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workin' it out (whataya want from me?)

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It was a beautiful autumn day in New York. The leaves on the trees were turning, warmly showering red and orange and gold down on passersby. The sun was high but had lost the sweltering heat from another stifling east coast summer, leaving the days hovering comfortably in the lower 60s. The skies shone bright and blue between fluffy, white cumulus clouds. Happy hippies passed out free hugs on street corners.

All of this glory was completely lost on the students of Marvel University as they bustled from class to class, desperately scrambled to finish up papers, and emerged, shell-shocked, from their various midterm exams. Cries of “I studied the wrong chapters!” and “I mixed up exam times!” could be heard echoing tragically around the campus.

In one sad corner of the college, however—a corner officially dubbed the cafeteria, but more commonly referred to as “Fuck-no-except-on-Bottomless-Fries-Fridays”—four undergraduate students were preoccupied with a different problem entirely.

“Is it a social experiment?” Phil moaned as he plopped down into a chair. His book bag fell heavily onto the seat beside him, tipped over from the weight of his books, and went crashing to the floor below. He gave it a half-hearted tug before giving up and letting the strap drop down to join the rest of the bag. “Maybe he’s trying to determine how long he can push before I start to lose my damn mind.”

“Or maybe he just hates you, and he’s trying to make you actually lose your damn mind,” Maria suggested helpfully, settling down across from him.

“Or maybe he hates me, and he’s trying to make you whine so much I lose my goddamn motherfucking mind,” Nick grumbled less helpfully, already seated to Maria’s left. “Think twice before you make me lose my appetite, Coulson. I’d hate to see my grandma’s lemon loaf go to waste.”

“Your grandma does make a mighty fine lemon loaf,” Phil agreed apologetically.

“Mighty fine,” Maria echoed wistfully.

“It could be worse,” Bruce commented, finally looking up from his tablet long enough to take a seat next to Phil. “At least he actually eats the banana. He could just bin it after the implied fellatio instead.”

Bruce!” three voices chorused, varying from delighted glee to despair.

Bruce smiled crookedly as he put away his StarkPad and pulled out a container of curry and rice. “Sorry, were we pretending that that wasn’t what he was doing? You mentioned he took half of it in one bite before choking last Thursday. Most people wouldn’t risk asphyxiation for a mere quasi-experiment.”

Phil groaned, crossed his arms on the table, and dropped his head down onto them. “I don’t even know his name,” he mumbled desperately. “And he’s hot—at least 68.2 percent better looking than I am. He’s probably just an exhibitionist. There’s no way he’s trying to flirt with me.”

“Ooh. Do you want him to be?” Maria asked with shameless curiosity as she leaned forward, her own lunch temporarily forgotten. “I don’t think I’ve heard you call anyone hot since our junior year of high school. Two-dimensional superheroes don’t count,” she immediately added when Phil popped his head up and opened his mouth, “especially when the real version always wears a mask and his face has never been seen.”

“I don’t admire Spider-Man because of his looks,” Phil defended. “I admire what he does! I admire his heroism. I admire that he’s obviously pretty young, but he’s still going out there doing what nobody else has the courage to do. I admire how he takes so much heat from the press and still keeps doing what he needs to do. I admire—”

“His ass, and the way Marco Checchetto draws his ass,” Nick muttered.

Phil deflated. “It is a very nice ass,” he admitted. “I’m more a fan of his sass, though... And maybe his arms.”

“You always did have a thing for big biceps and a tart tongue,” Maria nodded thoughtfully. “But speaking of arms, that reminds me. Did you know the athletic department cobbled together enough archers for a proper team this year? We should go watch a competition.”

Bruce lit up. “Ah, Natasha mentioned that. Her best friend is on the team.”

“Romanova,” Nick sighed. From anyone else, it would have been the dreamy sigh of a man in love. From Nick, it was the sigh of a man who’d found a potential asset. “When I have my own top secret spy organization and rule the world from the shadows, she’s going to be my third recruit.”

There was no need to ask why she was third. They already knew that Bruce wanted nothing to do with spies or guns or government secrets or ruling the world. Then again, they also already knew that Bruce wanted everything to do with Natasha Romanova, so maybe he’d come around. Maria and Phil, of course, were givens.

