go home, but Ben’s still on Peter duty, and Clint hopes that maybe if he’s home less, they’ll forget that he disappointed them at all.

***

It’s late by the time Clint gets home. They stuffed themselves with pizza and ice cream and stayed way longer than he’d expected to, because they were laughing so much.

Clint feels good. He had forgotten what it was like to hang out with a group of people, who were all interested in the same thing. The circus was probably not the best time of Clint’s life, but at least it gave him that.

“Where were you?” Peter hisses, sticking his head out of his bedroom door when Clint tries to tiptoe past.

“Out,” Clint whispers back.

Peter slips out of his room and follows Clint into his. “With Phil?” he asks. He throws himself down on Clint’s bed and bounces.

“I have friends that aren’t Phil,” Clint tells him, taking off his jacket and bending to untie his shoes.

“Mm, but you’re in looooove with Phil,” Peter sings.

Clint throws a shoe at him, deliberately missing so it sails over his shoulder.

Peter yelps then laughs, ducking in case Clint throws the other one too. The bruises on his face are still nasty, but the cuts have scabbed over and he looks happier, his black eye crinkling when he grins.

Clint leans his elbows on the bed and looks at Peter seriously. “How was school?”

“Eh.” Peter wrinkles his nose. “School’s terrible. I hate school. Harry Osborne keeps being nice to me and it’s weird.”

“Huh,” Clint says, not letting his expression show anything. “Is that bad?”

“It’s weird,” Peter repeats, like Clint might not have understood the scale of the weirdness the first time. “Harry Osborne’s like, cool and stuff.”

That wasn’t totally the impression Clint got but, whatever, thirteen-year-olds are strange and he didn't understand them when he was one, either.

“Make some friends, kid,” he says, with all the wisdom of someone who may have accidentally made one for himself today.

Peter sticks his tongue out at Clint. Then he looks down at the comforter and starts to fiddle with it.

“What?” Clint asks, poking Peter in the knee.

“I’m sorry I got you in trouble,” Peter says all in a rush. “Are you still mad at me?”

“What?” Clint asks again, totally confused this time. “I wasn’t mad at you; weren’t you were mad at me? For telling?”

Peter shakes his head so hard that all his crazy, bushy hair flies upward.

Clint laughs. He’s more relieved that he should be. “Can you keep a secret?” he asks.

“Yes?” Peter says eagerly.

That probably means that he can’t, but Clint decides to tell him about the archery competition anyway.

“Wow,” Peter says eyes wide. “Could you be in the Olympics?”

Clint hadn’t actually thought of that. “That’s a big damn jump,” he says, even though why else would anyone be paying attention to emerging talent? “Maybe.”

“That would be amazing,” Peter says breathily. “You could get us tickets, right? If you were competing? The three of us could fly to Rio to see you?”

Clint swallows hard. The idea that Peter thinks that the Parkers are still going to be interested in Clint’s life by the time the next Olympics rolls around makes Clint's heart hurt. Clint will be twenty by then.

“That would be good,” he says quietly. “Or you could come, anyway. You’ll be seventeen.”

“Well, obviously,” Peter says, rolling his eyes. He flops backwards on the bed and closes his eyes. “Can I sleep here?”

“No,” Clint scoffs, but by the time he gets back from brushing his teeth, Peter is fast asleep, mouth open and snoring softly.

Clint sighs to the universe, but he doesn’t tip Peter off the bed.

***

“Clint?” May calls when Clint’s about to rush out of the house the next morning.

Clint skids to a halt in the hall and doubles back. “Hi, good morning,” he says, remembering to smile at her even though it’s really, really early.

“Someone phoned while you were in shower,” she says, one half of her mouth curling up. “From the US Archery Association.”

Clint freezes. “Yeah?” he asks. He wasn't expecting it to, but his voice comes out sounding strangled.

May steps forward, putting her coffee mug on the table and takes Clint’s hands. “The lady I spoke to says that you have a place on their programme,” she says.

Clint squeezes May’s hands hard. He doesn’t mean to. He hasn’t been letting himself hope, at all. “Really?” he asks. “Fuck.”

Instead of telling him to mind his language, May laughs. “I’m so proud of you,” she says, then she sobers. “But why didn’t you tell us that you’d… is auditioned the right word?”

Clint shrugs. “You were busy with Peter,” he says. “It’s not that big a deal.”

“Of course, it’s a big deal,” May scolds. “It’s wonderful. I had no idea you were so talented.”

Clint looks down at the floor and mutters something that even he doesn’t catch.

“Did you think we wouldn’t care?” May asks, sounding sad. “You do know how much we – ”

Clint’s cell phone starts buzzing in his bag and stops her in her tracks. Clint is unimaginably glad about that, since he doesn’t think he can take her being nice to him right now, not when everything feels so unsettled.

“Sorry,” Clint says and finds his phone. It’s finished ringing by the time he gets his hands on it, but a text comes in before Clint can go to his call log.

From: Phil
I’m outside when you’re ready

Huh. Clint leans over to look out the kitchen window and yeah, okay, there’s Phil. In his car outside the Parker’s house.

“Sorry,” Clint says again, “I have to go.”

May follows where Clint’s looking. “Who’s that?” she asks. “Is that Phil?” When Clint blinks at her, she laughs. “Peter talks about you a lot. He was very taken with your… friend, too.”

“Yeah,” Clint mutters. “Phil’s, you know. He’s pretty easy to be taken with.”

May looks at him sharply, a smile dancing around in her eyes. “Well, I’d like to meet him too, then.”

Why? Clint thinks. “Okay, I’ll work something out,” he lies quickly and grabs up his bag. “I gotta go.”

“Clint,” May says, before he can run. She pulls him in toward her and presses a firm kiss to his cheek. “Have a good day.”

Clint feels himself blush. “You too,” he says, then gets the hell out of there.

***

“That was quick,” Phil says when Clint throws himself into the passenger side of his car.

“Wanted to see you,” Clint says, to keep their history of terrible pick-up lines alive. “Hey.”

“Good morning,” Phil says and leans over to kiss Clint, right there.

Clint flails for a second, because there’s no way that May isn’t watching. But it’s Phil. Besides, May obviously already knows, so he just kisses back eagerly.

“How was practice yesterday?” Phil asks when they’re done.

Clint feels a little bit terrible with guilt. He doesn’t know why he didn’t tell anyone about the competition; that was dumb.

“It was kind of more than a practice,” he says, looking at Phil’s ear rather than meeting his eyes. “It was like this, competition thing, to find people for this whole, um, this national archery programme.” Phil doesn’t answer so Clint rushes on, “I got in?”

“Oh.” Phil looks like he’s searching for words for a second, then he shakes himself out of it. “Wow, that’s fantastic. Well done.” He pulls Clint in for another kiss, which is nice, but Clint can feel the surprised hurt radiating off him.

“I didn’t tell anyone,” Clint confesses against Phil’s cheek. “May just found out and gave me the stoically offended routine too, so could you not? I’ll die of guilt. I’m too young and pretty to die of guilt, right?”

Phil snorts a laugh. “Keep telling yourself that,” he says, but he doesn’t seem mad anymore.

It’s like a bruise that Clint can’t stop poking at. “If I’d told you, would you have come to watch?”

