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My Sugar Daddy's Got a Mean Swing

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Clint sneers into the bottle of piss-excuse him, beer-as he finishes off the last few drops. Like he has any right to complain, being at a party and snagging a beer off the communal liquor table. He sighs and checks his phone again. No contact from Natasha, or hey maybe they finally cut his service off. He hasn’t paid that bill in a month. He hasn’t paid off his tuition bill for this month either, but without any hours at work-nope. He swipes a plastic cup and the bottle of (also painfully cheap) whiskey. Grimacing, he pours himself a double. Triple? Eh, whole cup why not. He’s not thinking about money tonight. He’s thinking about getting himself very drunk and not jumping from the balcony.

“You look positively miserable,” Loki crows as he slinks into the kitchen. Everyone else is scattered throughout the apartment, enjoying the party. Clint shrugs as he sips at the bitter liquor. Loki passes close enough to get a whiff of his drink, and though his expression doesn’t slip from his usual ‘you are all beneath me’ glower he radiates concern. “As much as it pains me to ask, what’s your problem? I’d hate to have to keep you from vomiting all over my brother’s apartment. Again.”

Clint rolls his eyes as he remembers the night that Loki’s referring to. “You gave me gin. You should have seen it coming.” Loki doesn’t reply. Instead he pours himself another drink, clinking the stirrer in his glass loudly. Gritting his teeth at the grating sound, Clint gives in. “I’m just kind of super broke here lately. The restaurant’s giving me next to no hours, I’m already maxed out on financial aid, not to mention I’ve been couch surfing for like three months-“

“What you need,” Loki interrupts smoothly, “is a sugar daddy.”

Clint stares at him for a moment before saying flatly, “I think I should be insulted that you didn’t say ‘or sugar mama,’ that’s just rude to ignore my sexuality you know. Some might even call it erasing my identity-“

“You know what I mean, Barton.” Loki tears a piece of paper from the magnetic grocery list pad on the fridge, scribbling something on it before shoving it in Clint’s back pocket. Ignoring his indignant squawk, Loki explains. “There’s a dating website that links up sugar daddies-and mamas, stop pouting-with younger companions. It’s a step above actual prostitution. Not that I’d be surprised if you did sell your body.”

Clint grins. “Steve could be my pimp. You know he’d treat me right.” He can feel the warm glow of the whiskey making all those depressing thoughts go away. “Thanks, I guess. Still trying to make up for that trebuchet incident?”

Loki shakes his head, sending his long dark hair over his shoulder. “Nothing I can do can repent for that one. No, this is for the ice cream massacre.”

Clint scowls as he recalls it. “I forgot about that one. Next time just ask a guy out instead of dumping thirty gallons of cookies and cream on his car and blaming me, yeah?”

“Oh we all know how thick Bruce is, despite his impressive IQ. He never would have understood my intentions anyway.”

----

Sipping from his to-go cup of coffee, Phil rolls his chair closer to his huge wooden desk. He had fought long and hard for this corner office, had wiled his way up the chain of command at SHIELD Insurance, and now sat content in his ergonomic chair, half of today’s pile of paperwork sorted and started from yesterday. He checks his email first thing, to find two messages from colleagues. One is from Maria Hill, reminding him about the monthly social gathering (a barbeque this time, Phil won’t wait for the subtle hints before signing up to make his famous mac and cheese) and that significant others are welcome to attend. Hill and Director Fury have been wondering-loudly and frequently-when and if Phil would ever show up to one of the many social events with someone on his arm.

He pinches the bridge of his nose. Phil can already hear them nagging him and his other colleagues joining in. He honestly wouldn’t know the first thing about the modern dating scene and his workaholic nature made searching for a significant other inconvenient. He writes a short note to let Hill know that he’ll make his specialty before moving on to the next message.

The other email is from Miss Lewis, the new receptionist down in the main lobby. Incredibly competent woman, but she’s as nosy as she is efficient. As soon as she heard he was single, she began peppering him with questions about his last relationship, his type, whether he’d ever thought about being a monk, seriously dude, that long of a dry spell cannot be humanly possible.

He frowns as he opens her email to find out that she’s created a profile for him on some website called MadeArrangement.com. It’s a free trial and if he wants to keep it he’ll have to sign on with his own credit card. She swears CNN said it was legit, and that if he had trouble finding a date well here’s a handy dandy site to help him out. Sighing wearily, he opens the link and enters the username and password that Darcy had given him in the email. He’ll delete the account and tell Darcy politely to keep her meddling to a less active degree. The website itself is full of dark crimson and beige tones, professional looking text encouraging him to find a “mutually beneficial relationship” today. He huffs a breath of laughter at the wording, meant to suggest maturity and class.

After signing in, he finds Darcy went so far as to upload a picture of him-a picture they keep up in the break room corkboard from some function where someone caught him laughing. It’s a decent picture, even if it accentuates the laugh lines around his face and his emerging crow’s feet. Phil doesn’t bother to read whatever Darcy had written about his personality or whatever else this site listed. He moves his mouse over to the “My Account” tab, clicking it, before sweeping his eyes down the screen.

He catches a glimpse of bright blue eyes and a hard smile, and his eyes jerk back up before he can stop them. His pinky jabs down on the escape key and the page freezes. In the right column, labeled “Newest Profiles,” a young man with spiky blond hair stares him down, as if daring him to click his picture.

Phil’s never been one to back down from a challenge. And that’s exactly what he sees in those eyes. Against his better judgment, he clicks the picture and finds himself reading about dontcallmeCupid. A college student, nearby surprisingly, who’s down on his luck and close to having to drop his classes. He says he’s smart, funny, easy going, and not above watching terrible cartoons but James Cameron movies are right out. He makes at least three Monty Python references in his biography, and Phil finds himself grinning slightly just reading about him.

With a jolt, Phil realizes he’s leaning his elbows on his desk, face close to his monitor. He sits back, staring at the grainy cell phone profile pic. It should be obnoxious, the intense glare paired with a dirty white undershirt and the fact that it’s one of those terrible bathroom mirror pictures. But-if Phil were being honest with himself-the fact that this guy’s pretty damn gorgeous anyway overrides any obnoxiousness.

Curiosity piqued, Phil opens the site’s information on another tab. It sounds almost too good to be true. A whole site dedicated to facilitating relationships that have no need to be romantic or sexual, unless both parties want that out of the ‘arrangement.’ If he could get someone to agree to just come with him to some social outings, get his coworkers to shut up about how awful it must be to be nearly forty-five and still single (they hiss the word like it’s some terrible blasphemy), he wouldn’t mind paying them, especially if it would help with someone’s education. He remembers how hard it can be to make ends meet at that age, stuck with overpriced tuition and not enough free time to find a job to keep you afloat.

He closes the information tab, rereading the young man’s information. In the Looking For section, he doesn’t have “long term relationship” or “romantic relationship” listed. They share a lot of favorite movies, interests…Maybe this sort of thing would be right for Phil. Swearing to never let Darcy know about this, he straightens up in his seat, and writes out a private message to dontcallmeCupid.

----

Clint sits in his favorite corner of the SWORD café, waiting for his potential sugar daddy. Just thinking the phrase sends him into a fit of giggles. Natasha had lent him some money for coffee on the condition that he bring some back for her after he was done “studying.” Clint was pretty sure she hadn’t caught his lie, but you never could tell with that woman. Either way, she was stuck in some lecture hall for the next two hours, so at least he could count on her being preoccupied.

Not knowing how to dress for something like this, he’d just thrown on whatever was cleanest-jeans with minimal holes, a soft green shirt with a tear hidden in the armpit, and his faithful combat boots. Sipping his mocha, he watches through the long front window as someone who could be his date walks up the sidewalk.

The man speaks quickly into his Bluetooth, expression calm. But the way his mouth is tugged down at the corners betrays his irritation. Clint isn’t envious of whoever’s on the other end of the phone call. The man closes his eyes and pauses, taking a deep breath before entering the coffee shop. From his table in the far corner, Clint has a perfect view of the door. The man’s hazel eyes fly across the café, landing on Clint’s calculating gaze. There’s no recognition in his look, nothing to betray what he thinks now that he’s seeing Clint in the flesh. Clint, however, grins widely and twitches his hand in a wave.

“Son of Cool” is a lot more solid that the one profile pic suggested, admirable muscle hidden under a steel gray business suit. Clint can tell from the way the fabric lies on the man’s body and reflects the sunlight that it’s an expensive outfit, and his shoes shine like he actually polishes them. The man gives him a short nod before turning to the cashier and asking for a black coffee. Clint grins down at his laptop, saving the Culture of Early Man essay he’d been picking at while waiting.

“Hello Clint. I’m sorry if I’m late,” the man says, sitting down across from him with his cup in hand.

“Nah,” the blond replies, watching him take his earpiece out and place it carefully in his breast pocket. “I came early to get some homework done. You’re right on time, Phil. Or would Mr. Coulson be better?”

Phil’s voice warms a little as he says, “Considering the nature of this meeting, I believe Phil will suffice. I have to be up front about this. I’m not looking for anything romantic right now. My coworkers have been…insufferable lately. They seem to think there’s something wrong with a man of my age and position being without a date at social events.”

“You have something against relationships?”

“Not particularly. I’m just happy with my life as it is now. Well, I would be if my colleagues would keep their opinions to themselves.”

“Gotcha. So you just want to parade me around a few company picnics, let them see hey! Phil can get his own date, stop setting him up with your spinster aunt, and have your peaceful life again?”

Phil nearly sighs from relief. This is turning out to be a lot less stressful than he had feared it would be. “Basically. Nothing complicated. We have a couple of events every month, and we go out for drinks practically every weekend. We would have a date once a week or so. And of course I’m willing to compensate you, and cover the bill wherever the event takes place.”

“Ah.” Clint still feels a little weird about this, being paid to hang out with an older guy. Still, his ‘creeper sense’ wasn’t tingling and there was no denying this guy was attractive as hell (Clint was a sucker for hazel eyes). Nonetheless, his pride was crying like a baby. “Yeah, that’d be great. I’m behind on my tuition payments this semester; otherwise it wouldn’t be a big deal.”

“If you’re not sure you want this arrangement,” Phil’s mouth dries at the word, God it feels almost like he’s negotiating a prostitute, “we can just see how this weekend goes. If you’re not comfortable, no harm no foul.”

Clint shrugs, a little surprised Phil could tell he was wavering. “I’m game. Sure.”

Phil lets a smile slip across his face before tightening his expression. “One more thing. I’m not paying you for sexual favors,” he says, just like he’d rehearsed on the drive over.

Clint’s blue eyes laugh at him. “Okay. I can live with that.” There’s relief in his voice, and it occurs to Phil that Clint may be just as unsure about this arrangement (he’s never going to be able to think that word without blanching now) as he is.

He can see that Clint’s clothes look worse for wear, and he looks a little too thin for Phil’s tastes. He slips a bill from his pocket into his hand while standing. He offers Clint the hand with the money in it while standing. “Glad we agree. Pleasure to be working with you.”

Clint can tell there’s a bill in his hand, but he still acts surprised when he pulls away from the firm handshake. “I don’t think negotiating over a coffee is worth this much. I mean, I know I’m nice to look at and all-“

“For the coffee, your time, and for a new outfit. It’s a barbeque, so something casual is fine. But I still can’t have my date show up in tattered clothes. People would talk.”

Clint grins up at him, pocketing the money. “And we don’t want that, do we?”

“That’s kind of the whole point of this,” Phil retorts easily.

Chapter Text

Clint escapes to the sheltered bathroom after being interrogated by Phil’s terrifying boss. Personally he thinks a guy who can scowl that well has no business being in charge of an insurance firm (also seriously, an eyepatch?), but man Fury’s funny as hell. Most of Phil’s coworkers have been nice enough to not comment on the age difference, but he has noticed that some of the older people who don’t come to talk to Phil give him dirty looks. Which Clint returns with a leer. All in all, it’s not horrible, but it’s nerve wracking.

Sighing as he steps up to the urinal, he hopes that it’ll get easier. He hears the door open behind him and instinctually notices that the footsteps are light and even-paced. He zips up and turns to the sink to wash his hands, looking in the mirror to find someone standing behind him. “Uh…I’d ask if I was in the wrong bathroom, but seeing as there’s urinals-“

“I know Director Fury already had a version of this conversation with you,” the woman says with a flinty voice, “but in case he wasn’t clear enough.” Clint grabs some paper towels and slowly turns to face her. Her eyes glare at him from under impeccably trimmed chestnut brown hair. He remembers Phil introducing her as his immediate superior, Maria Hill. She had smiled warmly at him then, but now her face is unreadable. “Phil Coulson is very important to a lot of people here. We want him to be happy. If he isn’t happy, I will hold you personally responsible. Do we have an understanding?”

Clint just grins at her, all teeth. She reminds him of Natasha, a little. In that, ‘I can kill you fifteen different ways with a pasta strainer,’ way. “We do. That’s all I want, too. I’ll try not to disappoint.”

“There is only do, or do not. There is no try,” she says flatly before turning on her heel and exiting the bathroom. Clint swallows around a lump in his throat, letting his friendly smile fall from his face for the first time in an hour. This guy has some pretty fierce friends. Maybe he should avoid that lady for a while.

Another hour passes. Phil is helping tidy up the buffet table, the sun setting behind the trees on the far side of the park. Grinning secretly, Darcy sidles up beside him with a soda in hand. “So. Clint seems nice.” She’s laughing, Phil can tell. Obviously, she’s connected the dots.

Sparing a quick look around, Phil finds them alone. “Thank you, Miss Lewis. And also thank you for directing my attention towards that useful website. However,” he turns to her with a blank expression, “if you tell people that I am a ‘sugar daddy’ or anything of the sort, you’ll find me feeling less grateful.”

“Oh my god, you are such a baby!” she giggles, rolling her eyes. “People get together all the time over the internet these days. You don’t have to be so embarrassed.” He continues to stare her down, unimpressed. “I won’t tell anyone, scout’s honor!”

Phil doubts that she was ever any sort of scout, but he nods and relaxes. “Thank you. It would be troublesome if people assumed the worst of my date.”

She giggles again, pulling a flask out of her jacket and taking a deep gulp from it. “Coulson,” she whines, “you really hit gold with him. I promise. This is great. This is-“ She spies someone approaching them from behind Phil, and laughingly walks past him. “I’m happy for you, promise!” she swears as she swaggers past.

Phil just shakes his head before trying to scrape up some spilled chips. “Well then, thank you,” he mutters under his breath as she wobbles away. He cleans up the mess efficiently, wasting no time. All the unused plastic silverware is piled together, the used bits in the trash bag nearby. Restraining a sigh, he glances up at a nearby tree.

“Why are you in a tree, Clint?”

The silence of the immediate area is all the response he gets at first. Eventually he hears the leaves rustle and a pair of boots hit the ground heavily. “Don’t know if you realize it, Coulson, but you’ve got one hell of a defense squad here.”

Phil busily shoves some used paper plates into a garbage bag before saying, “I do have some friends here, if that’s what you mean.”

Clint snorts, walking stiffly over to the picnic table Phil’s working to clear. “Seriously, if you told them I’d said those pants made you look fat or something, they’d have me killed all Godfather-like.”

Phil chuckles lightly. “I think you’re exaggerating.”

“I wish I was,” Clint says quietly, picking up some used cups. “That one lady, Hill-I think-she’s scary. At least Fury was kind of funny.” Phil hums softly at him, focusing on scrubbing a bit of dried cheese off the plastic table cloth. “But Hill-shit. I don’t think she’d rest until I’d paid for breaking your heart or whatever.”

“I’ve told everyone that we just met last week. It’s hardly to the point of death-threats, or so I thought.” Phil straightens, waiting for Clint to finish slinging the remaining liquid from a plastic cup across the grass in an angled pattern. When the younger man turns to look at him, Phil continues. “I’m sorry if they were inappropriately aggressive in their questioning. That’s my fault.”

Clint shrugs, tossing the cup in the open garbage bag Phil holds with his eyes closed. “It’s no big deal. That er, the pretty girl with the big boobs? Darcy? She told me everyone was going to be all ‘secret agent’ on me. I was prepared.”

Phil grins just a little, reminding himself to thank Miss Lewis later.

----

Clint would be grinning right now, if his mouth wasn’t full to bursting with the best damn burger in the city. The majority of what Phil paid him for the barbeque went towards his tuition payment. He kept some of the cash for himself-guy has to eat-and decided to treat himself to a Juicy Lucy at his favorite bar. Natasha sits opposite of him, watching him devour the burger with her eyebrows arched curiously. Clint knows that she’s merely feigning how little she wants an explanation. He knows she’s burning to know where his money came from, and probably worried he’s got himself involved in something less than legal. But hey, he’s not endangering himself (unless you count all the death glares and imminent threats) so she can sit there and stew until she asks him herself.

“Since when could you afford a whole meal?” That took less time than Clint thought it would.

“Since I got a new job,” he answers smugly. And really, he’s not lying. He quit the dishwashing gig with a loud “HEY,” from the lobby and flipping the double bird at the manager earlier that day.

“Oh?” she says, putting her bottle of cider down. “When did this happen?”

Washing the last bite down with some of his favorite local microbrew, he answers dreamily, “Mm? Yesterday.”

“Where?”

“Running errands for this insurance company.”

“What kind of errands?”

“Y’know, boring stuff. Coffee runs, making copies, answering phones.”

“What company?”

“Nat-you-lay off,” he bursts. The friendly atmosphere dissipates. Natasha stares determinedly at the brick wall behind Clint’s seat. “You don’t have to know every single detail of my life.”

She shakes her vibrant red hair out of her face with a clipped movement. “At least I asked straight out instead of sneaking around like someone else-“

“Really?” he huffs in disbelief. “You wanna run through past mistakes you’ve made or are we just focusing on my fuck-ups?”

He watches her face close up as she averts her eyes to the bottle in front of her. She doesn’t respond for a full minute. “I worry about you,” she says gruffly. “You know that.”

The admission is the closest thing to an apology that Clint would expect from her. He shrugs his shoulders, knowing she’ll see it as a dismissal of the whole conversation. She smiles gently at him, and waves the waitress over for another round.

----

Wednesday afternoon, Clint gets a call on his cell phone. The caller ID reads, “Work.” He jumps up out of his seat in the library, scrabbling to shove his notebooks and textbooks into his backpack. Jogging down the stairs and ducking out a back door, he slinks into an alleyway between two buildings. Looking up, he checks that all the windows of both buildings are shut. Breathing out unsteadily, he answers his cell.

“Hey Phil. How’s it hanging?”

“Is this a bad time? You said you didn’t have class at this time,” Phil says, an apology in his tone.

Clint laughs shortly, wondering why he felt so nervous just a second ago. “Nah, I was just in the library. Working on a uh, research paper.”

“You sound like you’re not thrilled about that,” Phil deduces.

“Well that might be ‘cause I’m goddamn miserable with papers. I mean, I can bullshit my way through almost anything-this is just a little boring since it’s stuff I know already.”

“I wish I could say I feel your pain, but,” Phil clears his throat, his voice full of humor, “I was one of those students who leapt at the chance to write essays. Paperwork’s always been enjoyable for me.”

Chuckling easily, Clint retorts, “No wonder you’re so popular with your coworkers. You must be a pure joy to the bureaucrats upstairs. Fury was just protecting his best paper pusher when he threatened me at the barbeque, huh?”

Clint can hear the smile in the other man’s voice. “I’ve suspected as much for as long as I’ve been here. My efficiency is the only reason I’m employed, I’m sure.” Leaning back into the rough brick wall behind him, Clint feels himself become relaxed, completely free of the tension that had coiled into him during the long day of lectures and research. “At any rate, I did have a point to this call.”

“Aw, you didn’t just miss the sultry sound of my voice?” Clint coos pitiably.

Phil elects to ignore him. “This Friday night, some of the others from my department are going for drinks around 9 PM. We usually stay until last call. Would you be available to accompany me?”

“Sure. Want me to wear glitter and a feather boa?”

“Something casual will suffice, I think. Should I pick you up? The bar’s across town from your campus.”

“Yeah I guess. I’ll text you my address.” Clint starts thinking about how to prevent his friends from seeing Phil pick him up, and from wondering exactly where he’s going on a Friday night with no cash and none of them with him.

Phil pauses on the other end, before saying, “I don’t want to assume anything, so just to be clear; you are…agreeable to this deal correct? For the long term?”

Straightening his back, Clint asks, “How long is long term?”

“How many semesters do you have left?”

Looking around as if he’d find something to help make his decision, Clint struggles with his answer for a second. “One more after this one.” It was the only reason he was so desperate not to drop out, and he was so keen on keeping things with Phil as business-like as possible. If he could get by until his internship, he’d be okay.

“So, June of next year? Would that be all right?” Phil’s voice is carefully even, but Clint (thinks he) catches a hopeful note. And he would be lying if it didn’t stir something in his gut.

“Yeah,” he says roughly before clearing his throat. “Yeah, that’d be fine.”

