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Confessions in the Cold

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The pervasive cold had sunk down deep into Clint Barton’s bones.

In a vain effort to stop shivering, Clint tightened his arms around his knees and pressed his chest closer to the torn fabric of his pants.  His captors had stripped his shirt, socks and boots from him days ago, probably trying to demoralize him.  Combined with the small scraps of food they’d tossed him, Clint barely had enough energy to keep himself warm.  What sucked the most, though, was how that the HYDRA thugs had  stripped him of everything else - including the subcutaneous SHIELD tracker in his shoulder.  The beatings had come next, but Clint was no stranger to meaty goons with large fists using him as a punching bag.  By now, most of Clint's upper body was mottled with black, purple and yellow-green bruises, particularly down his left side.  Judging by the ache in his chest, the thugs had cracked at least one of his ribs.  Clint, sadly, was no stranger to that either.

Since Clint was not above making life as difficult as he could for his captors, he’d huddled into the corner furthest from the door.  It also kept him out of the way when the thugs decided it would be hilarious to toss filthy, stinking water into his cell, because they were assholes.  As miserable as things were, Clint could handle the physical conditions.  It was Coulson’s absence that was slowly driving him insane.  When HYDRA had grabbed them, the thugs had shoved a bag over Clint’s head, and after that, he’d lost track of Coulson completely.

Clint shivered.  The uncertainty was terrifying.  If he’d been with Coulson, Clint could have protected him, could have riled up the HYDRA thugs until they forgot Coulson was there and took their anger out on Clint.  Instead, he was stuck in a freezing cell, not knowing where Coulson was, or how badly he was hurt.  Reminding himself that Coulson was a former Army Ranger didn't really help either.  Clint wasn’t naïve enough to think that Coulson had never been captured before, but logic didn't stop Clint’s overwhelming need to keep Coulson safe.  He cared a lot more about Phil Coulson than he was supposed to, and that was a secret Clint fully expected to take to the grave.  To Clint, Coulson was… everything.  He was calm and loyal and kind and dangerously intelligent.  With Coulson as team leader, Clint knew he would always come home.  Even if Coulson’s ninety nine contingency plans somehow failed, Coulson would do anything to keep him safe.

It hadn’t made any sense to Clint for the longest time.  At first, he'd been so confused why a man like Coulson would be willing to risk so much for an ex-carny, ex-mercenary nobody like Clint.  Yet over the years, Clint had slowly come to understand that Coulson saw something in him that he thought was worth protecting and nurturing.  Those first small acts of respect and kindness had doomed Clint to his fate, and he'd long since accepted that he’d fallen in love with his handler.  It had been impossible not to.  Phil Coulson was everything Clint had never known he wanted, wrapped up in an expertly-tailored suit.  Clint would have been content to spend his life watching over Coulson from afar, but somehow he’d used up a lifetime’s worth of luck and gained Coulson’s friendship too.  Clint  would never regret that, but in situations like this, it was hard to ignore the clawing need to put himself between Coulson and everyone that wanted to hurt him.

Sighing, Clint let his head thunk back against the wall behind him.  He tightened his arms around his knees, as if it would somehow ward off the chill.  Dwelling on the situation was not helping.  Coulson would be fine, because Coulson was a stone-cold badass.  He was also an expert at getting out of enclosed spaces and various bindings, no matter how ingenious the bad guys tried to be.  Part of Clint wanted to believe that Coulson had already gotten out and called SHIELD for help, but he knew his handler well enough to know he hadn’t.  If Coulson had escaped, the first place he would have gone was to find Clint.  Coulson would never leave Clint behind.  It didn’t matter that it meant risking his own life.  Aside from Natasha, no one had ever cared for Clint like that.  Unfortunately, that meant that if Coulson hadn’t burst through the door with a “Hurry up, Barton,” he hadn’t been able to get free yet either.

Cursing his thoughts, Clint ran a hand over his face, the rasp of stubble rough on his palm.  He ignored the sudden shiver of cold that rushed in when he moved his arm, instead concentrating on the last time he’d seen Coulson.  It had been at least a couple of days ago, when HYDRA had grabbed Clint from his cell and dumped a bucket of - thankfully clean - water over his head, before giving him a crude shave.  Clint had been confused until they’d dragged him into a small room where a video camera on a tripod had already been set up.  Tuning out most of the crazy monologuing the HYDRA lieutenant had been doing had been pretty easy.  Using his chance, Clint had spent most of the ransom video staring at Coulson out of the corner of his eye and cataloguing every detail.

Coulson had been as bruised as Clint, the dark colours standing out starkly against Coulson’s pale skin, his shirt dirty and stained with blood.  The dull red had made Clint’s stomach twist worse than the sight of the bruises.  Just like Clint, Coulson had also been given a rough shave, but it did little to hide his beaten and battered appearance.  When the thugs had dragged Clint into the room, he’d caught Coulson’s gaze for a moment.  He’d watched as Coulson’s blue eyes catalogued all Clint’s injuries.  Then, Coulson had turned his attention to the camera.  Knowing it wasn’t a dismissal, Clint had flicked his eyes up to Coulson's twitching fingers, and had to bite back a smiled when he caught the smooth, repeatable pattern.  Clint couldn’t decipher it, but he didn’t have to.  He and Coulson had their own signals, but these were vaguely militaristic enough that Clint knew the message was meant for Fury.

Since then, Clint hadn’t seen Coulson at all.  He couldn’t stop worrying, even though HYDRA didn’t seem aware that Coulson was more than just a suit who sat behind a desk.  At least as long as they didn’t suspect they had Fury’s right hand man, Coulson would be relatively safe.

With a sigh, Clint let his eyes fall shut.  His thoughts were a never ending cycle of worry and fear - yet as consuming as they were, they did little to take Clint’s mind off the ice seeping into his every molecule.  He couldn’t stop shivering, the lack of food and the constant cold and pain sapping what little strength he had left.  Clint wanted to escape, but his other attempts had cost him and he wasn’t sure he’d make it very far if he tried again.

Suddenly, the door to Clint’s cell opened with the sharp screech of rusted metal.  Clint half-staggered to his feet, the urge to fight still not completely beaten out of him.  This time, instead of beefy thugs sent to drag him away for another beating, the goon in the doorway stepped aside to reveal Coulson hanging limply between two other thugs.  Taking a stumbling step forward, Clint managed to get close enough to the door to make a clumsy grab for Coulson when they tossed him inside.  The weight of Coulson’s barely-conscious body was almost too much for Clint and he lurched as the guards laughed.

“Your friend’s not nearly as tough as you are,” the lieutenant said, his smirk cold and cruel.  “Stupid paper-pusher just kept babbling about file numbers for re-supply forms.  It’s hilarious that SHIELD lets guys like that out of the office.  Are you really that desperate for soldiers?”

