“So what’s he like?”
“Barton?” Agent Perez asked. “He’s an asshole. Major issues with authority. Had something smart to say about every order.”
“But did he follow them?”
“Not without a dick measuring contest first.”
Phil rolled his eyes. It was all too common an attitude with some assets, though there were also plenty of handlers and senior agents who seemed to inspire it in their subordinates. Perez wasn’t usually one of them. “He’s a good sniper though?”
“Best I’ve ever seen,” Perez said, rising from his seat. “Almost made the attitude worth it.”
Perez smiled and gave Phil a two-fingered salute. “Almost.”
Barton was a bit of an asshole, but he didn’t question orders nearly as much as Phil had been led to believe. The only issue he’d pressed had been that of his sniper’s nest, and Phil had to admit the alternative Barton had offered had been a better option. He’d allowed the switch, which had seemed to throw Barton off his game. Not a single instance of dick measuring appeared.
At least, not until after the target was down. Barton appeared in the hotel room the team was using as a base, soaking wet and shivering, his go bag in his hand. He stripped as he gave his report, which Phil would have chalked up to the cold and the rain, if there hadn’t been some subtle posturing while nude, an unnecessary amount of time spent with just a towel.
Phil cocked an eyebrow, letting Barton see that he’d noticed, but without giving any kind of reaction otherwise. He hadn’t thought Perez was being literal about the dick measuring, and it certainly wasn’t as common as the figurative kind, but neither was it the first time Phil had been subjected to another man fighting for power in that manner. He always found it best to acknowledge the attempt in some small way, but not to engage.
Barton grinned, bright and cocksure, and got dressed with efficiency and speed. The rest of his report was professional and highly observant, and Phil came to the realization that whatever quirks Barton may have (which weren’t nearly as many or as bad as his file had indicated), he was definitely worth employing.
The safehouse they’d been assigned was an amazing villa, with terra cotta flooring, high ceilings, and a cool, inviting pool. It also had five bedrooms, but given that it was just him and Barton, most of those rooms were going unused. It was a little unusual, perhaps, to have a team of just two when the two hadn’t had much experience working together. But Phil was a professional, and Barton certainly wasn’t the discipline case he’d been made out to be. In fact, the sniper had done such a good job that the assignment was done a day early. Due to their extraction being a commercial flight, they now had about twenty hours of downtime and a big, beautiful house to spend it in.
Phil emerged from his room to find Barton taking advantage of the pool. He moved through the water smoothly, his broad back and muscular arms completing each stroke with raw power. Phil allowed his gaze to linger for only a second, though that was long enough to realize there was no swimsuit. Barton was skinny dipping.
With a slight shake of his head, Phil settled on one of the lounge chairs. He cracked open his book and very determinedly didn’t look up when he heard the telltale sounds of someone rising up out of the water.
“Water’s perfect, boss.”
Phil hummed in reply, and kept his eyes on the page.
“You gonna go in?”
“Maybe later, Barton. This chapter just got good.”
Barton’s feet shifted on the patio floor, and the movement of a towel caught Phil’s peripheral vision. “Suit yourself.”
Phil still didn’t look as Barton walked back inside the house, but he did allow himself a small smile.
“Sir.” The specialist had a cocky grin hovering around his mouth when he answered Phil, though he was standing at a decent approximation of parade rest, spine straight, legs slightly apart. Which only seemed to emphasize the situation at hand.
“Is there a reason you’re currently without pants or underwear?”
Phil resisted the urge to rub the bridge of his nose. “Acid.”
“Care to elaborate?”
A casual shrug. “There was acid on site. Got some on my pants. Took them off to protect my, uh, skin.” The grin widened. “It splattered onto a very unfortunate area. Immediate action seemed prudent.”
“And it ate through to your underwear?”
The grin could now only be described as shit-eating. “Wasn’t wearing any.”
Phil absolutely did not sigh. “Of course you weren’t.” He made a mental note to update protocols, requiring all agents to wear appropriate undergarments when on assignment.
Not that he expected Barton to follow any such protocol.
“You’re about to lose your towel.”
“Huh. So I am.” Barton simply loosened the towel further and let it fall away, grinning.
