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My Insides Are Copper

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Phil tried not to dread Thursday, and he mostly succeeded. A huge game was coming up on Friday against a really hard team; Phil tended to take on the pressure like every match was do-or-die, making him tense and nervous during the forty-eight hours leading up to game time. Needless to say, Barton was the least of his worries when Thursday afternoon finally rolled around. He was so unconcerned, he didn’t even notice practice had run late.

He was headed to the locker room to shower when he happened to glance at his phone and saw it was nearly seven o’clock.

Shit,” Phil hissed, and ran straight for his car.

He pulled up in his driveway at ten after, still wearing his cleats. Sitting on the front steps with his bow in his lap was Barton. He was also smoking.

“Sorry,” Phil said as he grabbed his backpack and duffel full of gear.

Barton didn’t look up as he stubbed his cigarette out. “I was here at seven, dude. Just so we’re clear.”

Phil gritted his teeth. Yeah, he wasn’t going to hear the end of this for a while. “I lost track of time. Don’t you ever get caught up in stuff?”

“I’m not Mr. Perfect,” Barton drawled.

“Don’t call me that. I’m not perfect.”

“Obviously, since you’re late.” Barton stood up and slung his bow over his shoulder with a smirk. “D’you have any food in your house? I’m starving.”

“I don’t know, is my food good enough for you?” Phil snipped as he unlocked the front door. He made a point to shoulder his way in front of Barton before dumping his soccer gear by the stairs and toeing his cleats off. He desperately needed a shower, but he didn’t want to leave Barton alone to wander around gathering incriminating evidence on Phil’s personal life.

But when Phil turned usher Barton up the stairs to his room, he found him huddled in the doorway with his hands shoved in his pockets.

“Are you coming in or not?” Phil gestured to the stairs. “I can probably dig up a frozen pizza or something if you’re gonna be a jerk about—”

“You’ve got a really nice house,” Barton said quietly. His eyes were wide, and he was staring up at the antique chandelier that hung in the foyer. It had been a birthday from Phil’s grandma to his mom years ago; Phil hated the thing because he always got stuck dusting it.

“Thanks?” Phil replied. “I’ve basically lived here my whole life.” He’d never really had anyone look all wonderstruck over his house before. Phil knew he lived in a nice neighborhood, but he’d grown up here. He figured his house was normal for the area.

Barton chewed his lower lip. “D’you have, like, maids and stuff?”

Phil burst out laughing. “Are you serious? My mom would die before she let strangers in the house just to clean it.”

“She makes you do it?” Barton scowled at him, his cheeks faintly pink.

“Sometimes, when she’s traveling.” Phil wondered why Barton cared so much about who cleaned his house, then he remembered: fosters. Did Barton’s foster parents make him do a lot of chores? Did they have a huge house that he got forced into cleaning?

Phil didn’t know how to even begin to ask those questions, so he awkwardly waved his hand toward the kitchen. “I’ll go see if there’s any food in the freezer. You can, uh, tag along, or just go up to my room. It’s the first one on the right.”

Barton glanced up the stairs. “Yeah, okay,” he said, shifting his bow to his other shoulder. He closed the door behind him, but didn’t move right away. Phil was already in the kitchen before he heard footsteps heading toward his room.

“Damn it,” Phil murmured, and dropped his forehead against the fridge. He’d totally forgotten to clean up, i.e. hide all his Captain America paraphernalia and Magic: The Gathering cards that were scattered everywhere from the night before when he’d had Steve over for a game. Barton already thought he was a raging nerd; he didn’t need solid proof of it.

“Nothing to do about it now, buddy boy,” he mumbled to himself as he dug a box of pizza rolls out of the fridge and stuck them in the toaster oven. Couldn’t he do anything right tonight?

Once the food was ready, Phil grabbed two cans of Coke and ran upstairs, still in his filthy socks and sweaty practice jersey. There were grass stains on his elbows and knees, and he knew he smelled like a giant arm pit. Not actually the ideal condition to be stuck in a room with Barton.

