"What are you planning on doing for Thanksgiving?"
Clint blinks at the question. He turns his head and twists his neck to try and see Phil's face without moving too much from where he's draped himself over Phil's chest. "What?" The noise from the football game on the television is loud and chaotic, and Clint had been half dozing when Phil spoke. He might have misheard.
Phil's eyes stay glued to the screen. "Thanksgiving," he says absently. "I've been supposed to ask you for a few weeks now, but I kept forgetting."
Clint sits up a bit. "Wasn't Halloween just, like, three days ago?" But even as the words are coming out of his mouth, Clint's pulling up a mental calendar and counting off the weeks. "Oh, crap. Thanksgiving."
"My mom wants to know if you're coming with me," Phil says. His eyes cut towards Clint, then swiftly go back to the game.
"Thanksgiving with the family. She wants a headcount."
Clint narrows his eyes and studies the man he's come to know and adore these past six months. Now that he's looking, Clint can easily see the nerves running just under Phil's air of nonchalance and disinterest. It's adorable.
"Hmmm. Do you want me to go with you?"
Phil's head jerks a bit, but his eyes stay front and center. "Only if that's what you want."
Clint sighs. "Is this another one of those relationship games that everyone except me - and maybe Nat - seem to instinctively know about?"
That gets Phil's full attention.
"What?" he says, his head whipping around. "What are you-"
"Do you want me to go to your family's Thanksgiving dinner with you, Phil? It's a simple question."
"It's anything but a simple question," Phil says. "It's a very complex and loaded question."
Clint raises one eyebrow. "Pretend I grew up in a circus, and explain it to me. Use small words."
Phil rolls his eyes. He gives up any pretense of following the game and turns himself sideways on the couch so he's facing Clint. "We've been dating for... a while now."
"And, sometimes, in certain families, when two people who have been dating for a while attend a holiday gathering together, there might be... expectations. Put on people. By other people. Meddling people." Phil grimaces. "My mother. I'm mostly talking about my mother. Though I'm sure there are aunts, and uncles, and at least two or three cousins who might get in on the act."
"Just how many people regularly come to your family's Thanksgiving?" Clint blurts out, mind reeling a tad from what sounds like a veritable gaggle of Coulsons. "And I thought your mom likes me?"
"She does!" Phil takes both of Clint's hands in his. "Trust me, you wouldn't be invited at all if she didn't like you. That's part of the problem, actually."
Clint huffs. "Phil, I'm sure you're in the neighborhood of an explanation, but..."
"Right. Sorry. It's just..." A soft pink flush spreads over Phil's cheeks. "It's been a long time since I cared about someone the way I care about you."
Clint feels what he's sure is a spectacularly sappy grin form on his face as warmth blossoms in his chest. He squeezes Phil's hands and gets his squeezed in return.
"And mom knows this, and I'm sure she's let just about everybody else in the family know it too, and everybody also knows how old I am, and that I'm not getting any younger, and I just... There will probably be a lot of thinly veiled hints and smartass comments, and I'm worried you might end up feeling... pressured."
"Pressured? To do what, exactly?" Clint blanches. "Do they... Do they think we haven't slept together yet? Is that like a thing in your family?"
"What? No! God, that's not..." Phil shakes his head. "Marriage, Clint. They're probably going to be lots of subtle, and not-so-subtle, mentions of marriage."
"Oh. Oh!" Clint tries to move back a bit, but Phil keeps a tight hold on his hands. "I don't really think I'm-"
"I know. Me neither."
"I mean, if I was, then you-"
"It'd be you, for sure."
"But, that's kind of a big-"
"We're not even living together yet."
"Exactly!" Phil looks relieved. "So, you understand why I'm kind of hesitant about this whole thing, right?"
Clint can't help but smile as everything slots into place. "Oh, yeah, I get it. Family holiday. Pressure to commit from well-meaning relatives. I've seen this movie. There'll be wacky hijinks, right? Tell me there'll be wacky hijinks."
"You're a wacky hijink," Phil mutters.
Clint laughs delightedly. "Ask me again."
Phil sighs. "Clint, light of my life, do you want to spend Thanksgiving having wacky hijinks with me and my family?"
"I do." Clint snorts as Phil tries to shove him off the couch.
As Thanksgiving draws ever closer - and Phil starts giving Clint 'tips' on how to successfully navigate a Coulson family holiday - a ball of what could only be described as dread begins to form in Clint's stomach.
