Clint loosed another arrow, frowning when it struck the target just left of center. He shook his head as he pulled a new one from the quiver; he'd only been laid up a few weeks and his aim was already slipping. He squinted as he pulled back the bowstring, taking an extra half-second, and this time it struck center.
Better. Not perfect, but better. "So, you planning on standing there not saying anything all night?"
"I didn't want to interrupt you."
Clint smiled and nocked another arrow against his bowstring. He actually wasn't sure when Coulson had walked up behind him; even though he tended to tunnel vision when practicing Coulson being that quiet in a standard issue business suit always impressed him. Showed off some serious training. Maybe he'd ask about that some day. "Doesn't your shift ever end? I'm starting to think the rumors about you and Fury living here are true."
"I could say the same about you."
Clint shot and swore under his breath when the arrow landed two inches left of where he'd wanted it. He flexed his left hand; his fingers were starting to cramp. "Medical's clearing me back for the field in another week. They're finally letting me off leash a few hours a day and I wanted to put in some reps before I lost the light. My aim's trashed and I have to build my callouses back up."
"There is an indoor range."
Clint pulled another arrow from his quiver. "No wind. No natural light. I won't get as sharp." He glanced back at Coulson, then nodded over at the target. "You want to give it a try?"
"I don't think so. There are explicit rules against handlers embarrassing ourselves in front of the field agents." Clint just grinned and aimed again. "I take it you approve of the new bow?"
Clint shot the arrow, cocking his head to the side when it hit. Almost but not quite. "Never thought I'd like a collapsible one this much. Previous ones always felt like they'd fall apart if I pulled on them too hard."
"What was wrong with the compound one?"
"What, is someone in R&D feeling rejected and sending you memos?" He'd been joking, but the way Coulson's lips twitched up told Clint that had probably been a good guess. "Nothing's wrong with it, I've just had compounds break on me one too many times to trust them. Too many moving parts, and it's real easy to throw off your aim. And I've never been a big fan of the trigger you use with those. You don't get a good feel for the bow if you don't touch the string. Or at least I don't."
Coulson watched him take another few reps. "Medical tells me they're happy with how the burns are healing."
"They'd better be, all the PT they're putting me through." He stopped and rolled his right shoulder, trying to stretch the growing stiffness out. "C'mon, just give it one try. I won't laugh, I promise."
Coulson's mouth set in a thin line but he couldn't seem to bring himself to say no twice; he stepped forward next to Clint, accepting the bow from him as if seriously considering the possibility it might explode if he handled it the wrong way. "Show me how to hold it."
Clint privately gave him credit for waiting to be shown; he'd seen plenty of people just pick up a bow and try to shoot, assuming there was nothing to it because it looked easy in a movie they'd seen once. "I know you're right-handed, is your right eye dominant, too?"
"It was as of the last check up."
"Good, that makes life easier." He physically placed Coulson's left hand where it needed to be on the bow and extended his arm. "Make sure you hold your arm as steady as possible. If this was a sniper rifle your aiming arm's the tripod, remember that." Clint then showed him how to nock the arrow and how to draw the string back without letting the arrow drop, reaching out to restraighten Coulson's left arm. "Watch that. It takes a while to teach your arms to work separately."
Coulson nodded. "Like playing piano."
"You play piano?"
"Not well," he admitted. Coulson squinted at the target as he pulled the string back – but not far enough and Clint remembered his promise just in time when the arrow sailed gently to the ground feet short of the target.
"You're not drawing back far enough," Clint said, nocking another arrow against the bowstring and pulling Coulson's hand back. "Further than that, past your ear. Your shoulder should feel like it's straining the first few times until you get used to it." He let go of Coulson's hand when the positioning was right. "There. Try now."
Coulson nodded and shot; this time he got the distance but the arrow flew left of the target.
"There's no recoil, stop bracing for it."
Coulson nodded again as he took the next arrow from Clint, nocking it against the string himself. "The prep team should have found those incendiaries," he said, raising the bow again.
Clint had been expecting this. "Don't know why you're apologizing. You didn't do the sweep."
"I chose the team that did. I might as well have." He pulled back the string the way Clint had taught him, taking a few careful seconds to aim.
Clint shrugged. "I've had closer calls."
"Considering that you were actually on fire when the extraction team got to you I doubt that very much."
Barton, can you move at all?
...no. The ceiling's on me, I can't...
All right. I have an extraction team on the way. Can you see the door? Can you orient yourself in the room?
No. No, I just see smoke.
Keep talking to me, Barton. As long as you can, even if it gets hard. Let me know you're still conscious.
Tell them to hurry.
Clint shrugged again. "Better my legs than my arms, right?"
Coulson frowned at that and shot again, this time managing to clip the outer edge of the target. "Why does the shot keep hooking left?"
Clint grinned at the frustration in his voice. "You're torquing the bow." He reached out and wrapped his hand around Coulson's wrist. "You have to keep your hand relaxed or it'll throw off your shot. Try exhaling when you shoot, force yourself to relax."
Fire's coming up the wall.
The extraction team's less than three minutes away. They'll be there before you know it. Just try to stay calm.
Hey. Hey, Coulson, what's your first name? You never told me.
Phil. Phil's a good name. Can I call you Phil?
Barton, we get you out of there you can call me anything you want.
Coulson shot again and hit the outer ring of the target. "There you go," Clint said. "Now you're on the board." He switched out his empty quiver for a full one and handed Coulson another arrow. "Still can't believe it took me almost cooking to get your first name out of you."
"You could have just asked. It's not a state secret." He raised the bow again, letting Clint straighten his aim. When he shot again the arrow still hit the outer ring, but closer to the center this time.
