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Five People Who Flinched From Phil and the One Person Who Never Did

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1. Kids at school

His mom's hand was tight around his as she walked him to his classroom, but Phil hardly noticed. He was going to school! He was going to spend a whole day without his mom. His stomach was turning over and over and his hands were sweating, but his mom said the teacher would tell him things even Dad didn't know, and there'd be other kids there. Phil had only ever seen other kids from all the way across the park.

"Here you go, sweetheart," his mom said, stopping by a door. Phil peered into the room. There were tables with chairs around them and bright posters on the wall, and kids. Lots of kids, a whole room full of them, all chattering loudly.

"I'm Mrs. Sawyer," someone said. Phil looked up. His mom was shaking hands with another mom. At least, she looked kind of like a mom. "I'll be Phil's teacher."

"Thank you," Phil's mom said. Her smile looked wobbly. She crouched down and hugged Phil before pulling away and fussing with his hair and the collar of his shirt. "You remember what we talked about?"

Phil nodded. "Never reach out unless someone says I can," he repeated dutifully. "Even if they say hi. No inside words. Don't touch anybody. Smile."

His mom smiled the wobbly smile again. "That's perfect, honey." She smoothed down his hair again. "I'll see you in a couple of hours, okay?"

Now Phil felt kind of wobbly. He made himself smile. "Okay."

His mom told him she loved him and kissed him on the head and walked away. Phil looked up at Mrs. Sawyer. She stepped into the classroom and waved into the room. "Come on in, Phil."

Phil bobbed his head and stepped into the classroom. Mrs. Sawyer led him over to a group of five other kids. "This is your table group," she said. She turned to the other kids. "Phil's very sensitive," she told them firmly. "So no double talk okay? Just use your outside words."

"Hi!" Phil said, heart pounding. He didn't reach, but he felt two whispery touches approach his own mind and his eyes went wide because Mrs. Sawyer had just said. "Hey--" he started, but that's all he got out before one of the other kids burst into tears. Another started screaming.

Which is how Phil learned that reaching wasn't impolite, like his parents had said. Other people did it all the time and it was just fine.

The problem was him.

2. His parents

Phil had always loved his parents. He always knew he was lucky to have them. He knew it a little more after that first day at school, when the kids started crying and he'd been scared and reached out with his mind to the teacher because she was like a mom, right? And she'd yelled and stumbled away from him, too.

He'd pulled back tight, after that, until his mom had come to get him, lifting him up out of the corner he'd wedged himself into and soothing his mind with hers, warm and soft. His parents had homeschooled him for a couple of years after that, until he learned how to keep his mental touch curled up tight. They couldn't stop other people from reaching out to him, but by the time he tried school the second time, the other kids had learned that hello touches should be quick and light.

A quick and light touch was all anyone ever needed to learn not to reach out to Phil ever again.

His parents had been his refuge, the only people he could ever relax with. When other teenagers were rolling their eyes at their parents and getting in arguments, Phil never did. He was too desperately grateful to have them.

His first semester away at college was more difficult than he could ever have imagined it would be. He'd wondered if, with all the new people he'd be meeting, he might find someone who didn't mind the tenor of his mind so much. Everybody's mind has a different tone, a different feel, to it. Everyone liked different kinds of mental touches. There had to be someone out there who thought his was okay, right?

Phil had forgotten about the one benefit of high school: by the time he graduated, every person in the school (and most people in his neighbourhood) knew not to try to reach out to him. Pretty much no one flinched around him his entire senior year.

The people at college hadn't learned that yet. And there were so many more of them. Dozens, even hundreds, of new people in every single class. College was a sea of flinches and pale faces and one guy who'd gone running out of the room and hadn't quite made it to the bathroom, throwing up in the hall.

Phil knew how to keep to himself, but now he learned how to arrange his expression so that people didn't even think about reaching out with their minds when they met him. He learned not to shake hands, no matter how rude it seemed. And he re-learned not to stare when he realized two people were speaking mentally as well as out loud.

Walking into his parents' home was such a relief, tears pricked in the corners of his eyes. His mom stepped out of the kitchen, smiling and holding her hands out, and Phil eagerly reached out mentally even as he greeted her aloud.

