The first time Phil Coulson meets Clint Barton, Phil has a vague frown on his face as he mournfully declares Barton's mint garlic sauce to be too flavorful and that it overpowers his veal tenderloin completely.
Barton leers at him and says, "Yeah, I should have figured you'd want to taste the meat," and Phil can't stop the faint blush from spreading across his cheeks.
The thing is, the food isn't even the main reason why Phil enjoys his job so much. A lot of people think it's all about the free food at New York's finest restaurants, paid for by Phil's very generous corporate card. But in all honesty, it's the people. Phil likes meeting the chefs and the servers. He likes taking in the atmosphere at a restaurant, whether it's dim and romantic even as he sits at a table by himself, or bright and oozes of money. Phil enjoys matching the food experience to the atmosphere. He likes meeting the chefs, seeing who's got ambitions and who's more preoccupied with fame than with the food.
Nothing could ever have prepared him for Clint Barton, though.
Steve, the Maitre d' at Marco Polo, has Phil pegged as a food critic from the moment he steps foot into the restaurant, but instead of bowing and scraping at his feet like some places do, Steve gives him a rueful smile as he shows him to his table. "I hope you realize chef Barton will not be making any special exceptions for you while you're dining with us, Mr. Coulson."
"I should hope not," Phil responds honestly. "I'm not looking for special treatment."
And it's true. Phil likes it best when restaurants either don't know who he is, or don't care, because that's when he really feels like he gets the true experience of eating there.
And Phil wants to like Barton's food, really he does. He doesn't take pleasure in poor reviews. He wants to write the best review Marco Polo has ever received. And Marco Polo has received a fair bit of praise ever since they first opened a year ago, despite the overall belief that it would fail. Seems everything Tony Stark touches turns to gold. So backed up by expectations and his own hopeful attitude, Phil almost feels like crying when he receives his veal tenderloin and can barely taste it at all under the sauce. He finds the potatoes overdone, the pasta sampler with spinach and chicken ravioli far too soggy, and the raspberry soufflé desert nauseatingly sweet.
When Barton comes out at the end of Phil's meal, he is briefly taken aback by Barton's appearance--the tousled hair, the stubble on his cheek. It's a stark contrast to everything else about Marco Polo, sleek and shiny, and Phil is immediately convinced that even though the food wasn't great, it's the most honest meal he's had in years.
Thankfully, Barton doesn't seem to be the oversensitive type, like a few of the chefs Phil has reviewed in the past (honestly, it wasn't a flattering review, but Phil still maintains that chef Sitwell's teary-eyed and profanity-laden breakdown over at Sheng Paradise was completely unwarranted), and merely shakes Phil's hand with a smile as he introduces himself.
The meat comment takes Phil by surprise. Barton snickers at him then says, "You should come back some other time, I clearly have to do better."
It's an invitation for more than food, Phil knows, and he really shouldn't be doing this, but still finds himself responding, "I definitely will."
When they shake hands again, they linger for an extra moment before they part.
Phil lasts a week before he goes back to Marco Polo. He doesn't have a reservation, which is really pushing his luck--he had to wait over two months before--but Phil hopes.
His heart sinks in his chest however, when he approaches the restaurant and finds velvet ropes set up to the side, and a gaggle of people waiting in line. There are press photographers hanging around the door as well, which isn't terribly unusual. Celebrities can cause this, Phil knows. He stops a little bit off to the side, glances at the curtains through the tinted windows, and thinks about Barton's raspberry soufflé. Then he shuffles his feet; this is stupid.
Phil turns and is about to walk away, when he hears his name.
"Mr. Coulson? Mr. Coulson!" He turns around to see Steve the Maitre d' walk towards him with a smile on his face. "I thought that was you, Mr. Coulson. Were you thinking of dining with us this evening?"
It feels vaguely surreal. Phil looks pointedly at the waiting crowd of people and at the press. "Sure," he says, "though I don't think I have time to wait this long for a table."
