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Talk to Me (But Maybe Use Different Words)

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“Uh,” says Phil. “Yes. Give it to me. Your, um. Big. Fat.” He stops to look faintly panicked.

“Cock,” Clint supplies.

“Cock,” Phil echoes obediently. Now he just looks pained instead.

Clint bites the inside of his mouth. Mustn’t laugh. “Look, it’s not that hard. All you have to do is say what’s on your mind in the moment.”

“I can’t do that. Most of what I’m thinking in the moment is classified.”

“Your sex thoughts are national secrets? Huh. I’m surprisingly unsurprised.“

“No, most of what I’m thinking in the moment—“ Phil hesitates, then ruefully tilts the corner of his mouth, “—is classified. Material. Is about classified material.”

Clint chews his sandwich while he considers this. “You think about work while you’re having sex?”

“Yes.”

“Even while you’re about to—“ Clint gestures: fingertips grouped together, then popped apart. Boom. Universally accepted gesture for explosion. Or orgasm. Or, if you’re Italian, good marinara.

“Yes.”

“I don’t think you’re doing sex right.”

Phil sighs.

Clint’s pretty sure that practicing dirty talk wasn’t the way Phil was planning on spending his lunch hour. As far as Clint can tell though, what Phil planned to do with his lunch was sit in his office, eat a granola bar, do paperwork, and generally make himself miserable over last night’s outing with his civilian friends. This is better. Clint is doing him a favor. They’re still in Phil’s office, but now Phil’s got actual food, and he’s got Clint keeping him company. He’s got Clint keeping him company and cheering him up after his horrible night out. Not that Clint knows anything about how Phil’s night went—he didn’t spy or anything, that would be creepy—but there was a familiar slump to Phil’s shoulders when he came into the office this morning. Clint hates that slump.

Clint kinda hates Phil’s civilian friends.

“So how was it?” he asks, planting his foot on the desk to rock back in his chair. Phil gives his foot a disapproving eye. “Last night, I mean. You said they were taking you to some club. Did you hook up?”

Phil makes a noncommittal sound.

Clint stares. “Is that a yes or a no?”

“It’s a—“ Phil makes that sound again, then holds his hand out flat and waggles it back and forth. “—Sort of?”

“If you can’t answer yes or no, you’re definitely not doing sex right.”

“Duly noted.”

“You don’t have to talk dirty during sex. You know that, right?”

“I’m aware.”

“Then why do it?”

“It seems to be the expected thing lately,” Phil says, sounding defeated in a way that kinda makes Clint want to punch someone. “It always makes me feel like a poorly paid actor in low-rent porn.”

“Nobody’d ever mistake you for an actor in low-rent porn,” Clint says loyally.

Phil waits just long enough for Clint to hear himself before he lets his eyes crinkle. “Thank you.”

“I mean,” Clint tries, “you’d obviously be an actor in really high-class porn. An expensive actor. I’d pay you. A lot. If you were in porn.” What the hell is coming out of his mouth. “With me.”

“I’m touched.”

“You would be. Touched a lot, if we did porn together. I’m a hands-on partner. Eat your sandwich,” Clint suggests. “Maybe if you tried dirty talk the other way?”

Phil looks doubtful, either at the idea of eating the sandwich Clint brought him—the canteen is outdoing itself today—or at the suggestion about dirty talk. “Take it,” he says.

Clint frowns at Phil’s sandwich.

Phil shakes his head and huffs out a breath. “Take my big. Fat. Cock.” He’s not wrong. He does sound like a bad actor. A really unenthusiastic bad actor. “Oh. Baby.” It’s kind of awe-inspiring just how bad he is at this. He considers, then tacks on, “Yay.”

Clint sprays bits of roast beef and bread across the room before he manages to get his arm in front of his face. Eyes watering, he echoes, “Yay?”

“I thought a little enthusiasm would sell the line,” Phil explains.

“‘Take my big fat cock, yay?’”

“Although really, that’s not an accurate description of my dick.”

“Your dick is small and skinny?”

“Pre-Serum Steve Rogers.” Phil looks sad, because he is an asshole and so full of shit.