She flinched.

Phil froze, his mind recoiling automatically. "Mom?"

"It's good to see you, sweetheart," she said, expression relaxed and smooth, and he could feel her reaching. He raised a hand and she stopped. "Phil?"

"It hurts, doesn't it?" he asked tightly.

His mom started to speak. Phil focused, concentrating on all the little fragments of body language that he might piece together into what else she was feeling. She looked at him and sighed. "Come into the kitchen and have a soda," she said.

Phil left his suitcase there in the hall and went. He couldn't look at his mom as they sat down at the kitchen table, just kept his eyes fixed on the soda can. "Did it always hurt?" he asked quietly.

"Having children always hurts, one way or another," she said. She reached out to put a hand on his wrist, but he pulled away. You couldn't choose not to touch minds when you were skin to skin; it happened no matter what. "Phil. Children need to be touched, physically and mentally. They need hugs and warmth and reassurance. Your father and I weren't going to hurt you, no matter what."

"So you let me hurt you instead. When I went away it must have been--" His voice cracked and he couldn't quite manage to finish: a relief.

"Phil. Sweetheart." She waited until he looked up at her. She was smiling. "We love you. We missed you when you were gone. And maybe it will take us a day or two to get used to your tone again, but it's not really painful. It's just uncomfortable, really."

Phil knew what 'uncomfortable' meant. Hurt, angry kids had yelled it at him often enough. His mind was cold, they said, and sharp. Touching it was like putting your tongue to a metal railing in winter, and pulling away hurt as much. He wasn't going to do that to his parents, no matter how many times they promised him it was okay.

3. His first boyfriend

Michael was a scrawny redhead, covered in freckles and proud of them. He was also one of the very, very few people who had never tried to reach out to Phil with his mind, not even for the standard hello. When he and Phil had first met, he'd stuck his hands in his pockets instead of offering a shake or a clap on the shoulder and shrugged and said, "Hey, you mind if we don't double speak? I like to keep my own headspace."

Phil wasn't at all surprised by the crush he developed. Michael liked to hang out with him, and didn't ever look at him like he was wondering what kind of guy had a mental touch like that. Michael was a history major, the same as Phil, though he was specializing in classical history and Phil was focusing on modern history.

They went to a museum on their first date, and Phil's heart was in his mouth the whole time, waiting for Michael to take his hand or try to kiss him or something, waiting for the skin on skin contact that would drive him away.

But the moment never came. The date went really well, and so did the second, and on the third Michael showed up wearing gloves and they held hands almost the whole time. It was amazing. Phil really should have known it couldn't last.

It was a cool night and they were wrapped up in coats and scarves and gloves, sitting on a crumbling wall at the edge of a historic cemetery. Both of them found cemeteries interesting, instead of creepy. Phil said it was because they were into history. Michael laughed and said they were just weird.

"Hey, Phil?" Michael said, looking out over the headstones.

Phil turned and looked at his profile. God, Michael looked amazing in the soft light. "Yeah?"

"I'd really like to kiss you." Michael turned and met his gaze, smiling tentatively.

Phil hunched his shoulders and looked out at the graves. Maybe it was creepy. "That's not a good idea."

"Phil, I know you're scared," Michael said, "but I know what your mind is like, and the way I feel about you...I can't imagine I wouldn't like how it feels."

"You know how I think, not what my mind is like." Phil shook his head. "What we have is good, Michael. Why can't we just keep...going like we are?"

"Because we're not going anywhere. We're in a holding pattern." Michael's tone turned uncertain. "Don't you want to kiss me?"

"Of course I do," Phil whispered.

Michael leaned in, and Phil closed his eyes. Not because it was romantic, but because he didn't want to see how Michael looked after.

Their lips met.

A low, torn grunt of pain escaped Michael before he pulled away.

4. Marcus (Nick Fury)

Enlisting hadn't actually been Phil's original plan. Unfortunately, it turned out that it didn't matter how good your grades and references were, or how nice your suit was, or how well your resume fit the job requirements. No employer felt entirely confident in someone with a mental tone like Phil's, and no interviewer let him get away with keeping it to himself.