Phil had been in the middle of starting the car. He pauses with his hand still wrapped around the key.

“Obviously,” he says, tone just slightly chiding.

Clint sinks back into his seat and tries to remember that. Obviously, he repeats in his head, and smiles.

***

Phil parks the car at his house – which means that there was absolutely no need for him to pick Clint up – and he and Clint walk the rest of the way to school together. They get a couple of funny looks for arriving together, but Clint glares back at anyone who looks too long and Phil seems not to notice at all, so it works out okay.

“Thanks for the ride,” Clint starts to say, but Phil isn’t making a break for his homeroom, like Clint was expecting.

“I’m not in a rush,” Phil says and bumps his hip against Clint’s.

“Okay,” Clint drawls, “but I kind of go for the slide into class at the very last second strategy. You happy with that?”

Phil looks hilariously conflicted at that. It makes Clint laugh but also feel stupidly, impossibly fond of him.

“Nerd,” Clint says affectionately.

Phil doesn’t answer, just huffs, but Clint catches him smiling out the far corner of his mouth.

It does seem like he’s happy enough to walk along at Clint’s don’t-want-to-go-inside pace and it isn’t until they’re standing outside Ms Carter’s classroom that Clint realises that he was being shepherded.

“Wow, you’re a sneaky bastard,” Clint says, impressed.

Phil hums innocently. “Just go and talk to her, Barton,” he says. He lifts his hand like he’s going to give Clint a little shove into the room, but strokes up the back of Clint’s neck instead, fingers ruffling through the roots of his hair.

Clint ends up going to beg forgiveness from Ms Carter with a semi in his jeans. It’s embarrassing but not the most embarrassing thing he’s ever done.

***

Clint earns a Jonas Brothers pen from Ms Carter for coming to talk to her – he has no idea why, but it’s sparkly so whatever, he’ll keep it – and a chance to redo his presentation.

He’d kind of hoped to get out of the part, where he was going to have to stand up and talk in front of the class, but then she’d gone on about extra credit and he’d caved.

The shit he’ll do for a passing grade in English, seriously.

That plus the call from the USAA plus getting to kiss Phil this morning means that Clint’s in a pretty good mood when he gets home that afternoon.

Ben’s car outside the house, which is worrying, since he’s been picking Peter up from school then heading straight back to work this week. Next to it is a white Audi that Clint doesn’t recognise.

Curious, Clint lets himself in the front door, then stops. The study door is shut. No one ever shuts the study door. Slipping off his shoes, he shuffles over to bend down and fit his ear against the door.

He can hear at least two people talking, maybe three, but his ears have never worked as great as his eyes, and it’s all muffled, so he can’t make out anything more.

The loose tread in the top step on the staircase creaks and Clint snaps up straight, not wanting to be caught eavesdropping.

It’s Peter. He makes a guilty face when he realises that Clint’s spotted him and turns on his heel to scramble back upstairs.

Clint follows him, catching him just outside his bedroom door.

“Who’s in the study?” he asks quietly. “Is everything okay?” He has a sinking feeling that he knows what this is, but he tells himself firmly not to jump to conclusions.

Peter shrugs expansively. “I don’t know,” he says, chewing on his lip.

Clint thinks about shaking his shoulder – just gently – but he’s not going to do anything even slightly threatening to Peter.

“Sure, you do,” he says instead. “Tell me.”

“I…” Peter shakes his head. “I promised I wouldn’t.”

Fuck. Actually, seriously, fuck. “It’s Dawn, right?” he asks. “My social worker?”

Peter opens his mouth then closes it again. That’s all the answer Clint needs, but he waits to see if he actually gets a real one, too. “Yeah?” Peter says slowly. “Don’t tell that I told?”

Clint’s insides feel frozen. He knew it was coming. From the second he moves in with a new family, he expects to get sent back, and he knows that he hasn’t been what the Parkers were expecting from their first try at fostering. But May and Ben are everything he’s wanted from foster parents. He was stupid to let himself start to hope.

“Okay,” he says. His voice sounds too dry to be his. “Thanks for telling me.” He steps back, bumps his ass into the banisters and straightens up.

“No, wait, um.” Peter reaches out for Clint’s sleeve but Clint brushes him off. “I’m not supposed to tell you what they’re talking about, but please, just wait until they’re done and then everything will make sense.”

He looks so hopeful and Clint is so ridiculously fond of this kid that he’d usually do anything not to disappoint him, but Peter’s going to have to get used to not having Clint around again soon. And Clint’s pretty sure he’s not going to be able to stand here without doing something shitty, like maybe crying or yelling or something, and he doesn’t need witnesses for that.

“I know what they want to tell me, Peter,” he says and takes the stairs two at a time, not bothering to be quiet about letting the door slam.

***

Phil’s dad frowns at Clint when he opens the door. He’s short and stocky and balding and reassuring-looking, somehow, and he’s been nothing but really welcoming to Clint.

“Phil’s not home,” he says. “Are you okay?”

Clint nods. He’s pretty sure his eyes are red, but if Mr Coulson doesn’t mention that, Clint won’t either.

“Come in.” Mr Coulson steps back and ushers Clint inside. Clint sniffs and pulls his sleeves down over his hands to wipe at his eyes. He did that before he rang the doorbell too, but it’s not doing much good.

“Thanks,” Clint mutters and kicks off his shoes in the hallway. “Can I, um. D’you mind if I wait for Phil?”

He doesn’t want Phil to see him like this, but he doesn’t know where else to go. If he were mad, he’d go to the gym and shoot arrows into things, but he’s not angry, he’s just so fucking sad, he’s not sure how to function.

“Of course not,” Mr Coulson says. “Do you need anything? Juice? Tea? A supportive pat on the shoulder?”

Clint snorts out a wet laugh and shakes his head. “Can I go wait upstairs?” he asks, waving a hand up toward Phil’s bedroom.

“Sure,” Mr Coulson says. Then, when Clint’s got two feet on the stairs, “Clint? I’m just down here if you need anything.”

Clint’s throat goes so tight he can’t even force out anything more than a strangled sound, but he hopes it sounds vaguely like, thanks.

Phil’s bedroom is nothing special. It has a bed and a computer desk and a bookcase full of spy novels and comic books, but it has a door that closes, and it smells vaguely of Phil, and Clint won’t be disturbed here, so it’s basically the best place Clint’s ever been.

He sits down hard on the floor and lets his head tip back against the bed. He hasn’t felt this empty since he woke up to find that Natasha had left him behind, with a note to say she’d told CPS where to find him.

Before that, it was when Barney took Clint off his approved visitors list.

Clint closes his eyes and balls his hands into fists, punching his drawn-up knees once, twice, even though it doesn’t change anything.

***

“What happened?” Phil asks, dropping down onto the carpet next to Clint.

He’s back earlier than Clint was expecting, but Clint’s not going to question that. He drops his head against Phil’s shoulder and doesn’t answer.

“Okay,” Phil agrees, and slides his arm around Clint’s back. “You don’t have to tell me. I can deduce it telepathically.”

Clint manages an almost-laugh and tries not to think about how much he’s going to miss Phil being sarcastic at him.

“Come on, Barton.” Phil gives him a little shake. “I skipped out on a fascinating student council debate about the flickering lights in the girls’ first floor bathroom.”

