For his thirty-ninth birthday, Phil Coulson's mother Ellie gifts him a house plant.
It's a Cleistocactus winteri, and she chooses it she says, because 'there is no way on earth you could kill a cactus Phillip.'
There's far more to it than that.
Phil isn't stupid, and his mother isn't subtle.
You see, more than anything Ellie Coulson wants grandchildren. As her only child, Phil bears the brunt of this responsibility. Coming out in high school had done little to discourage his mother's hopes and dreams, and she'd scolded him about his lack of social life all through law school. Now that he's finally settled in, got his start-up firm well underway with the help of his friend and mentor Nick Fury, her chastisements have gotten far more pointed.
He has the time to date – why on earth doesn't he?
Doesn't matter that he's a self-identified workaholic, pushing forty, hair already thinning, a solid six on the Kinsey scale.
None of these are an excuse for failing to provide her with the pitter-patter of tiny Coulsons.
He tries to tell her that he's just not interested in dating or settling down, doesn't entertain the thoughts of starting a family, but he's never been able to lie to his mother. He may not be panicked by the sound of his biological clock ticking the way she is, but he does get lonely sometimes, does get discouraged by his few, quiet attempts at cultivating a relationship.
So he tries something else.
Tells her that being a father just isn't for him, that he's not sure he could ever find someone he loves enough to make that kind of decision with, that kind of commitment.
Tells her that, no, he's not the paternal type, that he doesn't have the time or the patience or the nature to raise a child, whether alone or with a partner.
Well of course she says that's nonsense, calls him on the floor and tells him that he would make an excellent father and an excellent husband, that he just needs a bit of practice.
Unfortunately, the goldfish doesn't survive the week of the Littman trial.
Phil feels that this is a point in favor of his side of the argument, and is just glad it wasn't a puppy.
Phil's mother just decides to take him back to basics.
Thus - Cleistocactus winteri.
It's a long, slender, spiny little thing, distinctly penis-shaped, and god does Phil try not to think about the symbolism of that in conjunction with his own mother and the weird connection she's made between his ability to care for a houseplant and his suitability as a husband and father. She delivers it in a little clay pot with a blue ribbon round it and a serious, Significant Look that warns him it better not end up buried a foot deep in his tiny backyard the way Pudge the Fish had.
He'd told her though, he'd told her that he wasn’t a plant guy, or a pet guy, or a parent guy, and it's hard to remember to water a plant when all he wants to do after a long day at the office is come home and fall into bed.
Don't get him wrong, he loves his job, is a damned good lawyer, but it's long hours and lots of paperwork, lots of travel and trial prep.
The last thing on his mind is the frankly hideous little cactus sitting judgmentally on the kitchen counter.
He tries to take care of it.
He doesn't want to disappoint his mother.
He waters the thing as often as he can remember, tries to make sure it gets decent sun, but when his mother calls three hours into his long weekend after the disaster that was Truman v United, he realizes that the thing is... not doing well.
And that's probably putting it nicely.
It's a bit shriveled around the edges, appears shorter than it was originally, and has shed several of its pale, thin spines onto the potting soil beneath it, and oh god, the euphemisms...
He's poking it with the end of an unsharpened pencil when he suddenly snaps to attention, tuning back in to what his mother is saying on the other end of the line.
"… but I have an appointment with Dr. Adams next Thursday, so hopefully he'll be able to clear it up."
"Wait, wait, sorry mum," he apologizes quickly, his heart twanging sharply in his chest as he realizes exactly where the conversation has gone. "You're still not feeling well?"
"Oh it's just a little cold Phillip, I'm sure it's nothing," she says airily, and then immediately changes the subject, leaving Phil feeling utterly at loose ends.
On the one hand, Ellie loves to play on his guilt and his sympathies, on the other, she is starting to get on in years. She's been feeling a bit under the weather for some time now, and if she really is going in to see her physician there might actually be something wrong. Subsequently he's left unsure if she truly is ill and he needs to worry or if this is just another subtle nudge in the direction she hopes to lead him, a push toward grandchildren before she's 'too old to enjoy them.'
"Are you sure you're alright mum?" he asks, interrupting her story about her neighbor's midnight clarinet practice and sounding far more worried than he'd intended to. "Should I come out for the weekend?"
"Oh no, don't be silly sweetheart," she laughs, immediately ruining the effect by continuing - "Although... I had considered a weekend away, perhaps a visit to the city. That is if you wouldn't mind putting you mother up for a few days."
"You're always welcome, you know that," he says insistently, and now far more concerned than he had been at the start. "Friday evening? I'll take you to dinner."
"Oh don't go to any trouble – I'd hate to put you out."
"Impossible," he murmurs, and then they're saying their goodbyes with promises to solidify their plans over the coming week. Ellie Coulson perks up considerably toward the end of their call, suggesting that the state of her health isn't nearly the crisis she carefully hadn't hinted that it might be, and Phil startles with sudden panic moments later when he's hung up the phone, left staring at a dying little plant in a dull clay pot.
But plants have personality, and he doesn’t know what he would have done with his life if he hadn't opened up his little shop. Hawkeye's is perfect, exactly what he'd dreamed of, on the corner next to a pizza parlour and across from an excellent coffee shop, within walking distance of the business district. He and his best friend Natasha bought and fixed it up, painted the outside purple, and have done great business ever since. Along the way they'd picked up an intern, Kate Bishop, who not only shared Clint's fascination with Paleolithic weaponry but also had a great eye for business. She works behind the counter and he grins when he hears her call out a sunny greeting to whoever's just come in.
"Hi, welcome to Hawkeye's Hospital! I'm Kate, what can I help you with?"
Hawkeye's Hospital for Abused and Ailing House Plants – that's what she's called it, from the very first time she'd seen him resurrect a shriveled rosebush from the final throes of death. Officially (and legally) it's just Hawkeye's, but the nickname has stuck and even spread through the rank of loyal customers he's accrued over the last three years. Kate had even gone so far as to buy him a white lab coat and plastic, Playskool stethoscope for their Christmas exchange last year. It's cute - he doesn't wear it often, only to cheer her up when she has a bad day – but he likes knowing that he's as good at what he does as he thinks he is.
"Please tell me you have one of these things."
Clint pauses, cocks his head. His hearing isn't great, but even from back here he can hear the desperation in the man's voice. Not anything new – they get plenty of emergencies here at Hawkeye's Hospital – but as he moves toward the door that leads out to the front he's surprised to hear panic in Kate's voice too.
"Um... what is that?"
"A Cleistocactus winteri," Clint finishes for him, stepping up beside Kate and leaning over the counter to get a good look at the shriveled little cactus in the guy's arms. "Aw, cactus, no."
"Oh god, don't rub it in."
It's practically a whimper, pathetic and guilty, and it causes Clint to straighten up and take a step back, stunned. Now that he's not completely focused on the cactus he's getting an eyeful of the guy that's brought it in, and can he just say, damn.
Three piece suit missing the jacket; slacks in a charcoal grey, pinstriped vest buttoned over a crisp white shirt. Dark blue tie knotted impeccably, sleeves rolled to the elbow exposing incredible forearms, black, thick-framed glasses...
And the most beautiful blue eyes Clint has ever seen.
He looks amazing.
"So do you?"
Clint blinks, startles.
Kate to the rescue – she stomps his foot so hard he actually yelps out loud, spins to the side to suck in a breath and keep from cursing. The brat just smirks, gives Clint 'the look,' and turns to head into the back.
"Oops. Sorry Boss. But hey don't worry Mister – he's not as big a doofus as he looks."
Clint scowls after her, considers a jab about cutting her paycheck, but she barely gets one as it is and they both know that's not why she's here anyway.
"Sorry," he gasps, bouncing up and down a few times to get the feeling back in his toes before turning his attention to the guy in front of him again. "Sorry. Um, I'm Hawkeye. Doctor. I mean, Clint! I'm... I'm Clint – the... doctor, here, at Hawkeye's. Um, what can I help you with?"
Hot Stuff puts his plant pot down on the counter, nudges it hesitantly toward him, like he's reluctant to even touch it.
"I need a new one, by next weekend."
"Ouch, yeah, not gonna happen," he says, turning his attention to the plant and spinning the pot around, getting a good look at poor little thing inside it. "These things are actually pretty rare – I could order you one, or grow you one, but not by the twelfth."
"You don't understand, I need one," the guy whines, and then his fingers are wrapping around Clint's wrist, warm and gentle and rough with callouses like a cop's. "Please. Yelp said you were the best there is, they said you could make miracles happen."
Clint can't help a little smile, a bashful blush, and the guy seems to realize he's still holding on cause he drops Clint immediately and takes a step back.
"I'm sorry," he says, abrupt and stilted, and now he's the one with pink at the tips of his ears, and it's a terribly cute look on him. "That was inappropriate, I..."
"No harm done," Clint says easily, shrugging his shoulders and trying not to shiver, to think about the guys hands touching him everywhere else. "To me at least. What um... what happened?"
"I don't know!" the man huffs, crossing his arms and glaring at the little potted cactus, like it had gone and died on him on purpose. "I did everything I was supposed to, I actually tried, and now it..."
"Woah, hey, nice deep breaths huh?" Clint counsels, cocking one eyebrow and trying not to laugh. He gets the distinct impression that this guy isn't used to things not going his way, not following his every order, and that the cactus has defied that universal rule by shriveling up and keeling over. "I can get you another cactus – we've got plenty of nice..."
"No, no, it has to be the same kind," he insists, shaking his head, and then he lifts his chin, a bit pale around the edges, looks Clint square in the eye and whispers - "She'll know."
"Uh, who will know?"
"My mother," he wails, and a beat of silence passes before Clint just can't hold it in anymore.
He barks a laugh, and the miserable, betrayed expression on the man's face just gets him going even harder. By the time he catches his breath and straightens up off the counter the guy still looks peeved but a little less dire, so Clint has to count it as a win.
"Come on, sit," he says, waving toward the little couch and chairs Nat's got set up in the corner for consultations. "I'll grab us a drink and we'll figure this out ok?"
"You don't have to."
"Nah, I kinda do," Clint grins. "Sounds like a story I really need to hear. And no offense, but you look like you need a minute."
As if given permission by Clint's words the guy actually wobbles on his feet, heaves a sigh and scrubs a hand over his face before nodding, once. He turns and heads toward the seating area and Clint sneaks a look at his ass – as nice as everything else before stepping into the back to grab a couple of glasses and a pitcher of lemonade from the employee fridge. Kate's watering the row of lemon tree saplings he's trying to get up to fighting weight and gives him googly eyes but he just snorts and ignores her, skipping a few steps to pick up his speed.