(Phil had asked one of his professors, once, why everyone had to reach out to every stranger they ran across. She'd shrugged and said, "You could keep your eyes closed every time you said hello, but it would feel wrong, wouldn't it? Not touching hello feels like closing your eyes for your first impression.)

The Army, on the other hand, was willing to see it as an asset. Here was a soldier with perfect mental security before he'd even been trained. Here was a man who could throw the enemy off their game without a word or a move. Phil didn't exactly like how he used his mind in the service days, but his teammates grinned at him and slapped him on the (clothed) shoulder and thanked him for saving their asses, and he liked that.

This team had been briefed when they'd been put together, and none of them had ever reached out to Phil or been careless enough to make skin contact. The brass hadn't been so upfront with the last team, and it had, inevitably, fallen apart. (Who wanted a guy with a mind like that at your back?) This time, with that buffer in place, Phil got to be a part of that camaraderie he'd seen in other units.

Of course, with camaraderie came shit talk and egos. They'd done a few rounds of, "My aim is the most dangerous thing on this team," and "Your dick is the most dangerous thing on this team, Edwards, stay away from the fuckin' whores," and "I could do more damage with a knife than you do with a rifle," before, but this time when Phil laughed and said, "I can do more damage with my brain than you can do with your knife, Marcus," their team leader leaned forward with a shit eating grin and said, "I can handle your brain, Cheese," and offered his hand.

Phil sobered immediately, though the guys were jeering now. "That's the wrong line," he said lightly. Usually, Marcus tossed back something along the lines of, "Your brain's dangerous alright, it got us lost for a week," or whatever Phil had screwed up last. (They all screwed up sometimes.)

Marcus just grinned and arched an eyebrow and left his hand out there. "You think I can't handle it?"

"I think if I shake your hand, I'm going to be looking for a new team in a week or two."

"Fuck that," Marcus said. "You're my right hand out here, Phil. You could put me on the ground and I wouldn't fuck you over."

The other guys were watching, now. Phil felt cold, straight through to his bones. So much for camaraderie. Might as well rip the bandaid off. "You sure about this?" he asked.

"Hit me," Marcus insisted.

Phil took his hand.

To his credit, Marcus didn't actually flinch. His eye twitched, and his jaw clenched, but it was pretty understated. "Holy shit," he grunted, letting go of Phil's hand. That, Phil suspected, was for the benefit of their audience. "Glad that's on our side."

Phil smiled faintly and wondered how long it'd be before he was reassigned.

But he never was. That, more than their actual service together, was why Nick Fury was Phil's best friend. Because before he was Nick Fury, he was Marcus, the only person who got a blast of Phil's mental tone and still wanted to know him after. He didn't even avoid touching Phil.

Phil avoided it though, the same as with his parents.

5. The Black Widow

SHIELD had been chasing the Black Widow for years before Phil signed on as an Agent. When they got a tip on her movements, Nick put Phil on the pursuit even though he was a junior agent with barely seven months experience and, strictly speaking, didn't yet have the clearance for such a high level operation.

Phil caught sight of her three weeks into the operation and launched a mental assault just like the army had taught him, a focused and directed touch that, with his tone, could only be an attack. Phil had laid men out like that. (Never killed anyone, though, despite the rumors. Not even the time or two he'd actually been trying.)

The Widow stumbled. Someone else on the team took a shot, and the bullet creasing her shoulder actually seemed to steady her. She got away.

"She stumbled?" Nick ased, intent.

"She stumbled," Phil confirmed, tiredly. "But she got away."

Nick slapped his palm onto his desk and leaned back in his chair, grinning. "I'll take it. That's the first sign of weakness we've seen. Good job, Cheese."

Phil couldn't bring himself to be pleased. A woman rumored to have been trained in a program that had more in common with torture and brainwashing than boot camp had stumbled at the touch of his mind. Nevermind that he'd been putting effort into it; his mental tone was worse than a fucking bullet.

+1 Clint Barton

Phil stepped into Nick's office to find him leaning against the edge of his desk, chatting with a man with sandy blond hair and broad shoulders. And really incredible arms, Phil noticed, a curl of warmth blooming in his belly. He ignored it with the ease of long practice and nodded hello when Nick and the man stopped speaking and turned to greet him.

