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My Insides Are Copper

Chapter Text

i am such a sucker
and i’m always the last to know.
my insides are copper;
i’d kill to make them gold.

 

 

The first words Clint ever said to Phil Coulson were, “That’s really stupid.” He hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but his brain was struggling with the things this kid was saying about Captain America. Mostly because the same kid had the most beautiful eyes Clint had ever seen.

Clint was thirteen. As far as he knew, boys didn’t have eyes that looked like Phil Coulson’s. It made his mouth run dry and his palms sweat.

And that’s when he’d opened his mouth and said, “That’s really stupid,” interrupting Phil’s detailed explanation of his trading card collection.

Phil blinked at him. His cheeks went a little pink, which was also pretty. It made Clint scowl. “They’re not stupid,” Phil said softly, the corner of his mouth twitching. “They’re vintage.”

“Who the hell cares about Captain fucking America?” Clint said, and luckily the bell for the start of the school day rang, saving him from having to watch Phil get even more blushy and hurt-looking, even though Clint didn’t care. Clint didn’t even know him.

It was the first day of seventh grade, in a new school and a new town, with brand-spanking-new foster parents who didn’t give a crap about him. They were nice enough—they still hadn’t yelled at him, which was always a plus—but Clint knew how to read the signs of apathetic fosters. Apathetic beat abusive any day, though. He’d learned that the hard way.

What he hadn’t expected was to slip into homeroom unnoticed and somehow end up sitting next to a guy with annoying blue eyes and a hard-on for superheroes. He had all his school supplies lined up neatly on his desk; fuck, he had the expensive kind of ballpoint pens, the kind Clint used to shoplift from the Target in his last town. Clint was pretty sure Phil never had to shoplift a thing in his life.

So, yeah, he’d told the guy his cards were stupid and pretended to enjoy the way his face crumpled up like Clint had insulted his mom or something. Whatever.

Clint reached under his desk and rubbed his sweaty palms on his jeans.

“Jerkwad,” he heard Phil mumble under his breath, and that had been that. Clint knew he hadn’t made a friend.

Phil Coulson was the last person Clint needed to make friends with, anyway.

 

 

three years later

 

“We’re not having this discussion again, Phil.” His mom gave that withering sigh that usually meant Phil was wearing down her defenses, but he still had a lot of work to do.

“C’mon, we both know you don’t have time to be driving me back and forth every day and picking me up from practice,” Phil said in his most earnest, wide-eyed tone. “You told me to get more involved, I’m just following your orders!”

She raised an eyebrow. “They weren’t orders, they were suggestions, and don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing. I was an almost-sixteen-year-old once, too, you know.”

“So does that mean you’ll think about it?”

“Let’s see how this varsity soccer thing goes and I’ll consider it. How about you worry about me funding your college education before we start buying you cars?”

Phil beamed. “If I get a full-ride to an NCAA school, you won’t have to worry about it.”

His mom rolled her eyes, then laughed. “You always have an answer for everything,” she replied with obvious affection. “Wonder who you got that from?”

He leaned across the console and kissed her cheek. “No clue,” Phil said. He had friends he adored, but sometimes he knew, deep down, that his mom was his best friend. The past few years since the divorce had been hard, but their relationship was stronger because of it.

As Phil stood on the corner in front of the main school doors as his mom drove off, he slung his duffel bag full of soccer gear over one shoulder and his backpack over the other. He felt the usual first-day jitters, but this year was going to be different. This year he was a sophomore starter for the varsity soccer team, thanks to a long, hard spring spent in the gym. Phil wasn’t scrawny anymore—well, he liked to think he wasn’t scrawny, at least. He’d grown a good five inches over the summer, and his t-shirts were tighter around his shoulders. No one really had an excuse to call him Weasel Boy, not that a lot of people did.

Just one guy.

Who happened to be standing right behind Phil when Phil turned around, smoking a cigarette and texting on his phone.

However, it seemed like Barton didn’t really notice who Phil was until he glanced up from his phone and met Phil’s gaze. He blinked at Phil, and his eyes flared before narrowing into a nasty scowl.

