Title: All I’ve Got Left To Believe In (or read on AO3)
Fandom: The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man
Pairing: Clint Barton/Phil Coulson (Tony Stark/Pepper Potts, past Clint Barton/Natasha Romanoff)
Length: 35,300 words
Content notes: enthusiastically consensual sex between a 16 and a 17-year-old (Clint and Phil). Non-explicit mentions of past sex between 15-year-olds (Clint and Natasha). Mentions of (non-sexual) child abuse and bullying.
A/N: huge thanks to so many people for their help with this one: foxxcub audienced the whole thing as it was being written, harriet_vane American picked and was incredibly helpful with all things New York and elucreh betaed and sorted out all my commas. <3
Summary: Clint Barton is not Peter Parker's big brother (high school AU)
Clint is pretty sure that whoever invented English class did it just to make him feel stupid. He’s pretty good at math and he totally rocks at physics but shit like this, where he has to make a coherent argument with words, just makes him want to give up and go kick something hard instead.
“I’m sorry, dude,” he says, and he is, he would love to have something impressive and meaningful to contribute, if only because he likes to see Phil smile, “but I genuinely don’t give a fuck what the significance is of the way this kid treats her mom.”
Phil doesn’t sigh at Clint; he saves his sighs for when he really wants to make Clint feel like shit. He just rolls over onto his stomach on the bed and starts underlining things in Clint’s book.
“You don’t need to care,” Phil tells him patiently, pausing for a minute to suck the end of his pen. Clint looks down at the patterned comforter, up at the wall, anywhere but at Phil’s mouth. “You just need to understand it. No one’s asking that The Scarlet Letter becomes your favourite book of all time, just that you can write a damn paper on it.”
“Yeah,” Clint says slowly. “Still pretty sure I’m gonna fail.”
“And I’m pretty sure you’re not,” Phil says, looking at him hard, before getting back to whatever he’s doing to Clint’s book.
Phil keeps doing shit like that, keeps believing in Clint. Clint wishes he’d quit it; he’s way better at dealing with people who think he’s a screw-up.
Because he has no idea what to say to that, Clint completely ignores it. “The Hunger Games,” he says instead surprising himself.
“Hmm?” Phil asks, looking up. He’s gotten a smudge of blue highlighter on his cheek. Clint carefully doesn’t look at that either.
“That’s my favourite book,” Clint mutters, embarrassed now.
“Ah.” Phil nods. “Because of the archery?”
Clint blinks, surprised. Until Ms Carter tricked Phil into tutoring him, Clint didn’t even know that Phil knew who he was. In the past month, they haven’t talked about much but English class so it’s kind of a shock to find out that Phil knows about Clint’s hobbies.
“No,” Clint says because Phil’s actually looking at him, waiting for an answer, like he thinks Clint’s going to say something interesting. “Well, I mean, yeah. That’s pretty cool, but I liked how Katniss was really sneaky and played everyone all the time. She was awesome.”
She’d reminded him of Natasha. He doesn’t say that; he doesn’t ever talk to anyone about Natasha.
Phil smiles and nods. “Have you seen the movie?”
“Nah.” Clint shrugs like he didn’t count down the days until it came out. “Never got around to it.”
His foster mom decided that it would be nice to take the whole family, so he’d waited. It wasn’t any kind of surprise, when it fell through, but he was still stupidly disappointed.
“I’ve got a download, if you want to watch it?” Phil offers, looking weirdly uncertain for a second before he flattens his expression back to neutral.
“A download?” Clint asks. “How?” Because no way does Phil Coulson, school council treasurer and future valedictorian, engage in internet piracy.
Phil just smirks at him. “I have my ways,” he says mysteriously and then bites his lip a little. “Do you want to watch it?”
“Now?” Clint asks, surprised. “What about the stupid book?”
Phil shrugs. “You’re doing pretty well and we’ve been at it for three hours already.”
“What? No way.” Clint glances up at the clock on Phil’s bedroom wall, staring when he realises that it’s nearly four in the afternoon. “Oh shit man, you should have said. I didn’t mean to take up your whole Sunday.”
Phil shrugs. “It’s okay, it’s not like I had any other plans.”
Clint is pretty sure that’s not true; Phil does more extracurricular shit than anyone Clint knows, but if he’s happy hanging out with Clint instead, Clint’s not going to tell him that he’s wrong.
“Okay then, sure,” Clint says, because he’s an idiot and torturing himself by spending more time with Phil is obviously the best way to get over the crush he’s been nurturing since, like, ever.
Phil flashes him a quick, surprisingly open smile, and drags his laptop over to the middle of the bed, setting up the screen so that Clint’s only going to be able to see properly if he lies down next to him.
Clint lies down next to him.
“Have you seen this already?” Clint asks, once Phil’s hit play, noticing the way Phil’s drumming his thumb against the comforter, like he’s nervous or, way more likely, bored already.
“Shh,” Phil tells him, “pay attention.”
“Why?” Clint asks automatically. “Is there going to be a pop quiz?”
Phil tips his head, looking over at Clint. He looks like he’s not sure if he’s going to smack Clint or laugh at him. Clint isn’t sure what it says about him that he’d be happy either way.
“There might be,” Phil says eventually, low, and then elbows Clint in the side.
Clint twists away, grinning to himself, then settles down to watch the movie.
It’s late by the time the movie’s over. Clint’s eyes feel kind of hot, which is definitely to do with staring at the screen too long and nothing to do with anything sad that might have happened to Rue.
