Phil finished locking his office for the night and turned, one eyebrow raised in query.
Barton and Romanov were ambling toward him, Clint's arm thrown casually over Natasha's shoulder, and Phil suppressed his grin. Only Clint could get away with that -- anyone else would've lost a limb by now.
It was amusing the way the other agents along the corridor kept throwing alarmed glances at the duo. They were dressed casually, tight t-shirt and tighter jeans for Barton, dark jeans and a soft sweater for Romanov, dark leather jackets for them both. Trouble emanated from them, the impression heightened by Clint's mischievous smirk.
"We're goin' out," Clint said as they reached him. "C'mon, you should come with us, Coulson."
Coulson eyed him, unimpressed. "It's Saint Patrick's Day, Barton."
"Yes, sir. That's why we're going out. Take the night off. Put some jeans on. Have some fun. Paint the town green."
"I'm from Chicago, Barton. I've seen enough tourists drunk on cheap green beer to last me a lifetime, thanks." He felt his eye twitch at the memories.
"Suit yourself," Barton said, and his grin widened at what he obviously thought was an excellent play on words.
"Have fun," Phil told them. "Within reason."
"Yeah, yeah," Clint drawled. "If we get thrown in jail, SHIELD disavows all knowledge of us."
"Not SHIELD," Phil corrected. "Just me."
Clint snorted and sketched a lazy salute. The little smile Natasha gave him as they moved on was wide-eyed and innocent, and would have reassured anyone who didn't know her like Phil did.
He knew it was more trouble than any three of Barton's wicked grins.
Shaking his head, he continued down the corridor in the opposite direction. Quarterly evaluations were approaching, and he had personnel files and mission reports to review. It was going to be a long night.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Phil's doorbell rang just after midnight. He glanced at it in surprise, and then down at his silent phone.
It rang again, and then a fast series of knocks echoed through his apartment.
Morse code for BW. Natasha.
He moved quickly through the darkened apartment toward the door, sidearm in hand, and he paused only briefly before he peered through the peephole.
Natasha was staring directly at him, her expression carefully blank. Clint was plastered along her side, his face buried in her neck.
Phil hurriedly opened the door, setting his sidearm down but leaving it in reach.
"Is he injured?"
At Phil's words, Clint's head shot up and he wobbled, nearly overbalancing until Natasha braced him. His eyes were glassy, and there was a wide grin on his face.
"Coulson!" he shouted happily, and Phil winced, thinking of his neighbors. "Tash, look! It's Coulson!"
Her smile was half-fond, half-exasperated. "I know," she said, stroking his hair as he rested his head on her shoulder and stared at Phil.
"Is he injured?" Phil asked again, and this time his tone clearly conveyed if he is not, why have you brought him here?
Natasha raised an eyebrow. "No," she said evenly. "But this has gone on long enough, and I am tired of it. I'm tired of both of you. Fix it. Fix all of it," she ordered, and she shoved Clint at him.
Clint stumbled and swore and Phil jumped forward to catch him. It took a moment to make sure they weren't both going to hit the floor, and when he looked up, Natasha was gone.
Phil wanted to be angry or annoyed, but mostly he was just confused, and that wasn't helped by Clint clinging to him, arms wrapped around his waist, his face buried in Phil's neck. A hint of stubble scratched pleasantly at Phil's skin as Clint nuzzled at him, his hair brushing Phil's cheek.
"You smell so good, Coulson," Clint slurred, his breath warm against Phil's neck, and Phil gritted his teeth and took a deep breath.
"Thank you," he said calmly. There was no way he was going to get Clint back to his place, not when he was like this. He decided the guest room would be best. "Let's get you somewhere you can lay down, okay?"
After closing the door and locking it -- no easy feat with Clint clinging to him like a drunken octopus -- he steered the man through the apartment, stifling the curses that wanted to slip free. Clint, always lithe and graceful, was heavy and uncoordinated, tripping over his own feet and Phil's. Phil had no idea how Natasha had gotten him here in one piece.
"How much green beer did you drink, Barton?" he grunted, and Clint glared blearily at him.
"Green beer is for frat boys," he said indignantly. "I drank Guinness. Lots and lots and lots of Guinness." He frowned. "And maybe some Jameson's, I dunno -- Nat's very sneaky."
Phil suspected the extent of Natasha's sneakiness in this instance had extended to ordering the whisky and setting the shots in front of Clint, but he kept that to himself.