Clint definitely means to laugh at that, too. He’s totally horrified and humiliated when it sounds more like a sob.

“Shit, okay, I’m doing this wrong,” Phil says. He slides his hand up into Clint’s hair and strokes his scalp. “Just tell me if you’re hurt or Peter’s hurt and then I’ll stop asking.”

“Everyone’s fine,” Clint manages. He doesn’t want to say it. He really doesn’t want to say it. “They’re going to put me back into the foster system.”

“What?” Phil asks, the question tripping out of him like it’s the last thing he expected. That doesn’t make Clint feel better. “Are you sure?”

Clint nods. “My social worker was there when I got home.”

Phil’s arm tightens around him. “That’s bullshit,” he says, which is so unlike Phil that Clint tips his head up to look at him. Phil looks shocked and a little pale. Because Clint is a bit of a bastard, it makes him feel better that Phil will apparently be upset when he goes.

“I’m sorry,” Clint hears himself say.

Phil frowns. “What? About what?”

Clint shrugs. “I shouldn’t have started something with you, not when I knew there was no guarantee I’d get to stay and…”

“No,” Phil says sharply. He’s lost his shocky look and now his expression is more determined than anything. “I don’t want to sound like a Nicholas Sparks novel but even if you do go, the last couple of weeks have been… for me, they’ve been worth it.”

Clint closes his eyes. There’s nowhere better to hide his face so he sticks it back into Phil’s shoulder.

“Would your dad notice if I just stayed here forever?” he mumbles into the soft fabric of Phil’s sweatshirt.

“Probably,” Phil says, massaging the back of Clint’s ear. Clint doesn’t know why, but it feels nice. “But he said you can stay tonight.”

Clint doesn’t know whether Phil means in Phil’s bed or on the couch or what, but it doesn’t matter, the idea of getting to stay here, stay with Phil a bit longer is what Clint clings to.

“Cool,” he manages, because he doesn’t know what else to say.

***

Phil’s house is always really peaceful. It’s not quiet exactly, but apparently Coulsons don’t bustle the ways Parkers do.

The three of them sit down to dinner and Clint picks at his rice noodles while Phil and his dad have sensible conversations about school and Mr Coulson’s job and, like, the state of the fucking economy.

It should seem formal, maybe, but it doesn’t. Phil and his dad are clearly really used to each other’s company, but they don’t make Clint feel awkward for not joining in.

Phil’s left hand rests on Clint’s thigh the whole way through dinner, which Mr Coulson definitely notices, but doesn’t comment on.

Clint wonders if he could maybe move out of the Parkers and in here instead without CPS or Mr Coulson minding.

“Do you need help with the dishes, Dad?” Phil asks, when they’re done. Clint drops his fork onto his plate, grateful that he doesn’t have to try to force any more food down past the knot in his stomach.

“Unless you have something you need to do,” Mr Coulson says, looking at Phil with a question written obviously across his face.

Clint looks down, trying not to notice that they’re talking about him.

“No, I think we’re good,” Phil says. “Clint?”

“Dishes, yeah, awesome,” Clint agrees quickly. Anything to be moving.

He takes a handful of plates into the kitchen but doesn’t miss the way that Phil hangs back, talking quickly and quietly to his dad, like Clint’s problems are theirs to solve.

***

They drag out the time it takes them to do the dishes, not really talking, just Clint with his hands in hot, soapy water, and Phil leaning against the counter, hip against Clint’s hip while he’s taking plates from him.

It’s dark by the time they’re done, but not all that late, so Clint can’t explain why he’s so exhausted.

“Is your dad really okay with me staying?” Clint asks, leaning against the fridge and watching Phil watch him.

“It was his idea,” Phil says dismissively. “He likes you.”

Clint blinks. “He does?” he asks doubtfully. So far, all Phil’s dad knows about him is that he needs Phil’s help in English class, and that he has epic family dramas. That can’t be what dads look for in a boyfriend for their son.

Phil just shakes his head, looking resigned. “Idiot,” he says fondly and quirks a little smile at Clint.

Clint totally fails at swallowing back a massive yawn and makes a face at Phil. “How much would your dad hate me if I took over your sofa already?”

“Not much at all,” Phil says, putting away the last glass and draping an arm over Clint’s shoulder. “But you’re sleeping in my bed tonight, not the sofa.”

Clint hesitates, trying to work out if Phil will be there too.

“I’ll take the sofa,” Phil adds, like he hasn’t noticed Clint’s confusion, or like he has and is trying to make things easier for him.

“No, dude, come on,” Clint argues automatically. “It’s your bed. Give me the sofa.”

“Barton,” Phil says firmly. “If you sleep on the sofa, you’ll have to wait for my dad to go to bed, which will be a couple more hours. If you take my bed, you can go sleep right now.”

Clint opens his mouth to say that he’s not that tired, but he can’t get it out because he’s too busy yawning some more. “Yeah, fuck, fine,” he sighs and leans into Phil, pressing their foreheads together.

Phil kisses him hard then takes hold of Clint’s wrist, braceletting it with his fingers.

Clint lets himself be led back out to the living room, where he awkwardly stumbles through a good night to Mr Coulson.

“Good night,” Mr Coulson says, smiling at him before switching his attention to Phil. “Phil, you can go up with him for a while, if you’d like.” He pauses then adds sternly, “With the door open.”

Phil rolls his eyes. “Like that would actually stop us,” he says, which for some reason makes Mr Coulson laugh. Clint has like, zero hope of actually understanding their relationship, but it seems to make them both happy enough.

“It’s okay,” Clint says quickly. “I’m really tired. Phil can stay down here.”

“Sure?” Phil asks, raising his eyebrows.

No. Clint wants Phil to himself all night, if possible. But he really, really wants Mr Coulson think that he’s a good boyfriend for Phil. He needs to believe that Phil will visit him wherever he ends up, and that’ll be easier with parents approval.

“Sure,” Clint says, grinning widely, fakely, at Phil and not letting himself kiss him again. “See you in the morning.”

“See you,” Phil agrees, looking worried about Clint all over again, but he lets Clint go.

***

Clint doesn’t manage to fall asleep. He borrows the spare toothbrush from under Phil’s sink and steals a clean t-shirt to sleep in. Then he lies on his back under Phil’s comforter, and stares blankly up at the ceiling for what feels like hours.

After a while, he hears the sounds of people moving around, Phil or his dad – or both – getting ready for bed and waits, wondering if Phil’s going to come in for some PJs.

He’s just starting to give up hope and telling himself firmly to get some damn sleep, when there’s a soft knock on the door and Phil slips inside.

“Hey,” he says, leaving the light off. “Sorry. Dad took forever to go to bed.”

Clint sits up and watches Phil through the dark. Phil’s not doing much other than leaning against the door, hands in his pockets.

After a minute, Phil sighs. “I’m coming over there to kiss you,” he says decisively. “Yell now if you don’t want that.”

Clint lifts his head and waits. He doesn’t know what he wants, but he knows he always wants Phil.

Phil crosses over to him and flicks on the lamp by the bed before putting his hand on Clint’s shoulder. When he leans down, Clint tips his face up, expecting a kiss, but instead Phil frowns and touches the skin under Clint’s left eye.