“Well, I’ve got your fourth recruit for you,” Maria informed Nick with a smirk. “The best friend Bruce mentioned is an ace marksman. Also, he has arms worthy of Checchetto, and finer than the real thing. I hear Professor X himself even paid him a visit to see if he had the X-gene because of how unreal his aim is.”

“Hmph,” Nick replied, never one to be easily impressed—or at least not one to show it. “I’ll believe it when I see the evidence. Cheese, the first practice session’s all yours.”

Phil sighed. There was no use arguing with Nick. He always found a way to get what he wanted in the end. With midterms just around the corner, Phil was already in for a world of pain without the added agony that trying to skirt his friend’s demands would result in. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Two weeks later, Phil plopped down miserably into his seat again. While the details of that day’s misery were different, the root cause was the same.

“I hate you both,” he hissed at Maria and Nick.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Nick drawled. “Are you going to eat your crust?”

Phil pulled the crust off of his pizza and obligingly handed it over. “Did you know?”

“Know what?” Maria asked, stealing an olive off of what remained. Phil swatted her hand, then deftly avoided the fork that she attempted to stab him with in retaliation.

Phil stared down his friends, assessing their ignorance. Determining that it wasn’t merely an affectation, he sighed and bit into a bread roll in frustration.

Maria and Nick exchanged Looks. Before they could prompt him, however, Bruce appeared behind Phil and explained as he sat down. “Your ace marksman is Banana Boy.”

“Better known outside of your table as Clint Barton.”

Phil’s tension immediately dissipated at the voice. It wasn’t the dark-haired speaker who perked him up, however, so much as the blond who everyone knew would be at his side. Bucky Barnes was an amazing person in his own right, but Steve was actually impossible to be cross around. As the sort of person whose genuine goodness and positivity tended to infect and inspire those around him, Steve was a welcome addition to nearly every social group that he and Bucky drifted through—not to mention he’d been Phil’s first crush back in ninth grade, when he’d been half his current size but had just as much heart as he did now.

“So you do still exist,” Nick remarked. “We were wondering if Russia’d kept you.”

“Like they’d want this jerk,” Steve joked, giving Bucky a playful jab.

“At least I’m not the one who got arrested our first week there, punk,” Bucky shot back. “You’d be in Siberia if it weren’t for me.”

“Did you really?” Phil asked Steve with a grin. “What for?”

Despite standing six feet tall with more muscles than most of the wrestling team, Steve managed to look like an awkward, gangly fourteen year old all over again. “Misunderstanding. There was this other exchange student, see...”

“Never mind that,” Maria interrupted. “Go back to what Bucky and Bruce said. Barton is Banana Boy?”

“Yes,” Phil groaned, slumping. “He spent the whole of yesterday’s practice session watching me without blinking.”

“Instead of practicing?” Nick asked disapprovingly.

“No, that’s the creepiest part—he was practicing.”

“Bullseye every time,” Bucky crowed. “Between him and me, we’re going to kick ass at state this year.”

Maria zeroed in on Bucky. “Since when do you shoot arrows instead of bullets?”

“Since the university decided to have an archery team but neglected to share the generosity with other marksmen. It’s better than nothing,” he shrugged. “And I need something to do while Steve’s throwing things.”

“Excuse you, track is a legitimate sport,” Steve complained.

Bucky leaned up to kiss his temple consolingly. “It is, and you’re hot as hell when you’re competing. But you throw discuses and started up the ultimate frisbee team. You’ve got to admit there’s a theme here, babe.”

“Speaking of themes,” Bruce interrupted, “are any of you going to Tony’s Halloween party this Saturday?”

“No,” Maria replied.

Fuck no,” Nick added.

“Undecided,” Phil admitted. Tony wasn’t exactly in his top ten list on the best of days, but he threw parties like nobody’s business, and they had a number of mutual friends that he thought he wouldn’t mind seeing. He missed FitzSimmons—Leo and Jemma, he reminded himself—in particular, after being their RA and mentor their freshman year before they got an off-campus apartment with Leo’s boyfriend, Mack.

Bucky and Steve looked at each other. A few seconds of non-verbal communication later, Bucky sighed and Steve nodded with a tight smile. “We probably won’t stay long, but we’ll drop by and say hi.”

“Stark’s still sore that him flirting with Steve was the catalyst to us getting our shit together,” Bucky explained to the table’s puzzled looks, one blatantly possessive arm going around Steve’s waist. “Even though I called dibs like twenty years ago.”

