Just like he expected, Clint finds Flash and one of his friends down the block, hanging around in the playground next to the elementary school. They're always there, scaring off the kids who are actually young enough to be playing there.
"Hey," Clint yells, marching straight up to them. He remembers all the reasons why he wasn't going to beat up on fourteen year olds, but as sensible as those reasons maybe were, all he can see right now is Peter's sad, bleeding face and all he can think about is making them sorry.
The way the protective rage has risen up inside Clint kind of scares him. He's careful to never, ever use his fists on anyone - he isn't his father - but right now he doesn't care.
"Yeah?" Flash asks, folding his arms and lifting his chin up in the air.
On any other day, Clint'd laugh at him. Flash's tall for his age and he's starting to build up some muscles, but he's still basically a scrawny middle-schooler, with a voice that dips in and out of even.
"You Flash?" Clint demands, even though he knows he is. Flash is the one who hit Clint in the face with the basketball last week. He looks at Flash's friend. "And who's he?"
The other kid is smaller and dressed far too nice to be from around here. He half stands up from the swing he was been rocking on like he wants to shake hands, but Flash waves him back down. "Harry Osborne, hi," he says uncertainly.
"Hey, you’re the jerkoff from the other day. Who are you?" Flash asks. His eyes are flicking past Clint's shoulder, like he's looking to see who Clint brought along with him. Clint didn't bring anyone; Clint grew up in foster care and learned to protect himself in the circus; he doesn't need backup.
"I'm Peter Parker's brother," Clint tells him. It comes out smooth and easy, confident, like it's actually true.
Flash's expression flickers but then he laughs. "Puny Parker doesn't have a brother," he scoffs. "He's got no family at all. It's why he cries like a little girl all the damn time."
"When?" Clint snaps. "When you hit him?" He's not worried about the other kid right now; he doesn’t look like he’s going to be a problem and Flash is the one he really wants to thump. He takes two steps forward and gets right up in his personal space.
Flash doesn't falter, clenching his hands into fists at his side and looking Clint up and down.
When Clint puts a hand on his shoulder and shoves him one step backward, he goes where Clint wants him. He's got to be a hundred pounds top, whereas Clint trains with a bow at least twice a week; there's no comparing the size of their biceps.
Which, Clint realises, is why he can't hit him first. No matter how much he wants to.
"Hey, stop," Osborne says, darting around in Clint's peripheral vision, but not doing anything.
One of you hit me, Clint thinks. Come on.
"What do you want him to say?" Osborne asks. "He's really sorry, okay? He shouldn't have hurt Peter. I've told Peter just to stay out of the way, but he's always there, following us around, getting in the way."
Right. Of course he is. Because Peter apparently thinks self-preservation is for other people.
"I want him to feel half as shitty about himself as he tried to make Peter feel," Clint tells Osborne then turns all his attention back to Flash. "Maybe he didn't have a brother before, but he's got one now, and I'm not going to let you hurt him again."
"Right." Flash scoffs. "Hard guy, right?"
It's easy, scarily easy, to think about the sneer Barney used to wear, the one that said leave us alone, don't think you can touch us. "Yeah, something like that."
Flash swings at him.
It's a telegraphed and messy punch and Clint ducks it, easy. He swings without straightening, punching Flash once, right in the stomach. Flash doesn't even get up a hand to block it in time. Bullies are all the same; they never know what to do with guys who can actually fight back. And they never expect Clint to be left-handed.
"Fuck, stop," Flash whines. "I'm sorry, okay? I'll leave Peter alone."
"Yes, you fucking will," Clint tells him, dropping down so that he's in front of Flash, currently on his knees and gasping, and getting right up in his face.
Flash's eyes go satisfyingly wide.
Clint isn't going to hit him again, he isn't a threat anymore, but luckily Flash doesn’t seem to know that.
He isn't sure how long they would have stayed there, staring each other down - Clint doesn't know how to back away from a fight while still being menacing. He's never actually won a fight before - but just then, a car horn blares, making them both jump.
Clint doesn't look away from Flash, even though he can hear footsteps running over from behind him, sees Osborne fidgeting out the corner of his eye.
"Clint," Ben's voice cuts through the silence and Clint groans inside.
"Mr Parker, he's threatening us," Flash says quickly, scrambling to his feet and backing away from Clint putting Osborne between them. Osborne doesn't look impressed.
"I know what he's doing and what he's not, Eugene Thompson," Ben says very seriously. "Go home and take your friend with you. The school will be talking to your parents tomorrow."
Flash has finally gotten his breath back. "Hey, but that's not fair, we never - "
"Go away," Ben says, very firm and with this sort of kindness that sounds like I think you're scum, but I'm still trying to help you, here.
Clint doesn't have an excuse not to look at Ben now. He hunches his shoulders and shoves his hands in his pockets, before turning around, glacial slow.
He makes himself meet Ben's eyes.
Ben looks the kind of worried that leaves lines all over your face.
"You been home, then?" Clint asks, trying not to shuffle his feet.
Ben studies him closely, eyes scanning all over Clint's face. Clint doesn't know what he's looking for, maybe making sure he doesn't have two kids with black eyes to worry about. "Not yet. May phoned me and told me what happened. She was worried when you disappeared, but I had a pretty idea where you would have gone." He holds his hand out slowly, indicating the park. "And I was right."
“I wasn’t going to hurt them,” Clint tells him. His rage is draining away so fast that he feels kind of shaky. He fucking hates confrontation, even when he’s the one instigating it.
Ben just keeps on looking at him. “I know,” he says at last, and pats Clint on the shoulder. “Come on, we’re going home.”
He turns toward the car and heads back to it without a backward glance. Having Ben Parker look disappointed at you is basically the shittiest thing ever, but Clint can’t do anything except follow along after him.
