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Don't Call Me Doctor Dolittle

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Clint Barton sighed happily at the first, sweet taste of his morning coffee.  Still exhausted from a long shift at the firehouse, Clint’s eyes were barely open behind his sunglasses.  Thankfully, things weren’t all bad - he had the day off, the sun was shining, and his dog hadn’t abducted anyone’s pizza yet.  As if sensing the direction of Clint’s thoughts, Lucky gave a pitiful whine and sat his butt down right on Clint’s left boot.  Clint refused to glance down, because if he did, he’d be subjected to the most tragic pair of sad puppy eyes in existence.

(Well, eye.  Poor Lucky only had one now, thanks to the asshole thugs Clint had rescued him from.  Clint might have shot the thugs with an arrow or two in painful places.  Allegedly.)

Lucky’s suffering was all because Clint had refused to buy Lucky a chocolate muffin for breakfast.  Since chocolate was, you know, bad for dogs.  Clint might bend a few rules of pet ownership, but not the ones that would actually hurt Lucky.  His refusal had been for Lucky’s own good.

Of course, try telling Lucky that.

“No,” Clint said, finally giving up and glaring down at Lucky.  “I’m not buying you junk food.  We’re going to the park, and we’re going to actually exercise.”

Lucky whined again, and slobbered on Clint’s knee through his jeans.

“Awww, dog.”  Clint sighed.

The truth was, both Lucky and Clint could do with a little more exercise and maybe a little less pizza.

“Come on, Lucky,” Clint grumbled, trying to shift the dog off his boot.

“I’m hungry,” Lucky complained.

Clint frowned.  “You ate an entire bowl of kibble this morning!”

Having a conversation with his dog on the sidewalk was a little strange, even for New York City.  Not that anyone else could understand what Lucky was saying.  Clint had found that out the hard way.  Fucking magic.  He still didn’t entirely know how it had happened.  One minute, Clint had declined a date from a slightly creepy bookstore owner, and the next, animals were talking to him.  Then again, Loki was a vindictive kind of bastard.  Clint sighed.  It had been a little over two years now, so he was mostly used to the weird stares he got from strangers.

At the sound of a nearby car horn, Clint jerked his head up, before realizing some asshole was just trying to weave through traffic.  Then he blinked, his eyes catching on two men walking down the street towards him.  Normally, Clint wouldn’t have paid so much attention to yet another guy in a suit, but this one was different.  His well-tailored navy three-piece suit fit his broad shoulders, and probably cost more than Clint’s entire wardrobe, and his dark red tie made him look like a banker.  Or maybe one of those high-priced lawyers.  Except, the Suit was actually listening to the young African-American guy next to him, who was probably his assistant.  Suits didn't usually do that.  The Suit waved his hands a little when he replied, almost dropping his phone, and then when he flailed, he almost knocked the thick, black-framed glasses off his nose.  Biting his lip to hold in the laughter, Clint was unexpectedly charmed.

“...also, Boss, Maria Hill called again to go over the details of the wedding rehearsal, and Miss Potts wants to shift her appointment to tomorrow afternoon.”  The words drifted over as the men walked closer.  Expectantly, the assistant looked over at the Suit.  His clothes were as nice - if a little less expensive - as his boss, and from the smile on his face, he was familiar with constantly juggling PDAs and files.

“Thanks, Trip,” the Suit said.  This close, Clint could see the dark shadows under his startlingly blue eyes, framed by his thick, black glasses.  “If you can fit her in, I can see Pepper between the meeting the caterer for the Hand wedding, and visiting the bakery for Maria’s cake.”  He bit back a yawn.  “Remind me never to schedule two large weddings and an important fundraiser for the same month again,” he added.

“You got it, Coulson,” Trip said.  “And don’t worry - I’ve already written you a memo.”

“Wonderful,” Coulson said dryly.

Clint blinked, trying to keep from staring as the Suit turned to glance curiously at him.  His cheeks heated under the scrutiny, which wasn’t helped when he glanced down to find Lucky staring up at him.  “Clint found a mate?” Lucky woofed happily.

“Aww, dog,” Clint said, his blush only getting worse.

By now, the two men were practically in front of Clint as they headed for the coffee shop next door, and Clint couldn’t bring himself to look up.  Not when he’d made such a stunning first impression.  Guys like Coulson rarely looked at guys like Clint - even if he was a fireman - and those odds only got worse when Clint did things like stare creepily, and then blush.  Natasha was going to laugh at him forever when she found out.

“Hey, Boss, you coming in for your gallon of coffee?” Trip called out.

“Um, right.  Yes.”  Clint blinked when he heard Coulson clearing his throat, and glanced up just in time to see Lucky barreling towards the man’s legs.

“Lucky!” Clint shouted, lunging forward to grab at Lucky’s collar.