Clint throws a pen at him. Phil plucks it out of mid-air and signs a report with it. “I actually meant, you know, you could tell the other guy to talk, and make sure your own mouth is occupied,” Clint suggests, then amends since he knows Phil swings both ways, “Or girl, whatever. That’s hot, too.”

“It always makes me think of being handled on an op,” Phil says, the corners of his eyes crinkling again. If nothing else, at least his slump is gone, the tired look replaced by amusement. “Which is stimulating for other reasons, but not the way I’m looking for.”

Clint knows exactly what he means.

 

+

 

It’s been three years since SHIELD was de-Hydrated (heh) and even though there’re still scars where the many-headed were uprooted, by now most of Operations has managed to get back on its feet. Nobody really mourns the eyesore that was the Triskelion, though Clint suspects at least six months of Fury’s career as a corpse was just avoiding the paperwork surrounding the Potomac cleanup. Jasper’s burned through more therapists than even Clint has, wrestling his way back to what passes for Jasper Normal after four years infiltrating Hydra; and Phil’s name is on the Wall of Valor, something nobody wants to remove for reasons either paranoid or superstitious. Clint leaves post-it commentary on the name plate every time he stops by the Hub. Things like ‘SHIELD: comes with killer boss,’ or ‘Phil Coulson: dead gorgeous.’ Or his absolute favorite: ‘Phil, you’re late.’

Naturally, with Clint and Tasha now designated non-partisan Avengers rather than affiliated SHIELD agents, Strike Team Delta has been officially disbanded. Weirdly, there are more rumors about it than ever.

Clint and Tasha have always had gossip trailing after them like alcoholic dust bunnies of murder and spite. Hawkeye and Black Widow were notorious well before they joined SHIELD, each with suspected assassin sheets that read like a Who’s Who of international skulduggery. That the Black Widow and Hawkeye would be partnered after joining SHIELD was an inevitability along the lines of Rolling Stones Reunion Tours and Michael Bay movies: regrettable, but beyond the control of mortal agency.

Phil, though. Phil was something else. Until then, he had managed to fly mostly under the radar of all but a select few. When Fury teamed the Black Widow and Hawkeye with an agent most popularly known for stress baking, an unironic enthusiasm for the company softball team, and an unflappability commonly attributed to lack of imagination rather than balls of Texas-sized steel, the global intelligence community threw up its arms en masse and voiced a collective, “What the fuck.”

To this day, speculation still abounds over what hold Phil could have had on Hawkeye and Widow to make the team the outrageous success that it was. Some of those rumors, Clint started. They’ve metastasized and grown since then, mutated beyond even his wildest hopes.

“I like the one where Phil recruited you out of a monastery in San Bruno,” Tasha tells Clint, when five of them—Mel, Jasper, Phil, Tasha, and Clint—end up at a bar in Columbus. They’re almost all on different ops, but even SHIELD agents get downtime.

“Hadn’t heard that one,” Clint admits.

“You’d apparently taken a vow of silence.”

“What.”

“It’s more believable than the one where Phil shot you,” Mel says.

“I like that story,” Phil objects.

“Nobody who ever worked with you would believe that story,” Tasha tells him. “You’re a Care Bear.”

Phil inspects a nacho. “I’d shoot Clint in the leg if I had to,” he says, because he’s just that kind of asshole. Clint looks hurt at him, so he adds kindly, “I’d avoid breaking the bone.”

“Thanks a lot.”

“I’m sure you’d be understanding about it.”

“If you shot me in the leg, I’d saw your leg off and beat your head in with the bloody stump,” Clint informs. “Then I’d be understanding.”

Jasper snickers. Phil says thoughtfully, “You probably had a hard time fitting in in that monastery.”

“Why were you in the monastery to begin with?” Mel asks.

“Someone broke his heart,” Jasper explains.

The two women look at each other. Then they tip their heads and in unison, saccharine sweet, croon, “Awwww.”

Jasper shivers. “Don’t do that,” he pleads.

“Which reminds me,” Phil says aloud to nobody in particular. “Nick wanted me to buy a round of banana daiquiris, on him.”

Three pairs of accusing eyes turn on Clint. He throws up his hands. “How is it my fault he can’t let things go?”