"So, wait, Uncle Jack is the investment banker, and Uncle Jake is the organic farmer, right?"
Phil looks up from where Clint has him peeling potatoes at the kitchen table. "Have you even been listening?"
Clint winces and turns back to the chicken he's deboning. "Sorry." He hears Phil sigh.
"No, I'm sorry. I know it's confusing, especially for someone who's... um..."
Clint glances over his shoulder. Phil looks like he just swallowed a rock. "A family-less orphan?" Clint helpfully supplies.
Phil grimaces. "I wasn't going to-"
"It's the truth," Clint says with a shrug. "If I ever participated in the whole holiday with extended relatives thing, I was either too young to remember it, or it was so traumatic that I blocked it out." Now Phil looks like he swallowed a boulder. "That was a joke, by the way."
Phil screws up his face and opens his mouth. He obviously thinks twice about whatever he was going to say, because he quickly closes his mouth and goes back to his potatoes.
Clint finishes with the chicken and washes his hands. After he shuts the water off, he turns around, crosses his arms over his chest, and leans back against the counter. "So, tell me where I went wrong already."
Phil blinks up at him. "What?"
"Jack and Jake."
"Oh. Jack's a retired Air Force General and Jake's a real estate agent."
"Who's the organic farmer?"
"Aww, crap." Clint rubs a hand over his eyes. "This whole thing's gonna end in tears."
"Mom always says it's not really a holiday until somebody cries."
Clint stares at Phil until he starts to fidget.
"Okay," Phil says, "that might not have been the best thing to say at this point in time."
Phil drops his potato, stands up, and crosses over to Clint in three long steps. He grips Clint's hips and gently presses in close. The solid heat along Clint's front more than makes up for the way the edge of the counter starts digging into his spine.
"Clint, what I was trying - poorly - to convey, is that at least one person having a complete breakdown, usually over something inconsequential, is a family tradition. Wait, no, that's not good either. I mean, large family gatherings usually leave everyone in misery. Nobody's going to escape unscathed. No. Wait. What I'm trying to say is-"
"Stop. Please." Clint rests his hands at Phil's waist and starts playing with two of his belt loops. "I just want them to like me."
Phil places a quick, reassuring kiss against Clint's lips. "They will. Well, except for Great Aunt Agatha. The only person she likes is Regis Philbin."
"Agatha. She's the one with the Pomeranian, right?"
"Dammit." Clint ducks his head and rests his face against Phil's shoulder. "I don't..."
"Want to go?" Phil runs his hands up Clint's back and holds him close.
"No," Clint says, his voice muffled by Phil's shirt. "I don't want to be an embarrassment to you."
"Clint, there is no way that could happen."
Clint can't help but smile at the utter certainty in Phil's voice. Like Clint inadvertently being a dumbass in front of all of his relatives is something that isn't even possible. He turns his head so his cheek is resting against Phil's collarbone. "You're sure of that, huh?"
"Absolutely. You're a successful businessman who owns his own building, remember."
"I'm a catch," Clint says, huffing out a laugh.
Phil's hold on Clint tightens. "And I'm the lucky bastard who caught you."
Clint grins and moves his head so he can nuzzle at the bit of skin just above the collar of Phil's shirt. "Sweet talker."
"Yeah, that's me." Phil cranes his neck to give Clint more access. Clint rewards him by pressing soft kisses along Phil's jawline.
"Hey," Clint says, his lips barely brushing Phil's chin, "you know what you could do for me?"
"I think there's all number of things I could do for you. Did you have something specific in mind?"
"Yeah." Clint pulls back. "You could finish peeling those potatoes."
Phil snorts as the heat in his eyes swiftly turns to amusement. "Is the thrill finally gone? It is, right?"
"No," Clint says as he extracts himself from Phil's grasp, "the thrill is still here, but the thrill doesn't want to get food poisoning, so the thrill is going to wait 'til I get my chicken in the oven."
"And then what will the thrill do?"
"Well, we'll have about an hour and a half 'til we can eat," Clint says as he starts slicing up an onion, "I'm sure the thrill will be able to think of something." He grins as Phil pats his ass on his way back to the table. "Hey, wait, so who's the investment banker?"
"I have no idea. Must be part of your other boyfriend's family."
Clint blames his suddenly watery eyes on onion fumes.
"I'm thinking I should take a pie," Clint says as he absently stirs a large pot of what's on its way to becoming beef stew. He keeps the spoon moving as Nat throws some chopped carrots and celery in.