Phil gave a head tilt of acknowledgment, then went back to the maps in front of him. It took a few seconds before he heard Barton move away towards the bedrooms, and when he came back he was fully dressed in his tac gear.
“So, what have we got?”
Five missions in, and it was getting a little ridiculous. Phil’s policy of not addressing the posturing clearly wasn’t going to work. So he let Agent Barton see his sigh and said, “Barton, I get it.”
“Get what, sir?”
“I understand that you’re well-endowed. Time to put it away.”
The grin Barton was sporting didn’t fade, but it changed, somehow. It got a little tighter, a little less real. “Sure thing, boss.” He pulled up his pants with efficiency, zipping up and throwing himself on the dirty mattress this hole of a safehouse called a bed. “So you think the target’s going to rabbit?” he asked, returning to a conversation that had ended ten minutes prior.
“I think he’s going to try,” Phil agreed mildly. “It’s your job to stop him.”
This time the grin was dark and sharp, a hunter’s smirk. “Not a problem.”
The casual dismissal of Barton’s attempts seemed to work. The agent stopped trying to get Phil to engage in the contest, and over the years all future dick sightings were either total accidents or completely unavoidable (usually for medical or life-saving reasons). They were assigned to each other often, becoming a true team, working together seamlessly and settling into a friendship that defied all logic.
Then Phil died.
He came back though.
After new teams, after betrayal, after international carnage and the fall of SHIELD, Phil sat in his temporary apartment with a drink in hand, listening to Clint talk about his early days with the Avengers. It was clearly a bid to get him to join them, to agree to be their handler or their coordinator, or whatever Stark was calling it.
Phil wasn’t sure yet what he was going to do.
“So then Steve goes all captainy on me, right, and starts making it an order, and Stark was like, ‘Just do it, Barton, Jesus. We don’t have time for you two to whip ‘em out and measure ‘em.’ Like that guy even has room to talk.”
“Oh God,” Phil groaned. “Clint, please tell me you did not go around flashing Captain America.”
Clint paused, a look of confusion on his face. “Of course not. Even I’m not enough of a dumb jock to take that phrase literally.”
Phil huffed and sent Clint a disbelieving look. “Really?” he said, his voice wry. Surely Clint wasn’t going to pretend he hadn’t done it before.
“Yes, really. Fuck, Coulson, what kind of macho asshole do you think I am?”
“Clint. On each of our first five missions together, you found an excuse to flash me. As a display of power and machismo, it was not subtle.”
Clint stared at him for a long moment, then burst out laughing. “That’s what you think I was doing? Oh my god! No wonder you told me to put it away.”
Phil cocked his head, thinking back to each instance of nudity. He came up blank as to a possible reason. “What was it then? You can’t deny it was anything but deliberate.”
“Of course it was deliberate, you idiot. I was trying to get you to fuck me.”
Phil’s fingers tightened around his glass, and it took him a moment to speak, wanting to be sure of the evenness of his voice. “You were . . . That was a seduction?”
“Not a very clever one, I’ll grant you that,” Clint said with an easy smile. “But it had always worked before. When you shot me down, I stopped trying.”
“And what’s the rate of success on it now?” Phil asked, raising his glass to his lips in an effort to soothe his suddenly dry throat.
Clint shrugged. “I retired it when it didn’t work. My technique has evolved since then.”
“Really?” Phil said again, but with an inflection of interest this time. “What do you do now?”
“Now? Mostly I look for signs of attraction, maybe flirt a little. If I get a good reaction, I’ll usually just ask.” Clint paused, looking Phil over with obvious interest. “But some people are a little hard to read,” he admitted, his voice careful and deliberate. “People like that might need to give me a really clear signal.”
Phil set his glass on the end table with a steady hand, and stood. “Would inviting you to bed count as a clear signal?”
Clint scrambled up off the couch, grinning broadly. “It would be like a fucking flare.”
“Well then. Consider my flare shot.” He cocked an eyebrow at Clint. “You going to answer the call?”
“Are you kidding?” Clint replied, moving in close and placing his hands on Phil’s hips. “Can’t leave a man in distress, can I?”
“Good answer, Agent Barton.”