"So," Phil says as he settles into the seat beside Melinda, "I'm thinking of asking Clint to marry me."
Melinda sighs. "I'm thinking I need to get better locks on the cockpit door."
Phil keeps his face forward, but his eyes slide to the left as he tries to gauge the level of annoyance coming out of the pilot's seat. "You're not going to congratulate me?"
"Congratulations. Go away."
Deciding that anything other than icy silence is a good sign, Phil settles in more. "I've preemptively given up hope on trying to keep the wedding from becoming anything but a circus."
"Very wise. Go away."
"But I at least can control the proposal. And I want it to be special." Phil feels the corners of his mouth lifting as he thinks about the man who's become the love of his life.
"How sweet. Go away."
"But beyond the actual question itself, I'm at a complete loss." Phil huffs. "I'm never at a complete loss. I don't even know what I'm going to do for a ring. I need-"
"Don't say it."
"Help." Phil winces as he sees a muscle tick in Melinda's jaw. "I need help."
"Help," Melinda says. "With proposing. To Barton." She slowly turns her head towards Phil. "Why on Earth would you think I would be the one to come to with this?"
"Oh, I don't know, maybe because we've known each other for years, and I consider you a dear friend." Phil pauses for a moment. "And you're the only other person on the Bus who's over the age of 35. If I bring this up with any of the others..." Phil slumps down into his seat. "Don't you remember what it was like when the kids found out I was dating Clint? Fitz wore his confused puppy look for days, like Senior agents aren't supposed to have sex lives or something. Ward droned on and on about security clearances. Skye kept winking at me and giving me finger guns. And Simmons..." Phil sighs and waves goodbye to what's left of his ego. "Simmons cornered me at the coffee pot one morning and presented me with new supplements to help with virility."
Melinda's lips roll inward and her nostrils flare.
"Shut up," Phil says.
Melinda snorts loudly and shakes her head. "Did you start taking them? Barton is quite a bit younger than you, isn't he?"
"Ten years is not quite a bit," Phil says peevishly.
"Whatever you say. Sir."
Phil gives her a half-hearted glare. "Anyway, you're the only option at this altitude."
"I'm flattered," Melinda says, the dryness in her voice sucking up every last bit of moisture from the air, "but I'm still not completely clear on what you expect me to provide for you."
"A romantic proposal."
Melinda's face goes sour. Sour-er. "Seriously? Just ask him. Or, get him some flowers, then ask him."
Phil wrinkles his nose. "Flowers?"
"Or arrows. Whatever. Phil, you don't need to make a big production out of this. That boy worships the ground you walk on. You could tie a bit of string around his finger, and he'd look at it like you'd given him the moon."
"I know that." Phil really, really does. Clint is so easy to please it makes his heart ache. "But just because I don't have to make an effort, doesn't mean I shouldn't. I do want to give him the moon, Mel."
Melinda shifts a bit in her seat. "Well, you're giving me hives. Do you know what I think is romantic? A full bottle of something expensive and alcoholic. I don't even need clean sheets. Or a bed, actually."
"Neither does Clint," Phil mutters.
"We are SHIELD agents." Melinda's shoulders lift a bit. "Being wooed is nice and all, I suppose, but it's not exactly practical."
"Practical?" Phil repeats. "If I was worried about practicality, I'd break up with Clint and let him find someone who's not gone for 25 days out of every month."
"There's nothing about our relationship that's practical right now. But I'm selfish, and I love him, and if we only have a limited amount of time together before I'm back in the air and flying away from him again, then I'm going to make every single moment count." Phil twists in his seat and gives Melinda his full attention as he wills her to understand how important this request really is. "When I propose to him, it has to be something that sweeps him off his feet. Something he'll be able to look back on and remember when we haven't seen each other for weeks, or it's been days since we've had any contact at all. It has to be special," Phil says again. "As special as he is."
Melinda hums thoughtfully. "You could just give him that little speech," she says after a moment. "You're nowhere near my type, and I'm about ready to swoon."
Phil relaxes back into his seat again. "Clint is... Clint is not always that great with hearing words. Actions tend to make more of an impact."
Several expressions work their way across Melinda's face in subtle movements of lips and eyebrows. Phil doesn't try and decipher them; he just waits and hopes for the best.
Finally, after about a minute of increasingly irritated exhalations, Melinda says, "I can't help you come up with anything other than booze and arrows, but I guess I could, maybe, let you bounce ideas off of me, and I'll tell you if you're being embarrassing and stupid."
"Oh." Phil blinks. "Well... Thanks?"
"So, do you still want me to go away?"
"Oh, God, would you?"