Time seemed to slow, and Clint watched in horror as Lucky knocked into Coulson’s legs, sending him staggering.  Trip had already reached the door of the coffee shop, and was slightly too far away to do anything except call out.  Dropping his now empty coffee cup, Clint let go of Lucky’s collar just in time to avoid crashing into Coulson.  His eyes widened as Coulson stumbled into him anyway, and found himself suddenly staring right into Coulson’s face.  One of Clint’s hands was gripping Coulson’s lapel, his other arm slung around Coulson’s waist, which was probably far too intimate to get with a stranger.  “Sorry,” Clint apologized automatically, another blush heating his cheeks.

Lucy’s loud, excited bark interrupted their moment, and his cheeks heating, Clint immediately stepped back.  Somehow, he and Coulson had ended up standing a little deeper into the alcove to the left of the coffee shop, with Lucky sitting on Coulson’s foot.  Clint glared down at the dog, but Lucky just stared back, apparently not inclined to move.  “Um, sorry about Lucky,” Clint said, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand.  “He’s kind of got a mind of his own.”

“It’s okay,” Coulson replied softly, his lips quirking slightly.  “I don’t have my coffee yet, so you didn’t spill anything, and I won’t have to make you buy me a new one.”

The comment was clearly joking, but for a second, Clint’s stomach clenched.  He wouldn’t have minded buying the man a coffee, because Coulson was hitting every one of Clint’s buttons.  Coulson’s amazingly blue eyes crinkled at the corners, like he smiled a lot, and he was clearly hiding solid muscle underneath his suits.  If that wasn’t enough, he was also kind enough not to mention Lucky sitting on his foot.

Belatedly realizing he was staring again, Clint fixed a polite smile on his face.  Smiling back, Coulson offered his hand before Clint could apologize again, his eyes lit with amusement even as his ears went pink.  “Phil Coulson,” he introduced.

“Uh, Clint Barton,” Clint replied, shaking Phil’s hand.  Phil’s grip was firm, and his palm was warm and surprisingly calloused.

“Nice to meet you, Clint,” Phil said, still smiling.  Clint wasn’t entirely sure how, but there didn’t quite seem to be enough air on the street anymore.

Clint blinked, words suddenly foreign and clumsy in his mouth.  The longer Clint silently stared like an idiot, the more Phil’s smile began to dim, and Clint’s heart lurched in his chest.  Then Lucky butted Clint’s knee with his head, jolting him out of his daze.  He’d almost forgotten Lucky was there.  “Um, right,” he said, fighting another blush.  “Look, normally I don’t do this, but can I buy you a coffee sometime, Phil?”

Phil’s eyes widened slightly behind his glasses, and his ears went pink again.  Awkwardly, Clint held his breath as Phil bit his lip.  “Yes.  Uh, that would be great,” Phil said.

“Awesome,” Clint said.

Phil dug one of his business cards out of his wallet.  Then, as quickly as he could, he scrawled his personal cell number on the back, before handing it over.  “My number,” he said.  “So we can arrange a better time.”

“Awesome,” Clint said again, before mentally face-palming.  Smooth, Barton.

Phil smiled.  “Hopefully, I’ll see you soon?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Clint said, his tongue almost tripping over the word in his haste to get it out.  “Yes.  That will… yeah.”

Phil’s smile widened.  “I'll look forward to it.”

Letting out a breath, Clint unabashedly watched as Phil gave a little wave and disappeared into the coffee shop.

Aww, yes.  The day was looking up.

~*~

“Lucky!” Clint shouted, trying to squash down his irritation.

After the forced exercise that morning, Lucky had been even more stubborn than usual.  Somehow, he’d managed to slip out of the apartment as soon as Clint turned his back for a second, probably on the hunt for pizza.  Clint sighed.  “Lucky!” he called out again.

Hearing something nearby, Clint turned to a small alley, and blinked.  Rising from her crouch in front of Lucky, the young girl stared back.  Lucky woofed something quietly to the girl, but Clint was too far away to hear what it was.  “There you are!” he called out, his relief at finding Lucky giving way to the irritation at having been dragged out of his nice warm apartment to look for his dog.  Then Clint saw the upside-down pizza box behind Lucky, and grimaced.  “Aww, dog, no.”  He reached up to rub the back of his neck.  “I’m really sorry about Lucky,” Clint told the girl.  “He just really likes pizza and…”

The girl, who actually looked closer to eighteen than he’d first thought, grinned at him.  She was pretty, with big dark eyes and long brown hair that trailed over her leather jacket in a messy plait.  Clint bit back a grin when he saw the taser she quickly shoved into her jacket pocket.  Smart, too.  “It’s cool,” she said.  “It wasn’t my pizza.”

Clint blinked.  “Oh.  Well, I guess it’s good Lucky didn’t eat your pizza?”  Glancing down at his dog, Clint snorted when Lucky just flashed him a wide doggy grin.  “I’m Clint, by the way,” he introduced, holding out a hand.  “Clint Barton.”

Lucky knocked his head against the back of the girl’s legs.  “My owner is okay.  He’s a good man.  Only a little stupid,” he barked.

“Dog!” Clint protested, glaring a little.  Not that other people could understand Lucky, but Clint still didn’t appreciate the insult.  Lucky, of course, was unrepentant.

