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My Insides Are Copper

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one year later

 

Phil had never cut out of school a day in his life, but today was beginning to look like that all could change. He sat through each hour and watched the clock slowly tick toward three, dreading each second that went by.

”It’s only dinner,” his mother had said that morning, right after she’d informed Phil that his dad was in town and wanted to see him. Funny how the guy hadn’t bothered to see Phil for the last four years.

“I’m not going,” Phil had replied tightly, but he’d winced when his mom had laid a hand on his arm.

“I know what you’re feeling,” she’d said quietly, “and you have every right to be angry. But he’s your father. He wants to hear about how his son’s the new captain of the soccer team.”

The last thing in the world Phil wanted was to make the man who’d abandoned them proud. But he hated upsetting his mom even more, so he’d gritted his teeth and whispered, “Fine. Just dinner.”

And now he sat through class with a lead weight in his stomach. It wasn’t fair, none of it was fair; Phil was finally learning to move on from the divorce. He didn’t want to relive the helpless anger he’d dealt with all through junior high.

“That anger helped make you captain,” Phil muttered to himself as he made his way through the halls to his final class. Maybe he’d let his dad know that after all; maybe he’d tell him about how Phil was looking to go to Indiana University to play Division I soccer, that a scout for the program had already been in contact with him, and that Phil had been the star player his sophomore year, setting records and earning regional and state titles. And none of it happened with his dad around.

Phil was so lost in his thoughts and the frustration that been building all day that he didn’t watch where he was going. The next thing he knew, he’d slammed into someone’s shoulder, hard, and a familiar voice growled, “What the fuck, Weasel?”

Shit. He wasn’t equipped to deal with any of this right now. “Sorry,” Phil said to Barton, eyes downcast. “Didn’t mean to.”

“Yeah? You sure about that?” Barton got right in Phil’s face, nose to nose. Phil’s heart jumped into overdrive, every inch of him ready to strike back, but he wouldn’t. Not today.

“I said I was sorry.” This time Phil met Barton’s eyes.

“Uh-huh. I think this is payback.”

“Maybe if you didn’t fuck with my stuff, you wouldn’t be so paranoid.” Great, now Phil was being reminded of how Barton had let the air out of Phil’s back tires in the school parking lot two weeks ago. No one had seen him do it, but Kate had come to Phil the next day and told him what Clint had done—“I already reamed his ass, but feel free to rinse and repeat,” she’d said.

“Who said anything about me being paranoid? I’m calling it as it is.”

“You’re being a paranoid dickwad, so get the fuck out of my face.” Phil shoved him for real this time, and he felt the spark of anger that had been simmering inside him all day flare into something hot and ugly.

Barton’s eyes widened in surprise as he stumbled back. “You little shit,” he hissed, and Phil knew what was coming next. His head hit the lockers with a loud bang, making Phil see stars as pain sparked behind his eyes.

And that was all it took to send everything into a downward spiral.

Phil was aware of fists flying, of his knuckles crashing into Barton’s nose and feeling it crack, of Barton tackling him to the ground and the shooting pain in the side of his jaw. Blood was dripping down over Barton’s mouth and onto Phil’s cheeks, and they were screaming things at each other: asshole, cocksucker, fucking bitch, and worthless bastard were just a few Phil could remember when it was all over.

It was as if Phil had been in a trance of anger and didn’t fully come out of it until he was sitting in the principal’s office in a chair beside Barton, panting and aching all over. Barton’s nose was a mess of blood, and his left eye was starting to swell a little. They didn’t speak as Principal Xavier called their parents.

Damn it, Phil’s mom was going to kill him.

Xavier hung up the phone and gave Barton an unreadable look. “Young man, it seems your foster parents are unavailable at this time. Mr. Coulson, your mother is on her way. You’re both suspended for the day. In the meantime, I’d like an explanation for what transpired between the two of you before I make my decision as to whether I suspend you for the rest of the week, or merely assign you both to detention for the month.”

Neither of them said a word. Out of the corner of his eye, Phil could see Barton licking at the corner of his lower lip where the skin was split; his knee bounced nonstop.

Xavier raised an eyebrow at Phil. “Mr. Coulson? Care to enlighten me? This is extremely uncharacteristic behavior for you.”

Barton snorted. Phil glared down at his hands in his lap and said, “No, sir.”

“I see. Mr. Barton?”