"Sure." Phil stands up and lets his hand hover about an inch over Melinda's shoulder for a few seconds before he leaves the cockpit.
"You're gonna owe me, Coulson," Melinda calls out just before Phil closes the door.
"Something expensive and alcoholic?"
"You know it."
The next day, Phil finds a requisition form for a biometric lock on his desk.
He shreds it.
"I've got it," Phil says three days later as he once again plops down into the co-pilot's seat.
"The new lock I requested?" Melinda asks.
Phil blinks at her. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Funny. I put the form on your desk."
"Nope. Sorry. Not a clue. But I do have a romantic proposal idea." He grins. "What do you think about a carriage ride through Central Park?"
Phil narrows his eyes. "It's romantic."
"Movies. And stuff." Phil winces. "The Hallmark Channel."
"I'm your commanding officer, and I order you to not judge me. Anyway, carriage rides are completely romantic."
Melinda rolls her eyes. "What could possibly be romantic about freezing your nuts off while being pulled around a frozen wasteland by a smelly beast that's constantly pooping a few feet from your face?"
"That's not..." Phil breathes slowly through his nose as he tries to hold onto the tendrils of what he had thought had been his first good idea on this subject. "First of all, Central Park is not a frozen wasteland. Secondly, I'm pretty sure horses don't constantly poop. And, no, freezing isn't romantic, but cuddling close for warmth is. So there."
"All I'm hearing is cold, smelly, and disgusting."
"Well.... so's... your... face."
Melinda takes a deep breath. "Coulson?"
"Yeah. Go away."
The next day Phil finds another lock requisition form on his desk.
It also gets shredded.
"What about if I arrange to send him through the city on a scavenger hunt, and have the ring be the prize at the end of it?"
"You mean the ring you haven't picked out yet?"
"Yes. That would be the one."
"What about hiring a string quartet to play love songs outside his building?"
"Have you met Clint Barton? Also, no."
"What about Christmas Eve?" Phil asks as he sidesteps some sort of something that's slimey, and glowing, and probably doesn't belong on the planet. The three foot tall piles of goo are dotted around a field in southern Spain. Melinda's positioned herself at one edge of the perimeter they've set up while Ward and Skye stand guard over Fitz and Simmons who are taking samples - and having paroxysms of joy - over their own goo pile a few dozen yards away.
"What about Christmas Eve for what?" Melinda keeps her eyes trained on the kids, but she slightly angles her body towards Phil.
"You know, the thing."
Phil clears his throat. "The thing."
Melinda looks at Phil and raises one eyebrow. Phil frowns and crosses his arms. He twitches the ring finger on his left hand.
Melinda rolls her eyes. "Oh, that thing."
"I thought I could hang the ring on the tree like an ornament and wait for him to spot it."
"I don't know how you're going to hang something you haven't found yet off a tree, but, no."
"Okay. New Year's Eve, then? I'll put it in a champagne glass. That's a classic."
"It's two letters, Coulson; what exactly are you not getting?"
Phil tries to tamp down on his annoyance. "What's wrong with Christmas or New Year's Eve? They're special days and-"
"Exactly," Melinda says. "Phil, take a minute and think. You know us. You know Barton. What's going to happen if you plan something this big for a specific date?"
Phil blinks. "The world will probably end."
"Well, I wasn't thinking of anything that dramatic, but, yeah. One of you will get called out. Or both of you will get called out, and you'll end up on opposite sides of the planet. For your actual wedding we'll be able to plan months in advance. All of SHIELD can be on high alert, and we'll get the X-Men and Fantastic Four to be on standby."
Phil feels a little ill. "Maybe we should just elope."
"Twenty bucks says someone's going to get taken hostage regardless of where the vows are said. At least with a proper ceremony and reception there'll be cake." A pinched look comes over Melinda's face. "There had better be cake."
Before Phil can say that, yes, there might not be a ring, but there will definitely be cake, he catches something out of the corner of his eye. "Did that-"
"Pile of goo just move?" Melinda finishes for him, her hand already reaching for a weapon. "Yeah."
"See, even talking about your upcoming nuptials is a jinx."
"Yes, thank you, Agent May."
After Phil's spent the entire decontamination procedure wondering if maybe he should just be happy with what he and Clint have and not try to tempt fate with asking for more, he listens to a voicemail from Clint. It's full of silly, mostly inconsequential things (apparently, they have a dog, now?), and when it's over, Phil plays it again, and again.
He's bruised, tired, and still smells a bit like sulfur, but after hearing Clint's voice in his ear, he feels like he could take on the world. A world that's just going to have to deal with the fact that he is going to put a ring on Clint Barton's finger.
If he can find one.
