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My Insides Are Copper

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Lucky made the transition from the clinic to the shelter without a problem. He even woofed at Clint when he was all tucked into his kennel with a clean, soft blanket and a fresh pan of water. Clint could empathize; sometimes getting new digs was nice.

Unfortunately, Laurie wouldn’t let him spend the night in a sleeping bag by Lucky. “You can stay until ten,” she told him Saturday evening. “But after that you need to head home. I don’t want your parents worrying about you, thinking I’m some slave driver.”

Clint didn’t correct her. It was better to let her think he had people worrying about him. He smiled when she patted his arm and told her he’d lock up when he left.

Lucky slept soundly, his breathing quiet and even. The vet had told Clint he’d broken a couple ribs, but that Lucky’s main problem had been the shock of hitting his head against the oncoming car. Clint hadn’t wanted a detailed explanation of Lucky’s injuries. His dog was alive. That was all that mattered.

It was worth giving up Saturday meets and getting an extremely disapproving look from his coach when Clint had informed him he’d taken on more work hours. “What gives, Barton?” he’d asked. “You’re captain. You live and breath this sport.”

“Need the cash,” Clint had replied, thankful it wasn’t a lie.

Curled up next to Lucky’s kennel with one hand pressed against his soft muzzle, Clint knew he’d made the best choice, the only choice. He was willing to live with the sacrifices.

Sacrifices also meant consequences, which greeted Clint the moment he snuck in the back door at ten-thirty. The kitchen light was on.

Margo sat at the dining table, and standing behind her with his arms crossed, looking ready to fight, was Terrance.

Every organ in Clint’s body turned to ice.

“Where the hell have you been?” Terrance demanded. His sounded completely sober.

“I…was out. At work.” Clint tried desperately to keep his face neutral.

Terrance smirked. “Work? At ten-thirty in the goddamn night? Try again, hotshot.”

Clint didn’t understand what was going on, but whatever it was, he was fucked. His fosters had never once commented on him keeping late hours; something was wrong. “I don’t—”

Margo sighed. “Clint, the emergency veterinary clinic called. They were checking up on Lucky to make sure he’d made it home alright.” She shook her head. “Who’s Lucky? Why were you at a vet clinic?”

The ice in Clint’s veins quickly melted as panic set in. He’d been forced to provide a secondary number to his cell when he’d filled out the admitting paperwork; writing down the house number was a last minute decision. He’d never thought for a second they’d actually call. “I can explain—”

“You sure as hell will!” Terrance said, slamming his hand against the table. “Do you have any fucking idea how much those places cost? They said you’d left a dog there overnight! Just how the fuck were you plannin’ on paying for all this?”

Clint swallowed. “I’m gonna pay for it myself, I swear—”

“Yourself? Really? With what, your stupid little after school job? And don’t even get me started on how neither one of us said you could have a damn dog in the first place.”

Margo touched Terrance’s arm. “Terry, calm down—”

“No, I’m sick of this shit. After all we give to this little punk, he still has to run around adopting random fucking animals and racking up giant vet bills.” He stormed across the room and got right up in Clint’s face, the bulk of him looming like an angry, dark cloud. “D’you know how much your dog’s bill is, Clint?”

“N-no, sir, I—”

“No, ‘cause you didn’t even care. Over a thousand dollars—thirteen hundred dollars and sixty-three cents, to be fucking exact. D’you wanna know how much of that we’ve got at the moment?” Terrance shoved Clint’s shoulders, hard, making him stumble back against the kitchen counter. “Zero fucking dollars, that’s how much!”

“Terry!” Margo stood up from the table, but Clint knew it was a lost cause. Drunk or not, Terrance never listened to her.

“You’re gonna send us into debt because of some mutt. I should send you to the fucking shelter to live, since you’re basically the same goddamn thing—a worthless, mangy mutt.”

Clint sensed the punch was coming before it happened. And because archery had perfected his reflexes, he caught Terrance’s fist right before it hit his face.

Terrance snorted and threw his left fist instead. This time, it connected.

Margo screamed.

He realized in that moment that the fight with Coulson had been nothing. Clint had never truly been punched until now. He was aware of pain screaming through his jaw, of his right eye watering. He couldn’t breathe.. His back hit the edge of the counter again with the force of Terrance’s hit, and Clint stood there, stunned, one hand pressed against his cheek and the other trying to keep himself upright. Margo was suddenly at his side, murmuring things at him.

