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Most of Clint's life has been untraditional, and his career path isn’t any different. Running away to the circus left him with skills that made for a great mercenary but not much else. So at twenty-two with a busted collarbone and hiding from people who wanted to break a lot of other bones, Clint didn't have a lot of fallback options.

He's never been great at planning for rainy days. (He still isn’t, really. Natasha was the one who taught him to stash go bags around the country, just in case.) Back then, without any available cash… becoming a phone sex operator had seemed, well, logical. If there was one thing he could do, it was talk. And all in all, it seemed like the safest way to make money without having to use his right arm.

Clint figured it would get him enough cash to eat and somewhere to sleep, but it turned out he was good at it. He always spoke before he thought about what he was saying, but suddenly a lack of filter and dubious personal boundaries worked for him.

Phone sex is all about connection and a little bit of honesty. If someone wanted an impersonal, perfect sex object, they'd watch porn. They call to talk to somebody, to imagine someone else there. All Clint had to do was let himself talk and be a little honest about what turned him on. He could even be a smartass, and his clients would still call back.

When the collarbone healed, he kept the phone and the noise-cancelling headphones that made the job a lot easier. He went back to shooting people for money -- always bad people, he checked -- and he mostly didn't need the calls as a side gig, but it felt good to have a backup option. Just in case.

***

When he joined SHIELD and got the benefits of healthcare and sick leave, suddenly breaking a bone didn't mean squatting and living off ramen. He had an apartment and a generous salary, and if he couldn't shoot, Coulson would get him working on mission planning and logistics.

He didn't need to keep the phone, but… well. He was good at it. No point letting a skill waste away from lack of practice.

***

Clint's hearing can be lousy -- whenever there's background noise or high pitched sounds, so basically anytime he's on a New York street -- but he's spent years listening to Phil Coulson. He's had Coulson’s voice in his ear while jumping across collapsing buildings and while waiting hours for the right shot.

He knows that voice.

He knows it's Coulson within the first ten words. And when Coulson asks, “So what are you doing right now?” Clint nearly gives him a sitrep.

Nearly.

But…

“Not much,” Clint says because it's the truth. There was a clusterfuck of a mission in Dubai and now he's got a few brand new bullet holes. And too much time on his hands. If he's lucky he'll be back on the range in two months, and actively working in three, but right now, it's lots of lying on his couch and waiting for the days to pass.

It's why he was bored enough to activate this phone again. He doesn't need the money; SHIELD kind of pays him more than he knows what to do with. But he gets bored when he's stuck at home and there's a point where Nat and Coulson stop answering his calls, and even Lucky starts sitting with his back to Clint, ignoring him in true canine fashion.

That's when Clint needs something to do, something that doesn't require moving from his couch. And, sure, helping some guy get off isn't a life-affirming achievement but it's better than sitting here bored.

“I'm just lying around my apartment, trying to figure out if it's worth going outside,” Clint says, looking at the late afternoon sun trying to sneak past his window. There’s a hoodie and a coffee mug sitting on the sill. “On the one hand, weather looks good and it's finally stopped raining. On the other, I'd have to get dressed.”

Clint is dressed. Sweatpants and a ratty T-shirt with a hole at the seam. Mismatched socks. But hinting that he isn't dressed works better than just announcing he's naked, and it always helps to set the tone.

“It's the middle of the afternoon.” It's definitely Coulson. He might be calling himself Jedidiah, but Clint knows that voice. He wishes he knew what the hell Coulson's playing at. “Shouldn't you be dressed now?”

“It's my apartment. I'm alone. I can lie around watching TV in my boxers if I want to.”

“Watching TV?”

“Dog Cops,” Clint says, stretching back on the couch to get comfortable, “but you didn't call to discuss my viewing habits, did you?”

Coulson lets out a wry chuckle, a low breathless sound. “No, I guess not.”

Phil Coulson doesn't guess. Phil Coulson strategizes and comes up with contingency plans on the fly.

Clint finds himself wondering if this is just a coincidence. Maybe Coulson doesn't know it's him. “Do you know how this works?”

