"Hey," Clint said, flopping down in the chair in front of Phil's desk. "Whatcha doing?"
"Work," Phil said, not taking his eyes from the computer screen, fingers on the keyboard not losing their rhythm.
"I can see that. How about lunch?"
"Sounds good. Bring me something from the cafeteria?"
Clint sighed and put his feet up on Phil's desk, crossing his ankles. "I kind of meant together."
Phil finally looked up and frowned. With a pen he prodded at Clint's boots. Clint rolled his eyes and dropped his feet back to the floor with a pair of heavy thuds. "If you're really that bored..."
"No. Don't even finish that sentence. Paperwork does not alleviate boredom."
"If you're going to just sit there, I'd rather you be useful. You could at least sort my inbox."
Clint muttered something about not being his secretary, but grabbed the pile of envelopes and papers from the tray anyway. He sorted them into piles in front of him, starting with memos and forms just paper-clipped or stapled together. Everything else was in sealed manila envelopes which Clint sorted by what was stamped on them in big, red, blocky letters: CLASSIFIED, CONFIDENTIAL, and EYES ONLY.
There was only one item that did not fit into any of the other categories. The envelope looked expensive and somewhat familiar. It was bordered with a gold ink imprint. Clint had seen the same sort of envelope in Phil's inbox for the past four years, always around the same time of year. However, there was a slight difference this time around. He ripped open the envelope and took out the single notecard, also printed with gold ink.
"So... How fancy do I have to dress for one of these Stark Industries galas?"
The rapid-fire typing stopped again. "What?"
"Pepper sent us an invite."
Phil's eyes narrowed, confused and suspicious. "She sends us one every year. You never want to go."
"Correction. She's invited you every year."
"Plus guest," Phil reminded him. And he had offered every time to take Clint as his date, Clint always refused.
"I didn't want to go as your 'plus guest.' But this year, I was invited specifically by name." Clint grinned as he handed the envelope and invite across the desk.
Professionally, Clint hadn't changed his name. For most of his SHIELD paperwork and for anything Avengers related, he was still officially Clint Barton. However, there was a handful of people, and of course that would include one of the witnesses, that would know to address a party invitation to Phil & Clint Coulson.
"So, it takes your name printed in gold to get you to come to a party with me."
Clint leaned back, lacing his fingers behind his head. "What can I say? I only respond to luxury."
"Says the man who wore a rented tux to his own wedding."
"Speaking of tuxes..."
"Me, yes. You?" Phil gave Clint an assessing glance, up and down. "The blue suit."
Clint smiled. He knew exactly which one he was referring to.
Clint had been to high-society shindigs before, but only ever on a mission, having a role to play. Being at one where he was allowed to be himself was going to be a whole different experience.
Even his blue suit had originally been for a mission. It fit like a glove and brought out his eyes. It was all Natasha's doing. The woman had taste. She also had a wicked smile as their handler had a little difficulty concentrating during the op. She knew exactly what she was doing, as always.
Technically, they were at a charity event. Proceeds from the bar and a silent auction were going towards a good cause of the company's (read: Pepper's) choosing. But the reason for almost everyone in attendance was to do what the hobbiest of nobs did. It was hardly Clint's scene, Phil's neither. But the senior agent knew how to hold his own in any situation. Nor would he ever disappoint Pepper by declining one of her invitations (world crisis not withstanding).
Clint allowed himself to gape at the opulence of the venue, décor and attendees. Also, since they were not on a mission, Clint allowed himself to unabashedly admire the way Phil filled out a tux. He laced their fingers together as his husband smoothly navigated through the crowd without a single brush against an over-priced shoulder.
"You know," Clint said, leaning close, "in a place like this, easy to forget we're in a recession."
"I think that's the point."
Somewhere, a string quartet was playing a piece of classical music. It was something Clint had heard before, but nothing he could name. It wasn't until he saw her that he realized that Phil had been leading them straight to Pepper Potts the moment they were in the door. Her gown was a dark green, and her hair curled gently around bare shoulders. She was in a small group of three older men and one young woman. Her expression spoke more of business than pleasure. That was until she turned and saw them.
She immediately beamed. "Phil! Clint!" Her smile brightened even more, if a little in surprise, to actually see Clint there. She gave them both a kiss on the cheek and introduced them to the others around her. A couple of them, Phil had already met and clearly didn't like. Clearly, only to someone who knew him well enough to recognize Phil's polite smile and indifferent gaze for what it really was.
"Coulson! Perfect timing," a Mr. Atherton said. "We were just discussing something I remember you having some very strong opinions on last time we met."
