“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?”
“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.
“I don’t think you’re doing sex right.”
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.”
“You don’t have to talk dirty during sex. You know that, right?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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?”
“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.
“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.
What with one thing and another, Clint doesn’t see Phil again for another three weeks. That’s not unusual. They still keep in touch with the occasional phone call or spate of texts. By long-standing tradition, Phil also leaves post-its in his office for Clint when he’s out of town but knows Clint will be by. Usually it’s a scribbled, shorthand note of some random thought or instruction he thinks Clint would benefit from. (Clint still cherishes the first post-it Phil ever left for him: a neon pink rectangle, faded now after over a decade, with an arrow pointing down and “BARTON: GARBAGE GOES HERE” in neat block letters. It’s the frowny-face on it that still makes him crack up after all this time.)
In exchange, Clint leaves file numbers for Phil, scanned versions of his action reports marked up with the personal comments the analysts strip before they send them to op review. After the exfil from Haze, Clint also starts leaving pick-up lines on post-its where Phil will find them: in his spare garment bag, in his desk, in the underwear drawer of his Hub quarters. (He’s especially proud of, “Save a horse. Ride a cowboy,” which he left with a photo of Clint falling off a horse. Phil’s response is another frowny-face. Clint kinda wants to get it framed.)
The three weeks are busy for Clint as well. Most of it he spends in Belize on an undercover op to track down an 0-8-4. He has sex with two people, both of them reasonably attractive and not terrible in bed, shoots three people, all of them bad, and eats his body weight in churros.
It’s a pretty good op, really. By even Fury’s high standards, it goes almost perfectly. It goes so well that he even manages to finish his debrief on the plane back, and steps off with paperwork already finished. That never happens.
The universe rewards him. The first person he sees on the ground is Jasper, who hands him his leather jacket and announces, “We’re getting Ethiopian and hanging out at Phil’s. C’mon. Phil’s buying.”
The Ethiopian place delivers, which is the most important quality for any restaurant in Clint’s opinion. Phil’s front door’s barely locked behind them before they’re swapping stories about what’s happened since they’ve seen each other. Mel’s back from a hellish three-month undercover in Shanghai, which is the reason for the celebratory get-together. Meanwhile, Jasper and Phil’s latest long-term op has apparently gone balls up, in the most unexpected way imaginable.
“So meanwhile, Phil’s standing there like a poached egg, trying his best not to blow a fuse,” Jasper says, waggling a roll of injera at Clint. “Torrero’s pulling out all the stops—batting his eyes, fellating his spoon, practically throwing himself across the table at the mark—and all the asshole does is pull Phil aside after the dinner and ask him for his number.”
“Torrero is exactly his type,” Mel says, poking around in the box of ye gomen wot with her fingers. Like Phil, she manages to make eating with her fingers neat and graceful, like it’s something she’s done all her life. “His last three recorded boyfriends were the same model. Hispanic, delicate, young—“
“Twinks,” Jasper concludes.
“The intel was good. Maria was telling me about it earlier.” Mel surveys one of the other boxes, and decides she wants Clint’s. He hands it over without a murmur. “She had no way of knowing that Phil looks like his first crush.”
“Ninth grade science teacher.”
“Congratulations,” Clint tells Phil with a smirk. “Your milkshake brings all the criminals to the yard.” He stretches out his foot and nudges Phil in the knee with it. Phil just shrugs and concentrates on his kitmo. In this company, he’s comfortable enough to look embarrassed.
“My cover has me traveling internationally,” he explains, “so except for the one date, we’ve been keeping him on the line with phone calls and video conferences. They’ve been . . . challenging.”
Clint chokes on a piece of injera, remembering ‘Oh. Baby. Yay.’ “Phone sex?” he wheezes, eyes streaming.
Phil makes a sad little sound.
“We’ve had to have Izumi on comms to feed Phil lines,” Jasper says, scowling.
“It’s been helpful,” Phil says.
“It’s been fucking agonizing, is what it’s been. The first day, we had to scramble to get someone in his ear. Maria had to talk him through it.”
“She might never look me in the eye again,” Phil says regretfully.
“Have you heard Phil’s idea of sexy talk?” Jasper demands. “It’s all kinds of wrong. Like having your mother demonstrate proper fellatio technique for capitalist dicks during your after-school snack.”
Mel slaps down her carton with a sharp thump. She narrows her eyes at Jasper, hard and mean. “You are never talking to my mother again,” she says.
Jasper dives for the door.
The conversation stalls while Phil and Clint watch Jasper get his ass kicked. Jasper has a completely suicidal thing for Mel’s mother, who was a covert ops legend herself even before she gave up a career in the Chinese MSS to become the world’s most terrifying stay-at-home mom. Psych thinks it’s an outward manifestation of some deep-seated psychosis. Fury claims it’s borderline treasonous. All Clint has to say about it is that Jasper looks like he’s enjoying himself way too much for someone the Cavalry has in a headlock.
“Sex ops aren’t your usual thing,” Clint observes to Phil eventually, while Jasper cries Uncle in six different languages.
“Not my ever thing,” Phil corrects, trading the kitmo for a some more injera and the vegetarian combo. “I’ve never been primary in a honeypot.”
Clint raises his eyebrows at Phil. It’s not like he’s done more than a dozen of them himself, but— “Not ever?”
“Being memorable isn’t my primary skill set.”
Being forgettable is something Phil’s famous for in SHIELD, if that’s something you can be famous for. Back when Clint first joined SHIELD and started working with Phil, he found that totally believable. Nowadays, he just wonders what else that’s right in front of his face he might be missing. “Does he want to have sex with you?”
“Who wouldn’t?” Phil says, deadpan.
“You’ll be fine.”
“As long as Maria doesn’t talk me through the actual sex.” Phil doesn’t seem too hopeful of his chances.
“I could teach you some lines,” Clint says encouragingly. “You know, shit to say in bed so you don’t need Maria.”
“Of course he’s a talker during sex,” Phil says to himself, sounding resigned.
“I’m the king of dirty talking. Anywhere, anytime, anyplace.”
“Anywhere and anyplace are the same thing.”
“Under any conditions, then. And I can be quiet in bed,” Clint adds with dignity. “Unless it’s really, really, really good sex. Then I just make sex noises. Like—“
“Speaking of,” Phil interrupts, “you made quite an impression the other night.”
It takes Clint a few seconds to realize what he’s talking about. He grins. “Your friends? What’d you tell them?”
“That you gave me exactly what I needed.”
“Dear holy mother of God,” Jasper interjects, popping up at their elbows, rumpled and sounding horrified. “You can’t have. It’s not April yet. I have fifty bucks on April being when you two finally—”
“Pizza,” Clint tells him, because Jasper’s career might be all upward trajectory, but in his personal life he knits models of reproductive organs and runs a complicated sexual variant of fantasy football using the SHIELD active agent pool: he likes descending to whatever lows gravity and a filthy mind can take him. “Pizza, beer, bad sitcoms, and reality TV. Why the hell are you betting on—“
“Oh, the insanity,” Phil says without looking up from his injera.
“No me jodas,” Jasper mutters. Mel rolls her eyes.
“Pizza! Not sex, for fuck's sake. Although—hey.” Clint nudges Phil. “How’s this one? ‘I just lost my virginity. Can I have yours?’”
“Sure,” Phil says.
“You’re so easy,” Jasper tells him with disgust.
Clint makes a fist and offers it to Phil. Phil bumps knuckles with him, his ears a little pink.
“Word,” Clint says.
Phil says solemnly back, “Fo’ shizzle.”
Clint’s next op is an Avengers thing, some kind of round-the-world publicity tour that Stark Industries set up. SHIELD is maintaining a careful distance from it because Fury’s convinced the disaster of the last press event wouldn’t have happened if SHIELD hadn’t co-signed for the insurance. That doesn’t mean Clint and Natasha get to worm out of it, though. The public relations team flies, drives, or rides doggedly around the world; the individual Avengers themselves fly out as needed to the various pit stops. Only Bruce stays carefully behind in New York. His identity as the Hulk has managed to stay a secret through some miracle nobody wants to tempt.
Clint only shows up when he has to, which isn’t all that often. He’s not in high demand for publicity things. If you lined the Avengers up according to their popularity, Hulk would still rate higher than Clint on day-to-day interactions. Sure, Big Green leveled Harlem, but at least he wasn’t a dick about it. Mostly, the PR team tries to limit him to media that won’t require him to open his mouth.
The photographer at Italian Vogue doesn’t even try to make Clint look approachable. “Think about sex,” she orders, and takes a few shots. Then she rips at her hair, says, “Never mind about sex. Think about killing aliens,” and takes a few more shots. Eventually, eyes wild, she suggests, “Think about killing aliens and then having sex with them?”
“You have seriously fucked up ideas about how to motivate a guy,” Clint tells her, and is sullenly informed, “It worked for Jennifer Lawrence.”
Clint doesn’t get what he’s doing modeling for Vogue to begin with—how does the word ‘modeling’ even end up in a sentence that includes his name?—but he dutifully thinks about sex with the Chitauri and sends the photographer halfway down a bottle of tequila before Tasha tells him to think about Boston Kremes instead. In the magazine spread that goes out a few weeks later, Steve, Tony, Tasha and Thor look amazing. Clint looks stone-cold murderous, but according to Tasha, it’s a step up from his usual expression of constipated sulkiness. Fury almost smiles when he sees the spread, which just creeps Clint out.
By the time he makes it back to the states, it’s been five weeks since he saw Phil last. He’s on terra firma less than an hour when Jasper pops up beside him in the showers to squint at him through water-logged glasses.
“Those motherfuckers set him up on a blind date,” Jasper says accusingly. “Some guy named Harvard. Harvard. What kind of a douchebag is named Harvard?”
Jasper uses the Boston pronunciation, Hah-vahd. It takes Clint a while to stop giggling. Jasper just stands straddle-legged in the next stall, his hands on his hips, indignant, naked, and dripping wet. He’s a fucking colossus of ridiculous.
They’re dry and half-clothed by the time Clint manages to get the details. Phil’s civilian friends have decided that one decent lay in two years—“Wait, what?” Clint says. “Just one?” Are they counting him?—is not enough. They’ve started a campaign to hook him up on a more permanent basis with any and every eligible single woman or man they can find.
“Explain to me why I care?” Clint demands, halfway through Jasper’s rant about the third person they’d set Phil up with.
“It puts Phil in a pissy mood,” Jasper retorts. “What the hell kind of friend are you?”
“Phil’s a grown man.”
“A grown man getting shot down by an assembly line of twinks and twits.”
“A grown man who could tell his friends to knock it off, or just not show up to their blind dates.”
Jasper looks deeply disappointed in him.
“Anyway,” Clint adds, wondering why the hell he’s even engaging with this bullshit, “You never know. Maybe some of them won’t have their heads up their asses.”
“How the hell are you a SHIELD agent with that kind of worldview?” Jasper asks, baffled.
Clint taps the ID clipped to his lanyard. In big black letters it reads: CONTRACTOR.
Jasper’s detailed intel on Phil’s after-hours activities would probably be creepy if he was a civilian. By and large, high-functioning SHIELD agents are more notorious for the boundaries they cross than the boundaries they keep, so Clint finds nothing wrong in the fact that Jasper has an entire stack of dossiers worked up for each of Phil’s prospective blind dates. Odds are that Phil has the same stack; not for nothing is paranoia a valid life choice for an agent.
According to Jasper, Phil’s three dates down on a running list of six candidates. The first three ranged from flop to disaster, which doesn’t surprise Clint at all when he flips through the dossiers. Phil’s friends obviously have no idea what appeals to him, which begs the question why Phil even qualifies them as friends to begin with. As far as Clint can tell, they’re just throwing bodies at him until one of them sticks.
Now there’s an image.
“So did this guy actually go to Harvard?” Tasha asks when she calls from Hong Kong.
“How’s he look?”
Clint peers down the dart he’s got aimed at his walls. Not that he needs to see the pinned picture to remember the details. “Tall. Black-haired. Plasticky. A lot like Grant Ward.”
“Ward was good-looking.”
“Ward was Hydra.”
“But still good-looking.”
Clint scowls. “Phil doesn’t care about looks. Phil likes smart people who are all passionate about, you know, things. And do important stuff.” He glares at the photo and sends a dart through its left eyeball. “Meaningful stuff. Like Audrey the cellist, and Joanne the pediatric nurse, and Trish the Doctors without Borders surgeon, and Patrick the ex-priest who ran that shelter, and Mark the cop.”
There’s a very long, pointed silence on the phone. He pulls it away from his head, eyes it, then puts it back against his ear.
“What?” he demands, feeling strangely defensive.
Tasha makes a small huffing sound. “This might be the saddest and funniest thing I’ve ever heard,” she says cryptically. “What does Harvard do?”
He sends another dart through the picture. This one obliterates the right eyeball. “He’s a hedge fund analyst.”
“That’ll go well.” She sounds entertained. For someone who thinks love is a fantasy, she’s heavily invested in other people’s love lives.
“You think that’s bad, the last person they set him up with was a celebrity psychologist. Hey, did I tell you this one? ‘If I flip a coin, what are my chances of getting head?’ Get it? Get it?”
Tasha ignores him. “What does Jasper want you to do about it?”
“Swoop in and save the day? How the hell do I know?”
“What are you going to do about it?”
“Order in some Chinese, maybe watch some Project Runway.”
“Good idea,” she says promptly. Clint chalks this up as highly suspicious. “Stay out of it. He’s a grown man. He can go out on some bad dates if he wants to.”
“That’s what I said.”
“If he doesn’t want to go, he’d just say no.”
“And if it’s really that bad, he could leave.”
He could, though Clint has a hard time imagining Phil being rude enough to leave someone mid-date just because he’s miserable. He knows damn well that Tasha can’t either. Phil is pragmatic, unflappable, and efficient as fuck, but his dominant character flaw is kindness. Clint doesn’t say anything. There’s a hole in his jeans. He picks at it moodily.
“Anyway, you’re back in town, so he can swing by and tell you all about it afterwards.” Her voice is way too amused.
“Yeah,” he says. Even to himself, he sounds dissatisfied. “Are you using reverse psychology on me?”
“That’s what you’d say if you were,” he accuses.
“That’s also what I’d say if I wasn’t,” she points out. “Aren’t you too sophisticated for reverse psychology to work on you?”
Clint thinks about it. He pulls on another thread. Then he sighs. “You suck.”
“You’re going, aren’t you?”
“I’m gonna watch some Runway first,” he says defiantly.
And he does, too. Well, he watches most of an All Stars episode while he gets dressed, anyway. What the hell is Alyssa Milano wearing. Maybe she’s color-blind. He wonders if Captain America’s uniform makes Tim Gunn cry, and makes a note to ask Pepper. She probably knows.
Phil’s stupid date is at a stupid mid-scale restaurant, one that Clint’s never been to and is way out of Phil’s regular neighborhood. Which just means that either Phil let his date pick the restaurant, or else picked neutral territory with the expectation that it won’t go well. Clint gets there a little early and scopes out the place from across the street. He’s willing to guess Phil’s already there, because that’s the kind of guy Phil is. Clint can’t see him through the big picture window that fronts the place, but there’re enough angles visible inside that it probably isn’t hard to hide.
He’s actually debating whether he has to find a quiet way inside when a taxi pulls up and the guy, Phil’s date, Hah-vahd, steps out. It’s an opportunity Clint’s not amateur enough to miss. He jogs across the street at an angle while Harvard parks himself on the sidewalk to fuss with his phone—texting, the spy’s best friend—and brushes by like he’s heading to the bodega newsstand next door to the restaurant.
Clint still has some of his bugs from the last op because he has problems with inventory management, according to his yearly review. It’s so easy to plant one on the guy, it’s almost insulting. Why the hell would Phil go on a date someone like this? He’s got no situational awareness at all. Clint buys a bag of M&Ms from the bodega, maintaining cover because he’s a fucking professional. Then he retreats to the back of the building, parking himself in an alleyway where there’s no risk that Phil will have a sight line to him.
