Clint Barton had very little that he cared about in the world. He'd learned early on that if you cared, you got hurt. Parents backhanded you, mentors turned on you, and even brothers left you for dead. In the army, he'd learned to keep his mouth shut and his true abilities hidden. He'd worked on both sides of the law, killed for money, and came to SHIELD with more baggage than anyone knew. And with each new obstacle, he carefully built a wall between his heart and the rest of the world, a way to protect himself from the pain. Yes, Natasha was a friend and partner, but she'd betrayed him once; while he understood her choices, he could never be sure that moment wouldn't come again. Didn't mean they didn't work in some fundamental way, guarding each other's back, or that they didn't watch movies, eat pizza, and spend holidays together. It just meant that he was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Tasha to do what she had to in order to survive. And wasn't that par for the course of Clint Barton's life; always waiting and always on edge.
There had only been one person he'd ever truly cared about, one man he'd let get behind his defenses, an amazingly patient man who never let him down and never left him behind … and look how Clint had repaid him. He'd betrayed everything Phil believed in, forced him to make a Hail Mary pass, let him die thinking Clint was lost. Phil, the only person who'd ever believed in Clint, had talked to him as if he was important, not just some circus freak with no education. Phil, the calm voice in his ear that asked for his opinion, listened to his ideas, and let Clint do his job on his own terms. Phil, who liked craft beers and adaptations of Shakespeare, had season tickets to the Nets, always insisted on driving, and collected vintage trading cards. Phil Coulson, the only man Clint trusted, the man he'd been in love with for years. In the end, Clint had been right to not tell Phil, to keep his feelings safely tucked inside his heart; Phil knowing would have only made Clint's betrayal that much worse.
Clint opened the door to his room – was it the twentieth or the twenty-first hotel? Three months of constant moving, different towns, multiple identities, and Clint was almost ready to listen to Natasha the next time she showed up with her arguments. He'd finally realized that there was no getting better; he was shattered and, like in that old nursery rhyme, all of Tony's gadgets and all of SHIELD's shrinks couldn't put him back together again.
"Oh, hell no. I'm not drunk enough for this again," Clint complained when he saw Phil sitting in one of the chairs. Avoiding looking, he crossed to the kitchenette, sat the bag on the small counter, and took out the full bottle of Jack Daniel's. He dug out a shot glass, poured and tossed one back then got a bigger glass to add a couple fingers of straight whiskey.
"Clint." Phil stood; he wore one of Clint's favorite suits, the grey stripped Dolce & Gabbana, but it hung loose off of his shoulders, his face pale and wan.
"No. I'm done with this. If I want to stay angry, I'm going to stay angry and no hallucination is going to make it better." Clint slammed his glass down onto the counter. "Look, let's just cut to the chase, okay? It wasn't my fault, it was all Loki, I didn't kill you, and I shouldn't feel responsible for what happened. Then you'll hit me with the 'talk to me, Barton" line and I'll get angry, probably throw something and get a knock from the manager to see what's wrong."
"Clint." Phil tried again, but Clint kept talking.
"I'll drink more, and somewhere along the line you'll tell me what I've always wanted to hear, and I'll fall for it, lose it completely, then I'll wake up in the morning with a bitch of a hangover in bed all by myself." Shoving the bottle of whiskey away, Clint ran a hand over his face.
Phil simply stood still, pain flashing through his eyes at Clint's words.
"Go away, Phil." He turned his back on the man. "Before I decide that I'll take you any way I can get you, even if it means a padded room and men in little white coats."
"I can't do that. I'm not leaving." Phil shook his head. "I'm real, Clint. It's me."
"Yeah, that's what you always say."
The knock on the door stopped him; he stared, hesitating to answer it. A second knock, and then a third. "Open the door, Clint," Natasha's voice was loud enough to be heard. "Or I'll kick it in."
He cracked the door, and she easily pushed her way inside, thrusting a small device into his hands. "Take this. You probably don't want anyone to listening in." He turned the jammer over, noting the Stark logo before he sat it down on the small table.
"Nat," he protested, but she didn't stop until she was standing in front of Phil.
"I'll assume I was the second person on your list of who to tell. I'll give you the idiot over there, but anyone else and I'd be hurt." She smiled and laid her hand on Phil's arm.
