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In The Fire's Light

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Clint's head turns away from the trough and up towards Phil when his boot landed on the stable threshold. He keeps pouring water in and shoots a bright grin at the older man.

"Need something, Phil?" The steward grit his teeth at the familiar use of his name. The former warrior certainly took liberties with his promotion from head archer to marshal of Duke Fury's stables but Phil couldn't find it in himself to protest considering the battle and its resulting scarring that had made the promotion necessary.

"I came to inform you we're moving on to the Malibu estate in a fortnight, Marshal Barton." Phil said calmly. Clint groans immediately, good eye rolling. The horses whinny in response, as if they feel their handler's distress. Phil half wants to echo the noise because Lord knew he hated dealing with the neighboring Baron Stark but such a sound wouldn't befit his station.

“Fury also wants to know if you can acquire a horse for the good knight Rogers, who will be joining us in Malibu.” Clint sets the bucket down and ambles over to Phil's horse as he thinks it over. Phil follows him through the stables, picking at stray bits of hay fluff that settle on his cloak. Clint's blind eye stays tilted to the left no matter where he looks with his good eye, though Phil tries not to stare when the man looks back to check whether the steward is following him.

"I can make some inquiries when spring arrives and the fairs begin. Until then, I'm afraid Rogers will be stuck with one of Stark's stable-bred.” Clint's mouth twists. “They're good stock, if a bit skittish of caves. I assume you want Ellyn ready in half that time?" Clint confirms, running a calloused hand down the creature's flank as he talked. "I can send my new stablehand from the village, what's his name-"

"Peter Parker, Barton. You really should know the men who help you." Phil provides and truly, it's terrible the way the marshal doesn't remember names but when it suits him.

The younger man's face tightens at the mention of any sort of help and his shoulders raise up like he himself is an angry animal. "Yeah, him," Barton confirms. "He can ride with you, help you clear away the cobwebs and get the stable ready. Good lad."

Phil makes a soft noise of neither affirmation or denial. He'll have to think on it for a night because he prefers a quick pace and doesn't know if Parker can keep up. Barton raises an eyebrow but when Phil doesn't speak he picks up a brush and begins smoothing out the coat of Ellyn. Phil watches his hands, large but somehow still delicate, move over the glossy dark mane of the beast, gently freeing burrs when the brush encounters them. The marshal is covered in a light sheen of sweat despite it being barely past the morning's sunrise, tanned skin shining in the torch's light. Phil doesn't blame him for being stripped to only his tunic though it's bitterly cold outside. The stable is warm enough and Phil's breath doesn't show in the air, a welcome change from his own chambers where the fireside barely heats the room it seems more often than not. Phil admires the curve of Barton's ass as the younger man bends down and catches a front hoof between his own knees, reaching for a pick to scrape at the nailed shoe. Then Phil catches himself and coughs. He tells himself it's from the smell of dung.

Clint lifts his head from its concentration, bright blue eye staring steadily at Phil like he knew he was being stared at only moments earlier. "She'll be ready to ride in a half hour, if you want to clear your head. I took her out earlier but I know she wouldn't mind going out again. You spend all day in your chambers and the household keeping track of everyone's movements, it might do you some good, the fresh air." His tongue is very pink as he wets his lips but Phil is certainly not paying too much attention, nor any attention at all to the way the man's arms look in the flickering light.

“It's the middle of winter.” Phil replies instead. He usually spends these months keeping track of the diminishing food stores, the remaining woodpile and making sure the household is running smoothly with everyone forced indoors. There's little time to do Barton's job as well.

“It'll be quiet, just you and Ellyn trotting around. Call it an inspection of the grounds, if you really need a reason.” Phil wondered if Clint would come with him if he asked. Phil admits the idea of having Ellyn saddled sounded like a good one, but there was too much to do today to start preparations for Fury moving households.

“Tomorrow, then.” Phil says. He doesn't think about how far behind a tour of the estate will set him back in tomorrow's planning process. “You can have Ellyn ready in the morning?” His fingers itch to pick the bits of hay sticking out of Clint's hair because the man should look presentable. Phil doesn't spend much time on the thought that the Marshal looks perfectly presentable in a different albeit carnal sort of way with his tunic sweat-soaked and clinging to his muscular chest.

Barton's grin is easy and he looks up from where he's carefully picking out small bits of rock from the back hoof. “She'll be ready as you finish breaking your fast, no worries.” Phil smiles briefly in agreement and bids the marshal good day. Clint finished grooming and throws a blanket over Ellyn, patting her neck as he steps out of the stall but Phil isn't watching the muscles move under his arms from around the corner.

Phil strides back to the castle, the cold air a welcome change from the heat and animal smell of the stables. He mentally begins marking up a list of items he needed to pack and what he would require the chambermaid Darcy to bring when she followed with everyone else - he didn't envy Natasha her position of packing up the entire household, Phil had enough trouble with just his room and deciding which ledgers to bring - and only smiles when he picked a piece of hay from his collar. Maybe tomorrow he would see if Barton could be spared from his duties for an hour. Phil swears he can still smell the stable on his cloak.