Lattetude was probably the most secret of any coffee shop on the planet. Phil found the name particularly ironic, considering the small shop that boasted two espresso machines and seating for only twenty was located in an underground level of a government agency. As the manager, he usually kept to his back office and filled out order forms for new large coffee filters and bags of beans but sometimes he was required to be more proactive. It was not quite six in the evening and the evening barista had called in because her child was sick with the chickenpox. Phil murmured his wishes for the snot-rag to recover quickly and went to put on an apron over his suit. It would look odd, but no more attention-getting than his younger coworker's eclectic style.
His first customers came in a pack, dressed in scrubs and gossiping away about the potential relationship between an unruly patient and the head nurse, a woman named Jane. Phil idly wondered if “Thor” was a code name for the injured agent, because no one could really name their child after the Norse god of thunder in this day and age. He made the women their drinks, all of them with skim milk but heavy on the whipped cream. Phil considered pointing out the dichotomy of that but saved his breath. They had medical degrees, they knew what they ordered.
A steady stream of agents and personnel stopped by Lattetude on their way home and Phil was kept busy pouring espresso shots and brewing another batch of coffee. He started the next pot, making it stronger than the afternoon's because this was for the overnight workers. Not only the janitors, but the agents who were stuck working on paperwork or returning to headquarters late from training or a mission.
It wasn't Phil's place to ask where the trio came in from, but he was certainly curious. The three were covered in dust and one of the men had a long scratch over his cheek that looked recent. The petite redhead, dressed in a leather catsuit and heeled boots clicking on the floor, ordered a black coffee. The two men behind her echoed the order and Phil poured three cups as they took seats at a table away from the door. The brunet with the sniper rifle (and Phil certainly wasn't staring at it as he walked over to deliver their drinks) took the seat facing the door, eyes narrowed as suited agents walked past.
“Anything else you need?” Phil questioned, standing in front of them. The woman began pouring sugar into her coffee, slapping away the men's hands when they tried to reach for the shaker.
“No, we're good for now.” The blond man answered, winking at Phil. He hummed appreciatively as he took the first sip and Phil smiled. His eyes caught sight of a tangle of wires over the back of his chair and tried to figure out what it was when he took his customary spot behind the counter.
“Just leave them on the table, it'll give me something to do,” Phil called out when the blond man tried to gather the cups. The woman nodded at him, linking her arm through both of the men's and dragged them away. Phil couldn't quite hear because her voice was low but he didn't think she was speaking in English.
The blond man came back alone a few hours later, dressed in a sleeveless top and low-slung workout pants. “I need another coffee, if you don't mind.” Phil raised an eyebrow because the man was trembling and the policy on the door to Lattetude clearly stated it was Phil's reserved right to cut off any agent who was over-caffeinated. He pointed to the sign and watched the man's brow furrow as he read.
“Oh,” the man chuckled. “I swear, this'll be my second cup of the day.” He raised three fingers with a grin. “I've been training and I still have another two hours for my quota.” The man rolled his eyes, muttering something about shooting things the entire day before continuing. “Then the recruits come in after that.” He groaned as if the idea was painful and it was Phil's turn to laugh as he turned to the coffee pot.
“It's nearly midnight,” Phil felt the need to point out, handing the man his cup of black coffee.
“They start training at four. Don't you know the higher ups don't think we need sleep?” He took a sip of the steaming liquid and moaned. Phil bit back a smile. “You are amazing, please don't ever leave,” the man said in a heartfelt tone. “I'm Clint, by the way.”
Phil shook his hand and introduced himself. He watched as Clint drained the cup and tossed it behind him, a perfect shot into the trashcan twenty feet away.
“Nice shot,” Phil complimented. Clint's smile turned smug briefly, before he caught sight of his watch.
“I've got to get back,” Clint jerked a thumb at the door, “or the two idiots you saw me with are liable to start going at it on the range again, but I'll be back!” Phil shoved another coffee at him, waving off Clint's effusive thanks as he ran out.
The morning food delivery came in at 4AM and Phil put the pastries into the case before he called it quits. Darcy raised an eyebrow as she danced in a half hour later, earbuds firmly in place.
“Boss man, what's new?” she called out, setting her messenger bag under the counter.
“Organize the stockroom during the slow periods and stop comping Jane's coffee.” He stared at his younger coworker who only grinned brightly.
