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Mission: Matchmaker

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It took a while for anyone to figure it out. To be fair, at least one of the Avengers probably would have realized sooner if they weren't also occupied with trying to file enough edges off of six sharply defined personalities to make a coherent unit out of them. But as five of them found the places where they fit together and started to settle down, Clint only got more and more prickly and irritable.

Cap actually called a team meeting about it one night while Clint was out on a date. Natasha, who knew Clint best, swore that he wasn't usually like this. He'd broken up with his boyfriend a couple of weeks after the team formed officially, but that was months ago and they'd only been together a month or two. Steve worried that Clint resented him stepping in out of nowhere and taking field command over the heads of Natasha and Clint, both of whom were senior SHIELD agents, but if Clint was relaxed and focused anywhere, it was on a mission. Thor thought he needed to get drunk. Tony thought he needed to get drunk and laid. Bruce just wanted the tension in the mansion to ease.

They were all learning to savor the nights when Clint went out and the rest of them could relax. Fortunately, he was out a lot. Tony hadn't thought anyone could date more than he did, but Clint was giving it the old college try.

The rest of the Avengers had settled in around the giant flat screen TV in the living room with popcorn and beer and a movie when the elevator to the garage wooshed open and Clint stormed into the room, radiating anger. The five of them exchanged sorrowful glances. "I thought you had a date," Tony said irritably. Clint couldn't have been gone more than an hour and a half.

"He was a fucking Hawkeye groupie," Clint snarled. He yanked on the leather jacket he wore so sharply that it caught on his shoulders and he had to struggle out of it. He pitched it viciously across the room and threw himself into the only free seat, which was at the other end of the couch Tony was using. "I am beginning to wonder if this gig is worth it."

They all froze. It wasn't that bad, was it? He wouldn't... Okay, yeah, Clint was driving them all nuts, but he was an Avenger and this was only supposed to be growing pains. You'd think anyone who dated as much as Clint did would get a kick out of having groupies.

Tony sat bolt upright and stabbed a finger at Clint as connections snapped into place. "You hate being single!" he crowed in triumph.

Clint's mouth opened and closed silently, and he stared at Tony, his anger derailed. "What?"

"You hate being single," Tony repeated. He smirked. "We have been wracking our brains trying to figure out why you've been so pissy, and I was right the whole time: You need to get laid."

"If what I wanted was sex, I could be having it right now," Clint said sourly. "Or did you miss the part about the groupie?"

Tony waved a hand dismissively. "I was close enough for it to count."

"Tony..." Natasha's tone was a warning.

But too late. "No, Stark, it is not close enough to count." Clint pushed himself up off the couch and glared down at him. "Fucking a stranger who moans your codename in bed is not 'close enough' to having a lover who knows all the ways you like to be touched. Sneaking out at two in the morning is not 'close enough' to waking up next to the same person every day. And 'I want to spend the night with you' is not 'close enough' to 'I want to spend the rest of my life with you'."

Clint stalked out of the living room, doors sliding silently open before him.

A crash echoed back before they closed.

"I'm glad I redecorated before you guys moved in," Tony said. "I used to keep a Ming vase there. Maybe I should install doors that slam."

Steve sighed heavily. "At least now we know what the problem is."

"But what do we do about it?" Bruce asked.

"It's none of our business," Natasha said sharply. "It's Clint's private concern."

Thor raised an open hand. "He has not acted privately, my lady."

Natasha sighed.

*

Phil Coulson stared at his boss.

Fury stared back.

"You have got to be kidding me," Phil said.

"Believe me when I say I wish I was."

Phil looked down at the file in his hands. Sitting on top of SHIELD's file on Clint Barton was a extra sheaf of papers filled with the sort of inane drivel you might find on internet dating sites. For the first time, Phil really didn't want to know where the research team had gotten their data. He flipped through, glancing over the information. Oh, really, was there anyone who didn't know that Barton's favorite color was purple? He sighed. "I thought we didn't get involved in our people's personal lives, if it didn't interfere with their operational performance. Hawkeye performs fine in the field."

"This is the Avengers," Fury said. "And he may be fine in the field, but he's stopping that team from integrating the way we need it to. Barton needs to chill, and apparently to do that he needs a boyfriend. So you're going to find him one."

Phil's mouth curved up at the corners. "Because my own personal life recommends me so thoroughly for the job." He'd given up on dating years ago. He'd given up on having a personal life at all, really, but SHIELD was more than capable of filling in the spaces.

"Do you want me to assign an undercover agent to play the role of boyfriend?" Fury asked, brows lifting. "Because that was option two."

