It was almost six a.m. when Coulson finally left his office. He felt the exhaustion in his bones and his eyes were dry and strained from staring at his computer screen and written reports for the last four hours.
He headed down to his car and slid into the driver’s seat. He should go home, check on his cat, and sleep in his own bed, but…Clint’s Bed-Stuy apartment is closer to base, and Phil really just wanted to hold his boyfriend. They’d kept things cool and professional while on assignment, but that didn’t mean Coulson hadn’t had his heart in his throat when Barton had gone off grid for three hours in the middle of it. He knew Barton was fine, they’d been in debriefings together for nearly two hours and Barton had brought him coffee and a pastry before leaving base, knowing that Coulson would be there for hours yet. He knew Barton was fine, but he wanted to see him anyway.
Phil fiddled with the extra key on his key ring and made a decision. He sent a text to Clint’s cell phone and pulled out of the parking garage.
On my way over, if that’s all right?
It must have snowed earlier in the night, because the roads were coated with ice and slush. It was slow going on the Brooklyn Bridge despite the lack of traffic and his two-wheel drive sedan was less than happy with the conditions. He was barely half way to Clint’s building when he got a response:
Phil found a parking space on the same street as Clint’s building and headed up to the top floor. The apartment was dark and quiet but for the hum of the refrigerator and the clanking radiator. There was no sign of Clint; he probably fell back to sleep after he got Phil’s text. Phil locked the door behind him and toed off his shoes, pausing when he noticed a pair of sneakers that weren’t there when he help Clint clean his place three days ago.
The shoes were high-top Converse in purple suede with black laces. They were definitely something Clint would buy for himself, but Phil found that unlikely to be the case since the shoes were in a woman’s size eight. He moved quietly through the apartment, a theory forming in his mind: the couch had clearly been slept on, if the displaced pillows and blankets are anything to go by, and there were two mugs in the kitchen sink. The soggy tea bags in the bottoms were Dr. Banner’s homemade blend of chamomile and mint.
He heard footsteps in the hall and looked up to see Clint arrive in the doorway. He was dressed in Phil’s flannel pajama pants and old Army t-shirt, his hair mussed and a sleepy smile appeared on his face when he saw Phil. Phil smiled back. If he weren’t so exhausted he would definitely be aroused. Clint in his clothes was always a sight to be appreciated.
“Hey,” Clint murmured. He crossed the room to wrap his arms around Phil’s waist and gave him a quick kiss hello. His lips were soft and warm, stubble scratching against Phil's jaw.
“Hey yourself,” Phil replied. He returned the kiss and ran his hands over Clint’s back. “Ms. Bishop’s here?”
“Mhm. You spying on me, babe?” Clint dropped his forehead to Phil’s shoulder and yawned.
“Purple Converse in the hall and two mugs of Dr. Banner’s tea in the sink; who else would it be?”
“Correct as always, Mr. Holmes,” Clint teased quietly.
“She’s all right?”
“Mostly bad dreams I think. She hasn’t said much.” Clint leaned more heavily against Phil’s chest, head nodding as he started drifting back to sleep. “Oh," his head perked up for a moment. "She’s borrowing your socks, by the way.”
“The Cap ones, with the little shields. She thinks they’re silly.”
Phil rolled his eyes. “I’ll be sure to tell her where I got them,” he said fondly, carding his fingers through Clint's tousled hair. The socks in question had been a saw-them-and-thought-of-you gift before they even started properly dating. Phil suspected the socks were meant to be a gag gift, but they were really, really comfortable so he wore them anyway.
Phil wrapped his arms around Clint's waist and steered them over to the sofa. He shifted the blankets aside so they could lie down. Phil stretched out on the couch with his head on the cushioned armrest. Clint settled half on top of him, his back against the cushions with an arm tucked around Phil’s waist and his head pillowed on his chest. Phil tugged one of the blankets off the back of the couch, draped it over them and settled down to sleep. He rested his hand on the back of Clint’s neck, rubbing his thumb through the soft, short hair at his nape. Clint made a contented sound and buried his nose in Phil’s shirt, tightening his grip and snuggling closer. They were asleep within minutes.
Phil woke a few hours later when Clint climbed off him, taking the blanket and the warmth with him. Phil was still mostly asleep and mumbled a protest at being disturbed. He was comfortable and safe and had no need or desire to move from his spot. The sunlight pouring through the windows turned the inside of his eyelids red and he rolled over on his side to bury his face in the couch cushions. He heard Clint chuckle somewhere above him, followed by the warm weight of the blanket being draped back over his body. He knew he wouldn't be able to fall back to sleep, but he was content to stay where he was for as long as possible.
When Kate woke she was alone in the bed and feeling well rested for the first time in almost a week. The scent of coffee hit her nose and she could hear soft noises from the kitchen that indicated breakfast was in progress. She sat up, rubbing sleep from her eyes and wondered if Clint could actually cook or if he was just trying to make the effort before giving in and taking her out to breakfast.
She climbed out of the bed and padded down the hall towards the sounds. She froze in the entrance to the living room, eyes falling on the man sleeping on the sofa; a man who was most definitely not Clint, if the brown hair, balding scalp, and discarded suit jacket were anything to go by. She skirted the sofa and headed into the kitchen where Clint was pouring pancake mix into a large mixing while a pan heated on the stovetop.
“You have a man on your couch,” she said, making a beeline for the coffeepot.
