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Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down

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The knock on the door of his quarters is peremptory and when Clint opens it he can’t control the surprise on his face at seeing Agent Phil Coulson standing there. His first thought is “I haven’t done anything bad that I remember”, and the second is, “Nat?”.

“Sir?” he says, straightening to upright and hoping his momentary lapse in doing so isn’t an issue. The senior agent says nothing for a moment and Clint slides his eyes from the right shoulder of his damned nice suit to risk a quick glance at his face. Coulson’s jaw is tight and his eyes meet Clint’s and there is something in them that sends a twist of “not right” down his spine.

“Sir, is there a problem?” he asks after a moment in which Coulson still hasn’t spoken.

“I …” There's a pause and then Coulson states in a voice that’s not quite his own, “I need your … assistance. Please let me in.”

He falls back and then Agent-Phil-fucking-Coulson is stepping into his quarters and Clint swallows and doesn’t think about last night’s fantasy, about this happening, and instead shuts the door quietly and takes an “at ease” listening position.

“Agent Barton.” The man’s voice is slightly husky and Clint can see his throat work as if he’s trying to control that as he does everything else. The next words tumble out in a rush. “I need you to listen to me and not to ask a single question. Just do exactly what I tell you; I will … explain later. However strange this sounds I just need you to do this for me.”

He’s a soldier, he can obey orders. He is Coulson’s agent and he trusts this man with his life so if it’s an order from him, he will take it and be damned. The man has backup plans of his backup plans and he’s utterly uncompromising so if he is giving orders Agent Barton is going to follow them.

He nods once and allows himself another brief glance, because beautiful as that so midnight blue it's nearly black suit is, it doesn't take the highly trained instincts of an agent to know that this situation is abnormal and he needs to see this man’s face.

There’s a bead of sweat on the hairline at Coulson’s left temple and his jaw is working as if he’s trying to keep words in which isn’t usually a problem for him; Coulson uses everything he has with economy and efficiency, it’s all about getting the job done.

His eyes meet Clint’s and there is flash of something that might be pain. Clint has to force himself not to just ask, “Sir?” and hope that Coulson will open up to him this once.

“Listen to me Barton.” He sounds a little breathy. “Please”. Clint’s eyes jerk back to his. Agent Coulson does not tag that word onto orders. He says please to coffee, thank you to doughnuts, but when he is giving orders there’s no requirement for such pleasantries.

Coulson draws in a slow breath but Clint can see the tremble in his shoulders.

“I need you to tie me up and gag me. Now, Agent. Just do it and leave me here. Come back in an hour and check on me. I need you to … do this. Now.” The last word is a ground out order.

There are more beads of sweat now and the man is practically shaking, his teeth buried in his lower lip, turning the skin white.

Clint stares into his unblinking blue eyes for three seconds and then moves to find something to tie him with, to gag him. Really, why him? Honestly, does the man think he keeps a cupboard full of bondage gear here?

He owns two ties that go with his one suit and they’ll have to do for the wrists. There is a soft cotton bandana that will meet the requirement for a gag. This man is a highly trained agent who practically rivals Houdini if rumours in the agency are to be believed but he just isn’t prepared for this situation. The thicker climbing rope will do for his ankles. Clint works through options in his head. SHIELD does not provide quarters with “Tie me down and fuck me” scenarios in mind, they design them to be easy to clean and maintain. Not helpful thinking Barton. Really not helpful.

He turns from the cupboard and Coulson has dragged the mattress off the bunk onto the floor and pushed the narrow end up against the wall where two solid pipes run along. Good job he doesn’t keep porn under the mattress.

Coulson slips his jacket off and places it on the back of the chair and then he folds down onto the mattress and lays himself out, puts his hands above his head, stretching the cream shirt across his chest and belly so that a tiny triangle of skin dusted with dark hair appears just above the waistband of his trousers.

Clint tightens his fingers, breathes in quietly and moves to kneel in the narrow space between the mattress and the desk.

He wants to speak but he knows that if he opens his mouth all his babbling thoughts will rush out. In amongst them are, ‘shouldn’t you be in Medical?’ and the opposing, ‘you only had to ask’. ‘Do I have to leave?’ is in there too but uppermost of all is ‘why me?’ Why has Coulson come to him in this scenario; there are others he could go to. But whatever is wrong, Coulson has come to him so he is going to do exactly, exactly what is asked of him.

“Gag,” Coulson grinds out. “Please, Clint now, before ….” He snaps his teeth together and Clint can see how blown his pupils are for one moment before the man shuts his eyes tightly like a child and sucks in a breath through his nostrils. After a moment he releases his jaw and lifts his head so Clint can push the knot he has tied in the bandana into his mouth. He swiftly ties the ends at the right side of Coulson’s head, not thinking at all about the way the soft hair feels against his knuckles.

Clint likes to be able to talk during sex and he doesn’t like to be tied down. A little too much of that has happened in his life in a really, really bad way to make it a fun thing to do. Once he ran away when some guy tried to tie him up, may just have given him a black eye on the way out, and now is so not the time to be thinking of sex; not when he is anywhere near this man he’s been harbouring inappropriate feelings for longer than he would care to say.

He loops the tie around Phil’s, damn it, Coulson’s right wrist and the pipe, making sure it’s tight enough, using a vertical pipe as an anchor so he can’t slide his wrists together. He wants the man to be as comfortable as he can be like this. Clint takes a moment to undo the watch on Coulson’s left wrist and feels the pulse leaping below his fingers in a hammering race. He places it carefully on the desk, knowing that it costs more than probably every item in his quarters put together possibly including his bow.

Clint ties him so the man’s wrists are close enough together that he can turn to lie on his side if he wishes but not so close that he can reach the other hand. He tries to remember when he last changed the sheets. It’s Thursday today, laundry day is Tuesday on this floor so they probably aren’t too bad.

He swallows and says “All right, sir?” and Phil (because damn it why shouldn’t it be ‘Phil’ now the man’s tied to the pipes in his quarters?) opens his eyes and nods once. “Feet?” He shakes his head and Clint sits back on his heels and looks at the wall just above Phil’s head even though he has his eyes closed again.

“Sir, you ordered me to leave but I don’t believe that’s safe for you. Whatever is going on, you should probably be in medical, your pulse is raised and you're sweating. I figure you have your reasons. You can write me up for failing to follow orders later when it’s fixed. But I’m going to sit over there by the wall. I won’t be able to see you but I’ll be able to hear. If you need something just rattle the pipe. I’m going to check your pulse every fifteen minutes and make sure that your ... condition doesn't deteriorate to the point that I need to call Medical." It is hardly fair to set terms when Coulson can't respond, but he wouldn't have negotiated on this. He came to Clint for aid so he is going to have to accept the best help Clint can give.

For a second there is no obvious sign that Phil has heard him and then, when he looks just to check, he meets that blown-blue gaze and can’t help but hold it. God he's wanted so much more than the business-like glances. When Coulson gives mission orders face to face he always makes sure to look at Clint, meet his eyes, takes a second to try and read him to check out whether there is anything he wants to say. It’s not Woo’s snarky, “Anything to add Agent Barton?” or Richardson’s slightly too admiring, “Agent Barton?” It’s Coulson giving him a chance to give his view on the brief, the risks, to present alternative options, present a better strategy. It’s the reason he likes him best. OK, one of the reasons he likes him best. But it’s not like this; he has no idea how to read this look and whatever has floored Phil (literally and metaphorically) he isn’t going to read anything into it. They see a lot of freaky shit in SHIELD. House rules say you check stuff out verbally to be sure you understand. Agent Coulson likes things in writing. Hell, if Clint ever dragged the courage up to ask him if he wanted to get a cup of coffee he would probably have to do in triplicate. With Hill’s signature.

Clint grabs the Pad off the desk, reckoning that there will be some kind of agency-wide message from which he can figure out why Phil is here and give him more information to act on. He hopes that it will provide some distraction from the thought of very special Agent Phil Coulson tied up less than three feet away from him and showing a flash of skin that he wants to lick for fuck’s sake.

