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Jean from Accounting

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Year 1

Other women in Accounting use baby cams to watch their children in day care from their desks, but Jean Denby has a cat cam. Her unsupervised babies can easily get into a dozen kinds of trouble. Ensign Chekhov is so clumsy that he could knock over something in an empty room; Lieutenant Riker sometimes tumbles off the top of the refrigerator after he’s chosen it for a mid-afternoon nap. Jean is watching Ensign Kim chase Dr. Bashir around her bedroom when she hears a man clear his throat at the corner of her cubicle.

“Yes?” Jean asks, and looks up into the gorgeous gray-blue eyes of a young agent.

“Hello, ma’am,” he says. “My supervisor sent me here about my income taxes.”

Jean closes the camera window on her screen and gives her wall calendar a significant glance. “The income taxes that were due two weeks ago?”

“I was overseas,” he says.

She motions to the chair beside her desk. Strictly speaking, she was hired to do payroll. Income tax preparation certainly isn’t a service SHIELD affords every employee. But her higher-ups recognize that for field agents, especially, tax filing is a helpful service that eases the burden of constant mission deployments.

“What’s your name?” she asks. Half the staff is still at lunch and the cubicles around them are mostly quiet, but he still speaks in a low voice.

“Clint Barton, ma’am.”

She pauses her fingers on the keyboard. “I remember you from employee orientation. You didn’t pay attention in my presentation.”

He ducks his chin. “I get bored in classrooms.”

“You shot spitballs across the room.”

Agent Barton scratches the side of his head. “I’m sorry?”

He sounds like a guilty schoolboy. Jean’s twenty years older than him, easily, and no sucker for men’s sheepish tricks, but income tax preparation doesn't require actually liking the client. Many SHIELD agents are brash or arrogant or just unpleasant to be around. Makes them successful in the field, she’s heard.

Jean accesses Barton’s payroll information and plugs that into her electronic filing software. He claims to have no other income. Field agents usually don’t, or won't admit it. Jean asks him about his rent or mortgage. He tells her that he lives in assigned housing here in the complex, which makes her pause again. Assigned rooms are small, bare, and lacking in almost every amenity. They’re only for probationees or agents on suspension.

“You qualify for the housing allowance,” she tells Barton. “It doesn’t go far in Manhattan, but you could get a decent studio in Brooklyn.”

Barton shrugs. He rolls his shoulders, stretching out his purple sweatshirt. “No need to.”

Jean doesn’t push the issue. Her own apartment in Jersey City is ridiculously expensive considering the hot water keeps going out, and there are occasional rats in the walls, and her neighbors are most likely drug dealers, although nice enough.

“Would you like to give money to the Presidential Election Fund?” she asks.

“I don’t think so. Do I?”

“It doesn’t matter to me, and it doesn’t affect your return. Do you have any bank account interest?”

Barton looks uncertain. “No?”

“Do you have bank accounts?”

His answer is firmer. “No.”

“Your pay goes into direct deposit somewhere. We don’t issue checks or hand out cash.”

Another shrug. “I get a debit card. Coulson does that. I don’t know how it works and I don’t care.”

Philip Coulson is listed as his direct manager. It’s not common practice for a supervisor to handle agent pay, although she’s seen stranger arrangements in her years at SHIELD. “We have financial literacy classes,” she tells Barton.

Now he looks affronted. “I’m literate!”

Jean wonders if he’s deliberately trying to be obtuse. “Financial literacy. Investing your money in stocks or bonds or mutual funds – “

“Ma’am, I don’t need any of that,” Barton says frankly. “Doesn’t interest me.”

“What if you want to buy a house some day?” Jean asks.

He laughs. It’s not a good sound.

“I’m never going to need that,” he says. “Are you going to do my taxes or not?”

Jean sighs. She’d rather be watching her cats. But Barton is single and childless, with no dividends, special credits or deductions. The software calculates his refund. She double-checks his payroll information and yes, he does have a checking account. She arranges for the funds to go there.

At the end of it, Barton leaves without thanking her. Such a rude young man.

Jean opens the cat cam again. Little old Jean-Luc Picard is peeing on the bathroom floor. She makes a note to buy more paper towels on the way home.

Year 2

Jean might be a little harried, because today is Tax Day and even though it’s only eleven a.m, she’s already had four field agents show up begging for help. Plus she was up all night listening to Lieutenant Riker try to hack up a hairball, and she’s already broken her diet with doughnuts some thoughtless person put out in the break room. When she finally gets a break, she heads for a second cup of coffee and nearly collides with Agent Barton, who is swinging his way down the hallway on crutches.