Phil grabbed two champagne glasses from a passing waiter and handed one to Clint. "If this is about government tax-spending, especially how they use the negligible amount they get from people like you, all I was saying was that the process and issues are far more complicated than either the media or you like to pretend they are."
Atherton bristled and squared his shoulders, ready for a debate. A debate that consisted of Pepper and Phil on one side, and the three men on the other. The only person other than Clint not participating or even paying attention was the woman at Atherton's side. She was his wife, apparently, Aviva. She was blonde, tan, a diamond necklace around her neck and drawing the eye down to her cleavage. She was also at least twenty years younger than her husband. She smiled at Clint and rolled her eyes. He smiled back and shrugged. She lifted her empty champagne flute and nodded at his. Clint nodded in agreement. As Aviva patted her husband on the arm, Clint squeezed Phil's hand before detaching from him and the discussion of money and politics.
He met Aviva at the bar.
"First time doing one of these things?" She asked.
"No, I've ducked out of boring conversations before."
She laughed. "No, I mean, I remember seeing Mr. Coulson once or twice before, but he never had anyone with him. Especially not anyone like you."
Clint shrugged. "We're only recently married."
"I knew it! You looked far too fresh together."
Something over Clint's shoulder caught her eye and she gasped. "Oh. My. God."
Instincts kicking in, Clint turned swiftly, fingers curling into fists, expecting a threat. "What?"
"Belinda Stockbridge is wearing sequins!"
Clint's shoulders relaxed as he did see the offending garment sparkle across the room. Turning back to Aviva, she was shaking her head and taking a sip of her rum and Coke.
"Sequins are bad?"
"Stick a feathered hat on her, she'll look like an aging showgirl."
Clint looked back at Mrs. Stockbridge again and found himself laughing and agreeing. "So, I got an earful about what it is your husband supposedly does, what about you?" He asked her.
"What about me?"
"What do you do?"
She frowned. "This. Getting dolled-up to get trotted out once in a while is how we earn our keep, right?" Sighing, she said. "I did have a job once. I was a hairdresser. That's how I met my George. I used to do his second wife's hair. I miss it some times... But enough about me! How about you? How'd you meet your man?"
"We work together."
"Ah, the old secretary seduction, huh? That's how Vicki Collins got her husband."
"Well, no, we-"
Before he could finish correcting her, Aviva gasped again and grabbed Clint's hand. "There's Marley and Jemma Jane! You must meet them!" She pulled Clint through the crowd as assuredly as Phil had earlier.
She led him to table where two more blonde women sat. "I see Marley got another facelift," Aviva said into Clint's ear before greeting the other women and proclaiming, "Darling! You look wonderful. You seem to get younger with every year. If only we were all blessed with your bone structure!"
Marley laughed, teeth a startling white against her tan skin.
"Ladies, this is Clint Coulson. His husband is Phil, you know, Potts' government friend? This is the first time Clint's been brought out."
"Aw," Jemma Jane said, "it's almost like you're a debutante! Welcome to society!"
He and Aviva had interrupted a discussion about nannies, which Marley and Jemma Jane started again. It was a topic Clint knew as much about as he did about tax laws. Aviva didn't look too pleased with the subject, either.
"Oh! I'm sorry, Viv," Marley said, not sounding at all sorry. "We shouldn't be talking about this when you don't have any need for a nanny, even after five years."
Aviva's smile was scary. It wasn't unlike one of Natasha's unnerving grins. "Well," she said around that coyote smile. "We can't all be baby factories like some."
Jemma Jane giggled nervously and turned her attention to Clint. "Do you have any kids?"
"Do you plan on having any?"
"Oh, sure, once I get that uterus installed."
"Eew!" But she was still giggling around her disgust. "Don't be gross! I meant adopting. You can be like Brangelina and get some third world babies."
Jemma Jane's age, Clint was having trouble determining. At a guess, she looked to about Clint's age, maybe a year or two younger. But with all the pink she was wearing, and her giggling and over-all demeanor, she reminded him more of a fourteen year-old girl.
"We've never talked about it," Clint admitted.
He and Phil were both probably operating under the same assumption that their life-style wasn't exactly ideal for child-rearing. Maybe if one or both of them were forced into early retirement due to injury or something and could provide some stability... And wow, for never having thought about it before, Clint was really putting a lot of thought into it now.
The women continued to talk around him as Clint's brain worked out several family-building scenarios. They really could become the SHIELD Brangelina. What would they be called, though? Phlint? He kind of liked that. It sounded like something that could start fires.