Clint wants to duck away, because he’s still fucking embarrassed about the crying, but he’s held still instead by the look in Phil’s eyes.

After a second, Phil’s cheeks turn pink, and he drops his hand, finally giving Clint the kiss he’s been waiting for.

It’s dumb, probably, because it’s not like Phil kissing him is going to fix anything, but it feels like it does, or like it can. Maybe.

Clint sucks Phil’s bottom lip into his mouth and grabs hold of Phil’s collar, holding him as close as he can.

Phil doesn’t seem to mind, just kisses Clint back harder, until Clint can’t breathe, but he still doesn’t want to stop.

“Hey, hey,” Phil says, nothing else, then pushes lightly, experimentally on Clint’s shoulder.

Clint falls backwards onto the bed but doesn’t let go of Phil’s collar, so Phil falls down with him, crawling over Clint and still kissing him. He bites kisses down Clint’s jaw and along his throat until Clint can’t breathe, shaking with how much he wants him.

It takes a serious amount of effort, but Clint forces himself to turn away from Phil’s mouth, toward the door that’s still half-open.

“Your dad said to keep the door open,” he says uncertainly. If they keep kissing like this, Clint’s pretty sure they’re not going to stop. He always wants to climb inside Phil, but right now that’s not an abstract thing like it normally is; he wants them as close as they can possibly get.

“He didn’t mean it,” Phil says. He chews on his lower lip, looking uncertain. “Want me to close it?”

Clint swallows. “Yeah,” he says. “I mean, if you want?”

Phil kisses him hard, fingers turning fumbly on Clint’s collar, but he rolls off Clint and goes over to close the door. There’s even a little courtesy bolt, which Phil clicks into place.

“Seriously?” Clint asks, holding out his hand and beckoning Phil back to him. “Your dad’s not going to break down the door and shoot me?”

Because we’re having sex, he doesn’t add. Even though he’s pretty sure that they’re going to be having sex.

Phil takes off his sweatshirt and comes to lie back down on the bed. This time, he ends up next to Clint rather than on him, which isn’t as good, although Clint’s not sure how to say that.

He props himself up on his elbow and looks seriously down at Clint. “There was a boy, who I was seeing last year,” Phil says and Clint makes himself nod and not feel horrible with jealousy. “Dad told me that he’d rather we were here and being… safe than somewhere else taking risks.”

He blushes hard at the word ‘safe’ but doesn’t back down.

“Do you really want to?” Clint asks. “Because I really want to, but I don’t want you to… I don’t want you to think that you have to just because I’m going or – ”

“This is not going to be our last chance,” Phil says fiercely, but the way he kisses Clint says that he doesn’t believe that.

Clint’s hands are shaking, but he manages to get them under the back of Phil’s thin black t-shirt, palms on the sweaty skin of Phil’s back.

Most of Clint feels kind of numb. He’s nervous about what they’re doing, terrified about the future and wherever he’s going to end up next, and it’s making it hard to concentrate, but the more of Phil he gets to touch, the easier he can breathe.

“Can you? Please? Just?” he asks, tugging at the hem of Phil’s t-shirt.

Phil pulls off his t-shirt and then takes Clint’s off him too, rather than waiting for Clint to undress himself. It makes Clint’s breath catch in his throat, but they’ve done this before, this bit’s okay.

“Don’t, let’s not come in our pants this time, okay?” Phil says, with a wobbly attempt at a smile.

Clint nods and swallows down a moan when Phil unzips Clint’s fly. Clint’s wearing stupid Superman boxers, because he didn’t know this was going to be happening when he got dressed this morning. They’re cheap, thin things, so his hard cock is really, really obvious.

Phil sucks in a breath, but he doesn’t touch. He finishes peeling back the v of Clint’s jeans and then stops, looking uncertain.

Clint thinks he’d kind of like to be manhandled out of his jeans, but it’s nice that Phil’s not just going for it. Clint wonders if he was considerate like this with the boy from last year. Then he wonders if there’ll be a different boy again next year and has to grab Phil and kiss him, pouring all his shaky, possessive feelings into Phil’s mouth.

Phil kisses him back, but tries to gentle it, skimming one hand up Clint’s belly, over his sternum before just kind of resting at the very base of Clint’s throat.

“What?” he asks against Clint’s skin. “Okay?”

“Okay,” Clint says, even though he’s not. He’s not okay, but he’s okay with this, which is what Phil means, anyway. He wants to reach up and open Phil pants like Phil just opened his, but he’s suddenly shaking so hard that he thinks he’d fuck it up really badly.

“Clint?” Phil asks, sounding concerned.

Clint tries to kiss him until he stops asking, but that doesn’t work this time. Phil holds back, holds himself above Clint and watches him, expression worried.

“I just,” Clint tries. Words are stupid; he hates words. “I really.” He’s not going to be stupid and selfish and tell Phil how he feels about him; he’s not. “I want this to be good,” he says instead.

Phil’s expression goes all soft. Clint wonders what it would have done if he’d bandied about the L word instead. “It’s good,” Phil promises him.

He sits up and looks at Clint for another second, takes a deep breath and shrugs out of his jeans. His legs are pale and hairy with solid thigh muscles that Clint wants to touch.

Then he remembers that he can touch and does, sits up and runs his hands up Phil’s thighs, feeling soft, dark hair crinkle under his palms. He curves his hands around the tops of Phil’s thighs when they reach that high, thumbs stroking up toward his hips.

“Clint, yes,” Phil gasps, pushing up and forward into Clint’s hands. His boxerbriefs are holding his cock in better than Clint’s boxers are, but it’s still really obvious how hard he is.

Clint feels good about that. He did that. Even if he goes away and Phil forgets about him, he made Phil feel this good in this moment.

“I don’t – ” Clint shakes his head. He doesn’t know what he wants to say. “Let me?”

Phil nods even though he doesn’t know what Clint’s asking for. Clint touches the backs of his fingers to the curve of Phil’s cock, stroking over the shape of it, fascinated although it shouldn’t feel any different from Clint’s own.

Phil screws his eyes shut, almost like it hurts, but his mouth falls open and a soft sound spills out, so Clint thinks he likes it.

“I’m pretty sure we just agreed to not come in our pants,” Phil says, eyes still closed.

Clint smirks, proud of himself. “Pretty sure you’re not in your pants,” he says and then he makes a startled sound when Phil grabs him, pushing him down onto the bed and kissing his stomach before carefully peeling down Clint’s jeans.

“There,” Phil says, sounding satisfied once Clint’s pants are on the floor.

“Better?” Clint asks. His breath is coming fast, so turned on he can’t remember how to do it right. He can see his stomach dropping in and out below his ribs with the speed of his in- and out breaths. “Got me where you want me?”

He’s trying for teasing. It doesn’t work.

“Yes,” Phil says simply and, fuck, what’s Clint supposed to say to that?

“Come here?” he asks. He can’t make fists in Phil’s skin like he can in his sweatshirts, but he tries anyway, blunt nails pressing into the smattering of hair between Phil’s pecs.

“I’m already here, I’m not going anywhere,” Phil promises and kisses Clint hard. “I’m not going to want to move off you again, though. So maybe, maybe we should – ” Phil breaks off, looking frustrated.