“I've called before,” Coulson says, the same way he points out that the cafeteria's out of donuts or the AK-47s should have been packed with extra rounds. “We talk, then it gets charged to my credit card.”

“So what do you want to talk about?” It's best to let the client direct the conversation, let it be kinky if that's what they're looking for. “You want to tell me something about you?”

“Not especially,” Coulson says, more obviously sarcastic than usual.

It's cool. The sarcastic clients are the easiest to lead. “Maybe you want to come over here? I could leave the door unlocked and you could let yourself in. Come in and find me stretched out on the couch, just waiting for you.”

He hears Coulson take a breath in. “Yeah. Yeah, that would… You'd be only wearing boxers?”

“No point getting dressed. Not when you'd be taking those off me pretty soon.” It's easy to close his eyes and imagine it. Being almost naked as Coulson walks through the door. How Coulson would run fingers down his chest, stop to grope his arms (it's the biceps. Everyone loves the biceps). How he'd have to sit up to tug Coulson’s tie loose, to unbutton his shirt. How he'd kiss his way down Coulson’s chest, stalling for time to get Coulson’s pants off.

“Stall?” Coulson asks, his breathing a little heavy. “You'd need to stall?”

“You sound like you'd wear a belt. You try getting someone else's belt undone without ruining the mood.”

“I could,” Coulson says confidently.

“I couldn't. I'd be too distracted by the thought of getting my mouth on your cock to be coordinated. I'd fumble, maybe need a bit of help, but it'd be worth it to get to your dick.”

Clint closes his eyes and gropes himself a little, and talks. Tells Coulson how good it would feel, exactly what he'd do if he had Coulson’s cock right in front of him. How he'd tease for a little bit, stretch it out; how he'd see how deep he could take it, suck until he was almost choking on it.

He listens to Coulson curse under his breath, his heavy breathing down the line.

“Maybe you could fuck my mouth? Not too much, not too hard. I've got to talk to people tomorrow and I don't want to sound like I was sucking cock all night, but, fuck, your hands in my hair, holding me steady. Just give it to me, make me take it,” Clint says and there's a telltale grunt from Coulson, followed by a hissed sigh.

Clint pulls his hand away from his still-hard cock and listens to Coulson’s unsteady breathing. He knows he'll be jerking off after he hangs up, but right now, he needs to focus.

He waits for Coulson to speak first.

“That was…” Coulson says and then huffs out a sigh. “If I called back, could I ask for you?”

“I could give you my direct line,” Clint offers. “Still costs the same, it just comes directly to me.”

He gives Coulson the number and they say their goodbyes. He's pushing his sweats down his hips -- and trying not to curse the bullet graze on his left side -- when the phone rings again.

“This is Will,” Clint says, picking up to an unknown caller.

“This is Jedidiah,” Coulson says. “I was checking that I had the right number.”

“Yeah, you got me. And the system's gonna charge you for this call too now.”

“You can make it up to me next time.”

***

It doesn't take a genius to spot the pattern. When they hit a snafu, when a mission goes bad, Coulson calls him a few days later. Well, not him. He doesn't call Clint. ‘Jedidiah’ calls ‘Will’ and pays for someone to talk dirty to him.

It's a weird routine but Clint isn't judging. (Clint fell off his own kitchen counter trying to clear cans out of his top cupboards; he definitely couldn't balance on the moral high ground.)

It's not like it's a hardship, either. Coulson calls and Clint gets to run his mouth, gets to say the things he tries not to think around Coulson, like would a good office chair support the weight of two full grown men, or would it just be easier to bend over a desk to get fucked.

There's a hitch in Coulson's breathing that says the desk. “As long as you resist the cliche of knocking everything to the floor,” he says. “I am not refiling everything.”

“You suggesting we stop to file reports?”

“I'm suggesting bending you over the end of my couch instead,” Coulson replies and then it gets graphic enough that Clint spends the next week half-hard every time he sits on Coulson's office couch.