Grateful the HYDRA goons still didn’t know how important Coulson was, Clint tried hard to hide his rush of relief.  His knees felt a little weak at finally being able to see that Coulson was whole and mostly okay.  Bruises didn’t count.  Bruises would heal.

When the guards called out a few more insults, Clint barely spared them a glare.  Instead, he concentrated on lowering Coulson to the floor of the cell without jarring either one of them.  Coulson’s breath was almost scalding against Clint’s freezing skin, and the slow in and out reassured Clint more than anything else could.  Waiting until the thugs got bored with hurling taunts, Clint stayed where he was until they left.  Then, he reached down to press suddenly shaking fingers against the pulse in Coulson’s neck.

“You awake, sir?” he asked softly.

“I think so,” Coulson whispered back, before letting out a low groan as he tried to move.

“Good,” Clint said roughly, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment.  “That’s good.”

Carefully, Clint shifted a little until Coulson was more comfortably sprawled across his lap.  The movements aggravated his bruises and a sharp stab of pain lanced through his ribs when he twisted too far, but Clint ignored it.  He didn’t want to lose contact now that he was finally in touching distance of Coulson without HYDRA thugs or ropes stopping him.  Coulson’s skin was chilled under his hands, when Clint curled his hands around Coulson’s shoulders.  Coulson’s dirty, stained shirt was gone, and even in the dim moonlight filtering through the high window, Clint could see the bruises that mottled Coulson’s back and sides, dark and painful.  Coulson sighed, pressing his face into the space between Clint’s neck and collarbone.  “You’re warm,” he muttered.

“I don’t feel it,” Clint said with a hoarse chuckle.

Moving closer, Coulson wrapped his arms around Clint’s waist.  Clint shuddered at the sudden heat of Coulson’s chest pressed against his, his grip tightening reflexively on Coulson’s shoulders.  Not sure what to do for a moment, Clint froze, before he eased his hands down Coulson’s back, attempting to warm as much of Coulson’s freezing skin as he could.  Coulson shivered, and for a guilty moment, Clint enjoyed the flex of the firm muscles under his hands.

“If Fury got my message, a team should find us soon,” Coulson said quietly.  “I managed to overhear some of the guards talking in Romanian.  I actually don’t think they took us far from where they grabbed us.”

Clint smiled, because that was typical Coulson.  Even HYDRA couldn’t keep him down for long.  “I wasn’t worried, boss,” Clint replied.

Coulson lips quirked.

“Seriously,” Clint insisted.  “I saw you signalling during their little home movie and I figured you had a plan.  You always have a plan.”

For a moment, Coulson was silent.  “You have a lot of faith in me, Barton,” he said.

“Well, you haven’t ever let me down, sir,” Clint told him.

Coulson leaned back.  His stunning blue eyes were intent as they flickered over Clint’s face.  Clint had no idea what Coulson could read in his expression, but he did catch the way the corners of Coulson’s eyes softened and his mouth pulled up into a faint smile.  “And I hope I never do,” Coulson said softly.

“You won’t,” Clint said firmly.

Coulson blinked.  “You really mean that, don’t you?” he said.

Clint nodded, not sure why Coulson was so shocked by the idea.  “Come on, Coulson,” he said, trying to make his voice light despite the circumstances.  “Do you really think I share donuts with just anyone?”

A small smile curved Coulson’s face, which was what Clint had intended.  “I do appreciate the sacrifice,” he replied.

Clint smiled back and when he shuddered again, Coulson’s arms tightened around him.  Sinking into the embrace, Clint curled closer.  “Sorry,” Coulson whispered near his ear, his warm breath brushing against Clint’s neck and sending a different kind of shiver down Clint’s spine.  “I know this is hardly your preferred way of keeping warm, but it’s the best I can do under the circumstances.”

“Seriously?” Clint said, unable to stop his hands from spreading wide across Coulson’s lower back to touch as much of his skin as possible.  “Spending a few hours with my arms around a half-naked and gorgeous man is not exactly my version of punishment, sir.”

Phil shifted restlessly.  “You don’t need to boost my ego, Barton,” he said quietly.

With the long, freezing night stretching ahead of them, Clint decided he wasn’t going to let Phil get away with that kind of self-deprecation.  Leaning back so that he could catch his handler's eyes with his own, Clint curled his hands around Coulson's shoulders and frowned.   “Why do you always assume that I don’t really mean it when I say things like that?” he asked.

“Barton, I know…” Coulson began.

“If the next words out of your mouth are ‘you flirt with everyone’, so help me I will hurt you,” Clint interrupted with a scowl.

Coulson arched an eyebrow, before he gave Clint a wry smile.  “I was going to say, I know how the world sees me,” he said.  “I’m not ashamed of it, but people don’t often use the word ‘gorgeous’ to describe me.  It’s hard not to see that as an empty compliment.”  For a moment, he hesitated, as if he was trying to find the right words.  “Don’t get me wrong,” he continued.  “I know my worth and I know what I’m good at.  I wouldn’t have become who I am and I wouldn’t do what I do at SHIELD if I didn’t know that.  In fact, being unremarkable is one of my most effective skills.”

It took Clint a while to find words to reply.  How could Coulson not see how attractive he was?

Clint wanted to tell Coulson, to make him understand how Clint saw him, but that would mean confessing Clint’s long held secret.  Clint’s stomach clenched at the thought.  Even knowing that their hours could be numbered, with HYDRA right outside the door and no viable plan of escape, Clint wasn’t sure he had enough courage to say the words.  Revealing the depth of how he felt would change everything.  He wouldn’t lose Coulson’s friendship because Coulson was too kind and too loyal to abandon him for that, but things would never quite be the same.  Even if the awkwardness of unrequited feelings faded eventually, the closeness they shared - the connection - would be irrevocably altered, and that would hurt.  Coulson had been so many things to Clint for so long, that even a small distance between them would echo through Clint’s world.

“You’re only forgettable because you try to be,” Clint pointed out, trying to push his fears from his mind.  “I’ve seen you before you go to one of those meetings, remember?  You don’t dress in your tailored suits, you don’t look people in the eye... Half of what you do is body language and has nothing to do with how you look.”

“You can’t deny that how I look plays a part,” Phil countered.  “There is a reason that when Natasha wants to be forgettable, she usually wears black and tries not to be seen.”

A particularly cold draft blew in from somewhere above and Clint shivered violently.  Whatever he’d been about to say disappeared as he curled closer to Coulson and the meager warmth between them.  Even if Clint was to screw up enough courage, this wasn’t exactly the place to hold out his heart and hope Coulson would catch it.  There would be plenty of time to talk about it after their daring rescue.  Clint clung to that, because the alternative wasn’t worth contemplating.

“So, how long do you think it’s going to be before we get out of here?” Clint asked, changing the subject.

“Hopefully soon,” Coulson said, speaking almost directly into Clint’s ear.  Clint rested his forehead against Coulson’s shoulder, shifting even closer.  “I don’t really care much for the decor.”