Clint swallows hard. “Finish getting naked?” he asks.

“I was going to say it more subtly than that,” Phil protests. “But yes.”

“Okay,” Clint agrees, and tries to pretend that it comes out steady.

Getting naked with Phil is awkward, but lying down after, Phil stretched out between Clint’s spread legs, is amazing. Phil is kissing him all deep and slow and it’s incredible, Clint doesn’t even stop to care who taught Phil to kiss like this because it’s amazing.

Phil’s dick is hard against Clint’s stomach, almost uncomfortably solid, digging into the soft skin below Clint’s belly, but Clint wiggles closer to it, kind of hoping it’ll leave bruises.

He doesn’t know what he wants – except that this is good; Phil kissing him and stroking the back of his neck and holding him, this is good – maybe he just wants more.

“Can you, shit, can you move, just – ” Clint shifts his hips and puts his hand on Phil’s back, showing him where he wants him, and then Phil’s waist fits snug between Clint’s drawn-up legs and Phil’s cock is lying next to Clint’s cock, and okay, no, this is the best thing ever.

“Shit,” Phil says, choked.

Clint nods back at him, forehead bumping Phil’s. “Shit,” he agrees.

“What do you want to do?” Phil asks into Clint’s mouth. “What do you like to do?”

Clint tries to think of something, but he can’t. He’s watched a lot of gay porn, he could probably fake it, but he doesn’t want to, not lying like this, with Phil all solid and hot on top of him.

“I’ve never done this before,” he admits, looking at the bridge of Phil’s nose rather than his eyes. “With a guy, I mean.”

Phil doesn’t recoil or anything – he wouldn’t, he’s Phil – but he does pull back a little. “Am I rushing you?”

Clint snorts. “Dude, you’re the one who wanted to take it slow. I would have had you out of your clothes the first time I met you.”

Phil laughs softly. “We were in school, the first time you met me.”

“Yep,” Clint agrees and touches Phil’s mouth. “So you’re really not rushing me.”

Phil nods and doesn’t look exactly like he believes Clint. “You’ve been with a girl?” he asks. “What did you like doing with her?”

Clint gets a brief, vivid picture in his head of Natasha, tiny but so strong, sitting on his hips and fucking herself on him while he stared up at her in wonder.

He doesn’t want that again. He wants Phil to need him more than that.

“I don’t know,” he lies, turning his head, and kissing Phil’s cheek. “Sex?”

Phil snaps his teeth at Clint’s nose, like he’s going to bite him and ends up kissing him instead. It should be sappy, but Clint likes it so much, he doesn’t care.

“No.” Clint shakes his head. “Yeah, there was a girl but she and I, we. We ran away from foster care together and fucked our way across Middle America for a couple weeks. Then she realised I was slowing her down and went on without me. I don’t want what I had with her with you. I just. I just want you. I don’t care.”

Phil’s eyes go soft. “I just want you too,” he says, and it sounds bigger than what they’re doing right now, but Clint pretends he doesn’t hear that.

All of a sudden, Clint knows what he wants.

“Fuck me?” he asks and feels Phil jerk against him. “That’s what I want.”

Phil doesn’t look like he’s breathing. His eyes are dark and wide. “Seriously?” he asks. “That’s kind of, I think you normally work up to that.”

Clint laughs bitterly and arches up against him. “We don’t have time,” he says urgently. Then, he loses certainty. Maybe Phil’s just not interested in doing that with him. “But if you don’t want to?”

It’s Phil’s turn to laugh, but this time it’s soft and affectionate. “You have no idea how much I want to,” he says.

And apparently that settles it.

Phil doesn’t have lube, but he has hand lotion and condoms. He also has infinite patience. By the time he’s worked two fingers inside Clint’s ass, fingertips blunt and steady, Clint’s about ready to kick Phil in the head, but Phil just hums against his stomach and kisses him there.

“Phil,” Clint hisses. He can’t yell as much as he’d like to because Phil’s dad really doesn’t need to overhear any of this. “Shit, fuck, I’m ready already.”

“How would you know?” Phil asks mildly. His voice is shaking, but his hands are so steady, Clint feels totally safe with him, even vulnerable like this.

“Fine,” Clint bites out, “I don’t know. But I want you now. Please.”

When Phil nods, it’s kind of jerky, like maybe he’s not holding it together as well as he wants to look like he is. He drops the condom the first time he tries to roll it on, and curses at himself under his breath.

“It’s okay, you got this,” Clint says, awkwardly patting Phil’s wrist with his fingertips.

Phil glances up at him, one big hand still wrapped around his lovely, leaking cock. It’s quite a picture.

“Are you giving me a sex pep talk?” he asks.

Clint nods solemnly. “I am.” He watches as Phil rolls on the condom, no problem at all this time, waits until he’s done to say, “And it’s working.”

Phil looks down at his own cock and laughs. “So it is.”

He leans forward, kissing Clint like that’s all they're here for, like they’re not in a rush. He’s still holding his cock and the back of his fist bumps the inside of Clint’s thigh. Clint automatically spreads his legs wider and then the head of Phil’s cock is right there, sitting against his asshole.

“Shit,” Clint breathes, sucking in a noisy breath. Phil doesn’t say anything at all and, when Clint looks up at him, his eyes are screwed shut. “Okay?”

“Are you?” Phil asks, the lines around his eyes relaxing into something more peaceful. He slips his fingers into Clint, spreading him again before nudging forward with his cock.

“I’m - ” Clint starts to say, but then Phil pushes just inside and Clint loses all his words. It hurts a bit, or maybe more than a bit, but not in a way that feels wrong, definitely in a way that Clint wants more of.

Phil thrusts a tiny bit, uneven and helpless, then makes a harsh sound and holds still. “Sorry, sorry, I’m trying not to move.”

Clint forces himself to breathe out slowly; he fists his hands in the sheets and arches up toward Phil. “Please move.” Somehow, he knows that it’ll feel less weird if Phil moves.

Phil stares down at him, gorgeous eyes glowing with something Clint doesn’t recognise. “Tell me, if it gets too much,” he says and starts in with short, careful thrusts of his hips.

It’s fascinating. Clint didn’t know his body could do this. He’s watched porn and he knows all the mechanics, but he didn’t know that his legs would lift automatically to draw Phil in closer, that he’d have to let go of the comforter and clutch hold of Phil’s back, smooth his hands over the warm, flexing spread of his muscles.

They don’t talk. They kiss and make cut-off grunting noises into each other’s mouths, but there’s nothing to say that they’re not already saying with every touch.

After a couple minutes, Clint starts to feel really good. He already loved it, but now his cock does too. He wants to touch himself, but he doesn’t want to let go of Phil. He braces his heel against the fleshy part of Phil’s thigh and arches up toward his belly, trying to get some friction.

It must shift them around, or something, because the next thing Clint knows, Phil’s pushing into him again and a spark of something licks through him that’s so good that he thinks for a second it must be pain. It’s hot and liquid silver and he moans, forgetting to be quiet.

“There?” Phil asks, sounding ragged. “Clint, there?”

“Holy shit do that again,” Clint begs, all in one breath.