Speculation about Phil’s emotional leverage on him aside, the real story of Clint’s recruitment goes like this.

In 2002, Clint was a covert ops legend: headhunted, flat out wanted, and ready to come in from the cold. It was just a tossup whether it was the CIA or SHIELD who got to him first. The CIA sent a redneck ex-drill sergeant, assuming he’d bond with the jackass based on the similarity-attraction effect. Clint shot out all his tires and left him stranded in the middle of the desert. Clint had a long history with white guys of a certain age that doesn’t bear mentioning.

SHIELD’s play for him, on the other hand, was the kind of quirky fucked-upness guaranteed to get Clint’s attention. A week after what happened with the CIA hit the rumor mill, Maria Hill went undercover on an unrelated op in Vegas. For reasons that Clint still doesn’t understand, she was standing on the street dressed as a banana—an honest-to-God banana, foam suit and everything—passing out fliers for a strip joint. He passed her on his way to a job. She made him and called it in.

Somehow, she talked Fury into letting her recruit him then and there. Two hours later she found him in a sniper nest in Vegas, providing security for a negotiation on behalf of the mediator. She was still in the banana suit, which was risky, but tactically brilliant. It was the only reason he let her get that close. No assassin planning to get out alive would have tried anything in that getup. She waited politely while he finished the job, then bought him a meatloaf sandwich and did her pitch.

She had him sold by the time he was done with his french fries, though he didn’t say anything because he wanted her to buy him dessert, too.

He helped her team finish their op. In exchange, she let him wear the banana on the flight back to New York. It was an awkward flight. For one thing, it was hard to fasten the seat belt around the banana. For another, Maria’s team kept giving him the side-eye, having a hard time reconciling Hawkeye with that idiot in the banana suit. Only Maria seemed to find it completely reasonable.

She got her karmic reward when Clint met Fury on the tarmac, looked him up and down, and announced, “So you’re SHIELD, huh? I get the appeal.”

Maria still gets suspiciously stone-faced when she sees a banana. Clint sends her a box every year for her birthday.

“The only way you’d shoot Clint in the leg is if you were aiming for his torso and missed,” Tasha says more prosaically. “You may be a badass in a lot of ways, Phil, but you’re shit with a gun.”

“Hurtful because it’s true,” Phil sighs.

“I don’t understand how you used to be a Ranger,” Jasper complains.

“The world is full of mystery,” Phil says, patting him on the shoulder. “I find it best just to marvel at its many beauties.”

“You just threw rocks at the enemy, didn’t you? Did I tell you how we got out of Ajit last month?” Jasper demands, turning on Mel and Tasha. “We’re surrounded by six guys, all armed. They tell us to surrender, Phil puts down his gun, and—“

“We’ve talked about this. Just because you don’t understand the technology doesn’t make it a rock.”

“You picked it up from the ground! It was covered in mud! It was sedimentary! I’m pretty sure it was shale!”

“It was a non-stationary, locally manufactured Type 2 ground to air ballistic—“

“It was a fucking rock!”

“I’m so proud not to be a SHIELD agent right now,” Tasha tells Mel.

Clint was in SHIELD for almost a year before he met Phil. Maria was Clint’s SO, for the fantastically short time he even had one. Victoria was his handler when he brought Tasha in. Fury was no fool; Clint’s handlers and fellow agents on ops mostly consisted of people who didn’t fit a certain white, male, older demographic. Fury wanted Clint to have ties in SHIELD—ties with people in SHIELD—before he started breaking him of his dislike of working with white guys.

“Don’t think I don’t sympathize,” Fury told him eventually, ten months into his contract. “I could write you a fucking novel. But I live in the real world, and right now, you’re lucky we need you. Because you’re a real pain in my ass, Barton.”

“Make you a deal,” Clint said to him, kicking back in Fury’s guest chair. “You find me a guy you trust—really trust—and I’ll make it work.”

He figured he was safe. The thought of Fury trusting someone? Not likely.

An hour later, he was introduced to Phil.