"Did Phil say you should take a pie?" Nat asks before taking a deep sniff of the savory steam rising from the liquid. "Needs garlic."
Clint nods and Nat goes back to her cutting board. "He doesn't want me taking anything. He said that me doing any kind of cooking for his family might set a dangerous precedent."
Nat shrugs. "Well, you don't want to end up working on your holiday, do you?"
"No, but... That kind of cooking isn't really work, though. I mean, when it's for... friends, or whatever." Clint smiles as Nat bumps their hips together. "What about you? Are you and Bucky still-"
"James and I will be dining in Tony Stark's penthouse."
Clint whistles. "Swanky."
"I'm not happy." Nat punctuates her statement by violently bringing the flat side of her knife down on a hapless clove of garlic. "It was supposed to be just a nice, quite dinner for the two of us, but then Steve had to bat his stupid big, blue eyes and blather on about best friends, and nostalgia, and Brooklyn, and blah, blah, blah." She smashes three more cloves of garlic. "He just doesn't want to be the only non rich and famous person there, and now I'm going to spend the first Thanksgiving I've ever celebrated having to make small talk with politicians, and actors, and Anderson Cooper." Nat plunges her knife into the cutting board and puts her hands on her hips. "I can barely have conversations with regular people, Clint, how the hell am I supposed to do it with Beyonce?!"
"Um..." Clint eyes the knife that's still slightly quivering from the force of Nat's irritation. "Who says you have to talk with anyone? Just be all beautiful, and silent, and mysterious. And when you do talk, really play up your accent. People will think you're a spy or something."
Nat narrows her eyes. "That sounds... like it could be incredibly entertaining."
Clint gulps at the barely concealed hint of promised mayhem in Nat's voice. "On second thought-"
"Yes. That is what I'll do. I'll be a spy for the evening. What fun." Nat extracts her knife from the cutting board and points the tip towards Clint's chest. "You have the best ideas."
"Oh. Great." Clint manages to not react to the knife, but he can't quite keep from flinching when Darcy suddenly appears at his shoulder.
"Hey, boss man, got a sec?"
Clint takes a deep breath and tries to smile. "Sure. What's up."
"Some of the boys and girls in blue have been asking me if we're open on Thanksgiving," Darcy says. "Are we gonna have special hours, or..."
"We're gonna be closed, Darcy. I'll be gone for most of the weekend, but Nat will be here to open on Friday."
"Oh." Darcy's face falls a bit. "'Kay. Cool."
Clint frowns. "What's with that face?"
"That face. Darce, do you want to work on Thanksgiving?"
"No, not really. But, maybe. Kind of." Darcy sighs. "Work is such a harsh word. It's just... There's nothing more soul destroying than hanging around the dorms on a holiday. Coming here for a large chunk of the day would be slightly less sucky."
"Gee, thanks," Clint says.
"You're not headed home?" Nat asks.
Darcy shakes her head. "Oregon's not exactly a short, scenic drive, is it? It would take a lot of money and time for a only a day or two with the fam before I have to head back. It's not really worth it, especially since I'll have like a month off for winter break in a few weeks." She blinks. "By the way, I'm going to need like a month off in a few weeks."
Clint sighs. "Fine."
"Awesome! Best boss ever." Darcy darts forward and plants a smacking kiss on Clint's cheek.
"Uh huh." Clint uses his tee shirt to wipe off the lip gloss Darcy left behind. "Are you really going to spend Thanksgiving in the dorms? By yourself?"
"Oh, there'll be some other unfortunate souls drifting around, but... I don't know, I'll probably end up going over to Jane's place to hang out, at least until Thor gets off work."
Clint frowns. "Jane's not going home either?" His frown deepens. "Thor has to work?"
"Pretty sure Jane considers her lab space home, but, no, she's staying in the city. And, yeah, him and Banner. Drew and Danvers too. They were some of the ones asking if we were gonna be open." She scowls. "And now I'm going to have to deal with their disappointed faces when I break the news. I hate making cops disappointed; I always feel like I should lawyer up first or something."
"I'm sure you'll be fine," Clint says, rolling his eyes. "So, you and Jane are sticking around, and everybody else is local, right?"
"Yeah. Pete's already waxing lyrical about his Aunt's stuffing, and Gwen's been shoring herself up to spend a few uninterrupted hours in the same room as her dad. I assume Luke and Danny have something going on, but they haven't mentioned anything special."
"And people have been asking about us being open on Thanksgiving?" Clint murmurs as he absently stirs his stew some more.