"Phil Coulson," Nick said, "meet Clint Barton."

Barton smiled and held out his hand. Phil had mostly given up on avoiding handshakes; the reactions his mental tone prompted gave him useful information, even if it did ruin the first impression he gave. So he kept his face bland (wouldn't do to seem to be enjoying a new agent's discomfort) and took Barton's hand.

Barton's easy smile never so much as wavered. Phil paused, waited, but still...nothing. He reached out, very carefully, and couldn't find a mental presence to brush up against.

"Uh, if you're trying to say hello," Barton said, raising his free hand to wave his fingers at his temple, "I can't hear you. I'm pretty much mind-deaf."

"Mind-deaf," Phil said dumbly. He abruptly became aware that this handshake had gone on for much, much too long. It was the longest handshake he'd ever had in his life. He didn't want to let go, and Barton wasn't shaking him off.

"I can't hear or feel anybody unless they do the mental equivalent of putting their lips to my ear and screaming," Barton explained. "But hey, they can't hear or feel me, either, so fair's fair."

"That's good." Oh, god, that was probably exactly the wrong thing to say. Phil fought down a blush and fuck, he was still holding the guy's hand.

Barton laughed and gave Phil's hand a squeeze before gently withdrawing from the handshake. "Can't say I've ever gotten that reaction before."

Phil shook his head, smiling wryly at himself, and rubbed his thumb over his palm. "I apologize," he said. He had to explain, didn't he? "It's just that you're the first person I've met who didn't flinch, recoil, or throw up after shaking my hand."

"Someone seriously puked?" Nick asked, eyebrows arching.

"Freshman year of college," Phil confirmed. "He made it out of the lecture hall, but not to the bathroom."

"Jesus," Barton said. "Why?"

Phil shrugged as casually as he could manage. "My mental tone doesn't agree with people."

"And by 'doesn't agree with people' he means it's so harsh that the Army trained him to use it as a weapon," Nick added.

Barton let out a low whistle. "And I'm betting that means you gotta keep the safety on it most of the time, too."

Phil's eyebrows went up; most people didn't think it that far though. "In a manner of speaking. It's more a matter of conscious control."

"Just you wait," Barton said, smirking. "I betcha I can make you lose it."

"Don't take that bet," Nick warned Phil. "Just keep the collateral damage down, Barton. I need to keep some of those junior agents."

Barton just laughed.

Phil smiled, too.

He quickly learned that it was hard for him not to smile around Barton. He hadn't been able to relax around anyone like this since he'd left home for college. All Barton had to do was walk into a room and Phil was automatically more at ease, knowing there was at least one person there who wouldn't blanch and look away if Phil uncurled from the tight knot in the center of his mind.

Phil found himself painfully grateful that Nick had brought Barton in as a Senior Specialist, rather than a junior agent. He'd still have to have SHIELD training before he could have Agent status, but being a Senior Specialist meant that he didn't report to Phil, and wouldn't even when he became an Agent. Phil was a bit higher up the ladder, but they reported to Fury in parallel, which meant no one would worry about favoritism if Phil always gravitated to Barton's table at lunch, or wonder if something inappropriate was going on if Barton dropped into Phil's office on a regular basis.

Not that there was anything going on, inappropriate or otherwise. Phil was too mortified to admit it, but he couldn't actually figure out what his relationship with Barton was. Having a mental presence like his meant that his friendships had always been odd, and he'd never gotten further with a boyfriend than that quick brush of Michael's lips. He thought he and Barton were flirting, sometimes, but he wasn't sure. And did that mean anything? Could friends flirt? Phil knew there was such a thing as casual flirting, not that anyone had ever tried it with him.

Did Barton like him? God, Phil felt about fourteen years old. He wished he was fourteen, so that he could just slip Barton a piece of paper: Do you like me? Check yes or no.

But he wasn't fourteen, and he'd rather jump off the roof of SHIELD headquarters than lose the only person who'd ever taken his hand and smiled at him. So he didn't say anything, not even when he explained about curling his mind up into a knot and Barton's response was, "Geez, Coulson, no wonder you're always getting headaches. Look, you wanna let loose around me, go for it, it's not like I'm going to know the difference."