“Sweetie, go outside and work on that bike of yours,” she said, steering him toward the freezer and quickly wrapping a handful of ice in a dish towel. “Put that on your eye to stop the swelling. Go on.”

Clint staggered out the door, but never made it to the shed where the Harley was stored. His legs gave out and he collapsed on the back steps. He put his head on his knees, closed his eyes and threw the ice away.

He could hear Margo yelling at Terrance, calling him all sorts of names. Bully was one of them.

“He’s just a kid, Terry. You don’t hit kids!” she cried.

“He’s almost seventeen,” Terrance said. He sounded out of breath. Clint wondered if his knuckles hurt at all.

“You’re going to go out there and apologizing to him. You know he didn’t deserve that. If he says he’s going to pay for those vet bills, let him. It’s not like he put us down as co-signers on a loan.”

Terrance didn’t say anything.

Clint, like a fucking idiot, waited.

Terrance never came outside. Eventually Clint heard the screen door open and Margo say, “There’s macaroni in the microwave if you’re hungry.” She added, almost in a whisper, “He’s sorry, Clint. He really is.”

He wanted to believe her.

Clint sat curled up on the back porch well into the night. More than ever, he missed his dog.

~

Monday morning came like any other, except most Mondays didn’t start with Phil’s mom heading out the door at dawn to catch a flight to Boston. She would be gone until Friday evening, leaving Phil home alone for five days. The Murphys next door and The Hendricks across the street had a standing agreement with his mom to check in on Phil periodically, but for the most part Phil was pretty self-sufficient.

“You’ve got plenty of food, right?” she’d asked on Sunday as she took inventory of the pantry. “I don’t want to come back and find six empty boxes of Pop Tarts in the trash.”

Phil had rolled his eyes. “I’ll be fine. I’m the one that can cook, remember?” He wasn’t going to remind her that she’d be missing his big game on Wednesday; she didn’t need the guilt trip.

Still, he felt a bit bereft as he sat through homeroom. Phil never liked to call it loneliness, because he had no reason to feel lonely. He had tons of friends who’d hang out with him if he asked, and the Murphys fed him dinner some nights and always let Phil watch movies on their projection screen. Phil didn’t have to be alone if he didn’t want to be.

It’s just that sometimes he hated knowing he was coming home to an empty house.

The bell rang for the end of first period, and Phil considered asking Steve if he could spend the night at his place. Steve’s grandma made the greatest chocolate chip cookies ever, and also didn’t care if Steve and his friends stayed up until all hours playing video games. Phil had a lot of great memories of sleepovers at Steve’s house that consisted of marathon sessions of Halo and Grand Theft Auto—and also Mario Kart, since Steve had a fondness for his Wii.

Phil was about to text Steve about future plans when he happened to glance down the hall and see Barton leaning against his locker, one arm slung over the door. His head was bowed, and he looked utterly exhausted.

There was also an angry purple bruise across his cheek, darker and uglier than anything he’d gotten from their fight.

Phil came to a full stop, teeth clenched. He’d never admit in a billion years that he’d spent all weekend thinking about what had happened last Thursday, or the weird moment between them on Friday when Phil had forgotten himself and acted like Barton wanted his sympathy. He didn’t want anything from Phil.

But Phil knew one of his secrets now, even if it was mostly by happenstance. Whether Phil liked it or not, Barton—Clint—was human. And because of this, it made ignoring him that much harder.

It was probably suicide to try to talk him after...everything. Phil hated the stupid tug of hurt he felt each time he remembered Clint hissing at him that it was all none of his business, which it wasn’t. Phil didn’t need to get involved. He didn’t—heshouldn’t give a shit.

He’d make it quick, just ask how Lucky was doing. Something innocent and unassuming. Clint seemed okay with talking about his dog’s health; it was only when Phil touched him that he—

Whatever. Phil knew better. It wouldn’t happen again.

He still held his breath as he approached Clint’s locker. “Hey,” he said, low and careful.

Clint looked up from under his lashes without raising his head. Phil’s heart pumped faster. “What do you want, Weasel?” he asked. Just as Phil suspected, he sounded tired as hell, all his sharp edges worn down.

Phil curled both hands around the strap of his backpack. “How’s your—friend doing?”

“Fine.” Clint rubbed his face against his arm.

