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Break the Sound and Change the Season

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August, 1983

It’s a hot night so Clint is sprawled out across his bunk, one arm flopping off the edge and the other flung restlessly against the splintery wooden wall of the caravan.

He’s half awake, listening to people arguing outside, but he’s not really worried. People argue all the time here, and sometimes punches are thrown, but they rarely bother Clint or Barney.

The voices stop so Clint closes his eyes again, rolling onto his stomach and hoping maybe he’ll find a cool piece of sheet, if he moves around enough.

There’s a crash outside and he startles all the way awake again, clutching his blanket in a deathgrip when the caravan door flies open and Barney comes running in.

He looks scared. Clint hates it when Barney looks scared. When Barney’s scared, it means that either someone has hurt him or someone’s about to hurt Clint.

“Come on,” Barney hisses, “get up.”

Clint really doesn’t want to, but Barney told him to, so he does. He tumbles out of bed and grabs the too-big pair of sneakers that Trickshot bought for him, out from under his bed.

“Where are we going?” Clint asks, sliding his feet into the shoes and clinging onto the bottom with his toes so they don’t fall off when he tries to walk.

“Everyone outside, they said,” Barney says and gives Clint a shove in the middle of the back to get him moving. “Don’t get me in trouble by being late.”

Clint wants to argue that he wouldn’t, but he always seems to get Barney in trouble, so he keeps quiet.

There’s a massive group of people gathering out on the green space in front of where they’ve set up the Big Top. Clint sees lots of people he recognises but there always seem to be new people around a circus, and there’s an angry looking man with long black hair at the front, who he doesn’t know at all.

“Who’s that?” Clint whispers to Barney, but Barney shakes his head, which either means he doesn’t know or he isn’t telling.

The angry man is yelling at their Ringmaster, which Clint didn’t think anyone was allowed to do. Clint tries to creep closer to hear what they’re saying, but Barney grabs hold of his collar and keeps him back.

“Stay out of it,” he tells Clint firmly, making narrow, meaningful eyes at him.

Clint huffs but shuffles back to Barney’s side. He’s tired and he doesn’t understand what’s going on.

After what feels like forever, and just as Clint’s thinking about maybe having a nap on the grass, the Ringmaster turns to all the assembled carnies and spreads his hands.

“Friends, this man says his son has run away with a girl from our troop. He claims that we’re harbouring them. Does anyone know anything about that?”

Clint looks up at Barney – Barney knows the older kids better than Clint does – but Barney doesn’t look like he looks when he’s hiding something.

No one says anything.

Everyone starts to close ranks, stepping into one big knot in the middle of the grass.

If Clint stands on his tiptoes, he can still see the Ringmaster. The angry man next to him is starting to look even angrier.

“Barney,” Clint whispers, reaching back for Barney’s hand. Barney shakes him off, too busy whispering with one of the girls who works with the horses. Clint thinks Barney sort of likes her.

The angry man’s black hair seems to be kind of glowing.

Barney!” Clint says again and, this time, he manages to catch hold of Barney’s hand, digging his nails in so that Barney can’t shake him off, no matter how hard he tries.

“What? For fu-” Barney stops shouting at Clint and stares where he’s pointing.

The really angry man looks like he’s on fire, but the fire isn’t red, it’s silver and rising up from the ground around him.

“Get down,” Barney says and tugs Clint to the floor. By the time their knees hit the dirt, the whole world has gone dark.

***

September, 2013

Clint is standing in the middle of the corridor, trying to choose between shooting holes in things down on the range or just going to veg in front of the TV with Thor, when the dining room door opens and Phil Coulson steps out.

He’s been in there with Tony and Steve all afternoon and he sure looks like it, his normally neat edges more than a little frayed.

“Hey, sir,” Clint says, grinning at him and slouching back against the wall. He likes to give the impression of lurking sometimes; it freaks people out, which is one of his favourite things to do.

He never seems to freak Phil out, but he’s sure he’ll hit on a way eventually.

“Barton,” Phil says, nodding. He closes the door behind himself, cutting off the sounds of Tony and Steve arguing over… something. Clint could probably work out what if he really put his mind to it, but it’s not laser arrows and it’s not an imminent alien threat so why bother?

“Having fun?” Clint asks. Phil starts down the corridor so Clint falls into step with him. Following Phil around is more fun than shooting things or listening to Thor try to fathom out RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Phil turns to him, opens his mouth then closes it and shakes his head. “No,” he says. This isn’t the first time that Phil has decided to let Clint see that he’s a real person but Clint is still thrilled by it, every time. “But we’re done for the day, at least.”

Clint grins at him. “You mean you are. Stark will keep Rogers in there until sunrise at the earliest.”

Phil grimaces, steps slowing but he doesn’t stop. “I feel like I should go back and save him,” he says, almost a question, like he’ll let Clint talk him out of it.

Clint slings a companionable arm around his shoulder, impressed when it takes seven whole seconds for Phil to shrug him off. “Nah, Cap enjoys it really. He voluntarily moved in here with our merry band of weirdoes, didn’t he?”