The messages fill the screen and Clint flicks through them, gathering details about the incident, the number of people affected, and a sense that R&D are in deep shit. He sends a brief message to Hill and Fury confirming that Coulson is secure and has insisted he would prefer not to go to Medical. The instructions for all personnel who find people wandering in the corridors and babbling about their innermost feelings is clear, take them to the med bay and try not to listen to anything that they say.

Clint has to resist glancing over his shoulder to check on Coulson. He has promised him fifteen minutes and that’s what he’ll give him. He tries hard not to think just what Coulson may say without the gag, might do if he weren’t tied to the wall. The man is so damn private he asked to be gagged rather than spilling his secrets and that makes Clint all the more desperate to hear them.

Coulson was obviously in or near R&D when there was some kind of spillage of a substance that was under testing; exactly what isn't being revealed but it appears to significantly reduce inhibitions, not necessarily physical inhibitions although that remains to be seen, but certainly emotional inhibitions. Affected individuals are unable to stop revealing their private thoughts on all topics, not just romantic. There is a rather dry warning that for some the effects will be less noticeable than for others. For Phil Coulson, Clint thinks that losing that control would be a painful thing.

He is relieved to be unaffected; Nat had told him that he needed to either ask the man out or stop being so pathetic after their most recent mission together. The last thing Coulson needs is him babbling about just how much his quiet resolute calm grounds Clint and reminds him the that the world isn't yet falling into chaos. And that is only the start of the list, the first thing that had Clint trusting Phil when he had thought he might never trust anyone again. The rest of the list is long enough that he knows there is no chance he could fuck Coulson out of his system (like that might even be an option) or that this is anything other the best relationship in his life with the least hope of it being anything more than it is now. He is so screwed.

"Fifteen minutes," Clint says as he gets to his feet, turning slowly to give Phil some warning. The man is lying on his back eyes closed and it’s clear he is trying to breathe slowly but the rise and fall of his chest is still faster than his normal steady two second repeat.

Clint detours via the ensuite and rinses out a cloth with cool water before going back to kneel next to the mattress again.

"Coulson, I’m going to take your pulse." He gives it a second before pressing his fingers to the side of Coulson’s neck. The man’s eyes fly open and Clint says, "Sorry, Sir, didn’t mean to surprise you." His pulse rate is still elevated and Clint wonders if he should try to insist on Medical, but thinks he might as well save his breath.

"I’ve got a cloth, Sir," he waves it vaguely, "Want me to ….?" Phil nods gratefully and Clint makes sure to be gentle as he pats the sweat from Coulson’s forehead and jaw. If he is slow and conscientious about it, there is no sign that Phil is impatient. "Okay, Sir?" He asks and gets a slow blink in response which he takes as a yes. "Fifteen more minutes then." Although it’s not a question Phil blinks once again.

He pulls himself up and grabs his book off the shelf above the bunk, leaning over Phil to reach it. He senses eyes on him and doesn’t meet them but takes himself off to slide down the edge of the desk by the door to sit on the floor. The book is a thriller that he picked up coming through LAX a couple of weeks before; he'd fallen asleep half way through chapter one on the flight and hasn’t made much progress since. His life outclasses most thrillers on a weekly basis now and they provide more an opportunity for mockery than entertainment.

#

From where he’s lying Phil can see Barton’s left arm and shoulder. He’s wearing a black t-shirt that stretches across the muscle of his bicep and if he wasn’t tied to the wall Phil would be reaching out to touch him.

He closes his eyes and tries to breathe, to put a stop to the tumult in his brain, the racing words that fill his skull as if they will beat their way out.

He can feel the sweat on his brow and turns his face into the cool pillow to wipe it dry for which he gets a faint waft of Barton’s shampoo. His heart gallops still, a side effect of the adrenaline in his system, and he is not a senior agent for nothing. He has spent hours learning and months practicing techniques to control his heart rate, his temperature, and most of all his thoughts. He’s spent years learning to remain silent and to pass unnoticed.

He tries to sink into a meditation, but he can’t find the rhythm of his breath and his body feels somehow dislocated from his mind. He resorts to counting his breaths and the slow repetition brings him some peace although he keeps losing track, distracted by thoughts and images, many of which he imagined were long forgotten.

Coming here instead of going to medical was possibly the most stupid thing he’s ever done in his career with SHIELD. In his life even. The incident in the lab – there will be paperwork to be done and procedural reviews –caught a number of agents and staff and he’s just unlucky to be one of them. The others will be in Medical which is where he should be, locked in small rooms, where no one can hear them scream. Not scream really, just say all the words that they lock up inside them every day, the things that the world teaches them to keep quiet. But instead he came here because he trusts this man above all to do just what he’s ordered to do, to not ask questions when there’s no time for questions and most of all to keep his mouth shut afterwards. He’s proved him right so far.

Clint Barton might be mouthy on the comms and quick with the witty replies but he doesn’t gossip or tell tales. When the only people you can ever talk to about your job and the things that you see and do are the ones that you work with, the boundaries are hard to maintain. What is work, what is gossip and what is mere rumour are hard to distinguish when the rumour might be the information you need to make a split second decision. More than once Barton has come to him and stood at ease and said, “Sir, I heard that ....” The first time he acted like a dick and responded with, “Barton, are you gossiping?” He recalls seeing a flash of something on the other man’s face that he couldn’t read. It was gone in a second and there was a moment of hesitation as if he was deciding whether to stay or leave. Then Barton answered, “No sir,” and went on to outline the implications if that particular rumour was true and the risks it presented to the organisation. By the time he finished, Phil had mentally rewritten his most recent assessment of Barton’s value and apologised to him for his sharp remark, thanking him for the useful insight. He could still recall the look of surprise on his agent’s face at that and the warmth in his tone when he said “Thank you, sir” and turned to go.

And now, two years later he, Barton and Romanoff are SHIELD’s go to team for the difficult, impossible and “no fucking clue” missions that come up. And somewhere between there and here Phil has developed feelings for Clint Barton that are definitely unprofessional, that make sharing space with him an exercise in self-control and that absolutely should have him going to Hill or Fury to tell them he can no longer work with this man. But SHIELD needs them as a team, and he's given up so much for the organisation and for Fury, this is just one more thing. And mostly he can maintain his professional demeanour and Barton hasn't requested to be moved so he thinks that the long years of learning to disguise his emotions have probably kept him safe from discovery.

Barton reaching over him for the book had given Phil a beautiful eyeful of his smooth belly and abs. He’s trained to take in as much detail as possible in a brief glance and to be able to recall it. It is a useful skill for his job; it is torture at 3am when he can recall every state of undress he has seen Barton in, the flex and ripple of muscles under skin, the flash of laughter in blue eyes, the shape of his mouth.

He bites his tongue so the words in his head don’t force themselves out into the gag. He wants to say those things, to tell this man everything, to show him that he is human too, that he wants more than they have, more than work and orders and, “Because I say so Agent Barton.”

Phil tries to think of words he wants to say to others to distract himself. He twists onto his side, so he can no longer see the outline of that shoulder and arm, so that his erection has time to go down because Clint is going to stick to his fifteen minute checks and while he can explain the accident and the tying down and maybe even “why him”, that’s one thing he can’t explain away; not and keep his sanity.

He thinks of his sister and her kids and how he keeps meaning to call just to say, “hi”, to find out how she is coping now that wastrel of a husband is finally gone. Calling her in this state would probably move him into Gracie’s, “I am never speaking to you again” book on a permanent basis because he’d be unable to refrain from talking about how Wayne chased both women and men for years, while she was pregnant with their third child and probably their first and second too. He’d even dropped a hint to Phil once last time he’d been out there and Phil had only refrained from beating him to death or just plain shooting the guy because Gracie had been crying on his shoulder the night before and swearing that she still loved him. He hadn’t refrained from being extremely explicit about exactly what he would do if Wayne ever cheated on her again. He was gone a month later and Phil occasionally has flashes of guilt that his words triggered the final breakdown of the relationship but he really can’t help that sense of relief that Gracie doesn’t have to put up with that anymore.