They sit in the car with the engine running, but Ben doesn’t start driving them anywhere. Clint sits in the passenger seat and fiddles with the glove compartment, clicking it open then shut over and over.
“You knew Peter was being bullied,” Ben says eventually. It’s not a question. “But you didn’t tell us?” That is a question, but Clint doesn’t have a good answer.
“Peter asked me not to,” he says. It sounds really inadequate, when it’s said out loud like that.
“Peter’s a child,” Ben snaps.
Clint doesn’t think he’s ever heard Ben shout before and it’s dumb and it’s stupid, but it makes something clench up so tight inside him that he thinks he might throw up.
“Peter’s a child,” Ben repeats, quieter this time, but Clint still can’t really breathe. “You’re not.”
Clint stares fixedly at the dashboard and tries to disappear.
“Clint,” Ben prompts.
“I’m sorry,” Clint says quickly. His heart’s still pounding way too fast, and he knows it’s not Ben that’s doing it to him, it’s his own fucked up memories, but it still makes him lash out. “But Peter’s not my responsibility, and if you’re too shitty an uncle to – “ He grinds to a halt. He can’t even mean it long enough to get it all out. “I’m sorry,” he repeats miserably and turns his head to stare out the side window, so Ben can’t see his face.
The silence stretches again. Clint wants to jump out of the car and run to… well, he wants to run to Phil, but he’s not going to let himself do that, so he’d settle for just running.
“Since we fostered you, we’ve tried to make you part of our family, and part of that should be knowing when to come to us,” Ben says at last. “I’m sorry if we’ve failed.”
“You haven’t,” Clint says quietly, maybe not loud enough to be heard at all. The idea of trusting adults with problems just never occurs to him, but then he’s never known any adults who cared as much as the Parkers.
He hopes this isn’t going to be what finally convinces them to send him back, but yeah. With the way Ben’s talking, it probably will be.
Ben sighs heavily. “Let’s go home,” he says. Clint knows that tired, defeated tone; every foster parent he’s ever had, even his own damn brother, has sounded like that about him eventually.
The four of them don’t eat dinner together that night. Considering May and Ben always make them eat dinner together, every night, the mac and cheese sitting on a tray in the middle of Clint’s bed feels like a giant neon sign screaming EVERYTHING SUCKS; YOU’VE RUINED EVERYTHING.
He picks at it and manages to chew down a couple lumps of pasta, but that’s it.
His phone keeps lighting up with texts and it’s going to be Phil or Peter, since no one else cares enough to have his number, but Clint doesn’t want to deal with either of them, tonight. He’s a giant screw-up who messes up, even when he’s trying to help, and they would both be so much better off without him.
The hours tick by and Clint spends them all staring up at the ceiling. There’s no cover on his comforter, because it’s still sitting in the washing machine, getting mouldy, and he can’t believe that he was lying here, feeling amazing just a handful of hours ago.
Sometime after midnight, he hears Peter start to move around restlessly next door.
Suck somewhere between half asleep and half asleep, Clint rolls over to the far side of his bed, expecting an invasion of flailing, badly controlled limbs to arrive any second.
Except it doesn’t come.
Peter stays resolutely in his room and Clint lies in his, suddenly wide awake again, trying to work out how his day could have started off so well and still end up this shitty.
Clint doesn’t realise he’s forgotten his laptop at home until he’s sitting down in third period English class.
Ms Carter’s cool, he could probably beg permission to go to the computer lab and grab the copy of the presentation that he emailed to himself, but he doesn’t.
He keeps his head down and tries to hunch his shoulders low enough that she won’t spot him behind the kid in front. It works okay for a while, but then she starts walking between rows, heels click-clacking in a really ominous way that means Clint’s probably doomed.
Clint is starting to get really fucking tired of being doomed all over the place.
“Mr Barton,” she says. He makes himself look up and finds that she’s smiling, which is way worst than the familiar scowls that teachers normally point at him.
‘Hi,” Clint says, smiling back at her and hoping she finds it charming. “Did you have a good weekend, Miss?”
Ms Carter just looks at him. “Do you have a presentation for us? We’re all looking forward to it, I’m sure.”
The girl behind Clint coughs out something that he doesn’t catch, but it’s definitely either rude about him or rude about The Scarlet Letter in general.
“Nah,” Clint says, shrugging. “Forgot, sorry.”
Ms Carter’s expression flickers slightly, like she’s surprised, like she maybe actually expected him to do it and is disappointed in him now.
She watches him for a long minute, like she wants to ask if everything’s okay. He hopes to fuck that she doesn’t ask him anything like that in front of the rest of the class. Or, at all, really. Clint never wants to talk about shit like how he’s doing, thank you very much.
“Stick around after class,” is all she says though, then she walks away, back up to her desk at the front of the room.
Clint spends the rest of the period staring fixedly at his notebook and trying really hard to concentrate long enough to take good notes.
He mostly ends up doodling arrows in the margins. And he doesn’t wait around to see her once the bell rings, just grabs all his stuff and runs for the door.
Usually, Clint eats lunch under the bleachers with the other kids who don’t have anyone else to sit with. Mostly that involves sneaking cigarettes from jittery, blank-eyed Wade Wilson and trying not to disturb this tiny freshman, Jane something, who always has her nose stuck in a text book.
Today though, he’s only half way through the lunch line when someone touches his wrist. He looks up from choosing between two Mystery Puddings to see that Phil has snuck into the line behind him.
“Hey,” Clint says and seriously, again with his voice going breathy. “Cutting in line? That’s an abuse of student council privilege, isn’t it?”
“My actions are my own and are not condoned or endorsed by the Council,” Phil says, deadpan, then smiles at Clint, all wide and unaffected. “How did the presentation go?”
Fuck. “Good,” Clint lies, trying to pour exactly the right amount of enthusiasm into it. “I’m betting they’re gonna make me Valedictorian off the back of that alone.”
