"And what is your name, darling?" Nigel asked.
"My name is Natasha Romanoff, and I'm from Russia." Clint stood just off the stage and watched, proud as punch, with no doubt in his mind that Nat would get a ticket to Vegas, would get into the Top 20, would win the whole damned show.
"And your partner?" Nigel was looking towards Clint, even though he knew he couldn't be seen from the audience.
Natasha glanced at him, raising her eyebrow. He gave her a minuscule shrug. "Clint is my best friend," she said. "He stepped in when my regular ballroom partner got sick."
"You mean to tell me that's not your regular partner?" Mary asked. Her voice was gratingly high through Clint's hearing aids. "How much rehearsal time did you two get together?"
"A day," Natasha said smoothly. "Luckily, he's a quick study."
"Come on up here, young man," Nigel commanded. Clint scowled and would have ignored him, but Nat gave him a look, so he reluctantly crossed the stage to stand behind her. She looked at him again until he moved closer. "How long have you been dancing?"
Clint shrugged. "I dance for fun," he said. "I have since I was a kid. Nat and I go out to clubs sometimes, or I'll help her out at home when she wants to practice."
"You mean to tell me you haven't had any training?" Mia asked, a gleam in her eye.
"Not in dancing, no," Clint said, crossing his arms in front of his chest. The tumbling and trapeze and silks work he'd done at Carson's came in handy, but he'd never had formal dance training.
"Clint's an archer," Nat said. Clint scowled at her again, but it was too late to deny it. All he could do was hope they wouldn't air this bit--surely he'd have to give permission for that, and he hadn't done so.
"An archer? With a bow and arrow?" Nigel asked.
"That's how it usually works," Clint said. "Training keeps me pretty busy."
"He's a shoo-in for the 2012 Olympics," Natasha said. Clint couldn't keep himself from smiling at her, even if he'd have preferred to keep it all under wraps.
"I see," Nigel said. "Well, if that falls through, I think you could do very well as a dancer. You'd be very welcome to try out on your own, this year or next."
"Nah, I'm good with shooting things," Clint said. "Nat's the dancer--she's gonna win this thing." He stepped back before they could ask him anything else, and they went on to talk about how great her routine was and give her a ticket.
"And America's favorite dancer is...Natasha!"
Clint clapped and yelled and jumped up and down, watching Nat smile as the confetti fell around her. As soon as they'd let him, he ran up on stage and gave her a hug. "I knew you could do it!" he said into her ear.
"Next year's your turn!" she answered, which he ignored in favor of twirling her around.
"You're a dream contestant, Clint," Natasha said. "Between the tragic childhood, the archery, the deafness--"
"Give it up, Nat. I'm not doing it."
"Just think of what you could show them! Your tumbling experience alone--"
"I told you, I'm not doing it."
"Don't even start, Nat. I've got to concentrate on competitions now, make a name for myself. The trials are six months away!"
"You should try out this year. The Olympics are over, and it's not like you're going to make any money as an archer."
"I'll have you know I have a couple of potential endorsement deals worked out already," Clint assured her. "And my agent thinks he can get me onto Top Shot next season."
"I'm sorry the Top Shot thing didn't work out," Natasha said. "You know it's coming up on audition time again. Are you sure you don't want to try out?"
"Rio's in two years, Nat."
Nat made a derisive noise. "You could win that in your sleep, Clint."
"I know I can," Clint said patiently. "The point is to beat my scores from last time. I'm gonna be the Michael Phelps of archery. They'll have to notice me."
"You're not going to be able to live with me forever, you know," Nat said. "I'm already gone half the time as it is. If you were on the show, you'd see me a lot more."
"I know you think you're my only friend, but you're not. And I'm thinking about getting a place with Bobbi anyway."
"That will work out well."
"This may be the last season, and even if it isn't, you'll be too old if you wait any longer. Just try out, Clint. They're doing Street vs. Stage this year; you could do that krumping bit. Or ballroom--you know I'd partner you."
"If I try out, will you leave me the fuck alone about it?"
"I'm not making any promises."
"Yeah, that's what I thought."
"My name is Clint Barton, I'm twenty-nine years old, and I live in LA. I'm trying out for Street. Uh, I go by Hawkeye." Clint felt completely ridiculous with the stupid number on his chest and all these eighteen year olds surrounding him and fucking homophobic Nigel and homophobic Jason Derullo and fucking Paula Abdul sitting there getting ready to judge him. He didn't know how the hell he'd let Nat talk him into this. He'd even let her talk him into using his circus name, which was beyond embarrassing. The Olympics were coming up; he didn't have time for this bullshit.
"And...cue music," Nigel said.
Clint had turned his hearing aids up to hear the music better, but it was really more about the vibrations than anything else, especially with krumping. He managed to lose himself in the music and movements to the point that it was almost a surprise when Nigel held his hand up and the music stopped.
"We've seen you before, haven't we?" Nigel asked.
Clint nodded. "I helped my friend Nat audition back in 2008."
"His friend Nat is season three winner Natasha," Nigel informed the other two judges. "Since then you've competed in the Olympics and won a gold medal in archery. What brought you back to dance?"
"Never left it," Clint said easily. This was purely a lark; there was no need to be all serious. "Just finally gave in to the pressure from Nat to audition. Turns out archery doesn't pay very well." He left out the fact that he'd be competing again in '16. He'd also been very careful not to discuss his history in the foster system, his former circus career, or his deafness, although Cat had noticed his hearing aids and asked about them.
He knew it would come out eventually if he got on the show, but it's not like that was going to happen. Nat had a very biased view of his dance abilities, and he was confident the judges would see him for what he was: a mediocre dancer who just happened to be BFFs with one of their all-stars.
"Well, come and get your ticket!" Nigel said, waving it around with his trademark smarmy grin. Fuck, Clint hated the guy.
But he still went down and picked up his ticket. Going to Vegas for Hell Week would be a piece of cake compared to some of the shit he'd done.
Although he still wasn't sure how he was going to find any time to get to a range and practice.
There was a new choreographer in Vegas that year. He'd done a couple of pieces the previous season; Natasha had raved about him (well, as much as Natasha ever raved about anything). His name was Phil Coulson, and he was a contemporary choreographer based at SHIELD, in New York. He was scary-competent, he had beautiful, wonderfully kind eyes, and he was apparently the successor to Mia Michaels, the one who was going to put them all through the emotional and physical wringer. He was everything Clint had ever wanted in a man, rolled up into one soft-spoken, competent package. And that wasn't even including his actual package, which was very nice indeed, at least as far as Clint could tell.
Clint didn't have much to do with him during Vegas week, since he was on Team Street. The whole Street vs. Stage thing was stupid, but Twitch was amazing, and also really fucking hot (in a completely different way from Coulson's brand of hot).
Clint knew that if he made it onto the show, he'd eventually have to work with Coulson. At least if he wasn't cut before the producers assigned him (oops, before he "drew him out of the hat," as the fiction went; Clint wondered if any of the viewers actually believed that was the way things worked). Clint wasn't sure whether he wanted to be cut before then or not. He was having a lot of conflicted feelings about this whole thing. He called Natasha every night and begged her to get him out of it. "I'm an archer, not a dancer! I only found a couple of hours to shoot this whole week!"
"You can quit if you want," she said. "If you want to be a quitter."
Natasha knew him too fucking well.