Phil tipped his chin up and squared his shoulders, waiting for the inevitable Clint Barton cutdown. It was the first time he’d seen him since May, and it occurred to Phil rather suddenly that they were finally the same height. He no longer had to look up at Barton or feel the usual angry jealousy over Barton’s early growth spurt back in eighth grade, which had not only made him taller and broader than Phil, but also made Barton’s obvious disdain for Phil even worse. Weasel Boy was something he’d come up with when Phil had reported him for smoking under the bleachers during class. “Skinny little douchebag, gotta makeup for your tiny dick somehow, right?” Barton had sneered. Phil had flipped him the bird and mouthed fuck you, hating that he didn’t have the balls to say the words out loud.

Now, though—Phil wanted to smirk and ask who’s the skinny little douchebag now?

Of course, Barton wasn’t phased one bit. He took a drag off his cigarette and blew smoke right in Phil’s face. Phil didn’t cough, just held his breath.

“Nice shirt,” Barton drawled.

“Thanks,” Phil replied with a sweet, forced smile. He’d bought his Captain America t-shirt from a comics store in Chicago when he was twelve. It was Phil’s favorite and no one, not even Clint, could make him ashamed of it. Sure, it was probably too small for him now, but vintage was in again—right?

“Does your mom pick out your clothes every morning, or just on Mondays?” Barton flicked his cigarette onto the pavement and stubbed it out with the toe of his sneaker. Phil resisted making a comment about how Barton was littering on school grounds.

“I’m not walking around with archaic, medieval weaponry strapped to my back,” Phil said. He wondered if Barton even knew what archaic meant. He must on some level if he always insisted on participating in a sport that was made popular by The Hunger Games and a Pixar movie.

To Phil’s satisfaction, Barton glowered and tugged on the black leather strap across his chest. “Archery’s way more technical than kicking a fucking ball around, smartass.”

“Do they have a World Cup for archery? I can’t remember...”

“Do they even let mouthy dickheads play soccer? I can’t remember.”

Phil felt his cheeks grow hot. Barton was smirking at him again, like he’d won, like it didn’t matter that they were the same height and Phil could (probably) kick his ass if he wanted to.

“Clint!” a female voice called. “Are you done smoking or what?” Phil glanced over Barton’s shoulder and saw Natasha Romanoff standing in the doorway, hands on her hips. Phil didn’t know her well—she’d been a new student last year—but everyone knew she didn’t socialize with many people. Except Barton, for some weird reason. Nat was beautiful and had this soft, sexy Russian accent that half the school drooled over, and yet it was Barton she’d chosen to hang out with.

They were probably fucking. It was the only explanation that made sense.

Phil bit the inside of his lip. Jesus, where the hell had that thought come from?

Barton rolled his shoulders, which did stupid things to the stupid gray henley he was wearing. It was Phil’s turn to glower. “Yeah, coming,” Barton yelled to Nat, taking a few steps back away from Phil. Then he gave Phil a totally douchestastic grin and added, “Just helpin’ this lost kid find his way back to junior high.”

“You’re hilarious,” Phil said, because sometimes he was genius around Barton.

Barton spread his arms out—again with that stupid henley pulling across his stupid chest—and said, “I like to think so! Later, Weasel.” Then he turned to saunter over to Nat, his gait lazy and careless like he was the coolest guy in the world, oblivious to the fact that he could still make Phil feel about three inches tall.

So much for this year being any different from the others.

~

“What the hell was that all about?”

“Huh?” Clint tilted his head at Nat as he dumped his books into his locker and then (very carefully) set his bow and quiver inside, double-checking that the lock was in place. Arrows were fucking easy to steal, and he couldn’t afford to lose any this year.

She waved her hand over her shoulder. “Your little discussion with Coulson back there. Are you two fighting already? It’s not even nine o’clock yet.”

“Hey, he started it,” Clint replied defensively, even though he knew that wasn’t entirely true. It’s just that—he wasn’t prepared for Coulson to show up to school looking like—like—well, not like he used to look. Not like a jock. How the fuck else was Clint supposed to respond?

Nat rolled her eyes. “You’re blushing.”

