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A Matter of Proportions

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Clint Barton is not a man who is easily distracted. You couldn't be what he is--a damn good sniper, thanks--if you got distracted by the shiny all the time.

But he is also not one for self-delusions, and the fact of the matter is that Clint Barton is fascinated by Phil Coulson's wardrobe -- not the big-box-of-wood variety, either. It's taken Clint an embarrassing amount of time to realise it -- though, in his defence, he doesn't see Coulson every day; he doesn't need to, unless Coulson calls him in for a mission, or to chastise him about scaring the young, impressionable agents by leaping onto them out of nowhere (it might even work, if Clint didn't catch him trying not to smile most of the time). And so it had taken Clint far, far longer than it otherwise would to figure out that, for all his attempts at looking like just another government clone, Phil Coulson is anything but.

The way Clint finds out is so utterly unexpected that it takes him twice as long to get a fix on the discrepancy. They're in the field, and Coulson is brokering a deal while Clint watches him through the scope of his rifle -- just another day in the life. Then, before anyone realises what's happening, the contact loses all sense of self-preservation and flicks out a blade, slashes through Coulson's jacket, right over the length of his forearm. Coulson's other hand snaps out, punching the man's wrist, probably breaking it by what Clint can see of the speed and strength of the hit. His finger doesn't twitch on the hair trigger only because his every muscle has locked in anticipation of the kill order, waiting for Coulson to tell him to drop the target. Coulson does no such thing; he calmly disarms the wincing man of the other blade hidden at the small of his back (amateur, who does that anymore), and ties his hands behind his back with zip ties that must be hell on that broken wrist. Only then does he take a good look at the torn cloth, mouth tightening at what he sees. As agents swarm around him, securing the perimeter and dragging in their contact's friends (two thugs that Clint frankly can't believe would have anything S.H.I.E.L.D. could want), Coulson removes his jacket. The sleeve of his shirt is quickly turning bright red and dripping over the dry ground; the knife must have nicked a blood vessel, no other explanation.

"All agents, stand down," Phil says into his mike, voice just as perfectly steady as always. Clint is willing to bet that no one has cottoned on to the fact that their leader has been injured as of yet; all the concession Coulson gives his cut is to flick open his own blade, appearing in his hand as if by magic and cutting the rest of his sleeve off, fashioning a quick field dressing with one fucking hand; seriously, Coulson is a damn ninja, Clint has always said so.

Clint is monitoring the situation carefully, the safety catch on but the rifle still in position to observe the ground, when he sees it -- Coulson's shirt shines a pristine white in the blinding sun, but it's interspersed with the thinnest of chocolate brown and grey pinstripes. Clint almost drops his rifle in surprise, now that he's no longer in battle-ready mode -- he has never seen that shirt of Coulson's before that he's noticed -- and he notices things, it's his job. The suit is just your standard black, but now that Clint is looking, he sees that the just-as-black tie is in fact patterned with a fine geometrical print, standing out from the plain cotton.

Huh. Phil Coulson, a fashionista. Who knew? Clint grins to himself. Well, that just opens up a whole new avenue for baiting Coulson, one of Clint's cherished hobbies. For now, though, he puts up his rifle and jumps nimbly to his feet, stifling the urge to run down and check on Coulson's arm. The man has an army to do it for him already, although Clint doesn't see anyone paying him much attention at present. He'd wager a week's washing-up duty that Coulson is glaring everyone away. The thought amuses him, stirs to life an impish desire to go fuss over him until Coulson snaps. The guy is so much more fun to annoy than the rest of the suits, even if Clint has to use all his wiles to get a reaction out of him and he always has the niggling feeling that Coulson could kill him with a paperclip if he really wanted to. There's a strange thrill in the knowledge that while Coulson could, he hasn't, not yet, no matter how much Clint harasses him. No, all Coulson does when faced with Clint's cheekiest grin is stare back, sometimes aided by a raised eyebrow. It's... exhilarating. Making Coulson lose his legendary cool has somehow, in the years since Coulson was assigned as his direct superior, become something of a raison d'etre for Clint. He should probably be more worried about what it means; and he would be, if he wasn't having so much fun.

"You all right there, Coulson? Need a hand?" he says over the comm. It doesn't come out quite as mocking as he means it to be, but what's done is done.

Coulson turns his head in his direction; he's too far away for Clint to note the minute changes of expression that characterise Phil Coulson's interaction with the world, but he fancies he can see the wry twist of Coulson's lips from all the way up here.

"Your concern, while touching, is unnecessary, Barton," Coulson says, dry as the desert wind that batters Clint's back. Clint grins helplessly, because that's just Coulson all over, hard bastard that he is.

"Just so long as your boo-boo won't stop you writing your report, you know how Director Fury can get."

He swears he can hear Coulson roll his eyes despite the distance. "Stay off the comms."

