Chapter 1: Prologue
They’re working really late into the night when it happens, that first connection that makes Clint think maybe he’s not alone in all this. That moment that makes him think maybe he’s not crazy after all. The first time, he still thought he was hallucinating. It took months, maybe years, for Clint to convince himself it actually happens. That Phil sometimes appears, someone who isn’t Agent Coulson and who isn’t even plain Coulson his tentative friend and then even later, his for real friend. A friend who got him birthday gifts and visited him in the hospital. But Phil is someone who rarely visits. He’s quiet and shy and strangely contained in ways Clint doesn’t even begin to understand. So it takes years for him to really believe Phil, as he sees him, exists and is not a product of his overactive imagination, a pining wish he accidentally takes out in the daytime.
Years later, it’s one of those nights Clint has come to enjoy. They’re in Coulson’s office in New York. It’s dark out, but he and Coulson are on totally different timezones than everyone else anyway; they’ve been working the night shift emergency alert for the last few weeks, and by now, 2am is lunch time. So all the late hour does is lend a private quality to their work without the heavy burden of exhaustion.
In the beginning, it took more than a little time for them to gel as a team. At first Clint’s main goal in life and as a SHIELD agent (and no one said he was good at making life decisions at the time) was making a living out of being contrary. Coulson didn’t take on assets of his level. Or with his authority problem. At least, not then he didn’t.
Then one day, Agent Coulson made an exception, and to this day Clint isn’t sure why. They clashed from the moment they met and Clint had taken special offense at Coulson’s super bland face. But from the second their first op went live it was like even the rough edges blended together seamlessly. Coulson was definitely in charge but he listened to Clint -- at first to his idle chatter and then later to his questions disguised as sharp antagonism. He listened and then gave Clint the information he needed or even changed the plan based Clint’s suggestions. And he managed to do it all without making it sound like it was a big deal.
It had been heaven, was still heaven really, to have someone who understood him that much. Who shored up his strengths, filled in his weaknesses. Coulson would listen to him the way no one else would, took his opinions as informed instead of rude or obnoxious just because they questioned the guy in charge’s plan.
When Natasha had entered the picture a few years later, it had almost ruined a lot of it. It wasn’t her fault, Clint could have handled a lot of it better all around. Should have known that those first all night planning and researching sessions meant something more. Meant that he could ask, or try, or whatever it was that was needed to make bringing Natasha in less of a clusterfuck.
But they got past it. With less pain and recriminations than Clint could have ever hoped for.
The first time he and Natasha worked together there had been that same frisson of connection. After, Clint had felt lost, like maybe working with Natasha had killed whatever it was he and Coulson had. Had broken something irrevocably. But it hadn’t. Natasha is family, but in a different way.
Sometimes, Natasha joins them, tossing out ideas as she flicks pieces of fortune cookie at their heads. Mostly though, that’s not how Natasha works, so it’s just the two of them. Alone in the dark hours, piecing together an op from the ground up.
“I shouldn’t tell you,” Coulson says quietly one night, during a break, “but I’m sure you’ve heard the rumblings.”
“Hmm?” Clint asks, mouth full of chow fun. God bless the 24 hour, short order, Chinese place down the block. Clint thinks SHIELD alone keeps them in business with those hours.
“This one is your last requirement for the promotion review.” Coulson emphasizes it with a raising of his eyebrows.
Clint smiles and finishes swallowing his food. He leans back into the couch they’re sharing and nods. “Yeah, that’s about what my personal tally says as well.”
Coulson spends a few seconds watching him, observing him. Clint shivers as he practically feels the assessment run over his skin.
“You should run it,” Coulson finally says.
Clint blinks, his entire relaxed demeanor sucked away with shock. “I’m sorry, what?” He then adds, “Then who’s up high?” because that’s always his question.
“Whoever you want,” Coulson says, shrugging. “You should run it,” he says again and Clint doesn’t make much more sense of it the second time around.
“You’re ready.” Coulson puts down his cup on the nearest flat surface. It’s his office, so it’s full of places just large enough for a mug. Then he turns on his side of the couch to fully face Clint. “You’re more than ready and it’s at my discretion at this point. You were ready six months ago, but you wouldn’t have agreed with me then.”
“You think I will now?” Clint’s eyebrows have migrated into his hairline and haven’t come back down yet. To be fair, Clint does feel a little ready, not that the idea doesn’t scare him shitless, but it’s a kind of shitless he’s used to. Clint also knows that it would solve one of the hiccups of moving from the Specialist track to the Special Agent track. If he does this now, the promotion is real as soon as the ink dries, no probation, no supervisory period, no extra months of being tugged along on a leash. That alone makes it pretty appealing, despite the terror.
Coulson’s gaze remains steady and Clint, as usual, crumples. “Yeah,” Clint says, “I can see keeping the stopwatch on this one, making sure everyone moves on time.” The stopwatch was more of a metaphor these days, everyone’s time keeper is synchronized to the microsecond before being handed out and the mission time is officially counted down off the central console next to the op commander.
They’re quiet together for some time, Clint takes the moment to look away from Coulson’s piercing gaze to finish stuffing his face. And to maybe stop that sharp feeling from tugging at his chest. Coulson’s belief in him has always done funny things to his insides.
“You really think I’d do okay?” Clint eventually asks when there are no more noodles to root out of his cardboard container.
“Barton,” Coulson sighs, “Clint. I wouldn’t recommend you if I thought you’d just do okay.”
Clint’s smile just about splits his face as he looks up. “I just figured your blatant favoritism was finally showing.”
That’s when it happens, a flash of something, a half second of shock followed by a dull red flush that Clint would miss if he wasn’t looking. “Barton, the mere fact that you don’t spend large chunks of your down time confined to base proves that we’ve gone beyond favoritism and straight into Stockholm syndrome.”
Clint laughs because he loves it when Coulson gets just a little sassy, but at the same time he’s sad because he managed to scare that quiet, supportive Coulson -- Phil --he’s come to like back into his shell. Clint has seen him more and more recently, especially in their most recent night shift assignment. Phil’s a guy he wants to get to know better, see even more often. He’s also a guy who’s making Clint think he’s a little nuts, until the next time he makes an appearance.
It’s not that Clint doubts his own mind, but it’s just that… Clint doubts his own mind. When he’s really invested, it’s hard not to. For a brief few seconds, Clint feels selfish, more selfish than usual at any rate, so he shifts the topic back. “Will you be there?” he asks casually, maybe not as smoothly as he would have liked because Coulson’s face goes through a series of expressions.
“Be there?” Coulson asks, idly sorting through their food garbage and tossing the empties into the plastic bag it all came in.
“In the command center,” Clint clarifies even though he’s pretty sure Coulson knows exactly what he’s talking about.
“You’d be in charge,” Coulson informs him mildly, tying a knot in the plastic bag before looking up. “Once the clock starts, you’re captain,” another metaphor, someone early in SHIELD had a strong Navy background and certain phrases had become embedded into SHIELD culture. “Every agent on the op reports to you no matter their rank. You can put me wherever you want.”
Clint wants to say it, he really does, but he can see the edges of that quiet friend coming back out and he doesn’t want to scare him away again, so he swallows the terrible sex joke and ducks his head. “And if I do something wrong?”
“Then you’ll fix it.”
That makes Clint’s head snap up. “What?” He shifts on the couch, finding it uncomfortable for the first time in years. ‘Then you’ll fix it’ isn’t at all like the ‘then I’ll be there’ Clint was expecting.
Coulson does that thing where he stares at Clint, like he has a million things to say and is trying to find the best place to start. “Everyone makes mistakes,” he starts slowly, curving his body inward, fully facing Clint, bringing a leg fully onto the couch. “Everyone, even me. The trick is not to panic. The trick is to be able to make the next decision and the next. The trick is to keep focused and not get stuck on one bad call.”
Clint feels pinned by Coulson’s gaze, which never wavers. “So what?” Clint asks. “You just move on? No matter what?” All thoughts of teasing out that quiet friend are gone, because Clint genuinely doesn’t understand people who can just freeze out terrible things. What if someone dies and it’s a result of Clint’s decisions?
“No,” Coulson says, more emotion in that single word than Clint often gets out of him in a whole week. “No Clint, of course not.”
“Oh,” Clint says, relieved. For a second there, he was worried maybe he didn’t know Coulson at all.
“The idea is to deal with it later,” Coulson says carefully, licking his lips. “It’s not always that simple, sometimes you have to learn to make decisions through the fear, the horror,” he pauses and there’s a catch in his voice, “the grief.”
“You try to move on as best you can.”
“Yeah,” Clint sighs, sliding back onto the couch. “I’m not so good with that last part.”
Coulson leans in, voice going low and secretive. “I’ll tell you a secret.”
“Yeah?” Clint asks, tilting his head in Coulson’s direction.
“No one is.”
Their eyes meet and Clint sees him then, that quiet, supportive friend, but he sees more too. He sees why that friend is so quiet, so hidden. Clint sees grief, endless, terrible grief inside of terribly sad eyes. Clint is reaching out before he realizes it, taking Coulson’s hand inside his own.
They don’t speak. Clint spends those seconds trying to find a way to ask ‘are you okay?’ without sounding nosy or any number of other things that would piss him off if asked to him in this type of situation. It turns out, reaching out seems to be enough, Coulson’s shoulders sort of loosen up just a bit and the lines around his eyes soften. Clint is just about to say something, anything, when the alert chimes on Coulson’s phone and then both turn their attention to solving the next crisis.
Clint takes the lead after all. When the time comes to finalize the placement of personnel, Clint takes a long look at Coulson who stares back at him calm and unperturbed.
“Coulson,” Clint calls out.
“Barton?” He’s already moving, probably towards the position he assumes Clint has been holding for him.
To be fair, Clint has been holding a slot in the infiltration team too, but that’s not where he wants to put Coulson for this op. “You mind going up high?” he asks before Coulson finishes his short walk to the equipment check.
Coulson’s hand briefly freezes over the standard comms and ammunition packet before swinging a few inches left and grabbing the more specialized gear. He looks up at Clint and his smile and nod seem softer than usual.“And pass up the chance to be Hawkeye’s sniper? Are you insane?” He moves on to firearms and double blinks at finding his own hardware waiting for him.
Snipers, even world class ones, if given a choice, prefer their own equipment. With the distances they shoot, what would be negligible errors or quirks can get compounded into missed shots, or worse, collateral damage. Clint’s seen Coulson’s range scores; Coulson keeps his certifications solid because he’s a guy who can’t stand being under-prepared for anything. They’ve shared a range enough for Clint to know where and how Coulson’s personal property is stored. Though he did have to go to Fury for the override to the locker, the look on Coulson’s face makes all the extra effort completely worth it.
As Clint gives the go order, he turns to Coulson and says, “I’d wish you luck, but you don’t need it.”
Without blinking, Coulson returns the line that Clint usually says. “Never do.”
“Good man,” Clint finishes out their routine like they’ve always said each other’s lines.
The op goes smoothly. Well. About as smoothly as anything ever does. It’s strange being the bug in Coulson’s ear rather than the other way around, but it is soothing in a weird sort of way.
There’s a lull in the middle, as there usually is, and the quiet click of a private line coming up catches Clint’s attention.
“Barton,” Coulson’s steady voice comes through, “this is usually when you bother me with what I’m sure you believe is your sparkling wit.”
Clint smiles and switches his channel. “Yeah, well this is usually when you beg for radio silence.”
“I don’t beg,” Coulson comes back, managing to convey the feeling of offended dignity. “I creatively negotiate.”
“You’ve been planning this for years haven’t you?”
“I plan everything for years.” Coulson’s voice sounds impossibly light over the radio. It might actually all be in Clint’s head, but he still laughs anyway. There was always something about Coulson making jokes that relaxed Clint.
There’s a second, right when things get a little ugly, when Clint realizes he’s the one who has to give the kill order. It’s a slim distinction, because he’s made the decision himself maybe hundreds of times in one-on-one combat. Even when he’s playing sniper, when his job is to simply be an extension of another person’s reach, he’s made the decision on his own. SHIELD isn’t the military, despite their quasi-military appearance, and Coulson has never been like any other commanding officer. Clint knows if he needs to, he can renegotiate the fire order. Has in the past, though he’s learned better ways to do it than apologizing and then tearing out his earpiece.
To give the order to another human being, when it’s planned and premeditated and not simply a desperate scream from across the room to ‘kill the asshole already’, feels different. Maybe this is what those manuals were talking about. This moment right here.
“Take the shot,” Clint forces out, because the information is theirs, the allies who can’t know are gone and none the wiser, and the asshole in Coulson’s scope has a side business in human trafficking that’s making every portion of this operation twelve times trickier. Clint really wants those girls out safe, almost more than he wants the information. The information will eventually lead to saving people’s lives, but it feels a lot less concrete than watching Team C open up those chained doors and help scared looking girls out into the sunlight.
Coulson finds him later, sits next to him at the table as Clint fills out paperwork and organizes the clean up crew. Coulson doesn’t say anything, he just starts disassembling and cleaning his weapon with easy precision and rote movements. Clint nods at him in an absent sort of way but feels his shoulders relax as Coulson gets on with his work. When he’s all done, he zips the rifle back into its case and pulls out a tablet, opening up a familiar-looking AAR form. It’s the form Clint has filled in countless times over the years.
“Make sure you hand that in on time,” Clint jokes.
Coulson’s hands don’t even skip a beat. “I should make you hunt me down for this thing, as a final lesson.”
Because Clint worries that Coulson would take to the vents for effect, he shakes his head. “Oh no, buddy, you’re sitting right there till it’s done.”
Eventually, Coulson taps his shoulder so Clint can watch him hit the submit button.
“Excellent,” Clint says with a sigh of satisfaction. “Gold star on your assessment.”
Coulson’s shoulders rock up and down in a silent laugh and and then he leans in just a fraction and whispers, “It’ll take a few days for the paperwork, but Fury’s already got you on his schedule.” He doesn’t wait for Clint’s response before leaving. Bastard always did like a good exit line.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
Clint holds a combination Yay Promotion/Boo Leaving party at his place. It’s kind of a weird experience in general. From the number of people who want to come, to the ease with which Clint finds himself hosting anything that fun and organized, to the weird bittersweet tang in the back of his throat every time he remembers he’s not gonna see most of these people again for around six months. Maybe more.
“Level 7 is a big fucking deal,” is the bulk of Sitwell’s toast. And it is, and because it is, SHIELD likes to take its time breaking them in. New Level 7s spend a chunk of time traveling from assignment to assignment, far away from their comfort zones and friends. The idea is to get used to being alone and in charge. SHIELD is your only support structure. The level of ‘trust the system’ implied still bugs Clint on his off days, but he gets the basic idea. You need to be able to stand up on your own, without your friends and coworkers unintentionally helping you. SHIELD has no problems with well working teams in general, but it wants to be sure you can do it all on your own.
The half year probation is often referred to as the seven month itch. While you’re proving your mettle, you’re also auditioning for your more permanent posting. Clint has no real ambitions beyond returning to the New York base and taking on new missions, but first he has to prove he deserves the raise. Fair enough, he supposes.
It still makes the party kind of weird. He’s never felt more organized and put together in his entire life and he feels like where he is and who he has with him contributes to that a lot, so saying goodbye is tough. Also, nothing has exploded yet and it’s making him tense.
Eventually, later than he expects, people filter out until finally it’s just Coulson and Natasha. She kisses him fondly on the cheek and promises to look after his apartment before slipping out the front door.
Clint turns back to his apartment to find Coulson slowly collecting paper plates and cups into a large trash bag. He briefly thinks about telling Coulson to stop, that’s not his job, but instead Clint joins him, wanting to put one last job together behind them before moving on. Cleaning his apartment has never gone by so fast and it’s like he blinks and Coulson is tying up the last of the trash bags and sorting the last of the empty bottles into a box for later recycling.
As Coulson is slipping on his jacket he turns to Clint with a serious face. “Don’t ever let anyone convince you that you don’t deserve this.”
Clint can’t help but smile even as what has to be Coulson’s final advice makes him feel unsteady somewhere deep inside. “Hey,” he says, reaching out and pulling Coulson into a rough hug, “thank you.” Clint says it into Coulson’s ear, his nose accidentally bumping into cartilage and stubble.
“Thank you,” Coulson whispers back, like Clint has helped him right on back these last few years. Like Coulson thinks it’s a privilege or some bullshit to work with Clint and that’s just— that’s just. Clint is having trouble removing his arms from around Coulson’s chest. There are a few panicked seconds of worry before Clint realizes that Coulson isn’t moving either.
The hug goes on and Clint is sure they’ve moved on from colleague, past friend, and into something… different. More. Into something that has to be acknowledged, because if they ignore it, if Clint continues ignoring it for any longer, it will be one of his deepest regrets and he already has too many of those. So he gently pulls away. He can feel Coulson’s arms tighten reflexively before loosening, just far enough to touch their temples together. “Coulson…” he swallows past a lump in his throat, “Phil…”
“Clint.” Coulson’s voice is steady, but rough and low. “I—”
Clint kisses him, swallowing his words, because he has a feeling he knows what Coul— Phil(this is definitely Phil) is going to say. There’s a soft brush of lips and then another and another and one of them makes a choked noise, maybe both of them, but the fourth brush of lips is heavier, firmer, and it lasts an infinity of sweet pressure and perfect movement.
Eventually, it comes to a natural conclusion and they’re both breathing hard. “I—” He tries to get out something, anything, but his mind is a blank of everything except—
“We shouldn’t,” Coulson whispers, “it’s— there are a lot of really good reasons why we shouldn’t.”
Yeah, except for that. Clint kisses him again, because he wants this one more time before Coulson stops it, before Clint is forced to verbally agree that it’s just a bad idea. Clint knows each and every one of those reasons, he even agrees with some of them. Especially the one about how he gets on a transport tomorrow and doesn’t come back for a long time. “I know,” Clint says when their lips part, so Coulson can be sure they’re on the same page. “I know.”
They kiss again. Clint isn’t sure he could have stopped it if he tried.
“Maybe,” Clint eventually says and this time his own voice sounds shaken, “maybe once?” He desperately wants to know Phil, in every way that he can. He wants to memorize each and every line and scar and inch of skin so that he can take the memory with him. Clint wants to know all those sounds Phil makes that he’s never heard before. He also needs to show Phil that hot clench of emotion in his chest that he’s not sure how to express at all.
“Once?” Coulson’s hands have migrated a little, there’s one cupping Clint’s cheek and another spread out and solid on his waist, heat easily working its way through Clint’s jeans. Holding him where he is, not pushing Clint away, but not letting him in closer either. It’s probably a reasonable precaution considering they can’t seem to stop kissing.
“Just once,” Clint offers, “tonight. One night.” Coulson’s face looks torn. “I’d like to make you feel even a tiny fraction of what you’ve made me feel.”
That one seems to pull Coulson out of whatever trance he’s been in because something in his eyes sharpens and he’s shaking his head.
“No,” Clint presses on, “that sounded wrong. I meant—” he takes a deep breath and digs deep. “You’ve made me feel appreciated. Special. Worthy. If we can’t do that other thing,” relationship, companionship, love, life, “give me one night to try and make you feel the same.”
Coulson stares at him, mouth open in shock. “I don’t— you don’t— you already have.”
Clint stares at him and then deliberately leans in for one last kiss, pouring everything he has into it, all of his thanks and courage and heart. Just when Clint is about to give up, Coulson’s entire body shifts, melting into Clint’s embrace fully, his head tilting to offer more space for Clint’s mouth. There are noises, quiet, desperate noises that touch Clint down to his toes. It’s a yes, he’s sure of it, and Clint vows to make it the best yes Coulson has ever had in his entire life.
It should be awkward, there should be fumbling and tripping over each other and various bits of furniture, but it isn’t. They make it into the bedroom without fuss, moving in between a series of long, drugging kisses, each one a little deeper and longer than the last. Once next to the bed, Clint doesn’t waste the chance to forge on ahead, afraid any delay is going to stop this, give Coulson enough time to reconsider.