“True,” Phil agrees and doesn’t look so much like he wants to go back in there anymore. Which is good. Clint isn’t possessive but… fuck it, Clint is totally possessive and he hasn’t had any one-on-one time with Phil for ages.

“Going straight home?” he asks. They’ve reached the elevators and he’s trying really hard to think up a reason to get Phil to stay a while longer.

“Yes,” Phil says then, slower, “No, maybe not.”

Clint tips his head. “Sir?” he asks, smiling.

Phil waits another second then nods like he’s decided on something. “How would you like to go get a late dinner?”

Clint blinks. “Uh, yeah?” he says. They used to eat together all the time when Phil was his handler, but it was mostly because they happened to be hungry and happened to be together; they’ve never deliberately gone out together for dinner. “I mean, as long as you’re paying, sir.”

Phil rolls his eyes. “I know how much you get paid,” he says but there’s a smile dancing around the corner of his eyes. “Meet you downstairs in five?”

“Sure,” Clint agrees, sticking his hands in his pockets. He’s nonchalant, he is the most nonchalant guy ever. He gives Phil a really sloppy salute and strolls off to get changed, being very, very careful not to hurry.

***

“Mom says you have to get me home by eleven,” Clint tells Phil, dropping down into the passenger seat and closing the door.

“Which one of them is Mom?” Phil asks as he puts the car in gear. “I’m assuming it’s not Natasha.”

Clint thinks for a second then laughs. “JARVIS, probably, he’s the only one of us who ever worries about having vegetables in the fridge or not leaving electrics on standby.”

“I see,” Phil says slowly. He stops the car at the top of the ramp out of the Stark Tower parking lot and turns to raise his eyebrows at Clint. “So while I was planning for the next alien invasion, I really should have been worrying about you all dying of scurvy or contributing to global warming.”

“Yep,” Clint says cheerfully, reaching over and patting Phil’s elbow. “Which is why it’s so damn nice of you to be taking me out on this here date.”

It takes Phil a beat to come up with a response, which is unprecedentedly long for him and, when he does, it’s just to shake his head and roll the car forward to merge into traffic.

Clint has a feeling he’s missing something. But then, he works and lives with Tony and Bruce, super-geniuses extraordinaire, so he’s always missing something and he always manages to work it out. Just give him some time.

***

Honestly, when Phil asked if he wanted to get dinner, Clint was expecting the McDonalds down the block or maybe the one on 42nd Street if they were feeling really adventurous. He definitely wasn’t anticipating a cosy little mom and pop Italian place where the waiters know Phil’s name and the chef comes out to say hi after they’ve placed their orders.

“Um,” Clint asks. “Sir?”

Phil takes a sip from his beer glass and asks blandly, “Clint?”

Okay, there’s another thing: Clint. That’s new.

Clint isn’t entirely sure how to ask you have friends? without being seriously offensive. “When did you have time to bond with restaurateurs?” he settles on.

Phil actually laughs. “I went to school in the city,” he says. “My favourite waitress from back then runs this place now.”

Huh. Now that Clint did not know. He’d always figured Phil went to Harvard or something, somewhere where they taught you how to really rock a kickass suit.

“What?” Phil asks, still smiling and looking at Clint curiously.

Clint wonders what expression is showing on his face. Which is worrying because usually he knows exactly how much he’s giving way. “Just trying to picture you as an NYU hipster, sir,” he lies, smirking.

Phil shakes his head. “This was long before hipsters. This was the early eighties, it was all punk rock and protest marches, then.”

Clint leans forwards. “Please tell me you marched,” he begs. He doesn’t ask about the punk rock. If Phil was a punk, Clint isn’t sure his brain can handle the knowledge.

Phil smiles slowly. “How do you think I first met Director Fury?” he asks and Clint is still laughing in delight when the waiter brings their food over.

***

Dinner is a lot of fun. Clint always enjoys Phil but he rarely gets to see Phil enjoying him back; when he does, it makes his insides a little fizzy, like there’s something really good coming.

Phil insists on picking up the check, which, sure, Clint had teasingly told him he had to, but he hadn’t meant it, and then they have to drive back to Stark Tower. Clint finds that he really doesn’t want to do that. He wishes they’d walked so he could make them take a detour or twelve, just to prolong the evening.

At the back of his mind, he knows what he’s doing. He’s thinking about tonight as a date, which it can’t be. But he doesn’t see much harm in pretending, just a little. Fantasy dates are much safer than real ones, so he’s had a lot of them by now.

“I had a good time,” Phil tells him when they’re back at the Tower. He’s walked Clint through the lobby to the private elevators that lead up the Avengers’ floors. Clint wonders if he thinks Clint’s going to get lost or something.

“Yeah, me too,” Clint agrees. He gives Phil a cheeky smile. “We should do it again. I want to hear more about the time you were a punk rocker with flowers in your hair.”

Phil rolls his eyes, but he doesn’t actually deny it. “We can do it again,” he says and he doesn’t sound eager, because he’s Phil Coulson, but he certainly sounds genuine.

Clint looks at him and can’t think of anything smart to say. His heart is beating too fast, for some reason, and it’s interfering with his brain.

“Clint,” Phil says, very softly and then he’s leaning forward, not touching Clint anywhere except for where he presses his lips, very lightly, against Clint’s.