He was brought out of his mental ramblings by Marley scooting her chair closer to him. "You know, it's prefect timing, meeting you. I'm in need of a new Gay Friend to go shopping with."
Clint blinked a couple times at her. "I'm sorry?"
"Every girl needs a Gay Friend to go shopping with. He's the only one who will give an honest answer as to whether or not something makes her look fat."
"I've never done that."
"Really? Well, you must! It's so much fun."
"You said you needed a 'new' Gay Friend. What happened to the 'old' one?"
Marley snorted into her brightly-colored cocktail. "Back-stabbing bitch! I don't want to get into it." She took a sip. "But what I will say is-" Marley cut herself off as she joined the other two women at directing a flirty "Hi" to someone standing behind Clint.
Clint leaned back and tilted his head. "Oh, hey, Rhodey!" He grinned.
"I'm sorry, ladies, but I need to talk to Mr. Barton."
"Nuh-uh! Mr. Coulson." He wiggled his fingers of his left hand, making sure the gold band caught the light. "Remember? You were at the reception."
"I remember the after-party, yes."
Tony had been pissed about being denied the pleasure of throwing a bachelor party. Somehow he had caught wind of the nuptials taking place before they even returned from the courthouse. The only people who were at the small ceremony were just the couple, the officiator, and the witnesses (Nat and Pepper). Since Clint trusted the Red-Headed League implicitly, the officiator had become highly suspect.
Rhodey was right to call it more of an after-party than a reception. There had been kegs, a club DJ, and a Slip n' Slide. Tony, three sheets from the start, also presented them with tickets for a luxurious honeymoon trip they hadn't found the time to take yet.
Clint apologized to his new friends and followed Rhodey away from the table. "If a rumor starts that I'm cheating on Phil with you because I have some kind of uniform kink, which I'm not saying I don't have, because you know Phil was in the Rangers, right? It's all your fault. Though, may I say, you do look nice in full dress."
"Clint, what are you doing?"
"Paying you a compliment?"
"Why are you hanging out with the trophy wives?"
Clint looked back at the table of attractive, exquisitely dressed women, leaning towards each other, drinks clutched in hands. He looked down at himself, wearing the suit Phil specifically told him to wear. The "sexy" one. "I'm with my people," he said.
Rhodey gave him a look Clint had seen directed at Tony many times before. "They are not 'your people.' They are shallow, greedy, gossipmongers in loveless marriages. You are an Avenger for Christ's sake, married to a man who's been wondering where the hell you've been for the past hour because he thought you might like to dance."
"Phil wants to dance? With me? In public?" They'd never done that, not even in private. It was so normal, and married it made Clint feel stupidly warm and soft inside.
Rhodey shook his head. "Man, you're a moron. Cute, but a moron. Maybe you do belong over there with the Real Housewives of Orange County."
"I can be the real housewife of Avengers Tower."
Rhodey turned Clint and pushed him towards the dance floor. "Knowing that the world owes its continued existence to people like you and Tony makes me weep at night."
"You're just jealous." As he was forced through the throng yet again, Clint's sharp eyes couldn't help but notice old man Atherton cozening-up to one of the more endowed waitresses. Even with Rhodey's hand still on his shoulder, Clint thought about what he could do with at least two of the knives hidden under his suit from this distance. But then Pepper's disappointed face blocked his view.
"Where have you been?"
"Making friends," Rhodey answered for Clint.
"I'm a trophy wife!"
Pepper glowered. Like a relay baton, Clint passed from the colonel's hand into Pepper's grip and they kept moving. "What were you thinking? You had been here what, five minutes, and then you disappear like that? I know what you were thinking: that no one would notice, or worry, or care. Well, people do care, Tony, and-"
Clint dug in his heels, forcing her to stop. "Whoa, what?"
Brows furrowed, Pepper just parroted "What?" back to him.
"You just called me 'Tony.'"
"No, I... Ah, dammit. Sorry." She smiled, chagrined. She loosened her grip on Clint's wrist. She hooked her arm through Clint's elbow instead.
They found Phil. His eyes were scanning the crowd as his sipped at another flute of champagne as he simultaneously ignored the elderly woman who kept brushing her hand over his shoulder and arm. His gaze finally found Pepper and Clint and settled there. His relief was visible, and made Clint feel a little bad for abandoning him.
Pepper slid her arm away and said, "I believe this is yours."
"I was about to start searching the rafters for you," Phil said, disposing of his drink on a passing waiter's tray.
Pepper quietly stepped away and left them alone.
"So," Clint said. "I heard you were looking for a dance partner. Pepper's card already full?"