“What did you think?” Phil asks, closing the lid on the laptop and looking across at Clint.
Clint scratches a dry patch of skin under his left eye and shrugs. “Yeah, it was okay.”
Phil smirks at him. “I thought it was great. The way they conceptualised the Capitol was pretty cool.”
“Right?” Clint says, leaning across the laptop, closer to Phil. “And when they were on fire and, shit, the scene where she was showing off her archery skills and those assholes didn’t care but – ” He stops, coughing. “I mean, it was… good. Yeah.”
Phil’s smirk is less teasing now. “It was.” He sounds pleased and Clint wonders if this is some kind of double bluff to make Clint have literary thoughts, but Phil doesn’t push it. “Glad you liked it.”
Clint doesn’t know what to say next so he glances up at the clock. It’s six thirty. Shit. “Shit. I should go.” He starts to roll up onto his knees, grabbing his stuff that’s spread out across Phil’s bed.
“Sure,” Phil says easily, “Unless you’d like to stay for dinner?”
Clint hesitates. “What?” he asks, stalling. “I can’t just – ”
“I mean,” Phil says quickly, “if you need to get home, that’s cool, I can give you a ride, but you’re welcome to stay.”
Clint’s instinct is to say no, go home – he hasn’t got in too much shit with this foster family yet and he’d like to keep it that way – but it’s not like there’s anything much waiting for him there. And Phil’s here.
“Would your mom mind?” he asks, still thinking.
“My dad does the cooking during the week,” Phil says, shrugging. “And no, he won’t care.”
Never let it be said that Clint Barton can’t make dumb decisions on the fly. “Okay,” he says, “sure. Thanks.”
Phil shrugs again. “I’ll go tell him.” He waves a hand around the room. “Don’t break anything.”
“Aw,” Clint sighs. “Please can I?”
“Not unless my grandmother bought it,” Phil allows and then lets himself out, shutting the door behind him.
Clint grins at nothing and flops backwards onto the bed. He pulls out his phone and texts his foster mom:
Having dinner w/friend. C u later.
He puts his phone away again, trying not to picture the look of shock that May will get on her face at the thought of Clint having friends.
“Where were you?”
Clint’s eyes spring open at the voice that comes out of the darkness and finds himself eyeball to shiny eyeball with a floating pale face.
“Jesus, Peter,” he groans, rolling onto his back and away from the epic weirdo kneeling beside his bed, staring at him in the middle of the fucking night.
“Hey,” Peter says and crawls up onto the bed beside Clint, pillowing his chin on his arms and staring up at Clint from under his bangs.
Clint looks over at the clock and sighs. “Dude, it’s four in the morning. Go to sleep.”
“Can’t,” Peter tells him with a shrug, like he doesn’t care. Clint’s not fooled; if Peter didn’t care about being awake, he wouldn’t be bugging Clint about it.
“Yeah? Well I can.” Clint rolls over onto his stomach and hopes that Peter goes away.
He doesn’t. Obviously.
“It’s Sunday,” Peter says dramatically.
Clint glares pointedly at his clock but it’s probably too dark for Peter to notice. “Technically it’s Monday.”
Peter makes a sad noise. Jeez but this is an emo kid. An emo kid who’s latched onto Clint like a baby duckling, for reasons Clint will never understand.
“Fucking what?” Clint demands. He starts to sit up, planning to turn on the light and glare Peter into submission, but Peter slaps his hand down before he can reach the switch.
“Don’t do that,” he hisses. “Aunt May and Uncle Peter will know we’re awake.”
“We’re not awake,” Clint has to point out. “You’re awake. I’m just collateral damage.”
Even in the weak moonlight, Clint can see Peter’s tragic attempt at a smile flicker and die. He always tries to look like he’s okay, but Clint gets the feeling he almost never is.
“Hey, brat,” Clint says, nudging Peter’s knee with his own. “What’s up?”
Clint is not Peter’s big brother, Clint will never be Peter’s big brother, but he’s occasionally okay with pretending. But only because it’ll get him back to sleep quicker, obviously.
Peter shrugs, scrawny shoulders going all the way up before flopping back down sadly. “School tomorrow,” he says, looking away.
Right. Like the problem could be anything else. Peter goes to a dumb middle school where he’s miserable, but he has some kind of like, on-going campaign to never upset his aunt and uncle so they have no idea about any of it.
How they keep believing that all the bruises Peter comes home wearing are from being clumsy and thirteen, Clint doesn’t know. But it’s not his business to clue them in, so he hasn’t.
“School sucks,” Clint agrees, even though his is actually okay, way better than any of the dozen others he’s been to.
Peter drags his legs up in front of them and rests his chin in the groove between his knees. “Mm,” he says quietly.
Shit. Clint’s actually going to have to say something. “Want me to walk you in tomorrow?” he asks and wait, what, where did that come from? That is away more involved than Clint tries to be with this family.
Peter actually fucking perks up, there’s no other word for it. “Seriously?” he asks, flailing out a hand before raining it back in. “Can you?”
Clint can probably get from Peter’s school to his before homeroom. He’d been planning to hang around the juniors’ lockers and maybe see if Phil walked by but probably – probably – stopping Peter from getting beaten up again is more important than that.
“If I say yes, will you shut up and let me sleep?” Clint asks.
“Yes,” Peter agrees happily and flops backwards onto Clint’s spare pillow. Which was not at all Clint’s plan but, whatever, as long as he doesn’t kick, Clint might let him live.