***

It’s weird how knowing what gets someone off doesn’t bother Clint -- Coulson doesn’t care about some stranger on the other end of a phone knowing that he likes a little scrape of teeth and beard burn on his thighs, so it’s not a state secret -- but after Coulson mentions Little Debbie’s donuts, Clint spends a whole night thinking about it. He spends the morning thinking about it, then buys a pack at the convenience store round the corner from headquarters.

He takes it to Coulson’s office but Coulson just gives him the world’s deadest stare when Clint puts the crinkly package on his desk.

Coulson looks down, and his face doesn’t give anything away. “Why is there a pack of Little Debbie’s powdered donuts on my desk?”

Clint scratches the back of his neck. “Because I bought them?”

“If that’s a question, the answer should be yes. SHIELD does not condone shoplifting,” Coulson says, looking like someone who does not appreciate donuts appearing on his desk. What a liar.

“Are you telling me you don’t like donuts?”

Coulson blinks but he doesn’t crack. “Why are they here, Barton?”

“Because sometimes I buy donuts. And sometimes I put them in my locker. And, fine, sometimes I forget I already bought donuts and there’s another two packs in my locker,” Clint says, as Coulson’s unimpressed face shifts into the world’s smallest smile, “and there’s a limit to how many packs of donuts a man needs at any one time, okay? Especially powdered donuts. Chocolate covered? Fine. But these aren’t even the good ones.”

“Eh,” Coulson says, giving a see-saw movement with his hand. “They both have their good points.”

“Like?”

“The powdered ones go better with coffee.”

“Fine,” Clint says, rolling his eyes. “Next time I’ll bring coffee.”

***

“Hey,” Clint says, frowning at his wall. He's not expecting a call. Their last mission ended in explosions and gunfire and a twenty-foot drop into freezing water; it also gave Coulson a dislocated right shoulder and a fractured left wrist. Clint knows from experience that those are not the kinds of injuries that encourage jerking off. “Jedidiah?”

“Were you expecting someone else?”

“Not really.” Clint hasn't been too motivated to accept referred calls. In the last month it's only been Jedidiah, and that's working okay. Coulson always calls after a bad mission, so Clint's got a distraction when he's antsy and restless and the rest of the time… eh. He doesn't miss it as much as he thought he would. “You just sounded a little off.”

“Minor fender bender,” Coulson lies smoothly. “I'm fine apart from a cast.”

“Broke a leg? Isn't that good luck?”

“Fractured wrist, and no bone is lucky to break.”

“Are you sure you should be calling me?” Clint asks and then realizes that's a stupid question. He doesn't want to give Coulson an excuse to stop calling. “Not that I'm not happy to hear from you, but getting off without someone's hand on your cock might be overestimating my skills.”

“We could talk about something else. You could tell me about Dog Cops.”

Clint could, but… “They're still gonna charge you.”

“Eh,” Coulson says and Clint can perfectly imagine the half-shrug that goes with it. “I can afford it.”

***

Next time Clint buys donuts, he brings coffee too. Coulson opens the pack right in front of him, and holds it up for him to take one.

“See?” Coulson says, as Clint swallows a mouthful of sugary, preservative-filled donut. “Better with coffee?”

“I like the chocolate ones.”

***

It’s not the weirdest relationship Clint’s ever had. That would be the seventy-two hours the first time he met Nat, where they had athletic and acrobatic sex on a variety of surfaces, and then she called him Little Bird and stole his guns and promised they could be friends. Which they still are, so points to Nat for reading the situation before Clint had thought past orgasms in unlikely positions.

This thing with Coulson, well… Coulson’s still using his credit card to talk to Will, but Clint tries to pay him back in donuts and coffees and picking up meals when they eat together. The sex is never face-to-face but it’s still hot. Coulson’s voice gets low and breathy when he’s turned on, and he doesn’t lack for imagination. Coulson can lay out a seduction like he explains a mission: clear, concise details and a goal to be accomplished.

Coulson’s not the only one talking with one hand wrapped around his dick.

