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In silent moments (imagined you'd be here)

Chapter Text

The Helicarrier morgue was empty when Clint dropped soundlessly from the ducts. He’d been avoiding the corridors as much as humanly possible ever since he and Natasha returned to base, avoiding the hostility and suspicious glares that followed him every time he left his quarters. He didn’t know if anyone knew the whole story outside of Fury, Hill, and the other Avengers, but he didn’t think it would matter even if they did. Mind-raped or not, he’d still stolen the Tesseract, blown up an engine and lead a strike team in storming the Helicarrier. Forty-nine agents and support personnel dead. Millions of dollars in collateral damage. Dozens more injured. All of it on him, and he couldn’t remember a damn bit of it.

The lights of the morgue were low, the coroner and his staff having left for food and sleep after processing the bodies of the dead. There was just enough light for Clint to see by, moving across the room to the wall of refrigerated drawers. His palms were clammy and trembling as he reached for the first one. He locked his knees to keep himself upright and forced himself to breath through the steel vice wrapped around his lungs. He wanted to run. He wanted to curl up in a secluded corner and cry for a week. He wanted to put a bullet in his brain. He wanted to find Loki and put an arrow through his eye before beating him into a bloody pulp with his bare hands.  He wanted Phil to wrap him up in his arms and tell him it would all be OK.

None of that was going to happen. He’d done enough running as a child, he wouldn’t allow himself tears just yet and he wouldn’t force Natasha to bury two friends in one week. The last two choices were impossible.

He opened the door and slid the drawer out. He pulled the white sheet away and stared down at the body of SHIELD engineer Juan Carlos Almonte. What was left of him, anyway. The entire left side of his body had been shredded and scorched by flying shrapnel from the explosion of engine three.

Clint could picture the shot perfectly: compensating for the high winds, the motion of the Helicarrier, and the shift of the quinjet under his feet. Then the twitch of his finger against the trigger on his bow and then the blast. He could imagine it, but he couldn’t remember doing it.

Clint sucked in a breath. “I’m sorry.”

The words felt incredibly weak and inadequate, echoing in the silent room and bouncing back like a mocking chorus.

He slid Almonte back into the refrigerator and moved on to the next one. SHIELD probationary agent Helen Andrews, killed by two gunshot wounds to the chest. It was an small relief to know that he hadn’t directly killed this one, but he’d lead her killers onto the ship and that was just as bad.

“I’m sorry.”

He put her away and moved on to the next. And the next. He memorized their faces, committing their names to the long list of people he would never be able to save. His ledger, as red as Natasha’s.

Every time he slid open a drawer, he felt anticipation weighing like lead in his stomach. Like he was balancing on the edge of a precipice waiting for a hand to shove him over.

And then it did. SHIELD specialist Kyle Chilton was killed by a single arrow to the throat.

Clint’s stomach heaved and he raced for the sink to throw up the meager contents of his stomach. When there was nothing left to come up, he washed the bile away and splashed his face. With water dripping down his cheeks, he forced himself to walk back to the drawer on legs that barely supported his weight.

“I’m...fuck.”

He couldn’t say it. The words choked him and he could only stare in wordless horror at the dead man with a neat little hole in the center of his Adam’ s apple. Finally, after a small eternity measured in pained gasps, he slid Harris back into the cubicle and moved on.

There were two others. Engineer Francis Lowell died with an arrow in his chest, and Agent Julia Meyers. Meyers was the worst, with an arrow to the back. Clint stared at her the longest. He couldn’t remember anything he’d done while under Loki’s control, just the sensation of horror and rage as the worst of his memories replayed over and over in his head. It wasn’t right; that he had shot an ally in the back, while she’d been retreating, and he couldn’t remember doing it. She deserved better than that. They all did.

He shut the last drawer (medical officer Christopher Zimmerman, three gunshot wounds to the stomach) and slumped to the floor. He pulled his knees up to his chest and buried his hands in his hair, gripping hard enough to sting. His eyes were blank and unseeing, his mind whirling with faces and names and causes of death.

There was someone missing.

Five rows of ten, fifty drawers in all. Forty nine dead. But two drawers were empty. Forty-nine dead, but only forty-eight bodies. He’d been so deep in his guilt after Chilton that he hadn’t realized it right away.

He looked around the morgue, eyes landing on Dr. Hudson’s desk in the far corner. The medical examiner was stringent about keeping his files in order, and copies of the official autopsy reports were kept in the locked file cabinet next to the doctor’s desk.

Clint shoved himself up and over to the cabinet. His hands were slick with sweat and shaking hard enough that it took him four tries to pick the lock. He finally got the drawer open and started flipping through the tabs.

Chilton, Kyle was followed by Davis, Miranda. Clint flipped through each tab, and then opened the other drawers, just to be certain.

Slowly, with a chilled sort of calm settling over him, he shut the drawers and locked them. He dropped into Dr. Hudson’s chair and stared at the dull grey surface of the desk without seeing it.