He made it into the Top Twenty. He told the producers he would quit unless they guaranteed him a couple of hours a day to practice archery. To his surprise, they agreed to his demand.
The first week wasn't bad. There weren't as many interviews designed to make him bare his soul (the weeks leading up to and after Vegas had been horrific; it was only with Natasha's support that he made it through without punching someone), and the choreo wasn't very challenging. The animation routine he did with a couple of the B-boys seemed to go over okay with the judges. The make-shift range the crew had set up for him in a spare studio was adequate. Barely.
Everyone kept calling him Hawkeye; it was starting to give him flashbacks.
Second week was a Broadway routine (thankfully not choreographed by Tyce, who Clint liked to think had been banished) with one of the stage girls, a tapper. It went fine. The judges loved it and said he'd done a great job of getting into character, whatever the fuck that meant. Clint had just pretended he was in the big top again. He knew how to play to a crowd.
He got a Nappy Tabs routine week three, the first one that tried to go anywhere serious and emote-y. The judges praised his technique (emphasizing how amazing it was for someone who wasn't formally trained), but they called him out for not being emote-y enough. He still made it through into the next round, and the one after that. The week of the top ten he got a Bollywood routine--now, that was fun.
The next week he drew Natasha and the tango. They got a standing ovation that lasted so long the judges barely had time to say anything, Cat said she needed to take a cold shower, and Jean-Marc came up on stage and bowed at their feet. He knew he'd make it through to the next week.
Clint had known it was coming, but it still somehow shocked him when he found out he'd be working with Phil Coulson next. Mark Kanemura would be his partner, which was great--Mark was smart, innovative, and friendly in a 'I'm guessing you're queer and that's cool, even if we have to feel each other up for the audience' kind of way.
Which was a relief, because Coulson calmly explained that the routine was about a man coming out to his best friend, who he believed was straight, only to find that there was much more to their relationship than friendship. They'd be dancing to "True Colors" by Cyndi Lauper--"It's a little on-the-nose, but the choice of music is surprisingly limited on this show," according to Coulson.
Clint maybe was going to have a problem. "Wait," he said, frowning. "Is this going to go over okay with the producers? I don't know if you've noticed, Coulson, but they're kind of raging homophobes."
It wasn't his finest moment. He tried to tell Coulson that supported the idea of the piece with his whole heart, but he wasn't sure he was the guy to perform it--but he couldn't get the words out. He wasn't sure he could perform it, especially with Phil Coulson watching him. He'd wanted to impress the guy, but instead he was frowning at Clint like he'd disappointed him. Which only made Clint want to impress him even more.
Phil looked at Clint like he knew what was bothering him--he was scary intuitive, along with being scary competent, scary good-looking, and terrifyingly kind--but he didn't say anything else. Neither did Clint. Shit, he was going to have to do the routine. Worse, he was going to have to really go for it, because he needed Coulson to know it mattered to him.
"I told them I wouldn't come back if they didn't let me do this routine," Coulson said mildly. "Some of the other choreographers backed me up."
"Not just the choreographers," Mark said. "More than half of the all-stars said they'd walk."
"Really?" Phil--Clint had to think of him as Phil; he couldn't maintain any distance from someone who smiled like that--said, smiling at Mark. His smile was as small as his frown had been, but it was gorgeous and perfect and adorable, and Clint would have given anything for it to be directed at him instead of Mark. He got lost in it a little; Mark had to punch him on the shoulder to get his attention.
Rehearsal was...difficult. Phil's choreography was more challenging than any Clint had been presented with before; Clint had to pay close attention and work hard to get the steps down. That was almost the easy part, though, compared to what Phil was expecting in terms of emotion.
Every other dance Clint had done for the show was like when he did silks or tumbling--anything other than his archery routine, really--in the circus. It was just a performance. He gave it everything he could, physically, but he didn't inhabit the role with anything deeper than a basic desire to entertain.
He was good enough at performing that he'd gotten by in the competition to this point, but Phil wasn't satisfied with good enough. Phil demanded honest emotion, and that hit way too close to home for Clint to be comfortable with. Especially not with Phil himself standing in the room--Phil, who was everything Clint had ever wanted and everything he could never have. Phil, who'd called him Clint from day one, without any prompting. Phil, who treated all the dancers with such respect and care.
Phil also had a very distracting habit of sticking his tongue out when he was concentrating on something, and that didn't help matters any.
By the end of the second day, they were all on edge. Mark, Twitch, and Travis each pulled Clint aside to talk to him. Phil was so frustrated he left them to rehearse on their own; Clint was so frustrated he nearly shoved the camera operator and walked out.
He didn't, though. He asked for a break and went and shot at a target until Mark came to find him.
If he could get through it, he knew the piece would be absolutely stunning. The way the movement dovetailed perfectly with the music, the way Clint could feel how much of Phil's life was part of the piece--Clint wanted to do it justice. He actually wanted to open himself up, to make himself vulnerable, in the way that everyone was begging him to do. But he didn't know how, not without giving away his feelings and ruining everything.
They were rehearsing the most difficult section when it happened. Clint's foot slipped in some sweat and he fumbled the lift. Mark managed to twist out enough to avoid landing on his head, but he wrenched his knee.
"Fuck," Clint told him, dropping onto the floor and putting his head in his hands. "Mark, shit, I'm sorry--are you okay?"
"I'm sure I'll be fine," Mark said, but he looked a little pale. "Let's call it a night and pick it back up in the morning."
"Sure," Clint said; he still had to rehearse his solo. "Just--get some ice on it? I'm really sorry."
He talked to Nat that night for over an hour, and he spent another two on the range, but he didn't feel much better after. The next morning, when he got to the rehearsal space, Mark wasn't there. "Looks like you're stuck with me as a partner," Phil said; Clint almost thought he looked a little nervous.
"Okay," Clint said, giving Phil a smile he knew full well wouldn't fool the guy.
"Look, I know I'm not in as good shape as Kanemura, but I wouldn't have volunteered to take his place if I weren't capable of performing it," Phil said, outright glaring at Clint.
"What?" Clint said. "What do you mean? I don't--Jesus, Coulson, you're amazing! Mark is great, but you...." He trailed off, sure he was flushing bright red and giving everything away.
"You really don't have a problem with me?" Phil asked, studying Clint in that way he had.
"No!" Clint said, shaking his head vigorously. "I...it'll be an honor, partnering you."
"You sure?" Phil asked. "Because I could probably get someone else--Travis, even."
"I don't want anyone else," Clint blurted out, in yet another attempt to make a complete fool of himself. "Come on, let's do it. Maybe half-time at first?"
"Sure," Phil said, but he still looked suspicious.
Clint tried, he really did, but every time he was supposed to look soulfully in Phil's eyes or reach for him longingly, he fucked up. He did okay on most of the lifts, at least, but the more lyrical bits were a disaster. And let's face it, with a song like "True Colors" and the kind of storyline they were working with, basically the entire piece was lyrical bits. They were getting close to breaking for lunch when Phil spun away from him and asked him what the fuck his problem was. "I wouldn't have pegged you for a homophobe, not with what you said a couple days ago!"
Clint actually flinched at that, and Phil's expression softened a little in response. "I'm sorry. That was a little harsh," he said. "Is it just that you personally can't relate to the piece? Can't you just pretend I'm a girl?"
