It was an accident.
This was supposed to be the easy part -- stomping through the bad guy’s secret lair, pointing out file boxes and interesting-looking bits and bobs of technology, bad guy already safely neutralized and packed away in a SHIELD truck, headed for holding cells unknown. Clint usually didn’t show up for this part, but what with one thing or another, he’d barely seen Phil for the last month and he missed him. A little. Phil enjoyed this wrapping-up stuff, and Clint enjoyed watching Phil enjoy things, and no, Tasha, that wasn’t strange or sad at all.
He arrived just in time to spot a bright flash of light -- that was never a good thing -- and hear Cap shout, “Look out!”
That was also never a good thing. By the time he leapt over a table and a junior agent in a single bound, the epicenter of the light had resolved itself into Cap, Phil, and what appeared to be a busted-up coffee maker, all three lying on the floor and groaning. Well, the coffee-maker wasn’t groaning, although it did make the sort of quiet tink-tink noises of something that had been very hot, now cooling.
“Coulson?” Clint said, dropping to one knee beside them. Someone on the other side of the room shouted, “DON’T TOUCH THEM; THEY MIGHT BE CONTAMINATED.”
“Steve?” Phil said. He struggled to a sitting position without opening his eyes, one hand going up to press against his forehead. Clint glanced over at Steve, also pulling himself upright but looking a little less green.
“He’s okay, I think,” Clint said. “At least as okay as you.”
“Oh, wow,” said Steve. His eyes were very wide, and very blue, and very locked on Phil’s face. His hand reached out, and Clint, feeling as though he’d been stuck in a time dilation field (not fun; never doing that again), watched it land gently on Phil’s knee.
“You’re in my head,” Phil said, with a weird little hitch in his voice, and then went quiet again, eyes locked on Cap’s face.
“Um,” Clint said, loudly. “Little help over here? Maybe?” There were a handful of agents across the room, but they were all struggling into hazmat gear and hastily constructed decontamination showers, as per protocol.
“Two more minutes!” one of them shouted back.
A sudden, damp gust of wind announced Thor’s presence. He stepped right up next to Clint, red cloak flaring around his ankles and interfering with Clint’s peripheral vision. He made a grumbling sound of concern and said, “What has happened here? These two souls have been bound as one.” And then, dangerously, “Brother.”
Despite no one else being affected by an inconvenient magical soulbond, Tasha would later claim to have been summoned to the scene by Clint’s intense distress.
“This is both terribly funny and terribly sad,” Tony said, and didn’t protest when Phil tugged his drink out of his hand, downed it, and put it back. Phil and Steve kept dropping out of the lively discussion to gaze into one another’s eyes, presumably holding a separate, psychic conversation of their own.
Clint had horror goosebumps, and had needed to borrow one of the endless number of shapeless, worn out Bruce sweaters lying around in order to hide the way his flesh was crawling.
“Yeah, but how do we fix it,” he said.
Like their heads were attached to a synchronized swivel, Phil and Steve both turned to look at him. “What,” Clint said, defensive.
“We have -- whatever happened, it’s --” Steve started, and then spread one of his hands out, palm up, helpless.
“There are a number of ... emotions ... currently at play,” Phil said. His face was pretty blank for a guy talking around having feelings for Captain America.
“But you want them to go away, right?” Tony said.
“Well,” Phil said, which wasn’t an answer at all, and Clint dropped his pen onto the carpet so he could lean over and not have to look at Phil’s face anymore. On his way back up he discovered that Phil and Steve had been holding hands under the table the whole time, which was infinitely worse.
Barnes blew in the next morning with a face like a thunderstorm, if a thunderstorm had been bar brawling the night before and then received the sad news that a loved one had died and was now seriously questioning its life choices.
“I leave him alone for five minutes,” he hissed, pressed right up against Clint in the elevator up to Phil’s floor. Clint was reminded very strongly of Natasha, who often used her body to make a point. Usually a painful one. He wondered, sometimes, how much of that was just the two of them, and how much of it was what had been done to them. His head knocked not-so-gently against the wall.
“Well, I was right next to them and it happened anyway,” Clint said, insulted. “You think any of us want to deal with this mystical two-souls-as-one shit? I’ll give you a hint: the answer is NO.”