"Why? The mission's over, isn't it?"

He would like to think that Coulson was opening his mouth to reply when the field medic jogs over to him, and all chances of a comeback are lost in the face of Coulson's in-the-field composure. It's a nice thought, though.


That's how it started, about a month or so ago, this strange and unreasonable fascination with Coulson's clothes--or rather, his shirts and neckwear. Because while the suits are nearly identical, from what Clint can see (and that's another mystery he's determined to solve, because no man who mixes and matches his other clothes and accessories so well would own six versions of the same black suit), he has never once caught Coulson wearing the same shirt-and-tie combination, and he's been looking. Amongst the sea of white shirts and plain black ties at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, Phil Coulson wears palest blue with navy pinstripes, or a yellow so light as to be virtually indistinguishable from white, except where it is, to Clint's practiced eye. Or white with mint-green pinstripes that makes the black of Coulson's suit velvety to the warm afternoon sunlight; or, Clint's personal favourite, the one with the blue-grey pinstripes that bring out Coulson's eyes in such a way that it's the first time Clint notices quite what a lovely colour they are.

And it doesn't stop there. No, in addition to Clint's sudden and inexplicable obsession with shirts, he has to go and notice the ties. Always so dark as to be nearly black, they are a far cry from plain. Rather, they are patterned with outlines of ruby red, sapphire blue, emerald green, even a flash of silver, anything but boring and austere if one takes the trouble to look closely enough (Clint's sure there's some sort of parallel observation that goes here, but contrary to popular opinion he does have a self-preservation instinct, and something tells him that making the connection is not something he wants to look too deeply into, in case he actually finds out what it means). If Clint has to come up with a word for the way Phil Coulson dresses, he's surprised to find that it would be 'playful', faintly mocking, as if Coulson had seen the man-in-black stereotype and decided then and there he wanted no part of it; that if he had to dress to fit, he'd subvert the type until it was something that fit him, rather than the other way round.

Clint has maybe been thinking about Phil Coulson's clothes--Phil Coulson himself--a little too much of recent. Coulson has somehow gone from a voice in his ear, giving him orders that Clint follows without question, to a snappy dresser with an interesting lack of respect for the stuffy image of his job. Oh, he plays the game -- but he plays it to win. And that's something Clint can respect, so much more than just as the perfunctory deference due to his immediate superior.

He doesn't realise, isn't even aware of just how much attention he's been paying Coulson until the day when he's sparring with Natasha, trying not to get too badly beaten up, and he spies a flash of pale yellow out of the corner of his eye. It's enough to distract him so that Natasha lands a roundhouse kick that flattens him to the floor. He groans pitifully, not even attempting to get back up. Natasha huffs irritably; she's been doing that a lot lately -- no one will spar with her voluntarily anymore, and the agents on the premises have to take shifts and double-team her if they want to come out of it alive. Still, Clint remembers what prompted his most recent acquaintance with the mat, so he lets his head fall to the side to face the door, only for his eyes to lock on Phil Coulson's amused expression (Clint doubts that most people would notice the minuscule quirk of his lips, or the way the creases around his eyes deepen just a fraction, but to Clint it's as good as a tell). Coulson is wearing the palest yellow shirt today, which is what Clint must have noticed before being sent flying. That this is enough to break his concentration is somewhat worrying.

"Romanoff, Barton, my office, five minutes," Coulson tells them, the mildness in his voice not concealing the order.

"Sir," he and Natasha echo, before Coulson turns on his heel and leaves again. Clint is left staring at his back from the floor, trying not to be put out by the fact that he hadn't gotten a decent look at today's tie.

Something waves in his peripheral vision; he turns back to see Natasha offering a hand down to him, a kindness that not many warrant. He knew she liked him more than most, even if the evidence is so small as to be virtually non-existent.

"So," she says when he's taken the hand for the leverage it was and flipped upright. "You and Coulson."

Clint chokes on his own spit.

"Smooth, Barton," Natasha mocks while he wheezes.

"Don't know what you mean," he tells her indignantly, trying to catch his breath.

She rolls her eyes. "Please. You're not subtle."

Clint's blood runs cold. "What?"

Natasha looks at him like he's from another planet, which he thinks is vastly unfair, coming from a superhuman like her. "Don't tell me you actually don't know that you're staring at him like he's something you want to eat."

Clint just looks at her while in the confines of his head he runs through the past few weeks, in lurid detail. Fuck. He has been staring. How many other people have noticed?!

Natasha appears to take pity on him, because she turns and heads for the door without further comment (her silence is damning enough all on its own). He feels a wave of heat climbing up his neck, spreading over his face. The thought of Coulson knowing -- because of course he must know, if Natasha has noticed then Phil fucking Coulson definitely has -- makes him want to pack his bags and take that two-month assignment in Siberia that Fury keeps threatening him with.