Clint laughed softly.  “Yeah, it lacks a certain homey touch, doesn’t it?” he replied.

Coulson hummed in agreement.  “Well, it is HYDRA.  Maybe cracked concrete and the constant monotonous dripping of water inspire fond memories from their childhoods?”

“They do like 80’s Bond villain chic,” Clint said.  “It’s a pity we don’t have the accompanying gadgets from Q.  How come our R&D has never made us exploding pens?”

“Exploding arrows aren’t enough for you, Hawkeye?” Coulson asked dryly.

Clint grinned, knowing Coulson would be able to feel it on the bare skin of his shoulder.  “But they’re exploding pens, sir,” he said.  “Just think of the amount of times you could taunt Jasper into thinking you’d lit the fuse on one and given it to him?  You know how much you love messing with him.”

Coulson chuckled softly.  “I’m more worried what trouble you and Natasha would get up to with them,” he replied.  “The junior agents are scarred enough already.”

“Fury doesn’t think so,” Clint quipped.

The aching, bitter cold from the concrete floor was seeping painfully into his legs, and his ribs were starting to throb dully from the extra weight of Coulson leaning against him, but Clint wasn’t about to complain.  He might have been willing to trade their current location for a nice soft couch somewhere warm, but he wasn’t about to give up the opportunity to hold Coulson in his arms.

“Fury has extremely high expectations for all his agents,” Coulson said dryly.  “He also likes watching people squirm.”

Clint considered that for a moment.  “He’s never tried to make me squirm.”

“Oh, he has,” Coulson said, his voice warm and amused.  “He just always forgets how absolutely shameless you are.  That and he also likes you.”

“Of course Fury likes me,” Clint said with a snort.  “I let him win at poker.”

Coulson chuckled again.  “You’re one of SHIELD’s best agents,” he said.  “Fury always respects dangerous, competent people who get the job done.”

“So that’s why you’re his favourite, huh?” Clint teased.

Shifting slightly, Clint slid his arm down Coulson’s back to his hip, so that he could ease the weight off the sore side of his ribs.  Coulson moved with him, his own hand pressing gently against the lower part of Clint’s side, his fingers splayed.  Clint shivered at the hot touch, his fingers clenching slightly on Phil’s shoulder.

“I’m Fury’s favourite because I always bring him crème brulée on his birthday,” Coulson replied.

Clint blinked.  “Seriously?” he asked.

“I’m deadly serious,” Coulson said.  “Fury once declared Defcon Two when I wasn’t able to deliver it on time.  He didn’t seem to consider being trapped in the Mohave fighting giant radioactive scorpions an adequate excuse.”

“Oh, you are totally fucking with me!” Clint said.

Coulson laughed loud enough that the sound bounced faintly off the cell walls.  “I am,” he agreed.  “Fury prefers pecan pie.”

Clint poked him carefully in the side between two bruises.  “This is why Jasper wants to strangle you all the time,” he said.

“Lies,” Coulson shot back.  “Jasper loves me.”

Something twinged deep in Clint’s chest.  Clint knew it was stupid - Coulson was just teasing - but he couldn’t help his reaction all the same.  “Yeah, well, who doesn’t?” he quipped when he realized he’d been silent a beat too long.  His smile felt forced, even to him.  He should have known Coulson would see right through it.

“Barton?” Coulson asked quietly.  “Clint?  Is everything all right?”

“Just peachy, sir,” Clint replied.

Coulson pulled back, and Clint immediately missed the heat of Coulson’s chest pressed against his.  Calloused fingers caught his chin and gently tilted Clint’s head so he couldn’t look away from Coulson’s gaze.  “Clint, what is it?” Coulson asked.

Hearing Coulson use his first name hit Clint low in his stomach.  He shivered.  Obviously mistaking it for a reaction to the cold, Coulson rubbed his hands up and down Clint’s arms, before they slid around to splay over his back again.  The two moving points of warmth helped anchor Clint into the present and regain a little of his characteristic snark.  “You mean aside from the whole captured by HYDRA thing?” he deflected.

Coulson’s blue eyes were intent as they moved over Clint’s face.  “What aren’t you telling me, Clint?” he asked and Clint wanted to curse him for being so damn smart.  “Are you hurt?”

“It’s not that,” Clint said.

“So you’re not wincing because you have a broken rib?” Coulson pushed.

Clint scowled.  “It’s not broken,” he grumbled.  “It’s only cracked.”

“Well, that’s fine then,” Coulson said dryly, before his eyes narrowed.  “But that’s not it, is it?”

Looking away, Clint stared unseeing at the dank walls of the cell, and tried to calm the way his heart was suddenly pounding in his chest.  “I’m not sure that’s a question you really want to ask in current circumstances, sir,” he whispered.

When Coulson didn’t say anything in reply, Clint glanced back to see him frowning at him thoughtfully.  For a terrifying minute, Clint thought his handler was going to guess his secret, but then the moment passed.  Coulson was still frowning, but he’d lost the sharpness in his eyes.  “If you sure you’re not hurt,” he said.

Clint shivered, before fixing a smirk on his face.  “Just freezing,” he replied.

Coulson smiled.  “Maybe I can help with that,” he said, pulling Clint forward to press their chests together again.

Clint slid his arms underneath Coulson’s and wrapped his arms around Coulson’s back.  He wasn’t sure he could pretend that this was just about huddling for warmth anymore.  With the way Coulson crowding as close as he could, Clint suspected he might not be the only one hoping for more, either.  Clint had tried to train himself out of that kind of thoughtful hope, but Coulson had always been good at getting Clint to do things that went against his survival instincts.  Giving into thoughts that Coulson might feel even a small sliver of what Clint felt for him was dangerous.  It was going to make things hurt worse when it turned out Coulson didn’t love him back.

“So, I gotta ask, boss,” he said, attempting to take his mind off his unsettled thoughts.  “Do you think we can fight our way out of here if we have to?”

“Hopefully we won’t have to,” Coulson replied.

“But if we do?” Clint said, needing to know the answer.

Coulson’s finger jabbed him in the side.  “What do you think, Hawkeye?” he said with a trace of reproach in his tone.

“Sorry for doubting, sir,” he said with a smile.

Drifting into silence again, Clint concentrated on suppressing the shivers still wracking his body.  Outside the cell, he could hear the same monotonous dripping that he’d been listening to for days, and the uneven, heavy footsteps of the HYDRA guards.  There were five guards on rotation outside the cell - two in the corridor and three patrolling in the section beyond.  The first time Clint had tried to escape there’d only been two.  With his exhaustion what it was, Clint wasn't sure he could have dealt with all five, so he’d been biding his time.  Now, between himself and Coulson, they could probably take out the guards before someone stopped them.  Fury might have been coming for them, but Clint liked knowing that he and Coulson could fight their way out if it came to it.

“Hey, don’t fall asleep on me,” Coulson said quietly.

