“I just don’t get how people don’t know,” Agent Jasper Sitwell said, apropos of nothing.
Maria Hill looked up from where she’d been attempting to slice her butter-drenched banana bread with the stupid plastic knife and glared at Sitwell, but as usual, it had little effect on the other SHIELD agent. Maria was already in a bad mood from having to sit through a phone call from her mother that only seemed to consist of her mother pointing out her lack of husband or boyfriend; Maria had always known her younger sister’s wedding was going to be horrible, but she’d hoped the torture would have ended with having to wear a dress that made her look like a pumpkin. She was about a breath away from requesting Fury send her on a long-term mission to Siberia. She did not need Sitwell and his insane theories.
Beside her, Natasha Romanoff arched an elegant eyebrow before slipping a small metal knife out from some part of her clothing and handing it to Maria. Maria smiled gratefully at her. All around them, the busy sounds of the cosy cafe around the corner from SHIELD’s New York offices ebbed and flowed, but Maria paid it little more attention than it had taken to note all the entry and exit points and discount any threats. The coffeeshop had become a bit of a tradition amongst the senior agents, because one thing you learnt fast at SHIELD was that coffee was as necessary as breathing. More so, if your name was Coulson.
From the outside looking in, the secret government agency known as SHIELD looked as if it was filled with efficient, disciplined professionals, which was true. SHIELD agents were intelligent, calm in a crisis and usually possessed a multitude of skills that no one wanted to know the origins of; like the ability to take down an enemy agent with a post-it note and a sandwich. But that wasn’t the whole truth of it.
SHIELD agents genuinely were as professional and disciplined as they seemed because Nick Fury was not a man known for his tolerance of the alternative. It was just that there was more than that. Everyone from the junior agents upwards knew weird didn’t even begin to cover it. The gossip mill alone was worse than a supernatural soap opera. And what the senior agents didn’t know wasn’t worth knowing. Which is where the coffee shop tradition came in, because coffee and gossip was how SHIELD worked.
Obviously realizing that no one was going to be useful in helping decode whatever it was that Sitwell was talking about, Pepper Potts turned her confused attention back to the source and away from her PDA. “How people don’t know what?” she prompted when no other bits of information were forthcoming.
“Don’t encourage him,” Mara warned, giving up on her banana bread and curling her hands possessively around her coffee mug; it was always a bad idea for Maria to eat when she was in one of these moods, because it always made her feel sick.
Sitwell rolled his eyes and sighed with impatience. “Coulson and Barton,” he said as if that was supposed to explain everything. The only reason Maria knew what he was talking about was that she’d had the bad luck of being stuck on a quinjet with the agent for four hours.
Reaching out, Natasha used her finger to steal a large dollop of cream from the top of Sitwell’s elaborately sugary drink and Maria had to hide a smile as Sitwell glared darkly at her as Natasha unrepentantly licked the whipped cream off her finger. Deciding to gain control of the situation before someone kicked someone else under that table, which had happened on a particularly memorable day in March, Maria glared warningly at Sitwell. “Exactly why did you think I wanted to know about your mental craziness?” she growled.
Sitwell just rolled his eyes again. “You’ll want to see the two man show that’s about to walk through that door,” he said. “Trust me. And then I dare you not to see what I’m talking about.”
“What has this got to do with Phil and Agent Barton?” Pepper asked, looking like she was still not entirely convinced she knew what was going on. “And what we’re supposed to think everyone doesn’t know but we don’t actually know?”
Sitwell grinned somewhat maniacally, before he suddenly straightened in his chair. “Here we go,” he hissed.
Following his gaze, Maria turned to see none other than Agent Clint Barton pushing open the café door, as if on cue. He was laughing at something as he juggled his sunglasses and a duffle bag for a moment. Like clockwork, every female pair of eyes and more than a few male ones in the café locked onto him. Maria could get the appeal, she really could. Barton’s worn t-shirt pulled over broad shoulders and a firm chest and Mara had caught more than a few junior agents making breathless noises at the ass encased in those black jeans. Not to mention Barton’s arms, because all that time in the range had paid off in more ways than keeping Barton’s skills fresh. Combine that with sexily mussed hair and a crooked grin and it was no surprise that Clint Barton was deemed to be one of the hottest assets at SHIELD.
Maria should really stop listening to junior agents talk.