There's nothing for it; he's going to have to tough this one out. If in doubt -- deny, deny, deny, even to himself, for as long as it takes. Fake it till you make it, he knows that motto inside-out, and he's going to have to stick to it extra-hard today because he knows, he knows it's ridiculous to even expect Coulson to acknowledge his weakness -- except to tell Clint off for his lack of focus -- let alone pander to it. There's no way in hell that Phil Coulson would ever want to--to--anything with Clint Barton.

Then something occurs to him.

"Wait," he calls, jogging to catch up with Natasha, who is already out of the door. "What do you mean, me and--and Coulson?" he adds, looking around and lowering his voice. "I'm not saying I'm conceding to what you're implying, because I'm not, but what makes you think he--I mean--" Clint realises that he's babbling, and shuts his mouth with a click. Natasha looks at him, thoroughly amused going by her raised eyebrows.

They reach Coulson's office before she can answer, and Clint isn't actually stupid enough to raise the question again, despite the general consensus. She knocks at the door a couple of times before she calmly pushes it open and walks right in, unconcerned with the way Clint has to force himself to stop fidgeting at her back.

Coulson is at his desk, reading a report and jotting down notes in his tidy scrawl. He looks up when the two of them invade his space, nodding at the two chairs before his desk and setting the report aside. Something colourful flashes underneath it, drawing Clint in like a magpie. Before he can strain his eyes to work out what it is, Coulson tugs the sheets out from under the paperwork and sets them in front of the two of them.

"The Avenger initiative," he says dryly, and Clint has to bite back a grin. He knows Coulson's feelings towards at least one utterly unmanageable member of the proposed team; he's ridiculously pleased that for once it's not him that's the target of Coulson's exasperation.

Then he looks down at the designs, and feels his jaw fall open. They are costumes. They are fucking costumes, and his is purple. He is going to have to shoot someone if they actually think they're going to make him wear that. He chances a glance at Natasha's version, which is tight-fitted and black, much like the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s jumpsuits. He feels an instant flash of jealousy.

"Hell no," he spits, curling his lip at the ridiculous ensemble. "You're going to have to tranq me first."

Natasha's and Coulson's lips twitch in unison. Clint really fucking hates them a lot for taking pleasure in his misery.

"That could be arranged," Coulson says evenly, but Clint can tell he's mostly saying it just to be an asshole. It shouldn't be such an attractive look on him.

"It's a good colour for you," Natasha says; Clint snarls at her. She gets to keep her regular outfit and all her gadgets. It's not fucking fair.

"Coulson, seriously. You can't expect me to wear that. It's going to stick out like a sore thumb in the field. I'm a sniper, goddamn it, I'm supposed to blend in!"

The amused look slides off Coulson's face, to be replaced with reluctant agreement. "I told them you weren't going to go for it," he sighs, before looking up again, a twinkle in his eye. "I just wanted to see your face."

Clint tries and fails to not be stupidly pleased by the admission. Natasha huffs a stifled laugh at his side, but even that can't puncture Clint's high. "So I don't have to wear this?" he says hopefully.

Coulson looks at him a moment longer, then shakes his head. "No, that would be a ridiculous waste of an asset. I'll talk to R&D, I'm sure they can figure out something more suitable. You'll have to go down for a fitting on Friday, 10am. Don't forget, I'm not going to remind you."

Natasha nods, the consummate professional. Clint resigns himself to asking her about the time and date at least twice before they're due in. They stand to leave when it's clear there's nothing else; Coulson collects the designs, looking down at Hawkeye's suit pensively. Clint lingers a moment longer, after Natasha walks out, lifting an eyebrow in his direction. Coulson smirks faintly.

"Natasha's right. It would have been a good colour on you," he says, eyes flicking down and up again so quickly that Clint almost misses it. For a moment, Clint finds himself lost for words, stunned by the strength of his desire to walk over and kiss the man, and not just to shut him up. There's something in Coulson's eyes, not quite warm, but far from cold, either. Something... considering.

"Permission to tell you to take a hike, sir," he says, even though he can't stop a grin from curling his mouth.

"Denied," Coulson says mildly, sending him a Look. "Keeping Natasha waiting doesn't strike me as the brightest idea. Just a thought."

Clint groans quietly, but takes the rebuke for what it is. "Tell them something red," he says over his shoulder, already halfway out the door. "I like red."

He doesn't wait for Coulson's reply, although he thinks he hears a muttered "Duly noted" behind him.


Friday caps off a slow fucking week; Clint almost wishes some asshole would try taking over the world just so he has something to do other than work on his stealth by sneaking up to Coulson's office and away before he's noticed. By the vexed looks Coulson keeps throwing his way, he knows he's going to need to work a lot harder at it. It's worth it just to catch up with his favourite blue-grey-pinstriped shirt and charcoal-grey tie, though, even when it's no more than a glimpse as Coulson disappears into a meeting with Fury that Clint chooses to steer well clear of.