The girl was biting her lip, clearly amused as hell.  Then she narrowed her eyes, and Clint blinked.  Wait a minute.  Clint was starting to get a very bad feeling curling around his gut.

“I’m Skye,” the girl introduced, shaking Clint’s still outstretched hand.

Clint smiled back.  “Thanks for finding him,” he said, nodding towards Lucky.  For all the annoyance at Lucky’s antics, Clint probably would have been dead three times over without Lucky watching over him.  Plus, Lucky was always happy to see Clint, no matter what.

“Sure,” Skye replied with a small shrug.  “It wasn’t exactly difficult.”  Then she jerked a thumb over her shoulder and took a small step towards the mouth of the alley.  “Since everyone’s okay, I’m going to go now.”

“Thanks, again,” Clint replied as Lucky woofed his goodbyes.  “Have a good evening.”

“Yeah,” Skye told him, and waved.  “You too.”

~*~

Naturally, Clint’s bad feeling solidified the next morning when he saw Skye again, this time up a tree.  Clint had been innocently on his way to the firehouse to return a few things, and maybe persuade Natasha to get some brunch.  Only, he’d spotted Skye inching her way along a freaking tree branch halfway there.  Skye was apparently trying to rescue a tiny black kitten, while another girl stared up at her from underneath the tree, wringing her hands.

This was going to end so badly.

“Skye, please?” the second girl called from the sidewalk, her face pale and her brown eyes wide.  “I’m not sure I can fix it if you break your head open on the concrete.”

Which, of course, is exactly what happened.

One minute, Clint had been standing there watching Skye, and the next the branch underneath her gave an ominous crack.  “Oh, shit,” Clint cursed, leaping forward.

Clint’s heart lodged in his throat, his entire body like ice as he watched Skye fall.  He was too far away to do anything to stop it, and helpless, all Clint could do was hope Skye didn’t break too many bones.  Skye tried grabbing at one of the other tree branches, but her hand slipped, and she hit the ground with a dull thud.

“Oh my God, Skye!” Skye’s friend shouted, rushing over.  “Are you okay?  Is anything broken?  Oh, it’s okay, I can test for that.  It’s fine.  Just lie still…”

Wincing, Clint skidded to his knees beside Skye’s crumpled a second later, his heart pounding, and as gently as he could, checked her over for injuries.  Her friend was hovering anxiously, so Clint tried to smile reassuringly at her.  Aside from a nasty knock on the head, Skye looked to be in one piece, and Clint let out a silent breath of relief.  Thank fuck.

“Is the kitten okay?” Skye rasped after a moment, and Clint couldn’t stop his smile, his whole body relaxing.

The kitten in question padded closer to Clint and cuddled up to his thigh.  “Is she okay?” it meowed worriedly.

“She’ll be fine,” Clint replied quietly, reaching out to scratch the kitten behind the ears, because the little thing looked like it could do with a little reassurance.

“Good,” the kitten said, arching into his touch.  “She promised to name me.  No one’s ever done that before.”  The kitten curled a little closer.  “I hope she gives me a pretty name.  And not a boy one.”

Clint resisted the urge to sigh.  Well, that confirmed Clint’s suspicion that Skye could talk to animals.  Then Skye groaned, and he shifted his attention back to his patient.  Carefully, he turned her over, and watched Skye blink warily up at him.  “Huh?” she said.  “Where did you come from?”

“Easy.  That was quite a tumble,” Clint said, checking her head again, now that he could see the bump a bit better.  The bright red splash of blood was startling against her pale skin, but she seemed to track his finger okay.  Skye had also hurt her wrist, judging by the wince she made when Clint touched it.  “And I just happened to be passing, completely by coincidence.  How’s the head?”

Skye blinked.  Clint figured she should probably be checked out by an actual doctor, but she was probably okay.  “A bit sore, but still there, I think,” Skye replied.  “Where’s the kitten?  Is it okay?”

“She’s fine,” Clint said, sitting back on his haunches to give Skye a little more space - particularly since her friend was still hovering so closely.  “Cats always tend to land on their feet.”

“We do,” the kitten agreed, casually licking her paw now that she seen for herself that Skye was okay.

“Skye, are you really okay?” Skye’s friend asked, leaning forward a little as Skye groaned again and sat up.  Clint figured he should probably ask her name.  It felt a bit rude to be referring to her as ‘the other girl’, even if it was only in his own head.

Holding out her uninjured hand, Skye let herself be carefully tugged her to her feet.  Clint stood, too, and bit back a smile as Skye was anxiously checked over by her friend.  “I’m okay, Jemma,” Skye said softly.

Jemma didn’t seem entirely convinced about that, but she pasted on a smile anyway.  “Yes, of course you are,” Jemma replied brightly.  “Why wouldn’t you be?”

Graciously, Clint didn’t point out that Skye had just fallen out of a tree.

Cuddled up close to Jemma’s side, Skye glanced over and narrowed her eyes a little at Clint.  “So… a fireman, huh?” she said, gesturing towards the uniform.  “I’m not sure I would have picked that.”

