Clint stayed until well after visiting hours end, and only left because the evening nurse, a matronly woman named Felicity, asked nicely and pointed out that: “Your man there wouldn’t want you to fret yourself sick on his account. Get some sleep and clean yourself up. He’ll be here in the morning.”
Clint left grudgingly, but not before planting a spy camera between the slats of the vent overlooking the bed. It occurred to him that this was stalker behavior, and kind of creepy, but he didn’t want to let Phil out of his sight just yet, so he didn’t care. While installing his own camera, he found one already in place, the same SHIELD issue make and model as the one he’s using. A second glance around the ICU revealed two undercover agents and another hidden camera in the hall, overlooking the nurse’s station and the door to Phil’s room. Clint chuckled to himself as he glanced back at Phil.
“I knew you were Fury’s favorite,” he said with a grin, a thread of relief sliding down his spine. Phil maybe here under a false name, but Agent Coulson has made himself a lot of enemies on SHIELD’s behalf. It’s a comfort to know that Fury’s taking no chances.
He found a hotel and settled into the room (tripwire alarms on the door and windows, knife under the pillow, spare handgun taped under the table, and second knife behind the toilet. Phil isn’t the only agent with enemies). He called Natasha because he left without a word to her that morning and she’s probably worried and/or ragingly pissed off. They seem to be one and the same with her.
“Barton,” she said, picking up after the first ring. There’s a half growl in her tone that said you better have a damn good explanation for this because I’m two seconds away from murdering you.
“Hey, Nat.” He probably shouldn’t be telling her anything, but Fury never specifically ordered him to keep quiet so . . .
There’s a long pause on the other end of the line. He could imagine the furrow between her eyes as she decided whether or not he’s delusional. He opened his mouth to reassure her that no, he’s not in denial or hallucinating when she cut him off.
“I’ll see you in the morning.” She hung up.
Clint stared at the StarkPhone in his hand and tried to dissect her tone. Either she’s coming with a tranquilizer gun to drag him back to base for a psych eval, or she’s coming because she believed him. He’s too tired to think about it and figured he’ll know soon enough anyway.
He flicked his fingers across the screen of his StarkPhone to pull up the camera feed into Phil’s room. Phil, unsurprisingly, hadn’t moved. Clint settled back on the bed to watch him sleep, the phone propped on his chest. Later, he dreamed of Loki whispering in his ear while he fired an arrow through Phil’s heart.
The smell of coffee, lavender soap, and gun oil woke him the next morning. Natasha was sitting in the chair by the door with two Styrofoam cups in a cardboard tray front of her. She took a sip from her cup and raised expectant eyebrows at him. As if to say I’m here, so this better be good or I will hurt you.
He tossed the phone to her without a word. The feed from Phil’s room was still up on the screen. She glanced at it and he thought he might have spotted the faintest traces of a relieved smile at the corners of her lips, but kept his mouth shut because he valued his limbs.
“Do you know why?” he asked, yanking his (Phil’s) old Army T-shirt over his head. He hadn’t given much thought to why Fury had lied, too concerned with getting Phil back to worry about it. Now that he knew Phil was going to be all right, he wanted some fucking answers why they went a whole week thinking the agent was dead.
Natasha set the phone on the table and began tapping manicured nails against the fake wood. “I can guess,” she said. Clint pulled on a fresh pair of jeans and took a sip of coffee while she arranged her words, a thoughtful frown on her face.
“After the attack on the Helicarrier . . .” She gave Clint a sharp don’t you dare look when guilt started to twist his stomach. “Thor and Banner were missing in action. Rogers and Stark were still butting heads. The director used Phil’s death to manipulate them into working together, giving them a common purpose.”
“But what about us?” he demanded, bitterly. “I get not telling us during the fight. We had bigger things to worry about and there was no time. But afterwards? He let us, all of us, think Phil was dead for over a week. Hell, if I hadn’t broken into the morgue, we probably still wouldn’t know.”
“I think he was trying to figure out how to do it without alienating the others,” she said, reasonably. “They might see the necessity of it, given time, but I doubt it. They’re already wary of SHIELD as it is. A lie of this magnitude might drive them away entirely.”