He meets Natasha on her way down to R&D, level B3, well below the streets of New York. He's a little antsy, he thinks that's all right to admit to, after the fright he'd had earlier in the week with that purple monstrosity; but when he gets through the door, to his relief he doesn't see a hint of purple in the room. Instead, Georgia, the tech in charge of suits at S.H.I.E.L.D. takes them both down the corridor into a smaller lab, empty but for a clothes rack with three bags hanging off it.

"Three suits?" Clint asks as Georgia hands him what is apparently his bag.

"Yes," Georgia nods eagerly, green eyes wide and excited behind the square black frames of her glasses. "Well, there weren't supposed to be three, but I was kind of hoping that I could convince Agent Coulson to wear one himself, since he's going to be in charge in the field and all--oh, there you are, Agent Coulson, just in time."

Coulson stops with his hand still pushing the door open, looking at Clint and Natasha's identical faces of gleeful surprise. Coulson, with a superhero costume! This Clint has to see.

"I was told you had an issue that no one else could resolve," Coulson says. Clint has never seen him this taken aback. He's willing to bet that his assistant is going to get an earful when Coulson gets back after this.

"Indeed! Here, this is for you." Georgia pushes the third bag into his arms, flushing faintly. Clint is starting to suspect what is going on here. He doesn't like it one bit, irrational or not.

Georgia beckons to Natasha, leading her to the adjoining door and into another room to change. Natasha rolls her eyes, but goes. Which leaves Clint staring at Coulson, who is staring at the bag in his hands like he's never seen one before. Clint literally can't help himself.

"Open it already, Coulson, I'm dying to see what it's like. It'll serve you right if she gave you the purple," he smirks, drawing his tight black t-shirt over his head. Coulson's eyes stray to him, and Clint notices with a jolt of surprised want that they aren't looking at his face. He makes a show of flicking the button on his jeans open, and Coulson actually rolls his eyes, wow, he must be feeling out of his depth, Clint didn't know that could happen. It must be the suit.

Then Coulson shrugs, throws the bag over the clothes rail and takes off his suit jacket, laying it neatly aside and reaching to tug his tie undone.

Which is the precise moment that it finally hits Clint what is about to happen. Coulson is undressing. In front of him, without a care in the world. Yep, there goes the tie, and he's unbuttoning today's white-and-mint-green-striped shirt now, down to the third button, a curl of chest hair peeking through the open collar. Clint has to hustle to turn around, because watching Coulson undress, under these circumstances, is nothing short of self-sabotage. Those suits are bound to be tight, and Clint can't afford to let his body react the way it's desperately trying to. He mouths fucking hell to the wall he's facing, because Jesus, the thought alone is screwing up his composure. When the shirt lands over the top of the jacket, he literally has to fight to suppress a shudder at the thought that Phil Coulson is half-naked behind him, and probably taking off his slacks right now. Fuck.

Clint is better than this; he's been a soldier for a long time, he's no stranger to casual nudity or getting changed in front of twenty other guys. None of those guys were Phil Coulson, though. He unbuttons his jeans but leaves them on, stretches a carefully stable hand to his clothes bag, unzips it and lets it fall open.

Wow. That's more like it.

"You told them about the red," Clint says happily, a delighted grin spreading over his face at the sight of the black-and-dark-red body-hugging armour. Oh, yes, this he likes.

Coulson doesn't say anything, but when Clint turns to look, he wishes he hadn't. Coulson is shirtless, pantless, clad in nothing more than a snug-fitting pair of navy boxer-briefs and black socks. Clint swallows dryly, relieved that Coulson is absorbed by his own clothes bag. He tugs the zip down and lets it fall open, too, the muscles in his shoulders flexing with the movement. Clint can't stop staring at the long, lean line of his body, toned as any active field agent should strive to be. There's a long scar that runs down and across his side, faded to a dull white like all old scars tend to. Clint wants desperately to touch it, run his hand down the length of it, ask what caused it.

Coulson makes a startled noise of surprise, which in turn startles Clint back to the situation at hand. He looks to see what could have possibly ruffled Coulson's unflappable calm, and sees The Suit.

It's tight-fitting, black, with these green straps coiling around the shoulders and biceps, across the chest and disappearing around the back. It looks like--well. Like someone's wet dream of what a soldier should look like in the field. It's ridiculous, and Clint can only imagine what it's going to look like on Coulson.

On the other hand, it's tight black leather, and Clint would do a fair amount of morally debatable things to see Coulson in it.

"Holy cow," he says, letting his amusement show in his voice, because it's Coulson, and he'd hear it even if Clint tried to hide it. "I stand corrected. This is worse than the purple."

