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The lost art of flying

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Clint shuffled back in his seat, adjusting his hoodie to better hide his face. The waitress buzzed past the table and re-filled his coffee, eyes on the floor. A Submissive, then. He could see the collar peaking out under the high neck of the sweater she wore. Her Dom was probably the owner. He tried to catch her eye but she was already moving on.

He glanced out of the window again. Still nothing. It was five minutes until the rendezvous time he’d sent to SHIELD. He needed them to play ball on this. He knew there was every possibility nobody would show. He wasn’t one of their assets, in fact he’d turned them down before, there was no reason for them to jump through hoops for him. He knew he should just have sent a blanket acceptance but, scared as he was (and fuck, it hurt to admit that) he couldn’t do that. Couldn’t let go without terms.

He’d given them seventeen hours, sending the messagefrom an internet cafe a few blocks over. They would no doubt trace it but he’d given his location so he didn’t have a problem with them knowing he was in this area. He’d given them a time, his conditions (mostly concerning whom they were going to assign as his Dominant and the condition that he wouldn’t kill kids. He hoped SHIELD wouldn’t ask that of him but it was better to be clear from the start) and a location.

He shifted again, stretching his injured leg. It was a stab wound, healing now. He hoped it was healing, anyway. He’d been on the run for months now, he’d gotten careless.

He grabbed the newspaper in front of him, flicking through quickly, eyes still on the road. The location he’d given was a dive bar. The place his kind of scum normally went. He’d been in a million bars like it, never gotten anything good out of it. Doms in a place like that, they took one look at his unattached ass and thought they were going to teach him. Like he’d have survived for years after the forced ownership act if he couldn’t take a few Doms in a fight – his very existence a proof that the central notion of the Act, that Submissives by their nature needed someone to care for them at all times so should not be allowed to exist free, was so much bullshit.

Of course, he wasn’t in the bar. He knew it was a little immature at this point, when he’d basically agreed to surrender, but he wanted a good look at them before they saw him. It was the only advantage he had left.

Across the street, a non-descript silver car pulled up. Clint slumped down in to his seat, pulling his hood further over his eyes. SHIELD. Had to be. It was the kind of car you might see anywhere, popular make and model, almost too normal. Definitely too normal to match the man exiting it. Like the car he was notable for being almost entirely un-noteworthy. Middle-aged, medium height, a bland expression, black suit. He also walked like a Dominant. Clint was the kind of guy who noticed things like that. It was all that had kept him alive so far. Looked like SHIELD was playing by his rules.

Which meant this man would be his Dominant. He was going to belong to this man.

For the first time since he'd made the decision to go through with this, he really felt like bolting. Like slipping away and letting himself out through the bathroom window. His leg would probably allow that. It was only the thought of how his leg had been injured that kept him from bolting. He’d come too close, he couldn’t keep running and hiding forever. Not like this. They were going to catch him and there were things in the world worse than death. Being owned by this SHIELD agent might turn his stomach but it was still better then what would happen to him if he got caught.

He’d once told a whore in a bar in Rino he’d rather die than be owned. He’d been a child then, cocky. Hadn’t realized that there were things a million times worse than death. Besides, he wasn’t ready to die yet, either. Not like this.

He watched the Agent. The man scanned the street, pulled out his phone and sent a quick text, then headed for the cafe where Clint was sitting.

His stomach dropped. Had he been seen? He couldn’t have been seen. He was still sitting low in his seat, hood up. He’d shaved since last time SHIELD had seen him. There was another option, though, that this man wasn’t the agent. But everything about him screamed government agent. Or, hell, maybe SHIELD had kept Clint under surveillance all this time. Stupid. He was so stupid.

He focused on his coffee. Too late to run now. He didn’t look up as the door opened, didn’t try to pick out the agent's footsteps among the foot traffic of the restaurant. Didn’t look up until a folder with the SHIELD logo front and center was very purposefully placed in front of him.

“Clint Barton?” the agent asked. He sounded calm, an in-control kind of guy. Clint sighed and looked up, bringing a hand up to push his hood back.

“Yep, you found me,” he said with a crooked grin. The agent nodded and slid in the booth, sending a quick hand signal for coffee to the waitress. He took off his shades then, sliding them in his pocket, and crossed his arms? in front of himself.

When it did not seem that the agent was going to be the one to initiate conversation, Clint gritted his teeth and asked,

“You got a name?”

“I’m Agent Phil Coulson of SHIELD,” the man said, giving a small, crooked smile. “It’s nice to finally meet you. We’ve been pursuing you for some time.”

“Don’t I know it,” Clint groused, kicking back in his seat. “How did you know I was over here?”

“It was a hunch,” Coulson said with a shrug. “It was what I’d have done in your situation. Given myself time to assess the operative sent and run if my demands hadn’t been met. Are you going to run, Barton?”

“No,” Clint said, smiling a little and lifting his coffee cup to cover it. The waitress arrived with the agent’s drink and they waited quietly until she’d disappeared off.

“Frankly,” the Agent said, reaching over the table for the sugar. “I’m a little surprised you’re not on a roof. Though if you’ve finally decided to come in I’m going to assume it’s because your situation has become untenable and you’ve been injured?” He looked Clint over then, inspecting him for injury, and Clint shifted.

“It’s only a small wound,” he defended, “I’m still capable.”

“Good,” Coulson said, nodding. “We’ll get SHIELD medical to check it out anyway, standard procedure. It’s good to know you can fight though, if it comes to that. Care to share what you’re running from?”

“Not yet,” Clint replied, grabbing the folder and biting down on the sir that tried to follow those words out. He hated feeling like this, like the little Submissive. The innocent. It was instinct when around a Dominant though. He could already feel all his instinct stirring for Coulson’s quiet control. He’d spent years leaning to control himself. He needed to focus on business now. “Is this the contract?”

“Standard issue,” Coulson agreed with a nod. “You need to sign that before you’re entitled to any help from SHIELD but I’ve been authorized by the Director to negotiation with you to an extent, if there’s anything you don’t like.”

“Don’t suppose you can take out the term where I have to be someone’s bitch?” Clint asked, flipping the folder over. Coulson shifted a little at that, looking a bit uncomfortable. Good. Clint wanted him uncomfortable.

“Sadly, whatever our personal views may be, that’s the law. There are ownership forms in there too. I’ll sign them with you initially but when we return to SHIELD they’ll assess you and find you the most suitable Dominant. I was just the only available Dominant in the organization with the necessary clearance to negotiate, so don’t let it be a deal breaker if you hate me.

Clint tried to ignore the little curl of disappointment in his stomach at that. It was stupid, it had literally been minutes but he’d kind of become attached to the idea of Coulson. He was understated, gave the impression of someone steady. A very different kind of person to the last Dom Clint had given himself too. He could definitely use a change.

Still, he had a few days. Maybe he could win the guy over, if he was any good.

He pulled the contact out and flipped through it, frowning. The entire thing was written in legalese, too thick for him to read. Stupid. He bit the inside of his cheek, trying to stop the blush he knew was rising at having been caught out. He knew he wasn’t an idiot but still, this was worthless to him. He couldn’t read it, SHIELD could have snuck anything in there. Hell, he’d have hidden some things in there if he was a SHIELD representative.

“Here,” Coulson said, holding out his hand for the contract. “It’s horrible, isn’t it? Let me go through it with you.”

“Am I meant to trust you?” Clint asked, pinching his knee against the fluttering in his stomach begging him to do just that. Pain was normally a good deterrent against Submissive instinct, as long as it wasn’t being administered by the Dominant and, even then, sometimes...

He fucking hated pain.

“I can understand that you wouldn’t,” Coulson said. “But for what it’s worth, I give you my word. If this situation is dangerous it’s best for both of us to conclude it quickly.”

“Yeah,” Clint agreed, pulling the paper over again. “Alright, I get this," he said, pointing to a cause, "but what the hell does this mean?”

By the time Coulson had translated the document in to plain English for him and Clint had finally signed it with only some minor changed to terms it was already dark outside and the waitress was cleaning in the most pointedly aggressive way she seemed to know. Clint’s gut clenched as he looked down at his signature on the various forms, lingering for a second on the one that meant Coulson now owned him. After years of running and fighting he was in the system. Signed for and possessed.

“Do you have things you need to collect?” Coulson asked, sweeping the papers away from him. Clint sighed, pushing his fingers through his hair. His life signed over, just like that. He didn’t even belong to himself anymore, better get used to it. Coulson’s for now and, after that, some nameless agent he’d never met.

“No,” he replied, finally. “Everything’s in the duffle under the table. When do we fly?”

“First thing in the morning,” Coulson replied, reaching over the table to squeeze Clint’s hand. Clint tried not to react, to reach back or beg for the attention he so desperately wanted. “I have a hotel room at the other side of town, we can head there now.”

“Is there takeout on the way?” Clint asked, trying to stamp down on the butterflies that had decided to wake up in his stomach at the idea of sharing a room for the night with a Dom again. It had been a while, even longer since it had been someone he didn’t actually mind the idea of spending the night with, but Coulson was a straightforward kind of guy, he didn’t seem like the type to mess around. Best of all, he’d not mocked Clint for not knowing things, just explained. He could the number of people who’d done that for him in his life on the one hand.

“Yeah,” Coulson said. “I’m pretty hungry, actually. You like Chinese?”

“Chinese is good,” Clint replied, sliding out of the booth and slinging his bag on his back. Coulson stood to and they walked out of the diner together.

~*~*~*~

When, at ten, Clint’s tests had come back and shown he was a Sub, nobody had been even vaguely surprised. He’d always had a habit of hiding in skirt tails and wanting others to protect him, or so they told him. Barney was a little disgusted that he had one of THEM for a brother but he got over it.

Clint didn’t mind, not really. Back then all he’d had to go on was the stuff they showed on the TV. His parents were both neutral. He’d had no reference, then. No idea how, once his orientation started to show itself, it would come to define him if he let it. No idea of how it would make him feel, burn through him and color every interaction he had with any other person.

That was the year everything went to hell and it ended up being just him and Barney. Barney tried to be a good big brother, he did, and Clint appreciated it. When his Submissive instincts had really started to emerge it was Barney who’d realized how others were going to use them to hurt Clint. It was Barney who’d taught him to imitate a neutral person. He’d taught him how to walk, how to smile, the things he should and shouldn’t say. Sure, he was never going to pass as a Dom, but he had neutral down to an art form.

Of course, puberty made everything worse. Not even the warning that it was coming could help. How could you really prepare for you own body to rebel against you? His actions were no longer under his own control but instead he’d find himself doing and saying things just to get attention, just to draw a Dom to him. Barney helped him keep it in check but then Barney left and everything from them on became one giant clusterfuck.

The law said Clint needed to be sixteen before someone could claim him. The law had never really applied at the circus.

~*~*~*~

Coulson stopped for Chinese and didn’t protest when Clint followed him into the restaurant. Clint stood and watched as their food was prepared. He took it when it was ready and held it in his lap on the way to the motel. It was paranoid, he knew, but at least he knew it wasn’t drugged and nobody had touched it other than the chef. It made him feel a little better, at least. A little more in control. He had a feeling his control over much of anything was going to be lacking tonight.

He knew the drill for new Subs. He wasn’t naive, though he’d never done things the legal way before. He’d always gone in to this with men on the wrong side of the law. Still, he knew what would happen. Tonight, Coulson would claim him. Collar him, fuck him, test him. Clint would let him, too. He understood this for what it was: a test. A trial run. He was an unknown, a rogue element claiming he wanted in, of course they were going to be suspicious of him. They were right to be. Tonight he would show them what a good little Sub he could be, just how well he could beg for the right master. What he wanted didn’t play a part in the equation.

The motel was the kind of cheap, generic place that dotted the country. Clint had slept in a million like it before. He got his bag out of the car, still clutching the takeaway food, and followed Coulson inside.

The room had only one bed. A giant monstrosity draped in bright orange and green sheets likely to induce nausea in a lesser man. There were chains attached to the wall, bolted in position, pretty standard for a place like this. He tried not to think about what they were going to be used for. Not for now anyway. He hoped Coulson wasn’t a sadist.

Coulson apparently noticed he was looking because he stopped by the formica table and coughed, face flushing a little with embarrassment.

“There was only one room left,” he said, gesturing around them. “I’m sorry.”

Clint just shrugged. If it made Coulson feel better to lie to him then whatever, he could go with that. He watched as Coulson cleared the debris off the table then went over, setting the Chinese down. Coulson reached in the bag, grabbing the cartons and opening them. He didn’t say anything so Clint took a chance and sat at the table. Nothing again, good. He knew a lot of Doms liked to assert authority early in a relationship. Everyone else he’d been with would have had him on his knees already. Coulson didn’t seem to be that sort, didn’t even seem to react to Clint sitting down with him like a normal human being. Score one to the man from SHIELD.

The thing was, Clint had known enough Doms who seemed like decent human beings until it became clear how far he’d go for them, just how much control they had over their own Sub. Then the kinky shit started coming out. Coulson was being a gentleman now, but Clint still wasn’t ruling out the possibility he might be thrown down at any moment and fucked. He’d signed on the dotted line after all: property of Coulson. It felt ridiculous. He’d known Coulson for only a few hours and Coulson had complete and utter ownership of him in the eyes of the law.

They ate in silence, Coulson poking at something on his phone. Tension started to build like a twist in Clint’s stomach, the horrible anticipation of knowing something entirely unpleasant was about to happen but having no way to stop it. No way to do anything but lie back and let it happen.

Coulson didn’t speak again until they were done and then only to suggest Clint might like to take a shower. Clint took it as the escape it was, nodding his thanks and grabbing his bag then locking the bathroom door behind him. As though that would stop anyone. He’d given up on the illusion that a locked door would help him long ago and he wasn’t about to pick it back up now. He guessed Coulson probably carried his own lock picks.

The worst part of this was he could feel his body getting ready. On a purely instinctual level, the level he’d been fighting against all his life, he wanted Coulson. Wanted Coulson to take him apart and chose which bits to keep and mold him and own him and make him love every second of it. He wanted to be owned and he hated it. Not only that but he almost wanted Coulson to do the owning. It had been so long since a Dom, especially one with any kind of power over him, had treated him like a honest-to-god person.

Maybe it was a good thing, wanting this. He was going to have it anyway, maybe it was better to just submit.