“Did you get him to the shelter okay?”

“Yeah.” Up close, Clint’s bruise was much worse. Someone had hit him pretty hard. Phil’s stomach lurched as he thought about who it could’ve been, and why.

Apparently Phil had been staring at Clint’s fresh black eye for too long. Clint glared at him and asked, sharper this time, “Seriously, what the fuck do you want?”

“What happened?” Phil whispered abruptly.

He didn’t expect Clint’s face to crumple before completely shutting down altogether. He slammed his locker shut and said, “I ran into a door.” Clint flicked his index finger against Phil’s chest, just hard enough to sting. “Now beat it, Weasel. Fuck off.”

Phil swallowed and didn’t move. “If—if he hit you, if your—you should tell someone,” he said.

Something flickered in Clint’s eyes, but Phil couldn’t begin to decipher it. “Don’t pretend you give a shit. We’re not friends. You don’t know anything.”

“I know enough,” Phil said. He gripped his bag more tightly.

“Yeah? What are you gonna do, huh? Pretend you’re Captain America, give me some touchy-feely bullshit about how things’ll get better?”

“I…I’m just saying—”

Clint leaned in close until they were almost nose to nose. Phil held his breath. “You have no idea what it’s like to be me, and you never will.”

He was right, of course; they didn’t have anything in common at all. Phil didn’t even know why he was bothering to get Clint to talk to him.

And yet, he still heard himself say, “It won’t get better if you don’t let someone help.”

Clint smirked. “Leave me alone,” he said in a quiet little mean voice. Phil waited for a shove, a punch to the shoulder, something.

For one split second, Clint’s gaze dropped to Phil’s mouth.

Phil didn’t move, didn’t say a word. His heart had suddenly jumped into his throat.

Clint squeezed his eyes shut and whispered, “Fuck.” He turned and walked off down the hall, shoulders hunched, like it was Phil who’d somehow hit him.

~

Two days went by, and Phil tried his best not think about anything pertaining to Clint Barton. He had a game Wednesday afternoon that would determine the course of the rest of the season; Phil couldn’t afford to let stupid things like a jerk with a black eye distract him.

Much to his chagrin, Phil noticed when Clint wasn’t at school on Wednesday. But he wasn’t going to say a damn thing about it, except he happened to see Natasha in the library after lunch.

He sat down across from where she was primly reading a giant book on World War I and said, “Uh, hi, Natasha?”

She blinked slowly, then raised her head, brushing her hair out of her eyes. “Hello,” she said with polite smile. “What can I do for you, Phil?” Her accent skittered along each word, graceful and light.

Phil bit his lip. Natasha always seemed far more mature than everyone else in their grade; Phil tended to feel slightly awkward and young around her. “I was wondering—have you seen Clint today?”

Natasha tilted her head to the side. “Why? Is he in trouble?”

“No. I mean, I don’t think so.”

“Did you two have another fight?”

“What?” Phil spluttered. “No, no. We’re—no, nothing like that. It’s just…” It suddenly dawned on him that Natasha probably didn’t know anything about Lucky, considering how insistent Clint had been on Phil keeping him a secret. But she was one of Clint’s best friends, and possibly more than that...right? Surely Clint would have told her something.

Phil sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Look, have you ever been to Clint’s house?”

Natasha went very still, carefully lowering her eyes back to her book. “Yes. I drive him to school most days.”

“Did you pick him up this morning?”

“No. He texted me and said he wanted to walk,” she said. Then, she added softly, “I know about Terrance, if that’s what you’re getting at.”

The strangest combination of relieved jealousy flared up inside him. He wanted to know how much she knew, if Clint had told her freely or she’d learned it all by accident—like him. “Do you know about Lucky?” he asked.

She frowned at him. “Lucky?”

So she didn’t know everything. Phil knew logically that it wasn’t his place to share Clint’s secrets, but he’d obviously confided in Natasha. She deserved to know.

Phil told her about the week before, about finding Lucky in the rain, the vet clinic, and Clint giving up his Saturday meets. He told her his suspicions about Clint’s black eye.

Natasha’s mouth had formed a tight line by the time Phil was done talking. “He’d told me his bow had malfunctioned during practice. I wonder what excuse he gave Kate,” she said.