Coulson’s jacket falls down his arms at Clint’s urging, his tie is gone too, in between more long kisses. What surprises Clint is how quiet they both are. Clint is intent on memorizing every moment, and that Coulson might be doing the same sends a spark down his spine.
Once Coulson is shirtless, he encourages Clint’s shirt off and they continue to take turns removing articles of clothing from each other, kissing the whole time. Their shoes are toed off at the same time, pants are unfastened and unzipped without even looking, they’re both too taken up with kissing. The bed is mostly an afterthought for Clint, someplace for Coulson to rest against as Clint runs his lips down Coulson’s chest and abs, his hips and the dip where leg meets body. Coulson’s hands stay on him, gentle, undemanding, but occasionally clenching and releasing as something Clint does seems to affect him.
There’s a moment's disorientation when Coulson finally takes some real initiative and rolls him, to take his own turn exploring Clint’s body. “Fuck me,” Clint whispers, not intending to talk at all, but Coulson is sucking lazy circles into the sensitive skin along Clint’s hip and all he can think about is getting that hard, hot cock rubbing against his shin inside of him as soon as possible.
Coulson freezes, and then looks up at Clint from where he’s kneeling on the bed, hovering over his body. “Yeah,” he rasps after a long pause, and he’s barely done agreeing before Clint is diving into the bedside table, looking for lube.
Coulson spends long seconds running slick fingers over sensitive nerve endings before even pushing inside. Even that single finger is enough to make Clint keen. He can’t stop himself from arching his back and bringing his own fingers down to join Coulson’s. “More,” he whispers even as his fingers collect some lube and press in next to Coulson’s.
Their breathing seems loud to Clint’s ears and when Coulson— Phil, seriously Phil, when his fingers start shaking too much to continue prepping Clint, he carefully takes Phil’s hand in his own and pulls him back up to eye level. “Like this,” Clint whispers, rolling Phil back onto the bed and climbing on top of him. This is about Clint making Phil feel cherished and damned if he isn’t going to do his very best. He reaches back and steadies Phil’s cock just long enough to push the head through the first ring of resistance. Clint smiles and sighs, no pain, just a bit of pressure and mountains of anticipation.
Phil’s face is an unusually open book, each emotion written all over his face, overlapping. There’s too much of it for Clint to read easily, but then there’s a small awed smile there that he completely appreciates. He reaches for Phil’s hands, threading their fingers together and using his arms as leverage to push down and seat himself completely into the cradle of Phil’s hips.
It’s pretty much heaven. His ass throbs just slightly, but the heat and hardness of Phil inside of him feels perfect. He squeezes carefully, working his muscles just a bit looser, and under him Phil sucks in a shocked breath and squeezes Clint’s fingers. “Ready?” Clint asks, rocking gently but not really working his first thrust out yet.
Phil’s eyes darken and his cheeks flush further. “Never,” he says, voice still a bit shaky. There’s a smile that softens it into a joke but also a light in his eyes that tells Clint maybe it’s not all a joke. Yeah, Clint gets that.
When Clint finally gets going, it’s not really thrusting, it’s more of that rocking motion and it starts more gently than Clint ever intends. It’s just that it already feels so good, and each roll back and down pushes a huff of breath out of Phil’s chest and an involuntary push up and in that presses all the right places to light up Clint’s body. And the whole time, he can’t look away from Phil’s eyes.
What Clint might have imagined as a long hard fuck, is not. It’s possible he’s been fooling himself because this slow rolling pleasure between them is exactly what he wants and it’s so fucking good it’s in danger of being over too quick.
“Phil,” he says, releasing his hands and leaning in, intending to kiss him again, needing a distraction, just for a second, “I,” he’s murmuring it softly, barely aware that he’s saying it out loud until Phil meets him halfway, stomach muscles contracting tightly to keep him at a steady angle.
“Please don’t,” Phil says against his lips, “don’t say it.”
Clint blinks, but nods, yeah, he can understand that too. Phil doesn’t relax back down, instead his hands trace the sweaty line of Clint’s back, resting on his hips, pulling with him as they roll downward. Clint’s cock, aching and hard, slips wetly against Phil’s stomach and he finally breaks eye contact as his neck arches back and his eyes close because it all feels so damn good.
Phil sucks on the skin just under Clint’s jaw, sucking hot and wet and nibbling gently. Clint lets go of one of Phil’s shoulders to thread his fingers through Phil’s hair and hold him there, because fuck, that was really good and Clint is done trying to hold off, it just isn’t gonna happen. A whine escapes his mouth and his hips push harder, thighs straining with the angle, he needs Phil harder, faster, before he comes, but the angle keeps him from getting there.
Phil’s hands help him, pull him down hard and dirty every time he pushes up and his balls are tight and aching against his body. He’s so close, it’s building just out of reach and he wants it so bad. “I need,” he chokes out, “I need, I need,” Clint isn’t sure, but there’s something just out of reach and he’s not sure what it is.
“Yeah,” Phil says, voice practically an octave lower than normal, “yeah, okay, just let me,” his hands switch positions and then Clint’s world shifts until his back is on the bed and Phil is leaning over him. “Okay?” Phil asks before moving.
Clint nods frantically. “Yes, yes— please, ye—”
Phil moves. He moves so hard Clint has to scramble to keep his place, pushing up against the headboard. It’s not fast though, it’s still so achingly slow that Clint might die before coming, but each thrust now rings his bell thoroughly, leaving him gasping and incoherent.
So incoherent he’s not even aware of when Phil gets his hand on Clint’s cock, not till after that first rub and then it’s such a screaming ride to the end that he can’t catch any of the details, just that it rocks so hard Clint might not get it up again for days. Above him, Phil carefully fucks him through orgasm, flushed and disheveled and looking like he’s barely holding on. He even stops when Clint finally finishes, waiting with more patience than Clint thought even Phil had.
Clint is literally breathless and boneless and not a little incoherent so it takes him a second to register Phil’s clenching hands and shivering body. “Sorry,” he says, slurring slightly, “come on, your turn, ‘m all flexible now, just fold me in half and let go.” Yeah, good sex has historically turned Clint into a babbler.
Phil chokes back a noise and then slowly lowers himself down until Clint’s knees are pointing directly at his ears and Phil’s body is draped snugly into Clint’s. “Yeah, like that,” Clint says into Phil’s ear as he tucks his face into Clint’s neck. Clint manages to get his arms around Phil, holding him close, maybe even cradling him a little, carding his fingers sloppily through the hair on the back of Phil’s head.
There’s a twitch of hips and it still feels pretty good for Clint. He’s not going to come again, but he’s gonna enjoy the rest of Phil’s ride just fine. “C’mon,” Clint urges.
Phil starts to move. It’s a little slow and almost rusty in rhythm but it only takes a few shaky thrusts for Phil’s body to catch up. Clint can feel it when all of Phil’s muscles come back online, working together to fuck into Clint with perfect hard thrusts that send shivering aftershocks of pleasure through Clint. Phil clutches him as his hips go from steady back to uneven and ragged. The last few draw huffy grunts from Phil until, finally, he freezes and lets loose a quiet sob of pleasure buried in Clint’s skin and he shakes apart with three more uneven thrusts. Clint holds him through it, murmuring encouragement into his ear, nuzzling his temple, anything and everything that Clint wants, needs, to savor, to take with him and most importantly, to show Phil just what Clint feels.
They both spend long seconds just panting. Clint is enjoying having Phil pressing into him everywhere, but he’s gonna need to stretch his legs out soon and he suspects Phil isn’t going to be able to just sit still after this. Eventually Phil moves off, flopping to Clint’s right, a hand carelessly holding onto the condom as he slips out.
Huh, he doesn’t remember that going on. Well, Clint remembers being pretty overwhelmed. He still sort of is and he isn’t quite sure what to do next. He’s waiting on Phil, to see what level of freak out is about to happen. But instead, all Phil does is toss the condom in the trash, grab the tissues to clean them up and then help herd Clint and himself under the covers.
Taking it as permission, Clint rolls so that he’s resting against Phil’s side. There’s a brief hesitation and then Phil’s arm comes around him, his hand resting lightly on Clint’s hip. The last thing Clint thinks about before passing out is how nice Phil’s fingers feel tracing warm circles on his skin.
Clint blinks awake sometime later, a little muzzy headed. There’s movement off to his right. What probably got his attention was the… rhythmic nature of it. Phil’s eyes are half closed, he’s on his side facing Clint, one hand stretched behind him.
“Phil?” Clint yawns, blinking his eyes.
Phil smiles, his hand coming back into view, his fingers shining in the moonlight from the window. Okay, that was what he was doing.
“Fuck me?” Phil whispers.
Clint, not quite awake and brain still a little zorched from the first encounter, manages a “mmwbuah?”
Phil chuckles, low and deep, but his eyes are soft around the edges. “Clint, I’d really like you to fuck me.”
Clint, not trusting his mouth, just nods frantically. He’s about to go looking for the supplies when Phil’s slick hand reaches out and strokes his half hard cock just long enough to get him ready for the condom, which he also takes care of for Clint before rolling over so that his back is to Clint’s front.
“Like this?” he asks after rolling into position, peering over his shoulder to look Clint in the eye.
“Yeah,” Clint says, “okay.” He shuffles forward until Phil is snug against his chest and then eases his stiff cock into Phil’s body. There’s a bit of resistance but Phil never tenses up in his arms, just keeps urging Clint on every time he pauses for too long. When he’s finally settled, Clint takes a long breath, finding purchase and kissing the back of Phil’s neck as he gently arranges his hands so that he’s holding Phil close, almost cradling him against Clint’s body. They haven’t even started yet and he already feels shaky. Clint needs this to be about more than sex, for Phil to feel everything Clint is trying to give him. This round is slow, but a different slow than the first one, just as intimate, just as intense, but somehow, completely different.
Phil is hot and welcoming around him and Clint finds it entrancing just to find his way inside with each and every roll of his hips. It goes on for one long stretch of forever until finally Phil loses control and grabs at Clint’s ass to pull him in faster and faster until their hips are snapping and Clint is doing his best to hold Phil tight while working them closer and closer to the finish. “So good,” Clint murmurs. “So good.”
When they do come, it's pretty close together, Phil’s hand working his cock while Clint holds on tight and kisses Phil’s neck. Clint shudders inside of Phil, biting back a whimper. Phil comes seconds later, his orgasm coming just at the end of Clint’s. It prolongs Clint’s into stretched out honeyed ecstasy. They’re both soaked with sweat, come, and lube and all Clint wants to do is wipe them down and fall back into bed. It takes him a few minutes to feel both coordinated enough and brave enough to try, worried Phil will end the night now instead of later.
When he doesn’t, Clint cleans them both off with shaky hands before pulling the blankets back over both of them. He doesn’t remember when they got kicked down, probably early on. He tries to stay awake, to savor this, to memorize Phil in his arms, to learn their smell and sounds, but he’s exhausted and his eyelids are too heavy to keep them open for long.
When he wakes up, Phil is already half dressed. Clint slides on some underwear and a shirt while Phil putters around. He watches as Phil doesn’t put his tie back on but stuffs it in his pocket instead. His shirt is only buttoned to the collarbone and his sleeves are rolled up to his elbows.
Clint’s breath catches in his throat. Because this is the quiet friend he’s seen only glimpses of. Phil has never, in all the time they’ve spent together, felt comfortable enough to relax so openly into that man for more than a few minutes in front of Clint. Let alone… this. It feels like this is the real Phil, the whole man, not just the pieces Agent Coulson lets out at work. It’s like Phil has stayed somewhere in between who he is at work and the man Clint took to bed the night before. It makes looking him in the eye that morning easier and maybe a little more precious. Clint is glad this is the person Phil has decided to be this morning; he isn’t sure how he’d handle a full-on Agent Coulson Morning.
“Hey,” Clint says from his bedroom doorway when Phil finally stops moving.
“Hey,” Phil answers back, with a half smile. There’s a pause and Phil’s chest expands as he takes a deep breath. “I was thinking,” he stops again and stares at Clint, eyes for once not blank and bland. He takes a few steps closer to Clint, and he stops just inside of Clint’s personal space bubble instead of just outside of it like he would normally.
“I know you were trying to- to say thank you, to show me some of what you’ve felt over the years, the trust, the comfort, maybe even a little protection?” Phil asks gently. He sounds just a little bit unsure.
Clint nods, because yeah, that’s a lot of what Phil has made him feel over the years, taught him how it feels coming from other people.
“I just,” Phil pauses and bites his lip, an uncharacteristically nervous tick coming from him, “I think I’m the one that owes you the thanks-”
Clint opens his mouth to interrupt, because that is not what last night had been about.
“No, I know,” Phil stops him, “I know it wasn’t meant to be that but— Clint, last night was—” Phil’s hand reaches out to squeeze gently at Clint’s arm before skimming upward to his face, cupping it softly and letting his thumb trace warm circles on his cheek. “It was beautiful,” he says with eyes brimming with emotion and voice going a little thready. “It was beautiful and I’ll never, ever forget it.”
Clint’s eyes actually prickle, because that has never, no one has ever said that to him, let alone with as much feeling as Phil seems to be fighting. “Phil… I…”
Phil shakes his head before gently pulling Clint forward until their heads touch. “Clint Barton, you are an exceptional human being and an amazing agent and it has been my pleasure working with you. If I could leave you with one last piece of advice it would be: don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, and when it’s time for you to pick a new posting you should pick the one that’s best for you and not the one others will try to convince you is best.”
He wants to say something, to say everything, but he knows now isn’t the time, the reasons are all still there and Clint does really agree with a lot of them. So he swallows his emotions and nods, covering Phil’s hand, the one on his face, with his own and squeezing it gently before tugging it down and away from his face so he can press in and give Phil a one-armed hug. “You, Phil Coulson, are extraordinary, and your next team will be lucky to be subjected to your ‘new doesn’t mean better’ rants.”
They both laugh, a little wetly, but they ignore that. There’s nothing left to do. Clint has at least a solid six months of rotation and he is actually looking forward to it, and Phil has a job that he loves right here and the seniority to stick around in it for however long he wants. Clint is coming back, he knows it in his bones, but he doesn’t say it out loud, that’s not the conversation they’re having.
They share one last chaste kiss, as chaste as a kiss can be with someone who fucked your brains out hours earlier, before they separate and Clint walks him to the door. Just before Phil steps out into the hall, he turns back to Clint, tiny smile firmly in place and says, “I’d wish you good luck, but you don’t need it.”
“Never do,” Clint says back automatically.
“Good man,” Phil nods and then turns and heads out.
Clint closes the door with a quiet click and takes a deep breath. And another. Then it’s time to hit the shower. He’s got a bag to pack and a transport to catch and no time left to dally.
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
Clint is an idiot: he could have used the damn luck. By and large, he’s having a field day with his promotion. Level 7 is a big fucking deal, he knows it, knew it before heading out, but living it is weird as shit. Anyone under Level 4 seems to get this starry-eyed look when he’s around and Clint has never been so listened to in his entire life. It would be creepy if he didn’t realize that at the smaller bases, the only one with more authority than him is the guy in charge.
That is also weird as shit.
His first two ops are cake walks, and being called in as the specialist is familiar enough that Clint can work with the weirdness of being looked up to as a role model. Only now his specialization is less about the best place to shoot someone and more about deciding if someone needs to be shot, who it is, and when.
The next couple are a bit harder and require some serious thinking and more than a couple of hours analyzing personnel jackets, but Clint gets through them. Most of the time he’s only pretending he knows what he’s doing, but apparently that’s all the junior agents need because they come through some tight squeezes spectacularly. Clint smiles through the entire commendation write-up for Agent Woo. Clint has never actually enjoyed paperwork before, but apparently it’s time for new experiences.
The first really close call happens about three months in. Clint spends ninety minutes on tenterhooks as he waits to see if he’s going to lose an agent and prays seriously for the first time in a long time that his decisions aren’t just making everything worse. That’s when he wishes he’d taken the luck Coulson had tossed at him.
When it’s over, no lives lost, hostages and stolen property recovered, Clint sends everyone off for clean up and then locks himself inside his tiny, temporary office and shakes. He’s dialing his cell phone before he can talk himself out of it.
“Clint?” Hearing Coulson’s voice for the first time in months is more soothing than Clint was expecting. They’ve exchanged a few emails back and forth, mostly about the terrors of supervisory paperwork, but neither of them have reached out for anything more. Clint has felt homesick enough without accidentally reminding himself about that last night.
“Hey, Coulson,” Clint says.
Clint’s smile feels shaky, but genuine. “It was just that kind of op.”
The line is silent for a long, terrifying moment.
“Tell me about it,” Coulson finally says, no, wait, that’s Phil. Maybe. It’s harder to tell with just the voice to go on. Clint can’t find it in himself to care, because either option makes him feel better.
“Well, it started with some faulty intel,” Clint begins, and something loosens inside of him when Coulson’s knowing and understanding sigh comes through the line. “I know, right?”
After that phone call, it’s tempting to make it a regular thing, but Clint hesitates. That night, after the party, that was supposed to be it, to be enough, but all it did was push the seed of want deeper inside of Clint and give it more fertile ground to grow.
Sometimes, in the shower, when he’s got too much down time, he wonders what it would take to end this experiment as quickly as possible. End this exercise in frustration and ego bashing, end this assignment, and go home. New York is still definitely home. He spends some time feeling sorry for himself, but eventually he gets started on something from work and the knowledge that he’s doing something important washes over him again, like the first time. There’s something, a feeling deep inside, that tells him this time is important. No matter how much he wants to take the easy way out -- SHIELD will always have a place for him, that much he’s learned to be sure of -- he knows that he’ll hate himself later if he gives up.
No matter how much he misses— home. And everything that comes with it.
So he sticks to paperwork conundrum emails and concentrates on the good parts of his new job and tries not to pine for all things tri-state area.
Every so often he chooses to run a mission from a sniper’s perch. Most agents balk at having the team leader that vulnerable, until they find out exactly where Clint plans to put his perch. His perch can be described in miles away instead of feet. Clint technically plans for backup in case everything goes to hell and he needs to concentrate more on the mission than on the trigger. It’s unconventional, but it’s something he needs to do. Shooting at a target has been part of his life, his identity, for so long, he needs to keep it. Especially when everything else seems so above his pay grade. Even though his pay grade is officially that high.
His last official mission is handed to him in month six. It’s large and long and will dovetail into another large mission run by someone else taking place on the other side of the world. Clint sets up shop in the main Paris office, even going so far as to rent a small apartment instead of settling for on-base accommodations. He’s found that staying on base tends to keep him in his office for hours longer than he needs to be. If his bedroom is three corridors and a short elevator ride away, office hours sometimes cease to exist.
It takes him about two hours into the briefing packets to realize Fury’s orders had been a little light on the details. He’s not here to just oversee a big operation, he’s here to take temporary command of the entire Paris office. Their last head honcho was promoted out and their next one is stuck in the middle of an operation, for at least three more months. Clint knows he’s found another load of bull when he reads that, because a debrief for that kind of op takes weeks and then there’s time off and then the handover brief which is a few more weeks.
That’s a lot more responsibility than Clint is ready for and he contemplates breathing into a paper bag until the lightheaded feeling stops. Just under 750 people, including general support staff and a medical/science lab. It is one half the main European hub, the other half being Greece, and Clint now has access to rumors that a majority of the smaller city hubs will be supplemented by something a lot more portable by the end of the year, reducing the need for tiny offices that do little to no work other than having a presence in some shit hole of a country. The only thing that keeps Clint from completely freaking out is that Paris is still nothing compared to the size of the New York and D.C. offices.
It takes a while to really settle into his new assignment. Clint dusts off the two suits he’d purchased at the beginning of this and sighs, knowing he needs to get at least two more, along with half a dozen shirts and ties. He resists asking Coulson for advice for long enough that he feels stupid, but calling for suit and tailor recommendations feels innocuous enough that it shouldn’t accidentally inflame the tiny spark that Clint can’t seem to stamp out.