He turned into the hallway and Clint bounced gently off the doorjamb and into Phil, knocking him into the wall and then falling against him. They were pressed together chest to hip, their legs a tangled mess.
"Sorry," Clint said with a laugh from inches away, and Phil took another deep breath, let it out.
"It's okay. Do you think you could get off me?"
Clint blinked languidly, his gaze moving slowly over Phil's face. "Pretty."
Phil stared at him. "What?"
"You're really pretty, Coulson. I never get to tell you that. 'specially your eyes. Sometimes they're silver and sometimes they're blue and sometimes, when you're really mad, they get cold and hard. Kinda mean." His brow furrowed heavily. "I don't like it when they're like that."
"I don't either," Phil said faintly. He pushed at Clint's shoulders, but it was futile. "Usually that means you've done something stupid and put yourself in danger."
"Gotta get the job done. Always gotta. For you."
The deep breathing wasn't helping. All it was doing, in fact, was pressing Phil's chest closer to the hard muscles of Clint's.
"I know," he said. "You always do your best. Come on, Barton. Up now."
Clint stumbled backward and Phil barely caught him before he hit the opposite wall.
"Your hair looks really soft. I bet it's soft. Can I touch it?"
Phil sighed, caught in a helpless mix of longing, amusement, and irritation. "Maybe later. Come on, in here."
"You got a great body, too, you know that, Coulson?"
Phil jumped as Clint's hand palmed his ass and squeezed.
"You like to hide it under those suits, because you're sneaky like Nat, but I know. I knoooooooooooow."
Phil removed Clint's hand, telling himself firmly that he wasn't disappointed when Clint let go so easily. "Clint -- "
"So sneaky. Fucking ninja."
Phil couldn't help his grin. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. Sneaky, sneaky ninja. Still dunno how you stayed looking so good out in New Mexico when the rest of us looked like drowned rats. But you just looked like you always do. Perfect Agen' Coulson. Hot and badass and smart. So fucking smart. Wish I was smart like you." He snorted. "Wish I was smart."
"What? Here, sit here," Phil said, maneuvering Clint toward the bed. Clint dropped heavily onto it and lay back, arms splayed as he stared at the ceiling.
Phil knew that Clint was just babbling, and it was the alcohol talking, but Clint's last words disturbed him. He very carefully wasn't thinking about everything else Clint had said.
"You are smart, why would you say you aren't?"
Clint snorted. "Dropped out of seventh grade, 'member?"
"Sit up, you can't pass out like that." He yanked at Clint's arms until the man was sitting up again. "You're smarter than most of the Ivy League grads I know, Barton."
Clint snorted again. "Right."
"Your observational skills are off the charts, and no one I've ever seen has better situational awareness -- "
Phil broke off. What the hell was he doing giving a drunken asset a performance evaluation now, of all times?
"Wait right here," he said, turning and leaving the room. He went to the kitchen, grabbing a bottle of ibuprofen and filling a large glass with water.
"Coulson?" Clint's voice was plaintive and indistinct. "I'm sorry! I dunno what I said, but I'm sorry. Come back?"
The needy tone tugged at Phil's heart and quickened his step.
"I'm here," he said as he entered the room again, and Clint's worried frown slid into a happy smile. "Just getting you some water. Drink this."
He curled Clint's hands around the glass, making sure uncoordinated fingers were gripping it tightly before he let go to open the pill bottle. Clint drank half the glass and tried to set it down, but Phil stopped him.
"Take these," he said, handing three ibuprofen to Clint, who immediately obeyed.
Phil's heart gave a little lurch. Sober Clint would never have swallowed pills so trustingly -- he always examined them carefully, even if they came directly from Phil's hand.
He knelt, pulling off Clint's boots. Clint was going to have to sleep in his clothes because there was no way Phil was going to undress him and he couldn't do it by himself, not when he was like this.
A heavy hand fell on his head, and he jumped, startled. Clumsy fingers petted at his hair.
"Soft," Clint slurred. "Knew it would be."
Phil gently disentangled himself and stood. "Come on, lie down."
He carefully maneuvered Clint until he was lying on his side, his head on the pillow.
"Hey, Coulson? You think if I was smarter, you might want me?" Clint mumbled, his eyes closed, and Phil stared at him, stunned. "'cause sometimes, you make jokes, and I don't get them. I think if I got them, you might like me more. Might make you want me. That'd be nice. It'd be really good."