“Well done, I knew you could do it.” Phil squeezes his wrist, keeping their hands down low between them, so no one else can see. “What did Ms Carter say?”
“Shit.” Clint makes himself laugh. “I don’t know. I don’t memorise everything teachers say.”
Phil shrugs, looking unapologetic. “Maybe you should.”
“Maybe I have better things to memorise,” Clint says, leaning into Phil. It doesn’t make sense as a line, but it still makes Phil go pink. Screw school, Clint would be totally happy to spend all day coming up with nonsensical things like that, just to make Phil blush. “For fuck’s sake,” someone complains in the line behind Phil, “get moving.”
They catch each other’s eyes and laugh, and do start moving, even though just standing still with Phil is somehow the best thing Clint has done today.
“Come sit with us,” Phil says, once they’ve gotten their food.
Clint totally means to say yes, he does, but then he looks where Phil’s pointing, and it turns out that ‘us’ is Pepper Potts, Tony Stark, and a handful of other kids who Clint really does not belong with.
“I can’t,” Clint says quickly. “I’ve gotta.” What does he have to do? “I’ve got a test sixth period, I kind of need to just sit and study?”
Clint has never in his life sat and studied over lunch. If Phil knows him even slightly, he’ll know that that’s bullshit, but it’s the best Clint can come up with at short notice. Besides, it sounds like something someone hardworking like Phil might appreciate.
“Okay,” Phil says slowly. “Okay, that’s, sure. Good luck.” He smiles unevenly and turns away from Clint, heading over to his friends.
“Wait, Phil.” Clint smiles at him hopefully, when Phil looks back to him. “What are you doing this afternoon?”
“Nothing,” Phil says then gives Clint absolutely no help, because he’s a bastard.
“Do you…” Clint casts around in his head for something that isn’t Do you want to hide away from the world and kiss like we did yesterday? “We could go see a movie?” Ugh, tragic, Clint, really tragic.
“We could,” Phil agrees. He lowers his voice slightly. “Or we could go back to my house and makeout until my dad gets home?”
Clint very nearly drops his lunch tray. “Yeah, yes,” he says. “Yes, I vote that.”
Phil finally gives him a facial expression. It’s a smile that’s way more than a little teasing. “Me too. Meet me at my locker, after school?”
“Sure,” Clint says, and doesn’t even care that he then has to find a seat by himself and pretend to study for a test that doesn’t exist.
He gets to spend this afternoon with Phil and he can put off having to go home to face the Parkers; both those things are worth a bit of accidental learning.
Phil’s late to meet Clint after school.
Clint sits on top of the lockers, swinging his feet, and pretends not to see the looks he gets from the other students. He plays with his phone and spends a couple of minutes texting Kate from the archery club, who is really weirdly keen to make sure that he’s still on for the interstate competition tomorrow.
Apparently the fact that she hasn’t seen him practice is making her nervous or something. Whatever. Like he needs to practice.
“Hi,” Phil says suddenly, appearing next to his feet. “Sorry, I got caught up.”
“S’okay,” Clint says, sliding down to the floor and trying to give the impression of someone who wasn’t worried that they’d been stood up.
Phil steps back to let Clint jump down, but they still end up pretty close together. Clint wants to kiss him right here, but Phil’s been pretty obvious today about wanting to hide this thing between them so Clint’s going to respect that.
Specifically, he’s going to respect it and pretend like it doesn’t hurt at all.
Phil waits though, like maybe he’s thinking about kissing too. Hell, if he wants to, Clint is going to be enthusiastically reciprocal. But they both pause too long, and nothing happens, and then Phil steps back.
“My house?” he asks, not quite meeting Clint’s eyes.
“Yeah,” Clint agrees and follows Phil out the school when Phil opens the door for him.
Phil’s quiet on the walk back to his place. It’s not like he’s the chattiest guy normally – he doesn’t run his mouth like silence might kill him, like both Clint and Peter do – but he usually has enough to say to keep a conversation going.
This afternoon, he’s either concentrating really hard on putting one foot in front of the other, all of a sudden, or he’s got something else on his mind.
Clint is pretty sure that Phil wouldn’t bother to take Clint home just to dump him – and Clint can’t think of any dump-worthy thing that he’s done since lunch – but the silence still makes him itch.
“Did you have a good day?” he asks, then hates himself for sounding like May when she’s trying to get him to talk to her.
Phil glances over at him and smiles quickly. “I did. Did you?” There’s something weird about the way he emphasises that last part. Clint doesn’t get it. Why would Phil have any idea that Clint’s week isn’t going well; it’s not like Clint’s told anyone.
“Sure,” Clint says, shrugging. “It’s school. School sucks.” Then, for some reason, he keeps talking: “Apart from the times when I see you, obviously.”
That makes Phil laugh, some of the tension easing from his shoulders. “You really need to work on your pick-up lines, Barton.”
“Why?” If Phil’s relaxed, Clint can relax. “They work on you already, don’t they?”
Phil opens his mouth then closes it again, stumped because obviously Clint’s right. It’s pretty funny. Also encouraging for Clint’s hopes of not-getting-dumped.
They reach Phil’s house and head up the steps. Phil surprises the hell out of Clint by taking his hand before they get inside.
Clint’s hand kind of spasms around Phil’s, not sure what to do except that he really wants to hold on. So he does. Maybe he holds on a bit too hard, but Phil doesn’t mention it.
“Do you want a soda or something?” Phil asks once they’re inside. He unlocked and closed the door one-handed and didn’t seem to mind that it was awkward.
“Sure, thanks,” Clint says. He doesn’t want a soda so much as he doesn’t want Phil to think he’s only here for potential making out. He’s trying to do this maybe-dating thing right. Partly because Phil deserves it and partly because, that way, even if he does get sent back to foster care, maybe Phil will still want to keep in touch.
