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Break the Sound and Change the Season

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August, 1983

It’s a hot night so Clint is sprawled out across his bunk, one arm flopping off the edge and the other flung restlessly against the splintery wooden wall of the caravan.

He’s half awake, listening to people arguing outside, but he’s not really worried. People argue all the time here, and sometimes punches are thrown, but they rarely bother Clint or Barney.

The voices stop so Clint closes his eyes again, rolling onto his stomach and hoping maybe he’ll find a cool piece of sheet, if he moves around enough.

There’s a crash outside and he startles all the way awake again, clutching his blanket in a deathgrip when the caravan door flies open and Barney comes running in.

He looks scared. Clint hates it when Barney looks scared. When Barney’s scared, it means that either someone has hurt him or someone’s about to hurt Clint.

“Come on,” Barney hisses, “get up.”

Clint really doesn’t want to, but Barney told him to, so he does. He tumbles out of bed and grabs the too-big pair of sneakers that Trickshot bought for him, out from under his bed.

“Where are we going?” Clint asks, sliding his feet into the shoes and clinging onto the bottom with his toes so they don’t fall off when he tries to walk.

“Everyone outside, they said,” Barney says and gives Clint a shove in the middle of the back to get him moving. “Don’t get me in trouble by being late.”

Clint wants to argue that he wouldn’t, but he always seems to get Barney in trouble, so he keeps quiet.

There’s a massive group of people gathering out on the green space in front of where they’ve set up the Big Top. Clint sees lots of people he recognises but there always seem to be new people around a circus, and there’s an angry looking man with long black hair at the front, who he doesn’t know at all.

“Who’s that?” Clint whispers to Barney, but Barney shakes his head, which either means he doesn’t know or he isn’t telling.

The angry man is yelling at their Ringmaster, which Clint didn’t think anyone was allowed to do. Clint tries to creep closer to hear what they’re saying, but Barney grabs hold of his collar and keeps him back.

“Stay out of it,” he tells Clint firmly, making narrow, meaningful eyes at him.

Clint huffs but shuffles back to Barney’s side. He’s tired and he doesn’t understand what’s going on.

After what feels like forever, and just as Clint’s thinking about maybe having a nap on the grass, the Ringmaster turns to all the assembled carnies and spreads his hands.

“Friends, this man says his son has run away with a girl from our troop. He claims that we’re harbouring them. Does anyone know anything about that?”

Clint looks up at Barney – Barney knows the older kids better than Clint does – but Barney doesn’t look like he looks when he’s hiding something.

No one says anything.

Everyone starts to close ranks, stepping into one big knot in the middle of the grass.

If Clint stands on his tiptoes, he can still see the Ringmaster. The angry man next to him is starting to look even angrier.

“Barney,” Clint whispers, reaching back for Barney’s hand. Barney shakes him off, too busy whispering with one of the girls who works with the horses. Clint thinks Barney sort of likes her.

The angry man’s black hair seems to be kind of glowing.

Barney!” Clint says again and, this time, he manages to catch hold of Barney’s hand, digging his nails in so that Barney can’t shake him off, no matter how hard he tries.

“What? For fu-” Barney stops shouting at Clint and stares where he’s pointing.

The really angry man looks like he’s on fire, but the fire isn’t red, it’s silver and rising up from the ground around him.

“Get down,” Barney says and tugs Clint to the floor. By the time their knees hit the dirt, the whole world has gone dark.

***

September, 2013

Clint is standing in the middle of the corridor, trying to choose between shooting holes in things down on the range or just going to veg in front of the TV with Thor, when the dining room door opens and Phil Coulson steps out.

He’s been in there with Tony and Steve all afternoon and he sure looks like it, his normally neat edges more than a little frayed.

“Hey, sir,” Clint says, grinning at him and slouching back against the wall. He likes to give the impression of lurking sometimes; it freaks people out, which is one of his favourite things to do.

He never seems to freak Phil out, but he’s sure he’ll hit on a way eventually.

“Barton,” Phil says, nodding. He closes the door behind himself, cutting off the sounds of Tony and Steve arguing over… something. Clint could probably work out what if he really put his mind to it, but it’s not laser arrows and it’s not an imminent alien threat so why bother?

“Having fun?” Clint asks. Phil starts down the corridor so Clint falls into step with him. Following Phil around is more fun than shooting things or listening to Thor try to fathom out RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Phil turns to him, opens his mouth then closes it and shakes his head. “No,” he says. This isn’t the first time that Phil has decided to let Clint see that he’s a real person but Clint is still thrilled by it, every time. “But we’re done for the day, at least.”

Clint grins at him. “You mean you are. Stark will keep Rogers in there until sunrise at the earliest.”

Phil grimaces, steps slowing but he doesn’t stop. “I feel like I should go back and save him,” he says, almost a question, like he’ll let Clint talk him out of it.

Clint slings a companionable arm around his shoulder, impressed when it takes seven whole seconds for Phil to shrug him off. “Nah, Cap enjoys it really. He voluntarily moved in here with our merry band of weirdoes, didn’t he?”

“True,” Phil agrees and doesn’t look so much like he wants to go back in there anymore. Which is good. Clint isn’t possessive but… fuck it, Clint is totally possessive and he hasn’t had any one-on-one time with Phil for ages.

“Going straight home?” he asks. They’ve reached the elevators and he’s trying really hard to think up a reason to get Phil to stay a while longer.

“Yes,” Phil says then, slower, “No, maybe not.”

Clint tips his head. “Sir?” he asks, smiling.

Phil waits another second then nods like he’s decided on something. “How would you like to go get a late dinner?”

Clint blinks. “Uh, yeah?” he says. They used to eat together all the time when Phil was his handler, but it was mostly because they happened to be hungry and happened to be together; they’ve never deliberately gone out together for dinner. “I mean, as long as you’re paying, sir.”

Phil rolls his eyes. “I know how much you get paid,” he says but there’s a smile dancing around the corner of his eyes. “Meet you downstairs in five?”

“Sure,” Clint agrees, sticking his hands in his pockets. He’s nonchalant, he is the most nonchalant guy ever. He gives Phil a really sloppy salute and strolls off to get changed, being very, very careful not to hurry.

***

“Mom says you have to get me home by eleven,” Clint tells Phil, dropping down into the passenger seat and closing the door.

“Which one of them is Mom?” Phil asks as he puts the car in gear. “I’m assuming it’s not Natasha.”

Clint thinks for a second then laughs. “JARVIS, probably, he’s the only one of us who ever worries about having vegetables in the fridge or not leaving electrics on standby.”

“I see,” Phil says slowly. He stops the car at the top of the ramp out of the Stark Tower parking lot and turns to raise his eyebrows at Clint. “So while I was planning for the next alien invasion, I really should have been worrying about you all dying of scurvy or contributing to global warming.”

“Yep,” Clint says cheerfully, reaching over and patting Phil’s elbow. “Which is why it’s so damn nice of you to be taking me out on this here date.”

It takes Phil a beat to come up with a response, which is unprecedentedly long for him and, when he does, it’s just to shake his head and roll the car forward to merge into traffic.

Clint has a feeling he’s missing something. But then, he works and lives with Tony and Bruce, super-geniuses extraordinaire, so he’s always missing something and he always manages to work it out. Just give him some time.

***

Honestly, when Phil asked if he wanted to get dinner, Clint was expecting the McDonalds down the block or maybe the one on 42nd Street if they were feeling really adventurous. He definitely wasn’t anticipating a cosy little mom and pop Italian place where the waiters know Phil’s name and the chef comes out to say hi after they’ve placed their orders.

“Um,” Clint asks. “Sir?”

Phil takes a sip from his beer glass and asks blandly, “Clint?”

Okay, there’s another thing: Clint. That’s new.

Clint isn’t entirely sure how to ask you have friends? without being seriously offensive. “When did you have time to bond with restaurateurs?” he settles on.

Phil actually laughs. “I went to school in the city,” he says. “My favourite waitress from back then runs this place now.”

Huh. Now that Clint did not know. He’d always figured Phil went to Harvard or something, somewhere where they taught you how to really rock a kickass suit.

“What?” Phil asks, still smiling and looking at Clint curiously.

Clint wonders what expression is showing on his face. Which is worrying because usually he knows exactly how much he’s giving way. “Just trying to picture you as an NYU hipster, sir,” he lies, smirking.

Phil shakes his head. “This was long before hipsters. This was the early eighties, it was all punk rock and protest marches, then.”

Clint leans forwards. “Please tell me you marched,” he begs. He doesn’t ask about the punk rock. If Phil was a punk, Clint isn’t sure his brain can handle the knowledge.

Phil smiles slowly. “How do you think I first met Director Fury?” he asks and Clint is still laughing in delight when the waiter brings their food over.

***

Dinner is a lot of fun. Clint always enjoys Phil but he rarely gets to see Phil enjoying him back; when he does, it makes his insides a little fizzy, like there’s something really good coming.

Phil insists on picking up the check, which, sure, Clint had teasingly told him he had to, but he hadn’t meant it, and then they have to drive back to Stark Tower. Clint finds that he really doesn’t want to do that. He wishes they’d walked so he could make them take a detour or twelve, just to prolong the evening.

At the back of his mind, he knows what he’s doing. He’s thinking about tonight as a date, which it can’t be. But he doesn’t see much harm in pretending, just a little. Fantasy dates are much safer than real ones, so he’s had a lot of them by now.

“I had a good time,” Phil tells him when they’re back at the Tower. He’s walked Clint through the lobby to the private elevators that lead up the Avengers’ floors. Clint wonders if he thinks Clint’s going to get lost or something.

“Yeah, me too,” Clint agrees. He gives Phil a cheeky smile. “We should do it again. I want to hear more about the time you were a punk rocker with flowers in your hair.”

Phil rolls his eyes, but he doesn’t actually deny it. “We can do it again,” he says and he doesn’t sound eager, because he’s Phil Coulson, but he certainly sounds genuine.

Clint looks at him and can’t think of anything smart to say. His heart is beating too fast, for some reason, and it’s interfering with his brain.

“Clint,” Phil says, very softly and then he’s leaning forward, not touching Clint anywhere except for where he presses his lips, very lightly, against Clint’s.

Clint sucks in a breath that’s loud enough to be a gasp, if only SHIELD agents gasped. He steps back, breathing too hard, too shocked.

“I’m sorry,” Phil says, taking a step back of his own. “You weren’t expecting me to do that.”

Which is when Clint realises that he should have been. Because it wasn’t just a date in his head, it was a real date. He voluntarily agreed to go on a real date and then his real date walked him to his door and – God, Clint is such an idiot.

“Don’t be sorry, sir,” he says, trying to smile, wondering if he manages it. He swallows hard. “I was thinking about the cameras.” He nods up at the surveillance camera that’s tucked into every corner down here.

Phil looks at him hard, like he’s trying to tell if Clint’s lying. “So if I were kiss you somewhere without cameras?”

No, Clint tells himself to say, I’m not interested. Sorry for leading you on. “That might be okay,” he hears himself say. “If you can find somewhere.”

Phil smiles at him slowly. “Oh, I will,” he promises, like this is a dare or a game, not the worst idea Clint has ever had. (And that’s saying a lot.) He touches Clint’s wrist for a second before dropping his hand. “See you tomorrow?”

Clint’s skin is buzzing. That can’t be normal. “I expect so,” he manages and returns the tiny smile that Phil gives him, watching Phil walk away until he’s all the way back to his car.

Phil turns just before he climbs inside. He looks surprised when he sees that Clint’s still watching him, but raises his hand in a wave.

Clint waves back and then, feeling like an idiot and calling himself worse, practically throws himself into the elevator.

***

Tony has built every Avenger a floor of their own – which is ridiculous but also amazing – and Clint’s is right at the very top. The ride up in the elevator gives him time to stand very still and think about absolutely nothing, which helps.

Kind of.

It helps, anyway, until he realises that he can still feel the phantom press of Phil’s lips on his and then he just feels pathetic. It was barely a kiss at all, which is maybe the problem. He wants more and he can’t have more, but no one’s kissed him in a long fucking time and his mouth feels kind of itchy, like it’s hoping for something messier next time.

He lets himself into his room, grabs his bow and heads straight back out again. There’s a shooting range that runs the whole length of this floor. (Clint is never moving out.)

He shakes out his training bow and selects his lightest arrows. He lines up the shot and his thumb brushes his bottom lip when he pulls back the string.

No, he tells himself. It’s much easier to be disciplined with a bow in his hands. You’re gonna go in tomorrow and tell him you’re not interested. Everything will go back to how it was.

“It’ll be easy,” he promises out aloud and lets the arrow fly.

***

“Agent Barton,” Phil says, putting his tray down on the commissary table in front of Clint’s and taking the seat opposite his. “I didn’t know you were in today.”

Clint looks up and tells himself not to smile. He smiles. “Couldn’t keep away, sir,” he says easily and rolls the apple from his tray over onto Phil’s. It’s a shiny green one, which are secretly Phil’s favourites.

Phil stops the apple with the side of his coffee mug and holds up what looks like a toffee nut muffin questioningly. Clint makes a tragic gimme face so Phil does.

Clint very carefully doesn’t think about how easy this all is between them.

“Everything okay at the Tower?” Phil presses. Under the table, his knee bumps Clint’s once, briefly. It might be an accident but Clint doubts it. Phil doesn’t have a lot of accidents like that.

“Yeah,” Clint says and moves his leg to the right, pressing the outside of his knee to the inside of Phil’s. He mentally yells at himself for it. Really loudly. “Just didn’t feel like being there today.”

Phil narrows his eyes, just slightly. He’s not going to ask, Clint knows, not in public, which Clint appreciates.

“A lot of team,” Clint clarifies and Phil nods, like he understands. Which he probably does. It’s no secret that Clint doesn’t do well with the whole team-building shit and that was apparently the only thing on Steve’s agenda for today.

Phil finishes his coffee and tucks the apple away in his pocket. “Walk with me?” he asks.

Clint’s been finished, except for the cookies, for a while now, just sitting here with an empty cup and a forbidding expression designed to stop anyone coming over to chat. Forbidding expressions don’t work on Phil but then, he hadn’t wanted it to.

“Sure,” he says, standing up. “Since you asked so nicely.”

Phil rolls his eyes and stands up too. “Be nice. I didn’t make it an order.”

“Kinky,” Clint says, because that’s what’s expected of him, and hops over the bench to join Phil.

They leave the commissary in silence, mostly because they have to pass a couple of tables full of new recruits to get to the door and Agent Coulson can’t be seen chatting by people who he hasn’t properly terrified into submission yet.

“I have a meeting with Hill in five minutes,” Phil says as soon as they’re outside, taking the route across the tiny outdoor quad to get to the other side of SHIELD central.

“Lucky you,” Clint says automatically then feels guilty. Hill did a damn good job of looking after the Avengers while Phil was still playing dead. “I mean, what about?”

“Potentially sentient fire ferrets,” Phil says, deadpan. His lips don’t even twitch when Clint laughs.

“Not seriously?” Clint asks, bumping his shoulder into Phil’s. “Seriously. Can I have one?” He doesn’t know what a fire ferret is but it sounds awesome.

“That depends on the outcome of my meeting,” Phil says.

They’ve reached the door that’ll take Phil through to the senior staff’s offices. Clint has no desire to get that close to Fury so he hangs back.

“What are you doing tonight?” Phil asks, and it’s only obvious how much he was teasing before when he stops.

“I don’t know,” Clint says slowly. “It might be team spin the bottle night or something.”

Phil gets an expression on his face like he doesn’t know what to do with that image. “Okay,” he says, “sure. Have fun with that.”

Clint grins at him. “Oh, I will. Want me to give Cap a kiss for you?”

Phil gives him his most unimpressed look. He doesn’t actually say no though. Clint smirks at him.

Ten seconds after Phil leaves him by the door, Clint starts to feel guilty. It was pretty obvious that Phil was angling to do something together tonight. The fact that he didn’t just come out and say so means that he was nervous. Clint knows he should have helped him out.

Dammit.

Clint thinks he maybe prefered his life when there was no one he could read this well.

Pulling his phone out, he sends Phil a quick text: I guess I don’t have to kiss Thor tonight if I get a better offer?

Even though Phil is probably already in his meeting, it only takes him a couple of minutes to reply. My place 20:00?

Cool. Clint sends back. It will be cool, he tells himself. It’s just hanging out; Clint hasn’t agreed to anything else.

***

“What did you think?” Phil asks, walking around the kitchen island to the tiny space he uses as a living area. “Good enough for Iron Chef?”

“I don’t know,” Clint says thoughtfully, “you’ll need to feed me a couple more times before I make up my mind.”

Phil smiles and hands Clint a glass of red wine. Clint wonders if this is the way Phil treats all his dates.

There’s no doubt this is a date. It’s been very date-like since Clint arrived. There’s even music playing.

“Request something,” Phil says, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Clint shifts his knees to the side, giving Phil room to sit down. “Is this how you always relax after work?” Clint asks, nodding at the wine, the soft jazz playing on the stereo. When Clint needs to relax, he shoots things; it wouldn’t have surprised him to learn that Phil works the same way.

“Relax?” Phil asks, shaking his head. “After work? Please explain these strange terms, Agent.”

“Point,” Clint agrees, not asking how come Phil has free time tonight, in that case.

They sit quietly for a while, which is fine, good even. Phil is one of the few people Clint can sit with quietly without needing to make some smart remark or other. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t make them, just that he doesn’t feel he needs to.

“You want to watch some TV?” Phil asks, putting his glass down on the tiny coffee table and reaching for the remote.

“Sure,” Clint says but then finds himself putting his hand over Phil’s, stopping him. He shouldn’t have done that, leading Phil on is a shitty thing to do, so he doesn’t do anything else.

“Clint?” Phil asks, turning his head to look up at him.

Clint pauses, trying to put his question into an order that’ll make sense outside his head. “What are we doing?” he asks.

“Having dinner.” Off Clint’s unimpressed look, Phil shakes his head. “No, I mean that. I’m not assuming that you’re interested in anything more.”

“But you are?” Clint asks, absolutely refusing to let himself sound nervous.

Phil hesitates for a second then, “Yes,” he says. “But I’m sorry about the other night.”

Clint frowns and lifts his hand off Phil’s. “You are?”

Phil looks uncomfortable. “You obviously weren’t expecting me to kiss you, so I’m sorry. I guess I was just… I’ve been thinking about it a long time.”

“You have?” Clint laughs. “How long? As long as you’ve been crushing on Captain America?”

Phil rolls his eyes. “Shut up,” he says. “I’d rather kiss you than Captain America.”

Clint blinks, forgetting to laugh. “Really?”

“Let me show you?” Phil asks and the way he’s looking at Clint means Clint can’t do anything but nod. Fuck.

Clint doesn’t wait for Phil to kiss him, he leans in to do it first. The angle’s off to start with but they’re highly skilled SHIELD agents, they quickly sort that out, and then it’s just Phil’s mouth and Clint’s mouth, moving together experimentally.

Clint hasn’t kissed a lot of people – usually it’s easier not to start something, when he knows he isn’t going to finish it – but he’s kissed enough to know that this is good. This works.

He thinks that Phil’s going to say something when they break apart but he doesn’t, just shifts so he’s leaning back against the couch and stretches his arm along the top, raising his eyebrows.

Clint puts his mostly-full glass down – he likes the idea of a sophisticated kind of date but he doesn’t really like wine – and twists to face Phil, pulling both knees up onto the sofa and leaning in again.

This kiss is less cautious. Phil cups a hand around the ball of Clint’s shoulder, thumb rubbing circles into Clint’s shirt while he licks questioningly along the tiny space between Clint’s lips.

Fuck. Clint wants to this to go on all night.

He pulls back, putting a gap between them that he doesn’t want to be there. Seriously, that is a terrible gap. He really hates that gap. Phil looks like he hates it too, judging from the tiny twitch between his eyes, the way he flicks his tongue out over his own lips.