It’s not as if he hasn’t been there himself but time had dulled the recollection. He thinks of his own poor attempts to accept the fact that the guy he was living with, years ago now, had cheated on him. Who was he to think Gracie had made bad decisions, when he’d tried to believe that the companionship of the relationship, that someone to go home to was more important to him than fidelity? It had taken him months to conclude that he could accept that he occasionally got tortured on the job but he didn't need it off the job too. He’s been alone for a long time now, and while honesty is the order of the day, lonely. Self-pity is really not his party but there is an ache in his chest that has nothing to do with the somewhat awkward position of his arms and everything to do with the fact that his life outside work is all too empty and so is his bed.

It seems as if hardly any time has passed but Clint is by the mattress again and this time he has a bottle of water in his hand.

"You need to drink Sir," he says. He's already taking Phil's pulse with warm fingers at his throat and Phil allows himself to revel in the brief contact and the look of concern in his Agent's eyes. He tells himself that it is the same that Clint would do for anyone in trouble who asks for his help.

"OK, well you're no worse than you were. If I untie the gag, you going to be ok to drink? Promise I won't listen to anything you say Sir, not even if you tell me all your secrets."

His throat is dry and he knows he needs to stay hydrated, that the temperature spikes will make that harder, so he nods and he can feel the warmth radiating off Clint as he leans over him to undo the gag. He forces himself to think of something else, tries for the simplest of things that he learned from his father; alpha, bravo, charlie, delta.

He hasn't counted on Clint cupping the back of his head to support him, long strong fingers curving against his skull and raising him. He can feel the calluses on his thumb that rests just below his hairline. God, his neck has always been so sensitive, he loves to be touched there and it's been so long. He wants Clint's mouth where his fingers are, placing kisses above his shirt collar.

"Drink, Sir." The bottle is pressed to his mouth and tilted and he swallows obediently, thirstier than he thought, the heat of Clint surrounding him making the water seem colder than it is.

Clint's eyes are on his mouth and his lower lip is white where he is biting it on the left side. Phil wonders what that soft mouth would feel like on his neck and then Clint is brushing a drop of water from the corner of his mouth with his thumb and Phil can't stop the gasp at that point of heat.

He opens his mouth to speak, eyes meeting Clint's and he doesn't know where to begin but the man is holding the damn gag in his hand with a question in his eyes and Agent Coulson opens his mouth and takes it in, pressing down on the protestations.

He drifts for a while, aware that Clint keeps checking on him, a marker of the time passing. He drinks more water and it is a repeat of before. He says, "Clint, my neck ..." this time and his voice sounds so unlike his own, pleading and low and Clint looks at him.

"Is it stiff?" he asks and Phil feels himself flushing because, yes, no, really and then Clint suggests that he lie on his side again and he plumps the pillow and adds another and says, "Better?" Really his neck is more comfortable now and he's glad, quite glad, that Clint misunderstood his words.

He's not sure if he sleeps or not. He argues in his head with his CO from the Rangers, a man dead for ten years now. He thinks of his parents and how maybe this year he will make it home for Christmas but only if his mother will stop trying to fix him up with nice young men. He thinks of the man who cheated on him and the words he left unsaid because he thought it wasn’t worth the fight. He remembers Hal, his buddy from his first tour of duty, the first man he realised he was in love with. He thinks of Hal's funeral and the petite blonde girl with a wedding ring and a baby due the month after and how he could only say that he was a good man and he'd been proud to serve with him and not that he had adored him with every inch of his body and all his soul. He hopes Clint won't notice the dampness on the pillow the next time he checks. He wants to tell Fury that he understands the need to play the long game but more information about even which field they were playing on would be helpful. And he keeps coming back to Clint as much as he tries to turn his thoughts away; it is the one time in his life he is grateful to be gagged.

#

A message from Dr Yang pops up in his Pad and Clint opens it, hoping that it will give him some idea about how long this will go on for. In the past, the doctor and Phil have a formed a bond to present a united front to Clint’s desire to escape from medical as fast as possible and he has finally come to terms with the fact that when this tiny woman says, “You are staying right here, Agent Barton, until I say you can go,” Phil will smile and relax because that is exactly what he will do. He trusts her to keep him no longer than she has to, to give him the fewest possible drugs to aid his recovery or keep him calm and rested while his body makes its attempts to put itself back together again.

The message is brief as he would expect from a medic dealing with thirty three unexpected patients.

“Keep Agent C warm and hydrated. Bleep me if he shows signs of extreme distress or poor circulation. Look after him.”

It’s nearly time for another check so Clint clears his throat and says “Sir, just had a message from your friend Dr Yang. I need to check your circulation ok?” When he turns he finds Phil has curled up into a ball and appears to be shivering. “Sir, Sir?” He practically falls flat on his face on the mattress trying to get to him. He's glad Phil can't see the loss of his famed balance and his dignity. The man was fine fifteen minutes ago. So much for trying to give him some privacy.

Phil opens his eyes at his touch and they are bright like he has a fever.

“Gonna check your pulse again.” He takes his wrist this time although Phil lifts his head to make his neck available to him. Phil’s hand is cold and he can feel him tremble. “Why didn’t you make a sound, Sir?” Phil stares mutely at him and Clint brushes the soft damp hair off his forehead. “I know, I know, Level 7 agents never need help."

He finds a hoodie and tucks it round Phil’s arms and hands.

“Can I not untie you?” Phil shakes his head and there is something that might be fear in his eyes. Clint nods. “Your call, boss. Just checking.”

Clint reaches over Phil and drags his sleeping bag out of the locker below the bed. He can feel Phil shivering through the shirt and t-shirt between them. He knows that the quickest way to warm him up is to share body heat and Nat is always complaining he’s like a furnace but he wants Coulson to feel like he is still in control so he will ask him first. For the moment he wraps the sleeping bag around Phil’s shoulders, drapes it down his back, tucking it over and around him like he’s seen mothers do with their babies. Phil’s shoes are still on and he undoes them and places them carefully side by side on the floor just as he’s watched the man do at every safe house, motel and even tent they’ve ever stayed in.

He shuffles to kneel at the foot of the mattress and lays the back of his hand against the sole of Phil’s right foot. It feels colder than his hands so he starts to slip the sock off so he can get his feet warm and tucked into the sleeping bag. Phil jerks away.

“Hey, hey, just need to get them warm,” he says and wraps his hand round the man’s ankle. There is a further brief tussle that makes Clint want to laugh because he thinks Phil is ticklish and then he gets the sock off and he sees the scars. Phil is staring at him and Clint’s brain focuses on the way the blue of the bandana kind of matches his eyes and then he looks down again and the scars are still there. Phil curls his toes under as if he can hide them but they run the whole length and breadth of his foot, hard ridges of skin, puckered in places, silvery with age now. Clint’s own bare toes twitch at the thought of the agony the torture must have been. He swallows, rests Phil’s foot on the top of his thigh and curls his hand over it as though he could somehow protect it as he meets the steady gaze.

"And the other one?" he asks quietly and after a moment Phil turns on to his back and lifts his left foot onto Clint’s lap. He draws the sock off gently and looks at the scars and then at Phil who shrugs a little and doesn’t look away. He suddenly realises how intimate this is, the way he is touching Coulson, the fact that this man is trusting him. Clint is damn certain that if Phil had really resisted he would probably have been semi-conscious on the floor by now. He’s seen this guy take out cocky recruits with his bare hands without breaking sweat and the rumours of just what he is capable of armed with a paperclip are legion and probably mostly true.