There’s a process to eating M&M’s. Red first, then orange, then yellow, green, and blue. The lack of purple is a serious flaw in an otherwise perfect candy. He pokes through them while he listens in on the date, methodically decimating the colors in order.
Jasper said the last few dates ranged from flop to disaster. Clint is inclined to rank this one on the disaster end of the scale. It’s obvious from the get-go that Harvard’s expected someone younger, shinier, and probably more obviously exciting. Phil’s trying—Clint cringes at how hard he’s trying—but the only way this idiot would recognize Phil’s value is if he was in completely different packaging.
“My last boyfriend was a yoga instructor and part-time model,” Harvard says, while Clint moves on to the blue M&Ms. “He actually had a degree in electrical engineering from MIT, but he went to India after he graduated and had some kind of religious experience. He was hella flexible. So what do you do, again?”
What an asswipe.
Clint only half-hears Phil’s patient rollout of his civilian cover; the good M&M’s are already gone, and all that are left are the shitty brown ones. He hates the brown ones. They look like rat turds. He pokes through the bag sadly, and considers. It’s obvious the date’s going to be a train wreck. He prefers his bad reality TV to involve total strangers, not good friends. Anyway, he’s got a DVR full of Project Runway back home.
With a sigh, he looks up the restaurant’s number on his phone and calls in an order of tagliata di bue and risotto nero on the hostess’s recommendation. He waits a couple of minutes. Phil and Harvard make it through appetizers and make excruciating small talk over soup. Harvard’s got a lot to say about his successes on Wall Street and in clubs. Clint has the vague urge to stab him through the throat.
Five minutes later, Clint puts on his sunglasses and saunters around to the front of the restaurant.
Of course Phil has gotten a table that gives him a good eyeline for all entrances. Clint isn’t two steps into the place before he’s made. That’s not really a surprise. What’s more of a surprise is that about ten steps in, the hostess makes him, too. She’s a pretty girl, college-age, and made up with the kind of ’40’s glam that would probably ring all kinds of nostalgic bells for Steve. She takes one look at him though, double-takes, then lets her mouth pop open in a way that reminds Clint of those laughing clown games at the circus townies would shoot water guns at for a cheap-ass prize.
“Did anyone ever tell you—“ she begins, and then stops herself with, “Oh my God.” Then she turns beet red and blurts out, “You’re Hawkeye.”
So apparently, Pepper’s publicity whirlwind is actually working. Well, shit. Clint revises his plan on the fly.
The couple sitting behind the hostess station overhears, obviously; their conversation falters while they prick up their ears to listen. By the time Clint’s turned on what he uses in place of charm and aw, shucks his way into asking after his order, the rumor’s already moving in a slow tide across the restaurant.
“If you’ll just wait,” the hostess promises, wide-eyed still and worshipful in a way that makes Clint itch. “I can ask the chef to put yours ahead of the others.”
“Nah,” Clint says, and grins at her. It feels fake on his face, but she doesn’t seem to find anything wrong with it. He lets his gaze flick over to Phil’s side of the restaurant. “I think I see a friend. I’ll just crash his date while I wait. Take all the time you need. It’ll gimme a chance to catch up.”
He knows half the restaurant’s watching him as he ambles across the floor to Phil’s table. In his ear, Harvard’s boring on about some some new club that just opened. One of his exes is the owner apparently, or investor, or bartender, yaaaaaaaawwwwwwwn, Clint doesn’t care. He thumbs the earwig out and drops it in his pocket, then snags an empty chair from the table next to them. Harvard’s in mid-word when Clint swings the chair around to straddle it, draping his arms across its back to give Phil his best flirtatious smile.
“Hey, Phil,” he says. “That shirt’s very becoming on you. Of course, if I were on you, I’d be coming too.”
Harvard snaps his mouth shut and looks surprised.
Phil just looks resigned. Behind the expression though, he’s watchful and looking for his cue. Clint folds his arms—they show to best advantage this way, he’s been told—and prompts, “Clint. We met at Haze the other night.”
For a second, Phil looks exasperated. Then he looks amused. They’re both such tiny shifts in expression that only someone who really knew him would recognize that they’d even happened. “Oh, of course,” he says slowly. He sounds confused, like he can’t quite place him. “Clint.”
“Barton,” Clint supplies, ignoring this. “I wrote my phone number on your—“ He darts a sidelong glance at Harvard and pretends to rethink what he was about to say. “Arm. You never called.”
“Oh,” Phil says. And then, apologetically, he says, “I showered. With a loofa.”
Fucker. Must not laugh. Must. Not.
“Holy shit,” Harvard says, his eyes round. “Are you Hawkeye?”
“And here I thought we shared something special,” Clint tells Phil sadly.
“You’re Hawkeye. You’re the Avenger!”
“Oh dear,” Phil says. “I think you must have me confused with someone else. The latex we used didn’t break.”
Fuck it. Clint gives up and snickers.
“You had a one-night stand with Hawkeye?” Harvard blurts out. And then, more incredulous still, he demands, “You had a one-night stand with Phil?”
Clint turns his attention to Harvard and looks him up and down, the way he might look a target over before he put an arrow someplace awkward. He’s been told it’s intimidating. Harvard turns pale.
“This is awkward,” Phil says. “I’m actually on a date right now. If you give me your number again, I can call you later?”
Still staring fixedly at Harvard, Clint fishes a sharpie out of his pants, scribbles his burner number on one of the restaurant’s cloth napkins, and says pleasantly, “Sure, call me any time. I’ve got a pretty open schedule. Not much to do if there isn’t a world to save.”
As a rule, New Yorkers pride themselves on being blasé about encounters with celebrity. Harvard’s already blown that. Because the guy’s poker face isn’t as good as even Lucky’s on an off day, Clint can see him scrambling to figure out how to look cool again.
Phil takes pity on him. Clint would’ve just let him flail. “Agent Barton, this is Harvard Thompson. He’s a hedge fund analyst for Goldman Sachs. Mr. Thompson, Clint Barton, more popularly known as Hawkeye.” Phil pauses for just a second, and a glint comes and goes in his eyes. “He’s saved the world from aliens.”
Cool. Clint ranks higher than Harvard in the social hierarchy. He sticks his hand out, since Phil seems to want to do things by the book. Looking dazed, Harvard shakes it. “Sometime Avenger, covert operative, and currently a Vogue spread,” Clint adds helpfully. “And you already know Phil. He’s fucking incredible in bed. Great. Now we’re all buddies at this table.”
“What are you doing,” Phil sighs.
Harvard looks unconvinced about all of them being buddies. Still, he’s visibly torn at the thought of being able to casually drop in the context of some future conversation an, ‘I was just chatting with Hawkeye the other day,’ even when it comes hand-in-hand with, ‘who was lusting after the blind date I was already thinking about taking a pass on.’ He ventures a lame, “So you’re the world’s greatest marksman or something?”
“Being a marksman doesn’t mean much,” Clint says, letting his voice drop to the husky registers he uses for sex and seduction. “Specialists like me, we’re only as good as our handlers. We learn to recognize a good fit. I appreciated how Phil . . . handled me.”
The look he gets from Phil is positively indignant. Phil gestures to the side, just under the edge of the table where Harvard could see: fingers apart, then pinched together. Squish. It’s the ASL sign for go away. It looks like a hint. Clint can take a hint. He’s freaking Hawkeye. He totally knows how to take a hint.
Harvard though, he’s looking between Clint and Phil and back again, like he’s having a hard time fitting tab A into slot B. “So, what’s that mean? You’re an Avenger. Does that mean Captain America’s your . . . your handler?”
Clint shrugs, pushing his chair back to stand. “Cap’s Cap. These days—” he gives Harvard a smile he learned from Phil, all curved mouth and dead eyes. Harvard shrinks back in his chair, going white again. “These days, I choose my own targets. Later, Phil.” He does the thumb and pinky phone gesture that Tony loves, wiggling the fake handset by his head. Universally accepted sign for call me. Or if you’re Hawaiian, duuuude.
Then he goes home. With his filet mignon and rice. Which smells fucking awesome.
Clint’s about halfway through the third season of Project Runway All Stars, a bowl of Fruit Loops on his stomach, when there’s a knock on the door. It probably says something about his friendship with Phil that he recognizes the knock. “Come in!” he shouts, not bothering to get up.
The door’s locked. A few seconds later, it opens anyway. Because Phil. The top-of-the-line security Clint installed doesn’t even blink. Also because Phil.
Clint doesn’t bother looking away from the screen. Mychael’s designing something freaky based on hornworms. He hears Phil close the door and reset the security, and then feels more then hears Phil (because Phil) come up behind him.
He holds up the bowl of cereal. Phil takes it. A few rustling noises later, Phil’s settled beside him on the sofa, shoes toed off, collar loosened, the cereal balanced on his stomach now instead.
They get through that episode—the hornworm dress wins; Clint really doesn’t get fashion, he’ll have to ask Natasha about it later—and they’re on the next episode before Phil finally says, eyes still fixed on the screen: “Really?”
Clint doesn’t bother trying to play dumb. “It’s not my fault. Natasha used reverse psychology on me.”
“How did Natasha get involved?”
“She called. I might’ve mentioned you had a blind date. What? Don’t look at me like that. Jasper started it. Go yell at him.”
Phil makes a huffing sound. It’s not irritated though, so Clint relaxes into the sofa a little more and digs his toes into the coffee table. He sneaks a look at Phil. It doesn’t take any deductive effort to figure out that Phil probably didn’t get lucky out of the date, but he doesn’t look particularly bothered by the fact. Part of Clint really wants to know what happened after he left. His instincts for self-preservation suggest he just keep his mouth shut.
“So?” he asks, because self-preservation is boring. “What happened?”
“Apparently he’s a huge Avengers fan, which explains why my friends thought we might click,” Phil says, watching designers dash round Mood. “We talked about your arms.”
“Neat,” Clint says without conviction.
Clint thinks about taking offense at that. “You have a problem with a date thinking I’m hot stuff?”
“His favorite Avenger is actually Iron Man.”
“Off-putting,” Phil says again, and this time, Clint has to agree. “He asked if I wanted to get coffee. I passed. He was more interested in you than me. If you’d like his number—“
“Pass,” Clint says. He glances sidelong at Phil again. “Sorry?”
One of Phil’s eyebrows rises. “For what?”
“For fucking up your date?”
“It wasn’t as though it was going anywhere before your interruption,” Phil says, which is true enough. He asks, sounding curious, “Is this going to be a regular thing, sabotaging my dates?”
“I wasn’t sabotaging. I was helping.”
Phil turns his head to look at him.
“Fine. Sabotaging.” He slouches down further. “Only when I’m in town.”
Phil face does something complicated. He opens his mouth.
“When I’m not, Tasha or Jasper’ll probably do it,” Clint adds in the interests of full disclosure, over the buzz of an arriving text message.
Phil closes his mouth. He glances down at his phone. A few seconds later, a smile in his eyes, he turns its screen to show Clint. The text message is from someone named ‘LM,’ and reads: Holy cow u slept with Hawkeye??????? I didn’t even recognize him is he as hot in bed as he looks????
“In case you’re wondering,” Clint says, stealing the cereal back, “the answer is ‘hell yes.’”
I've been editing and staring and getting increasingly wound up about this chapter, even after breaks to give myself some distance, so I think it's time I just give it up and post it as is. It's a long one, to make up for the delay posting after the last one. The next one will also be late, so sorry about that.
Thanks to Kathar for beta work; as usual, she made it so much better than it was!
(Note: there are some minor trigger warnings in a note at the end of this chapter.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There’s a small ripple of IS HAWKEYE GAY?! articles in the tabloids for the next few weeks, but they die down pretty fast. They usually do. When you’re the B-lister on a team with Tony Stark, who calls himself carbonsexual and who once hit on Betty White, Karl Urban, and a Clover coffee machine all during the same episode of The Late Show, it’s hard for people to get too excited about what gives you a boner.
The rumors get him out of a PR visit to homo-hostile Russia though, so all in all, Clint figures it’s a win. Instead, he goes as a support sniper on a SHIELD op just outside Reno, and hangs out between shifts with Jim Woo. They play cards by the motel swimming pool and drink shitty boxed wine.
Jim cheats relentlessly at cards, even when all they’re playing is Go Fish. It’s awesome.
“You know Jasper’s got a pool going on you getting together with Phil,” Jim says, laying out cards for their ninth game of Slapjack.
Clint doesn’t comment. Once upon a time, Jim was Clint’s only other friend at SHIELD besides Maria, a snarky, deadpan son-of-a-bitch who was as reliable as gravity. Barring the fact he’s an actual credentialed therapist, he comes across as the most freakishly well-adjusted person Clint knows. If Jim wasn’t also an active SHIELD field agent, Clint would actually believe the illusion.
“You realize that pool is heading north of the four-digit mark,” Jim says.
Jim grins and starts the game while Clint is distracted. He loses the stack anyway. “I just mention it because I have a mortgage that could use an extra payment or two. If you felt like spilling the beans on when you two plan on shacking up together, that is.”
“Nobody’s arguing that,” Jim says comfortably. “So what’s the story? Why does he have a pool going?”
“To fuck with me.” Clint slaps on a jack and claims another pile. “Or to fuck with Phil. Same difference.”
“A pool doesn’t get to four digits if there aren’t people willing to pile in.”
“It does if all SHIELD hires is morons.”
“What I don’t get is why you and Phil never hooked up before,” Jim says.
It’s not the first time Clint’s been asked that by friends, coworkers, even exes. He’s not sure whether that says something about him and Phil, or about the sad need of covert operatives everywhere to believe in the dream of domestic bliss. “We’re not like that,” he says easily, with the automatic deflection of rote. “Phil’s one of my best friends.”
“You guys are practically married. You’re more married than I am, and I’ve been with Joyce since high school.”
Clint shrugs. People say the same thing about him and Natasha, although the last time they were lovers, Bruce Banner still liked the color green. “Partners,” he says. “You work with someone long enough—“
“Yeah, but partners is one thing. You and Phil, you’ve got more of that— you know.” He squints at Clint, who stares back at him. Jim wiggles his fingers. He’s either got a muscle cramp or he’s screwing up an obscene gesture.
“Are you blowing up a penis pump?” Clint asks slowly. “Are you trying to say something about my dick?”
Jim gives him the finger. “You two fit,” he says, exasperated. “Phil and Melinda can finish each others sentences, but you never see anyone suggesting the two of them get together.”
“That’s because Melinda is fucking terrifying, and nobody gossips about the Cavalry.” He reconsiders and amends, “Nobody gossips about the Cavalry when it doesn’t involve a body count.”
“You know what I mean. You complement each other. And before you come up with any other bullshit excuse, you’re bi. He’s bi. What’s the problem?”
“Jesus. Just because you’re straight doesn’t mean you automatically want to stick your dick in every girl you meet.”
“I used to,” Jim looks wistful. “Puberty. Good times.”
“So?” Jim raises his eyebrow at Clint, who resigns himself to the inevitable. One of the worst side-effects of Jim’s catastrophically incompatible education and lifestyle choices is that he never lets anyone deflect for long. “You and Phil.”
“He’s not my type,” Clint says, putting down a jack a little too hard and then slapping to claim the pile.
Jim doesn’t move. He’s not even trying. “What is your type?”
“Strong,” he says like he usually does, not really thinking about it. “Doesn’t take any shit. Can kick my ass. Sense of humor. Competent. Scary. Hot.”
“Like Tasha,” Clint agrees.
“But not Phil?”
Clint has to stop for a second. Jim sneaks a card from the discard deck while he does. “Phil’s not scary,” he objects at last.
“You were on the Nagano op.”
There’ve been a couple of Nagano ops. Japanese farmland produces some weird alien shit. “The frog op?”