Clint’s late for school. For thirteen-year-olds with unevenly breaking voices, the asshole kids at Peter’s school take a lot of convincing to move out of the fucking way.
“Dog eat your alarm clock?” Clint hears from behind him and stifles a groan.
“Yep,” he says without taking his head out of his locker. Maybe Phil’ll keep walking, if Clint doesn’t look at him. (Clint really likes looking at him; it’s a shame.) “Never should have bought him that adamantium jaw.”
Phil laughs, this soft little brush of sound which Clint usually loves listening to. He stops and leans against the bank of lockers, way too close for Clint to be able to duck away without Phil getting a look at his face. Shit.
“Clint?” Phil asks. “Everything okay?”
“Mmhmm,” Clint agrees, and keeps rummaging. “Just can’t find my – ”
“Clint.” Phil’s voice is firm and the way he touches Clint’s shoulder is even more clearly an order.
“It looks way worse than it is,” Clint says and grudgingly turns toward him.
Phil’s eyes go wide. “Crap,” he says, fingers twitching against Clint’s shoulder before falling away. “What happened?”
Clint licks reflexively at his split and swollen bottom lip. “Hit myself in the face with my phone,” he lies.
“Right.” Phil nods. “Because your phone weighs two hundred pounds?”
Clint winces. “Yeah. It’s one of those new Stark phones, you know.”
Apparently that’s exactly as much bullshit as Phil has the patience for because he grabs Clint’s arm, before Clint can get out any more lies, and tugs him down the hallway.
“Wait, hang on, I need to close my locker,” Clint protests. “Coulson, stop.”
Phil lets go but keeps tapping his foot until Clint’s grabbed his books, locked his locker and come back to him.
“You need to get out of the hallway before a teacher catches you looking like you lost a prize fight,” he says sternly, and pulls Clint into the bathroom.
Clint has maybe had a thought or two about Phil and empty bathroom stalls but not a school bathroom; everything’s unsexily damp and smelly in here.
“If you wanted to be alone with me, you could have just asked,” Clint says, widening his eyes obnoxiously at Phil.
Phil blinks slightly slower for one beat then shakes his head. “Yes, Barton, this is my dream.”
He walks across the room, somehow managing to look dignified while stepping over balled-up lumps of soggy toilet paper and pulls a wad of hand towels out of the dispenser.
“Hold onto those,” he says, dropping half the towels into Clint’s hands. He wets the remaining few under the faucet and holds them up toward Clint’s face.
Clint takes an automatic step back, right into the row of sinks (there’s a cute boy reaching up toward his face while he’s all gross, okay, it’s instinctive). “What are you - ?”
“Would you rather go out there looking like you’ve been in a fight?” Phil asks. “You’ll get detention.”
Why do you care? We’re not friends, Clint thinks, but doesn’t say. “Wouldn’t be the first time,” he says with a shrug.
Phil doesn’t look impressed. Clint never really thought he would be. “Just come here,” he says and holds Clint’s face still with a very firm grip on his chin.
Phil’s determined expression flickers into something less certain. “Or you could do it yourself?” he says, sounding odd. He lets go.
Clint’s confused. Phil’s not touching him right this moment, though, so he maybe has a chance of getting his brain in gear.
“I, no, that’s.” He clears his throat and glances to the side, at their reflections in the spotted mirror over the sink. Phil’s skin’s a mottled sort of colour like he can’t decide if he wants to blush or blanche. “You’re okay.”
“Sure?” Phil asks. He moves in again, but he doesn’t touch Clint this time. Clint tells himself that he doesn’t mind. Phil’s quick and efficient, mopping up the blood on Clint’s chin and the corner of his mouth, pinky finger resting against the sore skin of Clint’s lip. He steps back as soon as he’s done.
“Thanks,” Clint says, twisting to check himself in the mirror. His lip’s still swollen but he looks less like he’s been brawling, which is good. Normally he wouldn’t care about it, but he doesn’t want the Parkers getting called down to the school, if he can help it.
Phil’s reflection shrugs. “If you get detention, we won’t be able to work on your English grade.”
Right. That makes sense. Except for the part where Clint isn’t really sure what Phil gets out of making Clint look less dumb in class. “Thanks, anyway,” he says awkwardly.
He dries his face off with a couple of the dry towels Phil pressed on him and wastes some time throwing them in the trash.
Phil hasn’t said anything else.
The warning bell rings just then, letting them know they have five minutes to get to class.
Clint’s first class is math which isn’t one of the shitty ones, so he picks his bag off the counter and slings it over a shoulder.
“Coming?” he asks.
“Yes, in a minute,” Phil tells him. He’s washing his hands, which apparently takes way more concentration than you’d think, considering there isn’t even any soap.
“Coulson?” Clint asks, hovering in the doorway. He doesn’t know why he’s pushing; he should just accept that this was a weird, awkward interlude in his day and get on with life.
But it’s Phil.
Phil takes a breath, straightens his shoulders and gives Clint a blank, expressionless smile. It’s the same one Clint’s seen him give teachers who he disagrees with.
“I know it’s none of my business, but if you’re in trouble, you can… I can help,” he says, which isn’t what Clint was expecting him to say, at all.
Clint blinks. “How?” he asks, rather than what he should say which is I’m fine; a thirteen year old punk got in a lucky throw with his basketball, that’s all.
Phil waves a hand, like that’s unimportant. “I’d find a way,” he says impatiently. “But if it’s drugs or… You just need to tell me what you’re into and then – ”
“Into?” Clint echoes. It’s dumb, it’s so fucking dumb to feel hurt, because of course that’s the conclusion Phil jumped to. Clint’s the new kid with no parents, a tattoo on his left shoulder, and a fuck-off attitude; he knows what his reputation is at school.