“I don't know what you're talking about, Phil! Us girls have to stick together in this patriarchal man-eat-man building.” Phil sighed loudly and pinched the bridge of his nose. Darcy waved him out of the shop, yelling that she had everything under control. Phil doubted that but left to get some sleep.
By the following week Phil decided he would put himself on permanent night shift. It had nothing whatsoever to do with Clint's habit of dropping in during the early morning hours to sit on a table and swing his legs like an overgrown child, cracking jokes and juggling whatever fruit hadn't sold that afternoon. Phil learned over the next few months that the agent was actually the best shot in the entire nation, had grown up in a circus of all places and was best friends with the two people Phil had first seen him with.
Phil was crouched under a table, chipping away at a wad of discarded gum left by a new recruit that Phil thought might be straight out of university when there was a click of heels on the floor.
“Don't stand on my account, Phil.” Natasha said, taking a seat at the next table over. She crossed her legs and leaned back in the chair. “Clint just wanted me to tell you he's been called away so he won't be visiting you for a few weeks.” She frowned before making the next statement. “He also wants me to order a coffee to keep you in business but I don't think he comes here to drink coffee.” The woman stared challengingly at the barista-manager and Phil shrugged guilelessly.
“What you do with my partner is also my business.” Natasha said shortly. “If you hurt him, you'll have worse to fear than losing your job.” She stood gracefully, pushing the chair under the table and stalked out.
Phil stared after her in shock because he was just the manager of a coffee shop, seriously. He finished scraping the gum from the bottom of the table and tried to turn his attention to the week's paperwork but it was pointless. Phil had listened to Clint's stories of his two partners, the sniper and the spy. Of course, most of the stories revolved around their frequent romantic liaisons in a variety of places but Phil also knew the two were the best in their field and her threat was to be taken seriously. The man spent the rest of the shift lost in thought, muscle memory guiding him to make the drink orders. He fell onto the couch that morning in a daze, the laugh-track from an insipid sitcom lulling Phil to sleep.
Three and half weeks passed without any sign of the marksman. Phil carried on as usual, keeping to the night shift because it didn't make sense to uproot his sleep pattern and Natasha had said her partner would be back in a few weeks. He could wait that long. Phil carefully avoided thinking of himself like the other military wives that lived in the community.
It was a Friday morning when Phil arrived just ahead of schedule. He skirted around the table of nurses babbling over the engagement ring of Jane, glared at Darcy who was flirting with a lean black-haired man in a very expensive suit and entered his office.
There was a bright purple sticky note atop Phil's stack of completed order forms and employee time sheets. He crossed the room and looked at the blocky handwriting.
BE IN TONIGHT. THE COFFEE IN – there was something scribbled out in the middle, Phil presumed it was the place he wasn't supposed to know about – IS TERRIBLE. Phil grinned at the note and stuck it to the bulletin board behind him.
“Black, please.” Phil spun around at half past one in the morning, staring at the man. Clint looked exhausted, dark circles under his eyes. He made the requested cup half-decaf and didn't say anything as the marksman swallowed nearly all of it in one gulp.
“You know, the door to my office is locked at all times.” Phil opened the conversation, raising an eyebrow. Clint smiled, crushing the paper cup in a fist.
“C'mon Phil, we both know who I work with. A guy's gotta pick up some new tricks every now and then.” Phil poured him a second cup and joined him at a table.
“Had fun wherever you were?” Clint shrugged silently, sipping his second cup at a slower pace. “I'm glad you're not injured.” Phil confessed, following up the quietly spoken sentence by concentrating on dumping at least two tablespoons of sugar into his coffee.
“I knew you liked me best!” Clint's face showed his delight so clearly Phil wondered how exactly the man went on undercover missions and survived.
“I put up with you,” Phil corrected, lips twisted into a smirk. “It's frowned upon to throw a patron out of the establishment, no matter how awful their jokes are.”
Clint wet his lips before he spoke. “Well, do you want to put up with me for an actual dinner?”
“Yeah, I'd like that. Though dinner for me is really breakfast for all of you folk on a regular circadian rhythm,” Phil cautioned and Clint smiled.
“The diner down the street does breakfast and sandwiches all day,” Clint offered. Phil finished his coffee before nodding.
“I get off at 5.”
“I know your schedule,” Clint winked. He threw his cup behind him and Phil was unsurprised it was another hole in one. “See you in a few hours.”