Clint sucks in a breath that’s loud enough to be a gasp, if only SHIELD agents gasped. He steps back, breathing too hard, too shocked.

“I’m sorry,” Phil says, taking a step back of his own. “You weren’t expecting me to do that.”

Which is when Clint realises that he should have been. Because it wasn’t just a date in his head, it was a real date. He voluntarily agreed to go on a real date and then his real date walked him to his door and – God, Clint is such an idiot.

“Don’t be sorry, sir,” he says, trying to smile, wondering if he manages it. He swallows hard. “I was thinking about the cameras.” He nods up at the surveillance camera that’s tucked into every corner down here.

Phil looks at him hard, like he’s trying to tell if Clint’s lying. “So if I were kiss you somewhere without cameras?”

No, Clint tells himself to say, I’m not interested. Sorry for leading you on. “That might be okay,” he hears himself say. “If you can find somewhere.”

Phil smiles at him slowly. “Oh, I will,” he promises, like this is a dare or a game, not the worst idea Clint has ever had. (And that’s saying a lot.) He touches Clint’s wrist for a second before dropping his hand. “See you tomorrow?”

Clint’s skin is buzzing. That can’t be normal. “I expect so,” he manages and returns the tiny smile that Phil gives him, watching Phil walk away until he’s all the way back to his car.

Phil turns just before he climbs inside. He looks surprised when he sees that Clint’s still watching him, but raises his hand in a wave.

Clint waves back and then, feeling like an idiot and calling himself worse, practically throws himself into the elevator.

***

Tony has built every Avenger a floor of their own – which is ridiculous but also amazing – and Clint’s is right at the very top. The ride up in the elevator gives him time to stand very still and think about absolutely nothing, which helps.

Kind of.

It helps, anyway, until he realises that he can still feel the phantom press of Phil’s lips on his and then he just feels pathetic. It was barely a kiss at all, which is maybe the problem. He wants more and he can’t have more, but no one’s kissed him in a long fucking time and his mouth feels kind of itchy, like it’s hoping for something messier next time.

He lets himself into his room, grabs his bow and heads straight back out again. There’s a shooting range that runs the whole length of this floor. (Clint is never moving out.)

He shakes out his training bow and selects his lightest arrows. He lines up the shot and his thumb brushes his bottom lip when he pulls back the string.

No, he tells himself. It’s much easier to be disciplined with a bow in his hands. You’re gonna go in tomorrow and tell him you’re not interested. Everything will go back to how it was.

“It’ll be easy,” he promises out aloud and lets the arrow fly.

***

“Agent Barton,” Phil says, putting his tray down on the commissary table in front of Clint’s and taking the seat opposite his. “I didn’t know you were in today.”

Clint looks up and tells himself not to smile. He smiles. “Couldn’t keep away, sir,” he says easily and rolls the apple from his tray over onto Phil’s. It’s a shiny green one, which are secretly Phil’s favourites.

Phil stops the apple with the side of his coffee mug and holds up what looks like a toffee nut muffin questioningly. Clint makes a tragic gimme face so Phil does.

Clint very carefully doesn’t think about how easy this all is between them.

“Everything okay at the Tower?” Phil presses. Under the table, his knee bumps Clint’s once, briefly. It might be an accident but Clint doubts it. Phil doesn’t have a lot of accidents like that.

“Yeah,” Clint says and moves his leg to the right, pressing the outside of his knee to the inside of Phil’s. He mentally yells at himself for it. Really loudly. “Just didn’t feel like being there today.”

Phil narrows his eyes, just slightly. He’s not going to ask, Clint knows, not in public, which Clint appreciates.

“A lot of team,” Clint clarifies and Phil nods, like he understands. Which he probably does. It’s no secret that Clint doesn’t do well with the whole team-building shit and that was apparently the only thing on Steve’s agenda for today.

Phil finishes his coffee and tucks the apple away in his pocket. “Walk with me?” he asks.

Clint’s been finished, except for the cookies, for a while now, just sitting here with an empty cup and a forbidding expression designed to stop anyone coming over to chat. Forbidding expressions don’t work on Phil but then, he hadn’t wanted it to.

“Sure,” he says, standing up. “Since you asked so nicely.”

Phil rolls his eyes and stands up too. “Be nice. I didn’t make it an order.”

“Kinky,” Clint says, because that’s what’s expected of him, and hops over the bench to join Phil.

They leave the commissary in silence, mostly because they have to pass a couple of tables full of new recruits to get to the door and Agent Coulson can’t be seen chatting by people who he hasn’t properly terrified into submission yet.

“I have a meeting with Hill in five minutes,” Phil says as soon as they’re outside, taking the route across the tiny outdoor quad to get to the other side of SHIELD central.

“Lucky you,” Clint says automatically then feels guilty. Hill did a damn good job of looking after the Avengers while Phil was still playing dead. “I mean, what about?”

“Potentially sentient fire ferrets,” Phil says, deadpan. His lips don’t even twitch when Clint laughs.

“Not seriously?” Clint asks, bumping his shoulder into Phil’s. “Seriously. Can I have one?” He doesn’t know what a fire ferret is but it sounds awesome.