"It's not that I can't relate to the piece, Phil!" Clint said. This time Phil was the one who flinched, and Clint made himself take a deep breath and give him the truth. "It's that I do relate to it. Too much, probably."
"Oh," Phil said after a long moment. "I'm sorry; I misread the situation. I think I've been going about this all wrong."
"Not your fault," Clint said automatically, looking around for the camera way later than he should have. It was weird running into Bobbi again, but they'd managed to work together without any problems.
Phil caught on and turned to her immediately. "Bobbi, I'd appreciate it if you'd give me and Clint a chance to talk about this in private."
"I can do that," she answered. "Probably better if you're out of the studio, though."
"Of course," Phil said. "Clint, would you like to get some lunch?"
"Sure," Clint said weakly. His stomach was roiling too much to have an appetite, but he knew he needed to eat. "Only--would you mind if I took a break first? Like, for an hour?"
"To do what?" Phil asked.
"Uh, go to the practice range? I know it sounds weird, but shooting arrows helps me get out of my head." It was the first time he'd volunteered any information about his archery career without the producers demanding it, and he hadn't let anyone watch him shoot. He couldn't stop them using footage from London, but that didn't mean he had to give them anything new.
"Want some company?" Phil asked, then grimaced and shook his head. "Sorry, I don't mean to intrude. I'll see you in an hour."
Clint watched him turn and walk towards the door. His shoulders were slumped, and he was looking at the ground. "Hey, Phil?" Clint called out just before he left the room.
"Yeah?" Phil asked, turning around.
"Maybe you could grab us a couple of sandwiches and meet me there?"
"Are you sure?" Phil asked. He sounded genuinely excited at the prospect, which Clint didn't get. It wasn't like the distance was anywhere close to challenging; all it did was keep him from going nuts.
"Yeah," Clint said. "Just you, though," he added, glaring at Bobbi to make sure she got the message.
She rolled her eyes. "Let me know when you're ready to rehearse again, boys. I'll be at craft services."
"Do you know where I'll be?" Clint asked after she left. Phil had lingered at the door--could he be waiting for Clint?
Phil nodded. "I'll come by in an hour."
Clint shrugged, deliberately casual. "You can come earlier if you want. Just bring the food."
"If you're sure," Phil said.
"I am," Clint answered, with more confidence than he felt.
He was worried he wouldn't be able to focus, but once he got his hands on his bow, he moved easily into the steady routine of nock and release, his breathing, body, and mind all working in the sweet harmony that he only occasionally came close to when he danced. He barely noticed when Phil showed up, careful and quiet, sitting on the floor out of the way.
Clint was always aware when someone was watching him, a skill honed in the circus and heightened by his hearing loss. The only person he trusted enough to truly relax around was Natasha. But for some reason it didn't bother Clint that Phil was sitting there watching him shoot; it wasn't like when people had tried to coach him (or, in the case of Trick and the Swordsman and even his brother, when they would watch him for any sign of weakness and immediately punish him for it). It felt almost like when he worked with Kate--except he wasn't attracted to Kate.
He kept up his steady rhythm of nock and release until he'd run out of arrows. He was pulling them out of the target (he'd chosen to group them in the shape of a C, which was short for Clint; that it was also short for Coulson was unimportant) when Phil spoke up, saying, "You're amazing," in a voice so soft Clint could barely hear it.
"Nah, that's not anything special," Clint said, refusing to blush. "Just playing around, really."
"Nevertheless," Phil said. He swallowed and looked away for a moment before meeting Clint's eyes again. "I watched you in London."
"Really?" Clint said, turning to face him for the first time. "What, were you bored? Stuck with a niece obsessed with The Hunger Games?" Clint loved his sport, but he didn't kid himself that it was something people actually paid any attention to.
Phil ducked his head and smiled. "None of the above. I was visiting a friend who'd gotten some tickets to the women's individuals at the last minute. Neither one of us expected more than a pleasant afternoon, but I was hooked the moment I saw the first contestant. I ended up going back every day." He looked up and met Clint's eye. "You were breathtaking. I couldn't believe it when Natasha said she knew you."
"Uh, thanks?" Clint said, feeling all kinds of awkward. He rarely interacted with anyone who might be considered a fan, and he never had any idea how to respond. That it was Phil made it ten times harder. "I mean, thank you. Sincerely, really. Thanks." He was definitely blushing now.
"You're welcome," Phil said, and that was definitely a smirk. "You ready to eat yet?"
"Starving," Clint said. "Please tell me they had roast beef today."
Phil handed him a paper bag with a smile. "Awww, yeah," Clint said when he saw the sandwich inside. "You know just how to treat a guy, Coulson." Why the fuck had he said that? He did not need to flirt with Phil.
"Well, I can't have my dance partner pass out on me," Phil said. The tips of his ears were red, and his smile was adorable. Clint quickly stuffed the sandwich in his mouth before he did something stupid.
"You've probably figured out this piece is personal," Phil said once they'd demolished everything but the cookies. At Clint's nod he went on. "It didn't happen the same way, though."
"The friend was straight, right?" Clint asked; he was more than familiar with how that went.
Phil shook his head. "He was straight, yes, but that wasn't the worst of it. Let's just say he wasn't pleased to hear I was gay."
"He didn't hurt you, did he?" Clint asked quickly, struck by the urge to find the guy and maybe threaten him a little.
"No, no," Phil said, holding up his hand. "Or at least not physically. He never spoke to me again, and he told all of our friends, so the rest of high school wasn't exactly pleasant."
Clint kept his mouth shut. Phil had no doubt seen the video packages they'd put together on Hawkeye: victim of childhood abuse, circus-trained archer, partially deaf dancer, Olympic medal winner, best friend of former champion, accidental contestant. Didn't mean Clint had to talk about how he hadn't gotten his GED until he was eighteen, and only then because the people at the group home he was placed in insisted.
"Things got better once I got to college, but there was still a part of me that missed him," Phil said. "I started thinking about this piece years ago as a way to exorcise the past, but I wasn't ready to finish it until now."
"Why now?" Clint asked.
"Truth?" Phil said. Clint nodded. "I wanted to see you dance it."
"What?" Clint said, his mouth hanging open. "That's--Phil, I'm flattered, but that's crazy! I'm nowhere near good enough for something like that--you could have anyone you want; why would you ever want me?"
"Because you're a wonderful dancer, Clint," Phil said, looking at him seriously. "I don't know why you don't see that; everyone else does. I'd never ask you to give up archery, but why can't you do both?"
"I'm a good archer," Clint said. "It's the only thing I've ever been good at."
"It's not," Phil said, tilting his head in consideration. "But you are an artist with the bow and arrow. Ever since the London games I've been wondering how I might fit some archery moves into my choreography. Now that I've met you, I might even do a piece with that as a theme."
"How would that work?" Clint asked, interested almost in spite of himself.
"I'm not sure yet," Phil said. "I was thinking of something more abstract than the usual for the show. There's something you could help with, if you'd be willing."
"You want to watch me shoot some more?" Clint asked with a grin. "'cause I have to tell you, Coulson, I can do a lot better than this. Wait until after the show, and I'll let you see where I usually practice. You play your cards right and I might even show you some of what I used to do in the circus."
"While I would very much like to do that, what I had in mind was something else," Phil said. "I want to watch you shoot again, but--and I realize this is a little inappropriate, so please know I'll understand if it makes you uncomfortable--what I'd really like is to see you shooting without your shirt on. That way I can get a good look at your, uh, musculature, at the body mechanics. It would be helpful. For my choreography."
