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Clint’s just slotted his quarters into the clothes dryer and had punched them in to start; when a man carrying a non-descript black duffel bag and wearing an expensive and nicely cut black suit walks into the Laundromat.

It’s late, a little past ten-thirty at night, and really, no one else should’ve come here at this hour.   No one ever has, which is why Clint’s made this his usual spot for the past five weeks.  But not anymore.  This is a signal for him to move on.

He tenses immediately, nerves and instincts on high alert.  Fuck.  Laundry day.  He’d hate to have to leave all his shit here.  He likes his current t-shirt collection.   Clint’s got no doubts that if he returns even a handful of hours after having to abandon all his stuff, they’d all go missing. 

The Suit looks around the modest Laundromat (not like he’s casing it, but just the normal ‘looking around’ most civilians do), eyes alighting over everything (even Clint) ever so casually; then walks over to the empty washers.  The ones right across from Clint.

Clint keeps his eyes on the man without actually looking like he notices him at all.  He doesn’t pause in his folding his jeans, appearing for all intents and purposes, as if the stranger hasn’t even pinged on his radar.  This is New York after all, and the people here don’t look at each other.  As the man unzips his bag, Clint bends his knees, balances on the balls of his feet, and prepares to run.

But nothing comes out of it-- no gun and silencer, no bat, no bomb-- just black and white socks and underwear.  A lot of socks and underwear.  Whoa.  They quickly get separated and go into side-by-side washers.

Done with that, the Suit reaches into his pocket and pulls out a billfold.  A catchy bass-line and the rat-tat-tat of cymbals thread through the air as the Theme from Shaft starts playing mutedly in the guy’s pocket (and Clint can’t help but pause for a moment-- because what);  it has the man pulling out his sleek cellphone from his coat pocket just a second later.

 

“Talk to me.”

The Suit has a gorgeous voice. 

Quiet and calm.  He listens more than speaks; but Clint isn’t listening to the words, so much as the cadence of his voice--  somewhat dry, but self-assured. 

The Suit thumbs a plastic card out of his wallet, pausing halfway in motion towards the buttons and dials of the washer.  It’s like he has an epiphany.  Dark eyebrows furrow slightly in comprehension, as the Suit turns around the Laundromat, as if seeing it again for the first time.

Probably seeing the quarter slots for the machines, Clint thinks with a smirk.  Dumbass.  Where’s he think he is, anyway?  Was he gonna use a credit card for the machines?  Clint snorts, insulted for the regular folk (that’s him too, by the way) that use places like these all the time.

He suddenly feels the eyes of the Suit fall on him, and he keeps his head down; keeps to his folding.  Shit.  Did he hear that? 

“… much as I’d like to, I can’t,” the Suit says into his phone,  “If I don’t get this done tonight, I’m coming in commando tomorrow...”

 The Suit’s eyes flick up to meet Clint’s for a brief moment of some sorta T-M-I-apology and an imperceptible shoulder shrug.

“Positive.”

 Clint arches a brow back with a ‘no problem’ head tilt of his own.  How is it that people think they need to add you to a conversation?  He's not gonna feel left out, even if he's the only other guy here.

 

Resolutely then, because fuck, he will not give into his paranoia, Clint turns his back on the man to pull more of his clothes from the dryer.   He snaps his wrists to get the wrinkles out of a t-shirt before taking pains to fold it (stuffing it into his bag will only lead to a shit-ton of wrinkles later), only to find a hole in the armpit.  And it’s his favorite shirt.

“Aw, shirt,” he murmurs disappointingly.  It’s his favorite color too.

Clint finishes up folding a few more shirts, when he realizes the man has gone.  Which is disconcerting, in the way that he hadn’t noticed.  Clint is very aware of his surroundings, fuck, he has to be.  He tenses again, scolding himself for being lax.  How’d this guy get under his radar?

Clint looks over to where the Suit had his laundry.  The black bag is still there.

A few minutes later, the man walks back through the door.  Phone tucked away, hand in his pocket.  Clint’s heart thumps wildly for a beat, but the guy is casual; relaxed.