----

“Aw yes,” Darcy hisses as she sidles up to Clint and Phil. The sidewalk they walk down at a comfortable pace isn’t terribly crowded, but they still move as a pair around other people. “I love it when Fury gets to pick the place.” She tugs at her skirt hem, pulling it down to her knees. The stretchy black material slinks back up to her mid-thigh immediately. Clint glances over at Phil as they all walk down the sidewalk, taking in the rolled up sleeves of his pastel green button-up and the missing tie. The summer’s still clinging to the last days of August, and Clint hopes he doesn’t sweat through the new shirt he bought. It feels a little stiff still, the dark gray material thick and unblemished. The light blue jeans fit like a dream, even if the price tag made him wince. But the novelty of owning a whole outfit that has no holes or stains won him over in the end (and being able to hand over the gleaming blue and silver credit card that Phil paid him with and seeing the disdain on the cashier’s face melt into mortification was nice). Leering at him, Darcy says, “You look good enough to eat Clint!”

He smiles at her. “Down, Lewis,” Phil murmurs from next to him, staring at his phone. “He’s spoken for.”

She rolls her eyes, huffing. “Geeze, I can’t even look? I won’t touch, promise!”

“That’s a lie,” Sitwell says as he comes around a corner, a pretty brunet girl on his arm. “Oh, Clint, this is my wife Ava.” Clint greets her with cheer in his voice, but he’s feeling apprehensive. They’re heading for the downtown district, and on a Friday night it’s possible he’ll run into someone he knows from school. He scrubs at the back of his neck, trying to plan ahead.

“You okay?” Phil asks quietly, not looking up from his phone.

Clint stares around him, trying to keep himself collected. “Yeah, I just don’t want to run into anyone from school. I’ve got some uh, nosy friends.”

Phil’s hazel eyes flicker up to Clint’s face, calculating. “Hm. That would be annoying.” Darcy and Ava are chatting amiably; Sitwell’s not paying them any attention. “How do you want to play it?”

Shrugging, Clint says thoughtfully, “I could tell them I’m out with some friends from work, but if they talk to any of these guys that’ll fall flat. I s’pose I’ll just tell them we’re dating, it’d be easiest.”

The older man nods, observing the tight line of Clint’s mouth and his darting eyes. “If that’s what you think is best.”

Darcy twirls around, walking backwards. “What are you two whispering about back there?”

“Sweet talking each other. You wouldn’t be interested,” Phil answers. Clint chuckles, some of the tension draining away from his shoulders.

Darcy mockingly gags before turning back around. “Oh I invited my bestie, and I think her boyfriend’s coming too. Did Hill say she was skipping out?”

“Yeah,” Sitwell says, before engaging Phil in some talk about some computer update that’s been screwing with the system at work. Clint almost groans in despair when he sees Darcy stop next to a nondescript building, grinning crazily. There’s a short line of people dressed in their best dance clothes in front of them, leading into a single open door. "Where’s Fury?”

Phil nearly rolls his eyes. “He’s probably at the convenience store getting some ones.”

Crossing his arms, Clint asks, “Ones?”

“For the drag show,” Phil supplies.

“Oh.” Clint grins a little. “Wish I’d known, I would’ve brought some cash.” His grin falls when they move forward as a group, and he sees a familiar face at the door. He turns sharply, scratching his chin. Phil’s too busy putting his phone away and chuckling at something Ava’s telling him to notice. As the line moves forward inch by inch, he tries not to panic as he watches the familiar person slip through the doorway from his peripheral. This is worse than he thought.

Eventually, Phil pays for Clint and everyone flashes their ID at the cashier with a sailor’s cap and bright green wig. When he’s finally inside, Clint almost winces at the bright strobe lights that assault him. He smiles at Phil, who touches his elbow and leads him to the nearest bar away from the others. The music in this area is low enough to allow conversation without shouting. Clint shrugs when Phil asks if he wants something to drink, so Phil orders a water for himself and nods at the bartender. The slender man just grins in greeting and doesn’t seem put out handing over a cup of water.

Scanning the slowly growing crowd, Phil asks him quietly, “So how bad is it?”

“Pretty sure I saw the biggest gossip I know walk in in front of us.”

“We could leave,” Phil says simply. Clint turns from where he leans against the smooth wood-topped bar to look at him in surprise. “Make an excuse. Slip out.” He pauses while Clint thinks it over. “I never wanted this to be complicated. And if your classmates being aware of our arrangement,” Clint lets out a helpless giggle at the word and Phil’s grin turns wry, “complicates things for you, I’d like to avoid that.”

The younger man thinks vaguely about how this should really be more awkward than it is. “Nah, it’d be simplest just to tell them we’re dating. They’ll be surprised; I haven’t seriously dated a guy. In uh, well-“

“OH MY GOD CLINT!” comes a screeching voice as someone slams into Clint’s left arm. Phil looks on as a petite brunet girl clings and shouts at his date. “What are you doing here?! You hated this place last time we came, or maybe you hated how Tasha almost killed Jess, hard to remember.” She stops speaking long enough to look around him and see Phil watching with an amused grin. Clint feels her grip on him tighten as she leans in to whisper in his ear, “Is this guy buggin’ you? Want me to scare him off?”

Clint laughs and leans away, looking to Phil with certainty. “Janet, this is Phil. I’m here with him and some of his work buddies.”

“With him?” Janet repeats curiously, blue eyes flying between the two of them and taking in every detail. “Like, with him with him?”

Rolling his eyes at her, he mumbles, “What is this, middle school?”

She giggles, shaking her head and tossing her short bob of hair. “Sorry, you know how nosy I am! Hi, I’m Janet. Clint and I hang out with the same crowd of misfits.” She giggles again and Phil takes this as a signal to say something but she just steamrolls right on. “Well, not that any of us have seen this guy around much and now I guess I know why! You must have been hogging him, not that I can blame you. Hey, Jane and Thor are supposed to be here tonight, tell them I’ll-“

“Be on the second floor dancing and buying people drinks. I know the drill.”

“Thanks babe! Have fun, nice meeting you Phil.” She gives him a blinding smile and quick peck on the cheek before walking away in huge heels and a black and yellow dress that should look tacky but seems to work on her.

Watching her go, Phil says carefully, “Well, she’s energetic.”

“She’s an adorable nuisance,” Clint mutters. “Is…is that Fury?”

Phil turns to see Nick Fury walking through the entrance with a bright pink wig on his head and his usual black eyepatch replaced with some pink Bedazzled monstrosity. A few nearby patrons shout and dash forward on impossibly high pumps to hug him tightly. “He used to perform here back in college. Nicki D. Licious was his stage name. He’s still a bit of a legend around here.”

“Think I’ll take that drink now,” Clint says decidedly, turning around to wave the bartender down. If this was going to get around school, he needed to talk to Natasha, like yesterday. From his pocket, his phone vibrates weakly. “Just uh, just a beer’s good for me,” he says distractedly while taking his cell out and hitting the unlock keys. A text from Janet blares up at him from the screen.

i assume u dont want tasha to hear about this so ill keep quiet and let thor and jane no 2 have fun bb 8D <3333 also he is soooo hot in a naughty professor kinda way!!!

Clint chuckles, remembering that he all too often doubts Jan’s deductive skills. He texts back a short, thx ur the best, and accepts the beer bottle that Phil hands him. “Come on then,” Phil says as he pushes away from the bar with resignation. “If we don’t get good seats Fury will whine all night long.”

“He whines?”

“It’s more akin to ‘bitching’ honestly.”

Chapter Text

Darcy’s choice is a sleazy looking dance club with a surprisingly classy back lobby, where the majority of the group stays. A maroon leather couch nearly devours Clint as he sits next to Phil, who takes a deep gulp from a glass of beer. “Oh, whoops. This one’s yours.” Handing the glass to Clint, he says a quiet apology. Clint grits his teeth for a moment, but relaxes outwardly and accepts the drink. He knows it’s just an old neurosis, refusing to drink out of a cup that he hasn’t had his eyes on the whole time. But seeing as Phil already drank from it, it can’t hurt.

Darcy sips quickly at her own drink, smiling mischievously. “You’re gonna dance with me right?”

“Uh, maybe. I’m pretty terrible at it,” he answers uncertainly. He sets his beer down on the glass coffee table nearby after a short swallow. He doesn’t like this place, the exits are hidden around corners and the hallways are narrow and angular. Clint tries not to focus on it too much, feeling Phil relaxing into the upholstery beside him and listening to Darcy as she bemoans the general attitude of her coworkers on the state of her favorite place.

“I mean we’ve got this swanky-as-hell bar back here to rest in, and then three different dancefloors, and none of these fuddie-duddies have an ounce of rhythm-“

“Excuse you,” Quartermain interrupts, “I am the king of karaoke and you know it, so I do have rhythm, thank you.”

Sitwell gestures at the blond man with his drink, scowling. “Excuse you-king? Who crowned you? I get louder applause when I hum Blueberry Hill than when you try to caterwaul your way through yet another tired glam rock song-“

Darcy puffs out her cheeks as the two men completely derail her conversation. She stands and sticks her hand out to Clint. “Please, Clint?” she whines. “Bring the secret agent man too, I don’t care.”

“Secret agent man?”

“Doesn’t he look like a damn G-man?” she says, pointing at Phil in exasperation.

Phil looks up at her, dressed still in his jacket and tie. Apparently he’d stayed behind at the office to finish up some last minute paperwork, and hadn’t had time to change at all. He just shrugs and stands, taking the jacket off. “Sure, I’ve been cooped up all day. Dancing might do me well.”

Darcy pumps her fists toward the ceiling. “Yes! Coulson for the win! Get off that couch potato, this booty demands to be shaken not stirred!”

“What does that even mean?” Clint grumbles as he extricates himself from the deep cushions. Darcy leads the way down one of the hallways, throwing comments over her shoulder. Clint can barely hear her over the noise of the room they’re approaching and almost punches someone who pops out from around a sharp bend suddenly. He fists his hands and tries to focus on Darcy flouncing along in front of him, the white zigzags of her dress glowing in the blacklight. He doesn’t start when he feels Phil’s hand in the small of his back, nor does he turn to look at him, but he does relax a tiny bit. Soon enough they come out to a crowded dancefloor-large pillars separating the groups a little and a fog machine working overtime above them. Laser lights sporadically burst through the haze, and people gyrate and move to the loud electronic beat.

Clint grins despite himself, letting Darcy jerk him forward until they’re in a relatively clear area. Once satisfied with their location, she turns and lets out a barely audible whoop. Clint laughs and begins dancing with her, moving just a little bit. He looks over his shoulder to find Phil nearby but keeping a good distance between their bodies. He dances easily, just bobbing along with the beat. His self-deprecating smile relaxes Clint, and he finds himself dancing more and more. Darcy cackles nearby as she wiggles and jumps excitedly. She shouts something, but it’s lost in the ambient noise. But the way she points at the nearby bar tells Clint all he needs to know.

Clint spins around, facing Phil. Who’s laughing a bit with his head angled down at his chest. Clint leans close and yells, “What?”

Phil shakes his head and replies loudly but clearly, “I can’t believe they’d play a song like this at a dance club.” Clint’s confused, but after a moment, realizes they’re playing a Frank Sinatra song that’s been sped up and mangled to have deeper bass thumps.

Laughing, Clint shakes his head. He hasn’t really paid much mind to what’s popular these days, but he bets Thor would know all about it. “Too bad Sitwell sat this one out, huh?” he shouts. The laugh Phil gives him for that remark sends something warm and completely unrelated to anxiety fluttering through him. The song continues on, and Clint actually finds himself liking it. The bass is deep enough that he can feel it without worrying about hearing it, and he manages to catch onto a groove and go with it.

Darcy reappears eventually with a few shot glasses. She gives Clint one and as she tries to give one to Phil, he rebukes and is obviously asking what it is. Darcy huffs and replies but Clint’s a bit too far away to hear her. She waves one arm in the air, not spilling a drop, and Phil finally takes the proffered plastic cup. Clint grins as he raises his cup to Phil and Darcy, and manages to hear her scream, “For pony!” over the music somehow, before they all tip the cups back as one. Sucking on the bit of alcoholic Jello, Clint struggles not to laugh at the grimace on Phil’s face. He, for one, rather likes lime flavor.

A while after they all start dancing again, Darcy’s wandered off again. Clint doesn’t worry, since he saw Hill materialize at some point to follow her around. That second shot Darcy bought them is having a bit of an effect on him, but it seems to have hit Phil a lot harder. He’s dancing fluidly, but is really close to Clint and his face is flushed. Clint leans forward, putting his mouth close to Phil’s ear. “You okay?”

“Yes,” Phil answers. “What in the hell are Jello shots?”

“Liquored up bits of Jello.”

“That’s idiotic.”

Clint laughs. “But delicious.” Phil makes a face as Clint leans away. But as Clint goes to step back, a hand settles on his hip and keeps him in place. He looks up at Phil with a question in his expression, but finds Phil smirking back at him, daring him to break the hold. Clint angles his head back, grinning cockily. He slides a hand down Phil’s firm chest and stomach, eventually slipping a finger through one of his belt loops. They dance together like that for a short minute, before Phil’s grin turns dangerous and he yanks Clint closer. Never one to back down from a challenge-especially an obvious one-Clint leans into the yank, gripping the belt loop in his finger tighter and guiding Phil’s hips until they sway in time with his own. The older man catches the hint quickly, adjusting his rhythm until they’re synced up, and a hair’s breadth from making contact below the waist. Clint’s other hand drags up Phil’s arm to his shoulder and wraps around his tie loosely.

Phil’s smile falters a bit, and his grip on Clint’s hipbone tightens, like he wants to close that miniscule distance between them. Clint hasn’t felt this sort of held-back arousal in ages. Usually he just asks, and almost as often he’ll get what he asks for when it comes to sex. But there are lines and boundaries that he’s not supposed to cross here. God knows this is the easiest way Clint has ever earned money; sacrificing a few hours every weekend with a group of people who are easy to be around pretending to date one of the most courteous people he’s ever met (he and Steve could battle for the number one spot). Then again, the way that Phil’s looking at him could either be embarrassment or lust. Clint doesn’t know him well enough to be able to discern the two at this point.

Darcy reappears, breaking their stalemate. Clint and Phil split apart smoothly, accepting the beers she shoves at them. She leans close to say something to Phil, and the way his eyes dart to Clint and then away makes Clint’s gut tighten up in knots. He chugs half of his beer down, wanting desperately to not be so aware of everything around him for a while. Phil grimaces at something else Darcy says and makes motions back towards where they came from. When Darcy looks to him as if seeking back-up, Clint shrugs and gestures at Phil. She makes a dramatic face, but takes the lead away from the dancefloor. When they’ve entered the hallway, Clint hears her say, “-but we are doing another round of shots and coming back in fifteen minutes, dammit.”

----

Those shots were a terrible idea, Phil realizes as he almost stumbles into his car. He’s never letting Darcy suggest drinks ever again. Better yet, he’s never letting Clint go along with her suggestions ever again. Clint laughs as he watches the older man turn to glare at him.

“Sorry, I didn’t think a few Jello shots would do you in like that.”

“That wasn’t a shot; that was diabetes laced with alcoholism. Your generation has some strange ideas about what’s appropriate to drink.”

“All right, grandpa, you gonna call me a whippersnapper and talk about walking up hills both ways too?”

“I have been accused of cradle robbing lately, does that count?” Straightening up, he digs his cell out of his pocket. “Either way, I’m not driving. I’ll call you a cab.”

“What about you?”

“I’m two blocks away, I’m-I’ll be fine. Hey-“ Phil flounders as his phone is yanked out of his grip.

“I’ll just come with. You can call the cab when you’re safe and sound inside.” He holds the phone back out of Phil’s reach, as if he expects him to try to grab it from him. Phil blinks and focuses on the worry on Clint’s face, deep lines in his forehead and cheeks worn there by who knows how much stress he’s gone through. His blues eyes are a glassy and his face is redder than usual. He must be at least as drunk as Phil is.

Relaxing visibly, Phil answers, “I’m not paying you overtime, Barton. But you can stay the night. I’ll drive you home in the morning.” Muttering something about it being cheaper that way, Phil walks across the short parking lot.

“Y’know I imagined you living in an old brownstone or something,” Clint observes as he catches up to Phil’s quick pace. He looks discreetly around him, noting street signs and the names of the anonymous gray buildings around them.

“I used to live in the old Jackson building, down on 25th.”

“Called it. Nice place.”

“It was. Until my roommate blew a hole in the wall and we lost our deposit.” They turn a corner, coming down a row of homey looking houses.

“A hole in the wall? How-”

“It's a long story involving too much alcohol and far too little adult supervision.”

Clint shrugs easily, “'S not like I'm going anywhere any time soon.”

Phil smiles at the memories as he pulls his keys out of his pocket and lets himself and Clint into his town house. It's modest enough; one floor and an attic, two bedrooms, a dining room, living room, den, large kitchen with a huge cutting board topped island. The walls are decorated in vintage style comic book covers and James Bond movie posters. The furniture is older, but not torn or dirtied. Everything has its own place and the low lighting makes the living room look positively cozy.

“Well damn Coulson, sweet digs,” Clint comments as he toes his shoes off. Thanking him, Phil directs him to have a seat on the couch then steps quietly into the kitchen. When he comes back out with two bottles of water in hand, he has to stop for a moment just to look. Clint's stretching his thick arms across the back of the couch, legs spread and head thrown back as if exhausted. The way he's draped himself on the cushions makes it seem like he's done it a thousand times, like he belongs there. Like he has nowhere else he'd rather be and the sight of it tugs at Phil's heart in a way he hasn't felt in years. It's startling. Clint's whole body is relaxed, and Phil wonders how often the young man actually gets to breathe easy, take a load off.

Clint lifts his head and meets Phil's gaze. The older man slaps a smile on his face and walks over to the easy chair adjacent to the couch. Offering him a water, Phil asks him, “So. You ever wonder how Fury lost his eye?”

----

“Clint, how are you at darts?” Hill asks one night, in a bar of her choice. It’s anonymous as hell, Clint can’t even remember what it’s called and that should bother him. Blurry black and white photos of the city hang on the gray walls, polished chrome tabletops have only dim yellow light to reflect weakly up at them as they all take stools around one of the larger tables. There’s a pool table and a few arcade games around a corner, and a dart board across from their table.

Clint shrugs casually. “I’m okay at them. You wanna play?” In reality, he could hit the bullseye from the other side of the bar completely wasted, but he doesn’t want to show off too much and raise undue attention.

“Are you any better at pool?”

“I like it better, but I’m only decent at it.”

“Let’s play then.” She takes her rum and coke from the table, pulling out three quarters from her pocket. Left without much choice, Clint follows her to the pool table with his bottle of beer in hand, sizing up the way Maria is familiar with the set up and certain in picking out a pool stick that has three blue and white stripes around the handle. He hands her the triangle which she takes without acknowledging him. He chooses one of the more battered looking cues, scratches along the thick end of the handle and a chip knocked out of the tip. Hill makes a humming noise and Clint looks up at her. She shrugs and leans back down to rack up the balls. “I don’t know why I’m surprised but that’s the cue that Coulson always chooses when I can get him to play.”

Clint doesn’t know what to say to that, so instead he asks, “Do you want to break?”

She shakes her head and gestures for him to do it. He lines up to strike right down the middle. Just as he’s about to take the shot, a wave of unwelcome nostalgia overtakes him. Suddenly he’s sixteen again, conning some tourists out of a couple of bills with Natasha giggling and carrying on to get them to buy them both some drinks. He takes a deep breath, adjusts the stick fourteen degrees, and takes the shot. The loud clacking of the balls is familiar, but with some indie singer crooning from the speakers and the lack of cigarette smoke or the stench of shitty beer, it’s new. Different. A stripe rolls into a far pocket.

He straightens up, smiling just a little. Hill makes a noise of appreciation, sitting back on a windowsill. “Decent, huh?”

“I used to play a lot. Never got that good at it.” He lines up, but misses the next shot. Hill sinks three solids in her next turn, missing the last one by a millimeter. She takes a lot of bank shots, angling around in complicated maneuvers. She’s surgical in her precise nature, taking her time to position and apply the right amount of pressure.

“I played a lot in the army,” she says conversationally. “But I’m sure Coulson’s told you all about that.”

He slides his eyes away from her to the table. “Hasn’t come up.”

“It wasn’t a good time for him,” she says as if that should explain everything. Clint takes his aim, trying to focus and find the surest shot. He respects Hill, but most of the time she tries to trip him up, talk about uncomfortable or difficult things. “Did you ever serve?”

“No. Why?” He could kick himself for asking that. He knows exactly why. He misses the third shot.

“Some of your habits. They remind me of when I first got out.” She glowers down at the table. Clint had only left her with a direct shot; none of the other balls were sinkable. She takes longer than before to line it up, and misses. “If I didn’t know better I’d say you did that on purpose.”

Laughing shortly, Clint replies, “I’m flattered that you think I’d have that good of aim.” When he looks at the table, he sees that he’s not left with any straight shots, the surest shot he has is one that Hill would have been able to do easily. His eyes flick up to her, but her blank expression gives nothing away. After a moment’s aim, he shoots. The ball rolls into the pocket with a quiet thud.