Once they both have tall glasses of soda in their hands, they lean against opposite counters and make awkward faces at each other.
“Look,” Phil says and his expression turns serious. “In the interests of full disclosure, I talked to Ms Carter today.”
Clint’s stomach clenches up nastily. “Yeah?” he asks, trying for casual. He forces himself not jump to any conclusions, just in case Ms Carter talked to Phil about something that had nothing to do with Clint.
Phil puts down his glass and crosses over to Clint. “You didn’t do the presentation.”
Okay, now Clint can wince.
“Yeah,” he says, “no? What, were you checking up on me, or something?”
Phil’s only response to that is to roll his eyes. “Yes, when my… when someone lies to me, my first thought is to go check it’s true with a teacher. No, I had English last period and she kept me behind to find out if I knew what was going on with you. So what is?”
Your what? Clint wants to ask. But that’s not the topic of this discussion. “I just, I couldn’t.” He swallows hard. Okay, he can be a little bit honest, right? He looks down at the floor. “Peter got beat up yesterday.”
“Fuck,” Phil swears and is suddenly all up in Clint’s space, hand on his shoulder. “Is he okay?”
“Yeah, he’s.” Clint puts his glass down hurriedly, because apparently someone being nice to him makes his hands shaky. “He’s fine. I mean, he’s all shaken up, but he’s not hurt bad. May said he could skip school today, but he’s dumb and stubborn, so he went in.”
“Is he going to be okay getting home?” Phil asks. One part of Clint wishes he wouldn’t be constantly awesome like that; Clint doesn’t need to feel more for him that he already does.
“Yeah.” Clint smiles at him, hoping he can read thanks for asking from that. “Ben’s picking him up and talking to the principal and all that.”
Phil’s hand slides from Clint’s shoulder to the back of his neck. Clint is grateful to let his forehead lean against Phil’s when Phil presses gently.
“I’m not surprised you didn’t feel like doing anything in school today,” he says softly. “You should talk to Ms Carter about it; she’s pretty okay. For a teacher.”
Clint huffs out a laugh. “You think teachers rock, Coulson. Tell me I’m wrong.”
Phil doesn’t say anything, just kisses Clint’s temple. “Don’t change the subject.”
Clint just wants to kiss him back. He wants to climb inside Phil and pretend like it’s still yesterday afternoon, before everything went to shit.
“Okay, sure, fine, I’ll talk to Ms Carter tomorrow,” he promises. Maybe he actually will. Then, because there’s still something weird in the air between them, adds, “I’m sorry I pretended it went well.”
Phil shakes his head. “I get it. But you can.” He pauses like he’s looking for the right word, or maybe just a word that won’t rile Clint up. Clint resolves to be less of a headache for him from now on. “You can talk to me. Whenever you want.”
“What, like a shrink?” Clint can’t help asking. It’s the sincerity; it makes him act out every time.
“I was thinking more like a boyfriend,” Phil says then kisses Clint quick before Clint can do more than make a stunned noise.
“Is this okay?” Phil asks and slides his hand up under Clint’s t-shirt, spreading his hand out over Clint’s belly.
They’ve moved up to Phil’s bedroom, but kind of stalled again after that. It’s pretty hard to just like, fling yourself into making out after deep and meaningful conversations in the kitchen.
“Yeah,” Clint says and lies back, pulling Phil down with him.
He spreads his legs and nudges Phil to lie in between them. Phil seems more than okay with blanketing Clint, which is damn useful since that’s all Clint wants in the world, right now.
“Maybe,” Phil says, then stops.
“Maybe, what?” Clint asks. He puts his hands on Phil’s hips, playing with the waistband of his jeans.
“Nothing,” Phil says and kisses him.
Clint thinks about breaking the kiss, demanding to know what Phil wanted to suggest, but then Phil’s tongue is in his mouth, tangling up with Clint’s, and Clint is not pulling away from that.
Time passes weirdly when you’re lying on a bed, kissing Phil Coulson. This is something that Clint feels pretty darn lucky to have gotten the chance to discover.
It feels like they’ve been kissing for hours by the time they have to take a break, because they’re too hot and sweaty to breathe, but, when Clint manages to look away from Phil’s lovely, flushed cheeks to check the time, it’s still early.
“What I was going to say,” Phil says, smiling down at Clint with smug, kiss-swollen lips, “is that I would fully support you if you wanted to take your shirt off.”
Clint laughs. “Yeah?” he asks, innocently.
“Not that you have to,” Phil says quickly. “But it’s hot in here and you’re hot, so.”
“I’m just teasing,” Clint says and leans up to kiss him. “Give me a bit of space, yeah? Black eyes aren’t sexy.”
Phil opens his mouth like he has a retort for that, then closes it. Clint’s glad, because he didn’t think that quip through and now he’s thinking about Peter again.
“We can just go back to what we were doing?” Phil offers, but fuck that.
“Fuck that,” Clint says seriously and strips off his t-shirt.
“Oh,” Phil says. Clint drops his t-shirt on the floor and maybe flexes his arm muscles slightly. Just a little bit. “Oh, wow.”
Clint smiles up at him from under the hair that’s flopped into his eyes, before shoving it back. “You too?”
“Right, because I look just like that with my shirt off,” Phil mutters, but he strips his sweatshirt off too without any real complaint.
Clint has no idea what he was grumbling about; he takes one look at Phil’s naked chest and thinks about swallowing his tongue. Phil’s a little skinny, sure, but Clint likes skinny and he likes Phil, so he really likes all this skin that is suddenly right there.
“Shit,” he breathes and puts his hand over Phil’s right pec. Phil sucks in a breath and leans into the touch.
It feels totally different to pull Phil down on top of him now that they’re both shirtless. They’re still sweaty and their skin sticks together every time they shift around, and that feels great, like, really great. The kind of great that makes Clint both sad and glad that they still have their pants on.
