Sergeant Clint Barton of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch stared up at the looming silhouette of the Patrician’s Palace and cursed Captain Rogers at length and in three languages (Dwarfish, Troll, and Klatchian).
“I need you to deliver this report to the Lord Fury,” the Captain had said, all earnest blue eyes and horrible, trusting sincerity on his stupid, perfectly sculpted face. The report was a hundred pages thick, wrapped up in wax paper and weighed about a ton. Captain Rogers’s bi-weekly reports to the Patrician were infamous for being horrifically thorough and no one was quite sure if he wrote them like that to be a dick or if he honestly thought that the Patrician needed to be kept apprised of the number of bar fights and cart-collisions that happened around the city. Clint suspected it was probably both, but he kept that to himself.
“Why me?” he’d blurted, panicked and wondering if he could make it out of the Yard before Captain Rogers could catch him and give him his most disappointed sad-puppy face. He was just a carnie-turned-thief-turned-copper! They didn’t let guys like him within a mile of the Patrician’s Palace, what the hell was the Captain thinking?
Steve had smiled at him. It was the weird sort of smile that practically walloped the recipient with the force of the captain utmost faith in their ability to be the best person they could be. Or, when they failed to live up to his exacting expectations, the full weight of his Disappointment. That was the worst. Clint had only had it leveled at him once and it had been one of the most depressing and agonizing things he’d ever experienced. He made an extra effort to never be on the receiving end of it ever again.
“We’ve got new recruits coming in soon, and I need to be here to welcome them to the Watch,” the captain said, earnest and genuinely apologetic. “I know how much you hate the Palace, but I really need you to do this for me.”
And that was how Sergeant Barton found himself standing in front of the gates of the Patrician’s Palace feeling like an ant frozen in the shadow of a very large, very ominously-slow-moving boot. He was very, very tempted to just drop the package on the doorstep, ring the bell and run away. Only the thought of Captain Rogers’s disappointed look kept him from doing just that.
Clint will deny jumping and screaming like a three year old until his dying day. It was a…manly cry of surprise. Yeah. That was it.
Lord Coulson, the Patrician’s Steward, stood on the other side of the gate with a carefully blank expression on his face: the sort of carefully blank expression that people get when they’re trying desperately not to laugh. Clint scowled at him and tried to pretend that his heart wasn’t racing for an entirely different reason than surprise.
Before Lord Coulson had become the Steward, he’d been a Watchman. One of the best in the city, it was said. They said he once arrested an entire invading army for disturbing the peace, including the general. They said he was actually the Patrician’s sentient left eye and that he was born with a badge in his hand.
Clint didn’t know if any of that was true, didn’t really care either way. What he did know was that seven years ago Captain Coulson had taken one look at Clint, dirty and scrawny unregistered thief that he’d been, and recruited him to the Watch.
It was almost a relief when Lord Fury made Coulson his Steward. Clint had been in love with Coulson for years, and he’d managed to keep that fact a secret by avoiding him at all costs. Even the thickest of trolls would realize something was up because Clint could not help but make an ass of himself every time he entered Coulson’s line of sight.
“Can I safely assume that you’ve brought Captain Rogers’s report?” Coulson asked, pushing open the malicious looking iron gate to admit him.
“Er…uh…yeah. Yeah, Cap’s report…” Clint stammered, tripping over his boots in his rush to get through the gate. He shoved the package towards Lord Coulson and only managed to drop it, the wax paper breaking open and scattering pages of Captain Rogers’s tiny, precise handwriting all over the cobblestones.
“Oh fuck me!” Clint groaned, then blushed hotly as he dropped to his knees. “S-sorry, commander! I mean sir! My lord!” Oh gods, someone shut him up before he hurt himself.
Coulson bent to help him, grey eyes crinkling at the corners in a not-smile that always made Clint’s chest ache. “ ‘Coulson’ is fine, sergeant,” he said kindly. “I think we’ve known each other long enough not to stand on ceremony.”
