Every afternoon at exactly 1:05 PM Agent Phil Coulson takes his mandatory forty five minute lunch break in the S.H.I.E.L.D. cafeteria. And every afternoon at exactly 1:06 PM various agents from all levels of clearance crowd around Coulson's table and wait for him to open the plain brown paper bag his lunch is stored in. Because every morning at 4:30 AM exactly, Clint Barton wakes up and groggily heads to the kitchen to make Agent Phil Coulson his lunch.
It had started one day when both agents Coulson and Barton had the same lunch break.
"Barton," Phil called to the tiny crevice between the towering filing cabinets and ceiling. Heads whipped around in horror; faces turned white and hands holding phones shook, parties on the other line repeatedly asking, "Hello? Is anyone there? Hello?" Because of course Agent Clint Barton comes shimmying out of the impossibly tight space, a shit eating grin slapped playfully across his face. His eyes lingered knowingly on agents Malloy and Berry - the former having had a conversation on her cell phone near the filing cabinets with her mother about the possibility of abortion when she found out she might be pregnant with her direct boss's baby and the latter having had a rather embarrassing telling off when Agent Stacey McRory was ahem fondled in the hallway.
"Yeah, boss?" The response was nonchalant, but Coulson could tell he was holding back large guffaws of laughter. A valiant and surprisingly nice gesture from Barton.
"Walk with me." And Coulson was moving; walking down the halls and expecting Barton to follow. Which he did. But he took his sweet time with it. When he caught up with Coulson in the elevator, Clint noticed they were heading towards the ground floor - a dummy floor set up so that anyone peering inside from the city streets would only see a large, modern lobby with a nicely sized cafeteria off to one side.
"Uhhh, boss?" Clint questioned, mind whirling to figure out why he would be needed in the most public area in the whole of S.H.I.E.L.D. Most of his missions tended to be top secret. As in so top secret even the president doesn't have clearance to read his report.
"It's 1:02." Clint waited a beat to see if Coulson had something further to say, but was surprised when his handler just grabbed a tray and started poking around the pre-made sandwiches.
"Um, sir? What, uh. What are we doing here?" Coulson's eyes narrowed and he picked up a particularly soggy - but sadly drier than the others - sandwich and waved it about.
"It's 1:02. Well, 1:03 now." At Clint's blank look, Coulson elaborated: "It's my lunch break." Clint answered by nodding his head and grabbing a tray of his own. After poking at the leaking sandwiches and brown salads and finding nothing remotely edible, Clint moved onto the hot lunches near the middle of the line. Checking out the prices on the chalkboard behind the servers, Clint balked at the outrageous prices.
"$12.50 for a damn plate of pasta? $10.25 for a burger? $6 for a grilled cheese? I get paid less than that for a mission! What the hell do they think government agents get paid, anyway? Screw this." Clint scoffs and drops the tray on the metal rungs along the line and walks ahead the few feet to stand next to Coulson who has a dripping sandwich, a lumpy apple, and a bag of chips that looks so defeated, Clint would be surprised there was a single in tact chip in the bag.
"Really?" he asks, pointedly staring at the atrocity of Coulson's lunch. "You're really gonna eat that?" Coulson sighs and replies, "Yes, Agent Barton. I am." And then he walks the three feet to the register and hands over a twenty dollar bill as he picks up a dented bottle of water from the ice bucket. And walks away.
"Don't you want your change?" Clint asks, because...well, he's Clint. And he's always got a question. Especially about Coulson.
"There wasn't any," he replies as he sits and starts to unwrap the cellophane from his leaky sandwich.
"There wasn't - I'm sorry, did you just say that you paid twenty dollars - twenty whole dollars for a sorry excuse for a sandwich, a bruised as shit apple, maybe A chip in that bag and a dented, warm bottle of water? Really? Is that what you really did?" Coulson just looked at him; sandwich frozen, halfway to his mouth, lips pursed in annoyance, and eyebrows lifted in - Clint can't even define that emotion.
"And what would you have me do about it?" Coulson finally asks, sandwich dropping down to the mess of cellophane on the table. Clint shrugs and says, "Why not bring your lunch?" Coulson snorts and takes a bite out of the insult to portable meals.
"No time in the morning. I barely get in sleep and caffeine. I'm not making my lunch on top of it." It's not said with annoyance or anger like some of the junior agents that come into S.H.I.E.L.D. expecting excitement and world-saving and all they get is late nights and early mornings. It's said with a matter-of-factness and a tiny hint of pride. Like making sure the only one in earlier or gone later than him is Director Fury himself. And Clint respects that, so he drops the lunch issue and just sits idly while watching Coulson pick around the most severely bruised bits of apple.
The next morning, as Agent Coulson is letting himself into his office, he notices a plain brown paper bag sitting innocently on his desk. Well, he only decided it was innocent after having a covert bomb squad test it for explosives. It isn't until he, personally, looks in the bag that he notices it's a bag lunch. There's a beautifully put together - and non soggy - sandwich, a bag of healthy vegetable chips, a non bruised apple and a bottle of water that's been frozen half way and wrapped in aluminum foil. Coulson smiles as he lifts out each item, laughing as he sees the handwritten note on the napkin tucked carefully on the bottom of the bag:
I figured since I'm always in at five to use the shooting range, I could at least drop off something here first. May you never spend twenty bucks on a shitty lunch again ♥ Clint
Today, as the crowd of agents holds their breath for Coulson's famous lunch, the senior agent smiles, pulling out a little tupperware container of lemon and asparagus risotto, a cellophane wrapped cucumber and dill sandwich, and a baggie filled with sliced fruits. There's a water bottle filled with a dark brown liquid, and upon further investigation, Coulson determines it to be a bottle of sweet tea - a recipe he's never tasted, but instantly loves. There are murmurs of satisfied curiosity and quiet admissions of jealousy. Coulson waits until everyone has left before he reads the note at the bottom of the bag:
Confucius say: always make sure to thank your man with a kiss when he makes you a delicious lunch ♥ Clint
And that's exactly what Coulson did when he got home that night.