“Very astute, Hawkeye,” was the distracted reply.
“Why do you have a man on your couch?” She pulled a mug down from the cabinet and lifted the pot. She remembered whose apartment she was in and gave the lip of the pot a suspicious look.
“Because my place is closer to SHIELD headquarters.” He checked the instructions on the box and added milk, oil, and an egg to the bowl.
“I can’t tell if you’re being a smartass or dense.” She held the pot up to the light but couldn’t see any lip prints along the edge. “If you drank out of this pot I will hurt you.” She gave it one last suspicious glare before pouring herself a cup.
“It can’t be both?” He raised his own mug of coffee with a triumphant smirk.
“So you are being a smartass.” She settled on one of the stools at the counter to watch Clint pour the batter onto the hot pan.
“And you’re nosy.” He stood over the stove and twirled the spatula between his fingers like baton.
“My mentor has a strange man on his couch, I feel like I’m entitled to be nosy. So who is he?”
“Phil.” He flipped the pancakes over and did a fist pump when he saw that they were perfectly browned on the cooked side.
“Wait.” She sat up, eyes narrowing on Clint’s back. “As in Agent Coulson? As in the SHIELD super spook? Fury’s attack dog? That Coulson?”
He was very deliberately not looking at her. His shoulders were hunched and tensed, but his voice was carefully nonchalant. “He’s more like Fury’s sentient left eye, but yeah. That Coulson.” He transferred the finished pancakes onto a plate and poured more batter on the pan.
“Why is Agent Coulson sleeping on your couch?” She demanded. She got up to grab a plate and utensils before snagging a pancake and the bottle of syrup.
“Because he asked nicely,” he said.
“When did he even get here?”
“Five fifty-three, if you want to get specific.”
Kate would deny squeaking until her dying day, but that’s what she did when Coulson appeared in the doorway behind her without even the scuff of a foot over the wooden floor to give him away. Clint, the jerk, didn’t even flinch.
She’d only ever seen Agent Coulson a handful of times from a distance when Young Avengers training seminars at Avengers Tower overlapped with a visit from SHIELD. He was always neatly and precisely dressed in a tailored suit with every hair in place and his face arranged in an expression of bland disinterest. It took her a moment to process the fact that not only was he missing his jacket, but his tie was also gone and the top button of his shirt was undone. Both shirt and slacks, Dolce & Gabbana she noted, were wrinkled and his hair was mussed from sleep. He was also barefoot, which struck her as being really, really funny for no reason she could determine.
“Ms. Bishop.” He greeted her with a small smile and a polite nod on his way to the coffeepot.
“Oh, uh. Good morning?” she replied, bemused and a little surprised to see that he knew just where to go for a mug, plate, and utensils.
“Morning,” Clint said, shooting the agent a smile as he flipped the second batch of pancakes.
Kate couldn’t properly see Clint's expression from where she sat, but she could see Coulson’s answering look. This smile was still small, but it wasn’t a polite social nicety either. It was warm and fond and made her think of Teddy when he looked at Billy. His “good morning” sounded soft and intimate as a caress. She hid her smile behind her coffee mug and wondered how long this had been going on. Long enough for Coulson to know his way around the apartment at any rate.
His eyes darted to her and as quickly as the smile came, it was gone and the bland, polite expression was back.
Kate felt her cheeks flush and looked back to her pancakes, suddenly feeling awkward at being caught staring. She let her hair fall forward to hide her face, but kept her attention on them.
Clint either didn’t notice her embarrassment or was just ignoring it, because his voice was perfectly casual. “If you want to shower and get out those clothes I can hold off on the last of it,” he offered, indicating the batter still sitting in the bottom of the bowl.
Coulson’s expression didn’t change but the gratitude in his voice was evident. “Yes, please.” He set his utensils aside but kept his coffee. He moved to step around Clint, passing much closer than was necessary in the spacious kitchen.
Kate only saw it because she was watching, and the whole interaction took only a few seconds. Coulson leaned in towards Clint on his way by, as though he were about to kiss him on the cheek. Clint tensed, glancing from Coulson to Kate. Coulson noticed and aborted the move, walking past as though nothing had happened. His expression was even blanker than before, if that were even possible.
Clint grimaced to himself and glanced over a Kate. Her only reaction was to arch an eyebrow at him. His shoulders tensed and his jaw set in a determination.
Coulson had only taken a few steps when Clint caught him by the wrist and tugged him back. Coulson looked up at him and didn’t have time to do more than that when Clint kissed him. It was just a quick peck on the lips, but when Clint drew back Coulson was looking at him like he’d just been given the best gift in the world. Clint smiled back and ducked his head, a red flush spreading across his cheeks to his ears as he turned back to the counter. Coulson seemed to regain his composure and left the room.
Kate smirked and Clint glared at her. “Not a word, girly-girl,” he grumbled.
“Does this mean you get to be my new sassy gay friend?” she asked. She propped her chin on her palm and grinned at him. “We gonna stay up late talking about boys?”
“See if I ever let you sleep over again,” he grumped. The corner of his mouth twitched up all the same.
“You love me.”
“Against my better judgment.”
She stuck her tongue out at him, then her expression sobered. “But hey, in all seriousness, if he breaks your heart I reserve the right to put an arrow in his balls.”
Clint flinched and made an aborted gesture to cover his groin. “Vicious. Nat would be so proud.”
“She taught me well,” Kate agreed.