“That depends on the outcome of my meeting,” Phil says.

They’ve reached the door that’ll take Phil through to the senior staff’s offices. Clint has no desire to get that close to Fury so he hangs back.

“What are you doing tonight?” Phil asks, and it’s only obvious how much he was teasing before when he stops.

“I don’t know,” Clint says slowly. “It might be team spin the bottle night or something.”

Phil gets an expression on his face like he doesn’t know what to do with that image. “Okay,” he says, “sure. Have fun with that.”

Clint grins at him. “Oh, I will. Want me to give Cap a kiss for you?”

Phil gives him his most unimpressed look. He doesn’t actually say no though. Clint smirks at him.

Ten seconds after Phil leaves him by the door, Clint starts to feel guilty. It was pretty obvious that Phil was angling to do something together tonight. The fact that he didn’t just come out and say so means that he was nervous. Clint knows he should have helped him out.

Dammit.

Clint thinks he maybe prefered his life when there was no one he could read this well.

Pulling his phone out, he sends Phil a quick text: I guess I don’t have to kiss Thor tonight if I get a better offer?

Even though Phil is probably already in his meeting, it only takes him a couple of minutes to reply. My place 20:00?

Cool. Clint sends back. It will be cool, he tells himself. It’s just hanging out; Clint hasn’t agreed to anything else.

***

“What did you think?” Phil asks, walking around the kitchen island to the tiny space he uses as a living area. “Good enough for Iron Chef?”

“I don’t know,” Clint says thoughtfully, “you’ll need to feed me a couple more times before I make up my mind.”

Phil smiles and hands Clint a glass of red wine. Clint wonders if this is the way Phil treats all his dates.

There’s no doubt this is a date. It’s been very date-like since Clint arrived. There’s even music playing.

“Request something,” Phil says, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Clint shifts his knees to the side, giving Phil room to sit down. “Is this how you always relax after work?” Clint asks, nodding at the wine, the soft jazz playing on the stereo. When Clint needs to relax, he shoots things; it wouldn’t have surprised him to learn that Phil works the same way.

“Relax?” Phil asks, shaking his head. “After work? Please explain these strange terms, Agent.”

“Point,” Clint agrees, not asking how come Phil has free time tonight, in that case.

They sit quietly for a while, which is fine, good even. Phil is one of the few people Clint can sit with quietly without needing to make some smart remark or other. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t make them, just that he doesn’t feel he needs to.

“You want to watch some TV?” Phil asks, putting his glass down on the tiny coffee table and reaching for the remote.

“Sure,” Clint says but then finds himself putting his hand over Phil’s, stopping him. He shouldn’t have done that, leading Phil on is a shitty thing to do, so he doesn’t do anything else.

“Clint?” Phil asks, turning his head to look up at him.

Clint pauses, trying to put his question into an order that’ll make sense outside his head. “What are we doing?” he asks.

“Having dinner.” Off Clint’s unimpressed look, Phil shakes his head. “No, I mean that. I’m not assuming that you’re interested in anything more.”

“But you are?” Clint asks, absolutely refusing to let himself sound nervous.

Phil hesitates for a second then, “Yes,” he says. “But I’m sorry about the other night.”

Clint frowns and lifts his hand off Phil’s. “You are?”

Phil looks uncomfortable. “You obviously weren’t expecting me to kiss you, so I’m sorry. I guess I was just… I’ve been thinking about it a long time.”

“You have?” Clint laughs. “How long? As long as you’ve been crushing on Captain America?”

Phil rolls his eyes. “Shut up,” he says. “I’d rather kiss you than Captain America.”

Clint blinks, forgetting to laugh. “Really?”

“Let me show you?” Phil asks and the way he’s looking at Clint means Clint can’t do anything but nod. Fuck.

Clint doesn’t wait for Phil to kiss him, he leans in to do it first. The angle’s off to start with but they’re highly skilled SHIELD agents, they quickly sort that out, and then it’s just Phil’s mouth and Clint’s mouth, moving together experimentally.

Clint hasn’t kissed a lot of people – usually it’s easier not to start something, when he knows he isn’t going to finish it – but he’s kissed enough to know that this is good. This works.

He thinks that Phil’s going to say something when they break apart but he doesn’t, just shifts so he’s leaning back against the couch and stretches his arm along the top, raising his eyebrows.

Clint puts his mostly-full glass down – he likes the idea of a sophisticated kind of date but he doesn’t really like wine – and twists to face Phil, pulling both knees up onto the sofa and leaning in again.

This kiss is less cautious. Phil cups a hand around the ball of Clint’s shoulder, thumb rubbing circles into Clint’s shirt while he licks questioningly along the tiny space between Clint’s lips.

Fuck. Clint wants to this to go on all night.

He pulls back, putting a gap between them that he doesn’t want to be there. Seriously, that is a terrible gap. He really hates that gap. Phil looks like he hates it too, judging from the tiny twitch between his eyes, the way he flicks his tongue out over his own lips.

“I should probably get going soon,” Clint says, knowing it’s an awkward segue but also knowing he has to say it. “Nat’s got some plan for a four a.m. training thing.”