“Still doesn’t answer my question. We,” he gestured between the two of them, “are professionals, dammit. We can keep a secret no problem. And Phil is our handler. He’s my partner, boyfriend, whatever,” he made a frustrated gesture. “We, more than anyone, had a right to know.”
Natasha shrugged and finished off her coffee. “I’ll keep digging,” she said. “But we may never find out.”
Clint huffed and drained his cup. “Yeah, need-to-know and all that.” It was twice as annoying because he couldn’t look for himself, not until he was cleared by Internal Affairs and allowed back on base. He sighed and tossed the empty cup into the trash bin on the opposite side of the room.
“Come on,” he jerked his head towards the door. “He’s still unconscious, but he’ll be glad to hear your voice.”
The drive to the hospital was made in companionable silence. Phil was still sleeping soundly. Clint hung back by the door while Natasha moved to Phil’s bedside. She brushed her fingers along the back of his hand before catching his wrist, pressing her fingertips to his pulse. There was no obvious change in her cool demeanor, but Clint knew her well enough to detect the barely noticeable slump to her shoulders as the tension eased out of them. He sidled up beside her, brushing his hand against her arm.
“Hey, Phil,” he said with a smile, brushing a kiss to the sleeping man’s forehead. “Nat’s here. She missed you, too.”
She gave a derisive snort and crossed her arms over her chest. A faint twitch at the corner of her mouth betrayed her amusement. “Please, I’m just glad you didn’t leave me alone with these lunatics,” she said to Phil. “Stark is driving me insane. Come back and reign him in, would you? Fury won’t let me because he’s afraid I’ll kill him by accident.” She made a disgusted face. As if she would ever do any such thing by accident. If Stark died it would be entirely intentional.
“Hey,” Clint admonished, with a light jab to her ribs. “Don’t tell him that! I want him to wake up.”
“Tasering Stark is a perfectly good reason to wake up.”
“There’s more to life than torturing Stark,” he admonished her.
“But he makes it so easy.”
He conceded the point with a dismissive hand and settled himself in the chair next to the bed. Natasha perched at the foot of Phil’s bed with her right leg tucked under her, turned so she could face them both.
“Phil would agree with me,” she said primly.
“Only because you’re his favorite,” Clint retorted.
“I’m everyone’s favorite.”
Natasha returned to the Helicarrier later that evening after forcing Clint to eat a decent meal and ordering him to keep her updated. He agreed easily and gave her a quick hug around the shoulders before she could sneak away. She stiffened under his arm, but when she didn’t immediately jab him in the ribs, he chalked it up to a win and let her go. She gave him a long, unreadable look before brushing a hand over Phil’s shoulder and leaving without another word.
Clint spent the better part of the next week at Phil’s bedside. Sometimes he snagged a book or magazine from the lounge and would read bits and pieces out loud. Sometimes he just let his mouth run, anything to drown out the incessant beeping of the monitors and the ominous hiss of the oxygen tank.
“You’d be proud of us,” he said, rubbing his thumb along the back of Phil’s hand. “We managed to get our shit together and get the job done, and it was kind of awesome. Working with a team, I mean. One that’s not just you, and me, and Natasha, you know? The others are cool. Stark offered everyone their own suite in Stark Tower, once it’s been repaired I mean. Loki kind of demolished the top floors. He’s thinking about calling it the Avengers’ Tower and making it our secret base or something. And Banner’s pretty chill, he’s got a sneaky sense of humor, kind of like you. You’ll like him. Thor’s . . . Thor, I guess. He’s got some awesome stories about Asgard and hey, did you know that story about Loki giving birth to an eight-legged horse? Completely true. Rogers is cooler than I thought he would be. I know you’re a Cap-fanboy to the core, but I always figured you were exaggerating. Guess not. He’s a stubborn bastard when he wants to be, but he’s a good guy. Like, too-good-to-true kind of good. But he’s for real about all of it, which is awesome.