With a sigh, Phil pushed the door to his room open with his shoulder. He braced himself for Barton’s inevitable sneering judgement.

He didn’t expect to find Barton sitting cross-legged on the floor by the bed, his leather quiver sitting out in front of him as he carefully and methodically checked each and every arrow. Barton’s fingers danced over the tips like they were made of glass.

Phil cleared his throat. “I have pizza rolls.”

Barton looked up and blinked. “Really?” he asked. “I didn’t think—”

“I never eat these things, they’re gross,” Phil said as he shoved the plate in front of him, along with the can of Coke. It was only a partial lie; Phil only ate them when there was no other food in the house. He still didn’t want Barton thinking he went to any trouble for him.

“At least you get junk food,” Barton mumbled under his breath before inhaling two whole pizza rolls. He closed his eyes and groaned low as he chewed. “Fuck, those are good. Haven’t eaten all day.”

Phil wanted to make a comment about how he didn’t need to see Barton’s orgasm face over pizza rolls, only he couldn’t quite make himself say it out loud. He found himself staring at the slick curve of Barton’s lower lip as he licked the grease from his fingers, and suddenly the room felt very close and stuffy. “Are you missing dinner?” he asked, just to have something to say as he pulled off his dirty socks and dumped the contents of his backpack over his bed.

Barton snorted. “We don’t do dinner a lot at my—where I live.”

“Your foster mom doesn’t cook?”

“She works late,” was all Barton said. He snuck another pizza roll—his fifth, Phil was fairly certain—and then started gently slipping each arrow back into his quiver. It was a weird, slightly hypnotic process; Barton handled each one with a surgeon’s care, and when he closed the flap he pressed his hand over the leather like he’d just tucked a kid into bed for the night.

Phil must have been more exhausted than he thought. He scrubbed a hand over his face and wrinkled his nose when he smelled dirt and grass. “I really need a damn shower,” he mumbled.

“Yeah, you do kinda look like shit,” Barton said casually. It pissed Phil off probably more than it should have, but he was tired and dirty and irritated that he couldn’t seem to stop staring at Barton’s hands and his mouth while Barton apparently thought Phil looked disgusting.

“Hey, guess what, I don’t care what you think, you’re not here to smell me,” Phil said.

“I don’t care if you care. Shocker.” Barton set his quiver aside and flopped back on the carpet. “How’s this gonna work, anyway? Can’t we just, I don’t know, divvy the work up so we don’t actually have to hang out?”

Phil glowered at the pile of Fury’s notes spread out across his bed. “Sorry it’s such a hardship to be in my house and eat my food,” he snipped, ignoring the part where Barton’s t-shirt had ridden up slightly, showing off a strip of smooth skin.

“Just sayin’, it’s not like this is a picnic for you, either. We could just email each other ideas.”

“Ideas?” Phil barked out a laugh and flailed his hands at the mess of random crap Fury had left them with. “The guy’s been trying to plan this summer camp for like five years. He’s got very specific things he wants. Our ideas mean jack at this point.”

Barton sat up and frowned. “You’re saying you don’t have anything you want to add? At all?”

“What, like you do?”

“Well, yeah.” He climbed on his knees across the carpet and grabbed a battered magazine article from one of the piles. “What if we gave out awards for overall sportsmanship, or something? That way kids in the smaller sports could still participate even if there’s only like three people on their team. And I’m not saying we give out trophies or anything, but maybe a shirt with their name and a jersey number on it? Way cooler than some stupid plastic thing that’ll just sit and get dusty.”

“You’ve...really been thinking about this,” Phil said.

Barton’s shoulders hunched. “It’s what I’d want if I were going to a camp like this,” he replied.

Against his better judgement, Phil said, “What else were you thinking about?”