When Clint looks up, she’s smiling grimly at him. He feels like he gave something away with that moment of showing off, but pushes the thought away as he looks for his next shot. “Well, I just wanted you to know that you’re among friends. Most of us are ex-military, or have some ugly monster in our pasts that keeps us on our toes. So you don’t need to worry about acting perfectly all the time. We’re all messed up in our ways.” He looks up at her in surprise. “If I have to watch you pretend not to flinch every time the door opens for one more night, I may resort to kicking you under the table.”

Grinning despite himself, Clint says quietly, “Well if I have to surrender the appetizers to your inquiring fork every night, you can deal with my flinching.” Hill barks out a laugh that sounds sharper than the resounding crack of two pool balls colliding. Clint stands back up and glances back towards their table, to find Phil watching him with appreciation in his eyes. The blond tips an imaginary hat at him, which causes Phil to shake his head and return his attention to whatever story Fury was telling.

“Would you stop cockblocking me, you’re worse than Quartermain!” Hill huffs as she tries to take her next shot. Clint mumbles an apology between his laughter.

Chapter Text

“Your boy can sing, Coulson,” Nick Fury says gruffly as he sets his nearly empty beer down on the worn table. It was Sitwell’s choice this week, and that means karaoke in an old hole in the wall apparently. Clint stands in the center of the dark bar, gripping a microphone and crooning a Bing Crosby number. Phil can’t help the grin on his face as he watches the younger man wink at some very drunk girls at a nearby table and sway his body to the beat. He finishes up the last note with a twirl and an exaggerated bow to the raucous cheers of the rest of the patrons. “Why hasn’t he jumped on stage before now?”

Shrugging, Phil answers. “I suppose he felt self-conscious. Being around a group of strangers.”

“Bit of a show-off though, isn’t he?” Sitwell grumbles into his glass. His wife chuckles and leans against his side.

Quartermain elbows him jovially. “You’re just jealous he’s singing that old stuff you love so much. Don’t be bitter, Coulson’ll have to kick your ass.”

“Who’s kicking whose ass?” Clint asks as he slips back into his seat, next to Phil.

“Imma go kick that mic’s ass, I’m up!” Darcy says excitedly as she scrambles to her feet. Hill watches her go with worry.

“Who let her drink that much?”

Fury huffs a laugh as he waves at the bartender. “You want to get between that girl and her booze? Be my guest.”

Clint laughs along with the others, reaching for his beer. Phil had been right about this oatmeal stout that Clint hadn’t heard of. It was pretty damn good. The company was good too; this group of people obviously felt comfortable around each other, joking and ribbing each other and cheering as Darcy starts up her wavering tribute to Christina Aguilara. The drunk girls in front of her all jump up and begin dancing clumsily wherever they can find the space to. Nudging his date, Clint says, “Hey you’re falling behind. I’m at least a beer ahead of you.”

“It’s not a race you know,” Phil mutters, sipping more of his pale ale anyway.

By the end of the night, he’s too drunk to drive. Again. He mentally blames Clint and his competitive drinking ways. Clint just chuckles as he stumbles out of the bar behind Phil. Hill and the rest wave (and Darcy whistles and shouts tips) as the two make their way towards Phil’s home. They’re both quiet as they walk steadily down the sidewalk. Clint’s mind is on Natasha’s constant hinting at him getting his own place. But it’s only been a month since he and Phil met, he doesn’t have enough saved up just yet. Phil thinks on whether he even made the bed after Clint left last time, and since he definitely did not how he can tidy it up without Clint noticing. Suddenly, Clint tenses up and looks around casually.

“What’s wrong?”

Clint glares back down the sidewalk, blue eyes searching. Phil notes the intensity with which they focus, and wonders briefly what it’s like to be the subject of concentration like that. Clint gradually relaxes, still glancing around shiftily. “Thought I heard someone following us. Guess not.”

“Little paranoid?” Phil asks as he unlocks his front door.

Shrugging, Clint replies quietly, “Kept me alive this long.”

Phil chuckles and walks inside his house. “Has your life been threatened enough to make you so paranoid?”

Clint barks out a laugh as he leans down to pull off his boots. “You could say that, yeah. But see what I want to know is,” he gestures at the walls and the posters, “where’s your most likely huge and extremely nerdy movie collection?”

Smiling warmly at him, Phil leads the way into the den. They talk and talk before deciding on an old Adam West flick, and Phil drags the blue and white afghan off of the back of the maroon couch. He sits at one end of the small couch, and Clint props himself on the other end, his feet tucked in between the middle cushions. After the third time Clint shifts his legs, Phil says, “You can put your feet in my lap, I don’t mind.”

After a few seconds, the younger man mumbles something like, “Hope they don’t stink,” and stretches his legs out under the shared blanket. Without anywhere else to put it, Phil rests one hand on one of Clint's ankles. Eventually, his thumb starts rubbing gently against the warm weight on his legs. Clint makes a small, content noise.

----

T’Challa watches Clint rapidly drum his pen against his thigh as he scowls down at his textbook. He’s not usually one to pry, but this is the most nervous he’s seen Clint since that time Tony disappeared for a month. He clears his throat and doesn’t miss the little jump Clint’s leg does. “Are you okay Clint?”

“Peachy keen,” Clint mumbles and starts up a new, faster rhythm with the pen.

“If you say so,” T’Challa says lowly, and leaves it alone.

Clint glances up at him warily then continues glaring at the book. “What’s that s’posed to mean?

“You seem agitated, my friend.”

“Well I’m not,” Clint responds tersely.

“In that case you should cease replicating the sound of several dozen people tap-dancing with your pen.” The pen freezes immediately. Clint tosses it on the table with a sigh and flops back on the couch. “What troubles you?”

“Just uh, stressed. Midterms are coming up and all.”

T’Challa just nods. “How’s your new job?”

“Exhausting, but the people are good,” Clint replies shortly. It sounds rehearsed, but T’Challa doesn’t comment on it.

“We were all worried you might have to drop out due to your financial troubles.”

Clint grins wryly. “No need. I took care of it, like I always do.”

“Asking for help does not make one weak.”

Clint stares at him blankly. “I know that. But I take care of myself, I don’t need help.”

“Sleeping on Natasha’s couch is not considered help?” T’Challa counters. “No one thinks less of you for it, we’ve all had our troubles. You shouldn’t let it bother you.”

Clint gets up sharply, grabbing his cell phone out of his pocket. He doesn’t say anything as he strides out of the lobby of the main campus building, leaving his friend to his studies.

It’s an unknown number. No one that isn’t on his contact list should have his phone number. Something to do with the school? He lets it go to voicemail. But when he checks it a few minutes later, there’s no message. It leaves him feeling more strained than he already did.

----

If anyone asked them, neither one could say when they started getting touchier when they’re out in public. One night, through the haze of good humor and great beer, Phil notices Clint’s hand tapping lazy rhythms on his thigh and his arm around the younger man’s back. It’s comfortable, and it feels natural. It doesn’t feel like they’re faking it for his coworkers.

Suddenly, he has to force his smile. He’s getting in too deep here. This is business for Clint. Just business. And having Clint come back to his house after a ‘work night’ on occasion may have blurred the lines a little, but Phil grits his teeth and reminds himself that emotions have no place in this circumstance. He glances over at Clint, and feels his heart twist at the happy expression on his broad face, eyes nearly shut and-

He gulps down a painful amount of beer, his throat stinging. He is definitely in trouble. Time to reassess.

----

Smiling, Darcy scoots up against Phil. He looks down at her without malice. “Miss Lewis, have you already forgotten the talk we had about personal space?”

She ignores his words completely. “So how’s things with Clint?”

Phil glances over at the other people at their table. Hill and Sitwell are arguing about something, Fury is getting another drink from the bar, and Quartermain is asking the waitress something. “As well as can be expected.”

She waggles her eyebrows. “Have you guys, y’know-“

“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” he says sternly.

She giggles before sipping her fruity drink. “That’s a no.” Phil resists the urge to sigh as he scans the bar. Clint’s been in the bathroom for a long time, and it worries him. He scowls as he realizes how irrational he’s being, it’s just a bar. There’s no need to get concerned this easy. They’ve only known each other for a few months now, and Phil knows that Clint can take care of himself. He tries to focus on the conversation happening around him and ease his mind.

After another three minutes, he stands wordlessly and walks across the hardwood floor to the bathroom door. He hears Clint shouting and bursts through the door, his heart in his throat. Clint stares at him, leaning against the sink with his cell phone pushed against one ear. “Uh, I’ll call you back.” He hangs up and raises his eyebrows.

Phil straightens his tie. “Sorry. I heard shouting.”

“Good to know you’ve got my back I guess,” Clint says with a laugh. “Sorry, Natasha was being a nag like usual. She can’t figure out what I’m up to and it’s pissing her off. She’s convinced I’m in trouble.”

Phil listens to his nervous babble with a small grin. “It’s good to have friends who look after you.” Clint huffs and looks down at the floor. They walk out of the bathroom together and Clint rolls his eyes as Darcy catcalls and asks how the quickie was. Phil shoots her a venomous look but this just encourages her. He changes the subject to ordering an appetizer for them to share.

When it’s time to leave, Darcy clutches Clint in a hard hug and whispers something in his ear. He chuckles and tucks her into her cab. “What was that all about?” Phil asks as they both get into his car.

“Nothing really.”

“What did she say?”

Clint laughs and eventually answers. “She told me to make sure you relax tonight. She shoved this in my pocket.” He pulls out a wrapped condom and waves it at Phil. Phil glances at it and barks out a sharp laugh.

“I get a date that my coworkers approve of, but that’s not enough for them. Now they have to get involved in my sex life,” he gripes darkly. “Why do they have to be so nosy?”

“It’s good to have friends that look after you,” Clint mimics with a chuckle.

“I’ll just have to make up some stories for Miss Lewis.” Clint hums quietly and watches the buildings go by through the window. After a short while, they pull up two blocks away from Natasha’s apartment (Clint’s usual drop-off point). Clint turns to Phil with a smirk.

“I got a solution for you.”

“Hm?”

“I’ll give you a hickey,” Clint says plainly.

“What?” Phil grips the steering wheel tightly, willing his heart to slow down.

“A little love bite. I’ll put it right about here,” Clint drags his finger along Phil’s neck, just above his collar. Phil tenses up, goosebumps following the younger man’s touch. Clint moves his arm back to his own lap, giving Phil his space. “That would shut Darcy up for a while.”

Phil thinks hard about it, weighing the pros and cons quickly. Agreeing would cross the lines of their agreement. But if Phil were being honest, he wants to say yes to more than just some necking. His selfish impulses win out over the rational decision for once in his life. “Sure. It would help appearances.”

Clint grins at him as he pulls his tie loose and opens his collar. “I mean, it doesn’t break the rule you set out in the first place. You’re not paying me for this.”

Phil almost laughs from the absurdity of the situation. “No, you’re off the clock now. You’re free to do whatever you want. But Clint,” Phil looks at him, searching his slightly red face, “you don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”

“I know,” Clint says quietly. “It was my idea.”

Clint closes the distance between them, grazing the warm skin of Phil’s throat with his thumb before moving his shirt collar out of the way. Phil swallows dryly as he angles his head away and closes his eyes. It’s a little uncomfortable, both of them twisted oddly to come together over the center console. Clint lightly kisses the spot he marked with his finger before swirling his tongue over the tense muscle. He breathes in, calming himself and drinking in Phil’s aftershave-and-coffee scent. Suddenly he sucks down, hard. Phil draws in a quick breath, his heartbeat thudding under Clint’s lips. His hand jerks up of its own accord, gripping Clint’s bicep like a vice. Grinning, Clint bites down gently and hears Phil suck in another short breath. He moves to the left a little, still sucking and biting. Phil slides his hand up Clint’s shoulder and across his back.

“Clint-“ Phil says with a slight tremor in his voice. “I think that’s-“ Clint abandons his neck and swiftly plants a kiss on Phil’s lips, all hard pressure and heat. Phil responds immediately, pushing back just as hard. And just as quickly as it starts, it stops. Clint reels back and away, chuckling in that self-deprecating manner he has.

“Sorry, sorry. Got carried away.” He carelessly swipes at his mouth with the back of his hand. “With school and stuff I haven’t had any time to-”

“It’s all right,” Phil interrupts; his voice flat and calm again. He closes his shirt and tugs his tie back into place. “Thank you. Have a good night.”

“You too,” Clint says, his voice rough. He gets out of the car and closes the door, feeling insanely happy for once in a long time as he walks briskly through the October night. Eventually, ration and worry dim his ecstatic glow. This whole arrangement is going to become a lot more complicated if he doesn’t keep himself under control. He hears his phone buzzing in his pocket and mutters a curse. He pulls it out to find “Unknown Caller” blaring up at him from the screen. With a grunt, he winds his arm back and throws the cell away from him. It smashes into a brick planter and splinters into a handful of broken plastic with a clattering noise.

“Fuck,” he shouts as he dashes over to the broken phone. Picking through the debris, he finds the SIM card and clutches it to him. After a moment’s thought, he snaps the card in two and tosses it into a nearby trash can. He kicks the cell phone bits and scatters them across the sidewalk. He’d buy a new one tomorrow, get a new number, and only tell his friends and Phil.

Anything to keep his brother from calling him again.

Chapter Text

Monday night, Phil curls up on the couch in the den and tries not to think about how many stares and outright chuckling he’d endured. Darcy had whooped victoriously, asking him how he’d ever gotten along without her. He’d ignored her of course, and Sitwell’s teasing and Hill’s snort. He traces his fingers along his throat, right where he knows the marks are. His stomach churns pleasantly at the still-sharp memory of the arousal that had struck him in the car last night. He runs his hand over his dick, feeling it harden slowly through his flannel house pants at the thought of how desperately he’d shucked his slacks off when he’d returned to the safety of his home after dropping Clint off. Guilt pings in the back of his head, but the need to get his cock in his hand overrules it.

Suddenly, someone raps loudly at his door. He takes a moment in the bathroom, splashing cold water on his face. Confused, he steps quietly out to the door. Through the peephole, he sees Clint staring down the sidewalk wearing a ratty purple hoodie and what appear to be charcoal grey pajama pants. He unlocks and opens the door quickly, fear tightening a knot in his stomach.

“Clint? Are you okay?”

Clint looks surprised at the urgent tone in the older man’s voice. “Yeah, yeah I’m fine. I’m not bothering you, am I?”

“Not at all, I was just-come in,” he says with a wave. Locking the door behind them, he turns to say something to Clint, but it flies from his mind as soon as his eyes land on Clint’s ass. He’s bending over to take his shoes off like usual. Let it never be said that Clint had anything less than a spectacular ass. The thin material of the well-loved pajama bottoms hugs his cheeks perfectly.

“Sorry for just coming by-“ Clint turns towards him, and catches the way Phil’s eyes jerk upwards and his face reddens slightly. He smirks, slipping his bookbag from his shoulders. “You,” he says incredulously, “were just checking out my goods.”

Clearing his throat, Phil strides past him. “Coffee?”

“Hey, whoa, hold up!” Clint follows him into the kitchen, laughter in his voice. “We are talking about this, you hear me?” Phil ignores him as he sets up the coffee machine. “You were looking at my ass. Which probably means you liked what you saw.”

“And if I did?” Phil says calmly, deciding that acting casual about this would be the best route.

“Well, then we need to do something about this. Because-I mean I don’t know if you’re aware of this-but you are highly attractive.” The older man huffs out a laugh at this statement. “I mean it! You have a nice set of buns yourself. I’ve felt you up a few times, you’re all muscle under those suits.”

Phil turns his head to shoot a disbelieving look over his shoulder. “You probably thought you were being discreet when you did that.”

Clint shrugs and leans back against the island. “Apparently not as much as I thought. The point is, if we’re both game, we should put an addendum on our little arrangement.”

“Clint,” Phil sighs as the coffee maker hisses into action. “Sex can complicate things.”

“I’m not stupid, I know that.” Clint’s voice lowers bitterly.

“You sound like you speak from experience.” Phil barely hears the humming sound that Clint makes. “Natasha?”

“Her and I dating was the worst idea ever.”

“And this is different how?”

“Because-well you’re not her. And I’m not stupid and sixteen.”

Phil chuckles at him. He turns, fixing Clint with a hard look. “You’re not seeing anyone? No other dates?”

“I don’t have time,” Clint says plainly. “It’s been…oh God, it’s been four months since I last had sex,” he simpers pitiably.

“See? You’re just looking for the most convenient outlet for all that energy.” He pours them both a cup and hands one to Clint, who takes it with a grumble. “Now, why are you here? Not that I mind your company.”

The blond shrugs as if it’s nothing major. “Natasha has a date over. She requested I leave the premises. And I’ve got some homework to do, everywhere’s closed or crowded-“

Phil frowns. “That’s not exactly fair, if you’re roommates.” Clint tries to drink the coffee to keep from having to answer, but nearly burns his tongue on the scalding beverage. He grimaces and glances around the kitchen. The realization hits Phil immediately. “You’re homeless, aren’t you?”

Clint’s jaw twitches, and he stares off to the left. “Like I said when we met, I’m broke as shit. Or I was. I’ll have enough saved up for my own place by winter break.”

Phil wants to shout at him, ask him why he didn’t say anything before, why he didn’t ask for more money or if he could stay in Phil’s spare room that’s obviously not being used by anyone else. But he doesn’t. He just sips slowly at the coffee, letting it cool just enough to be palatable. Clint’s eyes don’t move from whatever he’s staring at on the fridge next to Phil. “So, you just need somewhere to study for the night?”

“Uh, yeah,” Clint mumbles. “I’ve got to submit this paper by midnight so just until then at the latest.”

Phil nods his permission. “It’s fine, I don’t mind. But I do have work tomorrow so I’ll be going to bed now. You’re welcome to come over whenever you need.” Clint’s mouth quirks up in one corner, and he thanks his host. As Clint sets up his stuff in the den, sitting with his back against an arm rest and his feet tucked into the cushions on the couch, Phil slips into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Clint chuckles quietly as he hears the older man gargle his mouthwash loudly. He clamps down on the rising sense of panic; this all feels far too comfortable, it’s almost domestic. He never felt like this before with anyone, not even Natasha. The ease with which he and she move around each other is unnoticeable, it’s like breathing. But this.

He can taste the comfort on each breath, hear the now familiar creaks and moans of the townhouse, his eyes barely dart around anymore to check for threats or disturbances. He’s starting to feel safe here. He hasn’t felt like that in years, not even in Natasha’s place or his old apartment. He sees Phil come into the den out of the corner of his eye, but doesn’t look up.

“Goodnight,” he says softly. Clint meets his gaze, noting something unusual there. Not the usual gentle fondness or blatant concern or even the sharp, clinical glare he sends all and sundry. It’s as if he’s looking at a toy he’s been banned from. “Do you need anything?”

“Nah, I’m good.” He holds up a box of Poptarts. “Brought my own snack and everything. Thanks again.”

Phil nods jerkily. “Don’t mention it. Lock up if you leave, but you’re welcome to the bed. The spare bed.”

Clint cracks a grin. “Addendum! Seriously, we should talk about-”

Sighing wearily, Phil turns to leave. “Maybe in the morning, if you’re still here.”

“G’night, snookums!” Clint jeers. Phil doesn’t grace him with a response. Straining his ears, Clint hears him close the door of his room and eventually the creaking of his mattress. He settles himself back into the couch, double checking all his references for this paper. He only needs to do one last edit of the ten page paper, but he really didn’t want to do it in some late-night diner or at Thor’s place. He’d thought of Phil’s quiet home and the coffee and of Phil being there to chat with, and found himself on the bus before he could reconsider.

Almost an hour later, he submits the paper and shuts his laptop off happily. He’s finally getting used to writing those stupid essays (after seven semesters writing the damn things). A low noise drags him from his thoughts, coming from Phil’s bedroom. Not for the first time, he curses his terrible hearing. Silently, he stands and makes his way to the hallway, avoiding known squeaky floorboards. Standing just outside of the door, he hears the noise again and feels his muscles tense in reflex. It sounded like a pained noise, cut short. He turns the doorknob slowly, opening the door by millimeters until he can peek through.

Light from between the blinds slants across the simple bed. Quick unmistakable movement shifts the sheets around Phil’s middle, and heavy breathing fills the room. Clint’s body reacts instantly, heat rushing from his gut to his throat and drying his mouth. He swallows and leans back to close the door, when he hears the noise one last time.

Straining to be silent, Phil gasps, “Clint-“

He swings the door open, watching as Phil jerks upright and says breathlessly, “Hah-hey, what’s-“ Clint silences him by crossing the room swiftly and leaning across the bed to kiss him soundly on the mouth. Hands calloused by a life of working hard grip Clint’s shirt, pulling him closer. Phil lets out a needy noise, yanking Clint into his lap and rutting up against him. Clint breaks away, breathing hard and grinding back down in response.

“Been tested lately?” Clint asks, voice only slightly unsteady.

“After the last time I had sex, I’m negative,” Phil answers, surprisingly clear.

