This is a companion piece to "Wash In Warm Water"
Clint wasn't sure why he bothered anymore. It was obvious he wasn't really SHIELD material; that couldn't have been any plainer than when he talked Natasha into coming in out of the cold. Instant chaos, tense debriefings, questions, therapists, threats … all because he looked into Natasha's eyes and knew she wanted out of the life. Sure, Fury had seen the benefit in the move and Coulson had never wavered, and the calls for Clint's demotion came mostly from factions already advocating for his firing. There was a strain of elitism that ran through the organization, the Ivy league graduates, former government types, and the military officers who wanted things to run orderly and by the book, looking down their noses at those like Clint, the grunts and 'assets,' a word that made him nothing but a commodity to be brought in, used, and discarded when he was no longer useful.
Today was one of those days, the kind where even the smallest actions irritated, everyone determined to remind him of what place he occupied in the hierarchy. It started when he rolled out of his bunk in his tiny regulation room and found all of his shirts and pants were dirty, all three of each. The expectation of looking like a SHIELD agent had never been stated; there were no rules in the handbook, but the unwritten code was clear from the second he'd stepped foot on the carrier. Dragging on his sweats and his black under armor shirt, he walked the laundry down to the drop off where he was told it would be a three day wait or he could do it himself; priorities, of course, for active and senior agents. He'd have to make a trip to the Laundromat later.
Then he hit the range for practice and found yet another archery expert waiting for him, this one a past Olympic champion who now ran the best school in North America. The unsaid judgment – that Clint wasn't good enough, need more training – pissed him off as usual, but he went along with it. There had been that one woman who taught him about medieval long bows and cross bows; she'd been fun and he'd enjoyed every minute of it until some accountant determined the money had run out for her services. But this guy was a piece of work; from the first draw, he'd started lecturing Clint on his bad form, the misuse of his arm guards, the hitch in his pull. For forty-five minutes, Clint put up with it until the guy made an off-hand comment about "one trick ponies" and then Clint had fired all his arrows in quick succession, nailing every one of them including the three behind without hesitation. Tossing the 'correct' arm guard at him, Clint left the range with a parting shot of "You should see me do that standing on horseback."
What the fuck did they expect? He was a circus kid, had never have a formal lesson in his life. One day he'd picked up Trickshot's bow, shot his first arrow, and smacked his arm so hard he broke the skin; from there, he simply made it work, found a way to balance and to process the angles and to break the tension of heavy weights. Now they wanted to change him, make him relearn all those bad habits, the very things that made him unique? A pit of anger roiled in his gut, and he slammed into the locker room, green recruits and experienced agents scattering in front of his stormy expression. Yanking off his sweats, he stepped under the water before it warmed, welcoming the cold that helped settle his thoughts; he let it get hot, almost scalding, skin turning red, the liquid burning away the self-doubt. Damn it all, he should have known this wasn't the right fit for him, but he'd let himself listen to the sales pitch and begin to dream about a place where his abilities and skills were valued, where there were people he could maybe trust.
The only thing he had in his locker was civvies and he really didn't care. Drawing on the soft well-worn jeans, he began to feel better as the snug denim fit in all the right places; he shrugged on the t-shirt, one of the few left from his army days, almost threadbare in places, but smooth and comfortable. The boots and belt finished it off and he glanced in the mirror; the old Hawk stared back at him, even his eyes shadowed and shuttered closed. From the bottom of his gym bag, he dug out a stale half-pack of cigarettes and a matchbook from a strip club in Las Vegas, decision more and more clear as he peeled off the mask he'd been wearing and stretched into his own skin. It wouldn't take much to clean out his room, but he had to get his bow and equipment first. Then the letter of resignation to write, one easy sentence, and he ought to stop and tell Natasha he was leaving; knowing her, she'd end up coming with him, and that wouldn't be bad considering they made a hell of a team. Really, there was only one stumbling block to cutting and running: Phil Coulson.
He waited by the cafeteria because it was mac-n-cheese Thursday and Coulson would want his fix at some point. Margaret always kept a crock with extra parmesan ready to run in the broiler for him. Lighting a smoke with a match, he lazed against the wall, ignoring the looks – upset at his flagrant violation of the rules, confused about his wardrobe, and those worried that he was up to something. Gods, but he'd forgotten who he was, had let himself get caught up in trying to be something else entirely. Why had he done it?
He knew the second Coulson laid eyes on him, every nerve in his body responding to the man who haunted his nightly fantasies. The man he trusted with his life and wanted much more from. Taking a drag and blowing out a grey tendril, he let himself enjoy the stirring in his body for once, the thoughts he usually subdued. Phil was why Clint had stayed as long as he had, the main reason he'd even joined SHIELD. His mild mannered façade hid a wicked sense of humor, a brilliant strategist, and a hotter than hell hard ass attitude (plus a very fine body as a bonus). There was no way Clint's dick wasn't going to stand up and sing Hallelujah for that heady mixture of Phil, all trust and friendship and desire and good old fashioned fuck me now hormones.
He turned and gave his best 'charm the hell out of him but leave him guessing' smile; Coulson was wearing his second favorite navy blue suit, the one with the tiny red pinstripes and his sky blue tie with gold stripes (and, yes, Clint noticed Phil's clothes, from the perfect suits to his penchant for Captain America t-shirts because he was stupidly in lust with the man. You hear that heart? Lust). Juggling a coffee cup and a thick file, Coulson was staring at him … and Clint saw it. The tiny widening of those blue eyes, the micro shift of weight on the balls of his feet, a quick pinch at the corner of his lips. He'd surprised Coulson, had put him off his stride; the folder slid down and the cup tilted. Three small drops of coffee splattered onto the blue tie.
Phil had spilled his coffee. On one of his power ties.
"Hey, Coulson. Need some help there?" Clint pushed off the wall and stalked over, watching intently every hint and tell.
"Interesting outfit." That calm voice, the same one that asked Clint to speak to him, to report in, to keep him company. "A change for you?"
"Yeah. I'm leaving the fancy ass shirts to you," Clint grinned; he'd thrown Phil, he'd bet his future on it. And he was going to do exactly that. Bet his future on one Phil Coulson. "You care?"
"As long as your clothing is practical and fits the guidelines, you can wear what you want. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a lot to do. Briefing at 4 p.m. in the conference room. Tell Natasha, please."
Coulson strode off at his usual brisk pace, and Clint sauntered off to pass along a message; if he hurried, he could gather up his shirts and pants and get them ready to donate to Goodwill. There were jeans and tees in storage, his favorite grey Henley and worn leather jacket; his mind was awhirl with ideas, combinations, a use for that money that was piling up in his account.
Three drops of coffee. He'd gotten three drops. For that he could put up with all sorts of shit.
He'd do it for Phil.