Clint shrugged, knee still bouncing frantically. “Friendly tussle, ‘s all.”

“Friends don’t bloody each other’s noses.” Xavier sat back in his chair, fingers steepled under his chin. “If memory serves me right, you’re both captains of your respective teams this year, yes?”

Phil sat up a little straighter. He hadn’t known Barton had been made archery team captain; traditionally the position had always gone to a senior.

Barton’s knee had stopped bouncing. “Uh...sir?” he asked, very softly.

“Do I have your word that there will be no more fighting in my halls between the two of you?”

“Yes,” they said in unison.

Xavier held up his hands. “Then I’ve made my decision. I won’t have you both suspended, or send you to detention. I will, however, turn this matter over to Nick Fury. He will decide your punishment.”

Phil’s stomach dropped into his feet. Fury was the school’s athletic director, the head of the sports teams. He had just as much authority as Xavier—if not more. He could easily decide to bench Phil and Barton for the rest of the season.

Phil would rather have taken the suspension.

Barton was apparently reading Phil’s thoughts. “Sir, Director Fury will have us benched,” he said.

Xavier clucked his tongue. “He very well might. That decision is out of my hands. In the meantime, Mr. Barton, please make your way to the nurse’s office before you head home. Mr. Coulson, you’ll wait here until your mother arrives.”

Barton was up and out of his seat in a flash. Phil just slumped down and buried his face in his hands, wondering just how much worse this day could get.

~

“Well, it’s not broken,” Mrs. Carly, the school nurse, said as she swabbed Clint’s nose clean. “You’re lucky the guy who hit you didn’t put his back into it.”

Clint rolled his eyes. “Just give me some painkillers and get me out of here.”

“What do you think I am, a dealer? You get Tylenol and that’s it, buddy.” She swatted Clint on the shoulder, but it wasn’t hard at all. If anything, she sounded fond. Like a mom.

“Do I at least get Codeine for the road?” Clint asked, just to be an ass.

Mrs. Carly wasn’t amused. “You wish. Now stay put while I go get some butterfly bandages from storage. Haven’t had any use for them in months.”

The second she was out of sight, Clint gingerly felt his nose to make sure it wasn’t still bleeding, then slipped out the door and into the quiet hallway. He wasn’t looking forward to the three mile walk home—his bike wasn’t fixed up yet, so he usually rode to school with Natasha—but walking beat waiting around for Terrance to show up and make a scene.

He was about to turn the corner by the principal’s office when he heard a woman say, “God, Phil, look at you. What were you thinking?”

Clint halted and pressed his shoulder against the wall. He leaned carefully around the corner and saw Coulson standing with his hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans, shoulders hunched and head bowed. His left cheek was seriously starting to bruise, and there was a cut at the corner of his mouth. A lady Clint assumed was his mother shook her head at him.

“It just—happened, okay? I don’t know what you want me to say.” Coulson sounded really young.

“I want you to tell me why you’re fighting at school. And on today of all days—you’re going to show up to dinner with your father looking like a prizefighter.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t go to dinner, then,” Coulson replied darkly.

His mom put her hands on his shoulders. “Is that why you did this? To get out of seeing him?”

Coulson shrugged her off. “Why do you even care? Who gives a shit what I look like, it’s not like the bastard’ll recognize me, anyway.”

“Phil, watch your mouth.”

“Stop defending him, Jesus! He’s the one who left us, and I’m the one getting yelled at? That’s fucked up, Mom, and you know it.” He pointed a finger at her, but the second the words left his mouth, Coulson seemed to regret them. He bit his lip, eyes going wide as he jerked his hand back.

His mom’s lips thinned out, and Clint could see a distinct, angry tick in her jaw. She didn’t really look like the type of person to be pissed off lightly. “You know better than to speak to me that way, Phillip,” she said in a dangerously low, even voice.

“I’m sorry,” Coulson said. “I didn’t—” He shut his eyes and cupped both hands over his face, sighing roughly. “Can we just go home now, please?”

“I think that’s a good idea.” His mom took a deep breath, then pulled Coulson into a hug. He was taller than her by quite a bit; she fit under his chin perfectly.

Clint tried to remember what his own mom had looked like, if she’d be shorter than him now. He wondered if she’d hug him like that right after he’d smarted off to her in public.