But Phil watched a movie with him on Sunday and introduced him to his dad. He’d just thought that maybe Phil saw him differently.
“Or whatever,” Phil presses carefully.
Clint hunches his shoulders and shoves the door open. “Or whatever,” his agrees. “I’ll see you around.”
“Clint?” he hears, but he doesn’t wait around to see what Phil’ll come up with next.
Ben has been staring at him all through dinner. Clint had a shitty day and it’s starting to get on his nerves, but Clint has a policy of not drawing attention to himself from foster parents, no matter how nice they seem, so he doesn’t drop his fork and demand fucking what? like he really wants to.
Across the table, Peter’s jittering in his seat and keeps shooting Clint guilty glances. He is the least subtle kid ever.
“Stop it,” Clint mouths at Peter, when Ben turns to say something to May.
“Sorry,” Peter hisses back and then concentrates really hard on cutting up his potatoes when everyone at the table looks at him.
Who even cuts up mashed potatoes, seriously?
“Clint,” May says kindly, “is something wrong with your dinner?”
“Hmm, what?” Clint looks at his plate. He hasn’t eaten much; his mouth is fucking throbbing and his stomach is still in hurt, angry knots over his conversation with Phil this morning. “No, it’s good, thanks.”
He ducks his head and tries to look like he’s really, really enjoying the food.
“Don’t choke yourself,” May says, sounding like she’s rolling her eyes. “I can make you something else.”
“No. It’s good. I promise.” Clint’s always hated mashed potato. When he was tiny and new to foster care, he asked the woman they were staying with for something different for dinner. She made him sit at the table and eat every bite of his dinner and all the leftovers. It took him hours. Every time he eats mashed potato now, he tastes snotty, little-kid tears.
May sighs. Ben says something to her that Clint doesn’t catch through the sound of his own chomping. Then, louder, “Peter, if you’re finished, you’re excused.”
“Can I stay?” Peter asks. “I need to talk to Clint.”
“We need to talk to Clint,” Ben says and oh yeah, that’s not ominous at all. “Don’t you have homework?”
“No,” Peter says brightly. “I finished it on the bus on the way home.”
Clint snorts. Of course he did. He puts his fork down and catches Peter’s eye. “I’ll come see you later, yeah?” he says. “Do what your uncle says.”
Peter glares at him, betrayed, but Clint just stares back, accidentally trying on one of Phil’s Are You Seriously Questioning Me Right Now? glares.
“Fine,” Peter huffs and gets up from the table. He stomps all the way up the stairs and Clint has to bite back a smile. He’s got no business feeling fond of some random kid; it’d be dumb to start now.
“What’s up?” he asks Ben, trying to look casual and not letting himself tongue at his split lip. It feels like it’s pulsing in time with his heartbeat; he really hopes it’s not.
It’s May who leans across the table and pats his hand. “Did you get into a fight?” she asks, all straightforward and no-bullshit. Clint usually likes that about her, it’s so much more refreshing than the ones who tell him they understand his pain.
“Yeah,” Clint says, because he did, kind of. “Sorry.”
“Clint,” May sighs. Ben looks disappointed. Clint feels kind of sick and then hates himself for letting it matter.
“Do you want to tell us about it?” Ben asks.
Clint shakes his head. “It was just a dumb fight. No one really got hurt.” Clint didn’t even hit the asshole kid back. He totally deserved it, but hitting kids way younger than him just didn’t feel right.
“You were hurt,” May points out, like that matters.
Clint shrugs. “It’s fine.” He glances longingly up at the stairs. This is a hundred levels of awkward; it’s not like they really care, not the same way they would if they knew it was Peter who’s really getting beaten up.
Clint wishes he could tell them, but he promised he wouldn’t, so he won’t.
“You’d tell us if you were in trouble, wouldn’t you?” Ben asks, in a tone that makes it not really a question.
Clint nods automatically, even though he really wouldn’t. “Yes, sir,” he promises. “Sure.”
Ben looks at him hard for a minute, but whatever he’s looking to find in Clint’s face, he obviously doesn’t, because he shakes his head and sits back.
“You can go,” he says, sounding resigned. “Unless you did your homework on the bus, too?”
“No one but Peter does homework on the bus,” Clint says, jumping up gratefully. He goes to pick up his plate to take out to the kitchen but May stops him.
“It’s fine,” she says, “leave it.”
Clint frowns. “But it’s my turn to do the dishes.” He’s not shirking his chores; he learned that lesson in more than one group home.
“Leave it,” May repeats firmly. She swats at him lightly. “Off you go. Scram.”
Clint manages to find a smile for her and does as he’s told. He can hear May and Ben start talking quietly before he’s quite out of listening range, but he just speeds up his steps until their voices fade into the background; he doesn’t want to know what they’re saying.
Peter’s lying in his bedroom doorway, legs up against the opposite wall like some freakishly bendy spider-monkey or something. “Are you in trouble?” he stage-whispers.
“Nah.” Clint shrugs. He seems to have spent all day shrugging off shit. “It’s cool.”
“Clint.” Peter rolls around until he’s kneeling up, reaching out to grab Clint’s wrist.
Clint jerks his hand away automatically, then feels bad when Peter’s face clouds over. “I’ll see you in the morning,” he says, trying to sound kind or calm or whatever it is Peter’s looking for from him.
“We could watch a movie,” Peter offers, hopefully.