“He just felt left behind,” Steve reassured. “It’s fine. You know he doesn’t share well. He didn’t mean anything by it.”

Bucky made a vague, noncommittal noise before turning back to Phil. “So what’s with this ‘Banana Boy’ thing? I caught a little of the story from Nat, but Barton shot her with a blunt arrow to shut her up, and they started wrestling like two year olds. He giving you shit?”

Phil groaned and dropped his head down on the table.

“He and Phil share American Lit right before lunch,” Bruce took it upon himself to explain. “Ms. Rowling lets them eat in class, so every period for the last three weeks, Barton’s been staring at Phil from across the room while… let’s call it savouring a banana. Seeing as how they’ve never spoken to each other before, it’s driving Phil spare trying to figure out his motive.”

“I wish I could say I’m surprised by his behaviour, but I’m really, really not,” Bucky confessed. “He really doesn’t know how to flirt the normal way.”

“That’s flirting? It’s creepy,” Phil protested into the table.

Maria snorted derisively. “Yes, being creeped out by the hot, blond jock is exactly why you’re blushing.”

Steve reached out to touch Phil’s shoulder, catching his attention. “Have you tried just asking him about it?”

Phil peered up at the blond desperately. “He sits near the door. He’s always one of the last ones in and first ones out. Even if I could figure out how to phrase my questions, there isn’t a chance to talk to him.”

“He runs away?” Nick demanded. “Dammit. That disqualifies him from being my fourth recruit, then. Ain’t got no time for cowards.”

“He’s Natasha’s best friend,” Steve reminded, mouth quirking. “I very much doubt he’s a coward. Maybe he made a mistake with the… with the banana the first time, and he didn’t know how to talk to you after that. Especially if he doesn’t know how you swing.”

“Or maybe he’s a coward,” Nick repeated.

“If I may?” Bruce set down his spoonful of khao pad kra prao to peer at Phil over the rim of his glasses. “Natasha said that she and Clint were planning to go to Tony’s party. You were thinking of going anyway. You could always approach him there and ask him to clarify his intentions.”

“Done,” Maria announced, slamming her hand down on the table with finality. “Phil, you’ll infiltrate the party and interrogate the target. Once you ascertain his intentions and assess his moral and physical qualities, report back.”

“Unless you decide to assess each other’s physical qualities, in which case, please do not report back,” Nick revised.

“I hate you both,” Phil said again. His head went clunk against the table.

Hatred or no hatred, that Saturday found Phil at the rather overwhelming residence of one Tony Stark. He made his rounds, picked up a drink, caught up with FitzSimmons and Mack, and began to mingle.

An hour into the party, there was still no sign of Banan—er, Clint Barton.

Another quarter hour into the party, his neck began to itch with the distinct sensation of being followed.

Another twenty minutes into the party, he set down an empty cup, picked up another drink, and turned—then reflexively threw his drink at the face of the masked figure crowding him against the table before bringing his elbow down at the base of his neck, shoving him off, and kicking him in the chest for good measure.

The people around them backed away with laughs and cheers as the man covered head to toe in black and red with plastic katanas criss-crossing over his back went tumbling arse over tit.

Phil stepped forward, heart racing. “What the hell? Who are you?” he demanded of his would-be assailant.

Coughing as he rubbed his chest where dust from the bottom of Phil’s shoe had left a neat imprint, the Deadpool-costumed man struggled to sit up. “Whoa there, sweet cheeks! Not that I don’t like getting tactile with you, but is that any way to say ‘Long time no see’? I usually prefer to save the gratuitous violence until the third date. Let’s keep this below an R rating, eh?”

Phil stared down at him with a completely confused look, wondering first if this was maybe actually Deadpool—he was known to be beyond weird, after all—and then if this guy was just crazy. After a moment, however, he abruptly recalled his own costume.

Spider-Man. And of course, everyone who paid any attention to superheroes knew that Deadpool loved following Spider-Man around and flirting with him shamelessly, despite the fact that he usually wound up webbed to a wall afterward.

Resisting the urge to slap himself in the face, Phil grimaced and held out a hand to help the Deadpool cosplayer up. “I—wow. I’m really sorry about that. I just—you took me by surprise.”