But it’s not always about the sex. Sometimes, Coulson just calls to talk. To tell Clint about a driver that cut him off in traffic or the time he cheated on his sophomore math test (and how guilty he felt for the rest of the year). Sometimes, they talk about Dog Cops and one night, Clint finds himself on the phone at 2am, talking about souls and the existence of heaven. (Coulson says he doesn’t believe but he also keeps discovering things he never knew about the world, so he’s open to the possibility. Clint says his mom told him about angels and heaven as a kid, and no-one’s disproved it yet.)

On the phone, it works fine. When it’s Jedidiah and Will, they get off together and trust each other with secrets. Face to face, when it’s Clint Barton and Phil Coulson, it’s… different.

Not that Coulson doesn’t like him, he just… doesn’t like Clint as much. He’ll share donuts and talk to Clint, but it’s never anything too personal. It’s like Coulson only wants to be Agent Coulson at SHIELD headquarters. Maybe that’s why he keeps calling; maybe he likes having that layer between who he is at work and who he is in bed. Maybe being Jedidiah makes it easier for him.

(Or maybe, a little voice says in the back of his head, maybe Coulson doesn’t want to be involved with Clint. Maybe on the other end of a phone, he can imagine Will’s someone different: someone smarter and classier. Not some middle school drop-out who gets paid to get strangers off. Someone who remembers to wear matching socks and wash coffee mugs and who understands classical music. Someone in Coulson’s league.)

Not that it matters. Having a personal life is a liability as an agent. It makes you vulnerable and Coulson’s too smart to advertise any weakness he might have. Clint can tell himself it’s all about the job, just a practicality. Coulson’s all about compartmentalization, but it’s fake names and true stories, and that’s got to count for something.

After all, Coulson keeps calling.

***

Then there’s Loki and Chitauri and blood-smeared trading cards. There’s Clint, and every SHIELD agent trying not to flinch when he walks into a room, and Fury suggesting they move into the Avengers Tower ‘until things settle down’ because Coulson isn’t there any more to keep Tony Stark under control and away from the media.

There are luxuriously big rooms that make Lucky whine for the smells of home. There are people everywhere and Nat’s knowing looks when Clint leaves powdered donuts sitting on the counter. There are huge spaces and a phone that doesn’t ring, and Clint keeps charging it because…

...because…

If he doesn’t charge it, it’s admitting something he wants to ignore.

***

If there’s one good thing about being part of the Avengers, it’s that they don’t get much downtime. The entire world shifted with the Chitauri invasion, but that doesn’t stop the cleanup or the Fury-approved media appearances, or the occasional supervillain from deciding this world be a perfect time to take over Manhattan.

It keeps Clint busy as days turn to weeks, and weeks turn to months. He still knows how many days it’s been -- 81 days and counting -- but it’s better than staring at the wall and mourning someone who never even called him by his real first name.

***

Clint doesn't really know why he answers the phone. Nobody calls him on this phone. Not since…

Nobody's called this phone for months, and he's not expecting that to change. But he's had three missed calls in the last few days, so someone's got this number, and when it rings at quarter past two on a dreary Wednesday afternoon, Clint answers it.

“Who is this?” It's probably a wrong number. Or a call center wanting to talk about his cable package. (Joke's on them because no-one in the Tower pays for cable. Just the suggestion of it makes Tony go on a rant about splicing wires and feeding vultures and the best slightly illegal way to get things. Clint tries not to mention it.)

There's a huff at the other end of the line. Then a man says, “It's Jedidiah.”

“Bullshit,” Clint says, even though it's a good impersonation. Sounds right, but dead men don't make phone calls. “I don't know what your game is, but that's bullshit and I don't want to play.”

He hangs up and takes the battery out of the phone for good measure. He's a SHIELD agent getting rattled by prank calls. Somewhere, Phil Coulson is rolling in his grave.

***

Clint isn't delusional. He knows some things are possible and some aren't, but working at SHIELD blurs the lines a bit. Alien technology and superpowers, even Norse gods, are a lot more possible than they should be. So even though he knows it can't be Coulson -- he knows it's only his own desperate wish, his own denial that makes him want to believe -- he can't rule out the possibility.

But charging up that old phone, watching and waiting for it to ring feels hopeless. So he gets Tony to reroute the calls to his StarkPhone and ignores the following week of bitching about wasting a genius on basic tech support.