There was no file for Coulson, Philip. There was no body.

Thor saw it happen. Thor watched his brother stab Phil through the back and drop him like so much trash.

But there was no body.

Clint couldn’t think. Didn’t dare let himself think. It was too much, too painful, too easy to let himself hope. He couldn’t stand it if he let himself think like that only to find out he was wrong.

“You don’t have the security clearance required to be in this area, Agent Barton.”

He was on his feet with knife in hand before his brain could catch up to his body. Director Fury raised an eyebrow, crossed his arms over his chest and looked distinctly unimpressed as the door hissed shut behind him.

Clint let out a sharp breath, sliding the knife back into the sheath at his back. “I don’t think I have the clearance to be out of my bunk, sir.” He was surprised that his voice sounded so level when his entire world seemed to be imploding. His security clearance had been bumped back to Level 1 pending an investigation into his actions under Loki’s control. Simply being on the Helicarrier required Level 3 clearance just for the common areas.

“Find anything interesting?” Fury leaned back against the wall, casual and calm as though discussing requisition forms. His one good eye stabbed through Clint like a well-honed stiletto.

“It’s more about what I didn’t find,” Clint said. He forced himself to stand at attention and met the director’s eye squarely.

“Agent Coulson’s body was cremated shortly after Loki’s escape to prevent the dispersal of magical contaminants.”

Clint felt the floor shift under him and for a panicked moment he thought one of the engines had given out again. He grasped the edge of the desk to keep himself upright and hoped none of the crushing anguish showed on his face. He’d thought he’d kept the hope at bay, but apparently it had taken root despite his best efforts.

“That’s the official story, anyway,” Fury continued with a shrug, voice steady and impassive.

Clint couldn’t breath. Didn’t dare breath. “And the unofficial one?” his voice came out low and harsh. There was desperation in it and he couldn’t bring himself to care.

“Four days ago, Bay State Medical Center’s intensive care unit admitted a John Doe with a single stab wound to the back. The blade fractured his scapula and two ribs, punctured his lung, and nicked his heart. He’s still in critical condition, but the doctors are optimistic.”

Clint’s hands tightened on the desk, hard enough for his bones to creak in protest. He wasn’t sure if he was going to burst into hysterical tears, hysterical laughter, or just punch the director in the face. He didn’t think his legs would hold him long enough to cross the room, so he slumped back into Hudson’s chair. He let out a choked sob before burying his face in his hands, tears leaked out of the corners of his eyes.

He’s alive, he’s alive, he’s alive, oh my god, he’s alive. The mantra echoed in his head like a prayer and he thought the relief, the elation and heartrending need to see Phil right the fuck now would shake him to pieces. Everything else; the anger, the betrayal, the hows and whys and all of the rest of it could wait. Phil was alive and that was the only thing he really cared about.

Chapter Text

The drive to Springfield, MA from the SHIELD base in NYC was approximately three hours, but it felt closer to twelve. He wanted to be annoyed, because a chopper would’ve gotten him there in less time, but it’s not like SHIELD had the resources to spare in letting him hitch a ride just to see his . . . lover? Boyfriend? Partner? Handler with benefits?

Yeah. The thing between them . . . hadn’t been new, exactly. They’d known each other for thirteen years, and had been . . . whatever they were for the last two, but they never really talked about it. Clint had been fighting every instinct that told him to get the hell out before everything blew up in his face (as it inevitably did when he started trusting people). Talking about things felt like he was tempting fate. Phil never forced the issue and so it never came up.

Before Clint had been assigned to Selvig’s security detail (before everything went to hell) Phil had asked what he thought about looking for an apartment together. Clint had hesitated. It didn’t matter that he spent more time in Phil’s apartment than his SHIELD bunk, or that most of his clothing had migrated there in the interim. After thirteen years he was still waiting for something to go wrong.

So he brushed Phil off with a careless shrug and asked if he’d swooned when they started defrosting Captain America. The older agent had given him his narrow-eyed ‘I know you’re trying to distract me and the only reason I’m letting you is because I’m going to wring it out of you later’ look and let it slide. (And for the record: No, Phil hadn’t swooned, dammit. He was a highly trained federal agent who faced down giant, flame-throwing robots from outer space without blinking. Of course he didn’t swoon. He may have squeed. Just a little.)

Clint’s hands tightened on the wheel. When Phil got out of the hospital, they were moving in together. To hell with Clint’s trust issues, there was no way he was letting Phil get away now, not when he’d almost been snatched away permanently.

Unless . . . oh shit, what if Phil didn’t want him now? After Loki, after all the damage Clint did, what if Phil blamed him? What if he thought he was too weak, too unbalanced? What if he looked at Clint and saw a monster?

Clint’s stomach rolled at the prospect. ‘Shit. No. Don’t think about that yet. One problem at a time. Get Phil healthy and out of the hospital first, then worry about the rest of it,’ he thought.