“Miss Denby!” he says happily and loudly. “I’m here for my taxes!”

She takes a closer look at him. He’s got a black eye, a bandaged right arm, and a medical bracelet around his wrist. He needs a shower and a shave and maybe some deodorant. But it’s the blue medical pajamas that really give him away.

“Are you supposed to be in the infirmary?” Jean asks in her best no-nonsense voice.

“You sent me three email reminders that taxes are due,” he says, still speaking more loudly than normal. “I don’t want to be late again. Lead onward before the goons come and take me back.”

By “goons” she supposes he means security, or at least a stern nurse. Jean figures it’s better for him to sit down than keel over, so she leads him to her desk in one of the least-noisy rows of cubicles. He eases into her visitor’s chair and taps his good leg against her desk. His left one is in a plaster cast from toes to knee.

“Did you lose a cat?” he asks, eyeing the framed pictures lined on her cubicle shelf. “You had five last year and now there’s only four.”

Jean can’t believe he remembers that. “Jean-Luc,” she says, with a pang of old grief. “He died at Christmas.”

His expression is solemn. “I’m sorry. That sucks.”

Jean steadies herself by calling up his pay information. He’s receiving his housing allowance now, which she dutifully enters. “You moved to Queens, I see.”

“Phil calls it a rat trap." Barton's gaze wanders to the wall and ceiling and back again. “Except you can’t call him Phil. Just Coulson.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t say it so loudly,” Jean says mildly as she types.

“I can’t hear too well,” Barton says. “The building blew up. Boom!”

Jean wonders what happy drugs the doctors have been giving him. She wouldn’t mind some herself. It’s been a rough year so far. Jean-Luc died on Christmas morning, Jean’s drug-dealing neighbors have started to have very loud parties on weekends, her retired dad might need to go into a nursing home, and Jean’s started having menopausal hot flashes.

Still, at least she hasn’t been injured by any buildings going boom.

Opening up her email, she dashes off a quick note to Coulson, P. and then resumes Barton’s taxes. “The IRS will let you file late if you have extenuating circumstances.”

Barton smiles. “Extenuating. I know what that means. You think I’m not literate, but Phil says I’m just lacking in formal education.” He slides lower in the seat. “Phil wasn’t in the building when it blew up, but he came to dig me out.”

Before she can correct that gross misinterpretation about his literacy, a smooth voice says, “Miss Denby is not cleared to know confidential details, Barton,” and there he is, Agent Coulson himself, wearing a very nice gray suit and expensive black shoes. He's holding his phone with Jean's email on the display. Unless SHIELD has started using transporter beams from the executive floors, he must have been nearby when he got it.

“Phil!” Barton tries to straighten in the chair and only succeeds in knocking over a crutch, which Coulson deftly catches. “I’m working on my to-do list. Did you do your taxes? Miss Denby does my taxes for me.”

Coulson isn’t sexy like Barton, but he is clean and professional and mild-mannered, like a librarian. Like an accountant. She’d by lying if she said she hadn’t watched him in employee orientation with an improper thought or two in her head.

“I do my own,” Coulson replies. His phone beeps a message but he ignores it. “You’re supposed to be in bed, recuperating.”

Barton pouts. “I’m sick of bed. And there’s no good food up there. I want coffee. And pancakes. You promised me coffee and pancakes if I didn’t die.”

Coulson winces slightly. “That information is strictly need-to-know.”

Barton’s pajamas and loud voice are starting to make her co-workers peer over their cubicle partitions. Jean says to Coulson, “There might be some leftover doughnuts in the break room.”

Barton gives Coulson some very good puppy eyes. Jean keeps tapping into her computer. Coulson leaves and returns with two chocolate doughnuts partially wrapped in napkins. Barton hands one to Jean and she doesn’t have the heart to refuse.

“For my only favorite accountant,” he says solemnly. "Or favorite only. My favorite tax lady ever."

As she finishes with his file, she notices that Barton has a new direct deposit account and a small allotment going to Coulson. It doesn't matter to his return, which is all finished. Barton is finished, too; he’s starting to list in the chair, all of his energy draining away. He doesn’t even eat his doughnut. An infirmary nurse shows up with a wheelchair and Coulson helps Barton into it. Barton’s eyes are at half mast.