“Someone needed to know,” Phil said, feeling a weight lift from his shoulders. “You guys are his friends, I figured—”

“You could be friends with him, too, you know. With Clint, it’s very…” She trailed off, a sad look in her eyes. “He’s...careful. Sometimes kindness scares him.”

Phil winced. “I’m hardly kind to him.”

“You’re a naturally kind person. Why would you be here telling me these things?”

“I’m not, I’m—”

“You helped save his dog.”

“That’s—anyone would have done that.” Phil ducked his head, hating the hot blush he felt in his cheeks.

Natasha smiled. “Not everyone, believe me.” She leaned across the table and put a hand on Phil’s arm. “I’ll talk to him. I didn’t know about Lucky, but it doesn’t surprise me—Clint does so love animals.”

Phil started to thank her, but it felt weird to say out loud. “Don’t tell him I told you,” he replied instead.

“You mean, don’t mention that you actually care about him,” Natasha said.

Phil huffed and got up from his chair. “I mean, he’ll kick my ass when he finds out I told his secret.”

She waved her hand. “You’ll learn that Clint is entirely all bark and no bite.”

“Um, he punched me in the face once. Pretty sure that constitutes biting.”

I’ve punched him in the face before, and yet I adore him with all my heart. As my mother likes to say, love is all relative.”

No one’s talking about love here, Phil thought as his stomach swooped. He slung his backpack over his shoulder and gave a dorky little wave. “Anyway, so—see you around, Natasha.”

“Call me Nat,” she said in her lovely accent, apparently oblivious to Phil nearly crashing into a cart full of books on his way out of the library.

~

Clint woke up at six in the morning on Wednesday and remembered Terrance was away on a job and Margo was off at an all-day training session two hours out of town. The house would be empty until late that evening.

So he’d texted Nat—Gonna walk today, thx—and went back to sleep. And he slept well into the afternoon. It was the first really sleep he’d had in days.

When he came to at around four-thirty, Clint rolled over and grabbed his phone. There were five text messages, three of them from Nat.

Call me, they all read. There was also one from Kate, which basically said the exact same thing.

He felt bad for making them worry, but at least he felt better and not like a barely functioning zombie. For the past few nights, every time he started to drift off he got paranoid Terrance would storm into his room and start yelling about the vet bill again. It hadn’t been brought up since the weekend, but that didn’t mean the issue wasn’t still festering beneath the surface like an infection. Clint knew how Terrance held grudges.

Clint’s stomach chose that moment to growl with a vengeance. He stretched and yawned as he dialed Nat’s number.

“Hey, gorgeous, wanna get some dinner?” Clint asked the second she answered. He really didn’t have the cash to go out, but fuck it, he deserved some diner food after the week he’d had.

“Where were you? You told me you were walking to school.” Nat sounded genuinely upset, and Clint was instantly contrite.

“Sorry, sorry, I was...I slept through my alarm.”

“All day?” He could see her unamused eyebrow quirk in his head.

“Yeah, all day, it’s—been a rough week. The fosters are away, so I figured I’d take advantage of an empty house, sue me.”

There was a long pause, and finally Nat said, “Speaking of which, we need to talk.” She said the words very carefully, which wasn’t like her at all. Nat never pulled punches with him, ever.

Clint sat down on the edge of his bed. “What is it? Did something happen? Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. But...I’m not sure about you.”

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

Nat sighed. “Can I come over? I’ll bring a pizza.”

She was the only person Clint had let into the house, mostly because if Kate saw how sparse Clint’s room was she’d immediately start trying to buy him shit from Ikea or something. He also didn’t need Kate getting into a screaming match with Terrance. Nat never let on about her feelings towards Clint’s fosters, or the house, but he could always tell that both made her unhappy for him.

The fact that she was voluntarily offering to come over meant something was up.

An hour later Nat arrived with a six pack of Coke and a large cheese pizza. It made Clint ache for Lucky, who had a weird love for the stuff; Clint had never seen a dog inhale pepperoni the way his did. “My very own pizza dog,” he’d murmured to Lucky, who’d happily licked the sauce off his fingers in reply.

He couldn’t tell Nat about any of that, though. Lucky was Clint’s secret, for him alone.

Well, him and Phil. But that was a whole other problem Clint didn’t want to think about.

They sat out on the back porch steps with the pizza box open between them, listening to the early evening crickets chirp. It was one of the things Clint loved most about Nat; she was willing to sit and say nothing at all if he felt like it.