He pulls his hand from his pocket only to produce some quarters, which he agilely slots into the washer’s mechanisms.  It really shouldn’t be so sexy, the way a man uses his fingers.  But Clint has a preference for dexterity, in a man or a woman.  It’s just one of those things he notices.

The Suit then pulls all his stuff from the one washer and throws it in with the other.   Clint tries not to stop and stare, not wanting to get the guy’s attention at all, but seeing the mixed contents being dumped into one washer kind of unsettles him.  But he keeps silent.  It isn’t his concern if dingy socks and lint covered underwear are in the guy’s future, now is it?  Ugh, but he can’t stop himself-- 

“Hey, uh… not my business or nothing, but you’re probably not gonna wanna do that,” he smiles as he says it, not wanting to come off as a smart ass, “you’re only gonna end up with gray whites or...”

Clint finally takes a good look at the guy (allows himself to).  The Suit is his height, of a good breadth (probably well fit beneath his suit), dark hair, strong jaw, and looks sharp.  Especially his eyes.  Blue, so blue; he radiates intelligence and competence and wit and…  and then…  

In the fraction of time it takes Clint to blink, the Suit becomes an everyday man. 

He suddenly looks harmless; benign.  His shoulders appear rounder, jaw loose—there’s enough of a change that it makes Clint wonder if he even saw what he saw... and Clint doesn’t like it when he doubts what he sees. 

Clint may not have a whole lot he can depend on, but he’s got two solid standards.  He doesn’t miss, and his eyesight is infallible. 

 

The Suit’s eyebrows quirk in a curious arch and his eyes alight in a questioning gaze.  Baby blues now not so piercing, but grayer, more plain. 

Clint has to pause, his head tilting ever so slightly in confusion.  Perhaps he had imagined it all.  Wanted to see more in this man than there actually was?

“Excuse me?” the Suit says, voice quiet in question.

Clint flushes, realizing he has been staring just a bit, “uh… your load.”  He gestures with a loose hand, “-- you’re mixing your clothes?”

“Ah,” the Suit replies, and it’s his turn to look a little embarrassed, “not enough quarters.  I could only convince the lady next door to spare me enough for a single wash and dry.  Too late in the night to run out of quarters, she’d said.  She didn’t want to give me any more.”

Having completed his clothing transfer, the Suit looks around again and zeroes in on the laundry detergent dispenser on the back wall.  It takes dollar bills.  Pulling out his wallet again, the Suit waves a few bills at Clint, “Yay--,” his deadpan enthusiasm makes a smile break across Clint’s face.

Clint watches him walk away, and damn, that is a fine ass.  The suit coat falls in just the right place to accentuate a trim waist and the pants have to be tailor cut to make that fit so perfectly.   Clint’s never been one to care for what someone else wears, but.  Damn.  He learns something new about himself every day.

The guy must care for how his clothes look.

Clint huffs.

When the guy walks back over to the washers, Clint reaches into his back pocket.  The Suit quickly looks over at him, there’s a hitch in his stride that an ordinary layman wouldn’t have noticed. 

Clint finds that extremely interesting and files it in the back of his mind for later.

“Here,” Clint says, handing over the rest of his quarters, more than half a roll is still in its paper wrap.  He tosses it across the way, and the guy catches it one handed.

The Suit’s lips part in surprise.  “Though I appreciate the gesture,” he says, “you don’t have to...”

“Naw,” Clint interrupts, “take it.  I’m done for the night.  Just waiting for the last load to dry,” he says, gesturing with a thumb to the dryer behind him.

The Suit gives him a short nod; the warmth of an ever-so-slight smile reaches up to his eyes, “Thanks,” he says, and starts sorting his clothes into two washers again.

 

Clint takes the time to watch, as black socks and t-shirts get separated out again.  He’s got better than 20/20 vision.  He is also cursed with an innate talent for never letting an idle thought sit in his brain any longer than it needs, to zip-line towards and out of, his mouth. 