Clint forgot to breath, his whole attention focused on Natasha and the physical contact, fingers curled around Phil's forearm. Squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again; Phil was still there, that smile on his face, the one he reserved for her, amusement and care and respect mixed into one. Heart pounding so loudly he couldn't hear what they were saying; he clenched and unclenched his hands, nails digging into his palms, the pain unnoticeable.
Natasha kissed Phil's cheek and turned to go, bumping Clint's shoulder as she passed. "Do screw this up," she warned, "lock the door behind me."
Door shut, he dropped his forehead against it, trying to remember how to speak, how words worked and what he would say anyway. It was, finally, the fact that he wanted so much, had for so long, that made him turn around despite the embarrassment. Phil was waiting, alive and breathing and not a figment of his imagination; now that he really looked, he could see the tired lines on his brow, the worry shading his eyes, the hesitant stance so unusual for the man.
"Well, this is awkward." Clint, if nothing else, could always rely upon his mouth to spout off even if his brain was frozen and his body unwilling to move the five steps needed to bring them close enough to touch. There was so much to understand, so many questions, so many details to learn. "I don't know where to start."
"You could come over here." Phil waited, tension in his shoulders, a slight hitch in his voice as if he, too, was struggling. A deep breath, nervous lick of his lips, conscious relaxing of the fists, and Clint finally got his legs to cooperate.
As soon as Clint as near enough, Phil's right hand slipped around Clint's neck, fingers lightly resting on his skin, thumb just in front of Clint's ear, pinkie riding above the neck of the soft grey Henley he'd thrown on for the third day in a row. Intimately aware of those five points of contact, Clint could feel their pulses in each one, his echoing Phil's; the shattered pieces of his heart shivered, responding to a long-buried, unspoken hope.
"Let's start here" and Phil leaned over to kiss him, a light brush of lips against lips.
Later, after Clint Barton and Phil Coulson became Clint&Phil or Phil&Clint, there was a particularly bad battle when Steve's shield had deflected a hail of bullets aimed at Clint and the Hulk had fallen on an incendiary device that took a bad bounce towards Phil; when they fell, exhausted, into their bed in Stark Tower, curving their bodies together, tangling legs and looping arms, Clint kissed Phil the same exact way, a graze of mouths to remind them of the day when they stopped lying to themselves. It was a kiss that broke through the walls Clint had so carefully built and, some would say later, brought both of them back to life. Truth was, a touch can speak more eloquently than any word, can convey emotions that run deep, can express years of yearning in the briefest of contact. Clint kept his eyes open as Phil hesitated for a moment, looking into the blue-grey depths; there were no doubts there, nothing held back. The second kiss was completely different, needier, the third kiss channeled the long-neglected desire, the fourth slid into passion, and the fifth was so hot Clint felt the coldness that had settled in his gut with the touch of Loki's scepter and frozen over with Phil's death melt under the pressure of Phil's lips.
"Are you going to be here when I wake up in the morning?" Clint asked, voice aching with need. "I want to hear the whole story so I know who to shoot for lying to me."
"As long as you don't hog the covers," Phil's answer promised more. "And I've already taken care of that."
Clint Barton was a damn lucky man, and he'd be the first to admit it. Despite a laundry list of terrible events in his life, he had a group of friends and teammates who didn't care that he had a strange sense of humor, was attached to an ancient weapon, liked to watch terrible SYFY original movies, and never took his turn cleaning the common kitchen unless Natasha or Phil forced him. He cheerfully put up with the ribbing he got from them all about his relationship with Phil Coulson. Tony called Phil "Sleeping Beauty" or prattled on about "truw luv." Thor gushed over shield mates (which made Bruce laugh at the bad pun); Steve was the ultimate hopeless romantic, completely supportive when some SHIELD operatives whispered about Clint's role in Loki's plans and Phil's outing as a homosexual. Fury didn't give a damn as long as his best agents weren't running off doing stupid things like trying to take down a god by himself or crawling into a bottle over unrequited love, but, in the end, it was for the best that both Hawkeye and Black Widow were shifted over to the Avengers Initiative with Coulson as their liaison. Natasha just smiled fiercely, as proud as a mother hen over her two boys wising up, not noticing that her own heart was thawing, opening up to trusting others.
And Phil Coulson? He was still the only person that Clint trusted completely with his life and his heart. Fitting, since Phil was the man who picked up the pieces and put them back together again; Clint's problem always was that he had heart, too much so, and Phil was enough of a bad ass to protect it for him.