Clint shrugged, but he didn’t stop the smirk that curled across his face.  “Yeah, well, next time maybe leave the cat rescuing to the professionals, and we’ll call it even,” he replied.

At their feet, the kitten meowed loudly, obviously having had enough of them ignoring her.  “I’d like my name now, please,” she said, blinking up at Skye.

“Um… okay,” Skye replied.

Clint’s smirk grew at Skye’s confused expression.  Jemma peered at her in concern again, and then shot a worried look towards Clint.  Clint sighed.  He should probably put both Jemma and Skye out of their panic soon, and mention that he knew about the whole ‘talking-to-animals’ thing.  And how.

“How about Peggy?” Skye suggested to the kitten.  “Peggy Carter was a badass spy.”

The kitten blinked again.  “Peggy,” she meowed.  “Yes, I like that.  Thank you.”

“Peggy?” Jemma echoed.  “Did you…?  Is this the…”  She blinked, glancing at Clint again.  “...thing?”

“If you mean the thing where Skye can talk to animals, I figured that one out already,” Clint told her.

“Ha!” Skye said, poking a finger in Clint’s direction, and then winced.  “I knew you could understand Lucky!”

Clint blinked.  He hadn’t expected that.  “You did?” he asked.

“Of course, she did!” Jemma defended.  It was actually kind of adorable, but Clint valued his balls enough not to say that out loud.  “Skye is really very smart.”

Skye blushed.  So adorable.

Glancing down at the kitten, Clint let out a breath and then looked back up at Skye.  “So, I’m guessing you either went to make a deal with either Loki, or Lorelai.  That whole family is nuts, but those two are the ones with the most twisted senses of humour,” he said.  It had taken him several, painful and embarrassing weeks to realize that the only thing Lorelai and Loki were willing to do was laugh at him, the assholes.

Skye nodded.  “It was Lorelai,” she replied.  “I went to, um… get a love potion for my Dad.  Just so he wouldn’t be lonely when I left for college!”

Raising his eyebrows, Clint wasn’t sure what to say to that.  It was probably meant to be a sweet gesture, and Skye obviously loved her father, but after Clint’s experiences with magic, it seemed kind of creepy to him.  “Yeah, well, as far as I can tell, Lorelai put the same spell on you that she put on me,” he said, instead of mentioning his opinions on love potions.

Jemma’s eyes instantly brightened.  “What kind of spell?” she asked.  “And is magic real?  How does it work?  Did she have to use an incantation, or did it just happen?”

Still pressed against her side, Skye nudged Jemma gently with her elbow.  “Later, Jem,” she said.  “I want to find out what this curse is and how to break it, first.”

“Ah, that’s fairly simple,” Clint answered.  “I don’t know how it works, but basically, all that happens now is that you can understand animals, and they can understand you.”  He reached up and rubbed the back of his neck.  “As for how to break it… well, I’ll tell you what Loki told me:  to break this spell, you must find true love’s kiss.”

Skye blinked.  “Loki watched way too many Disney movies as a kid, didn’t he?”

A second later, Clint’s reply was cut off by a distressed voice shouting out Skye’s name.  Turning, he saw a rather flustered man in thick, black-framed glasses jogging down the street.  Clint blinked.  He was wearing faded jeans and a half-untucked blue shirt underneath his battered leather jacket, but it was undeniably Phil-from-the-coffee-shop.

Holy shit.  Phil was Dad.

“Skye, are you okay?” Phil asked, immediately pulling her into a tight hug.  “When I got Jemma’s text, I was worried.”

Clint wondered if he should make a discreet exit.  Then he caught Skye’s uncomfortable expression as she squirmed in Phil’s arms, and decided to stick around for a little while longer.  The embarrassment of Phil catching sight of him was probably worth it, just for the amusement value of watching Skye trying to explain what happened.  Not to mention the fact that Phil in a suit was devastatingly handsome, but Phil in jeans a little worn around the pockets?  Hot as fuck.  Although, this probably wasn’t the best time for Clint to go around noticing that.

“What did you text him?” Skye demanded, glaring at Jemma over Phil’s shoulder.

Jemma bit her lip.  “Well, I might have mentioned that you’d just fallen out of a tree and I was scared you might have broken your head,” she replied sheepishly.

Clint grinned.

Skye sighed.  “I’m fine, Dad,” she grumbled.

“She is,” Clint agreed, giving in to Skye’s beseeching look.  “I looked her over, and aside from a sore wrist and a bump on the head, she really is fine.”

Skye was about as unsubtle as a herd of elephants when she nudged Phil in Clint’s direction.  Clint had to bite back another smile when he saw the recognition in Phil’s eyes, right before Phil’s face went pink.  “Oh, hi,” Phil said, and cleared his throat.  “Clint.”

“Hi,” Clint replied.  Then he fell silent, because what else was he supposed to say?  He hadn’t called Phil yet - obviously - but he’d been going to that afternoon.  Only, now Phil had kind of seen Clint attempt to save his daughter from falling out of a tree, and shit, what the hell was the etiquette for these situations?