Clint slammed his locker shut. “No, I’m not.”

“You are. Have you ever considered becoming an adult and actually being Coulson’s friend? He seems all right to me.”

“He’s not,” Clint hissed, “trust me.” Nat didn’t need him rehashing all the reasons Phil Coulson was an asshole. There was the smoking incident from eighth grade, of course, not to mention the humiliating time Clint showed up to school soaking wet because he’d missed the bus and his foster dad had refused to drive him even though it was pouring rain, and Coulson had drawled, ”Better dry off or you’ll start to mold,” making everyone in homeroom laugh. There were the snide little whispered comments whenever Clint would walk by him in the library (“Do you actually know how to read, Barton? I thought you were raised by a pack of wild dogs.”), and the one that still stung the most was when Clint had relented to Kate taking him to the winter formal, and naturally Coulson, who’d been there in his perfect shirt and tie, took one look at Clint and said, “Sneakers? Seriously? It’s a formal. Go hang out at the skate park, loser.”

It had hurt much more than Clint wanted to admit, because he didn’t own a pair of dress shoes, and his suit was something Kate had found for him at Goodwill for three dollars. He’d already known he’d be miserably out of place, but Coulson had practically hung a blinking neon sign over his head screaming POOR FOSTER KID.

Coulson always knew how to make Clint feel like the outcast he knew he was.

“Maybe if you weren’t—what’s the word you use?—a dickhole?—to Coulson all the time, he wouldn’t be so hateful to you,” Nat said with a deceptively innocent shrug.

“I could if I cared, but I don’t,” Clint said, smiling brightly.

Nat muttered something under her breath that Clint couldn’t quite catch. He was pretty sure it was a Russian swear word. “You tripped him that one time, he nearly broke his nose.”

“Okay, one, I said it was an accident, and two, he didn’t break his nose. He was fine.” Except Clint had totally tripped him on purpose, mostly because Coulson had insinuated in front of their entire World History class that Clint had cheated on a test. The spectacular subsequent fall Coulson took in the halls had been pretty satisfying.

“Hmmm.” Nat made an unimpressed noise.

Clint pulled a face at her. “Besides, why do you care if we’re chummy or not?” he asked as he followed her into homeroom.

Nat shrugged. “He has very sad eyes sometimes, like yours. Especially after you are mean to him in public.”

Clint blinked. “What do you—you think I have ‘sad eyes’?” He wasn’t going to acknowledge the other part, which insinuated that Coulson was actually hurt by the shit Clint did and said to him. Like that was even remotely possible.

She patted his hand, not saying anything more. Clint leaned back in his chair and glowered as the morning announcements came over the PA system.

~

Phil’s heart thumped in a hard, anxious beat as he looked up into the gym bleachers, now filled with the entire student body for the first pep rally of the school year. The fall sports teams were lined up in neat rows for the traditional introduction of the new season, and while Phil had been waiting for this moment since he’d made the team, he was still nervous about being introduced in front of the whole school as one of the rookie players. He rocked back and forth on his heels, palms sweating, but he kept his shoulders squared, proud of the jersey he was wearing with his very own name across the back.

The cheerleaders did their usual dance routine, then introduced the varsity football team. Phil didn’t really resent them for being the team to go first; the football team weren’t regional champions or anything, and Phil had a lot of friends who played. As the players were called by name, Phil glanced idly up into the bleachers.

Up in the very top far left corner sat Barton, sprawled across two benches among his usual posse of friends. He was wearing shades indoors—probably because he was hungover—and texting while Natasha sat to his left, whispering something to him. To his right sat Kate Bishop, who was leaning over Wade Wilson’s shoulder as the two of them read over what appeared to be an old issue of Zoobooks about zebras.

As Phil watched, Barton sort of lazily lifted his arm and draped it across Natasha’s shoulders, fingers toying with her hair. She didn’t seem to notice or react, just kept whispering to him with a very intense look on her face. At one point Barton looked up from his phone and grinned at her, a crooked slant of his mouth that could almost be called sweet if you didn’t know the guy.