Eventually, after Clint had finished off his second piece, he asked, “So what was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

Nat took a long drink of her Coke, flicking the tab of the can with her thumb. She didn’t look him in the eyes. “Your bruise isn’t from your bow, is it?” she finally said.

Clint’s chest seized up. He managed to keep his hands unclenched. “Why would you ask that? I get fucked up from my bow all the time.”

“Not like this you don’t.” She reached over and skimmed her fingers over the tender patch under his right eye. It didn’t really hurt all that much anymore, but Clint still flinched and ducked away.

“It’s no big deal, Nat, seriously.”

“It is a big deal if your foster dad is hitting you,” she hissed fiercely. “He had no right to lay a hand on you, especially over a dog—”

Clint went very still. “What—h-how’d you know about that?”

Nat huffed out a breath. “It’s not important how I know—”

“Did Coulson tell you?”

“Clint—”

Did he?”

“It doesn’t matter! I wish you’d told me about Lucky yourself; then maybe I would have understood why you disappeared for a day after getting such a massive black eye.”

Clint was torn between wanting to put his arm around Nat and putting his fist through a wall. Of course Phil told her everything, because that was the kind of guy he was. Secrets meant shit to him, especially if they belonged to Clint.

“Coulson had no fucking business getting you involved with this,” he said through gritted teeth.

“I’m your best friend, so yes, I should be involved. And Phil came to me because he’s worried about you.”

Clint snorted. “You of all people should know Phil Coulson doesn’t give two shits about me. Even after he promised me, he—” Clint bit the inside of his lip. Why couldn’t Phil do this one thing for him? Why’d he have to screw everything up just to fuck with him?

Nat patted the back of Clint’s hair. “You didn’t see his face,” she said quietly. “If he didn’t give two shits about you, he would have left you alone with Lucky in the rain instead of coming to me to see if you were all right.”

“Stop making this sound like we’re—” Clint bit off the word friends as he scrambled to his feet. “He lied to me.”

“He didn’t tell the whole school about Lucky. Just me.”

“He wasn’t supposed to tell anyone, and now you’ll have to tell Kate, right?”

Nat folded her arms over her chest. “You’re forgetting the part where Terrance punched you. Lucky is not the issue here.”

“There’s nothing you can do about it, Nat! You know this! I have less than a year and half left in foster care; if I rat Terrance out they’ll either ignore it or put me with another douchebag in another town. This is the only time he’s hit me, it’s not—”

“You knew this was coming,” Nat said. She stood up and poked Clint’s bicep. “You knew eventually he’d get angry enough to do something like this.”

Clint shook his head. “I just have to be more careful, ‘s all. And I don’t need Phil fucking Coulson running around telling the world about it.”

“Stop blaming him for this, you know it’s not his fault.”

“It kind of is,” Clint growled, because without Phil, Nat wouldn’t be wasting her time being worried about him. Clint didn’t need another dose of guilt keeping him up at night.

Fuck Coulson. Fuck him, fuck him, fuck him.

“I gotta go.” Clint grabbed his hoodie off the ground by the forgotten pizza box and shrugged it on with sharp, angry movements.

Nat pursed her lips. “Where?”

“To have a different talk.”

Her eyes flared. “Clint, you are not going to Phil’s house, you’re not.”

He ignored her and kissed the top of her head, saying, “Thanks for the pizza, babe.” taking off through the back gate. If he ran, he could make it to Phil’s house in twenty minutes.

The adrenaline would make it easier for Clint to kick his weasely little ass.

~

Phil got home from his game a little after seven, worn out but filled with an exhausted vindication. They’d won by the skin of their teeth against an extremely aggressive, roughhouse team. Phil had abrasions on both knees from the sheer amount of blocks he’d had, not to mention the moment during the second half when a particularly hard pass had sent the ball straight at his head. The guy had claimed it wasn’t on purpose, but Phil’s bruised nose begged to differ.

He dumped his gear in the foyer with a loud sigh, and then it dawned on him for like the millionth time that no one else was home. Phil leaned against staircase banister, his stomach growling pitifully, a reminder that he hadn’t eaten a thing since lunch. Bucky had invited him out for celebratory burgers, but Phil could feel himself having the sort of adrenaline crash where all he wanted was to be alone and decompress. For all the satisfaction he felt from the win, he could still feel remnants of the stress headache he’d had all day lingering like a shadow behind his eyes.