The shower helped him find his center. It was almost a ritual. Preparing his body for the sacrifice. He used to have this routine with his last full-time Dom- - who he was very much not thinking about – preparing in the shower. Washing the filth from his skin, making himself as good as he could be for his master. Master used to like him clean. He’d clean himself out well, inside and out. He’d never do it well enough and master would always punish him and Clint hated that. He let himself slip in to the headspace again, though it had been so long. Let his hands fall in to the familiar pattern of scrubbing, getting as much of the dirt off as he could; though he was unclean and he would never be good enough.

He wondered how Coulson would punish him. Master had gone through phases. Sometimes the hand, then the whip. He’d hated the whip, the way it cut in to his flesh. The hand was more embarrassing in a way, more intimate. Clint struggled more to remove himself from the situation when he was being spanked. He didn’t want to be Clint then. Didn’t want to be Clint now. He was slut or pet or something, never himself. Never the part of him who could think or feel or hurt. He wouldn’t need that aspect of himself tonight.

He didn’t know what Coulson would want, so he dressed again after the shower. Some masters liked him dressed so they could have the pleasure of undressing him, almost as if they could strip Clint away with the layers of apparel. Maybe naked was better, but then he’d be exposed right from the start. That was more daunting somehow and, well, there was always the prospect that Coulson might take one look at him and walk away. He knew he wasn’t much to look at: his body a mess of scars and lies. He’d rather Coulson not see that yet.

It was stupid, wanting Coulson to think well of him. Wanting Coulson to like him. That wasn’t what this thing between them was about. Not by a long shot.

Clint eventually let himself out of the bathroom. He tried to turn his mind off as he did so, slipping out from the warmth of the bathroom to the cold of the main room. The change in the air was familiar. When he was himself he to avoid this type of re-entry: he’d sit on the bathroom floor until the temperature dropped again or he’d set the thermostat in the bedroom way up, anything to stave off the drop that’d been conditioned in to him. It was what he needed now, though. That reminder. It put him in a place where he could do this. Could perform for master. New master, old master, it didn’t really make any difference. They all wanted the same thing in the end anyway, he just had to deliver.

He let himself sink to his knees as the door closed behind him, keeping his eyes down. Better to offer himself like this now. At least, in a way, it was on his own terms. He wasn’t going to let Coulson draw this out, wasn’t going to wait to see what torture he’d devise but, instead, just offer himself up on a platter.

He felt himself sink firmly then. It had been his ritual for so long, putting himself under like this for master that it all came back so perfectly. His body was stiff, ready. His mind was drifting already, detaching so he could go to a place where Master could do whatever he wanted and Clint wouldn’t mind. Clint would like it, beg for more. The place where he could beg. The place where all that mattered was Master and making Master happy. He felt that now, the urge building in him, and he let it consume him. Let the control drift away, all the things that made him Clint and instead he was just...something. Something for Coulson to define. Anything.

“Clint,” Coulson said, voice sharp, and Clint tried not to flinch. He knew that tone, he’d done something bad already. Had he been too presumptuous? Coulson must be able to see the drop in his posture. Maybe Coulson had wanted to reduce Clint to objectification on his own terms? He couldn’t help it, his shoulders started to shake. He couldn’t believe he’d got this wrong already, made a mess already. Couldn’t even go an entire day without messing things up. He was such a waste of space.

It always happened. He’d spent his life chasing being good, chasing praise, and it never came. He’d told himself he was done with this but still, every time the opportunity arose he did the same thing, expecting it to somehow be different. He was never worth it, though. Some Subs were built to be cherished, loved, pampered. Clint could never be that. He was built to be beaten and whipped. No matter what he did, he would never (could never) deserve love.

Fuck.

He braced himself for the slap or the punch, keeping his eyes trained down, but instead something warm settled on his back. He froze for a second until it was pulled more fully around him. A blanket. Master had put a blanket around his shoulders.

This was...it wasn’t right. He’d done badly. This was wrong. He should be punished, he shouldn’t have a blanket. This was wrong.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, though he knew speaking might only make it worse. Coulson just made a sound and Clint wasn’t quite sure how to interpret that sound. It wasn’t anger, at least, so that was something.

“No,” Coulson said, soft. It was hard to hear the Dom Clint knew was there when he spoke in such soft tones. He sounded like he cared about Clint as more then property. That was just wrong. It couldn’t last long. He knew not to even think about liking it. It never lasted. Even if Coulson was nice for now he’d change. He’d take it away when he realized just how bad Clint was. “No, Clint. You’ve done nothing wrong. I’m the one who should be sorry. I should have been clearer.”

Clint tried to process that but it made no sense. Master wasn’t wrong. Master was never wrong, just Clint. A hand landed gently on his shoulder and he squeezed his eyes shut. This must be it, this must be the punishment. It wasn’t.

Instead of punishing him, Coulson pulled him close. Clint went, he couldn’t do anything but go. He hadn’t realized Coulson had knelt by him until he was pulled over so his head lay on Coulson’s chest, and this was so, so wrong. Kindness like this wasn’t something Clint was entitled to, nothing he’d ever dared to dream might actually happen. It was warm, though. And comfortable.

“Oh Clint,” Coulson breathed, and Clint let himself relax a little. It was more that he couldn’t stop himself, really. He let Coulson guide him back so they were leaning against the wall, let the other man stroke his back. It was relaxing, safe. He knew he needed to be strong here. Needed to push away and run before that safety disappeared and the Dom in Coulson asserted itself. The part of him the ritual of the shower was meant to push right down was already starting to re-emerge and it was screaming at him to get away, hide his weak parts. Hide the parts of him that were just want and need and emotion. Hide them away before they got too attached, though he was afraid it was already too late.

He risked bringing a hand up, gripping a handful of Coulson’s shirt, and instead of pushing him away, Coulson told him he was good. He tried not to listen as Coulson mumbled in his ear because none of it could be true, Coulson just didn’t know yet. Didn’t know how useless Clint was, what a waste of time and energy and air he was. As soon as Coulson did know, he’d send Clint away and that would be the end of all that.

Clint couldn’t let himself hope for anything different, anything better.

After a while, Coulson (and it could only be Coulson, he couldn’t think of him as Master like this) lifted Clint, carrying him to the bed. He protested, insisted he should lie on the floor but Coulson didn’t listen, didn’t understand. He just brought more blankets, tucking them around them both this time. He brought Clint back in to his chest, like Clint had any right to be held like this. Coulson stroked his hair, and Clint squeezed his eyes shut, tried to hold on, because it felt like something was going to explode and if he let it he’d never regain control. He couldn’t allow that to happen. Couldn’t let Coulson break him with a few kind touches.

That thought grounded him, in the end. This might break him. All his masters had tried to break him; maybe Coulson was just the first one to actually find a way. He closed his eyes tightly and thought about the inevitable end. Coulson would crack him open, make him trust, and then destroy him. Clint couldn’t let that occur. To do so would be put him in no better a position than the one he’d walked away from, was still running from.

Thinking about the reason he was here gave him focus, gave him some of the push to start pulling himself back from the box in his head he’d put himself in. It was hard; it was always hard to come back. It was normally the pain that let him do it but now he didn’t have that. He didn’t think Coulson would help him with it either so he just bit the inside of his cheek and slowly unpacked himself until he occupied his own body again.

When he pulled back from Coulson’s shoulder the other man give him a long, hard look and then let him go. Clinte went to the bathroom. Used the toilet. Took a deep breath. When he came back out Coulson was holding the sheets back for him. He thought for a moment about insisting on taking the floor. Thought about all the ways this small kindness could be thrown in his face later, but he’d already shown enough vulnerability. Already taken more then he should have. He couldn’t undo that by sleeping on the floor now, so he slipped into the bed. He didn’t go to Coulson’s arms and the other man didn’t try to force him, which was good. He hated when people tried to give him orders when he was like this, when he was fully himself. This wasn’t a state he could be ordered around in.

“Goodnight,” Coulson whispered, oddly soft, and Clint tried not to think about it. Instead he curled up as close to the edge of the bed as he could, closed his eyes, and attempted to sleep. It looked like he was going to need all the strength he could get.

~*~*~*~

Clint woke up first in the morning and chose to take that as a small victory. Immature, maybe, but he’d take his victories where he could. He was curled up as far away from Coulson as was reasonably possible for him to be on the bed so he managed to slip out without waking the other man and head for the bathroom. He took the kind of precursory cold shower he favored. It helped him focus on being himself: the himself he was going to need to be to get through the day, not the person his master might want him to be. He didn’t have a master any more, he had Coulson. Apparently, a Coulson was a sneakier kind of person to have in charge of you then a Master.

Coulson was already awake when Clint came back in, out of bed and sitting at the table. His hair was an absolute mess, though, suggesting he’d only just made it that far.

“Want me to make a coffee shop run?” Clint asked, going for his boots by the door. He needed some fresh air. He’d kind of been hoping to slip out for some before Coulson woke up, but this way at least he couldn’t be accused of sneaking out. Coulson seemed to be playing it softly-softly but that didn’t mean he was going to be happy if Clint acted without permission. Especially if he did something that looked so much like running off this early in their acquaintance.

“Sure,” Coulson replied, running a hand through his hair. “Maybe some breakfast as well as coffee.”

“Yeah, can do,” Clint replied. He got out as quickly as he could, not wanting to have more conversation until he’d processed the night before.

He took the long route to the coffee shop, turning things over in his head. In a way it would have been better if Coulson had beaten him. At least he’d have known what to expect then. He’d never had a master be so sneaky before. He’d heard of it as a technique. Be nice, give kindnesses and promises to win someone’s trust and then, when you have them, revert to type. Start with the beatings and the hatred and the poor Sub you caught would be too emotionally invested to run away. Not that there was any legal way to run away, but there was always a way if a person looked hard enough and was good enough, like Clint was.

He knew he should be grateful for the gentle touches and all, but he knew Doms. He wasn’t some naive little Sub falling in to bed the first time. He’d been with a lot of men and women, some of them seriously. He’d experienced enough to know that what Doms really wanted was pain and suffering and it was only a matter of time before they took that from him.

At least he was safe for now. If Coulson wanted to treat him kindly to win him over for whatever game he was playing, well, Clint wasn’t going to complain. If he was right, and Coulson was trying to win his trust he’d probably be well-served by seeming to stay a little suspicious. Maybe, if he played hard to get long enough (not a tough proposition) he’d be able to last until it was safe for him to be alone again and break from SHIELD. Not likely, given the level of threat he was running from, but he could hope.

The coffee shop was crowded and he got weird looks from some of the Doms there. Damn pheromones. He threw his shoulders back and held his head high. He probably still stank of submission. He should have known better than to come out so soon after letting himself in to that head space. At least he hadn’t let Coulson take him. Or Coulson had chosen not to take him. Whatever. If he had, there’d be no hiding. As it was, the Doms shrugged and turned away. It was always a little risky the day after he let himself into that head space, the scent tended to linger. It was one of the reasons he couldn’t risk it too often and had to be at least a little picky about his lovers.

He remembered Coulson’s coffee order from the day before and got the shop to throw in a few pastries which the shop attendant did with a smile and a wink. He took the short route back, hot coffee cups in both his hands, trying not to think.

Coulson had the laptop open when he came in. Clint was kind of surprised that he didn’t immediately close it, but he left it there, letting Clint catch a glimpse of his e-mail account. Coulson hummed his thanks for the coffee and selected a pastry then went back to work and Clint suddenly found himself at a loss. He sipped at his drink as he realized that for the first time in a long time he didn’t know exactly what he was doing today. Where he was going or what he was doing. That was more than a little frightening and the feeling of being out of control of his own life had a lot to do with why he’d been avoiding SHIELD so far.

“Hey,” he said finally, setting the cup down. “What happens now? I mean, the paperwork’s all signed...”

“We head back to SHIELD,” Coulson said in that damn calm tone of his that gave nothing away. “Have to get your leg seen too, though you don’t seem badly injured. Then we’ll have to get you briefed and trained on SHIELD protocol. We probably do things differently than how you’re used to doing them. Once you’re settled in we’ll have missions, but you don’t need to worry about that for now. I’ll be your handler in the field, so we’ll jump that hurdle when we come to it.”

“Fine,” Clint mumbled, kicking back. “My leg’s not that bad, you know. Feels better today. I just probably can’t scale any buildings without a bit of help.”

“I’ll still feel better once it’s checked,” Coulson said with a small smile. “Speaking of which, we should get back on the road. We’re heading to the nearest airport and out, we’ll be based in New York for now.”

“Good,” Clint breathed. He’d never been to New York and as far as he knew there wasn’t anybody there he’d rather not see. That was definitely for the best. He didn’t want to walk out of this situation and in to a worse one.

“So,” Coulson said, standing. “There’s just one more thing. I wouldn’t but...you need a collar or a cuff...” The man looked apologetic about it but what did Clint know? Ever other Dom he’d been with had gotten off on the idea of marking Clint. The collar was the least of Clint’s worries about this. He’d worn one before, both for other people and as a tool to throw off people who thought he was easy game because he walked around occasionally smelling like a Sub. He could suppress it a lot but sometimes in plain sight was the easiest place to hide.

“Collar, please,” he said with a shrug. “The cuff’s more discrete, I know, but it throws off my aim a little.”

“Alright,” Coulson agreed. He reached in the briefcase again and pulled out the item. It was a simple thing made of black leather, probably SHIELD issue.

Clint bent his head forward, exposing his neck. This was kind of the bit he hated most, just the act of getting the damn thing on made him vulnerable, but he doubted any Dom would ever let a Sub put one on by himself. He understood it was about the act of claiming, of making the Sub one's own, but he didn't like it. Coulson took a second to move, then Clint felt the collar around his neck. New leather, it bit a little but Coulson didn't tighten it too much, letting it lay a little loosely as he fastened it, which Clint appreciated. Sometimes Master had fastened it so tight he'd choke. At least Coulson wasn't going to choke him. Not yet anyway.

“Thanks,” he said, reaching up to touch it briefly. If anything it was a little too loose but maybe that was the plan. Maybe Coulson was waiting for him to point it out so he could pull it tighter. Clint definitely wasn't going to give him that opening. “We'd better get on the road.”

“Yes,” Coulson agreed, and when Clint looked up he had a tight smile, like he was doing all of this because he had to but didn't want to. Bastard, he'd probably wanted Clint to ask to have the collar tightened so he could pull it in, choke Clint with it. Clint hated not being able to breath, fucking typical SHIELD would assign him someone who wanted something he’d hate. Not like he could say no right now.