“Right.” Phil slides his hand down from Clint’s shoulder, squeezing Clint’s elbow briefly before taking it away. “Do I want to know?” he asks.

“Only if you like knives,” Clint says, shrugging.

Phil smiles. “I like knives.”

Damn. Now Clint has to kiss him again. Phil makes a surprised sound into his mouth but opens up straight away when Clint tries introducing a little tongue.

One of Phil’s hands slides up Clint’s spine and cups the back of his neck. His fingertips brush the base of Clint’s skull and that shouldn’t be hot, he’s sure that shouldn’t be hot. He shivers all over, though, because it really fucking is.

“Do you really have to go?” Phil asks, pulling back just far enough to murmur it into Clint’s ear. Clint shivers again. He’s kind of a mess. He shouldn’t be this turned on from just some kissing, he knows that, but he is. He’s glad that the way their legs are arranged stops Phil’s lower body coming any closer to Clint’s or Phil would be able to tell.

“I do,” Clint lies. He kisses Phil one more time then makes himself stand up, move toward the door. “Sorry.”

Phil shakes his head. “It’s probably for the best,” he says, “let’s not rush this.”

Clint’s kind of punchy so it takes all of his willpower not to laugh at that. Little does Phil know how very, very unrushed this is going to end up being.

“Yeah?” he asks because in his experience when people say they don’t want to rush, they mean they want to have sex on the third date.

Phil shrugs. “Unless you’re in a hurry?” He doesn’t look uncertain but he sounds it, just slightly.

Clint shakes his head quickly. “Nope, no hurry.”

The smile he gets almost makes up for the fact that he’s being kind of a bastard right now. He hopes that Phil won’t hate him too much when he finds out everything that Clint’s keeping from him.

In this moment, with Phil bracketing him back against the front door for just one more kiss, Clint can almost believe that it’ll all work out.

***

“And what time do you call this?”

Tony’s fake-stern voice makes Clint pause, which is his first mistake. He should have kept walking, that way he wouldn’t have encouraged Tony to keep talking.

“Clinton Barton,” Tony carries on, “I’m shocked at you.”

Clint sighs and pastes on his most unimpressed expression. He might be borrowing from Phil a little but, whatever, it works. “It’s not even 23:30, Dad; my curfew’s midnight.”

Tony grins and comes out of the shadows. He slings an arm around Clint’s neck, dragging him along into the huge living room that they use as a kind of communal hangout spot. The glass he’s carrying bangs against Clint’s chin. It smells like whiskey.

Steve and Natasha are stretched out across the floor, a chequer board between them. Banner’s nowhere to be seen and Thor’s watching TV, chuckling to himself. Since he’s watching the Weather Channel, that’s kind of worrying.

“Look who I found,” Tony says, shoving Clint down onto the nearest sofa. He half lands on Thor, which is pretty comfortable, actually.

“Greetings,” Thor says, not taking his eyes off the cyclone that’s apparently threatening the Midwest. Clint hates the Midwest. He also hates cyclones. “Where did you spend the evening?”

Clint shrugs, leaning back into his own corner of the sofa. “Dinner,” he says, “with a friend.”

Natasha looks up, eyebrows raised. “You have friends who aren’t me?” she asks in her fake-innocent voice.

Clint flips her off. She grins.

“What kind of friend?” Tony asks, leaning closer. He smells of whiskey and motor oil and Clint thinks he’s completely justified in giving him a shove. Disappointingly, Tony hops back but doesn’t fall over. “Uh uh, that is beard burn, Barton, you can’t fool me.”

Now Natasha looks interested. Clint very carefully doesn’t look at her any more.

“Are you hallucinating?” he asks Tony sadly. “You know, I’ve heard that too much time in a tin can can do that to a guy.”

Tony purses his lips. “Do you have a special someone?” he asks. “Do I need to give you the ‘use protection’ talk?”

All of a sudden, Clint doesn’t want to play. “Fuck off, Stark,” he says and rolls to his feet. “You’re right. I had a long evening of awesome fucking and now I’m going to bed.”

“Wait.” Tony looks confused. “I said something, didn’t I? What did I say?” He doesn’t sound worried so much as though he’s looking for more data to add to his How To Be A Real Boy file.

“Tony, leave him alone,” Steve says. “Also, come help me beat Natasha? She’s winning again.”

Is she? Good; that’ll keep her distracted. Clint slips out the door, intent on escaping before Natasha can finish her game and catch up with him.

Apparently it doesn’t take long to beat even the combined Stark/Rogers force at chequers though because she slips into the elevator just as the door’s closing behind him.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Clint says without looking at her.

Natasha hits the button for her floor rather than his. “That’s okay,” she says. “I’m going to feed you alcohol first. You won’t feel a thing.”

Clint sighs and gives in, turning to her with a shrug that means okay, you win. She smiles at him sharply. He doesn’t stand a chance.

***

“Who is it?” Natasha asks when they’re half way down a bottle of a grappa; the strong stuff that you have to smuggle out of Central Europe in an old water bottle.

Clint takes another swig and hands it back to her, taking a moment to let his eyes pop when it hits the back of his throat. “C’mon, you know I’m not sleeping with anyone.”

