"Hey, Phil. I'm um... I'm Clint? I sit behind you in pre-calc?"
"I know who you are."
It comes out a little snappy, a little bitter, more than he means it to, but to be fair he does know who Clint Barton is. Everybody at SHIELD High knows who Clint Barton is. Class clown, golden boy, star quarterback and archery team god, loved by everyone and by Phil a little too much. He's... quiet, studious, popular enough within his own circle of friends but let's face it, Clint Barton is miles out of his league.
Hell, Phil doesn't even play sports.
"You do?" his three year crush asks, his face brightening painfully, that sunny grin like a stake in Phil's heart. "Cool. Um... so listen, I was uh, I was wondering if you were busy Friday night?"
Phil sighs, looks back down at the books he's got spread out across the table in front of him.
"I'm free at five and I charge ten bucks an hour," he says flatly, because hell, of course that's why Clint's approached him here in the middle of the school library. Everyone knows they can find him here afternoons, everyone knows he tutors for cash. Keeps him in comic books and bus fare, and he's good at it, so there's that.
"Oh. Um... yeah, I... I guess five is good then."
Phil arches an eyebrow, forcing a look of boredom, forcing himself not to care that Clint's suddenly shifting on his feet, rubbing his neck shyly and flicking glances back over his shoulder and across the room, where the rest of his friends are sitting: Steve Rogers – football Captain, Tony Stark – local genius, more Phil's speed but too rich and self-absorbed, too obnoxious for his taste, Kate Bishop – young debutant and competitive archer herself. Every single one of them is staring, transfixed, and Phil feels his hackles rise. Bruce Banner, who Phil actually does like and spend a significant amount of time with and who was probably the one to recommend him as a tutor, is the only one with his head still bent over a book, who couldn't care less that Clint's gone and done something so socially unacceptable as to acknowledge one of the plebes.
It bites at his insides, makes something hot and sour bubble up in his stomach.
Why is he doing this again?
Oh yeah, because he's got this stupid fucking crush that won't go away, and despite everything, despite knowing, knowing that Clint's out of his league, that there's no way he'll ever be interested in someone like him he keeps...
"Five," he says again, and Clint just nods before darting off looking like he's got his tail between his legs.
The second time's worse.
The third time is just shit.
And yet for some reason, some ungodly, unknown reason, Clint keeps coming back for more, and Phil keeps letting him.
More tutoring sessions, more torture sessions, because the other boy hardly seems interested in actually paying attention to the math lessons he's trying to impart. Instead he goofs around; tips back in his chair to shoot rubber bands at the ceiling tiles, shoot balls of crumpled paper into the trash can without looking, snaps wads of purple chewing gum and curls his tongue around bright, shiny suckers that stain his lips candy-red.
It's not fucking fair.
Every session Phil prays he won't show, and every time Clint arrives at five on the dot, tosses down a crumpled ten dollar bill and proceeds to drag his chair far too close, until Phil can smell the leather of his archery gear and the banana-like sweetness of his bow wax and it kills him. He sticks around for the whole hour every time, even though it's obvious he's uncomfortable, making the world's absolute worst small-talk like he can't figure out how to communicate with Phil, like he's from a different planet instead of just a different social circle.
It starts to eat at him.
He thought he'd be ok, thought that it wouldn't be this bad, that hanging out with Clint would just be... nice, the kind of nice he knows it shouldn't be because he's deluding himself.
To make matters worse, Clint really doesn't seem to be taking the actual lessons seriously. Phil already feels like the odd man out, even at SHIELD, where all the kids are some kind of prodigy. You'd think being a geek or a nerd or a bookworm would be a little more accepted but it's really, really not. More than anything Clint's stilted, hesitating efforts at making conversation just make Phil feel the degrees of separation between them even more.
He won't show Phil his test scores.
"We've been over this Barton," he growls, banging his head against the table. "How am I supposed to..."
"Aw come on Phil, don't be such a sourpuss," Clint says with a grin, bumping his shoulder against Phil's playfully. "I'm doing fine, I promise. You're good at this, this is all great ok? I'm uh, kind of starving though – do you maybe wanna go down to the diner and grab a burger?"
"Oh for... you know what? I'm done doing this," he huffs, jumping to his feet and slamming his books shut, jamming notebooks into his bag. "I can't... if you don't actually want the help then fine. You don't have to jerk me around like this."
"Woah, hey, I'm not..."
"It's no skin off my back if you end up failing Calc just like you're failing English," he snaps, suddenly nasty and biting as the embarrassment and the shame send heat sweeping through him. He feels bad about it as soon as he says, it, which is half the reason he can't force himself to look at Clint, but he... he tries to half make up for it, because Clint might be a little bit of an entitled jerk but Phil doesn't want to be one too.