He doesn't know if he wants another call from Fake Jedidiah. He can't imagine Coulson telling anyone else about those phone calls but he also knows Coulson wouldn't have let any of that information be hacked. (He'd consider it an insult to his own spycraft and decades of SSR workers before him.) Which leaves Clint staring at his ceiling at 4am, wondering if maybe it could be Coulson after all. The man's supposed to be dead, but all three of them were reported dead after Budapest and they made it home.

After the damage on the helicarrier, Clint doesn't deserve a miracle like that. Doesn't stop him from hoping.

***

There isn't another call. The Avengers fight bad guys and do clean up and smile nicely at reporters, and do it all again, and there's no call. There are annoying flying robots from AIM in Austin and a sixty-foot mutant octopus in San Francisco, and still, no call. Next come the annoying flying robot-octopuses -- or octopi, maybe, Clint’s not a marine biologist, but these things aren’t really animals either -- and of course, it has to be Manhattan. They have clear plastic suckers and keep swinging across buildings in a way that Clint admires and really wishes they’d stop doing. Those things move fast.

That’s when there’s a click in his ear, that weird static of something getting transferred through a private comm channel, and then one of the octo-robots throws a kid’s bicycle at Clint’s head. “Shit!” Clint slides to his knees, bending backwards to keep his bow safe as a red bike with streamers on the handle goes over his head. He whips his bow around and grabs three arrows out, leaning over the building to get that octo-robot before it gives the others ideas.

Three arrows: two tentacles pinned down and one through the main body. The thing freezes and then tries to yank its tentacles free. Clint watches it with his bow drawn, but it pulls the wrong way and suddenly there are sparks everywhere and a very satisfying whirring noise as it powers down.

Then he remembers his comm’s still open. “Yeah, sorry, what was that?”

“Barton?” That’s got to be Coulson. It’s got to be. Clint’s never heard him sound so blankly surprised before, but he knows that voice.

He also knows there’s no way Coulson would go off grid without trying to contact the rest of Strike Team Delta. Not unless Fury had him under orders. “Fury,” Clint growls, about to follow that with some explicit and uncomplimentary language when there’s a shiny chrome tentacle wrapping around his arm, and he needs to focus on staying alive. On using an arrow to stab this thing through one of its eight evenly spaced eyes, and squirming free before the thing explodes.

He loses his comm in the fight, but you know what? One life-changing threat at a time. First, the robo-octopi, and then the pseudo-boyfriend slash handler back from the dead. After all, he can shoot the robots.

***

He considers shooting Fury too. Not a lethal shot, but someplace painful. The calf maybe. Somewhere that would bleed and make him limp for at least a month.

Fury can probably read it in his eyes. It’s not like Clint’s making any effort to hide how deeply pissed off he is right now. Lying for security, misinformation in the field, Clint understands that. He can even see how Coulson’s death worked -- got everyone focused on a common loss, a common enemy -- but afterwards? Fury could have told them.

It’s been months. Fury could have told him and Nat, if no one else. But no, even Nat hadn’t known. Even Nat had raised an eyebrow and taken one slow, measured breath and then promised, “We will talk to Fury,” like a threat.

“I’m not running a kindergarten,” Fury says, rolling his eye. “This is not about making sure everyone has someone to play with at lunch.”

“With respect,” Nat says, calmly and sweetly, the way she only ever sounds when she’s in the middle of an op, “we aren’t children.”

“We could have kept the secret,” Clint adds. Not calm. Not sweet.

“We’ll see,” Fury says and hands over an address in Tahiti of all places. Clint looks at it and thinks Coulson hates sand getting everywhere. Or Jedidiah does.

***

Nat offers to come with him, but she also says, “The rest of the team may get suspicious if we’re on the same flight,” and in the end, keeping the secret is more important than having someone hold his hand. Plus, there’s something far too sympathetic and protective in the way Nat gives his wrist a light squeeze. She knows. Somehow, she knows about Jedidiah and Will, about Clint’s stupid feelings for someone out of his league, and she’s known for a while. Clint doesn’t dare ask her how long -- there’s a limit to how stupid he wants to feel about this right now -- but it’s nice to have the silent support.