"What?" he blinks as he comes around the counter, trying not to fumble anything as he puts his armful of glass down on the low coffee table.
"It's Phil," the guy says, reaching up to take the pitcher from Clint's hands as it tilts dangerously. "Phil Coulson. I never said."
"Oh. Right. Um, Clint. I mean, Clint Barton, is... my name."
"Doctor Hawkeye," Phil says, a sly grin tugging at the corner of his mouth, and Clint swallows his throat gone dry.
"Not a real doctor," he blushes, sitting down in the chair catty-corner to Phil's seat on the couch, leaning forward to pour.
"Not according to your Yelp reviews."
Clint looks up, finds Phil gazing around the inside of the shop and feels his hackles rise just a tiny bit, anxiety flooding his stomach.
"I didn't even know this place was here," he continues, but he doesn't sound condescending so Clint bites his lip, waits. "But I checked everywhere I could think of before I thought to turn on the location on my Google Search. You were the first place that came up – five stars and rave reviews."
"Yeah, we've... gained a few loyal regulars along the way," Clint says with relief and no small amount of sudden pride. "Plus Kate's friend Skye is a computer wiz. She likes to champion us out in cyberspace."
"They say you're some kind of plant genius," Phil argues, looking him up and down slowly and making Clint's heart jump (among, er... other things). "For a minute I had hope. Thought – wow. I might actually survive this."
"Right," Clint chuckles, sitting back and watching Phil take a sip of Nat's lemonade. "Since the cactus didn't. Tell me about that."
"My mother gave it to me for my birthday," he groans, flumping back, his knees falling apart and his head tipping back and Clint absolutely does not stare. "I told her, I told her I'm not a plant guy, that I couldn't keep it alive, but she's got this crazy thing..."
"No, not for cacti," the man grumbles, opening one eye and glaring at him. "For kids. She seems to think that if I can manage a plant I'll be convinced that I can manage a child."
"Ah," Clint mumbles, trying to quell the sudden hope that this guy is single and biting down the urge to offer his generous donation toward an attempt at male/male procreation. "Her biological clock ticking a bit faster than yours?"
"So much faster. I've been able to put her off for a while but now that I'm on the edge of forty she's getting serious about it. Hence the dick-shaped cactus..."
He makes a vague gesture toward the counter and the pot still sitting on it, and Clint snorts a laugh.
"But now she's guilt tripping me and coming out to visit and she'll be so disappointed and she'll think I didn't even try and I did try this time and I just... oh god, I'm less nurturing than a desert!"
"Hey, hey, no," Clint huffs, trying desperately not to laugh as he leans forward and wraps his hand around the guy's shoulder, biting his lip to stop grinning even though the man's got his face buried in his hands. "Come on, your mom sounds like a nice lady. She obviously cares about you. I mean, it's not life or death right?"
Phil makes a strangled sound, sits upright and stares at Clint as he waves his hands toward the counter and his pathetic little crisp of a plant.
"Ok, ok," Clint says, his own hands going up in surrender. "Tell you what..."
Getting to his feet, he steps back up to the counter, takes another look and pokes around the pot a bit.
"Your mom's coming in on the twelfth right?"
"Alright. Leave your little guy with me till then. Two weeks in the hospital – who knows? He might pull through."
He looks shocked, stunned actually, but there's the tiniest bit of hope brightening his eyes and perking him up and wow, he's just... really, really pretty ok?
"Yeah, he might not be too far gone," Clint says, his voice just a tiny bit hoarse. Clearing his throat, he drops his eyes back to the cactus like he has any idea how he's going to save it, but for this guy he's going to try.
"Oh my god, thank you."
Clint blinks, surprised when Phil grabs his hand in both of his own and starts pumping it up and down, smiling at him like he's a real life hero.
"You have no idea how much this would mean to her," he says. "Well, to me too."
"No problem," he chuckles, retrieving his hand and feeling like he's been shooting for an hour the way his arm muscles have been shaken out. "Wouldn't want to disappoint Mama Coulson would we?"
"Ugh, no. Really though Clint, thank you."
It's a little too insistent, a little too soft, and Clint blushes, ducks his head and rubs the back of his neck. He can't tell if the guy is flirting – he'd given him a nice, long look or two but that was about it. He's considering an opening gambit when the guy opens his mouth again and puts an end to his uncertainty.
"How much do I owe you?"
"Oh," he stumbles, coming up short. "Right. Nah, don't worry about it man. Not sure what I can do so can't really charge you anything in good conscience."
"Seriously Phil," he says, looking up to meet his eye. "Come back Friday. If I can swing something you can pay me then, deal?"
The man looks at him, eyes narrowed just a bit, a tiny little frown on his face before he shakes his head, smiles.
"Deal. Thank you again, really. If you're as good as everyone says you are you'll be saving me a huge headache."
"I'm always good," Clint replies with a devilish grin, regretting it immediately. It's pat response, his habitual answer to Natasha's frequent command to behave himself, but it comes out far more flirtatious than he had mean it to.
Only Phil is blushing and his smile has gone a little secret and sly at the corners of his mouth and he's backing toward the door a little bit slinkily, his hips swaying.
"Right. Well um... I'll be back Friday then."
"Friday," he agrees, and Phil nods before ducking out the door and trotting off up the street, the chime jingling merrily after him.
Clint's stuck staring out the glass far longer than he should be, until Kate steps out from the back and looks between him and the retreating Phil Coulson several times, shaking her head.
"Clint Barton, you dummy."
It's harder than Phil expects not to call over the next week and a half, and not only because he has a stupid, crazy need to check in on the god-forsaken cactus.
No, it's Clint that has him distracted, Dr. Hawkeye.
The man is stunning. Phil had practically swallowed his tongue when he's stepped out from the back of the little purple flower shop it had taken him an hour to hunt down. Spiky blonde hair, broad shoulders, biceps that threatened to split the sleeves of his dark purple t-shirt; he was Phil's walking wet dream and lust had hit him hard and low in the belly, sending him into a hideous spiral of utter nonsense behavior.
He blushes and begs, grabs the man, huffs and whines and overshares, and even now he still doesn't understand how it had happened.
Oh god, the things he had said...
If it was possible to die of embarrassment he would have by now.
His only consolation is that it seemed like maybe Clint had been as off-balance as Phil. He'd stumbled over his words, knocked into his own counter, blushed and ducked his head and the whole thing leaves Phil wondering if he had been flirted with and hadn't realized it, if he had been flirted with and had. He'd made an utter fool of himself but the way Clint had stared and smiled as Phil left made him think that maybe it wasn't a lost cause.
It kind of terrifies him that his mother's plan seems to be working.
Just a silly little cactus, and yet it's been the impetus for his having met a man he finds incredibly attractive, a man that has actually prompted him to consider taking time out of his busy, work-filled schedule for a date, an actual social life. He'd even gone out with Jasper and Melinda on Thursday to drink and whine about the bad impression he'd made and his uncertainty about going back for more. It wasn't until he'd sat down in the booth and paid for the first round of beers that he'd realized how long it had been since he'd seen his friends.
It's too much of a life change all at once to have been caused by a dying house plant.
It's kind of annoying actually.
But Jasper and Maria tease him relentlessly if fondly, which pushes him to actually make an attempt at a better impression as he heads back to Hawkeye's the next day. He's due to pick up his mother at the train station in about an hour and a half, and had been forced to take the day off by one Nicholas Fury, so he's dressed down in faded jeans and a dark, long-sleeved tee. He'd foregone his glasses after far too much preening in the mirror, and it's warm enough that he passes on a jacket. He's also been told he has amazing forearms (and really, is that even a thing?) so he pushes up his sleeves before stepping inside, his heart already thumping far too hard.
The bell above the door jingles cheerfully, and the smell of the place is so good that he stops momentarily, just breathing it in. It's earth and soil, citrus and fresh cut flowers, and not overpowering the way some florist's places are. Though painted a pale, solid purple on the outside the inside is a riot of color splashed across a green backdrop, plants growing everywhere you looked, and not just the typical flowers you'd expect. Sure, there are coolers filled with roses and violets and baby's breath all along the side wall, opposite the little sitting corner where Clint had served Phil the best lemonade he'd ever had, but half the back wall is one long window looking out onto the garden and greenhouse behind the building, half obscured by six-foot-tall sunflowers. There is a bar mounted behind the counter that holds hanging baskets, bursting with smaller flowers of varied color, and through the door that leads into the back Phil can see a row of small, potted trees that look to be sprouting tiny lemons, bright, sunny yellow catching his eye.
He's hard-pressed to maintain the anxiety he'd been carrying on the sidewalk outside, even as the girl behind the counter – Kate? – raises an eyebrow at him as she hands change to the woman clutching a spray of tulips to her chest.
"Um, hi," he says, stepping around the departing customer to the counter, horrified by the useless filler-word that he would never utter in a courtroom. "I'm here to see Hawkeye? Clint, I mean. About my cactus?"
"Oh yeah, you're the guy with that killed your Cleisto-whatsit," she nods, much to his mortification, before turning and hollering into the back. "Hey Doc! Somebody here for pick-up!"
A grin starts to threaten at the edges of his mouth as he hears Clint call back, but it sinks somewhere down into his chest right alongside his heart as Clint comes stepping through the door, his arm slung around the waist of a stunning redhead as he presses playful, smacking kisses to her cheek.
"Get off," she grumbles, smooshing his face with her palm and pushing him away, eliciting a laugh that has the dying butterflies in his stomach fluttering painfully. "Kiss me one more time Barton..."
"Noooo, you deserve all the kisses Natty-Nat," he sings, trying to get in another one even as she dodges him, a paper cup held carefully in his free hand. "Goddess of the gift of coffee! Seriously, I would've died. Can't believe our coffee machine finally gave up the ghost."
"Maybe if you cleaned it once in a while."
Nat – he's guessing it's Nat – flicks a pointed look over Clint's shoulder at him and the guy turns on his heel, his face brightening even as he finally lets go of her, and it's like a sucker punch to Phil's gut the way he smiles at him.
"Phil – hey! You're back!"
"It's Friday..." he says hesitantly, suddenly unsure.
"Wait, it's Friday?"
He shoots the redhead a look, confused, puppyish, and the frost around Phil's heart immediately begins to thaw again, damn it.
"Yes Little Bird, it's Friday," she says, half exasperation, half fondness as she reaches up and tousles his hair.
"If this is a bad time I could..."
"No, no it's good, it's a good time," Clint insists, bright grin back again as he lifts the door in the counter and gestures him through. "You can come on back and see – it's awesome Phil, you're gonna love it! Oh, this is my partner Natasha by the way. You already met Kate."