"No." Coulson shuffled through the file one more time before tossing it onto Fury's desk. "But that isn't going to help me. I'll handle my own intel on this one."

*

Frank's was Clint's favorite bar. They kept the music down, the lights up enough that he didn't have to squint, and the regulars didn't mind losing at darts when he felt like playing. Clint had never brought a date here, but Phil wasn't a date.

"I'm sorry you got dragged into this," Clint said as they slid into a booth together. "I shouldn't have lost my temper. Tony just takes it too far sometimes, you know?"

Tony wasn't the problem and they both knew it, but Coulson just nodded. "I know."

The waitress came around, so they ordered a couple of beers and a plate of yam fries. When she left, Clint flicked a finger at Phil. "I'm not sorry I got to see you in casual clothes, though." Phil was wearing dark blue jeans without a spot of wear on them and a black sweater. "I didn't think you owned anything but suits and tactical gear."

Phil considered. He was about to ask Barton a lot of personal questions. Fair was fair. "I had to buy them," he admitted.

Clint laughed. Then he got a look at Phil's face--still deadpan--and stopped. "Ah fuck," Clint said. "You were serious. Now I feel like an ass; I was only teasing."

Phil let his expression warm. "I know you were. I do also have clothes to work out in, but nothing appropriate for a night out with a friend."

"You don't ever feel the need to unwind?"

"I do my unwinding at home," Phil said simply. Reading and reality TV weren't flashy hobbies, but they worked for him. They were getting off topic, though; they weren't here to talk about Coulson. "Research put together a file--" Clint groaned and covered his face with one hand "--but I didn't read much of it. I'm not sure I trust their sources on this particular topic."

Clint dropped his hand to the table and waited to speak as their drinks arrived. "Probably wise," he said wryly. He took a long pull from his beer once the waitress walked away. "There's a lot of stuff you say to hook a first date, to get the chance to see if there's any chemistry, that doesn't necessarily have much to do with who you are or what you want."

"If you're not being straightforward with your prospective partners," Phil commented, "that might be part of the problem."

Clint snorted. "You don't date much, do you? Look, when you're angling for a first date, you don't say 'Hi, I work in a bizarre government job that I can't talk about in detail, but try turning on your TV. I like to go dancing because sometimes I need reminding why the world's worth saving, and Thai is my favorite kind of food because work has miraculously never sent me to Thailand.' You have to work up to that shit. You lead with the good stuff; you play it up, so that when the bad stuff starts trickling in, maybe the scales will stay tipped long enough for you make some kind of connection."

"You do that kind of strategic thinking and you still request a handler?" Phil said, smiling a little.

"I focus better when I don't have to think that way," Clint paused as the waitress dropped off the yam fries he'd ordered. He picked up a few and pointed them at Coulson, "And if you're going to use the contents of this conversation to evaluate my operational capacity, you're not going to get much that's going to help you out with your so-called mission."

Phil shook his head. "No, this has nothing to do with operational effectiveness." He paused. That wasn't quite accurate. "Well, not beyond the impact the ultimate result is intended to produce, anyway. I was just curious."

"Fair enough." Clint ate the fries. "So let's get down to business. What do you need to know?"

Phil tilted his head curiously. "I didn't expect you to be quite so cooperative."

Clint rolled his eyes. "Coulson, I've tried blind dates, online dates, and speed dates. I am fully aware of my own desperateness, okay? I'm not above submitting to some matchmaking. Besides," he grinned, "you have a fantastic mission success rate. If anyone can find someone who'll put up with me, it's you."

"Put up with you?"

"All those dates only had one thing in common." Clint shrugged and drank his beer. "So come on, hit me. Whaddya wanna know?"

Phil curled his hand around his own beer, untouched so far. "What do you want in a partner?"

"Did I not just say someone who would put up with me?" Clint said dryly.

Phil frowned. "There has to be more to it than that."

Clint blew out a breath. "Look, I used to have a whole list, okay? All the usual bull: hot, smart, makes me laugh, you know the drill. But I've been at this for a couple of decades now and I've learned I've got to be realistic about my expectations here. There are three things I need," he ticked them off on his fingers. "One, someone who wants me, not my image. Two, someone who can tolerate both me being an Avenger now and me being a plain old SHIELD agent after, assuming SHIELD still wants me once my aim starts to slip. Don't give me that look; old age is going to get us all eventually. Except Thor. And maybe Cap. And three, someone who likes me enough to put up with me when I'm being an asshole."