He really, really wished his mom was home.

“Just get in the shower and you’ll be fine,” Phil muttered to himself, dragging his sweaty jersey over his head and tossing it somewhere in the vicinity of the laundry room on his way to the kitchen. He opened the fridge and rested his forehead against the door, shivering as the cool air rushed over his bare skin. There wasn’t much in the way of food except some leftover ravioli and a half empty gallon of orange juice. Phil remembered there was also a pint of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream in the freezer.

With one shoulder propped against the fridge, he dug into the pint with a giant spoon, frost collecting around his fingers. He thought about calling his mom about his game, but she was on a flight to Toronto and probably hadn’t landed yet.

“Shower and email,” Phil said to himself around a mouthful of ice cream. If he sent his mom an update before crashing into bed, he was pretty likely to have some goofy ecard waiting for him in the morning. Phil secretly kept a file of all the ecards she’d sent him over the years whenever she was traveling for work.

His spoon was beginning to scrape the bottom of the pint when Phil heard loud banging on the front door. No doorbell ring—just heavy, fast pounding. No one Phil knew knocked like that; Steve and Bucky usually just walked right in, and Pepper always texted him when she was outside.

Phil’s heart began to race. Something wasn’t right. He set the ice cream on the counter and took two seconds to consider putting a shirt on. If someone was trying to kill him, at least he shouldn’t be half-naked?

“Fuck it, it’s my house,” he whispered as he squared his shoulders and went to the door. He’d watched too many slasher movies with Steve—now wasn’t the time to be a pussy.

He glanced into the peephole and saw what looked like one very pissed off Clint Barton pacing around the front steps. Phil’s palms started to sweat. What the hell was Clint doing? It wasn’t even Thursday night.

Phil took a deep breath and opened the door. In his calmest, most adult voice, he said, “Barton, what do you want?”

Or at least, that was what he’d planned to say in his calmest, most adult voice. What he actually got out was, “Barton, what—,” before Clint shoved his way into the house with both hands on Phil’s chest.

“You fucking asshole,” Clint yelled. He pushed hard enough to send Phil stumbling back into the bannister. “You little weasel, where the fuck do you even get off?”

Phil blinked dumbly at him. “Wha—I don’t know what you’re talking about!” He couldn’t think straight through the sharp stab of pain from hitting the hard edge of the bannister, and suddenly having Clint crowded into his space with his eyes all flashing, angry blue and his cheeks flushed. He was breathing hard, and there was a sheen of sweat along his upper lip.

“You’re such a liar!” Clint shoved him again, and this time Phil automatically struck back. He pushed with all his weight, enough to slip free from where Clint had him caged against the stairs.

“Tell me what the hell you’re going on about, Barton. You can’t just barge in here and start screaming at me when I didn’t even—”

Clint’s eyes narrowed, his expression darkening into one of such absolute contempt, Phil almost shivered. “You told Nat,” he said between clenched teeth.

Phil hated the blush that crept up his neck. “Look, it’s not what you think. I didn’t do it to, like, fuck with you, or anything, okay?”

“You promised me!” Clint shouted.

“I didn’t promise you anything! Yeah, fine, I said I wouldn’t tell, but that was before you showed up at school with a black eye from your foster dad!” Phil’s throat was very tight, and his heart felt like it was ready to crawl its way out of his chest. He’d never seen Clint this angry before, not even during their fight. He hoped Clint didn’t try to break his arm in the foyer of his own house.

Clint advanced on him again, shoving him into the wall by the kitchen. He kept one hand braced around Phil’s jaw, while the other kept Phil pinned by the shoulder.

“What fucking part of ‘it’s none of your business’ do you not fucking get, Weasel?” he hissed, breath hot against Phil’s chin. “You think can just—just involve my friends in this shit? Like you’re in a Disney Channel sitcom or something?”

“I thought Natasha could help you,” Phil said. He jerked his head to the side, trying to get free. Clint tightened his hold. “She wants to help!”

“I don’t need her help! It’s not her problem! It’s no one’s problem, especially yours.”

“But Lucky—”

Clint slammed Phil’s head back into the wall, making him see stars. “Don’t say his name! Don’t you ever say his name again, you got me? You don’t deserve to. You don't deserve anything from me.”

“I don’t want anything from you,” Phil said breathlessly through the pain behind his eyes. “You’re the one who asked me for help first, remember?”

