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Taking Things Slowly

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Natasha was, quite frankly, ridiculous. Well, that was what Clint thought at least. Ridiculous wasn’t a word often associated with the admittedly terrifying Russian superspy and assassin (deadly, chilling, stunning, and impossible were quite more frequent), but, really, there was no other word to use for her right now. She was the most observant person Clint had ever met, so it had been quite a shock for him when she flat out refused to believe that he and Phil were dating.

At first he’d thought she was joking. It wasn’t like he and Phil were secretive or even discreet about their relationship. Clint knew that in the archives there was an entire file devoted to the many complaints filed by other agents about how much they flirted over the comms on missions, and if he had a dollar for every time someone told them to “get a room” then he’d have…well, he wasn’t sure exactly how much he’d have, but it was probably at least enough for him to get Phil a new coffee maker. Phil would probably appreciate that. (Of course, he’d have to buy Phil a new coffee maker anyway, considering how he’d broken the last one…)

But back to the subject.

See, Natasha’s chief complaint was that they weren’t dating if everyone but Phil knew about it. What was she talking about? Of course Phil knew they were in a relationship! Honestly. Phil was the one who’d asked out Clint first. He’d even instigated their first kiss. How could he not know?

Clint was actually a little bit hurt about what Natasha was insinuating. Was she saying that Phil thought of him as a sort of friend-with-benefits? Well, without the benefits part. Kind of. They hadn’t actually had sex yet. Natasha had tried to argue that that was another point against them being in a relationship. Clint had strongly disagreed. What sort of crass barbarian did she think he was? He’d never pressure Phil into sex until he was ready! When Phil came up to him and said he wanted to have sex, then they’d have sex. Clint wasn’t some sort of coercive, abusive bastard!

(Of course, it wasn’t like Clint hadn’t thought of it before: Phil guiding him into the dimly lit bedroom, pressing him into the sheets, Clint arching up as Phil slipped his fingers inside – )

So, no. They hadn’t had sex but that was just because they were taking things slowly. Clint really didn’t want to mess things up here. This relationship was important to him. It was probably the most important relationship in his life ever. So even if he was plagued by dreams that left him flushed and gasping, he wouldn’t initiate anything yet. Not until Phil was ready.

But really. How could they not be in a relationship?

1. They’d kissed before. Multiple times. Made out, even. Yes, it was during a mission, but Clint was quite sure that he’d read somewhere that people act on their true emotions more readily when in highly stressful situations. And if Phil wrote it down in the mission report as a “distraction/evasive maneuver” then that was just because it would be awkward to write “We made out. Passionately. And I really need to learn that tongue trick he did…” when Fury would be the one reading it. That was just…ew. Clint was perfectly fine with keeping their (not)sex life between themselves.

(Clint didn’t really pay attention to the fact that they’d never kissed outside of a mission setting. He just pouted when Natasha point that out and asked how she knew that. He found out that he really didn’t want to know. Because Natasha could be kind of creepy.)

2. They’d gone on dates before. Actual, legitimate dates. Clint had taken (dragged) Phil to the zoo one day because he wasn’t allowed out into the field with the cast on his right arm and he was bored out of his mind. He’d paid for both of their tickets and they’d even held hands.

(Well, Phil might have grumbled that Clint was expected to pay for the ticket if he was going to go dragging him around on his day off. And the whole “holding hands” thing might have been because Clint had excitedly run ahead and got impatient with Phil for taking so long. Phil grabbed his wrist so that he wouldn’t sprint off again. Of course, Clint was pretty sure that the way Phil had threaded their fingers together later wasn’t exactly to get him to stay put. It was quite effective in doing so, though.)

And, as much as Natasha protested, Phil had invited him out on a date before too! They’d gone to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two together on opening night – the midnight showing even! – and shared a box of popcorn. Clint was tempted to try the “pretend to stretch and put your arm around your boyfriend’s shoulders” move, but there was a little old lady sitting behind him whose glare seemed to say “I know what you’re up to sonny-boy and you better not make any mischief during this movie.” Clint kept his arms where they were.

(Phil was originally going to go to the movie with Sitwell, but the other agent was called away on an urgent mission at the last moment. He’d then heard Clint bemoaning the fact that he had been out of the country for the past couple of weeks and hadn’t managed to get a ticket before they all sold out. Offering Clint the other ticket seemed to be a decent solution.)

3. Clint had met Phil’s family. They’d even seemed to like him, which was a first in Clint’s book. He actually kind of liked them too, which was kind of strange, because usually families just made him skittish. It must have been the fact that they were Phil’s.

The meeting was a complete accident, really. Clint had a habit of sneaking into Phil’s apartment whenever he came back from an op with minor injuries and didn’t want to deal with medical. Phil would patch him up and then Clint would either head back to his own apartment for some much needed rest or, if he was dealing with a bout of insomnia, then he’d curl up on the couch with Phil and they’d watch bad reality TV. Clint had just never run into a situation before where there was someone else in Phil’s apartment.