The sarcasm sparks a short, little laugh from Steve. "Chef Barton has a table reserved for you if you'd like."
Phil blinks. "He has?"
Steve looks a little smug, and something stirs in the pit of Phil's stomach that has got nothing to do with hunger. "You have a standing reservation with us, Mr. Coulson, every day, at any time during dinner service. Now, I really need to get back inside, but if you'd like, we'd love it if you'd join us."
And hell, Phil can't say no to that.
His table is small and hidden away in a corner, but Phil doesn't mind one bit, because it keeps him away from the slight commotion where Tony Stark himself is holding court, over by the big table closest to the bar--and it's Phil's table. His table, that Barton himself made sure to reserve for him. He thinks about Barton telling Steve to hold that table, thinks about Barton's stubble and faint dimples as he grinned at Phil, and his heart beats just a little bit faster in his chest.
Phil orders the smoked salmon fillet with lemon-mushroom sauce, and is pleased to discover it's a great step up from the veal. The salmon is perfect; tender and flavorful, and the sauce adds a faint bite to it without taking anything away from the fish. At the end of his meal, he orders the raspberry soufflé again and tells his server, Darcy--teasingly, and with a smile that ensures there's no bite to his words--to make sure chef Barton does a better job with it than the last time he was in. He also makes sure to express his happiness with the food in general, and Darcy practically skips off to the kitchen.
Between Tony Stark and the crowd, Phil is not surprised that he doesn't get to see Barton at all, though there is a slight feeling almost like disappointment.
Still, when his raspberry soufflé arrives, there's a thin line of raspberry sauce on top that's been artfully arranged in a heart shape, and Phil doesn't blush this time.
It only takes four days until Phil goes back to Marco Polo the next time, after having made sure that Tony Stark is out of town and therefore not likely to cause such a commotion again. And if Phil also happens to go later in the evening, when the worst of the dinner rush is more likely to have died down, well, that doesn't have to mean anything.
The restaurant is still busy of course, but Steve still greets him with a wide smile and a very sincere "Good to see you back, Mr. Coulson."
Phil sits at his table, orders the duck liver pate, smiles at Darcy and ignores the knowing smile she gives him in return, and takes his time eating. Again, his meal is better than his first visit, and even though there are other things on the dessert menu he'd eventually like to try, the raspberry soufflé had seen the biggest improvement from the first to the second visit, and Phil can't resist the temptation to order it again.
He eats it slowly, savors each sweet bite as guests slowly drift out of the restaurant. It's interesting being able to sit and observe how the atmosphere changes as Marco Polo winds down for the night. The servers get a little bit more relaxed, the ambient noise of people's conversation goes down as the crowd thins.
From his little table in the corner, Phil can only see half the main dining area, but he's got an unexpected view into the archway to the left of the bar, where a couple of the servers are standing, chatting together. He can see the kitchen doors at an angle as well, and he can't help but crane his neck just a little every time a server walks in and out, trying to catch a glimpse of the kitchen beyond.
He's down to his very last bite of soufflé when the kitchen doors open and Barton walks out. He's wearing his chef's jacket, faintly stained from the night's cooking endeavors with the sleeves rumpled and rolled up past his elbows, and an apron that's far more stained than the jacket. In his head, Phil can immediately envision Barton, moving fluidly around the kitchen as he wipes his hands on his apron. Like the first time they met, Barton's got stubble on his chin, his hair going in every direction, wearing dark jeans and, Phil notes amusedly, heavy combat boots.
Barton heads straight for Phil's table, and Phil can't stop the little smile that spreads across his face.
"Heard you were back again," Barton says in a flirty tone, one corner of his mouth quirked upwards in a satisfied smirk. "Couldn't resist me, huh?"
Phil feels breathless. He can't do what Barton does; he can't smirk and flirt so effortlessly, so confidently. All he can do is answer with complete honesty. "No," he says. "I couldn't."