"It seems...wrong to reach out to you when you're not aware of it," Phil said awkwardly. "Like spooning up behind someone when they're sleeping."

Barton rolled his eyes. "It's not wrong if I say it's okay."

Which was how Phil got into the habit of unwinding himself when he and Barton--Clint--were alone together and wrapping his mind around the quiet, still place where he should have found Clint's mental presence. It was soothing, almost meditative. And sometimes, when it was very quiet, usually in a dark hotel room after they'd wrapped up a mission they'd run together, Phil swore he could feel an almost silent rustle in that place where he should find Clint's mind.

"I can just barely hear people when they shout," Clint murmured into the dark, when Phil mentioned it. "Maybe you can just barely hear me if you listen really, really closely." Phil closed his eyes and listened. "What'm I like?" Clint whispered.

"Like the wind through the trees," Phil said.

He could hear Barton smiling. "I like that."

And maybe that would have been it, maybe it never would have gone any further, if some psychic horror of a lab experiment hadn't gotten loose in downtown San Francisco.

By the time things escalated to the point that SHIELD was called for help, six people were dead, two had brain activity so low they might as well have been, and a dozen more had been psychically burned so badly the doctors weren't sure they'd ever get their mental voices back. Phil and Clint met with the head of SWAT while Fury handled the mayor and the chief of police.

"The good news is," Captain Berg said, handing each of them a glossy photo, "it's not human, so a lethal solution got approved pretty quick. The bad news is, the thing's psychic footprint is huge. Even our snipers can't get in close enough to take a shot. We recovered this from one of the victims; it's from a cell phone."

The photo was low quality, but it had caught a full body, front view of the target. "Is this a baboon?" Phil asked.

Berg grimaced and nodded. "There's a research lab in town that's been pursing options for people who were born mind-deaf, or rendered that way. They got approved for primate testing three weeks ago. Protestors have been picketing the lab since then; four of the six dead were from that group."

"Fuck." Phil looked up to see Clint staring at the photo, his jaw tight. "Do people really hate themselves that much," he said, "that they gotta fuck up a perfectly healthy animal just so they don't have to spend any time alone in their own head?"

Berg looked taken aback, but he pressed forward with the briefing rather than ask the question that had to be on his mind. "With a subject this small, that we can't even begin to get close to, it's been all we can do to track it and move people out of the apparent path. We had to get some pretty high end cameras mounted on a helicopter just to manage that, and we've had to switch out crews twice when they got too close."

He led them over to a map and pointed out the route so far, then brought up the helicopter's GPS to give them real time location. Phil listened and nodded--all information was good--but he could tell from the way Clint stared fixedly at the blinking GPS dot that they were already on the same page when it came to a plan.

"I don't know what you folks mean to do," Captain Berg said finally. "I'm hoping it doesn't involve smart bombs or long range missiles, but I honestly can't blame you if that's the way it shakes out."

"No heavy ordinance, Captain," Phil said. "Just a sniper."

"We tried--"

"Not with me, you didn't," Clint interrupted.

"With all due respect," Berg said carefully. "Your degree of skill isn't going to make a difference here. Lines of sight in the city aren't good, and it's psychic range is several hundred meters. It'll burn out your brain before you get eyes on it."

Clint turned to Berg and smiled tightly. "I'm already mind-deaf, Captain. He won't hear me coming, and I won't hear him screaming at me."

"Ah." Berg paused. "Screaming?"

Clint looked back at the GPS dot. "Why do you think he's been burning people out, Berg?" he asked quietly. "He's not evil. He's hearing all sorts of things he knows he's not supposed to, and he can't turn it off, and it hurts, and he's scared. So he's screaming. He's just doing too loud for us to handle."

Phil put a hand on Clint's shoulder. "Clint," he murmured, and left it there, the rest of the words unspoken.

"It's okay, sir," Clint said. "He'd ask me to, if he could."

Phil squeezed his shoulder and turned back to Berg to arrange the logistics. The baboon was moving more slowly, now that they'd cleared the area around him. A helicopter took Berg, Phil, and Clint to two spots on the projected travel path, one right in the middle of it but a ways out from the subject himself, and one perpendicular to the path, about six blocks away. Clint took up station at the first, while the helicopter settled, Phil and Berg still inside, at the second. They'd be able to move in seconds if it became apparent they were coming into range.