"Nice to meet you," Phil nods, but it comes out a tiny bit stiff because partner, but he thinks he sees the redhead flick a glance between the two of them and smirk.
"And you," she replies, inclining her head as he passes her. "I have deliveries to make, but it was nice to meet you Mr. Coulson. I am certain I shall be seeing more of you."
Phil blinks, surprised, both because of that last reassurance and the fact that she'd used his last name, which he hadn't mentioned.
Pressing a quick kiss of her own to the blonde's cheek, Natasha accepts a large cardboard box from Kate and slips out the front door, crossing the sidewalk to the hulking purple van waiting at the curb. The young girl behind the counter is snickering behind a copy of Sportsister! but Clint doesn't seem to notice or care, though the tips of Phil's ears are burning. He feels just as off-balance as he did the first time he was here and that's got him a little pissed, since he'd promised himself he'd be smoother. Natasha has thrown him though, Clint's partner, and he doesn't understand because he hadn't read it that wrong had he?
Clint had been flirting with him, right?
Bad flirting, and Phil is really bad at reading signals, but...
"Your girlfriend seems... nice," he mumbles as he follows Clint into the back, struggling for a word that's more neutral than he feels, horrified by his own sudden lack of eloquent vocabulary. He can barely get his eyes up off the floor as he says it, and nearly falls on his ass when he subsequently goes bouncing off Clint's back (his firm, nicely muscled back) when the man stops.
"Girlfriend?" he says quizzically, one eyebrow arched. "What, Nat? Oh ew! I mean, don't tell her I said that but ew!"
Now it's Phil's turn to lift his eyebrows, because while he may be one hundred percent into guys he's not above noticing the aesthetics of a beautiful woman, objectively that is. She might not be his type but even he could admit that Natasha was stunning, if in an icy, dangerous, chew-you-up, spit-you-out, and make-you-love-it kind of way.
"You said partner..." he offers pathetically, only to see Clint's scrunched expression smooth, sly amusement suddenly dancing in his eyes.
"Business partner," he explains emphatically, "She owns half of Hawkeye's."
Clint tilts his head, looks him up and down, amusement turning sly.
"Yeah, she's practically the big sister I never really wanted," he says slowly, and Phil realizes that they're both stalwartly refusing to take a step back even though they're standing way too close. "And I mean, even if she wasn’t, I... mostly bat for the other team."
"So... yeah," Clint says, and he's still watching Phil closely, still standing just inches away, and maybe it's because Phil can't seem to find his tongue and maybe it's not but he can't really bring himself to mind. "Single, that's me. Though I... kinda have my eye on someone presently."
Phil blinks, shocked, though perhaps he shouldn't be, and he swallows hard around the hope that suddenly jumps up into his chest, licks his lips when Clint's eyes track the bob of his adam's apple.
But he doesn't know, isn't sure, and this....
He doesn't know how to do this!
"Cactus," he says dumbly, and oh god, he's been out of this game way too long. "I mean, you still have my cactus?"
"Oh," Clint blinks, looking slightly taken aback, and Phil thinks he sees his grin falter just a little but he can't... "Yeah. I mean it's doing great man, come check it out!"
And well now he sounds happy again, cheerful and excited and proud as he turns away, pulls a container down the counter to show him and Phil is... well, Phil is stunned.
That's... that's not his cactus, surely.
It's in a different pot – a wide glass dish, a layer of white rock at the bottom, then a layer of grey, then a good two inches of dark soil. At the top in the very center, a plump little cactus, filled out, maybe an inch longer than it had been originally, with a pinkish-orange flower sprouting about halfway along its length. Never in his life has he appreciated a flower as much as he does now – it alone bears the responsibility of stopping a plethora of hideously immature dick jokes from tumbling out of his mouth – chief among them 'you fixed my dick.'
"Clint that... that's amazing," he manages, sounding hoarse and strained. "How did you..."
"Couple different things," he says with a shrug, though he sounds quietly pleased. "Little guy needed a bigger pot, and I switched out the soil for something that mimics desert earth a little better. The rock and charcoal at the bottom will help drain it. You were probably actually watering it a little too much – you want the dirt to be totally dry, then soak it through. Where are you keeping it?"
"Dr. Hawkeye," Phil murmurs, full of awe as he turns the pot and only just stops himself from touching the thing, both for the obvious reason that it's covered in newly sharp spines and that he still can't shake the stupid penis-imagery. "Oh, um, it's been on my countertop."
"Do you have a patio? Or... hmm. A window would actually be better; don't want it to get to much rain. Eastern window..."
Phil's immediate instinct is to invite Clint over, purely to find a good spot for his miraculously revived cactus and not at all to judge the man's reaction to possible date-slash-make out territory.
"I've got a window that faces East," he says instead, thinking of the window at the base of the stairs, in the little alcove at the back of the living room. "Should I..."
"Yup," Clint nods with a smile. "Direct sun, as much as he can get. That and about, oh, eight ounces of water every six days or so and he'll be fine." Reaching over, he takes the pot in both hands, grins at the little plant and fluffs the petals of its single flower. "We'll make Mama Coulson proud yet."
It's an exclamation of dread and horror and, oh, all kinds of things, partially because he's just realized the flaw in his plan and partially because he's just realized how long he's been back here. As much as he'd love to stay and at least make an attempt at some decent flirting he's going to be late if he does, and, oddly enough, be giving his mother exactly what she wanted.
How she manages these things...
Clint must catch the look on his face, the way he glances quickly at the purple clock on the wall and goes a little wild and terrified around the eyes. Laughing, he claps Phil's shoulder but his hand lingers, big and warm and firm as he squeezes just a little turning Phil back toward the front.
"Come on," he says, picking up the cactus in its fancy new dish and pushing it into Phil's arms. "Fork over a twenty and we'll get you out of here with enough time to drop the little guy off."
"Yeah it's mostly for the new pot. I've got the old one if you want it back..."
"No, that's ok, keep it," Phil offers, putting the plant down on the counter to dig out his wallet and hand Kate a few bills, which she accepts deftly while eyeing her boss suspiciously. "Reuse it, upcycle... Really though, I can't thank you enough for this."
"Sure, but I feel kinda like we're setting Mama C up for a huge let-down," he chuckles, and Phil is taking his receipt and stuffing his wallet back into his pocket and juggling the cactus pot and he's let his guard down for all of a second so he blurts out the truth before he can think the better of it.
"I already told her I was gay – if that didn't crush her hopes and dreams of grandchildren nothing will."
Phil freezes, staring at the wall but he can see Kate trying not to giggle out of the corner of his eye, can see Clint looking curious and unsure out the corner of the other and is just about done with the absolute mess he becomes around this cute but sweet little shopkeeper.
"I'm gonna go now," he says abruptly, lifting his head and squaring his shoulders. "Before I die of sheer embarrassment."
He's hinted at his orientation already of course, but that was just horrifically blunt.
Grabbing up his cactus, his cheeks burning, he nods to Clint, turns on his heel, and flees.
"Yeah and a hot mess too," Kate hums considerately, absorbed by her magazine once again now that the show was over. "Maybe you've got a chance after all. You did get his number right?"
Clint jerks, his skin going shock-cold and his stomach dropping, and beside him Kate rolls her eyes.
If you're wondering what a Cleistocactus winteri looks like...
"I may have made a grave miscalculation."
Clint looks up from where he's been kneeling on the floor, half bent inside a five gallon pail full of water and cut roses. Something in his chest brightens and a grin spreads across his face before he can school it – two weeks after Phil had picked up his cactus Clint had very nearly given up on seeing him again, but here he is, standing over him on a Wednesday morning dressed in a full-on, three-piece navy suit that probably costs more than Clint's bike when it was new and that's beautifully tailored to his shoulders.
"Hey!" he smiles, probably a bit too strongly as he rises, conscious of the white lab coat and toy stethoscope he'd donned to cheer up a grumpy, pre-midterms Kate. "Phil! Sounds pretty dire – what's up? Cactus ok?"
"It's fine; I haven't undone all your good work already," the man huffs, shifting the paper bag he's carrying from one hand to the other. "But um..."
Clint tilts his head, takes in the tension in the man's posture and the slightly pinched look on his face and snickers.
"It's not funny!" he snips, which just makes Clint bark a full laugh, but it's ok because it seems to ease the man's irritation just a bit, puts a curve onto the edge of his mouth that just suggests a smile.
"Wait, let me guess," he says, leaning back against the coolers and tucking his hands into the pockets of his coat. "We didn't consider the consequences of making you out to be a responsible plant owner?"
The man in front of him – suave, dapper, somehow all control despite his previous flailing – makes a sound like a whimper that makes Clint want to wrap him up in a hug. It's a difficult impulse to control – he's looking even more attractive than Clint can remember, and after having thought for sure that he'd lost his chance, well, let's just say he's not letting the guy get away without his number this time.
"What'dja bring me?" he asks playfully, making gimme hands until Phil hands over the bag, opens the top and peeks inside. "Oh hey, an arrowhead vine!"
"Um, yeah, that."
Clint looks up, laughs. Phil's totally at a loss and it's written all over his face, and Clint kind of loves it not only because it puts this adorable little crinkle between his eyes but also because it means that plants make him a little uncomfortable. And yeah, normally that would be a huge bummer, because Clint loves his plants and his job and what he does, but this guy, Phil Coulson, seems to be ok with things that make him uncomfortable. Seems to be willing to get to know them, to work at them, and that means he comes around Hawkeye's.
"It's one of my favorites," he explains, straightening up. "I do competitive archery so..."
"Really?" Phil asks, and he brightens and looks like he's actually interested and Clint grins, because he knows it's a weird hobby especially in the big city.
"Yeah," he nods, leading them toward the counter where Kate's dolling out plastic cases full of tiny corsages to a mother-of-the-bride that Clint's happy to be done dealing with. He owes her lunch for taking her on today. "Picked it up when I was a kid, never put it down."
"You any good?"
Clint just looks back over his shoulder, shoots him a wink that widens his eyes and puts the ghost of a surprised little grin on his face.
"He never misses."
Hipshot against the counter, Kate's grinning at him like he's some kind of celebrity to be oggled, like Brad Pitt or something stupid instead of the athlete of an obscure sport that he is, but Phil's got this strange, shark-like grin on his face and he's gravitating down the counter toward her and away from Clint and horror sweeps through his belly like ice water at the thought of what a friendship between these two could do.
"Hawkeye's got a shot at the next Olympics don'tcha boss?"
"Wait really?" Phil yips, turning on him with a shock that makes Clint duck and blush. "Clint, that's incredible."