Tightening his arms around Coulson, Clint resisted the urge to roll his eyes.  “I don’t think there’s much chance of that happening,” he muttered.

Idly, Coulson shifted his hands where they rested against the back of Clint’s neck.  When Coulson’s thumb started tracing small circles against Clint’s skin, Clint almost purred.  If not for the cold, having Coulson curled around him would have sent more than just a small shiver of arousal down Clint spine.  Yet, not even the freezing chill still radiating from his bones could distract Clint from the lean muscles under his hands, or the strength of Coulson’s arms around him.  The scant warmth and the motion of Phil’s thumb didn’t lull Clint into a doze, exactly, but he did jolt back to the present when Coulson tensed against him.  “Did you hear that?” Coulson whispered.

Almost as soon as Coulson had stopped talking, Clint heard the distant and distinctive sound of gunfire.  “SHIELD?” he asked, even though there was no way for Coulson to know.

“Only one way to find out,” Coulson replied.

Slowly, they untangled themselves.  As soon as Clint unwrapped his arms from around Coulson’s back, he began to violently shudder.  The cold rushed back, icier and more biting than before.  Standing up took a lot of effort, because pulling himself away from the heat of his chest against Coulson’s was almost impossible.

As the gunfire moved closer, Coulson leaned back in to huddle against Clint, his palm resting low on Clint’s back.  Shuddering, Clint couldn’t help but focus on that burning heat against his skin again.  “I don’t suppose you’ve got an idea of how to get through the door, do you?” Coulson asked him.

“Not really,” Clint said.  “I always waited until the thugs came to grab me before I tried to escape.”

Coulson turned to him with an arched eyebrow.  “And how many times did you manage to get away?”

Clint grinned wolfishly.  “Three times,” he replied.

“Natasha will be proud,” Coulson said, his eyes lit with a trace of laughter.

A loud burst of gunfire cut off Clint’s reply, jarringly close.  At Coulson’s nod, Clint slipped back into the shadowy corner of the cell.  Coulson took up a position on the other side and they both turned their eyes on the door.  Clint idly wished for a weapon, but if he’d had a weapon on him, he and Coulson would have escaped hours ago.  Thirty seconds later, three sharp gunshots sounded right outside the door of the cell.  Clint tensed, waiting for whoever it was to open the door.  Instead, someone banged on the door several times in what sounded like Morse code.

Clint glanced over at Coulson, who nodded once.  Three seconds after that, the lock on the door exploded.

Acrid smoke filled the cell, bright light pouring in from beyond the door, and Clint winced.  Blinking as he tried not to cough, Clint almost grinned when he found Nick Fury smirking back at him in all his black leather trench-coated glory.  “Did someone call for a rescue?” Fury said.

“Yeah, except you’re late,” Clint said, because he freely admitted to being an asshole at times.  “What did you do, stop for Starbucks on the way?”

Fury just laughed.


With a sigh, Clint turned up the collar of his jacket against the cold.  It wasn’t even the depths of winter in New York yet, but Clint had been fighting a lingering chill ever since Fury had rescued him and Coulson from the HYDRA base in Romania.  Ever since their screwed-up mission a month ago, Clint had been aware of the unspoken words hovering between him and Coulson.  Things hadn’t exactly been awkward, but it hadn’t exactly been comfortable, either.  The thing brewing between them made sure of that.  Although, if Clint was being truthful with himself, Romania hadn’t exactly been the start of it.  Something had been building behind their easy friendship for years.  Clint had stubbornly refused to acknowledge it, and Coulson hadn’t either.  Then Clint had almost admitted everything in their freezing cell and now everything was different.  Somehow, Coulson had crept under his skin like no one in the world ever had and lodged there like an indefinable tattoo.  He made Clint crave things he’d long since given up on, and as much as Clint might have ignored things in the past, it was impossible to keep things that way.

In front of him, the looming shadow of Coulson’s apartment building mocked his uncertainty.  For what felt like the millionth time, Clint debated with himself whether he should go inside.  If Natasha could see him now, she’d laugh.  Then she’d probably smack him over the back of the head and tell him to man up.  Rolling his shoulders, Clint slipped inside the building before Natasha’s spider senses tingled and she appeared like a ninja.  This was a bad idea.  An insanely bad idea, but Clint had come all this way and he wasn’t backing out now.

Taking a deep breath, Clint headed up the stairs.  His determination lasted right up until he was staring down the corridor towards Coulson’s apartment.

He could do this.

Clint tried to ignore the doubts that were starting to hit as he walked, but they keep growing in the back of his mind.

Oh, who was he kidding?  This shit was terrifying.  He didn’t care what kind of retribution Natasha extracted for going back to SHIELD without saying anything.  Clint turned to leave, but three steps later, he stopped again.  Damn it, he wasn’t a coward.  This might be his only chance to do this.  Turning back, Clint stumbled to a halt when he saw that Coulson’s door was open.  Coulson was leaning against the frame, his arms folded across his chest and a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth.  “Have you decided whether you’re coming in or going home yet?” he asked.

Clint opened his mouth to reply, but the words dried up in his throat.  Coulson was wearing worn blue jeans and a white t-shirt under a soft, black sweater that Clint just wanted to bury his face in.  At some point, Coulson had pushed up the sleeves, revealing his strong forearms and Coulson’s black, thick-framed glasses made his eyes seem even bluer than normal.  Shutting his mouth because he was gaping, Clint fought the blush colouring his cheeks.  “I, uh... hey,” he stuttered.

Coulson raised an eyebrow, his eyes dancing with silent laughter.  Clint blushed harder, and fought the urge to scowl.  Seeing Coulson all relaxed and casual was overheating his brain and making him say stupid things.  Not that planned what he was going to say to Phil.  He’d just wanted to see him.

“I’ve got an open bottle of wine if you need a drink,” Coulson said, stepping back into the apartment and leaving the door open for Clint to follow.

For a second, Clint considered fleeing, because it was obvious Coulson was leaving Clint to choose what he wanted.  Except, Clint couldn’t leave.  Not when Coulson was giving him the choice.

Coulson’s apartment was warm and inviting, and Clint couldn’t help the immediate urge to move in.  In the living room, a comfortable-looking couch sat in front of a large screen TV.  Bookcases covered the walls, holding what appeared to be everything from nonfiction to a set of well-loved bestsellers.  The kitchen was just as homey, with a shelf of old cookbooks and enough mess that suggested Coulson actually used it regularly.  A little pot of herbs sat on the kitchen window sill above the sink, filling the air with the faint scent of basil and mint.  Coulson turned around as Clint entered behind him, gesturing to the bottle of red wine sitting on the kitchen bench next to a half-drunk glass.  “Do you want one?” he asked.

“I, uh...” Clint stuttered again, not really fond of wine, but wanting something to occupy his hands.  “Maybe just some water?”