Barton chewed his lip for a second. “Clinics,” he said. “One-on-ones. Kids like that mentoring shit. And maybe we can get a bunch of the varsity players to come and do like an exhibition game for them.”

Phil rummaged through the piles and produced a pen and a notebook. “Wait, go back to the personalized jerseys…,” he said, scribbling frantically.

The next thing he knew, his hand was starting to cramp and he had two pages of notes—and almost all of them were Barton’s ideas.

“Wow, I didn’t think we’d get this far.” Phil laughed sheepishly.

Barton shrugged, sprawled out on the floor with different camp brochures scattered around him. “Rather do this than get benched.” His cell phone rang, and Barton rolled over onto his back as he dug it out of his pocket. He glanced at the screen and made a goofy little grin. “Hey, Katey-Kat, what’s up?” he answered, his voice going all soft and affectionate.

Phil stared down at his notes.

“Naw, I’m at Coulson’s, we’re almost done, thank God. Can you come pick me up?” There was a pause, and Barton huffed loudly. “Fine, okay—Coulson, Kate says hi.” He rolled his eyes.

“Hi, Kate,” Phil mumbled, drawing random doodles in the margins of his notebook.

“Yeah, he said hi, happy now? So you’ll come by? I’ll just wait outside for you—314 Springwood—the big fancy one with the red door. Awesome, you’re the best.” Barton hung up and jumped to his feet, slinging his backpack, bow and quiver over his shoulder like he couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

“When do you want to meet again?” Phil said just as Barton got to the doorway.

He sighed and tipped his head back. “I dunno, Coulson, whenever. But we’re done for tonight.”

“Maybe we could go to your place next time.”

Barton burst out laughing. “Right! That’s so not happening in this century.” He shook his head and disappeared down the hall, calling, “We’ll stick with your fancy-ass house, how ‘bout that, Weasel?”

Phil didn’t answer. He couldn’t exactly flip Barton off when he was already gone.

~

Somehow or another, they grudgingly worked out a schedule. Fury wanted bi-weekly updates of their progress, and after the first two weeks they presented him with what was basically Phil’s notes of Barton’s brainstorming. Fury looked it over, grunted, and said, “See you in another two weeks, gentlemen.”

Phil didn’t know what the hell Fury wanted. He never gave any feedback or comments. It was as if Phil and Barton were being left to their own devices and pray to God Fury didn’t eventually lose his shit.

It hardly seemed worth it. Barton would show up at Phil’s house once a week, usually on Thursday evenings, and for an hour they’d either argue over ideas or sit in silence while jotting things down. Barton would thrust his notes at Phil on his way out, leaving Phil to read over everything afterwards and be reluctantly impressed.

The guy really had been thinking things through, and he knew exactly how to map his thoughts out. If Phil was being really honest, he’d even admit Barton was a good writer.

After the fourth week, when Barton had run out Phil’s front door after calling Natasha to come pick him up, Phil’s mom had come up to his room and said, “I’m pleased you two haven’t murdered each other yet. This group project thing seems to be going well.”

Phil had shrugged, still reading over Barton’s detailed plan for a cross-team “buddy” system to get kids learning about other sports while making new friends. “I guess.”

“Are you finally starting to see Clint as friend material?” she’d asked.

Again, he’d shrugged without glancing up. He wasn’t going to tell her that Barton still called him Weasel at school. Granted, the taunting had died down a lot, but Phil didn’t trust that to last. The unspoken, tentative truce between them was so fragile, pretty much anything could shatter it.

Phil tried not to think about it too much. It didn’t help his stress levels, which were at an all-time high these days with a possible regional championship coming up and mid-term exams looming.

The following Thursday brought a torrential downpour, complete with thunder and lightning. Practice was canceled for all outdoor sports, and the weight room was flooded with guys trying to get a workout in. Phil hated fighting for equipment time, so he went looking for Barton to ask if they could start their meeting early.