Clint gathered the few things he'd gotten out the night before while Coulson packed. He was pretty quick and efficient, really, for someone who probably didn’t live out of a duffle bag. Not as fast as Clint, of course. As Clint finished first he was entrusted with a card to go and pay off their room which was weird. He nearly put it in his pocket and ran just on instinct but he wasn't there to make some money, he was there for protection and SHIELD had to know that.

He'd been expecting Coulson to bring it up already, to ask what he'd gotten involved in. Clint was going to wear his collar so that made Clint's problems his problems. He seemed largely unconcerned, though, and Clint wasn't sure if he was just underestimating the problem or he was that badass he didn't care.

Not that Clint cared. Clint couldn't care less if this guy got hurt for him. In might not even be a bad thing, as long as he got hurt before he could do too much damage to Clint.

They loaded up the car and got back on the road. Coulson turned on the radio, some generic local talk show, and Clint curled up in the passenger seat and tried not to think. He didn't want to dwell on what he'd gotten himself in to, not right now. Too much of him was screaming at him to run while there was still the chance. Once he got to New York he wouldn’t know anyone, which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because nobody he knew who wanted to hurt him or hand him over for money to those who would hurt him would be there, a curse because if he needed to run, there would be no help and he wouldn't know the terrain. No, once he got on that plane he would be entirely in Coulson's hands if he wanted to stay safe.

He hated being a Submissive. If he could turn that part of him off he would. If he could strike it from the record he would. He couldn't. It was sometimes as much a part of him as breathing and, even now, whatever he thought, there was a small part of him insisting that curling up and laying his head on Coulson's lap would be a great idea.

The ride wasn't overly long, soon signs began to appear for the airport and Clint's hand started to twitch for the door handle even more. Coulson watched but didn't do anything about it, which Clint thought was weird. Most guys, you made a show like that and they saw it, they'd chain you to the seat to keep you with them. Lock you in to make sure you couldn't escape.

Maybe Coulson just didn't care – just didn't want him.

He pretended not to notice how that thought made fear curl in his stomach. He didn't need Coulson to want him. Didn't even want Coulson to want him. It was just that, maybe, it might have been nice if he had. If, once, Clint was allowed someone who wanted him.

But that was ridiculous. It wasn't how things worked at all and he didn't want Coulson anyway. Coulson was just like everyone else, just looking for an opening he could use to hurt him and Clint had been hurt enough, he didn't need someone else to hurt him again. Better to be alone than hurt again.

“We're being followed,” Couson said, so softly and casually he might have just been asking Clint to pass him a drink. Clint cast an eye to the side mirror and spotted a black car that was so non-descript it went right round to unmissable again. He bit his lip; he should have been watching before. Should have known they weren't going to let him just walk out on them again, not when they were so close. Coulson inquired, “Friends of yours?”

“Friend isn't the right word,” Clint replied, shifting in his seat. “They're not...they won't hesitate to endanger civilians in a public area if they think it'll get them what they want. If it's who I think it is.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Coulson said with a put upon sigh, as though he had to deal with this kind of shit every day. “Looks like we're going to miss our flight.”

“Sorry,” Clint mumbled. “I don't know how they found me so quickly. I thought...”

“It's not an issue,” Coulson said with a shrug. “Though it might involve some fancy driving to lose them. Do you have a weapon?”

That was a ridiculous question, Clint always had a weapon. There were three knives hidden on him. Still, he reached back and grabbed his bow case, bringing it to the front of the car. If he was going to fight long distance he preferred not to have to throw his knives.

“You know,” Coulson said calmly, “There's a hand gun in the glove compartment.”

“Thanks, sir, but I prefer my bow,” Clint replied, taking it out of the case. He glanced over at Coulson, expecting an argument or a reprimand for not following the implied order, but Coulson was just smiling as though he'd won something and then, with a sudden sharp turn of the wheel he was turning off the airport road, towards town, and the chase was on.

Clint had thought a lot of things about Coulson since they met, but as they set off racing down the road all he could do was begrudgingly respect the man. Whatever he was, he definitely wasn't just a suit. He drove like he'd been trained to drive fast but also like it was training he used. There was a kind of fluidity to it. He'd clearly also planned in advance for this eventuality because he drove like someone who knew the roads, taking corners at the last second and staying well clear of densely populated areas.

For his part, all Clint could do was hold on to the bow and to his seatbelt. He gritted his teeth as the turns threw him around the car and tried to keep eyes on their followers. It kind of grated on him to not be the one behind the wheel, but at the same time Coulson was probably doing a better job of it then he would.

Eventually they drew into a industrial district, people but not too many and lots of places to hide. Clint approved of the choice. They'd already lost the car a few times but it had found them again quickly, now with a few unexpected turns Coulson was able to get out of their line of sight again and Clint let himself breath. He hadn't thought they'd shoot at Coulson’s car, as far as he was aware orders were to bring him in alive. You never knew with some of these people, though. Especially once pride became a factor. They'd do what they wanted first and then worry about the consequences.

Coulson took a few more random turns then pulled them off the road and into a private parking lot, sliding them neatly between two other cars and cutting the engine, then slumping down in his seat. Clint followed his lead, slinking down so from the road it would look like the car was empty. It was a popular model and a quick glance had shown Clint several others in the lot which meant that if their pursuers wanted to find them they'd have to start checking registration plates. They weren't completely safe but they were as safe as they could be for now.

“So,” Coulson said, conversationally, “I take it you know these people?”

“Yeah,” Clint frowned, gripping his bow tighter on instinct. “We may be acquainted. Look...I'm sorry I involved you but...”

“Clint, I'm an agent of SHIELD. Trust me, this is nothing. My mission right now is to extract you from whatever situation you've gotten yourself into and bring you in. All I need from you is some information on how they're likely to be armed, that kind of thing. I mean, I'd like the full story later but we'll deal with first things first.”

“Thank you,” Clint mumbled. “They'll be armed. Guns, knives. They'll have experience at using them too. I'm not sure EXACTLY who it is so I don't know how long they're going to stay in the area. Some might give up pretty quickly but there are a few who would hang out for days if they needed to.”

“Well, I suppose we've ruled out getting to the airport already,” Coulson muttered. “That's fine. We'll wait here a while then head out, act as though we're heading for the West coast and see if we can slip past them.

Clint nodded, shifting in the foot well of his seat. It wasn't exactly comfortable but he'd sat in worse places for longer. Coulson was looking remarkably unfazed by sitting on the floor, though sitting by the driver’s seat couldn't have been comfortable at all. The guy apparently had a poker face like nothing Clint had ever seen before. Clint filed that information away for future use.

“So,” Coulson said after a few minutes of silence. “Do you want to tell me who we're running from?”

“Not yet Sir, sorry,” Clint mumbled. He had an idea that if Coulson knew exactly what shit he'd landed in he might just run still and leave Clint to them. Well, it was probably too late for that now anyway. Whoever was following them had likely gotten a good look at them both. Coulson would be in trouble whatever happened, though undoubtedly less trouble if he just ran now. Clint, on the other hand, would be in so much trouble if Coulson just threw him out here.

“All right,” Coulson said with a shrug. “Though you must know the odds of us getting out of here improve with information.”

“I do,” Clint agreed. “And I'll tell you anything you need to know but I just...not the entire thing here and now please. I'll tell you but this isn't the time or place.”

And, okay, maybe there was another element to Clint's reticence than the fear Coulson would run. If he said who it was, Coulson would want to know why, and Clint would have to tell him and, well, it wasn't exactly a story he enjoyed telling. He wasn't proud of it or happy with it and if Coulson didn't walk out when he found out who Clint was messed up with he probably would when he found out why they were chasing Clint.

“How about the bow, then. Can you tell that story? Why not a gun?”

“Don't you know?” Clint asked, raising an eyebrow.

“We have intel,” Coulson confirmed with a small shrug. “But I'd like to hear it from you and, well, we have time to pass.”

"That's true,” Clint admitted with a small smile. The story of how he became an archer, well, of the stories about him it was probably one of the most harmless. It was a long time ago, from a time in his life when he was almost happy. Probably as close to being happy as he'd ever truly been, anyway. It wouldn't really hurt for it to end up in a SHIELD file on him. “Okay, I'll tell you. You know about the circus, right? I mean, that I was in it.”

“Yes,” Coulson said, leaning forward a little.

“Well, that’s where I learnt to shoot. It was...well...it feels so damn long ago now but it’s the kind of place where nobody gets anything for nothing. If you want to fit in you have to work for it. I was only a kid, you know, but my aim was alright and one of the performers saw that. I wasn’t particularly good at the start but he saw something in me and it was a hell of a lot better than mucking out the animals. Well, I still had to do that but not as often. He taught me to shoot with a bow because the audiences find it more impressive. Anyone can point a gun; it takes talent to get an arrow to go where you want it to. No offense.”

“None taken,” Coulson said with a small smile that, if Clint didn’t know better, he’d think was genuine. “I tried archery once, wasn’t for me.”

“Nobody’s brilliant at it the first time,” Clint said with a shrug. “You have to learn and you have to work hard at it. Luckily, giving up was never really an option for me so I stuck with it until it got to the point where it started to pay off. I can shoot a gun but I’ve never really trained with them, I don’t trust it in the same way I trust my bow.”

“I can see that. Everyone has their weapon. I, well, I was in the forces. I have a pistol from back then which I normally carry with me on missions. I don’t have it right now, SHIELD doesn’t like me taking it out when they have better weapons, but to me, that’s the gun I trust. It’s saved my life before, why should I let go of it?”

“Yeah,” Clint said, letting a small smile slip. “Maybe you can tell me more about being in the forces some time?”

“I’m sure I will,” Coulson said, and he sounded almost fond which was weird and wrong and made something in Clint turn to goo. He bit down on it hard. He was good at ignoring these things and he certainly didn’t need them in this situation. Still, it was kind of a nice thought no matter how impossible it was. He could almost believe that under different circumstances he could have been friends with this guy. Pity it was never an option.

“I think we can go,” he said, nodding up. “I mean, no guarantees but if I was in their position I’d head back up to block the exit to the airport, presume we’d make another run that way.”

Coulson agreed with a nod. “It’s going to be a bitch to get out without going through there but there is a route...it might involve some unconventional driving.”

“I’m all for that,” Clint replied with a grin. “Are we taking this car? We could ditch it and steal another.”

“Tempting,” Coulson said with a small smile. “I picked this car to be inconspicuous, though, and SHIELD tends to frown on car theft without proper motivation. We’ll try to get out in this one but it’s nice to know you have car theft in your skills set if we need it later.”

“Always happy to help,” Clint replied, pushing himself up. There was a twinge in his damaged leg from the crouching and he rubbed it quickly, hoping to ease the muscles a little. He caught Coulson throwing him a worried glance. “Don’t worry,” he replied. “I think I can still run on it if I have to. Hell, if I REALLY had to I could probably climb the side of a building, I just don’t really want to strain it if I don’t have to.”

Coulson blinked a second at that before nodding and starting the car again. They pulled out slowly and Coulson pointed the car back the way they’d come. Clint thought about commenting for a second but what would be the point, he didn’t know these roads and Coulson clearly did.

As it turned out, the way he’d planned for them was more than a little odd though it seemed to successfully throw anyone who was still following them. They went through a car park, then through a back lot of a warehouse before finally coming back onto a road and swinging round then going off the road altogether.

The car, it went without saying, wasn’t built for off-roading. It was horrible; Clint was thrown up and down by the car fighting over the uneven ground. It was also kind of fun. It was good to know Coulson was the kind who’d take a car and just drive it off the road if he had to. It said something about a guy that he’d do that. Definitely not a pencil pusher but someone who might, maybe, understand Clint a little.

He needed to stop thinking like that.

Instead he tried to focus on the route. They were exposed for a while, the unit they’d been in was a kind of an industrial estate with roads out to the town and the airport. Coulson took them out the back, using the warehouses as cover to cross the open terrain back to the town so if anyone had been waiting for them on either of the roads they probably wouldn’t have spotted them. It was clever.

Back on the roads in town Coulson drove in an apparently random pattern until even Clint wasn’t entirely sure which way they were going and then eventually taking them out again, heading away from the airport.

“Guess this journey’s going to take a while after all,” Clint said with a sigh, sitting back in his chair. Coulson made one of those vaguely amused half smiles and kept on driving. Clint just flipped on the radio. It was easier to sing along to whatever crap was on then it was to watch Coulson watching him and to think.

~*~*~*~

“I’m starting to think you just have bad taste,” Clint commented, looking around their second motel room together. They’d stopped once to use the bathroom, grab some food and, to Clint’s surprise, switch drivers. He’d never been in a car with a Dom and been the one driving. It was kind of a thing. Came with being too cock-sure, Doms had to be the one to drive. It was like a display of how strong they were or something, like anyone with half a brain couldn’t drive a car. He knew a lot of Subs never even learnt but for most of Clint’s life, what was practical had outweighed what was socially acceptable.

Coulson hadn’t given him directions, either, trusting him to cover their trail. It was odd, being trusted. Nobody had ever really done that before and Clint knew he was capable, as he’d spent long enough with only himself to rely on, but to have a relative stranger put faith in those skills was something else entirely.

But, then, Coulson must have faith in Clint's skills or he’d never have come all the way out here to bring him back.

He’d have happily driven all night but Coulson had insisted they needed at least a few hours of actual rest and Clint got that. Maybe Coulson didn’t know exactly who they were running from, but he was taking the threat seriously, which was good to see. Coulson had picked out the motel, another non-descript roadside thing, and checked them in while Clint had doubled back to a diner and picked them up some dinner. The sound of Coulson's voice shook Clint out of his thoughts.

“My taste is fine,” Coulson said with a smirk, dropping his bag on one of the beds. “I promise you my apartment is a lot better than this. Places like this, though...”

“Bad recordkeeping,” Clint supplied. “Not likely to recognize one customer from the other or remember any of them a few hours from now. I’ve used these places for the same reason. Damn customer service has ruined all the best hotels.”

“I agree,” Coulson said with a small laugh. “I’d much rather be somewhere with class but we suffer for our work. Pass me some food.”

“Speaking of suffering,” Clint mumbled, grabbing one of the takeout cartons and passing it over. Coulson wrinkled his nose and took it, opening it and grabbing the steak sandwich inside. It was almost dripping with grease and Clint winced a little. He rarely ate like this now, not this much fat, though he remembered a time when something like that would have been a delicacy. Now he at least made a pretense toward being healthy, though he still ate from greasy spoon places more often then he should. He needed to stay at the peak of his condition, after all, if he was going to take care of himself.