"Hey, you know that movie from the '80s with John Cusack where he-"
"Coulson, if I find you with a boombox, I will beat you with it."
"Maybe you're right," Phil says as he once again slumps into the co-pilot's seat.
"Of course I'm right," Melinda says. "About what, exactly?" She glances over at him, and her neutral expression drops into a frown. "You look like crap."
"Thanks." Phil sighs. "Maybe you’re right about going with booze and arrows - two things I know for sure Clint will appreciate." He leans his head back. "I guess I'm not cut out for big, romantic gestures."
"Phil..." Melinda shudders. "I can't believe I'm... Okay, first of all, screw you for making me go to where I'm about to go."
"Where are you going?" Phil asks with no small amount of trepidation.
"Into your psyche, evidently. I want you to ask yourself something."
"This whole grand proposal idea, wanting to make sure Clint remembered it and thought it was special, who are you doing it for?"
Phil frowns. "What do you mean? I'm doing it for-"
"Phil. Think for a minute. Think about Clint." Melinda glances at him before turning her eyes back to the sky. "Think about you. Who are you doing it for? Who has this been about?"
Phil opens his mouth, ready to state the obvious - it's for Clint, of course - but then he pauses and really considers Melinda's words. He then examines his actions and the reasoning behind them. "Oh," he says softly. “I just thought, with everything that’s happened… He’s had to put up with so much, and he deserves… I just want him to be happy.”
Melinda nods. "And what makes him happy?”
A smile forms on Phil's face as he thinks about the brave, loyal, handsome man he loves. "Booze and arrows. And sex in interesting places.”
“And you,” Melinda adds. She smirks as Phil’s cheeks and ears heat up. "Stop tying yourself into knots trying to think of a way to prove how special you think Clint is, because I guarantee you, simply asking for his hand will earn you enough romantic points for a lifetime."
"Yeah." The quirk to Melinda's lips turns vicious. "Of course, actually having a ring to put on that hand would probably be a good idea too."
Phil groans. "A ring."
"One more thing..."
Phil doesn't bother checking his watch as he drives Lola up the Bus' ramp. Melinda's waiting for him, and the look on her face - a simmering fury with promises of quiet threats and lingering pain - clearly indicates that he's very late. Phil tries to muster up some fear, or even apprehension, but he can't. He's just too damn happy at the moment.
"Where have you been?!" Melinda barely waits until Lola's in park before she's got both hands on the driver's door and is leaning into Phil's space. "We were supposed to leave twenty minutes ago, Coulson. I was about to send out a search party."
"Sorry," Phil says, feeling a bit contrite for making her worry. "I got caught up with something. Can I get out of the car?"
Melinda backs off slightly. "Caught up with what?" Her eyes narrow dangerously.
Phil's eyes flit over to the lab where Fitz and Simmons are pretending to not watch them through the clear glass door and walls. He tilts his head away from them and towards Melinda, and in a lowered voice says, "I'll wait to get the booze until I'm in New York, but I found Clint's arrow."
"An arrow?" Melinda's eyes drop to his toes, then drag themselves back up to his face. "What, did you stuff it down your pants?" She closes her eyes, holds up a hand, and shakes her head. "No, wait, I don't want to know."
Phil can't contain his grin. "There's this little shop, a block down from the consulate."
"Don't want to know."
Phil reaches into an interior pocket of his jacket and pulls out a small, dove gray box. "It features the work of local artists, including a silversmith, who specializes in unique rings."
Melinda blinks at him. "Do not tell me you found a-"
"Shaped like a-"
"Yep. Do you want to see? The detail on the fletching is amazing."
Melinda grabs his wrist before Phil can do more than think about opening the box. "Not in front of the ids-kay," she says.
Phil quickly looks over to the lab. Fitz and Simmons practically have their noses pressed against the glass. They both jump and scurry off into their separate sections.
"I'm sure they're doing sciencey stuff and not gossiping at all," Melinda says.
"Hmmm. Hey, May?"
"What are the chances that we might need to have a layover in New York anytime soon?"
Melinda smiles slyly. "Pretty good, actually."
Lola stands out like the beauty that she is when Phil parks her down the street from Clint's building. He knows that Clint's been having problems with some local criminal types, and Phil only hopes they and the wanna-be tough guys in tracksuits eyeing his car are one in the same. Though, he is a bit sad that he probably won't be able to see Lola's SHIELD installed security system in action.
Phil grabs a bag from the trunk, pats the pocket with the ring, and walks the few hundred yards to the old, brick building that's quickly becoming synonymous with home. Taking the stairs two at a time up to the fourth floor leaves him slightly winded, and Clint takes the rest of his breath by pulling him into a scorching kiss as soon as he walks through the door.