At least the same awkwardness seemed to be gripping Phil as was swirling around in Clint’s stomach.

“Um.”  Phil cleared his throat again.  “Thank you for helping my daughter.  I’m very grateful.”

“No problem,” Clint replied, attempting a smile.  “It’s all part of the service.”

He couldn’t entirely stop his gaze from flicking down to Phil’s left hand.  It was completely suspicious and not very charitable, but Clint had been burned once or twice in his life.  “I’m not married,” Phil said softly.

Clint winced, not quite able to meet Phil’s eyes.  He was great at impressions, seriously.

“It’s okay, Clint,” Phil continued.  “I get it.”  The words were dry enough that Clint couldn’t help but glance up.  Phil’s blue eyes were kind as they watched him.  “People can be assholes,” Phil added, shrugging his shoulders.  “But I’m not married, and I never have been.  I… I adopted Skye, because I couldn’t say no to a pair of big, brown eyes.  I’ve never regretted it, but it’s just her and me.”  Phil grimaced.  “Well, at least until she heads to college.  Then it’s just going to be me.”

“And a cat,” Clint said.  “I’m pretty sure the kitten adopted Skye after her dashing rescue from the tree.”

Phil blinked, clearly bewildered, so Clint explained.  At the end of the tale, Phil sighed.  “That’s my daughter,” he said wryly.  “This, uh… You know, I understand if dating someone with a kid is an issue for you.”

Clint rolled his eyes.  “I wouldn’t let Skye catch you calling her a kid,” he drawled, because he may only have met Skye twice, but he already knew that wouldn’t go down well.  “Besides, I like her.  I, umm…”  Clint’s face heated.  “I like you too, Phil.”

Phil smiled, endearingly pleased.  Then his eyes widened as he caught something over Clint’s shoulder.  Clint turned, and then blinked himself, because Jemma had pulled Skye into a pretty passionate looking kiss.  “Huh,” Clint muttered.  Totally adorable.

He sent a sidelong look towards Phil, who was smiling happily.  “I was getting close to inventing a sudden emergency to stick those two in a confined space,” Phil told him when he caught Clint looking.  “They’ve been dancing around each other for years.”

When Jemma and Skye finally pulled apart enough to grin at each other, Phil shot Clint a wink.  Then, his face bland, he turned back to his daughter.  “So this is new,” he said mildly.  “It is new, isn’t it?”

“Dad!”  Skye spun towards him with wide eyes.  “Um, okay, this isn’t entirely what it looks like?”

Phil stayed serious for a beat, before he grinned.  “I’m happy for you both, sweetheart,” he said.  “It’s about time.”

Jemma nodded.  “That’s exactly what I said!”

Clint glanced at his watch.  He had to go, even though he’d much rather stay with Phil.  “Sorry,” he told Phil.  “I have to get back to the firehouse.”

“Oh.”  Phil looked disappointed for a moment, before he smiled politely.  “Of course.”

Clint kind of wanted to kiss that expression right off Phil’s face.  “But I’ll call you about that coffee?” he added hopefully.  “I mean, I promise I’ll call.  If you still want to.”

“I still want to,” Phil assured him.

“Awesome,” Clint replied.  He ignored Skye’s exaggerated eye-roll behind Phil.  “I’ll call you later, Phil.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” Phil said.

~*~

Wiping his sweaty hands on his jeans, Clint kept his gaze fixed on the large window of the coffee shop for any sign of Phil.  He was being ridiculous.  Even Clint could recognize that, without needing Natasha’s exaggerated eye roll before he’d left his apartment.  Hell, even Lucky said so.  Of course, Lucky had also offered Clint advice on how to court his ‘mate’, and Clint didn’t have enough brain bleach to deal with that.  Ugh.  First dates sucked.  And Clint sucked at them.

Before Clint could twist himself up into any more knots, a familiar figure waved at Clint through the window.  Once again, Phil wore jeans instead of his suit, and Clint’s mouth went a little dry at this slightly rumpled version of Phil.  Carefully, Clint swallowed, and rubbed his hands on his own jeans under the table again.

“Hey,” Phil greeted after he’d ducked inside the coffee shop and walked over to Clint’s table.  “Sorry I’m a little late.  Skye had a small crisis about college.”

Clint smiled, but he wasn’t really sure what to say.  He’d never done the college thing, so he had no idea what it was like.  Hell, he wouldn’t even have his GED if the Marines hadn’t insisted on it, but then again, that had worked out pretty well, all things considered.  It was definitely better than his prospects at the circus, anyway.  And shit, he should be paying attention to his date.  “Um, is she okay now?” he asked, blinked at Phil, who was watching him with slightly narrowed eyes.

“Is everything okay, Clint?” Phil asked quietly.

Pasting on a bright smile, Clint nodded.  “Sure.  Why wouldn’t it be?” he said, before waving towards the counter.  “Want me to buy you that coffee now?”