“Frogs, plural. So many, many frogs. Frogs in the shoes, frogs in the gear, frogs in the car, frogs in the goddamn underwear—” That was the op where Phil famously Lost His Temper. Apparently, thumbnail-sized frog plagues are his kryptonite. Clint arrived with the extraction team and found the ground team white-faced and mute, jumping at every move Phil made like they were rabbits instead of seasoned veterans of some of the most badass organizations on the planet. By the time Clint had got there, there were also no frogs anywhere to be seen in the farmhouse they’d set up as Control, although it was literally impossible to walk anywhere outside without coming back with your shoes covered in frog guts.
“Sometimes he can be scary,” Clint concedes, then squints suspiciously. “What’s so funny?”
“I find it interesting that ‘scary’ is the word you didn’t think applied to Phil.”
Clint rewinds the conversation. It takes him a minute to figure out what Woo’s getting at. “You don’t think Phil’s hot?”
“More to the point, you think he’s hot.”
Jim’s capacity for bullshit reaches levels that sometimes baffle even Clint. “There are a lot of people at SHIELD who’re hot,” Clint says, trying to figure out why his pile of cards is so much smaller than Jim’s. He’d swear he’s won every slap so far. “Mel, Bobbi, Sharon, Maria, Trip, Fury—“
“Jesus. I think my balls just retracted.”
“—not to mention Jimmy Woo. Working at SHIELD is like being a lesbian nun at the Playboy mansion,” Clint sighs, while Jim tries to laugh and drink at the same time, spraying shitty wine everywhere. “Water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”
And here’s the thing. It’s not that Clint hasn’t thought about Phil that way from time to time, mostly in passing, huh, Phil’s probably good in bed trains of thought that never quite make it to visuals or actual fantasies. It’s just that Phil’s not his type, really. On paper Phil ticks all the checkmarks, especially the hot one—Clint feels a twinge of annoyance at Jim: of course Phil’s hot. It’s just a less flashy type of hot than other people. It’s the type that grows on you bit by it until one day you look at Phil and realize he’s easily the most attractive guy you know, and how the hell does Jim get off calling himself an intelligence operative when he doesn’t even see what’s right in front of his face.
No, the problem with Phil is that, in person, he’s the guy that Clint wants at his back. He’s the foundation Clint stands on; the first cause that guides him when everything else is going to shit. He’s the friend Clint hangs out with and watches bad television with, the example who taught Clint that not all white men were assholes just waiting to stab you in the back. Clint needs Phil in his life like he needs Tasha, like he needs fucking air. He hasn’t had so many important relationships in his life that he can afford to mess up this one up; of the romantic ones he’s had, only his friendship with Tasha has managed to claw its way out of the post-relationship gravitational pull of recriminations and Clint’s mistakes. The thought of fucking Phil up, of seeing him disappointed and disillusioned in Clint the way all his exes have been—
Clint silently adds ‘short-term’ to his list of qualifications. Clint’s type is strong, doesn’t take any shit, can kick his ass, has a sense of humor, is competent, scary, hot, and definitely short-term.
Phil would probably never be short-term. Phil would be a forever kind of thing.
“You pull something?” Jim asks, tipping his head. Clint looks down and finds he’s rubbing at his breastbone with his knuckles. He stops. His chest aches.
“I think I’m hungry,” he says.
“Let’s eat,” says Jim.
Miracle of miracles, Clint does an op with Phil.
With Phil and his ducklings, to be precise.
“You’d better not be calling me a duckling in your mind, Barton,” Mel says, passing Clint in the Bus without so much as a glance.
With Phil and his ducklings and Agent Melinda May, to be precise.
It’s the first op that he’s done with Phil and his crew since Phil came back from five seconds of objective death; the first time Clint’s been on the Bus, a plane that begs for jokes about midlife crises (or post-life crises) except that Lola would overhear and likely take offense. It’s all fun and games until the flying convertible decides to only drive upside-down, and like hell Clint’s going through that ever again. “She’s nice,” Skye protests, “she’s a sexy red sweetheart,”—though Clint notices she doesn’t touch Lola so much as give her a wide, reverential berth.
“This’ll be so much fun,” Clint tells Trip and a starstruck Fitz, fist-bumping the one and forcing himself not to tousle the hair of the other. “It’ll be a great op.”
“You asshole,” Trip groans. “You just had to jinx it.”
It’s a fucking terrible op.
Fifty-six hours after they reach Rome, half the police and the local branch of the Maggia are chasing them through the southwest quarter. It’s not an unreasonable response to the way Phil humiliated them by stealing an 0-8-4 literally right out from underneath their noses, but it’s not doing much to impress Clint with the Italians’ reputation for hospitality. They start out on rooftops, Clint’s escape route of choice, but Phil’s comm and gun are lost to a bad jump across an alleyway and there are helicopters fut fut fut fut-ing their way from the east. Going to ground isn’t a hard choice.
“I can’t imagine why I thought bringing you to Europe again would be a good idea,” Phil mourns, his voice rough from a close encounter with a smoke bomb. They race down tiny side roads and dart across streets, barely avoiding pedestrians, a dog walker’s pack, patio seating for an outdoor cafe, and a vespa.
“Europe loves me. It’s the Europeans that hate my guts,” Clint retorts. He stops just around a corner to send an arrow at the first pursuer to heave into sight. There are screams as the guy drops, shot through the leg. A bullet slaps into the plaster next to Clint, and then Phil’s at his side, a stylish ghost of badassery. Clint barely feels the yank from his quiver; then Phil’s got an arrow in his hand and he’s driving hard it hard into the shoulder of a Maggia running too fast to stop.
Phil’s guy screams and drops. “Hey,” Clint tells the guy. “My name’s Pogo. Wanna jump on my stick?”
The cursing guy doesn’t seem to appreciate Clint’s wit. Probably doesn’t speak English. Phil though, Phil appreciates him. While Clint sends another arrow into the wall just above where the rest of the Maggia are taking cover behind a car, Phil wrenches the gun out of his victim’s hand and clocks him across the skull with it. The arrow Clint shot pops when it hits, a fine, monofilament mesh floating down to envelop the guys on their trail. Only a couple of them get caught by it, but at least that’s two more off their backs. Unfortunately, it leaves at least a good ten loose, only three of which he can place.
He retrieves his arrow from Phil’s guy. They race down the street, dodging around parked cars and shooing bystanders away as they go. Modern technology makes people stupid, what the fuck. There are at least two or three bystanders taking selfies of themselves with the running gun battle before a bullet shatters a car window and they suddenly catch on that this is live ammunition getting thrown around. Then it’s all scream scream scream, panic panic panic, run run run. . . .
“We should wear shirts,” he huffs, following Phil into a narrow alley. Walls close around them, dark and massive. “They could say things like, ‘This is not a movie, run away.’”
“Graphic t-shirts are a fashion faux pas with ties and a suit,” Phil says, somehow managing to sound judgey McJudgey even out of breath.
“I’m not wearing underpants,” Clint retorts. “What does fashion have to say about that?”
“There’s a chap for that.”
They explode out into bright sunlight again, sending a flock of pigeons exploding into the sky. Clint hopes they shit on the Maggia.
There’s traffic on the street they just emerged onto. Crazy traffic, because it’s Italian. They dodge off the sidewalk, just in time to avoid a nun on a scooter that’s barreled off the street onto the walkway and down again at forty miles an hour. Apparently, her vows didn’t include any promises regarding local traffic laws.
“Holy shit,” Clint hiccups, a little white around the eyes. The scooter came closer than most of the Maggia bullets to taking him out. He hitches a step, watching the black habit zoom away into the distance, trailing honks behind her. “Jesus, who taught her how to drive?”
“It couldn’t have been Jesus. He would’ve used a Chrysler,” Phil says, and Clint has just a split-second to think wait, what? when suddenly there’s a screech of brakes. Half a second too late, Clint’s brain catches up to his ears and registers the thud that preceded it.
He spins. He’s just in time to watch Phil slither to the cobbles in a terrifyingly limp way.
Clint has no clear memory of how he gets from Point A to Point B. Somehow he’s just there, hunched over a white and ominously still Phil and searching for a pulse. He can’t find one at first, fuck, fuck, and he knows he’s saying all kinds of things he’ll probably be embarrassed by later, but fuck it. He checks in at one point to hear himself saying, “—no possible way that Agent Phil My Middle Name is Classified Coulson survives a demigod and an alien invasion but gets taken out by a car, are you kidding me, we haven’t even had Bad Idea Bears sex yet, what the hell is wrong with you.”
There might be some shooting in there too, because the Maggia show up right about then. There’s a lot of screaming. He probably doesn’t do the screaming. He shoots the Maggia because—because they’re there, and they’re assholes, they totally deserve it. He hates Europe, he hates Europeans, he hates Europeans, he hates—
And then he hears Phil says thickly, “That’ll teach me to speak for Jesus. I thought tradition called for a bolt of lightning.”
All of the air gets sucked out of Clint in one fell swoop. He’s still shooting Maggia, because they apparently buy their goons in bulk from Costco, but he barely even notices. “You know what they say. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” He sounds drunk. He doesn’t care; his cheeks hurt from the size of his grin. “Welcome back again.”
There’s a grumble from near his leg, Phil sitting up. A couple of seconds later, two Maggia drop from bullets to the kneecaps.
“Tell me you were aiming for those,” Clint says, giddy.
“Why? What did I hit?” Phil asks. And then, sounding outraged, he demands, “Did I get run over by a Fiat?”
Clint’s giggling like a lunatic when he puts the last Maggia guy down with extreme prejudice. He can’t seem to help himself. “If you were a car, I’d wax you and ride you all over town.”
He looks down. Phil’s managed to push himself up to a seated position, legs sprawled in front of him. His face is still white, but at least it’s alive. There’s blood following his hairline into his ear, and the right sleeve of his suit is rapidly turning red. It’s shades of security footage three years gone. Clint feels himself go white.
“It’s not bad,” Phil says quickly, following his look and checking his arm. “Just a graze.” He starts to drag himself up using the back of the car, wincing as he moves. At some point during the last few minutes, the driver of the car bolted. Probably a smart choice, considering the guns and the shooting.
Clint can’t keep himself from helping Phil up, enduring the glassy-eyed glare he gets for doing it. Phil’s suit is soft under his hands, the fabric catching on his calluses. Distantly, he’s aware that the rush of adrenaline and endorphins he’s riding will leave him crushed and shaking later, but at the moment, he’s flying high. He herds Phil towards the passenger seat of the car that hit him, running anxious hands over arms, legs, and the broad strength of back under the pretense of brushing gravel off him. The op having snowballed the way it did, neither of them had time to change out of the civvies they used for recon into combat gear. He’s hyper-aware of every rip in Phil’s suit, the smear of blood across his neck, the smudge of dirt on his cheek.
He can’t stop touching.
“Clint,” Phil says crossly. Clint becomes dimly aware that Phil’s been saying his name for a while. “Clint.”
“Right,” he says, snapping out of it. “Getaway.” He pushes Phil into the seat and vaults over the hood.
The driver didn’t take the keys with him—even left it running for them—which is the kind of service you don’t usually get in Europe. “And look, it’s got an Uber sticker, in case you’re feeling guilty about taking the car,” he says, sending the car hurtling down the street while he buckles Phil in with the other hand.
Phil slaps his hand away. “We do not expense Uber on our ops, Barton. We are not the CIA.”
Clint doesn’t say a word the rest of the way to pickup.
Mel’s got absolutely nothing flattering to say about their ability to get away from the Maggia and the Polizia Municipale. The look she gives Phil and Clint is unimpressed, which makes Clint feel right at home; Phil’s conciliatory, “I only got shot a little bit,” does nothing to improve her mood, which is apparently related to some promise Phil made about being in the field that Clint completely, utterly agrees with.
Simmons, the little brown-haired squint who doubles as Phil’s field medic, manages to tear herself away from the 0-8-4 long enough to patch Phil up.
“He died,” Clint says stubbornly when she reacts to it the same way Phil did: just a graze, nothing to be worried about. “And,” he remembers to add, “he got hit by a car.”
Phil looks betrayed.
“A Fiat,” Clint says brutally.
“That was unnecessary,” Phil sighs.
“This is turning into quite a bad habit with you, sir,” Simmons tells Phil cheerfully. Clint, his hands already starting to tremble in the beginnings of the adrenaline crash, feels his face freeze. Simmons must notice because she adds, alarmed, “I mean, in addition to that other time. Though of course, two is hardly a pattern. For a real pattern, it would need to happen frequently enough that it could be reliably modeled. We’d need more data points. Three, maybe four— not that I’d recommend that. Really, I don’t even know why I’m talking at all. Sir.”
“I didn’t die. Your blood sugar is low,” Phil tells Clint, patient in the way that he gets when he thinks Clint is displaying the higher brain function of a pigmy hippopotamus. He fishes in his pocket with his good hand and tosses something at him. “Eat something.”
“No heartbeat,” Clint tells Simmons, automatically catching it. “He got hit by a Fiat. You should check his head. He definitely hit it. There’s probably brain damage.”
Simmons perks up, excited at the idea.
“My heartbeat is harder to detect these days,” Phil excuses.
“He’s been running marathons!” Simmons enthuses. “It’s led to a remarkable increase in the efficiency of his cardiovascular system. Do you know, his pulse is now a—“ she trails off, glancing quickly between Phil and Clint. “I’ll just stop talking again, shall I?”
“I’m fit,” Phil says. He looks pleased with himself.
Clint grinds his teeth. “You didn’t think to mention that?”
“Eat your candy,” Phil recommends kindly.
While Simmons flutters around Phil, shining a flashlight into his eyes and trying to convince him he needs to have his brain remapped for science, Clint investigates the package Phil gave him. It’s one of those brown little snack packets of M&Ms, frayed at the ends where it’s obviously been carried around for a while. He fumbles it open and starts poking through the candies for the good ones without thinking. Then he stops. He shakes the bag. Then he pokes through it again.
“There aren’t any brown ones,” he says, puzzled.
“You hate the brown ones,” Phil says, carefully sliding off the table to stand.
“Yeah, but there aren’t any in this bag.” Clint shakes the bag again. “Did they stop making them?”
“Oh, that’s because Agent Coulson orders them that way,” Simmons says brightly, chasing after Phil with another roll of bandaging. “Sir, your arm—“
“Still attached,” Phil says. “I think you’ve bandaged it enough.”
“You order them without the brown ones?” Clint says slowly, while Simmons and Phil bicker over whether he really needs to have his entire arm mummified. “You can do that?”
“The internet is a strange and magical genie.”
“But you like the brown ones.”
Phil shrugs, winces, and then winces again when Simmons pounces on the expression with a triumphant, Hah! “I don’t have any particular feelings about the brown ones,” he corrects. “It’s not that much more difficult than getting regular M&Ms. And for reasons I don’t pretend to understand, it’s important to you.”
“You ordered them just for me?”
“We all eat the M&Ms!” Simmons chirps. “He orders boxes of these all the time!”
“Without the browns?”
“I thought that just was an American thing.”
“They’re a good source of quick sugar,” Phil says, measured, which means he’s trying hard not to sound defensive.
“I like the purple ones!”
Clint picks one out—purple M&Ms, holy crap, he didn’t even realize that was possible—and licks it tentatively.
It tastes like sunshine. He licks it again, slow, and closes his eyes. Jesus, it’s good. Simmons makes a squeaking sound. Clint looks up, but she’s fussing around with medical supplies, her ears bright pink. Phil’s face is scrupulously blank. “He needs a painkiller,” Clint tells her, because Phil only gets that look for one reason.
“I’m fine,” Phil says.
“Shut up,” Clint says. “You got hit by a Fiat. You have no more credibility in the spy world.”
Phil looks martyred.
While Simmons bullies Phil back up onto the table, Clint fishes out more of the purple M&M’s and eats them one by one, savoring the awesomeness. It throws off his entire M&M-eating protocol, but fuck it: purple M&Ms. He goes through all of them and then moves on to the red ones because he has a system for a reason. Halfway through the orange ones he gets up to see what’s taking Simmons so long to finish up.