"Most everybody who eats here loves this place, boss, you know that. And, if you had to keep the peace on a holiday, would you rather have some of your awesome grub or an overcooked hotdog out of a cart?"
Clint makes a soft, considering sound. Nat raps a knuckle on her cutting board and raises an eyebrow. Clint shakes his head. Nat raises her other eyebrow. Clint sighs.
"Just..." He shakes his head again. "I'm having a thought."
Nat nods slightly. "I think we might be having the same thought."
"Is it that you both can be kind of creepy together?" Darcy asks. "'Cause, if so..." She trails off under the weight of two unblinking stares. "Yeah, I'm just gonna... Yikes."
Clint watches Darcy scurry away. He cracks a smile as Nat softly chuckles.
"So," Nat says after a moment, "you had a thought."
"Yeah, I did."
"Those can be dangerous." She leans in and sniffs at the stew again.
He knocks their shoulders together. "I'm well aware. How upset do you think Phil's gonna be?"
"That'll probably depend on how much of a food coma you put him in before you tell him."
"Hey Phil," Clint asks later that evening as he's watching Phil stuff himself with fried catfish, "have you ever worked on Thanksgiving?"
"Sure," Phil says in between bites. "Sooner or later you work every holiday. It's the nature of the job. God, these are good."
"Thanks. But you get them off now, though, right?"
"Seniority is a glorious thing. And Nick's always been pretty accommodating to his people who have family out of town."
"Huh." Clint puts his right elbow on the table and lets his chin rest in his hand as he picks at his plate.
Phil puts down his fork. "What's wrong?"
"Pull the other one." He leans forward a bit. "What's wrong?"
Clint pushes his food around for a few more seconds, then straightens his spine and takes a deep breath. "I'm going to stay here for Thanksgiving."
Phil blinks a few times. "Is this because of what I told you about Grandma Gertrude? She'll only do it once or twice, and she's really old, so it's not like she can get a good grip anyway."
"No, no, it's just... Darcy said a few things, and Nat and I talked a little bit, and we want to have Hawkeye's open on Thanksgiving."
"Okay," Phil says slowly. "But I thought you wanted everyone to spend the day with their families."
"See, that's the thing," Clint says, "we will be."
Phil's brow furrows, then smooths out as understanding dawns.
"Darcy and Jane are gonna come in all day, and the other kids will be in and out when they can. Nat and I figured that buffet style might be the best way to go. We'll have traditional Thanksgiving type stuff, and that way..."
"That way what?"
"That way, you know, all the people who have to work will be able to get a good, warm meal." Clint ducks his head. It sounds almost silly, said out loud like that. He looks up and tries to gauge Phil's reaction. "Are you mad?"
Phil clears his throat. "I'm disappointed," he says, "that we won't be together. But, no, not mad. Awed, maybe. But, not mad."
Clint ducks his head again. "It's not that big of a-"
"Stop. Right there. I don't want to hear it." Phil pushes his chair back from the table, gets up, and walks around to where Clint's still sitting. Clint turns in his chair so he's sideways in the seat as Phil crouches down. "You're a good person, Clint," Phil says, his hands resting lightly on Clint's knees.
Clint feels his cheeks heat up. "Aw, Phil."
"You are. I'm very lucky."
Clint shakes his head, but a squeeze from Phil's hands stops him from arguing. Instead, he asks, "How pissed do you think your mom's gonna be?"
"Well, since I'm pretty sure she was going to try and manipulate you into baking for her, I'd say very." Phil grins. "But once she gets over that and realizes how amazing you are, don't be surprised if she decides to claim you as one of her own." His smile turns sly as his hands start to slowly move up Clint's legs to his thighs. "Of course, since you're not coming with me, I'm going to be alone in fending off any possible marriage talk."
"Uh oh," Clint says. His legs fall apart and Phil leans in closer. "Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?"
"Pretty sure I can think of something."
"Does it involve pie?"
It's not all that surprising that Clint has a problem ordering turkeys in mid-November. It's also not surprising that, after a few terse phone calls in her native language, Nat manages to come up with two dozen birds.
"Don't ask," she says darkly.
"Wasn't going to," Clint assures her.
All the diner employees seem oddly enthusiastic about working on the holiday.
"Well, we're a family here too, right?" Luke says.
"But way better," Darcy says, "'cause you pay us. Speaking of, I'm going to need my Christmas bonus before I leave for Winter break." She squawks as various hands reach out to thwap her upside her head.