"Welcome back," Clint says when he pulls back after successfully shorting out Phil's higher brain functions.
Phil can still smile though, so that's what he does. He beams at Clint.
Clint laughs delightedly and draws him back in for another kiss. Phil goes with it, enjoying beyond measure Clint's taste, his touch, his smell. But when his clever, nimble fingers start to push at his jacket, Phil ruefully breaks away.
"Wait," Phil says. "I want to take you out tonight. Anywhere you want to go."
"Oh." Clint smiles and ducks his head. "Actually, I've got a couple of steaks marinating in the fridge, and I got that chocolate cheesecake you like, so..."
"Eating in works too. Whatever you want."
Clint's face goes suddenly and strangely serious, and he blinks at Phil a few times. "You mean that, don't you? You're just ready to go along with whatever just to make me happy?"
"Of course," Phil says simply. He frowns at the odd, tight expression on Clint's face. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Clint huffs out a laugh and runs a hand through his already messy hair. "Nothing's wrong. I just... There's something I need to ask you."
Phil feels his heart seize for a second. Several undesirable scenarios automatically flit through his head. He steels himself. "Okay. What is it?"
"It's... I just..." Clint grins nervously and shoves a hand into his front pocket. When he pulls it out, it's obvious that he's clutching something tightly. "Hoo boy, here it goes..."
Phil looks on in horror as Clint starts to drop to one knee. He grabs Clint's elbows and hauls him upright again.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?!" Phil belatedly realizes that both the words and the tone they were spoken in - kind of shrill there, jeez - might convey the wrong sort of message.
Clint looks like Phil just punched him. "I'm sorry," he says quickly. "I just thought... I mean, I thought..." He tries to pull away, but Phil keeps a hold on him.
"No," Phil says, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be so harsh, I just..." Sensing that Clint is still waiting for an opportunity to bolt, Phil keeps one hand on his arm, and uses the other to get the ring box from his jacket. He holds it up, and watches as understanding blooms on Clint's face.
"Seriously?" Clint asks.
"I've been agonizing over it for ages. The ring. The proposal. I wanted it to be perfect."
Clint rolls his eyes. "Gee, I wouldn't know anything about that."
"You too, huh?"
Clint had stopped trying to get away when he saw the ring box, but there was still some distance between them. Now, though, he winds his arms around Phil’s neck and presses in tight. "You mean the world to me, Phil. I just wanted it to be so special, but everything I kept coming up with was-"
"Embarrassing and stupid?"
Clint grimaces. "I was going to take you on a carriage ride through Central Park."
"Carriage rides through Central Park are completely romantic," Phil says with renewed conviction.
"I know, right? But Nat said-"
"Probably something close to what Melinda said."
"She kept shooting down every idea I had, and eventually I realized-"
"That proposing in itself is special enough, because it's us."
"Yeah.” The smile that Clint gives him is soft and sweet. “Love you, Phil."
"Love you too.”
Clint smirks. "So, should we do this alphabetically?"
“You always get to go first when we do things alphabetically,” Phil says. Now it’s his turn to smirk. "How about age before beauty?"
Clint snorts and playfully flicks his fingers at Phil’s head. “How about…” He grows serious again. “How about we do it together?”
“Yeah,” Phil says softly. “Together. We’ll do it together.”
Clint untangles himself from Phil. “Should we both kneel, or-”
A loud klaxon call has them both nearly jumping out of their skin. A second later there’s a scream followed by a high-pitched and painful sounding “Broooooooooooooooooooo.”
Clint blinks. “What the hell was that?!”
“Lola,” Phil says.
There’s more screaming now and some cries of “Make it stop!” drift in through the windows.
“It’s fine,” Phil says. “Everything’s fine.”
Clint’s wide-eyed. “Are you-”
“Everything’s fine.” Phil opens the gray box and pulls out Clint’s ring. “Let’s do this. Everything’s fine.”
A dog starts barking, adding itself to the cacophony outside.
“Aww, Lucky.” Clint sighs. “Save it, Coulson. We need to take care of this.”
“No, but… No.”
“It’ll be romantic.”
Phil lifts one eyebrow. “Romantic?”
“Yeah. We’ll be beating the shit out of a bunch of slimy, mobbed-up, tracksuit-wearing guys together.”
Phil puts the ring box back inside his jacket. “True.”
“I’ll even let you have first pick.”
“That’s so sweet.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Clint loves his ring, and the wedding’s great - though the Fantastic Four have a crappy day. And immediately after the reception, Phil and Clint head off to their honeymoon - thanks to an awesome travel deal Clint had found on Groupon - to the quaint and picturesque country of Latveria.