Clint hesitated. Phil noticed--of course he did--and said, "I have made you uncomfortable. I'm sorry, Clint--forget I said anything."
Phil had shared a lot of himself with Clint over the last few days, especially over the last hour. He would never see Clint as relationship material, but maybe they could at least be friends. Clint snorted at how ridiculous he was being and made up his mind. "It's okay, Phil," he said, standing and offering his hand to pull Phil up with him. "I'd be happy to. It's just--you know how you said your friend wasn't pleased when you came out to him?"
Phil nodded slowly.
"My brother wasn't pleased either. When he found out I had a crush on one of the trapeze artists, he got pretty pissed off. It left some scars." It wasn't the truth--the scars had come from the Swordsman, or at least the ones on his back had, and Barney never knew Clint was queer--but it was an explanation Clint figured Phil would buy. Besides, he had more than his share of bad reactions to coming out.
"Shit, I'm sorry, Clint," Phil said. "Did they use make-up when you did the tango with Natasha?"
Clint shook his head. "They're on my back. I made sure the costumers knew to keep that covered." It's not like make-up would ever work. Not when the scars were from a bullwhip.
"I'm sorry," Phil said again. "I never meant to--what are you doing?"
"Taking my shirt off," Clint said. He shrugged. "It's okay. I don't mind if you see them." He did, a little, but not enough to keep him from tossing his shirt in the corner and picking up his bow again. Maybe if he showed Phil this part of himself, he'd feel better about letting go when they got back to the studio. It was worth a try, anyway.
Phil kept quiet and went back to watching Clint as he shot arrow after arrow into the target. He stood close by instead of sitting in the corner; Clint could feel him watching, but it felt thoughtful and attentive, even kind, rather than intrusive. Some part of him had decided that he could trust Phil, and he decided to trust that.
When he'd emptied his quiver a second time, he turned to Phil with a smile. "Seen enough?" He felt loose, easier than he had in weeks.
"I'm not sure that's possible, but we probably should get back to rehearsal," Phil said, something warm and fond in his gaze that Clint didn't want to question.
"I'll be there as soon as I get my equipment put up," Clint said, unable to look away from Phil's blue eyes, from the crow's feet at the corners, from the freckles scattered over his cheekbones and forehead.
"I'll see you then," Phil said, but neither of them moved until Phil's phone buzzed. "Looks like they're tired of waiting for us," he said after he'd checked the screen. "I'd better get back there before they call out the cavalry."
"Don't want to get on her bad side," Clint agreed. Melinda May's title was associate producer, but everyone knew who actually ran the show, and it wasn't Nigel or Simon Fucking Cowell. Crossing May would land you in a quickstep routine with the weakest cast member available as a partner, and that was if you were lucky.
Clint stayed where he was, waiting until Phil was out of sight before unstringing his bow and gathering his arrows. He was going to do it; he would make it work. He couldn't let Phil down.
When they took their places and the music started up again, everything that had been impossible before was suddenly almost easy. It wasn't that Clint thought Phil was interested--it was that he trusted Phil. He knew Phil would never do anything to hurt him, not deliberately, and certainly not for maybe getting a little too involved in a piece Phil had apparently written in some part for Clint. So Clint let himself believe, just for those two short minutes. For those two short minutes, it felt like Phil believed it too.
They ran through it three times, although they probably only needed to do it once. They had it, and they both knew it. Bobbi knew it, too--when Clint glanced at her after the second run-through, he could see tears in her eyes. It should have freaked him out, but it didn't.
"I knew you'd be perfect," Phil said after their third run-through. "Thank you for trusting me."
"It's the best dancing I'll ever do," Clint said honestly, "and I couldn't have done it without you."
Phil smiled softly and gave him a tight hug. "I'll see you tomorrow for dress. Sleep well."
Clint still had to rehearse the group bit and his krump with Comfort, but both of those were fun, relatively easy routines. He and Comfort had a ball and finished up early, leaving Clint plenty of time to talk to Nat before dinner, but the other dancers weren't doing as well with the group piece. Dave and Twitch kept them at it until everyone got it, which meant Clint didn't get to bed until he was practically dead on his feet.
He slept like the dead, too, with no trace of the nightmares he expected any time he talked, even briefly, about Barney. He woke before his alarm and went to shoot for a couple of hours, his usual routine on performance days. He was secretly thrilled when Phil showed up with coffee and donuts, offering them with a soft smile like it was something they did every day. They sat and ate them in companionable silence before going their separate ways, Clint to costume fittings and Phil to watch rehearsals for the other routine he'd choreographed that week.
The costume department frequently had what Clint considered deeply unfortunate ideas, but apparently Phil had put his foot down about their routine, because the stretch jeans and tight rainbow t-shirt they had waiting for him were just what they'd talked about. Clint couldn't wait to see how Phil looked--he was supposed to be in a suit. But first he had to be fitted for his other routines, about which the less said, the better--seriously, he got that some hip-hop dancers did the dropped crotch thing, but it worked a hell of a lot better on Megz than it did on Clint. Megz was bad-ass enough to carry it off; on Clint it just looked dumb, and that extra material felt like it interfered with his movement, even though it was designed not to.
At least it wasn't those weird skirt-pant things that Sonya seemed to be so fond of. Those were an absolute bitch to dance in, flopping all over the place. Clint preferred his costumes the way he preferred to dress--closely-fitted and comfortable, perfect for shooting a bow and arrow.
The schedule had him and Phil performing towards the end, which meant Clint had a lot of crap to get through first. There were fuck-ups of varying magnitude with just about every routine, and Clint was starting to get worried that they wouldn't even get a chance to rehearse again, which apparently happened occasionally. In the end they had to settle for a quick run-through backstage, which meant none of the judges had even seen the routine yet. Clint hoped Nigel and Jason wouldn't be total jackasses when it came to their remarks.
All too soon it was time for the group routine. Between costume changes and the sheer number of routines Clint was in, the afternoon flew by. The judges liked his routine with Comfort. The audience gave it a standing ovation, but they did that all the time. His solo went okay, although he wasn't really satisfied with it, not after...not after what dancing with Phil felt like.
And then it was time to change into the t-shirt and jeans, get his hair spiked up and his make-up checked. Phil appeared and stood next to the make-up chair, dressed in a blue suit that brought out his eyes and fit his body perfectly. Clint's mouth went dry when Phil smiled at him; he wasn't wearing a tie, and his white shirt was open at the collar, a smattering of hair visible on his chest.
"Ready?" Phil asked, leading him towards the stage with a hand on his arm.
"Yeah," Clint said hoarsely. He swallowed. "Yeah, I'm good."
"Just let go," Phil said, and the sincerity in his eyes took Clint's breath away. "I've got you."
"I know," Clint said. "You too." He had already opened his heart to Phil. It wouldn't be difficult to portray a character in love with Phil. All he had to do was forget all the artifice and show how he really felt, because in that moment Clint knew he was already head over heels, and it was surprisingly easy to believe Phil might feel the same.
Cat caught their eye from the stage, and they both nodded. "And now, with a Phil Coulson contemporary routine danced with the choreographer himself, put your hands together for Hawkeye!"
