It wasn’t that lunch was particularly terrible. It was just tense and slowly growing worse as Clint refused to let up on his disagreement with Steve about a battle tactic. It had been stupid to argue about it during debriefing and it was about a thousand times worse to carry on during their meal after cleaning up. Steve was doing his best to disengage the conversation without actually agreeing to anything Clint said.
Two weeks ago this would have been hilarious with Natasha imperceptibly egging them on, and Steve would have been fair but firm that he was being out of line. But the past 9 days in a row Clint had acted such a terror that he’d been ordered to wordlessly proceed Coulson into their bedroom. He always came out later, wobbly and subdued, eyes just the tiniest bit red around the edges.
When it had been an occasional thing, and the very first time the team had witnessed this part of their relationship, Tony had whistled low with a small grin and asked, “What on Earth did Agent do to put someone like you in such a state?” Clint had turned an icy, blank faced stare on Tony, who’d put his hands up in mock innocence and left to tell Bruce, “He might look mild-mannered, but Coulson is a beast in bed.”
The next day, grin back in place, he looked Tony up and down before whispering confidentially, “He trained under Nick Fury,” before swaggering away down the hall. If Tony had been into men, he might have fallen at Phil Coulson’s feet. Instead, he went to feed Bruce lunch and gossip.
The next time, Tony gave Coulson a mock salute and then waited until the next day’s lunch to have a singing service boy deliver a basket bearing a traditional
New Sub’s package. Clint had honest to god blushed at the young man’s hearty, “Congratulations!” but had himself under control by the time Tony said, “Thought you might be out of some supplies. Far easier to just get a packaged deal.” Clint pulled the numbing cream from the basket, gave it an easy toss at the man’s head but still grabbed the basket and took it away with him. When Bruce saw him that evening, he’d genuinely wanted to know what that was about. Clint gave him a serious, searching look and then said, “It’s better that I have the reminder. I can tune out the pain the second my hand is on a bow, so it doesn’t interfere with work.” His mouth wasn’t frowning, exactly, but Bruce supposed it was okay to be a little unhappy with getting brutally punished. Sometimes that’s just how it all worked out in a relationship.
Until it became relentless. Clint would be zoned out for hours after he was finally allowed to leave the bedroom, would be smirking over breakfast the next morning and then be right back in trouble before midafternoon. It was the worst combination of his natural recklessness, stubbornness and disregard for personal safety. A personal safety that was at the heart of Steve’s point and on the minds of each of his teammates when Coulson finally barked out, “Barton! Bedroom, now. Be ready for me in five minutes.”
Clint stopped midsentence, before curling up his lip and getting ready to undoubtedly give Phil the piece of his mind he’d managed to reign in the past week. He didn’t have a chance before Phil looked at him coolly and said, “Fifteen minutes.” It must have been some kind of code only they understood, because Clint scraped back his chair, looking mutinous but finally obedient.
Once he’d cleared the doorway, Phil turned towards Steve, apology on his lips. “I’m sorry, Captain, he’s been in a mood lately. I’m just not sure what to do with him.”
“You could try something different than torturing him, since that doesn’t seem to be working out too well.” It was the kindly look on his face that did Bruce in, that made his words, calm yes, but cold.
“Clint knows that there are consequences to his actions. His acting out is about something, of which I am still trying to ascertain, but I cannot suspend the rules in the meantime. Even if he’s dragged this out longer than normal.” Bruce continued to stare him down. He was the only other submissive on the team, which didn’t really count because Hulk was decidedly dominant, but Phil could understand why he’d be upset if his friend was being abused. He wasn’t, but not even Dr. Banner was above succumbing to perceptions.
Nor apparently Thor, Steve or Tony, because they were looking at him just as defensively. He was still trying to find the best way to reassure them that he wasn’t torturing the love of his life without undercutting Clint’s wishes, when Natasha turned into his saving grace.
“Really, boys, do you think I’d let Clint be unduly hurt?”
It was unexpected enough that Bruce dropped his stare down with Coulson to turn to her. “What?” Steve, bless him, added, “You’re not his domme.”
Her smile was sharp. “Do you think I’ve ever let that stop me?” Phil slipped out of the room at the mouth gaping that provoked. He had seven minutes left to kill, so he slipped into a bathroom and adjusted the lines of his suit. Made sure every piece was in place, that his hair hadn’t mussed during the meal. He was ready and opening the door right at the fifteen minute mark.