Clint’s mouth twisted up. “I didn’t know what else to do,” he said.

“No matter what you think, I’m not heartless. I don’t leave animals to die in the street. And I don’t—” I don’t let people suffer when they shouldn’t have to, Phil wanted to add, but that wasn’t what Clint wanted to hear. Not from him.

A nasty grin suddenly spread across Clint’s face. He slid his hand up and framed Phil’s jaw with his thumb and index finger. “You must think you’re such hot shit, don’t you? Perfect little Phil Coulson in his perfect rich house. You just love getting to tell everyone what a pathetic wreck I am, don’t you?”

Phil didn’t like the hold Clint had on him. He struggled, used the quickness and strength he’d cultivated through hours of practice and managed to flip their positions. Clint growled as Phil slammed him roughly against the wall, both hands digging bruises into Clint’s shoulders. Unfortunately, Phil was barefoot while Clint was in sneakers; Clint was able to do more damage to Phil’s legs, and what’s more, Clint wasn’t running on low energy reserves after a long, punishing game. Phil was just too exhausted to keep up. And this realization came right as Clint tackled him to the floor.

Phil landed flat on his back, legs trapped between Clint’s knees and his wrists caught above his head. He tried as best he could to fight his way free, but Clint had the advantage. He was bigger, stronger, like always; Phil might as well have been back in eighth grade, skinny and scrawny and desperately hating everything about Clint Barton.

“What the fuck do you want from me?” Phil gasped, too tired to be humiliated by the catch in his voice. “I just—I just wanted to help you, all right? That’s all. You can hate me all you want, but I couldn’t—” He squeezed his eyes shut. Blood roared in his ears.

He felt the pressure around his wrists tighten a fraction. “I don’t need you to care about me,” he heard Clint say, and his voice sounded strangled and low, like Phil had punched him in the stomach.

“I don’t,” Phil whispered.

“You’re the last person in the fucking world I need coming to my rescue.”

“I’m not trying to rescue you.”

“I’m not a stray dog. I can take care of myself.”

“I know,” Phil said, because no one survived in foster care for this long on their own without being self-reliant. Clint was a team captain and got good grades; he could obviously take care of himself.

Phil waited for Clint’s grip to tighten to the point of pain, grinding his bones together, but instead Phil felt a ghost touch against his pulse, there and gone so quickly he almost thought he’d imagined it. He opened his eyes and held his breath when he found Clint leaning over him, so close he could count the tiny dusting of freckles over the bridge of Clint’s nose.

“I don’t want anything from you,” Clint said. He was whispering now.

Phil licked his lips convulsively, and Clint’s gaze dropped to his mouth. At some point something had abruptly changed, but Phil didn’t know when or how. His heart knocked against his ribs like a startled rabbit; the air around him was stifling, and all he could hear was Clint’s breath turning shallow and small. His eyes flicked back up to Phil’s, and they were very dark, nearly all pupil.

“Perfect little douchebag,” Clint breathed, but it didn’t sound mean at all. He sounded lost.

Phil opened his mouth to say something, anything, though he had no idea what. He didn’t know what was going on anymore, why Clint’s grip on his wrists was still hard and fierce while his words were weirdly gentle. Phil found himself suddenly transfixed by the soft fringe of Clint’s lashes, the hint of pink sweeping over the top of his cheeks. He smelled like sweat and soap, and when Clint swallowed Phil watched the way his throat bobbed, the flex of tendons that drew his eyes to the shadows disappearing into the neck of Clint’s t-shirt, tracing the lines of his clavicle.

Phil pulled his teeth in a slow drag over his bottom lip, and all the air left his lungs in one huge rush when he heard a tiny, tiny sound escape from Clint, painful and rough. Like a moan.

He couldn’t think about what that sound meant, because in the next moment Clint crushed his mouth against Phil’s.

Phil had been conditioned to defend himself against physical confrontations with Clint for years, so his initial response was to go completely still and wait for the inevitable blow to come. But it wasn’t in the form of a punch or a vicious barb—it came as Clint’s tongue shoving past Phil’s lips and licking over his teeth, along with wet heat and suction and Clint’s weight sinking down on top of him. Phil couldn’t breathe, couldn’t wrap his brain around what was happening. He soon grew dizzy from the lack of air, and when he gasped frantically against Clint’s mouth, Clint made a whimpering noise.