“Some other time,” Clint says and shuts his bedroom door on whatever Peter’s going to say next. He leans back against it and closes his eyes.
It’s early still, but he doesn’t care; today has sucked, he’s going to bed. Maybe he’ll wake up in the morning and everyone will stop treating him like he’s one wrong move away from joining Barney in juvie.
That’d be a really nice change.
Clint’s Tuesdays have a pattern: get through class as unobtrusively as possible, so he can cut out early and run to his after school archery class.
It’s not the same as being back in the circus where he could shoot all day every day, if he wanted to, but it’s better than anything he’s had since and it’s basically the highlight of his week.
Which is why he really doesn’t need Peter texting him frantically and ceaselessly since lunch, begging Clint to come pick him up after school.
Can’t today, Clint texts back under the desk and hides his phone between his knees so his French teacher won’t get suspicious. Tuesdays are the one day a week where he can’t let himself get put in detention.
The buzzing starts to get constant and uncomfortable. The next time the teacher turns to the board, Clint sneaks another look.
Whatve u done??? he sends back and then immediately dips his head back toward his exercise book, because he’s very, very focused on conjugating past participles. Totally focused. No one has ever been a better student than Clint Barton on Tuesdays.
Class ends pretty soon after that, thank god; he’s been getting some pretty weird looks from the girl next to him. It’s like she’s never met anyone with constantly vibrating thighs before.
He takes a look at Peter’s latest message and groans out loud.
Maybe possibly totally accidentally broke flashs skateboard?!?!!
Clint closes his eyes. Peter is going to get himself killed. It’s like he doesn’t realise what that’d do to May and Ben.
BE OUTSIDE IN TEN DO NOT BE LATE Clint sends back, as menacing as capital letters can be, and sprints for his locker.
Where he finds Phil waiting for him. Because of course.
“I honestly don’t have time for whatever it is you want to say to me,” Clint warns him, cutting him off at the pass. If Phil wants to accuse Clint of peddling smack to the freshmen or something, he can do it tomorrow.
Phil looks kind of awful, Clint notes in passing, but he doesn’t have time to check if he’s imagined it, just chucks his books into his locker and grabs the ones he needs for homework.
“What if it’s sorry?” Phil offers while Clint’s struggling to get his backpack to zip. “What if it’s I’m an idiot and I’m really sorry?”
Clint closes his bag with a determined yank and looks up at him. Yep, Phil looks like shit, all awkward expressions and bitten bottom lip.
He’s usually so blank faced and put together that this is weird enough to make Clint pause.
“Is it?” Clint asks suspiciously.
Phil nods quickly. “I really didn’t mean to offend you, yesterday,” he says, glancing around like this isn’t where he’d like to have this conversation. “It was a stupid conclusion to jump to.”
“It was,” Clint agrees. He wishes Phil looked less sorry; it really hurt and Clint would like to hold onto this grudge a bit longer.
“Can I- ” Someone slams their locker just behind Phil and he leans in closer to be heard, breath brushing Clint’s cheek. He smells like mint gum and copier ink. “I know you’ve got archery now, but can I make it up to you tomorrow?”
Clint raises his eyebrows, but doesn’t ask how Phil knows that. He’s not feeling curious, right now, he’s feeling harassed.
“The only way you can make it up to me is if you’ve got a flux capacitor hidden in your bag,” he says, kind of snappily, maybe.
“If I had one of those, I’d have already used it to go back in time and not offend you.” Phil actually sounds sincere. “Why?”
Clint sighs, slamming his locker closed and hurrying down the hallway. Phil keeps pace easily. “Too many places to be at once.” He’s going to have to miss archery; fuck, but he doesn’t want to miss archery.
Phil grabs the door before Clint can, holding it open for him so Clint doesn’t need to slow down. “I don’t have a flux capacitor and it’s not a Delorean, but I do have a car?”
Clint stops just long enough to raise his eyebrows. “At school?” This is New York; no one has a car at school.
“Well, no, but.” Phil straightens his shoulders, looking determined. “You know I live just down the block. Come on, it’ll be quicker than the bus or waiting for Doc Hollywood.”
Clint doesn’t mean to laugh, he doesn’t want to laugh. He laughs.
Phil drives a slightly dented turn-of-the century Toyota Camry. Somehow, he’s managed to find parking for it outside his family’s big, brownstone house.
Clint is more jealous of the car than the house, even though he’s seen inside that and it’s super nice. A car would mean freedom, though; he’d kill for that.
“Nice,” he says, throwing his bag into the throwing his bag on the floor by his feet then climbing inside after it.
Phil shrugs. “It’s my mom’s. She’s away and my dad gets the subway so they let me drive it.”
He buckles up and stares and Clint until he does the same. “So, you need a ride somewhere.”
Clint really doesn’t like inviting people into his life, but this is kind of an emergency. If he misses archery today, he can’t guarantee that he’ll get through the next week without flipping his lid at someone. Also there’s that thing where Peter may actually get murdered.
“I do,” Clint tells him and waits, seeing if Phil will do it without any more explanation.
After a second, Phil nods and turns the key. “Okay, then,” he says.
They don’t talk as they exit Phil’s street – Clint has two settings: way too talkative and awkward silence – and neither of them says anything until they’re on the main road and Phil goes to take a left.
“Right here,” Clint says, still staring out the windshield.
“You go to the gym on North Street, don’t you?” Phil asks, slowing down all the same.
“I’m not going to ask how you know that,” Clint tells him even though he, yeah, really does want to know. “But we’re not going there yet.”