“When are your parents coming home?” Clint asks.
“Dad’s working late,” Phil says, settling himself back between Clint’s legs. “And Mom will be home in March.”
Clint pauses. “What?” He’s never met Phil’s mom, but he assumed he just kept missing her.
“She works away,” Phil says shortly then kisses the corner of Clint’s mouth. “Can we not talk about my mom while we’re doing this?”
Clint laughs and turns his face to catch another, better kind of kiss. “Yeah, fair point,” he agrees. “I can think of better things to do than talk, anyway.”
Phil laughs. “You’re just so smooth, Barton, I don’t know why you don’t have all the boys flocking around you.”
“I don’t want any other boys,” Clint says automatically. It’s true. He doesn’t want anything at all, at least nothing he can have, except for Phil and the chance to kiss him whenever he can.
“Okay, shut up now,” Phil says, even though that wasn’t Clint attempting another line. He puts one hand on Clint’s breastbone and curls the other around his upper arm, fingers tracing the line of his triceps and thumb tucked under his bicep.
“Shutting up,” Clint agrees, swallowing, and tips his head back when Phil hovers over him before leaning down for another kiss.
Clint isn’t sure at first how much it’s okay to touch Phil while they make out, but Phil squirms when Clint draws his palm down the smooth line of Phil’s back and gasps straight into his mouth when Clint touches his stomach, so Clint keeps getting more and more adventurous.
Phil kisses Clint’s cheek, which should feel weird, since that’s where moms kiss you, Clint’s pretty sure, but it’s just kind of… fuck, it’s nice when Phil does it. And it’s nicer still when he moves down to kiss along Clint’s jaw, spending a really long time on the skin just below Clint’s ear, which turns out to be unexpectedly sensitive.
Clint grabs hold of Phil’s hair, trying not to pull while still making it very clear that he wants Phil to keep doing that for absolutely as long as Phil wants to do it.
“Okay?” Phil asks, soft in Clint’s ear and so close that it tingles something deep down under Clint’s skin.
“Shit,” is about all Clint can manage. He lets himself slide down the pillow a little so Phil is all the way above him, caging Clint in with hands on either side of Clint’s head.
It turns out that Clint really, really likes to be loomed over.
“Where are you going?” Phil asks, frowning at Clint slightly.
Clint opens his mouth to say that he wasn’t going anywhere, he just kind of wanted more of Phil, always wants more of Phil between him and the rest of the world.
That would sound stupid, though, and Clint probably isn’t eloquent enough to explain it properly, so he makes his grin turn wicked, and curls forward to fit his mouth over Phil’s tiny, pinked-up right nipple.
A full-body shudder runs through Phil and he makes this deep, startled sound that Clint wants to hear a hundred, a million more times.
“Do that again?” Phil asks, voice going all quavery in the middle.
Clint hasn’t stopped kissing Phil’s nipple yet, so he’s not totally sure which part Phil wants him to do again, so he tries sucking, just lightly.
Phil’s breath breaks on a gasp. “Okay, I’m impressed,” he says, tone clearly aiming for his usual brand of blandly unmoved, but really not making it there. “My nipples normally do nothing for me.”
Clint wonders who else has tried playing with Phil’s nipples and refuses to be jealous. Much.
Clint really hates to use his mouth for anything as boring as talking now that he knows what else it can do, but the opportunity to banter is too great to pass up. “Didn’t I mention? I’m in the AP class for nipple sucking.”
Phil laughs, which makes his chest ripple against Clint’s mouth. “I can believe that,” he says. “How do I get into that class?”
Clint rolls them onto their sides, tangling their legs up together. “Pretty much like this,” he says and picks Phil’s hand up to put it back on Clint’s chest.
Phil’s fingers find Clint’s right nipple and he strokes it between his thumb and forefinger. It feels amazing, little tingles of heat that fizzle along his skin.
“Does that feel okay?” Phil asks quietly, eyes locked on what he’s doing.
“Way more than okay,” Clint promises. He doesn’t add that, as good as it feels, watching the expression on Phil’s face is maybe even better. He looks rapt, the very tip of his tongue skimming along his bottom lip as he concentrates on Clint and making Clint feel good.
That makes Clint feel great.
He curls forward and kisses Phil, groaning when Phil sucks on his tongue while they touch each other.
Halfway through the next kiss, Phil’s leg shifts between Clint’s, thigh coming into sudden, unexpected contact with Clint’s dick.
Clint sucks in a moan, tearing his mouth away from Phil’s to catch his breath, because that feels so good that the shock of it almost made him come. Phil doesn’t want to have sex yet, so that can’t happen.
“Sorry,” Phil says, “too much? I didn’t mean to - ”
“No, it’s – ” Clint tells himself that he’s not going to press his hips down against Phil’s thigh, even though Phil hasn’t moved his leg away, but then Phil moves his thigh up again and Clint’s gone, rolling his hips down and biting his lip hard.
It seems kind of rude not to do the same for Phil that Phil’s doing for him, so he slides his hand down to Phil’s ass and pushes slightly, just enough that Phil will know that it’s okay for him to introduce his cock to Clint’s thigh, if that’s something that sounds good to Phil.
Apparently it does. Phil rocks his hips and so does Clint and they kind of meet in the middle for kiss after kiss while they rut together.
It helps that they’re both still wearing their pants; as awesome as it would be to be naked and really having sex with Phil, the idea of that sounds huge and kind of scary to Clint, right now. But this, this feels so good. Phil’s arm is tight around Clint’s waist and the way they’re kissing makes it feel like maybe Phil’s on the same wavelength as Clint; maybe he never wants to stop either.