That briefly stops Barton in his tracks for a moment, and something softens in his face. Then he moves again and sits down across from Phil, nodding to the last piece of soufflé. "You liking the soufflé, then? Or, I should say, the food in general?"
Phil nods enthusiastically, and immediately feels like a dork, but he can't really help it. "Absolutely, the improvement since my initial visit is quite frankly astounding."
Barton shrugs and leans back, rubs absently at a faint stain on his chef's jacket. "Eh, I musta been having an off day or something. It happens. I'm just happy you decided to give me another chance."
He looks up with a coy smirk at the last part, and Phil swallows a little--tries not to show how his breath catches in his throat.
"Give your food another chance?" he asks, fishing.
"Yeah," Barton says, completely without conviction and still smirking. "My food."
Phil glances down at the pitiful little piece of soufflé left on his plate and gestures towards it with his spoon. "I'm just sad the review went to the printer already. I would happily have amended it for the experience I've had here after that."
Barton just shrugs and waves one hand dismissively. "Eh, don't worry about it," he says with a shrug. Then, "So you really like that raspberry soufflé, huh?"
In response, Phil scoops up the last piece and eats it.
"You should broaden your horizons. I make other stuff too, you know."
"I know what I like," Phil responds honestly.
"You should try my chocolate-orange mousse," Barton offers, a spark of something appearing in his eyes. "I've been told it's to die for."
Phil raises an eyebrow. "Die for? Really?" and Barton laughs easily.
"What, you don't believe me? I'll make you one right now," he says, a challenge in his voice. "All the tickets for tonight are done. I have time."
Phil chuckles and folds up the napkin from his lap; places it on the table. "I think one dessert is enough for me, thank you, Mr. Barton."
"Clint," Barton says, and when Phil looks up, Barton--Clint--is looking straight at him, smile gone and eyes wide. It causes Phil's lungs to tighten and a small breath of air rushes out of him.
"I--Phil," he manages, and one corner of Clint's mouth quirks up again.
"So," Barton says slowly, drawing out the word, his voice lowered to just above a murmur. "Phil. I could make you that chocolate-orange mousse... at my place."
Phil blinks and stares as Clint gives him a seductive look. Heat unfurls in the pit of his stomach, yet he can't help but burst out laughing. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Steve look over at his outburst. Clint looks vaguely offended.
"Really?" Phil asks, still chuckling. "You're about as subtle as a trainwreck."
Clint sticks out his bottom lip just a touch and crosses his arms defiantly, but there's an amused twitch around the corners of his eyes. "Whatever," he huffs with thinly veiled amusement. "Like you're any better. I know what I like," he mocks. "Besides, it's working, isn't it?"
Phil sobers at that and meets Clint's eyes again--he's not used to people being quite this forward with him, so direct, and he finds he likes it.
"Yeah," Phil admits honestly. "It's working."
They'd left Marco Polo in a hurry (while trying their best to make it appear as though they were not actually hurrying), and ever since Clint had stuck his head into the kitchen and told someone named Thor that he was in charge for tonight's cleanup, there had been tension running underneath Phil's skin. An electric sort of current makes his skin crawl and a part of Phil is still in disbelief that he's actually doing this--that he's actually standing in Clint's living room, closing the door behind him when he barely even knows the man, and it's a terrible idea because Phil was just supposed to review a restaurant.
Phil's not even sure why, but he just knows that his boss won't like this if he hears about it, either, and for a split second he considers leaving--stomping down all these urges, stomping down this connection he has with Clint, and getting out with his dignity and sanity intact.
But then Clint--fucking Clint Barton--turns around and gives Phil this look, and says, "So I kinda lied about making that mousse..." and it's stating the obvious in such a ridiculous manner that Phil can't really do anything but laugh again. His laughter never has a chance to die out this time, before Clint is on him, kissing him deeply and hotly.