"It's just sticks and strings," he shrugs, because while he's happy to laud his own skills at the top of his lungs, it's different when someone else does it.
"It's not 'just' anything," Phil protests, and Clint manages to get his eyes up, tilt his head. "The Olympics, wow. That... that's more than good."
And well, now Phil's out-and-out staring, his eyes tracing slowly over the breadth of Clint's shoulders in his doctor's coat, which very suddenly seems silly. It's hard to argue when the man's looking at him like that.
"I like it," he says simply, because he's not sure what else to say but he doesn't want to stay silent. If he does he might do something foolish like grab the guy by his pressed lapels and haul him in for a kiss. "Like arrows, anyway. Thus arrowhead vine. They're pretty easy ones once you get set up – if you've got time you can come on back?"
"I make my own hours," Phil replies vaguely, but he's licking his lips and there's an interesting little flush across his cheekbones and he's following Clint back behind the counter when he holds the partition open for him.
Clint can maybe be accused of skipping ahead of him and stripping off his lab coat and toy stethoscope to reveal the jeans and purple tank-top he's got on underneath, but hey, it's warm in the back where he's got the door to the greenhouse and the back garden open. He thinks he hears Phil make a little glurk sound but he doesn't want to start counting his chickens before they hatch, so he doesn't turn until he's got the coat hung up and Phil's paper bag on the counter.
"I'm on lunch," Phil says abruptly, like he suddenly feels the need to explain. "I wasn't sure... I mean you're not busy?"
"Nah," he shrugs, and yeah, he does it on purpose because he knows what his arms and shoulders look like and it sounds like maybe Phil was hoping to spend a little time with him. "Nothing crazy today. We've got a couple of proms coming up so I'll be making like, a zillion corsages for the schools I partner with over the next couple weeks, but that's about it."
"You partner with schools?"
"Yup. There's a couple for underprivileged kids in the area that me and Nat help out. I'm certified to teach archery and ASL, so it's pretty easy for me to find places where I'm a hot commodity. "
"American Sign Language?" Phil asks, and Clint sees his hands come up hesitantly before he confidently signs the rest of the question. "Do you mind if I ask?"
"Hey, you're pretty good!" he grins, signing as well before he turns his head, points to his ear. He's worn them before when Phil was in the shop, but even though they're purple they're absolutely tiny and fairly hard to see. "Only got about forty percent left on this side, and thirty on the other. Couldn't afford the aids when I was younger – learning to sign and lip read was cheaper."
He's told people the story before of course, and he's not shy about it, but it surprises him how comfortable he is telling Phil. His hearing has been a point of contention with partners before and he does like Phil, but not only does the man sign really well, he doesn't tense up or get squirmy when Clint tells the story. He still seems totally comfortable standing next to him, and that's both an unexpected and wonderful thing.
"What about you?" he asks, nodding at Phil's hands which are still held up at the ready, and really they're very nice hands. "Not the most popular language elective in high school."
"I took four in college," he explains, fingers moving deftly. "I love languages, and Latin helps with law."
"So that's Latin and ASL," Clint lists, turning to take Phil's small potted vine out of the bag and set it on the counter. "What were the other two?"
"Mandarin and Arabic."
Clint barks a laugh.
"But not Spanish or French," he teases, and Phil shakes his head, leaning one elbow against the counter. "Interesting."
"I'm an interesting kind of guy."
Clint blinks, looks over to find Phil staring at him with his bottom lip tucked in like he's biting the inside of his cheek, wishing he could retrieve his words but he doesn't counter them either.
Clint just smiles.
"I like interesting," he says, his cheeks feeling warm. "It's like plants – there's always more to them than just what meets the eye."
"Tell me about this one?"
He actually sounds interested, eager, like he really does want to know, and Clint's always loved sharing the things he's passionate about – see Kate.
"Ok. So, arrowhead vine. Named for the shape, obviously, but if you take care of it right the leaves themselves will get bigger and less, well, arrowhead shaped. It's a pretty good beginner's plant – your mom taking pity on you?"
"I doubt it," Phil huffs, watching Clint's hands as he turns the pot and prods the soil. "I'm just lucky she didn't bring me one of those really complicated Bonsai trees that you're supposed to shape."
"Ahh, those aren't so hard," Clint consoles. "You're about a step up from a Chia pet with this one; should be easier than the cactus."
"Hey, I'll have you know that cactus is doing very well, thank you very much," Phil defends strongly, making Clint chuckle. "Though I did have help."
"Oh really? Seeing other doctors now Mr. Coulson?"
It's a bit forward, probably, a little more direct than any of his flirtations so far, but Phil meets his eyes and holds them when he answers.
"No," he says smoothly, "I think I'll stick with the one I've got."
Clint licks his lips, fights the urge once again to grab this smooth, suave version of the man who'd flailed so badly the last time he was here and kiss him right back to silly senselessness.
"Well. You should be alright with this one. It needs light but no direct sun, so as long as you don't stick it in a closet it should be fine."
Oh god, is he trying to kill him?
Is he trying to tell him something?
Clint sucks at subtext.
"Right. Anyway, this one you can water like you'd expect; just keep the soil damp, probably a good drink once a week. This pot's plenty big enough if you grow it up instead of out – I've got some trellises you can look at if that's the way you want to go."
"You're the expert Doctor."
And ok, that was definitely flirty, a low, seductive little purr and Clint feels it roll down his spine like a physical caress. His jeans suddenly feel way too tight and Phil has straightened up, his spine ramrod straight and his shoulders back and he's staring at Clint's mouth, and for all of three seconds it feels like they're leaning towards each other when there's a sharp crash and a shriek from the front and low, uncertain call from Kate.
"Damn it," he mutters, their stare-down broken as his attention snaps to the side, and Phil actually looks disappointed, even as he shoots his cuff and checks his watch (and let's not even talk about what that does to Clint).
"I need to go anyway," he says, a bit disappointedly. "I might make my own hours but I still find myself strangely beholden to my own business partner."
"Right. Well hey listen," Clint says, digging out his wallet as Phil picks up his pot and his paper bag, heads back toward the front. "I got a card, I mean, Hawkeye's has a card. Why don't I um, give you my cell number and you can call me, if you... you know, have any trouble with your plant."
"Oh. Yes, I... I probably will," Phil frowns, accepting the card and turning it in his fingers before tucking it into his breast pocket. "I appreciate it."
Clint frowns, because that wasn't quite what he'd meant, but Phil is nodding to him and to Kate who's appeared at his shoulder and ducking out from behind the counter, out the door and away before he can stop him.
"In case... he has trouble... with his plant?" Kate says with clear exasperation, her arms full of a shattered terra cotta pot. There's a woman in the corner near the seating area with a muddy, squalling toddler and a pile of mess near her feet, and Clint feels a sigh welling up in his chest. "You dork! What if he had trouble with coffee, or dinner reservations?"
"You think?" he asks hopefully, watching forlornly out the window.
Kate rolled her eyes, hefted her armload toward the bins.
"Yeah, you crushed the guy boss."
Clint finds himself oddly cheered by this news.
The Arrowhead Vine
That went... much more to plan.
He'd been smooth, mostly, and even gotten out with Clint's number.
Only, he'd said to call if he had a problem with the plant, not just because he wanted to, or because he could think of a hundred different dates he'd like to take the florist – fuck, the Olympic prospect – on.
It's a dilemma.
On the one hand, calling for a date when it hadn't been welcomed or offered could be seen as pushing, rude, foolish even. On the other it would make Phil feel better, a bit more in control after the ridiculous way he'd behaved before.
Really, he just counts himself lucky that his mother hadn't cottoned on after he'd mentioned the help he'd received in taking care of the cactus. It's still doing well, flourishing under the window where he'd set the dish up on the stair-side table. She'd spent the weekend fussing over it, almost as much as she'd fussed over him, and he should have known better than to take her through the local farmers' market before she'd headed back home, but he'd done it anyway. After picking up enough fresh fruit and veg to fill both their refrigerators she'd automatically gravitated to the hobby and houseplants stalls.
Of course she had.
He still doesn't know how she managed to con him into another one (he totally does know), but at least the arrowhead vine was easier to care for.
And hey, it had started up a conversation, gotten Clint talking a bit about himself, which had been nice.
The Olympics, wow.
Phil's known some fair athletes in his time, but that's a cut above. He can see it, of course he can, what with the arms and shoulders Clint had been showing off the last time he'd been in to Hawkeye's. The doctor's get-up had been cute but when he'd stripped of the white lab coat to reveal the tight purple tank top underneath Phil had nearly swallowed his tongue. The man is all breadth and strength, tanned skin and defined musculature, and he's ashamed to think of the number of times he's woken up humping the mattress since, after steamy dreams of getting his hands and his teeth and his tongue on those biceps and those shoulders.
Archery's an interesting hobby.
Yeah, he's redirecting his focus, so what?
He doesn't really know anything about it, but the way Clint's face had lit up when he talked about it, the way his tone had changed made Phil think it would be something he could easily take interest in. He was excited that they also had American Sign Language in common, which he feels a bit badly about given that being partially deaf isn't likely something Clint enjoys. Still, it's a unique skill that they both have in their arsenal, and Phil's not above using every tool he has available to him.
Hence the new plant.
The arrowhead vine is doing very well in the corner of the living room, where it gets a decent amount of light and where he's been watering it diligently. It's growing rather quickly, much more quickly than the cactus, and is beginning to spill over the sides of its pot all over the table top.
It's a good excuse right?
After checking Google to make sure that Hawkeye's is open mid-afternoon on Saturday, he bags the thing back up and hops on the train downtown. It drops him off two blocks away but he's enjoying the sunshine and the heat that's slowly climbing as spring begins to turn to summer. He's wearing dark jeans and a thin, worn t-shirt and he feels pretty good, even though it's been another week since he's seen Clint, another week of not quite getting his act together.
Hawkeye's is eerily quiet when he steps inside, even the chime of the door subdued. Kate is in the corner, stocking the coolers with small vases full of daisies, and looks up when he enters, offering him a small finger-wave and an unreadable look. Natasha, the business partner, is behind the counter, and she's frowning at him as he steps toward her, shooing a bearded man with a bouquet of red roses out the door.
"Walking cliché that one," she says, her voice low. "Forgot his anniversary last week."
Phil made a commiserating sound, flicks his eyes toward the back.
"Today is not a good day Phil Coulson," she says slowly, and his heart thumps hard. "Perhaps you could..."
She doesn't get a chance to finish.