“Hey, no harm no foul. I mean, you maybe snapped a tendon in my neck, and my sternocleidomastoid’ll never be the same, but I’ll heal,” fake-Deadpool shrugged, although he accepted the hand to haul himself to his feet. Overbalancing slightly, he tucked himself around Phil again and reached down to give his ass a quick grope. “Besides,” he continued with his mask wrinkled into a smirk as Phil yelped and arched away, “those reflexes? Totally hot. You can ram your body parts into me anytime, baby boy.”

Phil squinted at his harasser. “Congratulations,” he replied. “You’re so convincingly insane, I can almost believe that you’re really Deadpool. Would you mind letting me go before I have to break your wrist?”

Can you?” fake-Deadpool asked with far too much cheer. “Not gonna lie, I’m curious now. And you’d be the cutest guy to ever break my wrist.”

“Have many other guys had the honour?” Phil asked blandly, trying to tug away without causing (more of) a scene.

The wrinkles of the red and black mask shifted down into what was, as best as Phil could tell, a more solemn expression. “Enough to compare.”

Phil spared a moment to be briefly grateful for his own mask saving him from needing to figure out the appropriate facial reaction to deliver. He gave a more insistent tug, and this time, fake-Deadpool let him go. “Well. I’m sorry to hear that. But as I’d rather not perpetuate a cycle of violence, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to cease your harassment. Although I’m a little curious why you know what a sternocleidomastoid muscle is—are you pre-med?”

Fake-Deadpool held out his arms. “Pre-med? Me? What, do I look smart to you?”

Phil sighed. “Well, you tried to pin me to a table, then proceeded to flirt with me after I splashed, shoved, and kicked you and threatened to break your wrist. So evidence would say no. But...”


“It takes a quick mind and strong will to stay in character after a physical retaliation. So I’m willing to bet you’re one sharp cookie, yeah.”

The wrinkles went up again in another approximation of a smile. “Aww, Spidey, you say the nicest things! At this rate, we’ll be engaged within the week. Although I really have to advise you against sharp cookies. Much as I’d love for you to eat—”

“Stop,” Phil complained.

“—me, hard edges hurt. As my neck can attest to now.” He pointedly rubbed the juncture where Phil had elbowed him.

Phil rolled his eyes. “Please go away now.”

Fake-Deadpool ignored him. “But hey, it’s all good! I’ve got something hot and slick for you to try instead—”

“OH MY GOD,” Phil burst out, turning to leave as he felt his cheeks and ears burn red.

A strong hand grabbed his arm, not letting go even after Phil gave it a rough shake. “Whoa, hey, do I wanna know what you’re thinking? I was talking about coffee! Below an R rating, right?”

Phil gritted his teeth. “Sure you did. Let go of me before I make you.”

“I did!” Fake-Deadpool insisted. Unless he was collecting a little crazy of his own, Phil thought he detected a note of desperation in the voice. “Unless you hate coffee. Tea, maybe? Or are you more of a classy sort of guy? I’ll take you out to that new seafood place by the lake. If the pants are the problem, I can wear my best dress?”

Dropping his head down, Phil let out a slow breath. “The pants are not the problem, actually,” he assured. “But if you really think I’m going to go on a date with some guy I don’t even know who has spent the last ten minutes embarrassing and harassing me even after I assaulted him, you are genuinely out of your mind. Now I won’t ask again. Let. Go.”

“Wait, can I get a redo? Back up to the piano, or hell, the bathroom—”

“You followed me to the bathroom?” Phil interrupted in a hiss, glaring. “Jesus—”

“No! I mean, yes, but no! Not in a weird way!”

“How is that not weird?!”

“I wasn’t like, watching you piss or anything! I just saw you go in and waited outside—”

“Oh my god.” Phil gave one last yank of his arm, and when fake-Deadpool still didn’t let go, he dropped his free hand down over the other man’s.

As he was neither Spider-Man nor an engineer, he obviously could not shoot webbing from his wrist. Instead, he’d attached a neat little toy that Leo’d made for him last Christmas, which wired into his glove and reacted to the way he clenched his hand.

Tiny taser discs shot out, zapping fake-Deadpool’s fingers hard enough to shoot sparks. He jerked back violently. “Shit, ow!” he swore, hopping a bit as he shook out his hand in an effort to throw off the sensation.

“Fuck off,” Phil snapped before storming away.