"For the record I would've helped you with both if you'd actually wanted me to," he mutters. "But this? This isn't funny Clint."
And then he's stalking away without a backward glance, face red and eyes stinging like he's about to bawl like a girl.
Still, some stupid, lovesick part of him still hopes that he at least helped Clint out a little bit, that he's not actually failing.
When he comes into class the day their big midterm project is due with some half-baked story about his locker being broken into and his math folder being stolen Phil snorts out loud and then has to look away when Clint flinches, his face going bright red and his eyes darting away, huge and dark and wounded.
He carries the guilt with him for the rest of the day, doesn't understand how he can be so cruel to a guy he's in luh... a guy he likes.
Jesus, how had he turned into the bad guy in all of this.
He's chewing himself out enough later that afternoon that he really doesn't need the suction cup arrow to the forehead to punish him more.
He supposes he should consider himself lucky though, because Kate looks like she wishes it had been a real one, not the toy fired from the sparkly pink Nerf bow in her hands.
Then she's slamming a purple binder down on the table in front of him and planting her hands on her hips.
"Open it!" she commands, and Phil blinks.
"It's Clint's math binder. Open it!"
"You stole it?"
"God damn it Coulson, so help me, if you don't open that right now I'm gonna..."
And she would too, Phil can see it on her face, so he flips and open and thumbs the pages and feels his jaw drop.
"This is our latest test," he says stupidly, tracing the 105% Well Done! scribbled at the top in red ink. "Only one person in the whole class got the bonus question."
"Yeah, and everybody thought it was you, you asshole!" Kate snarls.
Phil just stares, pages through the remaining tests and homework assignments, all present if messily filed, all an A- or better, all the way back to the beginning of the year.
"Do you have any idea how much math goes into archery?" Kate demands. "Balance of mass, velocity, wind resistance? Yeah, Clint gets B's and C's in English because he's dyslexic and because he's half deaf so he's never actually heard the cadences and rhymes Shakespeare uses but he's not stupid!"
"Then why did he ask for my help?"
"Did he though?"
Very suddenly Phil can't breathe, his heart frozen in his chest, and he thinks this might be what dying feels like.
I was wondering if you were busy Friday night...
"He was... why didn't he..."
"You're valedictorian," Kate scoffs, rolling her eyes and sounding like she's quoting someone directly. "You actually wear the stupid ties they added to our uniforms. He's intimidated by you, you idiot. You're too put-together, you're too good for him... we finally convinced him to take a chance and he ended up taking the only thing you'd give him, and he put himself out there over and over and you kept shooting him down but he kept trying..."
"I never shot him..."
"Oh please. You're not that stupid Coulson. You..."
Kate pauses, takes in his face and half the fire seems to go out of her.
"Oh... my god," she groans, pinching the bridge of her nose. "You really didn't know he was asking you out. How could you not... nope, nevermind. I can totally see it. You two deserve each other, you know that?"
"But he can't... I mean there's no way he..."
"Has tortured us with years of hopeless pining over the one and only Phil Coulson?" Kate huffs, and then with one hand she's flipping through Clint's notebook all the way to the end where there's a dozen pencil doodles of his name all over the back cover, ties and arrows crossed over each other inside little bubble hearts and it's all so ridiculously endearing that Phil's stomach actually turns.
Jesus, he's living an Austen novel – Pride and Prejudice or... or that adaptation of Emma - Clueless at the very least. He's just cost himself his one real shot at everything he's ever...
"He's on the football field," Kate says, not allowing him more than a second to process his colossal fuck-up, the fact that yes, he is in fact the bad guy in all of this. "Fix this. I can't take another minute of broken hearts and pining."
"Can I..." he starts, gesturing at the notebook with his name scribbled across the margins and Kate lets out a little shriek, scooping it up and shoving it into his arms and slapping him toward the doors.
"For god's sake, yes, just go!"
So he goes. Runs. All the way out across the quad and down to the football field, where the team is just coming in from a late-afternoon practice, the first game of the season only days away as autumn descends. They're all chattering and shouldering each other playfully except for Clint, who's trudging along in the middle of the pack looking forlorn and as pretty as ever, sweaty and muscly with his shirt sticking to him in all the right places and his hair hanging in his eyes. Phil comes to a jerky, panting stop in front of them so fast that Stark very nearly bounces off of him, and the young genius opens his mouth for what is no doubt a scathing review of Phil's behavior – which he rightly deserves – but Bruce takes one look at Phil's face, nods, and begins sherpherding the other boy away.