It does, but they only exchange about three notes about it, so Clint deals. It’s what he’s good at.
He does end up taking Coulson’s advice about getting more shirts than he ever thought he’d need. He completely ruins one at least every ten days. It does shock him, the day he realizes that the suits no longer make him itch with discomfort. The shirts no longer feel just a hair too tight across the shoulders and the pants like they should belong to some other agent and Clint is just borrowing them.
That’s a really weird day for Clint, but he works through it.
He’s gotten really good at working through it. In the mean time, he also gets to know his staff. Gets to like them. He’s casually browsing for a birthday gift for Agent Knowles, their communications expert, when it occurs to him that he likes it where he is. In more than one sense of the word.
Knowles dies in his arms three weeks later, his body shaking from shock and traumatic blood loss.
When the shooting is over, Clint carries Knowles’ body back from their cover himself. Sets him on the gurney and slides the sheet up over his head. Behind him, the rest of his team are waiting expectantly. The op isn’t anywhere near over and Clint has someone else’s blood on his shoes. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.
The trick is to be able to make the next decision and the next.
The echo of Coulson’s voice is warm in his mind. He turns sharply to face his crew. “Heston, you’re up on comms now; grab me the last two hours of data. Kelly, see if you can contact our operatives under ground and Sam, I hate to ask this, but can you get me a change of clothes? Shoes too?”
And like that, they’re better. The grief is still there, the fear still lingers, but they move and do their job and listen to Clint even though Clint feels like this is all his fault. God, he’d really liked Knowles. They regroup, someone gets him coffee and a pastry thing, his favorite actually, and his change of clothes appears miraculously fast. That’s when Clint realizes these people don’t just tolerate him because he’s their boss, they like him.
As much as can be taken care of is, three hours later when they all troop back to the office to regroup, re-plan, and rest. It’s Clint’s new motto. He’s not really happy that his management ideas have been reduced to short phrases of catchy alliteration. He’s not really happy that he has management ideas at all, but they seem to be working.
He’s crouched over his desk, jacket off, sleeves rolled up and halfway through the next slew of data and recommendations when there’s a quiet knock on his door. “I thought I told you guys to take a nap.”
There’s a soft squeak that signals whoever it is didn’t take him seriously and has opened his office door, so it’s probably Sam.
“You should take your own advice.”
Clint freezes. That voice. He’s afraid to look up, maybe the day has left him with permanent psychological scars after all.
Three careful footsteps bring whoever it is in closer. “And you should eat.”
“Not hungry,” Clint says automatically, he’s not. He should eat, he will, but he can’t yet.
“Clint,” the voice is so familiarly exasperated, Clint decides he doesn’t care anymore, even a hallucination would be welcome.
He looks up.
Phil Coulson is standing in his office, impeccably dressed, unassuming, and holding a tray of food.
“Hi,” Clint practically sighs out, his entire body tingling with sudden relaxation. For about three seconds. Until he realizes that it’s a weekday and Coulson doesn’t just get time off to zip over to Paris to hold his— friend’s hand. “Did they send you? Am I being relieved?”
Coulson blinks, actively startled. His face stays confused for a three seconds before it settles on understanding. “Knowles?”
Clint nods, unable to speak.
“No, Clint,” Coulson says, delicately balancing his tray of food on Clint’s cluttered desk, “no one sent me here, I was actually over in Madrid for a thing when the news came over the wire. I asked for some time.” He gently nudges the one of the plates of sandwiches in Clint’s direction. “Eat.”
Clint reaches for the food, because for one second, he allows himself to take orders from Coulson instead of interpreting it as a friendly suggestion like he knows it is. It’s easier to get his body moving that way. They share the simple meal and even halfway through Clint already feels a million miles better. Until he catches the half filled out form for Knowles’ final paperwork.
“We forgot,” Coulson eventually says, wiping his mouth in perfect little swipes, “not a lot of people make the switch from Specialist track to Special Agent at Level 7. There are some things that… some benchmarks you would have passed by now if you’d switched over around level 3 or 4, which is when the statistics say most people make that sort of career shift.”
“Benchmarks?” Clint asks, appalled. “We’re calling dead agents benchmarks now?”
“Extreme Objective Failure,” Coulson says kindly. “That’s what the books call it. The name is misleading. It doesn’t necessarily imply guilt or inadequacy, just a failure at the most basic objective of keeping everyone alive. Sometimes… you can’t know what’s going to happen. It sounds cruel, but if we measured all missions by the number of causalities and only those numbers, our win/loss ratio would be… poor.”
“I’ve lost agents on my team before,” Clint protests, only, that’s not quite true. Teammates yes, temporary subordinates yes, but the ultimate authority for the mission, or even the sub-mission, has rarely been Clint’s and Clint’s alone. It feels different. “So what? They sent you here to make sure I don’t fall apart?”
Coulson gives him a look that makes Clint feel like dirt before pushing away from the chair he’s sitting in and coming around to Clint’s side of the desk. “Stand up.”
Clint’s rising before he realizes it and then Coulson pulls him forward and he flinches, he doesn’t know what he’s expecting, but the hug isn’t it. “Oh.”
“I came because I knew this would be hard for you,” Phil says in his ear, it’s definitely Phil speaking to him. “Now I only have another 45 minutes so shut up and be hugged.”
“Yes, sir.” Clint’s nose is buried in Phil’s shoulder, and the feel of fine wool and the scent of Coulson’s shaving products fills his senses. Something unwinds inside him and Clint swallows a noise. His arms come up automatically, clutching at Phil.
“It’s okay,” Phil whispered, pulling him tight. “I read the live feed, there was nothing you could have done. I promise.”
Clint is suddenly so damn tired. He just, he needs ten minutes of peace and standing there, leaning on Phil’s shoulder, he feels like he might just get it. “Phil…” he sighs out, closing his eyes tightly.
“C’mon,” Phil steps away, pulling Clint with him to the couch on the far side of his office. Clint had smiled when he first walked in and saw that. “We’re just going to sit, okay?”
Clint nods and waits for Phil’s knees to bend before letting his own go. He trusts Phil will have put him in the right place not to fall on his ass. The softness of the sofa feels heavenly and Phil is tugging at him gently until Clint finds his head pillowed on Phil’s thigh.
“Take ten,” Phil murmurs, “no, twenty, I’ll wake you up when it’s time.”
“Promise?” Clint yawns, his right hand reaching up to clench at the yielding thigh muscle like a pillow.
Phil rubs his hand through Clint’s hair, scratching gently. Clint remembers rumbling sleepily and then nothing.
He sleeps hard and long and wakes up with a line of drool sliding out of the corner of his mouth and onto Phil’s pants. He scrunches his eyes shut again in embarrassment.
“Dry cleaning covers a multitude of sins.” Phil’s voice just confirms Clint’s misery. “Oh stop it, it’s a compliment that you fell asleep that deeply on me.”
Clint rolls over so the back of his head remains pillowed on Phil’s thigh and produces the most pathetic face he can muster. Clint’s had practice at this, so it’s pretty pathetic.
Phil laughs at him, but squeezes his arm affectionately.
Stretching his legs out fully, Clint sighs. “So how long did you let me sleep, because that certainly wasn’t 20 minutes. You big liar.”
“Two hours,” Phil says, looking away guiltily. “I’m afraid I gave your staff an order or two in the meantime. Nothing big. Mostly, to set the comm alarms for level 4 and go back to sleep.”
“S’fine,” Clint waves his hand before stretching one arm across his chest, then the other. There’s shockingly little cramping from sleeping this way. Even with the 30 hours that happened before it. “Wait, I thought you had to go like… 90 minutes ago?”
Phil shrugs, and it moves his entire body. “I made a call, but I can’t do it again.”
Clint’s unconscious smile dims a little. “How long?”
“Not long.” Phil’s hand reaches out to stroke his cheek. It feels amazing. It feels like that night bleeding out through time to touch them instead of staying one night, the isolated event it was supposed to be. For a brief few seconds Clint hopes for something, but doubt creeps in almost immediately.
Clint levers himself upright, turning so that one leg is bent and resting on the couch. They lean in to each other, foreheads touching, both of them releasing deep sighs.
“When you write Knowles’ letter,” Phil says softly, hand moving so he can continue to stroke Clint’s face, “write from the heart, don’t blame anyone, and be as honest as you can without breaking the law.”
Clint’s heart breaks all over again, but he nods. “Okay. I can do that. I think.”
“You can,” Phil says firmly. “You wouldn’t be here if you couldn’t.”
Clint nods. He knows that, even if it doesn’t feel like it most of the time. They don’t move away from each other and Clint has to fight the urge to burrow closer.
The silence grows until it’s almost alive, large and hulking over their bent heads. Clint’s words get stuck in his throat, piling up until he’s choking with them. “Phil…” he breathes out, shaky.
“Clint…” Phil murmurs.
It feels like they’re going somewhere, finally, but then Phil’s chest compresses and he lets out a long sigh and he shifts, moving his head up so he can press a soft kiss to Clint’s forehead.
“I need to go,” Phil whispers. “I’m sorry, but I really need to go.”
Clint swallows hard. “Okay,” he nods. More to himself than to Phil.
They both move to stand up and Clint resists the pull to offer Phil a hand. There’s some fiddling once they’re upright, when Phil minutely adjusts his collar, tie, cuffs, and Clint can see something being put away. Clint can’t quantify it and if pressed, he’d be forced to admit there is nothing concrete to point to it other than the way his chest tightens as Phil is put away and subsumed by Coulson.
“You’re doing fine,” Coulson says firmly. “I promise.”
“Thanks,” Clint croaks out.
Coulson nods and then turns to leave.
“Sir— Coulson?” Clint can’t bring himself to use Coulson’s first name, not with the way his back is so straight and his tie so perfect.
Coulson stops his exit and turns to give Clint his full attention. It chokes the words in his throat briefly. “Is there ever— Do you—” He sighs, fighting back frustration and starts over. “That night, I know we said-- I said, once but… But this was…” He flails his arms around a little to refer to the last few hours in his office. “I just want to understand… Would the answer ever be yes if I asked? Is the answer ever going to be yes?”
“Would a yes right now be what you want?” Coulson asks softly and instantly Phil is there, soft and unsure and so very quiet.
He’s right, Clint realizes, a yes now would do nothing but hurt more and be pretty futile. The problem is that nothing now also hurts pretty damn bad. He doesn’t miss that it also isn’t a complete answer to his question. So Clint desperately searches for a compromise, a middle ground where they can meet. Because Clint doesn’t want to give this up, this place where Phil shows up and holds him up for a little while. “How about a promise?”
Phil looks intrigued. “A promise of what?” he asks.
Clint opens his mouth to answer only he’s got nothing but a croaking noise. A really embarrassing croaking noise. “I don’t know,” he finally says after long seconds of nothing.
Phil stares at him thoughtfully, and the licks his lips nervously. “How about… fidelity?”
Clint blinks. “Isn’t that the same thing?”
Phil’s head does a sort of wishy washy movement. “Not quite.”
“Okay,” Clint throws his hands up before slumping against the edge of his desk. “I give up. How is it different?”
Coulson relaxes against the door, crossing his arms casually. “Not a promise of fidelity, but a fidelity of promise— No,” he shakes his head, correcting himself. “Fidelity to a promise.”
Clint tries to work his head around the difference, but a two hour nap and some food clearly isn’t enough for that fine a slice into an argument. It’s difficult enough to have the entire conversation with Coulson leaning there just, being Coulson. He can see Phil around the eyes and mouth, but it’s not enough. “Hold on,” Clint finally says, exasperated, “I can’t do this with Agent Coulson.”
He walks up to Coulson, who doesn’t move a muscle, except his face, which looks tolerantly amused. It doesn’t take much for Clint to feel better; he reaches out to loosen Coulson’s tie and then unbutton his top button before moving off, back to his carefully casual lean against the front of his desk. “There, much better,” he pauses for emphasis, “Phil.”
Phil smiles indulgently and then deliberately changes his stance, slumping slightly and sliding his hands messily into his pants pockets, disrupting the clean line his jacket makes. “Okay?”
“Yeah,” Clint breathes out. “Thanks.” They take a few warm seconds to stare at one another before Clint has to break the contact and slide his eyes to the left. “So. You were saying?”
“I was saying if we both want that yes—”
“We do?” Clint blurts out. It’s just that, he knows what he feels, but Phil has been pretty circumspect. Clint has enjoyed all of Phil’s efforts, but Clint has been the one to put it into words. Phil has just… played along. Mostly.
Phil looks a little gob-smacked and then he blushes as bright as Clint has ever seen and ducks his head. “Yes. I’m sorry, I can’t believe I haven’t— I didn’t. Well. I should have.”
Something in Clint’s chest relaxes. “That’s good to know.” His lips smile as he says it and he can’t quite settle them down after.
Phil’s face is quite possibly a mirror image, and even though Clint is sure he looks like an idiot, if it’s anything like Phil’s face, it’s an adorable idiot. Clint can work with that; adorable idiot is an old friend.
“So,” Phil presses on, slowly, “we promise to work towards it. That yes, I mean.”
There’s something very… appealing about that idea. About acknowledging that there’s something they both want but instead of letting the problems get in the way, they’re promising to take time to get rid of the problems. It feels like something special, important. Romantic. Though Clint’s not gonna say that one out loud. Ever. Clint asks, “Did you fall asleep watching ‘An Affair to Remember’?” He almost winces. Okay, that was close to calling it romantic.
Phil chuckles lightly. “That’s a good point.”
“If it changes. If we change our minds. If one of us decides that it’s not what they want to work for anymore. Or it’s too hard,” he adds quietly. “We talk first. No assuming lack of communication means anything other than what it is. Missing an appointment is not an automatic assumption of rejection.”
Clint bites his lip. He thinks about the last few months, how hard it had been to reach out. Maybe it would be different, with the promise in place, but he’s not sure. “Do we… communicate?”
“If we want,” Phil shrugs, but something tense runs through him briefly.
“What if,” Clint says carefully, “that’s too hard? If it’s… painful?”
Phil’s entire body does an excellent impression of surprise and then understanding. “Is that what happened?”
Clint ducks his head, feeling weirdly shy. “Maybe,” he shrugs. “It might change now, because it’s not so hopeless?”
“Oh, Clint,” Phil is across the room in three strides and reaching out to Clint and taking his hands into own. They both hold tight, so tight it hurts a little but Clint is afraid to let go. “I never meant to— I’m so sorry.” He’s leaning into Clint, letting their heads bump together carefully. They both take an unsteady breath.
“I know,” Clint looks down at their hands, gives them an extra squeeze back, but isn’t ready to let go just yet. “I know. And hey, I could have said something, too.”
“If you can’t, I’ll understand,” Phil says, not looking up. His eyes are locked on their hands. “If that’s the case,” he goes on, “I’d appreciate a generic postcard now and then, so I don’t go completely crazy.”
Clint relaxes a little and smiles. It helps a little that Phil is having similar types of trouble. “That I can do.” He’s already planning on finding the most wacky, embarrassing postcards available. In fact no, screw available, he’ll special order them if he has to.
They’re both quiet for a few moments before Phil’s body starts to tense up, he doesn’t let go of Clint’s hands, but his eyes twitch to the side before seeming to purposefully focus on Clint. “The thing is,” he says hesitantly, “this could take years, I know that.”
“Me, too,” Clint murmurs, not wanting to interrupt Phil, but at the same time, not wanting him to lose whatever courage he seems to be holding onto for dear life.
“I could never…” he stops and takes a steadying breath. “The promise of fidelity only applies to the end goal. We do what we have to work towards that yes, but that could take years, so I don’t expect… physical fidelity. That would be unfair.”
Clint blinks. “Are you planning on having a lot sex between now and then?”
“No!” Phil blurts and then squeezes Clint’s hands before calmly answering. “No, of course not. But there’s a difference between realizing it’s been years since you’ve had sex and making a promise not to have sex with no end in sight.”
Clint blinks, unsure of how to respond.
“Please don’t dismiss this as over the top,” Phil says staring down at a corner of Clint’s desk. It’s the only other neat square footage his desk has at the moment. “It’s easy to say it now, but there will be days, bad days where I won’t be able to take a few hours to come and find you. No matter how much I might want to. Because I’ll be too far away, or even because I won’t hear about it until hours or even days later. And there will be terrible weeks and long months and I don’t want you to be miserable because of something that hasn’t quite happened yet.”
Clint swallows the instincts that tell him to immediately object, as annoying and self-sacrificing as it is, Phil might have a small point. A really small one. And Clint won’t insult him by dismissing it. Instead he shifts, shuffling a bit closer to Phil. He moves their clasped hands out to the sides so their bodies can meet. And then he only lets go long enough to wrap his arms around Phil’s body and hold him tight. He wants to ask if it’s because Phil doesn’t think of this as a relationship yet or if he’s just afraid that Clint won’t think he’s worth waiting for, which is absurd. All he says is, “I can only promise to think about it, okay?”
“Okay,” Phil says tightly, his entire body shifting so that it’s wrapped firmly around Clint’s, his arms crossing at the small of Clint’s back. They hug hard and it threatens to go on too long, like their last hug. Phil’s phone buzzes inside his jacket pocket and they both reluctantly separate. “Remember,” he says, readjusting his clothes again, “we both want that yes.” He’s trying so hard to be professional it makes Clint ache. “If that changes—“
“We talk first.” Clint assures him. “But if it's too hard-“
“Then we don’t,” Phil nods. “But that doesn't mean we’ve forgotten each other.”
“Of course not,” Clint whispers.
“Silence doesn’t mean we’re not working hard… for each other.”
“No news is good news.” Clint agrees, fighting to stay still. Fighting not to gather Phil close again.
“No news is good news.” Phil repeats, looking a little reluctant.
Clint nods, he understands. And while he can’t be sure there are any late night phone calls or long email exchanges in their future, he’s already got plans for goofy birthday cards and gag gifts.
Phil stares just a touch too long before nodding to himself. “I’ll let you get back to your operation.” There’s another pause. “I’d wish you luck, but you don’t need it.”
“Who needs luck,” Clint shrugs at his file laden desk, “when I have paperwork?”
Phil looks curious, an eyebrow raised, waiting for the punchline he knows is coming.
“The Phil Coulson school of Secret Agenting,” Clint says with a cool smile. “All Good Luck paperwork needs to be filed, in triplicate, 48 hours in advance.”
Phil’s eyes roll, hard, but there’s that small, sly smile on his lips that Clint knows means he’s trying hard not to groan, or bust a gut laughing. Phil shakes his head fondly and turns to go.
Clint waits until Phil is just about to open the door before asking. “One last question. Which one am I, Cary Grant or Deborah Kerr?”
Phil’s head turns, his eyes bright and a little mischievous. “You're the one that gets run over by a taxi at the worst possible moment.”
“Hey!” Clint frowns automatically, but then he thinks about it and his shoulders slump. “…okay. Fair.”
Agent Coulson leaves Clint’s office chuckling quietly and Clint sighs a little, partially delighted, partially mortified. That’s gonna do weird things to his reputation already.
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
When Clint finally feels brave enough to leave his office (and not coincidentally he waits long enough for Phil to at least clear the floor, let alone the building) he gets big eyes from a handful of people. Some of which are from his personal team.
“You know Agent Coulson?” Sam near whispers. He’s clutching a file folder to his chest. “When I got the signal order I thought someone had rerouted something wrong, but then the operator said he was in the office.”
Clint blinks at Sam and tries to remember that Sam is usually the most composed of all of them. “Yeah he was my SO and then senior agent on most of my ops.”
Sam leans in, looking left and right. “Is he really… like the rumors?”
Clint’s eyebrows climb up his forehead. This is… new. “Rumors?”
Sam goes red and sputters a bit before pulling his shoulders back and up, his chest filling with courage. “That he’s… awesome.”