"I’m sorry, Sir," he says and it’s for the intrusion into his scars and history as well as for what he has endured. Phil nods, the crow's feet by his right eye crinkle and Clint recognises that he is trying to smile. "I’m going to rub your feet to try and get them warm; you can kick me if I hurt you, ok?" Phil blinks once so Clint cups one hand round the sole of his right foot and rubs briskly with the other till the skin starts to warm to his touch. He keeps going till the skin pinks up a little and then carefully tucks the warm foot into the sleeping bag. He spreads his knees a little so he can nestle the bag there, keep some pressure on it and not twist Phil’s leg, then he repeats it with the other foot. The nails are neatly cut and clean although the little one on his left foot is missing as if it never grows anymore and the toe is twisted out slightly. No wonder the man insists on incredibly expensive shoes. After that agony, and the nerve damage it would have left, the kindness of good shoes must be a necessity. Electric flex he thinks, or maybe bamboo; whoever had inflicted the damage had been more than capable; there was no scarring on his ankles at all, just the shredded soles.

"You want some more water?" Phil shakes his head and keeps staring at Clint. "Can I get you anything?" A brief shake. "Are you cold?" Phil nods once.

“OK, I’m gonna lie down here ok? Nat always says it’s like having an extra heater and it’s not like you haven’t done this for me. Remember Norway?" Phil huffs a breath like he’s trying to laugh and turns on his side again away from Clint, shuffling slightly on the mattress to create more space for him. Clint scoots up behind him and rests his head on his left arm and uses his right to tuck the sleeping bag back in again, this time leaves it curled over Phil’s waist so that he stays close. He has a face full now of the hood of the bag now so he wriggles a bit and tucks it down and stretches his left arm up to finds Coulson’s left hand wrapped in the fleece. It’s freezing and he grasps it and rubs firm circles on the back with his thumb.

Lying like this he can see the angle of Phil’s jaw and he can feel that he’s tense but trying to pretend he’s not.

"Sir, Coulson, come on, you need to try and relax so you can get warm. Just breathe with me, ok?" For a second there’s no response and then the other man’s body folds back against him and he lets out a long deep breath and Clint says "All right Sir, that’s better, it’ll be fine. In for three, out for three, it’s easy, just follow me." Phil does it like he takes orders from Agent Barton all the time.

There’s a faint citrusy smell of Phil’s shampoo and slight sharp scent of sweat. Clint thinks about waking up in the mornings like this and he is the one who loses the rhythm of breathing then.

To try and cover it up, Clint shifts and says, “Other hand, Sir” and stretches to find Phil’s right hand. They join palm to palm, Phil interlinks their fingers and Clint feels the brief brush of a thumb over his wrist. Phil gives a long sigh and presses back towards him, even closer now. The down bag is bulky, he can’t feel the shape of him and wishes he could. He wishes he could give R&D a medal for giving him this brief interlude of intimacy.

#

Phil can feel the warmth from Clint seeping through the sleeping bag and into his bones that seem right now to be icy and breakable inside him. His whole self feels fragile in a way he has never known before and the words that have tumbled endlessly in his mind for what feels like hours finally seem to be slowing a little. He shifts a little and Clint’s arm tightens where it rests over his waist and he murmurs in his ear, so close.

“OK, Sir?” The juxtaposition of tenderness and formality is so very Clint who has so much heart yet so few people willing to see past his mouthy exterior to find it.

Phil nods knowing that Clint can see; he’s so close his breath whispers on his neck and Phil remembers that this is what it’s like to be held by a lover. He can’t stop the low groan that escapes him, not entirely smothered by the gag, and in a second Clint has turned him and is cupping his face with his right hand, his left still entangled with Phil’s and holding tight.

“Sir? Are you in pain?” The warm pressure shifts to take his pulse and Phil closes his eyes because facing the kind concerned eyes above him has sent the words racing in his head again.

‘I want, I want, I want you to hold me like this at night, want to wake up with you, want to be the one you come home to. I want to be able to hold you when you wake up in a cold sweat, Clint, I know you do that. I know you and I want to walk with you and learn to see what you see. I want to be someone you want to come home to. I want, I wish, I, I, I...’

"Sir, is it worse? Please, look at me dammit. If you’re in pain squeeze my hand twice." Clint’s fingers are steady on his pulse point but there is fear in his voice and Phil wants to reassure him but it’s hard to focus on anything except for the realisation that is flooding him that his heart and life are tied to this man. Clint’s fingers ghost over his face and smooth his hair. “Phil, please,” he whispers and it is so heartfelt and desperate that he opens his eyes and lifts his head to press his cheek to Clint’s, feeling the graze of his light stubble above the fabric of the gag and pressing into it. He gives a single squeeze.

Clint’s sigh drifts the length of his neck like a caress and it takes all he has not to try and reach his skin with his mouth in spite of the gag.

He wants Clint to take off the gag that’s holding his words in so that he can tell him everything that he feels. He wants to kiss and touch him and he can see, hard to believe as it is, his own desire reflected in Clint’s eyes. His hand is gripped tightly but the fingers cupping his face are trembling slightly.

“Please,” says Clint and runs his thumb along the edge of the gag. His breathing is shallow and quick and his pupils are dilated.

Phil wants to nod, and he knows that if he does in less than ten seconds Clint’s mouth will be on his, in half a minute his hands will be free and then he will be able to touch, will be being touched by this beautiful - and god he is so beautiful with his heart on his sleeve like this - man.

But whatever the drug is in his system it is telling him the truth of this situation too. He is almost certain that Clint wants him, not just desires but wants more from him than that. While the look in his eyes is unexpected and overwhelming and so much more than Phil had ever allowed himself to hope to see, this is Clint and he knows Clint maybe better than anyone else, perhaps except Nat.

He can do this now, he can touch and hold and maybe make love with this man here on the floor of his quarters and Clint will be willing, the look on his face says more than willing. But he is still under the influence of something and, because Clint’s life has taught him not to give his trust lightly and to run far and fast from those who can hurt him, Phil is going to make sure that he knows there is only one reason for him to kiss and touch Clint. He never wants to see doubt in his eyes about the reason why and he wants to give Clint every reason to stay and none to go. He won’t start their relationship when it might leave room for a moment of uncertainty on Clint’s part about what he wants from him.

He doesn’t break eye contact with Clint. He gives the best smile he can, He can see and feel the quick rise and fall of Clint’s chest. For a moment Clint’s fingers tighten on his cheek and then he goes to sit up, releasing his hand as Phil shakes his head. The last thing he wants is for Clint to run now.

“What Sir?” He doesn’t sound pissed, just tired and distant and Phil knows he’s losing the moment. It’s hard not to wonder if he imagined the look in Clint’s eyes for those brief seconds, if it wasn’t just genuine concern and nothing more. He is back to what has stopped him from acting for months now. If he has misjudged this he risks losing Clint's trust by making a move. If he acts and the relationship flounders, he risks losing Clint completely. His work is all about judging the risks and weighing them so carefully but with this he hasn’t been able to find a way that doesn't risk both him and SHIELD losing Clint and he has to keep choosing the way that makes sure that never happens.

But that look on Clint's face suggests that there is hope and he has had enough of hopeless. He's generally optimistic, believes that they try and do the right thing for the right reasons. Why is it so wrong for him to do this? He doesn't want to hurt Clint, every fibre of his being revolts against doing that. He has no intention of wilfully hurting him, and he hopes that Clint trusts him enough to know that.

Phil doesn’t break eye contact but turns on his side again. He wants to go back to where they were for now, just until whatever this is is fixed and then, then he is going to stop pretending he feels nothing more than professional concern for this man. If he’s got it wrong then he hopes he and Clint can move on from it and continue to work together. If Clint can’t do that he will have to live with it, with the distance he will put between them, but if he really has read that look right it is the first hope he’s had that this could turn into something more.

“You still cold Sir?” He’s not, not really, but he will use any damn excuse to keep Clint close so he nods the lie and Clint slides down behind him again, not pressed quite so close this time. Phil waits, hardly breathing, and after a moment Clint’s arm comes over him and warm fingers curl around his left hand.