“No?” Phil asks. When Clint doesn’t give him any more information, he just blows out a breath and takes a right. “Give me directions, then.”
Clint does, telling himself all the way that this is stupid idea. Phil doesn’t need to be mixed up in Clint’s home life; he sure as hell doesn’t need to meet Peter. Maybe if Clint doesn’t tell Phil where they’re going, he won’t notice that they’re pulled up outside a school and he’ll somehow miss the kid in his backseat.
“Hey, this was my middle school,” Phil says when they pull up out front.
So much for that cunning plan, then.
“Yeah? Cool,” Clint says, not really concentrating. He opens the passenger door, about to get out in search of Peter. “I told him to be ready.”
“Who?” Phil asks, just as a tiny, awkward blur of Peter comes tearing out of the main school building, bookbag bump-bumping against his leg.
Clint jumps out the car, because that is the definitely the run of someone being chased.
“Pete,” he calls and Peter waves distractedly, tripping over his own feet in his rush to get to safety. Clint was never that graceless, he’s sure.
“Hi, hi,” Peter says, stumbling into Clint and pushing him back toward the passenger seat while fumbling with the back door. “Whose car is this? No, wait, I don’t care. Get in, we need to drive.”
That last bit is said from the safety of inside the car, so Clint rolls his eyes at the still-empty schoolyard and slips back inside the car.
“Hi,” Phil says to Peter, while Clint gets the door closed. “I’m Phil.”
“Hello, hi, could you drive, please?” Peter asks. He’s probably turning the massive brown Bambi eyes on Phil; Clint can tell just by his tone of voice.
“Are we being chased by bandits?” Phil asks, putting the car in gear and taking the parking brake off.
“Yes,” Peter says firmly.
Clint takes a look out the window and yep, there’s Flash and his gang, coming from around the back of the school, like they were waiting for Peter to come out that way, the same way he usually does.
“Maybe,” he allows, then risks a glance at Phil.
Phil looks like he can’t decide if he’s worried or entertained. At least he probably doesn’t think Peter’s a drug dealer.
“Thanks,” Clint says softly, while Peter starts in on a story about how he’s just escaped from Certain Death (Peter’s the kind of kid who talks in capital letters).
Phil catches his eye and smiles. “It was more exciting than the student council meeting I had planned.”
Clint snorts. He doesn’t mean to, he means to still be pissed. “Even with Tony Stark there?”
Phil has to concentrate on the road, so he stops looking at Clint. “Trust me, I’d much rather spend time with you than with Stark.”
Clint should definitely not feel pleased about that, but apparently his heart doesn’t care about things like should.
They get into kind of a disagreement about where to go after the school. Phil wants to drop Clint off at archery then take Peter home. Clint thinks he can’t ask Phil to do that. Peter wants to stick with Clint.
Somehow – and Clint has no idea how, which says so much about his life – this leads to Phil and Peter going off for milkshakes at the diner across the road while Clint heads into the gym.
He has no idea what they’re going to talk about, and can only pray it’s not going to be him. (Who’s he kidding? It’s totally going to be him, isn’t it?)
“Wow, did that target personally offend you?” Clint’s instructor, Kate, asks, leaning back a little, like she thinks Clint’s bow is suddenly going to recoil on her or something.
“It’s looking at me funny,” Clint tells her, eyes already sighted down the length of another arrow. He blows out a slow breath and spreads his fingers.
The arrow hits the bullseye, slicing through the centre of the one before it, Brave-style.
“Well, you’ve sure taken its eye out,” Kate agrees, slapping him on the shoulder and heading down the range toward the kids who actually need her instruction.
When Clint was first told that he wasn’t allowed on the range without an instructor, he thought that was complete bullshit, but he doesn’t actually mind having her around. And she’s maybe – maybe – shown him a couple things that have helped with his posture.
She always gets pissed when he shoots things without looking though, so they’re still ironing out the glitches in their relationship.
Ninety minutes, and after more than one arrow has been tragically sacrificed, Clint is feeling immeasurably calmer in his general... brain area, and the kids filing in to take their turn on the range are staring at him with the appropriate levels of awe.
“Clint?” Kate calls, stopping him when he waves goodbye.
“Yeah?” He winces. “Sorry about the arrows. I can totally pay for those.” He can’t, but he can save his lunch money for a couple weeks; he knows how to make cash stretch.
She waves that off. “Please. If they split that easy, the centre should be proving us with better ones already. No, listen, there’s a competition next week. It’s not a big thing, but it’s interstate. Are you interested?”
Clint grins at her. “Are you kidding?” he asks. “Of course.” Clint’s always interested in showing people he’s good at something.
“Good.” She looks way more pleased that she should, but whatever. Maybe no one else wanted to sign up. “I’ll put you down for it.”
Okay, now she’s just staring at him really hard. Clint has no idea what to do with that and no idea how to talk to her about anything that’s not archery, so he just kind of shrugs with his bow and hightails it out of there.
He finds Phil and Peter still in the diner where Clint left them. There are two empty milkshake glasses in front of each of them and a plate of fries between them, and they’re doing homework on the sticky diner table.
Because of course they are.
“Oh my god, please tell me you two haven’t bonded over your epic geekery,” Clint sighs, flopping down into the chair opposite them. “I bet you’ve gone and made each other worse, haven’t you?”
Peter grins down at his notebook, like Clint teasing him for being a nerd is good in some way. Phil – to Clint’s epic but secret delight – flips him off.