“I should probably get going soon,” Clint says, knowing it’s an awkward segue but also knowing he has to say it. “Nat’s got some plan for a four a.m. training thing.”

“Right.” Phil slides his hand down from Clint’s shoulder, squeezing Clint’s elbow briefly before taking it away. “Do I want to know?” he asks.

“Only if you like knives,” Clint says, shrugging.

Phil smiles. “I like knives.”

Damn. Now Clint has to kiss him again. Phil makes a surprised sound into his mouth but opens up straight away when Clint tries introducing a little tongue.

One of Phil’s hands slides up Clint’s spine and cups the back of his neck. His fingertips brush the base of Clint’s skull and that shouldn’t be hot, he’s sure that shouldn’t be hot. He shivers all over, though, because it really fucking is.

“Do you really have to go?” Phil asks, pulling back just far enough to murmur it into Clint’s ear. Clint shivers again. He’s kind of a mess. He shouldn’t be this turned on from just some kissing, he knows that, but he is. He’s glad that the way their legs are arranged stops Phil’s lower body coming any closer to Clint’s or Phil would be able to tell.

“I do,” Clint lies. He kisses Phil one more time then makes himself stand up, move toward the door. “Sorry.”

Phil shakes his head. “It’s probably for the best,” he says, “let’s not rush this.”

Clint’s kind of punchy so it takes all of his willpower not to laugh at that. Little does Phil know how very, very unrushed this is going to end up being.

“Yeah?” he asks because in his experience when people say they don’t want to rush, they mean they want to have sex on the third date.

Phil shrugs. “Unless you’re in a hurry?” He doesn’t look uncertain but he sounds it, just slightly.

Clint shakes his head quickly. “Nope, no hurry.”

The smile he gets almost makes up for the fact that he’s being kind of a bastard right now. He hopes that Phil won’t hate him too much when he finds out everything that Clint’s keeping from him.

In this moment, with Phil bracketing him back against the front door for just one more kiss, Clint can almost believe that it’ll all work out.

***

“And what time do you call this?”

Tony’s fake-stern voice makes Clint pause, which is his first mistake. He should have kept walking, that way he wouldn’t have encouraged Tony to keep talking.

“Clinton Barton,” Tony carries on, “I’m shocked at you.”

Clint sighs and pastes on his most unimpressed expression. He might be borrowing from Phil a little but, whatever, it works. “It’s not even 23:30, Dad; my curfew’s midnight.”

Tony grins and comes out of the shadows. He slings an arm around Clint’s neck, dragging him along into the huge living room that they use as a kind of communal hangout spot. The glass he’s carrying bangs against Clint’s chin. It smells like whiskey.

Steve and Natasha are stretched out across the floor, a chequer board between them. Banner’s nowhere to be seen and Thor’s watching TV, chuckling to himself. Since he’s watching the Weather Channel, that’s kind of worrying.

“Look who I found,” Tony says, shoving Clint down onto the nearest sofa. He half lands on Thor, which is pretty comfortable, actually.

“Greetings,” Thor says, not taking his eyes off the cyclone that’s apparently threatening the Midwest. Clint hates the Midwest. He also hates cyclones. “Where did you spend the evening?”

Clint shrugs, leaning back into his own corner of the sofa. “Dinner,” he says, “with a friend.”

Natasha looks up, eyebrows raised. “You have friends who aren’t me?” she asks in her fake-innocent voice.

Clint flips her off. She grins.

“What kind of friend?” Tony asks, leaning closer. He smells of whiskey and motor oil and Clint thinks he’s completely justified in giving him a shove. Disappointingly, Tony hops back but doesn’t fall over. “Uh uh, that is beard burn, Barton, you can’t fool me.”

Now Natasha looks interested. Clint very carefully doesn’t look at her any more.

“Are you hallucinating?” he asks Tony sadly. “You know, I’ve heard that too much time in a tin can can do that to a guy.”

Tony purses his lips. “Do you have a special someone?” he asks. “Do I need to give you the ‘use protection’ talk?”

All of a sudden, Clint doesn’t want to play. “Fuck off, Stark,” he says and rolls to his feet. “You’re right. I had a long evening of awesome fucking and now I’m going to bed.”

“Wait.” Tony looks confused. “I said something, didn’t I? What did I say?” He doesn’t sound worried so much as though he’s looking for more data to add to his How To Be A Real Boy file.

“Tony, leave him alone,” Steve says. “Also, come help me beat Natasha? She’s winning again.”

Is she? Good; that’ll keep her distracted. Clint slips out the door, intent on escaping before Natasha can finish her game and catch up with him.

Apparently it doesn’t take long to beat even the combined Stark/Rogers force at chequers though because she slips into the elevator just as the door’s closing behind him.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Clint says without looking at her.

Natasha hits the button for her floor rather than his. “That’s okay,” she says. “I’m going to feed you alcohol first. You won’t feel a thing.”

Clint sighs and gives in, turning to her with a shrug that means okay, you win. She smiles at him sharply. He doesn’t stand a chance.

***

“Who is it?” Natasha asks when they’re half way down a bottle of a grappa; the strong stuff that you have to smuggle out of Central Europe in an old water bottle.

Clint takes another swig and hands it back to her, taking a moment to let his eyes pop when it hits the back of his throat. “C’mon, you know I’m not sleeping with anyone.”

She leans back on the bed, bottle on her stomach. “No, but you were with someone tonight. Stark’s right, you came back all kiss-smudged.”

Clint blinks at her. “I don’t even know what that means,” he says. It’s a lie. He feels kiss-smudged too, like he can’t quite get the world back into proper focus. Which could also be the booze, he guesses, but he doesn’t think it is.

She rolls over and stares down at him, a flyaway strand of hair sticking to a bead of sweat on her forehead. “Clint.”

“Coulson,” he admits and then, because it’s important, “I’m not going to sleep with him.” Apparently that isn’t reassuring enough, because she goes tense and smacks him. “Ow. What happened to me feeling no pain?”

“That was before I knew just how stupid you were being. You can’t date Coulson.” She smacks him again. It still hurts.

“I know.” Clint does know. That doesn’t stop him feeling kind of miserable about it. “I’m trying not to. It just kind of keeps happening.”

“It just keeps happening?” Natasha folds her arms on the comforter and leans forwards on her elbows. “Do you like him?”

Clint raises his eyebrows. “Are we gonna talk boys, Tasha?”

He deserves that smack.

“So yes, you do like him. Do you have a plan for when he wants to have sex with you and you break up with him? The team needs him, Clint. You and I need him even more.”

Clint groans and drops his head back onto the comforter. “I hate this,” he tells her and it’s whiny and selfish and all the things he hates to be, but he’s drunk and pissed enough at the universe to give into it, just this once.

Natasha pats the top of his head. It’s only slightly threatening. “Of course, you could just tell him.”

That’s crazy enough talk that Clint lifts his head, staring at her. “How, exactly?” he asks. “Even with all the shit we’ve seen, no one is going to believe this. No one. No one gets cursed outside of fairytales and do I look like Rapunzel to you?”

Natasha shrugs. “I believed you.”

Which is true. But he told her a decade ago, back when he’d kind of figured he’d have worked something out by now. Nowhere in his life plan did it feature being thirty-eight and still a virgin.

“I want to have sex with him,” he tells her, the kind of serious and honest he only gets when he’s really drunk. “I mean, I really want to have sex with him, Nat. I like him. He’s got great hands.”

“And yet,” Natasha says, not unsympathetically.

“Yeah.” Clint sighs. “And yet.”

***

“Hostiles on your six, seven and one, Iron Man,” Clint says into his radio, speaking softly so the guy currently trying to creep up on him won’t startle. It’s no fun if the idiots fall off the roof before they get to him.

“Well, aren’t I popular?” Tony says and powers upwards at the last second so that the guys at one and seven end up shooting each other instead of him. It’s pretty fucking funny.

“Can we think about wrapping this up?” Phil asks over comms. He sounds sharper than normal but then they’ve been on this op for something like thirty hours now, so that’s understandable.

“Personally, I’ve been thinking about it for the past four hours,” Natasha tells him. “But Cap won’t let me in the nest alone.”

“It’s not safe,” Steve says patiently. He’s gotten better at this whole team leader thing, which is annoying for Clint and Natasha who like to do their own thing, but probably good for the team as the whole. Maybe.

“Not for them,” Clint agrees cheerfully. “C’mon, Cap. Let me and Widow flush them out.” The guy who’s trying to creep up on Clint has finally reached Clint’s nest. It took him for fucking ever, seriously.

He lifts his gun and Clint nails him in the throat with an arrow without turning around. It’s pretty anticlimactic.

Natasha tsks over the radio. “When did I say I needed your help, Hawkeye?”

Clint grins and steps out onto the parapet. “But I’m bored.” He looks down. There’s a lot of destruction and quite a few dead bad guys lying around. “Hulk?” There’s a bellow from below. “Catch.”

“Hawkeye, don’t you - ” Phil starts but Clint’s already jumped. He was only nine storeys up so it doesn’t take as long as he’d like before Hulk plucks him out of the air, smashing him into a passing windowpane a little bit before setting him on the ground.

“Thanks, buddy,” Clint says, patting Hulk’s hip. He’d never dream of going near Bruce’s hips, but Hulk is kind of tall and Clint, sadly, isn’t.

“You’re fired,” Phil says flatly.

“Nah, you’d miss me,” Clint tells him and hurries over to Natasha who’s reloading all her handguns and redistributing them around her suit pockets. “You want front or back?” he asks her.

Natasha looks up at him, flicking her hair out of her eyes. “Front,” she says, like it’s obvious.

“Um, has anyone noticed I haven’t actually approved this plan yet?” Steve asks plaintively. Poor Steve.

Clint opens his mouth to argue their cause but Phil gets in first. “Captain, it’s nearly midnight. Our second midnight of this op. Do you have a better plan?”

Wow, that was almost snippy. Phil is never snippy to Captain America.

Steve clears his throat, obviously just as surprised. “No, sir,” he says. “Okay, Widow, Hawkeye, you have a go.”

Clint catches Natasha’s eye and they grin at each other. “Just like old times,” she says and runs straight into the Hydra nest.

***

Everyone is droopy as hell by the time they get back to the Tower. Fury listened to their report and then forbade anyone driving themselves home, which is why they all ended up being herded into a SHIELD-issue van and dumped back here.

“I’m not sure anyone noticed I don’t live here,” Phil says, sounding more confused than anything else. He’s made it as far as the living room so clearly he didn’t remember either. Right now, he’s frowning at Thor who has apparently decided the couch is his new bed.

“Eh,” Tony says, waving a hand. “There are plenty of spare rooms. Pick a floor, pick a door, take a nap. You look like you could use it.”

“Thanks, Stark,” Phil says and he must be tired because that sounded genuine.

Tony shrugs and heads left, toward his lab rather than toward bed.

Steve and Phil share a look. Steve sighs. “I’ll go get him.”

Bruce watches him go then tips his head, looking like he thinks going to the lab is a great plan and he can’t work out why Steve disapproves. Natasha touches him on the arm.

“Come on,” she says, swallowing back a yawn, “you too, Doctor.”

Soon it’s only Clint and Phil, standing alone in the living area. The lights start to lower by themselves, like JARVIS is trying to give them a hint.

“Hell of a day, huh?” Clint says. He’s swaying on his feet, tipping from his toes to his heels like he’s rocking himself to sleep.

“Fucking Hydra,” Phil agrees and Clint laughs.

“Want me to show you where there are empty rooms?” Clint asks, leading Phil to the elevators. He automatically hits the button for his floor and it’s not until they’re there that he remembers that there aren’t any spare bedrooms up here, Tony having taken the guest rooms out so that Clint could have his own mini armoury.

Seriously, this is a great place to live.

Presumably, Phil knows every inch of this place, but he still follows Clint down the corridor, while Clint tries to think of an alternative that isn’t the one he wants to suggest.

They stop at his bedroom door and Phil raises his eyebrows.

“Just to sleep,” Clint offers because he’s so damn tired and so is Phil and that sounds good.

“I could try again, go find a room downstairs,” Phil says, which means that Clint isn’t looking as blasé and unconcerned as he’d like to.

“Nah.” Clint unlocks the door and waves him inside. “I mean, only if you want to.”

Phil closes the door after Clint and shakes his head. “This works for me.” He puts his hand on Clint’s wrist and reels him in.

Clint absolutely could break away if he wanted to, but he doesn’t. Instead, he fits his arms around Phil and leans in for a kiss instead.

Phil smiles against his mouth, which makes Clint’s heart pound embarrassingly, even though the kiss is more a back and forth brush of lips than anything meaningful. Or maybe it’s way more meaningful than any other kiss that Clint’s ever had. He doesn’t know, he’s so tired, he can’t make sense of things right now.

All he really know is that Phil kissing him like this makes every part of him feel good.

“Shower?” Phil asks.

“Are you inviting me to - ?” Clint asks, already working out excuses to avoid that, even though getting clean sounds great and getting Phil clean sounds… He derails that thought immediately.

“No.” Phil coughs. “Not that I’m averse to that, but that wasn’t actually what I was, unless you were... I’ll stop talking now.”

Okay, Phil flustered is Clint’s new favourite thing.

“The bathroom’s through that door,” Clint tells him, nodding with his chin. “There’s towels and shit in the cupboard.”

“Thanks.” Phil squeezes Clint’s hips before stepping back.

Clint watches him go into the bathroom and close the door. “No problem,” he murmurs to the empty room and works hard not to think about how much Natasha is going to kill him when she finds out about this.

***

Clint wakes up slowly. He can tell that it’s already light so he keeps his eyes closed, arching his spine into the mattress. He’s warm and comfortable and so much less exhausted than he was when he fell asleep.

He’s also got way less freedom of movement than he was expecting.

His eyes snap open.

Phil’s curled against Clint’s side, one leg thrown over Clint’s knee and an arm across Clint’s chest.

Clint can’t quite breathe right and he doesn’t think it’s because of the weight of Phil’s arm.

Obviously this was going to happen, but Phil had come out of the shower last night, wearing borrowed sweats and just said, “which side’s yours?” so Clint had stupidly thought that that was going to be all there was to it. That it was going to be easy.

“JARVIS?” Clint whispers. “What time is it?”

“One fourteen in the afternoon, Agent Barton,” JARVIS tells him immediately. Clint has talked to Tony about the ‘Agent Barton’ thing but apparently he needs to tell JARVIS directly if he wants it to stop, and that seems kind of rude.

“Thanks.” Clint can’t hold back a yawn. He hopes JARVIS doesn’t mind the sudden view of his tonsils. “Anyone else up yet?”

“Miss Potts is downstairs with Captain Rogers but everyone is still asleep.”

Clint smiles, pleased. More sleep. “Cool.”

He closes his eyes. but before he can pass out again, Phil shifts, moving against Clint, kissing his shoulder, clearly not all the way awake.

“Hey,” Clint says, voice coming out rough. He isn’t sure where to put his hands.

“Oh,” Phil says, eyes focusing slowly on Clint. “Sorry.”

He’s heavy-eyed and sleep-rumpled and Clint’s seen Phil wake up before, but he’s never looked quite like this.

“No, don’t be,” Clint says and rolls them over, leaning over Phil to kiss him good morning.

Phil tastes like sleep, which doesn’t bother Clint at all. He angles his mouth so they slot together and Phil pulls Clint down, curling his tongue around Clint’s.

Clint breathes out hard. It is completely unfair that Phil is this good a kisser.

“Good morning,” Phil says, hands toying with the hem of Clint’s t-shirt. “Is it morning?”

“Yeah, it’s early,” Clint lies, because Phil’s pushing his t-shirt up a little now, questioningly, and Clint doesn’t want this to stop yet.

He should. But he doesn’t.

Clint sits up and pulls his shirt off, dropping it somewhere near the bottom of the bed. It’s warm in the room but Clint shivers at the rush of air against his skin. His nipples feel suddenly very exposed, which is ridiculous.

“Clint,” Phil says, barely loud enough to hear. When Clint looks up at him, Phil is staring at Clint’s chest, completely unashamed. Clint preens a little. He has a good body, he works hard for it; he’s allowed to show it off.

“You too,” he says, touching the collar of the SHIELD t-shirt that Phil borrowed last night. It makes Clint feel kind of funny to see Phil in his clothes, but he’s sure it’ll make him feel even funnier still to see him out of them.

Or. Not all of them, obviously. Just the t-shirt.

Phil sighs like Clint is asking a lot of him, but he strips off his shirt readily enough, so Clint guesses they’re even.

“Happy now?” Phil asks, lying back down. He touches Clint all over: his chest, his arms, his shoulders, all gentle fingertips and warm, wandering hands.

“Mmhmm,” Clint says, kind of hoarsely. Phil’s hands smooth up Clint’s chest and he leans into them, eyes fixed on Phil’s wide shoulders and his pecs, which are nicely defined and covered in soft, black hair.

Clint can’t stop this yet, he should and he needs to, but he can’t. He ducks his head and kisses Phil’s shoulders, his chest, then lower, down to his belly.

Phil’s morning wood is obvious through his sweatpants and Clint desperately wants to put his mouth there too, but he can’t.

He’s always wanted to try sucking cock, has choked himself on his fingers so many times to test his gag reflex. He thinks he’d give a good blowjob.

Phil’s breath speeds up, turning loud and shaky. He thinks Clint’s going to kiss him lower; Clint can feel Phil’s thighs already tensing.

Would he thrust up into Clint’s mouth, Clint wonders. Would he pull Clint’s hair? Maybe Clint could just put his mouth on Phil’s cock through his sweatpants; maybe that would be okay.

The problem, what makes this even worse, is that Clint doesn’t know what would be okay and what wouldn’t and he’s not going to test it on Phil.

Cursing at himself, Clint drops his hands and sits up. He catches a flash of disappointment on Phil’s face before Phil wipes it away.

“Sorry,” Clint mutters, curling his hands into fists on Phil’s chest. He can feel himself turning red, but he’s more angry than embarrassed.

Phil shakes his head, hands skimming up Clint’s sides. “Don’t be; I can wait.”

“Right, but.” Clint catches Phil’s hands, stops their journey upward. “What if you’re waiting forever?”

“Will I be?” Phil asks carefully.

Clint doesn’t want to answer but it’s only fair. “Yeah,” he says and waits for Phil to leave.

Phil doesn’t leave, because Phil never does what Clint expects him to. “You don’t have to tell me what’s wrong,” he says carefully, “but you’ve been… skittish every time I’ve touched you, and that’s not like you.”

Clint laughs bitterly and climbs off Phil. He sits down the end of the bed and feels cold. “Skittish?” he asks. “Am I a fucking horse?”

“I hope not,” Phil says, smiling his reassuringly diplomatic smile, and sitting up against the headboard. “If you’re not attracted to me – ”

Clint bangs his head against his knees because there’s no convenient wall handy. “Coulson, I’m so attracted to you it isn’t even funny.” He needs to stop being honest. He needs to lie and get this over with and not risk hurting Phil later. “But I don’t want to date you.”

There’s a pause. It only lasts a second, but it’s horrible.

“I see,” Phil says quietly. He reaches down and finds his t-shirt, pulling it back on. “Did I do something?” He sounds like he’s collecting intel for a report.

“No.” Clint’s voice comes out harsher than he means it to. “You’ve been great.” Perfect. He’s been perfect. “I just, it’s a dumb idea, right? The two of us getting involved. We work together, we know each other way too well. We’d never get any peace once Stark found out and – ”

“All right.” Phil holds up his hand. “You can stop now.”

Clint closes his mouth on the next round of excuses (lies) and watches in silence as Phil gets out of bed and dresses quickly, methodically. His back’s straight, his face expressionless.

Clint’s hurt him.