“Are you going to eat?” Coulson asked raising an eyebrow and Clint flushed with the realization that he’d been caught staring. He reached for his own box and pulled it open, extracting a burger and going back to trying not to think.

The thing was, the more he thought, the more he grew oddly fond of Coulson, and that was horrible because it was only going to hurt worse when he was betrayed. Better to never get his hopes up in the first place than to have them crushed.

“I’m going to take first shower,” Coulson declared, dumping the takeout container. Clint nodded and tried to focus on his food and not on the sound of Coulson in the bathroom. Not on the thought of him stripping, him washing.

Alright, the man was good to look at. He made a show of being nice and he seemed competent. Clint had done worse and if he had to be stuck with someone, then Coulson would probably actually be quite high on the list. He knew how this story ended, though. He knew the love story they tried to sell, the one with the Submissive who fluttered his eyelashes and the caring Dominant who catered to his every whim, and he knew it was so much bullshit. Maybe it was that way if you had money, but down here in the real world there was pain and suffering, people struggling to make ends meet, Subs being abused, and Dominants literally getting away with murder. He’d seen all of the million ways a man like Coulson could hurt a man like him and all the ways he could make it worse by giving in to his own biology and letting himself need Coulson.

He couldn’t do it again. He wouldn’t do it again. He had too much to lose this time.

He took his own shower quickly, sticking to the cold water. He couldn’t go under tonight. Luckily Coulson didn’t seem to expect him to, and when he came out the other man was already curled up under the blankets, though clearly not asleep. That left Clint with a bit of a dilemma. The room had two beds. Coulson had quite obviously claimed one, the one he was sleeping in. What the hell did he expect Clint to do?

With any other Dom the answer would have been obvious and he’d have taken the floor by the foot of the bed. He’d slept in that position with every Dominant he’d ever had, but Coulson hadn’t let him last night. He’d seemed to want Clint on the bed with him, and that might be what he expected now. Maybe he was the kind who wanted to keep his Sub close, or maybe he just wanted to be free to reach over and touch whenever he wanted, though he hadn’t taken advantage of his opportunities so far.

Then there was the other bed. It had been nearly two years since Master, and Clint didn’t want to curl up on the floor and go to sleep. He would if he had to, but he didn’t want to. He was used to having a bed of his own now, a space of his own. He had to admit that the bit of him he couldn’t quite suppress wanted to go and slip under the covers with Coulson and hope the other man might pull him close again. It hadn’t exactly been a trial to sleep in the other man’s arms. But most of him, the reasonable part of him, wanted the bed.

He must have hesitated too long as Coulson turned, looking at him. Clint gave a wary smile and a small shrug as if to say ‘what was I supposed to do?’. Coulson snorted.

“Look,” he said, sitting up and letting the blankets fall away from him. “You need to stop presuming I’m like the other men you’ve been with, apparently. There are two beds, I barely know you, and I’d expect you to sleep in the other bed unless there’s a reason for you to be over here. The room last night had one bed and, therefore, a reason. Tonight you can have a bed to yourself if you want or you can come over here if you need me. I’m not bothered.”

“You don’t want me on the floor or anything, then?” Clint asked, raising an eyebrow. Coulson sighed and ran a hand over his head.

“You know what? This is a terrible time for this conversation so we’d better have it now. Come on, sit down somewhere.”

“What conversation?” Clint asked, sitting gingerly on the side of the spare bed. He hadn’t been aware there was a conversation to have.

“We don’t know each other, but it’s obvious to me that you think you know me because a test I took when I was ten said one thing about me. It’s also clear to me that a lot of people who were meant to take care of you have spent time hurting you and I just want to make something clear between us. I don’t think for a second you’ll believe my words but I’ll prove it with actions eventually. I have no intention of hurting you. None. I’m not trying to mess you around or trick you or anything. I didn’t...some might call me politically radical. I have a lot of ideas that don’t exactly correlate with what most people think and a lot of them relate to the ideas we have about how a Dominant and a Submissive interact. I don’t want to hurt you or force you or make you sleep on the floor or whatever it is you think I’m going to do.”

“No offense, but you’re right,” Clint spat. “I don’t believe you. I’m not naive, Coulson. I’ve lived in the real world long enough to know that’s not how it actually works. You might think it is, but once things settle down, once you have me, you’ll end up hurting me whether you want to or not because it’s just how these things work.”

Clint had tried before, tried believing. Every time he’d gotten himself involved he’d believed it would be different this time. This time whoever Master was would really want HIM for HIM, not for some idea of how a Sub should be. This time the person would treat him with respect, let him use his skills. It never worked, though. Even in the relationships where it had looked like it would, once they went to bed together it all went to hell. Once they realized just how broken Clint was and just how much he’d do and suffer and still be there in the morning they got cruel. They all got cruel.

Coulson sighed. He looked vaguely like he wanted to punch something and Clint curled in on himself a little. He couldn’t help it, it was an instinctual reaction by now and he hated it. Hated everyone who had made him into this, hated himself for allowing it to happen.

“Clint,” Coulson said, and he sounded almost hurt. Clint couldn’t do this. He couldn’t have this argument now, not ever, really.

“Look, you can do what you want to me. I don’t really care, anything’s better than what I’m running from and at least with SHIELD I’ll have a chance to go out and shoot stuff, too. I don’t expect you to be...I don’t know...in love with me or whatever. Just...just can we not pretend?”

“I’m not pretending,” Coulson said, and Clint was very careful not to listen to the hurt tones in his voice because, all right, maybe the guy wasn’t deliberately manipulating him, but he would. He wouldn’t be able to help it.

“I’m broken in all the worst ways,” Clint said with a shrug. “It’s not like you can break me more. Just...just...I think I just want to sleep.”

Coulson sat there for a second, fists clenched, and Clint was so aware of it. He knew most other Dom’s would be taking a swing at right now; he was being far too willful. The part of himself he’d worked so hard to ignore was begging him to apologize, to sink to his knees and put his head in Coulson’s lap and beg for forgiveness. He wouldn’t, though. He had his pride. Gradually, Coulson relaxed. It didn’t help that it took an obvious effort for him to do it but he did it.

“All right,” he said softly, turning to lie down. “Let’s sleep.”

“Thank you,” Clint said. Once he was sure Coulson was comfortable he dared to get up and settle in to the bed properly. He knew Coulson wasn’t asleep, could hear it in his breathing. He wasn’t exactly tired either, not in a way that would allow him to sleep. Just a different kind of tired. The kind that went right down to his soul.

~*~*~*~

He must, eventually, have fallen asleep because he woke up to Coulson shaking his shoulder gently. For a second he couldn’t breathe, all he could do was run through his head what he’d done for the last day and what he might have done wrong that had displeased his Dom. Coulson moved away quickly, though, and Clint could breathe again.

He took a few seconds to remind himself that Coulson wasn’t his Dom, couldn’t be as Clint had never chosen him. He was something inherited, something foreign. He would never belong to Clint and Clint would submit to him but he wouldn’t really belong to him. He could do that.

By the time he’d had his minor panic attack and pulled himself out of bed, Coulson had already packed their bags, leaving him a pair of jeans to pull on over his boxers and waiting at the door.

“What’s going on?” he asked, dragging the pants on.

“We’ve been followed,” Coulson hissed, gesturing Clint closer. He went and watched and after a few second a car moved past. It slowed outside the motel and Clint recognized the passenger and, when he did, all the breath left his lungs. Carlton. Master had sent Carlton to get him. They were in so much trouble.

“You recognize them?” Coulson asked, gripping his arm, and Clint nodded.

“Yeah,” he mumbled. “They’re bad news. The passenger...he’d kind of not a nice guy. I’ve seen him shoot a man in the head for scuffing his shoes and I wish to hell I was lying. We need to get out of here, now.”

“Okay,” Coulson agreed. “Are you armed?”

“Always,” Clint confirmed. “I don’t know how they even traced us here, though. How the hell are you planning to get us out?”

“It’s not very complex, I’m afraid,” Coulson said, and it might have been funny if he hadn’t look so grim about it. “We’re going to wait until they’ve moved off, they seem to be circling, then we’re going to make a run for the car and try to race them out of here.

“That’s insane,” Clint blurted, then flushed a little. Coulson just smiled, though it was a little stretched.

“Probably. I’ll take the wheel, you need to be ready to fight. Are you going to be able to run on that leg?”

“Yes,” Clint confirmed. “Just...this is such a shit idea. Isn’t there another way?”

“Not that I can think of,” Coulson said with a sigh, then he turned and took Clint’s shoulders in his hands, leaning in close to look him in the eye.

“Look, Clint,” he said, serious. “I don’t know exactly what we’re running from here, though if we get out of this immediate situation, I think you’re going to need to tell me. The thing I do know is that for now we need to stop them taking you. So if you have a chance to escape without me, go.”

“I can’t...” Clint started automatically but Coulson gripped his shoulders more tightly and something odd settled in Clint's gut. Something that just wanted to give in to Coulson and do whatever he was told to do.

“Clint,” Coulson hissed. “SHIELD will get me back, and these people don’t really want me. If I have to sacrifice myself for a while to get you out of here, that’s what I’m going to do. You shoot and you run if you have to and you do NOT look back. Hopefully it’s not going to come to that but I’m not going to let them take you in and I’m going to need your help.”

“I’m not worth...”

“You are,” Coulson said, and there was something in his tone that just made Clint want to give in and curl up and believe whatever ridiculous things Coulson was saying. He didn’t need this when he was about to go in to a combat situation. Coulson was looking at him, oddly torn, and for a second Clint wondered if the other man was struggling with the same shit he was, that same tugging only, in Coulson's case, instead of it urging him to lie down it was insisting he take Clint now. Once he thought of that, Clint couldn’t help but imagine it, couldn’t help but imagine letting Coulson take him, do what he wanted to him.

He bit down on the inside of his cheek hard, then closed his eyes and counted to ten. It broke his train of thought and when his eyes opened again he could focus on what he was meant to be doing. Coulson seemed to have gotten himself together too, removing his hands from Clint and checking his weapons.

“All right,” he muttered. “They’ve pulled past the motel, I can’t see where exactly they are but I think this is going to be the best chance we get. Are you ready?”

“Yes, sir,” Clint said, biting his lip again and reaching down to free a knife from his boot. Coulson counted to three and they were running.

The car was close and they were in it in seconds: starting the engine, leaving the door of the motel banging against the wall behind them. Coulson gunned the engine and they tore down the street.

The other car hadn’t gone far and it was literally a few seconds before they had a tail, which was damn annoying. It soon became clear that the other car was faster, but Coulson was the better driver. That was a good thing, Clint didn’t recognize the driver of the other car but it had been years since he’d been in any kind of inner circle that might have meant he’d need to know. He did, however, recognize Carlton’s wild hand gestures. He was pissed.

Normally, a better driver would win hands down. They weren’t in a normal place though. Instead, they were racing down a stretch of flat, open road. It was hell. Clint wished desperately they he’d gone somewhere with more civilization rather than these small towns joined by long stretches of nothing. Anywhere other than here would have been good.

Coulson was driving with a look of determination on his face as though he was running from the devil himself. Clint tried not to look at it and read determination to keep him safe in it because he couldn’t go there now. Instead he retrieved his bow from where it had been thrown and readied it. He would be hard pressed to get a good shot from here but if they had to stop, he might be able to get of a few shots. He didn’t miss, at least, so if he did get some shots in they’d find home.

Finally, they hit a town. The other car had just drawn up alongside theirs and Clint had been thinking he was going to have to take a shot from inside the car, which was stupid not only in that there wasn’t space but if he succeeded there was the very real chance that the other car would just crash straight in to them. Luckily before he had to make that call Coulson swerved and the race was really on.

Clint appreciated good driving, though he preferred to appreciate it from a distance. Coulson never hesitated. He seemed to know exactly what he was doing. He was completely focused on the road, taking turns seemingly at random and soon their pursuers were struggling to keep up.

And Clint let himself hope a little. Maybe he’d done the right thing in phoning SHIELD. He knew his situation was largely his own fault but maybe they’d be able to get him out of it anyway. Maybe if he sat here and held on, Coulson would get them out of here and maybe then things would go better for him.

He was too busy being optimistic (and maybe looking at Coulson as he drove) to notice what they hit. All he saw was the flash of pure panic on Coulson’s face as the car began to spin out of control, smashing into the wall. Then he didn’t see anything else for a while.

~*~*~*~

When he blinked awake he was lying on the pavement, face down, his hands tied behind his back. His heart dropped into his toes. Carlton was standing by the car, studying the mess of a mangled bike, presumably what they’d hit. The cyclist was lying there in the road, still in a pool of blood and it only took Clint a second to realize that he’d have another life to add to his total of people he’d royally fucked over without even trying.

He hoped the cyclist hadn’t had kids; he hated killing people who had kids.

“Someone’s awake,” a voice said above him, and Clint tried to move to look up but everything seemed to be swimming. Whoever it was kicked him swiftly in the ribs and he cried out in pain.

“What did you even think you were doing, little bird?” Carlton asked, kneeling down next to him. “Didn’t you know you can’t fly free forever? Things like you need to be tied down.”

“Fuck you,” Clint growled because, seriously, couldn’t he come up with something better than that? Carlton just smiled and stood again, making sure to step on Clint’s shoulder as he did. Clint winced but managed not to cry out this time.

“Let’s get back,” he said with a shrug, tossing the butt of the cigarette he’d been smoking in the gutter. “Not my place to clip his wings; the boss has a few ideas about how to do that.”

Clint sucked in a breath. Master. Master was going to clip his wings. He’d heard a few of his Master’s theories about how to keep him grounded over the years, none of them had sounded particularly appealing then and they certainly didn’t now. He’d been wrong, though. It didn’t look like they were going to kill him: they were going to do something worse.

A bag was pulled over his head suddenly, and he was grabbed, pulled to his feet and shoved. He staggered, letting them push him. It was too late. He couldn’t see now, if he ran he’d never get far.Whatever Coulson had said, Clint was pretty sure SHIELD would never come for him. Give him a few hours alone with Master and there would be nothing worth coming for anyway.