With a small smile, Coulson grabbed a glass from the cupboard and filled it up with water from the fridge.  “I’ve also got tea and coffee if you want something warm,” he said as he handed the glass to Clint.

“Thanks,” Clint replied.

Fidgeting with the glass in his hands, Clint was all too aware of Coulson’s eyes on him.  He knew what he’d come to say, but he wasn’t sure it was the kind of thing he could just blurt out.  It felt like something that he needed to work up to.  The problem was that Coulson and Natasha had always been better at that kind of thing.

“Hungry?” Coulson asked, picking up his wine glass again.

“No, I’m good,” Clint said.

“Okay,” Coulson replied, settling back against the bench to sip his wine and watch Clint.

Coulson had to know why Clint was here.  But instead of pushing, Coulson seemed content to wait until Clint found the courage to say what he needed to.  Part of Clint wished Coulson would just ask.  Not that Coulson ever would.  Unless it directly affected a mission, Coulson always waited for Clint to bring up what was bothering him.  Clint was grateful for that, but it never made moments like this any easier.

“So,” Clint said finally.  “I guess you want to know why I’m here?”

“You’ve always been welcome,” Coulson replied mildly.

Clint shot him a glare.  Coulson smiled softly.  “Yes, I am curious as to why you’re here,” he said, before he narrowed his eyes.  “I assume it has something to do with what you didn’t want to tell me in Romania?”

“Yes,” Clint said softly.  “It does.”

“Do I need to be worried?” Coulson asked when Clint fell silent again.

Clint wasn’t sure how to answer that.  As far as he was concerned, this whole thing was potentially life-changing.  Although, if he told Coulson it was serious, Coulson was going to think he’d caused an international incident or something.  “I’m just... this is hard for me to say out loud, okay?” he finally said.

Coulson nodded.  “Okay,” he replied, “but if you don’t tell me, I can’t help you fix it.”

Of course Coulson would say that.  Coulson was always trying to fix the messes Clint made.  Clint closed his eyes for a moment.  “You can’t fix everything, Coulson,” he said.

“I can try,” Coulson replied quietly.

Clint wasn’t sure why that statement made him so irritated, but it did.  He could feel the beginnings of anger at both Coulson and himself, but he squashed it down.  He looked down at the glass in his hands and followed the path of a bead of condensation with his thumb.  “Have you ever wanted something you were convinced you could never have?” he asked.

This time, it was Coulson who was silent.  Clint looked up to see him staring at the wine glass in his hands, his jaw clenched and his shoulders almost hunched.  Clint blinked, because that wasn’t the reaction he’d been expecting.  “Coulson?” he said.

“Yes,” Coulson said a little hoarsely as he looked up at Clint.  “I have wanted something I can never have.”

“And what did you do?”  Clint put the glass down on the kitchen bench, and took a hesitant step towards Coulson.  If anyone could have found a way to have what he wanted, it would be Coulson.

Coulson’s smile was sad.  Clint’s stomach clenched with the urge to wipe that expression from Coulson’s face.  “I resigned myself to never having it,” Coulson said softly.

“Fuck that,” Clint said.

“What?”  Coulson blinked.

“I said fuck that,” Clint replied.  “You should get to have what you want, Coulson.”

“It’s not as easy as that,” Coulson said.

“Yeah,” Clint agreed, running a hand through his hair, “but maybe it should be.”

Silence fell again, and Clint hated it.  Even on surveillance missions, with Clint up high and Coulson in the van, they talked more than this.  Clint wondered if confessing would be easier if he couldn’t see Coulson’s face.  The uncertainty was crowding Clint’s thoughts now, especially if he was reading between the lines right.  Coulson wanted something - or really, someone - and Clint’s doubts were yelling that it wouldn’t be him.  Sighing, he glared at Coulson.  He’d dropped enough hints that Coulson could probably work out what he wanted to say, but Coulson didn’t ask.  It wouldn’t be so bad if Clint could actually talk about his feelings, but he’d never been any good at that shit.  Just ask Nat.

Stepping forward, Clint took the wine glass out of Coulson’s hand, and put it down on the bench next to him.  Then, moving right into Coulson’s space, he gently grabbing Coulson’s face, and leaned in to kiss him.  Coulson tasted like the red wine he’d been drinking, his lips soft under Clint’s.  It was everything Clint had ever wanted, except for the way Coulson tensed and froze beneath his hands.  Clint felt like someone had dumped a bucket of ice water over his head.

“Clint?” Coulson asked shakily when Clint pulled back.

Clint opened his mouth to apologize.  His stomach cramped with the knowledge that Coulson hadn’t kissed him back and now, maybe, he’d ruined one of the best friendships he’d ever had.  Then he noticed the rigid lines of Coulson’s shoulders, and the way he was holding himself absolutely still.  The last time Clint had seen Coulson like this, Clint had been on his knees with a drug runner holding a gun to his temple.  The same tension had been in Coulson’s eyes then, as he’d held back the urge to take out the drug runner until he’d gotten the information they’d needed.  What Clint didn’t know was why Coulson was holding himself back now.

“Phil?” Clint replied, feeling lost.

Coulson wouldn’t look him in the eye, and that hurt worse than a punch to Clint’s guts.  “Barton, I’m flattered,” he began, “but I don’t sleep with my assets.”

“Yeah, no… what?” Clint snapped.

“It’s inappropriate…” Coulson said.

“Don’t even finish that sentence,” Clint interrupted with a growl.  “When have I ever had problems asking anyone if they wanted to fuck, huh?  Do you really think I’d be having so much trouble right now if that was all I wanted?  Shit, Coulson, I’m trying to tell you that I’m in love with you!”

Coulson froze, his eyes going wide.  It was the most shocked Clint had ever seen him in his life.  “You… what?” Coulson croaked.

Clint ran a hand through his hair.  That hadn’t been how he’d intended to tell Coulson, but the words were out now.  He took a deep breath.  “I’m in love with you,” he said, before he swallowed thickly.  “I kinda have been for a long time.”  Coulson was still watching him with wide eyes.  Clint stared back.  “Aren’t you going to say anything?” he demanded.

“I’m, uh…” Coulson started, before he cleared his throat.  “I’m trying to work out if I’m dreaming.”

Clint blinked, before the implication behind that sank in.  “Wait, I’m the thing you didn’t think you could have?” he blurted.

Coulson huffed out something that might have been a laugh if it had actually had any humour in it.  “Who the hell else did you think it was?” he said.

“I don’t know,” Clint replied.  “There are like at least three junior agents that are always bringing you coffee and stuff.”  He shrugged.  “I figured it would be someone, you know, like you.  Someone who wears suits or heels and has expensive coffee tastes.  You know, not... me.”