He started to turn away, feeling uncomfortably intrusive on their family moment, only he heard Coulson’s mom ask, “The boy you hit—who was he?”

Clint chewed the corner of his thumb and tried his damndest to keep walking. Instead, he waited, ignoring the way his heart pounded a little harder.

“His name’s Clint Barton. He...didn’t deserve it,” Coulson said quietly.

“Is he a friend of yours?”

“No. He kind of hates me. A lot.” He sounded weirdly sad.

His mom pulled back and reached up to ruffled Coulson’s hair. “I doubt that’s true. You’ve got my looks and my charm, everyone should love you.”

He laughed weakly. “I guess Barton’s immune.”

“Then he’s defective somehow. It’s his loss.” She tugged him down and kissed Coulson’s cheek as the two of them headed toward the front doors to the parking lot. Her arm stayed around Coulson’s back the whole way.

Clint leaned against the wall and dug the toe of his sneaker into a crack in the tiled floor. Coulson’s mom’s words kept bouncing around inside him, making his head hurt.

Defective? Screw her.

He took off down the hall after them, slowing his steps as he got to the doors. As he pushed out into the afternoon sunlight, Clint swallowed hard and yelled, “Hey, Coulson!”

Both Coulson and his mom turned abruptly. She eyed him curiously, but Coulson looked braced for another fight. “Yeah?” he asked warily.

Whatever self-righteous determination had sent Clint after them immediately deserted him. He hugged his arms across his chest and licked absently at his split lip. He desperately needed a smoke.

“I—sorry,” Clint said.

Coulson blinked. “Seriously?”

Clint shrugged.

“Fine.” Coulson folded his arms, mimicking Clint’s stance. “I’m...sorry, too.”

“D’you think Fury will really bench us?” Clint tried to ignore the way Coulson’s mom’s eyes darted between them.

Coulson sighed. “I don’t know. At least this was our first fight.”

Only fight,” his mom interjected, then smiled at Clint. “It’s Clint, right? Do you need a ride home?”

“Oh, I—” He glanced at Coulson, who quickly looked away. “Naw, I’m fine. I got a car.”

Coulson’s eyes snapped back to him. He frowned, and Clint waited for him to tell his mom Clint was lying, that he didn’t own a car.

Coulson didn’t say anything.

“All right, well, I’m glad you two reconciled,” his mom said. “Go home and put some ice on that nose, Clint.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Clint forced a smile as Coulson ducked his head and rubbed the back of his hand over his bruised eye.

He didn’t deserve it.

Clint watched Coulson get into his mom’s pristine Lexus and drive away. He wondered what kind of idiot he’d have to be to ever think the two of them had anything in common.

~

They met with Fury that following Friday. Phil assumed it was so that he and Barton would have the weekend to freak out over whatever punishment Fury dealt out for them. Phil had spent the last few sleepless nights considering all the horrible possibilities that could come out their meeting, and all of them ended with Barton blaming Phil for ruining his sports career.

Then again, Barton had apologized, which...had been unexpected, to say the least. Phil thought maybe Barton had been trying to make him look bad in front of his mom, but the way he’d acted all fidgety and nervous didn’t seem like a typical Barton response to humiliating Phil.

Phil’s response to it all had been to ignore Barton for the rest of the week, which had worked out pretty great.

Now, though, they were both seated in uncomfortable plastic chairs in Fury’s cramped office that was just off the boys’ locker rooms. Everything smelled like dust and sweat; half-inflated basketballs sat on a shelf behind Fury’s desk, along with broken field hockey sticks, a pair of volleyball knee guards, a filthy soccer ball, and a football that had 1976 Varsity scrawled across it in black ink.

An arrow was duct taped to the wall beside the shelf. Phil wondered if Barton had put it there.

“Where the fuck is he?” Barton muttered, tapping his fingers against his chair. The guy never sat still for longer than thirty seconds.

“He said he was running late. Are you really that eager to find out just how much our lives are gonna suck soon?” Phil asked.

“I’m eager to get the hell out of here. I gotta get to work in forty-five minutes.”

Phil frowned at him. “You have a part-time job? On top of being captain?”

Barton turned and smirked at him. His nose looked better, but there was still a nasty bruise around his left eye, and the cut on his lower lip was still fairly red. “Some of us don’t get Mommy to pay for everything.”

“Hey, fuck off, I work, too.”

“Yeah? Where at?”