They shoved him in the trunk, typical, and he heard it lock. He tried to shift but, well, there was no comfortable way to lie in the trunk of a car. Particularly one that was moving. All he could do was close his eyes, relax and let himself dream. He let his mind wander and, for a few minutes, he forced himself to think what things might have been like if everything Coulson had said had come true. It he had rescued Clint, taken him away, treated him right. The kind of treating-someone-right that actually meant taking care of them, not just a euphemism for 'beating the hell out of them.' Coulson might have been that man, he’d been gentle in a way many hadn’t even pretended to be with Clint.

It was easier to imagine Coulson, to think about that, then to know what he was going home to.

He wished it could have been real.

~*~*~*~

Turns out head injuries shouldn’t be taken lightly and somewhere in the drive he lost consciousness. When he came to he was somewhere else again, somewhere he didn’t recognize but it looked like a warehouse space. He was naked, but that was to be expected. Clothing was a barrier to whatever Master wanted to do with him. Master had kept him naked a lot of the time. Clothes were a privilege and he was rarely worthy of them.

When he’d escaped, really escaped, one of the first things he’d done was buy a sweater. He’d stolen the money, of course, but he bought a sweater with it. It had been black, very soft wool and he’d worn it against his skin. Better than any touch he’d had in a long time, the touch of that sweater.

It had been lost the first time he’d had to run. Seemed fitting the sweater he’d bought as a symbol that he could do what he wanted was destroyed the first time he realized he couldn’t do what he wanted at all and had to run.

The room was cold, but that was expected. It was also empty, which was less expected. He supposed they had him now, didn’t pay to waste a guard on a sure thing. He was laid out on a table, wrists tied to his legs at the top and feet at the bottom, stretched out flat for whatever torture master decided on, and Clint did think it would be torture. Master never did things simply when he could make them hurt.

He gave a few ineffectual tugs at the bindings but he knew it wasn’t going to be any good. He was stuck here until someone came to get him. The only good thing was that the cut of the rope around his wrists was already sending him under a little. If he could slip in to Sub space, go to that place where he only wanted to please Master, maybe he could make it through this.

Still, he doubted master would let him go down right down. Clint had run away, he’d want to make Clint suffer.

He didn’t know how long he lay there contemplating the ceiling before the door opened and he had company. The driver was there and Carlton, along with a few other people Clint didn’t know and, finally, Master.

Master was a big man. He screamed Dominant to the sky instead of just suggesting it in an understated way like Coulson did. He’d been born to the role, too. Surrounded himself with Subs and with neutrals. A few smaller Doms just to show his complete power as one was not really a Dominant unless he could take on other Dominants and win. Clint had never stood a chance against. Fresh out of the circus more or less, and looking for something to protect him, Master had seemed perfect. He’d been so naive, then. He’d thought he was getting protection, he didn’t realize that it came with a cage.

Master walked over to him, grinning, and Clint tried to shrink in to himself, as though he could just disappear into the table and not be seen. Of course, there was no chance of that. Master started on his face, taking it between the slabs that were his hands and tilting it about. Clint tried to shut what was happening out, found himself thinking of Coulson’s hands instead. He hoped the other man was alive, but he knew the odds were pretty low. Carlton wasn’t the kind of leave things undone, he’d have shot him. It was a shame, because Coulson had nice hands. Competent, quick, and he’d never hurt Clint with them. Not that he'd had much of chance, but other people had hurt him more with much less opportunity.

“Little bird’s come back,” Master said. Clint bit his lip, but a big part of him still responded to that voice in equal parts fear and need even after years apart. The hands trailed down to his neck and Clint realized he was still wearing the collar, so loose he’d barely even noticed it. Master stripped it away, then continued down. Clint forced himself to tune out again, to think about other things. He wondered what life in SHIELD would have been like. Maybe they’d have taught him to shot a gun as well as he shot with his bow and arrow. He knew he was good but his stance could improve. Maybe Coulson would have taught him, would have corrected his stance with those hands.

He wished, suddenly, that he’d dropped last night. He wished he’d gone to Coulson and begged because Coulson was still at least pretending to be gentle. Then, maybe he’d have had a gentle touch of skin to remember to replace the violence that was about to be done to him. It had been so long since someone had touched him gently.

“I’m going to make sure you never leave again,” Master said, and his tone bore no room for negotiation. He would do this and Clint would suffer this, there was no way to escape it. “I’m going to make you less then you are, even now, little bird. I think I’ll start with your eyes, can’t dream if you can’t see the sky, right? I can take your teeth; leave you no weapons at all that way. I thought about taking your arms, little bird, but I think your fingers will do. Just a few of them, the ones you use to shoot. I can still use then rest of them, but those can go. And your legs, I don’t need you to walk or run. When I’m done with you, little bird, all I’ll leave is what I need. Hands and holes ready for me, that’s all you're good for anyway. You think you can fight but look, all you do is go crying to other Doms to protect you then get them killed.”

Clint’s breath caught at that. It was one thing to know Coulson was probably dead, another entirely to be told it was true. He’d have to add the man to his death count, far too long. He already knew that nothing he could do would make up for those he’d killed.

“Oh little bird,” Master said, his voice soft. “Didn’t you know he died? He did, of course. You think I’d let someone else touch you and live? You belong to me and only me. Let me prove that to you.”

The other goons had moved closer as he spoke. With a nod, one of them stepped forward, grabbing Clint’s left hand and pressing it to the table. Master produced a knife and leant over and Clint couldn’t even scream with the other man so close, it was like someone had placed a blanket over his rational mind and his gut wanted to submit while everything else in him was screaming for him to run.

The cut itself didn’t hurt. Master took the entirety of his little finger pretty cleanly. He held it up like a prize, laying it on Clint’s chest.

“Yes, mine,” he purred, rubbing the blood from the thing in to the tattoo Clint already bore on his hip as evidence of his ownership. “Do you understand now? Little bird.”

“Yes,” Clint replied, and he was surprised to sound so defeated. He was, though. Defeated. Coulson was the last person who might have thought to come for him and now he was dead. He was lying here and nobody would stop master taking what he wanted. Taking Clint’s limbs, his eyes, his teeth, whatever. He already had them, anyway.

There were things worse than death. It had always been in the back of his mind that something like this might happen; now that it was here he didn’t know what to do other than bear it. He’d borne everything else, why not this? It wasn’t like fighting would help.

“Good,” Master purred, sitting back. “You, bandage him. I want to take my time with this. I’ve been looking for a long time; don’t want to wear him out in one evening. No, I think we’ll take our time breaking him down and rebuilding him as something actually useful, don’t you?”

The henchman snickered, coming round with medical tape and gauze and Clint let his eyes drift closed. It was over. He’d tried and he’d lost and it was over now.

He should never have tried. They’d always told him he wasn’t worth it, he should have listened.

~*~*~*~

He woke again hours later. The warehouse was dark now, even colder. He wished they’d thrown a blanket on him but he knew better then to look for any show of human kindness. Hell, he wasn’t really going to be human for much longer. They were going to take parts of him away and he was going to live the rest of his life as nothing.

He was going to miss his legs.

It was such a strange thought to have, that weird resignation that someone was going to come and amputate his legs, that for a second he laughed. He should have known better, it soon turned hysterical. Once he laughed it was only a small step to sobbing and to clenching his fists which, of course, only made it more obvious that he was missing a finger.

From there it was a small step to hysterical howling and tugging at the ropes that were holding him down as though he could tear them apart with sheer force. He twisted his wrists, searching for a knot even though he knew damn well he wouldn’t be able to reach one.

Eventually it started to be hard to catch his breath through the sobs and when darkness started to creep back in the edges of his vision it was enough of a shock to calm him for a second. He took great, deep breaths and forced his body to relax. Everything hurt. He was cold and cramped and now his wrists and ankles were sore and red from rubbing against the rope and, any time now, Master might come back and remove more pieces of him.

He already knew the eyes were going to be the worse. He wouldn’t be able to run, to fight, to even see when someone was going to touch him. He’d have no chance of achieving anything, he really would be as worthless as Master had been telling him he was for years.

The panic started to build again but he pushed it down. He couldn’t do this now. Wouldn’t give Master the satisfaction of causing Clint to lose control for the second time when he’d only just calmed down. There wasn’t anything he could do anyway, and panicking would only further hurt him.

Slowly, he shifted on the table, trying to take some of the strain of his limbs. He supposed he should enjoy the stretch in his legs while he could. He didn’t doubt for a moment that Master would take his legs. He’d used them to run, after all, and Master didn’t make the same mistake twice.

He bit the inside of his cheek, forcing himself to focus. His body might be helpless but that was no reason to go losing his head. He would just have to do his best to stay calm.

He made himself to look around himself properly. The old warehouse wasn’t impressive at all, not really. They could have been in one of any thousands of industrial buildings. He didn’t even know where he was in the country. Just because he’d fallen asleep in a car didn’t mean he was only a car ride from where he’d been taken. He didn’t know how long it had been, either. It could have been days. They could have knocked him out and transported him and he’d have no way of knowing.

He was going to have to get used to that, though, he doubted he’d ever be allowed to know what time of day it was again.

But he couldn’t think like that, couldn’t let Master win anything more then he already had. Cling desperately looked around, cataloguing the things in the rooms that could be used as weapons, more likely against him than by him but it was good to know. The space was pretty clear but there were a few pipes, nothing special but it would hurt like hell if someone hit him with them. A chair could be of use. That was really all, though. Nothing of interest.

The leg recovering from the stab wound was starting to cramp. Given enough time, it should have healed, he hadn’t lied. It was stretched, though, and cold. Even if somehow the ropes went away he wouldn’t immediately be able to run out of here on it.

Well, one less thing to worry about when it was gone.

The hysteria began to creep up again but he bit down on it better this time. The world seemed sharper, more lucid, and he wondered if they had slipped something in him, a drug of some kind. Maybe they wanted him to go mad but, no, in way that would be a kindness. Madness was an escape of sorts, he was sure Master wouldn’t allow him that yet. Not when they had days together to fill first.

He pushed himself down the table a little, trying to give himself enough space to stretch and relax his abused leg muscles a little. The movement made his hand scream in pain but he pushed that aside for now, easier to focus on the pain in his leg as he could do something about that. If he hadn’t gotten stabbed like that, a wound that was going to linger when Master was so close, he’d not have called SHIELD. He’d not have called Coulson and then the other man would have never died. He hated being responsible for another death, they kept piling up though. People dying for the sole reason that Clint wasn’t fast enough/smart enough/good enough.

And the people he wanted to die, people like Master, they tended to just stubbornly keep on living.

The gunshot caught him by surprise and he made an attempt to sit up, though the ropes were too tight to accomplish much motion. For a second he thought he might have just imagined it, but then the warehouse door slowly opened.

A ghost came in.

Coulson looked like a ghost, or a zombie, or maybe someone who has just been in heavy combat. He did, however, despite all of that, seem to be alive and Clint was helpless against the sudden surge of hope that rose up upon seeing him. They locked eyes for a second, then Coulson looked away to scan the room. He was clutching a gun in his hand and if Clint had been free he’d have been throwing himself in to Coulson’s arms. As it was he had to wait patiently until Coulson was sure it was safe and started across the floor towards him.

“You’re alive,” he whispered once Coulson was in hearing range. “How are you alive?”

“That’s for me to know,” Coulson said with a small smile. He worked at Clint’s legs first, tucking the gun under his arm to grab a knife and cut the ropes. Clint may have moaned a little as he stretched his poor abused leg. Coulson then moved around and reached for his arm before stopping, a look of distress on his face, and drawing back.

“He cut off one of your fingers,” he said, as though Clint might not have noticed.

“Yeah. Wasn’t all he was going to cut off,” Clint said, flexing the remaining fingers, swallowing back a moan at the pain it caused where the pinky was missing. “We need to get out of here.”

“I know,” Coulson said softly. He took Clint’s uninjured hand in his and squeezed as he cut the roped pinning him down.

Every muscle in Clint’s body protested as he sat up but he ignored them for now. There would be time for aches later, he needed to get out of here. If Coulson had gotten in then they must not have left a heavy guard which probably meant they weren’t expecting to be away for long.

“Lean on me,” Coulson mumbled, sliding an arm around him and pulling him over. Clint went willingly, letting Coulson take more of his weight then he maybe should have, but his body was still sore in about a million different places, and while the blood loss from the finger wasn't life-threatening, it was making him a bit woozy. It was nice to be able to lean, at least. To stand on his own legs. He’d really started to believe for a second there he’d never walk again.

Driver was apparently the person Coulson had shot on the way in. He was bleeding on the pavement still, though the bullet through his head meant he hadn’t suffered for long. That was kind of a shame.

The car Coulson led him to was noticeably different from the last one they’d been in together which was a relief, though he’d still want to dump it as soon as they could. He let Coulson lower him in to the passenger seat, surprised when the other man took the precious seconds to open the back and grab a blanket and drape it over Clint. Clint knew they might draw more attention if he was naked but the way Coulson lingered, settling the material over him and tucking it down could be nothing other than an indulgence, an excuse to touch him.

Then, just like that, they were on the road again, the warehouse disappearing rapidly into the distance and his hands were starting to shake again. Seconds ago, he'd been trussed up and ready to be tortured, and now he was out of it. He had escaped. Well, been rescued might be a better way of describing what happened to him. It didn’t matter, he was gone from Master's clutches and his minions couldn’t touch Clint anymore. Coulson had him instead.

“How did you even find me?” he asked. Coulson didn’t answer, though. Just kept his eyes on the road. The adrenaline carried Clint for a few miles then the pain and bloodloss reasserted themselves. He drifted off to sleep in the passenger seat of the car.

~*~*~*~

Coulson woke him again and a quick look around confirmed they were in a small parking lot. A lot better than a lot of the places he’d woken up in recently.

“I’m sorry to wake you,” Coulson said, soft and fond and Clint just wanted to leap in to his arms. He bit the inside of his cheek and pushed himself up with his good hand. Not right now. Coulson might have rescued him, but that meant nothing. They were still in danger, after all. As if reading his thoughts, Coulson said, “We need to change cars.”

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Clint said, pushing Coulson back a little and swinging his legs out of the car. Before he could stand Coulson stopped him with a hand on his chest then produced a pair of pants. Clint almost laughed. He’d forgotten about them entirely. He let Coulson dress him slowly and the other man treated it oddly like a privilege, arranging Clint’s clothes gently on his body and checking as he did as if a new wound might appear any second.

When he slipped on the shirt he took Clint’s hand and examined it for a second, touching the binding over his missing finger and looking as though it had personally offended him in some way.

“When we get somewhere safer,” he said, his voice low. “You need to let me check this.”