Coulson blinked at him, before he clenched his jaw.  “You thought I would be in love with a junior agent, when I could have you?  One of SHIELD’s top specialists, a man with skills so impressive that even senior agents try to get half as good as you?  A man who is brave and loyal and smart?  The World’s Greatest Marksman who has never missed, not when it counted, and looks like poetry in motion with a bow in his hand?  The same man who’s had my back for years, and who laughs at my jokes even when they’re not funny?  You really think I’d choose someone else when I could have you?”

Clint opened his mouth, but nothing came out.  Coulson - Phil - had managed to yank the rug right out from under him.  There was no way Clint could deny the truth of what Phil was saying, because it was all there blazing brightly in his eyes.  Something warm rushed through Clint’s chest, and squeezed his heart.  He couldn’t tell if it was relief or love or some combination of both, and he didn’t care.  Surging forwards, Clint grabbed a handful of Phil’s stupidly soft sweater and kissed him again.

This time - thank fuck - Phil kissed back.

Clint gasped as the coiled tension between them snapped ,and he finally got a taste of all the fire Phil kept behind the calm mask he showed the world.  The kiss was a sudden burst of heat, heady and fierce, and Clint gave a low, rough moan against Phil’s lips.  Phil’s hands moved up to tangle in Clint’s hair as his mouth slanted possessively over Clint’s.  Clint tugged him closer, his own hands sliding up to hang onto Phil’s shoulders as Phil backed him up against the bench.  The edge of the counter dug into the small of Clint’s back, but he didn’t fucking care because Phil was right there and they were kissing, and it was fucking magical.

Phil’s body was hot and solid against his, Phil’s shoulders bunching and clenching under his hands.  The rasp of stubble was rough against his cheek as Phil’s hands shifted inside Clint’s jacket, sliding along the cotton of Clint’s henley.  Clint moaned again, wanting to feel the glide of Phil’s palms on his naked skin.  As if reading  his mind, Phil traced up the arch of Clint’s spine, before he yanked up Clint’s shirt and skimmed his hands over Clint’s back.  Clint deepened the kiss appreciatively, one of his hands winding around the back of Phil’s neck to slide into Phil’s hair.  Phil arched towards him with a groan, his leg slipping between Clint’s and Clint choked out something that sounded a lot like a whimper as Phil’s hips ground against his.  

Clint,” Phil said roughly as he pulled back, both their chests heaving.  Phil’s pupils were blown, his eyes dark and hungry.

Clint glared at him, his heart pounding against his ribs and his blood racing.  “If you’re stopping because we have to talk about feelings again, I swear I will hurt you,” he growled.

Phil dropped his head to Clint’s shoulder and laughed, the sound slightly muffled by Clint’s shirt.  “I was going to say,” Phil said when he raised his head again, “that we should probably move this out of my kitchen.” He nipped at the edge of Clint’s jaw, before pressing a kiss to the same patch of skin.  “I cook in here.”

At this point, Clint was pretty sure he’d agree to anything, but he nodded anyway.  “Okay.  Where’s the bedroom?”

Phil’s hand on his cheek stopped him before he could move.  “You do know this doesn’t have to be a race?” he said, his thumb stroking along Clint’s cheekbone.

“Who’s racing?” Clint muttered.  “I’ve wanted to do this for years, okay?”

Shit, Clint,” Phil croaked, and then he was kissing Clint again.

The kiss was hard and ruthless and Phil’s mouth practically ravaged his.  Heat flared between them, hot and bright.  Phil surged forwards, pressing Clint even harder against the counter.  Clint grunted as the edge dug into his lower back, but his hands grabbed at Phil’s hips when the other man shifted as if to move backwards, his hands somehow ending up on Phil’s ass.  Clint gave an experimental squeeze, and Phil sank his teeth into Clint’s lower lip in retaliation.  Arousal sparked through Clint like lightning.

Still kissing, Phil pulled Clint with him as he backed out of the kitchen.  Clint groaned a little at the loss of Phil’s thigh between his, and somewhere between the kitchen and the lounge, Phil lost his glasses and Clint lost his jacket.  Phil’s hands slid back underneath his shirt, warm and searching against his skin.  Clint squeezed Phil’s ass again, drinking in Phil’s answering gasp, and reveling in the way he could pull those sounds from the usually buttoned-up agent.  When Clint pulled away to suck in a shuddering breath, Phil took the chance to strip off his henley in one fluid pull and toss it uncaring to the floor.  Clint almost whimpered when he caught sight of Phil’s flushed cheeks, disheveled hair and kiss-swollen lips.  Fuck, he was beautiful.

Clint tugged Phil’s t-shirt and sweater from his jeans, and dropped them to join his shirt on the floor.  His mouth went dry at the sight of  all the firm muscle that Phil usually hid beneath his suits.  Clint let his eyes travel over the wide expanse of skin he’d just revealed.  Silvery scars caught the light, covering his abdomen, and there was a faint cross pattern over his heart.  When Clint finally dragged his eyes back up to Phil’s face, he caught the way Phil’s eyes flickered to the side.  On his hips, Phil’s fingers twitched as if he wanted to let go and cover himself.

“Clint?” Phil asked, his voice holding a note of uncertainty.

“Holy shit, Phil,” Clint muttered breathlessly, leaning in to catch Phil’s mouth in another scorching kiss.  He gave no ground, using Phil’s hesitation to spin them around and push Phil up against a nearby wall.  Phil let out a startled gasp, and Clint swallowed the sound as he pressed closer.  Pulling back, Clint panted into Phil’s mouth for a moment.  “You,” he growled, so close their lips brushed as he spoke, “are fucking gorgeous.”

Phil surged forwards, his mouth hot and greedy on Clint’s.  The sensation of Phil’s burning skin against his was even better than Clint had imagined, and he lost himself to the moment, moaning deeply at the contact.  Together, they stumbled in the direction of what Clint really hoped was the bedroom.  Along the way, Clint kicked off his boots as his hands scrabbled for Phil’s belt buckle.  The material of Phil’s jeans was rough against his fingers as he fumbled, and he was so fucking turned on, his head was swimming with it.  “Come on, come on,” he muttered against Phil’s lips.  “Fuck.”

Phil’s hands closed over Clint’s and helped him feed the leather through the metal.  Clint groaned and let his head fall back as Phil leaned down to bite and kiss along Clint’s throat.  Clint barely got the top button of Phil’s jeans open before Phil’s hands were sliding around to grab his ass and pull him close.  Clint cursed, not even sure what he was saying as his hands clenched on Phil’s hips, electricity arcing down his spine.

The back of his legs hit the edge of a bed and Clint hadn’t even realized they’d made it to the bedroom, but he was beyond caring anymore.  He wanted to touch every inch of Phil’s skin he could find, learn the dips and ridges of muscle and bone, but before he could, Phil was pulling back slightly.  Opening his mouth to complain about that, Clint felt the words dry up in his throat at Phil’s smirk.  Phil slid his hands up Clint’s chest, before giving him a firm push that sent Clint sprawling backwards.  He hit the mattress behind him with a grunt, panting up at the ceiling for a moment and trying to get his coordination back.  Phil was melting his brain.  Swallowing hard when Phil’s hands hit the mattress on either side of him, caging him in, Clint felt his stomach clench as Phil straddled his hips one knee at a time.  Phil was still wearing that damned smirk, and Clint wanted to bite it.  Instead, he settled for reaching up and gliding his fingers over the strength in Phil’s arms to grab at Phil’s shoulders.  Curling a hand around the back of Phil’s neck, Clint pulled him down for another burning kiss.