It was times like these that Phil wished they’d traded cell phone numbers. But Phil was paranoid Barton would prank call him at random hours, and Barton seemed to think giving Phil his number was almost insulting. Yet Phil had to admit texting Barton would have been much easier than picking his way through the locker room, looking like an idiot as he awkwardly asked around for Barton’s whereabouts.

“What about Kate?” Phil asked one of the archers. “Is she around?”

“She had a dentist appointment this afternoon,” the girl replied.

Great. Phil’s other option was to track down Natasha; she was the only other person in Barton’s circle of friends that Phil felt remotely comfortable approaching. But he had no clue what she got up to after school. With a sigh, Phil muttered, “Screw it,” under his breath and dashed out into the rain toward his car. He’d just have to wait around until seven for Barton to show up like usual.

Even with his wipers on high, Phil could barely see through the downpour. The gutters were beginning to overflow, spilling out onto the streets. Phil slowed to a stop at an intersection just as a truck sped by and sprayed a huge wave of water across Phil’s car.

“Asshole!” Phil yelled at the retreating taillights. What if he’d been on the sidewalk? Anyone walking outside would have been instantly soaked—if they weren’t already drenched from the rain. Phil shook his head in disgust, and he was just about to ease back into traffic when he saw a blurry figure of someone walking along the street about a block ahead. As Phil drove closer, he could make out the distinct outline of a bow and quiver case.

Jesus, Barton was out walking in this stuff? Phil pulled up beside him and rolled the passenger side window down. “Barton! What the fuck are you doing?”

Barton visibly startled, then ducked his head down to peer inside Phil’s car. He jerked his soaked hoodie off his head. “Walkin’ home, what’s it look like?” he yelled over the roar of the storm.

“Your arrows are getting wet,” Phil pointed out dumbly, knowing full well Barton was aware of this fact.

“No shit, Sherlock. Can’t be helped.” He pulled his hood back up and started back down the sidewalk. A bolt of lightning streaked across the sky, followed by a loud crack of thunder.

Phil knew he should let Barton do whatever the hell he wanted, that it wasn’t his business. But he simply wasn’t the type of person to let someone walk home in a thunderstorm. He followed after Barton, ignoring the rain streaking into his car. “Barton! You dumbass, get the car!”

Barton stopped walking. His shoulders drooped a little, like he was honestly debating with himself whether or not to take Phil’s offer.

A second later, he was slamming the door closed. He threw his water-logged backpack into Phil’s back seat, but kept his bow and quiver in his lap.

“Thanks,” Barton mumbled as he wiped a hand over his face. Water dripped off the ends of his hair, trailed down his cheeks like tears.

“I thought you always got a ride after practice,” Phil said. He wasn’t sure why he had such an accusatory tone in his voice.

“I do, but Nat’s sick and Kate’s at the dentist and everyone else has a life. Happy?” Barton looked out the window. He gave a slight shiver. Phil turned on the heat.

“Since we both got out early, I was—looking to see if you wanted to meet early,” he said.

Barton sniffed. He shifted his feet and Phil could hear the wet squelch of his socks. “Fine.” Then, softer, “I...should get some dry clothes. Can’t be molding all over your nice house.”

Immediately, Phil remembered his comment from a few years back, when Barton had come into class soaked to the bone. His chest gave a tight squeeze; looking back on it, he also remembered how miserable Barton had looked, and how he’d curled into himself when everyone had laughed. At the time Phil had felt hateful satisfaction, but now…

“I can stop by your house, if you want,” Phil said hesitantly, knowing how Barton tended to avoid the subject.

Barton’s face screwed up into a weird combination of a wince and a sneer. He rubbed the back of his hand over his eyes. “Yeah, okay. But you’re not coming inside.”

“Gee, I’m heartbroken,” Phil snarked almost automatically as he pulled away from the curb. A part of him was terribly curious about where Barton lived and why he never wanted to talk about it.