Clint kisses Phil in a way few have before; deep, open-mouthed kisses that leaves Phil breathless. Dirty kisses with strong slides of Clint's tongue against his and little breathy moans against his mouth. Porn star kisses that leave Phil's lips tingling and makes his chest ache. Clint kisses Phil as if he’s the sexiest man Clint has ever seen, and Phil grows hard faster than he thought was possible.
When they break apart briefly for air, Clint licks his lip in the most obscene way and smirks at Phil. "Raspberry," he states, and Phil's face grows hot.
He doesn't have a good response, so instead he just tugs Clint back towards him and kisses him again. His hips grind forward almost on their own--he's not used to feeling this way, and it feels almost as if he's on fire. His skin is prickling, and he needs this, he needs the friction of Clint's own hardness against his, and Phil would really like for any and all layers of clothes between them to be gone right now, please and thank you.
Clint pushes against him so insistently that Phil is forced to step backwards, and it's not until he stumbles a second time that his brain catches up and he realizes that Clint is actually trying to steer them towards what Phil guesses is the bedroom. Something about that, the realization that they're here and they're doing this, and fuck--Phil's never felt this kind of connection with anyone before--something about it makes Phil's brain short circuit and his head swims. He reaches for Clint's pants, gets his belt undone, and Clint groans into his mouth and pulls back a little again, just enough to say, "Fuck--Phil, fuck, I--," but that's all.
Clint's fly is being stubborn and Phil is forced to break the kiss again to look down and find out exactly why the second button won't come undone. "I'm writing a formal letter of complaint to the inventor of button flys," he grits out like a big dork, because there's apparently no real connection between his brain and his mouth anymore. Thankfully, Clint doesn't seem to mind, only chuckles at Phil--a rumble in his chest--and runs his hands down Phil's sides to his own pants, which prove to be a far less obstacle. Rubbing his crotch once, twice, Clint does some sort of magic twist-flick, and then Phil's dark slacks are undone and his cock springs free.
The sensation of air on his bare skin causes Phil to gasp, and he curses more violently, yanking at Clint's stubborn fly and groaning in relief when he finally gets the button open. Clint just laughs at him and then helps pull down his pants--no boxers, Phil registers--to pull his own cock out, stroking himself a couple of times for good measure.
Phil feels dizzy, unsteady on his feet despite the fact that they've stopped moving for now. When he puts his hand on Clint, the other man sucks in a harsh breath and then buries his face against Phil's neck and sucks on the skin there.
"Shit," Clint breathes, then, "Yeah, fuck," and Phil just stares down between them, loves watching his own hand over Clint's flesh, loves seeing the droplets of precum that's gathering at the head of his cock. Suddenly he needs to taste it, he wants it in his mouth so badly that he's practically salivating and, without ever really making a conscious decision to, Phil sinks to his knees and sucks the head of Clint's dick in between his lips.
Clint jerks in surprise, and then immediately stumbles one step sideways to lean on the wall, and okay--fine--this is apparently as far as they have gotten, but neither man cares at the moment. Phil manages to not let Clint slip out, and then closes his eyes and sucks lightly. Feels the weight of Clint on his tongue, tastes his precum, and the insistent ache of his own erection between his legs. Reaching down, Phil starts jerking himself off, because he really, seriously can't wait. It's too good. Clint's too good. Tastes too good.
Above him, Clint groans loudly and thumps his head on the wall, and Phil starts sucking in earnest. It's not the most graceful blowjob he's ever given for sure, one hand jerking Clint, the other on his own cock, while drool and precum leaks out the side of his mouth, but Phil has no patience for finesse at the moment, and Clint doesn't seem to mind. He brings one hand up to loosely cup the back of Phil's head, the other fisting the shirt at Phil's shoulder, and part of Phil wishes Clint would just grab him and fuck his mouth, take him and possess him.