"You do realize that you're also going to have to put up with them when they're being an asshole?" Phil asked, needing a moment to put more thoughts together. His beer was right there, so he took a drink while he thought. "Your list is all about you, Barton, and there's two problems with that. On the practical side of things, I can't evaluate someone's reactions to you without them meeting you, and I'm not going to pick men at random and pitch them at you to see if one sticks." Clint snickered and motioned for Phil to go on. "The other problem is that the most reliable way of getting someone interested in you is to demonstrate a genuine interest in them. Most people enjoy talking about themselves, and it feels good to be liked. If nothing about them matters to you, you're going to have trouble engaging them."

Clint winced. "Fair enough. Gimme a second to think." He ate fries while he thought, though he left the dip the bar had provided on the plate. Phil selected a fry while he waited and tried the dip. Not bad. A little spicy.

"Okay," Clint said at length. "I like people who are good at what they do. I'm not sure if it matters what it is that they do, but I like it when they get shit done."

Phil nodded an acknowledgement. "Do you have a physical type?"

"Nah, I can find something attractive about just about anyone."

"Do you need to share their hobbies?" Coulson asked. "Or vice versa?"

Clint started to answer, then stopped. "I was going to say that it helps," he said, "but honestly, it probably depends on how they are about it. I mean, I dated a guy who was into gardening once, and if you'd asked me before I'd have said it must be like watching paint dry, but he made it worth listening to."

"You're not going to make this easy on me, are you?" Phil said dryly.

Clint laughed a little. "Gotta keep life interesting, right?"

"For reference, what are your hobbies?" Phil raised his beer and tilted it at Clint preemptively. "Shooting doesn't count."

"It doesn't leave much time for anything else, either." But Clint shrugged. "I like running. I like to cook. I can't do anything fancy, and I'm lost without a recipe unless I've memorized it, but I like doing it."

After that, all Phil really need to do was nod encouragement and ask the occasional question.

*

The difficult part of setting Clint up turned out not to be finding men with potential. Rather, the difficult part was finding men who could get past the fact that they were being pre-screened for a date by one of said date's coworkers. Even without specifically mentioning either SHIELD or the Avengers--both of which Clint had placed firmly on the Stuff I'll Work Up To Mentioning list--matchmaking was really only common in North American culture when the matchmaker knew both parties personally, and once Phil convinced the candidates that no, he really wasn't talking about himself in the third person, they almost all balked. Phil refused to be discouraged; if they balked at that harmless bit of strangeness, they were hardly going to be up to dating an Avenger.

Besides, they didn't all back off. Unfortunately, none of those first dates had led to second dates, either. Phil had debriefed Clint after each evening, intent on improving his selections, so he knew exactly what had gone wrong in each case. Two had recognized Clint from the news and, although they'd both finished dinner, had made it pretty clear that his being on the Avengers was too much danger, too much uncertainty. One, whom Phil had really been optimistic about, had been overwhelmed with shyness and hardly responded to a thing Clint said. Phil had thought that Clint would find drawing the young man out of his tongue-tied silence rewarding, but no matter how carefully enthusiastic Clint was, there were only so many silent nods and head shakes that he could take before it bled all of his energy away. And one had seemed like a sure thing for a second date, at least, but there had been no follow up phone call, and when Clint gave in and called himself he was politely declined.

They were still in the data gathering phase, really. But Phil hoped, for Clint's sake, that the fifth first date went better.

He followed Clint to the restaurant (a Greek place) and watched from across the street while Clint waited for his date. The man, Mike, arrived right on time, which should have been a good sign, but Phil saw the moment Mike realized that Clint was his date and his steps hitched and then slowed. It wasn't nerves; Mike was confident and interested when Phil set up the date, and he'd recognized Clint's photo so he couldn't be having an Oh, shit, it's an Avenger moment. No, that hesitation could only mean that, for some reason, this man had taken one look at Clint and decided he wasn't interested after all. Phil could see him deciding to leave and stand Clint up, but that was the moment when Clint turned and spotted him and smiled.

Clint certainly had smiles that would give someone pause, but this wasn't one of them. It wasn't his most relaxed, it was too date-ready for that, but it was warm and a little bit inviting and Phil will never understand why Mike's shoulders dropped, his escape thwarted. They shook hands and Phil knew that Clint was picking up on Mike's reluctance, because he opened the door for him, and Clint being a gentleman was Clint trying too hard.

It was the wrong move; Mike was clearly put off rather than charmed, but they went into the restaurant, and Phil followed.