Coulson slants his eyes to him, lifting a mocking eyebrow, though whether it's mocking Clint or himself Clint isn't quite sure. Coulson hesitates, eyeing the suit askance, until Clint snorts and unhooks his own, opening all the zips.

"If you don't at least try it on, you'll make Georgia very unhappy. Wasn't it you that's always going on about cultivating a positive working environment?" Clint says innocently.

Coulson, of course, isn't fooled, but he sighs in resignation and unzips the front without a word of complaint. "The things I do for my country," Clint hears muttered into the bag as Coulson goes to slip the thing off the hanger, and has to turn to hide his grin.

The suit is surprisingly easy to tug on; even more surprisingly, it's incredibly comfortable. Clint does a few squats, twists this way and that, assumes his shooting stance -- the suit moves with him, stretches in all the right places, stays tight in others, giving him the support he needs.

"Nice," he says to himself, turning to see Coulson zip his own field suit up to just under his chin. Clint's jaw drops.

It's not like he didn't always know that Coulson was military, too. He is a highly skilled, vastly experienced soldier, with field instincts most of his superiors won't develop over a lifetime of service. Yet the tailored suits always made him look somewhat safe, like a jaguar masquerading very successfully as a house cat until he's got most everybody fooled. Like this, though, Coulson's natural menace is amplified -- but so is the wall between him and the world. If Coulson in his suits is untouchable, then this man is so far beyond Clint's reach as to make the whole endeavour doomed from the start.

It's like a splash of cold water to the face, and Clint can't quite contain his instinctive flinch. Jesus, what was this guy doing pushing papers for Fury? In fact, what was he doing wrangling unruly assets for S.H.I.E.L.D., when surely he is more deadly than most of them combined?

Clint is thrown so far off balance that it takes much longer than it normally would to notice that Coulson is looking at him thoughtfully, eyebrows raised. He feels a dull flush creep up his face, turns around swiftly and heads for the door, anything to escape the mortifying realisation that Coulson definitely caught him staring this time. God, god, that is just. He closes his eyes, silently swearing at himself to get it together already.

Outside, Georgia is fussing around Natasha, noting down last-minute adjustments into a battered notepad she keeps flitting back and forth to. She raises her head when she sees them, eyes sliding right over Clint to fasten on Coulson behind him, widening a little, cheeks dusting with pink. Natasha isn't half as helpful; no, she's looking at Clint knowingly, making him want to fidget under the weight of her gaze. He glares at her, as if that would help (it really doesn't, she just raises her eyebrows and goes back to evaluating the pockets hidden all over her suit).

Georgia pauses in her ogling of Coulson to hurry over to Clint and hand him his arm guard, small fingers quick and professional as she adjusts it to fit properly. Clint stays sullenly quiet, resolutely avoiding Coulson's eyes that bore into the side of his head (he's a sniper as well as a soldier; he knows when he's being eyeballed). Georgia finishes with him quickly; he takes advantage of her absorption with Coulson and disappears back into the makeshift changing room, stripping his suit off quickly and tugging his jeans back on. Whatever embarrassing arousal he'd thought he'd have to conceal is well and truly dampened by the unwelcome realisation that, as good as he is at his job, as essential as he might be to the team once it gets going, the only thing he really has to recommend him is an above-average aim and 20/20 eyesight. He can dress it up all he wants, play the annoying-yet-lovable-bastard card to the hilt -- he's still gonna be just a soldier who's more lucky than not, and he's a fool to think that Phil Coulson would see him as anything more than an asset to be managed.

He spares a long look for Coulson's clothes, so carefully folded up over a chair in the corner, and stamps down viciously on the urge to run his fingers over the still-warm cloth of the shirt. He's pathetic enough as it is.

When he opens the door again, Natasha is nowhere to be seen, likely getting changed as well, and Coulson is talking to Georgia by the wall of monitors. She's got her pen stuck into the messy dark bun she's knotted at the nape of her neck, and she keeps reaching up to fiddle with her earring. Well, Clint did call that one from the start. He calls out a quick thanks to her, nodding when she tells him he can pick up the finished suit on Monday.

He feels Coulson's eyes on him all the way out of the door, like an itch between his shoulder blades; he fights not to hunch his shoulders, keeps his back straight, fakes it and fakes it and fakes it.


Three a.m., and his room's too small, the low ceiling boxing him in. It's too hot, his bed's too narrow, and he can't stop thinking of that afternoon no matter how furiously he tries. There's nothing on TV that he can get lost in; all they're showing are re-runs of What Not to Wear, and he's seen that episode already. Thwarted, skin too tight for his body and thoughts too loud in his head, he falls back on the only thing he knows will let him get rid of that hellish tension, short of sparring with Natasha (who's asleep and will probably kill him if he wakes her up for anything short of a full-scale assault on the premises).