She leans back on the bed, bottle on her stomach. “No, but you were with someone tonight. Stark’s right, you came back all kiss-smudged.”

Clint blinks at her. “I don’t even know what that means,” he says. It’s a lie. He feels kiss-smudged too, like he can’t quite get the world back into proper focus. Which could also be the booze, he guesses, but he doesn’t think it is.

She rolls over and stares down at him, a flyaway strand of hair sticking to a bead of sweat on her forehead. “Clint.”

“Coulson,” he admits and then, because it’s important, “I’m not going to sleep with him.” Apparently that isn’t reassuring enough, because she goes tense and smacks him. “Ow. What happened to me feeling no pain?”

“That was before I knew just how stupid you were being. You can’t date Coulson.” She smacks him again. It still hurts.

“I know.” Clint does know. That doesn’t stop him feeling kind of miserable about it. “I’m trying not to. It just kind of keeps happening.”

“It just keeps happening?” Natasha folds her arms on the comforter and leans forwards on her elbows. “Do you like him?”

Clint raises his eyebrows. “Are we gonna talk boys, Tasha?”

He deserves that smack.

“So yes, you do like him. Do you have a plan for when he wants to have sex with you and you break up with him? The team needs him, Clint. You and I need him even more.”

Clint groans and drops his head back onto the comforter. “I hate this,” he tells her and it’s whiny and selfish and all the things he hates to be, but he’s drunk and pissed enough at the universe to give into it, just this once.

Natasha pats the top of his head. It’s only slightly threatening. “Of course, you could just tell him.”

That’s crazy enough talk that Clint lifts his head, staring at her. “How, exactly?” he asks. “Even with all the shit we’ve seen, no one is going to believe this. No one. No one gets cursed outside of fairytales and do I look like Rapunzel to you?”

Natasha shrugs. “I believed you.”

Which is true. But he told her a decade ago, back when he’d kind of figured he’d have worked something out by now. Nowhere in his life plan did it feature being thirty-eight and still a virgin.

“I want to have sex with him,” he tells her, the kind of serious and honest he only gets when he’s really drunk. “I mean, I really want to have sex with him, Nat. I like him. He’s got great hands.”

“And yet,” Natasha says, not unsympathetically.

“Yeah.” Clint sighs. “And yet.”

***

“Hostiles on your six, seven and one, Iron Man,” Clint says into his radio, speaking softly so the guy currently trying to creep up on him won’t startle. It’s no fun if the idiots fall off the roof before they get to him.

“Well, aren’t I popular?” Tony says and powers upwards at the last second so that the guys at one and seven end up shooting each other instead of him. It’s pretty fucking funny.

“Can we think about wrapping this up?” Phil asks over comms. He sounds sharper than normal but then they’ve been on this op for something like thirty hours now, so that’s understandable.

“Personally, I’ve been thinking about it for the past four hours,” Natasha tells him. “But Cap won’t let me in the nest alone.”

“It’s not safe,” Steve says patiently. He’s gotten better at this whole team leader thing, which is annoying for Clint and Natasha who like to do their own thing, but probably good for the team as the whole. Maybe.

“Not for them,” Clint agrees cheerfully. “C’mon, Cap. Let me and Widow flush them out.” The guy who’s trying to creep up on Clint has finally reached Clint’s nest. It took him for fucking ever, seriously.

He lifts his gun and Clint nails him in the throat with an arrow without turning around. It’s pretty anticlimactic.

Natasha tsks over the radio. “When did I say I needed your help, Hawkeye?”

Clint grins and steps out onto the parapet. “But I’m bored.” He looks down. There’s a lot of destruction and quite a few dead bad guys lying around. “Hulk?” There’s a bellow from below. “Catch.”

“Hawkeye, don’t you - ” Phil starts but Clint’s already jumped. He was only nine storeys up so it doesn’t take as long as he’d like before Hulk plucks him out of the air, smashing him into a passing windowpane a little bit before setting him on the ground.

“Thanks, buddy,” Clint says, patting Hulk’s hip. He’d never dream of going near Bruce’s hips, but Hulk is kind of tall and Clint, sadly, isn’t.

“You’re fired,” Phil says flatly.

“Nah, you’d miss me,” Clint tells him and hurries over to Natasha who’s reloading all her handguns and redistributing them around her suit pockets. “You want front or back?” he asks her.

Natasha looks up at him, flicking her hair out of her eyes. “Front,” she says, like it’s obvious.

“Um, has anyone noticed I haven’t actually approved this plan yet?” Steve asks plaintively. Poor Steve.

Clint opens his mouth to argue their cause but Phil gets in first. “Captain, it’s nearly midnight. Our second midnight of this op. Do you have a better plan?”

Wow, that was almost snippy. Phil is never snippy to Captain America.

Steve clears his throat, obviously just as surprised. “No, sir,” he says. “Okay, Widow, Hawkeye, you have a go.”

Clint catches Natasha’s eye and they grin at each other. “Just like old times,” she says and runs straight into the Hydra nest.