He could barely sit still he was so nervous. His fingers tapped a constant beat against the steering wheel and his left leg kept shifting positions. The classic rock blaring from the speakers and singing until his voice cracked wasn’t doing much to alleviate the tension. His thoughts kept drifting away from the road and circling back around to what ifs and oh my god he’s alive.

The radio switched from Led Zeppelin to Billy Joel’s Piano Man and Clint smiled. Here was something pleasant to consider. They would need a decent sized place to fit the baby grand piano Phil had inherited from his mother. Phil adored that piano. He played it as often as his schedule allowed, kept it meticulously polished, and the wires carefully tuned. Clint used to joke that Phil was cheating on him with the instrument. Then Phil pointed out that the piano had come first, so wasn’t he cheating on the piano with Clint?

***

When Clint got to the reception desk of Baystate Medical Center*, all he wanted to do was scour the halls until he found Phil, but he didn’t. He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth while the woman at the front desk checked the packet of papers Fury had given him earlier that morning. (Phil was still listed as a John Doe, because agents of secret, government-funded, para-military operations didn’t leave records of fingerprints or dental x-rays where just anyone could find them.)

The packet contained a Massachusetts driver’s license with Phil’s picture and the name Peter Camden-Bailey, claiming him as a resident of Hadley, MA. There was also a set of documents declaring Clint, under the alias Christopher Bailey-Camden, as his partner. Clint had to fight to keep a straight face when he saw it, unsure if he should be amused or offended. Christopher and Peter sounded like a lovely, boring, middle-class couple with a house in suburbia and three corgis, not an emotionally stunted sniper and his unflappable handler.

The secretary gave him a narrow-eyed look as she processed the insurance forms. “He’s been in critical condition for five days with no identification,” she said. The ‘where the hell were you?’ is implied.

Clint didn’t have to fake the guilt on his face, or the concern as he spun a quick story about both of them going away for work, and coming home to find his husband missing. It was all very tragic and distressing and she looked properly mollified as she directed him to the ICU.

Clint rushed through the halls, easily dodging nurses, doctors, patients, and other visitors without once slowing his steps. His heart was slamming against his ribs and adrenaline was sending fire through his veins as though he were in the middle of a firefight. Once he reached room 207, he froze, sucking in a calming breath to try and reorient himself.

Once he regained some semblance of control over his limbs, he opened the door and went in.

It was the most beautiful, and the most terrifying, sight he had ever seen. Phil was almost as pale as the sheets that covered him, with dark circles under his sunken eyes, and a day’s worth of stubble on his face. There was a breathing tube down his throat and enough machinery around his bed to rival Tony’s workshop. The steady beep of the heart monitor was almost deafening in the oppressive quiet.

Clint couldn’t breath. He braced his hands on the doorframe and memorized the scene. It was real. Phil was real. This wasn’t Loki messing around in his head or Clint’s own cracked psyche conjuring delusions. Phil was right there.

He approached the bed, heavy boots ghosting silently over the linoleum floor. The hospital gown hung low enough on Phil’s chest to show the edges of the white bandages that circled his torso. This close Clint could see the flecks of dried blood that still lingered at the corner of his mouth.

He sunk down into the chair next to the bed, his knees suddenly too shaky to hold him. He reached out and clasped Phil’s hand as tightly as he dared. The pale skin was cool to the touch and the fingers limp in his grasp, but unmistakably Phil’s hand. The gun callouses on his palm, scarred knuckles, strong fingers with meticulously trimmed nails, calloused fingertips from the piano keys, and a raised callous on the last knuckle of his middle finger from gripping his pen were all as familiar to Clint as the marks on his own hands.

He reached up to brush his fingers through Phil’s bed-mussed hair, smoothing it into some semblance of its usual order. He caressed Phil's face, tracing his fingers over the familiar contours of his brow, his cheeks, his nose, and his lips before sliding down to his throat. Just under the curve of his stubble-covered jaw, Clint found the steady beat of a pulse. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the sensation of warm skin over the soft, even flutter against his fingertips.

God, Phil,” Clint breathed, opening his eyes raising their joined hands to his lips. “You crazy son of a bitch. Next time you decide to face off with a demigod bring some fucking back-up, would you? Because if this happens again I’m going to . . . I don’t even know what. Kick your ass, for sure. And then I’ll let Natasha have a go, too. Just . . . fuck.” He laughed and rubbed his eyes with his sleeve.

He was grinning wide enough that his cheeks ached and tears leaked down his face. “You bastard,” he said fondly. “I’ll make a deal with you, OK? If you wake up, I promise to never get brainwashed by crazy aliens with pointy glow sticks ever again. Just . . . wake up. That’s all you gotta do, Phil. Easiest assignment of your life, I bet.”

He leaned up and pressed a hard kiss to Phil’s temple. “I’ll be here when you do.”

Chapter Text

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 . . .

“Phil’s alive.”

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.”