A large, moppish dog with a gimpy leg and only one eye comes barreling out from behind the counter, lunging against his shins and woofing happily as his tail wags a hundred miles an hour. He's scruffy and lop-sided and his tongue hangs out as he looks up at Phil with a dopey grin, and just seems like the friendliest, silliest thing he's really ever met.
Chuckling, Phil widens his stance to stabilize his balance against the weight of the dog leaning against him and leans down, scrubbing his hands through the dog's silky soft fur.
"Hey buddy," he says with a grin, putting his bag aside and taking a knee to really get at the good spot behind the dog's ears. "What's your..."
"Lucky get back here! Worthless mutt, you're supposed to... Phil!"
Phil looks up to find Clint staring down at the two of them, apparently stunned, a tiny bit of wildness around his eyes, uncertainty.
"Hey," he says hesitantly, his tone still conveying surprise. "Didn't know you were here."
As he says this he casts Natasha a glare, but she's looking at him with something like confusion, then turning on Phil with a suspicion that makes him want to shiver.
"Hey," he greets back, dodging a swipe of slobbery tongue and giving the dog one last pat before he gets to his feet. "Natasha said it might be a bad time..."
He's not even halfway down with the sentence when he realizes Clint is frowning, staring hard at his mouth and not in the sexy way. His hands immediately come up and finish it out for him, signing fluently, and the cloud threatening behind Clint's expression immediately clears.
"No, um... it's fine, it... now's good. Want to come on back?"
Please, Phil signs, and beside them all the tension goes out of Natasha's body, and she looks at him like she's never seen him before. Picking up his bag, Phil gives her a nod before following Clint into the back, skirting the redhead carefully because her stance is still all business, a protective mama bear you didn't want to piss off. Lucky's bounding off ahead of him though, slipping into an easy heel at Clint's side, and he's quick to follow after.
So, he signs, when Clint steps through to the back counter and turns toward him. Bad day?
"Yeah," he sighs. "Kinda. Hearing aids went kaput this morning, and it's just... I don't usually notice it you know? Don't usually feel... less."
Clint arches an eyebrow and Phil blushes hard, realizing that he'd blurted out the declarative in his passionate haste to convey it. Taking a breath, he steels himself and signs it, slow and steady this time thank you, and it's Clint's turn to blush.
"I know," he says, reaching out to take the bag from Phil's hand and setting it up on the counter top. "I mean, I do know. It's just harder some days, when I can't even hear the freaking doorbell, and Nat feels like she has to stomp around like an elephant when normally even an elephant couldn't hear her, and... well. Anyway, I get grumpy about it sometimes. But I have Lucky and for a gimpy, one-eyed mutt he makes a pretty good hearing alert dog."
He's cute, Phil signs, reaching down to pat Lucky on the head, watching as the dog bumps Clint's knee, then trots off to flop out on the battered employee couch in the corner. He suits you.
Shit, he hadn't meant to say that.
But Clint's ducking his head and biting his lip and looks like maybe his day isn't turning out as bad as he'd originally thought it would, so maybe it's ok.
"What'dja bring me this time?" he asks, clearing his throat and dipping into the bag. "Oh wow! Phil, it's doing so good!"
Thanks, he signs deftly, watching Clint's hands carefully comb through the long, tangled limbs of the vine. I did like you said...
Clint shoots him a shy look from beneath his lashes, grins.
"You're doing a great job with it," he acknowledges, and Phil feels a pleased little squirm in the pit of his belly. "It's getting big."
You said something about a... He frowns, searches for the sign for 'trellis' and goes with something else instead before he finger-spells it. A frame? T-R-E-L-L-I-S?
Trellis, Clint signs, and then Phil goes warm as he reaches out, takes his hand in his own and manipulates it gently, teaching him the proper sign. His hands are large and strong and deft, and Phil can feel the callouses that must be from his bow, and he's immediately caught up in the fantasy of those rough fingertips tracing designs on his bare skin.
He swallows hard and repeats the sign, hopes Clint hadn't noticed his lapse in attention but the way he's looking at him, wide-eyed and a little unsure, a little hopeful makes him suspect that he hadn't.
His voice comes out so low and gruff that he's kind of glad Clint can't hear him, but the man seems to understand the question from the way he's staring at Phil's lips. He stares to long though, and he thinks maybe he's wrong, makes the sign again.
"Right," Clint says, blinking, his own voice a little too deep, hitting Phil low in the stomach. "Yeah, come on, I'll show you what we've got."
Phil swallows hard, manages to follow as Clint steps through the doors out into the little garden, full of plants and growth and sunshine. It's a small yard, but bigger than Phil would have thought they could get in the city. There's a greenhouse at one end, butted up against the windows of the shop, and Clint opens the door for him, gesturing him inside.
The light is a turquoise blue beneath the specialty glass, the air thick and humid. There's a small pond with a fountain at one end, keeping things wet and piping the sound of trickling water along the rows of elevated tables, plant life hanging all along the edges. It's a pleasant place despite the heat, the way his t-shirt immediately sticks to his skin. Clint's does too, white cotton clinging to his shoulders and the small of his back, so he can't hate it that much. The khaki cargo shorts are working for him too, clinging to his ass as he crouches down along the wall of the greenhouse, shuffling through a stack of equipment and pulling out a few pieces of thin, wooden lattice.
"We've got these," he says, standing back up and forcing Phil to lift his gaze. "And there's a wire one here. But um... I built another one, I thought you might..."
Phil arches an eyebrow, surprised by Clint's sudden uncertainty.
"Show me?" he asks gently, signing along, and Clint bites his lip before nodding, setting the previous three options aside.
Rounding one off the long, narrow tables that housed the plants, he lifted up on his toes reaching for a shelf, showing off his ass and a strip of tanned skin at the small of his back, and Phil unconsciously licks his lips, which, more than anything, makes him realize he needs to put an end to all this shilly-shallying back and forth. Clint makes a huffing sound before he turns, loud enough that he has time to bring his gaze back up to a guest-appropriate level as he turns.
And Phil is... Phil is stunned.
"I thought, you know, arrowhead vine," Clint mumbles, rubbing the back of his neck as he sets the little frame up on the table, a cross hatch of white and purple arrows creating a sturdy frame about two and a half feet tall.
These are yours? Phil signs, awe-struck as he steps forward, reaches out to touch the indigo-dyed feathers on the end of one of the shafts. C-L-I-N-T...
Clint looks up, makes a C with his thumb and forefinger, hooks his hands together to flap his remaining fingers like a child's imitation of a bird. Phil frowns, mimics the sign before his expression clears – Hawkeye, of course.
"They're old," he explains, a bit shyly, maybe a bit defensively. "I can't use them anymore. But I thought you might like it and it kinda fits... If you don't..."
The sign is quick, sharp, the exclamation clearly expressed and Clint grins, blushes.
No, Phil signs, a bit more calmly now. I like it.
"Let's get you set up then."
Phil smiles, follows him happily out, latching the door of the greenhouse behind them at Clint's instruction. He can feel Natasha watching them through the windows from inside the shop but he refuses to acknowledge her gaze. He'd rather focus on Clint anyways – the man is smiling softly, looking rather pleased with himself, rather smugly proud, and he wants to kiss him till the look sticks.
"There," he says, pushing the tips of the arrows deep into the soil of the plant pot, rooting the trellis firmly. "Now we just..."
Phil watches as he winds the vines of the plant carefully up the frame, weaving them in and out so they would get good support until they got a grip of their own on the little trellis.
Clint blushes, strokes a leaf with his thumb.
Looks a little short though?
Phil signs it with a teasing look, a suspicious arch of an eyebrow, and Clint bites his lip, rubs the back of his neck.
"I mean, you could always come back right? When you need another one?"
Oh was that how it was?
Well, Phil can't really blame him, since he's already thinking about getting another plant on his own, without any pushing from his mother at all, thank you very much.
But do they really need the excuse?
Taking a deep breath, Phil lifts his hands and takes a chance.
Yes. But maybe before?
"Sure," Clint replies, looking a bit confused but happy enough about it. "Whenever. I mean I'd like..."
He doesn't get to finish.
Once again the damned universe was apparently conspiring against them, because Lucky takes the opportunity to trot over, bump Clint's knees and lick his hand. They both look up, only to find Natasha standing in the doorway, a quiet frown on her face as she makes Clint's name-sign with evident fondness.
Time to close little bird. We have to take you to the doctor.
Clint's face clouds and he immediately closes off, wrapping one hand around the opposite elbow and looking everything like a wounded, frightened teenager. Phil glares at Natasha, more upset by that than by the interruption – and that's saying something.
New ears? he signs, and Clint shrugs, only just edging toward the affirmative. That's all it takes for him to make up his mind, to pull out the business card he'd stuck in his pocket just in case, because it's already been hard enough trying to get this thing going and he refused to count on kismet being on his side.
He hands it over, watches Clint's eyes light up when he turns the card over to find his cell number scribbled on the back.
Maybe... maybe you could call me when you get them tuned in?
Text? Clint signs, looking up at him hopefully, and Phil smiles widely, nods.
"Finally," he hears Natasha mutter, but he doesn't think Clint catches it and has to turn away to hide the painful red blush on his cheeks.
Picking up his plant with its new purple and white support system, he walks toward the door where the redhead is waiting impatiently, ushering the both of them through. She holds up two fingers as Phil passes and he recognizes the gesture for what it is, hands over a twenty which feels like far too little for what he's been given. Clint's still staring down at the card in his hands, rubbing his thumb over it when Natasha hands him a receipt, and he waits until the man looks up to mouth a goodbye.
Clint's smile is something soft and full of wonder, his finger wave a little dopey, and it's everything Phil could have hoped for as Natasha shoos him out, flipping the lock on the door and turning the sign to closed.
Phil doesn't hear from Clint for three days, and he hopes that it's that silly old rule, that proverbial 'wait three days' nonsense instead of something else, something... worse.
Instead of Clint having lost his number, worse thrown it out.
Worse still - something having gone wrong at the doctor's appointment Natasha had whisked him off to.
He's both lucky and unlucky in that he's having a slow week at the firm. Lucky because he's distracted, liable to only waste time trying to get things done or make a costly mistake, unlucky because it leaves him with more than enough time on his hands to fret, to overthink things. He's sitting at his desk picking at the remains of his lunch and reading idly through his email when his personal phone chimes with a message.
He nearly fumbles it in his haste to unlock the home screen, because it's an unknown cell number and there are very few people in the world that have his.
HEY THIS IS PHIL COULSON RIGHT? ITS CLINT
Phil smiles, his heart pounding in his chest, saves the contact as DR. HAWKEYE and thumbs back over to reply.
PC: Hello Clint! Yes, it's me. May I ask if you're feeling better?