***

Everyone is droopy as hell by the time they get back to the Tower. Fury listened to their report and then forbade anyone driving themselves home, which is why they all ended up being herded into a SHIELD-issue van and dumped back here.

“I’m not sure anyone noticed I don’t live here,” Phil says, sounding more confused than anything else. He’s made it as far as the living room so clearly he didn’t remember either. Right now, he’s frowning at Thor who has apparently decided the couch is his new bed.

“Eh,” Tony says, waving a hand. “There are plenty of spare rooms. Pick a floor, pick a door, take a nap. You look like you could use it.”

“Thanks, Stark,” Phil says and he must be tired because that sounded genuine.

Tony shrugs and heads left, toward his lab rather than toward bed.

Steve and Phil share a look. Steve sighs. “I’ll go get him.”

Bruce watches him go then tips his head, looking like he thinks going to the lab is a great plan and he can’t work out why Steve disapproves. Natasha touches him on the arm.

“Come on,” she says, swallowing back a yawn, “you too, Doctor.”

Soon it’s only Clint and Phil, standing alone in the living area. The lights start to lower by themselves, like JARVIS is trying to give them a hint.

“Hell of a day, huh?” Clint says. He’s swaying on his feet, tipping from his toes to his heels like he’s rocking himself to sleep.

“Fucking Hydra,” Phil agrees and Clint laughs.

“Want me to show you where there are empty rooms?” Clint asks, leading Phil to the elevators. He automatically hits the button for his floor and it’s not until they’re there that he remembers that there aren’t any spare bedrooms up here, Tony having taken the guest rooms out so that Clint could have his own mini armoury.

Seriously, this is a great place to live.

Presumably, Phil knows every inch of this place, but he still follows Clint down the corridor, while Clint tries to think of an alternative that isn’t the one he wants to suggest.

They stop at his bedroom door and Phil raises his eyebrows.

“Just to sleep,” Clint offers because he’s so damn tired and so is Phil and that sounds good.

“I could try again, go find a room downstairs,” Phil says, which means that Clint isn’t looking as blasé and unconcerned as he’d like to.

“Nah.” Clint unlocks the door and waves him inside. “I mean, only if you want to.”

Phil closes the door after Clint and shakes his head. “This works for me.” He puts his hand on Clint’s wrist and reels him in.

Clint absolutely could break away if he wanted to, but he doesn’t. Instead, he fits his arms around Phil and leans in for a kiss instead.

Phil smiles against his mouth, which makes Clint’s heart pound embarrassingly, even though the kiss is more a back and forth brush of lips than anything meaningful. Or maybe it’s way more meaningful than any other kiss that Clint’s ever had. He doesn’t know, he’s so tired, he can’t make sense of things right now.

All he really know is that Phil kissing him like this makes every part of him feel good.

“Shower?” Phil asks.

“Are you inviting me to - ?” Clint asks, already working out excuses to avoid that, even though getting clean sounds great and getting Phil clean sounds… He derails that thought immediately.

“No.” Phil coughs. “Not that I’m averse to that, but that wasn’t actually what I was, unless you were... I’ll stop talking now.”

Okay, Phil flustered is Clint’s new favourite thing.

“The bathroom’s through that door,” Clint tells him, nodding with his chin. “There’s towels and shit in the cupboard.”

“Thanks.” Phil squeezes Clint’s hips before stepping back.

Clint watches him go into the bathroom and close the door. “No problem,” he murmurs to the empty room and works hard not to think about how much Natasha is going to kill him when she finds out about this.

***

Clint wakes up slowly. He can tell that it’s already light so he keeps his eyes closed, arching his spine into the mattress. He’s warm and comfortable and so much less exhausted than he was when he fell asleep.

He’s also got way less freedom of movement than he was expecting.

His eyes snap open.

Phil’s curled against Clint’s side, one leg thrown over Clint’s knee and an arm across Clint’s chest.

Clint can’t quite breathe right and he doesn’t think it’s because of the weight of Phil’s arm.

Obviously this was going to happen, but Phil had come out of the shower last night, wearing borrowed sweats and just said, “which side’s yours?” so Clint had stupidly thought that that was going to be all there was to it. That it was going to be easy.

“JARVIS?” Clint whispers. “What time is it?”

“One fourteen in the afternoon, Agent Barton,” JARVIS tells him immediately. Clint has talked to Tony about the ‘Agent Barton’ thing but apparently he needs to tell JARVIS directly if he wants it to stop, and that seems kind of rude.

“Thanks.” Clint can’t hold back a yawn. He hopes JARVIS doesn’t mind the sudden view of his tonsils. “Anyone else up yet?”

“Miss Potts is downstairs with Captain Rogers but everyone is still asleep.”

Clint smiles, pleased. More sleep. “Cool.”

He closes his eyes. but before he can pass out again, Phil shifts, moving against Clint, kissing his shoulder, clearly not all the way awake.

“Hey,” Clint says, voice coming out rough. He isn’t sure where to put his hands.

“Oh,” Phil says, eyes focusing slowly on Clint. “Sorry.”

He’s heavy-eyed and sleep-rumpled and Clint’s seen Phil wake up before, but he’s never looked quite like this.

“No, don’t be,” Clint says and rolls them over, leaning over Phil to kiss him good morning.