“So… not a tighty whitey kinda guy after all,” Clint says, eyeing black microfiber shorts (or something sleek and not merely cotton) go into the washer.  Some of them are tiny, most of them boxer briefs (the short ones, not the long ones), and some of them, shit--  just imagining how’d they hug this guy’s ass, cling and stretch over his cock and cup his balls-- it all works to punch a startling heat low in Clint’s belly.

The Suit arches an eyebrow at him, and then laughs; something muted and modest.  There’s no blush or sense of embarrassment, the guy’s confident in what he wears.  Oh.  And that makes things so much more interesting for Clint.

The guy looks at him, holding his gaze… suddenly there’s a sparkle dancing behind sharp blue eyes again; he ducks his chin down, looking up at Clint through dark lashes.  He’s radiating something flirty-- a blatant come-on when there wasn’t one a second ago. 

Clint knows warning bells should be going off in his head, right about now.  A man like this-- a man that can toggle between stern, and plain, and playful, with a flicker of an eyelid or a tilt of his head, is a very dangerous man.

Clint’s honed his instincts to be hyper-aware of his environment.  He’s on his own out here, with no one to watch his back but himself.  He’s made foolish mistakes in the past, and tries not to make them again for the sake of his future.

A delicious tingle rolls down Clint’s spine, despite it all.  He welcomes this game of one upsmanship; likes the chase and catch of setting himself against a competitor.  And this one is hitting all of Clint’s buttons real hard.

“No,” the Suit says, “… not at all.”

It feels like all the static charge that’s been pushed out all day long by the dryers doing their business has somehow coalesced into the atmosphere of the laundromat.  There’s the single dryer currently finishing off Clint’s last load, but it feels like the tipping point in the air has just been crossed, as the hair on Clint’s arms prickle and stand.

Oh.  Clint feels the dangerous buzz of want thrum under his skin.

 

But then the buzzer goes off on Clint’s last dryer load, and it kind of breaks the tension.

“Gotta get my stuff…”  Clint says distractedly, swallowing, just to have something to say; he isn’t sure if he’s just dodged a bullet or just lost a chance at a good thing.

Turning away from the Suit (and fuck, it’s hard but he makes himself do it), Clint grabs his bag sitting next to the dryer and proceeds to stuff all of his socks in there.  He gets a face full of scented faux-spring air and stale heat and tries to push the disappointment down in his gut.

Finished, he turns to find the guy right behind him.  And holy fuck, no one’s snuck up to him like this before.  Clint clenches his jaw almost painfully to prevent a grunt and a flinch of surprise, not wanting to show the Suit how jumpy (paranoid) he is, but his body tenses up anyway.

The Suit smiles at him, a silent acknowledgment in his eyes that Clint can read-- he saw the flinch anyways.  Asshole.

 

“Thanks again for the quarters,” the guy says in his quiet and controlled voice.  He hands Clint a small white card.  “--if you ever need anything, I owe you one.” 

Clint takes the card, it’s blank and white.  He flips it over, also blank and white.  He opens his mouth, snarky remark on the edge of his tongue, when his fingertips pick up the embossing on the card. 

He glances back down and tilting the card to catch the light at an angle, is able to read – Phillip J. Coulson, in raised lettering across the center of the card.  A telephone number is beneath it.  In the upper right hand corner is a circular emblem that maybe looks like a bird.  Or a chevron.  A bird and a chevron?

Clint smirks as he reaches back to pull his wallet out of his back pocket.  He shoves the card in there without looking, and then tucks the wallet back into his pants.

Up close, Coulson’s eyes aren’t just ‘blue’ or ‘intelligent’.  They are vibrant; and Clint feels a little bit like falling-- giddy in a greedy sense of ‘I see you too’.