While Clint assembled his sniper rifle and familiarized himself with his lines of sight, Phil studied the maps Berg had brought, automatically plotting escape routes for Clint, just in case.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly. Clint got himself set up with plenty of time to spare. The altered baboon kept to his projected course. As he approached Clint's position, Phil and Berg proved to be safely outside his range.

And then Clint's comm clicked open. "Sir. I can, uh, I can hear him."

Phil and Berg both froze. It was Berg who answered. "I thought you were mind-deaf?" he barked.

"Mostly. Ninety--" Clint's voice broke. "Ninety-five percent. I guess this guy's loud enough even for me."

"Get out of there," Phil ordered. "We'll come up with another plan."

"Really wish I could, sir," Clint said. "But I can't move. The minute I realized I could hear him, I couldn't move." A tight, sharp cry came over the line. "He's really fucking loud."

Phil was out of the helicopter and running before he knew what he was doing. His earpiece crackled. "Coulson, what the hell are you doing?" Berg demanded.

"I'm not leaving Clint there," Phil said. He pushed his pace, made his legs burn.

"Sir, if I'm inside this guy's range," Clint's voice was tight with pain. "He'll burn you. Stay back."

Two blocks down, four to go. "My mind might not agree with him." Phil could feel something thundering just at the edge of his mind. He reached out, not toward the concussive sensation bearing down on them, but to that quiet spot that was Clint.

Three blocks.

Phil's mind felt buffeted by the edge of the baboon's presence. Soon he might not be able to reach. He closed his eyes, barreling blind down the sidewalk, and focused on reaching, finding Clint. He gasped when he made contact with that quiet spot and flung his mind around it, curled up closer than ever before.

Something slammed into his mind. Phil cried out as it reverberated though him, lost his footing and fell. He slammed into the pavement, knees, hands, and chin in quick succession, but he never opened his eyes, never flinched from where he'd wound his mind around Clint's.

Silence.

Darkness.

*

"Phil?"

Pain throbbed through Phil's hands and knees. He was lying on something unforgivingly hard, but there was a warm hand on his shoulder. He groaned and rolled onto his side.

"Phil? Come on, look at me."

Slowly, Phil forced his eyes to open, blinking at the sudden brightness. He was looking at a pair of black combat boots. Very familiar boots. "Clint?" His voices was raspy.

"Yeah." The word was full of relief. "It's me. Come on, sit up."

With Clint's help, Phil slowly levered himself into a sitting position. He was on a sidewalk, Clint crouched down next to him. Where were they? Phil looked around, taking in the architecture, the hills. San Francisco. Suddenly the operation came rushing back: the baboon, Clint frozen in place, running. Phil rubbed a hand over his chin. It came away bloody--or maybe that was just his hand. He looked up at Clint. "You okay?"

"Am I okay, he asks," Clint laughed incredulously. He crumpled into a cross-legged position in front of Phil. "Yeah, I'm okay. Are you okay?"

Phil shrugged and held out his hand. "Just a couple of scrapes. What happened?"

Clint sighed. "Apparently your mind really didn't agree with him," he said. "Captain Berg says he went down when you were about two blocks away from my position."

"Oh." Phil looked down at his bloodied hands. "I wasn't actually trying."

Clint reached out and covered Phil's hands with his. He had broad palms, and his calluses were rough. "I know. It's not you, Phil. His mind was so sensitive...he was wide open to everything. He couldn't handle it."

"It is me," Phil said tiredly. "He made contact with how many other minds? But it was mine that was harsh enough, awful enough that it killed him." He laughed, low and bitter.

"Phil. Look at me." Phil dragged his eyes up to meet Clint's gaze. He held it for a long time before Clint spoke again. "I heard you, at the end, there. You wrapped your mind around mine, and you must have been scared, and desperate, because you were loud enough to hear." Phil winced, but Clint squeezed his hands and wouldn't let him look away. "You're not awful at all," Clint said.

Phil blinked, willing away the tears at the corner of his eyes. "People say I'm cold, painfully, sharply cold."