“Same. Oh goddamn, I-you said my fucking name, Phil.”

“Sorry, I just-“

Clint kisses him harshly, before pulling away to tear at the blankets that separate them. He splays his hands over Phil’s bare chest, loving the sparse hair that tickles his palms. He carefully avoids an ugly looking scar over Phil’s left nipple, gliding his touch up the thick neck and running his thumb along Phil’s jaw. He catches Phil’s eyes in a searching gaze, and sees mostly want but a touch of uncertainty. He watches as color rises in Phil’s cheeks, and his eyes become focused on him. Clint’s rough fingertips slip gently down Phil’s cock, poking out from the waistband of pajama bottoms. He grips the base tightly, squeezing up and then gliding back down.

“If I’m doing something you don’t like, say so.”

“If you stop, I just might kill you,” Phil says fiercely.

Phil lays down when Clint laughs and pushes him, arms reaching back to put another pillow under his head. He wants to see this, to see Clint’s brilliant blue eyes devouring him and roving all over his body and his hands-good God, those hands-teasing and pulling him closer and closer to orgasm. He chuckles and runs his palms up the thighs straddling him. “Find something funny?” Clint asks distractedly.

It takes a lot of effort for Phil to say, “Yes. You’re going to ruin those pants. You should get rid of them, for your budget’s sake.”

Clint huffs and twists his wrist just so, making Phil’s hips snap up towards him. “Wouldn’t be the first time. They’ll live.” He doesn’t say anything else, ignoring his own straining erection in favor of Phil’s, both hands moving deftly. It’s all Phil can do now to keep from muttering filthy things into the heated air between them. All the things he’d imagined when he’d been alone, unable to ignore the arousal that had shook him earlier. Even though he’d tossed and turned for an entire hour, thinking how awful it would be to jack off thinking about the young man in the next room. But eventually, his resolve had broken. That happens around Clint a lot, he notes absently.

“Clint, I-“ Phil chokes out as his body shudders. The blond just grins down at him gleefully before bending down to suck the tendons standing out on his throat. His hands quicken, a palm rolling wetly over the head. It drives Phil over the edge, and his blunt nails dig into the thick muscles of Clint’s thighs as he rocks up into the unrelenting grip. After a short while, he slumps down into his mattress, boneless in the best way. He’s granted only so much silence, before Clint has to open his mouth and ruin it.

“So. Addendum?”

“Shut up and strip,” Phil commands, flipping Clint onto his back. Clint laughs, but complies.

----

Hill looks up as Phil bursts into her office, a manila folder in his hands. He slaps the folder on her organized desk, and says firmly, “You had no right.”

She stares up at him stonily. “Did you read it?”

“No, of course not,” he answers huffily. “That would be a gross invasion of privacy.”

“Really?” She slips the mugshot out of the folder. Clint gazes balefully up from the picture, much younger and bruised, holding a placard clutched in his scraped knuckles. She flips the photo towards him, waving it tantalizingly. “You’re not even a little curious? There’s some juicy stuff in here, more than I figured there would be. He’s led an interesting life this boy of yours-“

“I don’t want to know, unless he feels comfortable telling me first.”

“What if he’s playing you? He’s got a brother who’s constantly in and out of detention, dead parents-“

“I don’t want to know,” Phil says forcibly. “Unless it’s from him, I don’t want to know.”

“The kid’s a thug, Coulson. He’s hurt people.” Silence reigns. She sighs before putting the mugshot back and closing the folder. She offers it to him. “His name came up because his older brother’s suspected in one of our fraud cases. The report says that Clint’s not heard from him for several years, but who knows for sure. He’s become a person of interest to the authorities. I thought you had the right to know.”

“You thought wrong. What Clint chooses to tell me about his life is his business, not mine and definitely not yours.” He takes the folder from Maria’s hand, snatching it away. “I appreciate that you are trying to protect me, but this? This is not okay. This is…it’s massively out of line.”

“If I was dating someone with a past like his,” she says icily, “I sure as hell would want to know. That’s all I have to say on the matter. He seems like a good kid, I won’t argue with that. But he’s done some things, seen worse.” Maria focuses again on her computer as Phil turns to walk away. “Oh, and Coulson? Do something about the hickeys. I’m sick of the emails I’m getting about it.” He doesn’t grace her with a reply before shutting the door with a loud click.

He storms back to his office, one floor up. The people he passes in the halls give him a wide berth. Back in his own space, he immediately crosses over to his paper shredder. Turning it on, he flips the folder open, to Clint’s mugshot. Staring down at the picture, he notes the sorrow in Clint’s eyes. The firm line of his mouth. The photo is eight years old, but for a sixteen year old there is too much world-weariness there in his expression. Phil drags his fingers along the stack of papers. He can admit to himself that yes, he is very curious to know what the contents of the folder hold. Sighing, he rocks back on his heels and clutches the papers.

He listens to the whirring blades of the shredder, staring down into Clint’s unknown past.

Chapter Text

“I really appreciate it man,” Bruce says as he heaves a beaten-up bookbag next to his front door. “Feel free to partake, since you’re taking care of my babies.”

Clint smiles wryly at him. “I just may take you up on that, Dr. Banner.”

Bruce rolls his eyes at the nickname. “I still can’t believe Loki was able to get tickets for this! It’s been sold out for months.”

“Loki has his ways,” Clint murmurs, rifling through his own bag and making sure he had all he’d need to housesit for the next week. Fall break usually found him holed up in Natasha’s place, both of them working on homework and drinking themselves silly but she’s been twitchy lately. He tries not to wonder if it’s finally that point in their friendship that they’ve just gotten sick of each other, but knowing that he’s going to be stuck alone-

The vibrating of his phone makes him jump slightly. He answers it after a glance at the caller ID-and a quick, private smile that Bruce sees from across the living room. “What’s up, boss?”

“Clint, I have a huge favor to ask you. And before I say anything else, be aware I’m willing to offer you twice the usual rate for this.” Clint’s smile dissipates at the tension in Phil’s voice.

“Sure, uh, hang on-“ Clint puts his hand over the phone. “Sorry, work-mind if I-?” Bruce shrugs, giving permission for whatever Clint was about to ask. Clint strides swiftly up the narrow stairs, secluding himself in the small bathroom. “So what’s going on? Do we need to go get a fake marriage certificate, bury a body, give Fury a wedgie?”

“No, all of that is easy in comparison.”

“Well, what’s the gig then?” After that sentence, Clint has to draw in a breath. He doesn’t know why it hasn’t hit him until now, the similarity. It’s a little too much like the old days (Barney grinning crookedly, ironing out the last of the details and Clint just sitting around, waiting to be pointed in the right direction), but he solidly tells himself that no, this is nothing like that at all.

Phil goes silent for only a few seconds. “My aunt Jenny heard about you, and is demanding that I bring you to Thanksgiving dinner with me.”

Clint lets out a half-hysterical laugh. “Holiday pay to deal with your family?”

“I don’t think you understand the severity of the situation. My aunt will make Hill look like an angel. She will interrogate you, and me, and-“

“Phil, calm down,” Clint says lowly.

He can feel the breath that Phil draws in, deep down into his diaphragm. “She will be very aggressive. If my cousins are there, they may or may not be worse. I told her I would check with you to see if you had plans.”

Clint considers it. He really has no desire to sit through some family movie dinner, “Thanksgiving with the Coulsons” just does not sound like his scene. But he can hear the desperation in Phil’s voice, the way he tries to breathe through it and talk slowly. So he says the only thing that he can. “Well, uh. I’m not sure you need to pay me that much. But I could uh, I could do it.”

The relieved sigh that he hears crackle over the cell feels like a reward all on its own. They take only a minute to hash out specifics. He comes out of the bathroom, grinning a little, and jogs back down the stairs. Bruce is grinning at him dopily. Squinting at him, Clint asks warily, “What? What’s with the look?”

Bruce shrugs, feigning innocence. “Oh, nothing. What did uh, ‘work’ want?”

“I’ll have to go in Thursday-no really, what’s with the face?”

Laughing, Bruce says, “You’ve got it bad for your boss don’t you?”

Clint scoffs, ready to deny it, but Bruce’s laughter is contagious and all that comes out is a half-choked “Fuck you Banner!”

----

“So,” Jennifer Louise Coulson-Maye says as she sets down her coffee cup on the long dining room table. Clint looks up at her over the rim of his glass of water from his seat three chairs to left of her position at the head of the table. Phil glances up from the plate that he’s piling high with sweet potatoes. “You’re a student, Clint?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Yes ma’am,” chorus the twins together (Billy and Tommy, age 12, Phil’s cousin’s Mark’s kids, wife Ashley). They’ve been repeating Clint’s words the entire afternoon.

“Boys,” their mother warns tiredly, her long blond hair up in a messy bun.

Jenny smiles warmly at them, and they drop their mischievous grins to stuff their faces with turkey. “A bit young,” she says without judgment, “for our Phil.” Phil huffs. “I’m just stating a fact. A bit old for school, at twenty four.”

Clint just shrugs. “Well, I got a late start.”

“Well, I got a late-“

“Oh shut your pie holes already!” the teenage girl with sleek black hair (Kate, age 15, oldest daughter to Phil’s cousin Michelle and husband Edward) says loudly, glaring at the boys from across the table. They giggle maniacally. Kate glares at the chubby girl with wavy blond hair next to her. “I am so glad that you don’t have a twin.”

“Ditto!” the girl enthuses (Cassie, age 13, younger sister to Kate).

“Ditto!”

“The next child to be unnecessarily repetitive will do all the dishes for the rest of their stay,” Jenny intones solemnly. Silence reigns. “Now Clint,” she says with a deceptively sweet tone, “what was so important that you had to delay your education?”

Phil’s fork clinks loudly as he sets it down. “Aunt Jenny, please-“

“If he hasn’t told you already, well I suppose you’ll find out now.”

“It’s all right,” Clint placates.

“No, it’s not,” Mark groans. “She does this to everyone any of us bring home.”

“She made me cry within five minutes of meeting her,” Ed says flatly.

“And you all are stronger people for it, so I don’t see the problem.”

“I ran away to join the circus,” Clint deadpans. There’s a beat of silence, before Ed snorts out a laugh. Then the rest of the family joins in the comfortable laughter. Phil watches Clint stare down at his plate, biting his lips. Mark elbows Phil companionably in the ribs. “But uh, seriously. I had some family matters to take care of when I got out of school. I got back on track when I could.”

“Family matters?” Jenny digs.

Clint resists the urge to clench his fist around his fork. “Helping my brother start up his business back in Iowa.”

“Your parents couldn’t support him?”

His eyes squint minutely. “They’re a bit busy pushing up daisies. Car accident. I lived in a group home, graduated high school, helped my brother for a couple years, then moved out here.” Jenny looks on him intently with her watery eyes, just a touch bluer than Phil’s. She has that same bland expression down to the twitch in the jaw when Clint straightens to return her gaze. “I’m allergic to shellfish. I like the color purple. In the spring I work for the Renn Faire, doing archery for performance and teaching kids how to shoot. I’m dating your nephew without any ulterior motives and with a lot of sh-trouble from his coworkers and now his aunt. And, I gotta tell ya, I don’t much appreciate all the suspicion.”

“Hm,” Jenny hums after he’s finished. “Good to know. Ashley, what do you think of the mayor’s latest attempts to revamp the public housing initiative? I’d say it’s too little too late.” Ashley barely pauses before ranting about how the newspapers are getting all the facts wrong. Phil sags back slightly against the chair, immensely proud of the way Clint handled that. Clint gulps down half of his water in one go. He starts when he feels Phil’s foot nudge into his toe. Phil offers him a grateful smile, only receiving a short quirk of the corners of his lips in return.

Later, as the kids thunder downstairs to the basement and the ping-pong table, the adults relocate to the den. Jenny’s home is impeccable, a gorgeous three story house in the country outside of the city, fenced and gated. Clint sits on the front porch swing, taking a breather. Out of sight from everyone, his fingers now scratch and pull at a loose thread on his pants seam. His brow knits together and his mouth sneers. He rests his head against the back of the swing, concentrating on the cool air moving lazily around him and the few sounds coming from inside. The stale city smells he’s so accustomed to are gone, replaced with a crispness and probably shouldn’t set him on edge, but it does. It’s unfamiliar, and at this moment he could use the comfort of familiarity.

“Here,” someone says beside him. He jerks forward, slapping his feet on the porch. Kate stares down at him, not smiling. Her eyes are as flinty and cold as slate. She offers him a short glass about half-full with what could be whiskey. “Phil asked me to bring you this. He was trying to sneak it out to you but Grandma grabbed him to help with cleaning.” He looks up at her, expecting a trap or a punchline. “He also said to enjoy it because you really shouldn’t drink too much. The matriarch would think you’re alcoholic.”

She doesn’t flinch when he swipes the glass from her. Clint slugs it all back without a grimace. Kate slides up on the handrail opposite him, watching him put the glass on the windowsill behind him. “So. Your brother’s a dick?” He looks up at her in surprise. “I’m sorry, did you really think everyone believed that crap story of yours?”

“I-I’m sorry?”

“Oh, most of it was true. Renn faire? Really? Pretty dorky.” She pulls her dark purple canvas jacket tighter as the wind picks up for a second. “Look, Mom and Dad had to quarantine me almost a whole summer here at Jenny’s because of some stuff. I picked up way too much. Gotta hand it to you, you’re an amazing liar.”

“Yeah well, I had a pretty good teacher,” he mumbles.

She keeps talking as if she hasn’t heard him. “But that bit about graduating and helping out your brother? Total crap. But um.” Kate tilts her head to left, surveying him. “Phil is absolutely crazy about you. He never tried to interrupt with the cellist. But he was, like, the most boring person I have ever watched Grandma grill so there’s that. He’s worried.”

“Worried?” Clint says the word in disbelief.

“Yeah, totally freaked out about something to do with your past.” Clint’s mind races (he knows, knows all that you’ve done, knows all the terrible secrets you’ve been running from). “I mean, he’s completely trusting you on this. Otherwise he would have poked and prodded and found out what’s up before you got here. He’s not completely evil.”

Clint sits in silence, feeling the scotch churning in his stomach a little uncomfortably. “I uh,” he says roughly. “So if you guessed all that, it’s safe to bet that Aunt Jenny did too.”

“Eh. She probably missed a lot of it. Like I said you’re a good liar, but I have good eyes. And your tells are different than what she’s used to catching.” Kate shrugs. “I’d give it another three minutes before heading back inside. Much longer and you’ll be accused of being a loner.” She jumps down from the rail gracefully. “You should try telling Phil about all of it. He’s a pretty cool guy when it comes to stuff that you’d think would turn him against someone. Trust me on that.”

The stiff set of her shoulders and precise pace tell him there’s more to the story. But he doesn’t ask. “Nice to know,” is all he says.

That night, as they drive the hour back to the city, Clint’s silent in the passenger seat of Phil’s car. He watches the full moon slipping between clouds and the stars grow dimmer the closer they get to home. His mind is idle, exhausted from the long afternoon. The window is cool against his forehead, and the vents send warm air curling through the car. “So. Your aunt is very much worse than Hill.”

Phil sighs. He’s tired as well. “I’d tell Fury to stop e-mailing her the office gossip if I thought it would do any good.”

“What’s her deal anyway?”

“She’s overprotective, that’s all. This side of the family tree’s always been like that.”

They’re both quiet for a moment. “Is that really the whole story?”

“Did you really run away and join the circus?”

Clint grins at the sharp tone in Phil’s voice. “Yes, actually. I was eight years old, and my parents had been dead for four years. Barney and I didn’t quite make it to the circus though, someone took us in so we stuck around. Your turn.”

Phil seems to consider his words carefully. “When I was younger, my father and mother were determined to have my life go a certain way. And when I deviated from that path, they disowned me. I went to their funeral twenty years ago. That was the last time I’ve seen my brother and sisters. Aunt Jenny kept in contact with me the whole time, making sure I had somewhere to be during the holidays or that I wasn’t wasting away in my dorm. And after the event of a few years ago, she’s been especially terrible about bringing home dates.” Clint doesn’t say anything when he finishes. “What sort of business did your brother need help with?”

Clint takes in a deep breath. “Stealing cars. I was eleven the first time he took me. It was in Boston, not Iowa.” Phil remembers sometimes hearing a bit of an accent slip out when Clint was tired or drunk. “We got into a lot of bad stuff. And then I met Natasha, and she and I got out of there. That was when I was seventeen. And now I’m here, trying to move on with my life.” His face is in its usual terse glare that seems to be his default. His voice is quiet and rough, like it hurts to speak. “I’ll understand if you don’t want to keep doing this. Whatever this is.”

Phil thinks about it for a moment. “Leave my car alone and I think we’ll be okay.”

“Really? Just like that?” Clint asks in disbelief.

“Clint. I’m paying you to pretend to be my boyfriend. You could have conned me out of a lot of things, negotiated or manipulated me out of a lot of money. Instead you’re couch surfing and refusing to let me help you more than I am now. You don’t use the less reputable skills you may have to live comfortably.”

“I could be lying to you about everything,” he mutters darkly before pressing his knuckles against his lips.

“You could,” Phil agrees quietly. “I don’t believe you are.”

Clint just sits and digests it all. He doesn’t say another word until they’ve pulled up outside of Bruce’s house. When he does speak, it’s low and flat, his control cracking. “Thanks, Phil. I mean it.”

Phil considers the young man beside him, in the lighting of a nearby streetlight and the glow of the dashboard. The dark shadows cast by the creases of his face are so familiar now, but they’re new, in a way. Clint’s never looked at him like that, full of gratitude and genuine openness. He’s nervous too, brow creased and eyes seeking approval. In his peripheral, Phil can see those blunt fingers toying with a frayed string on the seam of his muted green pants. “You’re welcome,” he whispers.

He wants to reach over, stroke his thumb against Clint’s jaw, pull him in for a kiss, slide his other hand under Clint’s shirt and feel that warm muscled torso, maybe ask if it’d be inappropriate for them to fuck somewhere in Clint’s friend’s house.

He doesn’t get the chance. Clint smiles weakly at him before opening the door and climbing out gracelessly. Phil has nothing to do but put the car back in drive and leave. He’s too busy internally berating himself for how ridiculous he’s being to notice the curvy, redheaded girl walking with purpose down the sidewalk. But she notices him (mentally memorizing car model, make, license plate number, driver’s appearance) as she strides up to the same house Clint disappeared into.

He barely gets a second to lean against the closed door, rubbing his face and struggling to not just run upstairs and find some of Bruce’s proffered weed or maybe Loki’s gin. He wouldn’t trust himself to not call Phil up and blubber about how he was probably falling head over heels for him if he did get high or drunk. And then the rapid-fire knock at the door propels him forward and back around to jerk it open, his heart thudding painfully with irrational hope. But it’s just Natasha, looking at him with vague concern.

“You were expecting-“

“No one. Uh. Hi?” He collects himself, standing back to let her in. She slides in, unnecessarily close to his body. The leather of her coat is cold against his hand as he grabs her elbow. She freezes. “One of those nights?”

She grins sweetly. “You know me so well, Clint.” He lets her go. She’s never used pet names, finding them terrible and nauseating. But there are ways that she says his name sometimes, and he knows that different inflections can be just as affectionate as a ‘baby’ or ‘sweetheart.’ She removes her coat, hanging it on one of the hooks by the door, which Clint closes with a quiet click. Natasha takes off her knee-high boots, hearing the accompanying thumps of Clint’s shoes. When she unbends, she finds herself pushed against the wall, one arm behind her back.

“We haven’t done this in months,” Clint growls into her ear.

“Neither of us had time,” she says smoothly, spreading her feet. Clint’s hand trails down her side, to her ass. He grips it tightly before slipping lower and scratching his short nail along the seam of her jeans. She squirms and he increases the pressure. “You’re pushy tonight. Agitated?”

“Just had to work on Thanksgiving. You’d be pissed too.”

She huffs a laugh before turning quickly and tripping his legs out from under him. He lands on his ass on the carpet, laying on his back with a chuckle. She straddles his hips, pulling his arms up over his head with both hands before diving down for a biting kiss. Clint groans and rolls his hips against the shaggy carpet, sucking at her lip in the way that always makes her gasp. She licks back into his mouth when he releases her, less harshly this time. Natasha eventually leaves his lips, biting and kissing his neck. “I want you to eat me out first.”

“And I’m the pushy one,” he chuckles. After they’re done, both of them exhausted and sore and spent, curled up on Loki’s bed (it was revenge, after that maple syrup thing, he deserved to have someone have sex in his bed for once) Clint realizes that as awesome as Sex with Nat is, it’s not what he really wants right now. It was familiar and brutal and tender and all the things they are with each other, but-

“Clint, you’re a very good fuck,” Natasha says matter-of-fact.

“Uh, thanks?”

“And you’re a good friend. You were a good boyfriend, back then.”

He squints up at the ceiling. “Sounds like there’s a ‘but’ coming up.”

She sits up, naked and unabashed. Clint loves the way the light from the open door falls over her rounded breasts, loves how she looks down at him with wide open eyes and affection in her expression. He loves her so very much. “I’ve never actually loved you. Or having sex with you.”