He goes to the armoury, swipes his card at the door to be let inside the blessed cool, the smell of gun oil and machinery helping him settle a little already. He signs out his bow, two sniper rifles, a bunch of arrows and a box of bullets, and lugs it all down into the training room, next door to the firing range. It's set up like an obstacle course, taking up half of B4 (the lowest level) in a huge 300 by 200 ft room. The agents use it to stay in shape, run drills. It's completely deserted at this time of night, which is perfect for Clint's black mood. He couldn't take a single minute of human-to-human interaction right now.

He turns off the cameras inside the hall from the small recording room, in a nook to the left of the doors. The system will record that it was him entering the place, but not what he does inside, which is good because the level of frustration he's riding, he's going to be rounding up some serious blackmail material if anyone gets hold of the recording. With every step further inside his chest unclenches a little; by the time he has climbed one of the columns housing the sniper nests, he's able to drop himself in the zone, that empty space inside him just waiting to be used. It's good, calm, serene; best of all, it contains nothing of Clint whatsoever, no anger, no inadequacy issues, no longing for something he can't have. It keeps him safe, locked down, waiting for the perfect shot.

He uses up all the bullets, then moves onto the bow, holding still, silent, breath barely causing a ripple as it flows in and out of his body. He loves this space; it's worth every single drop of blood and sweat, every tear cried in despair of ever finding it. It's worth everything, to be able to access it, to let it fill him until the outside world disappears. His arrows find their marks just as beautifully as the bullets, if not better; by the time he's done, the special targets made for him, the ones with different-coloured dots marking every centimetre, look like giant hedgehogs. All the dots have arrows in them now, every one.

He's on his last draw, but he has regained some of that equilibrium that was missing earlier, that's been missing for far longer than an afternoon, if he's honest. He sees it all, spread out before him; the silly infatuation, the pointless wishing for something out of his reach, the anger at himself for being so stupid as to let it get this far, where it's physically affecting his concentration. He breathes through it, breathes and breathes, that final arrow notched and holding perfectly steady, fingers almost loose around the flow of stored energy, ready to spring on a whisper of movement. He closes his eyes, sees the target he always saves for last in his mind's eye, swaying gently from side to side on a timer; when he knows it's the right moment, he lets his fingers open, lets it fly. He knows before he's opened his eyes that it's right where he meant it to be, dead center. He lowers the bow, allows the muscles in his arm to loosen from the forced position.

"Are you done now?" Coulson says from below him, at the base of the sniper's nest. His voice is low and calm, intended not to startle him, which is a kind thought even if it's a useless one. Clint hadn't heard a damned thing, so focused on the exercise, so hell-bent on throwing out all the painful thoughts and feelings from his head, stupid, stupid. He falters, teeters on the edge a moment before he finds his feet and crouches, heart pounding. This is really getting out of hand; it's been years and years since he's been so off-balance.

Coulson is silent, waiting him out, patient like a fucking rock when Clint needs him to be just that little bit fallible, that shade more human. It's a pointless wish, anyway. They are who they are, both of them; and if he's honest, he wouldn't be this obsessed with Coulson if he was anyone other than himself.

"What are you doing here?" Clint asks instead of answering, because what can he say? He ought to be done, fuck knows, but he isn't. Not even close.

"Had some paperwork to see to. Your ID flashed on screen. Figured I'd see what had you up so late."

He's wearing the same yellow shirt from earlier, but the tie is loosened at his throat and his shirtsleeves are rolled up almost to his elbows, baring his muscled forearms. He looks tired; but good, so fucking good. His eyes are a little heavy with the late hour, mouth lacking the usual tightness; 'relaxed' is the word that comes to mind, foreign in its attachment to Phil Coulson. It's so far from the unattainable supersoldier of this afternoon that it sends Clint's head spinning.

He looks down, fiddles with his bow, gathers the rifles and slings the lot over one shoulder, jumping lightly to the floor. He straightens from his crouch, chest inches away from Coulson's, who hasn't moved, hasn't stepped back, hasn't even blinked. Up close, his eyes are bluer than Clint had supposed, with Coulson's dark eyelashes usually shielding them. Clint has no idea what to say, or do; he's got nothing. The blank that was so comforting a few minutes ago is now a horrible weight in his head. Goddamn it. Goddamn Coulson. Goddamn this stupid ache somewhere behind his ribs.

Clint makes to walk around him, suddenly exhausted yet knowing full well that he won't be able to sleep, not now.


It's quiet, tentative, locks Clint in place more effectively than any physical restraint. He exhales roughly, clenching his teeth. Coulson is waiting, giving Clint the space to stay or go as he likes. He should go. He should.

He turns around, facing Coulson again, heart pounding retreat, retreat. He ignores it, caught in the look in Coulson's eyes.