Did Barton actually smile at people he liked? What did it take to earn a smile, or did he only save them for people he was sleeping with? Phil frowned to himself; like it even mattered. He’d never have to worry about it, since Barton would probably run through the halls naked before doing something as innocuous as smile at Phil.

“And now for our newest goalie, Phil Coulson!”

Shit, his coach was saying his name. Phil blinked, realizing everyone was staring at him and clapping politely. His face flushed a bright pink, and he could feel himself giving the dopiest grin as he waved awkwardly. Then he made the mistake of looking back up into the bleachers.

Barton had pushed his sunglasses up onto the top his head and was watching Phil with narrowed eyes. Natasha was clapping, and she poked Barton in the ribs, nodding toward Phil. He could plainly see Barton’s mouth form the word whatever as he flipped his sunglasses back down and went back to his phone.

Phil absolutely hated that his stomach dipped in vague disappointment. What the hell was he expecting, anyway?

“Hey, why the face?” Dylan, one of the senior players, asked Phil as the pep rally ended and the teams filed out of the gym. “It’s game day! You’re starting! You should be, like, owning that shit, dude.” He slapped Phil on the shoulders.

Phil grit his teeth and thought, Yeah, I should. I’m pretty damn awesome, and what Clint Barton thinks doesn’t mean shit.

He beamed at Dylan, gave him a fist bump, and decided then and there that he was going to spend the rest of his high school days pretending Barton didn’t exist.

~

“Is this really necessary?”

Kate sighed as she yanked Clint down onto the bench beside her. “Yes, it is. Either you come to these things with me or I’m going to have to get new friends who actually socialize and aren’t assholes.”

“You don’t socialize, what the hell,” Clint muttered, glaring at the soccer field stretched out in front of him. The last thing he wanted to do was watch a damn game when he should be practicing, and Kate of all people should’ve understood that. “You realize we have a meet in like three days.”

“Right, and you practiced for five hours yesterday. You were rubbing your elbow all day today,” Kate replied, waving to someone over Clint’s shoulder. “You need the rest.”

Man, he hated it when Kate got mom-like on him. He was four months older than her, for fuck’s sake. Clint scrubbed both hands through his hair and dug his phone out of his pocket. If anything, he could kill some time flirting with this guy he’d met at a meet last week; the dude was kind of dumb, but he was hot and only lived fifteen minutes away from town. Plus, he had a car. Clint hadn’t gotten laid in a while, he could use a blowjob or two.

“Ugh, are you texting that Hayden guy again?” Kate wrinkled her nose. “He told me I had a nice ass.”

“You do have a nice ass,” Clint said.

“Duh, but you don’t tell me that right when I’m about to make a shot.”

“He was intimidated. ‘Sides, I’m workin’ an angle here. It’s not like the guy’s gonna be my boyfriend or anything.”

“Like you’d even have the slightest idea what to do with a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend, for that matter,” Kate grumbled.

Clint couldn’t help but laugh at that. He draped his arm around her neck. “Aw, Katey-Kat, you know I love you.”

“Ew, I told you not to call me that, it’s so gross,” she hissed, but still leaned into him. Clint was happy she’d gotten over being embarrassed and tense around him after she’d kissed him late one night at a party after too many beers. Clint adored her, but like a sister he’d never had. The chemistry just wasn’t there between them.

“Am I interrupting something?” Nat drawled, nudging Clint’s knees apart and wedging herself between his feet on the bench.

“Uh, hi, since when do you come to these things?” Clint said, poking her thigh with the toe of his sneaker.

“I like soccer. I’m supporting my school,” she replied smoothly as she took her MacBook out of her bag and proceeded to pull up a word doc.

Kate grinned. “Didn’t think you’d actually respond to my text to come out here.”

Nat shrugged one shoulder. “I can do homework and watch a game. It’s excellent multi-tasking.”

Uh-huh. Or you heard Bucky Barnes is starting tonight.”

“I have no idea what you’re referring to, Katherine.” Nat started typing a little faster.

Clint had a snarky comment all ready to go about how Nat was, in fact, human like the rest them, except the home team came out onto the field just then. Sure enough, Barnes was out there, but Clint’s attention was snagged by someone else.