It’d be nicer if he could get to the airport without getting a call to assemble, but no. Some idiot has to attack New Jersey and then Clint has to push out his “vacation” plans to help the team, and then there’s that thing in Miami, and it’s nearly a week later before he gets on a plane.

He could have called. He has Coulson’s number. It’s sitting right there in his call history, but he doesn’t want to do this over the phone. He needs to see Coulson, to know he’s alive, before he can even start untangling Jedidiah from Coulson and figure out which bits he gets to keep.

He spends five hours wondering if it’s possible to keep Jedidiah’s calls, even if he’s technically not supposed to know Coulson’s alive, even if they’re not working together. Would Coulson even want to keep calling? Maybe that was something Coulson didn’t mind leaving behind, taking a fresh start with whatever new team Fury has in the works for him.

Then Clint stalks around LAX for the two-hour stopover, cursing commercial flights and how conspicuous it would have been to just steal the quinjet and fly over himself. (Conspicuous, yes, but a lot faster.) Then he has an eight-hour flight of cramped legroom and dimmed lights and everyone else snoring while he tries to tell himself this isn’t a stupid idea.

It’s not. Coulson wouldn’t have called if he didn’t want some kind of contact, right? Unless it had been a wrong number. He did seem surprised when the call connected. Is Clint spending fifteen hours on planes because of a misdial? No, that’s stupid. Nat believes in letting him live his life, but she wouldn’t let him be that stupid.

Clint manages to nap a little, but he gets to Tahiti at 5am, and finds himself standing outside the airport, blinking at the lightening dawn sky. Part of him wants to turn around and fly straight home; part of him wants to flag a cab and go straight to Coulson’s address.

He goes to his hotel instead and sleeps for a while.

***

It turns out that hospitals are kind of the same wherever you go. Clint notices the metal detectors and the high number of security cameras around -- it makes sense that this isn’t so much “private” as “ridiculously secure” -- but the basics are the same. Long white corridors and busy-looking, no-nonsense staff.

He could sneak onto a quiet floor, use a computer terminal to hack into their patient records and find Coulson, but this isn’t a mission. He has permission to be here. (Literally. He got Fury to sign a note confirming he was allowed to visit.) Plus, he’s carrying donuts and coffee and he doesn’t want to spill them.

The nurse leads him to Coulson’s door and he knocks, but there’s a long delay before Coulson calls, “Come in.” Long enough for Clint to have second thoughts about flying here, about visiting, about bringing coffee like some sad stalker from a romcom.

And then he’s opening the door and there’s Coulson. Lying on a hospital bed with white sheets, thinner and paler than he should be, but not hooked up to an IV or anything that beeps, just a grey plastic pulse monitor clipped to his finger. Coulson looks drawn and tired, but his eyes light up when he sees the paper coffee cup.

“Hi,” Clint says, grinning because no matter what, Coulson is definitely alive. Not fit enough to be on active duty, probably only fit enough to lie in a bed and suffer through PT, but definitely alive. There’s a part of Clint that couldn’t really believe it until he saw it for himself.

“Hi.” Coulson shuffles awkwardly, pushing himself up with weak arms, and Clint has to take a few steps forward. He wants to lean in and help, wants to put his hands on Coulson and know he’s alive, but he knows how frustrated Coulson gets during medical leave. Instead, he waits for Coulson to sit up, and then hands him the coffee.

The nurse takes a quick step closer, reaching for the cup, but Coulson stops him with a glare. “It’s against medical advice, yes, but you will pry this cup out of my cold dead hands. Or you’ll die trying.”

Honestly, Coulson’s such a bad patient he makes the medical staff at SHIELD happy to deal with Clint.

“It’s decaf,” Clint offers, lying through his teeth. Neither Coulson nor the nurse believe him.

“And the pastries?”

“Low fat and wholegrain,” Clint says, because they’re currently covered by a paper bag so there’s no way the nurse can know the Little Debbie’s donuts are all sugar and preservatives. “Promise.”