Coulson lifts a hand, slowly, giving Clint the time to react before it makes contact with his forearm, where the arm guard digs into his skin. His thumb rubs gently, getting the blood flowing; it tingles a little, not unpleasantly. Coulson is still watching him carefully, gauging his reactions, ready to back off at a moment's notice, the way his weight rests on his back foot.

Clint inhales sharply when Coulson's--Phil's, he might as well say the man's name when he's this hopelessly infatuated with him--thumb slides down to press against his pulse point. 'What are you doing,' he wants to ask, but that would be stupid; it's pretty obvious what Phil is doing. Clint can't be reading him that wrong; besides, he's been paying attention. He likes to think that he knows Phil Coulson, at least enough to know that if he's taking this step across the divide, he's not doing it for shits and giggles.

"Really?" he says instead, because, let's face it, that's the only question here. Is this really happening?

"Yeah," Phil says simply. "If you want."

Clint barks a laugh that feels like it's torn out of him. "If I want? Haven't you been paying attention?"

Phil grins, a cocksure flash of teeth that Clint has never seen before, that Phil is letting him see now for the first time. "Obviously. I was giving you a chance to back out," Phil says, thumb stroking along his skin.

"I don't want it," Clint says. It comes out like a declaration of intent. He lets the rifles and his bow slide down his shoulder, drops them to the ground, eyes never leaving Phil's. "I'm going to kiss you now," he warns, though by the way Phil's eyes darken, he's pretty sure it's unnecessary.

He leans closer, more sure with every inch he covers and Phil doesn't back away. Phil's got a couple inches on him, but it's not a difference that matters, not when Clint's been waiting so long for the chance to put his mouth on the man. Phil's lips are softer than they look -- or maybe he's just letting Clint in, not fighting it. Either way, Clint likes it, doesn't want it to ever stop. Phil tastes like stolen sweets, like black coffee, like want and yes and more. His tongue is pliant against Clint's, unhurried, slow and addictive. Clint finds himself sighing and pressing closer, nothing like what he thought their first kiss would be, when he'd let himself dwell on it; no violence, no imminent death, no jarring chance of discovery. He leans against Phil's chest, muzzily registers how nice it is, knowing that your partner is strong enough to catch you at any moment. Phil's hand tangles in his hair, rubs against his scalp, and Clint's knees honest-to-god threaten to give with the rush of overwhelming need, for Phil to press him against a solid surface and take him. His hands catch on Phil's shoulders, holding on.

Phil pushes then, turns them until Clint's back braces on the nearby column, so that he can plaster himself against Clint's front. Clint fucking approves of Phil's sneakiness. It comes in just as handy in this setting as it does out on the field. A knee nudges between his, and Phil's thigh rubs against his rapidly hardening cock. Clint lets out a truly embarrassing sound, but it can't be helped; it's been too long, such a fucking long time of looking and not touching, of wanting but never having. Phil smiles against his lips and does it again, and again, and again as Clint gives up all pretence of self-control and rubs shamelessly against the pressure, moaning beseechingly.

He claws at Phil's back, wrinkling the lovely shirt that feels like heaven under his hands. He lifts one leg, wraps it against the back of Phil's thigh, opens himself up to the delicious friction that's too much and not nearly enough. Phil lets go of his hip, slides his hand down to lift his leg higher, presses in harder, shifts his hips until their cocks line up perfectly, sliding together deliciously.

"Fuck," Clint gasps, coming up for air. His head bangs against the column at his back, hard enough to hurt. Phil crowds in, mouth latching onto Clint's neck, sucking a bruise into the skin that he's going to feel tomorrow. Tonight, it just makes him jerk helplessly against Phil, fist his hand in Phil's hair and try to climb inside his mouth. He slips his free hand between them, fumbles at Phil's fly until it falls mercifully open, reaches inside to find him hot and heavy, the front of his boxer-briefs that Clint has actually seen on him today damp with how much Phil's leaking. Clint's mouth waters; he sucks hard on Phil's tongue, draws it into his mouth in lieu of what he wishes was there right now. Phil groans, the first lapse in control he's allowed himself tonight. Clint drinks it in, pushes the waistband aside and curls his fingers around the length of him, tugs slowly, squeezing a little. Phil bucks into him, thrusts his cock through Clint's fist, and if Clint wasn't pressed against the column at his back and Phil at his front, he would have folded to the ground with the way his legs shake just from that. He's way too close for what they're doing; he should be able to last longer, take his time, but he can't, desperate to come already, ready to beg for Phil's touch. And oh, miracle of miracles, maybe Phil really is psychic, or just really, really damn observant, because there are fingers tugging at Clint's jeans, popping the button and pulling down the zip; and then, blissfully, Phil's hand closes around him inside his boxers. His fingers feel rougher than they would if he was really the pencil-pusher he pretends to be; his thumb presses, strong and sure, at the spot under the glans that makes Clint see stars. Phil rubs, squeezes, uses the copious precome Clint's cock drips to coat the length, brush his thumb over the head once, twice, kisses Clint deep and filthy, and yeah, yeah, Clint can do that, he can let Phil take care of him, rip the orgasm out of him, make him spill over his knuckles with a hoarse yell that Phil swallows straight out of his mouth.