"Should we..." Rogers says, looking back at Clint who's staring resolutely at the ground, his helmet dangling from his fingertips, but Bruce just gives him a shove right along with Tony.
"Move," he insists, and oh, Phil owes him big for this, "I told you there was an explanation."
Their chatter fades away as they move off and Phil's left alone with the guy he's been crushing on for years, the guy he somehow convinced himself was a cruel jerk and let himself respond to accordingly, and very suddenly he realizes he has no idea what he wants to say to him. Clint doesn't seem to be all that eager to talk despite his nonsense chatter during their tutoring sessions, which Phil realizes now really was just small-talk, honest, uncertain attempts at flirting, and the archer's cheeks are a painful red and he's still refusing to look up from where he's staring at the dirt when Phil can't find his damn tongue he sighs, his shoulders slumping like all the light's gone out of him.
It's horrible, but before Phil can do anything about it Clint lifts his head, gives him the saddest little smile like he's apologizing, like he's saying that he gets it, that he's the one who's sorry and turning to walk away from him.
"What do you want Phil?" he mumbles, his voice cracking and Phil's heart kinda breaks a little.
"I just... I was wondering if maybe you were busy on Friday?"
Clint's head snaps up and he whips around, his eyes narrowed.
"Why?" he asks, and it's suspicious and angry and Phil has to remind himself that that's fair.
"Because I owe you," he says, and oh shit that wasn't the right thing to say and Clint looks like he's gearing up to chew Phil to pieces but he needs to get this part out too. "No, don't. I do, ok? Maybe I didn't... exactly know you were asking me out or, trying to flirt with me and maybe you weren't! I mean, that's what Kate said, but it doesn't matter, either way. I shouldn't have been such a jerk, I mean, I was a total dick, and I get it if you hate me now, I deserve it, I just... I'd really like the chance to apologize. Maybe coffee, or... or whatever, and then when I have made up for it we could... I don't know, see a movie, or something?"
And wow, ok, he hadn't expected all of that to come pouring out of him and Clint's staring like he's grown another head and shit, he really did fuck this up.
"Or... not," he mumbles, suddenly painfully aware that he's standing in the middle of the lawn with a dozen other students milling around making a total fool of himself and all he really wants to do is get somewhere quiet and solitary where his heart can shatter in peace.
"Um, here," he says, shoving Clint's binder at him and taking a step back. "Sorry. I should've..."
"Kate told you I was..."
"Yeah, um, yes, sorry," he apologizes, looking down as his cheeks burn. "She's the one who... took your binder. And um, I'm... sorry about that, too. In class. I mean you probably don't want to hear it, so I'll just..."
This time it's Phil's turn to be dumbfounded, for his head to snap up and for him to stare like he can't understand English anymore.
"Magic Bean; it's a coffee shop across from the Y. They've got really good fraps and these amazing cookies and you can buy, cause you owe me."
He says it all in a rush like he needs to get it out as bad as Phil needed to make his speech but the anger's gone, the hard lines in his shoulders and he's not scowling like he wants to knock Phil into the dirt so maybe...
"Least I can do, after you fed me all those tens," he hears himself say. "Why did you..."
"You offered to tutor me," Clint says with a shrug, turning his binder in his hands and scuffing his cleat at the grass. "Seemed like you didn't wanna go out, but maybe you were willing to..."
It's the first actual apology he spits out and it's taken him half a damn novel to get there but it's no less heartfelt for the delay.
"I shouldn't have assumed," he continues, biting his lip. "And I... I shouldn't have said what I did. You're not stupid, I never thought you were. And I mean, you're better at math than me apparently, so..."
"Yeah but I don't get Shakespeare."
"I prefer Austen anyway," Phil admits, his own face getting warm. "I mean, Romeo and Juliet? How do people think that's a romance? They know it's a tragedy right?"
"Tell me about it," Clint groans, his eyes suddenly far less miserable than they'd been a few minutes before. "I thought I must be missing something huge, the way everybody was going on about it in class. I mean, it's a guy who breaks up with his girlfriend, falls in love with a kid the same night, and then they kill themselves over their day-old love?"
"Pretty much," Phil chuckles. "But I am sorry. And I'll say it as many times as you want me to. Buy you as many cookies as you can eat."
"How, um, how long do you think it's gonna take you to repent?" Clint asks, suddenly curious and shy. "Cause after... I mean if you still want to... I was flirting, you know? I mean, I know I'm kinda terrible at it but this is me asking. You wanna maybe do something? As a date?"
"Yeah," Phil replies, and wow, ok, maybe this is what flying feels like. "Yeah, I'd like that."