Phil was expecting the date to be torturous, but he knew Clint would stubbornly stick out the whole damned thing and order dessert besides. The appetizer had arrived but they hadn't ordered dinner yet when Mike excused himself and headed for the bathroom. By the time five minutes had passed, Phil knew the man wasn't coming back. Clint held out a little longer, his glances toward the bathrooms growing steadily more frequent, before his shoulders finally slumped. He leaned back in his chair and drained his drink in one long pull.

Phil stood and crossed the restaurant. He seated himself calmly in Mike's abandoned chair and looked Clint in the eye. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault the guy's an asshole," Clint said. He folded his elbows on the table and picked up a warm pita wedge. He tore off a piece and stuck it into the hummus. "Sneaking out the back. Jesus. He could have at least had the decency to tell me he wasn't interested to my face. I didn't give him any reason to think I'd make a scene." He stuffed the pita into his mouth as much, Phil thought, to stop himself from talking as because he was hungry.

"He shouldn't have had the opportunity," Phil said. "I'm meant to be making this process easier."

Clint's waitress returned and paused at the change in occupants of the table. She started to ask; Phil shot her a look. Her mouth snapped shut, and she cleared her throat before forcing a professional smile. "Are you ready to order?"

"Lamb souvlaki, please," Phil replied smoothly, lifting the menu to hand it to her. "And two of whatever beer that was," he nodded at Clint's empty glass.

Clint seemed a little surprised, but he ordered moussaka and handed over his menu. When the waitress was gone he tore another piece of pita off and went back to the hummus. "I have no idea why he left," he said, keeping his eyes on the food.

The date didn't last long enough to bother debriefing, so all Phil said was, "Neither do I." Maybe Clint was too tall, or too short. Maybe it was the way he held himself, like he might pull a weapon at any moment; ironically, Clint was far more relaxed when he actually has his bow close to hand. Hell, maybe it was that he'd ordered a garlic-laded appetizer on a first date.

Clint raised his eyebrows and swallowed his mouthful. "You're admitting ignorance? Be careful, Coulson, a junior agent might hear you."

"You of all people know I'm not infallible," Phil said mildly. He wasn't talking about the current op, such as it was. They've worked together long enough to have had a few missions that went well and truly sour and they've taken their turns at making the mistakes.

"Sure, but you're not usually so casual about it." Clint nudged the basket of pita across the table. Phil helped himself.

"No one's going to die if I make a mistake here."

"Yeah." Clint just sounded tired. "Listen, we don't have to stay for dinner. You've spent every third night for two weeks shadowing me on dates and god knows how much more time picking them out, I'm sure you'd like to take some time for things other than work or babysitting."

Phil raised an eyebrow. "If setting you up on dates counts as babysitting, I seriously question your perspective on parenting techniques."

Clint choked on his pita and had to spit it out into his hand to laugh properly. "Oh, shit," he said, looking around for somewhere to hide the half-chewn mouthful. Coming up blank he looked helplessly at Phil, who smiled back and held out a napkin. Clint shook his head as he took it and hid the unfortunate lump, still chuckling. "I'm lucky the date is already over, that wasn't attractive at all."

Clint was smiling easily, the tension all but drained out of his body, even a lot of the job-related situational awareness tension, since he had someone to help keep watch. It would take a lot more than a little half-chewed bread to make him unattractive right now. But Phil didn't mention it, just kept smiling and said, "The only thing I have going at home is a beer that needs another week and a half of fermenting."

"You homebrew?" Clint asked, leaning forward and resting his forearm on the edge of the table.

Phil nodded. "Most of the process is waiting, but at the end I still get to hold something I made. It's a nice fit with SHIELD. And I get exactly the beer I want, though it took awhile to figure out how to get there."

"You don't use a kit, then."

"I started with one," Phil said. "But I got frustrated with them. They restrict too many variables I wanted to experiment with."

Clint grinned. "Were you a chemistry geek in high school?"

Shaking his head, Phil paused to let their server place their plates on the table. "No. I got good grades but nothing spectacular. I flew under the radar, really. Cliques can be vicious in high school; it seemed safer to go unnoticed."

"One of those things I should be glad I missed?" Clint asked lightly. He'd never finished high school; he and Barney had left the orphanage before they got that far, and though the circus folk had given them the best education they knew how, they hadn't bothered with the trouble it would take to get recognized diplomas for a pair of kids who weren't much interested in having them. He hadn't bothered with his GED until SHIELD insisted. Most of the time he didn't think about it.

"Depends on which clique you'd have been in," Phil said. "They can be played to the advantage, as well."