The elevator dinged and the door slid open, revealing Steve, shirtless, sleepily rubbing the back of his neck. Phil was just visible behind him in a t-shirt and boxers, sprawled out in the living room. Barnes’ hands fisted in Clint’s collar, and then smoothed out.
“Oh,” said Steve, looking up. “Bucky, hi!”
Clint shoved Barnes in the ribs with his elbow; Barnes shoved immediately back. “I, uh,” Clint said. He was pretty sure that was Phil humming quietly to himself, as he peered at them over the back of the couch. “I thought the plan was for you to maintain your distance overnight?”
“About that,” Steve said.
“So, it’s worse,” Tony said, as soon as he came in the room. Phil and Steve were no longer hiding the hand-holding under tables. Their clasped fingers rested gently on Steve’s knee. Clint was very busy looking everywhere but there, because over the years Phil had taught him to be less of a masochist; Barnes, on the other hand, seemed pretty intent on staring intently, because obviously no one had ever taught him the same.
“We experience physical pain if we’re further than a few feet away from each other,” Phil said, calm, like he wasn’t agreeing, exactly, just stating a fact.
“So it’s worse,” Clint said, pressing the point.
“We’d prefer not to be separated for now,” Phil said.
“We’re enjoying our time together, at least,” Steve said, knocking his shoulder against Phil’s. He grinned like that was an in-joke. Tony made an interesting noise, deep in his throat, and then, like he couldn’t actually help himself, slowly lifted his phone and snapped a picture.
“Haaaashtaaaag soulbooond,” he said, drawing it out while he tap-tap-tapped at the phone.
Natasha dropped into the chair beside Clint after everyone else had dispersed to lab activities or staring soulfully into one another’s eyes. “JARVIS and Tony say that they haven’t had sex,” she said. “Just endless cuddling.”
“Shit, I really thought they were at least friends with benefits,” Clint said with aggressive, cheerful misunderstanding. He didn’t lift his head off the table. “A man and his AI. Cyber sex ahoy.”
She gave him a look. It said, I know how to kill you.
“Thanks,” he said.
“Cheer up,” she said. “It could be worse. You could have told him last week like you said you would, and then where would you be?”
“I have great self-preservation instincts,” he agreed.
“I didn’t say that,” she said.
“We fix this with a kiss,” Tony said, three endless days in. “Nonono! I’m not just fucking with you. I’m serious: mouth-to-mouth will solve everything.”
As one, everyone in the room swiveled their heads to look at Bruce, who lifted his hands up, palms out. “It’s true,” he said. “The universe has a sense of humour.”
“Loki has a sense of humour, you mean,” Clint muttered, and Thor clapped a hand on his shoulder so that he could swivel Clint around, bodily, and look him in the eye when he apologized, yet again, for his terrifying, out-of-control, asshole of a brother.
Those weren’t the words he used.
“The point,” said Tony, “is that Agent Coulson and Captain America need to kiss. Right here, right now.”
“Good idea; get it done before it goes any further,” Clint managed, voice a little thinner than he would have liked.
“Unless you’ve already had your mouths all over each other,” Tony said, plowing through the abrupt increase of awkwardness that was filling the room. “It’s supposed to be the first kiss that fixes everything, but if you’ve already had it ...”
Tony and his all-seeing tower obviously knew the answer to that question, but Tony wouldn’t be Tony if he didn’t take every opportunity to poke, poke, poke.
“We -- haven’t,” Phil said, after a moment of staring at Cap.
“We’ve thought about it, though,” Steve said, and Clint wondered if everyone else had noticed that the tips of Phil’s ears had turned very slightly red.
“The little inscription on the not-a-coffee-pot was pretty insistent that it had to be a perfect, true love, first time kiss,” Tony said, tossing said device up in the air and catching it again.
“I don’t think we need to worry about that part,” said Phil.
Maybe there was an emergency somewhere, Clint thought to himself, feeling a little wild. Surely someone, somewhere, was in mortal danger and desperately required Clint to go to them, right now, and keep very busy very far away from what was about to happen in this room.
“Well,” said Steve, leaning in. Natasha clapped a hand down on Clint’s shoulder, hard, and cut off his aborted attempt at escape. He watched just long enough to see the two of them right up in one another’s space; Phil’s hand on Steve’s waist and Steve’s hand on the back of Phil’s neck, reeling him forward.
