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Pavlov was a Jerk

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Clint gets the status quo ok?

He knows that he doesn't really fit.

What he wants... it's not normal, isn't fair to ask for - he had that lesson beaten into him a long time ago.

But it's not like he doesn't try ok – he has tried. He knows that only good submissives get rewards, that they have to be earned, so he does his best to deserve them. He works hard, puts everything he's got into his job, is the very best at his chosen discipline, but when you're an unclaimed sub who has to resort to scrounging for one night stands or paying professionals to take you down, most of that doesn't matter.

He's Level Four now, he can't exactly tell anyone what he does.

He has to play by civilian rules, and therein lies the problem.

He lives in a world where the normative is... not his thing. Dominants today, they like the hard stuff, play that's too much like work for comfort; intense, sadistic, painful and humiliating. Clint understands that – to each their own after all – and he can... well, he can handle it, but it's not exactly fun. Pain is something he deals with, something he suffers through because it means completing the mission, achieving his goals, and maybe, if he's lucky, it means getting a little of the aftercare he wants so badly.

If it's not pain it's bondage, and that's nearly the same. He's had more of that than he cares to remember, both before and after joining SHIELD. Ropes and handcuffs, gags and blindfolds, getting slapped around – it's all the same. It's being caught, being trapped, not knowing what's coming next and he hates it, whether it's a Dom tying him down or a terrorist.

But that's how it works and he understands the rules. If he wants the rewards, the pets and the cuddles and the praise then he has to earn them, and that means being a good sub - taking what he's given, doing what he's told, being there to serve or be used in whatever way his Dominant wishes.

It sucks, and after everything he's been through...

Well.

Let's just say there's a reason he isn't in a committed relationship.

They just... don't work for him, no matter how hard he tries, how many concessions he's willing to make. For a while he thinks it'll be ok, thinks he can tolerate whatever his partners throw at him, but that feeling builds and builds in his chest, the discomfort, the fear, the waiting for it to go too far, and then suddenly he can't handle it anymore and he bolts.

So yeah, it's been a few years (more than a few) since he's held a contract with a Dom.

The rumor around headquarters is that Clint's just picky and hard to please, a mouthy, uppity sub who refuses to settle down and enjoys leaving a trail of frustration and broken hearts behind him.

Well they're not entirely wrong, and Clint's happy enough to let those rumors run.

It's a better reputation to have than any the truth might earn him; selfish, wimpy sub who wants to be pampered and catered to, showered with as many rewards as he can get without having to work for any of them. With an image like that, paying a professional Dom to take him down would be the only option he has left, and even then he'd be lucky to get a session.

No Dominant was interested in a sub like that, and why should they be?

Doms aren't supposed to be the ones doing all the work, giving and giving and giving to their sub without getting anything they want in return.

Clint's not bitter though.

It's his issue, not anyone else's.

He's the one with the anxiety and the triggers, the needs and the desires that just aren't normal. People aren't that far off the mark when they say Clint's picky – that much they've gotten right - mostly they've just got it the wrong way round.

He's made his peace with it though, learned to live with it.

He's been at SHIELD three, four years now, and he's found his place, earned his position as a Specialist, as a member of some of the most elite strike teams in the organization, and after all this time he's mostly found his balance. He's learned how to keep himself level, created a system to check his own needs and impulses. He might not have a Dom but he's been taking care of himself for as long as he can remember. There's no one who knows him better, no one he trusts more.

At least that's what he keeps telling himself every time his traitorous heart starts kicking up a fuss over a certain handler of his.

Stupid to even think it really.

Coulson's the most confidant man he's ever met, a Dom through and through, competent in everything he does. He takes control so smoothly and easily you almost miss it, often do until it's too late. Clint's seen him pull a victory out of the most epic clusterfuck, all without a wrinkle in his four-figure suit, and it's not fair because in the day-to-day, he's quite possibly the best person Clint has ever known.

He listens, treats Clint well, has never assumed or dismissed or looked down on him.

He's perfect, and for the first time in his life Clint wishes with his whole heart that he was a different person, that he could like all those things that, as a submissive, he's supposed to like.

That he could be the kind of sub a man like Phil Coulson wanted.

The kind of sub a man like Phil Coulson deserves.

But he's not and he can't change that - he knows because he's tried.

He is who he is, and he's learned how to live with himself.

He has rules.

He has punishments.

He even has rewards.

Nothing big of course, not even close to what he really wants, but he's only got so much to work with.

Hugging yourself isn't nearly what it's cracked up to be.

Still – he makes it work.

Easy enough to come up with little things; a long, hot shower if he does well instead of a quick, cool scrub-down, dessert or his favorite mac-n-cheese from the mess instead of the bland, vitamin-enhanced meals balanced out by SHIELD nutritionists... They come few and far between, but most rewards do.

Far more often he ends up with punishments - verbal repetition of all the things he did wrong, corner time if he really fucked up - and that sucks too because there's no one there when it's over to forgive him, to tell him that he took it well and that it's done.

But punishments are supposed to suck - that's the point right?

Anyway, the important thing is that Clint's got it figured out, no matter what Psych thinks. He's stable, under control, functioning just fine, thank you very much. He knows what he needs, knows the signs of subdrop, and he's ok.

He's not great, but he's ok.