Then Phil suddenly tears his mouth away from Clint’s, making a harsh, startled ‘uh,’ sound that sounds like it’s torn out the back of his throat. He hands clench down hard on Clint’s waist and he starts to shake, the hard line of his cock twitching against Clint’s thigh in a way that Clint knows exactly how to read.
He just made Phil come in his pants.
“Shit,” Phil breathes. He drops his head down and Clint rolls them over automatically, landing on his back so Phil can tuck his head into Clint’s neck.
Clint doesn’t know what Phil likes, but he knows that he always used to wish Natasha would hold him after he came, so he pats awkwardly at Phil’s back, then decides that’s dumb and strokes his sweaty, dark hair instead.
“Shit,” Phil says again after a minute. He laughs shakily. “That’s embarrassing.”
“No.” Clint holds on tight, just in case Phil’s thinking of running away to be embarrassed anywhere other than right here. “No, that was amazing. Unless, fuck, I’m sorry, I know you didn’t want to – ”
“I’m not sure that counts as sex, does it?” Phil interrupts, before Clint can talk himself into knots.
Clint shrugs; he’s always thought that anything was sex as long as it involved orgasms with another person, but what does he know. He settles for letting his thumb run along the soft skin behind Phil’s ear and enjoying the way Phil trembles every now and then with aftershocks.
“Either way, I’m good,” Phil says. “Mortified, but good.”
“Don’t be mortified; it was crazy hot,” Clint promises and nudges Phil’s head up so he can kiss him.
Phil kisses lazily when he’s just come, apparently. He’s all slick, satisfied and lazy. It makes Clint want to purr, but that’s probably weird, so he tries not to.
“It occurs to me,” Phil says against Clint’s mouth, “that there’s a way to make me less mortified.”
“Mm?” Clint hums. “What’s that?”
Phil’s hand drifts down Clint’s bare chest and rests against the bulge he’s got going on in his pants.
Clint groans, and pushes up automatically into Phil’s hand.
“Is that a yes?” Phil asks, sounding completely serious, not teasing at all.
“Fuck yes,” Clint says. “But you don’t have to if – ” He loses the rest of the sentence when Phil starts touching him through his pants, rubbing and squeezing, and applying almost enough pressure.
It’s maybe not the most suave thing Clint’s ever done, but he can’t help grabbing Phil’s hand and pressing it down harder, rocking up into his palm for embarrassingly few strokes before his orgasm hits him too.
He forgets for a second that he’s coming in his pants and it’s going to be messy and gross and cold in just a minute. He even forgets that, at some point, he’s going to have to take his sticky mess of a self home and face the Parkers. All he can think about right then is Phil.
He thinks maybe that he says that out loud, Phil’s name over and over again, until he’s hoarse with it.
“Clint,” Phil’s whispering when Clint comes back to himself. He’s kissing all over Clint’s face, stroking his stomach and it makes Clint feel so fucking cared for that he can barely breathe.
“We quits now?” Clint asks croakily. “On the mortification stakes?”
Phil laughs and kisses him. “I guess we are,” he agrees. He looks so fond, when he pulls back, that Clint can’t stand it.
“Come here?” Clint says and keeps pulling at Phil’s arm until he’s lying mostly on top of Clint, arms around him and his head right next to Clint’s on the pillows.
“Am I squashing you?” Phil asks softly.
Clint shakes his head and turns his face to tuck it into shadows under Phil’s chin.
“Can I stay here a while?” he asks, quietly enough that Phil can pretend not to hear him if the answer’s no.
“Sure,” Phil says and curls himself tighter around Clint. The fact that he doesn’t ask why Clint needs to stay makes Clint’s sneaking suspicion that he’s falling in love with him pretty much turn into fact.
The viewing gallery is packed, when Clint gets to the archery range on Tuesday. He blinks upward, shielding his eyes against the lights but yes, it’s definitely standing room only.
Clint isn’t sure he’s ever seen anything more than a half-dozen people up there before, and those have only ever been bored-looking parents.
“What the hell?” he mutters under his breath, pulling his bow out of its case and trying not to feel self-conscious.
There are groups of kids dotted around the range. A lot of them are wearing bullshit homemade t-shirts declaring their club pride. Clint wonders if he should write Yay, Go Team Me! on his t-shirt in sharpie to fit in.
Then he remembers that he doesn’t give a shit about fitting in and settles for looking around for Kate, instead.
He sees her standing next to a dark-haired boy about Clint's age, who Clint doesn’t recognise, and half-waves when he catches her eye.
Kate waves back enthusiastically and comes hurrying over, dragging the boy behind her.
“Clint,” she says, bumping her knuckles against Clint’s shoulder. “Glad you’re here. Do you know James?”
“Hey, there,” James says, holding out his hand for Clint to shake. “It’s Bucky.” He’s hot, all long dark hair and smouldering blue eyes.
Clint’s boyfriend (fuck, Clint has a boyfriend) is so much hotter, though.
“Hi.” Clint shakes his hand and asks, “Are you new around here?”
“No, but I’ve been away.” Bucky shrugs. The way he says away makes it sound a little bit like he’s been in prison, but Clint’s doesn’t ask.
“You any good?” Clint asks.
Bucky grins with all his teeth. “I’m fantastic,” he says confidently. “Are you?”
Clint winks at him. “Let’s see, yeah?”
Kate slaps them both on the side of their heads. “I can’t tell if you two are flirting or comparing the size of your... bows, but either way, stop it; they’re about to start.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Bucky tells her cheerfully.
Clint frowns up at their audience again. “Kate? What’s with all the gawkers?”
“Oh.” Kate’s mouth does a funny, guilty grin thing. “Did I mention that this competition is kind of a big deal?”
Clint looks around again. There are a lot of people with clipboards and official expressions. “No?”
“Huh,” she says and pokes him in the spine. She’s far too free with her physical contact, Clint thinks. “Do your best.”