Clint swallows back a snort of laughter, if only because the reverence on Sam’s face is so… earnest. He’s not quite sure what to do with all of the eager faces turning his way, all looking for just a tidbit of information about Agent Phil Coulson. Clint has always been vaguely aware that his boss (and his boss’s boss -- Fury is fucking scary) has a reputation, the kind that gets him decent treatment wherever he goes and Coulson’s vague threats of repercussions always seem to resonate better than anyone else’s. Clint always thought it was the presentation, because Phil could deliver a line like nobody else, but maybe- maybe it’s the Phil Coulson Aura. Maybe Clint isn’t the only victim.
Some day, Clint is going to explain to him exactly the destruction Phil leaves behind and he’s going to go red in the ears and shake his head in disbelief, and Clint might just have to kiss him until he accepts his own awesomeness. Or they orgasm. Whatever.
It takes as long as the last person settling into the newest planning session for the slightly upbeat mood to plummet. Heston, a petite but fierce brunette with olive coloring, and Sam, who manages to look fastidious no matter what the hour is, have spent some time going through Knowles’ files. Clint remembers authorizing their clearance for it when the request had winged to his computer within minutes of sitting down. He’d given his thumb print and a stern warning to get some rest. As they stand in front of the projection, they look put together enough that Clint won’t pull them aside later. It’s possible Sam had put in the request before taking a break to save time later.
At first, Sam’s habit of setting his dominos up well in advance had annoyed Clint, but as the piles of paperwork seemed to get smaller each time Sam learned a new quirk of Clint’s, he let it go and now found it kind of soothing. Sam reminds him of Coulson from time to time. Maybe he’s a little what Coulson was like in the early years.
They get down to business and Clint barely has to guide them through it anymore. At first there’d been some friction, some natural, some not, and it had taken a while for Clint to find the right ways to explain how he liked to run things. Partially because he still feels so new to being in charge, still has no idea how he likes things run.
As the briefing goes on, as his team ricochets back and forth, creating a coherent timeline of where events went wrong and of what they feel should happen next, Clint has to resist the urge to smile. Watching them work is a pleasure and it reminds him of the back and forth he and Natasha have, or he and Phil.
There’s something warm and sweet resting under his breastbone now. Something he’s going to take out late at night when it’s cold and dark and lonely. Probably other times too. Right now though, it makes him feel stronger and more confident. It makes him feel like he can carry on even though there’s still a bit of blood under his fingernails that isn’t his.
The operation that took Knowles’ life lasts another five very long, terrible days. Sam fractures a clavicle rolling from a moving car, Kelly gets a gash that needs a handful of stitches, and Heston spends some time with a gun pointing at her head. Despite no physical injuries, he still flags her file, because that kind of shit can stick with you like stale gum.
When the work week from hell finally ends, Clint no longer feels too guilty leaving the office. His ratio of exhaustion to coherency slid past the usable mark. It took him nearly writing ‘lemon jello’ in response to a standard request for more lightbulbs from the janitorial staff. After nearly laughing himself sick, he finally relents and goes home.
Clint shuffles into his apartment around 4am, having stuck around to finish out as much paperwork as possible before his eyes finally crossed too hard. He used to gently, but affectionately, mock his coworkers for that sort of dedication, because after an op all Clint used to want was a good night’s sleep, or as good as you could get sometimes. It took time, but he’s now realized that his best night’s sleep would happen after his bow was clean and stowed and his fridge was full of food.
It sounds silly, but complete paperwork is like that fridge full of food. It leaves him with some slack and lets other people who haven’t been awake three days solid get going on their parts so that when Clint and company come back later, they can start moving on instead of revisiting.
Speaking of food, Clint slips his shoes off, just barely flinging them off his toes, and shuffles into the kitchen. His tie and jacket are off by rote and Clint is wondering if he’ll have anything to eat or if he’ll have to munch on crackers and set an alarm for 9am and put in a call to the place on the first floor.
They’re a tiny mom and pop bodega style cafe with fresh everything. Clint was addicted to their crepes before the first drop of batter hit the pan. He accidentally stumbled into a robbery in between apartment hunting stops. Nailing the guy’s ass to the floor by habit more than anything else, at the same time he had saved Eloisee Shechter, wife and proprietor of Chateau Cafe. When she found out Clint was looking for a place to live she showed him to the private entrance for the three apartments above the store. There had also been a week of food. A lot of food. Clint’s stomach still groans in delicious sympathy at the thought.
Clint opens his freezer to find that bread he vaguely remembers he stuck in there weeks ago and then sucks in a shocked breath. There’s food there, lots and lots of food. It looks like a combination of homemade and pre-bought. There’s a note too.
LACK OF FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES ATTRIBUTED TO YOUR UNPREDICTABLE SCHEDULE. EAT, SLEEP, AND THEN GET SOME ORANGES SO YOU CAN AVOID SCURVY.
Clint’s entire body goes warm and if he closes his eyes he’s just tired enough to feel Phil’s arms sliding under his to pull him close. It’s possible he passed over-tired several hours ago. His fingers idly trace the sign off on the letter. “You big romantic dork,” Clint murmurs, taking out the closest bit of food to warm up.
He sleeps for six solid hours and is firmly convinced if it weren’t for his bladder, he’d still be sleeping. He pees for what feels like forever and then tries to choose between coffee and showering. Clint blinks at himself in the mirror for a solid thirty seconds before he remembers he set his coffee machine (it has an alarm and everything!) for noon. Perfect, just enough time for a selfishly long shower. After, he stands and stares into his slightly fogged mirror and finds his eyes look different. Different, but starkly familiar. They make him miss Phil with a startling heavy pang.
Two cups in, damp but dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, Clint realizes he needs to actually do something if he wants any hope of staying awake until a reasonable bedtime, when he can pass out for the twelve more hours of sleep he really, really needs.
His favorite beat-up leather jacket sits in the back of his closet and there’s a thin layer of dust coating the shoulders where they sit on the hanger. Clint grimaces. That can’t be a good sign. He dusts it off and slides it on, worried it’s not going to fit, as if wearing a suit that often will make his body reject anything so informal. Or maybe that he’s been sitting behind a desk enough to soften the line of his stomach and round it out. Which is bullshit on multiple levels. Not the least of which is he ran like three miles after a suspect just three days ago.
Still, something about the leather feels weird for a few seconds, before it settles down over his shoulders and chest, like soft butter over corn. Clint swings his arms, just to be sure, and the last of the tension runs out as he pinwheels in place.
Clint slides out into the street and is half a block out before he realizes he has no plans. So he shrugs and follows the other flaneurs, not realizing it’s Sunday and the height of tourist season until there’s a flock of camera flashes and the Eiffel Tower on the horizon. He veers off then and meanders, slowly winding his way closer to what looks like a series of booths next to one of the older bridges that crosses the Seine.
Somewhere between walking up one row and down another, Clint realizes that Paris is actually just as much of a walking city as New York. From one breath to another, his shoulders relax and for the first time in months, maybe nearly a year, he feels more at home. He picks up a laminated map from one of the booths, happily overpays for it really, and slips it into his pocket to look at when he gets bored.
He doesn’t get bored. Most of the sellers speak enough English for him to get by, but Clint actually has some passable French and it’s nice practicing it without demanding operational control over a conference call. Clint nibbles on food as it comes up, baked goods, sandwiches, homemade drinks, warm and cool. He hasn’t actually spent any money beyond necessities since his promotion. It feels good to buy things just because they’re interesting.
He comes away with a hand-painted silk tie, swirls of royal purple and gold, surprisingly muted and civilized. Clint spends a long time deciding if he wants it for himself or if he wants to save it to send to Phil when the dark and loneliness have eaten away until it feels like all that’s left is the tiny corner Clint has managed to make his own. He has a feeling that the postcards that Phil had asked for will take the form of carefully selected purchases.
He grabs the matching pocket square and holds the bag tightly in his hands, debating between purchases, its final destination. His fingers trace the edges of individually colored, handmade paper cards with artistically torn edges when he realizes that Phil is coloring all of his thoughts. Custom stationery, expensive accessories, essential oils, strong and pure in scent, all make Clint think of Phil. There’s a full thirty seconds of his heart trying to beat out of his chest before Clint realizes that these things don’t make the pain of separation more acute. In fact, the idea of buying the cards with the express purpose to send meaningless messages to Phil is pretty soothing.
Clint lingers as the sun sets on the day. The Seine lights up with burnt oranges and tiny white lights littering tourist boat rides and a sudden rush of melancholy flutters through him. He doesn’t want to leave. There’s a peace to the day that seems fleeting. Clint closes his eyes and takes a deep breath and mentally goes through his schedule, or tries to, before he realizes that it’s become too complicated too quickly for him to reliably run through it like that. He’s sure that sort of competence will come, but the fact that it’s happened rubs Clint the wrong way sometimes.
He pulls out his fancy new phone that he’s still getting the hang of, and opens up his calendar. Then he actually schedules time for relaxation right into his calendar. He stares at the entry and sighs, saving it and closing it out. It’s not that he fundamentally objects to his shiny new phone. In fact, when he finally gave in and let Sam teach him a few tricks, he actually came to really appreciate the tiny little miracle worker that has angry birds.
He’s about to put the phone away when he sees the tiny little inbox icon that usually means he’s about to agree to a meeting being put on his schedule. Clint sighs and lets his thumb hover over it in indecision before he feels the gentle tug of responsibility on his shoulders. It’s a tug he’s come to appreciate. He likes that tiny tug. When he’s not freaking out. His thumb moves the rest of the way.
Clint frowns at the window that pops up.
He doesn’t recognize the address. Then he catches the postal code, which seems weird to include, until he realizes it’s for Venice. Several years ago there had been an op that had involved a lot of zip codes. Clint still has nightmares. But what came out of it is Clint’s extensive knowledge of central European postal codes. He’s still frowning because there aren’t any ops scheduled in or near Venice in the next three months. There’s that thing in Rome but… Then he catches the invitee. It’s not Sam. Sam who schedules most of the office some weeks. The software, proprietary and custom built, allows the person scheduling the meeting to be completely different from the person running the meeting. Or op. Or box social.
He taps on the sender. His phone asks him if he wants to add PJC to his contacts. It’s not Phil’s SHIELD eBusiness card, it’s a personal account. His cheek cramps up before he realizes his smile is back. “Aww, Phil, that’s adorable,” he tells his phone quietly, “flirting with a calendar invite.” He taps yes to both the contact and the invite.
But his phone does something weird, and the ‘date’ is written in purple. He doesn’t have a purple calendar, Sam had made the color coding decisions, not Clint. He frowns, zooms out on the info and then smiles softly. It’s a new calendar. He closes his eyes and thinks back, hearing Phil’s quiet pronouncement float through his head.
“I’m afraid I gave your staff an order or two in the meantime.”
Phil would have known the override codes to get into Clint’s phone so that he could find the local telephone exchange used to send out team communication. He must have set up the new calendar and, he takes a minute to scroll through and yep, there it is, his new and non-work contact card.
Clint resists holding the phone close, possibly hugging it or maybe kissing it, just a little. Instead he opens up the appointment and scrolls to the comments section.
Your goofiness is only surpassed by your handsome good looks. You gorgeous fucker.
He closes out the app and puts the phone away. Clint takes a deep breath and looks out onto the horizon. Suddenly, ending his day doesn’t seem so bad. The panic that he maybe gave away too much with his message is only fleeting.
When he gets back into the office the next day, he finds his team has jury rigged a firing range specially made for his bow. Despite the relative size of the office, their practice ranges are pretty practical. Most of the weapons experimentation happens in the States, closest to the lab the Stark reps work out of. He eyes the specially made backing so that his arrows won’t ruin the setup with a single shot and gets just a tiny bit choked up. The feeling in his chest is familiar, the warm tug of emotion that means someone cares is heady and frightening.
Clint steps off the boat and onto the shores of Venice with some trepidation. He’s wearing soft, dark jeans and a dark but solid navy blue button-down shirt. He compromised, half date, half work clothes.
It's been 11 weeks since they've seen each other. Clint had decided to send out care packages, about one a month, as a way of keeping in touch. It hasn’t even been three months since they said their goodbyes, but he’s only had the time and courage to send out a single gift. He’s only had the experience of sending out a single package wrapped in brown paper. A single experience of bittersweet emotion as his fingers traced the slight indentations the pen had made while addressing it. The box contained a rubbing from one of the brass reliefs at a popular tourist church, taken during one of Clint's precious free days, a carefully folded silk tie, and one of the hand painted cards saying simply, "Wish you were here." It seems painfully inadequate and he alternatively tries not to think about it and spends hours at a time plotting his next package.
He's got about eight hours before he has to get back on the boat and fly back to Paris, but he's planned to wring every damn second out of it with Phil. To be sure, he makes a quick stop at a local safe house and leaves a bag. He’d volunteered to act as courier so he doesn’t feel bad about using agency resources. It even panned out to not be too far out of his way. He’s got a short trip to Rome on his swing back to Paris. Working vacations aren’t uncommon in the European branch of SHIELD.
They find each other in the middle of a huge cobblestone square filled with pigeons and tourists. Clint resists recreating some slow motion, romance novel induced run. He does, however, walk really fast. While Clint has had time to change into civilian gear, Phil is still in his suit. His tie is gone and the top two buttons are undone, but that's not what makes Clint's heart beat so hard. It's the wrinkles and the faint soot stains that send a shock of fear and longing through him, hard enough his knees wobble for a few steps.
Clint's conflicting urges stall him out about six inches from Phil, who also appears to be confused. His hands reach and twitch, then pause and forcefully return to Phil's sides.
"Oh fuck it," Clint says and reaches out to haul Phil in for a tight hug. Phil's arms wrap around him immediately, strong and firm.
"Hi," Phil says into Clint's neck, lips catching on sensitive skin, exhalation hot and perfect.
"Hi." Clint closes his eyes, savoring the feeling of Phil pressed against him. Each breath reignites Clint's libido, like a carefully building camp fire.
The hug goes on long enough that Clint is fairly sure they're making some of the tourists uncomfortable. Phil's body feels warm and solid next to his, and Clint can literally feel Phil slowly unwinding until finally, Phil actually yawns widely against Clint's neck, tickling him. They both devolve into uncontrollable snickers.
"Come on," Phil eventually says, "there's something I've always wanted to try." He leads them to the water way and then over to a short line standing behind what vaguely looks like a taxi stand, only there's a line of gondolas trailing away from it instead of yellow cabs.
"I hate to break it to you," Clint says, shifting their hand hold to a firmer one, where their fingers intertwine, "but your secret romantic streak isn't so secret."
Phil just elbows him in the side.
The wait is pretty short. The gondolas are a fairly hot tourist industry and they've worked out how to make the loading and unloading of passengers pretty efficient. Phil pays with a muttered "My invite, my money," and Clint lets him.
It's not until they're sitting, carefully hidden from most of the world by a canopy and a waterproof but surprisingly comfortable bench with a high back that they kiss. It's soft and chaste, mostly, and they keep to around a half dozen pecks. Mostly because Clint's self-control is fraying a bit around the edges and Phil smells faintly of fire and chemicals, which means he didn't even have time to change before he trundled off to meet Clint. Clint assumes that means a better than even chance Phil has been up for too long and Clint wants him to rest up before the aerobic activity he has planned.
They share a quiet conversation, leaning gently up against each other, the slow rocking of the boat soothing to both their frazzled nerves.
Clint watches Phil swallow a fourth yawn in ten minutes and it stops being cute and starts a pit of worry deep in his belly. “How long have you been awake?” he asks during the next lull in conversation.
The face Phil makes is familiar, only somehow it’s more expressive. It takes a few seconds for Clint to realize that Phil is Phil not Agent Coulson and because of that, he’s letting Clint in. Letting him see the layers of exhaustion sandwiched between the dark stains of black circles under his eyes.
“I wish you hadn’t asked me that,” Phil answers softly, but with a twinkle in his eyes. “It’s a lot harder to not do the math when you ask me a direct question.”
There’s a soft blanket at Clint’s apartment that’s blue and gray and green, and it sometimes makes him think of Phil though he’s never really figured out why. Right now he wishes that blanket was there with them, so that Clint could put it around Phil’s shoulders and hint that maybe Phil should take a nap. As it is, the rocking of their little boat seems to be doing a decent job of it all by itself.
“C’mon.” Clint wiggles closer, trying to wedge his shoulder at the perfect height against the wicker backing of the seat. “Close your eyes for a bit. I’ve got enough on me to bribe our driver for a few extra rounds.”
Clint expects an argument but Phil collapses in on himself from one breath to the next and if not for the sun peeking out from the clouds, Clint might think that Phil’s face has gone completely gray. The exhaustion is suddenly written over every inch of his body and Clint wonders, marvels a little, at how Phil can keep that bottled up and also, how he managed to stay upright as long as he did. Sheer pigheaded cussedness probably. It makes a warm throb of affection pulse inside Clint’s chest.
Phil falls asleep nearly instantly, head lolling back so that it’s braced half on Clint’s shoulder, half on the back of the bench. Clint digs out his wallet and phone, handing a generous tip to the gondolier before gently moving himself and Phil into a slightly reclined position, leaning into the corner of their shelter.
At first, Clint spends all of his energy taking in the feeling of Phil relaxed against him, breathing deeply. He manages a solid 45 minutes of this before he admits that he’s maybe a little bored, but only a little. He goes to offer more money to their guide but he’s waved off with a smile and quiet hum, so Clint pulls up his ebook app on his phone and reads guilt free.
He’s startled awake sometime later (when had he fallen asleep?) by the gentle knocking of their boat against a dock. Clint blinks the sleep out of his eyes and is about to apologize when Giovanni, as he had loudly introduced himself now nearly two hours ago, puts one suntanned finger up to his furry lips and smiles.
Clint blinks but nods. Another person comes into Clint’s line of sight. She’s carrying a large canvas bag and thermos. She looks vaguely familiar, but there are enough cobwebs in Clint’s sleepy brain to make it a puzzle. Between Phil’s complete relaxation against his chest and his lack of danger sense pinging, Clint lets it go.
The woman waves them off and Giovanni slowly moves them to a side alley with enough sun to be pleasant but enough privacy to feel decadent.
“He looks tired,” Giovanni whispers, his voice cutting through the mild noise of the water in a way that belies mere casual experience. “And your stomach rumbled loud enough to be heard two stands over.”
A hollow feeling makes itself known and Clint grimaces. Yeah, he could eat. Giovanni digs out a folding table from… somewhere. Possibly a false bottom on the gondola floor. He unpacks the canvas bag onto it, revealing two foil wrapped sandwiches. From where he’s sitting Clint can smell warmed meat and spices and see the gentle ooze of melted cheese and lightly toasted bread. Clint’s stomach rumbles again.
Giovanni pours them both something dark and frothy from the thermos. Clint is mentally working out if he can eat one handed when Phil twitches and Clint can feel a sympathetic belly rumble coming from the body pressing up against him.
Clint snags one of the warm sandwiches, barely resisting stuffing it into his watering mouth and waves it carefully under Phil’s nose. Phil’s nose twitches and then he takes a long breath, then another, this one expanding his ribcage enough for Clint to feel it. Clint has to bite his tongue when he spots Phil licking his lips before his eyes even open up. The muscle mass leaning into him changes and Clint knows that Phil is at least partially awake, but isn’t quite clear-headed enough to remember where he is.
“Food,” Clint says with a careful prod. “Smell the delicious food.”
“I sense mocking,” Phil says, voice steeped in sleep.
“I would never!” Clint smiles and waves the sandwich back and forth a few more times. He can see when Phil finally finishes waking up.
He squints into the daylight and frowns. “Did you order lunch?”
Clint shakes his head, smiling softly at Phil’s sleep befuddled face. “Giovanni the lunch fairy did.”
“Actually,” Giovanni says, “my name is Isaiah.” There’s a subtle German accent that comes through which wasn’t there before. “They give us stage names for the tourist lines. Along with horizontal stripes and utterly unhelpful straw hat.” He gestures, making a painful face, at his ‘uniform.’