He works his mouth open and closed a few times. He can honestly say this is the most surprising thing she’s ever said to him. “Okay. You’ve lost me.”

“It’s fun. But I’ve never had satisfying sex with anyone. It’s not just you.”

“That’s reassuring,” he mumbles. “So you’ve just faked it, every time? Why didn’t you-“

“No, you are especially good at making me come. Better than anyone. Even Rogers.”

"Can we just act like that never happened?” he groans, throwing his forearm over his eyes.

“Clint, I’m trying to tell you something very important.” Her voice carries an undertone of urgency. He lifts his head to stare at her sternly. Her face is blank as she intones flatly, “I think I may be broken.”

“Tasha,” Clint whispers, sitting up to pull her into a hug. “You’re not broken. I promise.” He strokes her hair gently and feels her lean more into his touch. “If you were broken you wouldn’t be able to care at all. You haven’t lost that. You’re all right.”

She’s silent for a while, tracing an old scar on his arm(butcher’s knife, business owner who needed to be reminded who was in charge in the neighborhood, thought he could take a slice out of Clint and not get Natasha’s bullet in his leg for his troubles). “Then I must be gay, I suppose.”

Clint laughs heartily, and gets pinched. “Really?”

“Yes. I met a girl. She and I have been talking and we kissed the other night and it felt better than that one time in Johnstown.”

Clint’s brow furrows in disbelief. “You came like six times in an hour and my arm was sore for a week. How-“ She just shrugs in his arms. “So that happened. Uh. Maybe you are.” He struggles to not make this about him, about how terrible he feels for all the times they’ve had sex over the years.

“Stop it,” she orders gently, digging her nail ever so slightly into the scar. “I had sex with you because I wanted to.”

“Or because you were working me,” he says shortly. She slaps his arm harshly and he leans away chuckling. “It’s true, don’t deny it!” She shakes her head at him and gets up to go use Loki’s shower (her vibrant hair will surely get stuck in the drain and piss him off to no end). “Hey, this girl got a name?”

Natasha doesn’t look back as she answers, “Darcy Lewis.” Clint’s heart skips a beat, Phil’s voice in his head as he introduced some smiling girl with the nicest rack Clint’s seen in a long time. He sinks back into the pillows, no energy in him to panic at the moment.

“Sounds cute. Wanna share her sometime?” he asks, keeping his voice jaunty and loud. Natasha laughs at that, and turns the water on as if in conclusion of the conversation. Clint scrubs at his face, worry edging in on his consciousness yet again.

Chapter Text

Another tense day at the office is done. Phil’s ready to go home, make some dinner, and not deal with anyone for a while. Hill’s been a hard-ass about all of his paperwork lately, piling it high on his desk and demanding a quick return. But it’s Thursday, and it’s almost Christmas, and he’ll have a few days off to recharge his batteries so he tries to focus on that instead of the exhaustion pulling at him. Plus, Friday night he’ll get to see Clint for the Holiday party.

As he strides out of the building, into the blustery winter air, he notices a young woman standing next to the door. She locks eyes with him, and for once he finds himself unable to read someone’s expression. “Phillip Coulson?” she asks with a stern voice.

“Yes. How can I-“

“Walk with me.” She turns down the block, high heeled boots snapping against the sidewalk.

“What’s this about?” he asks, not moving.

“Clint,” she shoots over her shoulder. Her voice goes soft. “This is about Clint Barton.”

After a stunned moment, he follows her. She leads him to a small diner, dark and secretive on the inside. The hostess waves and greets the mystery woman in what sounds like Russian, and she responds in kind. They slide into a booth, and the girl shouts an order to the chubby cook, who laughs and nods. She turns her attention to Phil, eyes trained on him. “What’s your relationship with Clint?”

“What’s it to you?” he returns.

“I owe him a debt. And me? I’m the worst kind of person you will ever meet.” She doesn’t shout or even speak very loudly, doesn’t gesture or point. She sits straightbacked, fingers of one hand over the other, and face completely blank. “If I think that you’re going to hurt or use him in any way that isn’t consensual, I won’t hesitate to make your life hell. So,” she tosses her very red hair over her shoulder, considering him, “what’s your relationship with Clint?”

Phil smiles genially. “You must be Natasha. I’ve heard a great deal about you.”

“Wish I could say the same.”

“You want to know my intentions? I-“ He has to think a moment. Which version should he tell her? That he and Clint are dating? He remembers that Clint had mentioned he’d told Natasha that he had a new job. Maybe that he and Clint work together and they were keeping the relationship quiet? Going for broke, he decides that the fewer specifics he gives her the better. “I just want to keep him happy. Whatever that takes, I’ll do it.”

Natasha squints at him, angling her head slightly. She observes him, seeing the faint twitch in his jaw. “You expect me to buy that?” she asks with a quirk of an eyebrow.

“I can’t,” he swallows and looks down at his folded hands. “I can’t say how he feels about me. But I like him very much. I care for him.”

“Do you make him call you ‘daddy’ when you fuck him?” He glares at her sharply, but the patented Coulson stare has no effect on her. “He’s had some mentor issues in the past. He thinks so lowly of himself that any kindness he’s given must come at a price, which he is always willing to pay.” She pauses, looking around the restaurant. Voice thick, she continues. “I look after him and he looks after me.”

“I understand that you feel like you’re just protecting him, but you make it sound like he can’t take care of himself.”

Her lips purse into a small smile. “When it comes to sex and romance, Clint has a tendency to become self-sabotaging. I need to be sure you’re not going to hurt him.”

“I’d rather taze myself than do that,” Phil swears.

“Good to hear.” Natasha leans back, eyeing him. “You are not what I expected,” she says simply.

“Neither are you.” The hostess comes over, babbling excitedly and putting out mugs full of something that smells rich and earthy.

“Try it,” Natasha offers, taking her own mug. “It’s on me.” He smiles at her, and reaches for the other cup.

----

“Darcy.”

“Kl’rt,” she answers, turning away from the snack table with a mouthful of Oreos. The SHIELD Holiday party is in full swing, the lobby’s decked out with decorations and Christmas music plays from the old stereo in the corner. People mingle around with glasses of eggnog and warm cider, chattering amiably.

“Are you seeing Natasha?”

“Well, I’ve definitely seen her,” she answers coyly. Her chuckles die down as she turns to see Clint’s glare. “Oh, did the shit hit the fan?”

“Yes, it did.”

“Right. Uh.” She watches a coworker come towards the snack table, recognize her and Clint, and swerve away. “Ugh, let’s go-oh hi sweetie!” Clint’s eyes go comically wide as he turns to find Natasha, resplendent in a sleek red dress and black ankle boots.

She just smiles at Darcy, leaning to give her a kiss on the cheek. “Oh good, you’ve met.”

Clint stares at her. “You knew? About Phil, about-this?”

“You really thought you could hide anything from me?” she asks with a raised eyebrow.

He scrubs at his face. “You’re right. That was stupid of me. Was dating Darcy just a happy coincidence or what?”

“Of course,” she answers, her tone sounding insulted.

“Come on,” Clint grunts, leading her to the stairwell. Darcy stays at the snack table, happily piling her plate high. They go down a floor and Clint sits on the rail and clasps his hands together. “You followed me?”

“A couple of times,” she admits. “You were acting so cagey, I wanted to make sure you weren’t getting into anything heavy. And imagine my surprise when I find you acting as arm candy for some suit.”

“Heh. Yeah. You tracked him down?”

“Darcy stumbled into my path when I followed you.” Natasha smiles just a little. “She was a great distraction. And then I saw your man leaving Banner’s place Thanksgiving night, and the way you were behaving…it worried me.” She looks at him carefully, her green eyes considering him. “You fell for him, didn’t you?”

“I uh.” He laughs shortly. “I’ve been pretending to be this guy’s boyfriend so his friends will stop bugging him about being single. And then,” he drags his hand through his hair, “we started fucking and I told myself at first that it was just y’know, sex. Not even, we haven’t even-but yeah. I’m probably definitely crushing on him. And now you’re dating a girl and we haven’t hung out like we used to in ages, we don’t talk, and I’m moving into my own place and-“

She silences him by coming up between his legs, her hands on his wrists. “Hey, Hawkeye.” His old nickname drags a halfhearted chuckle from him. “You could have just said so from the beginning.”

“I know, ‘m sorry,” he says weakly. His arms drape around her shoulders. “Barney was calling me before I changed my number.”

Natasha hums. “I’ll ask around. Make sure he’s not in town.” She kisses him on the cheek and then presses her forehead into his neck, speaking lowly. “You’ve had a rough semester, Clint.”

They stay like that for a minute, taking solace in each other’s warmth. Walking back out to the party, Clint finds himself thankful that the phrase ‘if looks could kill’ isn’t literal. Hill crowds him against the doorway, seething.

“After all the things that man’s done for you, you go and fuck around on him?” she hisses.

“Lady,” Clint sighs, “you have no idea what you’re talking about. Nothing-”

“Don’t defend yourself; it’s unnecessary,” Natasha urges, stepping towards Hill. The older woman glares at her, about to say something that will no doubt be scathing and lead to further altercation. Clint moves to get between them.

“Hill,” comes Phil’s firm voice. She turns and faces him. “I don’t appreciate you badgering my boyfriend.” He leans around and gives Clint a significant look. “I’m not feeling very well. Would you mind if we left?”

She whips back around and shoots Clint another glare before stalking away. “Have fun, Tasha,” Clint says, following Phil towards the door. Phil shrugs on his coat, grinning at his coworkers and wishing them happy holidays. Clint nods towards Sitwell and Quartermain before ducking outside. The December air nips at him, and he shivers in the cold. Phil nudges his side and gives him a small smile.

“I’m sorry for that.”

Clint shrugs easily. “I can’t believe you just walked out on the party. Cutting my hours during the holidays? Cruel, boss. Very cruel.”

Phil laughs shortly. “You’ll get your money, Barton. I’m a man of my word.” They walk across the street together, their breath streaming behind them in the quiet night. Snow that the city workers scraped off the sidewalk crunches under foot as they step off the road. “The snow was late this year, huh?”

“Mm.” Suddenly, Clint freezes, staring down the deserted street. It’s a Saturday night, but without any bars nearby there’s no one around. A grin splits across his face, and he starts walking quickly down the sidewalk. “C’mon, I got an idea.”

Nonplussed, Phil follows him. Clint throws him a joyful smile over his shoulder, and Phil almost bites his own tongue clean through to keep from saying some ridiculous endearment. Looking ahead, he frowns. “It’s closed at this time of night, Clint.”

Clint just motions for him to stay where he is, and walks around a fenced and tented area to a small shack off of the sidewalk. A minute later, he pops his head out from behind the black tarp. “C’mon, I turned the cameras off.”

He wishes he could say he hesitated even a little, considered the legal ramifications of trespassing and tampering with security equipment. But Phil walks forward when Clint beckons him, jumping the short fence with ease and landing on the ice of a temporary skating rink. It’s small and the ice is a little uneven, but it looks like it was cleaned when they closed up for the day. Phil slips a little bit, but finds his balance quickly. Clint smiles joyfully before gliding away. “I could go get some ice skates if you want.”

“I think this is enough law breaking for one night,” Phil answers, making the younger man chuckle. Clint loops back around, steady on his feet.

“You gotta live on the wild side more Phil. Do you have any fun, ever?”

Phil smirks up at him, pushing away from the fence and sliding smoothly forward. “I have thirty minutes of mindless television scheduled for the 27th.” Clint laughs loudly before biting it short, remembering that they really should keep quiet. “I may actually be forced into some spontaneous fun this weekend.”

“Oh right, the family thing,” Clint mutters. “Is Aunt Jenny convinced I’m antisocial for not coming with you?”

Phil shrugs easily, doing a slow twirl. “I told her you were busy. She was sad, actually. She likes you.”

“Hah. Funny.”

Phil catches his eyes as they cross near the middle. “No, really. She says she appreciates how you stood up for yourself. Everyone usually bows and scrapes to impress her, but you didn’t.”

Clint shrugs, never losing his balance. The memory of that day bothers him sometimes; the grilling the old bat gave him, the unnerving conversation with Kate, and the whole Natasha thing. “I just wanted to make sure she didn’t think I was going to kill you and leave you in a ditch or something.”

Phil laughs, grabbing onto one of Clint’s arms. They turn in tandem, and Clint reaches out to hold onto Phil’s other arm. “She thinks I should pop the question now, and integrate you fully into the Coulson clan. So, mission accomplished.” They stand for a moment, still and silent. Clint looks unblinking into the hazel eyes before him, trying to sort through his emotions. Phil returns the look, his chest almost seizing from all the backflips his heart’s doing. For the briefest moment, Clint’s blue eyes flick down to Phil’s mouth and he feels a furnace alight in his gut. Throwing all caution to the wind, he leans forward and captures Clint’s warm lips with his. Clint jerks toward him, and suddenly they both lose their balance and fall. Phil lands on his back with Clint holding himself up with his arms over him, laughing loudly.

Shaking from silent laughter, Clint throws his leg over Phil’s body, straddling him. “Sorry, you okay?” Phil can’t speak through his laughter, but he nods. Clint leans down, planting a sucking kiss on the side of the older man’s neck, enjoying the little hitch in Phil’s laugh. His hand winds through Clint’s hair, tugging gently.

“You want to do this here?” Phil asks breathlessly.

Clint answers, “Got a problem with the cold?” His fingers slide down into Phil’s thick wool coat, soaking up the warmth.

“No, but it is a bit compromising. Our location, I mean.” Clint licks his way up Phil’s jaw. The older man shivers as freezing air hits the damp skin, and gasps into Clint’s mouth when it meets his. Both of his hands land solidly on Clint’s ass, pulling him down and forward. They separate when they hit each other just right, gasps and moans dissipating with the steam from their breath. Clint steadies himself with one hand on the ice before pushing back down against the pliant body beneath him. The other hand tugs at Phil’s shirt before yanking at his belt.

Phil hisses as the cold air invades the hottest part of him but groans when Clint’s warm hand envelopes him. Clint starts out slow and easy, exploring and teasing. The older man’s impatient moan is interrupted by a gasp as something icy glides along his throat. Clint chuckles above him, withdrawing his hand from his neck and slipping it under Phil’s shucked up shirt. He squirms under the other man as frozen fingertips pinch and pull at his nipples.

“Clint-“ he nearly shouts, feeling the end approaching embarrassingly quickly.

“Damn you look good like this, Phil,” Clint murmurs before plunging his cold hand down and fondling Phil’s balls. Slamming his head back, Phil whines as his orgasm rips through him. Even as he rides it out, he hears Clint chuckling, “Coming in my hand and you still remember not to be loud, impressive.” Phil gasps as he comes down, slowly becoming aware of how cold it really is, even with Clint’s overheated body pressing down on him.

“We are never doing anything like that again. Ever,” Phil says breathlessly. Clint smirks around the finger he’s stuck in his mouth, sucking it clean.

“If you say so, boss.”

“Damn Barton, I knew you were homeless but this is a little excessive,” a voice taunts off to Clint’s left. He jumps up, shielding Phil’s exposure from view.

He absolutely hates his life for who’s grinning at him from the fence. “Fuck you Stark, I’ve got my own place now.” Tony just laughs maniacally, throwing back his head of perfectly styled dark brown hair. A tall blond girl pokes her head through the open flap of the tarp, leering at him.

“Just be glad I snatched his cell phone from him. He was going to take video, I swear.”

Phil manages to get himself situated and stands up behind Clint. “Well the show’s over now, you should introduce me,” he suggests.

“Just, one moment. I need to be properly thankful that Stark didn’t get video of that. Remember how I said Janet was the worst gossip I knew?” he says lowly, scrubbing his face. “Tony’s fifty times worse.”

“Stark. Wait not-“ Phil starts to say before taking a closer look at the young man hanging on the fence. He heaves the biggest sigh Clint’s ever heard.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Tony says as the two of them slide over. “Agent?! Agent, you’re sleeping with-with my classmate? What, no this is-no you’re a damn robot!” He leans back and tries to convince the girl. “He’s a robot, he doesn’t have emotions I swear to God-“

“Looks pretty human to me.”

“Tony how the fuck-“

“Cops. Tony, we had a mission remember?” the girl interrupts.

Tony shakes his head, his brown eyes growing serious. “Oh right, we saw a patrol car pulling around the block-one way road and all-so we should probably get the hell out of dodge whatever that means.”

Clint hops the fence and snarks, “You’ve been hanging out with Captain Tightpants too much again.”

Tony huffs like a petulant child, leading the way down the sidewalk after Phil gracefully vaults over the fencing. “He’s been hanging around me like a damn wet nurse. It’s aggravating as hell.”

The girl laughs quietly. “Please, you love it.” She turns to Phil, offering her hand. “I’m Carol Danvers, by the way.”

“Phil Coulson,” he says returning her firm but short handshake. “So, Stark. Been behaving yourself?”

“Yes,” Tony whines. “Haven’t heard your condescending tones over the phone in weeks, it’s been stu-fucking-pendous. But then lo and behold,” he flaps his arms up. “Out for a nice walk with a friend and we happen to stumble upon Barton giving one of his legendary hand jobs to some guy in a closed skating rink. And being the very good friends we are, we waited until you were done to crash the party.”

“I had to hold him back, the liar,” Carol mutters.

“And then I find out Clint’s banging my insurance rep? This is-it’s traumatizing is what it is.”

Phil completely ignores the overdramatic young man, sending Clint a questioning look. “Legendary?”

Clint shakes his head grimly. “Anything he likes becomes something that’s legendary.”

“You and-“ Phil stops speaking abruptly, before continuing. “You know, I had you made as someone with decent taste, Clint.”

“Yeah, fuck you too Phil,” Clint chuckles.

“Phil? Why is he ‘Phil?’ Carol, please agree that this is strange?” Tony pleads.

She just shrugs into her thick bomber jacket. “I think you just like having something to bitch about.”

Clint buries his face in his hands, hating himself for ever being stupid enough to drag Phil into a closed skating rink. Even if they hadn’t been caught, he was still toeing that line between professional and not. It had been a romantic gesture; he’d known it even when he’d done it. But he never was very good at restraining himself when it came to this stuff. He’s digging his own grave, and he knows it. When they arrive at Phil’s parking garage, Clint makes a quick decision.

“I’m going to head out with them,” he announces. He gives Phil a quick peck on the lips, like he would have anyone he was dating if he was casually saying goodbye. “Have fun with the family.” The smile Phil gives him is tight, and something in his eyes makes Clint want to explain or change his mind. But he just nods and bids them all a happy holiday before turning for the entrance to the parking garage. Clint steels himself for the long cold walk home with Tony and Carol before turning to face them. They both stare at him oddly. “What?” he asks.

Tony puts his hands up in surrender, but Carol says, “You didn’t have to come with us. We just wanted to make sure you two didn’t get in trouble.”

“I know,” Clint mumbles. “I have unpacking to do, so.”

Tony nods his head vigorously. “Yeah must be tough with all what, three boxes you had? I get it.”

Clint brushes past both of them, leading the way back towards campus. “Yeah well not all of us can have a mansion and a Malibu dream house.”

“You didn’t complain last spring break,” Tony says in a singsong voice.

Carol catches back up with him. “So he seems nice.”

Clint shrugs. “He is. Nice. Been good to me so far.”

“Y’know, you should invite him to New Year’s,” Tony says conspiratorially.

Clint groans. “No. He does not need to see my friends ridiculously drunk or high or whatever Cap, T’challa, and Jess do to put up with the rest of us while we’re fucked up.”

Kicking at a clump of snow, Carol mentions, “Well, he has to pass our inspection.”

“You just said he seems nice.”

“Doesn’t mean he is nice,” she answers simply.

Clint sighs in defeat. “I’ll-look I’ll ask him. He probably has plans.” His compromise seems to satisfy the two of them.

Chapter Text

Phil parks a block away from the address Clint supplied him. Not that he needed it-he had Tony Stark’s address on file. He’d discussed the situation with Fury, but his boss had just told him to treat Stark like anyone whose extensive insurance file he wasn’t attached to and fraternizing shouldn’t be a problem. He cradles the peace offering of wine in the crook of his elbow before braving his way down the icy sidewalk. The place is fenced off just as he remembers, and he buzzes himself in. At the door, the familiar face of Pepper Potts greets him.

“Phil! Come in, I’m so happy to see you here without a file in your hand.”

He shrugs off his winter coat and hangs it up in the usual closet. “And how have you been, Miss Potts?”

“Remarkably well,” she answers. She leads him to the first floor den, from which he can hear a lot of loud noise-music, conversation, and explosions?-talking the whole time about her amazing internship at a local law firm. They finally enter the large den, which has been converted into more of a rec room than a living room. Phil blinks severely as he takes in the scene. About twenty people are clustered together in groups and pair, engaged in heated discussions or laughing loudly. “Good God, Clint,” Pepper mutters.

