The email has been sitting unopened in Phil's inbox for five days now. The sender is Virginia Potts, and the subject line reads Link to the dating service I told you about last week. Phil is certain that if Pepper were the emoticon-using type of person, there would be a colon capital D right at the end of that subject. Luckily for him, she's not, but that still doesn't make Phil feel any less apprehensive about the contents of the message.
"You've been staring at that email off and on for almost a week," Clint says from over his shoulder. Phil doesn't jump out of his skin at his sudden appearance, but it's a near thing. "Why is Ms. Potts sending you links to dating services?"
"Probably because she knows the company I keep and is concerned with my mental well-being," he replies. Clint snorts as he rests his chin on Phil's shoulder. Phil tries not to shrug him off right away, enduring rather than enjoying the sensation of warm air ghosting across his neck and ear. "We'd had a conversation about online dating a few weeks ago. She must have thought this would be helpful to me based on that discussion."
The weight of Clint's head comes off his shoulder suddenly, causing Phil's upper body to go lopsided for a moment.
"Helpful, huh," says Clint. There's a note in his voice that sounds off to Phil, but he gives himself a mental shrug and ignores it.
"Something like that," Phil says. He glances down at his watch. "Aren't you supposed to be landing in the Czech Republic two hours from now?"
"I'll get to it eventually. So you're a fan of online dating? How does that work with the whole -" Clint waves a hand at him and doesn't finish asking the question.
Phil closes his eyes. One breath, two, three - "Get to work on your mission, Agent Barton, before I have to explain to the director that a bad guy got away because you wanted to talk about my love life."
There's a short burst of laughter, the squeak of rubber sole scuffing the floor, and then Phil is alone again. He pulls his email up on his phone again and stares at the unopened message. The implied, yet invisible, emoticon glares at him. He sighs, then presses the screen to open up the email.
Natasha comes back with Clint in tow two weeks later, just as Phil was starting to worry about the mission status. Both are looking a little worse for wear, which is not unusual for either one of them, but they visit his office on their way to the infirmary, so he concludes that they're mostly fine (for a change). There's a familiar surge of happiness and relief at seeing them both alive and mostly whole in him, and he opens his mouth to say something appropriately sarcastic in greeting just as Natasha says, "Clint tells me you're using an online dating service. How many dates have you been asked on so far?"
Phil takes back every second he'd ever spent worrying over the both of them. He shoots Clint a look that promises hours upon hours of training sessions with new agents, but Clint merely grins at him in return. "I only set up a profile yesterday," he starts to say. He's cut off by Clint slapping Natasha in the arm and holding out his palm to her.
"Told you it'd take him this long to make a profile," Clint says with no small amount of glee. "Pay up, and don't try to weasel your way out of this. We shook and everything." Natasha rolls her eyes at him but hands over what Phil thinks is a hundred dollar bill. The sharp ache that builds behind Phil's eyes is just as familiar as the relief he'd felt earlier.
"While I'm glad you're both well enough to be speculating on this," Phil says, "you're still bleeding all over my office. Please relocate to the infirmary."
Natasha jabs her elbow into Clint's ribs. "Don't be like that, Coulson," she says. "I really do want to know how many invites you've had."
He considers staring them both down until they leave, but he knows he'd fail miserably if he tried. "Three, as of this morning," he replies. "And to answer your next question, I have accepted one of them."
In the blink of an eye, Natasha is at his side and removing his phone from his pants pocket. He sighs as she leans against his desk with one hip and flips through his inbox to find the site notifications. "I was expecting eHarmony or OKCupid," she says. Her tone indicates she'd already known exactly which site he'd signed up for.
"Yes, well," Phil says, "this one suits my specific needs much better than those."
"What?" Clint asks, looking at each of them in turn.
Natasha places Phil's phone down on his desk and walks over to Clint. She pats his shoulder and jerks her head to the door. "Come on, Barton, you've got a finger or two that needs splinting."
"But what about -"
Natasha pushes him out the door and gives Phil one last look over her shoulder. "We've got some plans to make." They're both gone a moment later, the sound of their argument growing fainter and fainter as they wander down the hallway to the infirmary.
Phil glances at the calendar on his computer, eyes coming to rest on the appointment - date, he corrects himself - scheduled for the following Friday evening, and resolutely does not wish for an international incident or alien invasion to happen before then.
Clint appears in the doorway to Phil's office a few days later looking much better than he had the last time Phil had seen him. The only noticeable remnants of his mission in the Czech Republic are a purple bruise under his jaw and a thin red scar across one palm, and neither seem to be bothering him all that much. Natasha peeks her head around Clint's body, both of them staring at Phil with matching expressions of innocence.
"No luck, I see," Clint says. He steps into the office and Natasha follows, both stopping right in front of Phil's desk. They're dressed too nicely to have just finished training exercises. Phil is instantly suspicious.
"Excuse me?" Phil asks.
"Date night's tomorrow," Natasha says, "and there hasn't been a single fire for you to put out. Even Stark's been quiet."
"Unusually quiet," Phil mutters. "I should really check up on him."
"You're allowed to be nervous, you know," Clint says. "You haven't been on a date in a while, you're out of practice. It's completely understandable." Phil wills him to stop speaking then, but he continues, "Plus there's the whole no boning thing, so working around that must be...interesting."
"Theoretically it won't be an issue since the website is specifically for asexuals," Phil says, "and this conversation is completely inappropriate for the workplace."
"Which is why we're taking you out to dinner," Natasha says. "You were about to leave, right?"
Phil glances down at the mission report he'd finished writing a few minutes before they'd arrived. "Actually, I was going to stay late tonight so I could get this report started -"
"Bullshit," Clint says with a grin. "We've been monitoring your office - you already wrote that one. Now come on, we have reservations."
Ah-hah. Something clicks in Phil's head, and he glances down at his calendar to check his notes. "Neither of you happens to know a Mr. Russ Hawk, would you?" He looks back up to them, one eyebrow raised. Natasha meets his stare without any obvious sign of recognition, but Clint's fingers twitch, his most obvious tell. "I see you were both hard at work in Prague."
He waits. Natasha crosses her arms over her chest. Clint fiddles with his shirt collar. The silence stretches on for longer than Phil expected it to.
"Look," Clint says, finally breaking, "I just don't understand why you thought you needed to use that site when you have us. Did you think we'd be freaked out by the not being sexually attracted to us thing?" Phil stares at him. "I mean, you don't have to go out with us if you don't want to, but -"
"We'd really like to take you on a date," Natasha finishes for him. "Just to try it out. We think it could be really good, and -"
"At the risk of making us sound like teenagers, we like you," Clint says. "A lot. I'll pass you a note in the hallway if I have to."
"Please say yes," says Natasha.
Phil looks at each of them. "I'm not a cheap date," he tells them.
A grin slowly spreads across Natasha's face. "We never thought that," she says. "We'd better go. We don't want them to give away our table, and I still want to make sure this place is secure enough for our second date tomorrow."
She and Clint turn and walk out the door, clearly expecting Phil to follow directly after them. He sighs and reaches for his overcoat. I'm going to regret this, he thinks, ignoring the small flutter of happiness that's beginning to warm his insides.