“Sure,” Clint agreed. It almost surprised him how easy it was to trust Coulson how to use this against him. A part of him wanted to say it was because he HAD to trust now but he knew that wasn’t quite true. He let himself be lead to the new car and got himself situated, the blanket thrown over him again. It was oddly soothing and domestic to let Coulson do this for him and he settled back into it happily. He was still sore and worn and exhausted, but he wasn’t going to complain as Coulson climbed in beside him and they were on the road again.

“Hey,” he said after a few miles. “Thank you. You didn’t have to come for me, you know.”

“Of course I did,” Coulson said with a small smile. “You’re mine, after all, right? Maybe I should have called in SHIELD first, but I was always going to come for you. If I’d waited, well, I’m glad there was enough of you to rescue. I’ve sent them our position, by the way. They’re going to meet us so we don’t need to get all the way back to New York now, just to the extraction point.”

“Good,” Clint said with a sigh. “Do you know if Master is still following?”

An odd silence settled over the car and Clint forced himself to focus, though it was harder then he should have been. Maybe adrenaline and stress on top of everything else were to blame, but even then it should be getting better, not worse.

“Did you drug me?”

“A mild sedative,” Coulson agreed. “To help with the pain from the finger and, well, the rest of your body, I should imagine. Did you just call the biggest drug lord in North America 'Master'?”

“Yeah,” Clint mumbled, flushing though he didn’t want to. He hated this, now that he knew what was happening it was as if he could feel the sedative creeping through his veins, slowing him down. It was horrible and he started shifting in his seat as he attempted to shrug it off. “I fucking hate sedatives, Coulson. Hate them so much.”

“Sorry,” Coulson said, though he didn’t sound it. “I did what I thought I had to do. There’s a patch on the back of your neck, I put it there before I woke you up.”

Clint groped desperately, finding the patch and pulling it free then balling it up and throwing it on the floor of the car.

“Don’t do that to me again,” he said, glaring at the patch as if it was the one who’d wronged him and not Coulson. “I can’t...I can’t think and I hate it. Did you really not know Wilson was my old Master?”

“No, I didn’t, though the things we’ve heard about him explains some of your behavior. How did that even happen, Clint? You’re far too good for him.”

Clint blushed at the compliment, though he was trying to stay mad. He had a hard time staying mad when he was sedated. Anger seemed beyond him. Master had used it against him before and he didn’t want Coulson to start thinking he could do the same.

“How’s that?” he asked. “I’m not anything special, just some whore. I mean, Coulson, he was a big deal. He...it’s hard to explain.”

“All right,” Coulson said, though something in his tone said it wasn’t alright. “But you’re not just anything, Clint. If you were just anyone SHIELD wouldn’t want you.”

Clint’s heart dropped a little. He'd maybe had a second where he’d thought that sentence was going to end with ‘I wouldn’t want you’ but, no, he was just a SHIELD asset to Coulson. Better to remember that.

Mildly, Coulson inquired, “Are there any other exes I should know to look out for?”

“No,” Clint replied, clutching at the blanket on top of him. “I mean, there have been others but they’re both dead as far as I know. There--there were others, too...but only three that stuck around for any length of time once they got to know me and I got to know them.”

“And the two who did stick around?”

“Both in the circus,” Clint said with a shrug. “It’s so long ago I don’t like to talk about it. I mean, I was too young, really, but when you’re living in a circus the rules are a little different. If you're old enough to have urges you're old enough period, and I didn’t exactly have anyone to look out for me once my brother got bored and left, Clint admitted, "He never did that good a job of it.”

“That’s horrible,” Coulson said, and there was something in the way he said it that felt like he meant it. Clint shrugged. He’d never really thought about it but, maybe. He’d been too young, they’d been too rough. Thinking about it now wouldn’t fix it, though.

“Anyway, they were tough on me, but they kept me alive, I guess. When I left the circus I just bounced around a bit, nothing serious, and then Master appeared. I was struggling to make ends meet and keep the guys I didn’t want from sniffing around and he was so damn nice at the start, Coulson. I don’t think you get that: everyone’s nice at the start. He’d buy me presents, sit and talk with me, listen to me. I thought it could be different with him, that he wouldn’t hurt me. Then, as soon as I gave him any power over me he started hurting me. It’s what Dom’s do. You can’t help it.”

“We can help it,” Coulson growled. Clint just shrugged. He’d had enough, seen enough, to know what was true.

“You think that, but when I’m there without any defenses you’ll be like the rest of them.”

“I won’t,” Coulson said, and there was a note of certainty in his voice. “Look, you’re not the only one with a history. Do you seriously think I’ve never had a Sub before? I...I’ve spent a lot of years working on my control. I won’t do anything to someone that we don’t agree in advance. Killing people for my job, that’s something else, but in the bedroom, in a relationship? I want it to be caring. You’re right, there are instincts, but I’ve worked to control them. I’m liked, Clint, because I treat the Subs around me as people. I don’t agree with these ridiculous laws that you need to have a Dominant or be taken in by the state or that you can’t own property. Surely you get this. You’ve lived as a neutral for years, you must know about controlling yourself. So do I, and I’m not going to throw all my morals out of the window the second you fall to your knees.”

Clint was quiet for a few minutes after that. He hadn’t thought about it before because why on earth would a Dominant want to control their feelings? He’d fought against his impulses because they weakened him, Coulson fought against his because he thought it was the right thing to do.

It was all words though, all so many words.

“We’re being followed,” Coulson said, glancing up at the window, and, like that, the conversation was over. Clint stiffened, looking out the window again.

“Shit,” he hissed. “I’m still...fucking sedative. I hate this. Can you lose them?”

“I hope so,” Coulson replied, tightening his hold on the steering wheel. “Think you can get out your bow just in case?”

“Yeah,” Clint mumbled, groping for it. His head was still fuzzy as hell but he could assemble the bow in his sleep. Shooting it like this might be a bit more challenging but he was up for a challenge. Coulson kept driving normally as the car approached them, waiting until they were up close to start with the fancy driving.

Clint just clung to his bow and his seat and hoped like hell they got out of this. If there was one thing he knew it was that Master wouldn’t leave a job unfinished twice. Coulson wasn’t going to walk away this time if something went wrong and, well...he would be almost tempted to give the entire genuine relationship thing a try again if they got out of this. Coulson...he didn’t do the things Clint kept expecting him to, maybe he was legitimate. Maybe he was right and he’d learnt to control his Dominance in the same was Clint had learnt to control his Submission.

He’d be able to find out if only they could make it out of this without dying.

He was having trouble tracking the streets, which really wasn’t a good thing, and his fingers were clumsy on the bow. The pain from his missing finger was intense, he used it to help him focus against the sedative and hoped the loss of a finger wouldn’t throw off his aim too much.

“Don’t worry,” Coulson whispered in a tone that was making Clint worry. “I’m going to get you out of here.”

“I need you to get out,” Clint replied, clenching his hand around the bow. “I mean it, Coulson. I can’t get out of here without you. I don’t know how.”

“Don’t worry,” Coulson said again, taking a hand of the steering wheel and reaching over to grip Clint’s arm. “I think we’ve lost them.”

Famous last words, isn’t that always when it goes to shit? A car suddenly sprang out in front of them and Coulson broke hard, jerking them both forward. Before he could reverse, the following car was suddenly there, pulling in behind them.

“Shit,” Coulson said, looking around, eyes wide. He turned to stare at Clint and Clint reached for his hands but, as always, it was a second too late.

Carlton opened the door behind Clint and yanked him out, spending him sprawling across the ground. The bow and arrow in his hand stopped him bracing properly so he just rolled instead, scraping along the road. What did it matter? It was over.

Master had pulled the other door open and pulled Coulson out, hauling him up by his collar.

“I thought you said you killed this?” he asked incredulously and took out his gun, bringing it up.

Clint couldn’t exactly say he thought about what he did next. It was as though the world suddenly slowed down, and for a second everything was clear. Probably endorphins or something, but in that second he could see and not think and he knocked his arrow. Nobody was really paying attention to him, none of Master’s people really thought him capable of much of anything, so he got his shot and he took it.

Then things sped up. Master went down and Carlton was on Clint. Clint punched andkicked and tried to focus, but he couldn’t get his bearings until suddenly he was stumbling, and the arms he found weren’t trying to hit him, but instead were trying to pull him near, to hold him.

Coulson smelt of expensive soap and gunpowder and Clint went boneless in his arms. It was all he could do, lay there against the other man’s chest as he realiszd he’d done it. He’d killed Master and, SHIELD or not, he was free.

~*~*~*~

Later he vaguely remembered the pickup and sitting cradled in Coulson’s arms in the helicopter, but it was hard to focus and the images came and went. The next thing he remembered clearly he was being in SHIELD medical. He’d not, that he could remember, ever been in a hospital. The circus took care of its own, and then he'd kind of fallen in with the criminal class.People like him didn’t just stop into a hospital to have something taken care of. The injuries Clint got, he fixed himself.

A doctor came around and explained what had happened, and what they’d done to correct it. There was obviously nothing to be done for the finger but they’d cleaned out the wound properly at least, and done all they could. They had for his leg, too, though that was a minor concern.

They told him that Coulson was fine, he’d suffered some major bruising to his ribs and a sprained wrist, but on the scale of things those were all manageable injuries and the mission was declared a success.

Fury came down to try to talk to Clint about the wonders of SHIELD. Probably knew Clint had no real reason to stay now Master wasn’t after him. It was weird, knowing he could just walk out of here tomorrow if he chose to. He was used to not having that kind of freedom; he’d been hiding and running for so long.

Of course, if he left, SHIELD would be obliged to report him as unclaimed and the authorities would look for him, but he’d been evading them for years. He could do it again now, it would be easy.

Coulson didn’t come and visit him that first day.

He didn’t come the second day either.

It was the third day, when Clint was signing his release forms for medical, that Coulson appeared in his room. He looked terrible, like he hadn’t slept in a week. He was obviously making a show of it, his shirt was neat and his tie hung nicely, but his eyes and his shoulders were shadowed, slumped.

“Hello, Clint,” he said, and for a second Clint considered ignoring him. Considered running far and fast because though he was annoyed at being left to himself, a large part of him was looking at Coulson with his slump and his pale skin and wanting to go to him, to lie with him and take some of his burdens away.

“Hey,” he said, shifting in his chair. “I’m about ready to go; nobody’s told me where I’m going yet.”

“Well, the idea is you go with me. Unless you don’t want to?”

“Where have you been?” Clint asked. He hadn’t meant to blurt it out like that but it kind of slipped out anyway and he squared his shoulders, ready to deal with the consequences. Coulson didn’t look angry, though. Just defeated. He moved fully in to the room and pulled the door shut behind him before sitting on the bed.

“Look,” he said, meeting Clint’s eyes. “I could lie to you and say I’ve been busy with work. Well, it wouldn’t be a lie exactly, it just shouldn’t have been an excuse not to come down here. I owe you the truth, though, and the truth is I’m terrified.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Clint said, sitting up straight. He didn’t need to listen to Coulson lie.

“No, please just hear me out. Before I came to collect you I had everything sorted out in my life. I have the job and I’m married to the job. I swore to myself I wouldn’t take a Submissive because I didn’t want to be the kind of person you keep describing to me. I think I’m in control but I didn’t want to test that. I had casual things and I was happy. The thing is, the more time I spend with you, the more I want you, and that’s absolutely terrifying. What if I let you down? What if I become that person you think I’m going to be? Or what if you leave? I know you can, know you’ve probably thought about it. It felt like it was easier to hide then it was to risk letting you hurt me or letting me hurt you.”

“I guess that’s everything that needs to be said, then,” Clint said with a sigh. “I didn’t...I mean, I’m going to be fine. I’ve survived this long.”

“No, that’s not what I want,” Coulson said, so softly it was almost like a secret whispered in to the room.

“Then what do you want?” Clint asked. He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t thought about what he wanted over the last few days, what he might like to get out of this. If he wanted to stay or if he wanted to go.

“I want you to give me a chance. Give me twenty-four hours, let me take you home and try to love you like I think I can. If I make a mess of it then I won’t try and stop you if you run, I’ll stop SHIELD tracking you and you can just disappear but...I think we can do this.”

“Twenty-four hours to prove yourself?” Clint asked, raising an eyebrow. “Like, right now?”

“Well, I was hoping to sleep a little first,” Coulson said with one of his half-smiles in place. “I’ve not exactly been getting any rest. Then we can try, maybe from when we wake up tomorrow?”

Clint thought about it. He’d thought about it a lot, submitting to Coulson. He knew what was being asked here, Coulson wasn’t asking for the fake kind of submitting he’d done with other people, the leaving of himself behind. He was asking to love Clint, and that meant Clint needed to be present in some way. He was going to have to be a part of this too, not just a body for Coulson to act on.

“I think I’d like to try, too,” he said, nodding slowly. When Coulson reached to take his hand he reached up to meet him halfway, letting their fingers tangle. “I’d like to try.”

~*~*~*~

Coulson’s apartment was almost entirely like Clint might have expected it to be: clean, organized and somehow welcoming. Coulson had already cleared out some drawers for Clint's things which was more than Clint had expected, especially when he’d only promised to stay for one day. He also hadn’t expected the collection. If someone had asked Clint,he would have said Coulson didn’t seem the kind to have a collection, or if he did it would be handguns or different forms from different government departments. Instead, he had a collection of Captain American merchandise sitting unobtrusively in a cabinet in the living room.

Clint noticed it when he first came into the apartment and headed straight over. Coulson had followed behind him, blushing, and explaining how Cap was his boyhood hero. It was kind of endearing, really. Sweet. Dangerous.

Coulson had offered to take the couch, but Clint had just laughed at him, shifting up to make space on the bed. It had been almost like what Clint imagined coming home to be: to lie down under the covers and rest his head on Coulson’s chest. To be pulled in tight and have goodnight whispered into his hair. It was almost as if this was maybe something he deserved, like he wasn’t living on borrowed time and any moment they might discover his true nature m and throw him out.

Coulson thought he was good, that he deserved to be taken care of. Coulson was wrong.

~*~*~*~

Clint woke up warm. He was still in Coulson’s bed, wrapped in Coulson’s arms and being held against Coulson’s chest. Master had never been big on shows of affection, neither had the ones before him. There hadn’t been much place for affection in the circus, either, and Clint had the horrible feeling that, if allowed, he’d get used to this.