“I’m sorry?” Clint tries, attempting a smile. His throat feels tight, weighed down with the inability to breathe through how unfair this is.

Phil shakes his head sternly. “There’s nothing to feel sorry about, Clint,” he says. “You can’t help how you feel.” He sounds really fucking sad, but worse than that, he sounds kind.

Stop, Clint wants to say. I like you so much. I can’t fuck you because it would kill you, but I like you so much, I probably love you.

Instead, he lets Phil go.

tbc

Chapter Text

September, 1986

It’s two hours before the show’s supposed to open and the circus is crawling with cops. Well, maybe not crawling. There are five of them, but that’s still way more than Clint thinks there should be.

Like all the other kids who aren’t supposed to be here, he hid as soon as the cop cars showed up. He’s currently in the rafters up in the big top, flat on his stomach and listening in on what’s going on down below.

“When did you last see this girl?” one of cops, the young one, asks. She holds up a photograph in front of the Ringmaster. It’s tilted away from Clint, so he can’t see who she’s talking about.

The Ringmaster lifts a hand as though he’s going to touch the photo then drops it before he can. “Last night,” he says. “What happened to her?”

His voice is quiet, he sounds sad. Clint bets that whoever they’re talking about is dead; cops don’t come to the circus unless someone’s dead. He wishes he knew who they were talking about.

The other cop folds her arms. “She was found dead this morning. Died in her sleep, apparently. Along with another girl.”

All of a sudden, Clint knows who it must be. Molly who worked with the lions had a girlfriend in town. They met last time the circus passed through and she talked the whole year about getting to come back to see her.

“How did they die?” the Ringmaster asks. He lays the photo down in his lap and yep, that’s Molly. Her eyes are closed and she looks peaceful, not like Clint’s mom when he saw her dead but yeah, she still looks empty, gone.

“That’s part of our enquiries,” the older cop says. Clint wonders if that means, we don’t know.

His eyes sting and he doesn’t want to be here anymore. It’s not juicy gossip when it’s a real dead girl, who was nice to him.

He scoots back from where he was hiding until he finds a gap in the fabric wall and then it’s not all that hard to climb down the outside of the tent and run for the reptile truck, where he knows everyone else will be hiding.

No one likes snakes, not even cops.

“Where you been?” Barney demands as soon as Clint bursts in. He’s got his girlfriend, Claire, sitting half on his lap so a half dozen or so of the younger kids can squeeze into the walkway between the spiders and the boa constrictors.

“He was in the tent,” Claire says, holding out her hand and tugging Clint over to them. Clint likes her; she’s friendly to him. “What did you hear?”

Clint shrugs. “Not much,” he says, looking around. There are little kids in here; he doesn’t want to freak them out.

“Clint,” Barney growls. “What the fuck’s going on?”

“I, um.” Clint folds his arms, glad that it’s dark and no one can see his eyes getting all dumb and wet. They already think he’s not really one of them because Trick Shot took him off grunt work; they’d think he was totally soft, if he gave them that too. “Molly died.”

“Fuck,” Claire breathes, echoed by a couple of the others. Somewhere near Clint’s feet, someone starts to sniffle. He’s glad it’s not him.

“Yeah. Her um, her girl too, they said,” Clint adds.

That makes everyone go quiet. He hadn’t been thinking earlier, about what exactly that meant, but now he is. He sits down on the floor, just about managing not to end up in someone else’s lap.

“It has to be a coincidence,” Barney says, but he doesn’t sound sure.

Claire shakes her head. “It’s what he said’d happen, isn’t it?” No one asks who he is. Even though that night was three years ago, everyone remembers the terrifying man with the jet black hair and the way he made everything go dark.

“Right, but.” Clint twists his fingers around each other and tries to be calm, tries to be a grown-up like Barney and Claire.

“It’s not possible,” Barney cuts in. “No old dude can seriously make people die just for fucking outside the circus.”

“So why don’t you fuck outside the circus, then?” Claire asks, rounding on him.

“Because I’m fucking you,” Barney snaps back at her.

Clint keeps quiet and doesn’t mention that none of the older kids have sex with anyone but each other. Sure, Barney and Claire were into each other before, but everyone else has paired up too; no one but Molly was brave enough to look outside.

“What are we gonna do, then?” Clint asks. He’s eleven, he’s not really worried about sex yet, but he wants to try it one day. And he doesn’t want to kill anyone, when he does.

“Stick to circus people,” Barney says, not quite looking at Clint.

If they were on their own, Clint would point out that they’re not going to be circus people forever. He knows that, so Barney must realise it too. They’re not alone though, so he just mutters, “Yeah,” down at his knees.

***

September, 2013

Work sucks. Clint does his best to avoid Phil and not make things even worse, but they keep getting flung together for briefings and training and all that bullshit.

“What is with that scowl, Robin Hood?” Tony asks, throwing a pen across the table at Clint. Clint snatches it out of the air and throws it straight back. Sadly, a sharpie to the forehead doesn’t take Stark’s attention away from Clint for more than a second.

“What’s with that face, Stark?” Clint shoots back. Possibly because he’s twelve-years-old at heart, but whatever.

Tony’s eyebrows climb. “Wow, cranky. Did the guy who can’t be bothered to shave before he macks on your stop putting out?”

Clint freezes. Phil is three seats down, only Natasha and Bruce between them.

“You’re talking bullshit,” Clint snaps. He stands up. “I’m going for coffee. Who wants what?”

“Captain Rogers is in the middle of a briefing, Agent,” Phil says mildly over the sounds of all the other Avengers placing their orders. He spares Clint the quickest, least interested look ever. Clint gets that he’s not allowed to complain, but it still fucking sucks.

“Sure, but Cap doesn’t mind, right?” Clint asks, being a bastard and turning hopeful eyes on Steve.

“No, uh, sure,” Steve says, waving Clint away, because Steve is a lovely guy and Clint is an asshole who is prepared to exploit that sometimes.

There’s a coffee machine in the hallway outside the conference room, but that’s only for guests. No one who actually works here uses it, because the coffee comes out tasting like sludge.

Those in the know go to the coffee cart in the atrium. It’s run by a little old lady called Shelagh who looks like someone’s grandma but who, Clint’s pretty damn sure, is actually secretly badass.

No one is allowed through the doors at SHIELD unless they can take someone out with a paperclip, at minimum. Coffee-bringing grandmas are no exception.

“Oh dear,” Shelagh says as soon as she sees Clint. “There’s a bad day written all over your face, honey. Let me guess, it’s a peppermint mocha day for you, isn’t it?”

Clint opens his mouth to say that he’ll just have a black coffee, but that never does him any good with Shelagh. Besides, her coffees always make him feel better, so it’d be dumb to argue.

“Yes, please, ma’am,” he says, leaning an elbow on her cart. “And something for the rest of my team.”

He doesn’t bother to clarify what; she knows all their orders by now, and she normally ignores half of them anyway.

It’d take a braver bunch of people than Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to send a coffee back to Shelagh.

“And one for your Agent Coulson?” Sheila asks, loading up the first six cups into a holder. “He loves my honeycomb lattés, you know?”

Clint forces himself not to lie and say no he didn’t know that, to trick her into talking about Phil some more just so Clint has an excuse to think about him, too.

Clint did the dumping; he doesn’t know much, but he knows that means he’s not allowed to be maudlin about it.

“Sure, yeah, one for him too,” he agrees and tries to pretend that he didn’t hear her say ‘your Agent Coulson’.

***

Phil looks startled for a second, when Clint sets the coffee down in front of him.

“Complements of Shelagh,” Clint tells him then wishes he hadn’t, because Phil’s face closes down again. “Apparently it’s your favourite.”

He tries a smile, just to see what happens. Phil’s his best friend, they’ve always been able to shrug off awkward moments before; maybe they can do it this time too.

Phil doesn’t smile back. His mouth stays flat and blank but his eyes dart up to Clint’s for a second, something soft and almost lost in them, before they move firmly away and back to Steve’s presentation.

Sorry, Clint wants to say, but he can’t, obviously, not here. Instead, he straightens his shoulders and carries on playing barista, distributing coffees to everyone except Bruce, who likes this green tea latte gunk that looks more like something Shrek should take a bath in.

Natasha accepts her cup from Clint then treads on his foot – hard but quick enough to go unnoticed – looking seriously pissed.

Clint slumps down in his chair and can’t say he blames her. She told him not to fuck things up with Phil and he fucked everything up.

He leans back in his chair, playing with a cup of coffee he doesn’t actually want and tries to come with a plan, any plan at all, to fix this.

***

“Sure you don’t want me to come with you?” Natasha asks. She’s sitting on the edge of Clint’s bed, looking impressively alert considering it’s five hundred hours.

(Clint isn’t getting an early start so much as a really late one. He hasn’t slept at all. Lying in bed, obsessing over all his options, this was the only one that seemed vaguely passable.)

“Nah, I’m good,” Clint promises. He’s stuffed three t-shirts and a clean pair of boxers into his duffle bag. That should see him good for clothes for a week; he hopes this isn’t going to take longer than that.

“Hmm,” Natasha says, which is Russian for yeah, right. “What do I say when Coulson comes looking for you? ‘Sorry, Clint can’t come out to play; he’s tracking down a magical curse breaker’?”

Clint clenches his hands around the balled up pair of socks that he just picked up. “Fuck, Tasha,” he says, “Coulson’s not going to come looking for me.”

“Hmm,” Natasha says again. Then she waves her hand dismissively. “But fine, fine, have it your way. What do I say when Fury wonders where you are? Because he’ll probably notice, even if you think Coulson will become conveniently and selectively blind for the next few days.”

“Training mission?” Clint suggests. “Family emergency?”

“Yes,” Natasha says slowly. “That won’t worry him at all.”

Clint doesn’t wince, because that’s what she wants him to do. She wants to poke at all his Barney-related wounds, get him to lash out, and then trick him into telling her where he’s going.

She’s very, very good, way better than Clint, but it’s early and she’s not trying as hard as she could. Which means she trusts him enough to at least let him start this by himself.

He’s not dumb enough to think that there isn’t at least one tracker in his bag by now, but that’s just par for the course when you matter to Natasha.

“Okay,” he says, chucking the socks in his bag because he doesn’t know what else to do with them. “That’s me. I’m in the wind. Wish me luck?”

“Break a leg,” Natasha tells him dryly, then raises an eyebrow. “Make sure it isn’t your own.”

Clint grins at her, can’t help it even if he isn’t feeling especially cheery right now. “Love you, too,” he says and kisses the top of her head.

She smacks him in the chest and he knows that means you too.

***

Clint’s first stop is a lock-up in New Jersey. He hasn’t been here since Barney died and he’d way rather not be here now, but he since he can’t ask Barney directly, he’s going to have to go through his things instead.

It takes a long time. Barney always hoarded everything, even though he used to rag on Clint for filling his side of their caravan with junk.

Underneath Clint’s third grade report card (seriously, Barney?) and a sweatshirt that Clint remembers Barney wearing until he wore holes from the cuffs to the elbows, Clint finds a flat, black notebook, crammed full of Barney’s careful, scratchy handwriting.

He brought it to Clint a few years back, showed him all the stuff he’d found out about the curse. He tried to see if Clint remembered anything he didn’t. Clint hadn’t wanted to think about it then and he doesn’t really want to think about it now, but this time, he has to. He paws over the pages, tracing the lines of Barney’s logic and thinking how the FBI was actually a seriously good fit for him.

By the time he’s done, he’s got a place to start. He tucks the notebook into his jacket pocket, carefully locks everything else back up and heads back to the car.

He left his cell on the dash so he wouldn’t get distracted so he gets back to find a message from Natasha waiting for him.

Cap just asked where you are. $100 Coulson asks me in the next hour.

Clint swallows and doesn’t ask what she told Steve. He knows she won’t sell him out. Not unless he does something she thinks is even more dumb than this. No bet. He won’t ask you, he sends back then turns off his phone and throws it into the backseat.

***

After a full day’s drive, Barney’s research takes Clint to a little town in Georgia.

He doesn’t remember it, at least not really. Except, weirdly, for the cracked and peeling pink paint on the front wall of the church opposite where they set up camp all those years ago.

The campsite itself has been paved over and turned into a parking lot, someone’s rusty Buick sitting right about where the evil old dude’s magic drove Clint down to his knees.

Now that he’s here, Clint isn’t totally sure where to start. He thinks that, in the back of his mind, he was expecting some kind of smoking path leading from here to the old guy’s lair, but of course there’s nothing.

This isn’t where Clint’s skillset lies; he isn’t the guy that SHIELD sends to track stuff down, he’s the guy they send in after, to clean up what they found.

Still he is a SHIELD agent and he has spent a lot of time hanging out with super spies like Natasha and Phil, so he pulls out his ID badge and goes from door to door.

Oddly enough, people aren’t all that keen to talk to a guy from a government agency they’ve never heard of, especially when he starts his conversation with things like, “I’m looking for a man who lived here twenty-nine years ago. He had black hair and his son went missing. Nope, I don’t know their names.”

He strikes out fifteen times before lunch and is considering going to a diner to drown himself in coffee, when he hits the jackpot.

At first, it doesn’t look like a jackpot. At first, it looks like a woman a bit older than him with greying hair and a serious frown. Then she looks at Clint’s ID, blinks, and says, “Holy fuck, Clint Barton, you’ve grown up.”

Clint stares. “Do I know you?” he asks, keeping his ID half-raised between them like a really bad shield.

“Dani Kurtis,” she says. “I mucked out the horses. Punched Barney in the nose one time. How is Barney?”

“Dead,” Clint says automatically, his mind whirring. “Dani Kurtis?”

She’d just started to smile but now it fades. “Well, I was Dani Bobowicz back then. I think it’s me you’re looking for. Come in.”

Clint goes in. He gets seated at a tiny little table in the corner of her kitchen and she pours him some iced tea, three slices of lemon floating in it.

“You’re the girl who ran away from the circus?” he asks. He doesn’t remember her still, no matter how hard he tries.

“I didn’t really run away from the circus,” she says, sitting down opposite him. “I loved the circus. But I met Robbie and we knew his father would never let us be together so we ran away from him.”

“His dad the dude with the bad attitude and the fucking magic?” Clint asks. It feels wrong to sit in this nice southern parlour and curse, but she started it.

“That’s the one.” She adds more sugar to her tea, stirring it slowly. “You’re not the first person who’s come looking for answers.”

“What’d you tell them?” Clint asks, folding his hands in front of himself and trying not to look like he’s holding his breath.

She looks at him steadily. “Same thing I’m going to tell you. My father-in-law died a long time back. That’s the only reason we moved back here. And no, Robbie didn’t inherit none of his magic.”

Clint’s stomach turns over twice, lodging in his throat. “So what?” he asks. It comes out real quiet and her eyes go sad. “That’s it? He cursed us because of you and now you’re just like, ‘eh, nothing we can do, sucks to be you’?”

Dani doesn’t look so sympathetic anymore. “He did not curse you because of us. He cursed you because he was an evil, selfish bastard who had a temper tantrum when it turned out there were things he couldn’t control.” She lowers her voice. “And if I could help you, I would.”

“Yeah.” Clint lifts a hand and scrubs at his face. “I’m sorry. That was a really shitty thing to say.” He just feels tired now. Tired and cold and defeated. He doesn’t know what he was hoping would happen, but he stupidly, naively thought that if he could just get here, everything would be okay.

“Would you like some lunch?” Dani asks.

Clint laughs hollowly. Lunch to make up for the fact that he’s never going to get to be with Phil? “No, thanks.” He stands up, tucking his chair back under the table with hands that maybe shake a little. “I should go.”

“Clint, wait.” Dani puts her hand on his arm. “When you said Barney was dead. He didn’t...?”

Clint shakes his head. He doesn’t know what Barney did after he and Claire broke up, whether he found other circus girls to date or whether to got stuck with his own hand same as Clint, but it wasn’t the curse that killed him. “FBI shit,” he finally settles on, since he can’t really say there was a thing with a death ray. Also, I’m an Avenger.

“Oh,” she says and Clint knows he just made it sound like Barney was on the wrong side of the law there. Normally he would care about that, be stammering to clear Barney’s name, but it’s hard to care about anything at the moment.

“Thanks, anyway,” Clint says.

He stops in her doorway and almost turns back. This is the moment in a movie where he’d ask her if it was worth it, if rescuing her Robbie from his dad was worth Molly dying and Clint and Barney and Claire and the rest of them never getting to have anyone of their own.

Turns out he doesn’t want to know what her answer would be, so he lets the door bang closed behind him without another word.

***

Clint gets back in his car, and drives into Columbus. It’s not even fifteen hundred hours, but he can’t think of anything he wants to do more than get really damn drunk.

“Bad day?” the bartender asks, passing Clint a double shot of whiskey.

He shakes his head at her. “Sorry, ma’am, I’m not gonna be good for conversation,” he says.

She shrugs and refills his glass without him asking. “S’okay. It’s gonna just be you, me and the pill bug in the corner for a while yet, so I’m gonna keep talking at you, if that don’t bother you too much.”

“S’fine,” Clint agrees and settles himself more comfortably on his bar stool.

He put his cell phone in his pocket before he got out the car, which he’s starting to regret now. He can feel it digging into his ass, and he knows that in a couple drinks’ time, he’s going to want to call Phil.

“Hey,” he says, pulling it out and putting it on the bar. “Can you take care of this for me? Make sure I don’t call anyone?”

“Sure.” The bartender puts her hand over it. It’s a flashy, brand new Starkphone and he’s only half sure he’s going to get it back. “Want me to take your car keys too?”

Clint says, “Nah, I’m good.” He’s not going to drive drunk. He never has and never will; he’s not his father.

She picks up his cell and tucks it behind the bar. “Bad break up?” she guesses.

Clint snorts. “The fucking worst,” he says. He thinks he should probably have had lunch. Two drinks down and he feels kind of fuzzy at the edges. “How many of these until I forget his name?”

She blinks at the pronoun but Clint does not give a shit. “Let’s see, huh?” she says and tops his glass up again.

***

Clint is drunk. Clint is drunker than he can remember being in a good long time, definitely before he became an Avenger and had Captain Perfect America to try to live up to.

Phil likes Captain Perfect. Hell, Phil loves him. And Clint’s being super unfair right now, but he wanted Phil to respect him like that, wanted Phil to love him, and he so very nearly maybe got that and then he fucked it all up.

“That sucks,” the bartender says, patting him on the arm. He thinks she’s probably only got about a third of what he’s saying. Hell, he’s only getting about half and he’s the one saying - slurring - it.

“I’m gonna throw up,” he tells her, shoving up off of the stool.

“Good luck with that,” she calls after him.

A crowd’s built up while Clint’s been drinking his way down the bottle and Clint has to push through people to get to the door to the bathroom. It’s cooler out here and the urge to puke fades a little.

He steps out into the alley way instead and ends up leaning against the outside wall, head spinning, while his world fades in and out.

When he can open his eyes a little better, he finds a guy watching him with interested eyes. Clint knows that expression; he’s been on the receiving end enough that he can still recognise it in the semi-dark.

“I’m a bad idea, buddy,” he says.

The guy steps closer to Clint. He’s not bad looking, a little scrawny but cute, kind of, and maybe if Clint were the kind of guy who could have - who wanted - anonymous hookups, he’d be interested.

“You sure about that?” he asks. He’s using this low, seductive voice that makes Clint want to laugh in his face.

You’re not that hot, he wants to say, you’re not Phil Coulson.

Clint swallows hard, not because he’s interested but because he’s tired. Maybe he’s not sure. Maybe he could give this a go. He doesn’t know this guy, he could test the curse, see if it’s still even real. Maybe it died with Dani’s father-in-law.

He looks up, makes eye contact with the guy. And then he’s reaching out, fingers heading for the guy’s narrow shoulders before his conscience catches up with his alcohol dumb brain.