The nurse glares at the bag, but unless he has x-ray vision, Clint’s pretty sure they got away with it. “Visiting hours end in twenty minutes.”

“Make an exception,” Coulson says in his Agent Coulson voice, the one that has baby agents scurrying to obey and seasoned professionals fighting the urge to stand to attention. Clint’s missed the Agent Coulson voice.

The nurse is made of sterner stuff. “Ten extra minutes, no more,” he says, and closes the door behind him.

“Do you think Fury trained the nurses himself?” Clint wonders, watching the door close.

“It would explain a lot,” Coulson replies. “Low fat and wholegrain?”

Clint pulls out the pack of donuts, tearing the pack open. From the way Coulson grabs the first donut, fingers clawing into the white powder as he takes a bite, the nursing staff here have earned their pay. “We should talk,” Coulson says, before taking another big bite.

“I’m here for a week,” Clint blurts out. They don’t have to figure this out right now. “You know, beach vacation. Like I’d know what to do on a vacation.”

Coulson chews thoughtfully and then swallows. Softly, he says, “I didn’t know I was calling you.”

Fuck, Clint thinks. Fucking misdial. He should have known. “I figured it was a weird time to call.”

“No, not-- When I was calling Will, I didn’t know I was calling you.”

“What happened to recognizing my voice anywhere?”

“What?”

“Moser and Torres?” Clint reminds him, but Coulson doesn’t pay as much attention to other agents as he does to places and dates. “Mozambique, August ‘09? You said you could recognize my voice.”

Coulson blinks, looking to the left as he remembers. “I said I could recognize your voice over the sound of explosions,” he clarifies. “Especially when it starts, ‘Oh, timer, no,’ and ends in an earth-shattering kaboom.”

Only Coulson could manage that joke with a completely straight face.

“Shouldn’t it be easier over the phone?”

“Yes, in theory.” Coulson sighs, cradling his coffee cup to his chest like Clint might take it away. “I thought Will sounded like you. I didn’t think Will was you. It’s an important distinction.”

There's not much Clint can say to that. He helps himself to a donut and wishes he'd bought the chocolate ones.

“You could have said something,” Coulson says eventually.

“I thought you knew.”

Coulson raises an eyebrow. It's the judgmental eyebrow that he uses to call Clint out, especially when he's doing something monumentally stupid. Or dangerous. Or self-sabotaging. Or all three.

“I thought you knew,” Clint repeats. “I thought you were keeping things quiet because… “

“Because?”

“You didn't want to ruin your badass rep with rumours of an office romance.” As soon as Clint hears it out loud, he knows it's stupid. Coulson doesn't actually care that he's known as the agent's agent, that he's got a reputation for being the last resort before Fury does it himself. Coulson is calm under pressure and lethally competent, but he's also the guy who unironically loves Captain America and will spend thirty minutes discussing the distinction between mint and near-mint condition. Coulson has no interest in the SHIELD rumor mill. Clint shrugs. “I figured maybe it's one thing paying a guy to get you off, but… That doesn't mean you'd want to take him home or wake up beside him.”

“But you'd want that?” Coulson asks.

Clint feels like a rat on a lab bench. Like there's a scalpel ready to slice down to the bone and expose every idiot daydream he's had about Coulson’s kind eyes and steady hands. “It's not like I'm holding my breath. I'm not delusional.”

Coulson reaches out but his grip on Clint's forearm is light, weak from extended bed rest. “Would you want that with me?” he asks again, something so gentle in his tone.

Every instinct says to deflect, to make a joke, to let Coulson off the hook because there's no way he means what Clint wants him to mean. But this is like that first step on to a high wire, like learning to scale a building without a safety net; this is placing one foot in front of the other and trusting that you'll find a path to safety. “With you, yeah.”

Coulson smiles. “Good.”

***

It's not like they talk about much after that. Clint tells Coulson about the octo-robot things, and then the gigantic octopus in San Francisco, but Coulson’s eyelids start drooping halfway through his second donut. “ I should go.”

Coulson shakes his head, but he also looks ten minutes away from passing out.

“I can come back tomorrow,” Clint says. “I really am here for a week.”