There’s a mark across Phil’s cheek, from where it had lain against a seam and his hair is just slightly mussed on one side. Clint is torn between his sandwich and that tuft of hair. His stomach wins, but barely. Phil examines his own sandwich carefully, skillfully picking up each layer to get a good look inside before letting it settle back together with a satisfied nod. His first bite is accompanied by a happy moan that sends shivers down Clint’s spine. The window for them to spend even a few minutes in private is slowly closing and the longer things go his way, the more Clint expects his phone to buzz with an emergency.
Clint makes a motion, between heavenly bites (the sandwich is amazing) to pay Isaiah for the food, but he’s waved off. “The bribe for the extra time easily covered it. Besides, you guys looked like you needed it and my Aunt owns the place that made these. No problem.” He snorts. “There’s a woman, she lives far away, I recognize the look.” Clint swallows a lump but nods and mouths thank you.
It seems too good to be true, but frankly Clint is gonna take it where he can get it. He takes a sip from his cup and finds delicious dark ale that’s been cooled to the perfect temperature. Their benefactor quickly returns to his on duty face and stance, which makes him about as noticeable as boring wall paper. Clint makes a note to tip the guy really well and maybe be a big creeper and look him up and see if he needs a reference or something in the near future.
There’s not a lot of talking, mostly because they’re both shoving food into their faces as fast as they can. Clint can’t deny that he feels better with a full stomach. His day may not have been as long as Phil’s, but it was hardly a day at the park. When they’re done, they carefully clean up their garbage and when Clint goes to search the canvas bag for a plastic bag he finds a garbage bag and one last package. A package with something flakey and filled with cream inside and he decides that this is the best day ever.
Their gondola ride ends with perfect timing, coming to rest against the dock just as they finish off the last of the beer. Clint leads them to the nearby SHIELD safe house he staked out earlier. There’s nothing nearby that should need it and just because it will be occupied, it doesn’t mean another agent can’t request access if there’s a problem, so Clint doesn’t feel guilty about using the bed.
They manage a good few minutes of necking once they’re indoors. It’s sweet and messy with just a hint of longing and frustration around the edges. Eventually their thermos of beer demands retribution and they take turns in the bathroom. Clint takes the chance to dig out something soft and comfortable for Phil to change into, even if it’s only for a couple of hours. Phil had arrived with only the clothes on his back. It must have been a really close call schedule wise.
It only takes a few minutes to grab the clothes and take his pee break before he makes it back out to the living room to join Phil, but that appears to have been long enough. Because Phil has drifted off again, one hand and arm curling possessively around the safe house’s lone chenille pillow, his chest rising and falling with the motion of deep sleep.
Clint smiles a little bitterly, but chooses to blame the universe rather than Phil. He tucks a nearby blanket around Phil’s shoulders and curls up in a nearby recliner with the rest of his book.
Around an hour before the scheduled time in his phone ends (and Clint is absolutely sure the calendar invite covers the exact number of hours Phil has to himself) Clint gently shakes him awake.
“You have enough time for a shower if you want,” Clint offers with a small smile. “Just in case you’re going from here right back to the office.”
Phil runs an absent hand over his face, palm stopping at his eyes to press in and rub. “What time is it?”
Clint tells him.
Phil’s face falls and his eyes squeeze shut. “Shit. I’m sorry.”
There’s a casualness to his comments that surprises Clint. He’s being spoken to like an equal, actually no, that’s been happening for a while. It’s more than that. Phil has genuinely opened up and allowed himself to be a little more human with Clint. It’s strange, because he’s definitely that quiet man who used to only peek out, but he’s also softer and more open, less tightly pulled in. Like the difference between a fast running stream and a slowly moving lake.
Clint’s silence prompts Phil to open his eyes wide. He shakes his head. “It’s fine, you needed it.”
Phil stares at him for a long moment and sighs, pushing himself upright and tugging Clint down to sit next to him. “I’m not sure how to explain this without sounding incredibly insulting but,” he pauses, takes a deep breath gives Clint a wry smile. “You put me to sleep.”
Phil gives him a tiny smile and reaches out to take Clint’s closer hand. “I’d been running almost nonstop for 30 hours or so and usually I can push it to thirty-six without too much trouble unless it’s an especially boring meeting. But I saw you in that square and it’s like every muscle on my body relaxed.”
Clint knows that feeling. It’s the end of a mission and they’ve just skidded out of the live fire zone by the skin of their teeth. Belting into the back of transport, Clint never seems to be able to settle until Natasha and Phil are belted alongside him, doing their own post mission check, at which point Clint almost always falls asleep. So he gets it and actually, it kind of leaves a warm fuzzy feeling in his stomach. He kisses Phil softly and smiles.
“You want that shower?”
“Please.” Phil looks absolutely relieved.
While Phil is in the shower, Clint digs out the extra shirt from his go bag and slips it inside the bathroom with a casual “Stuff for you!” shouted over the curtain. He then attempts to thoroughly distract himself to avoid thinking about the sleepy, shower warm, slick Phil Coulson in his bathroom.
By the fourth cabinet corner he walks into, Clint admits it isn’t working so well.
When Phil reappears, he’s wearing the fresh shirt but it’s unbuttoned at the collar and loosely rolled up at the sleeves. Clint makes the mistake of getting too close and gets a nose full of Phil covered in the scent of Clint’s personal toiletries. It’s a little intoxicating. Especially when he realizes that Phil had a choice: the safe house is stocked with everything, from food that can be stored for months at a time, to toiletries for every occasion. He’s seen Natasha dig out a few bits of makeup in an emergency.
So Phil deliberately used Clint’s stuff. That’s so hot that he maybe pushes Phil up against the nearest wall and tries his hardest to lick his tonsils. Phil’s lips open for him with a choked moan and Clint licks his way into Phil’s mouth and proceeds to share the dirtiest, most electrifying kiss he’s had in a very long time. They press together as close as possible only to let out a delighted noise when Phil winds a leg neatly around his waist.
It draws Clint closer and he can just make out the jut of a Phil’s nearly hard cock, perfect and hot against his hip, when a soft vibration rocks through him, sparking out his nervous system.
The vibration repeats and Phil freezes, letting his head fall back against the wall with a muted thump. Clint follows him, not nearly ready to let him go. “Tha’s my phone,” he says around Clint’s tongue.
Clint swallows back a whiny noise of protest and finishes the kiss with a long gentle suck of Phil’s bottom lip. The phone vibrates two more times and that’s it, Clint has firmly associated the silent ring with Phil’s flushed sex face. Work is gonna be uncomfortable for a while.
Clint gives Phil a few precious seconds to check his phone. He manages his time by running the tip of his nose up and down the curve of Phil’s jaw, taking long deep breaths of his own shaving cream layered on top of Phil’s personal clean smell.
“Five minutes,” Phil says breathlessly.
“Okay,” Clint nods and then goes right back to kissing. His head is buzzing with need and it takes all he has to remember not to stick his hands directly down Phil’s pants. As it is, he presses his palm directly over Phil’s cloth-covered cock, feeling the edges out and listening to Phil’s cut off moans as his fingers stroke down fine fabric.
“Need to stop,” Phil whispers raggedly, “gonna come.”
Clint shivers. “Okay.”
They kiss some more; Clint lips feel over sensitive and Phil’s hands are clenching uncontrollably along Clint’s waist.
A shock of vibration makes them both gasp and some small speck of decorum and a huge speck of consideration for Phil’s wants makes Clint peel away when Phil’s head lifts.
They’re both still breathing hard a few feet away at the door.
“We’ll do this again?” Phil says, fidgeting on the other side of the jamb, looking flustered and disheveled and just a bit unsure.
“Maybe not exactly this?” Clint says with a waggle of his eyebrows.
Phil chuckles. “Maybe a little different.”
They’re caught up in a stare that seems to not want to end until finally Clint says, “I’d wish you luck but you don’t need it,” since Phil is the one going directly back to work instead of just back to his apartment.
“Used it all up to see you,” Phil murmurs, leaning in for one more soft kiss.
Phil’s phone beeps, having been taken off silent sometime between the wall and the door. With a final nod, Phil leaves, his posture changing even as he turns around. By the time Clint peers out his window and sees him slip into the SHIELD-issued ride, Phil is gone and Coulson has straightened his back almost an unbelievable extent. The door closes with a muted click and with that the world dims slightly as Phil leaves.
Chapter 5: Chapter 4
The next day he returns to work, and as soon as he can, Clint closes his door, clutches his half full mug of coffee to his chest like a shield, and bravely opens up his calendar program. He scans the next few weeks with increasing grumpiness. He realizes that without both of their schedules, finding another time to meet up is going to be a pain in the ass. He carefully notes three dates, the first of which is nearly two months away and sighs.
He sends out an invitation for the first available date. He’s got some tentative business in Greece and it seems like a good spot for a date. Phil’s response takes minutes and makes Clint’s heart nearly jump out of his chest when his phone dings.
Sorry, wrong continent. :(
After that Clint needs to take a break and deal with the fact that Phil Fucking Coulson just used an emoticon at him. If he switches things up and comes back at him with emojis on the next round, Clint might just quit the universe.
Clint sighs and goes for the next date. This one takes longer but still Phil says he can’t. The final option is more of a long shot than anything. By the time he’s three and a half months out in his calendar, nothing is certain, not even his posting. Still, he sends it.
Phil doesn’t get back to him for hours. Meanwhile Clint has two meetings, three field stops, and a handful of other super important bureaucratic shit he’s been doing since his promotion.
Just before bed, Clint’s phone bleats at him and in Clint’s sleepy delirium he thinks it sounds maybe just a tad more pathetic than a cellular phone should.
Before he can think better of it, Clint sends back:
Time spins on and a few weeks in, Clint’s appointment to the Paris office is confirmed for another four to six months. The email asking about it comes directly from Fury and it’s not just based on the fact that his original replacement has become unavailable but Clint’s own good work. There’s a warm feeling in his chest that he’s fairly sure is pride. Then happiness because it means that their date is just another step closer to happening. He completes his aerobic trio of emotions when he realizes that in the short term it helps their relationship, but in the long term all it does is add more doubt.
He thinks about Phil, about that promise. About what Phil said it meant… and what it didn’t. The longer they’re assigned to different bases like this, not just bases, continents, sides of the ocean, whatever you want to call it. As long as they can only eke out a handful of hours every few months, it’s just going to hang there between them.
Phil’s voice echoes in his head. ”But there’s a difference between realizing it’s been years since you’ve had sex and making a promise not to have sex with no end in sight.”
He doesn’t want to and he can’t imagine needing to. Even after the most frustrating make out session in the universe that was the end of their last date. But time can pick at a wound, even a small one. Part of him worries that it’s what Phil might need. God knows what he does at the end of a tense mission. Clint hasn’t had the chance to be with Phil as Phil for more than a few minutes at a time, the last few meetings being the exception. Clint doesn’t feel trapped, but he also doesn’t want to trap Phil.
For all of that, he’s still not sure what to do about it, just that it feels like being a chickenshit by doing nothing.
Exactly 16 weeks after Venice, they meet up at a small bistro set inside an out of the way cul-de-sac in an artist colony in Toledo, Spain. Toledo is a gorgeous city located on a low sloping hill, nestled next to a river.
A large chunk of the area Clint is visiting is devoted to artisans and their works. There’s a glass forge to his left and a metal worker a half mile to his right. There’s a market nearby that has its fair share of chotchky-like tourist bait, but it also has a good share of handmade, unique pieces. Everything from jewelry, to vases, to elaborately ornamental letter openers. Clint thinks about coming back for a special order from the sword guy. See if he knows anything about throwing knives.
He’s been awake for long enough that he refuses to check the time for fear of figuring it out. He’s tired, bordering on exhausted. The sun and seasonal temperatures threaten to lull him into a nap, even though he’s still upright. Clint had to wrangle his way into a dead drop in Madrid before getting into his agency car for the hour drive south.
Phil is coming in from Lisbon, came in the night before actually. His stop fits into his drive to a private airfield to the northwest of Madrid. Unlike Clint, Phil’s schedule actually put him in the right place at the right time. It’s actually cheaper for him to drive from Portugal to SHIELD’s private plane for his flight to Algeria than to fly out of Lisbon directly. It’s some weird combination of available commercial flights and the location of various Agency resources. Phil admits he’s not even sure he understands it, but the numbers seemed to work.
Clint isn’t gonna look that gift horse too hard in the mouth. Technically they’re both supposed to be back on the road not long after dinner, but if Clint doesn’t get in some sort of nap, he’s gonna end up figuring out if he can hold a conference call over satellite with just a tablet and a dream. Because there’s no way he’ll be in any shape to drive. So there’s a bit of leeway built into his schedule.
A car pulls up next to him and Clint would swear that he recognizes the way it pulls into the parking spot. His vision fuzzes a little, moving to a pinpoint focus on smaller pieces of the whole image. First the hinge on the driver’s side door moves, then a foot encased in a well shined shoe touches the gravel. It’s followed by a dark sock barely peeking out from under trousers with a perfectly pressed crease. From there Clint is surprised to find that the slope of Phil’s leg is also strangely familiar. The way it travels smoothly up to his hip, reminiscent of sleek grace and balance, is as familiar to him as Phil’s smile. The foot and leg barely move as the rest of Phil’s body swings out of his rental car.
There’re a few wrinkles in his starched white shirt and around the hips on his pants, but for the hours of driving, Phil looks remarkably well put together. Their eyes meet and Clint’s chest struggles to suck in enough air. Phil takes his sunglasses off, revealing soft crinkles of amusement around his eyes. Clint takes in the rolled-up sleeves and the slightly loose tie and feels an unearthly amount of relief that he’s steps away from Phil and not Agent Coulson.
Clint means to keep it to a handshake, maybe one of those forearm shakes that anachronistic TV shows set hundreds of years ago like to use. He just wants his hands on Phil again, to feel his calluses catch on the soft skin of Phil’s forearms or something similar. It’s Phil who steps into the gesture, easily turning it into a firm hug and from the moment Clint first feels Phil’s warmth through two layers of clothes he knows the handshake would have been a dismal failure anyway.
When they finally pull away from each other, after a long hug, Clint sees it. The muted silver (stainless steel really) tie clip that doubles as a Swiss army knife. He’d sent it a few days after Italy, when he’d been consumed with a painful nostalgia for a time when Phil was only a few hallways away and more often than not in his ear rather than over his shoulder. He’d insured the package so Phil wouldn’t need to make contact to confirm it had arrived. At the time the wound of their goodbye was too raw and open to handle even the prospect of talking to Phil again so soon.
“Nice bling,” Clint says softly, fingers skating over the smooth surface.
Phil smiles and ducks his head. “No longer shall I fear the prospect of finding an unopened bottle.”
“A victory for drunks everywhere!” Clint smiles back, curling his fingers so he doesn’t give in and reach out again. He needs food badly enough that he’s willing to postpone more touching. Just barely.
The food at the tiny bistro has that Secret Family Recipe flavor that makes Clint drool and moan around each bite. If Phil’s eyes darken a bit each time, that’s an unintended side effect that’s fine with Clint. Besides, Phil does his own bit of closed eyes, happy hum of deliciousness, so alls fair and all that. The wine is local, or that’s what the menu boasts, and shockingly light and delicious. At least, for Clint. Phil doesn’t look surprised so much as satisfied after he tastes it, like he’s simply confirming how good it is. Which he might be.
Their conversation could be described as idle, but the truth is Clint finds it the most interesting thing he’s heard in weeks. There’s a whole wealth of information about New York, the New York office, his friends and coworkers, even just idle chatter that he’s used to getting daily that he no longer has access to but that Phil does.
The wine was a mistake. He figures that out when he pulls into the local safe house, run out of a delicate looking bed and breakfast and his face is consumed by a black hole of a yawn. Clint wrestles his exhaustion back into submission and joins Phil on his way to the winding path leading to the back of the house.
“I got here a bit early,” Phil explains why he already has a key and no luggage. “The couple that runs this place was due for a debrief anyway.”
Clint’s eyes widen a bit. That’s usually a probie detail. It’s long, boring, and rarely at beautiful places full of hand-carved stone works and homemade gourmet food. Some senior agents reserve places like this for themselves, a busman’s holiday of sorts, but Phil Coulson was never that kind of agent. Until now.
The thought ignites a warm fire in Clint’s belly.
The room is a riot of soft sensation. Golden hardwood floor with the softest rug Clint has ever seen. Gently fluttering curtains, lamp shades that leave shadow patterns on the wall, and a paint job on the walls that seems neutral without being boring. Clint bets the bed is something to dream about, from the sheets all the way down to the mattress. He looks forward to testing that theory with Phil. But first—
He drops his bag, takes four long strides to where Phil is organizing something in his go bag that Clint can’t see and proceeds to press his front against Phil’s back and sighs into the back of his neck, wrapping his arms tightly around Phil’s body.
It feels so good Clint gets a little dizzy. He doesn’t remember what happens next, only that he’s somehow pressed into the nearest wall with Phil turned around in his arms pressing their fronts together. That’s even better, even if the press of tiny buttons on his dress shirt still feels odd after all these months.
For all his (and Clint assumes Phil’s as well) anticipation, they don’t actually fall into the wet and sloppy kiss Clint really, really wants to try.
Instead they stare, soft-focused and warm, small smiles playing on both of their lips. Their foreheads touch and Clint feels something tight and achy release and he loses a good couple of inches on his shoulders as they loosen, his neck suddenly feeling longer and freer than it’s been in a long time.
Against his hip, he feels a hot ghost of a burgeoning erection. Clint’s eyes shut in pleasure as he presses in closer, rubbing their noses carefully together. He’s been dreaming of that slowly burning touch against his leg for 16 weeks.
“You feel good,” Phil murmurs. “I forgot how good.”
“Ditto,” Clint agrees, suddenly more hoarse than he expects. His hips shimmy slightly, mostly involuntarily. There’s another sigh, deep in his chest, or maybe that’s Phil’s, it’s hard to tell. Clint takes a long breath, Phil’s aftershave filling his lungs. The room spins a little and Clint decides it’s time to shuffle to someplace more horizontal. Their shoes make it off, along with Phil’s tie and both of their belts, but for the most part they go down fully clothed.
The bed is amazing, the sheets soft and cool, the mattress firm but yielding. Clint is willing to admit that Phil crawling in right after him until he’s half on top of Clint, their chests and thighs pressing together wonderfully and Clint’s aching cock rubbing up into Phil’s so perfectly, might have something to do with it.
Time slows a bit then, because there’s so much Clint wants to revisit before he even moves on to things he might not have had the chance to explore before. The kissing alone keeps distracting him and when he manages to get enough brain cells together, someone’s hands find a new place to touch. And it’s not even any place sensitive, it’s usually just a caress down someone’s spine, or a palm across someone’s stomach.
Phil peels away some hazy time later when their shirts are open but they haven’t separated enough to remove them. Their pants have been unbuttoned, but mostly so hands could be eased under waistbands for a quick grope. “Need supplies,” he murmurs as Clint follows his lips, sucking gently at one before letting it go.
Clint clings just hard enough that Phil is forced to mock fight him for freedom, but it’s not a prolonged battle. Clint knows he’ll be back in seconds, and that’s enough for him. His clingy side will take a break until later, when he can practically feel the ticking clock over their heads.
He takes the opportunity to stretch out, shed his shirt, and shove the luxuriously soft covers down to his feet so they have something clean to sleep under later. He grabs one of the pillows and curls onto his side, head cradled perfectly and at just the right angle to watch Phil bend over his kit in the bathroom. He smiles, swallows a yawn, wiggles his toes in happiness one more time, and then passes out so hard he doesn’t move for hours.
The next time he’s really aware of anything, Phil is next to him, but not lying down. His legs are crossed at the ankle and there’s a tablet in his hands. He looks relaxed and well rested. Clint reaches for the closest thigh, squeezing it gently. “Hello,” he rasps, his voice rusty with sleep.
Phil puts the tablet down and smiles softly at him. “Well, someone was tired. Good morning.”