“All right Sir, just try and rest, OK? Sure this won’t last forever.” There is an edge of hopelessness in Clint’s voice and Phil thinks that he can’t wait till he can try to show him that forever is pretty much exactly what he wants with him. He closes his eyes and matches his breathing to Clint’s slow even rise and fall and allows the warmth to spread through him.

#

He opens his eyes and the room is nearly dark. Phil is sleeping still, his breaths slow and deep and he is utterly relaxed in Clint's arms, his head tucked against his shoulder, the sleeping bag pushed out of the way. Their hands are still entwined. It is unbelievable, a 3am fantasy come to life. Neither of them are bleeding, they are safe and warm and Phil is curved against him like they do this every night. He wishes they did and the yearning is so strong he feels his chest tighten with need. He remembers how he’d spent the nights after they'd returned from Norway trying to recall exactly what it had felt like to be held by this man but the memory was damaged by his hypothermia and the wound in his side that wouldn't stop bleeding. Sometimes, even now, months later, he wakes still hearing a soft litany of comfort but it could easily have been a dream, something he created in one of his darker moments. Whether or not it is a dream, there is a strange kind of comfort that he finds in the thought of Phil holding back the nightmares that have plagued him for years.

His arm rests across Phil's ribs, curves up to lie over his heart and hold him close; he can feel its steady rhythm against his palm and he lies still and lets it thrum against his skin, sure and certain again, just like the man. They are so close that it would take hardly any movement at all to press a kiss to the pale skin above his collar where there is a faint untanned line from his recent haircut.

Instead he slowly lifts his arm and eases his fingers free and inches his way backwards, away from the beautiful intimacy. He has lost track of the time, can hardly believe that they both fell asleep like that. But he's been sleeping badly recently, has been restless and unsettled so maybe it was just the convenient warmth and comfort of human nearness and nothing more. He carefully doesn't remind himself that when he does seek out comfort - sex - he never sleeps and never stays.

Phil shifts as if seeking his warmth again but doesn't wake and Clint has to force himself not to tuck himself back in against him. Instead he tugs the sleeping bag up and folds it around him, tries to ignore the surge of something that might be the desire to protect if he felt able to examine it more closely. He doesn't, he can't, and instead he picks up the Pad to check for updates, trying to shake the sensation of an echo of Phil's heart that he can still feel on his palm. The time for turning his back is long past so he sits at the foot of the mattress, leaning against the wall.

Dr Yang says that those who were less exposed to the chemical are showing significant signs of recovery and she understands Phil was one of these casualties. His vitals should now be nearly normal but she would like to check on him anyway if Clint can persuade him to come to medical.

He knows there isn't much time left for him in this odd interlude and he tries to take in every detail of the scene; the way Phil's hair falls across his forehead and the shadows under his eyes, how much younger he looks when he is sleeping. Clint wishes away the gag and the restraints, wishes it was just Phil sleeping there because he was tired, that just once it could be the two of them and nothing else, not the job, not a disaster, just them. He swallows and shrugs away the thought and curses himself and his stupid unattainable wants. He should be grateful for what he's had and be done with it.

#

Phil knows he is being watched and for a moment he keeps his eyes closed and reviews the situation. His arms are tied and he's gagged but he's warm and comfortable and his feet are free and he doesn't sense any threat from the onlooker, in fact it's just the opposite, he feels safe. He works backward; remembers coming to Barton's room in need of ... something. He needed something from him.

"It's all right Sir, you're ok," Barton says and his voice is low and gravelly and he's sitting watching Phil over bent knees, face half in the shadow of early evening. And Phil remembers.

He blinks and Clint moves closer. "Doc says you should have recovered. You ready for me to untie you?" He doesn't reach out till Phil nods and then in a moment the gag is gone and then the wrist ties. His shoulders are stiff but he's been more uncomfortable so he tries to move to sit up and Clint helps, his hands warm through the cotton of his shirt like they had been when they were lying together. This time his touch is brisk and clinical and so very different from earlier.

Once he's upright Clint hands him a bottle of fresh water, makes sure he is able to hold it, doesn't tilt it to his mouth, doesn't brush his thumb over Phil's lip. He shuffles backward and waves the Pad at him and says, "Doc wants you to go to Medical."He doesn't meet his eyes. Phil nods, not yet ready to find his voice.

Clint is still watching him; he can sense it more than see it and it won't be long before his small quarters are in complete darkness. Phil doesn't want him to switch on the light, this is better, easier.

"Thank you," he says and is pleased that his voice is almost steady.

"Anytime." He sees a flash of white teeth. "You know anytime you want to avoid Medical you can come and hide here, Sir."

"Thank you." He doesn't call him Agent or Barton. He wants to say his name and taste it but it’s too soon. Clint has backed off and he so desperately doesn't want to fuck this up.

He thinks he should say more than just 'thank you' again. This is too important for Clint to wonder if he remembers.

"I'm glad I came here instead of medical," he says. "You were perfect." He isn't sure where his words are coming from but they are true and he wants Clint to hear them. It feels like he has spent half his life distributing his words with sparing care and now .... It hits him that Clint will just think he's still under the influence. He's so self-assured with a weapon in his hand but when it comes to relationships, even with friends sometimes, he is uncertain as if he has lost his balance. "I mean it, Clint."

The room is silent for a moment and he hears a soft exhalation and Clint says, "Thank you," so quietly. He doesn't call him Sir or boss. Phil smiles and hopes that Clint can see it. He wants to reach out to touch but he needs more for Clint to believe his intentions. He's about to speak when the Pad vibrates and lights up with a message.

"Director Fury wants an update on your status, Sir. What shall I say? That you're on your way to Medical?"

"You are usually bleeding or broken or both when I make you go," he grumbles. "I'm fine."

"You just called me perfect Sir, I really think you need to get checked out, might be long term damage." Clint's tone is teasing, he’s smiling and Phil loves the way he sounds, really wants to hear more of it. He tries to get to his feet. Clint always makes moving in small spaces look so easy but Phil finds he is still a bit uncoordinated, the sleeping bag takes some untangling and he's grateful for the hand Clint offers to tug him to his feet despite the protest of his shoulder muscles. It is a good excuse to touch him, however briefly and Phil welcomes it. When he is standing upright Clint releases his hand and he can judge reluctance when he feels it, the slow hot slide against his palm.

Clint passes him his shoes and socks and he puts them on quickly, trying not to overbalance, to maintain his dignity. Clint's seen his scars now, at least he doesn't have to hide them.

When he's finished Clint hands him his watch. As he slips it on he finds the cool metal is slightly warm where Clint has been holding it.

Phil smiles his thanks and enjoys the way Clint's eyes flick to his mouth. It's just a tiny movement but it is exactly those things that he’s trained to see. They are standing too close to each other for this to be anything other than silent flirtation but they don't touch and don't speak. Phil wants to kiss him and lean into his warmth but he doesn't. He wonders how fast he can get out of Medical and come back here, wonders if Clint will be here when he does. It's hard not to look at the fullness of Clint's mouth, especially when he licks his lips.

"I hope the doctor thinks you're ok," Clint says eventually.

"You mean not long term damaged?" He keeps his voice low, maintaining the intimacy.

"I've known I'm perfect for years, you just took your time figuring it out." The laughter in Clint’s eyes distracts him and he mishears at first, thinks he has said ‘I’ve known I’m perfect for you,’ and for a moment he can only stare until his brain catches up and retranslates for him.

"Sure Barton, whatever you say." It’s too late; he misses the moment and feels embarrassed.

Clint lifts his arm and Phil feels a flash of hope that he's going to touch him but instead he rests his hand on the door handle but doesn't open it.

"Need me to walk you to Medical? Dr Yang will have my ass if you don't get there."

"I'm not the one who needs an escort and an armed guard to keep me there."

Clint grins and his eyes meet Phil's and Phil thinks he wants to come back to that smile every single day. He thinks his lapse of a minute ago has been forgotten.

There's a cool draft against the warmth of his cheeks when Clint opens the door and leans back against the wall.

"See you soon, Sir," he murmurs and Phil has to make his legs carry him out the room and away. He's halfway down the hall before he hears the door close.