As he pressed Clint deeper into the mattress, Phil’s lips slid from his and began tracing a path down his neck.  Clint let his head fall back against the blankets, tilting his head when Phil bit at the spot where his neck met his shoulder.  Clint’s moan turned into a whimper when Phil’s hips rolled, but he couldn’t be bothered to be embarrassed because they were in Phil’s bedroom, in Phil’s bed, and Phil’s very interested cock was pressed against his own so closely that Clint could feel the way his pulse jumped.

“Clint?” Phil breathed in his ear.  Phil’s stubble scraped along Clint’s skin as Phil mouthed at his jaw, and Clint shivered at the rough edge to Phil’s voice.  “I need you to tell me what you want.”

“You really… expect me to think?” Clint gasped, his breath hitching.

“Have I finally found something that can shut you up, Hawkeye?” Phil asked, raising his head with that damned smirk again.

Surging upwards, Clint hauled him in for a hot, biting kiss.  That smirk made Clint want to do things and he couldn’t think of a single reason why he shouldn’t.  Tangling their legs, Clint flipped them both over, landing on top with a triumphant smirk of his own.  Sucking in a deep breath, he looked down at Phil, flushed and mussed beneath him, and promptly lost his scattered train of thought.  “Jesus,” Clint growled.  “I really need you to fuck me, Phil.”

“I can do that,” Phil agreed, a little breathless.

Clint scratched his nails down Phil’s sides, making Phil hiss through his teeth as his back arched.  Impatiently, he tugged at Phil’s jeans, barely waiting for Phil to lift his hips before he was clumsily stripping them off.  He kicked off his own jeans, smirking a little as Phil muttered his name like a plea when he realized Clint was going commando.  Clint struggled again with Phil’s underwear, dragging his boxer briefs down Phil’s strong thighs.  Phil’s hard cock twitched against his stomach in the cool air, and the sight made Clint want to drop to his knees and swallow him down.  From the wicked light in Phil’s eyes, Clint might have whimpered.

“Clint,” Phil said, reaching for him.  “Come here.  Please.”

Clint groaned, because Phil seemed determined to kill him.

Just as desperate to feel Phil’s skin against his, Clint scrambled up onto the bed, stretching out over Phil, and catching his lips in another kiss.  Phil hooked a leg over Clint’s thigh, slotting their cocks together.  His hands moved up to tangle in Clint’s hair again, changing the angle of the deep, rough kiss.  When Phil flipped their positions so Clint was underneath him again, Clint didn’t resist.  Phil rolled his hips, hot and urgent against Clint’s, and Phil swallowed the sound when Clint gasped, his hands grabbing at Phil’s biceps hard enough to bruise.  Then breaking the kiss, Phil shifted and Clint cursed as Phil stretched away from him.

Clint could hear Phil muttering his own curses as he grabbed supplies from his bedside drawer, but Clint was mostly distracted by the flex of muscle under his palms.  He felt something cold at his hip when Phil dumped it on the bed, but Clint ignored it in favour of pulling Phil down for another kiss.  Phil gave into it, pressing Clint further into the mattress.  Clint pushed closer, loving the feeling of being caged by Phil, protected and safe.  Clint didn’t even let go when Phil reached for the lube he’d left beside Clint’s hip, but eventually, Phil pulled back enough so that Clint could watch as he slicked up his fingers.  Gathering a few of his overheated thoughts, Clint managed to grab one of the pillows and shove it under his hips.

Clint’s breath hitched when Phil stroked a finger over his hole.  His eyes sliding half-shut, he shuddered as Phil’s finger pushed all the way in, unashamedly spreading his legs wider.  Phil took his time opening Clint up, stretching and twisting his fingers until Clint was grinding his hips down on Phil’s hand.  “I’m good, I’m good,” he hissed, his cock so hard it was almost painful.  “Get on with it, will you?”

In retaliation, Phil caught his lips in a biting kiss, muffling Clint’s grunt when Phil’s fingers slipped free.  Phil’s hands were shaking when he pulled back enough to roll the condom on and Clint couldn’t stop his breathless moan even if he wanted to.  The knowledge that Phil wanted this - wanted Clint - so much that he’d lost his usual competence was one of the hottest things Clint had ever seen.  His hand fisting in the sheets, Clint squeezed his eyes shut before he came on the spot.

“Clint,” Phil rasped out.  “Stay with me.”

Clint blinked open his eyes and found himself trapped in Phil’s darkened, intense gaze.  He felt raw, stripped down to his smallest parts, everything in the world narrowed to Phil.  “I’m here,” he said hoarsely.  “I’m not going anywhere.”

Phil slicked on more lube and Clint spread his legs wider, his eyes still locked with Phil’s.  Phil’s cock nudged Clint’s entrance and then Phil was pushing in.  Clint gasped, his back arching and his hands reached up to grab at Phil in an attempt to hurry Phil’s relentlessly slow pace.  Phil’s cock was hot and thick inside him, spreading him open, and Clint lost himself to the electricity sparking up and down his spine.  Dropping his head, Phil groaned against Clint’s neck, his breathing as rough as Clint’s.  “Fuck…” Phil rasped as his hips came to rest against Clint’s ass.

Clint lifted his hips, trying to pull Phil in deeper.  “Not yet you’re not,” he panted.  “You want to… do something about that?”

“I’m… working on it,” Phil grunted, biting at the hinge of Clint’s jaw.  “Smartass.”

Clint opened his mouth to reply, but Phil rolled his hips again and Clint’s words vanished on a gasping moan.  Phil was braced above him on his elbows and for once, Clint didn’t care what Phil could see reflected on his face.  Digging his heels a little deeper into the mattress, Clint bucked his hips again.  The jolt of pleasure that ran up his spine snatched the breath from his lungs.  “Shit, you feel so good,” Phil said hoarsely and Clint couldn’t help the smirk that spread across his face.

“I’ll feel even better in a minute,” Clint told him.

Leaning down, Phil kissed him again.  “You’re incorrigible,” he said, resting his forehead on Clint’s for a moment.

“You love it,” Clint replied, scraping his nails along the sweat-slicked skin of Phil’s back.

“I do,” Phil said.  The depth of honesty and love in Phil’s eyes made Clint’s heart lurch in his chest.