An hour later, Phil returned to his dorm. Driving around in Lola had helped clear his head enough that while he still felt justified in being creeped out by his obnoxious stalker, he felt a bit bad for attacking him not once, but twice. Sure, the guy was being a total creep, but it had ultimately been harmless, and he’d really seemed panicked by the end.

All feelings of guilt dissipated when he stepped out of the stairwell and turned the corner to find a familiar red and black figure curled up on the floor outside of his dorm.

Even worse, he’d removed his mask…

And it was none other than Clint Barton who sat toying with the edge of his glove.

Phil stuttered to a stop.

Clint didn’t seem to notice him. Once he was through tracing the edge of his glove, he dropped the mask clutched in his grip to interlock his fingers, then unlock them and rub one wrist, then rub the other. He rolled his feet up so they were balanced on the heel, then rolled them down again, then up, then down, then out, then in.

With a heavy sigh, he leaned down and picked up the mask to fiddle with it once more.

Phil cleared his throat. When that didn’t work, he approached and cleared it louder. That continued to elicit no response, and it was when he searched for headphones that he noticed the small, tan-coloured device in Clint’s ear.

Ah. He’d turned his hearing aids off. That, or they were broken.

Inhaling, then slowly exhaling, Phil squared his shoulders and walked closer. When he crouched down in front of Clint, the blond’s head snapped up, and he dropped his mask to reach for his hearing aids.

Phil reached out quickly to grab his wrist. When Clint froze, Phil slowly shook his head. He took a deep breath; it had been a while since he’d tried to sustain a conversation like this. But obviously, neither verbalizing nor silence were working for them, so maybe it was time to try option three.

He slowly and self-consciously started to sign.

<Are you okay?>

Clint’s eyes widened. He signed back something too quick to catch, but when Phil winced, he signed again more slowly. <I should be asking you that. I’m sorry. I went too far.>

Phil began shaking his head automatically, then stopped. He bit his lip. <Yes. You did. But I reacted badly, too. Can I ask why you did all that? And at—>

Not knowing how to sign archery, Phil frowned thoughtfully, then pretended to draw back a bow. Clint stifled a laugh and wiggled one hand back and forth before making a similar bow-drawing motion, but on a much smaller scale than Phil’s exaggerated charades version.

“Ah,” Phil acknowledged as he repeated the gesture, feeling embarrassed at initiating a conversation in a language he wasn’t fluent in. But hell, it wasn’t like “archery” was a word the average person used in casual day-to-day conversation.

He hesitated at the end, hands hovering in the air, before carefully adding, <And in class.>

At least Clint looked properly mortified now. It meant he was self-aware, and that was a good sign.

<Only if you promise you won’t get madder.>

Phil huffed. <I can’t promise an emotion, but I won’t attack you again.>

Clint nodded. A few breaths later, he began to sign. <I like you. I really, really like you. Maybe you guessed that already, but I was pretty sure you didn’t even know who I was, so I was just trying to get your attention at first. I thought maybe… if you saw me and gave a sign that… I don’t know. Maybe if you thought I was cute or funny, I could go talk to you. But you always just looked like—> Clint’s stare intensified as he determinedly furrowed his brow into a confused, disturbed expression before signing the letters W-T-F next to his head. <I thought maybe I was confusing or annoying you. When I heard from N-spider who heard from B-R-U-C-E that you were coming to the party as Spider-Man, I thought it would be. I don’t know. Geek-cute to flirt with you as D-E-A-D-P-O-O-L.>

Phil took a moment to process the longer stream of ASL, relying on context to fill in the signs he didn’t understand. Squeezing his eyes shut to think, he resisted the urge to rub his head, deciding that Clint would probably take it as a sign of irritation. <Why do you like me? We’ve never talked to each other.>

Clint ducked his head and shrugged. Wincing, he immediately shook his head to negate that answer. <Nice. Smart. Cute. And...> He hesitated before pointing at Phil’s hands. <ASL. Long story. Can we go inside?>

Confused about what ASL had to do with it, Phil nodded warily and stood. He still didn’t know what to make of Clint, but getting a serious answer out of him had helped a lot. And if he were to be honest… Clint caring enough to chase him down after the one-sided fight helped a lot, too.

Unlocking his door, Phil let them in. Not for the first time, he was thankful that as an RA he didn’t have a roommate. Not only did it allow him some measure of privacy when there wasn’t a crisis going on, it let him keep the place nice and tidy without worrying about someone else’s dirty laundry or piles of papers lying around.

