Clint. Phil. Glasses. We are but plot and art bunnies on twitter.
Jey flash-ficced, I speed-painted.
Everything is rough and improvised on the go, mostly on my side because Jey is fabulous and inspired me, and the arting is very much imperfect and it’s all fine. Hope you enjoy :)
(please don’t repost anywhere else/without permission, thanks :))
Actually, by Phil’s standards, it’s not late at all. It’s maybe edging close to midnight, which is right about when Steve usually gets out of bed, sleepy and tousle-haired, to haul Tony out of his workshop and say something about sleeping like a human being, oh, my God, Tony, how do you even survive on so little sleep. It’s right about when Bruce Banner looks up from his microscope in the lab, blinks blearily at the clock, then shrugs and goes back to his cell cultures. It’s right about when Clint Barton runs out of arrows or enthusiasm or intact targets on the archery range, packs up his gear, and makes the seemingly-endless trek up from the basement to his quarters.
Not that he usually makes it to his quarters in one straight shot, because to get there, he has to walk past Phil’s office, and that’s like marching a kid past a candy store and telling him he can’t go in – it’s the one thing Clint can’t resist, coming in in the middle of the night and baiting Phil.
Tonight, though, Phil is tired. He knows his colleagues would like to think he spends all day, every day, doing paperwork, but that’s not actually true. Usually, he spars in the middle of the day (there are always junior agents who need a shakedown, and if he doesn’t feel like winning out-of-hand, Captain Rogers is rarely opposed to a little bit of work on the mats). Usually, he can put down the forms and receipts and mission reports for scheduled meetings with Director Fury or the Avengers. Usually, he has an excuse to look away from his papers and his computer screen for at least a little while, but tonight, he’s coming off a too-long day of too much work and nothing in between to break it up, and he is tired.
So when Clint shows up at his door tonight, he sighs, pushes aside his paperwork, and drops his glasses to the desk (he’s been told since he was eight years old not to grab them with one hand, and here he is, forty years later and he still hasn’t managed to break the habit). “What can I do for you, Barton?” he asks wearily, blinking against the glare of his desk lamp in his eyes.
Clint’s normal response is sarcastic, maybe a little teasing, tone of his retorts determined by how much he thinks Phil will tolerate each evening. Tonight is different in more ways than one, though, and Clint hesitates, frowns, says completely without irony, “Put those back on?”
“I didn’t know you had glasses.”
That’s because Phil tries not to advertise the fact. He’s had them since he was a kid, sure, but he still thinks they make him look older, old and tired and worn out from years of secrets and security, and if no one ever sees him wearing them, they won’t know that he’s not really Phil Coulson, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. They won’t see that he’s really just Phil Coulson, Who Stays Up Too Late and Drinks Too Much Coffee and Doesn’t Remember the Last Time He Had a Vacation.
“What do you want, Barton?”
“No, really. Put them back on?”
It’s a strange sensation, the thought that he hides behind not wearing them where others can see them, the thought that putting on another layer is the real revelation. But it’s midnight now, and he’s tired, and this is Clint Barton, who never can resist another excuse to nudge Phil out of his comfort zone. If he doesn’t put on the glasses, Clint will come up with something else, and Phil cannot be bothered right now to think about what that ‘something else’ might be.
He puts the glasses on.
As he does, he closes his eyes, expecting Clint to tease him about the way they look – about the fact that he needs them – about the fact that Phil is sitting here, wishing he could afford himself the vanities of a younger (richer, better-looking) man and hiding his glasses to make up for the fact that he can’t.
“Hey,” Clint says from close, far too close, right across the desk instead of in the doorway, “look at me.”
“I’m not in the mood for games, Barton.” But he does open his eyes, and he does meet Clint’s steady blue gaze and he’s right; Clint is standing on the other side of his desk, watching him.
They’re quiet for a long moment (Phil is not going to be the first one to crack here, and Clint – soldier, sniper, small child who learnt to hide long before he began training to do it for a living – could wait forever, unblinking, half-smile on his lips that Phil can’t quite understand). Then, Clint says, without taking his eyes off Phil, “I bet no one ever tells you you have amazing eyes.”
Oh, so this is how today’s game goes. It seems Clint has the uncanny ability to pick up on the things that will get under Phil’s skin the most, toss them out casually like he doesn’t even realize what they’ll do to Phil.
“No,” he says drily, “they don’t.” Because of course they don’t. Mild, unassuming gaze from a mild, unassuming man, and more often than not he’s not making eye contact anyway, so why would they? His eyes, just like the rest of him, are nothing special; a little worn down, a little faded with the years, and never all that sharp to begin with.
Okay, Phil has had enough. Most of the time, he tries to keep his responses brief and bland enough that Clint will lose interest, move along, go to bed, but tonight is not a good night and he’s not going to play along, not with this.
“Barton, go to bed. Some of us are trying to get work done.” It comes out sharper than he’d intended, but he doesn’t feel like making the effort to soften the blow once the words are in the air between them.
“That was a compliment, Coulson,” Clint points out. “You know, like, those things you’re supposed to appreciate? Jeez, what do you do when Cap or someone compliments you?”
And as soon as he’s said it, there’s the realization, because Phil closes himself off completely at that, lets the walls fall into place behind his eyes.
He’s never had to think about that because Cap (or someone) doesn’t compliment him. Oh, he’s not by any means ill-liked; there’s no shortage of cooperation between Phil and the Avengers. Captain Rogers spars with him, Bruce Banner keeps him up-to-date on research and development, Tony – well, Tony gives him eye-rolls and sarcastic glares, but he hasn’t locked Phil out of JARVIS’ system yet, so things must be going reasonably well.
It’s just that, when it’s not about work, they don’t notice him at all.
He doesn’t mind; it isn’t as though that surprises him. After all, he is a man in a suit with a few too many worry lines and thinning hair and ties that are probably years out of date, and he walks the halls next to Norse gods and technological geniuses and scientists and assassins and marksmen and Captain America; really, what right does he have to expect to be acknowledged?
Or at least, this is what he tells himself. Deep down, though, the erasing of the sharp outline that was once Phil Coulson has taken its toll, and he is tired.
“Hey,” says Clint, and he’s closer now than ever, but his voice sounds like it’s coming from somewhere far away, “look at me.”
Phil wants to laugh, wants to roll his eyes and say, “Barton, you used that line already,” break the tension in the room and get things back to the way they once were, but he has the feeling that if he tried, it would come out thin and weak and make everything worse, so instead he just sighs, opens his eyes, and looks at Clint.
Clint’s looking right back at him, leaning on his desk, dead serious. The spark of amusement in his eyes is gone, replaced by something deeper, quieter; his face is soft with an expression Phil doesn’t recognize.
“Sir,” he says, and a frown tugs at the corner of Phil’s mouth, because nothing good can come of this, “I meant what I said. You have amazing eyes.”
Phil swallows, reeling a little. He doesn’t know what to say, how to answer, but Clint takes the problem out of his hands by continuing.
“And I like the glasses.”
Without even realizing he’s doing it, Phil brings one hand up to straighten them and Clint catches it on its way back down, watching Phil all the while, asking permission, and the answer is yes, it’s always been yes, but Phil can’t seem to form the words to say it.
“And I’d like,” he says, “to kiss you, one day, when that’s okay with you. With or without the glasses. Whatever you want. I don’t care.”
Phil leaves the glasses on.