The corridors of HQ are quiet; it's later than he thought and he walks slowly reliving the last few hours. He's smiling when he finds Dr Yang and she looks curiously at him.

"How are you feeling Agent?"

"Happy," he finds himself saying and she lifts a brow in surprise.

"Clearly you were better off where you were than here then." He thinks there may be a grin hiding behind the swing of her dark hair as she turns away and says "Follow me." He does as he's told.

#

Clint leans his forehead against the inside of the door and lets out a long slow breath. He has probably crossed a line now that he can't step back over but he is finding it difficult to regret it. Coulson is a good man. If he wants nothing more from Clint, he will never mention it again and tomorrow things will be back to normal and they will go on as they did before. He will just need to find a way to get over this and that feels even more impossible now than it did this morning. Now he has held Phil, slept wrapped up with him, nearly kissed him. He knows some of his scars, the way his hair looks mussed from sleep, how his voice sounds when he wakes up. As if everything that he already knew of Phil wasn't enough to make him want him so badly it nearly hurts, this afternoon may have been a tipping point from want into love.

He ignores the temptation to punch the door in frustration and goes to remove all the signs that Phil was there. He could head to the range but instead he picks up the book and lies on the bed, his head in the dent on the pillow left by Phil. He absolutely does not turn his face into the pillow and breathe in. Really doesn’t, except that he does.

#

The knock on the door isn't very loud. It's gone eleven and he knows who it will be. He pulls on a t-shirt and sweats and pads to the door, pauses just for a second to breathe before he opens it.

"Sir," he says and it sounds soft to his own ears. Coulson is in suit trousers and a shirt but he has no tie on and his hair is still damp from a shower. He opens the door wider and lets the man into his room for the second time that day.

Phil’s eyes drift to the remade bed and then back to meet his and neither of them speaks for a moment.

"Did Medical clear you, Sir?" Clint asks when it becomes clear that Phil is struggling to get any words out as much as he’d been struggling to keep them in earlier.

"Yes", is the husky response and Clint swallows hard because the sound of Coulson slightly out of control is a real turn on. He pulls a piece of paper out of his pocket and holds it out to Clint. It takes him a moment to realise it’s the medical clearance cert; he should have recognised it straight away after all the times he has dropped them on Coulson’s desk.

"Bit of a role reversal," he says, trying to joke but he holds Phil’s gaze and doesn’t look away.

Phil steps forward into his space, looks at him with soft eyes, a question in them. Clint stares back, unsure exactly what is being asked of him until Phil’s thumb brushes his lower lip. He doesn’t move any closer though and doesn’t follow the gentle touch with a kiss, just waits for Clint to make a decision.

"Phil," and now his own voice sounds gravelly, but he won’t call him “Sir” like this. The corner of Phil’s mouth lifts in a touch of a smile and he wants to kiss it. "Phil, I ... I want more than a one night thing with you, y’know.” He pauses, breathes, insists, “You need to know that. Because if that’s all you want then … then I need you to leave now and we won’t talk about this again, I promise. It’ll just be part of this afternoon. Ok?" He keeps looking at him and lets his hands rest at his sides, not reaching out to hold on. For a long moment Phil closes his eyes but he doesn’t stop touching Clint’s face and then he is once again meeting his gaze and the blue of Phil’s eyes is so bright in the dim light of the reading lamp. Then he’s too close to see clearly and his mouth is on Clint’s, a soft kiss pressed against the corner before he’s covering it and Clint wraps his arms round him and pulls him in tight.

Phil spreads his fingers in Clint's hair, cupping his skull, tugging gently and Clint moans into the kiss, tilts his head, allowing Phil to deepen it. He opens up to him, revels in the taste of him, in the demands that Phil makes on his mouth, hungry and needy.

He can feel the heat of him through the cotton of the shirt as he runs his thumb down Phil's spine. He's not gentle and the touch pushes them together and the soft sweats do nothing to disguise his hardening cock from Phil.

He breaks the kiss unwillingly and stares at his handler, his boss, the man he hopes is going to share his bed tonight and tomorrow and …. Phil's as breathless as he is at just the one kiss.

Phil slides his left hand slowly from Clint's hip to cup the curve of his ass, to pull him even closer, and Clint hisses at the delicious friction against his cock.

He dips his head and touches his tongue to Phil's collarbone, flicking the buttons of his shirt undone so he can expose more skin to lick and kiss. God he wants more, all of it and the thought that he can have it, that Phil really is here, that it is Phil's hand that is caressing and squeezing his ass has him even harder than before.

"Fucking finally," he whispers and looks up into blue eyes that he has never seen like this, hot with want, watching him like they just can't get enough.

The right side of Phil's mouth lifts in a smile. He kisses the curve of his cheek just to the left of it, and slides his hand under Phil's shirt to grip his shoulder, pressing hard into muscles.

"Want you."

Phil hums happily against his lips and he feels the vibration in his chest. "Got me, Clint," he breathes.

"More of you." He undoes the last few buttons and pushes the shirt off broad shoulders. It catches at Phil's elbows because he isn't going to let go of Clint's ass.

He drags his own t-shirt off and presses his chest to Phil's, groaning quietly at the sensation of skin on skin. There is a shaky drawing in of breath next to his ear.

"God, you're gorgeous," Phil murmurs and he slowly slides as hand up Clint's back as if he is trying to learn the shape of his muscles. Clint arches back into the touch pushing their cocks together and they groan in unison.

“Bed,” says Phil and tugs at Clint’s arm.

“Yes, boss.” He can’t stop grinning, not even when Phil stills for a moment until he can read Clint’s face.

“I’m not your boss when we’re like this,” he says, kissing him hard, hands sliding under the waistband of his sweatpants, nails scraping lightly over Clint’s hips until he cups the cheeks of his ass, kneading softly.

“Bossy … then,” Clint murmurs, minutes later, when he can speak again, not caring that it sounds breathless. Phil grins.

“Maybe. Now take the rest of your clothes off.”

“You first, Phil.” He enjoys the taste of the name on his tongue and likes the way Phil’s hands still at the sound of it. He helps, can’t keep his hands off him. He learns what that triangle of skin tastes like, loves the roughness off those dark hairs on his tongue.

“Bed,” he says when they are both naked and the sensation of Phil pressed against him, stripped to nothing but himself, has Clint pressing his face into the broad shoulder and mouthing at the skin to keep his own outpouring of words in. If his tongue is busy learning the taste of Phil so he can never forget it then the words can’t escape him.

Phil talks though, tells him just how much he wants him, what he will do to him tonight, right now, explicit, low-voiced, saying the words, following them immediately with touches, kisses, sharp nips on tender skin, lips soft against the reddened marks. Clint gasps and writhes against him, allows himself to say Phil’s name over and over like a mantra, lets his own hands talk for him.

He wraps his hands round both their cocks and catches the gasp out of Phil’s mouth, breathing it in.

“Come with me?” he asks and Phil hisses at the slow slick slide of his hand, the flick of his thumb over so sensitive skin. “Come with me, Phil,” he says when he does it again, delighting in the wordless sounds that fall out of the kiss-swollen mouth. They’re so close, he’s so close. “Come with me, now, Phil,” he grinds out as an order because it’s too late, too late. Phil obeys.

For a long time they lie breathless and sticky, hot skin pressed together. Phil leans in to kiss him while he’s still shaking a little.

“Need to clean up,” he murmurs as Clint releases them. Clint nods and stretches up to kiss him as he starts to get up.

Phil smiles softly. “The bunks aren’t made to share are they?” he says as he tries to extricate himself without tipping off the narrow bed.

“No,” Clint says and wonders where they can find a bigger bed at this time of night because he wants to sleep with Phil tonight. He hopes that is what Phil wants too, is a bit afraid to ask. He, Clint Barton, who hasn’t slept in a bed with someone since … this afternoon. “There’s a new toothbrush in the cupboard over the sink,” he says and Phil nods and vanishes.