“Actually, we bonded over science fiction,” Phil says primly, like giving Clint the finger never happened. “Peter has very sensible opinions about Star Wars.”
“Han shot first!” Peter contributes, still without looking up.
Clint laughs, can’t help it. “You guys okay for food?” he asks. If Kate’s really not going to charge him for the arrows then he can probably afford one round of snacks.
“Milkshake, please,” Peter says, pushing his glass toward Clint and, yep, doing the Bambi eyes.
“Those don’t work on me,” Clint says firmly but takes the glass anyway. “Phil?”
Phil gives him a weird look. “I’ll come up with you,” he decides and walks with Clint to the counter.
Clint orders drinks for all three of them, then has to knock Phil’s hand down when he tries to pay for them all. “What are you doing?” Clint demands, handing over his own bill. “You’ve already bought him two. In fact, here, I’ll pay you back for those, too.”
Phil shakes his head when Clint tries to pour his change into Phil’s palms, stuffing his hands into back pockets and taking a step back. “It’s fine. Clint, seriously, it’s fine. He looked like he could do with some cheering up.”
Clint makes a face at nothing. “Yeah.” He sighs, deflating. “Thanks for, you know, staying with him.”
“It’s fine,” Phil says again, “I didn’t mind. He’s an interesting kid.”
Interesting is pretty much never a positive descriptor, Clint’s found, but, weirdly, it looks like maybe Phil means it in a good way.
“Yeah.” Clint shrugs. “He’s okay.”
Phil’s quiet for a minute, watching their waitress make their drinks, even though they could have gone back to the table and let her carry them over. Clint isn’t prolonging this moment for any real reason; it’s just because he likes talking to Phil. Even when it’s awkward, apparently. Go figure.
“Clint,” Phil says softly. “Peter told me about the boys who are picking on him. And how you got that swollen lip. I’m really so-”
“Stop it with the sorry,” Clint says gruffly. “We’ve done that, I’ve forgiven you, it’s cool.”
Phil opens his mouth, presumably to protest, then closes it again. “Okay. It was really decent of you to stand up to them, though. You’re a good big brother.”
Clint’s heart kind of spasms at that. It’s awful; it makes him feel awful. “I’m not his brother,” he snaps, way too loud, and can’t make himself look at Phil for the rest of their wait at the counter.
“Do you want to come in for dinner?” Peter asks, leaning over the back of Phil’s chair. “My aunt and uncle won’t mind.”
Phil glances at Clint. Clint wants him to come inside and doesn’t want him to come inside in pretty much equal measure, so he just shrugs and says, “Up to you.”
“Thanks, Peter, but I’ve got to get home,” Phil says.
Clint isn’t disappointed, because of course that’s what he’d say. People don’t want to have dinner with guys who yell at them in diners.
Peter kind of sags and Phil must see it too because he adds, “But it was really great to meet you. Clint talks about you all the time.”
“Yeah?” Peter asks eagerly then coughs, looking away. It’s ridiculous that Peter’s trying not to be excited about that and ridiculous how bad Clint feels that it’s a lie.
“Sure.” Phil smiles at him. “And we’re still on for the new Batman movie when it comes out, right?”
Peter nods quickly. “Yeah. And I guess Clint can come too?”
Phil laughs. “I guess so.”
“Hey,” Clint protests, because that’s what’s expected of him. The idea of Peter scoring a movie date with Phil when Clint can’t even ask him out is ridiculous, but whatever. Maybe it’s easier when you’re thirteen and have tragic eyes.
Peter climbs out of the car and heads toward the front door, which is standing open (they’re not late, but they’re not exactly not late, either), but Phil stops Clint following with a hand on his arm.
“I know,” Clint sighs, sinking back into his seat. “Sorry I yelled at you, that was shitty.”
Phil looks surprised, like he wasn’t expecting an apology, which, hey, Clint can totally apologise when he’s in the wrong. He might not like it, but he can.
“I seem to keep putting my foot in my mouth around you,” Phil says, wrinkling his nose up self-consciously.
Clint hesitates. He wants to say, yeah, you do, but that’s mostly because I have a fuck load of issues, but you don’t actually say things like that to people, not unless you’re a character from Dawson’s Creek, anyway.
Phil sighs. “And clearly you agree. Can we start over?”
“Sure?” Clint says, suspecting a trap. Start over with what? They’re not friends; Clint’s just the kid Phil tutors sometimes.
Phil smiles at him. It’s soft and not very certain and it gives Clint feelings he doesn’t need. “Cool. Good. That’s good. More Scarlett Letter after school tomorrow, then?”
Clint groans automatically. “Do we have to?”
“Yep.” Now Phil’s smiling properly. “Don’t front, Barton, I know you love it.”
Clint flips him off, which he thinks is fair, considering Phil did it first, and Phil’s happy laugh follows him out the car.
“Who’s that boy?” Ben asks, standing in the hall with his arms folded across his chest, watching Clint kick off his shoes.
“Just a guy from school,” Clint says with a shrug. “He gave us a ride home.”
“What for?” Ben asks and something about his tone puts Clint on the defensive.
“I don’t know, out of the goodness of his heart?” Clint says dragging it out, “I didn’t force him to at gunpoint.”
“Don’t sass me, Clint,” Ben says softly. “I was just wondering why. I’ve never seen him around before.”
Ugh. Clint shouldn’t be allowed to talk to people. “That’s Phil. I was at his house at the weekend? For my English assignment.”
“Stop quizzing the poor boy, Ben,” May calls from the living room. “Both of you come in here and eat; your pizza’s getting cold.”