It takes him a moment to come back to himself, panting as Phil trails open-mouthed kisses against his neck, sucks lightly, scrapes his teeth against the muscle. Clint's stomach clenches again, an aftershock like he hasn't felt in years, pulled out by Phil's mouth on him alone. If this is what a hand-job from Phil can do to him, Clint can hardly think about what more between them will be like -- more skin, more touching, to feel Phil's cock spread him open, to have Phil pin him to the bed or the sofa or even the floor, he'll take anything Phil wants to give him and anything more he can get. Phil's hips pump against his hand still, and Clint registers the harsh pants of Phil's breath against the curve of his neck, the desperate press of his body. He tightens his hand, nudges Phil's head back up, nips and bites at his mouth until Phil shudders and comes against him, hot and wet over his hand, nearly silent if it wasn't for the small, desperate noises he's making deep in his throat. Clint instantly decides he wants to hear them again, as often as physically possible.

It's his turn to brace Phil as he sags against him, holding himself up with hands scrabbling on the column at Clint's back. After a moment Phil straightens, but instead of pushing away he leans in, kisses Clint sweet and slow, languid in a way that Clint hadn't hoped for but can certainly learn to expect at the end of each day, and at the start, too.

Phil pulls back at last and presses their foreheads together; they stay there, just breathing against each other's lips as they come down from the high. Clint is becoming uncomfortably aware of the mess between them; he blesses his luck that his room is right next to the lift doors. He doesn't know if Phil's clothes are salvageable; he'd hate to think that one of his favourite shirts is a write-off, and it would certainly be far too obvious if he lets Phil borrow his clothes tomorrow.

Then again, Saturday, his fuzzy brain reminds him, which means he could ostensibly kidnap Phil for at least the morning. He's certainly eager to try this again with a bed beneath him instead of a wall.

He shares this insight with Phil, who hums contentedly against his mouth.

"We'd better make good use of our spare time while we still have it. Once the Avenger initiative really gets started, it's going to be anyone's guess whether we get any at all."

Clint stills, an unpleasant thought slithering inside his mind and spreading a chill down his spine. "Are you trying to say--" he starts, pulling back to look at Phil properly.

Phil lets him; the fondness in his eyes would be obvious even if Clint wasn't in the habit of ferreting out everything there is to know about Phil Coulson.

"No, I'm not trying to say. I'm saying that we should both be prepared for the ridiculous schedules we're going to have when we work with--them," he finishes, in the tone of voice that most people use to say 'that bunch of lunatics'. Clint outright laughs at him, even harder when Phil rolls his eyes.

"So, no hiding?" he says after a moment, helpless to stop the hopeful lift of his voice.

"No, Clint. I'm not saying we should stick our tongues down each other's throats in the middle of the office, but no. No hiding." He looks shifty for a moment; Clint instantly zooms in on it.

"What? Phil, what?"

"Most everyone thinks we're seeing each other already," Phil admits sheepishly. Clint is sure he looks gobsmacked.

"They do?"

Phil nods, smiling at him, eyes crinkling in the corners like Clint loves to see. "Georgia asked me this afternoon if it was true. Apparently we bicker like an old married couple over the comms when we're in the field. I keep telling you to cut the chatter."

Clint grins at him cheekily. Fat chance of that now.

"Also," Phil drawls; Clint's attention snaps back to him at his tone. "I've been told that you keep stalking me around the complex. Now, naturally I refuse to believe such baseless slander," he says, grinning at the flush Clint can feel climbing up his neck. "But there was that one other thing; something to do with my shirts?"

"Now I know you're making this up," Clint bursts out, face flaming. "I never said that out loud--oh, you bastard," he grouses as Phil laughs at him, face set in a smug smirk that should be terrible, but comes across as merely terribly endearing instead. "You tricked me. Surely that isn't in the rule book, Agent Coulson."

Phil's smirk only grows; he looks utterly unrepentant. "See, Agent Barton, I have been paying attention. You keep staring. One of these days you're going to have to tell me what that's all about."

Clint licks his lips, enjoying the way Phil's eyes follow the movement. What the hell. He's shown his hand already, it seems; and besides, this is Phil Coulson. He probably knew even before Clint did where this thing was heading.

So, "Make me," he drawls.

Phil's eyes narrow as he tucks his despoiled shirt back in his pants. "You're on."

Oh, but Clint is going to enjoy this, no doubt about it.