"Sir? Are you ready to go? Have we got everything?" As Clint finished the question, he saw what had caught Coulson's eye and slowed his steps to the grocery store cash register. He shouldn't have been able to miss it, really — Hawkeye, right? But in the past few years the seasonal pink-and-red-ing of the world in February had become one of those things that simply washed into the sea of background visual static.
It hadn't occurred to him that this year he had a reason to care.
Coulson, though, Coulson was kid-eyeball-level with all the boxed candies — chalky hearts with inane sayings on them, pink marshmallow whatsits, red Hershey's Kisses — and suddenly the penny dropped. He couldn't remember doing it himself, but he'd heard enough that he was familiar with the concept. Coulson turned those enormous blue eyes up to him and he knew what he had to do.
"You need valentines for all the kids in your class, don't you," Clint said in a tone that made it all statement, no question.
Coulson nodded firmly. "There's a valentine's party Friday. All the kids give all the other kids valentines."
"OK, we can do this." Clint scanned back the way they had come. There was a stationery aisle. He made a three-point-turn with their full shopping cart and they started walking back in that direction. "What are our parameters, sir?"
"Seventeen children in my class," Coulson responded promptly. "One teacher, two aides. One chocolate allergy, two peanut allergies, one gluten allergy, and one food dye intolerance." He scanned the offerings of boxed children's valentines.
"And a partridge in a pear tree," Clint rejoined discordantly. "How do you find this stuff out?"
Coulson flashed him a broad grin. "It's a very popular topic at snack time."
"You know all the kids' names?" Clint asked, and— Oh, so that was what a "withering" glance looked like on a child's face. He shook his head. "Of course you do."
"Fifteen first names, Barton. Two duplicates. It's not exactly difficult to recall." But his expression faded from wry to downcast even as Clint watched.
"What's the matter, boss?"
Coulson indicated the valentines boxes with a sweep of a chubby hand. "Look at this. Barbie, Sponge Bob, Power Rangers..." He gave an exaggerated full-body shudder and his four-year-old balance, still underdeveloped, made him wobble on his sneakers.
Clint could kind of see his point. There was nothing here that he could see himself giving as a child, but then he couldn't imagine himself as a child, even on a good day. For Coulson, even in mini-form, to be associated with these things... Yeah, his brain momentarily vapor-locked at the idea. He started flipping through the boxes on the higher shelves.
"Uh, there's..." He picked up the box and rotated it slightly forward and back. "What the he— heck is that?" He frowned, then shoved the box down to Coulson's eye level. "What is that? Some sort of 3-D puppy morphing into a kitten? That's just sick."
Coulson nodded morosely. "They've got fairy ones like that down here."
"How about this one," Clint said, dangling a box of Iron Man valentines low enough for Coulson to see.
"No." He glared at the hand repulsor thrusting forward on the box design, exhorting him to "have a blast" this Valentine's Day. "And the very fact that they have him on children's cards..." After a moment his eyes lit up again. "Are there other Avengers ones? Do they have..." he trailed off.
Clint grinned down at him. "Let me check." He spent a moment flipping through boxes. "Lots of puppies, some cars, some weird... frankenstein teenagers? I don't even want to know what kids are watching on TV now," he muttered. He blew out a disappointed sigh. "Sorry, sir. None here."
"Really?" He stretched his arms up toward Clint. "Let me see," he demanded.
"Suddenly you don't trust my eyesight, Coulson? I'm hurt," he said, but wrapped his arm around Coulson's waist and hoisted him up until he could scan the upper shelves himself. "I looked. There are no Captain America valentines to be had. Just Superman."
But Coulson was squirming half out of his arms in an attempt to reach deeper into the shelving. Clint ended up holding him up by the waist as Coulson bent almost in half, extending his torso over the outermost boxes.
"Don't be ridiculous, Barton," he said, his voice muffled by the valentines directly below his mouth. He pulled back a purple box and brandished it in glee. Clint nearly dropped Coulson when he saw his own tac-suited image on the box.
Coulson wrapped one soft arm around Clint's shoulder and squeezed. "Hawkeye's my favorite Avenger."