Phil tastes like sleep, which doesn’t bother Clint at all. He angles his mouth so they slot together and Phil pulls Clint down, curling his tongue around Clint’s.

Clint breathes out hard. It is completely unfair that Phil is this good a kisser.

“Good morning,” Phil says, hands toying with the hem of Clint’s t-shirt. “Is it morning?”

“Yeah, it’s early,” Clint lies, because Phil’s pushing his t-shirt up a little now, questioningly, and Clint doesn’t want this to stop yet.

He should. But he doesn’t.

Clint sits up and pulls his shirt off, dropping it somewhere near the bottom of the bed. It’s warm in the room but Clint shivers at the rush of air against his skin. His nipples feel suddenly very exposed, which is ridiculous.

“Clint,” Phil says, barely loud enough to hear. When Clint looks up at him, Phil is staring at Clint’s chest, completely unashamed. Clint preens a little. He has a good body, he works hard for it; he’s allowed to show it off.

“You too,” he says, touching the collar of the SHIELD t-shirt that Phil borrowed last night. It makes Clint feel kind of funny to see Phil in his clothes, but he’s sure it’ll make him feel even funnier still to see him out of them.

Or. Not all of them, obviously. Just the t-shirt.

Phil sighs like Clint is asking a lot of him, but he strips off his shirt readily enough, so Clint guesses they’re even.

“Happy now?” Phil asks, lying back down. He touches Clint all over: his chest, his arms, his shoulders, all gentle fingertips and warm, wandering hands.

“Mmhmm,” Clint says, kind of hoarsely. Phil’s hands smooth up Clint’s chest and he leans into them, eyes fixed on Phil’s wide shoulders and his pecs, which are nicely defined and covered in soft, black hair.

Clint can’t stop this yet, he should and he needs to, but he can’t. He ducks his head and kisses Phil’s shoulders, his chest, then lower, down to his belly.

Phil’s morning wood is obvious through his sweatpants and Clint desperately wants to put his mouth there too, but he can’t.

He’s always wanted to try sucking cock, has choked himself on his fingers so many times to test his gag reflex. He thinks he’d give a good blowjob.

Phil’s breath speeds up, turning loud and shaky. He thinks Clint’s going to kiss him lower; Clint can feel Phil’s thighs already tensing.

Would he thrust up into Clint’s mouth, Clint wonders. Would he pull Clint’s hair? Maybe Clint could just put his mouth on Phil’s cock through his sweatpants; maybe that would be okay.

The problem, what makes this even worse, is that Clint doesn’t know what would be okay and what wouldn’t and he’s not going to test it on Phil.

Cursing at himself, Clint drops his hands and sits up. He catches a flash of disappointment on Phil’s face before Phil wipes it away.

“Sorry,” Clint mutters, curling his hands into fists on Phil’s chest. He can feel himself turning red, but he’s more angry than embarrassed.

Phil shakes his head, hands skimming up Clint’s sides. “Don’t be; I can wait.”

“Right, but.” Clint catches Phil’s hands, stops their journey upward. “What if you’re waiting forever?”

“Will I be?” Phil asks carefully.

Clint doesn’t want to answer but it’s only fair. “Yeah,” he says and waits for Phil to leave.

Phil doesn’t leave, because Phil never does what Clint expects him to. “You don’t have to tell me what’s wrong,” he says carefully, “but you’ve been… skittish every time I’ve touched you, and that’s not like you.”

Clint laughs bitterly and climbs off Phil. He sits down the end of the bed and feels cold. “Skittish?” he asks. “Am I a fucking horse?”

“I hope not,” Phil says, smiling his reassuringly diplomatic smile, and sitting up against the headboard. “If you’re not attracted to me – ”

Clint bangs his head against his knees because there’s no convenient wall handy. “Coulson, I’m so attracted to you it isn’t even funny.” He needs to stop being honest. He needs to lie and get this over with and not risk hurting Phil later. “But I don’t want to date you.”

There’s a pause. It only lasts a second, but it’s horrible.

“I see,” Phil says quietly. He reaches down and finds his t-shirt, pulling it back on. “Did I do something?” He sounds like he’s collecting intel for a report.

“No.” Clint’s voice comes out harsher than he means it to. “You’ve been great.” Perfect. He’s been perfect. “I just, it’s a dumb idea, right? The two of us getting involved. We work together, we know each other way too well. We’d never get any peace once Stark found out and – ”

“All right.” Phil holds up his hand. “You can stop now.”

Clint closes his mouth on the next round of excuses (lies) and watches in silence as Phil gets out of bed and dresses quickly, methodically. His back’s straight, his face expressionless.

Clint’s hurt him.

“I’m sorry?” Clint tries, attempting a smile. His throat feels tight, weighed down with the inability to breathe through how unfair this is.

Phil shakes his head sternly. “There’s nothing to feel sorry about, Clint,” he says. “You can’t help how you feel.” He sounds really fucking sad, but worse than that, he sounds kind.

Stop, Clint wants to say. I like you so much. I can’t fuck you because it would kill you, but I like you so much, I probably love you.

Instead, he lets Phil go.

tbc