“At...home. For my mom. I do filing for her sometimes and she—” Phil flushed angrily, because damn it, he was making it sound like Barton had a point. “Whatever, she pays me for the work.”

“Uh-huh. What, your mom’s, like, a lawyer or something?” Barton licked absently at his cut lip, flicking the tip of his tongue back and forth over it.

Phil scowled. “No. She works for the federal government as a consultant. National security stuff.”

Barton rolled his eyes. “So your mom’s a spy?”

No. And if she was, she wouldn’t let me file her paperwork. Duh.” Not that Phil hadn’t jokingly called his mom Spy Mom once or twice. Without thinking, he added, “She met my dad in Washington, D.C. when she was in training.” Phil winced. Yeah, talking about his dad with Barton wasn’t high on his list of priorities. And talking about his dad just made him remember the horrible, awkward dinner from three nights ago.

“Your parents are split up, right?” Barton said it so casually, like he was asking about Phil’s ACT scores or something.

Refusing to give anything away, Phil replied, “Right before I started seventh grade. Dad moved to Arlington.” And that was all Barton was getting out of him, because it was none of his goddamn business.

They sat in silence after that, the clock on the wall behind them ticking obnoxiously loud.

“Your shiner’s not that bad,” Barton mumbled.

Phil sniffed. It was a lie; his eye looked like shit, although Bucky kept saying it gave Phil “street cred,” whatever the hell that meant. Rumors were flying through school about why Phil and Barton had gotten into the fight in the first place; Phil liked the ones that said he’d won. It made his black eye a bit more tolerable.

His dad, on the other hand, had taken one look at his eye and split lip and said, “I didn’t realize soccer was a contact sport now,” with so much resigned disappointment that Phil had wanted to launch himself across the table and reenact the fight all over again.

“I’m into boxing now, didn’t Mom tell you?” Phil had replied instead.

“She told me you’re an honor roll student and team captain. That—” He’d waved his hand at Phil’s black eye. “—isn’t honorable or captain-like. Maybe I’m missing something.”

The rest of dinner had been a red blur of impotent rage on Phil’s part. When his dad drove him home in his stupid, glossy black Mercedes, he’d started to say something about being back in town at Christmas. Phil had gotten out of the car and slammed the door before his dad had finished speaking.

“My dad thought my shiner made me look like a thug,” Phil said with a harsh laugh. He glanced over at Barton, who was looking at him funny.

“You went to the dinner,” he said quietly, then wrinkled his nose, like he hadn’t meant to say it out loud.

Phil’s eyes widened. “How did—were you listening to Mom and me in the hallway?”

Barton actually blushed. It was really weird, seeing his cheeks go all pink. It made his freckles stand out. “I may have accidentally heard you guys talking, yeah. Thought you didn’t wanna go.”

“I didn’t. Mom insisted.”

“When’s the last time you saw him?”

Phil drummed his fingers on his knee. “My fourteenth birthday.”

Barton didn’t say anything. When Phil finally looked up, he was watching him with narrowed eyes.

“Look, whatever, dude, my dad’s not your problem,” Phil said. He didn’t like Barton looking at him like that, like he was trying to dissect him. “You shouldn’t eavesdrop on private conversations. I don’t go asking you shit about your parents.”

“I don’t have any to talk about,” Barton sneered.

Oh. Right. Foster care. Phil’s stomach dipped in contrite embarrassment. Why were they even talking about any of this? Where the hell was Director Fury?

“You know what I mean,” Phil muttered, slumping down in his chair.

“How ‘bout you don’t have your little family talks in open hallways, dumbass,” Barton said, and Phil was about to tell him where his dumbass comment could go, only he was interrupted by Fury storming into the office.

“Gentlemen,” he announced loudly. He walked behind his desk, opened one of the drawers, and pulled out a giant spiral bound notebook, which he promptly slammed down in front of Phil and Barton. “Do you know what that is?”

Phil leaned forward and read the cover. “Um, Standards and Ethics for Sportsmanship?”

“Exactly. This is the Bible for all the sports programs here at Westville High School. Have you read it?”

“...No?”

“Of course you haven’t. And I know this because if you had, you’d know that fighting on school property constitutes immediate suspension from at least a third of the season.”

Barton made a whimpering sound. “Sir, my season’s like halfway over, I can’t—”

“I’m sorry, you can’t, what?” Fury asked, splaying his hands over the notebook. “You can’t handle the consequences of being assholes during school hours?”