His pull turns into a push and he sends the guy stumbling back toward the opposite side of the alley.

“No,” he says. If he sounds harsh, it’s aimed at himself, but of course the guy doesn’t know that. “No, no way in hell.”

The guy’s face clouds over. “Asshole,” he says and steps in close, not seductive anymore. He sucker punches Clint right in the stomach and leaves him in alleyway, foetal and puking and totally fucking disgusted with himself.

***

Ten minutes later, when his stomach is empty and no one has come to beat him up some more, some little cloud in his brain clears a path and a thought hits him like a sunbeam:

This is magic.

He’s been an idiot.

***

When he wakes up in the backseat of his car the next morning, it’s still a bad idea. It’s also the only one he has left.

He cleans up best he can in a McDonald's mens room then takes himself to a public library, where he spends more than a half hour searching online, trying to find out if there’s any special way to invoke Norse gods.

Since he’s not sure what a ‘chanted incremental repetition’ of Loki’s name would sound like, he decides to do it his own way.

Loki liked flash. He liked respect. And he liked to be feared.

Clint doesn’t have time for any of that, so he settles for driving himself up to the top of the highest parking garage he can find, and screaming Loki’s name up at the heavens.

It doesn’t take as long as he was expecting.

“You’re giving Heimdall a headache and worrying Frigga,” Loki says mildly from behind him.

Clint swallows and turns around slowly. He’s almost disappointed by how ordinary Loki looks. He’s wearing a white shirt and black pants and the only thing that’s really familiar about him is the haughtiness of his expression.

He’s also non-corporeal, which is a massive relief. Clint knows that he earned himself back some privileges after helping Thor out with Malekith last year, but it’s not a surprise that Odin still won’t let him out of Asgard.

“Sorry about that,” Clint says. He means it; he likes Thor’s mom.

Loki tips his head, looking at Clint closely. “Whatever can I do for you, Agent Barton? I assume you haven’t simply missed me.”

Getting looked at like that again makes Clint feel cold all over. He folds his arms and lifts his chin. “Way I see it,” he says, “I got a magic problem and you know a fuck lot more than I do about magic.”

“Ah, yes. Your curse.” Loki smiles slowly. “That was fascinating to discover. I’ve never seen a human with magic embedded so deeply in their aura before.”

“I don’t know about auras,” Clint says. He doesn’t. They sound flimsy and theoretical and other things he has no time for. “All I want to know is can you help me?”

“I can’t take it off,” Loki says quickly, “and more importantly, why would I want to?”

Clint curls his hands into fists. He doesn’t believe Loki for a second. “You owe me. I helped you.”

Loki shakes his head. “But not willingly. Can it really be considered a debt when you would have killed me as soon as look at me had I given you back your free will?”

Clint is not going to flip out and try to punch this dude. He’s not. “Most people would considering taking away a guy’s free will as something you kind of have to make up for.”

Horrifyingly, that makes Loki smile. “I am certainly not most people.”

“Look.” Even when he’s not really here, this guy gives Clint the absolute creeps. “Stop playing around with me, okay? Either tell me if you’re going to help me or go away.”

“Why?” Loki asks suddenly. He stalks across the space between them then away before Clint can tense up. “Why now? You could have asked me to take it off while you were working for me, but you did not.”

“‘Working for you’,” Clint scoffs. “And no reason. I’m just sick of it now.”

“No.” Loki almost purrs it. “No, that’s not the reason. The reason is something much more delicious, isn’t it, Agent Barton?” He smiles slowly. He’s just so creepy. “Agent Barton. Clinton. Are you in love?”

Clint is very, very good at controlling himself; he knows he doesn’t give anything away, but Loki still laughs, sounding delighted.

“Tell me who it is,” he says, “and then I will help you.”

“You just said you couldn’t help me,” Clint counters, rather than no fucking way, which is what he wants to say.

Loki holds up a finger. “I said I couldn’t take it off. There are, however, certainly ways to improve your lot.”

Clint leans back casually against a convenient part of the wall and doesn’t let himself hope. Not too much, anyway. “Oh yeah?”

“Tell me who it is,” Loki repeats. “It isn’t Agent Romanoff, is it? Because that would be far too predictable.”

“I’m never going to tell you,” Clint says. He’s not. He’d rather lose Phil forever than give Loki any excuse to go near Phil again.

“Oh, well.” Loki shakes his head sadly and turns away. “In that case, I’m afraid I can’t - ” He pauses, frozen for a second. Then he sighs and some of his swagger cracks a little. “Agent Barton, I’m not sure what you’ve done to make the Asgardian court like you so much. Frigga says that if I do not help you, she will. And I think we can both agree that that would be much less fun.”

Clint doesn’t agree with that at all. “So help me, then.”

Loki turns around and walks slowly toward Clint. “I cannot remove the curse,” he says. “It’s made from Earth magic and cast in anger, such a thing would probably kill you were I to tamper with it. I can, however, change its nature. Have you ever read a fairytale?”

“Sure,” Clint says suspiciously. “Are you gonna turn me into a frog?”

He regrets saying that as soon as it’s out, because Loki probably could and he’d probably laugh while he did it.

“Think bigger,” Loki says. He’s clearly enjoying this. Clint guesses he doesn’t get out much, anymore.

“I don’t know.” Clint flings an arm out, losing his temper. It sales through Loki’s hand and okay, that is the creepiest. “I don’t fucking know, okay?”

Loki just looks at him. Clint half expects him to say temper, in a disappointed mom voice. “The answer to all fairytales, Agent Barton, is true love’s kiss.”

Clint tries to laugh but it comes out more of a choke. “You have got to be kidding me.”

“Well.” Loki nods slowly. “In your case, it’s more true love’s... copulation, but the principle remains the same.”

“So what, exactly, are you gonna do?” Clint asks suspiciously.

Loki’s hand connects with his face, curling around his cheek. Clint flinches then flinches again before he can stop himself. White light starts to glow beneath Loki’s hand, curving up around Clint’s face, filling his vision.

Clint starts to regret this decision. Sure, Loki’s back under Odin’s thumb, but he could still fuck Clint up and laugh his way back to an Asgard jail, if he felt like it. The dude was crazy before and a couple of years aren’t going to have changed that.

Just as quickly as it started, the light cuts out. Loki smiles, looking satisfied and steps back, looking Clint up and down like he can see more than just Clint standing there.

“That is much more interesting,” he says thoughtfully.

Clint doesn’t feel any different. “What did you do?”

“As I said.” Loki smiles. “You can now safely fornicate with your true love.” His smile turns wicked. “As long as you can be sure of a few considerations.”

He leans in close and whispers his provisos into Clint’s ear.

Clint doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know if this is better or worse. “You’re a bastard,” he tells Loki. “You just love to play with people, don’t you?”

“Indeed.” Loki doesn’t look like he thinks that’s a problem. “Now, there are several gentlemen with rifles all around us. Please excuse me.”

In a blink of an eye, he’s gone, about as long as it takes for Clint to process what he said.

Clint spins around.

Black suited SHIELD agents materialise out of the shadows at the edges of the parking lot. They’re in full gear, armoured up to the hilt and Clint can’t see any of their faces. He recognises Sitwell’s voice when he says, “On your knees, Barton.”

Clint lifts his hands. “Guys, seriously, I’m not - ”

“On your fucking knees.” He’s never heard Sitwell sound that angry.

“Seriously,” Clint starts again and that’s as far as he gets before something hits him in the back. A pulse of bright white pain licks up his spine and he pitches forward, body jerking twice before everything goes numb.

Face down on the asphalt, gasping for breath, he sees a pair of shiny black dress shoes step into his peripheral vision.

“Clint,” Phil says, voice thick with disappointment, taser held securely in his right hand.

tbc

Chapter Text

January, 2003

It’s fucking freezing in the cabin and Clint’s ten shivers away from lighting a fire in the hearth even though that would bring SHIELD down on them in seconds.

The girl who’s curled up in the opposite armchair, wearing his sweatshirt and stoically not shivering, is also watching his every move.

“Don’t,” she says, glancing from him to the fireplace and back. “I would like one evening to rest before we have to fight our way free.”

That’s the most she’s ever said to him and he finds himself stupidly charmed by her Russian accent and the way it fades in and out around certain words.

“Yeah,” Clint agrees and wraps his arms tighter around his knees. “Kind of hoping to avoid that myself. Not massively keen on freezing to death either though, you know.”

She breathes out a soft laugh. “You will not freeze. When I was a little girl, we survived winters twice as harsh as this.”

“Well I’m not Russian, Ms Romanova,” he says, “but if you promise I’m not gonna die.” He grins at her. He doesn’t know why he’s in such a good mood considering that he just defected and Fury’s going to kill him. He also doesn’t know why he’s flirting, but he definitely is.

“Natalia,” she says. “And you are?”

“Sorry, Clint Barton.” Clint holds out his hand for her to shake which she does, very firmly. She lingers a little before giving him his hand back and he knows he’s not imagining that.

“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Natalia says, smiling back at him. “You know that there are ways other than the fire to stay warm on nights such as this?”

Clint lets himself take one - long - look at her, curled up in his clothes, with her red hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, his blood under her fingernails from when she fought him for her life.

She’s the hottest girl he’s ever met and he really, really wants to take her up on that.

He sits back with a thump, feeling his shoulders slump a little because fuck. “I’ve heard rumours,” he agrees, “but I think I’ll stick to daydreaming about the fire.”

Natalia frowns slightly, shifting until she’s on her knees. “You don’t want to fuck me?” she asks. She sounds confused, but she doesn’t sound disappointed.

“Kinda do, quite a lot,” Clint admits, “but it’s not gonna happen. Don’t worry, I’m gonna help you anyway. You don’t need to convince me.”

She looks at him closely, making him wonder what she sees. She probably thinks he’s gay or a gentleman; she probably isn’t seeing Epic Virginity Curse. Whatever she sees apparently convinces her, because she smiles suddenly, making it really obvious that all her previous smiles were fake.

“In that case,” she says and reaches into her bag. So far, she’s pulled out two AK47s, six knives and something that went boom very nicely when they needed it to. Now she produces a three-quarters full bottle of vodka. “I have one more suggestion.”

“I like you,” Clint decides and reaches for the bottle when she holds it out to him.

September, 2013

“I swear,” Clint says for what feels like the hundredth time, “I’m not working with Loki.”

Sitwell leans forward, hands braced on the table between them and just looks at Clint. He’s threatened and yelled and threatened some more for hours now. Maybe he’s running out of things to say.

Clint’s head is pounding from the remnants of this morning’s hangover and there are two sticky places on his back where the taser prongs stuck and no one was gentle about ripping them out.

He could really do without the staring.

“Please, dude,” he says, feeling his throat catch from how dry it is. “Jasper.”

Sitwell pushes back from the table and paces to the two-way mirror and back again. Clint wonders who’s behind there. Probably Fury, maybe Phil.

Sitwell puts his hands on his hips. “The problem we have, Barton, is that the battle of New York was two years ago. If you’ve been working with him all this time then hundreds of missions are compromised.”

Clint drops his head into his hand. “I’m pretty sure I’m gonna puke,” he tells no one, because no one cares, no one’s listening.

Sitwell drags his empty chair backwards, the rubber feet squealing on the metal floor and Clint digs his fingernails into his scalp with a groan. “Barton,” he says, sitting down opposite Clint and lowering his voice. “We can help you.”

Clint shakes his head. “If he was still in my head, I wouldn’t be able to tell you,” he says, since it’s not like he can make this worse for himself. “But he’s not.”

“You summoned him back to Earth,” Sitwell reminds him, like he would have forgotten. “Why?”

“I summoned a hologram back,” Clint says. That’s important. He didn’t bring Loki; he didn’t really risk the Earth.

“Why?” Sitwell asks again.

“You wouldn’t believe me, if I told you.” Clint’s stomach feels terrible: hot and acidic. “Can I get a drink of water?”

“No. Tell me anyway.”

Clint lets his face roll all the way into his palm and groans. “Let me talk to Phil.”

Sitwell’s tone goes from stern to murderous. “No fucking way.” He slaps the table but Clint’s too tired to jump. “You’re his blind spot, you know that. Do you think I’d bring him in here for you to twist around your fingers?”

I wouldn’t, Clint thinks, except maybe he would. He wants to see Phil because Phil’s the only person who might trust him. But that’s also awful because of why Phil might want to trust him.

“Barton,” Sitwell barks when Clint doesn’t respond.

Clint doesn’t have anything else to say. He drops his head onto his folded arms and ignores the whole world, wondering if he can fall asleep right here and wake up somewhere else.

Actually, scratch that; he’d probably be okay with not waking up at all.

He doesn’t know how long he sits there. Sitwell gets tired of him and stalks out not longer after Clint goes silent on him. Then it’s just Clint and his parched mouth and the aggravating tick-tick of the clock on the wall. It’s set up to mark double time and wig out suspects. Which is what Clint is now: the very most suspect of suspects.

He never should have said yes to that fucking date, he thinks, and snorts tiredly into his elbow.

***

He opens his eyes when a tray gets set down on the table just within his eyeline and Phil’s voice says, “Enough now.”

Clint lifts his head, wincing at the ache over his right eye but refusing to rub it.

Phil looks bad. It’s a subtle kind of bad because Phil does not broadcast his emotions around the place, but his tie is wonky and his hair’s lank, splitting into separate strands across his hairline rather than all swept back like usual.

“Drink the water first,” Phil tells him, which finally snaps Clint out of staring at him and makes him look down at the tray.

Phil’s brought him a bottle of water and a mug of steaming coffee, a bacon sandwich on a paper plate and two small white pills with Tylenol stamped on them in red.

“Thanks,” Clint says. It’s hard to swallow but he gets the words out.

He fumbles up the pills and swallows them, just for something to do. He stomach isn’t super keen on the sudden addition of water, but he ignores that and starts chewing on his sandwich.

“S’good,” he says, surprised. The SHIELD canteen isn’t the best at flavour.

Phil nods and doesn’t offer any explanation. He slides back the chair that Sitwell used earlier and sits down, watching Clint until he’s eaten, drunk his water, and gotten half way down the coffee.

Then, “What does this remind you of?” he asks.

Clint frowns. “Every other time I’ve fucked up?” Then he thinks about it properly. “The time after Natasha. When you brought me back in. You fed me then, too.” He lets himself smile slightly, just in case Phil will too. Phil doesn’t.

Phil nods, still very serious. “Do you remember what I said to you then?”

Clint remembers every second of that day. He was aching, bruised all to hell, and secretly terrified, but Phil had fixed all of that with a cheeseburger and the offer of a second chance.

“You said, please don’t shoot any more arrows into my agents; it makes them look like porcupines,” Clint says.

That gets Phil smiling, very slightly. “I’m sure I didn’t,” he says blandly.

Clint curls his fingers around his mug and doesn’t argue, even though Phil totally did say that.

“What else?” Phil prompts.

Yeah, Clint knows exactly what he’s getting at. “You said that, um, that as long as I was honest with you, we’d never have a problem.” Clint looks away. “I’m not lying to you,” he tells the wall.

“You are.” Phil shifts his chair so he’s back in Clint’s line of sight. “By refusing to tell us anything, you’re as good as lying to us. I need you to tell me what kind of trouble you’re in so I can fix it.”

Clint thinks about saying it, but nothing happens. “Unless you have a magic wand, you can’t fix this,” he finally manages.

“Barton,” Phil sighs, “this is serious. You went looking for Loki and unless you give me a sound explanation as to why, I can’t just brush that under the rug. Not after…”

Phil looks shaken under his cool Agent Coulson exterior and Clint wants nothing more than to tell him everything. But it sounds so stupid, and rambling on about curses isn’t going to make him sound more trustworthy.

Clint forces himself to smile, slow and mean up at the camera in the corner that he knows is recording every word of this. Fury trusts Phil but not with Clint. “Yeah, that’s it, sir. I’ve been working for Loki all along.”

Clint,” Phil begs. “Don’t do that. I know that’s not true.”

“Why?” It’s easier to get mean, so much easier than anything else. “Because you know me? You don’t know fuck about me, Coulson, not really.”

Phil stands up. He folds his hands together but not before Clint can see that they’re shaking slightly. “Fury’s in touch with Odin. We’ll find out one way or another soon enough. I just wanted to... I just really hoped that you’d make things easier on yourself by trusting me.”

Clint’s eyes sting. He wishes he were back on Phil’s sofa, drinking fancy wine and getting the breath kissed out of him. Phil hadn’t looked at him like this back then.

“Why? No one’s trusting me,” he says, petulant and unfair. He kicks his feet up onto the table and doesn’t let himself look at Phil again.

***

To Clint’s surprise, he isn’t immediately hauled into SHIELD jail for the rest of his life.

The gap between people coming to interrogate him grows and grows some more until it’s been five hours and he’s starting to wonder if maybe they’ve just decided to leave him here to rot.

He wants to call Phil back. He doesn’t know what he’d say, but he wants to say something.

He’s on the brink of banging on the two-way mirror, when the door finally swings open and reveals Natasha, standing there with one hand on the door and one on her hip. Her scowl is terrifyingly unimpressed.

“Come on,” she says. “We’re leaving.”

Clint has a bad feeling. A really bad feeling. “Nat,” he says, standing up. “What did you tell them?”

She steps forward and catches his arm, her short fingernails dig into Clint’s bicep. “The truth,” she says flatly.

***

Natasha won’t talk to him again until they’re in the car and even then it’s just to tell him to do his damn seat belt up.

The SHIELD driver up front doesn’t try to make conversation either so it’s a long, uncomfortable ride back to the Tower, full of questions that Clint wants to ask but doesn’t want an answer to.

Except one. There’s one he really needs an answer to. “When you said you told SHIELD the truth,” he says as they pull up to the sidewalk outside the Tower. “Did you tell Phil?”

She nods. She doesn’t look apologetic. “I told Phil and Fury. Fury didn’t want to believe me but he checked with Odin and he backed me up.”

“What did Phil say?” Clint asks.

“Nothing.” Now she looks a little sorry. “He asked me if I was sure and how long I’d known, but he left the rest to Fury.”

Clint nods and concentrates hard on the back of their driver’s head.

“So that’s over then,” he says, mostly to himself.

“It was already over,” she reminds him, not unkindly. At least, not as unkindly as he deserves.

***

“Well, finally,” Tony says, when they arrive home. Clint wanted to skip the communal floor but Natasha is still mad at him and jabbed the button viciously as soon as they got into the elevator. “Your super secret spy mission over, then?”

Huh. It hadn’t actually occurred to Clint that the others wouldn’t know he went AWOL. That was weirdly nice of SHIELD.

“Tony,” Steve says, off to the side of the room. He’s looking at Clint and Natasha harder than Tony is. Mostly because Tony is also buried half way inside the fridge, tinkering with something. “Something happened.”

“Huh, what?” Tony leans further out and squints at them. “Something happened. And you didn’t call us in?” He’s using his fake-hurt voice, but he probably is hurt.

“I’m going upstairs,” Clint says, ignoring them. “Tasha, coming?”

“No, we’re going out there,” Natasha says, pointing toward the glass-plated wall and the flat roof beyond it.

Clint follows her out even though he wants to lie down on his own bed and smother himself with his own pillows so much more.

There’s some decking and a semicircle of chairs now where Loki’s space portal machine used to be. Clint vaguely remembers the earliest days of the Avengers and Tony and Pepper fighting because Pepper wanted a nice roof garden and Tony wanted to break Loki’s machine down to scrap and build a giant fuck-you to the universe out of it, instead.

“I know what you’re doing,” he says, sitting down next to Natasha. It’s late enough to be almost fully dark and New York is glittering in front of them.

Natasha raises one eyebrow at him.

He picks at a hole in the knee of his pants. “You think that if you bring me out here, you won’t need to remind me how fucking dumb involving Loki was.”