It was rough going for a long time. Clint had a lifetime of proof that white men weren’t to be trusted. Of course, Clint had never met anyone like Phil. He was inhumanly patient, endlessly kind, was just enough of an asshole to make Clint laugh, and never seemed to realize that Clint and Tasha might someday stab him in the back. Tasha broke down before Clint did; she was more pragmatic than he was, and her issues weren’t specific to any one type of humanity. As for Clint, it was only a matter of time. Eventually, Phil wore him down. Around the second time he saved Clint’s life, Clint decided that maybe he wasn’t a bad guy. Around the third time he saved Clint’s life, debrief meetings in conference rooms turned into late night takeout at his apartment, and Agent Coulson became simply Phil.

The rest, as they say, was history.

From time to time, Clint thinks back to those bad first months and regrets the shit he put Phil through. He doesn’t blame his younger self, because that poor asshole didn’t have any reason to know better. He had no way of knowing that this balding, Dudley Do-Right of a guy would end up being one of the best and closest friends he could ever have. Younger Clint wouldn’t have known a friend if it shot him in the face.

Younger Clint actually had had friends who tried to shoot him in the face. Younger Clint had no baseline for measurement when it came to friends, just a resigned awareness that he was really shitty at choosing them.

Phil, though. Phil’s famous for choosing people. Choosing the right people is Phil’s superpower. And Phil chose him.

“You’re being checked out, Clint,” Jasper announces through a mouthful of mozzarella sticks and tomato sauce, interrupting Clint’s wandering thoughts. Since everyone at the table is a high-level SHIELD agent, among the .01% elite, best-trained covert intelligence operatives in the world, they turn as one to stare at the three women at the bar.

One of the women turns bright red. The second one grins. The third covers her eyes in obvious exasperation.

“Blush reflex,” Mel says clinically. “Haven’t seen that in a while.”

“Look at those heels,” Jasper says, awed.

“Expensive,” Tasha says.

“Impractical,” Mel says.

“I hate fighting in stilettos,” Jasper sighs. Tasha shrugs.

Phiiiiiil,” Clint whines.

“Go ahead,” Phil says kindly. “We’re off the clock, and most of the paperwork’s in. I can take care of the expenses. You can catch a later plane if you want.”

Clint perks up. “You’re a good friend.” He pushes his chair back. “Don’t worry,” he reassures when Tasha frowns. “I’ll be safe. If she turns out to be spunky, I’ll cover my monkey.”

Jasper says something rude. Mel’s eyebrows say something eloquent at Phil, but it’s probably in Chinese because Clint can’t understand it. On the other hand, Tasha’s face is speaking pure Tasha, and Clint’s fluent enough in that to understand her, you are an embarrassment and an idiot. How can you look at yourself in the mirror each day, you sorry excuse for a grown man?

For a spy, Tasha has very emotive expressions. He wrinkles his forehead at her, confused. She sighs.

“I’m still hungry,” Jasper remarks, as Clint picks up his drink and wanders off to make the acquaintance of Janice, Angela, and Ilsa. “Phil, what’s that thing you deep fry— it’s some kind of bird, what is it—“

The last thing he hears is Jasper making raucous bwak! Bwak! Bwak! sounds.

Seriously. How are these people his friends.

 

+

 

Clint’s out on ops the next two times Phil goes out with his civilian friends. The grapevine—also known as Jasper Sitwell—informs him that the outings were to an off-Broadway show and dinner, and some kind of ren fair, respectively. Neither of those are the kinds of places that leave Phil looking tense and tired the next day, loaded down by his friends’ expectations. Phil’s never talked too much about these people, and Clint’s never met them, but it’s not like he can’t read between the lines. They’re old buddies from college, the kind of friend (Clint’s told) you might eventually grow out of but never really shake loose.

They think Phil’s an inspector for New York City Department of Environmental Protection, constantly out on the field to look at water mains or sewage treatment. They also think it’s their mission to get Phil laid, either just for a night, or in some kind of long-term thing. Clint is pretty sure they’re morons.

“It’s a habit with them,” Phil explains, the one time the subject comes up and he doesn’t gently shut Clint down. “I was a bit of a dork in college. There was the whole Captain America collection for one thing, and I was in ROTC so I didn’t have much of a social life.”

“Dorky Phil Coulson. Now, there’s something I’d pay to see.”

Phil opens his palm and waits. Clint promptly fishes out his wallet and handed him a dollar. Phil raises his eyebrow. Clint adds a ten-spot.