He can’t help but flirt, even as he’s about to walk out the door, “-- so when you say ‘need anything’…” he stresses the connotation a little dirty, leering a bit because he can…

The Suit-- Coulson, his mind supplies, responds casually, seriously, with a small nod, “—anything.”   And there’s just a bit of mischief mixed in with absolute sincerity that kinda knocks Clint sideways for a bit.  Coulson’s eyes darken for a moment, and Clint can just about feel that moment when he gets sucked down into their depths.  

He chuckles awkwardly, unsure how to break the sudden tension.  Not sure that he wants to.  But.   He’s gotta get out of here, he’s got people on his tail and his time is up.

“Cool.” Clint picks up his go-bag and straps it over his shoulder and around to his back.  He pulls out a black slender case from around the corner where Coulson wouldn’t have seen it, and holds it tightly in his left fist. 

He holds out his right hand just as he’s ready to go. “I’m Clint, by the way.”

Coulson looks at his outstretched palm a second too long, and Clint feels a tenseness in his chest.  Fuck, what is it with this guy? (Later, years from now, Clint will recall this first meeting and liken Coulson to a wolf in sheep’s clothing).  Before he can pull back though, Coulson reaches out and clasps his own hand with Clint’s.

A shiver runs through Clint’s body, but he forces himself to stay there.  To play it off.  Coulson’s hand is not a desk jockey’s hand (limp and ordinary), nor a lawyer’s, or any other type of white collar employee Clint had assumed he’d be.

Coulson’s hand is firm and steady, covered in calluses in all the places Clint knows a man quite familiar with firearms would have.  Fuck.

 

“Pleasure, Clint,” Coulson replies; eyes crinkling ever so slightly, exuding a calmnity that Clint cannot reciprocate.

He's got to go.  Maybe he is too paranoid, but it’s what’s kept him in one piece these several years on his own. 

“Yeah, okay,” he smiles easily enough and heads out toward the street, resolutely not looking back; “-- see you around,”  (and if he walks down the street at a faster clip than his normal stride, well, it’s no one’s business but his own.)

 

~*~

 

It’ll be twenty-seven months before Clint sees Phillip J. Coulson again.  And even at that, it’ll take a few more extra days.

In twenty-seven months, Clint will be chased down a dingy alleyway.  He’ll be slightly malnourished and have layers of filth on his skin.  He will be arrested and hauled into a precinct in some metropolitan city and left to stew in a holding room for six hours.

A man in an ordinary (and ill-fitting) dark suit will come to see him and offer him a different option.  He will be obnoxious about it; more vague threats than solutions.

He’ll throw a folder down in front of Clint and tell him he should ‘work for him, if he knows what’s good’.  Like Clint hadn’t heard these same kinds of threats before.  (Although at this time, Clint will admit that he is running out of options).

Clipped to the front of the folder will be a card with a black circular eagle printed in the top right hand corner.  It will have the man’s name emblazoned in harsh black lettering across the center of the card with his title underneath.  Agent of SHIELD.

Clint will finally laugh, and feel lighter than he’s felt over the past two years.  Because Clint’s been staring at that same bird raised in relief on another card more often than he cares to admit over the past twenty-seven months.   

Clint will reach into his back pocket and pull out a card that is old and has definite heavy foxing around the outer edges.  He’ll throw the thick white cardstock over the other man’s card and gift him with his most shit-eating grin.

When the agent in the room sneers at Clint for throwing a blank white card at him, Clint will lean over the aluminum interrogation table.  He’ll bear his teeth in a feral smile, a smile that isn’t even close to reaching his eyes, and swipe his filthy thumb across the center of it, to reveal the name embossed on it-- then over its right corner.  (Fuck, and is he ever going to hope that he knows how to read a man.  That this Phillip J. Coulson is someone who means something and is not the receptionist or the mail clerk; or else this stint’s gonna get ugly real fast. 

But Clint knows.  He fucking knows.)

He’ll watch as that agent’s face pales.  Watch as all his bluster and non-subtle threats are pulled out from under him.  Watch as that agent swears under his breath and leaves Clint alone in the interrogation room without another word.

After twenty-seven months of running and trying to keep his head above water, Clint will finally put his head down on the table.

He will wait.