"But you weren't interested in ruling the school," Clint let his voice trail off and started in on his food.

"It's high school," Phil said dryly. "It felt pretty pointless to me; why put all that effort into something that was going to be forgotten in a few years? The triumph of high school is getting through it so you can move on to things that actually mean something."

"Well, you did that in spades," Clint chuckled. "What do your friends from back then think of you now?"

Phil shook his head as he used his fork to slide pieces of souvlaki off their skewers. "I didn't keep in touch."

Clint's eyebrows go up. "Not with anyone?" Phil shook his head again. "College buddies?"

"I have one of those," Phil allowed. "I don't see him very often; he works almost as much as I do. But we talk."

"Good," Clint said. Phil made an inquiring sound around a mouthful of food. Clint shrugged. "I was picturing you going home to an empty apartment without even a light on the answering machine. That'd just be sad."

The way Clint dropped his eyes told Phil all he needed to know about what Clint had gone home to, more often than not, before he'd moved into the mansion with the rest of the team. Phil kept his tone casual. "Peace and quiet do have their merits, but no. I have friends." Well, a handful. Two, counting Nick, which he does.

Clint smiled at him, his shoulders relaxed, and asked what his major was in college.

Maybe three.

*

There's never another date as bad as number five, but twelve dates into the project Phil couldn't tell himself that they were just in the data gathering stage anymore. Number nine had made it to a second date but fizzled there, and Phil was beginning to understand why being single sometimes made Clint want to throw things.

Phil set aside the files he'd put together on future possibilities and retrieved the files for the twelve unsuccessful candidates and pored over them. There had to be something in here that would tell him where he went wrong, where he was still going wrong. He read until his eyes burned.

A knock on the frame of his office door snapped him out of date number ten's file. Phil looked up and blinked, trying to clear the gritty feeling from his eyes. Clint was standing in the doorway, frowning. "It's after eleven. At night."

Phil looked at the clock. 11:21pm. "So it is." He looked back at Clint.

"Please tell me that," Clint waved at the sea of paper that had consumed Phil's desk, "isn't for me."

"I'm missing something," Phil said.

Clint groaned. "Sleep. You are missing sleep, Phil. I can survive a week without a date, okay? Come on." He crossed the room and closed the file in front of Phil. "Get up."

"You called me Phil," Phil pointed out, waving Clint off and rising from his desk chair.

"We have had a conversation about my hard limits when it comes to what I like in bed," Clint shot back. "I get to call you by name."

"Sexual compatibility is important in a relationship," Phil said, but he didn't argue the point. He retrieved his overcoat from the hook behind the door and followed Clint out of his office.

By the time they reached the vehicle bay Phil's stomach had started growling. He grimaced. He couldn't remember when he'd last been grocery shopping. There were probably a couple of frozen dinners in his freezer, but the thought of eating something out of a plastic tray was making eating seem kind of pathetic right now. He'd just go to bed.

But Clint looked over at him curiously. "Didn't you eat?"

Phil shook his head. "Lost track of time. It's not the first time."

"Me neither," Clint said. Phil shot him a skeptical look; in his experience Clint rarely missed a meal. Clint caught the look and rolled his eyes. "Okay, so I ate, but that was, like, four hours ago. By the time we stop at the store and get to your place, it'll be more than five. I could eat again."

"Why are we going to my place?" Phil asked as they arrived at his car.

"Because at my place I'd have to use Tony Stark's kitchen and cook enough for Steve and Thor."

Phil had to smile. "You have a point."

Grocery shipping with Clint Barton was...interesting. Phil tended to go in with a list and start at one end of the store and work his way to the other, skipping the frozen foods aisle and revisiting it last. Clint knew what he was looking for, but he picked it up in the order he remembered, squinting and muttering recipe ingredients under his breath to make sure he hadn't missed one. He clearly had brands he liked, but when he couldn't find the one he wanted he'd stand there and read the labels until he found something close. "I don't actually know what all the different shit they put in stuff does," he explained to Phil. "I just know it's good when I use a particular brand, and if I can't find it, I have to get close or God knows what the food will taste like."

Back at Phil's apartment, Clint parked him at the breakfast bar, peering into his own kitchen at Clint unearthing pots and pans and shaking his head at the contents of Phil's fridge. He rolled up his sleeves when he cooked, exposing forearms corded with muscle from drawing his bow, and hummed under his breath. He was making a Thai green curry, and most of the ingredients were measured out of cans or envelopes--he wasn't doing the seasoning from scratch or anything--but it was still the most complicated meal anyone had cooked for Phil in years.