Clint blinks and focuses a bit more. Phil isn’t still dressed. He’s freshly dressed in clean clothing. There’s a faintly humid feeling to the air, like someone took a long and luxurious shower, and mixed in is the faint scent of brewing coffee.
Clint springs upright. “Morning?” he yelps, absolutely not shrieking at all.
Phil chuckles and leans back against the headboard. “Only technically. It’s just past midnight.”
He narrows his eyes and pretends to be deeply annoyed with Phil, when in reality, he’s deeply annoyed with himself. Especially considering he feels amazing. Clint had needed the sleep. That’s when he realizes exactly what happened. Again. “Shit.”
Phil squeezes his hand and then gets up and pours him a cup of coffee, doctoring it up just how Clint likes. He brings it back and offers it up silently. Clint’s shoulders slump, and he takes the mug and sips it quietly, eyes closing a bit at the excellent brew. It takes a half cup for Clint to figure out what to say. “Looks like you put me to sleep too?” Clint shoves his nose back into his cup, hiding the sudden flush of embarrassment. First words aren’t always his best words.
The chuckle that reaches his ears is rich and compassionate. “It’s fine,” Phil says, sipping from his own cup. “Though I do admit to a burning curiosity about my gift.” He nods a chin in the direction of Clint’s bag, where a carefully wrapped rectangle sits on top of it.
Clint checks the clock and decides they have time for a little dessert. He stands, stretches long and slow and with his still shirtless chest in full view of Phil. Because that “good morning” joke was absolutely not funny. He grabs his shirt, shoulders it on but doesn’t button it, and then returns to bed with Phil’s gift.
He watches Phil gently pry the embossed bronze paper apart and stifles the urge to kiss him senseless, unsure if it was Phil himself or Phil’s personal habits with wrapping paper that did it. Probably a combination of both.
“Chocolate testing kit?” Phil asks, already reading the instructions written in calligraphy on thick paper. “A date in a box?” His eyes are shining with amusement and something that Clint is too raw to put a name to.
“There’s a place,” Clint explains, digging out the comment cards and pencils, “between my apartment and the office. A chocolatier,” his accent has gotten better, pronouncing all five syllables easily, and Phil’s look makes him want to keep practicing, “does couples tours of their kitchen. The big package includes making some of your own candy. But they sell a take-home version.”
Phil has carefully untied the ribbon holding the two flaps closed on the main package. “For couples like us?” he asks, eyes sliding to look at Clint.
“Well,” Clint prevaricates, feeling unsteady. Being called a couple touches him someplace deep and cold. “Not quite like us. But basically.”
It’s a game. They each get a piece to taste. Then they’re supposed to write down their guesses on the corresponding number on their cards and in the end, they can pop the subdivided container holding the bits of chocolate and candy out and find the answers underneath. Whoever wins, well, the game leaves the prize up to the couple.
They spend 20 minutes sitting side by side on the bed, carefully tasting ten different pieces of chocolate and candy.
Clint pulls ahead with the sugary treats, but Phil manages to pin down the most esoteric of flavorings in the chocolates, not to mention he knew the names of the different types, from mousse to truffles. By the time they’re done popping bite-sized sugary treats into their mouths, Clint’s blood has been revved back up. Between the sleep, the caffeine, the sugar, and the constant hints of Phil’s tongue licking his lips, it’s a surprise he’s not more aroused.
“What’s the matter?” Phil asks.
Clint realizes he’s making a face. “I think my body is more responsible than my brain,” he says, staring down mournfully at his barely-there chub. “Because all I really want to do is jump you, but I know I need to be on the road soon if I want a chance not to look completely windblown at the meeting I’m supposed to run.”
Phil cups his cheek, fingers brushing back and forth tenderly. “It looks good on you, you know?”
Phil narrows his eyes and flicks Clint’s ear. “Confidence.”
“And yet, you’ve managed to maintain your sense of self, and more annoyingly, your sense of humor.”
Clint stops himself from going down a rabbit hole of self-deprecation. “I didn’t have confidence before?” Clint’s number one write-up in SHIELD for a long time usually involved the words backtalk and ego. It’s been years, decades even, since Clint has worried at all when he decides to take aim. He knows for sure, unless something extremely unexpected and unlikely were to occur in the split seconds after he releases the arrow and thus he can no longer make any trajectory changes, that he will always hit his mark. It’s not a question. He knows it in his bones.
“When you had a bow in your hands, yes.” Phil leans in and kisses him softly. “Other times? Not always. You got good at faking it though.”
Stuff like that always makes Clint want to squirm. It’s also what made Clint gravitate toward Phil so intensely in the first place. Phil has a way of looking and really seeing where others tended not to. It’s not that SHIELD encourages short-sighted agents, but most of them don’t dig much deeper than needed, either.
The urge to kiss Phil rises up inside him, and it’s a different sort of urge than normal. Because the urge to kiss Phil is almost always there, but there’s an urgency and a yearning that tumbles up. He needs Phil to know— he’s not sure, but he needs him to know.
The kiss is sweet and tangy, full of remnants of chocolate and candy. Phil’s hand cradles his face and Clint pushes into it, the thought of leaving so soon putting an uncomfortable pang in his chest. “I intended my nap to be a lot more post-coital,” Clint admits between kisses.
“Well,” Phil says as his lips skim over Clint’s cheek bone and he leans in to nip his ear, “we’re getting closer?”
For some reason, that makes him giggle into the next kiss which sets Phil off and they end up leaning against each other in laughter.
Eventually Phil sighs and pulls away. “I think I should go now.”
Clint blinks, clenching his hands instead of doing what he really wants which is tracing each and every contour of Phil that shows through his clothes. Especially the intriguing bump in his lap. Instead he presses into Phil’s arm and side, because it’s warm and comforting and he can’t possibly be this close without doing it. “Now? As opposed to?”
Phil sighs, his shoulders shift restlessly even as his eyes never leave Clint’s and his hands keep seeking out to revisit the same patch of skin on the inside of Clint’s wrist over and over again, like he needs to make sure it hasn’t changed in the three whole seconds he’s been away from it. “As opposed to later,” he says, “when we’ll both be driving the same stretch of road for a few miles.”
Clint nods and closes his eyes. He sees the map in his head, as easily as any target, he’s stared at it long enough in the weeks before this little piece of heaven. “Right,” he nods again, “until the fork.”
“It’s selfish,” Phil says and it’s an apology whispered into Clint’s skin, under his jaw and ear. “But I can’t… with you there… on the road. I need to… be leaving.”
It’s the most tentative, uncoordinated speech Phil has ever graced him with. It makes Clint’s heart ache and swell because every time Phil peels away a layer where Clint can see it, can see that quiet man who first peeked through years ago, it makes him fall just a bit further. Feel a bit special-er. “Saying goodbye is already hard enough,” Clint finishes for him. “If we had to… I’d pay more attention to you than the road.”
They don’t move from the bed. They don’t separate.
“I miss you all the time,” Clint says, because it seems important to say. Unforgivable that he hasn’t said it before now.
“I don’t know how to fix it.” Phil’s gaze is off in the distance. “I can’t figure out how— I don’t know what to do.”
Clint takes Phil’s hand in his own and laces their fingers together. It seems absurd that they’ve only held hands once. “Maybe there isn’t something to do.”
Phil’s entire body shakes, his skin going paper white and his hand flexing tightly before loosening its grip. The shaking doesn’t stop right away.
“We have a promise,” Clint goes on, “that’s enough for me. I can wait out the rest.”
“Oh.” Phil says in a small voice and then breathes in and out loudly, steadying himself. “Oh,” he says more confidently and that’s when Clint realizes he might have sounded like he was getting ready to break this whole thing off.
Clint stares, about to apologize, but he stops. Phil seems to be on the verge of something, but he has no idea what. He hates this part, the part where they have fleeting moments of this which doesn’t feel like enough to know what his quiet, contained Phil needs from him. So he waits. Taking a page from his own book, so to speak.
“Have you thought about,” Phil pauses to lick his lips, “the other thing?”
Clint’s eyebrows go up and releases Phil’s hand so he can put an arm around Phil’s shoulders, pulling him close, well… closer. Mostly it’s about the change in position, giving Phil a sense of comfort. Phil takes Clint’s free hand. It’s a careless gesture that looks more absent than purposeful.
“Fidelity to a promise,” Phil says, slowly getting all of his rough edges back under control. His color comes back, his breathing is even. There’s a bit of Agent Coulson in that, but Clint understands. “I can do that. I have done that before, if in other contexts.”
Clint hums, understanding so far.
“The promise of fidelity,” Phil continues carefully. “The last few months have been ample proof that that sort of goal could be… difficult to reach.”
It’s not that Clint isn’t monumentally, enormously, sexually frustrated. It’s that he’s just not interested in solving that frustration with anyone else. Not even with permission. Not even with the assurance that nothing would change between them. Because that’s not the point.
But something stops him from answering right away. He knows, without needing to look at Phil’s face, he’s not ready to believe it yet. And they don’t have time to work through it. God but Clint wishes they did. He really wishes they did, but even now he’s hearing a quiet ‘tick, tick, tick’ in his head as the time winds down and he goes from showing up for work competent but perhaps too busy to be perfectly ironed to a disheveled and an inconsiderate coworker and boss who wastes your time.
“I don’t think I could ever do it,” is what Clint says. “Cheat with permission.”
“It wouldn’t be cheat-“
“Yeah, let’s not even pretend that okay? I have absolutely nothing against healthy open relationships, or triangles or rectangles or whatever. As long as everyone is on board. But this?” Clint shakes his head. “This wouldn’t be that.”
Phil doesn’t try to correct him again.
“And since we’re talking about what things would really mean, I’m not so sure it’d be your permission that I’d have either.”
“By any definition of the word—“
“It violates the spirit if not the letter.”
“Of the definition?”
Phil turns his head, eyebrows all cockeyed in amusement. “I think this conversation has officially gone off the rails.”
Clint returns the look, eyebrow for eyebrow. “That happens a lot with you.”
Phil huffs out a puff of air and squeezes their hands. “Pot. Kettle. Black.”
He purses his lips and makes an over-exaggerated considering noise. “Agreed.”
They laugh again, but it strings out very quickly into something thin and painful. Phil leans in for a final kiss. Everything about it feels final. It’s soft, but yielding, and they both make quiet sounds and lean into it for just a bit too long. It ends with another of what seems like unending sad sighs and forehead touches.
“I’ll see you soon,” Phil says and then nods, mostly to himself, before hauling himself off the bed.
Clint curls his legs up and hugs his knees to his chest as he watches Phil grab his jacket and put it on with a fluidity that speaks to years of suits and then take his already carefully prepared bag. There’re two piles of keys by the door, and Phil’s fingers reach his set without needing to look. His hand makes it all the way to the door handle, it even turns a bit, before he freezes.
He doesn’t turn back around, but Phil’s shoulders tighten and Clint can make out the line of tension that goes from Phil’s neck to ass. The indecision plaguing him.
“Soon,” Clint pushes out through his tight throat. “I promise.”
“Me too.” He’s gone in four quick, sharp, economical movements.
They don’t say it this time, their little ritual with words. It doesn’t need to be said, at least, Clint doesn’t need it the way he used to and he knows that Phil will always trust him. He doesn’t need the ritual of reassurance anymore. Not like in the beginning.
Clint listens for the sound of an engine turning over before he even thinks about standing up. He then digs out clean clothes and his dopp kit, folds up and puts everything else into his bag, and then takes a long, hot shower.
By the time he emerges out into the poorly lit driveway of the tiny bed and breakfast in the middle of the Spanish town of Toledo, full of its artisans and tourists and its beautiful sloping mountains and picturesque river, there is absolutely no evidence left that Phil was there. He pointedly does not think how all of it seems duller and less interesting now that Phil has left.
Chapter 6: Chapter 5
Hi guys! I just wanted to say thanks so much for the amazing reviews and I've been managing to keep up but tonight is a migraine night so I might not get to more recent comments for a few days. So I just wanted to be sure that all of you know appreciated and cherished each and every comment is. Virtual chocolate and tea to you all!
By the time you work someplace for eight months , words like temporary and interim and others like them tend to fall off your job title, no matter how good a replacement was originally lined up. Clint started as a placeholder, he knows that and so does everyone who works for him, but when Agent Hernandez, the second agent slated for the job, winds up in the ICU after a disastrous finish of her final mission before taking control of the Paris Field Office, lots of people start talking about rearranging priorities.
When eight months comes around for Clint, he’s been a Level 7 for a little over year and he’s learned about these things, too.
He’s elbow deep inside at least three major projects and an even dozen medium sized ones. That’s not to mention the multitude of minor details his office is ultimately responsible for but are trivial enough that they’re usually resolved long before the report even lands on his desk. On top of that, he’s starting to enjoy the startled expression on people’s faces when a guy in a suit runs by carrying a bow and quiver. It’s not ideal, but since Clint’s not on most front line infiltration teams, it’s only a minor quibble.
The option to change into a tac suit comes up now and then, depending on the situation, but considering that Clint bases most of his command style on Phil Coulson he feels like he should keep the homage. Clint has always suspected that the suit was part of the whole aura of competence and what makes some recruits jump extra high when an order is barked in their direction.
They don’t want him to leave. Clint doesn’t really blame them. Handover of an office is a difficult thing. It’s long, messy, complicated, and, in the end, someone above Clint’s pay grade has to decide if it’s worth the hassle and potentially lost intel and opportunities. Technically he’s not experienced enough for this particular full-time posting and his clearance isn’t quite high enough, but he was originally only supposed to plug a hole for a short period of time, too. Clint has also done this job for long enough to know that an official permanent posting would probably mean an accelerated promotion. He’s not sure he’s ready for that. He barely has the ability to cope with the knowledge he’s a Level 7 special agent with an entire office that looks to him for approval.
The thing that keeps catching him is that he’s good at his job, too. He’s reached the point where he no longer feels like he’s two bad decisions away from a panic attack. Tasha, Bobbi, Sitwell, Trip, and a few other old friends whose home bases are not Paris have come through once or twice on various given missions, each of them giving him their personal thanks for some specific thing he’d implemented in the mission parameters that they liked.
Clint’s intimate understanding of what it’s like to be a field agent saved nearly 50 people’s lives the last time Natasha came around. Afterward, she took him home, cleaned the blood off his forehead and held him as he shook in her arms, where he alternated between being grateful for her presence and wishing she was broader and smelled like Phil’s aftershave.
That night he gets a phone call from Phil. It crackles with static and there’re all sorts of noises in the background. They don’t talk. At least, not to each other. Instead, Phil reads to him from whatever book is nearby. Later, Clint has absolutely no idea what it was about or how long the phone call lasted. He just remembers waking up to a dead phone and slightly calmer nerves.
Natasha cooks him breakfast, gets him washed and dressed, and then kisses him on the forehead and tells him she’s so proud of him. When he finds himself staring into the mirror after his especially long shower, which he quite possibly needed more than air, he sees something. It’s the same something he sees every time he looks himself in the eye the day after he has to wash blood out of socks and from under his nails.
In between all of this, he and Phil send each other inane, insane, hilarious little gifts. There’s a teeny tiny trebuchet on Clint’s desk and it never fails to make him smile.
Three months after Spain, neither of them have managed to find a single four-hour block of free time that matches the other. Clint feels strung out and twitchy. He has a series of dreams that leads him to seriously looking into buying 300% more sheets. He feels simultaneously horny as hell and mildly depressed.
That’s when the hostage situation happens.
He and Sam spend 42 hours watching Knowles’ replacement slowly bleed out. In and around that, Clint and Sam live through minute after minute of tense negotiation with six highly trained, highly effective mercenaries whose real agendas remain murky until the last few minutes of the standoff. When Clint wasn’t staring down the barrel of a semi-automatic, he was watching Henderson turn ashy as her body slowly betrayed her.
When it’s over, Clint is the one to pull the sheet over her face and Sam collapses next to him shaking like a leaf. Clint remains upright until the scene is cleared. He then pulls Sam to his feet and personally escorts him to medical back at the base. And then talks him through the debrief while cleaning the blood off his face and hands.
When it’s done, Clint turns the recorder off and blows out a long breath. “Go home,” he tells Sam, giving him a firm pat on his shoulder, “get some rest. Use the system. You’ve got four mandatory counseling sessions, and it’s fine if you need more. No one’s gonna judge, least of all me.”
Somewhere, Phil Coulson just got the urge to laugh hilariously. Clint knows it even as he’s giving Sam the exact same advice Phil had to beat into Clint’s head for years.
Sam calls him back before Clint can leave the room. He still looks shaken, from the top of his perfectly coiffed hair to the bottom of his remarkably clean shoes. They get into a conversation about how to handle this sort of thing. Clint does what he’s good at, making people laugh in tense situations. He pries under Sam’s ironclad wall of repression until Sam finally relents and snorts at some terrible pun even Clint can’t believe he made.
Sam makes the overture just as Clint feels he’s ready to be left on his own. It’s nothing more than tentative fingertips on Clint’s leg, but he knows that look in Sam’s eye. This is what Phil had talked about. Clint can feel the buzz under his skin, the need to remind himself that he’s alive. The heat he feels at Sam’s fingertips, the shock of electricity is like a live wire straight to his cock. His body is full of a raging cocktail of post mission trauma and yeah, he really wants to be alive with another human being.
But after those first few seconds, the rest of his mind engages and he smiles comfortingly at Sam before gently taking his hand and his warm fingers and moving them away from Clint’s thigh.
“I’m not the person for that,” Clint says gently, “but if that’s what you need, there’s really nothing wrong with it.”
“Just not you?” Sam doesn’t look all that heart broken, for which Clint is grateful.
Sam nods, but there’s a flush climbing up his neck.
Clint sighs. “You did nothing wrong. You want to feel alive, you’re having normal response to adrenaline and most importantly,” Clint said carefully, channeling Agent Phil Coulson as hard as he could, “you took no for an answer.”
Sam manages to look vaguely horrified at that.
“Go to a bar,” Clint says as kindly as possible, “hell, go to the cafeteria, the whole office is buzzing with trauma, trust me, you’ll find someone.”
Sam squares his shoulders and looks remarkably bolstered. Clint, on the other hand, swallows down a sharp pang of longing for Phil. Channeling him seems to bring him to the surface everywhere else.
Clint pushes through the last of the day. He gets everyone tucked away into medical or their own apartments. He’s got preliminary reports down to the pocket change the bystanders had in their pockets and a tension running through him that feels like he might be strangled by his own neck muscles.
He leaves the office with Anna, the night watch coordinator. Her shift isn’t always at night or a round eight hours. She’s a tiny ball of energy who likes weird hours and quiet shifts. She’s also one of the best strategic thinkers Clint has ever seen. And he’s worked with some real doozies. She spends the quiet shifts sorting through intelligence reports and any other reports she can get her hands on. Anna tends to put together important data before the computer does. Human intuition and all that jazz. Clint tries to bring her cookies regularly.
He suspects she’s the one who subtly rearranges Sam’s desk when he’s not looking. It drives him batty and if it weren’t relatively harmless and hilarious to watch Sam twitch as he tries to figure out what’s different, he’d take her aside and talk to her.
Actually… he narrows his eyes. Maybe he should send her to S— Clint stops and blinks. Woah. He was maybe three syllables away from becoming Yenta. That was quite possibly an out of body experience. He needs to unwind.
The sun is just setting as he steps out onto the sidewalk. The breeze is gentle and the temperature still slightly warm. He decides to walk through the little artists bazaar that he discovered months ago. He finds the artisan that made Phil’s Swiss army tie clip. She’s working on what looks like a wrist cuff. A solid silver semi circle with wooden inlays. It has the look of a special order.
Watching her work is as fascinating as it is absorbing. She’s an artist. Clint has known his fair share, but most of them are spies and therefore their craft is a bit bloodier. What she does looks destructive, but in the end, she’s left with an end product. A beautiful one. And it’s something new. It’s the complete opposite of what Clint feels like sometimes at the end of the day.
It’s another thing that makes him miss Phil.