Before everything had gone to shit, before he'd stopped caring, Barney had once asked him where he went when he was shooting. Clint had never been able to come up with an answer that satisfied. He didn't go anywhere, he'd told his brother, and that much was true, but it wasn't the whole truth. Shooting always centered him, it always made him not less, but more--more aware, more connected, more present, more himself--but there were times where more was completely inadequate.
It didn't happen all the time, but sometimes it felt like Clint, his bow, the arrow, and the target were one, inseparable, a gestalt--a word he'd first heard at a competition a few years earlier, uttered by a complete douchebag of a frat-boy with intellectual pretensions. But he'd liked the way it sounded, so he'd looked it up on his phone and known immediately that it was as close as he'd ever get to explaining the feeling in words. At those moments, he moved beyond his bedrock confidence in his ability to make any given shot. At those moments, he was the shot, or maybe the vessel the shot passed through on its way to being itself, which sounded like the kind of pretentious zen bullshit a douchebag frat boy might come up with, but also was right.
That night, dancing on stage with Phil, was kind of like those moments when he was a vessel for arrow and target. Only he wasn't alone--he and Phil together were the gestalt, were the dance, were two friends discovering the love they shared, were the music, were the emotion, were everything. Clint was both aware of all of it (and the audience, and the cameras, and the judges) and aware of nothing but the feeling of Phil next to him, Phil lifting him, carrying him, loving him, even if it was just for two minutes, because those two minutes lasted forever and were gone in an instant.
At the end of it, the two of them were in each other's arms, and Phil reached with his thumb and swiped it under Clint's eye as the audience, which had been silent for nearly the entire routine, burst into a frenzy of cheering. Phil gave Clint a wry smile and Clint knew, he knew that if they were alone, Phil would have kissed him then. But instead he hugged Clint and stepped back out of the spotlight.
People said stuff to him: Cat, the judges, Twitch and Travis once he'd gotten back stage--and people were crying: Cat, Paula; fucking Mark Kanemura had tears in his eyes, and maybe Travis too, not to mention Clint himself (and Phil, not that anyone but Clint would have seen it before he stepped away). Even Natasha's eyes looked suspiciously red.
And, oh yeah, he made the top six. But it was all a blur. Clint didn't come completely back to himself until after the show was over, when he was in the shower, washing the make-up and the sweat and the scent of Phil's skin away.
He begged off going out for drinks with some of the cast and went to the range. Phil was waiting for him there. It was odd how quickly something that had been his very solitary escape had turned into a refuge for the two of them.
"Hey," he said, feeling awkward and uncertain.
"Hi," Phil said, pushing off from the wall and moving towards him. "How are you feeling?"
"I have no idea," Clint said, shaking his head and laughing. "Jesus, Phil. How are you feeling?"
"Right now?" Phil asked, coming closer still. "Frustrated."
"Why?" Clint asked, his hand coming up to cup Phil's cheek before he realized he was going to do it.
Phil closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Clint's. "Because I really want to kiss you, but I can't."
"Why?" Clint asked again, stroking his thumb over Phil's cheekbone. "Why can't you? I want you to," he added, although he was pretty sure Phil already knew that.
Phil sighed. "Because I'm a goddamned fucking professional, and it wouldn't be right, not while the competition is still going on."
"So after the competition's over?" Clint asked. It would suck, but he could wait that long. It was only three weeks until the finale, if he didn't get cut the following week, which seemed pretty unlikely.
"God help me," Phil muttered. "Yes. After the competition. After the tour would be safer, but I don't think either one of us can wait that long."
Clint grinned. "I'll try to hold off kissing you on stage if I win," he said.
"When," Phil said. Clint frowned a little in confusion. "When you win," he clarified. "No one else has a snowball's chance."
"If you say so," Clint said. His hand was still on Phil's face, and Phil's were on Clint's hips. "One kiss?" he asked, putting his other hand on the back of Phil's neck. "Just so..." he trailed off, embarrassed.
"What?" Phil asked softly, lifting his head to meet Clint's eyes.
"So I know this is real and not a dream?" Clint said, wishing his voice hadn't wavered so much.
"Okay," Phil said.
The kiss wasn't easy like their dance had been, but the slight awkwardness was kind of a relief. There was no way it wasn't real, not with their noses bumping and taking a moment to figure out how their mouths would fit together best.
For a first, somewhat awkward kiss, it was pretty fucking amazing, at least until Phil pulled away. "Think that'll hold you for a few weeks?" he asked, sounding more winded than he had after hours in the studio.
"I guess it'll have to," Clint said, sighing. "Not my smartest move, falling for a guy with professional ethics."
Phil huffed a laugh and brushed his lips against Clint's cheek. "We'd better get out of here before you strain my professional ethics even more than you have already. It's just three weeks. And we'll both be so busy it'll go by quickly."
Clint snorted. "Not quickly enough. I could just quit?"
"Don't you dare," Phil said. "Nigel would have me strung up."
"Okay, okay, I'm going," Clint said, making himself step out of reach. "I'll see you tomorrow, though?"
"I'm choreographing the group routine for next week," Phil confirmed. "Please avoid making googly eyes at me in public."
"Only if you avoid smiling at me the way you were tonight," Clint said.
"I'll do my best," Phil said. He swallowed before adding, "Good night, Clint."
"Good night, Phil," Clint answered and walked out the door. He didn't stop until he got to his room.
If he'd had a clue what was really going on, Clint figured Nigel would have been proud of how deeply Clint stayed in character the following three weeks. He threw himself into every routine as if his life depended on it, and the judges fell all over themselves praising him. The only one who seemed to have any idea what was going on, beyond Phil and Natasha, was Mark. He didn't say anything to Clint, but Clint caught the occasional sympathetic look when no one else could see.
Natasha wasn't sympathetic at all, but that was Natasha for you. Clint knew her well enough to see that she was worried about him; he was pretty sure she'd pulled Phil aside to give him her version of a shovel talk. Whatever he'd said must have satisfied her, though, because she'd lost that pinched look afterwards.
Clint mostly did okay, at least up until the day of the finale, when he and Phil would have to dance together again. They'd offered to have him dance with Mark instead, but Clint had turned them down. He'd probably end up dancing the routine with Mark on tour, which sucked, although by this point Clint knew he'd be able to do it. He wasn't going to pass up the chance to do it one more time with Phil, though, even if it would physically hurt to pull away at the end.
He was sitting on his bed, pondering what exactly would happen after the show ended--would Phil come to the hotel? Invite him home? Maybe they'd just eat some dinner; there was no need to rush things--when there was a knock at the door. He figured it was Natasha, or maybe Kate, who'd promised to fly out for the finale, but when he opened the door, his brother said, "What's up?"
"Barney? What the hell are you doing here?" he asked, stepping back automatically to let him in, an impulse he almost immediately regretted.
"You're supposed to say 'chickenbutt,' Clint, come on!" Barney's tone was casual, like he'd just seen Clint the day before instead of not for years. "Can't a big brother come to cheer his little brother on?"
"If you'd wanted to cheer me on, you could have come to London three years ago," Clint said. "Or maybe to the rehab facility when I walked for the first time since you and Trick broke both of my legs, or did you forget about that? Because I haven't!"
"Yeah, I, uh, that wasn't my finest moment," Barney said, scratching the back of his neck. "My worst ever moment, more like. I'm sorry, Clint. I've tried to get up the nerve to call and apologize for years."