She’s going on about some drug interaction that she didn’t expect, blood test, results, yada yada yada. Phil’s got that little half-smile he gets when he’s being comforting, the steady rock that the juniors crash their neuroses against until their internal dramas calm down. Clint wanders over to lean next to him, bumping his hip against Phil’s knee, and wins a tiny bit of that smile for himself. Phil smells comfortingly like normal: burnt metal, aftershave, soap, sweat, leather. Clint’s muscles start to relax, the tremors in his fingers easing away as the sugar starts working in his system.
Science stuff, natters Simmons. Science science science science science biology tests science brain science—
There’s a sliver of rich color in the bag. He nudges other M&Ms out of the way and finds it: an uneaten purple. He plucks it out, feeling a triumph completely disproportionate to the discovery.
Blah blah blah, Simmons is saying. Phil says something back to her, his voice like warm fur stroking Clint’s limbic system. The last of his tension seeps away. At some point he must’ve leaned into Phil, he doesn’t know when. But Phil’s hand is somehow solid on his shoulder, supporting, so he turns his head without thinking about it, practically nuzzling into Phil’s shoulder.
Phil’s voice cuts off. So does Simmons’s. He feels their gazes on him, his unreadable, hers astonished.
Panic jabs at Clint. Shit.
“So hey, look what I found,” he says, a little too fast. He holds the M&M up, tipping his head back further to peer at Phil, like that was what he meant to do all along. “Want it? Last purple.”
Phil looks at the M&M, looks at Clint, looks back at the M&M. He takes it.
“Melts in your mouth. Not in your hand,” Clint says. He grins. “Like me.”
There’s another squeak from Simmons. Phil asks, curious, “Has that one ever worked?”
“No idea. I’ll try it out on Friday night, if we get back to New York by then.” He winks at Simmons, who immediately turns pink. She’s cute, but in a completely platonic way. It’s funny, how all Phil’s ducklings are cute in a completely platonic way. “Maybe I’ll hit some clubs. Sam and Steve said they might be back in town. Steve could stand to get out of his head a bit.”
“Please don’t try to get Steve Rogers laid,” Phil sighs.
“Watching Steve try to go clubbing is the saddest, funniest thing you’ll ever see,” Clint tells Simmons. “He hates it, and he’s terrible with strange women. On the up side, having him around makes me look like a smooth operator.”
“Oh dear. That bad?” she says.
“Ask Melinda to get us home?” Phil asks her, wry. “Clint doesn’t want to miss a chance to make Captain America suffer.”
Simmons putters off to the intercom on the other side of the room, still slightly pink. Phil looks down at Clint and lets his mouth quirk up. “Take it,” he suggests, lifting the M&M.
It’s been months since that conversation in Phil’s office, awkward dirty talk over roast beef sandwiches. Clint only remembers it in vague generalities, the specific words hazy behind memories of amusement and affection. There’s no reason for the offer of an M&M to rewrite that memory into something hot, but suddenly there it is, like an Italian car to the back of the knees: take it, in Phil’s smoke-rough voice.
Clint’s reaction is pure muscle memory, potential energy converted into kinetic. It’s thousands of hours of Phil’s commands priming his action, Phil’s voice on the comm dictating the pull on the bow, the release of the string. His skin burns, flash-heated. His groin clenches hard, a shiver running up the line of his spine. Every part of him sits up and howls, YES. It’s a fucking M&M. It’s not the beginning of some goddamn gourmet chocolate commercial, all brown liquid velvet and sexy people showing too much skin. But Clint’s nothing if not a master of bad decisions, instinct and impulse defining the cartography of his life: here is the fork in the road, here’s the road you decided not to travel.
He opens his mouth, dark and wet. Inviting.
There’s something in Phil’s eyes, something he should recognize, something stricken. Phil stares at him, the smile lingering like the collateral damage of a bad hit. He hesitates. Then he carefully, tenderly, lays the M&M on Clint’s tongue.
His fingers brush Clint’s lips, warm, solid, the ridges of his skin and the hardness of his nails heavy and perfect in his mouth. Clint tastes chocolate, smoke. He thinks dizzily that he’s kissing Phil. This is what it’s like to kiss Phil. The air feels too thick to breathe.
Phil shifts, the first change of weight that will turn him inevitably, imperfectly, into Clint’s mouth. Clint’s lungs spasm, suck in air and burning hope.
“—Twelve hours with the stopover in England. Oh, lovely! I’ve been craving a pudding,” Simmons says, distant and irrelevant.
Phil freezes. He blinks, his eyes showing a rim of white. “Oh,“ he says. “I’ll just,” he says. Then he turns away.
It’s Clint’s imagination that supplies the sound of ripping, like the act of pulling apart actually tears at some vital seam. He thinks, in order and increasing levels of frustration and horror, Fuck, and then, what the hell, and then pathetically, furiously annoyed, No.
And then: Wait, why not?
His head is spinning, vertigo pulling him down like it does when he’s balanced on the edge of a building too high, gravity nudging his brain and whispering how sweet it’d be to tip over and try to fly. He rubs his fingers against his thumbs, feeling them hyper-sensitized, aching. He’s desperate to touch skin. Phil’s, his own, Phil’s, Phil’s—
“Clint?” Phil says.
Clint blinks into focus. Phil is studying him, his forehead wrinkled and concerned.
“What?” Clint says.
Clint blinks again, once. His lips feel swollen and tingly; he touches them in wonder. “Yeah,” he says. He sounds hoarse. He clears his throat and drops his gaze. “Yeah, I’m— I’m fine. Everything’s fine.”
“Did you hear?” Jasper says conversationally, two weeks later in Jordan. “Phil’s actually dating someone now.”
Clint grunts, feeling like the air’s been punched out of him. He keeps his attention fixed on their contact in the building across the street. How is he the one who’s got the reputation for inappropriate comm chatter when Sitwell’s the one who can never shut up?
“He’s a contemporary dancer. One of the choreography assistants for So You Think You Can Dance.”
There’s a horrible split-second where Clint visualizes the kind of athletic, gorgeous sex Phil’s probably having right now—fuck—before he settles back into mission focus. He’s a goddamn professional. His scope never wavers.
“Seems like a nice guy,” Jasper says. “You’re doing that thing again.”
Clint realizes at the same time that he’s rubbing at his chest with his knuckles. He drops his hand.
“You should go to medical. You’ve been doing that a lot lately,” Jasper tells him, and hands him an antacid. They’re the SHIELD agent’s version of after dinner mints.
“I should,” Clint says, taking it.
Jasper perks up. “Maybe you have an ulcer.” He’s always looking for new people to add to his gastrointestinal support group.
That night, Clint has his ninth wet dream since the mission on the Bus. His ninth wet dream starring Phil, which is rapidly driving him down some lube-greased slope into insanity and friction rash; this time, Phil is ruthlessly and inexorably fucking him, Clint’s knees hooked over his elbows, and Clint thinks holy crap this is the best dream ever before the realization that it is a dream starts dragging him up into consciousness. He digs into the sheets with white knuckles, refusing to resurface, but it does as much good as it usually does. Phil looks him squarely in the eyes and says, “I’m like a can of Pringles. Once you pop, you can’t stop.” The sheer ridiculousness of it drives Clint flailing, furious and hard, up out of rough cotton sheets and crashing to the floor, dick first.
He can’t be fucked to get back on the bed to jack off. He takes care of it right there, on a ratty rug that’s seen a hell of a lot worse than sweat and jizz. Then he drags himself to the hotel window and drapes himself over the balcony, face mashed against cool plaster.
He wants Phil Coulson.
Clint is intimately acquainted with the mechanics of a bad life choice. He’s made enough of them in his time. In the talk show wasteland of youtube there’re pop psychologists who’ve broken down the insane variety of shit he’s done—tied them to abusive father; to abandonment issues; to PTSD; to inferiority complex, all in front of a studio audience. Hawkeye might be a B-lister, but he’s got a Middle America origin story that people can pity and relate to.
By and large, the pop psychologists aren’t wrong. Clint’s got issues, he’ll own it. Give it a name, he’s probably got it. Where most of the pop psychologists get it wrong though, and where SHIELD psychologists only get it a little bit right, is that he knows when he’s making a bad choice. His problem is that he does it anyway. When it comes to consequences for himself, he’s got the judgment of a pot-smoking gibbon in a Kwik-E-Mart.
There’re all kinds of reasons he shouldn’t try to get into Phil’s pants, but he’ll be damned if he can remember what they are now. (Yeah, okay, he’s lying. He knows exactly what they are. It’s just harder and harder to care.)
It would be so damn easy, and so damn good to be with Phil: like the march of inevitability, a seasonal shift. Phil’s seen Clint at his worst, and for reasons Clint has never really understood, Phil’s never been scared away. What difference would it make if they have a one-night stand together? Phil’s done those before, for SHIELD. Clint knows this for a fact. And they’re already friends, so it wouldn’t be like there’d be any awkwardness (really) about romance, or being in love. They’re not in love. They’d never fall in love. Clint’s not Phil’s type. It’d just be scratching a physical itch, no harm, no foul, one fling with no strings attached and then bros again in the morning. It could be great.
Except Phil’s got a boyfriend. Phil’s got a boyfriend and all Clint can think about is peeling Phil out of his clothes, nuzzling the warm line of his throat beneath his ear, swallowing him down and listening to the shocked, helpless sounds he’d make when he. . . .
Phil’s honeypot op drags on. Clint ends up in New York for a few weeks, and goes to see one of the choreographer’s shows on a night when he knows Phil’s out of town. The guy spends most of the performance showing way too much skin. He’s good, though. He’s talented. Talented, and flexible. Incredibly flexible. Unbelievably flexible. And according to the program’s liner notes, he runs some kind of after school dance program for inner city kids so they can learn hip hop and stay safe. He’s right up Phil’s alley: crazy talented, obviously passionate, and doing something good in the world.
Clint goes to a nearby bar and drinks a lot. In celebration for Phil. The next morning sucks. A lot.
He deals with it. He moves on. He’s a fucking adult, okay? So his best friend’s dating some douche who can literally wrap one leg over his own shoulders while he balances on tip-toe with his other leg. Clint’s happy for him. They’re probably having insanely athletic, bendy, filthy sex with each other. Lots of sex. The guy’s a dancer, so he’s, what, bringing beauty into the world or whatever. He’s right up Phil’s alley. Clint is fucking delirious with joy for Phil. He is. He says so repeatedly to his reflection in the bathroom mirror, practicing intense sincerity until Lucky starts to avoid the bathroom.
Five weeks pass where he’s aggressively, ferociously, fiercely happy for Phil.
And then Phil says, “We broke up.”
He’s over at Clint’s for dinner, and Clint is thinking seriously of shoving ice cubes down his pants because Phil looks ridiculously hot in jeans and a long-sleeved blue shirt. Kimchee hot dogs won’t ever take the culinary world by storm, but neither of them have taste buds worth mentioning, and the pizza delivery menu was right next to the Korean delivery menu: Clint doesn’t cook, so sue him. Anyway, Clint’s got a mouthful of something crunchy, squashy, and hot, which gives him the excuse he needs to not answer for a few seconds. He’s confused and alarmed and hopeful, which is messing with his ability to remember how to chew. Sadly, this isn’t even an unusual problem for him.
“We did?” he says at last, when he’s swallowed.
“Taylor and me,” Phil says, unimpressed. He frowns at Clint over a bowl of wings spiced with hellfire and regret. “The one I was dating for a few weeks.”
“You were dating?”
“You went to his show.”
Of course Phil knows something he wasn’t even in the country for and should have no business knowing. Clint sneaks another of Phil’s wings out of his bowl. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he lies hopelessly. He bites into the wing. A few vision-whitening seconds later, he wishes he hadn’t.
“We broke up,” Phil says again, ignoring this. He passes Clint a shred of paper towel to spit the bite of chicken out in, and adds it to the collection of spat-out chicken paper towel balls growing in the garbage. “It wasn’t me, it was him. He wasn’t ready for a relationship. But in case I was interested in helpful criticism, I wasn’t emotionally accessible, and the sex could’ve been better.”
“Wha’” says Clint.
“He likes his partners to tell him what they want during sex. Talk, basically,” Phil says. He looks pensive. “It didn’t go very well.”
“And I didn’t really get his art.”
Chili is burning the top layer of skin off Clint’s fingertips. Shoving them in Taylor’s eye sockets and using his head as a bowling ball would probably make them feel better. He shoves his fingers into his mouth. He takes them out again.
“Aaaaugh,” he whines. Phil hands him a glass of milk and a wet towel.
“It’s fine,” Phil says kindly, like Clint is the one who got dumped. “It wasn’t going to work out anyway. His body was a temple. Mine is more of a YMCA.”
“Baaaugh,” Clint bubbles into his milk.
“It was a nice temple,” Phil says regretfully.
He sits back with his bowl while Clint nurses what’s left of his tongue.
They’re watching Charade, because Phil’s got a thing for Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, and Clint’s got a thing for Walter Matthau. It’s the kind of movie Phil likes: funny, nostalgic, full of people who have their shit together even when everything is falling to pieces all around them. Basically, people like Phil. And Phil is a warm thigh pressed against his, a comfortable, familiar smell of soap and fabric in his nose, and Clint thinks how much he likes this, how much he likes just hanging out with Phil. How Phil is the best guy friend he has, the one he doesn’t have any secrets from, how he’d never, ever want to mess this up. And how Taylor is a fuckwit who doesn’t know what a good thing he had, and if Clint was a good friend, he’d think of something comforting to say to Phil.
Not that Phil sounds like he needs comforting, but still. It’d be a friendly thing to do. Like, he didn’t deserve you. Or, you’re better off without him. Or, let’s have sex.
No, he shouldn’t say that. That’d be stupid.
“What, right now?” Phil asks, tearing his attention away from a baffled Hepburn being threatened by a thug.
Clint rewinds frantically through his thoughts and actually hears his brain do a record scratch, full press stop on let’s have sex.
Oh shit. He said that out loud.
Clint freaks out. He’s great at split-second decisions in combat, okay. He’s not so great at simple conversation in his living room. He can’t say he was just kidding; then it would sound like he was taunting Phil, and Phil just got dumped. He can’t act freaked out; then Phil will know he didn’t mean to say it out loud, and that he’s been thinking about it.
He grabs another wing and shoves it in his mouth. His eyes immediately start to water.
Phil sighs and reaches for the paper towels again.
“This next part is good,” Phil says, turning his attention back to the screen, while Clint chugs milk and tries not to think about how much fire will be coming out of his ass if he keeps doing this. “Do you know, Cary Grant initially turned the role down because he felt his age difference with Ms. Hepburn would make him look like a sexual predator. He was in his sixties. He only accepted after they moved all the romantic overtures from his part to hers.”
Ms. Hepburn, the fuck. Phil’s giving him an out by pretending the last sixty seconds never happened. Clint is completely eviscerated by fondness for the asshole. Not giving himself time to think, he says, “Why not now? I’ve got a bed, you don’t have a boyfriend—“
Phil eyes him, his forehead crinkling slowly like he’s found himself in the wrong story.
“I’m amazing in bed,” Clint says, trying not to sound defensive. He makes vague shapes with his hands. They’re probably not sexy. “I’ve had a lot of practice.”
“I don’t question your skill,” Phil says slowly.
“Then what’s the problem?”
“You’ve never been interested in sex before.”
Clint gives him a side-eye back. “I’m always interested in sex.”
Phil looks down at himself. Then back up at Clint. His ears turn pink. “Not with me.”
What the hell, has Phil not been paying attention? Clint is a damn good spy, that’s what it is. He preens for a second about his incredible covering skills, then wrenches himself back on track. “It’s not a pity fuck.”
Phil’s mouth twitches. “Thank you for the reassurance.”
Clint shrugs and slouches down in the sofa. “I just thought, you know. If you wanted.” He picks at the edge of the cushion, his chin pressing into his chest. He’s aware it makes him look small and childish, and that it’s manipulative in the worst way. This is a disastrous idea, he knows. Fuck everything, he knows, okay? He just doesn’t care.
There’s a long, long silence. Phil’s hand closes over Clint’s twitching fingers. He forces them still, but doesn’t look up at Phil.