“I still want my pancakes,” he says stubbornly.

“Tomorrow,” Coulson promises as they wheel him away.

Jean eats the chocolate doughnut Barton left her. She thinks it’s the polite thing to do, and she can always start her diet again tomorrow.

Year 3

Her father dies in the middle of March after a long illness in the hospital. Jean has been out on FMLA for weeks and returns just in time for the last crunch of tax season. Although getting out of bed every morning takes huge effort, her coworkers are sympathetic and being busy is a solace. Any moment she’s not occupied with numbers or reports, grief and loss swell up into her eyes. Whenever she starts to cry, she berates herself for not staying professional and dashes to the bathroom until she can compose herself.

Clint Barton shows up on April 10th, which is a vast improvement over the last two years. He’s not sporting any injuries this time, but looks thin and tired. If he were one of her cats, she’d take him home and give him tuna juice and lots of cuddles.

“You moved back into assigned quarters,” she says. “Didn’t like Queens?”

“Something like that,” Barton says.

According to his file, he’s also had a pay reduction. She can’t see his security clearance, but she’d bet that’s been knocked down, too. In the year since she’s seen him, he’s done something or failed to do something, and SHIELD is punishing him. Even his supervisor has changed; it’s now Sitwell, J., who she barely knows.

“No investments this year?” she asks.

He shakes his head. “How are your cats? It looks like you got another one.”

Jean follows his gaze to a picture of Grace, a long-haired tabby with bright green eyes.

“She was my father’s. He died and left her to me,” Jean says, and suddenly she’s crying.

Barton looks alarmed. He pushes the Kleenex box to her and she puts the tissue to her eyes and it's silly, really, because her father was old and ailing, and he'd had a good life, and she should be able to handle her emotions in the office.

"I'm very sorry," he says. "I'll come back later."

He escapes. She goes to the bathroom, splashes her face with cold water, and tries to redo her makeup so that she doesn't look like a raccoon. In the kitchen, later, her coworker Lupe remarks on seeing Clint Barton in Jean's cubicle, and shares the gossip about his demotion.

"They say he didn't shoot someone when he was supposed to," Lupe reports. "He disobeyed orders big time."

Although she knows that SHIELD deals with messy situations that often result in death. Jean's never given much though to the idea that the people who come and sit beside her desk are also people who shoot, stab, strangle or otherwise kill others. It's a cold prospect. Even villains have daughters or other loved ones who mourn them. She's glad, in a way, that Barton has limits. That he's not a mindless machine that takes life on order, like a gun or bomb or robot.

But he doesn't come back to finish his 1040, which annoys her. A week after the April deadline, someone else comes instead: a beautiful redheaded girl with serious eyes and chewing gum in her mouth.

"Barton said to see you about help with my taxes," she says, no preamble. "I had an accountant, but he double-crossed the wrong people."

Jean doesn't follow that statement to its obvious implication.

"I've been waiting for Agent Barton to come finish his," she says instead.

"I finished them for him," the girl says. "His are easy. Mine are an actuarial nightmare. How do you feel about nightmares?"

"Numbers don't frighten me," Jean says without hesitation, and Natasha Romanov smiles.

A week after that, Jean arrives at work earlier than anyone else and finds a big, healthy pothos plant on her desk, along with a card of thanks from Romanov. Tucked in its leaves are pouches of organic catnip and a condolence card from Barton. Jean knew the gifts weren't there when they locked the offices last night.

Before sitting down, she brushes some grains of plaster from her chair. She decides to keep the plant at work, tucks the catnip into her bag to take home, and never notices the slightly loose air vent over her desk.

Year 4

Jean is dating Larry from Accounts Payable. By "dating" she means they've had lunch four times and went to the movies once, departing afterward on separate trains. He's a kind person with a receding hairline and permanent bags under his eyes. She can't deny it's nice to see Clint Barton arrive at her desk looking healthy, rested and undeniably sexy in a tight purple T-shirt and painted-on jeans.

"And it's only March 24th," she says, proud of him.

"I'm getting better about scheduling," Barton says. "And I was an offered an incentive to get this done early."

She calls up his payroll. "Early might be an overstatement. Let's not get cocky."

He's back to earning a housing allowance, and he's been bumped up not one but two pay grades. When he pauses to answer a text message, she studies him covertly and decides he's in love.

"Will I see your friend this year? Miss Romanov?" Jean asks.

"She's dating a CPA," Barton taps on his screen. "She says he's good at tax shelters."