Clint switched on his hearing aids as he entered, then peered curiously around the room. Phil nudged past him before nodding to the couch. “I’ll get us some water. Have a seat.”

“Yes, sir,” Clint replied with a small salute; Phil pretended he didn’t at all feel a small jolt at being called sir.

A few minutes later, they were settled on the couch with a respectful distance between them, mugs of cocoa in their hands and water on the table. Within ten seconds of getting his mug, Clint had gotten cocoa both on his shirt and across his upper lip, but Phil politely decided not to mention it, if only because it would help keep his own temper in check if Clint reverted back to being a weird creep. He didn’t think it was likely, but just in case—it was impossible to stay mad at someone sporting a chocolate moustache like a five year old.

When the awkward silence went on long enough for Clint to begin fidgeting, Phil relented. Relaxing his own stiff body language, he offered an attempt at a reassuring smile. “Talk to me, Barton.”

Clint let out an explosive breath of air. “Okay. So two or three—two?—three summers ago, you were working at a summer camp for kids, right? I swear this is not another story about me stalking you,” he added hastily when Phil narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “I was working there, too. You were with the fourth and fifth graders, I think, and I was in the pre-k/kindergarten group.”

“Okay,” Phil allowed warily.

“There was a kid in your group. A little girl. Shelly or Shawna or something?”

Phil couldn’t help himself. Between his own excellent memory for people and Nick’s unrelenting demand for ridiculous amounts of detail at all times and okay, maybe a little bit because it was a neat party trick, he really couldn’t help himself. “Shannon Ellen Kirkpatrick. Fourth grade, youngest of three children, daughter of a dentist and a web designer. Liked dolphins and scorpions and wanted to grow up to be a boxer. Had a pet rabbit named Petra—” Because they’d initially thought it was a boy and wanted to name him Peter Rabbit, then found out he was a she. But maybe now he was being creepy.

Clint’s face froze in a funny expression. It took a moment for Phil to come up with the right word for it. Pained? Disturbed? Ah—no. Besotted.

Wait a second…

“Uh. Yes. Her!” Clint exclaimed when his face unfroze. “I think. Anyway, not the point. The point is, she was shy with everyone, but you were the only camp counselor to take the time to draw her out of her shell. Everyone else was so—I get that they were busy, trying to round up crazy nine- and ten-year olds, but you refused to let her fall behind just because she needed some extra coaxing and had trouble talking to people. I noticed on the third or fourth day that you started signing with her. You obviously had no idea what you were doing, but she’d teach you signs and you’d learn them and use them with her, and it obviously made her happy.”

Thinking back to that summer camp, Phil gave a slow nod. “I remember. Her dad and oldest brother were deaf, so she grew up with ASL as the primary language at home.”

Clint grinned and rubbed his neck. “Yeah, well, I don’t know all that. But I thought it was really sweet that you did that for her, just to make her more comfortable at camp. Most people would’ve just pinned it on her for not participating more, but you really got to know her and even tried to learn a little of another language for her.

“And then I found out last year from Natasha who heard from Bucky who heard from Steve that you’d started taking ASL classes here and kept up with it, and that was really cool, too. And then I actually had class with you, and Jesus—you were still that thorough. Meticulous. Maybe a little neurotic,” he teased, and Phil was the one who ducked his head self-consciously this time. “You were just so put together, on top of being nice and cute, and it was just. You’re unreal.”

Feeling a desperate desire to fidget from all of the clear adulation and praise, Phil cleared his throat and took a gulp of cocoa. He wanted to argue—to protest that really, he was as plain as they came, he just worked damn hard to make up for it—but it didn’t seem like the right time. “So you decided—what, the best way to impress me was shove a banana down your throat?”

Clint, who’d mirrored Phil’s drink, choked. Luckily, he managed to avoid making more of a mess, but it took a few seconds for him to cough the sweet liquid out of his windpipe. “No! That… the first time was an accident,” he wheezed when he mostly had his breath back. “I was just hungry, so I meant to eat it normally, but I, uh. Got distracted watching you. And then you looked over at me, and you had this ‘What-the-fuck-are-you-doing’ look on your face, and I realized I was just kind of holding it in my mouth but I’d forgotten to actually bite down, and, well.” Clint shrugged, then stared determinedly down at his mug. “Some attention was better than none, right?”