He lies there, sticky and sated, and drifts in a post-orgasmic haze. When it’s his turn he tries not to rush, tries not to strain his ears to listen for the sound of the door closing. This is Phil, he wouldn’t do that. There is still a bloom of pleasure in his chest at the sight of Phil stretched out on the bed, chest bare, sheet covering him to his waist, reading the trashy thriller, one finger marking Clint’s place. He’s wearing dark rimmed glasses that Clint hasn’t seen before and Clint definitely approves. A lot.

“Nice look. Very sexy.” Apparently while Agent Coulson doesn’t blush, Phil Coulson does. Who knew?

Clint slides into bed, enjoying the fact that he has to press right up against Phil, that Phil lifts his arm so Clint can rest his head on his shoulder. There is a small thunk as the book lands on the floor and then the arm wraps around his shoulder, squeezing gently.

“I’m glad I didn’t go to Medical this afternoon,” Phil says softly.

“Me too,” Clint mumbles and kisses the part of Phil’s chest he can reach without moving at all as sleep steals over him. He wants to say more but instead absorbs the sensation of Phil’s mouth against his hair and the feel of fingers on his shoulder and he’s gone.

#

Three days later, Clint is in the cafeteria with Phil; this isn’t a new thing but the glances that Phil is throwing him across the table are very much new and Clint takes the last mouthful of his … whatever is on the menu on a Monday and tries not to grin. They are sitting slightly apart and the room is only half full so there is an illusion of privacy for him to mutter, “Look at me like that again and your report is not going to get written this afternoon,” to which Phil just raises one eyebrow and Clint shrugs. “S’true. Concentration is shot, I’d only have to rewrite it.” This time it’s both eyebrows that go up but he can see Phil biting the inside of his lip so he makes a show of licking a spot of sauce off his knuckle just to watch his lover’s eyes follow the movement of his tongue.

“Stop it,” says Agent Phil Coulson and so he does. Boundaries, he thinks, gotta find them again. Clearly the cafeteria is a step too far. They spent the weekend at Phil’s place, mostly in bed or on the sofa, though they did managed to get out for Chinese on Saturday night, only two hours later than they planned. The two hours had definitely been worth it.

A group from R&D sit down a couple of tables away and their voices intrude on their small moment of privacy.

“My girlfriend says I never talked so much in my life about how I feel about her,” one of the guys is saying.

“What, you managed more than three sentences without lapsing into Klingon?” his colleague prods and there is an exchange of quiet, ”Fuck you,”s.

“They said I was ok, after Thursday,” another says, “but I kept finding myself having to stop saying things to people, really personal stuff, all weekend. So I guess we weren’t completely in the clear. Finally told my dad some stuff though that I wanted him to hear.”

“How’s your dad getting on?”

“He’s pretty sick. Told him I loved him even. Don't know if he or I was more surprised. It feels different today though, I feel a bit more in control.”

Clint feels the grin slide off his face even as he tries hard to keep it there. He strains to hear the next bit but Phil is getting up and lifting both their trays to bus them so he gets up too on legs that are filled with lead.

The weekend was incredible, amazing. He got a text from Phil at 4pm on Friday with a location for his apartment. He went racing out the door in the shortest time he could shower, change and throw a couple of clean t-shirts in a bag, take them out as presumptuous, then put them back with a toothbrush and clean jeans. He was just taking them out for a second time when he got another text, saying, “I’d like it if you’d stay.”

Phil is funny and smart and let Clint into his home like he trusts him and while the sex was, well, was... he isn’t really sure he quite has the words to describe it, it was really the smile in Phil’s eyes on Saturday morning when Clint half-suggested that he needed to leave to give Phil some time, y’know, and the man put down his coffee and said, “Do you want to leave Clint? Because I’d like to spend the day with you.” Clint felt like the sun was coming up for the second time that day and Phil’s face when he met his gaze was so open and happy and maybe he felt the same too. It was kind of perfect. They took a walk in the park on Sunday and Phil held his hand like he didn’t care who saw. They stopped for coffee and were going to stay out for lunch in the sun but then Phil leaned over and whispered, “Clint, please, let’s go home, I want to go to bed with you.” He’ tried to say something about maybe Phil being sleepy when the man bit his earlobe and said, “No, not tired, I want to take you to bed and fuck you and watch you come all over yourself.” It was unexpected and fucking hot; that’s what they did, which was even hotter.

Clint had thought he read real reluctance in Phil’s eyes when he climbed out of bed in the evening, long after it got dark, saying he had a 5am training exercise with the juniors and he really needed to get back to SHIELD. He hoped his own irritation at arranging training at that time (which really had been just to piss off the training supervisor who’d been snarking about how bloody uptight Coulson was the week before) was equally as clear to Phil.

Phil’s goodbye kisses were long and slow and sweet and Clint spent the taxi ride and, sleep be damned, half the night grinning. He even received a text on his phone from Phil saying, “I miss you” at 2am so he figured he wasn’t the only one behaving like a teenager.

And now all the doubts and fears that he had so very carefully pushed to the back of his mind for the past four days are crowding in on him and he shoves his hands in his pockets and is just about to tell Phil he is heading down to the range when he finds that they are outside Coulson’s office and Phil is holding the door open with a look that brooks no argument. Clint glances up as the agent slides the, “Do not disturb” sign firmly into place and shuts the door behind them then locks it quietly.

Clint stands in front of his desk as Phil walks carefully towards him. His face is open and kind and Clint braces himself for the words. He knows that Phil isn’t a cruel man so he will be gentle and he knows that it was just a mistake, that Phil hadn’t known he wasn’t clear of whatever it was he’d inhaled that overrode his self-control, in fact he had actively believed that he was in full control. Clint just isn’t sure right now whether he wishes that they never had the weekend so he doesn’t have to know what he’s lost or whether it’s a good thing to know that things can be like that with someone.

Phil stands close but not right in his personal space, not like that late night visit to his quarters, hands at this sides and Clint wants to touch him so damn badly it’s like his arms don’t belong to him anymore.

“Please, Clint, look at me,” he says so Clint tries to swallow down the pain as he raises his eyes. “Clint, I know you overheard them talking about the after-effects of the incident and I think that you’re worried that I don’t really want this, that what happened was just a result of my lowered inhibitions.” He pauses and Clint can’t speak, just waits for the blow to fall. Phil breathes out softly. “Clint, if my inhibitions were gone, it only meant that I could say and do what I’ve wanted to do for months. This weekend was just perfect. I want to do it again. And again. I’m not good at talking about how I feel and I’m not good at trusting people with my feelings. Partly the job, partly bad relationship choices in the past. Probably me not being very good at this.” Phil takes his hand now and there is something pleading in his eyes. “Please give me a chance, please let me show you that I want this.” Phil stops and Clint can see his throat working, like it hurts him to speak.

They haven’t talked about kissing in the office, or not, but given that Phil is holding his hand he risks leaning in and kissing Phil’s mouth softly.

“Yes,” he manages, “God, yes please. Really.”

Phil’s smile practically splits his face in half and he wraps an arm round Clint’s shoulders and pulls him in so he can murmur in his ear, “If you lick your fingers like that again in public you will completely ruin my reputation for being an uptight asshole,” thereby proving that he is indeed omniscient.

#

The next day Phil arrives to find a plain brown folder on his desk containing two forms carefully filled out in Clint’s slanting hand and a hot cup of coffee.

The first (HR721) states that Clint is in a relationship and confirms his request that SHIELD not send him on any missions that involve or potentially involve physical involvement with targets. SHIELD doesn’t tend to use its agents in that way if it can help it but he knows Clint has taken such missions in the past when he has been deemed the best person to do so. Phil sits down and studies the form and Clint’s scrawling signature underneath the statement of commitment to SHIELD’s goals. He’s pressed so hard there is a dent in the paper.

The second form, as he expects after that, is an HR22, with Clint’s details filled in in the top section.