Phil puts it away in his own wallet and then continues, unruffled, “I was awkward with girls. At the time, the Army also wasn’t open to people who liked the same sex, so I didn’t share that side of me. They kept trying to set me up, and I always crashed and burned.”

Clint looks at Phil’s left breast, where his wallet lives, then expectantly at Phil’s face.

“When I left the Army, I finally came out to them about being bi. They decided that I’d had some sort of sexual epiphany in the Army. I was the only one in our circle who wasn’t straight, so they were all excited and a little too supportive. A couple of them even went and joined PFLAG.” His lips twitch, fond. “They’re all keen on making sure I know I deserve to be happy. They’re mostly married and settled down with kids. They’re worried I’m sad and alone, and they want me to find someone who ‘appreciates me the way I deserve.’ They mean well.”

Clint looks back at Phil’s chest. Looks back at Phil’s face.

“I think they’re taking my single status a bit personally, actually,” Phil says.

“Wow,” Clint says, finally catching on. “You are such an asshole.”

Phil smiles and keeps the eleven bucks.

Clint’s back in New York the next time Phil has an outing. Another club, apparently. Jasper, who’s met the friends once or twice under the guise of being one of Phil’s coworkers, rolls his eyes. “He’ll stick out like a sore thumb and be in a shitty mood the whole next day. Swear to God, if I wasn’t the original model of hetero masculinity, I’d pretend to be his fake boyfriend just to save myself this grief.”

“You guys should have some kind of extraction plan,” Clint says. “Or maybe ask Maria or Mel.”

“For two cents,” Jasper swears, before scuttling out after Maria, who’s got no patience for Jasper’s bullshit and therefore is the object of his massive schoolboy crush.

Clint debriefs. He goes home and eats some leftover pizza he finds in the fridge—he doesn’t remember ordering it, but it’s there, and pizza’s like instant ramen; it doesn’t really go bad—then lies down on his sofa. He folds his hands across his stomach and twiddles his fingers.

The club Phil and his friends are going to isn’t that far away. A few subway stops at most. He could shower, get dressed, head out—just see how Phil’s doing. They haven’t synced up yet post-op. Phil probably knows that he’s back, but he was gone to some kind of meeting when Clint came by his office.

He scratches his calf with his toenails.

Phil wouldn’t even need to see him. Clint could just drop in and get a drink. In a crowded club, he might not even see Phil. Though if he did, if Phil looked miserable, Clint could maybe stop and say hi, party-crash a little. It’d be a lucky coincidence. He could cheer Phil up. Meet these friends of his.

He picks at a cuticle. Gnaws at a hangnail that’s growing out. The sofa’s comfortable.

But Phil. Um.

He meditates on the hole in his sock. Then he gets up to shower.

 

+

 

Haze has been around for about nine months now, long enough for the shine to wear off, but not so long it isn’t still popular with a certain crowd. It’s a mixed bag on a Thursday night, half Wall Street power suits and half slutty, mid-week wanna get laid leather and silk. The club’s owner has done a pretty decent job with the lighting and the architecture; it’s purple and blues everywhere, with lots of little hidden nooks for people wanting some privacy, and walkways above the floor for people who want to just watch. Clint can feel the house music in his teeth.

It sucks. No clear sight lines, no easy exits, too much noise. Phil must hate it.

Clint orders something pink because the girl next to him is drinking the same thing, and it looks hilarious. Then he climbs up to the upper gantry to see what he can see. There are maybe a eighty people dancing now. Most of the booths are occupied. It actually doesn’t take that long to find Phil, whose secret agent invisibility powers don’t work as well when he’s one of only a few guys in the place over forty.

Clint assumes Phil picked the booth, which makes the best of a bad situation. It’s about as close as any of the little half-moon seats comes to good sight lines and cover. The wall’s at their back and he gets an unobstructed view of the dance floor. Even from forty feet away, even though Phil is smiling, Clint can tell how miserable he is. He’s changed out of his office suit and into a black blazer with a dark shirt underneath, no tie, the top couple of buttons undone.