Barton rattled off the address, and Phil silently acknowledged that it wasn’t in the best part of town. Not the worst, but definitely not an area Phil went through very much. “I think I took karate lessons at studio near that block as a kid,” he said.

“I think that place is a dive bar now,” Barton said. “And you had karate lessons? Guess they didn’t really take, huh.”

Phil bristled at the reference to their fight—another topic they never discussed—but when he glanced over, Barton gave him a smirk that somehow didn’t seem all that malicious. “It was only for a year. I was like six,” Phil replied.

“Six or not, I’d ask for a refund.”

“It’s not like you’re a pro MMA fighter or anything.”

“I can throw a decent punch.”

“Uh, karate isn’t just about throwing punches? And your punches are shitty.”

“Who had the black eye?”

“We both did.”

Barton shrugged. “Yours was worse, Weasel,” he said airily.

Phil passed a knuckle under his eye where the bruise was all but faded completely. “Congratulations, you got lucky.”

“I didn’t get anything, I—fuck, stop the car.” Barton’s hand shot out and grabbed Phil’s arm, hard enough to make Phil hiss in pain.

“What the hell, Barton—”

“Fuck, oh, fuck, oh, shit, just stop, now!” He scrambled out of his seatbelt before Phil could pull over.

Phil couldn’t see anything through the rain. “Barton, what’s wrong?”

“Lucky,” he breathed, tumbling out of the car and into the downpour. Phil watched, wide-eyed, as Barton ran into the street; they were in a residential neighborhood, so there wasn’t any traffic to speak of, and Barton suddenly dropped to his knees beside a lump Phil couldn’t quite make out.

“Shit,” Phil growled, and put the car in park. He grabbed the slightly broken umbrella he kept in the glove compartment and got out, swearing loudly again as cold rain hit him in the face. He jogged over to Barton, telling himself he was only going to tell the moron to get his ass back to the car before he drowned.

He didn’t expect to find Barton hunched over the body of yellow Lab, quietly freaking out.

“No, no, no, c’mon, boy, c’mon, you’re okay, c’mon, you’re fine, you’re—” Barton’s voice caught, his hands petting over the dog’s head. It wasn’t moving at all.

Phil crouched down beside him. Barton’s shoulders were starting to shake, and the rain had plastered his hair against his forehead. “Is this your dog?” Phil asked.

“It’s—his name’s Lucky,” Barton whispered, barely audible over the rain. He sounded like he might be crying, but Phil couldn’t be sure; Barton’s face was already soaking wet. “He’s—he’s mine, yeah, he’s mine, fuck.” His fingers curled into Lucky’s wet fur, and he shook the dog, yelling, “Damn it, c’mon! You know better than to run into traffic!”

Very slowly, so subtle Phil almost missed it, Lucky’s tail thumped once against the pavement.

Barton made a choked sound. “Fuck, oh god, he’s still—” He covered his mouth, his head bowed like he was forcing himself not to break down. Phil looked away, not sure at all what he was supposed to do.

He heard Barton ask in a terribly small voice, “Help me.”

Phil’s head snapped up. “You want me to—how?”

“There’s a—an emergency clinic like ten minutes away. We have to take him there.”

Emergency veterinary clinics cost money. Phil knew Barton didn’t have much. “Barton…”

“Just do it, okay? I can’t—he’s—” The words cracked around something awful, and Phil found that he didn’t want to know Barton could sound that, all wrecked and desperate and lost. It made an ache open up in Phil’s chest, one he didn’t—couldn’t—define.

This dog meant everything to Barton. Phil wouldn’t be the one to take that away from him.

He stood up and closed the shitty umbrella, shoving it in the waistband of his practice shorts. “Help me get him in the car,” Phil said.