The bottom section is blank. Phil picks up his pen and writes in his own details, places it on the desk, takes his own copy from his bag and puts it next to the first one. Then sits and looks at both their names written on a form that confirms they are in a relationship. There is a well of warmth in his chest as he touches Clint’s signature with one finger and tries to hide his smile in his coffee. He is still sitting there when Clint turns up ten minutes later, dressed for a combat training session. He looks at the documents, slides Phil’s copy out and adds his own details quickly, with a grin on his face that he doesn’t try to disguise. “I was worried I might seem a bit quick off the mark. Glad we’re on the same page here.”

Phil meets his eyes, taps once on the HR721 and sees a moment of doubt in Clint’s eyes. He straightens his shoulders and says, “Whatever’s happened in relationships in the past for you, I don’t want to be with anyone but you, for the job or any other reason. I don’t do that kind of thing. I don’t want to. I don’t want you to even think about it, let alone have to ever watch it or read a report about it.”

“Thank you,” is all Phil can manage for a moment and Clint’s grin is bright like sunshine. “I probably never would have managed to ask,” he adds because he thinks Clint needs to know that he really isn’t very good at this at all. “I’m grateful.”

That earns him a considering look. “I know, Phil, but it is OK to ask for what you want, you know that. And I’m not a mind reader so you’re gonna have to tell me what that is sometimes, just to help me along with this.”

Last night they talked about kissing in the office and Clint was the one who held the line and said, “No”. He has quarters on site but the office should be out of bounds. He laughed when Phil pouted slightly, ran a finger down Phil’s chest, looked pointedly at the trail of clothes on the floor of the bedroom and squeezed his ass gently. “I kissed you ‘hello’ and now we’re naked in bed.”

“I like the way you kiss me,” Phil mumbled into Clint’s collarbone, tracing slow patterns on his hipbone.

“Mmm, you kind of melted.” They ended up ordering pizza at gone ten and even then Clint freaked the delivery boy out by opening the door just wearing jeans and a smile.

Instead Clint runs a callused thumb along the back of Phil’s hand, smiles and says, “See you later? At your place?" Phil nods and then he’s gone.

The report on the R&D incident is waiting in his email and Phil reads and re-reads the analysis and then sends it to Hill with a covering email saying, “Compromised during incident, please oversee.”

Three minutes later he gets an IM. “How compromised, Coulson?”

He refrains from sending her a ridiculous emoticon and instead types, “HR721 and HR22 compromised.” He sends the message and starts counting down the seconds before she arrives at his office door.

#

He's making pasta sauce that evening when the buzzer goes and he’s glad it's at a stage he can leave it, but then Clint's timing is always pretty exceptional.

His palms are sweaty when he buzzes him up and he wipes them on his trousers and reminds himself that he's not twenty any more

Clint is wearing faded jeans that hug his ass and thighs and make Phil's mouth water, and a faded red t-shirt that looks soft to the touch. He’s smiling as he holds up a four pack of beer. Phil notes the small rucksack with pleasure. Clint didn’t leave anything at his place on Sunday evening but he's hoping that that will change after tonight.

He puts the beer on the side and turns back to tug Clint in so he can kiss him, cupping the back of his head as he pushes him against the door and delighting in the taste of him

"Hey," he says by way of greeting and knows that the grin on his face is downright goofy. Clint's hands are on his ass and he inserts his thigh between Phil’s legs, lifting and shifting him so that the pressure against his balls is just perfect. Phil gives a low groan.

"Hello." The grin he gets in return has an edge of shyness that Phil finds ridiculously adorable. Clint kisses the side of his neck and strokes the tip of his tongue just below the edge of Phil's shirt collar then nips his neck. He doesn't bother to suppress the groan or even try and he likes the way Clint's hands tighten on him when he lets him know what he enjoys which is absolutely everything that involves having Clint's hands or mouth or both on him.

Clint is unbuttoning his shirt now and his tongue is tracing his collarbone and Phil says

"Clint?" Which sort of tails off into a moan as Clint's thumb finds his nipple.

"Clint," he tries again and makes a little effort to put a small amount of space between them.

"Sorry, Si... Phil."

"Don't apologise." Phil reaches up and touches his face with his knuckles. "I want you," he insists and there is a flash of relief in Clint's eyes. "It's just...” He catches Clint's hand, presses the keys into it and keeps looking at him. Clint looks at them and then at Phil and then back at the keys with the tiny security fob. He feels even more nervous now that Clint is silent. "Building door," he says just to say something and touches one. "Front door. And you need that, well, you know," he pokes at the tiny dark red canister that he'd chosen for the SHIELD experts to use for Clint's personal access codes for his security system. "It all works."

Clint doesn't speak and Phil is scared he has gone too far but he remembers Clint's honesty over the forms. "Clint, our work is ...” He doesn't need to spell it out. "There is never enough time." He stops and knows Clint too is thinking of the funeral he has to attend on Thursday for a fallen Agent. "I would like you to be able to come here whenever you want. I want," he takes a breath. "I want to come home and find you here sometimes. If you'd like to do that."

For a long moment there is silence.

"What if 'whenever I want' is all the time?" Clint says quietly, meeting his eyes now.

"You have no idea how much I would like that." Phil kisses the corner of his mouth. "I like the idea of coming home and finding you on the couch."

"What about in bed?"

"Definitely there. Naked hopefully." He has his hands under Clint's t-shirt and is stroking his back. "How about the kitchen?"

"You just want me for cooking ability." Clint murmurs in his ear and squeezes his ass.

"Want you for much more than that." Thinking is becoming a struggle but the mention of the kitchen reminds him of the sauce and he pulls away. "Food," he says but doesn't let go of Clint's hand as he heads to the kitchen to stir the sauce.

Clint glues himself to Phil's spine, pressing up against his ass and kissing the back of his neck lightly until he can't do anything except moan.

"You like that?" Clint asks and does it again, this time with a slow swipe of his tongue followed by a nip of teeth. "You do." There is pleasure in his voice at the new discovery and Phil can feel the curve of his mouth against his skin.

A hand reaches round him and turns the ring off.

"That isn't going to spoil," Clint says firmly and Phil finds himself in the bedroom with no understanding of how he got there.

"Demanding," he says as Clint removes his shirt and tugs his own t-shirt off in a smooth movement.

"You can take it. You have too many clothes on. Take them off." Phil obeys.

#

Two weeks later Maria mails him a copy of the final report. He reads it with a cup of coffee that has magically appeared on the desk. Clint is lounging on the sofa with a stack of junior agents' reports, groaning occasionally at the fact that he has to read these now.

He looks up when Phil can't stop the huff of laughter that escapes him.

"What is it, Sir?" The address is formal but Clint doesn't bother to hide the warmth of his look

"The incident last month."

A small frown appears on Clint's face, hardly there before it’s gone.

Clint's waiting for him to speak, a question in his eyes.

"They were experimenting on some kind of truth drug; part of it involved using violas. Plants ... not the instrument."

"Guessed that, Sir."

"Apparently one of the old names for it was Heartsease, it was supposed to be good for chest problems and the relief of chest pain. That's what they are calling the incident."

"Worked for me, sir," Clint says and his voice is as warm as his eyes. Phil recalls the empty sensation of loneliness that he had lived with for months, years. Clint's easy joy in their new relationship is a source of wonder to him. He never knew it could be this uncomplicated, this simple.

"And me, Clint.”

“Not just us. Heard of two of the R&D team got engaged and there are at least three new couples according to the cafeteria gossip.”

Phil isn’t surprised. Clint’s still watching him.

“I bet we’re top gossip in the cafeteria."

“Right as always, Sir.”

“You’re definitely worth it.”

“Shucks, Sir. I’m blushing.” He is, and Phil thinks he will do so much more than tolerate some gossip (and is it really gossip if it's true and he doesn't mind at all that people know?) to see Clint gazing at him, him, Phil Coulson, with shining eyes and flushed with happiness.

R&D appreciate the upgrade to the quality of coffee in their break room, the regular anonymous doughnut deliveries and, most of all, the streamlining of their paperwork.