Clint may or may not have been so startled by Mrs. Coulson wielding a kitchen knife at him that he ducked behind the first object that was big enough to hide behind. Which may or may not have been Phil. Once Phil explained the situation, however, Clint found that Mrs. Coulson was a wonderful conversationalist. When she wasn’t pointing a kitchen knife at you, of course. Phil’s father seemed to approve of him too, and even offered to show Clint Phil’s baby pictures whenever he came over to visit them in Rhode Island. For some reason Phil didn’t seem to happy about that. Baby pictures couldn’t be that embarrassing, could they? Clint didn’t have any baby pictures, so he didn’t really know.

(Natasha said that that didn’t count, because Phil was supposed to bring Clint to meet his parents, Clint wasn’t supposed to bring himself. That was more “crazy neighbor” than “boyfriend.” Clint personally thought it was a little romantic. Like a forbidden relationship that was brought to light at the end of a movie, only to end happily with everyone accepting the loving couple.)

4. They practically lived together. True, Clint kept his own apartment, but there were plenty of nights he slept over at Phil’s. Phil even considerately left the window unlocked whenever he was home, so Clint didn’t have to force it open every time. He knew that Clint didn’t like the front door. Clint still camped out on the couch whenever he slept over, but it had gotten to a point where Phil referred to the amazingly comfy couch as “your couch” or “our couch” or even one memorable time “Clint’s couch.”

Granted, Phil had only ever been over to Clint’s apartment once, but that was because he’d been shot and Clint’s place was closer than SHIELD or his own apartment. He’d laughed when he saw that Clint’s bedroom was painted purple, though, which was good. Probably. Phil was kind of out of it at the moment and Clint had just given him a dose of extra strength painkillers.

(Okay, so maybe laughing at Clint’s room didn’t have anything to do with their relationship, but Phil had been in his room. Bleeding out on his sheets. And maybe breaking into Phil apartment was kind of creepy, but it wasn’t really breaking in if he left the window open, was it? Phil might as well have just given Clint a key to his front door. Natasha pointed out that she’d broken into his apartment before and he hadn’t bothered to change the locks. Clint pointed out that there were no locks that could keep her out.)

5. Natasha’s last contention was that Clint had never explicitly told Phil that they were dating. That he was in love with Phil. Clint stared at her in shock for a few moments. Of course he’d told Phil that he was in love with him! He’d never used those exact words, but he’d said it in plenty of other ways:

“Thank you.”

“I trust you.”

“I wouldn’t choose anyone else.”

“Only you.”

“I’ve never lied to you.”

“Please.”

“Don’t die.”

Of course they were in love. Phil had said all of the same things.

---

Meanwhile, Agent Philip J. Coulson was making a spreadsheet. It was titled: “Why Clint Barton Is Not (And Will Never Be) In Love With Me.” Period.

Well, that’s what it had started out as. It had turned into something more along the lines of “Why I Am In Love With Clint Barton.” It was the largest file on his computer, with the list of every SHIELD employee stationed in the United States as a close second. Which was…kind of pathetic.

It wasn’t entirely his fault, though. With the way Clint acted, sometimes it felt like they actually were dating. Of course, buying that extra ticket to the midnight showing of the last Harry Potter movie when he knew that Jasper was going to be on a mission was probably a bad idea. He probably would have chickened out on asking Clint to come with him if the archer hadn’t been so vocal about how disappointed he was that he didn’t have a ticket. All throughout the movie Phil was sure that the cranky old lady behind him could somehow read his mind, because she started glaring holes in the back of his head the moment he got distracted and started daydreaming about making out with Clint in the dark theater.

Watching Clint lick the salt and butter from the popcorn off his fingers was torture.

Before Phil could sink too deep into that daydream however, Natasha stalked into his office, a look of supreme frustration twisting her pretty face. Her sharp eyes pinned Phil to his seat as she settled herself into the chair in front of his desk.

“Clint thinks you’re dating,” she said without preamble.

Phil was confused.

“He thinks I’m dating? Dating who?” he asked.

“Him,” Natasha replied, seeming to grow more annoyed at him for asking, in her mind, idiotic questions.

“He thinks we’re dating?” Phil repeated.

Natasha gave him her “that’s what I just said” glare.

“Oh.”

---

Clint and Tony were throwing paper airplanes at each other the next morning in the largest meeting room in SHIELD’s New York headquarters while the rest of the Avengers twiddled their thumbs (metaphorically) in boredom, waiting for Director Fury and Agent Coulson to arrive.

Phil strode into the room a moment later, a manila folder in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. He headed directly for Clint, pulling out the chair next to him and handing Clint the coffee. He then leaned forward and planted a firm kiss on Clint’s slightly-chapped lips.

“I bought two tickets for The Hobbit tonight at 9:30 and we’ve got a reservation at that Thai restaurant you like at 7:00,” Phil said casually, sitting down next to Clint and opening up the folder in front of him.

“Sounds good,” Clint replied, a little surprised. Phil had never made a dinner reservation for one of their movie outings before.

“Wait. How long have you two been dating?” Tony asked, surprise clear on his face.

Phil glanced at Clint before answering.

“Two years, five months, and eleven days,” Phil replied calmly.

“And eight hours,” Clint added.

“And eight hours,” Phil amended, a small smile pulling at his lips.

Clint grinned triumphantly at Natasha.

Natasha just rolled her eyes.