“You’re being weird,” Phil says kindly. “Do you want to have sex with me?”
“Don’t feel pressured,” Clint says, cleverly not answering the question. He’s maintaining his cool.
Phil sighs. “You’re not going to be strange, after?”
Clint can’t help himself; he perks up like a puppy hearing the doorknob rattle at the implication that Phil might be okay with this. “Please. I’m a good fuckbuddy. I’m the best fuckbuddy. I’m famous for fuckbuddying. No Strings Dick, that’s me. I’m practically a professional.”
“I sincerely hope not,” Phil murmurs. He sets the bowl of wings on the coffee table, folds his paper towel napkin over it, and stands up.
“Where are you going?” Clint asks, instantly paranoid.
“Your bedroom,” Phil says patiently. He looks down at Clint, who’s gaping up at him like he’s Santa Claus, and has just promised to deliver a lifetime supply of quality porn for Christmas. Phil’s eyes are so damn fond. “Sex would go better if you came, too.”
Clint might say Holy shit when he scrambles out of the sofa and knocks over the wings on his way over the coffee table, but then again, maybe not. He’s not too sure. His blood is heading south to his dick. Also, he trips over Lucky, who’s slithered out from under the table to inhale the chicken.
“I’m coming,” Clint gabbles. He catches his toe on the recliner, hops a few steps, and strips off his sock. He won’t need it. He’s going to have sex. With Phil. “Coming, coming, coming—“
“Not yet,” says Phil. At least, that’s probably what he says. It’s hard to tell, because Lucky’s started to voice his opinion of Korean-Ballpark fusion cuisine.
“This is going to be amazing,” Clint swears.
Ooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!! wails Lucky.
“Hm,” says Phil.
They don’t have sex. Funny story. Actually, it’s not funny. Phil probably thinks it’s funny. Clint, though—Clint is going to need some distance, okay? Lots of distance.
Lots and lots of distance.
Like, never think of that again.
Clint gets called in and flown out to Beijing to provide aerial support for Tasha and then back up her extraction strategy. Like a lot of her extractions, the summary will go down in debrief in some form of: ‘fuck this, fuck you, fuck everything.’
Three hours into it, Tasha starts eyeing him funny. Ten hours in, she dodges a flying crowbar, says flatly, “You’re being weird,” and then tazes a perfectly innocent giraffe for Reasons. The Beijing Zoo will probably be banning them for life.
Being confronted in the Kyoto canteen was just a matter of time, really.
“Talk to me,” she says, dropping into the seat across from Clint.
He eyes her over the bowl he’s digging into with his fingers. “These are fish balls,” he tells her.
“Satsumaage,” Tasha says patiently.
“They’re awesome.” He pops another one in his mouth and chews. “Do you think they’re really balls? I wonder what kind of fish they came from. My balls don’t taste this good.”
Tasha doesn’t have tells unless she wants to, which is why Clint gets no warning when she grabs him by the hair and slams his face in the bowl. Since he was kinda expecting it though, he just mumbles a half-hearted, “Ow.” Tasha lets go of his ear. He leaves his face where it is and tries to hook another fish ball with his tongue. Giraffes can do it. He kinda wishes he had a giraffe tongue. That would be awesome. Which reminds him: “How about this one: Excuse me, but does my tongue taste funny to you?”
He can’t see her, but Tasha’s sigh is loud enough that half the canteen can hear it. “Clint.”
Regretfully, Clint decides he’s not going to get a fish ball with his tongue. He turns his head to look at her, one eye squashed in greasy food. “‘So we’re friends. When do the benefits kick in?’”
“I’m not killing you,” Tasha says with exaggerated patience. “That’s the benefit.” She sounds all murdery and mean and horrible, no good, very bad way to die. The way she looks him over though, assessing, is wearily fond. “Who’d you crash and burn on?”
If he weren’t so self-aware, he’d be offended that that’s her first assumption. “Phil.”
That actually makes one of her eyelids twitch. Clint’s mood improves a tiny bit. It’s always a big deal when he manages to surprise her. “Finally,” she says though, like that was exactly what she expected him to say. “How bad was it?”
“It was—“ Not good. It was not good at all. He grimaces, remembering, and sits up just so he can slump down in his chair.
Her mouth twitches. “It can’t have been that bad.”
“Worse,” he says succinctly. “Hands. Mouth. Balls. Dick.”
She blinks again.
He looks pathetic. A fish ball tumbles down his shoulder and plops into his lap from where it was stuck to his cheek. “Bibigo’s DMZ chicken wings.”
Tasha blinks one more time. Then she says flatly, “You had chili hot wings and didn’t wash your hands before sex.”
Clint flattens his face on the table.
In retrospect—a lot of Clint’s life seems to end up that way, in retrospect—it’s a great story to show Phil’s future hookups how badass Phil is. He figured out before Clint did what was going on. They were necking against the wall, Clint’s hand shoved down Phil’s pants, Phil giving him a few slow, sweet strokes, when Phil suddenly stopped and said, “Hm. Hold on.”
Clint isn’t ashamed to admit that he whimpered. Phil felt fucking fantastic. When Phil pulled his hand out of Clint’s open pants and drew away, Clint tried clinging to him like a baby koala. “What?” he whined. “Is this not working for you? It’s working for me. What’s not working for you? Is it the dirty talk? I can shut up. I can have quiet sex. Just watch me.” He could feel the warmth of Phil’s hand on his dick like a brand, aching for more.
Phil though, Phil just patted him on the shoulder like he was some kid that needed encouragement, and walked off with his own belt buckle jangling around his hips. It was confusing. Clint was confused. He was confused right up until he realized that the lingering warmth he felt on his dick was more like a growing, throbbing burn. Then he was confused and in pain. Then two terrifying words swam up through the bewilderment. Chili was the first one. The second one was, Balls.
The scramble for the bathroom wasn’t going to rank high as one of his more shining moments. Phil came back a couple minutes later to find Clint trying to shove his dick into the sink, swearing and sweating, his hands too greasy with soap to turn on the faucet. If he hadn’t known better, Clint would’ve thought Phil hadn’t been touched by chili hands at all. Beyond a little tightness to the corners of his eyes, he was cool as milk. As it was, Clint was more focused on the glass of actual milk Phil was holding to pay much attention to Phil’s freakishly high threshold for pain.
“Try—“ Phil began.
Before he could finish the sentence, Clint grabbed the glass from him and shoved his dick in it. Milk splashed everywhere.
“Fuck!” Clint cried, and tried to shove his balls in, too.
“—Or you could do that,” Phil sighed.
“Anyway, it killed the mood,” Clint finishes in the here and now, into the fake bamboo of the table.
Tasha is making an awful noise. The entire canteen is pretending not to notice that the Black Widow sounds like a horking drunk mule when she’s laughing for real.
“You’re a terrible friend,” he says sadly.
It doesn’t even occur to Clint that the next time he sees Phil might be awkward. He tried to sex up Phil. It didn’t work out. Clint can take a sign from the universe, especially when it shuts his dick down with extreme prejudice. He’ll move on.
He moves on.
He does a transit escort op in Lebanon and doesn’t think about Phil.
He does an extraction in Hong Kong and doesn’t think about Phil.
He does an undercover in Adis Abeba and doesn’t think about Phil.
He does an end of the world, all hail our dumbass overlord Tony Stark Avengers thing in Gulargambone, population 402—“Why is it always robots with you?” and, “How was I supposed to know it was sentient? I don’t read alien!”—and doesn’t think about Phil.
He has wet dreams because of Phil. He takes cold showers because of Phil. He’s going to go blind, grow hair on his palms, and need to start buying lube at Costco because of Phil.
But he doesn’t think about Phil.
Clint is a grown-up. He’s got this under control.
He develops a friction burn on his dick.
He might not have this under control.
Trigger Warning: there is minor violence in this one, as well as discussion of age-based sexual predator concerns in the casting of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn for the film Charade. Read at your own discretion!
Also, the frogs in Nagano are a real thing. It's a naturally occurring phenomenon. They're adorable frogs, the size of your first knuckle or so. But then you look around, realize you're in the middle of a goddamn Biblical frog plague, and suddenly that shit is horrifying.
Bet you thought I'd never update this.
All credit to my kindly beta, Kathar, who waited patiently for months while I wrote this, and then waited months again after she'd offered comments because life turned upside-down and inside-out. Her advice was brilliant, and if the chapter falls short of its potential, that's all on me.
There is no reason this story is as long as it is, but I can't stand looking at it this chapter any longer so you get it with warts on. The next story I do, I will practice being succinct. Alas!
Clint isn’t avoiding Phil.
He really isn’t.
Life is just busy, is all. Phil’s got his own ops, and Clint has his, and going a few weeks at a time without even a chat on the phone—that’s not unusual, although it feels longer and weirder as the days pass and he’s just . . . too busy to answer the phone when Phil rings. Really. They text a couple of times. Phil mentions something about how bad the food in Philly is, which is code for ‘I’m in Chile and hating every second of it.’ Clint answers with a smiley face that he somehow forgets to hit ‘send’ on.
He still leaves post-its for Phil in SHIELD offices around the world, though. Phil leaves a few for him like he used to, before Clint shoved his dick in the middle of their perfectly good friendship. Phil sounds the same, like that night never happened, and Clint’s glad about that. He really is. Why would Phil be regretful or feel awkward or, even crazier, want to try again? This is better. Right? It’s better.
They’re okay. Phil’s not the type to get all weird about sex. He’s okay. They’re okay.
Clint totally isn’t avoiding Phil.
“Why are you avoiding Phil?” Tasha demands, catching up with him in Turkey.
“Goddammit!” yelps Clint, and finishes falling out of a tenth story window.
It’s another hour before she finds him in an abandoned warehouse, coming out of nowhere to electrocute the three hundred pound mouth-breather trying to stab Clint in the face. The enormous fuck goes down. Clint is underneath him when he does. It takes Clint a second to realize that he’s not dead, which is all the time Tasha needs to swing a leg over the body pinning him down and take a seat on its back.
Three hundred pounds is a lot of weight. Three hundred pounds with a frowning Tasha on top of it is a hell of a problem. Clint has had buildings dropped on him, and this is still worse.
“Ow,” he wheezes.
“Phil,” she says, ignoring this. “You’re avoiding him.”
“…He’p.” Mouth-breather is breathing right in his face. Somewhere in his recent past was a whole jar of pickled onions.
She folds her arms on the back of Mouth-breather’s skull and peers down at him. “You’re being weird,” she says flatly. “I don’t like it.”
“Not. Avoiding. Phil,” he pants, trying to get enough leverage to heave Mouth-breather over. Tasha doesn’t even seem to notice, riding the rocking body without batting an eye. “Been busy?” he tries. His leg’s stuck.
She considers this. “Is this about the sex you didn’t have?” she asks. “Making an ass of yourself doesn’t usually make you run for it.”
“I’m not running for it.”
“You make an ass of yourself all the time,” she says, ignoring him. “If you always ran for it, you’d never stop running. And it’s not like Phil hasn’t seen you at your worst. Your absolutely most embarrassing and tragic worst. You once threw up in his boot after you let yourself got mugged by a twelve-year old and her dog.”
“For the last time, it was not a mugging, it was—” Why does he even bother. He grits his teeth, shoves hard again, and manages to get the last of himself out from under Mouth-breather. “I’m not avoiding Phil,” he says sourly. He rolls up painfully, feeling the sharp ache and pull of bruised muscles. At least nothing’s broken. “I’ve just been busy. With stuff.”
“Is this because of the whole unrequited love thing?” she asks.
That’s just . . . what? Clint stares at her. “I’m not in love with Phil,” he says, annoyed. It’s been a long day. He’s got better shit to be doing than sitting around talking feelings with Tasha.
She blinks and then furrows her brows at him.
“I’m not,” Clint says. “I love the guy like a brother—“ Too late he realizes this isn’t the best metaphor he could’ve come up with.
“You tried to have sex with him."
“I love the guy like a distant cousin twice removed, Jesus, I’m an ex-carnie redneck from Iowa, what the hell do you want from me?”
“Hm,” she says, wrinkling her forehead like she’s feeling sorry for him. Aw, no. This isn’t good. That look leads to bad things. Usually bad things for Clint.
“I’m not in love with Phil,” he says.
“Okay,” she says.
“Seriously!” he says.
“Okay,” she says.
And that's that.
It’s one of Tasha’s more annoying qualities, this ability to leave ideas open-ended so that they nag at you for hours afterwards. For days afterwards. Unrequited love, what the fuck. Clint is not in love with Phil. He isn’t. He’s been in love before, and it’s nothing like what he feels for Phil. Being in love is—it’s being struck by lightning. It’s worshipping at pedestals and wanting to fight dragons. It’s running away from the world so you two can just be together forever, Romeo and Juliet swelling in the background, running slo-mo through grassy fields with fucking bluebirds. That’s what love is.
Phil isn’t that. Phil is. Phil is potato chips and fruit loops while watching Project Runway. He’s the favorite hoodie with the shoulders stretched out just right. He’s the weight off your back when you walk in your own front door; the burn of your muscles after a good workout; the number on speed-dial when it’s 2 AM and you can’t sleep.
Phil is wanting to be your best, but knowing you can be your worst without worrying he won’t be there to pick up the pieces; and it pisses Clint off for reasons that don’t matter, to a degree that he refuses to admit is completely irrational, that Tasha thinks he’s in love with Phil. It’s not just that she’s wrong. It’s that the idea is fucking obscene, and never mind why.
He picks at it like a scab, worrying at it in little spurts and increasingly angry starts.
Fuck it. Tasha’s full of it. She is. In love. In love! Like. What. What.
He takes his fretfulness to Damascus and sharpens his teeth on it, pissed off, feeling off, and honey badger mean with it.
“For fuck’s sake, go get laid or something. You’re impossible like this,” snaps Agent Epstein, who’s running the op.
So Clint picks up some girl and maybe she’s good in bed, or at least good against the bathroom wall, but he'll never know because she dumps him less than an hour in. He can’t remember her name (“Celia? Sss, Ssss, Cynthia? Sybil? Ssss, Sick, Syphili— … fuck, no baby, wait…!”) but that’s what true love looks like for him these days, doesn’t it? Cheap and nameless, not worth the price of a condom.
Yet another bone for him to gnaw on.
“Pathetic,” Epstein snorts. “And Fox claims you’re such a player.”
“You know the problem with Coulson?” Clint says, apropos nothing in particular. “It’s not that he’s a ‘has been.’ It’s that he’s a ‘never was.’”
Why does he say that. He doesn’t mean it. Phil would’ve just smirked and fed him M&M’s until his blood sugar equalized, but Epstein.
Shit-stain Epstein agrees with him, capping off with an old rumor about Phil sleeping his way up the ladder to get his promotion. It’s a stupid rumor that Clint’s heard and laughed at a dozen times before, so of course Clint has to react this time by punching Epstein in the nuts. As is the way of these kinds of things, this somehow leads to Clint accidentally demolishing a Syrian airbase that was not actually supposed to be reduced to fist-sized pieces of rubble, move along, nothing to see here goddammit, it was an honest mistake, Tony’s done way worse—but anyway.
Goddammit, he’s not in love. Goddammit, Tasha’s such a pain in the ass.
He needs to get a grip. He needs to stop thinking about this. He needs to lay it out in the open and have it out with Phil, who doesn’t even know Clint isn’t in love with him. He needs to let Phil know that Tasha’s talking shit about him. In person. So Phil can see he’s serious. Because Phil is his friend. One of his two best friends. It’s important Phil know Clint’s got no emotional—emotion things at all about him. None.
Yeah. That’s what he needs to do.
So. Okay. Right.
Still covered in dust from Syria, Clint flies back to New York. Which is where Phil is. Because Clint is not avoiding Phil.
“Tasha thinks I’m in love with you,” Clint says as he stalks into Phil’s office, still worked up from the long flight and coasting on a high of self-righteous anger that is absolutely Tasha’s fault. Anger works for him. It makes him a fucking giant. He can walk through concrete when he’s pissed enough. The door slams into the wall and bounces back to catch against his outthrust arm. “For the record— oh. Shit.”