Phil makes a sound that might be a laugh. “I’m trying,” he says, kissing Clint again, lots of tongue this time, like Clint having a prostate is somehow really hot.

He doesn’t nail it every time, but now he knows where it is, Phil’s aim improves like crazy, and Clint has to drop one hand from Phil’s back, has to drape his forearm over his mouth so he can bite down and not let Mr Coulson know exactly what they’re doing and exactly how good Phil is at it.

Phil noses the side of his face, biting kisses around Clint’s ear now he can’t get to Clint’s mouth. “I wish I could hear you,” he whispers. “I wish you could make all the noise you want.”

Fuck, that’s not fair. Clint’s never been loud, but he wants to be now. He lifts his arm to say, “Phil,” then has to bite down again, because now Phil’s hand is on his cock.

It doesn’t take either of them long after that. Phil seems determined that Clint will come first, and Clint is okay with that, so close and desperate he’s shaking with it.

His orgasm feels like it comes from everywhere at once, from his cock, from his ass, from his fucking ear, which Phil is still exploring with his tongue. He sucks in a couple desperate breaths and groans, spilling over Phil’s fingers, knowing he’s clenching down too hard around Phil, but not able to stop.

“Fu-uck,” Phil sighs, broken in the middle, and goes still as he comes.

He doesn’t pull out as he’s catching his breath and Clint doesn’t ask him too. He lifts trembling hands to stroke down Phil’s back, spreading sweat around.

“A-plus,” Clint says, turning his head to nose sleepily at Phil’s temple.

Phil laughs, shaking with it. “No room for improvement?” he asks. He reaches down and wraps his hand around the root of his dick, keeping the condom on while he pulls out.

Clint makes a face. “Well, you could work on making that feel less fucking weird.” Phil starts to sit up and Clint grabs for him before he can stop himself.

Phil stills, turning back to him and smiling. “I’m going to toss this in the trash. I’m not going far.”

“Right.” Clint unhooks his fingernails from Phil’s elbow, feeling kind of dumb and exposed all of a sudden.

It takes Phil three seconds to drop the condom in the trash, then he’s back, pulling Clint up and into a hug that feels too tight and too desperate for someone who just got laid.

“Neither of us are going anywhere,” Phil tells him firmly, not letting go even when Clint thinks that they’ve passed the non-embarrassing length of time for a hug and starts to pull back.

“How are you going to work that?” Clint asks, leaning his head on Phil’s shoulder and deciding to stop pretending he wants to be anywhere else.

“I don’t know yet,” Phil says, “but I will.” He pulls back just far enough to look Clint in the eye. “Do you believe me?”

Clint believes that Phil believes it and that means a lot to him, anyway. “Yeah, sure,” he lies. “You’re Superman, right?”

“Please,” Phil says, “I’m Captain America.”

Clint laughs and drags him in close again, all their sticky, naked places pressing together. Phil’s warm and he smells exactly like what they were just doing, which means he smells perfect to Clint. Clint breathes him in and tries to remember this moment forever.

Just in case.

***

Clint is so damn tired that he sleeps straight through the night, not waking until Phil squeezes his shoulder.

“Mm?” Clint mutters, very unwilling to be awake. He turns his head, managing to land his forehead on Phil’s wrist and closes his eyes again.

Phil laughs, but keeps poking him, not letting him fall back to sleep. “It’s nearly ten,” he says, “if you don’t wake up soon, I’ll refuse to make you breakfast.”

Clint groans and rolls onto his back, blinking up at Phil and the sunlight streaming in the window behind him. It’s very bright.

“I’m boycotting life,” Clint tells him automatically then realises that he’ll have to face the Parkers today and decides that he really means it.

Phil rolls his eyes. “That’s a shame,” he says, brusquely unsympathetic. “I make the best French toast on the East Coast.”

Clint makes himself sit up and opens his mouth to banter back. Nothing comes out.

Phil sighs at him and sits on the bed next to him, slinging an arm around Clint’s shoulders. He’s wearing soft jeans and a plain black Henley, not the usual smart sweatshirt and slacks that he wears to school.

“Wait,” Clint says belatedly, “it’s nearly ten?”

Phil hums in agreement.

“You’re skipping school?” He wants to add for me but that seems kind of presumptuous, even after last night.

“Don’t look so shocked,” Phil says and touches the side of Clint’s neck, sliding his hand around to cup the base of his skull and pull him into a slow kiss.

“But,” Clint tries to say against Phil’s lips, except it doesn’t come out right and he ends up mostly mumbling around Phil’s tongue and then giving up on that entirely because tongue. It turns out that having sex with someone doesn’t make just kissing them any less hot.

He maybe whines a little when Phil pulls back.

“Get dressed,” Phil says. “I’ll make a start on breakfast.”

“One last meal for the condemned man?” Clint tries to joke. It doesn’t come out very funny though, and he looks away, before Phil can start looking all pinched and worried about him again. “I like bananas and chocolate syrup on my French toast.”

“Well, I like gold leaf in my coffee, but we don’t always get what we want,” Phil snarks back at him. He leans in and kisses the corner of Clint’s mouth, completely ignoring Clint’s whole stoically-looking-away-from-him thing. “Don’t be long. And make sure you actually wear clothes; my dad’s still home.”

Clint groans, even though Mr Coulson has been nothing but awesome to him. “He’s going to shoot me,” he mutters, because it’s much easier to worry about that than it is to think about what’ll come after breakfast.

“Nah, my mom’s the one with the gun licence,” Phil tells him cheerfully and leaves him to get dressed.

***

When Clint gets downstairs, there’s a stack of French toast in the middle of the table, filled with what smells like banana and dripping in butter and chocolate sauce.

Clint doesn’t know what to say. No one’s ever made him his favourite breakfast just because he asked before. (That’s maybe because he’s never told May what his favourite breakfast is, but whatever.)

“You didn’t tell me you can cook,” he settles on, sliding into a chair and wondering if he’s allowed to eat it all. Sex and worrying do a lot for his appetite, apparently.

“It’s a secret,” Phil tells him, sitting next to him and stealing a slice of toast. He waves for Clint to help himself to the rest, so Clint does. They don’t serve food like this in group foster homes.

“His mother and I are terrible cooks, so I think he learned out of self-defence,” Mr Coulson says, appearing from absolutely nowhere and making a lump of half-chewed bread lodge in Clint’s throat.

“Good, good morning,” Clint chokes out, making wide eyes at Phil. He could have warned Clint that his dad was behind him, seriously.

Phil just smiles at him and stands up, pouring a mug of black coffee from the jug on the counter.

“Good morning,” Mr Coulson agrees. “Phil was just telling me how comfortable the sofa is to sleep on.”

Phil closes his eyes, looking supremely annoyed and embarrassed, the same way that Peter sometimes looks at the Parkers. It’s the fuck, my parents are embarrassing expression and it makes Clint have to look down at his plate.

“Yeah, it was great,” Phil lies flatly and sets Clint’s coffee in front of him.

Clint gulps it down until he can breathe again. “Thanks for letting me stay,” he says to Mr Coulson, deciding to play along with everyone else that there was no naked bed-sharing last night.

Mr Coulson’s teasing smile slips to something more serious. “It’s no problem, Clint. You’re always welcome. Also, if your school asks, you and Phil had bad Chinese last night.”