Phil smiled, and Clint breathed out a silent sigh of relief when Phil let the matter drop.  He was hardly going to keep his lack of college education - or the rest of his past - secret from Phil, but most of it didn’t exactly paint Clint in a great light.  It was also way too depressing for a first date.  Phil was pretty out of Clint’s league, and yet, he’d agreed to have coffee with Clint, and Clint was not stupid enough to let this chance go.  “Coffee would be great,” Phil replied.

“Awesome,” Clint said.  Then, after getting Phil’s order - large black coffee, two sugars, no surprise there - Clint headed for the counter.  He lingered a little at the display case, before deciding to hell with it, and adding a slice of the rich chocolate cake to his order.  Clint figured very few people could say no to chocolate cake, and if Phil was one of those people, it was best to find that out early.

When Clint finally turned back towards Phil, Clint found the other man watching him intently.  Clint blinked, wondering if he’d gotten something on his shirt.  Natasha had said it was fine, but maybe a button-up shirt was too formal for a coffee date?

Phil blushed when he caught Clint watching him back, and ducked his head to stare at the table instead.  Mentally shrugging, Clint finished carrying their drinks and cake over to the table.  “Everything okay, Phil?” he asked, echoing Phil's question from earlier.

Phil’s cheeks went pink, and he bit his lips.  “Yeah, sorry,” he said.  “It’s stupid.”

Handing Phil his coffee, Clint put the cake (and the two forks) down in the middle if the table, and sat down again.  “Is it that you don’t like chocolate cake?” he said.

Phil smiled, but he still looked hesitant.  “It’s not the cake.  I love cake.”  For a moment, Phil silently stared at his coffee, before glancing up.  “I was just wondering how I got lucky enough that you asked me out.”  Clint saw Phil’s throat bob as he swallowed, before those gorgeous blue eyes were staring at the table again.  “I told you it was stupid.”

“Nah,” Clint replied, trying to fight - and losing - against the smile that wanted to break out across his face.  “I was kind of wondering the same thing about you, since you’re, you know, kind of way out of my league.”

“Me?”  Phil blinked, his eyes wide behind his black framed glasses.

“Yeah.”  Now it was Clint’s turn to duck his head.  “You’re gorgeous, and successful, and clearly responsible enough for a kid…” Clint trailed off, glancing up.  If anything, Phil’s eyes had gotten wider.

Phil cleared his throat, taking a minute to gather his wits.  “I could say the same about you.  I mean, without the kid.  I’m assuming anyway, because I thought you might have mentioned having one before now.”  Phil bit his lip, then reached out to shove a forkful of cake into his mouth.  “So,” he said, after he’d chewed and swallowed, because apparently Phil had manners.  “This is nice cake.”

Clint smiled.  Phil was hopelessly endearing.  “No kids,” he said, answering Phil’s previous question.  “Just a dog.  Lucky.  You’ve met him already.  Also, I’ll have you know this is fucking amazing cake.”

Relaxing, Phil smiled back.  After that, an awkwardness seemed to leach out of the air, and Clint’s palms stopped feeling quite so sweaty.  Phil was smart, ruthlessly organised in his professional life as an event planner, but apparently not so great when it came to remembering to wash the dishes.  He was a morning person, but hated getting up before six, and the more relaxed Phil got, the more gorgeous he became.  Clint sucked up every detail Phil gave him like a flower in the sun, and by the time Phil bashfully admitted to collecting comic books, Clint was gone.  Completely.

Phil was amazing.

At some point, Clint had reached out for Phil’s hand.  Phil had seemed surprised at the contact at first, before Phil curled his fingers around Clint’s.  His heart skipping a beat like he was fifteen all over again, Clint turned his palm over and couldn’t help the way his thumb traced patterns on Phil’s warm skin.  There was a callous on Phil’s right finger, right where it would be if he handled a gun semi-regularly, and the faint scars on his knuckled proved Phil was no stranger to violence.  Clint blinked at that, because he hadn’t expected the slightly awkward and dorky man in front of him to have a past like that.  There was a subtle strength to Phil’s hand - like his shoulders - and now that Clint’s sharp eyes were paying attention, he could see the easy grace to Phil’s movements.  It was an inherent knowledge of what his body was capable of, and the fluid strength of a man who had been trained how to fight, and fight well.

Pausing his explanation of Captain Rogers’ impact on history - which Clint had been listening to, because it was actually really interesting - Phil blushed faintly.  “Sorry,” he apologized.  “I get carried away sometimes.”

“It’s not that,” Clint said, mentally wincing at the whole staring thing he’d done again.  “I just realized something.  So, Peggy Carter, huh?”

Arching an eyebrow, Phil reached for his coffee cup.  The disappointed face he made when he discovered it was empty was not adorable.  Nope.  “That wasn’t what you realized,” Phil replied softly.

“Okay, so no.  It wasn’t.”  Clint reached down to fiddle with the hem of his shirt.  “I just…”  Clint figured he might as well just come out with it.  “You served in the military.”

Phil blinked, his eyes widening.  “I did.  I was in the Army Rangers,” he replied.  “Most people don’t notice that.” His eyes narrowed again, as he studied Clint.  “You too, huh?  Army?”