It smelled fantastic, and he cleaned his plate and had seconds, but afterwards all Phil could remember about the meal was Clint laughing, and bitching that the curry paste (not his preferred brand) had too many peppercorns in it, and stealing snow peas off Phil's plate.

*

Two dates later marked six weeks since Fury first handed him Clint's file and that ridiculous addendum research had fished out of online dating profiles. Phil was winding down his monthly report to Fury on the state of their ongoing, non-urgent projects and hoping that he forgot about this one.

But Nick Fury never missed a thing. "You're leaving one out," he said meaningfully.

Phil kept his expression neutral. "There's nothing to report."

"You usually go into a little more detail than that, even when you're reporting a negative. In fact, I believe you go into more detail when reporting a negative. What's the problem?"

"There's no problem." Phil folded his hands on the conference table. "There are people who spend their entire lives looking for a suitable partner. This is a long term project, sir."

Fury raised his eyebrows. "I didn't ask you to track down the love of his life, Coulson. I don't need him to ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after, I just need him stable."

"Barton isn't looking for a casual relationship," Phil argued. "He's not going to settle for someone who isn't equally serious."

"Then find someone serious!" Fury said impatiently.

"I've been trying." Phil grimaced and leaned back in his chair. "Clint's been out with fourteen different men since we started this project and only two of them have made it to a second date."

"Barton's being difficult?"

"No," Phil said tightly. "He bends over backwards to make them comfortable and draw them out. He lets them choose where to go. He called to initiate both second dates, and several others that turned him down. He goes out to meet these men and he's smart and funny and he dresses so that you can hardly take your eyes off of him. He puts himself out there every time, and they shoot him down over and over again." Phil shook his head. "I don't understand these guys, Nick. They get one of the most dedicated, attractive men I have ever met practically handed to them on a silver platter and they take a pass because...what? He's got a smart mouth? He's not cruel about it. Because he's pseudo-military? When did a willingness to put yourself in the line of fire become something to sneer at? If Clint didn't want this so badly, I'd say to hell with them. They don't deserve him."

Fury started laughing.

Phil stared.

"Well, shit," Fury said, still chuckling. "Mission successful, I think."

Phil rubbed his eyes. "Sir. I just finished telling you how very unsuccessful I have been."

"Yeah, you did. Passionately." Fury grinned at him. "I was listening, Phil, but I don't think you were."

Phil was silent for a long moment, turning that over in his mind. Passionately? He reviewed his own words and cursed silently as his face slowly heated with embarrassment. God, how long had it been since he’d blushed? Fury just laughed again, harder this time, and waved Phil away through his mirth. But Phil didn't move from his seat. "Nick--Sir, this can't happen. I'm his handler."

Fury managed to settle down. "Like you said when all this got started, we don't interfere in personal lives unless it impacts field performance. And like I said, they're the Avengers. Same rules don't apply. Go take care of your boy." A long, silent moment passed; Phil didn't rise. Fury cocked his head curiously. "You don't think he'd turn you down?"

Phil made himself meet Fury's eye. "I know he won't. Because he wants a relationship very badly, and after this string of failed dates, he'll take what he can get. Even if it's not what he really wants."

"And it would be better for him to settle for one of these dicks who doesn't," Fury's lips twitched, "deserve him? You genuinely feel something for the guy, Coulson. That's something to build on."

Phil thought about it. What did he want for Clint? Above and beyond getting him a boyfriend because that's what he said he wanted. Throw that out. If it wasn't about the relationship, what was it about? This whole thing had started because Clint was interfering in the team dynamics. Because he was irritable and tense and frustrated. Because he was unhappy, really. Clint deserved to be happy. And the only time he'd seen Clint relaxed and smiling over the past six weeks has been when they were alone together.

"Excuse me, sir," Phil said, standing and collecting his files from the conference table. "I believe I need to speak with Agent Barton."

"You do that," Fury said, grinning again.

Phil found Clint on the range. It wasn't training, not really, because standing in a quiet room with all the time he needs to aim was so far from pushing the envelope of his skills that it was laughable. Training for Clint was running the obstacle course with targets added, or testing out trick shots and new arrows on the demolition ranges. In the range it was just exercise for his arms and back and rest for his mind.

And since it wasn't training, Clint was dressed in black cargo pants and a black tank top, rather than his tactical uniform. He had his back to the door and as Phil watched he drew, the muscles in his shoulders and arms flexing and bunching. He held the draw for a long moment. For once, Phil let his eyes run over the powerful, tanned skin of Clint's arms and back. Standing between Captain America and Thor, Clint could appear small, but he wasn't. The kind of training that made it possible for him to bring a recurve bow to full draw dozens, occasionally hundreds, of times without a break had given him broad shoulders.