Phil rolled his eyes. "Please, we wouldn't want to start those rumors again."
"Hey, don't knock those rumors. Those rumors are what finally made me get off my ass and stake my claim."
"If I'm recalling correctly, I believe your exact words were, 'I'm a better lay than Pepper Potts, and I can prove it.'"
Clint stepped closer, crowding into Phil's space, noses almost touching. "And what does it say about you that as a pick-up line it actually worked?"
"It didn't. I told you that my relationship with Pepper wasn't your business and to come back when you'd learned some manners."
"I'll show you manners." Clint bent at the waist, extending his arm and hand out in a smooth motion. "Would you do me the honor of joining me for this dance."
Phil laughed, muttering "Smart ass" under his breath. He did take Clint's hand, though, and they finally ended up on the dance floor with other couples already slowly swaying with each other.
"Okay," Clint said, "this is kind of embarrassing. But I've never slow danced with another guy before. So, who leads?"
Phil just lifted an eyebrow and raised his left hand.
"Right. You're the boss, boss." He put his right hand in Phil's left and the other on his shoulder. He couldn't help the small laugh as he felt Phil's right hand at his waist.
It took a couple missteps and one toe stepped on before Clint got the hang of it. It was the way it had been with them at the beginning, when Clint had been a green SHIELD recruit and Phil his first handler. Clint had fumbled a bit, but Coulson had been able to steer him right.
It was weird, and a little heady to be so intimate and yet surrounded by strangers. Their bodies were close, Phil looking at him with unconcealed love, warmth, and a touch of lust. Clint hoped he was looking the same way right back. And yet, a dumb, niggling doubt made him ask, "You married me for my mind, right?"
"I'm pretty sure I married you for your all of you."
Clint hummed thoughtfully.
"What's gotten into you?"
"Nothing. Sorry. I guess I can only handle these parties if I have a mission objective and direct orders."
"You wanted to come. Insisted, in fact," Phil reminded him.
"Yeah, didn't quite think it'd involve me becoming a rich woman's gay shopping buddy."
"These women I met. They want to take me shopping with them! I'm glad the only woman to whom I am a 'Gay Friend' is Nat. At least we'd go shopping for weapons."
Phil smirked. "Does this holster make my butt look big?"
Clint grinned in return and slid his hand from Phil's shoulder and into his tuxedo jacket. His fingers toyed with a leather strap he found there. "Knew you were packing. Just can't enjoy a party..."
"Says the man with half a dozen knives concealed upon his person."
"You're so James Bond." Clint leaned closer, breathing into Phil's ear, "Can I say how incredibly turned on I am right now?"
Phil's fingers tightened around Clint's hand. He ducked his head and captured Clint's mouth for a searing kiss, confirming he was feeling the same way.
The sound of giggles and more than one camera snapping pulled them apart. Clint's new acquaintances and Pepper were standing there with their phones up. Clint winked and waved at the blondes as Phil gave Pepper a "What the Hell?" look.
"It'll make a cute anniversary gift," Pepper said, smiling.
"We're going to end up on those girls' Facebook pages," Clint said, watching Aviva, Marley, and Jemma Jane thumb furiously at their phones.
"No, we won't." Phil took out his own phone and after a couple clicks the women all let out a cry of dismay at once and shook their phones as if they expected the lost data to just fall back out.
"What about Pepper?"
"It doesn't work on hers. Stark updates it constantly, we can't keep up."
"Good thing we trust her," Clint mused. Anyone else, he would have been afraid of them sending it to Tony. Then there'd be real trouble.
Despite the distraction, Clint was still feeling the pleasant warmth of arousal from that kiss. "Can we go now?" He practically begged.
"Yes." Phil nodded curtly, just as determined.
Clint grabbed Phil's hand and for once got to drag someone else through the crowd.
Turned out Pepper was not as trustworthy as Clint had thought.
Later that night, Clint was happily dozing on Phil's chest when his phone vibrated atop the nightstand. With a perturbed grunt he rolled over, picked it up and squinted at the lit display. It was a picture message from Nat. He opened it.
And there was the photo of him and Phil kissing, now embellished with sparkling hearts, glittering kiss lips, and falling rose petals. He looked closer. Was that a tiara pasted on his head? He fired back an appropriately colorful reply and shut the phone off completely.
He rolled back over, tucking himself back in place at Phil's side.
"What was that?" Phil asked sleepily, running a hand through Clint's hair.
"Nothing. Just our friends sucking."
"Don't worry. I have some SHIELD Christmas party photos that may become unclassified very soon."
Clint chuckled. "You're a devious bastard. Must be why I married you."