He didn’t like to admit that he knew Coulson played goalie; he told himself it was because everyone made such a big fucking deal over Coulson being a sophomore and being on varsity. No one would give a shit if he played any other position.

“D’you know if they stay undefeated they’ll set some school record?” Kate asked.

Clint made a grunting noise, chewing the inside of his lip as he watched Coulson drop into a sprawl near one of the goals, legs spread in a straddle and his arms stretched over his head in one long, solid line. Someone threw a ball at him and he caught it one-handed, laughing as he rolled neatly to his feet.

“Please don’t embarrass yourself. Or us,” Nat drawled without looking up from her furious typing.

Embarrass myself?” Clint flailed his hand around. “I’m just sitting here!”

“You’re staring at Coulson, and I can feel something horrible’s about to come out of your mouth.”

A flare of heat crawled up the back of his neck. “Just ‘cause Weasel’s the goalie doesn’t mean—”

“Oh my god, would you stop?” Kate moaned. “I have gym with Phil, he’s a really nice guy. Why can’t you mess around with someone like him instead of d-bags like Hayden?”

Wow, okay, the absolute last thing Clint wanted to think about was getting head from Phil Coulson, because no. Jesus Christ. Like Mr. Perfect would ever get on his knees for another guy. Or jack another guy off. Or kiss another guy. Or—

“Hayden’s hot, for one thing,” Clint said, making a pointed attempt to go back to his hook-up texting agenda.

Kate snorted. “I’ve seen Phil with his shirt off, okay, he’s totally your type.”

Clint glared down at his phone. “Give it a rest, Bishop. If he’s so hot, why don’t you date him?”

“I’m not into getting laid constantly like some people.”

“Stop making me sound like a goddamn manwhore.”

“You kind of are,” Nat chipped in.

Hey, when did this become about my sex life? I’ve only—” He lost his train of thought when he saw Coulson taking a flying leap across the goal to block a practice shot, landing in a heap with the ball clutched to his chest. His jersey had ridden up, exposing a fine, dark trail of hair.

Clint blinked, then got pissed. Fuck this, why’d he let Kate talk him into going to this stupid game, anyway?

His phone suddenly buzzed with a text from Hayden. Want 2 meet up in 30?

“Yeah, I’m out of here,” Clint said. He stood up, ignoring the exasperated sigh from Kate and the eyebrow tilt from Nat.

“The game hasn’t even started!” Kate said.

“You’ll survive without me.” And because his stomach was doing a weird twisty thing he didn’t want to think about, he cupped both hands over his mouth and yelled, “Don’t fuck it up, Weasel!”

Coulson’s head jerked toward the stands, and in the process he completely missed blocking another practice shot. The ball sailed past him, and Clint took that opportunity to give two huge, obnoxious thumbs up.

For a moment, those stupid blue eyes of Coulson’s were very wide and very—well, Clint would say hurt if he didn’t know better. But the look disappeared almost immediately, replaced with the familiar glare Clint expected.

“Embarrassing,” he heard Nat say in a sing-song voice.

~

“Is there a scout hangin’ around somewhere that I don’t know about?” Bucky asked.

Phil shoved wet hair out of his eyes as he stripped off his jersey. “Not that I know of, why?” He couldn’t stop grinning, still running on post-game adrenaline.

“‘Cause that was some intense shit from you out there.”

Phil beamed. “What can I say, I wanted to win.”

“So did I, but you were on another level, dude. I thought you’d, like, wolf out and eat those guys’ faces or something.” Bucky laughed and slapped Phil’s shoulder. “Whatever lit a fire under your ass, I hope it happens all the time.”

“I’ll try to focus on my werewolf tactics more,” Phil said, ignoring the swoop in his stomach from the suddenly memory of hearing Barton’s voice yelling at him from the bleachers not to fuck things up. What was he even doing there, anyway? Barton never came to games as far as Phil knew—any sport other than his own was beneath him. Obviously Barton had shown to fuck with him, as usual, but the joke was on him; Phil had gone on to block a half dozen goals, leaving the other team scoreless. He was the star of the game.