"Go to sleep," Phil forced himself to say, stopping himself before he could reach out to stroke Clint's hair.
"Mmm... night, Coulson." He mumbled something that sounded vaguely like love you.
Phil's breath hitched, and he reminded himself that the man was drunk and didn't know what he was saying. For all Phil knew, he was talking to the pillow.
"Good night, Clint," he murmured, but Clint had already passed out.
Phil spent most of the rest of the night in the armchair by the bed, watching to make sure Clint slept safely. His mind and his gut churned with a tangled mess of thoughts and emotions, and he had no idea what to do.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A quiet moan brought his attention the guest room the next morning as he sat pensively in the living room. He went to the kitchen and poured a very large cup of coffee before going to check on Clint.
He knocked on the doorjamb and Clint grunted in acknowledgement, so Phil entered and set the cup of coffee on the nightstand.
Sometime during the early morning, Clint had wrapped himself in the bedspread, and with his head buried under the pillow, only the tip of his nose was visible.
"Is it sunny outside?" he asked, his voice a painful sounding rasp.
Phil glanced at the tightly shut blinds. "I believe so."
"Maybe you should just open the blinds. My head'll explode, and that'll be the end. It'll be quick."
Phil chuckled. "Feeling a little rough?"
Clint was quiet for so long that Phil wondered if he'd passed out again. He was just about to leave when Clint said, "I said a lot of shit last night, didn't I?"
His voice was bleak and miserable, and Phil resisted the urge to sit next to him on the bed and stroke a calming hand over him. Instead, he circled to the opposite side of the bed and sat, facing the wall to give Clint some privacy.
"You did talk quite a bit," he said calmly, pausing as Clint groaned into the pillow. "There's a couple of ways we can handle it. I'm not quite sure you remember everything you said, but you can probably figure out the gist of it if you don't. If you're regretting what you said because it isn't true and it was just the alcohol talking, I am more than willing to move forward without ever mentioning it again. If you're embarrassed because the alcohol loosened your lips but you meant what you said, and you think it wasn't anything I wanted to hear, then you're mistaken, and I think we should talk about it."
Clint was silent, but Phil could feel his attention, knew he was awake and listening, so he continued.
"There is coffee on the bedside table, and clean towels and clothes in the bathroom. Take a shower and take some time to think. If you'd like to pretend this never happened, you can let yourself out, and we'll never mention it again. If you want to talk, I'll be in my office at the end of the hall. Either way, there is breakfast keeping warm in the oven, and bread in the toaster. And more coffee."
He stood and left the room. A quick glance back from the doorway showed that Clint hadn't moved, and he really hoped he was doing the right thing giving Clint some time to think, and the chance to run if he wanted.
Phil really hoped he wouldn't.
He made his way to his office and sorted absently through his files, stopping with a sigh when he realized he was sorting them completely wrong. He concentrated on getting them in order, pausing to take a deep breath when he heard the shower go on.
He very firmly did not let his mind wander beyond what Clint's decision might be.
Clint's shower was quick, and a few minutes later, Phil heard dishes rattling in the kitchen, and then the sound of toast popping.
Phil's stomach was churning, and he put his coffee cup down untouched when he realized his hand was trembling. He waited, and waited, but the sound of the front door opening and closing never came.
"You wanted to talk to me, sir?" Clint said, very softly, from behind him, and the rush of relief that went through Phil was so great, he was glad he was sitting down. He swiveled in his chair to see Clint in the doorway, looking embarrassed and nervous and a little hopeful.
"We aren't at work, Clint. Please don't call me sir now."
Clint blinked. "Um, okay. Coulson?"
Phil smiled. "Try 'Phil'."
Clint swallowed, and Phil found himself watching the way his throat moved.
"I don't want to talk to you. I want us to talk. Why don't we go into the living room and do that?"
He led the way to the living room, noticing the way Clint flinched in the sunlight. He closed the blinds and turned on a lamp before sitting on one end of the sofa. Clint hesitated for a moment and then sat in the middle of the sofa, near Phil but not close enough to touch him.
"You are still here, so I'm going to infer that means you meant at least some of what you said last night. I hope that's the case, because while confessions while inebriated don't count, your continued presence here this morning might."
"Coulson... Phil... I'm too hungover for this. What the hell are you talking about?" Clint said in confusion.