Jean's not the kind to pry or gossip. But she's a fan of whatever got him here weeks before the deadline. "So what incentive were you offered?"

"Beach vacation," he says, tapping some more.

"Caribbean?"

"Gulf of Mexico." Barton sends his message and looks up. "Can I ask you – I mean, obviously, but if I had a roommate, that would change my taxes, right?"

Jean can't help teasing him. "A roommate? Sharing full expenses?"

His cheeks redden slightly. "I guess that's how it would work."

"Bring her in and I'd do both your taxes," she says cheerfully

Barton doesn't answer.

"Or maybe she doesn't work for SHIELD?" Jean asks.

"It's not a her."

"I'm sorry," Jean says. "I mean, no, I'm not sorry, it's perfectly okay – not that you need my to say that. I'm sorry for putting my foot in my mouth."

Barton tilts his head in amusement. "It's not a big secret. About me. Him—he's more, what's the word? Circumspect?"

She wants to reach over and pat his hand. "He's wary?"

"Private." Barton rubs the back of his neck. "He doesn't like labels. Doesn't want people to know and put him in a box."

"I know the feeling," she said.

"What box do people put you in?" Barton asks.

"Single cat-lady," she says. "Single, middle-aged cat lady."

"Animals need love," Barton says. "And being single's great. Who cares what other people think?"

She doesn't need his reassurances, but they're nice to hear anyway.

"I hope things go well for you and your friend," she says.

Year 5

Things don't go well. Eleven months later the helicarrier is attacked, many people are killed or permanently injured, and a rumors circulate that Clint Barton was somehow part of it—that he led the enemies in the attack. Jean doesn't believe it. But then again, she can't believe Phil Coulson is dead, either. She misses him at new employee orientation meetings. She hopes he didn’t suffer.

A memorial service for all the victims is held at the non-denominational chapel, and it's standing room only. Nick Fury gives a short but moving speech. Captain America himself reads the victims' names, one by one, as a bell tolls.

During the service Jean catches sight of Natasha Romanov, but not Barton. Romanov looks composed but tired. She's sitting next to Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man. Jean isn't much impressed by mechanical flying suits, but she'd love to do his tax returns.

Afterward, as they're leaving, Romanov bumps up against Jean in the foyer. Nick Fury is on Romanov's other side, glowering at anyone in his way.

"Sorry," Romanov apologizes.

"My fault," Jean says, although it really wasn't.

"Director, do you know Miss Denby?" Romanov asks. "She did my taxes. Agent Barton's, too."

Fury looks unimpressed. "Is that so?"

Jean wants to go hide in a closet somewhere. Not that she has any particular reason to fear Fury, but who needs a reason? During his rare appearances in the bureaucratic bowels of SHIELD, clerks regularly scurry from his path. Jean is not above scurrying herself, but Romanov keeps a friendly hand on Jean's arm.

"I met my federal requirement last week," Romanov says. "I guess Barton will miss the deadline."

Fury's obviously not interested in tax talk. "He can get an extension."

"If his accountant files one for him," Romanov says.

Jean never took classes in subterfuge, but she thinks maybe they're talking about something other than Barton's 1040. Romanov and Fury stare at each other for a moment.

"Well," Fury says, "SHIELD wouldn't want to stand between an employee and his federal requirements."

Tony Stark sidles up behind Romanov. He's got a silver flask in his hand, and his eyes are bloodshot. "Why are we lingering here, kids? We've got a good old-fashioned wake to get to. I bought a restaurant on Central Park to fit everyone."

"We're talking about Clint's tax return," Romanov says.

Something flashes across Stark's face. "I guess accountants aren't in great supply when you're unjustly locked up in the loonie bin?"

Fury glares at him. "Stark, when are you going to learn the meaning of the word 'discretion?'"

"I'm discretion-impaired," Stark says, and takes a swig from his flask. "It's a documented disability. If Barton needs an accountant, I'll send one over."

Romanov says, "We've got it covered."

A week later, Jean receives a short memo directing her to an appointment with Agent Barton in the secure medical wing. She's nervous on the elevator ride, and the anxiety ratchets higher when she has to pass through two checkpoints. The guards are nothing but polite, but make her feel like she's visiting a jail. An escort takes her down a short white corridor that smells like antiseptic and reminds her of her father's last weeks.

Loonie bin, Tony Stark had said. Jean listens, but hears no patient screams or cries. She hears very little sound at all.