“You keep playing at that level and you’ll have a great future in this sport,” his coach had said as they’d headed to the locker rooms, and Phil had thought his heart would burst with pride.

Take that, Barton, he’d thought smugly.

“Come out with us tonight,” Bucky said, pulling Phil from his satisfied internal monologue. “I’m meeting Steve and some other guys for burgers.”

“Yeah, okay,” Phil said right as his stomach growled. His mom was working late and would be expecting Phil to feed himself, anyway.

He rode with Bucky out to a diner on the edge of town, a greasy spoon joint Phil had never been to, but Bucky apparently loved. It was packed for a Wednesday night, and half the crowd Phil didn’t recognize.

“The guys from Crawford like to hang out here,” Bucky explained, referring to the rival town ten minutes away. “We mostly ignore ‘em, but it’s not a big deal. It’s usually the archery team, anyway, and those guys don’t make trouble.”

Phil paused. If the Crawford archery team hung out here, that could mean—no. Screw it. Phil shook his head and followed after Bucky, reminding himself that he didn’t give a shit if Barton was around or not. In fact, it would give Phil a great opportunity to gloat and tell Barton was fucking loser he was and—

“Hey, Phil, great game!”

He jumped and nearly collided into Kate Bishop. “Sorry, sorry, I was—hi, hey. Thanks?” Phil gave her a sheepish grin. “I didn’t know you were at the game.”

Kate waved her hand. “My schedule’s been insane this year. You’re awesome, by the way, wow. That last play was crazy.”

Phil blushed. He liked Kate; she had a confidence about her that Phil envied. “Thanks. I’m pretty happy with how the game went.”

“You should be! I wish Clint had stuck around to watch, I told him he was missing out.”

And that was Kate’s one flaw: she was best friends with Barton. Phil didn’t understand how someone so cool could have such crap taste in friends. “How much did you pay him to be there?”

Kate rolled her eyes. “I didn’t. I’m trying to get him to be more social, or at least the kind of social that doesn’t involve shoving his tongue down random guys’ throats.”

Phil totally wasn’t prepared for the weird coiling sensation in his chest. The heat in his cheeks hadn’t gone away. “What do you mean—”

“Oh, gimme a break,” Kate suddenly moaned. “Ugh, wait here, Phil, I’ll be right back.” Then she stomped across the lot to a red Honda Civic parked in the shadows. She slapped her hand against the passenger window, and it was then that Phil recognized who was in the car.

“Really?” he heard Kate say. “There are people around, Clint. No one wants to see that.”

The door opened and Barton climbed out, grinning deviously at Kate. His hair was a wreck, sticking up in all directions, and his cheeks were flushed, not to mention his mouth was all puffy-looking and—

Fuck. Phil grit his teeth and told himself to go inside.

Barton looked over as Kate gestured toward Phil and their eyes met.

“‘sup, Weasel? Were we givin’ you a good show?” Barton called out in a lazy drawl. The guy behind the wheel—Phil could vaguely make him out as big and blond—must have said something to Barton then, because Barton laughed and added, “Yeah, probably. Though I’d feel sorry for that poor bastard.”

Phil was pretty damn sure Barton was making a comment on Phil’s sexual attractiveness—or lack thereof. Go inside, the rational part of his brain screamed, but Phil took a deep breath and called back, “I don’t need to get laid in a parking lot, I have standards.”

“Sure you do,” Barton laughed, swiping his tongue over his lower lip, which was...not something Phil wanted to see. At all. He dug his nails into his palm and tried to keep himself in check.

Kate was tugging on Barton’s sleeve. “C’mon, I’ll buy you a milkshake if you shut up.” She gave Phil an apologetic look, but he didn’t blame her for any of this. It wasn’t Kate’s fault Barton was an asshole.

Barton shrugged, ducked back into the car to say something to the big blond guy, who laughed and grabbed Barton by the front of his t-shirt, yanking him into a fast, messy kiss. Even at a distance Phil could see the way Barton smiled against the guy’s mouth, the flash of tongue as his lips parted wide.

Phil swallowed. He’d never been kissed like that. He’d never been kissed, period. It wasn’t something he really thought about much; his focus these days was on soccer, not making out with someone. The latter wasn’t going to get him a college scholarship.