DR. H: HAHA, YEAH, I WAS JUST GETTING FITTED FOR NEW EARS
Phil grins – there's something charming and all together unsurprising about the way Clint texts, all capitals and very little punctuation. Add to that his relief that the man isn't ill or injured and seems to be feeling better and Phil is feeling pretty good himself, tension he hadn't known he'd been holding bleeding out of his shoulders.
PC: I'm happy to hear that.
DR H: YEAH, FIGURED SINCE I NEEDED NEW ONES IT WAS AS GOOD A TIME AS ANY TO LET NAT DRAG ME IN FOR A CHECK-UP
PC: Don't like doctors?
Phil bites his lip, immediately regrets the question because it feels incredibly invasive between two virtual strangers, and is halfway through texting an apology when his phone chimes with Clint's reply.
DR. H: NAH TOO MANY WAITING ROOMS FILLED WITH POOR SUFFERING PLANTS. SERIOUSLY IM SUPPOSED TO TRUST THIS GUY TO FIX A PERSON WHEN HE CANT EVEN KEEP AN UMBRELLA TREE ALIVE?!
A question mark and an exclamation point – apparently it's a sore point.
Kind of adorable though.
PC: Speaking for those of us with less-than-green thumbs, I'm sure you were in good hands.
DR. H: YEAH BUT AT LEAST YOU TRY. I TOLD THEM THEY NEED TO RE-POT IT
PC: High praise.
He's chuckling as he texts. He hopes Clint is laughing too. He's bad enough judging this sort of thing in person – it's twice as hard via text. He knows he's a hopeless case, outside of the courtroom anyway, but it had seemed like things were at least looking up the last time he was at the shop, and Natasha's reaction had given him a bit of hope.
Besides, Clint has to be texting him for a reason right?
DR. H: IS IT BAD IF I DON’T MIND THAT YOU HAVE A LESS THAN GREEN THUMB
And well, that's fairly clear isn't it?
PC: I got lucky - I found a pretty good doctor.
They chat on and off for the rest of the afternoon. Clint is at the shop and Phil still has work to do, even if he could put it off, but the awkward wait times between responses don't seem to bother either of them. Phil asks after Lucky and gets a story about how Clint had rescued him from an attack by a local gang, later getting him certified as a Hearing Assistance dog when he showed a knack for it on his own. Clint asks him what he does outside of 'lawyering' and Phil admits (with great embarrassment) that he likes to track and collect Captain America memorabilia. Clint's teasing is all good-natured and he even admits that he enjoys a good comic book himself, though neither Captain America nor The Howling Commandoes had featured in his childhood.
Before Phil knows it the office is beginning to shut down for the night and he signs off to make the twenty minute drive back to his condo. Clint had already gone home, bitching about the subway ride to his apartment in BedStuy, not all that far from Hawkeye's or from Phil's. They chatter about cooking as he fixes himself a toasted cheese sandwich, Clint being best at breakfast foods and Phil being best at baking, and the man jokingly suggests that Phil bring brownies as payment for his next doctor's visit.
It's nice. He enjoys texting with Clint, recognizes that they're both being mildly flirtatious although there's far more to it, two people really trying to get to know one another. He's amazed that it's gone on so long, all afternoon and into the evening, and he's reluctant to say goodbye because he feels like if the streak ends that will be it – no more.
It's partly his fault really. Even with all the encouraging signs he's still hesitant to engage, to make any blatant overtures. He doesn't understand it – in the courtroom he's well known for being forward and aggressive, for driving in on a defendant's weaknesses and taking them apart on the stand – but here he is, hem-hawing like a teenager with a crush on the highschool quarterback.
Though, to be fair, he thinks he's justified in his hesitation. He knows he's attractive in a certain way, yes, but it's a certain demographic he attracts now, one with an unfortunate penchant for using the endearment 'daddy.' He's definitely not on par with a young Olympic athlete, but Clint is so funny and charming and sweet that he's already let himself... get attached. He doesn't want to let this go, doesn't want to walk away, so he does something silly and takes Clint's advice on the matter.
His mother's pineapple-coconut scones have been a hit every time he's brought them into the office, and so seem like a safe method of payment. It's not an excuse but he has one of those as well – he has a habit of sending flowers to his clients in certain types of cases, and Cyndi Taylor certainly qualifies. The young girl had been systematically harassed as an office girl working for a local business tycoon Justin Hammer, right up until an attempted sexual assault. Phil had represented her against the temp agency that had hired her out to the man and gotten her a hefty settlement after uncovering information that proved the agency knew of Hammer Industries attitude toward women and continued to send their girls into that dangerous environment.
She's a tough girl, tenacious; she'll be just fine.
Doesn't mean she doesn't deserve something pretty to brighten up her day, and who's to say that Phil doesn't deserve the same?
Kate immediately starts snickering at him when he walks through the door. Natasha hip-checks her behind the counter as she moves down to the end, escorting an elderly man toward the cooler full of roses, but it does little to dissuade the girl. Phil straightens his shoulders and gives her his best unimpressed look, but that does little to help either.
Sighing, he approaches the counter, not daring to look around for Clint given the treatment he's already received. Kate seems to have gotten the last of the giggles out of her system by the time he reaches the register, and when he thumps his tupperware down on the counter she's very suddenly smiling and solicitous, all excellent customer service.
"Welcome to Hawkeye's Hospital for Abused and Ailing House Plants," she rattles off with a grin, eyes sparkling. "What can I do for you?"
"Yes, I'd like to speak to a manger please," Phil says flatly, rolling his eyes. "Some of your employees have been unforgivably rude."
"Aw, come on Coulson, don't be a spoilsport," Kate snickers. "It's only fair, what with all the crap I've been giving Clint. Gimme one of whatever's in there and I'll even tell you a secret."
Phil narrows his eyes, pulls his tupperware closer to his chest, away from twitchy fingers. He's not sure if this is the test it feels like or not, but either way he isn't sure he wants to hear. He's never been one to let his curiosity get the better of him.
"I'm not here for that thanks," he replies, pleased when Kate pouts. "I actually need to have some flowers delivered."
"No problem!" Kate grins, brightening. "Though I'm not sure I'd go with flowers for a guy who owns a plant shop..."
"I wouldn't either," Phil deadpans, plucking a card out of the display tower on the counter and taking a pen from inside his suit jacket.
He doesn't look up to see Kate's reaction, too busy puzzling over what she'd meant. Oh, it was obvious she'd thought he meant the flowers for Clint, was even excited by the idea, so that was encouraging, right? She'd even suggested she had something to tell him that he would want to know, related to her having been teasing Clint about whatever it was that was going on between them.
He's so caught up in his thoughts that he doesn't notice Clint sneaking up on him, but he refuses to jump when the man's hand comes down beside him on the counter, refuses to lean back into the broad heat of him standing just behind.
He bites his lip, wants to laugh at the carefully neutral tone Clint uses as he turns the completed card with a fingertip, handling it like a poisonous plant, but he manages to quell the impulse by focusing on the sweet, warm feeling it brings up in his chest.
"Client," he answers, signing his name to the bottom and sliding it across the counter to Kate.
"You always do that?"
"Not always," he replies, turning to face Clint and grinning when he finds him dressed in his lab coat and toy stethescope again. It's really too adorable for words, to say nothing of the fact that he wouldn't mind 'playing doctor' with this guy. "But she deserves it, believe me."
"That's kinda sweet," Clint says, cocking his head and looking at Phil like he's seeing him for the first time. "You're destroying heartless lawyer street-cred all over the world Coulson."
"Maybe, but I never fit that mold," he argues with a shrug. "I usually just call that place on fifth, but it was suggested that I might get a better deal here."
Clint immediately narrows his eyes, looks at him suspiciously.
"Maybe," he says slowly. "You got the goods?"
"I've got all kinds of goods."
It's out before he means it to be, immediately blushes fire engine red and sends Kate a blistering glare when she scoff-snorts from behind the counter. Clint though, Clint just grins, the tip of his tongue flicking over his lower lip as he looks Phil up and down.
"I'll bet you do," he says, low and dark, and Phil practically fumbles the tupperware into his hands because for god's sake, they're in public. He should not be thinking the things he's thinking, not here.
"Um, not brownies," he mumbles, as Clint smirks and cracks the lid. "Family recipe though."
"Woah, Phil, these smell amazing!" Clint exclaims, practically burying his face in the container and breathing deep. "What are these?"
"Pineapple-coconut scones," he says, taking a step back when Clint immediately slaps the lid back on, skirting around behind the counter and tucking himself in behind Kate where he's ineffectively hidden from the rest of the shop. "Ummm..."
"Natasha's got a weakness for pina coladas," Kate says, glaring in the redhead's direction.
Said redhead seems to be intentionally ignoring them, but Phil gets the distinct impression she knows exactly what's going on. By the time he turns back around, both Clint and Kate have a scone stuffed in their mouths and Kate has been boosted up on Clint's shoulders, shoving the tupperware onto a shelf behind the row of leafy hanging baskets.
"She'll find them," Kate glowers, dropping back to the floor as the two of them affect intentionally casual poses leaning against the counter. "She always finds the good stuff."
"Just act cool," Clint mutters out the side of his mouth, holding the scone low behind Kate's back and sucking the glaze from his fingertips. "Also, this is the best thing I have ever put in my mouth. I don't know how you're going to top that Phil."
"Liar," Kate snorts, but then she's yelping like Clint's stomped on her foot, paling when the sound attracts Natasha's attention, and disappearing into the back.
"Glad you like it," Phil mumbles, watching Clint stuff the last bite into his mouth, cheeks bulging as he makes innocent puppy eyes at his business partner. "I mean I'll pay you too, of course. Corporate credit card, so whatever it costs. I wasn't kidding; she really does deserve."
"Hey, no worries," Clint says, immediately sobering. "I'll put together something real nice for her. What were you thinking?"
Phil frowns, considers.
"Something that says stay strong, keep your chin up," he says, knowing nothing about the language of flowers that surely means a lot to Clint. "Peace going forward."
"Ok, I can work with that," Clint says with a nod, coming back around the counter and gesturing Phil to follow him down to the coolers that Natasha has now abandoned, carrying an armful of yellow daisies for the man who's patting her arm sweetly. "Let me think."
It's fascinating to watch Clint work, to practically see the gears turning in his mind as he walks along the coolers, murmuring to himself or maybe to the plants as he examines the cut flowers inside. He opens and closes doors, touches petals with gentle fingers and moves arrangements with careful hands, handling the delicate plants with familiarity and ease. There is care and passion on his face clear for anyone to see, genuine interest and eagerness that's rare in this world anymore.