“Not yet.” Coulson reaches up and gets a grip on Clint's bicep. (It's always the biceps; Clint knows his strengths.) There's a gentle tug that Clint follows until he's leaning over Coulson, close enough that their foreheads could touch. “I'm not waiting any longer to kiss you.”

The nurse will be back in a few minutes. But Coulson tilts his face towards Clint, and Clint finds himself licking his lips nervously. “I'm really here for a week. You don't have to--”

“Kiss me, Clint,” Coulson says, fondly amused. It's not an order, nothing like that, but he slides his hand to the back of Clint's neck and pulls Clint down. Clint could resist if he wanted to, could throw off Coulson's grip even if Coulson was at full strength, but it's nice to be sure Coulson wants this too. It's nice to let Coulson guide him closer, follow his lead until he can feel Coulson's breath on his skin. One careful breath and then it's lips pressed to lips, a soft, quiet moment where Clint thinks of nothing but Coulson. Coulson here, Coulson alive, the light touch of Coulson’s fingers against his neck.

Then there's a loud knock behind them and Clint jerks back, turning to look at the doorway. A nurse in dark blue scrubs is giving Coulson the stink-eye. “Do we need to review the list of things you're not medically cleared for yet?” he asks.

“Since I'm still working on the four-minute quarter-mile, I'm not going to attempt anything vigorous right now.”

“Enjoying PT, huh?” Clint asks and Coulson gives him a look that could strip paint.

“If you're ever in need of someone who can outrun an octogenarian,” Coulson says dryly.

“Better than the alternative,” Clint says, but it comes out a little more honest and raw than he intended. Clint only has a moment to be mortified by his stupid mouth, and then Coulson’s hand is on his, catching it and giving it a quick squeeze. “I'll be back tomorrow,” Clint says before he can say anything else embarrassing.

***

For a beach vacation, Clint only spends enough time outside to get a believable tan. (That's the point of beach vacations, right? Warm weather and coming back with a tan.) The rest of the time he spends in Coulson's room, watching soap operas and reruns of 80s sitcoms since Coulson's TV doesn't get any news channels (because Coulson wouldn't be able to resist staying informed) and it doesn't get cable (because Fury's holding a grudge about Coulson's one-man attack on a Norse god). Sometimes they talk, sometimes they just make ridiculous predictions about the plot. He sneaks in coffee -- he tried to make it decaf once but Coulson had known -- but doesn't try the donuts again.

Occasionally, when the nursing staff aren’t around, there are a few kisses too. Gentle because Coulson’s recovering from a giant hole in his back, but still good. Good enough that Clint’s occasionally wanted to climb into that hospital bed beside Coulson, until footsteps down the corridor remind him just how bad that idea is.

The week's gone by surprisingly quickly. “I fly home tomorrow.”

Coulson’s still sweaty and flushed from PT. He's sitting on the side of the bed, resting for a moment before he has a shower. Clint's standing on the other side of the room so he doesn't reach out and touch. Or do anything else that’s bound to be interrupted by a nurse with excellent timing.

Recovery times suck.

“I just…” Clint shrugs. “What happens next?”

“We call. We talk. It'll be difficult for you to visit me again while I'm here,” Coulson says, and Clint gets it. One vacation is fine but multiple trips to the same place will raise suspicions. “Fury's got a new team in the works so I won't be stuck here forever.”

“So phone calls, and we figure it out when and as we know more,” Clint says, and Coulson nods. “Lucky I'm good on the phone.”

Coulson grins. “Very lucky.”

***

The next time that phone rings… well, it’s nice to hear Coulson call him Clint, even if it’s followed with, “I’ve got a second round of PT this afternoon. I think dying would have been easier.”

“When have you ever taken the easy option?” Clint scoffs.

“I could start,” Coulson says but they both know he doesn’t mean it. “Or…”

“Or…”

“The nursing staff have their weekly team meeting for the next forty minutes.”

“I thought you weren’t cleared for--”

“I am,” Coulson interrupts eagerly. “As of today.”

Clint flops down on his couch, getting comfortable. “In that case…”