But watching Barton go all loose and easy as he let the guy manhandle him into the kiss, Phil couldn’t help but breathe a little deeper, heart thumping low and heavy.

It was over almost immediately, Barton jerking away and out of the car, winking as he slapped the hood of the car. “Later, man,” he said in a smooth, flirty voice Phil had never heard before. His nails dug harder into his hand.

He didn’t need to see this. Barton’s extracurricular activities weren’t his business. Phil turned on his heel and marched into the diner, making a beeline for the corner booth where Bucky sat with Steve.

“Where were you?” Bucky asked as he pushed a plate of fries toward Phil. “Thought you’d gotten lost or something.”

“Got sidetracked,” Phil mumbled, not looking up when Barton walked in with Kate behind him.

Steve frowned. “You okay?”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Barton sprawl into the booth across from them, legs stretched out beneath the table. He rubbed his thumb absently over his lips, and Phil wanted to punch something.

“Yup, I’m great,” Phil replied. He forced himself to smile at Steve. “Just having an adrenaline crash, I guess.”

Just once, he’d like to truly be able to ignore Clint Barton. It would make his life so much easier.

~

Clint snuck in through the back gate, barely making a sound. Thankfully, the porch light wasn’t on, and as he fumbled for his key, Clint breathed a sigh of relief. It was an hour and a half past his curfew, and his foster dad didn’t normally take lightly to Clint showing up late.

He heard a snuffling in the bushes along the house. Clint froze, then carefully knelt down on the ground and whispered, “Lucky? Is that you?” There was a soft woof, and soon a scruffy head poked around the corner.

Clint smiled and shook his head. “C’mere, you,” he said, holding his hand out. The dog immediately trotted over and butted against Clint’s palm. Lucky was a stray who hung around the area; Clint had named him several months back after he’d managed to keep Lucky from being hit by a garbage truck. He knew his fosters would never let him keep a dog, so Clint fed Lucky on the sly, even taught him a few tricks whenever he could. Clint kept waiting for the day Lucky disappeared for good, or got hit by a car without Clint there to save him.

A lot of times, Lucky was the only thing that made Clint come home at night. Well, that and the promise of the beat-up Harley sitting in the shed once Clint turned sixteen. Margo, his foster mom, had told him he could have it if he kept his grades up and could fix it himself. His foster dad hadn’t been too keen on that, saying Clint would probably “fuck the thing up even more,” but he hadn’t objected. Sometimes Clint fantasized about taking the Harley and Lucky and leaving town forever.

At least Margo wasn’t so bad. She’d let him have a cell phone, mostly because she worked at a cell phone store and got a really good discount. But all her good intentions meant shit when her husband was drunk and angry at everything. Terrance was a big guy, much bigger than Clint, and Clint had learned years ago that you didn’t mess with people bigger than you, no matter how much you hated them.

Clint sat down on the dirty porch and leaned his head against Lucky’s. He’d spent the night fucking around in with Hayden in his car, and a part of him had wished Kate hadn’t shown up and demanded he cut things short; he’d been waiting for Hayden to invite him back to his house, since his parents were out of town for the week. Clint half-wished most of the guys he fucked would take him home—not because he liked them that much, but because any house was better than coming back to a dog that wasn’t technically his and foster dad who had a short fuse. Clint compromised by staying out as late as he could, until he was certain Terrance was asleep or passed out.

Lucky made a quiet grumbling sound, and for some reason that made Clint think of Coulson standing in the diner parking lot, staring at Clint like he’d never seen him before. Probably thinking about what a lame piece of shit Clint was, but whatever. Clint could care less what Coulson thought of him. When he left the diner, Coulson went home to his perfect house and perfect family, and went to sleep in his perfect bed. He probably had his own dog that his parents let him pick out.

Clint flinched and wrapped his arm around Lucky. Fuck Coulson, he could judge Clint all he wanted. Clint just had to survive until he was eighteen and then he was gone. Most guys Clint’s age cared about college, but all Clint wanted was to have his own life.

Coulson would never understand that.