"Not to me." Clint shifted onto his knees and leaned closer. "It was more like...like dipping your toes into a pond on a spring morning."

Phil put a hand over his mouth, to stop the sound from escaping, but Clint pulled it away and leaned in and kissed him. Phil made a helpless noise low in his throat and kissed back, as best he could figure out how, one hand curling around the back of Clint's neck. It was so warm, and when Clint opened his mouth Phil did the same, and then it was wet and Phil couldn't bear to take a breath. He gasped when Clint broke the kiss, and he'd just started to catch his breath when Clint put his lips to Phil's ear and murmured, "Think I wanna go skinny dipping," and startled him into a brief laugh.

"When we get home," Phil promised.

Clint's expression lit up with hope. "Yeah?"

Phil cupped Clint's cheek in his hand. "Yeah."

There was clean up to do first, of course. It was, sadly, one of the easiest ops to wrap up that Phil had ever experienced. The baboon had done no damage to the city infrastructure, had caused no havoc outside of the minds of its victims. There was only a small, crumpled body to remove before the evacuated civilians could return to their undisturbed homes.

The real consequences to this incident would fall outside SHIELD's purview. Phil and Clint could only document their own actions and leave it to be sorted out by others. They went home, and Fury took one look at them and waved off their verbal debrief in favor of the reports they'd written on the flight back. "Go home," he told Phil. "Sleep. Get your feet under you again."

Phil nodded and turned to Clint, touching him on the elbow. The bare elbow, because Clint was wearing a t-shirt. "Come with me?"

Fury tossed Phil a curious look, but Phil ignored it, instead turning away. Clint fell into place at his side, walking close enough that their hands and hips bumped. When they got back to Phil's place they showered separately but crawled into bed together, clad in t-shirts and boxers. It took a minute to arrange their limbs comfortably--Phil, never having done this before, pretty much let Clint move him as he liked--but eventually they relaxed into the mattress. Sleep rolled over Phil before he could do more than think about listening for Clint.

*

Phil woke slowly, gradually becoming more aware of his body, the weight of it pressing against smooth sheets. He was warm, and it was quiet, an unfamiliar but calming, relaxed quiet. As his eyes drifted open, he caught a hint of rustling and realized...that was Clint's mind. Their legs were tangled together, bare feet brushing warmly against each other, and Clint had an arm slung over Phil's waist. As his eyes focused, Phil realized Clint was already awake, watching him with a small smile. Phil's lips curved in response. "Morning," he mumbled.

"Morning." Clint squirmed closer and placed soft kiss on the corner of Phil's mouth. "You're gorgeous when you sleep."

Phil's cheeks warmed. "Am I?"

"Mmm hmm." Clint's lips brushed against Phil's and teased him into a light kiss. "Your face goes all soft and sweet. How anyone could see you like this and let you go after, I'll never know."

"Clint." Phil could feel his blush deepen, but he made himself go on when Clint pulled back just far enough to give him a curious look. "No one else has. Seen me like this, I mean." Phil stopped for a minute and took a quick breath. "I-- I had a boyfriend who kissed me once, but that's it."

"You don't mean you once had a boyfriend who kissed you, do you?" Clint asked. "You mean, you had a boyfriend who kissed you just once."

Phil closed his eyes and made himself nod.

Firm, hot lips pressed against his and Phil gasped, then moaned as Clint kissed him hard. It softened after just a moment, and deepened, mouths hot and slick and open against each other, and all Phil could do was copy Clint, hoping he didn't seem as amateurish as he felt. When Clint broke the kiss, Phil opened his eyes again and licked his lips, feeling dazed. Clint's eyes were dark, and his arm around Phil pulled him closer. "You're incredible," Clint said. "And I am gonna make you feel so good, you have no idea." He faltered. "If you want."

Phil huffed a laugh. "I want," he said firmly.

Clint beamed at him. "Thank God." He slipped his hands under Phil's t-shirt and slowly pushed it up. Phil caught his breath, eyes half closing at the slow slide of Clint's hands over his and the sudden, cool touch of the air on his skin. He awkwardly shifted to lift his arms to let Clint tug the shirt off over his head and couldn't help a moment of relief when Clint drew him into another kiss, after. Kissing Clint was easy, kissing Clint made it hard to think and God, he didn't want to overthink this.