Phil follows Pepper’s line of sight to the low, thick beamed ceiling and has to resist the urge to dash forward and shout. Clint hangs by his legs from one of the planks of wood, holding a pair of Wii-motes out like a bow and arrow. Watching as he pulls his arm back, a surge of pride rocks through Phil as the projected television screen explodes with confetti and a banner screaming “PERFECT” on the far wall. Clint grips the ceiling beam with one hand, flipping around and dropping to the ground gracefully. He springs upwards and shouts victoriously. A tall young man with long blond hair rocks back in dramatized defeat. Natasha’s sharp eyes find Phil from where she’s curled up on the couch, and he offers the friendliest smile he can muster. Clint turns suddenly, catching his gaze and holding it.

Phil can feel the way his smile lessens, becomes less fake. He is all too aware of the way his heart skips a beat when Clint grins back at him and tosses the controllers to the blonde to come to him. When they’re near enough, Clint lurches forward and drags him into a tight hug. Even though he’s initially startled, Phil melts into the embrace. It would be so easy, he thinks, to believe this is real. The way Clint clings to him until the last second, fingers sliding along Phil’s expensive shirt to his leather belt and just holding there.

He must have been drinking already, Phil thinks. He steps back, holding the blond out at arm’s length. “Am I late?”

“Nah,” Clint laughs. His eyes aren’t unfocused as they lock with Phil’s. “You’re right on time,” he says, voice rough and perfect. “Oh, hey, you’re nerdy, come with me!” Clint exclaims.

Pepper waves him onward as she crosses over to the stereo. Clint leads Phil to two tall crammed bookcases that frame a doorway. Clint pushes the door open to reveal a hallway, which has many turns and corners. “I’m surprised you’d take me this way,” Phil remarks. “You usually hate windy corridors.”

Clint stops dead in his tracks. He whips around and drapes his arms around Phil’s shoulders. “Well, I’ve gotten to know these ‘corridors’ over the past few years. I feel pretty safe here.”

Phil huffs. “So if you know the place, lack of sight doesn’t bother you?”

Chuckling, Clint whispers, “If I know the place, then yeah, not seeing everything doesn’t bother me as much.”

“So how do you feel about my place?” Phil asks, having wondered about this since the first few times he’d brought Clint to his home.

Clint draws in a deep breath before saying, “I’m comfortable there now. I’ve been there enough. I know what it’s supposed to look like, sound like.” He shrugs, the movement rustling Phil’s collar against his neck. “I’m comfy here, and at my place. You should come by, once we get bored here.”

“To your place?” Clint nods, a sly grin slipping across his face. “All right, then.”

Phil slides his hands up Clint’s back as he moves in for a short kiss. “But first,” Clint says, “you have to meet Cap.” He walks away, fingers tangled with Phil’s. They come onto a kitchen, brightly lit and resplendent with snacks and bottles of various liquors. A young man with short blond hair struggles to balance a load of water bottles in his arms as they enter. Phil stares at him in confusion for a moment, before offering his hands to catch a bottle slipping out of the young man’s grip.

“Phil, meet Steve Rogers,” Clint says casually. Phil’s mind spins in pointless tumult for a moment, before placing the name.

“Steve Rogers, as in the best penciller Captain America’s seen in ages?” Phil asks in amazement.

“The very same,” Clint announces.

Steve just smiles shyly and says, “I don’t know about that-“

“No, you brought new life to the character; the previous artists didn’t seem to know what to do with him,” Phil rattles off. “Your ability to capture the small changes in expression necessary to showcase what Captain America goes through is monumental to the series.” Clint smiles as Phil and Steve get into a discussion of comics and fictional characters as a reflection of the concerns of the society at large. Loki enters the room from the more common entrance and glances to the two men deep in artistic discussion.

“Don’t ask,” Clint advises while grabbing a couple of trays of snacks that Steve had already prepared and offering Loki one.

----

“Did you plan to be exactly halfway between the school and Stark’s place?” Phil asks as he and Clint crowd into Clint’s tiny elevator.

“No,” Clint mumbles, comfortably drunk and aware that Phil hadn’t drunk hardly anything while at the New Year’s Eve party. He was aware, however, that he had been much drunker when midnight had drawn close and he’d lain himself over Phil’s lap while he’d been talking with Thor and T’challa bout some dumb smart thing and demanded a kiss. That bit was unfortunately very clear. “Is it halfway? Hadn’t noticed. Convenient though, if it is.”

“Yes it is,” Phil murmurs, drawing his cell phone out of his coat and smiling. Clint looks away, feeling a bit like an intruder, until Phil says, “Fury says Happy New Year, and so does everyone else.”

“Well, ain’t that nice of them.”

“They said to make sure you got the message.”

Clint’s silent at that, mulling over the fact that these people care enough to make sure he heard their holiday greetings. The elevator dings, to announce they’ve arrived at the fifth floor. “Well, I wish them the same.” Phil nods before following Clint out of the elevator car, to the end of the hallway. Clint fumbles getting his keys out of his pocket. “It’s uh, it’s just a shitty studio apartment so don’t expect much-“

“I don’t expect anything, really,” Phil says. “I just want to see what your place looks like.”

Clint takes a deep, subtle breath and looks down. There seem to be a few scratches near the keyhole that his memory tells him are new. The light push he gives the wood paneling opens the door a little. He freezes, straining to listen for anything out of place. “Hold on,” he whispers, motioning for Phil to step back.

“What is it?”

“I locked this door before I left.” Phil’s left hand grips his cell phone in his coat pocket, his right feels for the tazer strapped discreetly to his side. Clint opens the door slowly, eyes searching, a small knife in his left hand. Phil worries briefly about the fact that he never-not once-knew Clint carried a blade. The first thing he notices as he follows Clint inside in how empty the space feels, nothing on the white walls and only a few boxes and a mattress on the beige carpet. The second thing he notices is Natasha sitting in the middle of the floor.

“Tasha.” The softness in Clint’s tone surprises Phil. The girl looks up at his voice, her eyes like frozen moss. Her hair is mussed and there’s a gash in her light brown leather jacket along her bicep. Blood is matted there with the black fabric of her shirt. Phil’s stomach tightens as he remembers she disappeared around 11, but no one seemed to be concerned so neither had he.

“Had a bad day, Hawkeye,” she grounds out from between clinched teeth.

Clint visibly relaxes. “It’s okay, give me a minute.” He puts his knife back in his left boot before turning back to Phil, who stands in the doorway uncertain what to do. “I need you to leave, I’m sorry.”

“Of course. Will she be okay?” Phil allows Clint to herd him back into the hallway.

“Yeah, we just. She’s been through some things and sometimes she goes out, gets herself into a bar fight, lets off some steam. Usually works, but sometimes she needs to-she just needs to find her footing again.”

Phil nods. “I can help.” The glare that Clint shoots at him is mostly protective, but the distrust there in his eyes would hurt if Phil let himself think too deeply on it. “I’ve dealt a lot with PTSD.”

Clint scrubs a hand around the back of his head, squinting down the hallway. “Usually we just beat each other up or-or fuck, but she’s said no more sex so I don’t know what’s going to happen honestly.”

“Can you ask her? I want to help.” Phil stares hard at Clint, who eventually nods and walks back into his apartment. Phil can hear his murmured voice for a short moment, before his footsteps approach him again. Clint doesn’t say anything as he waves a hand through the crack in the doorway. When he comes back in, Clint’s walking towards the kitchen area, and Natasha’s standing now. Phil locks the door behind him, moving slowly.

She resettles on the opposite side of the room, at an angle to the ratty looking couch. “Sit in the middle of the couch,” she says roughly. “Please,” she adds.

Phil nods, doing as he’s told. Ratty it may look, but the couch is comfortable and just the right amount of firm. Natasha stares at the wall, never blinking. Clint comes back in, a juice glass in one hand filled with water which he hands to Natasha. Her fingers surge towards the glass, but don’t spill a drop as she cradles it to her chest. “How many?” Clint asks as he sits on the couch, a foot away from Phil.

“Six. Medium build, heavily inebriated. Didn’t expect a knife.”

“Six? Jesus, Natasha. Gettin’ sloppy,” Clint wheezes.

“Should have observed longer. No blood left at the scene. Wore a hat and glasses. Didn’t speak much, had affected accent.”

“Are you reporting to someone?” Phil asks. Natasha glares up at him suddenly, confusion in her eyes as if she’d forgotten he was there. “You sound like you’re being debriefed.”

“We uh,” Clint mutters, “we used to work for a family in Boston. They’d make us report back everything we did.”

The older man nods, dipping his head to look carefully at her. “Natasha, they’re not here.” She gulps down the water in her glass. “What are you sitting on?”

“Carpet. Beige, cheap, cigarette burns and animal stains.”

“What does it feel like?” Clint looks over at him, a little nervous but curious all the same. She stares up at him in confusion, ignoring Clint entirely. “Touch it. Put one hand on the ground and tell me what it feels like,” he says firmly. Phil doesn’t like that his words sound like an order, but if it gets her to listen it’ll have to do.

She complies, brow creasing. “Fuzzy. Feels like…like any other acrylic carpeting.”

“All right. Would you sit on cheap carpet when making reports before?” She shakes her head jerkily. “Now, what’s in your hand?”

“Glass of vodka.”

Phil bites back disappointment that Clint would hand alcohol to someone going through an episode. Maybe that’s what they had always done. “And how does it taste?”

“Familiar. Cold. Not sweet. Never sweet,” she says, her voice softening.

“Okay. What do you see?”

She blinks furiously, eyes focusing finally on the present. “Clint,” she whispers. “And his shitty studio apartment that was entirely too easy to break into.”

“Ouch, really, that hurts,” Clint chuckles. Natasha smiles before taking a sip of her vodka. “Don’t go out alone next time. Scared me.”

She doesn’t apologize, but the way she glances swiftly up and away could count as one. Natasha puts the glass down, then gets smoothly to her feet. “I’ll take my leave. I would hate to ruin someone else’s New Year.”

“You don’t have to go,” Phil starts, standing. “Your arm-“

“Nothing major,” she says, shrugging without flinching. “That was very effective, Coulson. Thank you.”

“Anytime.” He grins at her genuinely, and the flicker of a smile she graces him makes her look much younger if only for a second. Clint trails behind her out the door. Phil leans down to pick up the vodka, wrinkling his nose before drinking the last sip. It tastes watered down, from what his small knowledge of vodka tells him. He chuckles at Clint’s resourcefulness, before taking the glass to the sink and rinsing it carefully, leaving it upside down in the bottom of the spotless stainless steel basin. The kitchen is tidy, nothing sticking out from the chipped wooden cabinets. There are a couple of stains on the linoleum countertops, and only a dented coffee maker and toaster sits in view. No magnets or papers decorate the front of the fridge, and Phil can’t bring himself to look inside of it. It would be too invasive.

He walks softly back into the main area, and can see through the doorway that Clint and Natasha are still in the hallway. Phil realizes that they aren’t speaking, but gesturing rapidly at each other, in sign language. He moves away from the door, rubbing at the corners of his mouth with his hand. Is Natasha deaf, or is Clint? It has to be Clint; the way that he’s always checking around him visually, how much he hates tight windy places, how little loud music seems to bother him. He’d had his suspicions, but to have them validated in this way is disconcerting.

Closing the door quietly, Clint apologizes. “Sorry you had to deal with that. If I’d known-“

“It’s no trouble, really,” Phil says without turning around.

After a moment, Clint asks, “You okay?”

Phil spins on his heel, a smile on his face. “Yes, I’m fine. I’m glad I was able to help Natasha.” He walks over to Clint, who still stands very close to the shut door, his face set in his neutral expression. Sliding his hands up Clint’s chest, he can feel how tense the younger man is. “Are you okay?”

“Never better. Thanks,” Clint mumbles. He wants to reach out, to curl his fingers around Phil’s back and draw him closer. But he’s messed up so badly in the past month-getting too comfortable with Phil, showing his ease around him and leaning into every touch, letting every contact linger too long- he knows he needs to back off, to pull away. The reassuring pressure of Phil’s hands on his shoulders is enough to keep him where he is. “You uh, you don’t have to stay, I bet you’re exhausted.”

“It has been a long day,” Phil agrees softly. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

Clint nods his head with a chuckle. “Yeah. Tired.”

The older man steps back, his face neutral. Clint clinches his fists in an effort not to lean forward. “All right.” Clint opens the door for him, eyes on the wall. “In the interest of my own safety, how many knives do you keep on your body?”

Smirking, Clint answers, “Three. You keep that tazer charged all the time?”

Phil just smiles warmly at him, bidding him a good night.

Chapter Text

“So what’s up with you and Clint?”

Phil looks up from the coffee that he’s pouring himself in the break room, to find Sitwell watching him curiously from the doorway. “What do you mean?”

The bald man shrugs, attempting to look innocent. “Don’t get me wrong, I like the kid. But you guys have seemed off the past few weeks.”

“No relationship comes without its struggles,” Phil says simply. “We’re working it out.”

Jasper flashes him a bright smile. “Maybe this will help.” He tosses something to Phil, who catches it easily with his unoccupied hand. It’s a key ring with two identical keys on it. He turns them over in his palm, wondering what they unlock. “It’s your lucky day. Congrats.”

Realization strikes him, and Phil has to fight not to frown down at the tiny metal objects. “That it is. Maybe this is just what we need.” He smiles happily at his friend, who looks absolutely pleased with himself.

----

Clint tries not to panic as they pull up to the cabin. “I knew you guys were big deals, but you actually raffle off a romantic getaway every Valentine’s Day?”
Phil grimaces. “I always thought it was a little ostentatious myself. But Fury insists that this place find some use after a thankful client offered to let the company use it whenever they like. Funny how the first year I actually have a date I miraculously win.”

“Think it was rigged?”

“I’d be more surprised if it wasn’t,” he states grimly, turning the car off. “Thank you for coming, by the way.”

Clint laughs as he opens the car door. “Oh yeah, it’s a real hardship having to spend the weekend in some fancy cabin on the side of a beautiful mountain. How could you Phil, I thought you liked me.”

“You are far too kind to your lowly employer,” Phil mutters as he gets out of the car. Unpacking their luggage takes next to no time. Both of them try not to think (and fail spectacularly) of exactly how awkward this weekend will be. Clint has pulled away from Phil ever since New Year’s and Phil hasn’t said anything about it. But he does wonder exactly what’s going through the young man’s head. “So, what exactly is that?” he asks as Clint places a slim black case carefully on the dining room table.

“My bow. I thought I could get a little practice in the woods. Since I’m being forced here against my will, I should make the best of it.”

Phil can’t help his curiosity. “Mind if I watch you sometime?”

Clint shoots him a suspicious look, before shrugging. “Sure. It’ll be boring.” Phil clears his throat and makes his way to the kitchen, emptying the cooler he’d brought. He hears a shout, and then Clint’s loud footsteps hurrying back. He pokes his head around the doorway, grinning like a mad man. “There’s a freaking hot tub.”

Phil’s head swims with images of Clint mostly naked and dripping wet, skin all flushed and hot-he says the least embarrassing thing he can manage. “I didn’t bring shorts.”

Clint shoots him an incredulous look. “Like either of us has anything to hide. I’m using it tonight. You can do whatever you want.” He takes off again, calling out, “There’s only one bed but the couch is big enough for me so no worries.”

“Is the bed too small?” Phil asks as he follows him.

“No, I’m a kicker.” Grinning, Clint looks over his shoulder as he opens a linen closet. “Unless you want bruised shins, I’ll take the couch.”

“That’s why you never stayed in my bed after-afterwards?”

Clint shrugs. “It’s a courtesy.”

Phil goes back out to the car, gathering up his last bag. While picking it up, he notices a plain manila folder lying under it. Confused, he opens it and flinches when Clint’s familiar mugshot peers back up at him. He slaps it closed, heart racing. He’d left it locked in his office desk, there is no reason for it to be here. Scowling, he hides it in his duffel bag. He’ll have to be sure that Clint doesn’t see it; it would just make matters worse.

That night, after a dinner of macaroni and cheese and roasted chicken (Clint tries and fails to not love every single bite) Clint grabs two huge towels and makes his gleeful way to the back porch. Phil takes his time putting the food away and stacking the dishwasher. He sighs as he hears Clint shouting from the porch. Surrendering, he grabs a couple of beers and goes to join Clint. Doubt grips him as he makes his way down the hallway. Maybe he should have refused the cabin. With the way Clint’s been acting, this could make things worse. The two of them stuck together in a smallish cabin all weekend can’t be good. He pushes open the back door, and has to stop and lean against the frame. “So, how is it?”

Lolling his head around his shoulders with his arms spread along the edge of the tub, Clint smiles lazily at him. “I’m never leaving. You’ll have to scoop me out with a strainer.”

Phil chuckles, letting his eyes linger on the broad expanse of chest and the long line of Clint’s throat as he leans his head back again. He walks forward slowly, placing the beer bottles on the porch and undoing the buttons of his shirt. The wooden planks creak underfoot, and the silence of the woods around them is broken only by the bubbling water of the hot tub and the ecstatic groan that slips from Clint’s lips. He follows Phil’s figure as he walks around him, stripping efficiently. “It’s rude to stare,” Phil mentions.

Chuckling, Clint reaches for the beer. “Hard not to.”

Phil eases himself into the water, sighing happily. “Flattery will get you nowhere.” It really is wonderful, the roiling bubbles relaxing his tense muscles instantly. The cold winter air is barely noticeable, and he slips along the seat until only his head above the water. “This is pretty fantastic.”

“Mmhm.” They sit in silence, the wind nipping through the evergreen trees that surround the property. Clint’s grateful for the comfortable silence, and so very grateful Phil’s not brought up how he’s been distancing himself from the older man lately. They haven’t so much as touched each other when they’re alone, and Phil’s given no indication that he has a problem with that. Clint had foolishly hoped that maybe Phil felt something for him, that this was more than a meeting of needs and convenience, but with Phil’s acceptance of Clint’s rejection that obviously wasn’t the case.

Not that he’s bitter. No, not him. He’s had fun; he’s gotten to feel like he was close to another person for the first time in a long time. Even if it hadn’t been for real, it’d felt…wonderful. He could cling to that. He was used to making do with much less. He grins and goes for another deep pull on his beer. A few good memories and some great beer. He could be happy with that.

He looks across the hot tub, to see Phil’s bright hazel eyes watching him carefully while plumes of steam caress his face and dampen his cheeks with condensation. Something in his gaze makes Clint swallow hard, sends his gut into knots. Phil finally closes his eyes, and he makes a pleased noise. Clint drops his head back on the edge of the tub, staring up at the roof. He will be happy with what he had, dammit. He will not want for more than that.

He hardly ever got what he really wanted, so what was the point?

The sun rises the next day, revealing the snow that had moved in silently after they’d dragged themselves reluctantly from the hot tub, pruney and boneless. Phil rolls around the spacious king sized bed, burrowed under the multitude of thick blankets. He should be peeved that despite it being Saturday, his brain woke him up so early but he’s too comfortable to be bothered. He inhales deeply, and recognizes the always welcome smell of bacon frying. So that’s why he’d woken up. After a few more self-indulgent minutes, Phil slips out of the bed and into the slippers he’d brought with him. He pulls on an oversized sweater, the morning chill just a bit too much for him.

He shuffles down the hallway and into the kitchen, where Clint’s bobbing his head along with whatever racket is escaping from his earbuds and flipping a fried egg. Phil pours himself a cup of coffee, completely ignored by the younger man, who is now shaking his ass just a little. He chuckles and sits down at the kitchen table, enjoying the show. Clint does a little spin, the headphone cord spinning with him. He stops short, raising his eyebrows at Phil who just smiles over his coffee cup.

Clint laughs and pulls his earbuds out. “Morning.”

“Good morning. It snowed quite a bit last night.”

“Yeah. Hope it melts by tomorrow night.” Clint places an egg on a plate, already piled high with bacon, and tops it off with a couple of pieces of toast. “I do have class on Monday after all.”

“Hill would roast me alive if I wasn’t there on Monday,” Phil mentions offhandedly. He smiles as Clint puts the plate down in front of him, along with a fork and knife. Reaching for the butter, he says, “So you cook too? You really should have just moved in and become my rentboy slash cook slash maid. Cheaper rent.”

Clint laughs and cracks another egg into the hot grease. “Breakfeast’s about all I can manage. My brother taught me so I could help him get over his hangovers with greasy eggs and bacon.”

Phil hums happily as he chews the perfect bacon. “Well, it’d cure any hangover of mine, that’s for sure.”

“Thanks.” The warm roughness in Clint’s voice does unwelcome things to Phil’s heart, and he swallows hard before reaching for his coffee. His mind wanders, thinking of how great it would be to wake up to this every day; Clint in those familiar threadbare pajama pants, old tank top, a stripe of skin showing between the hems, quick hands and tapping feet. The meal is still delicious, but his coffee tastes bitter going down as he resolutely tells his brain to stop torturing him.

Clint stares out the window when he sits down to eat his food, mind a thousand miles away. After they clean up in relative silence, Phil goes to change into something warm while Clint does the same. When he comes back into the living room in his dark blue parka, ski pants, and white snow boots, Clint looks up at him in surprise. His version of winter wear seems to be jeans and a canvas jacket over a hoodie (and those damn boots but that goes without saying).