Barton looked up him with wide blue eyes, rain clinging to his eyelashes. He sniffed, swiped the wet sleeve of his hoodie over his nose, and gave a jerky nod. His hands shook as he got to his feet, and between the two of them they managed to lift Lucky as gingerly as possible. Phil could hear the dog make a low whimpering sound, which in turn made Barton sniff again.

They laid him across the back seat; Lucky was a fairly big dog, and he barely fit the width of Phil’s Corolla. Barton kept his hand on Lucky’s flank the entire way to the clinic, whispering, “You’re gonna be okay, dude,” over and over.

The receptionist took one look at two sopping wet boys carrying a very injured, equally sopping wet Lab through the front doors of the clinic and immediately called for the doctor. Within minutes, Lucky was whisked into the emergency room, leaving a very unhappy Barton behind.

“Look, can’t I stay with him?” he begged. Water dripped off every inch of him, trailing puddles everywhere as he paced the lobby.

The vet tech smiled reassuringly at him. “Lucky is in good hands, Clint. But he’ll need to stay overnight, if not two nights at the least.”

Barton huffed out a loud breath. “Okay. All right. So can I stay here?”

She patted his arm. “He’ll be fine. Go home and dry off. You’ll both catch your death running around like drowned rats.”

Phil reached out and plucked at Barton’s hoodie. “Come on,” he said. Barton was starting to shiver again.

They went out to Phil’s car and sat in silence for several minutes while the rain pounded against the hood. Phil was beginning to feel miserably uncomfortable in his wet clothes, but he could only imagine how Barton felt.

Eventually Barton bowed his head and whispered, “I don’t know how I’m gonna pay for this. Terrance is gonna fucking kill me.” He sounded as if he were speaking to himself, not Phil.

“Is that your foster dad?” Phil asked. “Did he give you Lucky?”

The laugh Barton made was more like a sob. “Yes and most definitely fucking no,” he said, cupping both hands over his face. “No one...no one knows about Lucky,” he added, words slightly muffled.

Phil sat back in his seat. “He wouldn’t just let you keep him?”

“Let’s just say Terrance isn’t a big fan of giving me stuff I want.”

“Oh.” Well, fuck.

“Yeah.” Barton sighed heavily. “But I couldn’t just—leave him there, you know?”

Phil swallowed, unable to look away from Barton’s painfully open expression. He found himself wanting to say something, anything to make Barton not look so defeated. It was a sudden, scary thought; this guy didn’t give a shit about Phil, and yet Phil wanted to comfort him? All because of a dog?

“Maybe they’ll let you set up a payment plan,” Phil said.

“Sure. With the money I make, I’ll have it paid off when I’m fifty.” Barton groaned and punched his fist against the door. “It’s not like asking Laurie for a raise would help, not when—” He stopped, hand pressed against the window, eyes going wide.

Phil frowned. “What?” It was hard not to stare at the way the rain had caused Barton’s eyelashes to clump together, making them look all delicate like a girl’s.

“I—” Barton started digging into his backpack, until finally he produced his cell phone. He dialed a number Phil couldn’t see, mumbling, “C’mon, be there, please.” A few seconds later, Barton flushed a bright red as he said, “Laurie? Hi, it’s Clint. I, um...I have a situation I was wondering if I could, uh, talk to you about?” He slumped down in his seat. “Yeah, it’s about Lucky…”

Phil sat by and awkwardly listened to Barton work out a system with his boss to help pay for Lucky’s treatment. He would be working weekends for the next several months.

When Barton hung up, Phil said, quietly, “Aren’t a lot of your meets on Saturdays?”

Barton didn’t say anything as he put his phone back in his bag.

“You’d give that up for a dog?”

He tugged at the flap of his quiver case. “Take me back home, Coulson. I gotta get changed.”

~

The rain had stopped by the time Phil pulled up in front of a worn two-story house with a dilapidated picket fence around the front yard. The mailbox was covered in duct tape.

“I’ll only be like five minutes,” Barton was saying as he grabbed his stuff.