Phil didn’t like thinking about the fact that he was almost seventeen and had never been kissed. But occasionally, when he gave in to idle fantasies about what it would be like, he never pictured kissing like this—like a battle, a fight for control, biting and angry. He’d always imagined soft touches and a certain sweetness that accompanied first kisses. There was nothing sweet here, only Clint pressing his wrists into the floor as he all but devoured Phil’s mouth.

It wasn’t at all what Phil wanted from a kiss. Yet when he heard that vulnerable whimper, Phil felt himself begin to kiss back with small, careful swipes of his tongue along the slick curve of Clint’s lower lip, the exact opposite of Clint’s assault. Phil’s mouth felt swollen, bruised, and Clint only kissed him harder the more Phil continued his tentative exploration. Somewhere along the way Clint had let go of Phil’s wrists and braced both hands on the floor above Phil’s shoulders, and Phil was vaguely aware of his own hands landing somewhere on Clint’s chest, fingers curling into the fabric above his heart.

Clint groaned and shoved his knee in between Phil’s legs, and that was when Phil realized with a jolt that he was blindingly hard. The friction was enough to make Phil break out of the kiss with a startled huh-uh, but Clint was right there, sucking almost savagely at Phil’s lip, as if he needed the kiss to breathe. He ground his knee against Phil, and it felt as if Phil had been hard forever. Distantly, he heard his own voice break on a high, thready moan, and he became very aware of the fact that he was practically naked.

His hands fumbled at Clint’s shirt; he needed him bare, needed that equal footing. Phil wouldn’t let himself fall apart like this—Virgin, his mind screamed as he arched up against Clint’s chest and shuddered—without Clint there with him. And he was hard, too; Phil could feel him against his leg, thick and heavy through the cotton of his jeans. Phil raised his knee, let Clint ride it out for a moment. The breathless noise he gasped into Phil’s mouth made Phil feel insanely powerful, knowing he could make Clint Barton sound like that, the same guy who’d had more sex than Phil cared to think about.

Clint reared back and stripped off his t-shirt. In the dying evening light shining into the kitchen, his skin looked like burned gold, his hair a soft, spiky mess. Phil wanted to touch him, all of him, wanted to put his mouth on the smooth, solid ridges of muscle curving over his hips and into his jeans.

Clint’s eyes skittered over Phil’s chest, his shoulders; Phil tried not to feel like he was lacking somehow. None of it mattered a second later as Clint swooped back down and kissed him again, hard enough to knock their teeth together. They were skin to skin now, heat everywhere, and Phil could hardly stand it. He wrapped a hand around Clint’s neck, digging his fingertips into the short hair at his nape, the telltale coiling shimmer starting to bloom deep in his stomach.

“Gonna come?” Clint said, biting at Phil’s jaw.

“No,” Phil said, because he wasn’t that easy.

Clint laughed and thrust his leg against Phil’s erection. Phil came three seconds later, teeth clenched so hard they ached.

Luckily, Clint wasn’t far behind. He huffed loudly, his face going soft as his mouth dropped open. His lashes fanned out over his pink cheeks, and Phil just...could not look away.

When it was over, Clint let his forehead rest against Phil’s for a moment. There wasn’t any sound around them except the uneven cadence of their breathing. Phil let go of Clint and stretched his arms out above his head, back into their original position. His shorts were already starting to feel uncomfortably cold and gross.

Fuck, he’d just had an orgasm on his kitchen floor. With Clint Barton.

Like he could read Phil’s thoughts, Clint raised his head and met Phil’s eyes. They looked at each other silently, Phil’s heart thumping. What was he even supposed to say? Thanks for not breaking my arm?

“Is your mom coming home soon?” Clint finally asked. His voice was about two octaves deeper than normal and completely shredded. Phil’s cock gave a half-hearted jerk.

“She’s out of town until Friday night.”

Clint sat back on his heels, wincing when he glanced down at the mess in his jeans. He scrubbed a hand through his hair and reached for his t-shirt, tugging it over his head as he got to his feet. Phil sat up and hugged his knees to his chest.

“So...I’ll see you tomorrow?” he asked awkwardly.

Clint didn’t respond, just walked straight toward the front door without looking back. Like nothing had ever happened.

As the door slammed shut, Phil dropped his head onto his folded arms and sighed.