Next time, a treacherous voice whispers in Phil's ear, and the idea of a next time--the idea of Clint just grabbing his head and thrusting--makes Phil's stomach knot up. He moans around Clint, takes him deep and tongues the underside of his shaft, which makes Clint moan loudly above him, and his hand tightens against the back of Phil's head--and that's it. Phil has to tightly squeeze his eyes shut and all the air rushes out of his lungs as he comes harder than he can ever recall coming in his life. He swallows around Clint once, twice, and then just as he's coming down from his orgasm, Clint swears loudly and spurts into Phil's mouth.
He can't catch it all, doesn't even get a chance to swallow most of it--it dribbles out and down Phil's chin, and he focuses instead on slowing his sucking and stroking until Clint's breathing calms down a little. When Clint quiets, Phil slowly lets his cock slip from between his lips. He opens his eyes to find Clint staring at him from underneath hooded lids.
"What?" Phil asks, feeling suddenly self-conscious. Suddenly he's all too aware of the cum on his skin, his spent cock hanging out of his pants, the rasp of his voice.
"Jesus," says Clint, shaking his head a little. "You don't even know, do you?"
"Know what?" Phil asks, awkwardly now, and reaches up to wipe his face off.
One of Clint's hands shoots out like lightning and grips Phil's wrist, and it immediately causes something in Phil's gut to stir again. "Leave it," Clint says, voice thick. "If you could see yourself. You look totally... you look so fucking hot!"
Phil doesn't know how to respond to that. Doesn't know how to really respond to anything Clint does or says. Nobody's ever been this forward with him. Nobody's ever made him want this badly.
Still holding onto Phil's wrist, Clint tugs him to his feet, ignoring the small groan Phil gives as his knees protest, and then kisses Phil, tongue licking insistently into his mouth. Phil gasps as Clint pulls away a little, then continues to suck his way down Phil's chin, lapping up the taste of himself left there, and Phil feels himself slowly, impossibly, start to grow hard again. Clint nods against him, moans, "Yeah," and moves carefully against his pelvis, a slow roll as they stumble the rest of the way into the bedroom.
"Yeah," Clint repeats as they reach the bed. "I'm not done with you yet."
Phil's dick twitches in interest.
Later, they're curled up together under the covers.
"How's my review looking now, Phil?" Clint asks, teasing, and Phil huffs out a small laugh.
"I'm actually kind of regretting submitting my final draft," he says. "Like you said, bad luck to catch you on an off day, I suppose."
Phil feels Clint's grin and chuckle against his body more than he hears it. "You fuckin' idiot," Clint laughs, and Phil frowns.
"How the fuck else was I supposed to get you to come back?"
Phil blinks a little as he takes in this information. "Wait," he says, slowly, "you sabotaged your own food, the restaurant's review, to get me to come back?"
There's a rumble as Clint laughs again.
"How is that logical?" Phil asks. "And how did Stark not fire you?"
"Please," Clint scoffs, still grinning against Phil, "Stark loves me. The restaurant's reputation is solid enough that one bad review wasn't going to kill it."
Then he inches upwards and presses a kiss to Phil's mouth, softly and lingering, before pulling back and smiling mischievously at him. "Besides, let's face it--there are some truly spectacular restaurants in New York. You review great food all the time. Who were you more likely to remember, yet another fine dining restaurant, or that one guy with the shitty veal?"
Phil sighs deeply and hugs Clint closer.
"Trust me," he says, "you stood out even without the shitty veal."
Clint chuckles a little bit again and then they fall into a comfortable silence. They stay like that for a while, not speaking, just lying close, and Phil closes his eyes and just lets himself feel for a while. He takes in Clint's breathing, the faint feeling of his heart beating in his chest, the rasp of his stubble against his face.
Eventually Clint breaks the silence.
"I totally knew you wanted to taste the meat, though."
Phil Coulson might be what some people consider technically too old for such things, but he still feels completely justified in smacking his pillow into Clint's face.