What's unexpected, but just as heartwarming as his kids' reactions, is all the people who volunteer to help. Pete's Aunt May, Bucky, Maria, a couple crime scene techs, two coroners, and even Captain Fury offer their time.
Clint feels overwhelmed, but in a good way. This place, these people, feel like the circus used to.
When Clint whispers that to Phil as they lie in bed, and their heartbeats slow, and sweat cools on their skin, he gets himself held tighter than normal, and they both ignore the occasional sniff that breaks the silence of the night.
Thanksgiving week starts, and Clint goes into super cooking mode. Everything turns into a blur of ingredients, and measuring, and oven temperatures. The whiteboard in the back gets a 'Has Clint Eaten Yet?' chart just below Jane's. At one point, Nat actually sits on him and threatens to start shoving bits of sandwich in his mouth.
It's not pretty.
Phil leaves on Wednesday afternoon. Clint sends him off with three pies - pumpkin, pecan, and sweet potato - and a harried kiss to the cheek. When he realizes that he should give the man a little better send off than that, an hour has already passed, and he has ham that needs glazing.
"Oh, my God, this holiday sucks," Clint says in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Pete's aunt is the only other person in the kitchen with him, and she laughs long and hard.
"Oh, sweetie," she says, "it gets easier. You'll be more prepared for it next year."
She politely ignores the little whimper Clint lets out.
Finally, Hawkeye's opens for business on Thanksgiving Day. There's a steady stream of people from the start, most of them wearing a uniform or carrying some kind of badge. Their happy faces do a lot to ease Clint's nerves, though he's pretty sure he's still standing through sheer willpower alone.
They run out of turkey by noon, but there's still ham, and roast beef, and plenty of sides. There's pleasant chatter, and bright laughter, and Clint feels joy down to his very tired bones.
Steve shows up around two accompanied by a man in Air Force blue who he introduces as Tony's best friend.
"I love the man like a brother," Rhodey says, "but there's only so much I can take in one sitting, you know?"
"Family, right?" Gwen says ominously as she passes by them, her arms filled with dirty plates.
"Exactly." Rhodey points at her back. "I could help with those."
"Knock yourself out, man," Clint says. "Welcome aboard."
Sometime around late afternoon, Nat and Aunt May force Clint into his apartment.
"Just sit down for five, ten minutes," Aunt May says. "And not in a chair, but on a - oh, my that is a lot of purple - couch."
Clint sinks down onto the cushion. "But, I have to-"
"Hush," Aunt May says.
Nat wraps a blanket around Clint's shoulders.
"No, but I-"
"Hush," Aunt May says again. "Ten minutes."
"Fine," Clint grumbles. He checks his watch. "I'm timing it."
"Of course you are, dear."
Clint makes a few more noises of protest, then he blinks, and he's stretched out on his side. He's covered by the blanket, and there's a pillow under his head. Clint blearily looks at his watch and he groans when he sees that five hours have passed.
"Dammit," he says as he slowly sits upright.
"Feeling fuzzy?" Phil asks sympathetically.
Clint blinks a few times at the familiar figure lounging in the easy chair. "Crap. How many days did I sleep?"
Phil chuckles. "It's still Thursday. I changed my ticket, caught the afternoon train."
"But you were supposed to stay with your folks 'til Sunday."
"And spend four whole nights away from you? I don't think so."
Clint smiles wryly. "There was lots of marriage talk, huh?"
"So much marriage talk." Phil hauls himself out of his chair and plops down beside Clint on the couch. He barely gets a chance to open his arms before Clint's leaning into him. "Look at you," Phil murmurers. "Ran yourself ragged."
"Worth it." Clint yawns hard enough to crack his jaw.
"Hmmm. You should get to bed," Phil says, pressing soft kisses to Clint's temple.
"Nah. Just woke up. Besides..." Clint takes stock of himself. "I am super hungry. Wow. Tell me there's some kind of food left?"
"I think Tasha might have said something about squirreling away a plate for you."
"That woman is an angel. A scary, scary angel."
"Yep." Phil gets an odd look on his face.
"Well, about Tasha... Do you know why she was telling the nice Air Force Colonel that she's a Russian spy?"
Clint blinks at him. "Nope. Not a clue."
"Okay. Let's go see if there's any pie left. And make sure Nat hasn't been taken into custody."
"Sounds like a plan. Happy Thanksgiving, Clint."
"Happy Thanksgiving, Phil."