“Pizza?” Clint asks. He widens his eyes at Ben, wanting to say sorry but not knowing how. It was easier with Phil. If he ruins things with Phil, he won’t lose his home.
“We thought you boys deserved a treat,” May says, voice coming cheerfully through the open doorway.
Ben nods once, firmly, at Clint and puts a hand on his shoulder. “Better get in there,” he says, walking them both forward. “Peter can eat enough for seven.”
“I know,” Clint says on autopilot. He doesn’t think anyone’s ever made a special dinner just because he deserved a treat before.
“Hey,” Peter protests, sitting down in the middle of the living room, a mega-sized pizza box clutched to his lap. “I’m a growing boy.”
May reaches out, squeezing Peter’s skinny wrist. “Are you? When’s that going to start?”
Clint grins and tucks himself into the one armchair, leaving the sofa for May and Ben. He reaches out and grabs a slice of pepperoni, catching melted cheese on his palm and slurping it off before anyone can tell him to go find a napkin.
They all stuff themselves with pizza, the three milkshakes Peter had earlier clearly making no difference to how much he can eat. Somehow, there’s still almost a whole pizza left, when they’re done.
“Oh dear,” May says, shaking her head sadly. “You should have invited your friend in to help us out, Clint.”
“I invited him,” Peter offers. “He said no.” He stills looks kind of disappointed about that. Clint knows it’s stupid to be pleased that Peter agrees with his taste in not-quite-friends, but that doesn’t actually stop him feeling it.
“Well, you’ll have to try harder next time,” May tells them both. “You boys know you’re welcome to have friends over, don’t you?”
Peter glances and Clint. Clint makes a face back at him. It’s kind of sad how neither of them has any friends to invite, and it’s sadder still how May has obviously clocked that.
“Thanks,” Clint offers, trying to sound sincere. He kicks Peter in the shoulder and stands up. “C’mon, kid, we’re gonna do the dishes.”
Peter groans. “But there aren’t any, that’s the magic of pizza.”
“You drink your juice out of your cupped hands?” Clint asks, picking up Peter’s sticky glass and bumping it against the side of his head.
Peter mumbles complaints under his breath but he drags himself up onto his knees, accepting Clint’s hand to get himself all the way onto his feet.
Clint doesn’t mean to look at May or Ben, but he catches them out of the corner of his eye while he’s collecting the rest of the glasses. They’re smiling at each other.
He looks away.
In the kitchen, Peter comes back to life out of his food coma, slapping on the radio and bouncing around the kitchen to some kind of bubblegum pop.
“You wash,” Peter says. “I drop less stuff when I’m drying.”
Clint isn’t totally convinced of that, but things are probably going to get smashed either way, so.
“So,” Clint says when they’ve got a rhythm going. “You broke Flash’s skateboard?”
“Totally by accident,” Peter says quickly, almost before Clint’s finished asking the question. “There was a thing with a door and thing with his foot and a thing with my foot and. Yeah.”
“Dude, why can’t you just keep your damn head down?” Clint asks. “They’re gonna fucking kill you if you keep this up.”
“No, but.” Peter’s chin comes up. “I’m just existing and I'm not going to stop existing just because it offends them. I’m not actually doing anything. Except for the skateboard thing. That was me; I did do that.”
Clint stares down at the bubbles in the sink. Peter’s totally right. Clint’s not going to tell him he’s wrong. “Don’t get too dead though, okay? I’m kind of looking forward to having you at school with me next year.”
He chokes on air as soon as he’s said that because, because wow. He’s thinking like he’s still going to be here by the time the next school year rolls around? He really thought he’d grown out of that kind of optimism like, a decade ago.
“Yeah,” Peter says, cheeks a burning, delighted kind of red. “Me too.” He stares at his dishcloth and Clint concentrates on washing the pizza slicer. Bieber plays tinnily from the crappy kitchen radio.
“Will Phil still be at your school next year?” Peter asks eventually.
Okay, Clint makes himself breath again. If Clint’s gone, maybe Phil will still keep an eye on Peter. “Yeah, sure. He’ll be a senior but he might like, remember to say hi to you once or twice.”
Peter looks pleased enough with that. “I liked him,” he decides, like Clint might have missed that. “How long have you known him?”
“Not that long,” Clint says with a shrug. It sounds better than I’ve had a crush on him since I first saw him and now he keeps talking to me and I don’t know what’s going on.
Peter nods then leans in close. “It’s okay, I won’t tell them,” he says, nodding his head toward the living room.
“Tell them what?” Clint asks cautiously.
Peter rolls his eyes. “That Phil’s your boyfriend,” he says. “Duh.”
Clint drops the plate he’s washing and it hits the side of the washing up bowl with a muffled clunk. “I’m, what?” he wheezes, completely flummoxed. “He’s not, we’re not dating.”
“Mm,” Peter hums, nodding. “Phil said that too.”
Fuck. Okay, Clint’s just going to die now. That’s okay, right? “You asked Phil if we were dating?” he asks faintly.
“Mm,” Peter says again. He’s starting to shuffle-dance to The Killers, apparently totally unconcerned that he’s just revealed his plan to ruin Clint’s entire life.
“No, but.” Clint stops himself. He’s not going to ask what Phil said and what Peter said and what Phil said to that. He’s not. “We’re not dating.”
“Okay,” Peter says, but he doesn’t sound like he believes him, too busy singing When You Were Young (badly) under his breath to really pay attention.
on to part two