Bemused, Clint takes his place at the end of a lane next to Bucky. “Do you know what’s happening, here?” he asks.
Bucky cuts his eyes to the clipboard people. “See them? They’re looking for kids with promise to join this national programme thing.” He raises his eyebrows at Clint. “Still think you’re good enough?”
“Yeah, bring it,” Clint says automatically, mind whirring. He’s sure he’s good enough, but he’s not sure that there’s any point in winning a place on this programme, when he doesn’t know where he’ll be living once the Parkers send him back.
Clint guesses that he must look worried, because Bucky elbows him. “Hey. Let’s forget the rest of these guys and just try to beat each other, yeah? Kate says you’re my only competition, anyway.”
“Okay.” Clint nods firmly. Who knows, maybe Bucky is so good Clint won’t even make the grade. He’ll worry about everything else when, or if, he comes to it. “Want to bet on it?”
Bucky laughs and claps Clint on the arm. “Sure, buddy,” he says, “Loser buys dinner at that burger joint down the road?”
“Not like a date, right?” Clint asks, just to check.
Bucky snorts. “Jesus, you’re fully of yourself, kid. No, I was thinking more like friends.”
“Huh.” Clint decides not to say sorry, I don’t have any friends because that would be weird. “Cool.”
One of the clipboard people steps forward just then and clears her throat. “Good afternoon, everyone,” she says. “Up first, can I have Argent, Barnes and Dunbroch?”
Bucky steps forward and shrugs off his leather jacket. The left sleeve gets caught on his shoulder and, when he tugs it down, Clint sees that Bucky’s whole left arm is prosthetic.
Maybe that’s what he meant by being away for a while.
Clint stares, just for a second, but long enough for Bucky to notice. “Don’t worry,” he says. “It won’t stop me beating you.”
“Right,” Clint laughs. “I was just checking that it didn’t give you an unfair advantage.”
Bucky waggles two fingers at him and pulls out a gorgeous black compound bow. If it’s been modified to work with his arm, Clint can’t see where.
“Good luck,” Clint says.
“Think about what you’re gonna buy me for dinner,” Bucky calls back and takes his place in the line-up.
It turns out that there are a surprising number of kids, in New York, who are really good with a bow.
The clipboard people hmm and consult and scribble notes, then thank everyone for coming and say they’ll be in touch. Then they leave and everyone’s left blinking at each other in their wake.
“Well, that was fun,” Kate says, slinging one arm around Clint’s shoulders and the other around Bucky’s. “Come on, I’ll take you both out to dinner.”
Clint glances across at Bucky and shrugs. He beat Bucky by 0.5 points, so this seems fairer than making him pay.
“That work for you, Barton?” Bucky asks.
“Works for me,” Clint agrees. He knows he should probably go home, but Ben’s still on Peter duty, and Clint hopes that maybe if he’s home less, they’ll forget that he disappointed them at all.
It’s late by the time Clint gets home. They stuffed themselves with pizza and ice cream and stayed way longer than he’d expected to, because they were laughing so much.
Clint feels good. He had forgotten what it was like to hang out with a group of people, who were all interested in the same thing. The circus was probably not the best time of Clint’s life, but at least it gave him that.
“Where were you?” Peter hisses, sticking his head out of his bedroom door when Clint tries to tiptoe past.
“Out,” Clint whispers back.
Peter slips out of his room and follows Clint into his. “With Phil?” he asks. He throws himself down on Clint’s bed and bounces.
“I have friends that aren’t Phil,” Clint tells him, taking off his jacket and bending to untie his shoes.
“Mm, but you’re in looooove with Phil,” Peter sings.
Clint throws a shoe at him, deliberately missing so it sails over his shoulder.
Peter yelps then laughs, ducking in case Clint throws the other one too. The bruises on his face are still nasty, but the cuts have scabbed over and he looks happier, his black eye crinkling when he grins.
Clint leans his elbows on the bed and looks at Peter seriously. “How was school?”
“Eh.” Peter wrinkles his nose. “School’s terrible. I hate school. Harry Osborne keeps being nice to me and it’s weird.”
“Huh,” Clint says, not letting his expression show anything. “Is that bad?”
“It’s weird,” Peter repeats, like Clint might not have understood the scale of the weirdness the first time. “Harry Osborne’s like, cool and stuff.”
That wasn’t totally the impression Clint got but, whatever, thirteen-year-olds are strange and he didn't understand them when he was one, either.
“Make some friends, kid,” he says, with all the wisdom of someone who may have accidentally made one for himself today.
Peter sticks his tongue out at Clint. Then he looks down at the comforter and starts to fiddle with it.
“What?” Clint asks, poking Peter in the knee.
“I’m sorry I got you in trouble,” Peter says all in a rush. “Are you still mad at me?”
“What?” Clint asks again, totally confused this time. “I wasn’t mad at you; weren’t you were mad at me? For telling?”
Peter shakes his head so hard that all his crazy, bushy hair flies upward.
Clint laughs. He’s more relieved that he should be. “Can you keep a secret?” he asks.
“Yes?” Peter says eagerly.
That probably means that he can’t, but Clint decides to tell him about the archery competition anyway.
“Wow,” Peter says eyes wide. “Could you be in the Olympics?”
Clint hadn’t actually thought of that. “That’s a big damn jump,” he says, even though why else would anyone be paying attention to emerging talent? “Maybe.”
“That would be amazing,” Peter says breathily. “You could get us tickets, right? If you were competing? The three of us could fly to London to see you?”
Clint swallows hard. The idea that Peter thinks that the Parkers are still going to be interested in Clint’s life by the time the next Olympics rolls around makes Clint's heart hurt. Clint will be twenty by then.
“That would be good,” he says quietly. “Or you could come, anyway. You’ll be seventeen.”