“You were serious yesterday?” Clint tightens the strap of the leather quiver on his back.

Shrugging, Phil explains, “Call it curiosity. Plus I haven’t been out for a walk through some actual woods in ages. It’d be nice to get out and see nature for a bit.”

Clint glances him up and down very quickly. “All right, boy scout. Let’s go.” The air is no colder than it was in the city, but it feels crisper. Standing just outside of the door, Phil breathes in deep, relishing the shiver that travels his body at the icy air entering his lungs. Birdsong echoes, but the woodland is otherwise quiet. He smiles, enjoying the peace in the environment around him.

“All right!” Clint exalts as he comes out behind him, slamming the door shut. “Who’s ready to use a weapon invented in the Paleolithic period?”

Sighing, Phil tramps down the steps. “Paleolithic?”

“Yep. Looked it up. Google does not lie,” Clint insists, adjusting the strap of the quiver on his back. Another quiver dangles on his hip, swaying with his stride.

“How long are you going to be out here?”

Clint shrugs. “Until I run out of arrows or get bored, whichever comes first,” he answers easily.

“I’ll probably leave before either one happens.” Phil loves the snow. He loves the way it crunches underfoot, the way it blankets the world and softens the angles of the mountainous forest they walk into. He just follows Clint at first, unsure what’s going to happen. Quicker than a blink, he hears a straining noise immediately followed by a dull THUD.

An arrow shaft is dug deep into the bark of a tree at least ten yards away from them. “Hit your target?” he asks conversationally, as if he were severely unimpressed.

Clint lowers his bow, his knuckles relaxing slightly around the grip. “Nearly,” he answers. “I’m definitely rusty.” He draws again, taking an extra second before releasing, and hits a space in the tree bark a mere centimeter to the right of the previous arrow.

For almost half an hour, they carry on this way. Eventually Clint stops frowning at every shot, his expression becoming serene. When Phil’s not watching his arrows land on imaginary targets, he’s watching the way Clint’s fingers trace over the nocks in his quiver, the way his arm never trembles, the way his back seems to lock right before the release, the way his icy blue eyes rove over the landscape and zero in on targets.

“See that one leaf hanging off that poplar?” Phil has to squint, but he does see it, a dead dry leaf dangling off a twig fifty feet away. Smirking, Clint turns his head, looking straight at Phil before releasing his arrow. The leaf is ripped to shreds before the arrow thunks into the ground.

“Show-off,” Phil mutters with a helpless grin.

“Nah, if I really wanted to show off, I’d tell you to toss some acorns around or something.” Hooking his bow around his shoulder, he stretches and pulls at his arms. “I can’t wait for the fair, I talked Natasha into doing the sword bit with me.”

“Sword bit?”

“You should come, you’d like the tournament,” Clint says casually.

“Fury was talking about a group outing to it this year.”

“Of course he was,” Clint sighs.

Phil wants to ask why Clint sounds so dejected. But the way Clint’s shoulders have stiffened makes him say, “I think I’ll head back. Getting cold.”

“All right,” is all Clint says, already reaching for another arrow and stepping briskly away. Crunching his way through the snow, Phil thinks. He’d be lying if he said the brusque way Clint’s been acting around him didn’t hurt. He wants very much to fix it, whatever he did or didn’t do. He wants to go back to the way they were before Christmas. Perhaps he had been wrong to not get Clint a present? Clint hadn’t gotten one for him and seemed to treat objects and trinkets with little respect unless they had real value, sentimental or monetary. That’s probably not it.

He trudges his way back to the cabin, thoughts buzzing and bouncing off of each other in his head. He laughs as he finds Clint’s phone actually buzzing on the table. The caller ID reads “Black Widow.” On a whim, he picks it up.

“Hello?”

“Coulson,” comes Natasha’s clipped voice. “Where’s Clint?”

“He’s out doing some target practice.”

“So why didn’t you just let his phone go to voicemail?”

He huffs a breath. He imagines a lot of people find the girl rude. At this point, he’s grateful that she cuts straight to the chase. “I had a question for you. Has Clint been acting differently since New Year’s?”

She pauses. “He’s been out and about more. Most nights he’s hanging out with Janet or Tony, Bruce occasionally. His grades are fine, so he says, but he’s been more sociable and rambunctious. Jokes more, talks more.” Phil feels a lead weight settling deep in his gut. So it was just around him that Clint was closing up. “Which means, in Clint-speak, that he’s deeply upset about something and trying to distract himself from it.”

“Really?” he chokes on his surprise.

“He’s great at misdirection. Most people fall for it. Usually, the only person he shuts up around is the person he’s focusing on. He can’t keep up the charade around them.” Phil makes a thoughtful noise. “So, do I need to spell it out any more for you?”

“No, thank you Miss Romanov. You’ve been very helpful.”

She murmurs something that sounds a lot like a judgment on Phil’s gender. “Do something for him Coulson. Show him you trust him, and want him to trust you. Otherwise he’s going to mope around for weeks and be a nuisance. And I hope you appreciate that I’ve never helped any of his partners this much. I think you’ll be good for him, once he stops being an idiot.”

“Thank you again. Have a good weekend,” he says flatly. She just huffs over the line before hanging up. Phil sets the phone down on the table, a plan already forming in his mind.

Chapter Text

After a delicious dinner of homemade hamburgers and leftover mac and cheese, they relax in the living room. Phil had brought out a bottle of scotch, pouring himself a healthy portion before walking back to the bedroom and pulling out the familiar, unbent folder. He stares down at it resolutely for a moment, before returning to the main room.

The thick manila folder makes a slapping noise as it hits the coffee table. “What’s this?” Clint asks, looking up from his whiskey on the rocks.

Phil stands across from him, his face painfully blank. The ice clinks in his glass as he raises it to his lips. “Open it.” Clint does as he’s told, and his easy going smile freezes on his lips. He gazes down at his sixteen year old self. “Hill put this on my desk two weeks before Thanksgiving. I haven’t read it.”

Sharp blue eyes dart up to hazel ones. “You didn’t-why not?”

Phil sits down in one of the arm chairs. “First off, those records should be sealed, since you were a minor. But besides the legality issue,” he rolls the glass between his palms, avoiding Clint’s eyes, “It’s not my place. That’s your past, your story to tell. If you never wanted me to know any of it, I’d be fine with that.”

Clint flips through the papers, his body tense. He smiles grimly at something, tapping his fingers against the page he’s looking at. “Don’t fucking lie to me. You were too curious about this shit to throw it away. You’ve kept it this long for a reason.”

Phil shrugs easily. “Who wouldn’t be curious? Hill seemed so agitated, I knew there was something major in there. But no matter how much I was tempted, I just. I couldn’t.” He sips deeply from his glass, frowning as he swallows. “It wouldn’t be right. So I sat on this, for months. But with how you’ve been acting lately, I thought I should ask you if there was anything you’d like me to know.”

“And this is what, a peace offering?” Clint shoves at the folder, skidding pages and pages of paperwork across the wooden surface of the coffee table. He slugs back the rest of his drink, crunching an ice cube. “Fuckin’ Hill,” he mutters.

“She overstepped her boundaries. I told her that,” Phil agrees. He feels rather than sees Clint rest his gaze on him.

“You really didn’t read any of it?” Clint asks lowly.

Phil does his best not to squirm under the intense focus of Clint’s eyes. “I opened it to your mugshot, and closed it. It’s the only thing I’ve seen out of the whole file.”

The younger man regards him for almost a full minute. Phil tells himself to relax, especially since he’s telling the truth. Clint finally seems to come to a decision, and flops back against the couch cushions, ice clinking in his glass. “I killed a guy,” he says softly. When Phil doesn’t say anything, doesn’t react in any way, he keeps talking in that low, rumbling tone of his. “He had a gun, I had a pool cue. I broke it on one of his friends, and he came at me. I just tried to protect myself and he landed on it, lung-first apparently. It was ruled in my favor in court but…” He reaches for the bottle of whiskey, uncapping it smoothly. If Phil were anyone else, he would have missed the slight tremor in the man’s fingers. As Clint pours, he says, “I never regretted it. I know it was partially an accident. I never meant to-to kill him. And there was too much evidence, too many witnesses for the prosecutor to make it aggravated.”

Phil watches as he drinks slowly from the whiskey, pink tongue darting out to push an ice chunk away from the rim. Different words, different sentences roll around his mouth, until he has to swallow hard at nothing, to speak. “I’ve killed thirty-seven people,” falls from his lips.

“Army?”

“Rangers.”

“Hm,” Clint hums. He doesn’t press for details. He doesn’t change the subject awkwardly. He doesn’t flinch, or grimace, or search Phil’s face as if looking for some reassurance that he’s not a psychopath. And Phil probably loves him a little more for it.

“So, any other dirty secrets you feel like sharing?” Phil asks with a clear voice.

Clint chuckles darkly. “Well, I hurt a lot of people, while working in Boston. I mean, I just did what I was told mostly but…” He swallows around his words.

“You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to. I trust you enough to know you’ll tell me what I need to know and nothing less,” Phil states with conviction. He puts the glass down on the side table, his head swimming just a little.

Clint just nods, swigging down the rest of the drink he just poured himself. He stands, stripping off his shirt. “I think I need another soak. Come join me if you want.” He pours himself another few fingers before walking steadily down the hallway. He makes sure he’s out of sight before fumbling with the button of his pants, letting the panic he’d been keeping at bay since Phil had slapped that folder on the table emerge just a little. This was precisely why he’d been trying to reel himself in lately. But, on the other hand, even after he’d told Phil the worst thing that would be on those sheets of paper the other man had hardly seemed fazed.

“Thirty-seven,” he mutters to himself as he balances the glass in one hand and yanks at the pants twisted around his thighs with the other. Finally he stumbles out of the backdoor, grinning at the plastic covers and groping for the temperature controls. With a few clicks, he hears the water jets working and sets his cup on the ground. He fumbles with the covers, feeling no need to fake any sort of grace as he reveals the bubbling water. He strips out of his boxers, vaguely aware of the chilly air circulating his body. He slips into the tub, hissing at the cold water. He can feel the temperature rapidly changing, and angles his body out to grab at his glass.

After a deep gulp of the burning liquid, Clint sighs and leans his head back. He still finds it hard to believe that he said all of that to Phil. He’d decided to pull back, that Phil had inevitably been right about sex complicating things and that he was tired of feeling so spread out and weakened by Phil’s level-headed conversation and scrutinizing gaze. But here Phil was, effortlessly breaking down his walls again and again.

Clint knows he would have broken the promise that he gave Natasha ages ago, if Phil had asked. He would have told him anything he wanted to know. Opening his eyes, he focuses on the ceiling beams. It’s kind of terrifying, to think of the things he’d admit to, if Phil asked. And yet, he hadn’t. Phil hadn’t asked, as if he knew it’d break Clint to answer the questions that must be filling his head. God, Natasha always lectured him on this didn’t she? His tendency to fall for whoever gave him the slightest bit of attention, and here he was proving her right. He puts the glass down, hoping that his melodrama was a symptom of drinking too much too fast.

As he leans back up, the water steaming around him now, he sees that Phil stands in the doorway, shirt unbuttoned and eyes determined. He watches as Phil strips out of his shirt and undershirt, deft fingers shucking his pants away as well. Clint’s unable to break the stare down that has ensued as Phil approaches the hot tub, dipping one leg in after the other. He can’t look away as Phil straddles him, running a palm down his chest lightly.

“It seems,” Phil says quietly, “we both have a lot in our pasts.” The heated skin of his palm scrapes up Clint’s throat to his chin. “But, I’d like to think I’ve spent enough of my life honoring the past. And, presently- right now-I want you, Clint. More than I want to know everything you’ve done, or why Romanov’s so protective of you, or whether Hill’s right about you and your brother or-“

Normally, anyone mentioning his brother freezes Clint right the hell up, but in this instance it galvanizes him. He dives forward, mashing his mouth against Phil’s and wrapping his arms around the other man’s firm torso. “My brother,” he growls, “is an asshole who will hopefully leave me the hell alone in the future.” Phil just grins down at him and allows Clint to drag him down for another kiss. “Phil,” Clint whispers when they separate, fingers digging into the flesh of his back. “Sorry for being a dick the past month, I just-“

Phil shushes him, dragging fingertips down his throat to his collar bone, tracing the lines there lightly. He doesn’t say anything, leaning back and keeping his touch gentle. Clint sighs with a shudder, arching his chest to the barely-there touch. Phil explores and glides his hands along Clint’s body, always slow and teasing wherever he ventures. Clint’s trying so very hard to be good, to do whatever will make Phil happy and keep him right where he is, that he only jerks a little when Phil digs his fingers into Clint’s self-professed ticklish spots.

“Clint?”

“Mmmhm?”

“Stop holding back. You can tell me if you don’t like something I’m doing.”

“I’m good. I like this,” he insists. His fingers graze near the familiar ugly scar on Phil’s chest.

“Do you want to know how I got this?” Phil asks quietly. Clint just shrugs, as if it wouldn’t matter either way. He feels Phil’s sigh more than he hears it, and mentally curses himself when Phil leans away. “I think I’ve figured out what’s wrong with us.”

“What’s wrong with us then, smart guy?” Clint crosses his arms, petulant.

Looking down at the younger man, Phil starts carefully. “Neither of us is going to ask for something that we’re not sure we can have. We’re both waiting for the other to offer something, so we don’t have to ask permission. But if we’re both waiting to be asked, no one’s going to get or give anything. So let’s make a deal.” Clint meets his gaze evenly, giving nothing away with his expression. “If we want something, we ask. We don’t have to say yes, of course, but we-I want this to be more, Clint.” He watches Clint’s Adam’s apple bob, his eyes widen just slightly. Closing his eyes and letting his forehead rest against Clint’s, he nearly whispers, “I want this to be real. Maybe I’m the only one, but I can’t keep pretending that I don’t want more. I can’t.”

Nothing happens for a moment. He can feel Clint breathing deep and even. Phil can feel his hopeful heart cracking, can feel all that momentary optimism and desperation dissipating. This was just something else he longed for that he’d never have. At least, for once, he asked for it. He bites down on his lip to keep from begging and steels himself to get up, go hide in the ridiculously huge bed with the bottle of whiskey.

Just as he’s about to force himself into motion, Clint’s hands grip his wrists. “Me too,” he says, voice gravelly and low. “I want to-I want it to be for real. I just-I’m so fucked up, I’ve done so much stupid shit in my life, I didn’t think-I mean.” He gives a helpless half-shrug. “Look at me. Not really a prize catch.”

“You dumbass,” Phil breathes, loving the half-choked laugh that bursts from Clint’s mouth. He angles his chin down, going for a kiss. He misses and ends up hitting the end of Clint’s nose. They both laugh softly before Clint strokes his thumb against Phil’s jaw, guiding him down for a slow, long kiss. When they separate, goofy smiles spread across both their faces. “C’mon,” Phil urges, standing up. “Hot tubs are nice, but I’m cold.”

“Aw, wimp,” Clint teases as he trails along behind him. He stops to turn off the jets, leaving his glass where it sits. On a whim, he reaches out for Phil’s hand, lacing their fingers together. Phil squeezes his hand in return, throwing a smile over his shoulder.

When they get to the bathroom, Phil tugs him in and only lets his hand go to reach for a towel. They dry each other off, laughing and pausing often for kisses and caresses. Eventually, Clint complains about being cold and they trip over each other to get to the bedroom. “Jesus, that is huge,” Clint says before flopping gracelessly on top of the covers. “You even made the bed? You’re supposed to be relaxing, not tidying up.”

“It’s habit. Not everyone likes to live in filth.” Clint sticks his tongue out childishly. “I’m sure I can find a use for that thing if you don’t keep it in your mouth,” Phil murmurs as he climbs into the bed. Clint chuckles darkly, dragging Phil down and somehow flipping him so that he lands on his back with Clint straddling his waist. “What are you, part ninja?” he grouses.

The blond drags his fingers roughly down Phil’s chest. “If I told you that, Natasha would kill me.”

“Most people think it’s rude to bring up exes when you’re about to have sex with someone,” Phil deadpans with one arched eyebrow.

“Good thing we’re not most people then,” Clint mutters before leaning down to kiss Phil’s retort away. Phil’s hands catch onto those thick thighs, digging into the muscle forcefully. He realizes he’s probably hurting Clint and relaxes his grip before Clint pulls away far enough to say, “No, no. ‘S good. I like it a little rough.”

Phil slides his hands to Clint’s ass to lever him up and then flops him down on the mattress, ending up kneeling between his legs. “Good to know,” he murmurs before biting down on Clint’s shoulder. Clint’s voice catches on a loud moan, and then his breath stutters out of his gaping mouth when Phil pulls his hips up and grinds down on him.

“Oh God, what have I unleashed?” Clint gasps.

“Regretting our new arrangement so soon?” Phil teases.

The ugly chuckle that spills from Clint’s mouth is infectious, and they both dissolve into helpless laughter before sharing a series of long, lazy kisses. “Never,” Clint eventually whispers. “I’m never going to regret this.”

Phil agrees with him, his words muffled as he drags kisses down the middle of Clint’s chest.

Chapter Text

“Are you serious?”

“Yea, fair maiden. Take the shot.”

“You’re the fair maiden, lady-lips.”

“Stop distracting yourself and shoot, wimp.”

Kate glares at Clint from behind stylish frameless sunglasses. Her grip tightens on the bow in her hand.

“Sorry if I don’t feel like taking orders from a dude in panty hose.”

“Don’t hate the tights,” he says as if wounded, straightening out his dark maroon tunic. “You’re just jealous that my butt looks way better in them than yours would.”

Rather than answer that, she pulls back on the bowstring a micrometer more, stiffens her back, and exhales. The arrow in her grip flies loose, and nicks the arrow that’s already stuck in the bullseye of the target ten yards away before burrowing its point at an angle into the target. She mutters a curse before kicking at the packed dirt with her wedge boot.

“Try again,” Clint says plainly, handing her another arrow.

“It’s impossible,” she grumbles even as she swipes the arrow out of his hand. “No one can make this shot outside of a Pixar movie.”

“You’re gonna miss every shot you don’t take, y’know.” Kate just shoots him a look that reminds him that yes, she is indeed a snarky fifteen year old. “Try again, smartass,” he says as he moves down the line, helping a seven year old boy aim at his much closer target. The arrow flops onto the ground a few feet from the target. Clint smiles encouragingly and gives him a few tips.

Leaning against a tree a few yards away, Phil can’t help the dopey smile that slides onto his face. It’s oddly endearing to see Clint being so careful and kind to the children wielding the miniaturized bows and arrows. Even Kate-who’s there with Phil to do some report for school, and who after bragging about her archery classes was cajoled into shooting using the primitive equipment Clint has on hand-is obviously engaged and having fun.

“Daydreaming about the future, Coulson?” Fury asks, suddenly beside Phil.

Being used to the way Fury moves, Phil doesn’t even flinch. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I’m sure you don’t,” Fury says flatly. “But, even for all the crap Hill dug up on him, he’s a good kid.” Phil glares at him, about to speak, when Fury continues. “Of course she ran that file by me first, you think she’d pull a stunt like that without involving me? I told her it was a stupid ass idea, and that you were already in too deep to pull out, pardon the expression.” Phil snorts. “Either way, I’m actually glad you two worked out whatever crap you had.”

“Do I even need to ask whether you set us up for the cabin or not?”

“If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s angst. The fuck do you think this is, some rom-com high school bullshit? Here I thought you were a fucking adult. But I am genuinely happy for you. Both of you.” He takes a deep pull from his plastic cup of beer. Grumbling, he stalks off towards the arena. “Not just cold beer, fucking plastic cups? Some kind of Renn Faire this is.”

Closing his eyes, Phil tries not to sigh again. The amount of influence his closest friends have over his life is bothering him, but at least that trip to cabin had resolved a lot of their problems. He mentally tallies a point to Fury.

“Hey.”

He opens his eyes to find Clint smirking a few feet in front of him. Phil grins in response, stepping forward to press a short kiss to Clint’s lips. “Hey,” he greets.

“Oh my God, no. No, no, no,” Kate moans as she walks up to them. “I do not want to see you guys being all gross and adorable together. Makes me think of Billy and that kid down the street.”

“So, I assume you and Eli haven’t resolved your argument?” Phil asks blandly.

Squinting her eyes, Kate throws her bow at Clint and stomps past them. “Take that as a no,” Clint chuckles. “So, the battle starts in half an hour. You gonna cheer for your merry warrior?”

Phil rolls his eyes. “Will you leave me with a token of your admiration?”

Clint smiles wider, pulling a leather string from his belt. Falling to one knee, he offers the small arrowhead that is attached to the string to Phil. “Phillip J. Coulson,” he starts.

“Clint, what are you doing?”

“Will you accept this, an object I have cherished since my childhood, as a token of my admiration and sincere wooing-“

“Wooing? Seriously-“

“Shut up, you are ruining this,” Clint hisses.

“My apologies, brave sir, do continue.” Phil schools his face into a serious expression.