“I’m sorry, sir,” came quietly from the corner of the room, where Clint was slumped against one wall, facing the crease. It was the first time in nearly two weeks that Clint wasn’t vibrating with barely withheld anger as Phil came through the door. All the previous days, he’d been at attention, hands behind his back at precisely the angle he was supposed to keep them, and still full of attitude that only bled away once Phil had his hands on him. Now, there was the slump. His hands were back, but he was fidgeting his fingers together. Maybe he’d finally worn himself out.
Phil took it in, quickly and quietly, trying to decide what to do. Bruce was right in that keeping with the status quo didn’t seem to be working too well for them. Whatever had upset Clint must be big, bigger than cajoling, pampering and firm punishment in whatever order he’d been able to manage was able to help.
He sat at the end of the bed and calmly directed, “Strip and kneel here.” The ‘at my feet’ was implied and long ago learned between them. Clint took a steadying breath and that, more than anything else, had Phil worried. Clint was tough, could handle pain and work through injury and had a reputation as a consummate badass. But that was work, they didn’t bring that into the bedroom. No matter that he knew Clint gave a different impression. He was secure enough in what they did that other people’s thoughts were unimportant. And it made Clint happy. They’d gotten a fair few laughs out of that ‘trained under Fury’ bit.
Now though…Clint certainly didn’t like to get spanked. More so knowing that he’d disappointed Phil than actual physical discomfort because Phil kept that part to a minimum. He’d had Clint over his knee with dozens of soft strokes interspersed with a few of what can best be described as taps that were more intense than a dozen standard, harder slaps. Clint had always been best at punishing himself more effectively than anyone else. He wasn’t bracing himself for physical pain. Just what he was expecting, Phil suddenly knew he needed to find out now, before this went on any longer.
With Clint in place at the floor between his knees, arms behind him stilled for now, with his head bowed, Phil reached out. His hand on Clint’s face was gentle as he tipped his head back to get eye contact. Clint was scared and badly hiding it.
“Are you finally ready to tell me what has you so upset, sweetheart?” Neither of them were much for silly endearments, but sometimes it really did best express the sentiment. His thumb was stroking at Clint’s temple and he kept it steady even as Clint opened his mouth and then closed it. He only firmed his grip when Clint tried to tilt his head back down. “Tell me, Clint. I can’t fix it until you tell me.”
And then, quietly, with eyes downcast since he couldn’t move his head, Clint said, “You can’t fix things anymore. You’re leaving me.”
That came as something of a surprise to Phil, who only managed to slur out, “What?” Since he never planned to talk about this conversation with anyone, ever, no one would get to know he’d been rendered nearly speechless.
“I…I saw the Change in Submissive Status form, Phil. On your desk.” It was said with such despair that Phil kept feeling off kilter, couldn’t quite get himself on track with what Clint was thinking.
“On my desk?” He was fighting to get a grip on this, badly since Clint winced as though Phil had struck him.
“I know I shouldn’t have been in your stuff. I was leaving you a note.” Clint’s eyes darted up to him quickly and then back down again. “About what I wanted you to do to me that night. Didn’t figure it’d be good to leave it on top, so I was going to leave it under a report and I saw it. I saw it, Phil and you didn’t even talk to me.”
Phil brought his other hand up so he could frame Clint’s face, sliding off the bed so his knees were on either side of Clint’s hips and the bed dug into the small of his back. He waited until Clint brought his eyes up again.
“I. Am. Not. Leaving. You.” Clint tried to pull away, so Phil dropped his hands to Clint’s shoulders, dug in to ground them both, but let him keep a bit of that space. He always saw better from a distance. “I’m not leaving you Clint, you are wrong about that form.”
A bit of Clint’s normal spirit was coming back, because he looked pissed at that. “I know what I saw.”
“Did you see the sticky note attached that said, “Thanks for looking these over! –Pam”? He kept his hands firmly dug into Clint’s shoulders, because he was sensitive to things suggesting he was stupid or unobservant. Phil didn’t think he was either, but he’d definitely misread this situation. “Pam from HR. They want to change some of the language for documents that deal with sub rights. They’re too outdated. HR did all the leg work, she just knows I’m an advocate. That’s all it was, Clint. I’m not leaving you.”
It was like a light switch was flicked. Phil could see the set of his shoulders, the hard held planes of his face, the pull of his frown. They all went loose and Clint would have sunk into him if he didn’t have his elbows locked. As it was, he had to maneuver the suddenly slack man awkwardly until they were pressed together, knee to knee, thigh to thigh, hip to hip with his arms now wrapped one around Clint’s waist and the other just under his left shoulder.