“Yes, sir. Er… I mean, Coulson.” Clint tried to shuffle the papers back into some semblance of order but only succeeded in making the mess worse. He finally gave up and just handed the whole mess to Coulson with a helpless look. Coulson accepted the pile and had it in a neat stack in a matter of seconds.
“So, er, I should get going,” Clint said. “You know, rew necruits, dammit, new recruits to haze, er, I mean train, and all that.”
Coulson gave him that crinkle-eyed not-smile. “Of course, Barton, I’m sure you’re very busy these days. Before you go, I have a question for you.” Coulson glanced down at the papers in his hand then back up at Clint. Clint’s mind raced and this time didn’t trip over itself. Was Coulson…nervous? Was that even possible?
“Would you like to join me for dinner?” Coulson asked, meeting Clint’s eyes with an expression that could have been called tentative on anyone else.
“What?” Clint said dumbly. He couldn’t have heard that right, right?
“Dinner,” Coulson repeated. Oh wow, was Coulson blushing? “Would you like to have dinner sometime?”
“With you?” Clint could have strangled himself. Say yes, you moron! Shut up and say yes!
“Well, yes.” Coulson cleared his throat and glanced away. “That’s generally how dates work, isn’t it?”
“You’re asking me on a date?” Son of a bitch, Clint, you dumbass, just say yes already!
“Yes, sergeant, I am.” When Coulson looked up again the blush had gone and his expression was stony and professional. “I’m sorry if I’ve made you uncomfortable, sergeant. If you prefer we can pretend this conversation never happened.” Coulson moved as if to step back.
“No!” Clint jerked forward to grab Coulson’s sleeve. In a dramatic romance movie this move would have succeeded in keeping Coulson in place so Clint could confess his undying love. In the real world this move resulted in Clint tripping over a cobblestone and sending both of them crashing to the ground in a very undignified heap. It was only Coulson’s quick reflexes that saved him from a nasty concussion. He let go of the newly reorganized papers in favor of using his arms to break the fall.
Clint ended up sprawled on top of Coulson, his head cushioned on the lord’s chest. The only clear thoughts in his muddle of a mind was that Coulson looked really, really attractive from this angle, and that under the tailored suit and robes he was still lean with muscle. And he smelled nice. He was also frowning at Clint and trying to sit up.
“Shit, sir, Coulson, I mean, dammit!” Clint scrabbled off the other man, blushing so brightly he thought his face might be glowing. “I’m sorry, I just…yes, I mean, no! To the date, I mean, not no to the date but yes and…!”
Coulson clapped his hand over Clint’s mouth, much to Clint’s relief, cutting off the garbled flow of nonsense. He was doing that not-smile thing again, where the smile was all in his eyes and there was something soft and fond in his face. “Barton…Clint,” he said gently. “Let me see if I have this straight: no, you don’t want to forget this conversation happened.”
“And yes, you want to go out to dinner with me.”
Clint nodded again. Coulson had really nice hands, he thought: big and warm and still callused from his years as a copper.
Coulson smiled, the expression emanating out from his eyes to turn his lips up at the corners and it was probably one of the most beautiful things Clint had ever seen. He removed his hand from Clint’s mouth, cupping his face and leaning in to press a chaste kiss to his cheek. Clint’s brain abruptly said: “oh my god yes please” and shut down due to happiness overload.
“Tomorrow, then,” Coulson said, drawing back. “I’ll meet you at Pseudopolis Yard at seven?”
“Y-yeah.” Clint stammered. It was the only thing he could say with his brain on a feedback loop of: I’ve-got-a-date-with-Coulson! I’m-going-on-a-date-with-Coulson-what-do-I-do?! Ohmygodohmygod.
Coulson gathered up the papers, gave Clint another fond smile, and disappeared into the Patrician’s Palace. Clint managed to lever himself up to his feet and walked back to the watch house in a euphoric daze.