Phil winced. “It was a mistake. Sir.”

“No. A mistake is when you accidentally try to unlock a car that looks like yours. You two were assholes. It’s beginning to be a bit of a problem.” Fury sat down hard in his chair. The hinges screeched loudly.

“We’d never gotten in a fight before,” Barton said. His voice had gone a little shrill, panicky.

Fury raised an eyebrow. “True, but don’t you dare sit there and tell me you guys haven’t been at each other’s throats for years. You’re like dynamite just waiting to be lit. I thank my lucky stars every day you both don’t play on the same damn team.”

“So...we’re benched?” Phil asked miserably. Barton’s knee had started bouncing again.

“Do you think I should bench you?”

He hated it when adults asked things like that. Phil’s mom did it all the time; it was a trick question. Contrary to what Fury thought, Phil wasn’t an idiot.

Sighing heavily, Phil said, “Probably.” Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Barton glaring at him.

“You disagree, Barton?” Fury asked.

“I—I think we’re first-time offenders. I get good grades, and so does Coulson. We’re captains. We messed up; bench us for one game and one meet. It won’t happen again.” It was about the most earnest Phil had ever heard Barton sound.

Fury laughed, which did not bode well for them. “So you’ll both kiss and make up, huh?”

Phil almost choked. Barton’s eyes widened, and he coughed once before replying, “I-I mean, we’ve apologized—”

“Spare me the apology bullshit. There’s nothing saying you won’t be tackling each other again in a few months.” Fury rocked back in his squeaky chair, hands folded under his chin. “But I do agree with you, Barton. I don’t think I should bench you.”

“Really?” Barton said, and Phil would have laughed at the way his voice cracked had he not been overwhelmed with relief.

But then Fury smiled. Phil knew whatever was about to come out of his mouth wouldn’t be good. “You’ll both get to finish out your respective seasons. However, I’m giving you an assignment for the rest of the year. One you’ll be required to work together on, as a team. You will meet all my set deadlines on time, no questions asked, or you will be suspended from play for next school year. Do you get me?”

“Yes, sir,” they replied in unison, although Barton was glancing warily at Phil. But what more could they say? Getting stuck working on some project together was worth not getting suspended.

Maybe.

“What, um, assignment is this?” Phil asked.

“Why, Coulson, I’m glad you asked.” Fury reached back into his desk and produced a fat, messy file folder stuffed with a mountain of paper. Scrawled across the front of the file were the words Summer Camp.

Fury walked around his desk and unceremoniously dumped the folder into Phil’s lap.

“You, gentlemen, will be planning and organizing the first annual Westville High Summer Sports Camp for Kids,” Fury said. “And you better not fuck it up.”

~

A year ago, Clint had been in the local pet store trying to buy a bag of dog treats for Lucky, only he’d run short on cash. Just as he’d been about to scurry away from the checkout line in humiliation, a woman in line behind him said, “It’s okay, I’ll pay for them.” She’d smiled kindly at Clint.

“You don’t have to do that,” Clint had stuttered in embarrassed relief. He’d always had a hard time accepting charity. “I can’t really pay you back right now, but—”

The lady had waved her hand. “You obviously have a dog you care about, yes?”

“Yeah,” Clint had replied shyly. It had been the first time he’d really admitted anything about Lucky out loud.

“Then I consider this helping a good cause. Besides, I might have a way for you to pay me back.”

Her name was Laurie and she was the director of the local animal shelter, which happened to be within walking distance of school. She’d asked Clint to come by the following afternoon and she’d show him around.

And that had lead to Clint’s first real part-time job.

It wasn’t something he talked about, and he only got a handful of hours a week that paid next to nothing, but he fiercely loved it. Clint was the youngest employee by about twenty-five years, and that suited him just fine; Laurie and the office manager, Diane, frequently doted on Clint, although he was careful never to mention his fosters.

If the shelter stayed open past seven o’clock, Clint would’ve probably slept there every night. There was something about being alone with the animals, the way they quietly watched you and didn’t expect anything in return. Clint sometimes found himself having one-sided conversations with them.

The Monday after the shitty meeting with Fury, Clint was taking Samson for a walk around the block. Samson was a black Great Dane with white paws who really thought he was a kitten; he liked to nuzzle his face into Clint’s chest and make grumbling sounds like a purr. Clint wished he could keep him.