Well, that was nice while it lasted.
Clint deflates. “Hi, sir.”
“Sorry, Barton.” Fury says, not looking up from the file he’s reading. He’s lounging at Phil’s desk with his feet up on the desk, ankles crossed. Phil hates feet on his desk. “I’m flattered, but I’m married to my work.”
“Okay,” Clint says in a small voice.
“And you’re not my type.”
Clint is just fine with not being Fury’s type. Thinking about what might constitute Fury’s type makes his balls shrivel up. “Okay,” he says again. “I’ll just—“ He takes a careful step back.
“Now that we’ve dealt with that, sit your ass down.”
He sits down.
“What the hell are you, a cocker spaniel? In a chair, Barton.”
He relocates to a chair.
“You,” Fury says, glowering at him over the V of his crossed shoes, “are still pain in my furry black ass.”
“More detail than was really necessary, sir, but thank you,” Clint says politely.
Fury rolls his eyes and lets his feet thud back to ground. He slaps the file onto the desk. The desk rattles. The file’s enormous, so Clint assumes it’s his. “Did you know we have a Legal department? We have a Legal department. I know we have a Legal department because there's a whole arm of it dedicated to keeping you from being extradited.”
Clint musters up the balls enough to ask, “Do I actually need to be here for this conversation, or could you just take a picture of me and yell at that for a while?”
Fury looks like he’s trying to think of new ways to kill him and dispose of the body. Clint assumes he’s upset about the whole Syria thing. He nods to the file. “Page one, sir. ‘Inappropriate conflict management skills.’”
“Explain to me,” Fury says, “what’s going on with you and Phil.”
“I,” Clint says, floundering a little. A lot. This isn’t anywhere near what he’d thought Fury was annoyed about. Because. Well. International incident. Semtex. Boom. “I. He. Nothing. There’s nothing. What? Are you— what?”
“Because ever since chili—”
Who the hell told Fury? Oh shit, maybe there was a medical report. Maybe Phil had scarring.
Clint goes pale. “Holy shit. Did I break Phil’s dick?”
Fury stares at him.
Shit. Maybe Fury didn’t know. Training in international espionage tells Clint to keep his mouth shut. But. “It wasn’t my fault! I didn’t know it would do that! We didn’t even finish! And it was only the once!” Dimly, he realizes he’s doing jazz hands at Nick Fury. “I would’ve put condoms on, but there wasn’t any time! There wasn’t any penetration!”
“Didn’t even— What the hell are you talking about? You weren’t supposed to be in Chile. I had you assigned to Chechnya!”
“You said—“ Clint falters. Chile. In Chile. Not . . . chili. “You’re not asking about the chili on our dicks?”
Fury makes a strangled sound and then closes his eye. Eyes. Maybe.
“This conversation is going all wrong, right?” Clint says after a second. Just checking.
Through his teeth, Fury says very deliberately, “I’m trying to remember that you are one of the world’s best intelligence operatives. I’m trying to remember that you’re also an Avenger. Who saved the world. From aliens. For which humanity owes you a debt of gratitude. And that you’ve saved my life four times and only tried to kill me three, so that puts you ahead by one.”
Clint opens his mouth.
“Don’t talk,” Fury says, still without opening his eye. Eyes. “You’ll ruin it.”
Like he does with most good advice, Clint ignores it. “You don’t pronounce ‘Chile’ right, sir,” he accuses. “It’s an ‘eh’ sound at the end. Like, uh. Feg. Weg. Seg—fuck, I can’t think of any words—“
“And now it’s ruined,” Fury says, opening his eye just to glower at him again. “So,” he says, with every appearance of hating himself. “You and Phil.”
“There’s no ‘me and Phil,’” Clint says sullenly, curling up around the familiar dull pain in his chest. “We’re friends, that’s all, that’s it, end of sto— Web! That’s an ‘eh’ sound.”
There’s a long, icy silence. Because Clint can totally keep his mouth shut after he’s done enough flapping of it to make any silence pointless. He stares at Fury. Fury stares back. Clint sinks down in his seat and wishes for a terrorist attack to blow up the building. Where he’s sitting. Right . . . now.
Or maybe now?
Fucking terrorists. Never around when you need them.
“Barton,” Fury says at last, articulating every syllable like he’s intending to take them out back and execute them when he’s done. “Are you in love with Phil?”
Clint opens his mouth, hot denial ready to go.
“Stop and think carefully about this,” Fury says. “I swore I wasn’t going to get involved, but I am so done with this bullshit. I will shoot you in the balls if you try to blow me off.”
He would, too. Clint opens his mouth again.
Fury pulls his Smith & Wesson M&P out of his coat and puts it on the table. It goes thunk.
“Take this opportunity,” Fury says with ferocious geniality. “Think very carefully before you speak again.”
Clint snaps his mouth shut.
He wants to keep his balls. Stop and think about this, Fury said. Fury never gives bad advice: it’s proverbial. Clint never follows good advice. Also proverbial.
But what’s there to think about?
Phil. Stupid Phil. Stupid Phil and his stupid competence, and his stupid kindness, and his stupid special order bags of M&M’s that have purple but no brown. Phil with his dorky collection of Captain America memorabilia and catastrophic inability to talk dirty. Fussing over his ducklings, and getting fussed over in turn. On Clint’s sofa, listening patiently to his criticisms of Phil's friends and blind dates, a fond smile crinkling the corners of his eyes. Curled up on that same sofa, hair rumpled, mouth open, sound asleep under Clint’s blanket. Grimly enduring the club with his friends, and then softening when Clint got him alone.
Phil touching Clint's chest so gently, setting him alight, their bodies fitting together like puzzle pieces finding their places, all edges aligned, a broken picture finally fixed.
The irritation of the past two weeks dies, finally beaten to death by its own flailing. In its absence, he’s suddenly clear-headed. Sick realization buzzes, then swarms its way up from his stomach like a tornado of bees.
“Oh, shit,” he blurts out. “I’m in love with Phil.” Bile swells at the back of Clint’s throat.
Fury snorts. He puts away the gun. “Yeah. You are.”
Clint stares at him, stricken. “In love. With Phil.”
Another silence falls.
“If you think this is getting you out of a long, hard reaming about Syria,” Fury says at last, “Think again, asshole.”
Clint could swear he’s been in love before. Or at least— No, maybe not. It was all just happy infatuation in the past, apparently, because this, whatever this is, love, whatever, it sucks balls. It’s a cannonball lodged in his chest, permanent heartburn with a side of rib-distending pain that makes his entire body heavy and his lungs feel tight. Even his arms and legs feel heavier.
He goes home to his abandoned apartment and lies on the pizza boxes decorating his sofa. Lucky lies on him and stares sadly at his chin. Clint stares up at the ceiling. Everything is horrible.
Shouldn’t love feel . . . better, somehow? He thinks it should feel better. Maybe it’s actually the flu instead.
He checks his forehead. No temperature. So it’s probably not flu. He kinda wants to throw up anyway.
He feels awful. Because if Phil was going to fall in love with Clint, he would have done it already, wouldn’t he? Wouldn't he?
Clint rolls over on the sofa, ignoring Lucky’s complaint, and buries his face in an empty hamburger wrapper.
Now that he knows he’s in love, he can’t help but wonder how long it’s been waiting there, dormant, a fault line through in his life. Clint can’t look back and pinpoint that moment, that second where the respect and friendship they started out with transmuted into a need for Phil’s happiness that’s coded itself into his very DNA. In retrospect, it makes sense that all of Clint's past relationships have been short-term, the kind that lasts days instead of weeks. Some pathetic, yearning part of him must have been keeping a place open for Phil, just in case it ever arose. Phil, who Clint could never want just for a night, or a week, or a month. Phil, who he’d only ever want for forever.
This must be what Tasha meant when she asked Clint about unrequited love. She probably saw it the minute it happened, whenever it did, and just assumed he knew because she thought he was smarter than he was. Is. Smarter, anyway.
He is so pathetic. He's the worst intelligence operative ever. How did he even got a job with the word ‘intelligence’ in the title? SHIELD’s hiring practices need work.
He turns his head just enough to squint at the clock. It’s 5:14 PM. Two hours and thirty-six minutes since he left Phil’s office. Two hours and thirty-six minutes since Fury threw him out, only to stop him right as he was escaping so he could be an extra special flavor of dickwad.
Dickwad with a side serving of fuckface.
“You need to deal with this pining bullshit you’ve got going with Phil and just tell him already,” Fury said. “Trust me."
"That'll be the day," Clint said.
Fury glared at him with eye (eyes?) narrow and mean. "Fine. How's this then? You got twelve hours.”
“What happens in twelve hours?” Clint asked, honestly curious. “You gonna shoot me in the balls?”
“What’s worse look like?”
Clint raises his head off the sofa and looks at the clock. 5:15 PM. Nine hours and twenty-three minutes before Fury calls Phil to tell him Clint is in love with him.
It isn’t even a question whether Fury will do it. He’ll do it. Clint expects that at he’ll be online with Phil the second the clock ticks over to the twelve hour deadline, and never mind if Phil’s asleep or in a gun-fight or creeping through some goddamn minefield. He’ll tell Phil all about Clint in the worst possible way, and Phil will not only know that Clint is pathetic, he’ll also know Clint is too chicken-shit to face him with it.
Phil’s seen Clint at his lowest—he’s seen Clint tripping and face-down in raw sewage, peeled him out of puke-soaked clothes and lent him a quarter to buy a newspaper to cover himself with—but somehow, having him think Clint is too much a coward to face him with this is worse.
Even at Clint’s weakest and worst moments, Phil’s trusted him to be brave. At least if Clint tells Phil in person, Phil could be gentle about letting him down. He might even give Clint a pity fuck. Or maybe there’d be a swell of music and Phil’s eyes would light up, and he’d say Oh Clint, I’ve felt the same way about you forever and ever, my darling, and pigs would fly out of Clint’s ass—
Nine hours and eleven minutes before Fury calls Phil.
Clint shoves Lucky off him, falls off the sofa himself, and goes to take a shower. He washes carefully. He shaves the parts of him that could stand to be shaved, brushes the stuff that should be brushed, and trims everything else.
It takes him three tries to find something to wear that doesn’t scream homeless dumpster-diver or desperate to get laid. The outfit he eventually ends up with—faded skin-tight jeans, a purple tank top two sizes too small, an oversized leather jacket, and high-tops with holes in the tops where his socks peek through—wobbles on the line between just being myself, you know, whatevs, and please please I’m desperate I need you to love me.
He looks at himself in the mirror. His own reflection makes him sad. He changes into a Captain America T-shirt on the off chance Phil will be so distracted by looking at it, he won’t hear anything Clint says.
The ride over to Phil’s simultaneously takes forever and is way too short.
Eight hours and four minutes before Fury calls Phil.
Clint buys a limp bunch of flowers at the bodega on the corner, and manages to shred all the petals off before he gets to the building door. He throws the stems away. He picks the front door because he can, disables the security SHIELD put in because it’s a learning opportunity for SHIELD, then reactivates it afterwards because he feels bad about making SHIELD ops look like assmonkeys. Then he takes the stairs—not the elevator, he wasn’t born yesterday—up to the fourteenth floor, where he uses hairspray to obscure the security cameras.
He stops to smack his face halfway down the corridor, remembering that this isn’t a hostile infiltration, and goes back to clean all the camera lenses with his shirt.
He even mouths ‘sorry’ so whoever gets stuck reviewing the security feed will know he regrets it.
He knocks on Phil’s door.
Seven hours and forty-two minutes before Fury calls Phil.
There’s a few seconds where everything seems alien: the place, the decor, the location, and he suffers a weird panic that he’s at the wrong place, that the door will open up with some complete stranger on the other side. But then there’s a click and it opens and it’s Phil. Instead of righting itself, the world keels a little further off-kilter. It’s Phil in a dark blue button-down shirt, a few buttons open, untucked over black jeans that do some amazing things for his legs. He’s dressed to go out.
He only opens the door partway, half his body hidden by the door frame. Behind it, Clint knows, he’s got a gun.
“Uh,” Clint says, realizing he might have fucked this up already. “Hi?”
“Clint. You knocked,” Phil says, making a question out of a statement.
Clint never knocks. Clint never uses the front door to visit Phil’s apartment, that’s what windows are for. Of course Phil would assume there’s some kind of coded danger in a break to routine. “Oh shit,” Clint says. He waves his hands. “Sorry, no, it wasn’t— I was being polite. It’s all clear. Nothing, you know. Hinky.” Fuck. What’s the code phrase? “I needed to pick up a DVD.”
Phil doesn’t say a word, just stares at him with the flat, unreadable look he gets when shit gets real. Then he relaxes, looking exasperated, and opens the door a little wider. He doesn’t bother to hide the gun. Clint slinks in past him, letting the door close behind him. He has a plan. He has a plan and a speech that he rehearsed on the way to Phil’s, but now there’s nothing in his brain but static. Static, and the smell of Phil, warm and intoxicating and gutting and shit, shit. He’s messing this all up and he hasn’t even gotten started yet.
“You’re dressed all pretty,” Clint ventures.
“I’m supposed to go out with my friends tonight. Clubbing again.” Phil sounds resigned. He heads towards the kitchenette. “Coffee?
“So here’s the thing,” Clint says a little too fast, focusing hard on a patch of plaster just over Phil’s shoulder. “I think we should try to have sex again.”
That wasn’t the reasoned, well thought-out explanation of his feelings and hopes that he’d planned. What the hell is coming out of his mouth. Shut up, mouth.
Phil stops mid-step, but says nothing. Clint can’t see Phil’s face, so he has no idea what Phil’s thinking. He opens his mouth to say, joking, hah, just joking. But now that you mention it, I’m in love with you.
“I mean, not try, so much as, you know. Do,” he says instead. What the fuck is happening. His brain feels like gerbils. Maybe he’s easing into it. Yeah, that’s it. He’s easing into declarations of true love. They’ll have sex, he’ll say something about ‘I’m in love with you, Phil’ mid-fuck, technicality for the win! He tries for a flirtatious grin. Phil turns to look at him. “I farm moisture for a living?”
Phil stares. “Was that a Star Wars pick-up line?”
“I’m trying out pop-culture references. Like, I may not be Fred Flintstone, but I could make your bed rock?”
This time Phil sighs, not so much in amusement as in—what? Clint sneaks a glance at his face and finds him frowning, looking tired. “Clint,” he begins.
His voice is too kind. It sounds like the beginning of a no. Clint scrambles on, desperate, “Please. It’s important. It’s starting to—“ he fumbles for something that would work. “Professionally, it’s starting to impair my performance.” What?
Phil blinks. “I’m sorry. Is this . . . You’re a contractor. Are you asking for a critical assessment of in-field operations?”
There’s a pick-up line in there somewhere. Clint’s too panicked to think of it. “I can’t stop thinking about having sex with you. It’s starting to make me lose sleep. One of these days I’ll be in the middle of some combat situation and I’ll think about getting fucked by you and boom, that’ll be it, killed by my own dick.” It’s true enough, for a given value of true. Which is to say, not actually true, except the thinking about having sex part. But it sounds like it could be. Because.
“Flattering, if ridiculous,” Phil says slowly. “What is it, am I the one that got away? Is that what’s bothering you? If that’s the problem—“
Clint can’t quite stop the sound of outrage. “No. Please. You think I haven’t crashed and burned in the sack before? I mean, maybe not as bad as we did, but yeah, I’ve had sex that didn’t work out before. So much shitty sex. So much. Unbelievable amounts of—“
He’s babbling, and he can’t stop himself. Phil’s phone buzzes on the counter. He checks it, frowning at first, then goes completely still, the way he gets when something big is on the line. He texts back. It’s probably work. Wouldn’t that just figure. He’s obviously not listening, and still Clint can’t stop talking, faster and faster, like that’s going to help at all, Phil will leave any minute and Clint will have lost his chance—
“Clint.” Phil’s looking at him again.