He watches her carefully destroy to create. She cuts and bends and hammers and pries and with each step the lump of materials in her hands slowly takes shape. It makes him think. Maybe he needs a new hobby. One that isn’t about shoving sharp objects into stationary ones. And moving ones. And flying ones.
He loves his bow. He does. But there are some days when even the paper targets look like people trying to kill him.
Maybe he needs a new hobby.
He watches her work a little longer. He watches her almost create a circle, stop, add something that bends the circle a bit, but ultimately when it is hammered out again, it makes the whole thing look more… whole.
He stares at the circle. And thinks about Phil. And about how Sam put his hand on Clint’s leg. And how all that does is make him miss Phil more. Everything makes him miss Phil more.
He watches something be created of little bits of nothing and he thinks about fidelity.
When the artisan puts the piece she’s working on down about forty-five minutes later, he asks her a question.
Four weeks and two more attempts at finding a date where he and Phil could actually be in the same city at the same time, Clint puts a small package in the mail. With it is one of the hand painted cards he’d bought all those months ago. He writes a single sentence.
With the right person, Fidelity is easy.
Clint then spends the entirety of the 36 hours of the priority first class air mail alternating between the euphoria of finally knowing what he wants, with complete certainty, and the agony of worrying that Phil might not want the same things at all.
When his phone buzzes during his lunch hour, Clint knows that Phil planned it that way because not only is he a capable son of a bitch, but he’s also kind and generous and thoughtful. So he’d do the math to make sure he wasn’t bothering Clint with something that might distract him during an important meeting.
Rings are promises too.
Clint smiles and touches the screen softly. Because he knows, he’s sure, this is about Phil not wanting to assume too much. And if he needs to do that, then they’re definitely on the same page, if not the same paragraph.
He sends back: I knew that when I sent it.
A few minute later he gets another buzz and when he looks there’s the loading icon that tells him there’s an image downloading.
When it comes up, he sees a close up of Phil’s open palm, a good view of the specialty ring right in the center of it. It’s an excellent view of the titanium and where the careful carving cuts through it. From the top view, the view that most people will get a look at, it presents as a simple dark silver band with a narrower, slightly shinier ring down the center. But on closer inspection, the view of Phil’s open palm shows that the center ring doesn’t go all the way around. Underneath, where it would be hidden by clenched hands, the center pattern turns from a complete circle into an arrow and where the ends of the burnished silver meet near the palm of the hand, there is an arrow head and fletching design.
In that case, it fits perfectly.
Clint’s smile would probably light up the room in the dark.
Of course it does, because I’m awesome.
The next image is of another finger entirely.
Clint almost loves that one more. Almost. The ring is slightly out of focus in that one.
They do manage to pin a date down, finally. It’s a good few weeks away, but just having that date on the books makes Clint unclench just a little. Other people must notice it because there’s a release of breath throughout the office. It’s an object lesson in leadership that Clint isn’t sure he quite understood before that.
He got it on a technical level of course, the guy up top treats his people good, his people are better workers all around, but he’s had nearly a year to learn the heartbeat of the Paris Office. He can read the eddies and currents as well he could on a sniper perch now. And he sees how the small things can explode outward. Even the things that seem completely removed.
Two weeks after Phil sends him that picture, a 15 minute gap shows up in his schedule at around 6:30PM. Into it a teeny tiny briefing is scheduled. SHIELD has done this a few times before, when there’s a sensitive brief that needs to be handed out and they don’t want any of it going over communication lines. Including whatever questions Clint, or whoever it is getting this type of briefing in his place, might have.
For security purposes, the name of the briefer tends to be left off. All there is for Clint is a code. It’s fine. This is the kind of thing senior agents tend to take on as way to see old friends. A bit like the safe house debriefs at the gorgeous hotels.
Still, when Phil swans into the hallway outside his office at 6:25PM, walking in that amazing, long-legged stride that screams ‘I have important things to be doing’, a SHIELD courier bag in one hand and a file folder in the other, Clint nearly trips over his own two feet and swallows his tongue.
“Agent Barton,” Phil calls to him, “I’m a bit early, but if there’s nothing pressing, do you mind if we just get to this?” He waves the file folder in his right hand.
Silently, Clint reaches behind him to the doorknob and clicks his door open.
Phil smiles his tiny, careful, perfect, and completely office appropriate smile, the one that makes Clint’s heart flip just a tiny bit, and nods in appreciation, sliding in past Clint with the practiced ease of someone who has been sliding in and out of offices in tight spaces for decades.
Clint turns to follow him in and calls out, “Code Word Access for now, okay, Paul?”
His PA nods without looking up. That is absolutely one of the things that makes up for Clint having to wear a suit all the time and having lost a large chunk of time in the field. People whose entire job it is to keep other people from bothering him. It’s almost worth the albatross of having the kind of job that not only needs an office but two PAs. Also the suits. And Clint is actually getting pretty fond of the suits. Perfect strangers react to him differently in the suits. Also he found a tailor who somehow managed to make his shirts and jackets not too tight around the arms and shoulders, even if he pinwheeled his arms around in a circle.
Phil lets him get the door closed and locked before there’s a quiet thunk and plop and his hands are free and then not so free as he grabs Clint and pulls him close, kissing him hard. Clint melts into it, he’s not ashamed. He’s missed Phil so much and suddenly he’s there and Phil’s scent is in his nose and his hands are sliding across Phil’s decadent and crisp shirt to feel his back muscles move.
Phil cradles him close, one large hand hot and perfect on Clint’s hip, the other on his cheek and chin, holding his face just so. It goes on for a long time, at least, Clint thinks so because his lips are tingling and he’s lightheaded by the time they start to ease off. They’re both panting when they press their foreheads together but they’re also smiling widely. Huge, uncomfortable smiles of joy.
Phil presses another kiss into Clint’s lips, this one soft and short before taking a deep breath and speaking. “Tony Stark is coming to Europe. He may or may not show up in France. There’s a rumor Pepper Potts may not be with him for the whole trip. There, you’re briefed. Kiss me again.”
Clint laughs into another quick kiss. “Thorough.”
“And he’s a pain in my ass,” Phil adds, kissing him again. “There, now you know all you need to know. Now two weeks ago I opened my mail and found a ring and I think there’s a statute of limitations on how long you can put off a ring-related kiss.”
Clint smiles, pulling Phil tighter to him. They’re pressed together knees to chest and even though all he really wants is to peel all of that wonderfully tailored clothing off Phil and kiss each bit of skin that is revealed, he doesn’t. Because there really isn’t that much time, even if they both go off like rockets, which is a very likely possibility. Not to mention that Clint wouldn’t be able to let go once he got his hands where he really wants them. He snags Phil’s left hand and brings it up to his lips, kissing over the band and marveling at how good it feels to see that ring in place.
“I got you something,” Phil says, digging into his pocket with a free hand. “I was going to wait, we’d managed to get our schedules working so I was going to wait, but then I looked at it and I needed to see it on you as soon as possible.”
Phil’s hand is wrapped around a box, which he then carefully puts into Clint’s hand. There’s a ring inside, and on the surface it looks a lot like the one Phil is wearing. There’s a matte silver base that Clint can tell isn’t silver, probably titanium, and a center stripe of shinier dark material. It’s black, stained dark but with some of the carving marks still managing to stand out. It actually looks like a deliberate pattern.
Phil carefully picks up the ring, plucking it from its soft velvet pillow, and he rotates it so that Clint can see the end of the design. Because as Phil slowly changes the angle, Clint can see it’s just like the one Clint got made for Phil. Only instead of the two ends of an arrow that are nestled up under Phil’s knuckle on the palm side, there are two ends of a tie.
Phil got him a ring with a tie. Because he’s big on meaning and Clint loves that about him and it’s a beautiful ring and he needs it on his finger right the fuck now. So he raises his left hand and it’s shaking just a bit but Phil just looks at him with too bright eyes and a smile so wide and happy it has to hurt and he carefully slips Clint’s ring onto Clint’s finger.
“Perfect fit,” Clint says in a wondrous rasp. He’s gonna have to practice shooting with it and figure out if he needs to come up with a way to store the ring on the fly, but for now he just wants to stare at his hand and his ring and hold Phil close with his other arm slung low on Phil’s waist. There’s a warm hand on the small of his back as Phil mirrors him and Clint never thought he’d be so happy with just an arm and a hand but Phil is there and they have rings on their fingers and so what if they have no idea how it’s going to end, they’ll figure it out because they’re gonna figure it out together.
They spend the entire twenty minutes standing close and kissing. As much as Clint wants to move it to his couch, neither of them have the time or the self-control for anything approaching a horizontal surface. That’s why they’re staying away from the desk, too. But that’s okay, because Clint has a newfound fondness for the material his door has been made from.
Eventually someone’s phone beeps and Clint has to pry his fingers out from where they’ve wedged themselves into Phil’s waistband. There’s a knee that’s pressing between his legs and he’s returning the favor to Phil. They’re both panting pretty hard and Clint can feel where Phil’s erection is pressing against him, so close to Clint’s own that he throbs a bit at the thought.
Two more weeks until they have more than a handful of minutes for themselves. He rolls their hips together anyway, just a taste of what’s to come. Clint’s toes curl, it’s so good, and Phil’s knees seem to wobble and have trouble holding him up.
It takes all his strength to not reach out and grasp Phil’s ass and pull him closer.
“That,” Phil murmurs into Clint’s neck, “was unfair.”
“Yeah,” Clint nods, mentally preparing himself for when Phil pulls away, “I didn’t think that one through.”
“Hmm,” Phil nods and then reaches up to loosen Clint’s tie and pop his top button.
“Wha-at?” Clint’s voice breaks as Phil attaches himself to the inner corner of his collarbone and sucks. Hard.
“Punishment,” Phil says into Clint’s skin, his breath blowing across the damp patch just under it. “This will teach you,” suck, “to learn to,” suck, “think ahead.” Suck. Nibble. Suck.
Clint’s eyes are rolling back and his fingers and toes are tingling and Phil Coulson has attached himself to Clint via the mouth and it’s fucking amazing. It takes a few long breaths to realize Phil has finally pulled away. There’s a damp patch on his on his chest and Phil looks far too pleased with himself.
“You’re gonna pay for that,” Clint mutters as he stares at the brand new hickey in the reflection of his phone. “I’m gonna spend the next two weeks making plans.”
Phil’s grin is incandescent as he puts Clint’s shirt and tie back together again. “Hey, I made sure it was under the collar.”
“You think that gets you points?”
“I think in two weeks, it’s gonna make me a very happy man.”
A thrill goes through Clint and God but Phil is right. Clint smiles. “I’d wish you luck, but you don’t need it.” He says it because Phil’s schedule is obviously so packed that he can only spare a handful of minutes. It’s obvious he has somewhere else to be right away.
Phil smiles softly. “Who needs luck,” he touches Clint’s cheek one last time, “when I have you?”
Up until that moment, Clint has never quite understood what verklempt means. He’ll have to thank Sophie in accounting one day for the most perfect word.
All that hickey is gonna do is keep Clint’s motor revved for fourteen days until they’re both in Greece pretending to care about four major, high priority, dead drops that need cleaning and monitoring. It’s technically a two week op and they both have some staff coming, but at the end, they’ve eked out a small sliver of time.
They’ve also been marked as sharing a room for the duration. As the senior agents on call they have the right to the slightly larger room with the 1% more privacy. The thing of it is, they’ll look good by sharing it instead of taking privileges and both opting for more privacy. Clint does feel a bit guilty about that.
So when Garrett gate crashes halfway through the first day, oozing charm and bullshit, Clint absolutely does not start shooting rubber bands at the back of his head when he’s not looking. Because that would be a bad example. He does, however, consistently get the asshole’s coffee order wrong.
Even in the few moments he and Phil do have alone, Garrett’s presence kills the mood. He knows that Phil is old friends with him but there’s something inside of Clint, something feral and young, that feels like he needs to keep his back to the wall when Garrett is around. Clint plays it as exhaustion, which isn’t far from the truth.
And then Phil is called away six days in and Clint no longer has to smile at Garrett’s terrible charm. Or pretend to find his shoot-from-the-hip tendency helpful. Yeah, he’s a hypocrite, sue him, it’s a different vantage point when you’re in charge.
Back in Paris, even with yet another slice of time with Phil gone, Clint still feels hopeful. Maybe it was just knowing that he’d wake up and Phil would be there, the security of that for nearly a week was enough for Clint for now. Maybe it was the rings. They felt like an anchor for something deep inside. But it probably has to do with their next date already being on the books. Yeah, that’s probably it. Being in the same place for six days, despite the lack of privacy, meant it was a helluva lot easier to match up their schedules. Six more weeks. He can do that with his eyes closed by now.
No matter how good you are, sometimes the bad guys just get lucky. Mostly it’s because the ones who manage to succeed, even partially, have completely different lines and boundaries. They don’t see a problem with casual psychopathy. Shrapnel. The kind of people who pack bolts and screws into a bomb for the sheer extraneous mayhem. So that it doesn’t just hurt people, but it obliterates them, often in a much wider radius than the damage the original bomb might have caused.
Bad guys suck. And no matter how hard people like Phil or Clint or most of their friends and colleagues try and think of the worst things people can do to another person, it’s hard to walk inside the mind of someone whose moral compass is the complete opposite of yours on every level. It’s hard to predict actions disgusting enough. What that means is that sometimes, things get through. People get through.
The press sells it as a refinery explosion. And Clint is sure that’s relatively true. He’s sure whatever actually happened caused an explosion. For a long time all Clint knows is that Phil is in the middle of it and that there’s still fighting going on, two hours after the news started broadcasting. The Paris office is too far away to lend ground support, but they can take over a large chunk of the oversight for the office that usually works the Eastern Bloc, because they are close enough to lend support. So Clint spends a few terrified hours working his ass off and resisting grabbing his bow and tac suit and running towards the flames.
When it’s all said and done, there are a lot of fatalities, civilians and agents alike. The refinery is too damaged to go back to work and it will take months to repair, and a region of Europe that is often low on basics might be facing a gas shortage on top of everything else. It’s not wrong to say that the political landscape of the area has changed permanently.
So, when there’s a loud, insistent rapping on his apartment door at 3am, about four hours after he finally fell asleep for the first time in two days, his first reaction is slightly… violent. He forgets about the gun in his hand when he gets a good look at who’s on the other side of the door. Clint’s hands fumble on the locks and he doesn’t remember to put the gun down until he’s turning the doorknob.
Phil is standing, swaying really, in his hallway. There’s a scrape on his forehead, more scrapes on his knuckles, and his suit is wrinkled and dirty and there’s a good amount of that dirt on Phil’s skin as well.
“I’m sorry,” Phil says as he steps inside. He closes the door for Clint and then pauses. He’s wide-eyed and obviously running on not much more than steam and adrenaline, possibly holding himself together by a quickly fraying thread. Phil takes a deep breath, then another. Then he leans back against the door, closing his eyes and leaning his head back. “I’m sorry,” he says again after he seems to find his footing again. “I know we said we'd be patient, we'd wait. That maybe the fix to this was to just let it all play out.”
Phil takes a deep, shaky breath and he takes Clint’s hands into his own. “But I really need to be married to you. I just. I need you. Even if all I have is this ring and a pronouncement from a qualified entity that says we’re married, because you're far away, that's enough. Because I need to know. I know I was the one that said—”
Clint stops him with a kiss. Phil whimpers into it and there’s a pause where Phil is passive and pliant and then the gates open and Clint finds himself slammed into the wall. If a kiss could be described as weather, then Phil’s is a gale force wind and a torrential downpour, and he sweeps Clint away until all that is left is Phil’s tongue fucking wetly into Clint’s mouth. His hands are pushing down the back of Clint’s super worn out and soft pants, the kind he likes to slip on when he’s feeling especially sorry for himself.
Clint is shoving Phil’s jacket off his arms before he even realizes his hands are moving. The tie goes next, one long pull of the knot and it feels pretty fucking glorious to be finally taking clothes off Phil. But then he starts on the shirt buttons and under his fingers he feels Phil’s heartbeat. It’s not just fast, it’s practically vibrating through his chest. The fire he feels in his veins cools significantly after that, knowing that while Phil might want to pin him to the floor and perform lewd and awesome acts on Clint’s person, his heartbeat is telling another story.
He slides his hands up Phil’s chest then, savoring the muscles under his palms. He finds Phil’s neck, letting his fingers brush against the carotid just to be sure and it doesn’t take more than a few seconds’ long count of heartbeats for Clint to take control of the kiss after that. Softening his lips, he holds on to Phil’s face until he relaxes. It takes a few kisses before Clint can feel Phil starting to give him more of his weight to support. Until finally, it’s just Clint, supporting Phil while he shakes apart on his arms.
“Please marry me,” Phil whispers into Clint’s shoulder, his thin voice making Clint ache.
Clint has spent a lot of time learning to be a leader. Not the leader of a strike team, that he’s got down pat. He’s had that down since almost before he became a SHIELD agent. He’s been learning how think beyond the moment and the next bullet. How to take large, complicated situations and break them down into tiny steps and then know more than the next two or three, or to not be afraid that he won’t be able to come up with what happens next. Because he has a confidence now, a confidence in himself that maybe he’d been lacking for a long time.
So the answer that he wants to say doesn’t scare him at all. He kisses Phil’s forehead and temple and takes a deep breath. “I think you need a nap, a shower, and some food, not necessarily in that order.”
Against his shoulder, Phil sucks in a deep breath, but all he says is, “Are you saying I stink?”
“It’s more dust than stink,” Clint smiles, “but I’m guessing you haven’t done any of those things in far too long anyway.”
“Details.” Phil’s buries his face into Clint’s neck.
“But after that, if you haven’t changed your mind-”
Clint kisses Phil’s temple again and then gently pries him up and looks him in the eye, rubbing a thumb along the freshly blooming bruise on his cheek, feeling something tweak in his chest as Phil closes his eyes and leans into the touch. “Then in the morning I’m gonna sit down with Google and find the closest country that’ll let us-“
“England,” Phil offers, opening his eyes back up and Clint doesn’t know why he’s surprised that he already knows.
“Okay,” Clint nods, smiling, “I’ll get online and grab us some train tickets to England and maybe some hotel reservations because I think that your idea is a really great idea. No,” Clint corrects himself, “I think that’s the most amazing idea I’ve heard in a really long time.”
Phil nods a little frantically and his shoulders relax under Clint’s hands. “Me, too.”
“Good.” Clint nods, just as frantically. And then there are smiles. Large, painful, happy smiles.
“Good,” Phil says.
“Good.” Clint laughs.
They end up slumped together, laughing hysterically. They’re still laughing as Clint guides Phil into his bathroom and explains how the hot water tap is a bit finicky and how the stopper is counter-intuitive because whoever plumbed Clint’s apartment was obviously a wrench-wielding maniac.
They’re still laughing as Clint digs out a change of clothes and some clean towels and there’s yet more laughter as Phil kisses him and then gently pushes him out the door because he is too tired for anything naked other than washing and if Clint is there he won’t be able to help himself and Phil is not explaining, in French, to an ER admitting desk that he got a concussion during shower sex.
Clint doesn’t blame Phil at all since he has actually done that once in his life. Okay twice. But that second time there’s a good chance the concussion was already there before the shower sex. Which is probably why he decided it was a good idea to try shower sex again. Clint has a lot of poor life choices that still puzzle him years later. Except… he pauses packing his go bag. No, it’s a suitcase for a trip. That’s what they’re called. When you go someplace and it’s not for work, you take suitcases.
That isn’t why he stopped though. It’s the last year. Maybe a bit longer. He thinks back and there’s nothing. Nothing he regrets so badly he wishes he could do it over. Even the fact that he and Phil have had a grand total of something like five and a half minutes together doesn’t feel like a terrible mistake. Like they could have done more.
He thinks about Knowles and Henderson and knows that their losses are tragic and terrible and if some magical genie showed up and offered him a way to erase their deaths without a catch he’d say yes in a heartbeat. But he knows that his actions were the right ones and the terrible things that happened couldn’t be averted because Clint is not omnipotent and he cannot control the whims of others. He knows that and while he feels bad about all those bad things and wishes he could change them, he no longer feels like they could have had different outcomes in the first place.