If Clint was gonna dress Phil for clubbing, that’s pretty much exactly what he would’ve picked. He pauses a few seconds to just appreciate the view. Clint thinks Phil always looks good, objectively speaking, but dressed down, he looks seriously fuckable.

The group around Phil is pretty ordinary-looking, for people Clint’s already decided he doesn’t like. It’s a bigger group than he expected: three women, three other men. Phil’s the odd man out. They just barely fit in the booth, with Phil on the outside with unobstructed access out. The rest of them seem to be having a great time, shouting at each other through the noise. Phil’s chatting too, but he’s not talking much. Mostly he’s just smiling, and that’s normal for him, he’s not exactly a big talker; but there’s a stiffness to the way he’s holding himself that might as well scream I hate this world and everybody in it to someone who was once stuck for three weeks in a Bolivian listening post with him and three other agents, all of them inexplicably Vegan with Views.

There’re all kinds of things that Clint could do at this point, up to and including leaving without making any kind of contact. But it seems like a shame, now that he’s showered and dressed up and dragged himself all the way here.

So, okay. Open up an extraction point. He can do that.

He doesn’t go for creative. Direct is his thing. Go in and figure your way out later, that’s the way he rolls. It drives Phil and Tasha crazy, but hey, it works for him, right up until it doesn’t. He climbs down from the gantry and slides through the dancers until he spies Phil and his buddies again. Clint considers his approach, then chooses his angle; best to let Phil see him coming. Safer all around.

Phil’s a pro. Clint can’t tell the moment Phil sees him coming, but he knows Phil’s aware. The group around him is laughing.

“Hey, good looking,” Clint says, coming up against the table.

His focus is on Phil, who raises his eyebrows at him in apparent surprise. The rest of the table breaks off their conversation to stare at him. Clint went to the trouble to get dressed for the part—he’s wearing the ridiculously tight black jeans, boots, and dark purple T-shirt Tasha has approved for this kind of shit—so he knows they’re getting a decent show for their money.

“Hi,” Phil says cautiously, waiting for a lead.

“I saw you from over there,” Clint says, jerking his head towards the vague direction of the dance floor. He gives Phil his best flirtatious smile. “Listen, I seem to have lost my phone number.”

“Okay?”

“Can I have yours?”

Phil blinks. The others at the table either choke or laugh. Since none of them have eyes on him, Clint flicks a couple of fingers away from his drink in the sign for escape, and tilts his head in question.

The woman next to him, brown-haired and plump with makeup that gives Clint flashbacks to Fifth Element, backhands Phil right across the chest. Clint has seen the scar tissue she’s whacking. Phil doesn’t react, but in his pocket, Clint’s fingernails bite into his palm. “He’s hitting on you!” she says, like Phil can’t figure it out for himself. She’s way too excited. “He’s cute!”

Standing right here, lady. Clint grins at her anyway, and winks.

“Is that the best you can do?” Phil asks him, morbidly curious.

Asshole. Clint considers for a second, then offers, “My lips are like Skittles. Wanna taste the rainbow?”

Everybody else groans. The corners of Phil’s eyes crinkle in a silent laugh. Clint gives himself a metaphorical pat on the back. Getting Phil to eye-laugh is one of his favorite hobbies. It’s right up there with Coulson suit bingo.

“Let him buy you a drink before he comes up with any worse ones,” Fifth Element recommends, while the man across the table from her, a big guy who was probably a linebacker in college before his pecs turned to fat and migrated to his equator, seconds, “Throw yourself on the grenade, Phil.”

Phil grimaces at the Linebacker. The expression gives Clint a pang; he’s never seen that particular exasperated tolerance directed at anyone not SHIELD or an Avenger before.

The Linebacker grins back, apparently as inured to the expression as the Avengers are. “Live the dream, man.” he says.

“Do you have any more lines?” Phil asks Clint.

“You even need to ask?”

“Come with me.” Phil stands, taking his glass—scotch, probably—and emptying it with a single swallow. “You can try them out on me while I buy a refill.”

“Great,” Clint says, rocking back on his heels. “You’re 60% water and I’m thirsty.”

They bypass the bar, stopping only long enough for Phil to drop off his empty glass, and head towards the dark corridors beyond the counter. Count on Phil to have scoped out the layout and know where to find an almost private place to talk, or beat the shit out of someone. Clint’s kinda interested to know which one it’s going to be.