"Well, you picked a fine fucking time to show up," Clint said. "Jesus, Barn! Couldn't you have waited until, I don't know, after the show? I've kind of got a lot on my mind at the moment--I don't have time for this!"
"I got a ticket," Barney said. "I've been watching you on tv, but I wanted to come tonight and see you live. I figured it was better to let you know I was here than have you look out in the audience and see me."
Clint blew out a breath, pissed that he apparently didn't have the will to punch Barney in the face and tell him to get the fuck out of his life. Unfortunately, there was still some part of him that missed his brother, or at least the brother Barney had been when they were younger. "I guess that makes sense. But I really don't have time to talk to you now. I have to head to the studio for dress rehearsals."
"But you'll talk to me after?" Barney wheedled. "Please, bro. I know I've got a lot to make up for. Give me a chance to try?"
"Did it ever occur to you that I might actually have plans?" Clint asked. When Barney gave him a hangdog look, he shook his head. "Fine. We'll talk after the show, at least for a few minutes."
"I was kinda hoping I could crash here," Barney said.
"Oh for fuck's sake," Clint muttered, grabbing his wallet and digging some money out. "Here. Go down to the lobby and get your own damned room."
"What if there aren't any?"
"Then find another hotel. I've got to go now." It looked like Barney was about to protest again, but Clint glared him into silence and ushered him out the door.
"What's wrong? Is it Phil?" Natasha asked, her eyes narrowed.
"No, it's not Phil!" Clint hissed at her. They were backstage; just because they couldn't see anyone at the moment didn't mean they couldn't be overheard.
"Then what is it? You're not nervous, are you? You're going to win, Clint. Even you must know that by now."
"Not nervous," Clint said, which was mostly true. "Barney showed up at my door earlier. He's gonna be at the show."
"Barney as in your brother? The one who left you for dead?" Natasha's voice had gone ice-cold, and Clint thought, not for the first time, that she would have made a first-rate assassin.
"That's the one," Clint confirmed. "Says he wants to apologize. Which he's insisting on doing tonight. After the show."
"But what about Phil?" Natasha asked, proof that she was way more invested in their relationship than she'd ever admit to.
"Phil's a good guy. The best. He'll understand." Clint sighed. "I can't believe I'm getting cockblocked by my asshole estranged brother. Can you believe he asked if he could stay in my room?"
May appeared out of nowhere. "Get your ass in gear, Barton. You too, Romanoff--your tango is up in five."
Clint didn't see Phil until about an hour later. "Got a minute?" he asked, jerking his head towards the dressing rooms. He was reasonably sure they could find an empty one for at least a few minutes.
"Are you okay?" Phil asked once they were alone.
"Not really," Clint said heavily. He hated that he had to do this. "Listen, about tonight--"
"Have you changed your mind?" Phil asked, his voice turning brittle.
"What? No!" Clint said quickly, reaching out and grabbing Phil's upper arm. "Are you kidding me? Tonight's all I've been thinking about for the last three weeks!"
"Okay, good," Phil said, a relieved smile on his face. "What is it, then?"
"I got an unexpected visit from my older brother this afternoon," Clint said. "He's apparently chosen tonight to try to convince me he's changed, that he's sorry for everything he did to me."
Clint could see Phil consider asking for details, but all he said was, "Tonight, huh?"
Clint nodded. "He'll be in the audience, and he wants to talk to me after the show. He's my brother, Phil. I don't know if I can ever forgive him, but he's my brother. I have to hear him out."
"Of course you do," Phil said. "I understand. Do you know how long he's staying in town?"
Clint shook his head. "Hopefully I can get rid of him pretty quickly. I can text you when he's gone?"
"We can wait one more night, Clint. It's okay. I've heard it isn't actually possible to die of anticipation." Phil said, smiling. "Besides, everyone's going to want to celebrate when you win tonight."
"If, Phil," Clint said, leaning into him. "If."
"When," Phil said, pulling him close. They stood there for a moment, cheek to cheek, breathing each other in. "You're worth the wait, you know," Phil said softly.
There was a loud knock on the door before Clint could reply. "Hawkeye, you in there?"
"Yeah, Twitch, I'm here," Clint said, pulling away from Phil again. He was really getting tired of doing that.
By mutual decision, Phil and Clint declined the opportunity to rehearse the routine again. "Worked for us the last time, didn't it?" Clint said when it looked like May was going to object.
She frowned for a second, but she didn't say anything.
Clint had thought the other live shows had been busy, but he was in more routines tonight than ever, and it had been weeks since he had learned a few of them. Or maybe, he admitted to himself, it was just that he cared a little bit more about doing a good job than he had when he'd started. Whatever the reason, he was getting tired as the end of the show drew near.
"True Colors" was the last scheduled routine, because of course it was. He didn't think he'd really pushed himself to the limit, but he was glad for the opportunity to sit and breathe for a few minutes during the commercial break. Especially since he'd caught several glimpses of Barney in the audience, waving an honest to God sign. It had "Go Hawkeye!" in big purple letters, with a crudely drawn bow and arrow underneath.
Clint really didn't know what to think about that.
Mark sat down next to him. "Doing okay?"
"Think so," Clint said. "Ask me again in a few hours." When Mark glanced at him curiously, he said, "My brother showed up for the show, completely out of the blue. We're not close."
"Ah," Mark said. "So it's not about Phil?"
Clint looked around to confirm no one was in hearing distance. "It's not about Phil. Phil is the best thing to happen to me in a long time."
"Good," Mark said, standing and squeezing his shoulder. "Break a leg."
Travis came in next with a hug and encouraging words. Then it was Twitch's turn. Natasha showed up after that, although she didn't say anything, just sat with him until it was time to meet up with Phil backstage.
Phil didn't say anything either, just looked at him with those gorgeous eyes, so warm and loving that Clint wanted to fall into them. He fell into the routine instead, immersing himself once again, only this time with the surety that Phil felt it all as deeply as Clint did. The standing ovation that followed, the announcement that he'd won, the celebration after that, none of it compared to those two minutes. If Clint clung to Phil more tightly, and for longer, than anyone else on the stage after he'd won, no one seemed to mind. Natasha was probably relieved; she wasn't a big fan of hugs.
Someone brought Barney up on stage, so Clint hugged him too; it seemed like the thing to do.
"That guy, Phil," Barney said as Clint plowed through half of the room service menu. They'd made him meet with the publicist and do an interview after the show, and he hadn't eaten anything since lunch. "What's his deal?"
"His deal is that he's the guy I had a date with tonight until you showed up and fucked it up," Clint said.
"Since when do you like guys?" Barney said, sitting back.
"Since always," Clint answered shortly.
"But what about Rhonda? You two were hot and heavy for weeks; I had to sleep over at Trick's trailer a few times!"
"It's called bisexuality, Barney. Look it up." He focused on his burger again, although it no longer tasted as good as it had a minute ago.
"Huh," Barney said. "I did not know that." At Clint's look he went on, "Not about bisexuality; I knew about that. I just meant I didn't know that about you."
"There's a lot you don't know about me," Clint said.
Barney was silent for several seconds. "I know," he said eventually. "And I know it's my own damn fault. I...it's no excuse, but I was a mess back then. I was jealous, I think."
"You think?" Clint asked.
"Okay, I was definitely jealous," Barney said. "And scared. You were my little brother, but you had so much going for you. I knew you'd find a way out of there, a way to stay the good kid you always were. For me, I thought Trick and the Swordsman were my only option."