"Nasturtium," he says pulling out a bunch of round flowers, deep, deep red. "Victory in battle. White poppies for consolation."
Phil nods quietly, following him along. He seems to know what he's doing, pulling out the emotions and the sentiments he wants to convey but can't seem to put into words even for Clint.
"Hmm. Oh, these!"
Reaching into the last case, Clint pulls out another few stems, flat flowers with sharp edges, burgundy in the center that fade out to pure white along the edges and turns to Phil with a triumphant grin.
"Coreopsis," he explains. "Lasting cheerfulness."
Clint beams, pleased as punch with his praise, and Phil thinks he's blushing again but it really doesn't matter. He follows Clint back up to the counter where he takes down a glass vase, elegantly cut, and drops the flowers inside, starts sorting them around. By the time he'd done it's a very nice bouquet; clean, beautiful white, varying shades of dark reds and maroons, and the deep green of the leaves and fronds he's added in to fill it out. It's not too large, not too intimate to be coming from her lawyer, and Clint slips in a card explaining the meaning of the flowers along with the one Phil had signed. He wraps a ribbon around the vase and grins when Phil notices the small, silver charm swinging from it.
"Russian luck," Clint says with a wink. "Nat likes to add them to special orders."
"Thank you Clint."
It comes out quiet and sincere and sweet and he means every little bit of it but it still brings them both up short. Clint smiles at him and actually reaches out to touch him on the back of his wrist, just beneath the cuff of his suit, and once again it's too intimate for two people who haven't even asked each other out yet, who are standing in the middle of a very public shop but it means a lot.
"You're welcome Phil," he says warmly, his eyes soft. "Tomorrow good for delivery?"
"Yes perfect. It's going to her office – the firm actually got her stable work as part of her settlement so anytime during business hours."
"Sure. But um..."
Clint hesitates, bites his lip and rubs the back of his neck.
"I mean is there anything I can do for you? It seems like maybe this was a tough one."
"I was actually thinking about starting a garden."
Phil blinks, surprised at himself.
He hadn't been thinking that, not consciously anyway, but suspects that perhaps it had been an idea lingering in the back of his mind for a while. He doesn't know if he said it to reassure Clint that he was ok, or to have another excuse to come back, or for some other, unknown reason he hasn't thought of yet, but the way Clint lights up makes it worth it.
"Yeah?" he asks, eyes bright.
"Yeah, if I can find the help."
Clint's expression turns to a grin, something a little bit sly, eager and excited.
"Yeah, I think we could swing that."
Also guys, OMG, there's a real life Plant Doctor!!
DR. H: HEY PHIL! YOU FREE THIS WEEKEND – IM TAKING SATURDAY OFF
It's Thursday night and Phil is still at the office, slogging through some old tomes on property law when his phone chimes. He's happy to hear from Clint – he hasn't since the last time he was in the shop when he'd sort-of-not-really gone fishing for a date, and if he'd had the time to think about anything else but his current (slow, boring, easy) case he might be worried.
Can you hear the sarcasm?
It's been dripping off him this week and Nick's actually threatened to revoke his access to the building if he doesn't go home, get something to eat that's not liquid caffeine, and, preferable to him, get laid.
To be honest he can't say that it's not a nice idea, but he's not quite willing to skip the middle stages of dating (hell, the beginning stages) for a quick roll in the hay, a round of hot and heavy stress relief. Clint's worth more than that, the two of them together would be worth more than that if this works out, and this text, this prospective date, lights up his chest like nothing has in a very long time.
PC: Saturday sounds perfect! Should I meet you at the shop?
DR. H: YUP! IVE GOT A TRUCK SO WE SHOULD BE ABLE TO HAUL EVERYTHING YOU PICK OUT. HOPE YOU'VE GOT SOME IDEAS ;)
Oh yes, he has some ideas.
Not so much about the garden however, so...
He should probably work on that.
He ends up packing his things away and going home then, falling asleep before he can get up to any sort of shenanigans involving his own hand and an overactive imagination. Friday whizzes by and the next thing he knows it's eight o'clock at night and he's giving his apartment a once-over, making sure the dishes are done and the counters and floors are clean, that there's no laundry or junk cluttering up the corners. It's not much work – he's a fairly tidy individual in the first place – and he's glad that he mostly doesn't use the private little yard outside his French doors. It's a clean, clear space, thick green grass neatly fenced in on either side by his neighbors; an elaborate hedge system on the left and tall, prickly rose bushes on the right.
Empty, a blank slate, full of possibility...
It's a nice metaphor right?
He falls asleep thinking about a garden growing up out of flat, barren soil, blooming.
Saturday morning dawns bright and sunny as spring moves in to full summer, and Phil is up and out of bed with a smile where he typically prefers to drag out his morning routine when he can. He dresses in old house jeans, worn thin and pale over the thighs, an even older black and white raglan from when his firm participated in a city-wide softball tournament. Digging out a battered pair of hiking boots and some heavy-duty sunglasses, he stuffs his wallet into his pocket and hits the subway, easily making it to Hawkeye's by nine.
Clint's waiting for him on the sidewalk, Lucky at his side.
"Hey," he grins, jogging up and taking a minute to eye the man, safe behind the reflective lenses of his shades. "You look... ready to work."
Clint laughs, bright and happy, runs his hands down the ratty cut-off tee he's wearing, sleeveless and purple and tight across his chest, paired with khaki cargo-shorts and heavy construction boots.
Phil hadn't meant to say that but he supposes it's better than the original sentence he'd managed to abort – you look nice.
Would have been silly wouldn't it, wouldn't have made any sense, but damn if purple and sleeveless isn't a good look on him.
It's easier then to drop to his knees, to greet Lucky with a few pats and a scratch behind the ears when the dog barks and wiggles against him exuberantly.
"Thanks," Clint says with a grin that says maybe he knows what Phil is thinking, fingers still skimming slowly down over his chest and his flat, toned belly. Then he winks. "You should see me in a suit."
Phil licks his lips, swallows.
"You have a lot of cause to dress up doctor?" he asks, slipping into the shop when Clint holds the door for him, deliberately brushing against his chest as he steps inside, Lucky darting past.
If he's going to do this, going to full-out flirt, he might as well do it right.
"Every once in a while," Clint says quietly, following him in and waving to Natasha as he slips behind the counter, his partner at the far end of the shop flicking on the last of the lights and getting things up and running for the ten am open. "I'm not really a fancy guy but... I like dressing up sometimes. Going out."
"Same," Phil replies, because it's true and because he doesn't want Clint to think... well that he's not good enough for Phil. God if anyone is out of someone else's league... "I mean I wear suits for work – I like wearing suits, but there's something to be said for a good pair of jeans and a lazy day at home in sweat pants."
"Right?" Clint asks, grinning, and the tiny bit of tension that had crept into his shoulders bled out again. Lifting his arms, he flexed in a classic strong-man pose, biceps bulging. "I'm a tank-top kinda guy myself."
"Show off," Phil muttered, turning away but not before Clint had gotten a good look at his blush, seen his tongue flick out to wet his lips. "It's a good look on you."
Clint just hums, but there's a quietly pleased look on his face as he leads Phil out back to the green house and garden plot behind the shop.
"So I was mostly thinking vegetables," Phil says, a Clint opens the door of the tiny garden shed he hasn't been into yet. "I'd love a tomato plant, cucumbers, radishes. Maybe some hot peppers?"
"Easy enough," the blonde calls from inside, before quickly re-emerging and handing Phil some well used garden equipment – a rake, flat-sided shovel, a pair of wicked looking scissor-things that look like they could easily lop off a finger. "I wasn't sure how big you wanted to go but I figure you don't have a ton of space?"
Phil nods, juggles the equipment into a more secure hold as Lucky dances around his feet, then stills when Clint steps in close to his side, a blaze of soft heat along his arm.
"I drew up something for a little elevated garden," he says, pulling a piece of paper from his pocket and unfolding it. "They're pretty popular, especially in the city."
"Yeah, basically. Most of that stuff will grow just fine in an elevated bed, but if you want to do tomatoes we could get a big pot or a barrel to go on either end. Maybe do strawberries in one?"
"Yes, that," Phil nods, a smile spreading across his face. "I love strawberries; that sounds great!"
"Cool," Clint smiles back. "Ok, so we'll grab some stuff here, throw it in the truck, then make a quick stop at the hardware and we should be set."
It's not quite that easy. It takes some time to gather up everything they need – Clint's loaning him the shop's equipment to get the garden up and going but explains that he'll need some stuff of his own to maintain it. Thankfully those tools are smaller and much less sharp – little hand trowels and rakes that he can easily store inside his hollow patio furniture next to the grill. Next comes several bags of soil and a heavy roll of some type of mesh-like cloth that Phil has never seen, and he's more than happy to step back and let Clint be the gentleman, tossing it all up onto broad, strong shoulders to make a few trips out to the battered pickup he's left parked in the alley behind the store.
His favorite part by far though is watching Clint pick out the plants. Of course he's getting them all from Hawkeye's, even though the shop leans more toward flowers and exotic houseplants than common vegetables, but there are plenty to choose from inside the greenhouse and the younger man looks to be in seventh heaven as he lovingly wanders the lengths of it, trailing fingers through stems and leaves and blooms looking for the very best. He talks quietly as he goes, to Lucky, to Phil, to the plants, and it's so obvious how much he loves what he does, how much he cares for each little thing that's green and growing and alive under his care that it warms Phil to his toes to listen.
It's a quick ride from the shop to the hardware. Phil insists that he can't deprive Lucky of the window seat and ends up happily squished into the middle, the dog half in this lap and Clint's hand brushing up and down his leg every time he has to shift the old truck into higher gear. Lucky seems immensely pleased with the arrangement, head out the window, ears flapping in the breeze, and Clint doesn't seem too perturbed with it either, a small curve lingering at the corner of his mouth. They pick up a bit of lumber, some old wooden pallets, and a nail gun from Clint's friend (All shopkeepers know each other Phil, it's a thing...), and head for the condo.
They have to go through the house to get to the back garden. Clint's unbearably sweet about it, actually asking if it's ok for Lucky to come inside and then lingering on his final walk-through, after they've gotten everything carried out but the last of the plants. He doesn't go snooping but when he catches sight of the little Cleistocactus winteri sitting on its table at the bottom of the stairs he practically skips to its side.
"Phil, it's doing so good!" he laughs, a huge, happy smile on his face, and it's all sunshine and sheer joy and Phil could've kissed him right there but he doesn't. "Wow! Look at how big it got!"
Oh lord, stupid penis-cactus jokes...
"Yeah, you really got him back on the right track," he allows, thanking all his gods that his voice is calm and even. "The arrowhead's about ready for a bigger trellis too I think."