They stop just around the corner of the hall to the office, and Phil turns to Clint with a crisp, “Sitrep.”

If Clint hadn’t worked with Phil off and on for over a decade, he would’ve been taken aback by the change from civilian Phil to Agent Coulson. Even used to it, he feels himself straighten in Pavlovian reaction.

“Not work,” he says hastily, lifting his drink. “I just happened by and saw you there.”

“You just happened by a club half a city away from your apartment, four hours after you got back from a week-long op. Just as I happened to be here with my friends,” Phil says, but the Agent part of him is receding; what’s left is more curiosity than exasperation.

“I was acting on intel. Jasper thought you might need an extraction,” Clint says, shamelessly throwing Jasper under the bus.

“Really?”

“I was being a nice guy,” Clint says reproachfully.

Phil rolls his eyes, but the corners of them are crinkling again.

Clint relaxes, now that it’s clear Phil’s not going to chew him out. “Are you annoyed about the lines? Or me being here at all?”

“Skittles?”

“I have one about Whitman Samplers. You know, ‘is your last name Whitman, because I’d sure love to sample you.’”

“That works for you?”

“Sometimes. I make people laugh.” He shrugs. “I score one time out of twenty, maybe. One time out of thirty, now that I’m an Avenger.”

Phil stops, looking conflicted on Clint’s behalf. Clint kinda wants to pinch his cheek. “There’s something wrong with the way those numbers are skewing.”

“I can’t sleep with a fan. That’s creepy.”

“As opposed to sleeping with someone who asked to sample them?”

Clint grins. “Baby, if you were a tropical fruit, you’d be a Fine-apple.”

“It’s finally happened,” Phil sighs. “You’ve turned into a super villain. Funny. I always thought Stark would be the first to go bad.”

The laugh is back in his eyes though, so Clint gives himself another point and moves in on him. Phil backs up without protest, perfectly in sync, until his back is against the wall. Clint leans into him, his hand propped beside Phil’s head. Anybody who comes by will see two guys on the verge of making out. Nothing memorable. They slot together with the ease of long practice; they’ve done this before, when they’re trying to avoid attention or, more often, attract it.

“So, extraction. Want one?” Clint prompts, and sucks at his drink—yuck, cotton candy martini—through the stupidly tiny straw they shoved in it. What the fuck. He’s used wider dental floss.

“Do I look that miserable?” Phil asks, curious.

Clint shrugs, vaguely aware of how comfortable it is to have Phil’s body pressed in a long, warm line against his. “I could tell. I don’t think your friends could.”

“You know me better than they do,” Phil says without surprise, like it’s a statement of fact. Clint’s chest warms inside. “You don’t want to stay? I could introduce you.”

Clint kinda wants to meet Phil’s friends. He’s curious. It’s his job description to be curious. He wants to know what it is about these people that makes them so great. He wants to hear stories about ROTC Phil, and meet people who can understand how awesome Phil is but not get that he doesn’t need a relationship in order to be perfect.

But.

“I just finished an op. I wanna go home, get into some sweats, eat shitty food, and watch shittier TV,” he admits honestly. He sneaks a peek at Phil’s face. Phil looks wistful. On impulse, Clint invites, “Feel like pizza?”

This time, Phil’s smile reaches his mouth.

They take the subway back to Clint’s place, where Clint changes and gives Phil some sweats and a T-shirt to be comfortable in. Around the time they start arguing about what toppings to get on their pizza, Phil’s phone starts beeping. It’s his buddies, checking up on him. Clint grudgingly supposes they did that part right, even if they did it a good hour later than they should’ve. Phil lets Clint text back as his bit of rough—he’ll call l8ter hands bz—while he uses Clint’s phone to call in the pizza. After, they lounge around watching bad television and judging people’s poor life choices.  It’s pretty awesome.

Eventually, Phil crashes on the couch. Clint ambles upstairs to bed.

Phil’s already gone by the time Clint wakes up in the morning. At least he didn’t go without putting a fresh pot of coffee on to brew.

Clint rolls over, grins into his pillow, and falls back asleep.