Twenty-four hours. He already knew he’d be gone at the end of that. He wasn’t naive, he knew he was a mess and either Coulson wouldn’t be what he said he was and Clint would run from him or Coulson would be everything he promised and he’d never want someone as damaged as Clint as a long term prospect. Fixing someone was a nice idea, but Clint wasn’t stupid enough to imagine he could be fixed so it would never work out. Still, he had this time to be here and loved; it was more than he’d ever been given before. Maybe, wherever he ended up next and whatever the next master who managed to get his hands on Clint did to him, Clint would be able to remember this and smile.

Under Clint's cheek, Coulson started to move and Clint tried to pull back a little. Coulson only gripped him more tightly, pressing Clint into his chest.

“Morning,” Coulson slurred and Clint smiled, whispering a return good morning. When they’d slept together before he’d not been allowed to see this: the slow awakening. It was an odd privilege and he treasured it, tilting his head up to watch Coulson blink himself awake.

“Did you sleep?” Coulson asked, running a hand along his back and Clint smiled, nodding.

“Yeah, I did. Your bed’s pretty comfortable really.”

“I guess it is,” Coulson agreed with a grin. “What time is it, anyway?”

“Seven,” Clint replied, dropping his head back down. “So, how are we going to work this? You want me to be Submissive to you for twenty-four hours? When should I start?”

“All I need you to do is be you,” Coulson replied, raising a hand to run it through Clint’s hair. “Just you. I’ll take care of the rest.”

“It’s not going to be much of a trial run if I’m not going to submit to you,” Clint replied, pulling back. Coulson let him go this time, though he did briefly caress the side of Clint’s face. “I mean, isn’t that what we’re here to try?”

“No, you’re here to let me love you for a day to see if you like it. I don’t expect that you’ll stop being you, Clint. I’m pretty fond of how you are, actually. I thought we could just have a quiet day. I’d like to take you out and buy a collar, then I thought we could spend a little time together. I’d like to cook you dinner, and then, if you’ll let me, I’d like to make love to you, but it’s completely fine if you don’t want that yet.”

“To be honest,” Clint said with a huff of laughter, “I kind of presumed that’s all we’d be doing today. The other stuff sounds good, though. I just...there’s nothing wrong with this collar if I might not be staying.” He lifted his hand to run his fingers over the plain black collar he was wearing. It had been on him when he’d woken up in the hospital and, well, he’d been trying not to read too much in to it.

“I’d rather not think about that yet,” Coulson said, frowning a little. “And it’s not enough...it’s just a standard SHIELD issue thing. When I came for you I didn’t even think about it, just grabbed one out of our stock, but it doesn’t seem right. I want you to wear something we pick together, I want people to look at it and see us, not you and SHIELD.”

Clint flushed a little, letting his head drop to burrow in to the pillows. He couldn’t stand being talked to like that, like he was precious or valuable. The only value he’d ever had was in bed and even that wasn’t great. Plus, Coulson hadn’t even had that yet.

“Hey,” Coulson said, sitting up a little to run his hand over Clint’s back. “If that’s too much it’s all right, we can leave it for now.”

“No,” Clint replied, turning to curl in to Coulson’s side. “No, that sounds good.” Too good. How was he meant to leave after this? How was he meant to cope when the kind words stopped and became cruel, as they always did?

“Good,” Coulson replied, relaxing a little. “I’m going to go make some breakfast, if you want to shower?”

“That’d be good,” Clint replied, stretching out. “Just, one more thing, what do you want me to call you? I mean, I know it’s traditional but I don’t really want to call you master...”

“I wouldn’t want that either,” Coulson interrupted quickly. “I’d prefer you to just call me Phil, actually. Though if you don’t feel comfortable with that then you can call me Sir, I suppose. It’s better than the alternative.”

“Okay, sir,” Clint stood and stretched. He wasn’t sure he could handle Phil but sir, he could cope with sir.

~*~*~*~

Coulson lived in a nice area of New York. Clint took one look around the neighborhood and knew he’d never be able to afford to live in a place as nice. SHIELD must have paid Coulson something stupid for what he did. The place had a hip bohemian kind of air to it and was filled with trendy people standing around on street corners doing nothing so far as Clint could work out. But a more upper-class kind of doing nothing then the people who stood on the streets doing nothing in the areas he was used to living in.

Clint wasn’t quite sure what to do about them. He’d only had one kind of experience with people like these and that was targeting them as targets. He’d never had to blend with them before and he felt like he stood out a mile in his slacks and shirt. Coulson’s only minor act of Dominance so far had been to pick out some clothes for Clint, lying them out on the bed so Clint would find them when he came out of the shower. The slacks were his, a necessity for times when he’d had to hide, though Coulson had pressed them for him. The shirt was Coulson’s and he felt strange wearing it, like somehow it was more of a brand then the collar was.

That was what Coulson had been talking about, after all. The collar was meant to be a brand on Clint, something that clearly said to whom he belonged, but the one Clint was wearing was kind of impersonal. Apparently that was going to change and he was getting more and more nervous about that fact.

When he’d been with Master he’d worn a special collar. None of the others he’d been with either long term or casually had been too bothered but Master liked his hardware. It had been a monster of a thing, thick leather that bit into Clint's skin and D-rings hanging off it so he could be secured by them if Master wanted. He never wore it out, when Master sent him out to do jobs he was always fitted him with a different collar, something that would blend more.

He wondered what Coulson would want him to wear. He didn’t seem like the sadistic kind, so probably not something painful. Not yet, anyway.

The shop Coulson led Clint to was a small boutique, which fit with the general neighborhood. The kind of place where nothing had a price label, and that made him nervous. He knew these things could run to exorbitant and he didn’t like to think of putting Coulson out like that.

“Can’t we go somewhere else?” he asked, hanging back at the shop door.

“If you really need to, but I saw something here I think you might like,” Coulson said, taking his hand and squeezing it. Clint looked down at where their hands joined.

“I just don’t want you to spend too much,” he said. He meant, I just don’t want you to get your hopes up.

“It’s not too much,” Coulson said, pulling Clint gently in to the shop. “If you...if you decide not to stay then maybe you can take it and use it, still. For cover. And if you don’t take it, well," Coulson shrugged, looking away for a beat, "maybe I can keep it to remember you by.”

“You won’t want to remember me,” Clint replied, but he stepped further in to the shop. He could admit there was a certain appeal to it, the idea that when he left here he could still wear Coulson’s collar, still put something they’d chosen together around his neck and maybe when he told the idiots who thought they could fuck him he was taken it might not be entirely a lie because a part of him was, even if he didn’t stay. He knew that already and it scared him. Just as a part of him would always be at the circus and a part of him would always be Master’s pet, a little piece of him would always be here with Coulson.

Why couldn’t the man just be a bag of dicks like all the others?

The sales assistant, a neutral, gave them a welcoming smile and Clint tried not to think about how the collars she showed them didn’t have prices attached. Most of them weren’t something Clint would want anyway, and he was glad to see Coulson dismiss them pretty much immediately. He didn’t want to have to have an argument about the thing itself, but he did have limits.

“Here,” Coulson said finally, stepping past the over-enthusiastic sales assistant and pointing at a collar. Clint looked at it and he knew why Coulson had insisted on coming here. It was right, and something warm settled in his gut when he saw it. It was simple: a light brown leather with black stitching as a detail. It looked soft, like it would sit comfortably. As thin as it was, it wouldn’t restrict the movement of his neck or head at all. It looked to be good quality, nice leather, tough. He would be able to fight in it and not worry about it breaking. The fastenings seemed to be brass and they looked sturdy and well-constructed, too.

“Can I try it?” he asked, and Coulson was smiling at him like he’d won a prize. The sales assistant bubbled away and then bubbled back with another copy of the collar in its own little box. Coulson lifted it out and Clint bent his head forward to accept it.

This time it wasn’t fastened loosely but adjusted until it lay against his skin. Not so tight as to hurt or restrict, more until it was a reassuring presence. The leather felt as soft and supple as it had looked, and Clint turned his head this way and that to test it.

“What do you think?” Coulson asked, the dilation of his pupils making it clear what he thought.

“This is the one, sir,” Clint confirmed.

~*~*~*~

Clint had, before he’d gone in to it, had certain ideas about how the day might unfold. Mostly he was thinking it might be a lot of sex and a lot of Coulson asserting his dominance. He hadn’t expected tenderness. After they bought the collar--and he never did see how much the thing cost--they walked for a while. Lunch was eaten from a hot dog vendor in a park and they sat there to talk for a while. Clint talked about the circus, the good things. About the buzz of performing and the skills he’d learnt. Something about the sun in the sky and the arm around his shoulder made him not want to dwell on the bad parts.

Coulson told him about growing up in a normal small town, about his childhood crush on Captain America. He told him about marching for Sub rights in college and how the police who arrested him had no damn idea what to do with him, as he was the only Dominant at the rally.

On the walk home they stopped in at a corner store and picked up ingredients. Coulson admitted to a secret love of cooking and Clint laughed at him and pretended to have an opinion on types of fish.

It was odd and different and Clint wanted to run and stay forever in about equal measures. Nobody had ever done this for him, treated him like this. He’d always been a Sub first and anything else after. It was like Coulson didn’t notice the former, though. He wanted Clint happy and the rest would follow. Clint wasn’t quite sure what to do with that sentiment.

When they got back to the apartment, Clint was banished to the sitting room with Coulson’s DVD collection while the other man cooked and, for the first time, he really let himself think.

He thought about a lot of things, about truth and soft kisses and about Master and how he’d started off nice (though never gentle like this) and ended so cruel. He thought about how Coulson would react if Clint tried to walk away. What he thought about most, though, was how he would feel in the aftermath. If Clint had to stand up and walk out of the door, how was he going to cope? What if he had to do it a week from now, after a week of this type of treatment?

He’d probably be better off running now. Giving this up was going to hurt like hell, but he’d be able to recover. He’d recovered before. Admittedly, never from anyone or anything quite like this. But if he went now he’d always have this memory of Coulson like this, soft and gentle and maybe loving him a little bit.

If he stayed, it would end. Either Clint would do something or Coulson would do something abusive, and in the end, he’d have to run. That was how it always happened. If he stayed he might get used to this and then he’d never be completely functional again when it was taken away. How was anyone meant to deal with losing this when he got used to it? Clint almost couldn’t stand the thought of going already.

But what if he was wrong? What if it did last? And, what was the saying, wasn’t it better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all?

In the end, all he succeeded in doing was tying his mind in knots. Normally he was pretty good at thinking rationally and seeing patterns, but he couldn’t do that here, not with the collar still novel around his neck and half his instincts screaming at him to run and the other half screaming at him to throw himself at Colson’s feet and ask to be kept forever.

When Coulson came back in to the living room Clint had managed to work himself up to a point where he was physically curling in to a ball and resting his head on his knees, protected.

“Hey,” Coulson said, kneeling before Clint. Clint forced himself to look up, to take in the concerned look on the other man’s face. “What’s got you so wound up?”

“I don’t know,” Clint lied. Coulson frowned but didn’t call him on it, instead reaching out to stroke Clint’s hair. Clint leaned into the touch; it was reassuring. He’d never been able to trust this before, the action liable to turn in to pulling at any second, and while he’d be the first to admit there was a time and a place when and where hair pulling was the best thing in the world, now was not that time or place.

“I don’t like you lying to me,” Coulson said, softly. “I can kind of see why you do, though. Dinner’s nearly ready. I...I would like it a lot if you’d let me feed you. You don’t have to let me though, it’s your choice.”

Something knotted in Clint’s stomach. His choice. He’d never had a choice before, only orders. He didn’t doubt Coulson was capable of giving orders, he was choosing not to because he valued Clint. He wanted what Clint wanted, or at least he’d respect what Clint wanted. Clint let himself think about it a little. Let himself consider being fed, being on his knees probably and having food passed to him. It was intimate, a show of trust. It’d probably make him start to drop too, but wasn’t that where he wanted to go? It might be nice, to have someone else take over for a little while. It had been so long since he’d made the choice to give control over like that instead of having it taken.

“Yeah,” Clint agreed. “I’d like that, Sir.”

“Thank you,” Coulson replied, then leaned over and kissed Clint gently. Clint leaned into it as well, sighing. It was still dangerous, letting himself hope like this, but for tonight he had promised he’d try.

Coulson had clearly been hoping he’d say, yes as the kitchen was already set up to follow through on the request. The food, some kind of pasta, was in a large bowl, more than enough for the two of them, and there was a pillow on the ground next to one of the chairs for him to kneel on, something nobody else would ever have thought to leave for him. Clint settled himself on it quietly, waiting as Coulson retrieved some bread and sat down by him.

“It’s fine if you change your mind, you know,” Coulson said, softly, brushing fingers through his hair again. “In fact, I think we need to establish a safeword now.”

“Ellipse is my safeword,” Clint informed him, tilting his chin up. It had always been his safeword, though he’d never used it. He’d been placed in situations where he’d wanted to, but he’d known it wouldn’t be respected.

“That’s good,” Coulson said, his voice soft and low. “And I need you to promise you’ll use it if you’re not enjoying what we’re doing. Even if it’s not an intense scene or even if you think it’s something I’m enjoying. Any time you need to stop.”

“I promise,” Clint replied. He’d meant it to be a flippant reply but the words felt heavy as they fell from his lips, like he meant it. Maybe he did. After all, Coulson was the first person he’d done this who was somewhat likely to respect it. He might even offer some aftercare when Clint was coming down from the scene he’d needed to get out of. It did help that he also thought Coulson wasn’t likely to ever take him to a place where Clint would need his safeword.

“Thank you,” Coulson said, and he sounded so sincere that Clint felt himself blush.

The pasta was delicious, made more so by the fact it was fed to him. He’d never talked about it before, but he enjoyed being fed. It was probably the care-taking element of it. Master used to do it sometimes, feeding Clint from his plate. It had been an ownership thing for him, Clint knew, but something in Clint saw it as being about caring, about love. That someone was taking the time to care for his needs, to feed him, and that made him feel good.

Coulson took his time with it, stroking Clint’s cheeks and hair as he fed him, and it was wonderful. Clint let his eyes drift closed after a while, allowed his arms to relax, and let Coulson do this for him. It was weird to not have to think. To actually trust that, for now at least, someone was going to take care of his every need.

“Look at you,” Coulson mumbled, reaching down to touch Clint’s chin, gently tilting his head up. “Aren’t you beautiful?” Clint was glad he wasn’t required to reply to that. Instead he just sat there and let Coulson touch him. He was already starting to slip into Sub space, though this wasn’t his usual way down. Still, doing things differently with Coulson might be good.