Phil stifled a sigh, wishing briefly for a couple of stiff drinks of his own. He took a deep breath and tried again. "It is against SHIELD regulations for an agent in a position of authority to make social or sexual overtures toward an agent in their direct command. That is one of the reasons I've never acted on my attraction for you. The other is that I never imagined that attraction was returned. Some of what you said last night makes me think I may have been wrong about that." And did, he thought, remembering the feel of Clint's hand on his ass.
"So, okay, you can't hit on me because, what, SHIELD's afraid you're going to trade blowjobs for better quarterly evaluations?"
Phil was a grown man and he absolutely didn't blush at that. "Essentially."
"But it's okay for me to hit on you? And for you to respond?"
"Yes. As long as my superiors are made aware of the dalliance. Or the relationship, if it comes to that."
"'Dalliance'? Really?" Then the rest of his words clearly registered, because Clint's already pale face lost a little more color. "So, if we do this, we have to tell Fury?" When Phil nodded, Clint raised his hands in a clear gesture of Hell, no! "Okay, but you're doing that part."
Phil's heart jumped in his chest. "Then you're interested in pursuing something? With me?"
Clint laughed and scrubbed a hand over his face. "Jesus, Coulson. Phil. Did you miss the part where I climbed all over you and called you pretty?"
Phil felt his cheeks heat. Again. "No, but you were pretty out of it."
Clint shook his head with a rueful chuckle. "Tasha must've read the regs. She knew that you couldn't say anything, and that I wouldn't say anything, so she got me wasted and gave me to you."
That was the part that made Phil uneasy, and he frowned. Clint hadn't done this when he was capable of clear thought. He hadn't come to Phil because he wanted to; he'd been deliberately stripped of self-control, brought here, and dumped here. "If you don't -- "
"I do. I'm going to owe her forever, and she knows it, but I do." Clint set his coffee cup on the table and shifted on the couch until he was crowding Phil. His eyes were bloodshot, but still beautiful. "I'm not out of it now. I'm sober, and completely capable of consent, and if you need me to make the first move, then that's what I'm doing. I want this. I want you. And I want more than a dalliance. Tell me you want this."
Clint spoke clearly, and with such intent -- the heat and the need in his eyes sent a thrill through Phil, and his breath caught in his throat. He swallowed, watching Clint's eyes as they tracked the movement, and then he took a moment to let everything in him settle. He slid one hand around the back of Clint's neck and cupped his cheek with the other.
"I want this. I want you," he said, and Clint's eyes lit with a joy he'd never seen. His gaze dropped to Phil's mouth, his breath hitching when Phil's lips parted in anticipation, and then he leaned in -- slowly, but Phil had no desire to back away.
His lips were warm and dry and perfect against Phil's, and Phil sighed, his hand tightening in Clint's hair just a little. Groaning low in his throat, Clint pushed closer, pressing Phil against the couch cushions and deepening the kiss.
It took everything Phil had to pull back when all he wanted to do was lean in, get closer, give more. Clint's eyes fluttered open, and the way he murmured Phil's name as he chased the kiss made Phil helplessly move in to kiss him quickly once more before he pulled back again.
"There is one more thing we need to talk about."
"Now?" Clint's voice was incredulous, and Phil nodded, doing his best to ignore the breathless sound of it and the way Clint's eyes were dark with need.
"Yes. This can't wait. I don't ever want you to tell me again that you're not smart. Look at me," he ordered when Clint looked down and tried to pull away. "You are one of the smartest men I know, Clint -- have I ever lied to you?" he demanded when Clint made a scoffing sound. "Have I?"
"A degree on someone's wall -- or five degrees on someone's wall -- does not make them smart. Not having a degree does not make you dumb. You have extraordinary insight to go with your incredible vision, and you have one of the brightest strategic minds I've ever seen."
He could see that what he was saying wasn't really sinking in -- and it probably wouldn't for a while, but he wasn't going to stop until Clint believed every word Phil was saying. He took a different tack for now.
"Does Natasha suffer fools gladly?"
Clint's brow furrowed. "What?"
"Natasha. How does she deal with stupid people? Are you still alive? In one piece?"
"Okay, okay. I'm not dumb. I get it." Clint smiled a little and rolled his eyes.
Not yet. But you will, Phil thought with determination, and then his thoughts scattered completely when Clint stroked calloused fingertips along his jaw.
"Can we go back to kissing now?" Clint asked, and he groaned when Phil turned his head to press a kiss to Clint's palm.
"I suppose, if we must," Phil sighed, and Clint's lips were smiling as they met his again.