"I spent three months in a rehab hospital," Clint said pointedly. He may have agreed to talk to Barney, but that didn't mean he had to hold back from any hard truths. "They weren't sure I'd ever walk again."
Barney actually got a little green at that. "Fuck, I am so sorry, Clint."
"After that, I went to a group home," Clint continued, his voice brusque and impersonal. "Just for six months, until I turned eighteen; then I was on my own. Thought about joining the army, but they took one look at my x-rays and turned me down. If I hadn't met Natasha when I did, I'd have ended up on the street."
Barney took a gulp from his beer. "What did you end up doing?"
"Waited tables, worked construction, helped out at Nat's dance studio, did whatever odd jobs I could find to make enough to afford time on a nearby shooting range. Eventually they let me work there, and I caught the eye of the USAA and started competing."
"And then you went to the Olympics." For once, there was nothing but honest admiration in Barney's voice.
"And then I went to the Olympics," Clint confirmed, ignoring the warm feeling he got from Barney's apparent awe. "After a shitload of practice and sucking up to USA Archery, because good as I was, I wasn't exactly their idea of a dream competitor. I came home from London and went back to working whatever jobs I could find, because it turns out winning a gold medal in archery doesn't actually pay your rent. I ended up working full-time at the studio and picking up a few things there."
"They said on the show that you've never had training," Barney said. Clint glanced at him. "Yeah, I watched it. I told you that already."
"Wasn't sure if you were bullshitting me," Clint said. "No, I never had any formal training, just what I could pick up from watching Nat and other dancers. It's kinda like archery for me, I guess--not like I ever had any real training there, either, just getting beat up if I missed. The coaches hate my form, and they hate that I like to shoot without a sight or stabilizers even more." Why the hell was he telling Barney all of this? He should be talking to Phil, not Barney. Barney didn't deserve to know.
Barney laughed, a little bitterly. "You have any idea what it's like to see your brother be insanely talented at not just one, but two things? Talented enough to win huge competitions? I guess the Olympics wasn't enough for you, huh?"
"Fuck you," Clint said. "You were one of the people beating me up, asshole; you don't get to complain. Get out. Leave, right the fuck now!"
"Sorry," Barney said, turning pale. "I'm sorry. Shit, no matter what I do, I keep fucking things up with you. I'll go, just, can I give you my number? You don't have to call, but just in case?"
Clint stared at him for a long moment. Apparently he was serious. "Fine," Clint spit out eventually, waving his hand. "There's some paper and a pen in the desk. Write it down, then go."
By the time Barney finally left, Clint was feeling pretty damned defeated for someone who'd just been named "America's Favorite Dancer! [TM]" Not defeated enough to miss out on the chance to see Phil, though. He took a quick shower after texting, something Barney hadn't given him the time to do, then sat on the bed waiting nervously for Phil to knock on his door.
He didn't have to wait long; Phil must have stuck around at the hotel or somewhere nearby. Either way, Clint was grateful, because Phil Coulson in soft jeans and a Captain America t-shirt was pretty much the best thing he'd ever opened his door to in his entire life.
"Hey," Clint said. It came out as more of a croak than he'd anticipated, and Phil's eyes widened in concern. He stepped into the room, shutting the door behind him, and pulled Clint into a hug.
"You've had a hell of a day, huh?" he asked softly.
"Bit of a roller-coaster," Clint answered, content for the moment to melt into Phil's arms.
Phil hummed in response, one hand at the base of his skull, fingers carding gently through his hair. He was wrapped so completely around Clint that his other hand was cupping Clint's shoulder. Clint could feel Phil's chest expand with each breath, could smell the scent of Phil's soap, could feel the smoothness of his freshly shaved cheeks.
He could have stayed like that forever and been perfectly content, but then Phil drew back just enough to kiss him, and that was even better.
It was pretty cliched to describe what happened after that as a dance, but that's what it felt like, like he and Phil were just picking up from where the routine had ended. There were a few fumbles here and there, but mostly it just flowed as they moved easily from the doorway to the bed, shedding clothing. They danced together in slow, exquisite moments to the music of their own bodies and voices. After they finished, after Phil borrowed Clint's toothbrush and Clint took his hearing aids out, they breathed together in the dark. Clint kept his head on Phil's chest, feeling it rise and fall under his cheek until he fell asleep.
Clint slept deeply, only waking when the phone on the nightstand rang loudly enough that Clint could hear it even though he was sleeping with his good ear on the pillow. Phil sat up abruptly, looking completely adorable despite the crease in his cheek from the bedding. Clint sat up more slowly, taking the headset from Phil in one hand while putting one of his aids in with the other.
It was Victoria the publicist again. By the time Clint got off the phone, Phil was in the shower. Clint glanced at the screen of his phone, which was full of missed calls and congratulatory texts, before putting it down again and taking his hearing aid back out so he could join Phil in the shower. The reality of what his new life was going to be like was starting to hit him, and he didn't like it; he'd stay in this bubble of quiet joy with Phil for as long as they'd let him.
That turned out to be barely enough time for them to get clean, and not nearly enough time for the blow job that Clint had planned on. Clint was still rinsing the shampoo out of his hair when Phil shouted, "There's someone at the door" directly into his ear. Then he quickly got out of the shower, leaving Clint alone.
"Fuck," Clint muttered, turning the water off and grabbing a towel. "In the shower!" he yelled at the door. "Be there in a minute!"
Clint threw on a pair of jeans he thought were still clean and grabbed Phil's t-shirt off the floor. Since Phil had already appropriated one of his, Clint figured he wouldn't mind. He stuck his hearing aids in and scrubbed the towel one more time through his hair.
"Do you want me to hide in the bathroom?" Phil asked.
"What? No!" Clint exclaimed. "Unless...do you want to hide? Do you not want people to know?"
"Clint, anyone who knows both of us is going to know this is your shirt," Phil said, smiling a little. "I don't mind people knowing. I just thought--you're not out, and you're going to be in the limelight a lot from now on. I wanted to give you the option."
"Not taking it, but thanks," Clint said, giving him a quick kiss before stepping to the door and opening it. "Morning, Victoria."
"It is that," Victoria said, handing him (and Phil, which was interesting) a cup of coffee. "Have you had a chance to look at the schedule for today yet?" Her tone made it clear she knew he hadn't.
"Not really," Clint said, trying to sound apologetic.
"I took the liberty of ordering some breakfast. It should be here any minute," she said. There was an immediate knock on the door, like they'd been waiting on her order. She opened the door and ushered the hotel staff in. Clint didn't have to look under the metal plate covers to see that there was more than enough food for the three of them.
Victoria Hand's overarching knowledge and preparation was both awesome and terrifying. He'd have to make sure she and Nat never ganged up on him. Clint glanced at Phil long enough to see that he was similarly impressed. She ignored both of them in favor of directing the staff on how to set up their breakfast. She had them out of the room, tips in hand, before Clint could do much more than blink.
"The show would like to arrange several interviews with the two of you and Ms. Romanoff," she said a few minutes later while buttering a piece of toast. "Everyone will be curious about your relationship, as well as the exact nature of the friendship between Hawkeye and Natasha, so you'll need to be prepared for that."