“No,” she says even though he knows she means yes. “I think that if I bring you here, I can murder you for being an utter fucking moron and it won’t make such a mess on Stark’s flooring.”

Clint leans back in his chair and breathes out hard. “Made you curse,” he says, because she doesn’t, not really, and rarely in English.

Natasha doesn’t answer him. She folds her legs and waits, radiating patience.

Clint knows he’s going to crack eventually so he just goes for it. “I didn’t actually bring Loki to Earth,” he points out. “I’m not that dumb. I knew Odin and Frigga were watching and wouldn’t let him do anything shitty and I just... fuck, Tasha, I found the family of the guy who cursed us.”

She sits up very slightly, obviously interested. “And?”

“Dead,” Clint says quickly. “He’s dead and they can’t help me. So I kind of... I flipped a bit.”

It’s possible that she looks very slightly less furious now. Since all of Natasha’s fury lives in the subtle flicks of her eyebrows, it’s hard to tell.

“Loki though,” she says.

Clint nods. “I know.”

“Did he help?” She sounds as though she’d be shocked if the answer is yes.

“I have no fucking clue,” he admits. “He did a thing, apparently. And like, quoted Once Upon A Time at me, but then Phil turned up and hit me with a taser, so I don’t know where I’m at, right now.”

“What exactly did he do?” Natasha presses. “What thing?”

“I don’t know.” Clint spreads his hands. “I swear I don’t. He said that he could change the nature of my curse but he couldn’t take it away. And then he went on about ‘true love’s kiss’ and then, right before SHIELD turned up, he whispered something in my ear.”

“What?” she asks.

Clint makes a face because it’s dumb and Loki speak and he’d rather not say it. “He said ‘how will you know that your love loves you enough?’ What does that even mean?”

Natasha thinks about it. “Usual Loki bullshit?” she suggests.

“That’s what I thought,” Clint agrees. “But it’s Frigga’s spell. So maybe it means something?”

Frigga likes him. She has since he first went to Asgard after the Battle of New York and called her son a bastard and her husband a son of a bitch.

“Hm,” Natasha says. Then she stands up. “Come on, we’re going to see Thor.”

***

“I am sorry for my brother,” Thor says sadly. Clint wonders how many times he’s said that in his life. “Even when he is doing good, he is not known for being helpful.”

“No shit,” Clint says, which earns him an elbow in the ribs from Natasha. He sits down on Thor’s giant bed and looks up at him. “So. You know anything about all this?”

Thor nods. “I have spoken with my mother. She too is sorry for Loki’s... for Loki.”

Clint wants to smile, but doesn’t. “What’s he done to me?”

“It’s an old spell,” Thor says, “very old magic. It is from past times when handfasting was a permanent bond.”

“Right,” Clint prompts, dragging it out. Thor always explains magic like it’s the best kind of story, but right now, Clint wants facts.

“The original magic simply guaranteed that people did not stray from their intended. Once a betrothal was formed, the spell would be cast and then, if either were intimate with another, they would be subjected to very nasty red boils.”

Natasha makes a sound that might be a snort but her face is expressionless by the time Clint looks over to glare at her.

“Boils?” Clint asks flatly.

“That is not what will happen to you,” Thor assures him. “Loki was unable to lift the part of the spell that threatens death. If you are intimate with someone other than the one you love, you will still die.”

Clint clutches at his hair. “That’s awesome. Totally. How is that supposed to help?”

Thor looks frustrated and a little embarrassed. “It was the best that my mother could think of to help you in such a short time. Previously you had no way of lifting the curse, you were expected to endure it forever. This way, you can be with a beloved.”

“Hey.” Clint holds up his hand. “I’m not complaining, I’m just. It’s not a lot of help, you know.”

How will you know that your love loves you enough? he thinks and kind of wants to scream in frustration. Loki, that bastard, is right.

If Phil loves him and they fuck then apparently everything will be fine. But if he doesn’t, or it’s not enough, then they’re still both going to die. He thinks maybe this is worse than it was before.

“It gives you a chance,” Natasha says softly from the corner and Thor nods. Thor hasn’t mocked him once for this and neither has Natasha. He’s kind of glad they’re on his team, even if they’ve got more faith in this than he does.

***

Clint has five meetings with Fury in four days, and they’re each somehow worse and more embarrassing than the last.

At least no one thinks he’s working with Loki anymore. Now they’re just freaking out about all the other magic he’s carrying around with him. Which he guesses is fair, but it’s been part of him since he was eight and he hasn’t accidentally blown anything up, yet.

As well as all the meetings, he has an awkward coffee thing with Sitwell where Sitwell doesn’t apologise and Clint totally doesn’t expect him to, but he doesn’t see Phil at all.

By Saturday, he gives up, puts on a nice shirt for reasons he’s not exploring, and goes to Phil’s apartment.

Phil has to know it’s him at the door, because he has all this super-fancy spy tech trained on the entryway, but he still frowns when he opens the door to Clint.

“Hey,” Clint says, when Phil doesn’t say anything. He crosses his arms, wonders if that makes him look angry, and uncrosses them again. He thinks about sticking his hands in his pockets, but maybe he’d look too casual then.

“Hi,” Phil says after a pause that’s just long enough to make Clint squirm. “Can I help you?”

Okay, that’s cold. “You can let me in?” Clint tries. He flashes Phil a smile and gets nothing in return, so he drops it. “Please. Let me in.”

Phil gives him another long look then sighs and steps back. “Come on, then,” he says.

Clint goes in. He gets to the living room and stops, startled, because it’s messy. Phil is never messy. Phil has been known to drag himself out of bed while nursing a healing gut wound because Clint and Natasha can’t be trusted to do his dishes right.

Now though, there are take out boxes across his coffee table and a whole collection of empty beer bottles on the floor. He slides past Clint and strides around collecting them all up, ignoring Clint until everything’s been put in the garbage.

Then he sits down in his one arm chair like that never happened. Clint decides against mentioning it.

There’s nowhere else for him to sit other than the couch, so he sits there, fiddling with a hangnail on his thumb and wishing Phil had offered him a drink so he could play with that instead.

After another awkward silence, Phil leans forward and rests his forearms on his thighs. “One part of me thinks I should make this easier for you,” he says. “But I spend a lot of time doing that.”

Clint flinches. He can’t even deny that it’s true but wow, Phil must be seriously pissed because he’s never mentioned it before.

“I’m sorry,” Clint says all in the rush. “I’m so fucking sorry for... everything.”

“Which everything?” Phil presses. His expression is open and he’s totally unflinching, focused on Clint’s face.

Clint swallows. “I guess, I guess mostly for saying yes when you asked me out. That’s kind of what started all this, right?”

Phil nods slowly. “Why did you?”

“‘Cause I wanted to,” Clint says, too rushed, too honest. “Fuck. Do you know how much, what I...” He gives up, thumps his knee with a closed fist and doesn’t try to finish that sentence. “I’m sorry.”

“Clint.” Phil’s voice is gentler now, but it doesn’t help. “I’m sorry. I’m angry that you didn’t trust me and that you went to Loki. I don’t blame you for anything else.”

Clint looks away. He looks down at the ring marks on the now empty coffee table and tries to be honest about one thing, at least.

“Loki did something to the curse,” Clint admits, “but it wasn’t helpful.”

No way is he telling Phil that they could have sex right now, just as long as Phil’s sure that he’s in love with him. They’ve been on two proper dates and had one serious makeout session. Clint couldn’t put something like that on him, even if Phil weren’t currently furious with him.

“I’m shocked to hear that Loki would be unhelpful,” Phil says, deadpan. It’s so close to what Clint said that his stupid heart does a little flip in his chest.

Phil is still leaning close, but he’s not touching. There’s a couple of feet of space between their knees, which is probably for the best, but Clint still wishes it wasn’t there.

“I just wanted it gone,” Clint says. “I didn’t mean to freak everyone out or make it so you had to tase me. That must have sucked.”

“It did,” Phil agrees. Clint kind of wishes he’d lied, but at the same time, he’s glad he didn’t.

Clint isn’t sure what to say next, when he looks up, Phil’s watching him.

“I thought you and Natasha slept together? In fact, you told me, you did.”

“Yeah.” Clint ducks his head. “That was easier to explain than that I just liked her and had a good feeling about her.” He clears his throat. Phil wants honesty; Clint can do little bits of honesty. “Not that I wouldn’t have. If I could’ve.”

“So you’ve never been with anyone?” Phil asks. Clint thinks it’s sweet that he doesn’t say virgin.

Clint shakes his head. “My virtue is untouched,” he says, with a laugh on the end that even he knows doesn’t sound good or genuine.

“Well, not untouched,” Phil says and when Clint looks up, Phil’s smiling slightly, like Clint’s on his way to being forgiven. “I touched you a little.”

Clint starts to laugh, bringing his hand up to cover his mouth, and finds that he can’t stop. He looks away from Phil, staring at nothing until even that blurs in front of his eyes.

“Clint,” Phil says quietly.

One tear escapes from Clint’s right eye and rolls down his cheek. He swipes at it, embarrassed and annoyed.

“Clint,” Phil says again. He gets up and moves over until he’s sitting next to Clint. He still doesn’t touch him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because it’s embarrassing?” Clint tries. “And dumb. And, and until a couple weeks ago it didn’t even matter because I was never gonna, I was never gonna - ” fall in love “ - meet anyone. So I decided not to worry about it. Focus on other things and not, I didn’t want to string anyone along or, you know.”

He curls his hand around the edge of the couch cushion and half hopes that Phil will put his over it. He’s not surprised when he doesn’t.

“You thought about taking the risk with me,” Phil points out.

Clint shrugs. There’s nothing he can say to that. He did, it’s true.

Phil clears his throat. “If that’s the only reason that you broke – that you ended our… thing.”

“Thing?” Clint asks, managing to rustle up a smile.

“Shut up,” Phil says, but he smiles back. “If that was the only reason that you ended our relationship then I have to admit I’m offended.”

Clint blinks. “Offended?” he echoes. Only Phil would be offended that Clint tried to protect him from an evil, killing curse.

Phil finally holds his hand out and, after a beat, Clint takes it. He’s still confused but he’s missed skin contact more than he ever would have predicted. It’s awkward holding hands across the couch but Clint won’t let go.

Phil waits for Clint to look up from their joined hands to Phil’s face then nods seriously. “I like you,” he says, “a lot.” He says it easily, like that isn’t a huge fucking thing. “Sex wasn’t all I wanted from you.”

“But it was something that you wanted from me, right?” Clint holds up his free hand. “Don’t just say what you think I want to hear.”

“When do I ever do that?” Phil asks.

When you’re being kind, Clint thinks but doesn’t say.

Phil takes a beat then sighs. “Yes,” he says. “Yes, I would like to have sex. With you, specifically. But I enjoyed those few date nights we had.” He squeezes Clint’s hand. “I would have been happy to keep doing that, if you’d explained to me why.”

Fuck, Clint wants to believe that. “For how long though?” he asks. “I’m not, I’m not stupid enough to think that you’d be happy with no sex forever.”

“Do you want to have sex?” Phil asks.

Clint stares at him. “That’s a really dumb question.”

Phil smiles lopsidedly. “It isn’t. If you don’t want to have sex then that’s one thing. But if you do, well, we work with a bunch of very smart people and I’m sure they can work something out for you.”

“Oh holy fuck, no,” Clint snorts. “I’m not talking about this with Tony Stark.”

Phil shrugs. It’s his okay, if you say you’re not then I guess you’re not shrug. It’s the kind he always gives Clint just before Clint gives in and does something really dumb for SHIELD.

“No,” Clint repeats. “Loki couldn’t help.” He doesn’t add that maybe Loki could help a little, because he’s still thinking that bit through. “Stark won’t be able to. He hates magic.”

“Doctor Foster, then” Phil says, unperturbed.

Clint shakes his head and shakes it again. “Stop,” he asks. It’s supposed to come out sounding like a demand, but it doesn’t. “You and I aren’t together, so just leave me alone to worry about it, okay?”

“Okay,” Phil eventually agrees, but he looks sad. Then he stops looking sad and starts looking determined. “No, actually, that’s not okay. I’d like us to be together.”

“But only if I talk to Stark?” Clint asks. It’s fair. They’re not in junior high; Phil’s a fifty-year-old man; he has every right to want to be able to fuck the guy he’s dating.

“Either way,” Phil says and he sounds so serious, like he means it.

Clint shakes his head. “I’m not doing that to you.”

Phil strokes his thumb over Clint’s palm and stays silent in that way that Clint knows means he’s thinking.

“I’m not someone who needs a relationship to feel fulfilled,” he says. “But when I meet someone, and it works, it seems like a waste not to pursue it. You and I worked, didn’t we?”

It takes Clint three tries before he can say, “Yeah.”

“Yeah,” Phil repeats quietly. “So. You make me happy and, if I make you happy, then I think we should give it a go. And that’s not me feeling sorry for you or you making me do anything I don’t want to do, before you start going down that path.”

Clint laughs. Phil knows him far too well.

He looks down at their hands and thinks about how happy is an understatement for what Phil makes him feel. “Maybe I’ll talk to Stark,” he says. “See what he says. No promises, though.”

Phil squeezes his hand. “If you want to,” he says. And Clint knows he’s just been outplayed, but he can’t say he really minds.

***

When Clint gets back to the Tower, the first person he walks into is Bruce, who’s standing in the kitchen, brewing a cup of tea.

Clint was going to do what he always does, which is nod and then fail to think of anything to say, because he sucks at small talk. Instead, he hesitates and wonders if talking to Bruce about his problem might be less embarrassing than talking to Tony.

As Clint watches, Bruce spoons the bag out of his tea and drops it in the little jar where he dries them out for reasons that Clint has yet to work out. The Other Guy collects used tea leaves, maybe. There are worse things.

“Am I in your way?” Bruce asks, when he notices Clint watching him.

“Nope, I’m good, you’re fine,” Clint tells him, hopping up to sit on the counter.

Bruce looks at him like he wants to ask what Clint’s doing here, but he doesn’t because Bruce is a nice guy who always rolls with other people’s quirks. Which, actually, might be helpful right now.

“Hey, so, Doc,” Clint starts, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. “Can I ask you a totally inappropriate question?”

Bruce turns around, mug balanced on one cupped palm. “I’m not sure I know the definition of inappropriate anymore.”

“Yeah, I bet,” Clint agrees. He drums his hands on his knees. “You know your whole, Other Guy situation?”

Bruce inclines his head. “I do.”

“How does that, you know. How does it work when you, when you’re...” He shouldn’t be asking this. It’s hella awkward. “Have you tried having a, um, a girlfriend lately?”

Bruce actually laughs, which is good. Clint had been worried he was going to seriously offend the poor guy. “Are you asking if I can still have sex?”

Clint wrinkles his nose, nods.

“Yes, Clint,” Bruce says kindly, “I can still have sex.”

Lucky you, Clint thinks but doesn’t say. “That’s great,” he says making an effort to make it sound genuine.

He knows it’s shitty but he was hoping Bruce would say no. Without that, Clint can’t work out how to segue into asking for help.

He slides down off the counter and slaps Bruce on the arm. “I’m happy for you.” Happy, but not exactly comforted.

“Clint?” Bruce asks. “Is everything okay?”

Clint smiles at him. Bruce is a good guy. “Everything is cool, Doc,” Clint promises him.

He leaves the kitchen, aware of Bruce confused gaze following him. In the corridor, he groans and leans back against the wall.

Fuck.

Bruce is still standing in the kitchen, looking at the door when Clint comes back in. He looks like he’s been waiting for him.

“Actually,” Clint says, chewing on the inside of his lip nervously. “I could kind of use your help.”

***

“But,” Tony says slowly, down in his lab twenty minutes later, “if everyone you have sex with dies, why aren’t you in jail for like really weird mass murder?”

“Tony,” Bruce says slowly, giving Clint an apologetic look.

Tony looks at him then back at Clint. “Oh,” he says. “Maybe someone should tell Cap that he isn’t the world’s oldest living virgin.”

“Fuck off and die,” Clint tells him cheerfully.

Bruce takes a whole load of blood samples from Clint, runs them through a couple of Tony’s fancy machines, and sets up a Skype call with Jane.

Because Thor is Thor, Jane already knows about Clint’s problem so that’s one person Clint doesn’t need to embarrass himself in front of today. Score one for the grapevine.

“I’m not sure what we’re going to be able to achieve,” Jane says earnestly through the Skype link. “But we’ll do our best, I promise.”

Clint can’t do anything but smile back at her and say, “I know you will,” because she’s such a nice lady and it’s weirdly good to have help in this at long last.

Bruce squeezes Clint’s shoulder and doesn’t say anything and Tony slaps him on the other shoulder. “Yeah, Barton, you’ll be wooing the ladies and gentlemen of New York in no time. Or fucking, if wooing isn’t your sort of thing.”

“Thanks,” Clint says, “I think.”

***

He feels optimistic, once he leaves the lab. He knows that all he’s done might have been to give Tony another excuse to laugh at him, that Loki’s solution might be the only one. But it feels great to have done something.

Clint flips open his phone as soon as he’s sure he’s far enough away not to be overheard.

“Barton,” Phil says, sounding ready to be worried, which is fair since Clint doesn’t call people to chat.

“Hey, no, it’s not that sort of call,” Clint says, getting into the elevator. “I just wanted you to know that I talked to Banner.”

“In general or about your issue?” Phil asks.

“‘My issue’,” Clint snorts. “And yeah, that. I told him about that. He said what you said about getting Stark and Jane involved.”

“Good.” Phil sounds like he’s nodding. “Are you happy with all this?”

“Delirious,” Clint says then laughs at himself. “I mean, yeah, actually. Yeah, it’s good. I don’t know why I made that sarcastic.”

“Good,” Phil says then waits like he’s expecting Clint to say something else.

Clint’s words get stuck. “So can we go out again?” he blurts. “Since there’s a chance we might be able to fuck, now.”

There’s an excruciating pause while Clint wants to die and Phil… Phil apparently is killing himself laughing. That bastard.

“Stop laughing,” Clint complains, even though he’s laughing too now. “Stop it. I take it back. I don’t want to date you.”

“Clint,” Phil says, and he manages to rain his voice back into something pretty serious. “Of course I’ll go out with you. But not because there’s a chance we might be able to fuck. And only if you swear you’re not going to change your mind again.”

Clint’s reached his bedroom. He sits down on his bed and fiddles with the hem of his pants. “I can’t swear I’m never - ” he starts, even though he would be seriously fucking surprised if a future version of him ever gets bored of Phil.

“I meant immediately,” Phil says quickly. “I’m not a hot potato, I can’t take being picked up and put down constantly.”

“You’re way hotter than a potato,” Clint promises and grins when he manages to make Phil laugh again.

“So?” Phil prompts.

Clint frowns. “So, what?”

“Ask me out.”

Clint looks up at the ceiling even though only JARVIS is up there and he can’t help with this.

“I just did,” he says then ploughs on before Phil can think he means it. “Want to go on annoyingly chaste dates with me while we wait for scientists to tell us I can put out?” While I try to make you fall in love with me, he thinks.

“I can’t think of anything I’d rather do,” Phil says and the weird thing, Clint thinks, while he grins to himself and feels his insides go all squirmy, is that Phil already kind of sounds like he means it.

tbc

Chapter Text

Dating Phil is actually really cool. Phil is committed to dating. And somehow, they find themselves with a lot of time to work on the dating thing, at the moment.

“Is it weird that everything’s so quiet in the superhero world?” Clint asks, sitting next to Phil on a bench at the High Line and looking out at the New York skyline. Even the weather’s cooperating; it’s a gorgeous day. “Like, we haven’t had to Avenge anything in weeks.”

“Don’t say things like that,” Phil tells him. “Just enjoy it.” Clint bought him an ice cream earlier and what he’s really enjoying is watching Phil try to eat it without dripping strawberry sauce onto his shirt cuff.