“Clint, I need you to tell me what you like,” Coulson said, stroking his cheek, “And, more importantly, the things you don’t want me to do to you.”

“I like everything,” Clint replied automatically.

“No,” Coulson said. “I promise I won’t be angry at you for anything you say here. What are the things you enjoy, Clint?”

He couldn’t help but frown a little at Coulson's insistence, slipping out of the headspace the hand-feeding had let him slide into. Coulson seemed to realize Clint was coming up and dropped his hands, letting Clint have a little physical space.

What did Clint like? He’d never had reason to think about that before. He could write a novel on what he didn’t like--which, evidently, Coulson was going to want next--but the things he really wanted? It had never been about what he wanted. With a long-term relationship it was always about what his Dominant wanted and if that happened to coincide with things Clint enjoyed, great, if not, though, it was a shame but it happened. More casual things, well, they were always about need. A way to satisfy the part of himself that no amount of denial would ever quiet. The part that wanted to be owned. He’d never thought to define what he wanted, just the parameters of his need.

“You can take all the time you on the world,” Coulson said, softly. There was an aura of sadness around him and Clint just wanted to reach up and wipe that away. He hadn’t meant to make him sad, though he’d known he’d ruin everything, one way or another.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “Nobody’s ever asked me before.”

“That’s all right,” Coulson said, standing. He reached down and guided Clint to his feet, too. “I have a show I want to watch, actually. Maybe you can think while I’m watching and you might have an answer for me when it’s over?”

“Yeah, I can think,” Clint confirmed. Coulson smiled one of those half smiles for him and tightened his grip on Clint’s hand. Clint squeezed back.

The show turned out to be Supernanny, which was a bit odd, but whatever. Clint found himself curled up in Coulson’s lap, facing the other man, watching him watch the show.

Clint thought about what he wanted. All of the things he’d had done to him that he'd actively enjoyed, not the stuff he'd justtolerated, but the interactions he'd actually enjoyed. Mostly they were things he hadn’t indulged in for a long time. You couldn’t ask a one-night-stand to pet your hair and make you feel loved. And while Master had been very good at making Clint feel completely owned, he hadn’t ever made him feel completely cared for.

Maybe that was what made the idea so seductive. The idea of wholly giving himself over to someone else and letting himself be loved. It was an experience he'd never had, something he'd never been in a position to ask for before, but he had the horrible suspicion that, if he asked, Coulson would give it to him without so much as blinking.

It was going to hurt so damn much when he had to go.

Finally the show ended and as the credits played out Coulson looked down at Clint, met his gaze and ran a hand along his cheekbone. Clint knew he’d do anything if it would keep him here even a little longer.

“Tell me what you want, Clint,” Coulson said, softly, and Clint let out a breath and began.

“I want...I want to feel safe and cared for. I don’t want to disobey, I want to be good and I want to be told that I’m good and that I’m not worthless. I just...I don’t want to give you any reason to hate me…though I guess you were thinking more of physical stuff when you asked this.”

“I was,” Coulson agreed, “But that was better. You're not worthless, Clint. You’re amazing, and I’m going to tell you that every day you let me spend with you until you believe it.”

Clint blushed a little but he didn’t argue. He could somehow believe Coulson would try. Every day, Coulson telling him he was wonderful. Maybe he could believe it eventually. Maybe, after awhile, he’d feel like he was worth the kind of relationship Coulson seemed to want to give him.

“Physically,” Clint continued, “I, well, I don’t really get off on pain though it’s not like I can’t take it or anything. I like to have my hands tied. It’s just, well, when my hands are tied there’s nothing I can do, so I have to let my guard down. Nobody can expect me to spring in to action and pull out my bow, so I can let myself relax. I hate being blindfolded, but I love being gagged. I love sucking cock, too. And having stuff in me. I just want to be full.”

“I can do that,” Coulson said, and the smile on his face was a little more predatory this time. “Do you want that now? It’s perfectly fine if you don’t, but I’d like to make you feel good, Clint.”

“Yes, I’d like that,” Clint whispered. Coulson moved a little and Clint obliged, coming to kneel at Coulson’s feet.

“I have a few rules. From now on, you do as you are told or I stop what we’re doing. If you disobey me I’m going to take it as a sign that you’re not really happy with what’s happening and we’ll stop. For this first time this is a hard rule, we can negotiate later. If you are uncomfortable or unhappy you use your safeword. From this point forward you address me as Sir when you speak. Do you agree to that?”

“Yes, Sir,” Clint said, nodding. As rules went they were pretty easy, he couldn’t imagine himself wanting to end anything Coulson...anything Sir would want to do to him tonight and he wanted to be good. He knew what praise from this man would do to him and he wanted that feeling badly.

Sir nodded. “Walk to the bedroom and strip. Put your clothes in the hamper, then kneel beside the bed and wait for me.”

“Yes, Sir,” Clint said, standing and moving quickly. He was kind of glad Sir didn’t follow him, that he had a few minutes to undress in private. He’d always found it horribly embarrassing to have to take off his clothes in front of someone else. He felt like they were peeling away his armor and there was nothing he could do to stop them.

He knelt by the foot of the bed and let himself start to relax. He kind of wished Sir had sent him to shower, but he guessed there was a reason why Sir hadn’t. Clint shouldn’t have dropped himself like that the first night, though he wasn’t to know that Sir wasn’t that kind of person. Still, he trusted Sir. Trusted him a hell of a lot more than anyone else he’d ever done this for.

Sir came in, and Clint straightened a little, fixing his eyes ahead of him. Sir made a pleased little hum and Clint felt something inside him unwind. A tiny part of him had still been expecting his actions to be met with the whip for some minor variance from those he'd been asked to carry out.

“Good,” Sir said, instead, running a hand over Clint’s hair. “You look good like this, Clint. So very good. I’m going to tie your hands now.”

“Yes, Sir,” Clint said, though he knew it wasn’t a question. Sir stepped back and Clint heard him moving things but he wasn’t away long before his hand was there again, landing on Clint’s shoulder this time and running down his back.

“Cross your wrists for me,” he said, softly, and Clint complied. A few second later he felt the rope around them, wrapped tightly and competently. He loved the feel of rope on his wrists. The bite of it. The feeling of helplessness. The very fact that he was sitting here now, giving over all control to Sir. He wasn’t going to be able to fight, wasn’t going to be able to defend himself, that was all on Sir now. There were the few seconds of nascent panic, then it died down slowly to nothing more than a flicker in his gut as he pushed it all away. It was like the parts of his mind that were always ready to fight were slowly shutting down, and he couldn’t control what was happening to him.

“You’re so responsive,” Sir whispered against his ear and Clint hummed in reply. “So damn beautiful. Okay, here’s what’s going to happen tonight. You said you enjoyed sucking cock so I’m going to let you suck me. If you do it really well, then I’m going to fuck you, do you understand?”

“Yes, Sir,” Clint said, already anticipating the weight of Sir’s cock in his mouth. He wanted it so badly, wanted to prove himself. He’d always been told this was something he was actually good at, sucking cock. Now that he finally had someone he wanted to please, at least he knew he had a useful talent to draw on.

Sir guided him back a little and Clint shuffled to made room in front of him. He looked up to find Sir watching him, a contented little smile on his fact. Clint really wasn’t used to seeing that smile on someone’s lips BEFORE he got his mouth on them, so he smiled back.

Sir knelt at that, leaning forward and kissing Clint. For someone who’d gone to such lengths to be nice, Coulson definitely kissed like a Dominant--in all the best ways, though. He was overwhelming, he took control of the kiss from the first second, making it entirely his and Clint felt like he was drowning in it. Giving himself over to the kiss and the man behind it.

When Sir pulled back, Clint was glad to notice he hasn’t unaffected by their kiss. He looked a little debauched, even, and all Clint wanted to do was press up in to him and kiss him again but Sir was already pulling away and standing. Clint bit down on his disappointment, he knew better was to come.

Sir opened his pants and Clint watched as he took his cock out, stroking himself casually. He wasn’t fully hard yet, but still impressive. Not too big, enough to fill Clint, though. He leaned forward a little without thinking and Sir reached out to stop him, laying a palm on his forehead.

“So eager,” he said, a small smirk on his lips. “You really want this, don’t you?”

“Yes, Sir,” Clint replied instantly, pressing forward in to Sir’s hand. Sir slid the hand around, through his hair, to cradle the back of his head.

“Well, I won’t deny you then. Not now. Show me what you can do.”

Clint paused a second, waiting for some kind if qualification to the order, but Sir just smiled at him, apparently content to let him play. Clint leaned forward then, not hesitant in this. There were a lot of things he didn’t believe he was particularly skilled at, but sucking cock wasn’t one of them.

He immersed himself completely in the task, in learning the feel of Sir’s cock in his mouth, the taste of it. A part of him was still convinced this would be the only time he got this, and he needed to take advantage of it. Sir seemed to encourage him, making little groans and moving his hands just-so through Clint’s hair. Clint took him as deep as he could, worked over his entire length. He needed to make this fantastic. If only he could be good enough at this, maybe Sir would keep him.

“You’re amazing at this,” Sir said, and Clint hummed in pleasure, then in surprise, as Sir suddenly pulled back, sliding out of his mouth.

“That was wonderful, you’re wonderful,” Sir said, leaning to drop a kiss on his head. “But that’s not the part of you I want to come in. Come on, up on the bed.”

Clint complied quickly, letting Sir help him up on to the mattress. He laid himself face down, hips up for Sir. It was hard to maneuver with his hands, tied but Sir touched a hand to his hip to steady him and it was perfect. He’d loved Sir in his mouth, but he could only imagine how much better Sir would feel inside him, pressing down over him and around him and in him. Clint moaned a little at the thought, pushing his hips up further and Sir laughed softly.

“Look at you,” he said, running a hand over Clint’s ass. “You’re magnificent. I can’t wait.”

“Please, Sir,” Clint gasped. “I need you.”

“I’ve got you,” Sir said softly, moving up the bed and grabbing a pillow. He positioned it under Clint’s hips, moving Clint so he was resting on it, his legs spread open. It was comfortable but Clint really just wanted to rut up against Sir.

He wasn’t sure where the lube came from but suddenly a slick finger was pushing into him and he gasped. He wasn’t as loose as he used to be for Master but he wasn’t tight, either and Sir easily added a second and third finger.

“Please, Sir,” he said, canting his hips up slightly.

“No, you’ll let me finish,” Sir replied, pressing a steadying hand to his hip. “I’m not going to risk hurting you, especially not this time. We do this at my pace, you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” Clint replied, squeezing his eyes tight shut. He knew he was ready but at the same time he’d never had someone so determined to be SURE he was ready before. Someone who took so much time and patience preparing him, making sure he was ready. He tried to endure quietly and calmly as Sir’s fingers worked him over, tried to stay still, but it was so difficult. Finally Sir pulled back and Clint felt the excitement in him building as Sir spread Clint's legs a little wider.

“You’re so gorgeous like this,” Sir said, and Clint tried to respond but he was beyond words by now. Beyond anything, as Sir placed hands on his hips, moving Clint slightly and then, with one certain movement, slid right into him.

It was perfect. Everything he’d wanted it to be. Sir fit inside him like Clint had been born to accommodate him, just right. The weight on his back was ideal, Sir’s body pushing down on Clint’s bound hands, pushing him into the mattress. Clint gasped at the sudden weight but before he could really think beyond the supreme rightness of it all, Sir was pulling out then pushing back in, thrusting into him over and over and Clint couldn’t think, couldn’t process, couldn’t do anything but lie there and take it until finally he heard Sir asking him to come and he couldn’t hold back.

~*~*~*~

Clint had no idea how long it had been between drifting off and really becoming aware of himself again. He was used to doing this bit alone, on the floor. A Dom who he paid for the night rarely bothered with proper aftercare and Master had never, well, cared. He’d had a suspicion that Sir might be different, though, and was glad to find he’d been right. Instead of lying on the floor he was in the bed, lying on Sir, Sir’s hand gently stroking up his back.

It was warm, comfortable, and before he could stop it he felt the tears creeping out of his eyes. He closed them, trying to mask his reaction, but that didn’t seem to help. It was just too much, so much more than he was used to receiving. He didn’t deserve this, he knew it, but he also knew, despite that truth, it was going to break his heart when he lost it.

“Hey,” Sir said, caressing his cheek softly. Clint turned to nuzzle into his shoulder, trying to hide the tears. “It’s okay.”

Clint nodded, even though he knew it wasn’t. It was already too late to do anything about it, to keep part of himself back, so he just leaned into Sir's touch, took what he could. He might as well enjoy this warmth while it was still his.

“It’s okay,” Sir said, again, rubbing his back and pulling him closer. “Everything’s going to be fine.”

~*~*~*~

Clint woke up alone, which wasn’t unusual. What was unusual was that the bed was still warm. Sir clearly hadn’t been up very long. If Clint listened carefully, he could hear Sir moving around in the apartment. He knew, for his mental health, he should slip out now. Leave the collar on the pillow and go. He also knew there was no chance of that happening. The fundamental, rebellious part of his biology that insisted on being Submissive wanted nothing more than to curl up here under the covers and stay forever. That part of him would do whatever it took to make Sir keep him.

As a compromise, he went to the bathroom. As he washed his hands, he looked at the light marks on his wrist from the rope. He didn’t remember Sir untying him, but then, he didn’t remember much after a point, just feeling good. The pain normally kept him from going that deep; usually at least a part of him was always aware pain might mean danger which might mean something he had to defend against. There had been none of that last night, and it had been a long time since he last let himself go completely like he had, if ever.

He was so fucked.

Sir was in the bedroom when Clint re-emerged, a tray on the bed. He beckoned Clint over and Clint went, sliding back under the covers and letting Sir position them to suit his desires.

“Thank you for last night,” Clint said softly, laying his head on Sir’s shoulder. Sir lifted a hand to run fingers through Clint's hair.

“I’m glad you liked it,” Sir said, a mixtures of quietness and amusement in his voice. “Do you think you’re going to stay now?”

“I don’t think I can go,” Clint said, honestly. He received a soft kiss for that, nothing like the kisses of the night before: careful and tender.

“Good, I don’t want you to go. Will you let me feed you breakfast?”

“Yes, Sir,” Clint agreed. He was already lost, why not enjoy it for a while?