"Don't get frustrated. You've almost got it." He handed Coulson another arrow. "I usually hold it together better than that, for the record. In case you haven't made the report yet."
"I have it on good authority that catching fire is one of those things even SHIELD agents are allowed to panic about."
Clint grinned. "Yeah? I don't remember reading that in the handbook."
"It's a bylaw."
Clint held Coulson's wrist steady as he drew the bowstring back. "You're still torquing the the bow," he said, softly into his ear. He was standing so close now he could feel Coulson breathing. "Try now."
Coulson nodded and held the string taut for a few seconds as he aimed.
I's...ah, it's getting pretty hot in here.
The team's at the door. Stay with me. Keep talking.
Coulson shot and the arrow hit home in the inner ring of the target. "There we go," Clint said. "Now just do that fifty more times in a row on the run with people firing back at you and you might have a future in this business." He should probably be stepping away now. In just another minute. "Close calls are a good thing to have every few years or so. Nothing like lying on your back thinking you're about to die to give you that moment of clarity, get your priorities in order. That quick if I get out of here I know the first thing I'm gonna do right when you're about to pass out, y'know?"
"Oh? And what did you come up with?"
Don't cut the line, please.
I am here until one of us stops breathing, Barton, I promise you that.
Clint stepped in front of him, staying close, and tipped Coulson's chin up into a kiss before either of them could say another word. He stroked his thumb along Coulson's jaw line, his heart hammering so hard he felt light-headed, something he hadn't felt since his first day coming under fire half a lifetime ago. C'mon. C'mon, kiss back. Please kiss back.
When he felt Coulson's lips move under his the relief was so powerful Clint felt his knees almost buckle; Clint pressed closer and deepened the kiss, wrapping his hands around Coulson's arms to hide how he couldn't keep them steady. He knew he was way too old to be this shaky on his feet, this was teenager stuff, but he didn't think he'd ever gotten the shakes like this even when he'd been a teenager. It scared him even more than almost burning to death had.
Clint finally pulled back and stood there for a few seconds, feeling Coulson breathe. "Second lesson's tomorrow at 0700," he finally said, his voice so rough he couldn't put any volume behind it. As if he was in any position to be giving orders. Clint let him go and stepped away, keeping his eyes lowered as he gathered up his gear. He didn't want to see Coulson's reaction, good, bad, neither was anything Clint could handle. Then Clint turned around and headed back inside without a backward glance.
When he got back to his room in the barracks he collapsed his bow and threw it on the bed, quickly followed by his quiver and outer gear before dropping down on the bed himself and raking his hands through his hair. Oh, that had been stupid. Probably in his top ten of bad ideas, and that was with him looking back on a lifetime spotted with bad decisions.
SHIELD was military enough to have rules against fraternization, they had to, and Coulson was a straight shooter. The odds were damn good the first thing he'd do when the sun rose in the morning was march over to Director Fury's office, lay out everything that had happened and get himself reassigned. Clint couldn't even blame him for it, the guy had to protect himself. Clint didn't even know if he'd banked enough time with SHIELD to screw up like this; he'd burned through more than his share of second chances over the years and doubted he had more ahead of him.
Still, no matter how much he tried to lecture himself on consequences that little voice in his head whispered about how Coulson hadkissed him back.
Clint shook his head. He'd seen his shot and he'd taken it. Too late for takebacks, and Clint wasn't in the habit of asking for those anyway.
He rubbed his hands over his face and tried to put the past few minutes out of his mind. If he really had blown his life apart, he'd know come morning. Nothing he could do about it now.
Sleep that night was a long time coming.
Clint was up before dawn the next day; he checked in with Medical (always a giant time sink of a mistake, but especially now – when they put the blood pressure cuff on his arm the needle almost went spinning off the dial. Even though he knew full well why his heart was pounding so hard he still had to sit back and let them poke at him because he couldn't exactly fill themin on why.)
By the time he was finally able to beg off it was already past seven; Clint grabbed his gear and dragged himself out to the range, mentally preparing himself to find himself alone there the same way he'd prep himself for a rough mission.
What he hadn't bothered to prepare himself for at all was entering the range to see Coulson leaning against the fence, his arms crossed over his chest. And he'd even brought his own bow. Clint couldn't believe the guy wasn't smarter than this.
Coulson's head picked up as Clint walked over. "You're late."
"Medical gave me some hassle." He nodded to the bow. "Where'd you dig that up?"
"I requisitioned it." Clint realized he must have raised an eyebrow at that, because Coulson said, "If you're going to give me lessons I should have my own."
Now that he was up close he could tell Coulson hadn't done a whole lot of sleeping either. "You mind?" he said, reaching for the bow. Coulson handed it over for Clint to examine; it was a recurve like his, not collapsible but a match every other way. "Not bad," he said, giving it back.
Coulson looked pleased at that; he'd brought his own quiver, too and pulled out an arrow. "Should we start?"
"Sounds like a plan." He adjusted Coulson's grip slightly, standing closer than he knew was really necessary. "Wasn't sure you'd show," he admitted.
Coulson just gave him a sideways look as he nocked the arrow. "I keep my promises." He squinted at the target and let the arrow fly, hitting the outer ring. "And you're right about close calls," he said softly, almost to himself.
Clint expanded his own bow. "Got a few hours of liberty after PT later. Assuming you can duck out of whatever briefings Director Fury has lined up."
"I think I can clear my schedule."
Clint raised his bow and aimed, hoping the grin on his face didn't look anywhere near as goofy as it felt. "Okay, Phil," he said, clearing his throat. He liked the way saying that name felt. He liked it a lot. "Give me ten reps. Let's see how much from yesterday sank in." He put one hand on Coulson's shoulder and watched him draw, squeezing once when the bowstring came far enough. "Now."