“Sure, but it’s never been this quiet. Stark hasn’t even blown up his lab since Easter.”

Phil levels a glare at him. “Now you’re just trying to jinx us.” He licks a stream of pink ice cream from his thumb and sighs, holding the cone out to Clint. “Here, you finish this. I can’t go back to work looking like a Dairy Queen exploded over me.”

Taking the ice cream from him, Clint says, “Don’t go back to work, then.”

Phil stretches his legs out until the tips of his shiny shoes hit a patch of sunlight. “It’s tempting,” he sighs, “but we have a senior staff meeting this afternoon and it’s my turn to bring the whiskey.”

Clint arches an eyebrow but Phil doesn’t laugh. “Seriously?” he asks. “That’s what the three of you do in your super secret boss people meetings?”

“We also discuss the future direction of interplanetary relations,” Phil says deadpan. “And sometimes Maria tells us about her book club.”

“Kind of terrified now,” Clint says, licking his way around Phil’s ice cream cone. He leans into Phil’s side, just enough to feel him there, not enough to catch anyone’s attention. “Skip it, anyway.”

Phil’s eyes are locked on Clint’s lips, watching him finish the ice cream. “If you keep doing that, I might be tempted.”

“Doing what?” Clint asks, only half joking. “‘Cause I’ll keep doing it.”

“Clint,” Phil says, just quiet enough to make him feel bad for teasing when he can’t follow through.

Clint makes a face. “Yeah, okay, you can go back to work. But I’ll take you for dinner, tonight,” he says. “My treat.”

Phil kicks him lightly on the ankle. “Be warned that I’ll be ordering the lobster,” he says. “And the most expensive beer.”

“Bring it,” Clint says and gets the end of an ice cream cone smooshed into his nose for his trouble.

***

“I’m pretty sure we weren’t going to do this,” Clint says against Phil’s jaw.

Phil laughs and slides his hands up Clint’s back, under his shirt but politely above the waist. “We were definitely not going to do this,” he agrees.

They’ve been kissing long enough that Phil’s mouth tastes like Clint’s mouth when Clint slides his tongue inside it. That doesn’t stop Clint from wanting to keep kissing, to basically kiss forever and then a bit longer than that.

Except that it’s dangerous. And not the hot type of danger which Clint knows is a thing, but the type of danger where he is risking Phil’s life.

They’re already horizontal, sprawled across Clint’s bed and all tangled up in each other. They definitely need to stop.

“We’re still doing this,” Clint says. He laughs, even though he shouldn’t. He feels fucking good though and he’s maybe a little bit drunk. They went back to Phil’s favourite restaurant for dinner tonight and the owner comped their drinks as soon as she realised Phil was on a date.

Phil pushes himself up on his hands and looks down at Clint. His glasses are wonky on his face and his mouth looks bitten. Probably because Clint bit it. Kind of a lot.

“I think I can makeout a while longer before it becomes a problem,” he says. “How about you?”

Clint laughs and curls forward, presses his face into the sweaty skin of Phil’s neck. “Are you asking me if I’m gonna go off in my pants like an awkward virgin?” he asks.

Phil’s eyes crinkle up at the corners, full of something warm that Clint wants to sink into. “Are you?”

“Kiss me again,” Clint says. “I really don’t want to stop.”

It’s pretty trippy exactly how much Phil trusts him, because he doesn’t ask again, just goes back to kissing him. He’s got a thing for sucking Clint’s earlobes and it turns out Clint has a thing for having them sucked.

Clint turns his head and breathes hard, tries to think about like, ear wax and the Red Skull and watching Thor eat fried chicken so he can make this last longer.

“Okay?” Phil asks. He licks around the shell of Clint’s ear, making Clint laugh and squirm. He can feel his pulse twitching in his dick and the inside of his boxers are damp and sticky.

“Gonna need to stop in a minute,” he says, even though he desperately doesn’t want to.

“Sure.” Phil’s voice is tight but he nods. “One more kiss.”

Clint is more than happy to give him that. He shifts them around so that they’re pressed even more closely together, just for this one, last kiss. His thigh slides between Phil’s leg and he accidentally - it is actually an accident - presses his knee up against Phil’s cock.

Phil is hard. It isn’t a surprise, of course he’s hard, but it still bowls Clint over with want to actually get this close to it.

Without thinking about it, Clint reaches down and moulds his hand around it. Phil’s pants are thin and his cock is shockingly warm and solid. Clint’s groan is possibly louder than Phil’s even.

“Fuck, Clint,” Phil says tightly and pushes Clint’s hand away.

“Sorry, sorry,” Clint says, rolling onto his back and staring up at the ceiling.

Phil’s breath comes fast and shaky. After a minute, he sits up and perches on the edge of the bed with his back to Clint, and breathes hard for a minute before he gets up off the bed.

“Where are you going?” Clint asks, keeping his voice level and carefully, hopefully not sounding too needy.

“Bathroom,” Phil tells him. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

Clint watches him go, feeling turned-on and achy and frustrated. He listens with half an ear to Phil rattling around in the bathroom, not really paying much attention until he hears a sudden, indrawn gasp.

He’s sitting up before his brain tells him that that wasn’t a gasp of pain and then he has to bite his lip hard, curling forward to rest his forearms on his thighs, listening intently for any other moans like that one.

Clint presses his left hand over the front of his pants, pressing hard enough that it hurts and then rolling his hips up into it.

In the bathroom, Phil sucks in a sharp breath and lets it out on a groan that takes hold of Clint’s stomach and rattles around in there.

That’s absolutely it, Clint can’t take this any more. He unzips his pants with clammy, shaking fingers and sticks his hand inside. He’s so hard that his whole body goes tight at the first touch of his fingers.

He curls forward around his dick, working his hand around the shaft and biting his lip until he realises that he’s getting off on listening to Phil so Phil might get off on listening to him. He lets himself moan and, in the bathroom, something goes crash.

“Jesus,” Phil says, either to him or in general.

“Are you - ?” Clint calls, but that’s a dumb question, Phil obviously is. “I’m gonna... too.”

“Yes,” Phil calls back. There’s a click like he’s just leaned hard against the door. Clint imagines him with one hand braced against the door, the other down his pants like Clint’s is. Or maybe he’s pushed his pants down. Maybe he’s standing there half naked in Clint’s bathroom. Maybe -

“Phil,” Clint says, fingernails of his free hand digging into his thigh hard enough to draw blood.

“Here,” Phil calls back, voice thick. “I’m here.”

Phil’s not there though, not right there, not where Clint wants him.

Clint squeezes his fingers below the head of his cock, rubs his thumb back and forth over the slit until it’s almost too much. Even the rush of sensation doesn’t help, doesn’t make him feel better about not being able to have Phil out here with him.

He was close to the edge before Phil left the room and now it’s all coming rolling back. There’s heat in his belly and his awareness is narrowing down to his hand on his cock and the picture of Phil in his mind.

When he comes, it’s messy and hard and he ends up getting spunk all over his hand and the inside of his forearm. Exhausted, he slumps back onto the bed, blinking bright lights away from in front of his eyes.

He’s shakily wiping his hand off on the top sheet when he hears Phil clear his throat.

“Okay for me to come back in?” Phil asks. There’s something uneven about his voice.

“Yeah,” Clint says, tucking his cock away and not letting himself get embarrassed, since they were both doing exactly the same thing.

When Phil comes back in, he looks flushed and a lot more dishevelled than when he went in. He’s also staring at Clint with blown wide blue eyes.

Clint holds out his arms. “Nothing in the rules that you can’t come over here, now,” he says hopefully.

Phil doesn’t need telling twice. He climbs onto the bed and moves into Clint’s open arms. Since Clint was reaching for him, he’s not sure why he’s surprised by that, but he is. He isn’t really sure how to hold someone, just knows that he wants to get as close as possible, so that’s what he does, tangling them up as much as possible.

“Comfortable?” Clint asks. “Sorry if my collarbone is super bony or anything.”

Phil smiles, lips curling up against Clint’s neck. “You could make your chest a little softer,” he says, “but your collarbone is fine.”

“Nah, you like my chest.” Clint curls his hand around Phil’s back and pets experimentally at Phil’s hair.

“Stop pulling my hair,” Phil grumbles. “I don’t have that much left.”

“Lies.” Clint smiles into the top of Phil’s head, kissing a patch where the hair is thinning.

He likes how grumpy and tactile Phil is after he’s come, but it makes Clint itchy with how much he wants to be there when he comes. He’s still got smears of his own come on his hands, but he really wants it to be Phil’s instead.

“I kind of hate this,” Clint says, half to himself.

Phil makes a questioning sound. “This?” he asks, like he’s going to move away from Clint.

Clint’s maybe a bit grabby and demanding in the way he clutches him and doesn’t let him move away. “Not this,” he says, “I love this.”

Phil props himself up on one elbow and looks down at Clint. “Jerking off in the bathroom did make me feel slightly like I was seventeen again.” He looks horrified at the thought. “I don’t ever want to be seventeen again.”

“Ugh,” Clint groans, frustrated and disgruntled and just wanting to make angry noises. “Magic sucks so hard.”

Phil hums and pushes Clint’s hair back from his face, which Clint’s pretty sure no one has ever done for him before. It’s weird how much he likes it. “Should I make a pun about sucking or would that just frustrate you more?”

Clint can’t help laughing. “I’d love to suck you,” he says thoughtfully. He’s not even going to be embarrassed about that, because it’s so very true.

Phil coughs, startled, then hides a groan behind his hand. “You’re trying to kill me,” he complains.

“Actually trying really hard not to,” Clint says flippantly.

Phil goes still. “Fuck,” he says and, “sorry. That was a stupid thing to say.” He rolls over onto his back, keeping himself pressed against Clint’s side so Clint’s arm stays around his shoulders. “Have you heard anything from the lab?”

Clint turns his head so he can talk to Phil’s profile. He’s really enjoying this touching thing. “Jane says not to lose hope. Tony offered me a blow-up doll. Bruce keeps looking sort of guilty. I don’t think it’s going well.”

“That’s okay; we knew it would take time,” Phil says immediately, so quickly that Clint doesn’t actually believe him. Phil usually leaves a measured pause before he says important things.

“What if they can’t fix it?” Clint asks, even though he doesn’t want to know. “You gonna be okay with jerking off in separate rooms forever?”

This time, Phil does pause to think before he answers. “Yes,” he says. He turns so he can look Clint in the eye. “Clint. Yes.”

He won’t, Clint knows that. He also knows that Phil is stubborn and noble and mostly just secretly nice, so he’ll stick it out way longer than anyone would ever expect him to.

“Okay,” Clint says, rather than spell out any of that. He rolls onto his side and curls his arm across Phil’s chest. “Can we go to sleep now?”

“If you want to,” Phil says quietly. He closes his eyes like he thinks sleep sounds better than talking any of this, too. He splays his hand across the middle of Clint’s back, pushing firmly. “Come here.”

“I can’t really get any closer,” Clint warns. Their legs are already overlapping, his pelvis fitting snuggly against Phil’s hip.

“Try,” Phil says, so Clint does.

***

“So?” Clint asks, sitting on the bench in Bruce’s lab and swinging his legs. He doesn’t feel at all relaxed in here, so he has to pretend double hard that he does.

“Keep still,” Bruce says, drawing another vial of blood from Clint’s arm and hmming at it.

With effort, Clint stills. “What’s that one for?”

“Oh nothing, Tony’s just keeping a vampire in the deep freeze,” Bruce says deadpan. It takes Clint two long blinks before Bruce cracks a smile and ducks his head. “Sorry.”

Clint grins. Even though he’s pretty sure Bruce isn’t actually going to be able to solve his problem, all this time they’re spending together has reminded him that he really does like him. “Everyone I work with is a sarcastic asshole, Doc. I’m used to it.”

“I assumed that was what SHIELD looked for when recruiting,” Bruce says, walking over to one of his shiniest machines and putting Clint’s blood in it. “I’m just checking something Jane suggested. She thought there might be a marker embedded in your blood, since you’ve had the curse so long.”

“Cool,” Clint says. He can fake his way through a lot of science shit, but biology is mostly beyond him. “How will that help?”

“Well.” Bruce glances over his shoulder. “I’m not sure, but we think that, if there is a distinctive marker, we might be able to isolate and remove it.”

“Huh.” Clint leans forward. “That sounds really good.”

Bruce hits a couple of buttons and steps back. “It does. But then, I’m not really a biologist. Although neither is Jane.” He smiles at Clint with one corner of his mouth. “Are you sure we’re the ones you want working on this?”

“Yeah.” Clint smiles back. “I trust you guys. And I mean, like, you’ve probably seen more weird shit that anyone else we know. If anyone is going to fix me, it’s probably going to be you.”

Bruce does a funny little shrug with the tops of his shoulders, looking quietly pleased. “We’ll do our best.” He’s quiet for a minute, eyes focused just past Clint’s shoulder before shifting back to Clint’s face. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Clint says warily. He forces a smile. “I did ask you about your sex life, remember.”

“I remember. I know Tony’s been teasing you about having met someone,” Bruce says. “But is that why you’ve suddenly decided to ask for help ?”

Bruce is doing all this for him; Clint can’t exactly deny him a decent answer. On the other hand, it’s really not his place to out Phil without his permission. He settles on a cautious, “Yeah. Yeah, that’s right.”

Bruce nods. “Good. Does she... he know about the curse?”

“He,” Clint says, because he outed himself a long time ago. “And yep, he knows.”

“Must be a good guy,” Bruce says simply, turning back to the machine when it beeps at him.

Clint’s pretty embarrassed by his grin, but he can’t help it. “Yeah, he’s really cool.”

“Good,” Bruce says again. “Hopefully we’ll be able to give you some good news, soon.”

Clint watches Bruce fuss around, checking the display and frowning to himself. Tucking his hand behind his back, Clint crosses his fingers and hopes.

“Oh,” Bruce says.

Clint waits but nothing else happens. “Is that a good ‘oh’?” he prompts.

Bruce straightens up and, when Clint looks at his face, he knows it’s not a good ‘oh’. “No, I’m sorry,” Bruce says. He sucks a breath in between his teeth. “There’s nothing here that can help us.”

Clint swallows and nods. “That’s okay. I mean. I mean, that was a longshot, right? You’ll think of something else.”

There’s a pause then, “Yes, of course,” Bruce says, but he doesn’t look even half as optimistic as he did five minutes ago.

Trying not to look too disappointed, Clint uncrosses his fingers.

***

“One setback isn’t the end of the world,” Phil says. He’s said that, or some variation of that, ever since Clint invited himself over to his apartment and told him about Bruce’s experiment.

“I guess not,” Clint not-agrees.

He wanders away from Phil’s breakfast bar and over to the window. Then he realises that he’s standing in a window, feeling maudlin and stops that immediately. He’s not some emo movie character.

He makes himself turn around and grin at Phil. “More jerking off in the bathroom for us then, I guess?”

“I call dibs on the bed this time,” Phil says, putting his coffee mug down on the counter and coming to stand in front of Clint. “You can have the bathroom.” He puts his hands on Clint’s hips and tugs him in.

Clint loops his arms around Phil’s neck and tries to come up with something light to say. He can’t think of anything. He’s tired.

“I need to maybe tell you something,” he says. “Or I definitely need to tell you something and I maybe should have done it before now.”

“Do I need to sit down?” Phil asks cautiously. “I’m not sure I can take any more secrets.”

“No, it’s.” Clint drops his arms and rubs his hands over his face. “It’s nothing bad. It’s just. You know I told you that Loki changed the curse? I should have told you that he gave me a way to break it.”

Phil steps all the way back, putting space between them. Clint misses the weight and warmth of his hands against his hips instantly.

“Have you told Banner?” Phil asks.

Clint shakes his head. “It’s not... It’s not that kind of thing. Fuck. It’s weird and I’m not, I’m not telling you to be a douche or anything, okay?”

“Okay,” Phil says, so Clint tells him all about it.

When he’s done, there’s silence.

“Huh,” Phil says and nothing else.

Clint closes his eyes. He’s honest enough to admit that some part of him, some dumb, naive part of him, honestly thought that Phil would say it then. Clint would probably have had to punch him in the face, if he had, but he still thought Phil would.

But of course Phil doesn’t love him. Like Clint keeps telling everyone - or himself, mostly he keeps telling himself - they’ve only been on a handful of dates.

“Clint,” Phil says, “look at me.”

Clint looks at him. Phil’s got his ridiculously kind expression on, the one that makes you wonder how he could ever be the stone cold, badass superspy he actually is.

“It’s okay,” Phil says, tone matching his expression. “I understand why you didn’t want to tell me that. That’s a huge responsibility.”

“I know,” Clint says miserably. “I’m sorry.”

Phil shakes his head quickly. His eyes are edging away from kind and toward sad. “Don’t be sorry. I sprung the idea of dating me on you and everything’s been tumultuous since then. Of course you wouldn’t feel that way about me. It’d be selfish of me to expect you to.”

Wait. “What?” Clint asks. He reaches out and takes hold of a handful of Phil’s sleeve. “That’s not - ”

Phil looks up at him and Clint starts to say that he’s got everything the wrong way around, but Phil’s house phone, cell phone and Clint’s cell phone all choose that exact moment to start to ring.

“That’s not a good sign,” Phil says with a sigh and reaches for his phone.

“Wait,” Clint says, but he knows Phil won’t, not when work’s calling, so he doesn’t say it very loud, just pulls out his own phone instead.

***

It’s HYDRA. Clint really hates HYDRA. Anyone who’s still running around pretending to be a Nazi this long after the war needs to take a long hard look at themselves. Or an arrow to the heart.

Clint’s happy to provide option B.

“This is your fault,” Natasha says over the sound of the quinjet’s engines. “You’re the one who was complaining about things being too quiet.”

“Hey,” Clint complains, “I never did.”

“You did,” Phil’s voice cuts in over the comm in Clint’s ear. “Several times.”

This time, Clint’s “Hey!” comes out a lot more betrayed. “Why’s everyone ganging up on me?”

Natasha finishes sticking knives to parts of her body and rolls down her pant leg. “Because you jinxed us.”

They’ve finally reached the HYDRA-infested building, and it’s immediately obvious that Iron Man and Thor beat them to it. In other words, a lot of shit is on fire.

Bruce joins Clint as soon as they touch down and looks out the windshield. “And I was looking forward to an early night,” he sighs and strips off his shirt.

“Hey, you might still get one,” Clint tries. “We’ll get these guys cleaned up and you’ll get home in time for a mug of cocoa.”

Bruce gives him a look. “I think I agree with Natasha and Agent Coulson. Please stop tempting fate.”

Clint salutes him. “Sorry,” he says again. He hits the button and the back door of the ‘jet swings open. “Have fun.”

Bruce nods grimly and he’s the Hulk before he even hits street level.

That leaves Clint and Natasha and, “Wait, where’s Cap?” Clint asks, unhooking his seat belt and grabbing his bow from the overhead compartment. “Wasn’t he meeting us here?”

“He’s already inside,” Phil tells him.

Clint frowns. “And he’s letting Stark and Thor blow up that much shit?” They only normally get away with that when Steve’s off doing something else.

Phil hums in his ear, not sounding happy. “The situation looks bad,” he agrees grimly. “Both of you get in there, now.”

Clint and Natasha share a look and then take off at a run. Maybe Clint’s just getting smug, but HYDRA aren’t usually too much of a problem, not when the Avengers are running on full strength, and he’d been thinking of this as a bit of a cake walk.

Looks like he was wrong.

It’s chaos inside the old office building: the first and second floors are nothing but rubble and half the third is smoking. They find Thor standing in the centre of what looks like it used to be a conference room, happily throwing desk chairs at anyone who tries to take him down.

“Where’s the big bad?” Clint calls to him.