Phil shook his head. “Just...we can hold off this week. Don’t worry about it.”

Barton went very still, watching Phil like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. “You’re sure?” he asked slowly. “We gotta have something to show Fury tomorrow.”

“I’ll think of something.”

“Don’t...tell anyone. About this. About Lucky.” Barton’s voice dropped into a whisper again. Then he met Phil’s eyes and said, even softer, “Please?”

Phil’s heart gave a weird flutter. He felt breathless for a moment. “I won’t tell anyone,” he whispered back, and suddenly the air in the car felt very heavy.

Barton licked his lower lip. He started to say something more, but abruptly closed his mouth. He gathered up his things and got out of the car, slamming the door closed without looking back.

Phil stayed until he saw Barton disappeared into the house. His car still smelled of wet dog.

~

Lucky was gonna be okay. Clint had to remind himself of this again and again, just to make it real. He’d spent twenty-four sleepless hours waiting for the clinic to call him and say Lucky was gone, sorry kid, where would you like the body? But when the call had come saying Lucky had pulled through and would be ready to come home that afternoon, Clint had skipped his chemistry class to go hide in a storage closet and cry. He’d refused to cry at all since he’d made an embarrassing ass of himself in front of Coulson, and he’d be damned if he let it happen again.

God, Coulson. Clint didn’t begin to know what to do about that situation. It was bad enough he’d gone to pieces, but now Coulson knew about Lucky, and knew where Clint lived. He had leverage on Clint, could use it to his advantage to get Clint in serious trouble. All Clint could do was wait for the shit to hit the fan and watch Coulson gloat about it.

And yet, nothing happened. After Clint had been reassured that Lucky would be fine—although he needed to take it easy for a week or so, which meant Clint was going to have to get creative on finding a place for Lucky to stay—and he’d composed himself enough to go back to class, Coulson found him in the halls.

“How’s...your friend?” Coulson asked, low and quiet, leaning in close so only Clint could hear. Clint blinked at him, startled that Coulson was trying to keep their secret a, well, secret.

“He’s—good.” Clint felt a little off balance, having just finished a crying jag next to a shelf of cleaning supplies. “He’s, uh, coming home tonight.”

“Seriously? That’s awesome.” Coulson smiled, and it looked genuine, real. Like he actually cared about Clint and his lug of a dog. Clint didn’t like it; it made him feel all fidgety and his skin itch.

Worst of all, it...kind of made Clint want to kiss him.

Fuck, he really needed to get some fucking sleep.

“Yeah, so, anyway. Thanks.” Clint hugged his arms around his chest, tearing his gaze away from Coulson’s stupidly pretty eyes.

“You’re welcome.” Coulson suddenly looked uncomfortable, probably because they were talking like they were friends or something and it was weird. Coulson’s t-shirt had a hole in the bottom hem and he kept playing with it, twisting the material around his fingers. “Where’s L—your friend staying while he, um, recuperates?”

“I don’t know. I’ll probably get my boss to put him up for a while.” He’d already asked Laurie for too much, but it was the only thing Clint could think of. The shelter had a few empty kennels, and technically Lucky was stray…

The thought made Clint’s stomach ache. What if someone came in and wanted to adopt him? It wasn’t like Clint could say no. He didn’t have any legal claim to Lucky.

He hadn’t noticed that Coulson had stepped closer to him, that he was touching the back of Clint’s elbow. “What is it?” he asked in this soft, soothing tone Clint had never heard before.

Clint jerked back, heart pounding. Since when could Coulson read him like that? And when did he decide he could fucking touch Clint? “Nothing. It’s none of your fucking business,” Clint growled.

Coulson’s cheeks went faintly pink and his mouth twisted to one side. For a moment he looked hurt, and that horrible, stupid need to kiss him came rushing back to Clint. It made him want to get as far away from Coulson as possible.

Clint turned and sprinted down the hall toward class, biting his lip against the urge to apologize.