Clint snaps his mouth shut. Waves his hands around. “This isn’t that. I just—“ he waves his hands some more, trying to describe what he can’t explain. He’s already been stupid and lied. He might as well commit to it. “I just . . . I need to have sex with you. To stop thinking about it.” He adds miserably, “Please.”
“You want to have sex with me so you can get some sleep,” Phil says in an odd voice. His mouth twitches. “Sex with me will put you to sleep.”
Is that what he said? That’s what it sounded like he said. Clint winces. This is definitely not going well. Phil is frowning at him, searching his face for something, Clint doesn’t know what. And then Phil’s face suddenly relaxes. He snorts, that tiny sound of exasperation and fondness that is apparently the heartbeat of Clint’s life, and Clint is being pressed back. For a split-second he resists, more instinct than intent.
Then the door is hard and firm at his back, and he’s being kissed.
Oh. Oh. Yes. This is good. He’s . . . Yeah, okay, this’ll work.
Clint clings desperately, unable to help himself, recording every feeling, every sensation with the certainty that this is a one time only opportunity. He surges into Phil, hard; their teeth clack, his lips bruise. Phil’s a warm line along his body, his hands strong on Clint’s arms, and goddamn, he wants this. He needs this. But Phil is pushing him back, trying to say something, resisting, oh shit. Phil doesn’t want this.
Clint recoils. The back of his head slams into the door. Owfuck. He stares at Phil, eyes huge.
The frantic apology is already filling his mouth when he registers Phil’s half-grimace, half-smile, and his shining eyes. “We have all night,” Phil says, sounding uncertain. He rests his forehead against Clint’s, pupils blown, breathless and hopeful. “We don’t have to rush.”
Slow. Clint stares some more, swallowing back hasty words. Right. He can do slow.
How the hell does slow go again.
Phil takes his hand and tugs him towards the hallway. Clint follows obediently, past the bathroom, into Phil’s bedroom. He’s not sure what to do. Slow. Is that kissing? That’s kissing, right? But Phil turns him, sits him down on the edge of the bed, and slides his hands across Clint’s chest, nudging his jacket off.
The air on Clint’s bare arms is cold. Phil’s hands are warm, coasting up his sides to push his shirt up and over his head. Clint shivers, his nipples already pebbling. Phil swings a leg over his and straddles him, knees on the bed. His fingers trail a searing path down Clint’s neck, chasing heat down from his jaw to the hollow just below his collarbone. His skin imagines those fingers wandering lower, down, across the quickening bursts of his lungs, across the tremor starting in his stomach; Clint closes his eyes on Phil’s expression, his chest burning at the look of tenderness on it, and parts his lips in invitation. Kiss him again?
He tastes like toothpaste for only a second, and then that hot, wet taste that is all Phil. Jesus. Clint moans into his mouth, feeling knots inside him unravel and tension go slack. Phil’s fingers thread through his hair, cradling his head. He shivers again, eager, and starts recording again: this is the way Phil kisses, this is the way Phil touches him, tastes him, holds him. This is Phil’s hand stroking across the muscles of his back, leaving fire in its wake. This is Phil’s shirt he’s unbuttoning, his belt he’s unbuckling, searching through layers to slide his own hands across warm skin, through thick hair. Phil’s hands pushing him back, loosening his pants, drawing them down, taking him in hand.
Clint’s distracted by his need to memorize everything. Every sound. Every taste. Every thrill of friction, every slide of skin against skin. Phil’s hand is perfect, just the right pace, slick from spit. Clint rocks into it and whimpers, recording his own noise as he does the same for Phil. He has to make this good for Phil. So good Phil won’t notice when Clint tells him, maybe when Phil’s fucking him, maybe when he’s—
A too-short eternity later, Phil pulls away. Cold air rushes in over the sensory memory of heat and contained strength. Clint opens his eyes, blinking to drag focus back to Phil’s face.
He realizes, too late.
“Clint,” Phil says, gentle.
“Fuck,” Clint says helplessly. He stills, cataloging the evidence that’s literally in Phil’s hands right now. “What the hell. Seriously? Seriously?”
The corner of Phil’s mouth twitches.
Clint thumps his head on the mattress a few times. It just isn’t fair.
“It’s okay,” Phil says, drawing back. He releases Clint’s limp dick and slides off the bed to stand, looking awkward and deliciously rumpled. It just isn’t fair. It isn’t. “You said you couldn’t sleep. Could you sleep if I were here? I could—“
“No.” Clint rolls up. Of all the times for his goddamn dick to not get with the program— he could honestly just cry. Before Phil can pull away, Clint wraps his arms around him and draws him in, burying his face in Phil’s chest. Phil’s a little tense, but he’s definitely still hard. Clint can feel the press of his erection against his own chest. Goddammit. He feels Phil inhale, preparing to speak. “If you say it happens to everyone, I’m going to shoot you,” he threatens, before Phil can.
“It’s never happened to you?”
“Hell yes, it’s happened to me. But not now. It’s not supposed to happen now.” He’s whining. He doesn’t care.
“Maybe it’s me. I could be doing something wrong,” Phil says after a pause.
“It isn’t you,” Clint says, so fervently he feels Phil relax. He burrows deeper. Phil cradles his head. Illogically, irrationally, the tension in Clint’s body relaxes. Sure, why not. It might as well join his dick. “My brain won’t stop working. Fucking Fury.”
Phil pauses. There’s an odd note in his voice when he says very carefully, “Admittedly, Nick’s killed more than one of my erections in the past, but I didn’t realize he was going to start hitting my supply chain as well.”
Clint snickers despite himself. This entire thing—his entire thing with Phil—apparently comes with its own laugh track. He smothers the sound in Phil’s chest and figures, as long as he’s there—
The sound Phil makes when Clint gently bites around his nipple is gorgeous.
“Do me,” Clint mumbles into his skin.
“Clint, are you—“
“I want you to. I don’t need to get off. Let me do this for you. I can make it so good for you, Phil. I swear. I’m good at sex. I’ve practiced. A lot. I have references if you—”
He has more to say, but Phil cuts him off with a kiss that catches him open-mouthed. Clint whimpers, his hands flexing on Phil’s back to drag him down again. His weight on Clint feels perfect, Phil’s erection a hot line against his hip. He pushes up, giving him some friction.
Phil shudders. His kiss ends so he can tuck his head into the hollow of Clint’s neck and shoulder. He’s murmuring something that Clint can’t quite catch, the tiny movements of his lips against Clint’s throat enough to make him tilt his head back, greedy for more. He shivers.
“Fuck,” Clint pants, unbearably teased by Phil’s voice in his ear. “I love—“ Shit. He can’t get the next word out. Love you. Love you. He whines, frustration bubbling up as Phil does something evil with his hand that makes him arch right off the bed. His dick may not want to get fully hard, but sweet baby Jesus it feels good.
Phil makes an interrogative noise, sliding down Clint’s front to nuzzle his inner thigh. The sound goes straight from Clint’s ear to his groin. For the first time it occurs to Clint to wonder just how many of the inappropriate boners he’s popped during ops are a direct result of having Phil on comms.
Oh. Probably a lot, huh. That should’ve been a clue. He should be embarrassed later.
“Christ, your voice,” Clint says helplessly.
The breath Phil exhales ghosts across Clint’s dick. It might not be in the mood to get hard, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t appreciate it. “My voice?” Phil sounds confused and amused.
“I love your voice.” He’s working up to the big declaration. He is. Baby steps! “I’m pretty sure that stiffy Tasha laughed at me about in Paraguay was because you were on the coms.”
“Would it help if I talked?”
“You hate talking during sex. Besides, I’m making sure you have a good time. This is all backwards.“ He loses the rest of the sentence on a squeak when Phil licks a long stripe up his dick. Today is apparently not going to be a good day for his dignity. It’s a close thing, but he manages to get his resolve up enough to flip them. It’s probably a little showoffy to flex his biceps like this, but Clint can’t worry about that when he’s got Phil lying quizzical and naked under him. “Here,” he says, slithering down. “Let me . . . “
Phil draws in a sharp breath and grabs him by the arms to stop him. He starts to put on the Responsible Grown-Up face. “Clint—” he begins.
“No,” Clint says. “Sex now. Talk later.” With Phil holding him, he can’t quite reach Phil’s cock. ‘Sokay. He lips down Phil’s stomach instead, burying himself in the smell and taste of him. He could get away from Phil’s grip on his arms, but the feel of Phil restraining him is pushing all kinds of buttons in him. Something to explore later.
Except there won’t be a later, will there? Or will there? He exhales carefully at that fragile, futile hope, feeling the breath shudder in his chest.
Clint looks up.
Phil’s face is doing something he can’t quite identify. “‘Memo to Director Nick Fury,’” Phil says at last. “‘ID 355829. From Agent Phil Coulson. Date, December 18, 2001.”
Is this sex talk? This is the strangest sex talk Clint’s ever heard. He’s the one who stops now, lifting himself up to blink at Phil. “What?”
A hand cups Clint’s face to rub a thumb against his cheek in gentle circles. “‘Immediate attention requested, Code Black. Level Eight and above eyes only.’”
Clint’s clearance is eight.
“This is what you meant when you said your sex talk is about work?” Clint asks, turning his head to lip at Phil’s hand. “Obviously I need to up my game.”
It’s not really a surprise that Phil has memos memorized. He makes a hobby out of memorizing the most random shit imaginable. Captain America’s shoe size. OSHA regulations on handicap access. The history of wicker. An excited voice in his monkey brain points out that this is something Phil can only do with Clint, out of everyone he’s been with. Clint has clearance. He pauses to metaphorically pat himself on the back for that.
Phil’s smile is exasperated and fond. “Subject Clinton Francis Barton, AKA Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye. Threat Termination Recommendation.’”
“What are you doing?” Clint asks, his libido dying a quick, unspectacular death. He hasn’t heard of this file. He didn’t know it existed, but then, he’s never looked, either. Whatever combination of vicious luck and analytical perversity made Fury decide to recruit Clint instead of kill him, he’d always figured he was better off not knowing. Why look a gift horse in the mouth?
He’d never known SHIELD had a kill order out on him.
He’s got a good poker face. He does, no matter what Tasha says. But Phil’s almost always been able to read him, and whatever he sees in Clint’s face now makes him roll them so Phil’s on top and Clint’s being pressed down into the mattress by his weight. By rights that should make him want to get away. When it comes to emotional shit he’s fight or flight. But being surrounded by Phil, smelling Phil, feeling Phil, hearing Phil—
There’s no future in which he doesn’t trust Phil Coulson with his life, and with everything else he has to give. Clint feels himself go boneless into the mattress, wide-eyed, while Phil props himself up over him on one arm.
“‘Nick, I notice I’ve been assigned the op to terminate Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye. Thank you for thinking of me.’” Phil slides his other hand across Clint’s collarbone, following its line to the hollow of his throat.
It’s sensual, having Phil’s hands on him like this, Phil’s voice in his ear. It’s just— the words. He wishes Phil was using different words. Words that didn’t involve Phil making a plan to kill him. Words like, ‘Do you like that.’ Or, ‘I’m going to fuck you now.’
“Phil,” he says plaintively. Phil is really bad at sex talk.
Warm lips follow the path Phil’s hand took, soothing against Clint’s skin. He arches helplessly into it. “‘Unfortunately, I must decline, with my sincere regret for your early dementia.’”
Clint feels like a confused cat, being petted in just the right way but seeing a toddler lurching towards him with peanut butter hands. Phil’s memos are famous for their brevity and weird humor, but this is bizarre, even for him. “What?”
“‘In my opinion, Clint is a suitable target for acquisition, not termination. So far, all his identified targets have all been criminals I am personally embarrassed were still walking around free. While he has interfered with SHIELD operations in the past, his anonymous assistance of SHIELD agents in the Wendigo operation in March of 1999 and Johannesburg in January 2001 demonstrates this was due to professional conflict or ignorance rather than personal bias.”
“Wait, Johannesburg?” Clint says, blank. “That was SHIELD?” Where the hell was he in March of 1999?
Phil’s smile is warm against his collarbone. “Barton consistently refuses hits on innocents or witnesses, and does his own research before finalizing job acceptance. His operational conditions for completion are ethically superior to SHIELD’s, and there’s no question that his combat and field skills are spectacular.’”
Nothing Phil is saying is factually untrue. And yet. Clint squirms under him, feeling heat rise that has very little to do with sex and everything to do with the warmth in Phil’s voice that sounds so much like love it’s just not fair. “Phil,” he whines.
Damn him. Phil’s still smiling, working his way down Clint’s stomach. “‘Nick, I’m calling in my chips from Berlin, ’88. Barton is already remarkable as an independent, but he would be breathtaking with a good team. Send a field agent who isn’t a white male and has a sense of humor to recruit. Maria Hill, Jim Woo, and Nareem Smythe have already volunteered. I want him, Nick. You owe me.’”
Clint concentrates on breathing. Just breathing. I want him. He stares at the ceiling of Phil’s bedroom, inhaling and exhaling, blinking hard. Phil’s lips stop nuzzling him; he folds his hand under his chin, flat against Clint’s stomach, and rests his chin on it. Clint’s aware of Phil just watching him from there. He can’t look. If he makes eye contact, he might cry and that would just ruin any chance of sex in the near . . . ever.
“‘Secure message uplink from Nick Fury, December 25, 2001. What the fuck, Emily Post. You got your recruitment. Merry Christmas. Jesus, Cheese, better watch it. You sound halfway to being in love with this guy.’”
“‘Secure message uplink to Nick Fury, December 25, 2001. Half of infinity’s still infinity, Pezhead.’”
Silence. Clint continues to stare at the ceiling. The plaster is rough, the odd bumps and shapes in it making irregular images that he can just see the edges of. Phil just waits and watches him, endlessly patient, undemanding as ever.
“You have a unicorn on your ceiling,” Clint says at last, his voice hoarse.
“I know,” Phil says. “If you look a little to the left, there’s also an elephant sitting on top of She-Ra, Princess of Power.”
“I didn't know you were the one who got me recruited.”
Phil’s hum vibrates through Clint’s stomach. “I made the recommendation. Fury made the decision.”
“Have you—“ Clint’s voice sounds rough. He clears his throat and tries again. “Have you been in love with me since 2001?”
Phil shrugs. “I was well on my way to it,” he says without so much as a hint of regret. His breath is warm against Clint’s skin. “I actually fell in love with you during your sensitivity training class in ’03.”
Clint doesn’t even remember going through sensitivity training in 2003. Or ever, for that matter. “Was I extra-specially sensitive?”
“You were a disaster,” Phil says fondly. “One of the CIA transfers spent the entire time needling Shaddy, while you acted like an illiterate redneck. And then after the first break, you got into a fight.”
He has a vague recollection of the incident, if not the class. Agent Shadwith had eventually taken both the CIA transfer and Clint down with extreme prejudice. It had impressed the probies who were straight out of college. Shadwith was passionate about two things: a workplace of mutual respect, and the cathartic release of personal frustrations through violence. She made for an interesting HR liaison.
“I liked Shaddy,” Clint says, daring to prop his head up on his arm to peer down at Phil. Phil’s gaze is gentle, but his expression is familiar: it’s been directed at Clint a million times. Clint realizes now, dazed with the wisdom of hindsight, that this is what love looks like on Phil.
“It was the look on your face when you did it,” Phil says. His smile returns, reminiscing. “It was the one you get right before you do something you know will get you in trouble, but you’ve decided is the right thing to do anyway. It was the first time I saw it. You had it when you recruited Tasha.” He studies Clint thoughtfully. “You have it right now.”
“I’m in love with you,” Clint says in a rush, before he can think himself out of it.
Silence falls. It lasts forever.
Phil says, “I know.”
“What?” Clint says. He thinks about getting upset about this.
“Nick.” Phil leans over, way over, stretching an arm for their clothes on the floor. He rummages around, and eventually comes up with his phone. A couple seconds later, Clint is reading a text thread: the same one Phil got while they were standing in the living room, he realizes.