The conference room has four beige walls, a mirrored window for doctors to observe the meeting, and an outside window with the blinds slanted against sunlight. The room is cold, but luckily she always wears a cardigan.

Sitting at the table, Clint Barton is pale and stubbled, wearing white sweatpants and a white SHIELD hoodie. He doesn't look up when she comes in, but instead concentrates on picking at a hangnail on his right thumb. His shoulders are hunched as if carrying some terrible weight.

The escort says, "Your visitor, Agent Barton," and Jean sits in a blue chair.

Barton doesn't acknowledge her presence. The escort leaves with a quiet snick of the door. Opening her laptop, Jean says, "I filled out all I could and just need to verify the details."

He looks up, startled, and stares at her.

"Details of what?" he asks, his voice hoarse. Maybe he hasn't been talking much lately.

"Your tax return."

He tilts his head. "You're here to do my taxes?"

"It's due in ten days," she says.

Barton considers that. "I'm not worried."

"I am. You're very bad with deadlines."

He unexpectedly laughs. Jean smiles, although she's not sure anything here is funny. She double-checks his payroll information.

"You still have an allotment going to Phil Coulson," she says, and doesn't miss his wince.

"He loaned me the deposit for my first apartment," Barton says quietly. "Against company rules and everything. Guess that doesn't matter anymore."

"I can stop it," she says, clicking, and then stops. "That's strange."

"What is?"

Jean frowns. "His payroll's still active."

Barton sits up straighter. "He died six weeks ago."

Normally she wouldn't share information. And surely this is just a computer error. But then Jean clicks through to another screen, and blurts out the results in surprise.

"As of payday yesterday, he's receiving full benefits plus per diem for Tahiti," she says.

The door behind her opens. A woman in a white lab coat hurriedly says, "Thank you, that will be all, Miss Denby – " but she's hard to hear, because Barton has stood up and is shouting, "You fuckers! He's alive! You lied to me and he's alive – "

Two orderlies move to subdue Barton. Jean is hustled out of the room before she can see what they do to him, but she hears more shouts and the solid thump of someone being knocked against a wall. She hopes Barton gets in a good swing or two.

An hour later, her supervisor and a representative from HR are having Jean re-sign all of her confidentiality agreements. The HR guy says, blandly, "Phil Coulson's file was wrong. We'll fix it. Remember that you never saw it. If anyone asks, refer them to me."

She agrees to keep silent, but inside she glows with the knowledge that Coulson is alive.

Two weeks later, Clint Barton resigns from SHIELD.

Year 6

Jean's running late to work. Normally she wouldn't schedule veterinarian visits during the week, but Ensign Kim wouldn't eat his breakfast and seemed feverish, so she had to put him in his carrier, haul him to the vet in the pouring rain, and listen to scary words such as "possible bowel obstruction." He's staying at the vet's today for X-rays and testing. All the way to the office, she worries that he's going to need surgery.

"You've got a visitor," the secretary tells her when Jean hurries in, wet and cold from rain. "A ghost needs his taxes done!"

Phil Coulson is sitting in the chair beside her desk, glumly contemplating her glass cat paperweights. Each one is different color. She has six of them.

"Agent Coulson," Jean says, startled, as her umbrella drips on her shoes.

He stands up. "Miss Denby."

"Your not-death is top secret information," she says.

He nods. "It's been downgraded."

Jean pulls her coat off and dumps it on the back of her chair. "Thanks to you, I had to listen to a long, stern lecture about national security last year. And sign forms. And listen to another lecture. And sign more forms. All because– "

"I heard about the incident," Coulson says. "I'm sorry for the confusion and inconvenience."

He sounds sincere. And she can't really be mad at him for being alive. Jean sits down and puts her glass paperweights back into their proper order. "Why are you here? You do your own taxes."

Coulson nods. "I'm hoping you could do me a favor. It's about Agent Barton."

Jean lifts an eyebrow. "He doesn't work here anymore."

But he's still an Avenger. She's seen press conferences on the news where he shows up wearing sunglasses and purple T-shirts.

"I know." Coulson sounds regretful. "He has a new job. He's with Tony Stark."

"Oh." Jean thinks about that. "They have accountants."

"Just in case he calls on you for his records or information, could you give him a message?" Coulson asks.

Jean wishes she'd stopped for coffee. She feels a caffeine-withdrawal headache coming on. "You could call Stark Industries. They have receptionists and voicemail."

"He's with Tony Stark."

"So you said."