As their mouths moved together, Clint guided Phil's hand to his own t-shirt. Phil followed Clint's example, moaning into the kiss as his palm moved over firm muscle. They had to break the kiss to get Clint's shirt off, and Phil chuckled at himself, leaning his forehead against Clint's. "I didn't expect this part to be anything special," he confessed. "Every's always talking about the mental part, instead."

"I'm sure that part's great for them," Clint said, leaning down to lick and nibble at Phil's collarbone. "But sometimes I think they're missing out on all the sensation," he paused, sucking a kiss into the skin of Phil's sternum, "and anticipation," he moved down, kissing Phil's belly, his hands resting on his hips, "and surprise."

Phil gasped as Clint pressed a firm, hot kiss to the hard arch of Phil's cock, still clad in his boxers. He flailed for a moment before his hands landed on Clint's shoulders and squeezed. He could feel Clint's hot breath even through the fabric, and just a hint of hip plush lips. "Oh God." His heart was thundering, racing so fast it almost scared him. "Come back up here," he begged.

Clint immediately moved back up the bed and put his arms around Phil, kissing him slowly and carefully. "Just a preview," he murmured against Phil's lips.

"Okay," Phil said, a little relieved. He started the next kiss, and this time it was it was Clint who moaned and damn, that was a rush, knowing that he'd done that, made Clint feel like that. It gave Phil the confidence to let his hands wander, moving down Clint's back and hovering at the waistband of Clint's boxers for a moment before he figured, fuck it, they both wanted this, right? and went for it.

Pushing his hand under the waistband, Phil palmed the firm, round curve of Clint's ass. "Yeah," Clint groaned, breaking the kiss. His hips rocked into the contact.

"Let's," Phil licked his lips, "let's get these off."

"'Kay," Clint agreed quickly. He kissed Phil and then they pulled apart, each scrambling out of their own boxers.

Phil moved back into Clint's embrace before he could think too much and oh, God, all that skin, solid and prickling just a bit with Clint's body hair. Their hips slotted together and Phil gasped to feel the hot length of Clint's cock pressing up next to his between their bellies.

"Fuck, you feel good," Clint groaned. He thrust a little, his cock rubbing up against Phil. "Come on, you can move, it's good."

"Yeah." Phil looked down between them and felt a shock of excitement at the sight of their cocks tucked in next to each other. He filled his hands with the cheeks of Clint's ass and encouraged the eager thrust that followed even as he rocked his own hips. God, they looked good, pressing and sliding together, flushed dark and growing sticky with pre-come. "Yeah. Look at that. Fuck."

"You like looking?" Clint said breathlessly. Phil nodded, transfixed. Clint's lips brushed his ear. "Next time, you should spread me out on my back and jerk me off. Watch me get all pink and breathless for you, watch me come all over myself."

The words just slipped out: "Could I come on you, too?"

Clint moaned, rutting harder against Phil's belly. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, of course, fuck, I'm pretty sure you're gonna come all over me right now." He drew the lobe of Phil's ear into his mouth and sucked on it, very lightly, before letting it go to whisper. "I want you to."

Phil moaned and buried his face in Clint's shoulder, clinging to him as the hot twist of tension in his belly broke and pleasure rolled through him. His hips jerked, rubbing his cock harder against Clint as it throbbed, come spilling between them, slicking both their bellies. Phil panted, aftershocks rippling through him. It took him a second to remember Clint, to give his ass a squeeze and say, "Let go, it's good, it's so good."

Clint whimpered and tightened his grip on Phil before picking up the pace, thrusting frantically against Phil for a moment before crying out and coming, freezing in place as he spent himself.

They lay still tangled together, heartbeats gradually slowing, come growing tacky and uncomfortable. Phil still didn't want to move. He was lying here with his lover, warm and close and skin to skin like he never thought he could ever be. He didn't want to ever stop touching Clint.

"Hey," Clint said eventually. "We're a mess. You wanna shower together?"

A bubble of happiness welled up in Phil's chest. "Sounds good," he said, smiling.

Maybe he never had to stop touching Clint.

~!~