Clint's head snaps up and he trots after Phil, happy enough to be pulled away to look at the second plant he'd helped to nurture. It's gotten bigger too – broad, wide, glossy leaves, deep green in color, lush, but you can still see the purple of the arrows peeking out from the vines, Clint's frame nearly obscured by now. It's thriving in the corner of his living room and actually adds a lot to the space, makes it feel a lot more like home and less like a staged apartment than it had before.
"Ready to move on to something a little tougher then huh?" he asks, shouldering Phil companionably as they step outside onto the tiny patio, Lucky already rolling in the fresh, green grass, snapping at a butterfly that floats safely out of reach above Ms. Winslow's rose bushes.
"Yeah, it's time to level up," he says with a shrug, thinking about taking chances, stealing kisses, waiting for a perfect moment and not being sure when that moment is.
"Cocky, I like it, Clint chuckles, and Phil narrows his eyes, because that sure sounded like he was setting Phil up for another type of joke...
"Alright Doctor Hawkeye," he huffs, a little bit of challenge, a little bit of teasing in his tone. "What's first?"
Turns out building the table comes first, and oh god, the man's got a tool belt that Phil hadn't spied up until he's slung it around his waist and buckled it on. He pretty much goes half hard right there, even though he'd never really had a thing for that type before, but jesus he could go for it now. He has to double his focus on what the man's saying, on following the simple instructions he lays out, because not only does he not want to get caught drooling, he doesn't want to look completely incompetent either. Clint's a good teacher though – plenty of practice helping out with the kids - and it's easy enough to sit beside him in the grass and follow his every move.
They chat about gardens as they take off one side of each of the three pallets they'd picked up. The man's easy to talk to even though Phil doesn't have all that much knowledge on the topic. His passion is evident, his eagerness and excitement catching, and it's fun to watch the whole thing slowly take shape. Phil holds two-by-fours while Clint hammers them together, building the frame and the legs that the pallets slot inside of to form the table-top, and it's no hardship either to watch the way his arms flex and bulge as he works.
Together they get the table right-side-up and into place along the back side of his little yard, where it will get plenty of sun and just enough shade. Using the shovel, they cut out some of the sod where each leg will go, dropping it down into the earth where it will be stable and steady, and then do the same on either side of it, creating a place for the two large terracotta pots they'd picked out to sit.
"Alright," Clint says, bedding over to pick up the roll of mesh and giving Phil a spectacular view of his ass. "Let's get it lined."
That part is nearly the toughest. They both end up laughing as the fight the finicky stuff into place, static causing it to cling to their arms and their clothes. They end up double-teaming it; Phil holding it down a few inches at a time while Clint uses the nail gun to tack it in place, until the entirety of the table is covered neatly. The soil comes next, the table and both pots getting filled nearly to the top with thick, rich earth as the chatter ranges over several new topics – Lucky, Clint's archery, Phil's yearly softball games with his firm – until they're standing side-by-side leaning over the table to rake the dirt out even with their fingers.
"I like this," he says with some surprise, sifting the loam through his fingers.
"Me too," Clint murmurs, like it's a secret, and maybe it is, deep down. "I like the sun. I like the heat in summer, and in the greenhouses. I like the smells, and the way things feel in my hands."
His voice is low and easy, steady, a hypnotic purr in Phil's ear, and somehow it manages to be the most intimate moment he's shared with anyone in years. He can sense all those things Clint's talking about; the heat of the sun on his back, the light breeze and the whistle of songbirds, the deep, rich scent of the earth between his fingers.
"It's beautiful," he says quietly, watching as Clint leans down to lift a small tray of leafy little plants up onto the table. "This suits you Clint."
He's said it before, a few times about a few different things, but the way Clint pauses, looks at him with his mouth just slightly open, says maybe this time it means more.
"Thanks," he mumbles, cheeks pinking as he focuses on teasing the little cubes of root bulb from the container. "Most people don't get it you know – guy like me doing flowers. It's 'gay-cliché' and the archery makes more sense."
"It's a lot more than that," Phil insists. "And besides, it's working out for me pretty well."
Clint just smiles, nods toward the table.
"Ok sweet-talker," he grumbles, but it's cheerful and playful like he's just trying to deflect the praise, even though he's enjoying it. "Start making wells. Just big enough to put these little guys in, not too deep."
Phil does as he's told, scoops a little hole into the soft earth, then watches as Clint tucks a baby cucumber plant inside.
"Here," he murmurs, and then his hand is covering Phil's and he's showing him how to pull the earth in over it so that the plant is covered but still supported, propped upright in the earth. His hands are big and warm and rough, wonderful, and Phil finds himself leaning in close to Clint's side, far more than is strictly necessary.
He helps him pack down the earth a bit then lets him go, and Phil feels the loss more than he should, but Clint just smiles at him and hands him the next cucumber. It's probably immature but from then on, as they finish each of the veg in sets of three – cukes, hot peppers, and tiny, tiny radish seeds - he does some small thing not quite right. Clint never seems irritated or condescending so maybe he knows what Phil is doing but he doesn't call him on it, just wraps his fingers around Phil's and corrects whatever it is he's doing, until they've got the whole table planted and the two pots set up with tall, narrow wire baskets, the thin, tender vines of young tomato and strawberry plants threaded carefully up toward the sun.
"Perfect," Clint declares, his hands on his hips as Phil returns from filling an old coffee can at the spigot against the side of the house. "If you water it once a week it should get along just fine. Unless we start getting weird downpours every day – then maybe slack off."
"I'm hoping this summer won't be like the last," he says, referencing more than just the cataclysmic rains they'd had as he pours a stream of water over each of the little mounds of earth they'd heaped up around his new plants.
"Amen. I was out dragging tarps over the plants so often trying to keep them from drowning I ended up with one hell of a cold."
"I definitely prefer the sun," Phil decides, running his eyes over Clint from behind his shades. He's tan and strong standing in Phil's backyard in the summer heat, sweat glistening at his temples, his shirt sticking to his chest.
For a minute silence falls and it's obvious that neither wants this day to end, even though their project is finished and there's no real reason for Clint to stay.
Phil wants him to though.
"Want a beer?"
Clint cocks an eyebrow, looks surprised but pleased at his sudden offer.
"Least I can do," Phil says with a shrug. "I can probably feed you too, if you're not busy..."
"Not busy," he replies easily. "Took the whole day. If we're not imposing..."
Phil laughs, reaches down to pat Lucky who's leapt up from his place on the cool patio stones to surge against his legs, like he knows he's been mentioned.
"Not imposing. I'd like it, if you stayed..."
"Then I guess we'll stay."
Phil grins, Clint grins back at him, and it's just so juvenile and silly that they both chuckle, but it's nice.
They scrub their hands in Phil's kitchen sink. There's dirt under their nails and in the creases of their knuckles but he can still smell the soil on his skin when it's been washed away. Clint steps out to his truck to grab a tennis ball from the glove box for Lucky, and Phil digs up his biggest mixing bowl for him to fill at the tap for the happy-go-lucky mutt to drink from. Then it's a package of bratwurst on the grill, pretzels and store-bought potato salad and the company of someone he realizes is fast becoming a good friend. He and Clint sit on the lounge chairs out on the patio, chat and laugh and watch Lucky play, drink cold beer from bottles and it's perfect.
"So hey, can I ask you a question?" Clint says suddenly, turning his beer bottle between his hands.
Phil blinks, a little surprised by the seriousness of his request, but nods anyway.
Clint's mouth quirks and he bites his lip, then huffs and offers up a nod of his own, like he's decided.
"Was this a date?"
Phil's heart thumps.
"What if it was?" he hears himself ask, and it's almost like he's watching it happen from outside his body because this wasn't how he'd imagined himself asking, but it's finally happening and he supposes that's all that matters.
Clint laughs, bright and happy, leans back in his chair and takes the last swig of his beer
"Well if I'd known it was I probably would've taken my shirt off," he says, tossing Phil a wink.
"Never too late."
He murmurs it, doesn't mean to, but it pops out before he can stop it. Clint chuckles, smiles, pushes to his feet.
"Nah, you snooze you lose Coulson," he teases, even as Phil stands up beside him and they step into each other's space. "Date's over now. But, ya' know, I wouldn't be opposed. To a second."
Clint pauses, his eyes skimming slowly down Phil's chest toward his belt buckle.
"Or a third."
"Good to know," Phil says, heart still pounding in his chest, far smoother than he'd expected. "But if it's over... I mean... I'd like to. Kiss you."
"Are you asking permission?" Clint queries, tilting his head with a silly, dopey smile on his face, like he thinks Phil is ridiculous and loves him for it.
He licks his lips.
"Expressing a desire," he explains, his gaze dropping from Clint's bright, kaleidoscope eyes to his mouth.
"I'd rather you express intent."
And well, he's not going to get a better invitation than that.
Sliding his fingers along the sharp cut of Clint's jaw, he cups the man's face and pulls him in, presses a kiss to his lips that is longer and far more gentle than it's meant to be, says far too much too soon. They break with a soft gasp, stare at each other chests heaving, and then suddenly they're fisting each other's shirts and pulling each other in, kissing with teeth and tongue and urgency and all the want that's been building between them for... god, for weeks.
"Woah," Clint huffs against his lips before pressing in again, bussing the corner of his mouth hard, rubbing like a cat.
"Yeah," Phil pants, forcing himself to loosen his grip on Clint's hips.
They stay like that a minute, foreheads pressed together as their heartbeats slow, then Clint pulls back reluctantly, mouth looking bruised and swollen and perfect.
"I gotta go," he mutters, "Or I'm gonna do something stupid, like drag you back inside and find the bed."
"Not stupid," Phil argues, even as his brain starts to clear from the kissing fog and sanity returns to tell him that that's probably not the best idea either. "But... I know what you mean. You'll have to come back though right? To... to check on the garden."
"Yeah," Clint nods. "But listen Phil, if you do ask... I'll say yes ok."
Phil tilts his head, watches him back away toward the doors that will lead him through the house and out to his truck, Lucky on his heels.
"Call me this time," he insists, and Phil nods.
"Yeah. Yeah I will."
Clint smiles, tosses him a salute and then disappears, turning around to jog inside and out again through the front. Phil hears the door, then the truck's engine, the tires backing out of the drive, counts to ten before pulling his phone from his pocket.
"This isn't exactly what I meant," Clint laughs as soon as he answers, the sound echoing through the phone's speakers.
"I know," Phil replies in a rush, "But I wanted to ask you something."
"Are you busy tomorrow night?"
Elevated gardens by Ana White!