"No, he's with Tony Stark," Coulson says.

Jean realizes several things at once. One, her hair got wet when her umbrella blew over and cold water is dripping down the back of her neck. Two, Agent Barton and Agent Coulson had more than just the standard supervisor-agent relationship. Three, somehow she's become part of some romantic plot she never saw coming.

Coulson continues, "He won't take my calls. My mail comes back unreturned. I went to Stark Tower and nearly got tazered. I'd rent a biplane and fly a message across the sky, but can't risk him putting an arrow through the engine."

She doesn't know what to say.

He pulls a white envelope from the inside of his jacket. "All I'm asking is that you get this to him and tell him how sorry I am. I'd be very grateful. I'll do anything in return. Name your terms."

Jean considers all the possible things she wants in the world. It's a big list. It begins with coffee, detours around Ensign Kim recovering quickly, and ends with world peace. Coulson sounds like he'll do anything she asks, and that's a heady power to have over someone. But she's not really interested in power.

"There's a cat shelter in my neighborhood that's short of food and medicine," she says. "Any donation will help."

"Done," Coulson says.

A few days later, after some phone tag and text messages and some very healthy bowel movements on the part of Ensign Kim, Jean meets Clint Barton for coffee at a mid-town Starbucks. He looks healthy and strong and even-keeled. Both of them pretend not to see Tony Stark in the corner, watching over the edge of his computer tablet.

"I don't know what happened between you two," Jean says honestly, "but he donated ten thousand dollars to my local cat shelter, just because I said I'd try." She slides the envelope across the table between them. "He wants to apologize. But most of all, he wants you to be happy."

"I'd be happier if he hadn't lied," Barton says, without touching the envelope.

Jean rests her hand on his. "You told me once that he was wary. Didn't want people to know."

"Yeah."

"But for you, he said he'd rent a biplane to carry a message across the sky. That sounds like a man who isn't afraid of people knowing what he feels."

Around them, customers talk loudly over the hipster music on the speakers. Barton's next words are so quiet that Jean has to lean close.

"What message?" he asks.

Jean sips at her coffee. "I don't know. Maybe the same one that's in this envelope."

Barton picks it up.

Year 7

SHIELD is gone.

Jean's job is gone, too. As are her colleagues, her cubicle, all that free coffee, her medical insurance, and her retirement plan. She's fifty-something years old with six cats to support and neighbors who are in some kind of recovery program. They host Narcotics Anonymous meetings every night in their apartment until the wee hours of the morning. She's tired and anxious and not in the mood for the confusing telephone call inviting her to interview for a job she didn't apply for.

"Where did you say you're calling from?" she asks, scooping Lieutenant Riker out of the kitchen sink where he likes to curl up.

"Stark Industries," the woman says.

Jean almost drops the phone.

The woman adds, "Please be on time tomorrow, and ask for me. My name is Pepper Potts."

Pepper Potts is a little bit scary, but Jean gets the job.

Six months later, she goes to the company holiday party at Lincoln Center with Carl Henry, her veterinarian. They've been to six movies and three dinners together. Both of them always have cat hair on their clothes. They're sipping champagne and admiring a forty-foot Christmas tree when Jean sees Tony Stark deep in conversation in the corner of the lobby. In this case, conversation includes sticking his tongue down the throat of a very nice-looking black man.

"Isn't that Falcon?" Carl Henry asks. "The newest Avenger?"

Iron Man and Falcon. Jean's heard rumors, but nothing very specific. She's not particularly interested in her boss's love life. But she has been keeping an eye out for Clint Barton, hoping that he'd be here—

"Miss Denby," Phil Coulson says behind her, and Jean turns.

Barton and Coulson look amazing together. They're wearing stunning black tuxedos with matching purple cummerbunds. Of course the tuxedos are tailored. Barton has a wide smile as he kisses Jean's hand, and Phil Coulson shakes Carl Henry's hand with the smooth satisfaction of a man with his life in good order.

"Thank you again for your assistance," Coulson says to Jean.

She didn't do much. These are men who save the world on a regular basis. They're superheroes. She's simply an accountant who helped out with a little communication problem. The orchestra in the ballroom begins playing Christmas jazz, and Jean realizes her own life is in good order, too. She raises her champagne to them.

"Just be sure to file your taxes on time," Jean says.

"We will," Barton promises, and rests his hand on Coulson's shoulder. A gold wedding band gleams on his hand. "We file jointly these days."

The End