“You said the Avengers Initiative was Fury’s idea, but I know it was yours. I’m on to you, you closet-case optimist. Fury’s not the kind of guy who believes in heroes. He’s too cynical for that.”
Sometimes Clint ran out of words. They would choke up in his throat and refuse to leave, which was probably for the best. There were a lot of things he would have to repeat later, once Phil was awake to hear it. Most of it was stuff he could only say because he knew Phil wouldn’t remember any of it. When the words ran dry, and the beeping got to be too much, he would sing. Mostly Billy Joel, because he was Phil’s second favorite idol (next to Captain America, of course), and whatever other songs Clint could remember the words to. He sang until his voice was hoarse and pretended not to blush when he overheard the nurses gushing about how adorably romantic the whole thing was.
Phil drifts through an empty blackness with no concept of time or place. Sometimes he’s aware of an ache in his chest and back, and it hurts to breath. Sometimes he hears a rhythmic beeping to his left and a sharp sting in the back of his hand. Sometimes there are voices, the words are garbled gibberish that he should know but doesn’t. Often there is one voice, a familiar one, and sometimes the words are sung; the rhythm and flow of them is comforting. He floats in an out of semi-awareness without really thinking about where he is or why. He knows that he is safe.
To his right the familiar voice is singing, a low, soft croon for his ears alone.
“. . . I spoke to you in cautious tones
You answered me with no pretense
And still I feel I said too much
My silence is my self defense . . .”
He tries to reach for the singer, but his limbs are too heavy to move. Clint, he thinks, fighting against the heavy, comforting darkness. Clint was gone and now he’s back and Phil needs to reach him.
Phil had been unconscious for two weeks, three days, and five hours (not that Clint was counting) when the nurses removed the intubation tube and replaced it with a nasal cannula. The doctors told Clint that everything was healing nicely, and barring any kind of infection Phil would make a full recovery. All that was left was for him to wake up.
Clint was in between singing and chatting, holding Phil’s hand in one of his while taking long gulps of water to ease his hoarse throat. Then the fingers in his grip twitched. Clint choked and dropped the bottle. Phil blinked at him through dazed grey-green eyes, his hand tightening around Clint’s.
“Phil! Y-you’re awake!” he stuttered, eyes wide with wonder and disbelief. His hand squeezed reflexively around Phil’s.
Phil’s lips twitched in a smile. It was small and dazed, fuzzy around the edges with painkillers and sleep, but Clint would remember it as one of the most amazing expressions he had ever seen.
“You’re back,” Phil rasped. His voice is barely above a breathless whisper, and filled with so much relief that Clint is taken aback by it.
“Yeah-?” He’d hardly left the room in the last week, and Phil was asleep the whole time, so why . . . and then it hit him like a kick to the chest. The last time Phil saw him, Clint was Loki’s puppet soldier, leading an assault on the Helicarrier. Clint had to choke down the lump in his throat, grasping Phil’s hand like a drowning man with a lifeline.
“Yeah,” he said again, squeezing Phil’s fingers. “Nat knocked some sense back into me.” Clint raised his free hand to his cheek. The older man turned his head into the touch with a relieved sigh. Clint settled himself on the edge of the bed with his hip pressed against Phil’s thigh and their joined hands in his lap.
“Loki?” Phil asked.
“Gone. His little alien army, too.”
“Tesseract?” Phil’s eyes started to flutter as he struggled to keep them open. Clint let out a chuckle and shook his head. Count on Phil to wake up two weeks after getting stabbed by a demigod and be ready to head back to work. The man would work in his sleep if he could only figure out how.
Clint leaned over to press a kiss to his mouth. He tasted like blood and antiseptic, his lips chapped and dry, but the soft pressure in return was enough to send sparks across Clint’s spine. He drew back slowly, a grin on his face. Phil made a small sound of protest.
“Get some rest, Phil,” he said, dropping another kiss on his forehead. “There’ll be plenty of work for you when you wake up.”
“Been resting,” Phil grumbled. “Missed you . . .” His voice drifted off as sleep reclaimed him.
“I missed you, too.”