Phil felt a pang. “Jesus. Barton—Clint,” he amended. “I noticed you. Believe me, I noticed you. I… maybe have a bit of a ‘type’. Just a little. For sporty blonds. So maybe it was mostly—” He waved vaguely. “Superficial, physical, since you don’t say much in class, but I still noticed you. All you ever had to do was say hi.”

This time, Clint’s expression was definitely pained. “If you haven’t noticed, I’m not very good at saying hi. I’m much better at staring like a creep and putting my foot in my mouth.”

Huffing out a laugh, Phil shook his head. “Okay. So why don’t we erase everything from three weeks ago until you showed up at my door and start over?” He set down his mug and held out his hand. “Hi. Clint, right? I’m Phil, from Rowling’s lit class.”

Clint stared down at the proffered hand, expression transitioning from self-deprecating to hopeful. “Hi, Phil. Yes, I’m Clint. Would it be weird if I asked if it’s really safe to shake? Only the last time a guy as cute as you took my hand, he tazed me, so…” He flashed a quick grin.

Phil groaned, pulling his hand back to smack himself in the face. “I am really sorry about that,” he apologized, mortified now that he knew why Clint had been acting so weirdly. “I mean, I’m not, because you were being seriously obnoxious and wouldn’t let go of me, but I know I went too far.”

“Hey, I don’t blame you!” Clint protested. “I probably came off like a total asshole. All you knew was that this costumed freak was aggressively hitting on you. I was just, I don’t know. Panicking. Maybe a taaad desperate,” he admitted, putting his forefinger and thumb close together in the well-recognized gesture for a little bit. Smiling crookedly, he tilted his head. “And besides, I meant it when I said how hard and fast you defended yourself was damn hot. You’re normally so composed, and maybe even a little dorky sometimes, by the whole—” He gestured at the Spider-Man costume that Phil was still wearing. “—thing. So the sudden violence was really unexpected, and really hot. Can I have your hand back so I can shake it this time?”

Phil stared through his fingers without moving. “I burned your hand,” he recalled miserably. “I kicked you and burned your hand. I’m a dick.”

Barking out a laugh, Clint reached over to pry Phil’s hand away from his face. “You’re efficient. And you had given me multiple warnings. I applaud you,” he assured. “So…”

“So.” Phil looked down at where Clint held onto his hand, not shaking it, not doing anything too familiar, but also not letting go.

It was a little weird. But then again, they’d passed a little weird three weeks ago in class. They’d passed weirder at the archery session, and they’d definitely passed flat-out-ridiculous at the party tonight. What was a little awkward hand holding in comparison?

“I’ve got two papers due next Thursday that are going to keep me busy after today,” he began slowly, “and I’m going home next weekend to see my family for my sister, Skye’s, birthday. But after that—if you meant it about the coffee…”

“I meant it,” Clint blurted out. “Coffee, tea, I’d even really dress in drag and take you to seafood if you wanted, although I have to warn you that anything with tentacles turns me into a squeamish five year old, and I’d look awful in a dress—”

Phil put up a hand to stop him. He sighed, but it was a front at best; he was positive that Clint hadn’t missed the way his lips kept twitching up into a smile. “I do like tea as well, but coffee is fine. We can table discussing tentacles and crossdressing until at least the sixth date.”

The hope on Clint’s face at Phil’s optimism for continued dates was so bright, it was almost painful to look at. Phil felt terrible for having no idea that Clint had been watching him for so long, even if it had been off-and-on… but at least now he had the chance to make up for it. And if things went well...

“I’ll let Fury know to table your file as a potential future asset until he’s ready to discuss fraternization policies.”

Clint did a double-take. “I’m sorry, what?”

Phil grinned. It wasn’t his disarming smile, or his polite smile, or even his “I’m about to cause you physical and/or mental pain” smile. It was one of his favourites: his “you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into” smile. He was still fine-tuning it, but the few times he’d tested it out, the reactions had been satisfying.

“Classified,” he replied smugly. “You’ll just have to stick around and find out.”

Still looking mostly confused, Clint gave a slow nod. Phil could see the moment he decided to let it go, when his shoulders dropped back down and his expression relaxed. His expression this time was simple: happy.

“I look forward to it.”