“Hey, hey now. I’ve got you.” He held him silently after that, gave him a few minutes to adjust to the fact that he’d had something so wrong, to put his feet back on the solid ground that Phil worked to provide him.
And, finally, “Yeah, you do,” was said into his shoulder.
“I’ll always have you Clint.” He felt Clint’s nose brush the skin right above the collar of his button-up before Clint responded with, “I didn’t want to need that.”
“Yeah, you sure showed me,” Phil breathed into his ear. He might have let a bit too much smug into his voice, because Clint rolled his head from where it was tucked against his shoulder to flash him a narrowed eye look.
“Hmm, no, I think that’s exactly what I need to do.” Clint shivered at his tone, body fractionally pushing into his as he continued, “You’ve been a terror for nearly two weeks, Clint. Maybe it’s time you paid the piper.”
Clint moaned, “What are you going to do to me, sir?” And Phil smiled down at him.
“I’m going to wring an orgasm out of you for every day you withheld information from me that I needed to see to your wellbeing. Show you what a brute I can really be, since you made the team think I was torturing you all this time.”
Clint gasped out, “I’m sorry,” even as Phil prevented him from pulling away.
“Not as sorry as you’re going to be. I’m going to make sure you’re so well fucked you never doubt me again.” Clint was finally responding, arousal making itself known against Phil’s inner thigh. Phil knew it was more than just stimulus, though, when he heard Clint’s voice go rough.
“Please. Oh, god, Phil, please give that to me.”
One more endearment couldn’t hurt, since they were never going to speak of this again already. “Whatever you need, my love. Always and forever.”
Natasha moved away from the wall, then. She’d let Bruce get a look at Clint miserably standing in the corner, before Phil came in, and then pulled him back from her laptop once Clint disrobed. She hadn’t meant for him to overhear something quite so private, thought this might have been another blowout with Clint being a stubborn asshole until Phil gently brought him to his knees. Still, needs must and Bruce trying to protect Clint from something that didn’t exist would have been nearly as bad as this two week long Clint relationship fiasco.
“Well, that was not what I was expecting. Can we turn the audio off?” Bruce asked from the chair, out of eyeline to the screen. She got to see Clint climb onto the bed and start digging through a drawer before she shut the whole thing down.
“The moaning distracting?”
“I don’t want to invade their privacy. Any more than I already did.” He said it lightly, but kept eye contact with her.
“Like I do?” She asked, nothing but curiosity sounded in her voice.
“This is going to be another one of those things where I’m letting my own perceptions color how I’m reading things, isn’t it,” he returned.
“You’re normally better able to handle human interaction than Stark, if that’s any consolation?” But she took pity on him and smiled. “It’s good that you cared. You’re not a bad person for questioning whether Coulson had stepped out of line. I only showed you that because you are such a doubting Thomas.”
“I needed to see the wounds before I would believe? Yes, I suppose that’s the way of all scientists.”
“That’s the way of being you. At least you didn’t have to touch. This…” and she trailed off. Whatever doubt she had was quickly worked through. “I watch their backs and they watch mine.”
Bruce worked to school his shocked expression, since he’d fairly well reached his quota of misinterpreting other people’s relationships for the day, but still asked, “They check in on you and Pepper? Why?”
She smiled sharply at him and he realized that anytime Tony had asked about their relationship, she’d only deflected his answers. Everyone had the impression that they must just paint each other’s toenails and give lots of commiserating hugs but that was obviously wrong.
Still, her only response was, “We trust each other to know what the others can handle even when sometimes we can’t tell ourselves.” And then she paused before adding, “We also trust each other not to overstep boundaries. This might actually have been too far, whatever my intentions. So I will tell Phil. He will decide if Clint needs to know.”
Her voice took on a hint of imperiousness when she ended with, “You will abide by his decision.”
The tiniest flicker of a shiver went through Bruce at that. He would do as she’d said, not because a domme demanded it but because he understood better. Clint didn’t associate what he did with Phil as a weakness, but so many others had before this team even had a chance to show him they wouldn’t too. Maybe he’d get to the point where he was comfortable enough to trust them with his softer side. But until then, Phil would protect it, would protect him. Bruce was recalculating the information and classifying him as a good dom but, more importantly, a good man. And Clint deserved him.