Clint manages a laugh. No one’s parents have ever lied for him before; it’s pretty awesome. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” Mr Coulson says, leaning over Clint to steal some toast. “I also called Mr and Mrs Parker. They’re anxious to see you.”

Just like that, Clint isn’t hungry anymore.

“I’ll drive you, when you’re ready,” Phil says, but for now, he sits down next to Clint again and nudges their bare feet together.

***

Clint really, really doesn’t want to get out of Phil’s car, when they pull up in front of the Parkers’ house. Ben’s car is still in the driveway and, when Clint risks a look, he can see Peter’s face pressed against his bedroom window, staring down at them.

“Want to run away to Paris?” Clint asks Phil, kind of desperately.

Phil reaches over and squeezes Clint’s hand. “Yes,” he says, “but your passport is probably in there.”

“Ugh,” Clint groans. His knees shouldn’t be able to shake, since he’s sitting down, but they still are. He’s terrified, way more terrified than he wants anyone, even Phil, to know. Sure, he knows what the Parkers are going to say, but he still doesn’t think he can deal with hearing them say it.

“Hey,” Phil says and pulls on Clint’s hand until Clint looks at him. “It’s going to be fine.”

“You know that?” Clint asks, voice climbing kind of hysterically. He takes a breath, then another.

“I know that,” Phil promises. “I told you I was going to fix it, and I will.”

Clint stares at him helplessly. “I fucking love you,” he says, seriously. He’s leaving; it doesn’t matter if Phil freaks out.

Phil doesn’t freak out. Phil smiles slowly and squeezes Clint’s hands, getting their fingers all tangled up. “You’d better,” he says, then pulls Clint closer, kissing him, murmuring, “I love you too,” against Clint’s mouth like something that’s private, just for them.

Clint closes his eyes, leans into Phil. “Okay,” he says, “I’m going in.”

“I’ll be here,” Phil promises.

Clint opens him mouth to tell him that it’s okay, he can go home. Phil just gives him a look, though, so he snaps his mouth shut.

He gets out the car without another word and makes himself keep his chin up the whole walk up to the house. Peter’s watching, even if no one else is, and Clint doesn’t want him to think Clint’s afraid.

May flings the door open before Clint can search his pockets for his keys.

“Clint,” she says, sounding relieved and worried all at once. She puts her hand on his arm and ushers him into the house. “We’ve been so worried. Are you okay?”

“I’m.” Clint swallows. “Sorry.” He looks over her shoulder and sees Ben standing in the hallway behind her. “Sorry,” he says again to him.

It’s dumb, he knows it’s dumb, how shitty he feels about having worried these people, even though they don’t want him anymore.

Ben shakes his head. “I think we need to have a talk,” he says. “Come and sit down.”

Clint plants his feet. He’s gotten this far, but no matter how brave he tries to be, he’s not sure he can walk any further.

“It’s okay,” he says, shrugging like it doesn’t matter. “I know you want to get rid of me. You don’t have to make a big thing of it.”

Clint,” May says. Her eyes look so sad, but she doesn’t try to touch him again. If she did, he thinks he might crack down the middle. “We don’t want to get rid of you. We never want to get rid of you.”

“They want to adopt you,” Peter says quietly from the top of the stairs.

It takes Clint a couple of seconds to process the words. Then his hand finds the wall, before he’s realised he’s wobbled.

“I, um. Can I just.” Clint gestures vaguely at them and turns right around again.

“We’ll be right here,” Ben says softly and Clint nods, even though he’s not looking Ben’s way, anymore.

Clint makes it out onto the front steps before he has to sit down, curl forward and wrap his arms around his legs.

Vaguely, he hears a car door click open and slam closed, and then Phil’s there, Phil who didn’t leave, sitting down next to Clint on the top step and leaning into his side.

Clint twists around and puts his head on Phil’s shoulder, breathing out hard into his neck when Phil wraps both arms around him.

“They want to adopt me,” Clint mumbles.

Phil’s hands still on his back for a second, then he squeezes Clint even tighter. “That’s good, isn’t it?”

Clint shakes his head. Of course it’s good, it’s the best thing in the world, but Clint’s wanted it so long: a family, and not just any family, this family. It’s too much to take in.

“But they want to adopt me,” he repeats. Maybe Phil will get how huge this is, if Clint keeps saying it. “I get to stay.”

Phil kisses the top of Clint’s head. “That’s a good thing,” he says firmly. “You deserve it.”

Clint is shaking and he can’t stop. He lets Phil take more of his weight and, for once, doesn’t worry that he’s asking for too much.

After a while of just sitting quietly together, the front door opens, and Clint reluctantly turns his face away from the warmth of Phil’s neck to see who it is.

Peter smiles uncertainly at him and comes to sit down on Clint’s other side, squeezing onto the step with them. “Aunt May says you’re freaking out because you’re happy,” he announces. “You are, right? You don’t want to leave?”

“No, fuck, are you kidding me?” Clint demands. “Of course I want to stay.”

Peter ducks his head and actually fucking beams down at his lap, like that’s what he wanted to hear. He scoots closer and pokes Clint in the side until Clint works out what he wants and lifts his arm up.

Peter curls into his side and doesn’t say anything else, so Clint puts his head back on Phil’s shoulder and they go back to sitting outside together in silence, only now there’s three of them instead of two.

***

Eventually, Ben comes out and tells them that they’re going to make the neighbours think someone’s died and that there are perfectly good stairs inside for them to sit on, if they want.

Then he stops and looks down at Phil. “We haven’t been introduced.”

Phil doesn’t miss a beat. “Phil Coulson,” he says, manoeuvring a hand around Clint to offer to Ben.

Ben shakes hands firmly and nods. “You should come in too, kid, my wife would like to meet you.”

Oh god, Clint thinks, but he doesn’t really mind if they embarrass him. Maybe he won’t feel like that forever but, right now, it turns out that he actually sort of wants to have pseudo-parents to be embarrassing at his boyfriend.

They follow Ben into the house and Phil and Peter make themselves scarce while Clint stands in the kitchen and mumbles through, “I meant to say yes, just now? Before I, before I ran away, I meant to say yes. Please. To you adopting me.”

May smiles at him so wide that her eyes wrinkle up at the corners and she holds out her arms.

Ben gets to Clint before Clint can get to May, though, pulling him into a tight hug. Clint doesn’t know where to put his hands, so he just fists them into the back of Ben’s sweatshirt and holds on tight, while May laughs and comes over to slide herself under both their arms.

It’s… Clint doesn’t know how to describe how this feels. It’s everything he’s ever dreamed of, but he still never knew it would feel as good as it does.

“Thank you,” he says, even though it’s honest and sincere and he’s no good at that.

“Oh, Clint,” May says. “No. I’m so sorry we ever let you doubt how much we love you.”

“We didn’t want to get your hopes up,” Ben tells him. “There was some trouble with the paperwork since you were born out of state, but it’s fixed now. Your social worker will need to talk to you, obviously, but assuming you don’t tell her you secretly hate us, we’re all set.”

Clint swallows. “I don’t, I don’t secretly hate you,” he says, his voice getting stuck so low that they probably wouldn’t hear him if they weren’t all wrapped up together.