Thor points upward then bowls another chair, crowing when it takes down two HYDRA agents at once. “Captain Rogers headed for the eighth floor,” he says. “Although I believe the elevators are broken.”

“Of course they are,” Natasha says before Clint can. She smacks Clint on the bare part of his arm. “Come on.”

Contrary to rumour, Clint doesn’t enjoy climbing up the inside of elevator shafts. It’s tiring and his bow makes him clumsy. Natasha beats him to the top, which means she’s going to be insufferable for the rest of the day.

When they drag themselves out at the top of the shaft, they find the Hulk’s giant green ass filling the corridor.

“Buddy?” Clint asks at the same time that Natasha says, “Bruce?”

The Hulk turns around, letting them see the mostly collapsed corridor in front of him. Buried more than half underneath it, Iron Man gives them a little wave with one foot.

“Hulk smashed wrong,” the Hulk says, with what looks a lot like a wince.

“No, no, no, you smashed great. Just gotta work on that aim.” Clint can’t see Tony’s face, but he’s clearly got his helmet off, his voice coming out sounding like him not through Iron Man’s synthesisers.

“You guys need help?” Clint asks, standing on tiptoes to try to peer through the mess. Tony doesn’t sound hurt, but you never know with him.

“Hulk got it,” the Hulk tells them, which makes Tony laugh.

“Yeah, yeah, we’re good here. Cap’s down that way... crap, you can’t see me pointing, can you? Cap’s down your way. He chased one of those mad scientist types and I haven’t seen him for a while.”

“Are you saying you’re not a mad scientist, Stark?” Natasha asks, already turning around.

“Nope, not saying that,” Tony says. “Good luck. Love to Cap. See you when we see you.”

“Dig faster, Hulk,” Clint says as they set off in search of Steve.

“Coulson,” Natasha says, as they walk. “What’s going on?”

It takes a moment for Phil to come back to them. Clint hopes he’s just caught up organising stuff from HQ and that more shit isn’t going down.

“We got a call from inside HYDRA,” Phil says, sounding businesslike and composed, which doesn’t mean anything. He can, and frequently does, sound businesslike and composed while in the middle of strangling someone with the bend of his knee. “One of their grunts saw the scientists doing something even she didn’t like. It seemed like a credible threat so we went in.”

“Wait.” Clint plasters himself to an open doorway and peeks inside. Empty. “We’re 911 for unhappy HYDRA agents now?”

Phil hums. “When we need to be. Heads up, five o’clock.”

Clint turns and fires an arrow at his five o’clock without thinking or looking. An angry looking goon chokes, drops his gun and goes down.

“Thanks, sir. You spying on us?”

“I am,” Phil says, sounding unapologetic about it. “Captain Rogers is in the lab one room over. I’d hurry.”

They hurry.

They find Steve grappling with a man in a white lab coat. The dude’s got a vial of something green and angry looking in one hand and his other hand is clawing at Steve’s face.

“Hey!” Clint calls, levelling an arrow.

“Wait,” snaps Natasha. She darts forward and grabs the scientist by the wrist that’s holding the vial. “Now.”

Clint fires an arrow into the back of his head and he slumps, fingers loosening around the vial. Natasha catches it and Steve straightens up, nodding to them both.

“Thank you,” he says. “Do either of you have any idea how to deal with that.” He points over their shoulders at something that looks a lot like -

“Is that a bomb?” Clint asks. In his ear, Phil makes a seriously unhappy noise. “Should I... not have killed that dude?”

Steve shrugs. “He wasn’t being very helpful.” He rubs at the fading scratch marks on his cheek and walks over to examine the bomb. It’s a whole mess of wires that are hooked up to tubes of more of the green stuff and a ticking countdown so, yeah, it’s definitely a bomb.

“What is this?” Natasha asks, pacing around it.

“Nerve gas,” Steve and Phil say at the same time. Steve doesn’t react, which implies that Phil is talking to Clint and Natasha on a private channel. Doesn’t Clint feel special?

“I think it was supposed to be a trial, but this much is going to - ” Steve continues.

Shots ring out suddenly, drowning out the end of Steve’s sentence. The three of them drop to the floor, Natasha with a lot less grace than normal. Clint rolls toward her automatically, takes in the blood sprayed across the floor behind her, shuts down that part of his brain and grabs her by the arm, dragging them both behind an upturned lab bench.

“I’m okay,” she says tightly, her hand clamped hard to her hip. She’s bleeding steadily, skin losing colour by the second.

“Nat’s hit,” Clint tells Phil then yells for Steve, who rolls to them in another cascade of bullets.

“I’m fine,” Natasha says again. “Clint, stop fussing and shoot those bastards.”

Clint doesn’t really want to take his eyes off her, just in case she goes and bleeds out while he’s not looking. He knows you can’t be sentimental in a firefight but, fuck, Natasha.

“Do as she says, Clint,” Phil says quietly in his ear.

Reluctantly, Clint shifts back, letting Steve take his place. He rolls onto his knees, firing one arrow after the other toward the sound of the shots. There are at least ten of them out there. Someone screams. Make that nine.

He’s starting to slip into the zone of point, shoot and repeat, but he can still hear Steve talking quickly and seriously to Natasha and he snaps right out of it when Steve says, “No, we have to move you. Now.”

“Cap?” Clint asks, not able to risk turning around.

Steve always manages to sound matter of fact and worried at the same time. It’s a skill, but Clint wishes he’d lose the worry, right now, because it’s freaking Clint out. “She’s losing a lot of blood.”

Clint waits, but there’s no I’m fine from Natasha this time. His heart turns over.

“Get her out of here,” he says. “There’s a door at eight o’clock leading to the next lab over; I’ll cover you.”

Steve doesn’t waste time arguing. Clint gets a squeeze of the shoulder from Steve - and still nothing from Natasha, which he’s still not worrying about - and then they’re running for the side door.

Clint manages to nail another two guys in the throat when they lean in too far, trying to get a shot at Steve.

Then Clint’s alone and it’s stalemate.

“Barton,” Phil says, after a tense few minutes, where Clint holds himself primed and ready but doesn’t actually get to shoot anyone.

“Sir,” Clint says smartly.

Phil doesn’t waste any time. “We have Widow. She’s going to be fine.”

Clint lets himself release a slow breath, keeping his hands steady by force of will only. “Thanks for the update.”

“How are you doing on getting yourself out of there?” Phil asks.

Clint looks at the main doorway then over at the exit Steve and Natasha took. “Well, I probably could,” he starts. “But there’s kind of a bomb in here and apparently it’s going to go off in - ” He checks. “Sixteen minutes. I should maybe disarm that first, I guess.”

“Sixteen?” Phil asks, using his deliberately not panicking tone.

“Sixteen minutes twelve seconds,” Clint confirms. “Eleven. Ten.”

“Okay,” Phil says, almost to himself. “Thor’s busy, Stark and Hulk are pinned down. Don’t worry, I’m going to get you out of there.”

“Not worried, sir,” Clint lies.

There are the sounds of Phil talking to someone else then, “Can you send us a picture of it?” Phil comes back to ask.

“Thought you were spying on me,” Clint asks, moving slowly so he’s closer to the bomb, his bow still pointed at the door.

“In the main corridors,” Phil says. “I can’t see you right now.”

“That’s a shame, because I look really hot.” Clint takes his left hand off his bow string, grabs his cell phone from his pocket and snaps three pictures of the bomb, hitting send while tucking his cell half way back into his pocket.

The whole thing takes about seven seconds, but someone out in the corridor is either really lucky or has better visuals on him than he does on them. A volley of shots comes flying toward him, one missing him by inches and another scoring a hot, painful line along the side of his neck.

“What was that?” Phil asks. “You made a noise.”

“I did not make a noise.” Clint blinks away the pain and focuses on getting his bow steady again. “Did you get the pictures?”

“Got them,” Phil says. “I’ve got good people working on it, don’t worry.”

“Still not worried,” Clint still lies.

He shifts back into his original position and sneaks a look at the countdown. Thirteen minutes forty-two.

“Hey, Phil,” Clint says, angling his quiver to the left and firing a warning shot just because his skin is smarting and he’s mad about it. “What d’you think? I gonna die?”

“You’re not,” Phil tells him. Another bullet skims past Clint’s shoulder, burying itself in the wall behind him.

“Yeah, that’d really suck.” Clint takes another look at the bomb. Nerve gas is a shitty way to die too, but if there’s a chance that he can stay here and disarm it, he’s got to take it. “You know, it’s dumb, but I never thought I’d actually die a virgin.”

There’s a long pause then, “Clint,” Phil says.

“No one else can hear us, right?” Clint asks, even though he already knows.

“No,” Phil says quietly.

“Okay, then.” Clint takes a deep breath. “So I get that this is shitty timing, but we got interrupted earlier and, just in case we don’t get another chance to have this conversation, I gotta say a couple things. Well, one thing. Kind of.”

“I’ve been thinking about Loki’s counter-curse,” Phil says, stepping in when Clint fails to produce meaningful words. “And I’m not sure how this affects it, but it’s only fair to tell you that I do love you.”

Clint’s so startled that he’s briefly distracted from all the horrible ways he’s probably about to die. “Wait, what, no you don’t.”

Phil makes a sound that’s almost a laugh. “I definitely do,” he says. He lowers his voice, which he maybe should have done before he started making declarations, Clint thinks hysterically. “Asking you out was a big risk, to our working relationship and to our friendship, I wouldn’t have done that, if I hadn’t been sure.”

Oh, Clint thinks. “Me too,” he says. “I feel the same.” It’s still not exactly easy to say, but at least the words come unstuck. He feels himself start to grin. “That’s pretty cool, right?”

“Pretty cool,” Phil agrees.

“Yeah.” Clint’s smile dies. “Shame I’m about to die, really.”

“You’re not about to - ” On the other end of the call, Clint hears a door crash open and then a babble of voices. When Phil comes back to him, his voice sounds tight. “Clint. Wait. We think we know how to defuse the bomb.”

“Really?” Clint’s knees start to shake, but this is no time for that. “Well, how about that?”

***

Clint’s first stop after ever so slightly saving the world - or, at least, lower Manhattan - is the SHIELD medbay. They fix up the graze on his neck and then he gets six different people to promise him that Natasha’s going to be fine before he goes to loiter around her room.

Natasha’s still out, looking tiny and fragile the way she always does when she’s in one of the wide med beds. He knows she isn’t really fragile - or that she is, but she knows how to work that - but he still hates to see her like this.

Clint pats her hand and sticks a Get Well Soon card under her lax hand. It’s a running joke between them and he knows she’ll hate the sparkly pink glitter that’s all over it.

“Take care of her, yeah? She’ll insist she’s fine as soon as she wakes up,” he says to Steve, who’s camped out in the corner of her room and, apparently, hasn’t left there since she came out of surgery.

“I will,” Steve says solemnly. “Clint.”

Clint stops in the doorway. “Yup?”

Steve smiles at him and gets this look in his eye that Clint’s way more used to seeing him direct at other people. “You did really well today,” he says. “Thank you.”

“I, um.” Clint blushes, grins and gives him a wonky salute. “She likes peaches and she hates lilies,” he says. “In case you want to get her something.”

Then he runs, before either of them can embarrass the other any further.

***

Clint’s already on his way home when he gets a text from Phil: stuck in debriefings. Meet you at the Tower later.

Since Clint’s already heading for the Tower, he doesn’t get to distract himself travelling anywhere else. Instead, he goes to the kitchen and calmly makes himself a sandwich, forces himself to eat it and then, still calm, totally calm, goes to take a shower.

He’s not freaking out. Just because he and Phil achieved some kind of understanding while trying to save the world, doesn’t mean that anything’s going to happen tonight.

Or at all. Maybe.

Still, he’s super careful to wash everywhere in the shower, scrubbing until the room’s filled with steam and he can’t smell anything but grapefruit shower gel.

When he gets out, one towel around his waist and using the other to rub his hair dry, it’s to find Phil sitting on his bed.

Obviously.

“Hey,” Clint says, letting the hair towel fall but keeping a tight grip on the other one.

Phil’s eyes flicker over him then jump back up to his face. “I feel like I’m in a bad porno. Should I say I’ve come to fix your TV?”

Clint laughs and whatever was making his nervous fades away. He’s not nervous of Phil.

“Sure,” he says. “And I’ll tell you my husband goes away a lot and I’m really lonely.” At Phil’s raised eyebrow, he grins, ducking his head. “I’ve watched so much porn, Phil. You have no idea how much porn I’ve watched.”

Phil looks like he’s torn between being interested and being really sad for Clint. Well fuck that, Clint doesn’t need anyone feeling sad for him. He runs his fingers through his hair, spiking it up a bit because he knows he looks dweeby when it all flops into his face.

“So,” he says, spreading his arms out from his body a little. “Look at me, I didn’t die.”

“You didn’t,” Phil agrees. He stands up and walks toward Clint. “The whole drive over here, I was thinking about that and about how I wanted to back you into a wall and kiss you as a reward. But now you’re wearing a towel and I’m not sure if I should.”

“You don’t kiss guys in towels?” Clint asks. He backs up a step to see if Phil will follow. Phil does, so Clint steps back again, effectively putting himself against the wall. Phil’s arms come up and his hands flatten against the wall on either side of Clint’s head.

All Clint’s breath comes out in a rush.

“Thanks for not letting me die,” he says, leaning his head back against the wall, looking Phil in the eye and waiting. It feels like something is definitely about to happen.

“God, Clint,” Phil says and kisses him. He presses into Clint and keeps kissing him, hands leaving the wall to grab at Clint’s bare shoulders, release, and then grab again.

His left hand catches the edge of the bandage on Clint’s neck and Clint just knows that Phil’s going to stop kissing him and demand to check it out, so Clint takes hold of Phil’s wrists and drags his hands down to Clint’s hips, settling them there with a meaningful squeeze.

Phil holds on so tight that Clint will probably have bruises. The thought of that makes him squirm closer to Phil’s, bare chest rubbing against Phil’s shirt. The silk of Phil’s tie catches the edge of Clint’s nipple and Clint sucks hard on Phil’s tongue in response.

Clint’s towel starts to slip, friction from Phil’s pants and the press of his own swelling cock knocking it loose. He doesn’t know whether to grab for it or not. Phil’s making soft little panting noises against Clint’s mouth and Clint would seriously like to be naked with him.

He pulls back, presses his temple against Phil’s temple. “Say that again? That thing you said when you thought I was going to die.”

Phil leans his forehead against Clint’s and doesn’t pretend not to know what he means. “I love you.”

Clint nods. He can’t breathe. “Me too.” He laughs, shaky. “I think I’m having a fucking panic attack.”

Phil takes hold of his shoulder and kisses him, harder than before, like he wants to swallow Clint up and never let him go.

“Phil,” Clint groans into Phil’s mouth. He wraps his arms around Phil and doesn’t cling he just… holds on really tight. “Maybe we should wait.”

“We can wait, if you want to wait,” Phil says immediately. “Just say.”

Clint shakes his head. He presses in closer and sighs when Phil immediately noses at the bandage on his neck. “No, I don’t want to. I was just thinking, in case you didn’t want to trust Frigga, we could wait and see if the science triplets come up with something?”

Clint doesn’t want to do that. He really doesn’t. But he will, if Phil wants to.

Phil pulls back and smiles right at Clint. “I’m not worried, if you’re not.”

It feels like something should snap then. Like they should suddenly be ripping at each other’s clothes and dry humping right here.

Instead, Phil just goes back to kissing him. It’s maybe a little - all right, a lot - more desperate than before, but it’s still essentially the same: lips, tongues and... shit.

Phil’s fingers start to work on the knot of Clint’s towel and Clint’s mouth goes dry.

“That’s not fair,” he says, pushing past the lump in his throat. “I’m gonna be naked in seconds. You’re not.”

“That seems fair to me,” Phil says but he stops trying to undress Clint. “You could undress me.”

“Yes,” Clint says, except that, unexpectedly, his hands are shaking so hard he can’t get a button through its hole. He laughs awkwardly. “Maybe you should do it yourself.”

“Clint,” Phil says, just enough authority there to get Clint looking at him. “Do you want to stop?”

“No,” Clint says quickly. “No, fuck no. I just. Can we get naked and get in bed and then I swear I’ll be good to go.”

“Okay.” Phil nods and steps back. He’s still looking at Clint like he’s expecting him to freak out and run, but Clint’s not planning to do that. Clint’s totally on board here; it’s just, it’s really overwhelming.

It takes Clint all of ten seconds to drop his towel, then he sits down on the bed and watches Phil strip.

Phil glances at Clint, smiles slightly, and drops his underwear.

Clint’s first instinct is to look away because he’s trained himself out of looking at erections and wanting to touch them. His second, third, and ninety-ninth instincts are to reach out and touch immediately.

“Shit, come here,” he breathes.

Phil stops looking nervous and starts looking interested. His cock is thick and red and slightly curved to the left. He wraps a hand around it as he walks toward Clint, just idly touching.

Clint’s mouth waters and he bats Phil’s hand away as soon as he’s in touching distance. “Can I?” he asks, fingertips a half-inch away.

“Yes, you can touch my dick,” Phil says dryly, taking one step closer so all his lovely naked self is filling Clint’s vision.

Clint curls his hand around the base of Phil’s cock, feeling heat and delicate strength and fuck but he wants it in his mouth.

“Let’s lie down,” Phil says so they do, mouth, chests and knees slotting together. Clint forgets that he doesn’t need to keep his hips back until he’s already doing it. Then Phil laughs at him and puts a hand on the small of his back, drawing him in.

Phil’s cock slides against Clint’s, coming to rest in the sweaty V of Clint’s groin and Clint’s whole body convulses from how good that feels.

“Okay?” Phil asks.

“So, very, okay,” Clint says, having to press his face into Phil’s throat, just for a second, just until he stops being overwhelmed by anything.

Once he’s got a grip on himself - metaphorically - he reaches his hands up to put them on Phil’s chest. They’re shaking but they both ignore that. “I don’t, I don’t want this to be just you having sex at me,” he says.

Phil frowns. “At you?”

“I mean.” Phil is so warm and solid and naked and Clint can’t string a sentence together. “I’m not some blushing virgin.” He laughs at the look he gets. “Okay well I’m not blushing.”

For some reason, Phil looks crazily fond. Clint doesn’t really get why. Phil leans in and kisses him, slow and slick. “So what do you want to do?” he asks.

Clint’s head spins. “I want to blow you,” he says, because he’s wanted that for longest, the weight and taste of a cock in his mouth.

“Okay.” Phil leans back onto one elbow. “How do you want me?”

“Wow, you’re so alluring, sir,” Clint teases even though he kind of, sort of, totally is. “Just like that, that is good. Lie on your back and don’t yell if I bite you.”

Phil touches the back of his head. “I may have to yell a little, if you bite me.”

Clint grins, pressing his smile into Phil’s groin. “Yeah, okay, fair.” He breathes in the wiry hair covering Phil’s groin then licks it, just because. Phil smells great. He probably shouldn’t, but he really does, and Clint wants to stay here forever.

“Should I give you a minute?” Phil asks. He’s definitely laughing at him, but his fingers are in Clint’s hair, scratching gently against his scalp.

“No, I’m good.” Clint sits back, wraps his hand around Phil’s dick and takes a breath. Then he takes another one. Phil’s cut, which makes it easier to know where to lick, but he still takes a minute, just to look, before he does anything.

Then he puts his mouth carefully over the head of Phil’s cock and drags his tongue clumsily around it. Phil makes a deep sound in his throat, which Clint takes to be a good sign, so he does the tongue thing again.

“That’s good,” Phil says. He flattens his fingers against Clint’s scalp, like he doesn’t think he should just drag Clint’s head to where he wants him. Clint actually thinks that being dragged around by Phil might turn him on a lot, but that’s for later.