“Fuck you, I was in the Marines,” Clint replied automatically, only catching the way Phil’s eyes were dancing with laughter after he’d said it.  Ducking his head, Clint grinned.  “Okay, so back to Peggy Carter,” he said.

Phil smiled back, before he glanced at his watch.  “Oh,” he said, his entire face falling.

“What is it?” Clint asked immediately.

“It’s been… uh, two hours,” Phil replied.  “I promised Skye I wouldn’t be too late, in case she needed more help, which really means in case she’s panicking about college again.”

“Yeah, no, totally,” Clint agreed, but he couldn’t stop the stab of disappointment that went through his stomach.  He’d never found it so easy to talk to anyone who wasn’t Natasha before now.

Phil nodded, but hesitated before he stood up.  “This is a little forward of me, or maybe just a little old fashioned, but did you want to walk me to the subway station?”

The idea that Phil was just as reluctant as Clint to let the date end sent something warm and fizzy bursting through Clint’s chest.  “I can do you one better,” Clint said.  “How about I walk you home?”

Phil nodded, smiling softly.  “I’d really like that.”

The trip back to Phil’s brownstone went as fast as their date had, and Clint was a little surprised to note how close he and Phil actually lived to each other.  He couldn’t help the way his mind started listing the ways that could be convenient in the future, but Clint ruthlessly yanked his thoughts to a halt.  Not only was Skye somewhere nearby, but Clint still hadn’t even gathered up the courage to ask Phil on a second date yet.

“So… this is me,” Phil said, gesturing to the building.

“Yeah,” Clint replied.  Stunning conversationalist, your name is Clint Barton.

Phil smiled.  “I really enjoyed today.  The coffee was excellent, and it’s nice to meet someone who has sensible ideas about Bucky Barnes.”

The awkwardness that had been so heavy in the air in those first floundering moments of the date seemed back with vengeance.  “Yeah, it was,” Clint agreed, searching his brain for something witty to say.  Maybe he should just ask Phil out again and get things over with?

“And you were right, the cake was awesome,” Phil added.

When Clint saw the way Phil’s hand was absently rubbing on Phil’s jeans, he smiled.  “Hey, Phil?” he said, interrupting whatever Phil had been about to say.  “Want to have dinner with me on Friday?”

Phil smiled back, a tension suddenly leaving his shoulders.  Clint kind of liked the way he wasn’t the only one so nervous about this.  “I’d love to,” Phil said.

“Awesome,” Clint replied.  Seriously, he needed to find a new word.  Maybe later, when his face stopped hurting from smiling so much.

Turning, Clint was going to say his goodbyes before he could do the creepy staring-at-Phil thing again, when Phil’s hand on his arm stopped him.  Phil was suddenly a lot closer than he had been a second ago, and Clint blinked, because he could see the flecks of silver and brown in Phil’s eyes.  Phil also smelled good.  Like, really good.

The first press of Phil’s lips to his was almost a surprise, and not just because it sent a jolt of heat down Clint’s spine.  Clint immediately leaned closer, chasing after Phil as Phil moved to break away from the kiss.  Somehow, Clint’s hand caught in the front of Phil’s sweater, pulling him in, while his other hand reached up to cradle Phil’s jaw.  The kiss was soft and warm, and Clint wasn’t sure he ever wanted it to stop.  Finally, though, it kind of had to, because he and Phil were still standing on the street, and Skye was upstairs.

Clint forced himself to let got of Phil’s sweater and take a step back.  Just a small one.  “So, I’ll pick you up at seven on Friday?” he asked hopefully.

Phil nodded.  “Yes,” he replied.  “Please.”

Grinning, Clint nodded.  Awesome.

~*~

Two months later

Slumped on the couch, Clint stared at the TV without really seeing it.  A million thoughts and doubts were swirling around his mind, and his usually sources of distraction weren’t working.  Phil was in the other room, talking to Skye about how she was settling into college life, and Peggy was asleep in his lap, purring softly.  Blowing out a sigh, Clint rolled his eyes at himself.  He was being stupid, and more importantly, he was probably going to fuck up one of the best things that had ever happened to him if he kept going like this.  He just couldn’t help it.  Loki’s words danced around his head, sounding smug.

To break this spell, you must find true love’s kiss.

The thing was, Clint and Phil had kissed.  A lot.  Kissing Phil was one of Clint’s absolute favourite things to do, and he’d spent a whole lot of time over the last two months doing that.  Generally, kissing Phil only ever got better.  And if Clint could just banish those stupid words from his brain, everything would be perfect.  Because, as much as Clint had tried… he could still talk to animals.