“Anyway, will you hold onto this so I can point it out to the other dorks I’m about to run around in a field with, pretending to fight them for honor or some stupid shit?”

Phil takes the string, running his thumb over the worn stone wrapped in the middle. “Yeah okay.”

“That’s all you’ve got? ‘Yeah okay?’ Fuckin’ weak, Coulson,” Clint gripes.

“You’ll get over it,” Phil mutters as he pockets the string.

“So cruel,” Clint whines, getting up to gather up the supplies left lying about by enthusiastic kids. “You should head on to the arena. The jesters do some routine before the battle.” Phil tells him goodbye for now, following the crude wooden signs to the arena. He passes several workers in various costumes, glancing at the highly skilled statue-actors in the main square. There’s a flash of quick movement around the side of a merchant’s stand, and his instincts tell him to look closer. Keeping his pace casual, he pulls out his cell phone to act interested in as he approaches. Glancing quickly up, his heart freezes in his chest. Abandoning all pretenses, he dashes forward.

----

“And who would challenge my fighter?” Janet calls out, resplendent in gold and black silks, with Steve beside her in deep blues and crimsons on a matching throne. The two of them sit upon a raised platform, surrounded by servants and elaborately carved wooden statues. Striped canvas material grants them shade, but with the light breeze carrying through the fairgrounds and even through the many layers of authentic costuming few people are cold. “Who would conquer the man with hawk’s eyes for my favor?”

“Let it be known,” Clint shouts, from where he stands in the middle of the straw-ridden arena with his bow loosely hung from his shoulder, “that any who do come forth, should be prepared to end me. Nothing short of complete defeat would convince me to relinquish my claim as her majesty’s champion.”

“And let this humble foreigner challenge you,” Natasha announces as she comes from the other end of the arena, Eastern European accent weighing heavily on her voice. She wears black and red leather across her curvy frame, a thin rapier strapped to her side with gilded gold buckles and pressed leather.

Unperturbed, Clint asks, “How are you with the bow, milady?”

“Sloppy at best, but I shall put steel against your yew, sir,” she says, drawing her sword. The sunlight glints off the blade as she twirls it delicately. The metals quivers as she stops it short, pointing it directly at Clint.

He pulls an arrow from the leather quiver on his back. “With her majesty’s consent, I accept this challenge.”

“And our consent is granted,” Janet cries joyfully. “Begin!”

The two circle each other, Clint with an arrow resting against his bow but pointed towards the ground and Natasha with her sword pointing at his throat. Halfway through a step, he pulls the bow up and releases the arrow. Natasha’s blade darts to the right, and the arrow lands in two pieces on the ground. Quick as a blink, Clint’s drawn another arrow. Natasha falters in her steps, and Clint shoots. She deflects this one also, sneering slightly. Two more arrows sail towards her, and with sharp TINGS of metal against wood they both miss. Clint stands straight, three arrows in one hand as he aims at her, murderous intent in his eyes. Natasha rolls to the right, avoiding all three as they sail dangerously close to her. Suddenly she darts forward, stabbing downwards. Clint uses his bow to block the first strike, drawing another arrow out. He stabs out at her, but she twists away. Spinning, she jerks her rapier out and up whilst kicking out. Clint falls on his back, but manages to grab onto her sheath and pull her down with him. They land together, an arrow tip against her throat and a sword point against his.

“Enough!” Steve shouts, standing. “You are equally matched. We would call to cease this battle. Shall you both captain our guard, and keep us safe from harm?”
Gracefully, Clint and Natasha untangle themselves, kneeling before their king and queen. “We would,” they announce in unison, and the audience applauds loudly from the bleachers. They stand, adrenaline pumping happily through their bodies. Only once they’re way from others’ sight does Clint turn to Natasha with worry creasing his brow.

“Did you see Phil out there?”

“No,” she answers shortly. “Or the girl he had with him.”

“Fuck,” he swears, hand swinging back automatically to count his arrows. Five, with fifteen in his side quiver. “Where did your contact last see Barney?”

“Close,” she answers quietly. Clint knows that by now Thor and that Doom guy have probably started up their joust, but for once he doesn’t want to watch them kick each other’s ass. “I’ll go alert the staff.”

“I’m going to go look for h-them,” he announces as he slips out of the dressing tent. Concern tugs at his mind, making it difficult to think and decide where he should search first. He remembers seeing Kate storm off, and that Phil had headed towards the arena after Clint’s botched attempt at romance. The way that Kate had taken and Phil’s path could have intersected only a small number of ways.

At the second intersection he comes across, he sees upturned loam and disturbed dirt. It could have been anyone-someone stumbling in high heels, the stilt actors, a woodland animal digging for roots-but the space between steps and the drag patterns lead Clint to believe he’s found where someone was dragged a short distance.

Dragged, he repeats mentally. His grip on his bow increases, and he pulls out his cell to text Natasha his location. He sets off slowly once he hits SEND, an arrow drawn and his mind set to find and keep both of the missing people safe. The tracks lead away from the rest of the faire, through the woods and towards the mountains. There are a few shacks out this way, and a lake to the west. The tracks stop at a fork in the path, and the foot prints are nearly gone, covered. He looks closer, and spies a crushed leaf down the right fork. He heads up a sloping hill, stepping as silently as he can manage over the dried leaves.

----

Shrugging against the tree behind him, Phil takes stock of the situation. He’s in the middle of a clearing, backed against a thick-trunked tree, surrounded by woods on all sides except for the thin path that lead here. Kate is unconscious to his right, unbound, his cell phone was tossed into the woods to the left and his tazer tossed somewhere to the right. His wrists were tied behind him, and the man who did all this is rustling around in the shed behind him. Phil’s never seen a picture of Clint’s brother, but he’d be willing to bet that’s exactly who he’d seen Kate struggling with. He’d managed to catch them up just as the man had given Kate a sharp blow to the back of her skull, knocking her out. As he’d charged up to the man, he’d found the barrel of a pistol pointed at him.

Being forced to pick up Kate’s unconscious body at gunpoint and carry it out here had been one of the most difficult things he’s ever had to do.

“So here’s the deal,” the man announces as he steps out in front of Phil. Blood has trickled down from his busted nose (Kate’s handiwork), dried over his sneering mouth. His features resemble Clint’s, but thinner and sharper, and the dirty bandages around his left bicep look as worn out as he does. He dumps a coil of thick rope at Phil’s feet. “I feel like my baby brother owes me some money, but come to find out he’s about as broke as I am.”

“Why does he owe you anything?” Phil asks flatly.

Barking out a bitter laugh, Barney rubs the butt of his gun over the bandages. “He turned down a great gig last November. All he had to do was play lookout, but he said no. Said he didn’t need my damn money. So the job went south without him there, got my ass shot at and lost the shit I was supposed to nab.” He crouches, leaning forward and staring Phil down with glassy eyes. “And then I hear he’s got himself a fuckin’ rich boyfriend. Now you got a choice, pay me what I’m owed or I’m gonna hurt that girl before starting in on you.”

Phil clenches his teeth as Barney raises his arm to point the gun in Kate’s direction. Over the man’s shoulder, he sees a bush’s leaves sway slightly. He blinks once, focuses, and can see angry blue eyes staring at him. Breathing deeply, he lunges forward finally breaking his bonds completely, hands clasping onto the arm that Barney’s gripping the gun with, twisting it away from Kate. Barney shouts and tries to grab at Phil with his left arm, but Phil digs the fingers of one hand into the bandages, rewarded by the pained curse that’s ripped from Barney’s throat. The blond man pushes back hard, towering over Phil. Suddenly, he shouts painfully again, and Phil hears the thud as the gun falls to the dirt. Immediately he lets go, rolling to the side for the pistol. Barney scrabbles for it too, but just manages to send it skidding into the underbrush nearby. Just as Barney rears back to punch Phil, an arrows whizzes by his head, landing in the trunk of the tree solidly.

“You know I don’t miss on accident, Barney. Back up right the fuck now.” Lurching, Barney stands up. Laughing hollowly, he turns and faces Clint who stands at the edge of the clearing with another arrow already drawn.

“What a touching reunion this is. All the Barton family traditions are in place, drawn weapons, blood, betrayal-” Barney grouses.

“Unless you’ve got a fifth of whiskey on you, it’s just not complete,” Clint finishes snidely. “What the hell are you doing? You never liked roughing up girls.”

“Desperate times. Look bro,” Barney spreads his arms, advancing a couple of steps forward, “I just want some money. Got a girl knocked up back home, she’s been nagging the hell out of me. You know how it is.”

“This is how you get money? Tying up an insurance agent and his kid niece?”

Barney laughs loudly. “C’mon, we’ve both done worse for less.”

Phil hears the bowstring creak just a little. “Leave,” Clint says quietly, all levity gone from his voice. “Phil doesn’t owe you anything, and neither do I.”

“You owe me everything,” Barney growls. “Everything, dammit! I took care of you, I got you work, taught you everything, and when I need some help you-“ Barney makes to move forward, and Clint’s aim adjusts.

“Come closer and I swear I’ll put an arrow through your throat.”

In the short pause, Phil’s eyes dart to the right. Kate stirred slightly, he’s sure. With her face pressed into the ground, she shifts until she’s looking at Phil. He shakes his head minutely, and she nods in return.

“Seriously? Clint, we’re family-“

“Oh, are we now? Where was that when Natasha and I were almost killed?!” Clint demands. “I’m done playing your games.” Sighing, he lowers the bow. “Just go. I’m not giving you the money, and neither is Phil. Bother anyone I know again and I’ll go to the feds and tell them exactly where they can find you.”

Barney grimaces, standing straighter. “Fuck that. I’m gone.” He shoves his hands in his pockets, turning his body to stalk off into the woods to Clint’s left. Phil gets to his feet, rotating his shoulders and watching Barney’s measured pace just as carefully as Clint is. Kate coughs from where she struggles to sit up. Just as he’s about to pass Clint, Barney’s eyes dart back to Phil. His first thought is that it’s startling to see so much hate and anger coming out of eyes that are the same blue as Clint’s. His second thought-

“Clint-“ Phil manages to shout before Barney spins and moves for Clint, a knife in his hand. Clint catches the blade on the wood of the bow, twisting and yanking until the knife is pulled from Barney’s hand. With a roar the taller sibling darts forward, going for a swing at Clint’s face. Phil’s on his feet, fists raised as Clint pulls the bowstring taut. His face is twisted in fear even as he raises the bow, conflicted emotions dancing in his expression as the arrowhead is pointed at Barney’s throat.

“Uncle Phil-“ Kate’s voice cries out loudly. Turning his head, he sees something flying through the air towards him. Without thinking, he catches it, the plastic object heavy and familiar in his hand. Immediately, he turns and takes aim.

The probes fly out, hit their target, and with a gurgle Barney collapses. Clint stares in shock with his arrow still aimed at Barney’s twitching body. He rounds his wide eyes on Phil, and then Kate, and says, “Holy shit.”

“Language,” Phil admonishes, keeping the taser on as timed blasts of electricity keep Barney incapacitated.

Chuckling, Kate rubs the back of her head. “Pretty accurate for the moment I think. So, what do we do with the assclown?”

Before Phil can repeat himself, a voice calls from the trees. “Over here! Clint! Clint, are you well?!”

Closing his eyes and slipping the arrow back in the quiver, Clint answers, “Yes Thor, we’re all fine.”

With thundering footfalls, Thor bursts through the foliage. He wields a huge axe in one meaty fist, long blond hair wild around his terrified features. “Thank the gods!” he crows. He toes at Barney’s twitching body. “You’ve the villain already defeated. I’d hoped for an actual battle this day.”

“I told you he’d be fine,” comes Natasha’s voice, still twinged with a bit of an accent. She walks over to the discarded rope, bringing it over to Barney. “Cops are already on the grounds.” She ties Barney’s wrists together behind his back. Phil turns the taser off, leaning down to tug the prongs free. Then he walks back to the tree he was sitting against, kicking around the dead leaves looking for something. “What do you want to do with him?” she asks as she stands straight again, dusting off her gloved hands with distaste.

Clint stares down at his older brother, the fingers of one hand playing up and down the bowstring. He shakes his head, tugging the pocket knife free from his bow. “Let the cops deal with him. I’m done covering up for him.” Phil turns back to watch him shoulder his bow, anguish in his eyes but his jaw set in determination. “I’m done with him.”

Later, as the police have Barney in the back seat of a patrol car and statements being taken by a few different officers, Phil finds Clint and Kate hiding behind a tent. “Nah, put more weight into it.” Kate lunges forward, punching at Clint’s raised palm with a grunt. “Better. Remember to back off right after, otherwise they’ll come at you again.”

“Thanks. For showing me all that stuff. And for not asking me a billion times if I’m okay.” She rolls her eyes. “My parents are going to be hellacious after this whole misadventure.”

“Oh God,” Clint groans. “Aunt Jenny is going to hate me now.”

“Yeah probably,” Kate chuckles. “Giving up already?”

Clint snorts. “Hell no. No amounts of crazy lady relations is gonna make me back off. Uncle Clint is here to stay.” He reaches over and ruffles her hair. She swats at his arm, scoffing in disbelief.

“Hey guys,” Phil greets finally, reluctant to interrupt such a relaxed exchange. “Kate, your mother is going to murder me if we don’t leave soon.”

“Gotcha,” she responds with a salute. And then, surprising both men, she jumps forward and hugs Clint tightly. He returns the hug happily, if with a touch of confusion. “Thanks again, and I’m sorry about your douchey brother,” she mumbles into his chest.

“Anytime, and…thanks,” he answers.

She releases him abruptly, pulling on her miraculously unbroken sunglasses and walks swiftly away. “Go on, do the sickeningly adorable couple goodbye crap. I’ll be in the car.”

Clint snickers, but doesn’t bother to shout some snarky reply at her retreating back. He walks over to Phil, who smiles happily at him. “What’s with the face?”

Phil shrugs. “I’m just happy no one got hurt, honestly. And that maybe all this will be resolved now, all that business with your brother.”

Clint seems to shrink in on himself slightly. “Yeah, I hope so. I really do. Uh, hey.” Reaching out a sure hand, Clint trails his fingertips up Phil’s bare forearm then back down to his hand. “Mind if I come over after all this crap’s done?”

“I don’t mind at all,” Phil answers, gripping Clint’s fingers tightly. “I just have to drive Kate home.”

Squinting at him, Clint asks, “How did you get untied?”

“Oh, right.” Phil reaches back and pulls out the arrowhead necklace from his back pocket. “The edges were sharp enough to saw through the old twine he used.”

"Fuckin' Macgyver?” Clint chuckles. He refuses when Phil tries to give it back. “Keep it.”

Phil pockets it, then runs his knuckles along Clint’s jaw before going for a short, but firm kiss. “I’ll see you later.”

“Yep,” Clint punctuates with a longer kiss. “Later.”

Chapter Text

“Mm,” Clint moans as he rolls over, hiding his face from the light coming through the nearby window. He jerks upright, realizing his own bedroom does not in fact have windows. Bleary eyes take in the familiar furniture and wallpaper of Phil’s spare bedroom. Figuring out he’s safe, he winces and cradles his aching head in his hands. He remembers the guys dragging him out for drinks after the Faire closed for the night. He remembers Thor bringing him bottle after bottle, and Janet slipping behind the counter and stealing a few shots (which she compensated for by tipping extremely well), and Tony passing out at some point, but he can’t remember getting to Phil’s.

“Hey,” he calls softly as he pads out of the bedroom in his boxers and tee shirt. Phil sits in the dining room, reading the paper and sipping on a mug of coffee. He raises his eyebrows as Clint shuffles into the kitchen for his own cup.

“Do you even remember coming here last night?”

“Uh,” Clint mumbles as he concentrates on pouring coffee into the purple mug. “Kinda not really? The guys dragged me out to the bar and bought me a few rounds.”

“A few, huh?”

“Yeah, I uh-aw coffee, no,” he whines as he spills some on the counter. He grabs weakly for the paper towels.

“So you probably don’t remember attempting to break up with me last night.” Clint splutters coffee and chokes. “It was a grand gesture,” Phil continues, ice in his voice as he snaps the newspaper closed. “You were convinced you were saving me from some terrible depressing fate. That you’d just ruin everything for me, woe is you with the complicated family and friends.” Phil stares him down. “I wanted to take you back to your apartment but you said if I tried to get you in my car you’d hang out the window and bark at the moon.”

Clint scratches the back of his neck. “Yeah, sounds about right.”

“I put you to bed. So we could discuss this when you sobered up.”

“Nothing to discuss,” Clint insists. “Vodka makes me angsty.” He shrugs and sits down opposite of Phil.

“Clint,” Phil says quietly. “Why did you drunkenly try to break up with me?” Clint just scrubs his face, staring at the tabletop. “Is it the money?”

“No,” Clint mumbles. “I…I’m okay with that. Keeps me from looking for a job. Plus, it’s just until I graduate.”

“All right. What is it then? Are you done with me?”

“No.” Clint looks up at him sharply. “Not at all. Not-it’s-augh.” He rubs at his eyes. “I am royally fucking this up. I uh, I got an internship. With a museum, it’ll be all cataloguing and coffee errands but it’s getting my foot in the door.”

Phil blinks rapidly, expecting Clint to say any number of things that wasn’t this. “That’s fantastic. Where is the museum?”

“Uh. London.”

“Oh,” Phil breathes. “For how long?”

“Six months.” It made more sense now. Why Clint would drunkenly try to break up with him like that out of the blue. “And I mean, I don’t expect you to wait around for me if you don’t want to. It’s cool.” Phil’s still trying to decide what to say when Clint’s phone starts buzzing in his pocket. When he answers it, his tired face creases. Phil stares at him, committing to memory the puffiness of his eyes and the mess of his hair and the wrinkle in between his eyebrows. Clint promises that he’s on his way before hanging up.

“I have to go; I need to go straighten out some paperwork for the school. Wha-“ Clint looks up as Phil abruptly stands, walks around the table and tips the young man’s head back with two fingers under his chin.

“Remember how we agreed that we were going to actually talk about our feelings instead of just not dealing with them at all?” Phil asks in a threatening tone.

Clint has the grace to look slightly abashed as he meets Phil’s blue-green eyes. “Uh,” he swallows dryly, “ vaguely.”

“So, you see why I’m a little upset right now? I knew that you graduating would mean some sort of change for us. That was when we were supposed to stop this deal, way back when. I knew you’d pull some cute stunt, out of nerves or anxiety. But this isn’t a cute stunt, Clint. It’s-it’s hurtful honestly.” Phil almost regrets saying that when remorse and guilt creep into Clint’s eyes. “You seriously think I’m just going to give up on you because you’re off chasing your dream?” Phil presses a firm, chaste kiss to Clint’s lips. Clint kisses him back on instinct, still angling to deepen it when Phil pulls away a short distance. “I’m more patient than that. I’ve been waiting a long time to find something like what we’ve got. I can wait six months. Happily.”

“All right, geeze I get it,” Clint huffs, his cheeks going red as he flaps at Phil’s hand. “Sorry drunk-Clint’s a dumbass.”

“Sober-Clint’s not winning by much right now either.” Phil drags his fingers down Clint’s chest, leaning down to nip at his neck. Clint hums and turns his head to the side. “You know what this means right?”

Clint ruts up as Phil’s other hand cups his rapidly hardening dick through his boxers. “You’re testing how effective arousal is at combating hangovers? ‘Cause I mean, if it’s for science I’m willing to-oh fuck.”

“We’re going to have to get you a new phone plan. More minutes.” Phil manages to say in a perfect deadpan, stroking Clint’s cock with a tight grip inside his boxers.

“Oh I am the king of phone sex. The crown emperor. I’ll send you so many dirty texts-“

“Doubt I’ll understand any of them,” Phil mumbles against Clint’s throat. “Your grammar is atrocious.”

“Only when I’m sober,” Clint whines as Phil lets him go, only to tug his underwear down and off his hips. “Are you about to suck me off in your spotless kitchen? Shit that’s hot. So unsanitary, what would Captain America thi-hiiink-“ Phil effectively cuts off his words by tonguing one of his balls into his mouth and pressing his thumb against the tip of his dick.

“Mentioning my childhood hero while I’m blowing you is an easy way to get out of fellatio,” Phil states eventually. “You could just say ‘Stop,’ if you don’t-“

“Shuttin’ up now,” Clint moans. “Do continue.”

“That’s better,” Phil mutters before sucking a few marks into the thin skin at the juncture of Clint’s thick muscled thighs and his groin. One hand lazily strokes Clint’s cock while the other slips up under his tee shirt to thumb at a nipple. Phil thinks himself a decent bed (or kitchen table) partner, but he absolutely loves giving oral. He loves that everyone he’s been with-small number that it is-tastes different. He loves the differing textures of his lovers’ skins, he loves the noises they make, he even loves the way his jaw is sore afterwards. He loves how they come apart under his tongue, the things they shout, and he loves the person who’s receiving his attentions.

He loves Clint.

He tries to articulate that with tongue and lips and hands.

He hopes Clint hears him over the sound of his own voice.