Right now, he pulls off, takes another breath, and tries to take more of Phil’s cock into his mouth. He’s pretty proud of how much he manages to take. Even when he goes too deep and feels like gagging, he enjoys that too.

“Carefully,” Phil says. “Don’t try to take so much at once.”

Clint looks up at him, trying to convey Hey, I can do it, with his eyebrows.

Phil shakes his head at him. His cheeks are flushed, so Clint thinks he must be doing something right. “Okay, sure, just bear in mind that I’m the one with the practical experience.”

Clint thinks about biting him on the dick for that, but decides against it. Instead, he pulls in a breath through his nose and starts to move up and down, sucking. It’s wet and messy and Clint absolutely loves it.

He’s not sure how long this is supposed to take. His jaw hurts and his tongue feels fuzzy. He keeps going. Phil’s starting to make noises under him and Clint knows that this isn’t a good blowjob, but it’s the first he’s ever given and he doesn’t want to stop.

Breathlessly, Phil says, “You have about two minutes to decide if you want to spit or swallow.”

Wow, apparently Clint really is doing this right. He’s so busy feeling smug about that that he forgets to consider the question. When Phil groans and his cock twitches in Clint’s mouth, Clint chokes on his first mouthful of come. He swallows automatically and, since it tastes okay, he keeps swallowing.

Then he sits back and grins down at Phil smugly.

Phil blinks up at him and bursts out laughing. “Look at you,” he says, reaching up and rubbing his thumb around the corner of Clint’s mouth where Clint apparently missed some come.

“Look at you,” Clint counters. “I made you come.” He did. He really did. And - so far - they’re still alive.

Phil’s fingers are clumsy against Clint’s chest. “You did.” He brushes his fingers over Clint’s left nipple. “How do you feel?”

“Good.” Clint grins and puts his hand over Phil’s soft cock, just because he can. “You?”

“Good.” Phil stretches and yawns. “I might have a nap.”

Clint curls his hand, letting blunt fingernails dig into the inside of Phil’s thigh. “Don’t you dare. I’m losing my virginity here, asshole.”

Phil laughs and pulls him down, rolling him onto his back and blanketing him with his body. “What would you like to do next?” he asks. His bare feet tangle with Clint’s, his thigh solid and hairy on top of Clint’s.

Clint stares up at him, all the air momentarily gone from his lungs. He wants to tell Phil how gorgeous he is, but he doesn’t know how to say things like that. Phil is really fucking gorgeous though, skin sex-flushed and eyes twinkling down at him.

“I was thinking of maybe asking you to fuck me,” Clint tells him. “But then I made you come.”

“How many times are you going to mention that?” Phil asks. “And yes, you’re going to have to wait a while for that, I’m afraid.”

“I’m not in a rush,” Clint lies. He’s definitely in a rush. He wants to do everything all at once and he wants to do it now. Just in case.

“Or,” Phil says slowly. His hand had been resting on Clint’s side, now he trails it down to Clint’s cock and makes Clint gasp. “You could fuck me?”

“I could?” Clint asks. His voice maybe squeaks a bit. His cock definitely jumps in the circle of Phil’s fist, so there’s no hiding that’s interested.

“Why not?” Phil asks. He slides down the bed, licking Clint’s cock a couple of times before leaning back.

Clint’s brain goes offline.

“I,” he tries then gives up. Phil’s tongue was wet and warm and slick and Clint has tried to imagine what a blowjob would feel like, of course he has, but he never knew it would feel that good.

“Or I could do that again?” Phil offers.

Clint stares up at him helplessly. “I want everything,” he admits. “Fuck. I just. Fuck it, make me come?” He can sort out everything else he wants to do in a minute, but right now, he’s so horny that he can’t think properly.

“Hands or mouth?” Phil asks, tone no-nonsense, like Clint’s giving him mission objectives. Should that be hot? Because that’s hot.

“Mouth,” Clint says before he’s stopped to think, so that must be what he wants most.

“With pleasure,” Phil says and lies along the length of Clint’s leg, chin resting on his thigh.

He starts with a line of kisses up the inside of Clint’s leg, working up from the knee. Clint whines and manages not to knee Phil in the face, which he thinks is an achievement. Phil’s mouth is wet and careful, working his way all the way up to the base of Clint’s cock.

Forget magical curses which may or may not be getting broken, Clint thinks he might just die from this.

“I’ll do your paperwork for a year, if you put your mouth on my balls,” he says. No, wait, he begs. He definitely begs.

“You don’t need to bribe me for that,” Phil says and then he actually does it.

Clint makes the kind of noise that he normally makes when people punch him in the stomach. It feels like that except in an awesome way.

Phil sucks Clint’s left ball all the way into his mouth, cheeks hollowing around it. Clint knows he’s not supposed to pull Phil’s hair, but he thinks that it’s probably okay to touch his face. He traces the sunken dents in Phil’s cheeks, laughing when Phil narrows his eyes at him.

“That’s, that’s, do you know how good that feels?” Clint groans. “You’re so good at that. I fucking love you.”

Phil pulls off slowly. “Because I’m going down on you?”

“Right now, yes,” Clint says, fingers rubbing helplessly up into Phil’s hair, not pulling him down, being so careful not to pull him back down, just sort of strongly implying that he’d really like Phil to put his mouth back on him. “Please.”

“You definitely want a blowjob?” Phil asks. Clint wonders if he’s teasing and if it’s okay to kick him in the head, if he is. “How do you feel about rimming?”

Huh, okay, not teasing. Just blowing Clint’s fucking mind.

“I showered,” Clint says, which is a dumb thing to say, but it’s true and maybe helpful.

“I’m going to take that as a yes,” Phil says, definitely laughing at him, and puts his hands under Clint’s ass, shifting him around until he’s at the angle Phil wants him.

Tongues are the most goddamn underrated part of the human body, Clint decides, as Phil’s starts on the space between his balls and his ass and then starts doing amazing things around his asshole.

“That’s really good,” he groans. He braces his heel between Phil’s shoulderblades and arches up toward him. “So good.” Phil pushes the tip of his tongue just inside Clint’s body and Clint maybe sobs a little bit. “You gonna judge me if I come?”

“No. Whenever you want,” Phil says, lips moving against Clint’s balls. Clint’s not even sure if that’s supposed to feel good, but everything feels good.

He reaches down to jerk himself off, but meets Phil’s hand already there. He goes to pull back, but Phil catches his hand in his, tangling their fingers together and wraps both their hands around Clint’s cock.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, please,” Clint chants helplessly. “I can’t.”

“Of course you can,” Phil soothes and maybe that was what Clint was waiting for because it takes him maybe two more strokes of their joined hands and then he comes fucking everywhere.

His heart is pounding. There’s a buzzing in his ears. He can’t feel his fingertips.

“Fuuuuuck,” he laughs up at the ceiling. “Fuck.”

Phil lies down next to him and throws his arm over Clint’s chest. “You’re gorgeous,” he says. He kisses Clint’s neck and then the hinge of his jaw. “I’m pretty tempted to stay here and make you look like that forever.”

“Works for me.” Clint stretches lazily, turning his head for a kiss. He frowns when Phil kisses his cheek, not his mouth. “What? You gone off me now you’re finally getting somewhere?”

“I thought you might not want to kiss me, considering where my mouth’s been,” Phil says.

Clint hadn’t even thought about that. “Nah,” he says, “I’m good. I mean, we’re probably going to die, anyway.”

Phil pinches him, right above the ribs. “No, we’re not.”

Clint rolls onto his sides so he can curl up a bit into Phil. “Maybe not,” he agrees. He shifts his leg, grinning when his knee comes up against Phil’s renewed erection. “Oh hey, look at that.”

“Look at it, but don’t knee it,” Phil says, taking hold of Clint’s leg and guiding it further up, so Clint’s thigh ends up over his hip, their cocks lining up. It feels sort of weird since Clint’s not hard right now, but weird isn’t bad.

“You’re going to fuck me now, right?” Clint asks, aiming for bravado that he doesn’t totally feel.

“Yes, if you want,” Phil says.

Clint swallows, nods. “I want.”

Phil doesn’t just go for it. Apparently there needs to be kissing before the fucking, which Clint is fine with. They aren’t exactly fucking to a deadline here.

Hopefully.

Eventually, Phil pulls back and looks down at Clint. He looks serious. Clint was really enjoying the teasing thing they had going with the blowjobs; that was fun. Phil’s serious face is really hot too though.

“Do you understand the mechanics?” Phil asks.

Clint splutters a bit then rolls his eyes. “Yes. Did you miss the part where I told you about all the porn I’ve watched?”

Phil just keeps on looking at him steadily. “Some people don’t like it, so if it doesn’t work for you, you need to tell me. Fucking isn’t the end-all of sex.”

“Okay.” Clint nods and manages not to roll his eyes again. He loves Phil for his thoroughness; he always has. It’s just really hard to take things seriously when he’s freaking out inside from nerves. “Lube, right, you need lube?”

He leans over and rifles through his bedside table. The lube used to be right on top but, weirdly, he’s been jerking off less since he and Phil got more serious. Half the time, touching himself just made him feel sad that it wasn’t Phil touching him, instead.

“Here,” he says, slapping the half-empty bottle into Phil’s hand.

“Thank you.” Phil waits a second and then, when Clint doesn’t give him anything else, he asks, “Condom?”

Clint winces. Shit. “Shit. Never bought one. Never needed to.”

“Stay there,” Phil tells him and goes to his jacket.

Once Phil’s back on the bed, condom on the comforter between them and lube all over Phil’s fingers, Clint kind of loses time, spacing out to how fucking amazing it feels to be getting fingered.

Turns out that that is definitely something that feels better when someone else is doing it. Or maybe Phil’s just spectacular at it. Either way, Clint starts moaning at two fingers and doesn’t really stop, even when Phil goes from three fingers to four and it starts to really stretch.

“Shit, okay, come on,” Clint complains, twisting in the sheets. His hair is sweaty and he has to swipe it out of his eyes, blinking up at Phil who doesn’t look like he’s in a much better state. Their eyes meet. “I’m ready,” Clint promises.

Phil pulls his fingers free and rolls the condom on (Clint might watch with a little bit too much fascination, but give him a break, here) then he lies down over Clint and kisses him.

Clint kisses back fiercely as Phil’s hands curve around Clint’s wrists, holding them against the bed. It’s only light pressure, Clint could break that but it turns out he really likes that.

“I’m marking that one down for later,” he tells Phil, breathless but pulling his hands free. “Like, seriously, making a note of that.” But right now he needs to touch and he does, finding Phil’s hard chest and softer belly and then taking hold of his cock.

Together, they get Phil lined up and then Phil pushes inside him. It doesn’t hurt. Clint had expected it to hurt, but all he really feels is a stretch.

“Good?” Phil asks, voice tight and cracking at the edges. “Tell me.”

Clint shakes his head. Then nods. Breathing is a thing that he needs to remember to do. “Good. It’s good.” Tentatively, he clenches then unclenches around Phil’s cock. It’s different, sure, but he’s okay. “I’m okay. That feels okay.”

“Sure?” Phil asks. “Remember what I said.” His eyes are squeezed shut like it feels really good to be inside Clint and Clint’s really impressed with how still he’s holding himself.

“Really sure,” Clint promises. “Fuck me.”

“I’m trying to make this special,” Phil says, sounding impatient and fond and Clint can’t totally make out whether he’s joking or not.

Then Phil starts to move and Clint stops worrying about sarcasm levels. It feels weird. And then it starts to feel good. Clint’s getting fucked. Like, actually fucked. It’s actually happening. He closes his eyes and hopes like he’s never hoped before that this works, that they’re going to be okay.

“Look at me,” Phil says, mouth an inch from Clint’s. “Barton, open your eyes.”

Clint opens his eyes.

Phil says. “It’s going to be fine.”

Clint nods, too quickly. “I know,” he agrees, meaning it and also really hoping that the universe or whoever is listening. “Also, fuck, that feels really good.”

“It’s supposed to,” Phil says, laughing at him and kissing him at the same time.

How do you know he loves you enough? Clint hears Loki’s voice echo in his ear.

Fuck off, Clint thinks right back at him. I know.

***

Clint wakes up just as it’s getting light the next morning.

At first, he doesn’t remember why that’s important. He’s warm and all his muscles feel like jello. He stretches and one arm collides with someone else’s shoulder and that’s when he remembers.

He sits up in a flurry of comforter and tangled sheets, shoving his hair out of his face and staring down at Phil, who’s lying on his back, face turned away toward the other side of the pillow.

Clint almost doesn’t want to know, but he hasn’t gotten anywhere by being a coward. “Phil?” he says quietly, shaking Phil’s shoulder.

Phil mumbles something and Clint’s stomach clenches with a painful sort of hope.

“Phil.” He leans over, kisses Phil’s warm, smooth shoulder, thinks please.

Phil’s eyes flutter open, focusing slowly on Clint. “Hey,” he says, sleep rough and gravelly and for a long, embarrassing second, Clint thinks he’s actually going to cry with relief.

He settles for laughing.

“Hi,” he says and throws himself across Phil, settling on his hips and straddling him. “Hi, fuck, you’re okay.”

Phil’s hands land on Clint’s hips. “I’d be better after some more sleep,” he says but he doesn’t sound like he means it.

Clint curls forward and kisses him. Then because that doesn’t seem to be enough to convey exactly how he feels right now, he kisses him again. And again.

Phil winds a hand through his hair and kisses him back, sleepy and slick and awesome. Clint wants morning kisses like this every day.

“You’re okay,” Clint says, talking right into Phil’s mouth since Phil doesn’t seem to want to stop kissing him and Clint has shit he needs to say.

Phil bites his bottom lip and lies back, apparently satisfied that Clint’s been kissed enough for now. “So are you,” he says. “Do you feel different?”

Clint arches an eyebrow at him. “What, now that you’ve popped my cherry? Taken my flower?”

“No.” Phil smacks his hip. Phil’s pretty free and easy with the pinching and poking in bed. Clint likes it. “Now that your curse is gone.”

Clint opens his mouth to say something else annoying then stops, his mouth hanging part-way open really attractively. “... Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. My curse is gone.” He stares down at Phil, trying to convey how miraculous the world is. “My curse is gone.”

“Are you only just noticing?” Phil asks, frowning at him.

“No. But.” Clint waves a hand in the air. “But it’s gone.” He narrows his eyes at Phil. “This is kind of a big deal.”

“I know.” Phil catches his hand, squeezes it hard. “I know. I’m really happy for you. Now you can go and have sex with whoever you like. Spread your wild oats.”

Clint freezes, frowning. “... Are you joking?” he asks uncertainly.

“I hope I’m joking.” Phil looks up at him, soft eyes and uncertain smile.

“You’re either joking or an idiot,” Clint says, shaking his head. “I’m planning to stay with you forever. Okay?”

Phil’s expression relaxes in a way that’s really nice to look at. “Okay,” he says. “Good.”

“Good,” Clint repeats. He slides his hands up Phil’s chest, ending up with his thumbs on Phil’s collarbones, stroking back and forth. “I’m starving. Make me breakfast?”

“I’m the guest, shouldn’t you make me breakfast?” Phil asks, already sitting up. He wraps his arms around Clint’s waist and angles their lips together.

“Um, yeah?” Clint tries once the kiss is over, having completely forgotten the question. “No, wait, I can’t cook.”

“How about we make it together?” Phil says. “As long as you’re the one wearing the apron.”

Clint laughs. “Yeah, okay,” he says with a wink. “Come on.” Linking their hands together, Clint drags him out of bed.

***

There’s no food in Clint’s private kitchen so they go down to the main one. This involves getting dressed, which Clint doesn’t approve of but, weirdly, Phil refuses to walk around the Tower naked.

“If we use these eggs, it isn’t going to turn out that Stark was secretly hatching dinosaurs, is it?” Phil asks, head half-way inside the fridge.

Clint tips his head so he can check out Phil’s ass more blatantly. “Nope, you’re good. He’s got his own fridge in his workshop for that.”

Phil’s shoulders tense for a second then he obviously decides not to engage. “Scrambled eggs, then,” he says, straightening with the eggs in one hand and bacon in the other. “Try to find some bread.”

“Yup.” Clint leans back against the counter and tips his head up to the ceiling. “JARVIS? Where’s the bread?”

“Here, sir,” JARVIS says and a cupboard door swings open on Clint’s right. It catches Clint on the shell of the ear in passing, but he decides to give JARVIS the benefit of the doubt.

“Here, Phil,” Clint says, grabbing the bread and throwing it at Phil.

Phil snatches it out of the air and narrows his eyes at Clint. “I’m not overtaxing you, am I?” he asks, archly.

Clint shrugs and drapes himself over Phil’s back while Phil cracks eggs into the pan. “Are you calling me lazy?” he asks. “I’m not lazy. I’m fucked out and that’s all your fault.”

“Hmm,” Phil hums. If a hum can be smug, his totally is.

They settle into a relaxed sort of quiet, Phil cooking and Clint mostly getting in the way. Even with Clint maybe being not very helpful, Phil still manages to produce something that looks and tastes awesome.

“Since when can you cook?” Clint asks, digging into another bite of scrambled eggs and toast. “This is great.”

“I can cook that,” Phil says. “Pretty much exclusively.”

“Huh.” Clint licks his lips and cuts himself another mouthful. He’s starving. “I’m not sure how I feel about you mostly only being able to cook morning after food.”

Phil kicks him on his bare ankle. “Lucky,” he says, “you should feel lucky.”

“Yeah.” Clint ducks his head and looks up at Phil from under his bangs. “Yeah, I do.”

Phil doesn’t say anything, but his kick turns into a stroke of his bare toes over the arch of Clint’s foot.

They’re about done eating when there’s a clatter and a clamour and Tony and Bruce come bursting into the kitchen. Well, Bruce has probably never burst anywhere when not the Hulk, but Tony manages it enough for the two of them.

“Well, hi,” Tony says, stopping halfway into the kitchen and arching his eyebrows. “This looks cosy.”

“Tony,” Bruce says with an apologetic look that’s mostly aimed at Phil.

“Yeah, um.” Clint realises that, in all the excitement of the curse and everything, he never actually asked Phil how he wanted to handle telling the team about them. He decides to do what everyone does at one point or another and distract Tony with science. “I meant to say. You can stop working on a cure. I think found one.”

What?” Tony explodes, definitely distracted. “Just like that? Did you trip and fall on someone’s dick and everything was okay?”

Clint winces. “No, I...”

“That’s classified, Mr Stark,” Phil says, deadpan. He puts his fork down and, very obviously and deliberately, lays his hand over Clint’s on the table. “Classified, but effective.”

“Asshole,” Clint whispers, because Tony is turning ninety shades of puce and Phil looks pretty content about that.

“You mean,” Tony demands, waving his hands around. “You mean that all that work that Bruce and Jane and I did was working toward getting Agent Back-From-The-Dead laid? Holy shit, Barton, you need to warn a guy. That’s mentally scarring.”

“It’s nice,” Bruce says quietly. He puts his hands on Tony’s shoulders and forcibly turns him around. “Congratulations to you both. I’ll make sure Jane knows to stand down.”

“Thank you,” Clint calls after them. “I mean, really. Thanks for trying to help.”

Bruce nods at him while still making soothing noises at Tony, leading him out the kitchen and kicking the door shut behind him.

When Clint looks back at Phil, he finds him with a hand over his eyes, shoulders shaking with what turns out to be silent laughter.

“I love you,” Clint says, laughing along with him. He doesn’t want to say it too much, but it turns out that, sometimes, you just have to. “Now finish eating so I can drag you back to bed.”

Phil drops his hand, eyes dancing. “More sex?” Phil sighs, not managing to sound put out in the slightest.

“Yup.” Clint kicks his legs up onto Phil’s lap. “I’ve got a list of stuff to try, remember?” And all the time in the world to try it.

/End