Phil pulled out again, before he snapped forward, hard.  As Phil’s cock brushed against Clint’s prostate, stars flashed across Clint’s vision.  He cried out helplessly, his hips jerking.  Phil dipped his head to bite and suck at Clint’s collarbone, setting up a punishing and relentless pace that vapourized the rest of Clint’s thoughts.  Clint couldn’t hold back the gasps and moans anymore, so he didn’t try.  He was adrift in the feeling of Phil driving into him, groaning roughly in his ear, his muscles flexing and straining under Clint’s hands.  Above him, Phil’s face was wrecked with pleasure, his eyes burning with hunger.  Clint couldn’t quite believe he’d done that, broken Phil’s legendary control so much that was as lost as Clint to the exquisite pressure building between them.

“Jesus, Clint,” Phil panted.  “You’re so gorgeous, coming apart like this…”

Unable to resist, Clint reached up and cupped Phil’s face.  His chest felt tight at everything that was echoed in Phil’s intent gaze, so he pulled Phil down for a desperate kiss.  It was messy and wet and Clint kind of forgot what he was doing halfway through as Phil thrust deep inside him.  He groaned.  Phil was hot and perfect and Clint wasn’t going to be able to hold on for much longer.  “Shit, Phil,” he gasped out.  “I’m so close.”

Phil groaned, his thrusts getting rougher as his rhythm faltered.  He moved one of his hands from the bed to wrap around Clint’s cock and the friction was almost too much.  As Clint sobbed out another cry, his back bowing, he clenched his hands on Phil’s hip and shoulder.  He hissed Phil’s name, heat crackling over his skin.  Phil seemed just as close, because his moans were getting shorter and sharper.  With another powerful thrust, Phil gave a hoarse shout and came, his hips snapping forward and his head thrown back.  The sight hit Clint somewhere deep inside and Clint gave into it, his orgasm crashing through him, sharp and startling.  He cried out something that could have been Phil’s name or it could have been a curse, spots dancing in front of his eyes.

Slumping back down to the bed, sticky and damp, Clint sucked in a shuddering breath and blinked up at the ceiling.  Phil was half sprawled over him, warm and reassuringly solid as he panted against the skin of Clint’s neck.  Clint wrapped his arms around Phil, not willing to let him go, but knowing he would inevitably have to.  After another moment, Phil pulled away to get rid of the condom.  Still caught in the lazy bliss of really good sex, Clint flopped over onto his side to watch him.  Phil was still flushed and disheveled, a smirk curving the corner of his mouth.  Clint’s breath hitched when he realized the happy, content look on Phil’s face was something he’d put there.  He was pretty sure there was a stupid smile on his face too, but he didn’t care.  “Holy shit,” he muttered.  “I think you made my brain melt.”

Phil poked him in the side as he climbed back onto the bed.  Clint grumbled a little, but still tugged him back down so he was lying half on top of Clint again and tangled their legs together.  “I’m going to take that as a compliment,” Phil said, his voice still a little gravely.

Laughter bubbled up in Clint’s throat as a warm rush flooded him.  “It’s definitely a compliment,” Clint agreed, lifting his head to kiss Phil lazily.

He stroked a hand along the damp skin of Phil’s back as Phil nuzzled his cheek and kissed his jaw.  With a quiet hum, Phil propped his chin on Clint’s chest and watched him, his fingers tracing patterns Clint couldn’t figure out across the skin above Clint’s heart.  “I know right after sex is a pretty bad time to say this for the first time, but I do love you, Clint,” he said quietly.

Clint considered saying something flippant in reply, but Phil’s expression was a little too serious, and the knowledge that his feelings weren’t unrequited was a little too new for Clint to manage it.  “I love you too, Phil,” he replied, raising a hand to run the tips of his fingers over Phil’s cheek.

Phil’s answering smile was soft and sweet and Clint kind of wanted to drown in it.  For a long moment, they stayed where they were, unwilling to move and savouring the small touches and gentle smiles.  When Phil shivered, he shifted enough to make a grab for the rumpled blankets.  Clint grimaced, because if they went to sleep now, they were going to be pretty disgusting when they woke up.  Prodding Clint when he refused to move, Phil caught his expression and raised a questioning eyebrow.  “You don’t need to be somewhere, do you?” he asked, his voice amused, but there was a trace of uncertainty in his eyes.

“No,” Clint said.  “I was just thinking about a shower.”

After dragging the blankets over them, Phil slid an arm around Clint’s waist and hooked a leg over his thigh.  “Later,” Phil grumbled, burying his face in Clint’s shoulder.

“We’re going to be gross,” Clint warned him.

He felt Phil smile and huff against his skin, and tightened his arms around Phil.  As much as he complained, Clint didn’t want to be anywhere else than lying tangled up in bed with Phil, not now that he knew that Phil loved him back.  Not to mention the prospect of more mind melting sex.  Settling down into the bed, Clint gave into the sleep pulling at him and decided to think about the rest of it after a nap.

When Clint woke up again, the sky outside Phil’s apartment windows was dark and the fluorescent numbers of Phil’s alarm clock told him it was around midnight.  They’d shifted as they’d slept, because Phil was curled behind Clint, his arm heavy where it was slung around Clint’s waist and their legs still tangled.  Blinking in the darkness, Clint just lay there for a minute as the clock ticked and soaked in the feeling of waking up warm and safe and loved.  Smiling, probably dopily, Clint rolled over, careful not to dislodge Phil’s arm.  The room was full of shadows, but there was enough moonlight streaming in through one of the windows for Clint to see when he gently traced a finger over Phil’s cheekbone.  He wasn’t trying anything, it was just impossible not to touch when Phil was lying soft and naked beside him.

Phil smiled without opening his eyes, tightening his arm on Clint’s waist.  Suddenly shy, Clint ducked his head to press a kiss to Phil’s bare shoulder, hiding his face just in case Phil opened his eyes.  It was ridiculous and stupid, but everything was still so new that Clint had to keep reminding himself it wasn’t a dream.  “Morning,” Phil told him huskily, his hand curling around Clint’s back to scratch lightly through the hair at the base of his skull.

“Not really,” Clint replied, speaking the words into Phil’s skin.  “It’s only just after midnight.”

Phil hummed.  “That’s technically morning.”

Clint raised his head and watched Phil blink open his gorgeous blue eyes.  “You know what else it is?” Clint asked, nipping at Phil’s jaw because it was right there.

Phil looked faintly exasperated.  “What else is it, Clint?” he said.

Grinning, Clint pressed a brief kiss to Phil’s lips.  “It’s the perfect time for a midnight snack,” he whispered.  “How do you feel about pancakes?”

Phil rolled his eyes, then expertly flipped them so he was pressing Clint back down into the mattress.  The blankets twisted around their legs, and already half forgotten.  Leaning down, he gave Clint another kiss, this one with a hell of a lot more tongue.  “I can think of something better than pancakes,” he said when he pulled back slightly, and Clint laughed because he was pretty sure that should have been his line.

“Okay,” Clint agreed, “but we’re having pancakes afterwards.”