Barton glanced around the café, his sharp blue gaze landing on Maria, Sitwell, Pepper and Natasha. He gave them a cheerful wave before his attention was grabbed by the man coming through the door behind him. Where Barton was intense and rough-edged, Agent Phil Coulson was sleek, unobtrusive danger in a two-piece designer suit. Long before Maria had reached the position she had, Coulson had perfected the bland, deadpan mask he presented to the world, but those grey-blue eyes missed nothing . Yet, even as unobtrusive as he tried to be, Coulson still radiated strength and danger in equal amounts to anyone who actually looked hard enough.
“Barton, hurry up. I’m going to be late,” Coulson said, but the affectionate glint in his eyes proved he didn’t really mean it.
“No, you’re not,” Barton countered, grinning. “Everyone has time for coffee. Besides, who was it that was bitching about needing a cup not thirty seconds ago?”
Coulson just blinked at him. “And did I not also say I’d just get some from the break room?”
Barton made a face. “The sludge in there is not coffee,” he muttered.
Maria had to bite back a smile as Coulson just frowned, like the argument was one they’d had a million times before. Everyone else at the table looked equally amused to watch the unfolding scene, so Maria felt a little better about staring so blatantly. It was almost endearing the way Barton huffed with exasperation and waved Coulson off when his phone started ringing loudly.
“Coulson,” he answered, before turning the phone away from his mouth for a second and covering it. “Barton, get me a...”
“Black coffee, no sugar, in the largest size they have?” Barton interrupted. “I know the drill, sir. Although, I still maintain that you should be daring and try a dash of vanilla and hazelnut in it. Just once.”
Coulson only arched an eyebrow, but Maria had been trained by Phil Coulson. She could tell when he was amused. Then Coulson frowned, his attention caught by whoever was on the other end of the phone. “Say that again? You did what?” he asked, walking towards the door. Barton’s eyes followed him out.
Maria was beginning to understand what Sitwell was talking about and that was irritating. Natasha looked amused as she reached across and stole one of the little squares of banana bread Maria wasn’t eating. “We’re down to two to one odds they’re sleeping together, right?” Maria asked as she watched Barton turn to the counter to order.
Sitwell snorted. “I keep telling you: they’re not just sleeping together...” he began.
“Agent Barton is Phil’s cellist?” Pepper interrupted. “That... actually, that makes a lot of sense.”
Maria turned to Pepper in surprise. “Coulson told you he was dating a cellist?” she asked.
Pepper was about to answer when she spotted Barton heading for their table. “Hey guys,” he greeted with a smirk as he put a large cup down in front of Natasha. “Playing hooky? And have you got any good gossip to share?”
“Well, I’m here avoiding Tony, so no gossip. Unless you count Dummy using the fire extinguisher on Tony again. I don’t know about everyone else,” Pepper answered with a smile.
Barton grinned, before he looked down at Maria’s now shredded banana bread and then back up at her with surprisingly sympathetic eyes. “Uh oh,” he said. “Bad day?”
“My mother,” Maria replied darkly.
Barton’s eyes widened, but wisely he didn’t say anything. A minute later his order was ready, so Barton said his goodbyes and headed outside, juggling the coffees, to where Coulson was standing on the street, still muttering into his phone. Maria watched as Coulson hung up his phone and held open the door for Barton. Personal space seemed to evaporate as Coulson reached around Barton for his coffee and the pair started up another bickering argument.
“See?” Sitwell said as the pair disappeared from sight.
“Oh, they are definitely sleeping together,” Pepper muttered.
“And if they’re not, then they should be,” Maria agreed. “Although, I’d like to think trained SHIELD agents wouldn’t be dumb enough to ignore what was right in front of them.”
Natasha snorted, before her lips curved into a predatory smile. Maria had learnt to beware that smile. “Sitwell is right. They’re not just sleeping together,” she said.
“I knew it!” Sitwell said triumphantly.
“They’ve been together for seven years,” Natasha continued and because she was evil, she timed her words for right as Maria was swallowing a sip of coffee.
When Maria could breathe again, she turned wide-eyes on Natasha. “They what?” she said.
“Seven years?” Pepper said. “Oh, he’s going to pay for that cellist story.”
“It gets worse,” Natasha said and it was clear she was enjoying this. Maria wasn’t sure she wanted to know what either Barton or Coulson had done to prompt her spilling their secret. “They’ve been engaged for six months.”
“Bastard,” Maria muttered. How could they both have kept this kind of gossip from everyone?
Natasha shrugged. “SHIELD,” she replied.
“At least think of it this way,” Pepper said with a sudden smile. “We can all start dropping hints that we know and drive them both crazy with it.”
Maria smiled. Her day was looking up.