“Well, obviously,” Peter says, rolling his eyes. He flops backwards on the bed and closes his eyes. “Can I sleep here?”
“No,” Clint scoffs, but by the time he gets back from brushing his teeth, Peter is fast asleep, mouth open and snoring softly.
Clint sighs to the universe, but he doesn’t tip Peter off the bed.
“Clint?” May calls when Clint’s about to rush out of the house the next morning.
Clint skids to a halt in the hall and doubles back. “Hi, good morning,” he says, remembering to smile at her even though it’s really, really early.
“Someone phoned while you were in shower,” she says, one half of her mouth curling up. “From the US Archery Association.”
Clint freezes. “Yeah?” he asks. He wasn't expecting it to, but his voice comes out sounding strangled.
May steps forward, putting her coffee mug on the table and takes Clint’s hands. “The lady I spoke to says that you have a place on their programme,” she says.
Clint squeezes May’s hands hard. He doesn’t mean to. He hasn’t been letting himself hope, at all. “Really?” he asks. “Fuck.”
Instead of telling him to mind his language, May laughs. “I’m so proud of you,” she says, then she sobers. “But why didn’t you tell us that you’d… is auditioned the right word?”
Clint shrugs. “You were busy with Peter,” he says. “It’s not that big a deal.”
“Of course, it’s a big deal,” May scolds. “It’s wonderful. I had no idea you were so talented.”
Clint looks down at the floor and mutters something that even he doesn’t catch.
“Did you think we wouldn’t care?” May asks, sounding sad. “You do know how much we – ”
Clint’s cell phone starts buzzing in his bag and stops her in her tracks. Clint is unimaginably glad about that, since he doesn’t think he can take her being nice to him right now, not when everything feels so unsettled.
“Sorry,” Clint says and finds his phone. It’s finished ringing by the time he gets his hands on it, but a text comes in before Clint can go to his call log.
I’m outside when you’re ready
Huh. Clint leans over to look out the kitchen window and yeah, okay, there’s Phil. In his car outside the Parker’s house.
“Sorry,” Clint says again, “I have to go.”
May follows where Clint’s looking. “Who’s that?” she asks. “Is that Phil?” When Clint blinks at her, she laughs. “Peter talks about you a lot. He was very taken with your… friend, too.”
“Yeah,” Clint mutters. “Phil’s, you know. He’s pretty easy to be taken with.”
May looks at him sharply, a smile dancing around in her eyes. “Well, I’d like to meet him too, then.”
Why? Clint thinks. “Okay, I’ll work something out,” he lies quickly and grabs up his bag. “I gotta go.”
“Clint,” May says, before he can run. She pulls him in toward her and presses a firm kiss to his cheek. “Have a good day.”
Clint feels himself blush. “You too,” he says, then gets the hell out of there.
“That was quick,” Phil says when Clint throws himself into the passenger side of his car.
“Wanted to see you,” Clint says, to keep their history of terrible pick-up lines alive. “Hey.”
“Good morning,” Phil says and leans over to kiss Clint, right there.
Clint flails for a second, because there’s no way that May isn’t watching. But it’s Phil. Besides, May obviously already knows, so he just kisses back eagerly.
“How was practice yesterday?” Phil asks when they’re done.
Clint feels a little bit terrible with guilt. He doesn’t know why he didn’t tell anyone about the competition; that was dumb.
“It was kind of more than a practice,” he says, looking at Phil’s ear rather than meeting his eyes. “It was like this, competition thing, to find people for this whole, um, this national archery programme.” Phil doesn’t answer so Clint rushes on, “I got in?”
“Oh.” Phil looks like he’s searching for words for a second, then he shakes himself out of it. “Wow, that’s fantastic. Well done.” He pulls Clint in for another kiss, which is nice, but Clint can feel the surprised hurt radiating off him.
“I didn’t tell anyone,” Clint confesses against Phil’s cheek. “May just found out and gave me the stoically offended routine too, so could you not? I’ll die of guilt. I’m too young and pretty to die of guilt, right?”
Phil snorts a laugh. “Keep telling yourself that,” he says, but he doesn’t seem mad anymore.
It’s like a bruise that Clint can’t stop poking at. “If I’d told you, would you have come to watch?”
Phil had been in the middle of starting the car. He pauses with his hand still wrapped around the key.
“Obviously,” he says, tone just slightly chiding.
Clint sinks back into his seat and tries to remember that. Obviously, he repeats in his head, and smiles.
Phil parks the car at his house – which means that there was absolutely no need for him to pick Clint up – and he and Clint walk the rest of the way to school together. They get a couple of funny looks for arriving together, but Clint glares back at anyone who looks too long and Phil seems not to notice at all, so it works out okay.
“Thanks for the ride,” Clint starts to say, but Phil isn’t making a break for his homeroom, like Clint was expecting.
“I’m not in a rush,” Phil says and bumps his hip against Clint’s.
“Okay,” Clint drawls, “but I kind of go for the slide into class at the very last second strategy. You happy with that?”
Phil looks hilariously conflicted at that. It makes Clint laugh but also feel stupidly, impossibly fond of him.
“Nerd,” Clint says affectionately.
Phil doesn’t answer, just huffs, but Clint catches him smiling out the far corner of his mouth.
It does seem like he’s happy enough to walk along at Clint’s don’t-want-to-go-inside pace and it isn’t until they’re standing outside Ms Carter’s classroom that Clint realises that he was being shepherded.
“Wow, you’re a sneaky bastard,” Clint says, impressed.
Phil hums innocently. “Just go and talk to her, Barton,” he says. He lifts his hand like he’s going to give Clint a little shove into the room, but strokes up the back of Clint’s neck instead, fingers ruffling through the roots of his hair.
Clint ends up going to beg forgiveness from Ms Carter with a semi in his jeans. It’s embarrassing but not the most embarrassing thing he’s ever done.
on to part four