"You coming in, sir?" Clint asked without turning, and released the arrow. The thunk of it hitting the target was quieted by distance.

"We need to talk, but I'd prefer not to do it on site," Phil said.

Clint knocked and drew another arrow, letting it go immediately this time. "You breaking up with me, sir?"

Phil swallows a laugh, because it should not be possible for a comment to be that on point and that wrong at the same time. "No, Clint."

That got him to turn, because Phil never used his first name, not out loud. Not even after Clint had started calling him Phil. He looked at Phil for a long time before stepping out of the shooting lane and packing the bow and arrows away. "Your place or mine?" Clint asked, slinging the case over his shoulder.

"Mine," Phil said firmly, because he would rather be strung up by his ankles than risk any of the Avengers overhearing this conversation. He'll have to get used to having them around, of course, but he wanted himself and Clint to be on the same page before then.

Clint asked if they could stop for groceries on the way to Phil's place. It was two in the afternoon and Phil was pretty sure Clint wasn't interested in cooking, which meant that the request was secret code for 'are we going to be okay when this conversation is over?', so he said they could, even though the last thing he wanted to do was wait an extra half hour.

He added breakfast fixings to the cart and answered Clint's curious look with the blandest expression he had.

They got to Phil's apartment and put the groceries away together. Clint closed the last cupboard and turned. He reached behind himself and braced his hands on the kitchen counter, leaning back a little. "Let me guess," he said. "You've run out of guys to set me up with."

He was braced, as if for a blow, and the look in his eyes was resignation. Phil immediately discarded his plans for a sensible lead in to his offer. Instead he stepped into Clint's personal space and put a hand on his arm. "No, but I would much rather take you out on those dates myself." He leaned in and kissed Clint.

For a moment Clint was still, but then he tilted his head, almost hesitantly, and kissed back. Phil deepened the kiss slowly, drawing Clint along with him. He shifted his body closer and brushed against Clint carefully. Clint made a soft sound into his mouth and brought his hand up to rest it on the back of Phil's neck. Phil relaxed.

The kiss ended with a soft, wet sound that made Phil want to go back for another, but they still needed to actually talk about this. Instead he drew in a breath and stepped away. Clint was watching him, eyes wide and mouth still open a little. Phil couldn't help licking his lips quickly. Clint's eyes followed the motion. "I take it you're okay with that idea?" Phil said.

Clint laughed breathlessly. "Yeah, I'm okay with that. I'm very okay with that. All those dates...I never enjoyed one half as much as I did debriefing afterward."

"I need you to know that this isn't your only option." Phil paused. He could say this. "If you want to keep looking, I will still help."

"Phil." Clint pushed himself away from the counter and stepped up to Phil. He put both his hands on Phil's hips. "I have spent most of the last couple of dates thinking more about what I was going to tell you afterward than about the guy in front of me. I want you."

Phil's breath caught. "It's been a very long time since anyone's said that to me."

Clint leaned in. His lips brushed Phil's when he spoke. "I want you." The second kiss was harder than the first, and faster. Phil groaned into it and pulled Clint against him, slotted their hips together and kissed him back rougher when Clint ground against him. Clint's voice was rough when they finally break again. "Bedroom."

"It's the middle of the day," Phil said, but he was already sliding his hands up under Clint's tank top.

"You bought breakfast food," Clint pressed his mouth to the curve of Phil's jaw. "Don't even try to pretend you weren't planning on taking me to bed for the rest of the day."

Phil's breath stuttered as Clint worked his way down his neck. "I doubt I'll be able to go that long. I was just looking forward to the morning."

Clint pulled away from him, eyes shining. "We definitely need to be in the bedroom." He took Phil's hand and dragged him across the apartment, finding the bedroom on his first try though Phil would have sworn he'd never shown it to him. They got in the way of each other's hands unbuttoning and untucking and unzipping clothes, but they kept at it until there was just skin and the inviting expanse of white sheets before them.

Clint turned and crawled onto the bed and Phil had to stare for a second, because Clint had hands down the best ass he'd ever seen, and he was including both Captain America and Thor in that assessment. Clint turned over onto his back, propped up on his elbows. He spread his legs and grinned. "You going to join me?"

"Cocky, Barton," Phil said, but he got onto the bed and put his hands on Clint's knees, pushing them open more, really, than he needed to to settle in between.