They spent the next forty-five minutes working out some of the details. From there, Clint plunged directly into a round of interviews that made his post-Olympics press conference look like kindergarten. When neither of the first two reporters asked anything even hinting about relationships, Clint made the mistake of relaxing a little.
He thought the third interview would be just as superficial. The reporter, a curvy woman with dark hair, enormous blue eyes, and porcelain skin, was wearing way more layers of clothing than seemed reasonable, and she seemed a bit too enthusiastic for a professional. Which made sense once she introduced herself: "I'm Darcy Lewis of News From the Lews, and you guys are going to bring my blog so many hits." Clint figured he was in for another softball interview, but after a few questions she narrowed her eyes, sat back in her seat, and got serious.
"Hawkeye, Phil is on record as saying this was a very personal routine for him, based on something from his past. How did you manage to connect to it so deeply?"
"Same way Phil did," Clint said, wondering if she'd go for the follow-up.
"So you've had the experience of falling in love with your best friend?" she asked, looking from him to Natasha.
Clint snorted. "No. I connected to it for two reasons. The first is that I'm bisexual, so I know what it feels like to come out to someone you care about. The second is that I've spent the last few weeks falling for the guy I danced with. That kinda makes it easy to connect." He could feel Nat smirking next to him, but all Phil did was hold out his hand, palm up. Clint took it and squeezed tightly, hiding his nerves by glaring a little at the reporter, daring her to make something of it.
"Congratulations!" she said, a huge grin on her face. She seemed genuinely happy for them. Clint wasn't sure how to take that. Victoria had given them song and verse about how much pushback they'd have to deal with; she'd said nothing about how to deal with people being supportive.
That was the best interview of the day. The rest ranged from boring to inane to infuriating. At some point Darcy's blog must have been updated, because the last several interviews immediately focused on Clint's relationship with Phil. It made Clint miss the boring and inane ones from earlier, but at least no one got deliberately hateful.
Phil's boss was waiting impatiently for him to get home and get cracking on choreographing a new piece, as well as, in Fury's words, "whipping these assholes into shape." Fury's voice on the phone had been loud enough that Clint had overheard. Apparently there were a lot of new dancers at the company, and this Fury dude thought Phil was the only one capable of riding herd on them.
"You know I have to leave tomorrow," Phil said once he'd hung up.
"I know," Clint said, looking at Phil and trying to take a mental picture of the way his glasses made his eyes even more blue. "You've got a team of newbies and a ballet to write."
"I didn't know I was going to come out of this experience with a boyfriend," Phil said, an apologetic smile on his face. "If I had, I'd have scheduled more time off."
Clint shrugged diffidently, but it was going to be rough on both of them, and they both knew it. "I've got to leave for the tour soon anyway. We're starting on the east coast--maybe you can make it to a few shows?"
"Count on it," Phil said. "And I'll fly out for weekends when I can."
"I know they're going to book me into hotels, but I was thinking when I was in New York, maybe I wouldn't need one?" Clint asked, hoping he wasn't blushing.
"You're crazy if you think I'm going to let you stay anywhere other than with me," Phil said. "Of course, once you're there, I'm not gonna want to let you leave."
"I won't want to." It was too soon--Clint knew it was too soon--but he said it anyway. "I love you, Phil."
Phil stared at him for half a second before pulling him into a deep, passionate kiss. "I love you too," he said when they broke apart. "So much, Clint."
They hung the Do Not Disturb sign on the door, called down to the desk to block any calls, and turned their cell phones off. They spent the next twelve hours trying to make up for all the time they were going to spend apart.
It hadn't been easy trying to balance a burgeoning dance career with Olympic-level archery, but Rio was the first and possibly only chance Clint would have to be on the national team with Kate. He wasn't going to miss that just to do a few all-star routines on the new season of the show. Fortunately he'd had a very good lawyer when he'd negotiated his contract.
Rio was definitely a different scene than London had been. Between shooting without a sight or stabilizers and the aforementioned dance career, Clint had a much higher profile this time around. It seemed like there were always people snapping his picture or, worse yet, asking him to appear in selfies with them. What was most frustrating was the way they kept propositioning him. They'd done it when he'd been on tour, too, but he'd never expected it to happen at the Olympics. "Is nothing sacred?" he'd asked Phil. Thank God he wasn't staying in the athletes' village, because he remembered what kinds of things happened there, and he wanted no part of it.
No, he was thirty years old, happily committed to his incredible boyfriend, hoping to turn that commitment into something more official and permanent soon.
He had to get through the games first, though.
He sailed through the first couple of rounds, his scores right on par from his scores in London. He'd have preferred to score higher, but see: dance career plus unconventional shooting style.
The problem was, the Koreans were shooting better than they had in London, and they'd been his only serious competition there. Clint was still the leading scorer, but that wouldn't help him if he fucked up in his last match.
"I'm as sure you'll win this as I was about the show," Phil had told him. "And I'm just as right this time." Then he'd kissed Clint and told him he loved him.
"Geez, Barton, stop being such a worry-wort!" Kate had said. "You're gonna wipe the floor with those guys, same as before, and you're gonna do it with style." She'd already won gold, but he took the high road and didn't remind her how nervous she'd been before her final match.
A bunch of the people from the show had been calling and texting to wish him luck. He didn't give a shit about Nigel, but he was surprised and touched to hear from everyone from the choreographers and contestants to the camera operators and line producers. Even Melinda May had sent him her best wishes. The only one who'd given a shit about him in London had been Nat, and when he hinted to her about how he was maybe a little nervous, she just punched him on the arm, hard. That's how she generally expressed her affection, though, so it was reassuring.
"We've got your back on Twitter," Skye told him via text. "We'll all be watching!" All of the SHIELD newbies had kind of adopted Clint without him noticing; Phil had promised him Fury would offer him a position with the company whenever he was ready. Apparently Fury had also brought a television into the studio so the entire company could have an Olympic archery watching party. For some reason that felt like more pressure than anything else did.
At the finals when everyone was watching (including Barney) and everything was on the line, he did what he had the first time he and Phil performed together: he let go. He fired quickly, with barely a pause in between arrows. There was an audible gasp from the crowd when he finished and they put his target up on the screen: all three arrows were within the innermost ring, perfectly centered in a triangle and placed so closely together that the shafts were touching. He had to wait for his Korean competitor to finish, but he'd made three nearly inconceivable shots. There was no question that he'd not only won, he'd broken every record in the books.
It would be impossible to ever improve his score; he'd likely never again come close to such a perfect series of shots. Maybe it was time to retire from competition after all; if he continued, the rest of his career would seem like an afterthought.
He searched the crowd until he found Phil, cheering wildly and waving a flag. As soon as the whistle blew, signaling the end of the round, he jogged over and climbed the wall to the stands, pushing his way through the crowd to get close enough to for a kiss. "I told you you could do it!" Phil yelled. "God, I love you--you're amazing!"
It was hard to find the room, but Nat and Kate made people step back enough that Clint could drop to one knee. He held his hand out, and Nat gave him the ring. He barely got the words out, and he doubted Phil could even hear them, but it didn't matter. With tears in his eyes, Phil pulled him up and into his arms, saying, "Yes, yes, of course I'll marry you!" directly into his ear.
They flew back to New York the next day and went directly to the city clerk's office, exhausted, wearing wrinkled jeans and the t-shirts they'd exchanged that first morning after the show ended. They made the cover of Sports Illustrated that week, but they didn't see it until they got home from their honeymoon.