Samson stopped to delicately sniff at a patch of flowers, ears perking up when a butterfly emerged.

“C’mon, Cupcake,” Clint drawled, using the nickname he’d given Samson several months back. “I don’t have all day, y’know.”

Samson’s tail stopped wagging as he gave Clint a pitiful look. Then he spotted something over Clint’s shoulder and suddenly moved onto the sidewalk, letting out a loud woof.

Clint turned and saw that the soccer team was apparently out for their afternoon run. In the front of the pack was Coulson.

“Whoa, giant dog!” Bucky Barnes yelled as they got closer. “Is that your security detail, Barton?”

“You wanna find out?” Clint said, and several of the guys laughed. Except Coulson, who slowed to a stop in front of Clint as the rest of the guys ran on.

“Hey,” Coulson said awkwardly. He swiped the back of his arm over his face, and Clint really didn’t need to be presented with so much bare, sweaty skin. Why couldn’t Coulson do his runs with a shirt on? Why did his shorts have to sit so damn low on his hips?

“Hey,” Clint replied, biting the inside of his lip. It wasn’t like he’d never acknowledged to himself that Coulson was built, but Clint had seen hotter guys naked before. Seriously. Coulson wasn’t all that hot. It’s just that his shoulders were too wide for the rest of his body. That’s all. It was weird. Distracting.

Coulson seemed to notice Clint’s inability to stop staring at him. He fidgeted, hugged his arms tight across his chest. It didn’t help the whole shoulder distraction—thing. “So, we need to talk about Fury’s assignment,” he said. “We can’t just ignore it and hope it goes away.”

Clint huffed. Samson tugged on his leash, spotting another errant butterfly. “When I’m not working, I’m in practice. Same goes for you.”

Coulson tilted his head. “You’re at work now?”

“Yeah, I...I work at the animal shelter on tenth street two days a week. That’s where this guy came from.” He pointed his sneaker at Samson.

“Oh.” Clint fully expected Coulson to make some stupid comment about Clint having a lame sport and a lame job, but instead he crouched down in front of Samson and rubbed both hands behind his ears.

“You’re a handsome dude,” Coulson said, his voice a combination of playful affection and quiet gentleness. He grinned at Samson, who completely went to pieces for him and butted his head against Coulson’s cheek.

“Wow, he’s a sweetheart.” Coulson turned that same smile to Clint, and it was—Clint blinked, like he’d been sideswiped.

“Samson, stop flirting with Coulson, Jesus.” Clint pulled on the leash, but Samson wouldn’t budge. He licked Coulson’s nose, which made him laugh.

“How come no one’s adopted him yet?”

“I dunno. Big dogs are a hassle.”

Coulson’s expression sobered somewhat, and his stupid blue eyes went all wide and earnest. “Does your shelter have a no-kill policy?” he asked.

“Not officially, but our director, Laurie, never puts ‘em down. She always finds a home for them eventually.”

“That’s good.” Coulson stood up and scratched absently over his stomach, right over the thin, dark trail of hair that disappeared into the waistband of his shorts. Clint swallowed and looked away.

“Practice gets out at six-thirty on Thursday,” Coulson said. “We could go to my house after?”

Clint really didn’t like the idea of being alone with Coulson in his own house for some reason. It made his heart beat a little faster. But Coulson was right—they had to get started on this summer camp project soon or Fury would have their asses. “I should be out of practice by then, too,” he said.

“Do you...want to ride with me?” Coulson didn’t meet his eyes, like he was embarrassed to admit Clint didn’t have a car.

“You could just make me ride the bus,” Clint replied snidely, without really meaning it.

He watched Coulson flinch, followed by a familiar glare. “I was just being nice,” he said.

“I don’t need you to be nice, Coulson. Just ‘cause we’re on this project together doesn’t mean we’re friends.”

“I never thought we were friends. I’m not a fucking idiot.” He shoved a hand through his hair, jaw clenched. “Whatever, just be at my house by seven on Thursday.” Coulson took off down the sidewalk after the rest of his team, his back a long, tense line.

Clint refused to feel guilty about any of it.

Samson pushed his head under Clint’s arm and made his weird little purring noise.

“Yeah, yeah,” Clint muttered. “You like everybody, whether they deserve it or not.”