Or at least he is, until a two-day milk run goes completely tits up and takes his carefully constructed world with it.

AVAVA

On the surface, Phil Coulson is normal in every way, entirely average, an every-man.

It's sort of a superpower of his.

As a man he's remarkable only in his unremarkability; a soft-spoken middle-aged male with thinning hair and a forgettable face. As a Dom he's nothing extraordinary either; he's not huge and hulking, not demanding or intimidating or loud the way some are. He's a bit too calm, a bit too even-keeled for that, presents more like a neutral than anything else.

But that's all on the outside.

The real Phil Coulson is anything but average.

Hand-picked from the Army Rangers, Phil was chosen by Nick Fury to be his right hand man and good eye, one of SHIELD's upper echelon privy to more secrets than nearly anyone else in the world. He's one of the best handlers in the organization, keen of mind and an excellent field agent, competent in the use of countless weapons and methods of combat.

To quote one of his favorite specialists – he's a ninja.

All well and good, especially given the job he does, the professional life he leads.

As for the other, not so much.

If his appearance and manner of conducting himself makes submissives hesitant to explore a relationship with him, actually engaging in a play session usually decides it. There's a bit of an expectation set in this day and age, an unspoken understanding of what Dominants and submissives want from each other. Hardcore sadism and masochism, intensive impact play, predicament bondage and mummification are all the rage, the most basic aspects assumed to be part and parcel of even a temporary contract.

Now Phil knows how to crack a whip, and he can probably tie more knots than an Eagle Scout. He's well versed in how to make something hurt, can leave marks or not as he chooses. When he presented as a Dominant he took all the courses, and awful as it is to say, his career has contributed more than he'd care to think to his personal life. It's taught him how to take control, subtly or not, helped him cultivate a persona that engenders trust and submission, but it feels manipulative, the bad kind of wrong.

It feels like a lie, because it is one.

See, Phil's what's called an 'atypical' Dominant. Nice label right? It's one he doesn't repeat, one he's spent significant time and energy avoiding since high school, when his sex ed teacher fumbled awkwardly through an explanation he'd had to thumb up from an ancient encyclopedia. As much of a disaster as that little lesson had been, Phil had still gotten the message.

What he wanted, what he liked, it wasn't normal.

Hell, it was so far south of average he'd had to resort to reading pamphlets from the forties when he was a teenager just to figure out what the hell he was about.

Needless to say the literature hasn't been much help, but he eventually got himself sorted, no thanks to anyone else. He's had relationships – not many overall and even fewer that lasted any significant length of time – but he's played enough to know what he likes.

Even more, he knows what he doesn't like.

Pain, well, that's something he gets enough of at work. He takes it, doles it out, watches it delivered down upon good agents; men and women, subs and Doms alike. He works with people he's smart enough to view objectively - people his trusts to look out for themselves and thier country above their friends, people who are trained to do whatever it takes. He lives in a world of strength and secrets, where weakness and vulnerability can get you killed so you learn not to show it.

Not exactly conducive to the type of relationship he dreams of in quiet moments, the kind that involves complete transparency, trust that is built on a foundation of utter honesty and open communication. The kind that revolves around a sweeter form of intimacy, a gentler style of handling, body worship and domestic service, falling asleep together after a scene and waking up side by side the next morning. His sister teases him, says that he doesn't want a sub, he wants a wife, and perhaps she has it right.

Thus far, no sub has been satisfied with the kind of scene Phil prefers to indulge in, and honestly, he's hesitant to go looking for one. It would hardly be fair to them, for a lot of reasons, least of all the fact that he's uninterested in the type of play that's expected from a Dom. He's devoted first and foremost to his job, which means a lot of his time and energy are already spoken for, and he can be out of the country for months at a time, dragged away at a moment's notice. SHIELD is a distraction from his personal life – he refuses to admit that it's really the other way around – and if he's being truthful it's not the only one.

No, an inappropriately large part of his mental faculties are also preoccupied with a certain archer.

All fantasy of course, idle day dreams, but even with his legendary self control he can't seem to help himself. He spends far too much time imagining it, wondering what it would be like to be allowed to take care of Clint the way he wants to.

No one else does, and god knows the man deserves it.

Phil's almost slipped a few times.

Almost touched him, almost praised him, almost carded his hands through the man's hair the way he would if Clint really were his sub.

He just... he tries so hard, does do well and doesn't seem to know it, and he's hardly the same angry young man who came into SHIELD so many years ago. He's been so good for Phil, always respectful, nothing like he was under all his other handlers, scrabbling for any scrap of respect tossed his way. He does everything Phil asks him to, learns from his minimal mistakes and makes every shot Phil needs from him. He's perfect, and because he's perfect he deserves far more, far better than the minimalist play Phil's comfortable with.

It's the only reason he doesn't say anything when Clint's file comes across his desk again and again marked Single, Uncollared, why he keeps quiet whenever he sees Clint acting a little off. Once, one time early on he'd expressed his concern, but Clint had laughed it off, grinned, shrugged, and made a flippant comment about visiting a professional, and hearing that one time was bad enough. It had cut so badly, so unexpectedly that he had never asked again.

It was Clint's business how he handled himself, and none of Phil's.

At least until a two-day milk run goes FUBAR.

Then suddenly, with great certainty, he decides it is very much his business.