“Good,” May says and squeezes him hard before stepping back. “Now, come on, I want to meet this young man of yours. His father sounded charming on the phone. I think we should invite them both to dinner soon.”

“May,” Clint groans but he can’t keep it up. That actually sounds really nice. Normal. “Yeah, okay, that’d be. Yeah.”

Ben pats him on the shoulder. “Just nod and smile, son, she won’t be stopped.”

“That’s okay,” Clint tells him, feeling kind of dizzy because Ben called him son. He’s never done that before.

They find Phil and Peter having a quiet chat in the lounge, Peter making wide, solemn eyes at Phil.

Peter turns to May as soon as he notices them. “Phil says we can go out for breakfast. Can we, Aunt May?”

“I just meant that I’d take Peter out, if you needed some privacy,” Phil says, managing to sound apologetic and like he’s totally got this, all at once.

“That’s a fine idea,” May says, smiling at him. “The boys deserve a treat and it’ll give me and Ben a chance to get to know you better.”

Phil nods easily. He doesn’t look like the idea of that freaks him out. Clint wants to kiss him, but not quite badly enough to do that in front of May.

“Peter, go find a coat,” May says, clapping her hands together. “I’ll tell Ben our plan.” She leans up on her toes and kisses Clint’s cheek, beaming at him like he’s made her happy somehow.

As soon as they’re alone, Phil grabs the back of Clint’s belt and pulls him down to sit on the sofa beside him.

“Okay?” Phil asks, looking at him seriously. He has his eyebrows set in a firm line like he won’t appreciate Clint bullshitting him.

“Yeah,” Clint says slowly, dragging it out while he thinks. “Kind of overwhelmed, I guess? But definitely okay.”

Phil kisses him. Everyone keeps kissing Clint this morning. “Looks like I don’t need to fix things for you, after all.”

“Eh.” Clint rubs the back of his neck. “I kind of attract trouble. You’ll probably need to fix tons of shit for me eventually.” He peeks up at Phil from under his eyelashes. “That okay?”

Phil shakes his head at him, looking fond. “I think I’ll cope,” he promises.

“Yeah?” Clint asks. He laughs suddenly. His life’s ridiculous. He shouldn’t get Phil, and archery, and the Parkers all at once. He definitely hasn’t earned this much good luck.

“Come here,” Phil says and drags him into a hug, breathing out hard into Clint’s ear like he’s relieved too.

They hang like that, Clint grinning into Phil’s shoulder, until Ben calls out to say they’re ready to leave.

“Coming,” Clint calls back and links hands with Phil, tugging him up, and out to join Clint’s new family.

***

Clint wouldn’t exactly say that he was skulking in the hallway outside the student council meeting, except that okay, maybe he’s skulking.

It’s just that Phil said he’d be done by four and both Coulsons are coming over for dinner tonight, so Clint is maybe a little nervous. If by a little, you mean shitting bricks.

He has his phone in his hand, because Phil’s been texting him updates every five minutes (they’re still talking about the bake sale and Pepper just pulled out the highlighters and oh god, someone mentioned prom) and it makes him jump when it rings this time, rather than buzzing with another text.

Bucky Barnes flashes across the screen and Clint frowns.

“Yeah, hi?” he says, stepping back from the closed classroom door and pacing a couple steps away.

“Well look at that, you are alive,” Bucky says, “I owe Kate ten bucks.”

Clint winces, because he’s kind of fallen off the grid this last week. “Yeah, man, sorry,” he says, “been kind of a week.”

Bucky laughs softly. “Forget about it. I know how that goes. So…”

“So?” Clint asks.

Bucky swears at him. “Did you get into the fucking programme or not, Barton.”

“Oh.” Clint drags it out, starting to grin. “Sure, ‘course I did.”

“Ha,” Bucky says, chuckling, “sucks to be you, buddy.”

Clint frowns, turning all of his attention away from the hallway and to the phone. “Why?”

Bucky makes a sound that’s like a spoken shrug. “Heard there’s some pretty stiff competition, s’all.”

Clint huffs out a laugh. “Shit, you got in too?” He doesn’t mean to sound so pleased about that, but since he’s staying (he’s staying), it’d be cool to have a friend.

“Like that was ever an issue,” Bucky scoffs. Then his voice goes softer, “See you at the range on Tuesday?”

“Maybe if you’re lucky,” Clint says and laughs, when Bucky hangs up on him.

He’s still laughing softly as he tucks his phone away, when the door he’s been hanging around bangs open and Tony Stark sticks his head out. His eyes find Clint and then narrow.

“Oh,” he says, “it’s you.” He leans backwards and shouts into the room, “Coulson, it’s your boytoy, who’s making all the racket. Come deal with him.”

“Hey,” Clint starts to protest, but then Phil’s there, pushing Stark out the way and smiling at Clint in that same pleased way that he always smiles at him.

“Sorry about Tony,” Phil says, lips turning flat and disapproving even though his eyes are still dancing. “He has no manners.”

Clint shrugs. He doesn’t know how to react with Stark still looking at him. The ‘boytoy’ comment kind of threw him, like Stark actually knows who he is and, who he is to Phil, or something.

“We’re going to be a while longer,” Phil says. “As soon as someone mentions prom, we never get away. Do you want to wait inside? There are doughnuts.”

“I…” Clint starts, hesitating, but Phil's happy, dancing eyes start to dim and Clint can’t have that. “Yeah, sure. If I won’t be in the way?”

“You can be the deciding vote on how big the bake sale posters should be,” Phil says, mouth tilted wryly like he’s not even joking. He reaches out and snags Clint’s sleeve, fingertips brushing Clint’s wrist in a way that makes Clint shiver and makes Stark snort at them both.

“Sounds awesome,” Clint drawls, but he follows Phil into the classroom, where Pepper Potts and Maria Hill seem to have taken over one whole corner with a stack of print outs, and Bruce Banner is sitting on the floor, scribbling busily in a ledger.

There are doughnuts, though, right in the middle of the abandoned teacher’s desk.

“Clint, hi,” Pepper says, breaking off her conversation and smiling broadly. “It’s good to see you again. Do you know everyone?”

“Um, no,” Clint says, which leads to Phil being made to introduce everyone while Clint waves awkwardly.

“Sorry,” Phil says softly, leaning into Clint’s side once they’re done.

Clint shrugs, and tries to act like he’s totally blasé about meeting all Phil’s friends at once. “It’s cool.”

Phil smiles at him and then, before Clint knows to expect it, presses a kiss to the corner of Clint’s mouth.

Stark wolf-whistles but Pepper smiles and no one else seems to have noticed.

“Oh, um,” Clint says then makes himself trail off before he can say, I guess you’re not hiding me, then? “I’ll just… I’ll.” He sits down in the teacher’s chair and grabs the nearest doughnut.

“Won’t be long,” Phil promises. He gives Clint one more smile before turning away.

Clint puts his feet up on the chair and swivels back and forth, munching on chocolate sprinkles and watching Phil slot himself seamlessly into the middle of Pepper’s argument with Maria about the right shade of purple for Spirit Day.

He did his presentation in English class today and his grade from Ms Carter is sitting at the top of his bag. He’s excited to find out what kind of reward Phil gives for an A plus.

/end