Ugh.  Clint was being completely unfair to place all that burden on Phil.  ‘True love’ was a fairy tale idea, like there was only one kind of love that was good enough, which was complete bullshit.  Natasha had been in Clint’s life for long enough to hammer into Clint’s brain that someone loving you did have the power to save you when the rest of your life was pretty fucked up.  And that didn’t have to have anything to do with being in love with someone.  Natasha was family.  Of course, Clint was pretty sure he was in love with Phil.  He hadn’t run away screaming yet.  The other day, he’d even caught himself doing a load of laundry in Phil’s machine, because apparently he had enough clothes at Phil’s place to warrant that now.  Clint could see a future with Phil - a future Clint wasn’t willing to sabotage on some absurd idea given to him by an asshole who probably wouldn’t even recognize ‘true love’ if it bit him on the ass.

“You’re being stupid again,” Lucky grumbled, walking over to the couch and sticking his head on the cushion next to Clint’s thigh.

“Hey, mutt,” Clint replied, scratching Lucky behind the ears.

Lucky huffed.  “You’re brooding.  You shouldn’t brood.  You should be happy.  You found your mate.”

Clint glanced towards Phil’s bedroom door.  “Yeah, I know,” he said.

Huffing again, Lucky shifted until he was sitting in front of Clint.  “No, you don’t,” he disagreed.  “You’re being stupid.”

Clint scowled and ran a hand through his hair.  “I know, all right?” he shot back.  “I’m trying.  It’s just going to take me a while.”  Because, apparently, Clint had been hoping more than he thought that the whole ‘true love’ part of Loki’s words was actually true.  And that Clint had one.

Lucky whined.  In response, Peggy stretched in Clint’s lap and blinked open her green eyes.  “You tell him,” Lucky woofed at her.  “He’s not listening to me.”

Peggy yawned, and then fixed Clint with an unblinking stare.  “What the dog is trying to explain, is that you’re brooding for no reason at all,” Peggy said.

Clint sighed, and ignored the steel band squeezing his heart.  “I know, all right?” he snapped.

“No, you don’t.”  Peggy flexed her claws into Clint’s leg until he looked down at her again.  “You’re worried about the spell, because you were hoping that Phillip would break it.”  If cats could have arched imperious eyebrows at Clint, Peggy would be doing it.  “Except, you can still talk to us, so you think the spell is still there.”

Staring back at Peggy, Clint nodded.  That was pretty much everything that had been circling his brain for the last month.

Peggy blinked up at him.  “Humans,” she muttered.  “So stupid.”

“Hey!” Clint objected as Lucky woofed his agreement.

“The spell did break,” Peggy said.  “Well, it’s probably closer to the truth to say, the spell unraveled and its caster no longer has any power over you.”

Clint opened and closed his mouth for a moment.  “What?”

Peggy blinked at him again.  “It’s complicated, and not particularly important right now,” she said.  “What is important is that the reason you can still speak to animals has absolutely nothing to do with the spell.  I think one of your ancestors was a powerful witch.  The spell just woke up an innate ability you already had.”

Now Clint was even more confused.  “Witch?  What are you talking about?”

Lucky huffed.  “She’s saying that the spell isn’t helping you understand us, anymore.  That’s just you.  Phil is your mate.”

Clint blinked.  Then he got it.  “Wait, wait a minute!  Are you telling me that Phil really is my true love?” he said.

“Yes,” Peggy said.  “Seriously, humans.”

“Oh.”  Clint wasn’t sure how to react to that.  There was something warm and solid unfurling in his chest, something Clint didn’t really want to put a name to, and a wave of relief rushing through his stomach.  It was stupid, because some sort of revelation that Phil was the ‘one’ wouldn’t change Clint’s feelings, but at the same time… It was nice.  Clint was too much of a romantic.  For a moment, he had to take a deep breath and blink away tears.

When he had, he found Phil crouched down in front of him where Lucky had been.  “Clint?” he asked softly.

Peggy swished her tail once, before delicately sauntering off Clint’s lap.  “Umm…” Clint began.  He’d already confessed to Phil all about the talking-to-animals thing, because it was only fair.  Phil had thankfully taken Clint at his word, instead of believing that Clint was crazy.  Of course, that was different to overhearing a conversation where Clint used the words ‘true love’, because that was a lot of pressure on a guy.  “How much of that did you hear?”

“Well, I only caught one side of things, but I think I heard most of what you said,” Phil replied.

Taking a deep breath, Clint reached out a hand and tugged Phil up until he was sitting beside Clint on the couch.  “I can explain,” Clint started.

Smiling, Phil reached up to cup Clint’s cheek.  “You don’t have to,” he said.  Clint had to blink a few times to clear his thoughts, because the way Phil was rubbing his thumb across Clint’s jaw was very distracting.  “Clint,” Phil said, his blue eyes serious.  “I love you.”  His cheeks went pink, and he had to clear his throat, but Phil’s gaze never left Clint’s.  “I probably should have told you before now, but I do.”

Clint swallowed.  His heart was pounding in his chest, but even so, the urge to flee hadn’t gripped Clint in its icy claws yet.  It was more that he wanted to etch this moment in his mind forever, so that he never forgot a second of it.  “I love you, too,” he whispered.  “Just so you know.”

Phil’s smile was warm and bright.  Then, he leaned in to press his lips against Clint’s, and true love’s kiss or not, it was pretty damn perfect.

 

Fin