Once, when Clint was a kid, a bunch of the boys in his dorm had snuck down to the rec room and watched a forbidden horror movie at three in the morning, pressed right up close to the TV so the sisters wouldn’t hear the noise. There had been one scene, still vivid in Clint’s memory, when the little ghost girl jerked her way inexorably up the hallway, like she was going to hit the screen of the TV and crawl right out of it, and Bobby had accidentally hit the VCR remote in his desperate scramble under the couch. It just made the movie go half speed; the thing moving toward them inch by agonizing inch.
This was exactly like that.
Clint missed most of the kiss itself; with Natasha pressed up behind him there wasn’t really anywhere to go, but he closed his eyes, casually, like he was blinking and just forgot to open them again. He figured no one would be looking at him, anyway. There was a soft noise in front of him; the shuffle of clothing and the sort of damp sounds that came with a really great kiss, and then Barnes was saying “Did it work?” from the other side of the room.
“God, Bucky,” Steve said, and Clint opened up his eyes just in time to see him press Barnes up against the wall.
“Huh,” said Bruce.
“I did not know about that,” Tony said.
Clint punched Nat in the shoulder, but she shrugged at him. “Not my secret to tell,” she said, before wandering off to discuss The Ongoing Loki Problem with Thor. Clint swiveled back around in his seat to discover Phil staring at him.
“Steve,” he said, without looking away from Clint. “My most sincere apologies for -- well, for everything.”
“Likewise, Phil,” Steve managed, behind him. Barnes tugged on his arm, yanking him slowly out the lab door.
Phil smiled his relieved smile, the one that said that everything was going to be okay, and then he said, conversationally, “Everybody get out.”
Clint stood to leave, too, but Natasha was abruptly back in his space, taking him out at the knees and sending him crashing to the floor.
“This is my lab,” said Tony, now towering above Clint.
“Technically this is my lab,” said Bruce. “You gave it to me.”
“This is my building,” said Tony, even as Thor wandered over and hoisted him up on one shoulder. The first time Thor had ever done that had been during a mild emergency in a sewer system, and the entire team had laughed themselves sick. Tony was already ducking to fit under the entryway when he called back, “I always thought you were more subtle than this, Agent!”
“I’ve already lost my dignity this week,” Phil said, shrugging. “What’s a little more?” He dropped down to both knees beside Clint, tugging him upright so that he was no longer sprawled where Nat had left him. He waited until the door clicked shut behind the last of the team, and then he said, “I have something to tell you.”
“Uh,” Clint said.
“Clint Barton, you light up my life,” Phil said, and then made a face. “That sounded better in my head. The sentiment stands, though.”
“Oh,” said Clint, suddenly understanding that all his dreams were about to come true on the floor of Tony Stark’s second-favourite lab. And hopefully other places, too. All the places. For a long, long time.
After a moment, Phil said, “I’ve also run out of romantic cliches to ply you with, by the way. That was my only one.”
“Well,” Clint said. Phil grabbed one of his hands, lacing their fingers together. Clint could feel the warmth radiating from his body, just like every other close-quarters mission or downtime on someone’s couch, and so he told his brain to shelve all the worries that were clamoring for his attention and leaned in to press his lips to Phil’s. “Luckily I’m easy,” he said, breaking away after a moment to pant in a breath of air.
“Easy,” Phil said, sounding horrified. He pulled back a little and gripped Clint’s chin, tilting his head up, presumably to look him in the eyes. “Easy? This wasn’t easy. I’ve been throwing myself at you all year. It took an artificial, romantic, psychic connection with Captain America for this to happen.”
“I was gonna tell you last week,” Clint blurted, which for some reason made Phil grin at him, open and uncomplicatedly happy, and so Clint crawled up into Phil’s lap and bore him the rest of the way to the ground. Tony would probably not appreciate clothing all over the nice expensive lab equipment, so Clint made sure to aim at whatever looked the most delicate.
“JARVIS,” Phil said. It came out a little strangled, likely because Clint was paying very close attention to his chest and had just discovered that his left nipple was far, far more sensitive than his right. “Privacy mode?”
“Long since engaged, sirs,” JARVIS said.