"You like me that way," Clint shot back. Phil kissed him, and if he'd meant it to shut Clint up it worked a little too well, because there was hot skin and a bed and no one had to move. Clint's hands moved over his body, pulling him closer by the hips and back and neck, like any space between them was too much space. Phil found himself lying heavily on top of Clint, not trying to hold himself up at all. His aching cock rubbed into the crease of Clint's hip, while Clint's own dick left slick streaks of pre-come on his belly.

It wasn't quite enough, but when Phil tried to pull away enough to get a hand between them Clint made a noise of protest. "Clint," Phil said. "This is very good, but I need more."

"So fuck me," Clint said, and started sucking a hickey into Phil's throat.

Phil's mouth went dry. "What?"

"Fuck me."

Jesus. Phil's dick throbbed; maybe he didn't need that much more, after all. "I'm going to have to pull away to get condoms and lube."

Clint let him go this time. By the time Phil had retrieved the supplies Clint had stuffed one of the pillows under his hips. Phil groaned and rested his forehead on one of Clint's bent knees. "You," he started, but there was nothing else to say. He kissed the inside of Clint's knee and set about slicking up his fingers.

Clint was tight, but he relaxed quickly under the steady thrust of Phil's fingers. He moaned and panted without restraint, every ripple of his pleasure on display. By the time Phil pushed three fingers into his body Clint's skin was shining with sweat and his cock was dark and arching up towards his belly. "Enough," he groaned at last, reaching out to close a hand around Phil's shoulder. "I want you to come inside me."

Phil swallowed a groan. "Okay." Somehow, he kept his hands steady as he rolled the condom onto his cock and coated it with lube. He held his breath as he pressed into Clint's body, feeling him open up and take Phil inside. Clint's eyes were shut, his breathing harsh, but when Phil paused he made an inarticulate sound of protest and tugged on his shoulder again.

"Yes," Clint moaned when Phil's hips finally pressed tight against the curve of his ass. Phil sucked into a deep breath at last and kept his eyes fixed on Clint's face. When Clint's eyes opened, he thrust, watching as Clint's eyes fluttered shut again for a moment before he met Phil's gaze. "Yes," he repeated, reaching out.

Meeting Clint's grasp meant folding him almost in half, his knees pushed up high and wide, Phil's cock thrusting deep inside. But when Clint got his hands on Phil he only pulled him closer, kissed him hungrily and urged him deeper with eager hands on Phil's ass.

Phil rocked his hips against Clint's body, his grip tight on Clint's legs to hold him open. It was a steady pace rather than an urgent one, slow enough for Phil to feel the swell of pleasure building up inside him, waiting for release. Clint never even reached for his own cock, seemed to like having his hands on Phil's body better, and it was the tight grip of Clint's hand on the back of his neck, pulling him in for a messy kiss, that sent him over the edge. Phil moaned loudly, grinding into Clint's ass, and shuddered through his climax.

"Phil," Clint groaned, but he didn't let go of Phil. It was Phil who got a hand between them and wrapped it around Clint's swollen cock. It only took a couple of hard strokes before he came, slick and wet over Phil's fingers.

It was too uncomfortable a position to collapse into. Phil carefully withdrew and disposed of the condom before helping Clint stretch out his legs again. When he tugged on Clint after, just a suggestion, Clint rolled over easily, rested a hand on Phil's chest, and hooked a leg over his hip. Phil relaxed and smiled at Clint, their heads resting on the same pillow.

Clint smiled back. "Thanks."

There was no need for thanks, but Phil suspected it'd be awhile before Clint stopped saying it. So all he said was, "Thank you," back.

They just looked at each other for a long time. Eventually Clint took a breath. "So how is this going to work? With SHIELD, and the Avengers?"

"About the same as it does now," Phil said. "Except that I'm going to have to learn to tolerate spending some mornings at the same breakfast table as Tony Stark, and you are going to have to learn to get your mission reports in on time, because I am not above withholding sex."

Clint burst out laughing. "That's it?" he said. "No, 'We have to be discreet'? No fraternization regulations?"

"SHIELD decided a long time ago that regulations like that were more trouble than they're worth," Phil said. "Fury cares more about results than rules, anyway. And while I expect us to be professional at work, I'm not going to be made to feel like my relationship is something to be embarrassed about."

Clint's smile turned quiet and soft. He lowered his voice. "Does that mean office sex isn't off the table?"

Phil snorted a laugh. "Clearly we need to talk about the definition of 'professional'."

"That's not a no," Clint pointed out.

It wasn't.

Clint grinned.