CHARLIZE THERON: BARTON’LL BE DROPPING BY TO ADMIT HE’S IN LOVE WITH YOU. FINALLY.
PHIL: WHAT DID YOU DO?
CHARLIZE THERON: HELD A COME TO JESUS WITH YOUR BOY. YOU CAN THANK ME LATER.
CHARLIZE THERON: DARE YOU TO YELL MY NAME WHEN YOU’RE BALLS DEEP.
PHIL: YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE.
CHARLIZE THERON: LOVE YOU TOO, DICKFACE. MERRY CHRISTMAS.
Clint thinks, that asshole. It’s worrisome how fond that thought is.
“It’s not Christmas,” he says inanely.
“He said he’d give me twelve hours!” Clint’s fingertips are tingling.
“Fury lies,” Phil says apologetically. He thinks about that, and clarifies unnecessarily, “A lot.”
“You call him Charlize Theron? —Mad Max, Imperator Furiosa, right,” Clint answers himself, before Phil can even open his mouth. Bald, angry, shoots people, property damage. His cheeks hurt. His cheeks hurt because he’s grinning so hard it’s hurting his face. Muscle strain. Or something. He thinks he might float off the damn bed. “So. You’re in love with me.”
Suddenly remembering his encounter with Tasha in Turkey, Clint thinks to ask, “How long has Tasha known?” Unrequited love.
“Quite a while, I imagine. We’ve never talked about it. But it’s Tasha, after all.”
“And it doesn’t bother you? That you were in love with me for the longest time and I didn’t— you know.”
He’s not sure how he would have finished that sentence. Love Phil back? Know he loved Phil back? But Phil hums and nuzzles idly at Clint’s stomach again. He sounds vaguely bemused. “I don’t know. Should it have? It happens to people every day.”
Clint's arms flex, wanting to hold Phil and never let go. “I never knew.”
“I’m a spy. I keep secrets for a living.” Now Phil looks amused. “Should I have been pining in a dark room somewhere, listening to The Wonder Years and eating cartons of ice cream?”
Even Clint’s imagination struggles with that image. “Did you?”
The shiver of Phil’s silent laugh makes Clint’s skin prickle delightfully. “I had some denial sex. I felt sorry for myself for a month or two. And then I got over myself and lived my life. I was happy for you. You were turning into everything I thought you could be. Better, in fact. And you were happy.”
Clint can’t deny that, mostly because he told Phil he was several times over the last ten years. And it was the truth, too. He was happy. Content. He liked who he was and what he was doing, the people in his life, the person he was turning into. It was more than he’d ever hoped for when he stumbled out of the system and into Carson’s Carnival. Still.
He never realized he could have more. And now he has more. What he thought was happiness doesn’t even come close to what’s expanding in his chest right now.
He says deliberately, “I’m in love with you,” experimenting with saying it like a rational person and not a six-year old trying to get it out fast so he won’t get in trouble.
Phil’s smile is gorgeous. It makes Clint feel giddy and drunk. “Yes, you are.”
"And you're in love with me."
"Yes, I am," Phil says without hesitation.
Clint's face hurts a lot. “Hey!” he says. He’s excited. His body is excited. It’s doing something. Something momentous. And hard. Something momentous and hard and oh hello, Mr. Happy, welcome back to the previously scheduled program! Phil lifts himself up on his elbows and looks down. So does Clint.
Phil looks back up, the corners of his eyes crinkling again.
“Guess what!” Clint says. He curls up to kiss Phil. It’s lips, it’s teeth, it’s tongue, it’s heat and wetness and. And.
Phil moans into his mouth. Clint flips them so he’s on top again, and grins like a loon. He moves experimentally. Phil sucks in a breath.
“With great penis comes great responsibility,” Clint tells him proudly.
“Shut up,” Phil orders, his face alight, and pulls him down.
Clint’s standing naked in Phil’s kitchen, haphazardly drinking a glass of water and spilling a lot of it over himself, when the doorbell rings. He checks quickly. The security monitor behind the cabinet door shows a couple of Phil’s friends standing outside—the linebacker and one of the soccer moms from the other night.
Not a security problem. He makes a face at the monitor. Clint can vaguely remember the buzz of Phil’s phone sometime during the last couple of hours, the tailored ring that meant a personal call rather than a professional one. Phil’d been busy at the time and hadn’t answered it.
Probably should’ve checked it later. Oh well.
Phil’s buddies are talking to each other; a second later, there’s a knock on the door.
They look worried. They’re probably wondering if he fell down in the bathtub or something.
Clint filches a dish towel off the oven handle to cover his dick, and throws the door open. The linebacker’s fist is raised, ready to knock again.
Clint eyes him.
The linebacker’s jaw drops. So does the soccer mom’s. Both their eyelines drop as well. The linebacker’s swoops back up again a split-second later, his cheeks flushing red.
The soccer mom’s doesn’t.
“Holy shit,” the linebacker says, still goggling. “You really are Hawkeye.”
“I really am,” Clint says agreeably. “Phil’s busy right now.”
“Holy shit,” says the linebacker again. And then, like a kid being told his friend can’t come out to play, asks hopefully, “For how long?”
“Indefinitely,” Clint says.
Then he winks at the soccer mom—she doesn’t notice; she’s paying a lot of attention to something else right now—and closes the door in their faces.
He goes back to the kitchenette. In the security monitor, the linebacker’s staring blankly at the door. Then he does a fist-pump. Clint doesn’t even need to be able to read lips to know the guy’s shouting, Yes!
The soccer mom’s stare is still fixed firmly at dishcloth height. After a few minutes of one-sided conversation, the linebacker turns her and firmly steers her away.
Clint grins into his glass. He’s changed his mind. Phil’s friends aren’t so bad.
The creak and groan of the hot water pipes stops. Clint finishes his drink and ambles back to the bedroom just in time to catch Phil coming out of the bathroom. He’s got a towel wrapped around his waist, his hair is damp, and he’s the hottest thing Clint has ever seen in his entire goddamned life. Heat flashes through Clint, now accompanied by graphic memory of skin on skin. He stretches, reveling in the lingering glow of really good sex.
The look Phil gives him, tender but quizzical like he’d honestly expected Clint would be gone already, makes him want to do something drastic.
“Was that—“ Phil begins, his head tipping towards the door.
He doesn’t get a chance to finish the question. Clint dives at him. Phil shifts incrementally, instinct taking over. The towel drops. Clint goes flying, cackling like an idiot, hurled head over heels to fall sprawled on the bed.
Phil stares down at him. Both of them are naked now. Clint’s already half-hard; he lets his legs spread a little wider and strokes himself a couple of times, watching Phil’s eyes darken.
“Round two?” he suggests.
“Really?” Phil asks, more amused than exasperated. His eyes are smiling. It isn’t a no.
“Someone call Life Alert,” Clint says solemnly. He waves his dick at Phil. Hi. “I’ve fallen for you, and I can’t get up.”
Chapter 5: Author's Notes and Cut Scene
Leftover bits and bobs from the actual story.
Super long author's note:
I originally had an epilogue, but the more I look at it, the more I realize the story actually makes more sense ending where it did. In fact, it could have been a good 10k shorter, but I've never met a story I couldn't make more meandering.
To that end, I've decided to only make this four chapters long. However, in case you're entertained by this kind of thing, I've also pasted the epilogue scene that I cut below. It serves no purpose. Enjoy.
Also, because I've built up quite a collection now and it saddens me that I couldn't fit all of these into my story, I've also added the pick-up lines my friends volunteered in the course of writing this. Most of them will make you groan. As they should. I should note that most of my friends are happily married, engaged, or in steady relationships. I should also note that these pick-up lines had no part to play in those relationships. My friends admit that when they tried to use these while single, not a single one failed to result in failure. Because they are Epic Fails. All of them. Clint-worthy.
So, you know. Use with caution in the wild.
- They say a girl's legs are her two best friends, but eventually, all friends must part.
- Here's my library card. Can I check you out?
- If you were a triangle, you'd be acute.
- Can I buy you drinks until you think I'm good looking?
- Excuse me, I've lost my virginity. Can I have yours?
- What has 38 teeth and can hold back the Incredible Hulk? My zipper.
- As long as I have a face, you have a place to sit.
- You're on my list of things to do tonight.
- I'm sorry, I'm the bouncer here. I'm afraid your shirt has to go, but you can stay.
- You're looking sharp. Let's go back to my flat and do what seems natural.
- You must be some kind of computer whiz. You're turning my floppy into a hard drive.
- I do technical support. Can I show you how to get rid of pop-ups?
- I helped design Internet Explorer. I'm an expert in hard and slow.
- Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk by again?
And what would have been the epilogue, except it isn't necessary so I cut it....
The morning sunlight is streaming in through the apartment window, making a neat square box of warmth for Lucky to lie in. He is, obligingly, lying in it. Phil, standing at the kitchenette counter and wearing the only suit that’s survived the past eighty-four hours and three countries, considers the dog. Lucky looks comfortable. He’s had a dog’s life; he’s earned some early morning lazing about.
There are times when Phil's a little jealous of Lucky. Today is not one of those days.
His tie's been loosened since he walked in the door. He could take it off. He doesn't. He takes the suit jacket off though, and drapes it over the far end of the counter, along with his shoulder holster. Most nights he's home, Phil makes sure to program the automatic coffee maker so he’ll have a cup, however bitter and burned, ready to grab on the way out the door the next morning. Today though, there's no rush. His bags are sitting by the door, waiting to be unpacked. They can wait. He filed his after action while he was still in the air. Jasper has all the equipment that needs to be turned in.
He has nowhere to be but here, in fact. Home. At last.
He pulls out the conical burr grinder and measures out some of coffee beans he picked up in Ubaté. The grinder is loud; it sounds like a cup of marbles going through the trash disposal. Wincing through the rattle and growl, he pops a quarter of the finished grounds in a filter cone, and pours boiling water over it to drip right into his cup. Half of the rest he pours into a jar to start the cold brew he’ll be wanting in about twelve hours.
With the peaceful plop of hot water as background music, he leans back against the kitchen counter and closes his eyes to enjoy the feeling of tension unwinding. Not all of it. That’ll come later. But he’s been on high alert long enough that it takes conscious effort for his shoulders to sag and his spine to unclench enough to slouch.
By the time he’s finished deliberately tensing and relaxing each muscle in his body, his coffee is done.
There’s a creak from the loft. Phil sets up another mug with its own filter and grounds, listening to the thump and whine of Clint falling out of bed. He tracks Clint’s progress from the hiss of fabric and skin, the bump of a toe stubbing a bookshelf, a grumble as he stumps down the stairs.
Phil’s already smiling by the time Clint shuffles into view. It’s a nice view. Clint is only wearing a pair of pajama pants. As usual, his sleep hair looks like it’s gained sentience and is making an aggressive bid for freedom. His eyes determinedly closed, Clint wobbles aimlessly around until Phil reels him in for an ‘I missed you’ kiss.
It’s satisfying, morning breath be damned. Clint is warm and hard, morning wood fitting intriguingly into Phil’s hip. Clint’s eyes remained closed, but even without sight he goes straight for Phil's tie, gripping it to hold him in place while he kisses deep. He hums in sleepy satisfaction, finally releasing Phil to open his mouth as though he’s about to speak.
Phil waits expectantly.
Clint’s mouth closes. He slowly folds over the counter next to Phil like he’s forgotten how to stand up. For the first time in four days, Phil feels the urge to laugh, the last of his tension melting away.
The years since Clint was first recruited have changed a lot about him, but at least one thing stays the same: his bare back is a work of art. Basking in the heat Clint puts off, Phil runs his free hand across that gloriously muscled span, spreading his fingers wide across the smooth skin. Three months into this relationship, he still marvels that this is something he gets to do now. That this is something Clint wants him to do.
Clint Barton. His boyfriend.
Phil's spent more than a decade loving from a distance, satisfied with and proud of being a cog in the machine that helped shape someone so remarkable—and he's rarely had any regrets. He thought he was privileged beyond reason when Clint first called him friend. He’d never dreamed of having anything more. He’d never even imagined the possibility, knowing Clint's background.
But Clint has always surpassed Phil’s expectations. He should have remembered that.
"The op's done," Phil says, smoothing his thumb across the dimples of Clint's spine. "We picked the target up. He's being extradited now."
There’s a muffled sound from the direction of Clint’s head. It might be a snore. Or maybe a question.
“No casualties. It was the smoothest takedown I’ve seen in a while. It didn't even get to the point of having sex,” Phil says, satisfied with a job well done. “The team infiltrated during the foreplay. They didn't even have to shoot a single bullet.”
He doesn’t bother to tell Clint how Jasper took several pictures before he cut the bondage tape off Phil and dug up some clothing. He promised to send the photos to Clint for his birthday. It’ll be a nice surprise for him. Jasper’s a genius with a camera.
For all he's a terrible person at heart, Jasper is a good friend in his own, deranged way.
Clint makes another muffled sound, this one sounding vaguely approving. Phil relaxes further into the silence, drinking his coffee, and goes back to contemplating the dog.
Lucky kicks a hind leg, once. Then he falls still again.
After a few minutes, Clint gropes around the counter, searching for something. Phil checks. His eyes are still closed. Eventually, one of Clint’s fingers brushes against a banana, one of the groceries Phil bought on the way back home. While Phil watches, Clint gropes across the banana. Several times, stem to stern and back again.
Then he half-heartedly snags it and drags himself up. Banana in hand, he shuffles off to the bathroom. He doesn’t close the door.
Phil sips his coffee.
After a few quiet minutes, Clint comes back with the banana. He shuffles to the junk drawer, opens it, pulls out a ruler, and measures the banana. It takes several tries, since Clint refuses to open his eyes. Phil assumes from the way he’s running his fingertips across the ruler that he’s trying to determine the banana’s measurements by feel.
Eventually, Clint drops the ruler into the junk drawer and shuffles off to the bathroom again, still clutching the banana.
Phil sips more coffee and watches the door.
There’s rustling in the bathroom.
“Ow,” Clint says.
Then he comes out. Phil is interested to see that he’s no longer holding the banana. That might be something to be concerned about. Then again, maybe not. Since Clint seems marginally more alert than he was a few seconds ago, albeit still determinedly blind, Phil waits to see what will happen next.
Apparently, what will happen next is that Clint will hold up a finger and mumble, “Not a weatherman. I’m. But. Nine, nine inches. Maybe eight. Most of a ‘nanana. Except—expect, because. Not a weatherman. Me.” He taps himself haphazardly on the chest with his finger. “Not.”
Phil blinks at him, working through this. “You’re no weatherman, but expect eight or nine inches tonight?” he suggests.
Clint stabs a triumphant finger at Phil’s general direction. “Yes!”
“Mmm.” Phil considers. “Clint,” he says.
“Unh,” Clint says, swaying.
"I love you."
Even sleep-drunk, Clint's face softens magically at this. "Too," he manages.
“Where’d the banana go?”
There’s a long silence. Slowly, Clint opens one eye to look at his left hand. Then he closes it. Then he opens the other and looks at his right hand. “Oh,” he says, sounding confused. “No good.”
He turns and wobbles back into the bathroom.
Phil puts his free hand in his pocket looks out the window. It’ll take another three minutes for Clint to realize he has the banana tucked down the back of his pants. Just enough time for Phil to finish his coffee, after which he’ll gently herd his sleep-befuddled boyfriend back up to bed and wake him up properly.
There’s a crash from the bathroom, and then a muted whine. The toilet flushes.
“‘nanana,” Clint’s voice says sadly. The toilet flushes again.
Phil idly runs his thumb over the ring in his pocket, feeling the shallow groove etched in the two-toned titanium. Decaffeinated Clint is always so confused and gratified by Phil’s concept of a good wake-up call. He wonders idly if he should unpack while he's waiting. He decides against it. He wouldn’t want to panic Clint by prematurely finding the engagement ring Clint hid in the sock drawer last week.
Phil smiles, contentment rolling through him like a wave.
It’s going to be a good day.