That’s huge. He has to sit down. Actually, he needs to put his head between his knees and breathe deeply. A warm damp presence dips the bed next to him. Phil’s cotton clad leg comes into his line of sight and an arm wraps around his shoulders.
“This isn’t about the wedding,” Clint says.
“I know,” Phil murmurs, resting his chin on Clint’s shoulder. “I was kinda worried this was going to happen when I wasn’t here.” He rubs slow circles into Clint’s back. “Considering I’ve only seen you for 37.5 hours in the last year, I was sure I was going to miss this.”
“What about that week in Greece?” Clint asks, already feeling better.
“I’m only counting the few minutes a day we were alone together.”
Clint smiles and and gently flicks Phil’s thigh. “I can’t believe you counted the minutes.”
“I can’t believe you think I wouldn’t.”
“Yeah,” Clint says, sitting up carefully, leaning further into Phil’s touch, “you are a bit of a nerd.” The last time Phil had come out of a shower smelling of Clint’s shampoo and soap, it had been an effort not to jump him on the spot. This time he feels comfortable in the fact that Phil isn’t going to disappear in a puff of smoke named inconvenience.
“I’m rethinking that marriage proposal.”
Clint snorts and grabs the blanket that went to the floor when he sprang up at the knocking of the door. “Let’s get one thing straight.” He throws a pillow at Phil. “I proposed, you just revised the schedule.”
“You sent a ring.” Phil pulls on the other side of the blanket, helping Clint spread it evenly over his bed. “I sent one back.”
Clint digs out a third pillow because he knows Phil likes to shove one under his hip or chest so he can sleep on his side without twisting his entire back out of shape if he can avoid it. “I’m not really seeing your point.” He tosses the pillow at Phil’s head, and he catches it without even looking up. It makes Clint smile. That always makes Clint smile.
Phil shoves the pillow into the extra case Clint had left there and squints at him. “There’s a joke in there about your vision and your aim but I am too tired to come up with the right words to really do justice to it.”
“Yeah.” Clint crawls into bed. “Sure, stick to that sto-“ He’s cut off by a pillow to the face. Clint decides to be the bigger person and not retaliate. Instead he crawls over to Phil and wraps his arms around him and buries his nose into Phil’s shoulder and takes a long breath.
“Alarm’s set for 12 hours,” Phil whispers into his hair. “I should probably call someone in the morning, make sure someone is there to yell at people when they start slacking off.”
This time he falls asleep with Phil’s heartbeat under his hand and before he even realizes they’ve once again made it to a bed without getting naked first.
In the morning, they each make phone calls. They are absolutely fucking hilarious phone calls. Because the person on the other end sounds like they’re one step away from sending an assault team to Clint’s apartment to make sure they aren’t being held against their will. After that they split up the work. Phil figures out what legal hurdles they need to pass to get married (civil union, but still) in England and Clint works out their travel plans.
England has a couple of time-related rules so it takes Phil a few extra phone calls to work it all out. Apparently if anyone asks, they’ve spent the past week in the English countryside having a pre-honeymoon. Clint is sure by the time they arrive there will be perfectly forged receipts and CCTV footage.
While he’s taking care of that, Clint gets them some fake visas because they’ll need those too. SHIELD has a marriage protocol which recognizes that its agents are rarely in their country of residence, because often that bit of paperwork in their civilian covers is a flat out lie, so they have a deal with the state departments of several countries. Clint knows that the CIA, NSA, and MI6 and a few others have similar agreements.
So it’s not like he’s asking for anything weird from the office in London. In fact, they won’t know why they’re making up the paperwork, it doesn’t work that way. Because all of SHIELD’s paperwork is technically real and legal, they just purposefully work in a shelf life into stuff they don’t need to last too long. Clint just orders the standard set of paperwork used for for permanent cover operations.
They have time, in between eating and packing and making phone calls and plans, to have sex. Really, they do. But it’s only 30 minutes and Phil eases off from a kiss with a look on his face that Clint completely understands.
“Tonight,” he says and Phil nods, “because I think limiting it to a 30 minute window is just asking for trouble.”
Phil’s eyes dilate and he licks his lips and Clint has to take a long, steadying breath.
“I have lists,” Phil says, “really long lists.”
“Well,” Clint nods at him to follow him out the door, “maybe we should narrow it down to the top 10 or 20?”
“Eh,” Phil says, pulling the door closed behind them, “I like to think big.”
The wedding isn’t anything special, other than the fact it’s to Phil. They’re wearing suits and ties, which isn’t actually something Clint thought would happen for his own wedding. Phil has his Swiss army tie clip on and Clint has the tie with the subtle arrow pattern he got in the mail one random November day. Holding it down is an arrow shaped tie clip, retaliation, Clint thinks, for the one he sent Phil.
They get an amused-looking clerk to take their picture and then they walk back to their hotel. Holding hands. It feels absurd and absurdly decadent. They make it into the room without doing something indecent in the elevator. On the other side of the door they stand, facing each other just peeling clothing off their bodies as fast as they can.
Clint flings his tie across the room (after carefully removing the tie clip), his smile threatening to cramp a cheek muscle. “So this is gonna take like ten minutes—“
“Five,” Phil says popping his last button in his rush to get his shirt off. “Let’s be real. It’s been a year and a half.”
Phil’s chest makes Clint’s mouth dry. “Yeah, who’m I kidding?”
They don’t even make it to the bed. Phil pushes Clint against the nearest wall and devours his mouth. They both still have socks on and Clint only got his pants half off before he has to wrap his free leg around Phil’s waist. Skin pressing against skin feels just as amazing as it did the first time.
There’s a hand on his ass, tightening just perfectly as they rock together. Phil sucks carefully on a patch of skin and Clint gasps with each pull and grind, head thrown back, eyes closed. “So I was thinking,” Clint pants as his toes curl in pleasure, “room service after this?” His last word is cut off with an especially sharp roll of Phil’s hips.
“I’m sensing,” Phil bites at the tendon in his neck, “some distraction?”
“Just try- hng,” Clint shudders, his cock leaking against his and Phil’s stomach, “trying not to set a land speed record.”
“Screw that.” Phil’s hand grabs the back of Clint’s thigh, the one not around his waist and hoists until Clint has absolutely no choice but to bring his other leg up around Phil as well. Phil practically fucks him through the wall and it’s fucking awesome. They kiss, open mouthed and deep, until Clint is so lightheaded he’s not sure if the dizziness is pleasure or oxygen deprivation. He doesn’t really care either, because this is quite possibly the best sex he’s ever had. And that includes their first time over a year ago.
“Fuck,” Clint gasps with each thrust, “fuck, fuck fu-uck.”
“Maybe,” Phil pants, “later.”
Clint laughs, even as he starts to come. Phil’s cock is hot and hard next to his own and it rubs against him in all the right places and it only winds him tighter as he spurts between them. Phil groans and rips their lips apart so that he can moan into Clint’s neck and shudder in orgasm.
When the rest of Clint’s senses come back online instead of being focused solely on his penis, his very very happy penis, they’re both covered in a sheen of sweat and shaking. When Phil finally looks up, he’s still panting, but it has an edge of hysterical laughter.
“We’re ridiculous,” Phil tells him.
“I know.” Clint lets his legs slide down. “Isn’t it great?”
They order room service, a lot of room service, but only one bottle of wine. Phil chooses it, but Clint finds he actually likes it. Good wine is still a crap shoot for him, because he doesn’t have the taste for it like he does other liquors. He doesn’t know why he’s surprised Phil can pick the one wine on the menu that Clint is going to like.
Clint sucks down two burgers, a large side of fries and an amazingly fresh and tasty fruit platter. He promises he will double his vegetables the next meal if Phil will stop giving him his disappointed agent look.
After dinner, Clint sucks down Phil’s cock. Phil seems very appreciative, so Clint takes his time and waits until he can feel Phil’s thighs tense with aborted thrusts before sticking with a single movement and suction long enough to feel Phil tremble in his arms and then curl around Clint as best he can as he comes.
Phil spends about five minutes recovering and petting at any bit of Clint he can get to. He then examines each and every patch of skin between the hickey he sucked into Clint’s neck during the wall sex and his balls. There was a lot of gentle rolling and sucking of Clint’s balls. He didn’t think that someone could actually be that thorough, but Phil is. Eventually Clint’s cock is tucked up into the warmth and wetness of Phil’s mouth and there’s one knuckle pressing softly but insistently between and behind his balls. And it’s amazing. It’s possible he actually comes more than once. By the time he remembers feeling Phil’s come cooling on his stomach, he’s coming down off a second cresting wave of an orgasm that seemed to go on forever.
In celebration, they order dessert. And two more burgers. Because seriously, he’s come twice-ish in four hours and Clint plans on at least two more rounds of sex before they have to run off back to their real lives. Except they’ll be married.
They’re curled up in bed, like two brackets, their arms reaching out drawing lazy circles on skin. Clint finds the small divot on Phil’s ribs entrancing, running his finger up and down the scar.
“Is that an ‘I had amazing sex’ goofy grin?” Phil asks.
“That’s a ‘I now have legal rights to your penis and I’m never letting it go again’ smile.”
Phil’s raises an eyebrow, the corner of his lips quirking up. “Romantic.”
“I really am, aren’t I?”
“Modest too,” Phil says in that tone of voice that reminds Clint of the purposefully obnoxious chatter they like to use to confuse suspects.
“I’m basically a dreamboat,” Clint says, giving his wink some extra flourish, just for fun.
Phil narrows his eyes, making a show of examining Clint head to toe. “Eh, you’ll do.”
The next day is a whirlwind. A sex-fueled whirlwind. Sex, brunch, shower, sex, late lunch, sex, nap, dinner out, sex. Dinner out is almost more sex but Clint has some shame. But only a tiny itty bit. And to be fair, Phil started it. The second time. The long hard fuck he’d expected all those months ago finally happens in the middle of the day. His body fits next to Phil’s perfectly and the first slow slide of hard cock into him punches the breath out of his chest.
“God.” He gasps. Each successive hard shove of cock makes Clint shudder in appreciation and shiver in anticipation of the next. Their skin makes slapping sounds as their hips snap together and they’re both leaving bruises on one another.
“Fuck,” Clint gasps as his back arches one last time before he comes his brains out. Phil fucks him through it just this side of ragged and uncontrolled, pushing a few exquisite aftershocks through Clint as Phil comes.
That night is bitter sweet. They have a train to catch early the next morning, after which they have to go back to Clint’s place so they can get Phil’s car. And then they have to say goodbye. It feels like it should be different, that moment when they go their separate ways. He’ll feel less loss, or maybe less fear that they’ll never make it work, that this is the last time because when they’re apart it’ll become too hard and they’ll have to end it before it burns to the ground and all Clint has left is ashes.
They pick up Clint’s car from overnight parking, shove their suitcases into the trunk, get settled and… stop.
Clint’s freezes above the key in the ignition. “We’re going to be okay, right?”
“I’m thinking of asking for a transfer,” Phil blurts out, not looking at him.
Clint blinks. “But the only position available near me is… an AD… that’s 99% a desk job.” Phil still won’t look at him, “You hate desk jobs.” Even Clint’s job isn’t really a desk job, not the way the AD job would be.
“Things change. I never used to hate going to bed alone.” Phil swallows hard, lacing his fingers through Clint’s. “And I only got to fall asleep next to you maybe five or six times and already I can tell that I’m addicted.”
For a second, Clint’s heart stops. He’d thought it’d be him. He’d be the one to break. To need too much and too hard that he’d have to give up something of himself or his job. To be happy but always have this lingering feeling of compromise in the back of his head. He’d never regret it, not really. “Maybe there’s something in the—“
“No,” Phil cuts him off. “There isn’t. There really, really isn’t. I’ve been looking and I hate that I’ve been looking. I hate myself for hoping there was something that wouldn’t damage your career and it would,” Phil speeds through Clint’s almost interruption, “it would. I’d been hoping for something that would only be a minor ding, something that would be overlooked when your entire personnel file was opened and would just look like normal career turbulence.”
“Phil…” Clint says, but he has no idea what to follow it up with. So he just squeezes Phil’s hand tighter.
“Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean to do that.” Phil takes a deep breath and sighs. “There was a plan, I was going to be an adult about it. I was going to look into the open spot first and come to you with all sorts of information.”
Clint has to kiss him, so he does and then rests their foreheads together. “Of course you were. Because that’s what you do.”
“I do it really well too,” Phil says with just a slight pout. “We really need to at least start the engine.”
“Okay,” Clint turns the key without looking. “Yay engine.”
They do eventually put the car in drive and make their way to Clint’s apartment. The house driveway is around back so they don’t see him until they’re walking, hand in hand towards Clint’s front door.
Fury is there, leaning against the wall right next to Clint’s door. He looks grumpy and annoyed, with his arms crossed and a scowl deep across his brow. “Well if isn’t the malfeasants in question.”
Phil looks as pale as paper. “I… uh. Sir.”
Fury pushes off from the wall. “Eloquent.”
“I try,” Phil said, only a shadow of his usual aplomb visible.
“Let me get this straight,” Fury says, “two of my best agents have been carrying on a year long affair,” he starts listing on his fingers, “buried the paperwork-“
“Paperwork?” Clint hiccups even though he knows that it exists and that Phil had mentioned it briefly a long time ago but he’d forgotten until now.
Fury looks singularly unimpressed. “Yes, Barton, Paperwork. Paperwork buried so deep in HR it took Hill months to find it, not to mention the three or four excursions planned that took agency resources out for a spin so the two of you could have some sort of tryst in the dark of night—“
Phil speaks up. “I didn’t mismanage agency res—“
“Did I sound like I was done, Coulson?” Fury snaps. “And then I find out Barton ordered a Class 1 backstopped Visa, two Visas actually, and you two snuck off and got married” Fury is fast running out of fingers. “Once again buried the paperwork in some deep dark HR black hole, which by the way, Hill would like to talk to you about, and then you come back not 36 hours later intending to go on like nothing has happened.”
Well, when you lay it out like that, it does sound a little… iffy. An outside agency observer might find it suspicious enough to— Oh. Oh shit.
Phil beats him to it, his eyebrows wide with shock. “Did someone actually file a D201 - Suspicious Activity form?”
“You bet your ass someone did,” Fury confirms. “And you should be glad that Hill caught it before it went too far.”
“Jesus Christ,” Phil says quietly, slumping against the nearest wall. “Are you kidding me?”
“I am not,” Fury assures him. “I laughed in the guy’s face by the way, you’re welcome. But I still had to investigate.”
Phil is nodding, mouth shut in a tight line. Clint moves closer to him, afraid to reach, to be too ‘married’ but Phil takes his hand so he squeezes it back.
“I just have one really important question for you Coulson,” Fury steps closer to them, getting right into Phil’s eye line. “If you got married a little under two days ago…” he pauses, a little dramatically if Clint is being honest, “what the hell are you two doing here instead of on a honeymoon?”
“I… what?” Phil is officially slack-jawed and Clint takes a mental snapshot for later because that’s quite possibly a once in a lifetime event. Then Phil’s eyes narrow and he blinks, blinks again and then he narrows his eyes further. “That wasn’t very funny.”
Fury shakes a finger. “That’s what you get for not inviting me to the wedding.”
“You…” Phil says slowly, “absolute… asshole.”
Fury’s grin is quite possibly the most terrifying thing Clint has seen in a long time and just like that he realizes. “Oh, my God,” Clint mutters, horrified, “I married your best friend.”
Fury does a disturbingly good maniacal laugh. Disturbingly good. But he gets serious quickly. “Come on, Phil, you think we couldn’t have found a job for one of you near the other? One that wouldn’t have been a compromise? What, are you so afraid of even a whiff of favoritism? Guess what Phil, you are that good. You are. You get to ask for something sometimes.”
It’s like watching a movie with the roles switched. This is the pep talk Phil gives him. Or he used to give him. But he sees what he wouldn’t have even a year ago. He sees the fear and the worry and the doubt. This man feels so real to Clint, so real and so perfect and he feels honored that Phil will be that person in front of Clint. That he would allow Clint to get to know him well enough that he can see that person even if Phil isn’t being him. Even if Phil is being Agent Coulson.
“You, too, Barton,” Fury turns to him. “You turned the Paris office into our central European hub. You made it into the hub to beat. You remade the information network, that dead drop thing you arranged? I’ve got three other stations clamoring to try it. And finally, you managed to stop several major events with little to no collateral damage, and that’s just what I can remember. There’s a memo on my desk somewhere that goes on and on. I was little worried someone was gonna try and deify you. You can write your own ticket too.”
Fury rescues Phil from having to say that he didn’t know how to ask. “We’ll talk about it later, after your real and proper length honeymoon. We did the math, Phil. One a half days and whatever time you got in Greece before you were called away. If I were a father, I’d talk about rash decisions, what with the wedding and all…”
Phil looks gobsmacked for as second time in five minutes. Fury is pretty bad ass.
“Thank God,” Fury says, “I’m not a father.”
“Again,” Phil sighs, “not funny.”
Clint snickers, and Phil elbows him in the ribs. That doesn’t stop the snickering. He gets a fond look for it and something swells in his chest, a feeling he’s only just getting used to. The release of tension almost making him giddy. Clint knows that it’s not as simple as signing a transfer form. Getting them settled could still take months, but for the first time in over a year, he can see the light at the end of the tunnel. His head feels a little like when he takes vicodin on an empty stomach.
“I am hilarious,” Fury assures him. “To prove that, I’m gonna make you go into your apartment and suffer through the party your friends have put together before I let you leave on a real honeymoon.”
“Party?” Clint’s voice cracks a little.
“Party,” Fury confirms. “Attended by everyone you know, including most of your office Barton. They really like you and I assured them you didn’t mean any slight, you’re just socially awkward on occasion. Surprisingly, they didn’t disagree. Even your landlord, who donated the food. They also had a lot to say on the matter.”
Clint closes his eyes.
“Oh yes,” Fury says in a knowing tone, “you two are going to pay for this for a long time. I don’t get much fun in my life, and you gentlemen are it for the next little while.”
Clint bangs his head gently against the wall a few times, ignoring Fury’s chuckle.
“Get it together and then come in, there are embarrassing stories waiting to be told.”
Clint hears his door open, the hushed noise of lots of people speaking and then the door close. “Is it too late to elope?”
“We did that already,” Phil says, his head resting against Clint’s shoulder. “Didn’t take.”
“Didn’t take? I remember signing paperwork, did the ink disappear?”
Phil squeezes their hands together. “Don’t piss Fury off, I wouldn’t put it past him.”
“Point taken.” Clint sighs and leans into Phil a bit more. He takes a few deep breaths before something horrifying occurs to him. “Oh, my God.”
“Natasha is in there.”
“And probably Hill.”
“And Sitwell is probably already telling stories.”
“Too late to run away?”
“Years too late.”
Clint smiles and opens his eyes back up to find Phil giving him a smile. “Awesome,” he whispers into Phil’s mouth before they kiss.
Phil kisses him back. “Yeah, it is.”
Clint takes a deep breath and straightens up. “Okay, let’s go. If I die, tell my bow and quiver I loved them.”
“I’d wish you luck but you--” Phil starts but Clint just whaps his stomach.
“We who are about to die…” Clint says in the same mock mournful voice he used to send a message to his bow and quiver, “never needed luck in the first place.”
“I’m not comfortable moving this from a 50s RomCom to a Shakespearean tragedy.” Phil says with twisted lips. “Maybe a World War II biopic, I could live with that.”
Clint crosses his arms and taps his foot meaningfully. “We’re not married one week and already Captain America is in our marriage.”
Phil looks ready to wind himself up when a voice barks through the door. “For God’s sake, get in here already or we’re not saving you any booze!”
They both burst out laughing, threading their hands and fingers together before bravely opening the door and stepping into their well-deserved fate.