Clint’s going mad. Or he’s hallucinating. Something, anyway. There’s something not-right about his brain because his brain is telling him that Phil is tucked into the corner of the room, a pistol in his hands and blood on his hands, his face, all down his shirt.
Clint’s hallucination is apparently bizarrely specific and bloody.
Before anyone can say anything, Steve and Natasha come running through the doorway from downstairs.
Natasha’s first. She freezes, staring at Phil, and then at the crumpled, unconscious dude tucked into the corner behind him. She goes very, very white and takes a step back. Clint’s never seen her react like that.
“Natasha?” Steve asks, putting a hand on her back, but she shrugs him off.
Steve looks past her, obviously looking for the source of whatever’s shaken her up. His eyes go very wide when he sees Phil - everyone can see Phil; what kind of a hallucination is this? - and then they focus on the bleeding guy.
His mouth opens and no sound comes out.
“Captain,” Phil says, standing up. He’s moving and walking and talking and other people can see him. Clint’s higher brain functions shut down. “We need a medevac right now. Sergeant Barnes is in a bad way.”
Steve still isn’t moving. “Bucky?” he finally manages - at least that’s what Clint thinks he says, except that can’t be what he’s saying; maybe they’ve both flipped out - and then finally, he’s stumbling forward, falling to his knees. “Bucky,” he says again, reaching around Phil to put his hands on the other guy.
Phil squeezes Steve’s shoulder. The fabric of Steve’s uniform crinkles under the pressure. This is a really detailed hallucination. Clint has been locked up and drugged by supervillains and not even then did he have hallucinations that were this detailed.
“Steve,” Phil says firmly. “We need to get him out of here.”
“Okay,” Tony says slowly, retracting his helmet so Clint can see he looks as baffled as Clint feels. “I have no idea what’s going on. Are we in heaven? I would have thought there’d be more dancing girls and less explosions in heaven, but whatever, I can roll with this. Ghost Coulson says we need a medevac, I will get us a medevac.”
“Thanks, Stark,” Phil says, looking up at him. He glances around the rest of the room, frowning at Natasha and nodding at Hulk, who just looks confused, before his eyes stop on Clint.
There are a lot of things that Clint wants to say but they all get stuck in his throat.
Clint doesn’t want to look at Phil, but he can’t bring himself to look away. His brain feels like it’s about to split in two.
He takes two steps backwards, away from all this shit he doesn’t understand, and puts himself between Natasha and the rest of the room.
There’s only room for one extra passenger in the medical chopper SHIELD sends. The doctor in charge is one Phil doesn’t recognise, which is good. It makes her the only person around not staring at Phil as though he’s a ghost come back to taunt them.
“Agent, you need to get on board,” she tells him firmly. “Unless you have a superpower you haven’t mentioned, you were in that car crash too.”
“I’m fine.” Phil takes another step away from the helicopter. He’d align himself with the Avengers, but he’s not sure he’s welcome right now. “Captain Rogers can take my place.”
Rogers is shaking, staring at Barnes as though he can’t quite see him. He hasn’t moved more than two feet away but he’s currently outside the chopper, looking like it’s killing him not to get in.
The doctor huffs, dark hair whipping out when the rotor blades start up. “Fine then, get him on board, I don’t have time to waste.”
“Captain,” Phil says, folding his arms. “They need to leave; you’re holding them up.”
Still looking like a stun grenade blew up in his face, Steve climbs aboard without saying anything, not even a token protest that he can’t take Phil’s place.
Phil can’t imagine how this feels for him. He spends some time contemplating that so he won’t have to think about the empty, unblinking way Clint’s still staring at him.
They watch in silence as the helicopter takes off, then Phil turns on his heel and orders everyone into the waiting Quinjet. He hopes that if he acts as though he’s just been away and as though he isn’t covered in blood and dirt and day-old sweat, no one else will comment on it either.
It’s quiet and awkward on the Quinjet. Natasha is silent, and that’s something Phil is going to have to worry about very soon. He’s distracted by Clint, though, by Clint’s complete lack of reaction other than to flinch every time he looks Phil’s way.
“So.” It’s Banner who breaks the silence. Of all of them, he’s the one Phil knows the least well, so presumably Phil’s miraculous return is less of a shock to him. “You’re less dead than reported?”
Phil offers him a smile. “Quite a lot so, yes.”
Stark stands up suddenly. “That was shitty,” he says, “just so you know.” He stands over Phil and waves a hand. “Stand up.”
“Are you going to punch me, Mr Stark?” Phil asks, standing up.
Stark snorts. “I should,” he says and then Phil is being hugged. It only lasts a two-count but it’s incredibly disturbing. It’s also the most physical contact Phil has had in weeks from someone who wasn’t dying or trying to kill him.
Stark slaps him on the shoulder once he’s stepped back. “Life-Model Decoy?” he asks.
“Something like that,” Phil agrees; then, when Stark keeps looking at him, he sighs. “Or exactly that, yes.”
There’s a sound from the bulkhead and all of a sudden Clint’s slammed out, into the cockpit.
Phil doesn’t bother to hide his wince or the fact that he’s watching him go.
“Hm,” Stark says, tipping his head thoughtfully. “Temper.”
Clint’s the last off the plane when they land on the Helicarrier. The pilots are giving him the side-eye but ask him if he cares (he really doesn’t care.)
He walks with Natasha across the landing strip; she still isn’t saying a word.
“Medical wing?” he asks her, because he doesn’t know what’s going on with her but he knows it has to do with Phil’s new buddy, and dealing with her issues sounds way more fun that thinking about his own.
She nods shortly and turns that way, striding ahead so he has to actually stretch his legs to keep up. He doesn’t ask her if she’s okay; if he does, she might ask him the same. The difference, though, is that she knows what’s wrong with him; he has no idea why she spooked like this.
The first person Clint sees when they reach the medical wing is Fury. He’s filling the doorway of one curtained-off room, pissed-off growl sending doctors and nurses scurrying.
Clint guesses that’s where they’re seeing to Phil. Phil who isn’t dead. Phil pretended to be dead so he could fuck off to Russia and do god knows what.
Clint can’t deal.
So he doesn’t.
He follows Natasha toward the surgery wing and doesn’t think about anything other than the set, slightly uneven line of her shoulders.
They find Steve in the corridor, pressed against the glass display window that looks down into one of the operating rooms. Steve looks like Clint feels: like he’s been hit by a truck and has no idea if he likes it.
“Hey?” Clint says, walking up to him and watching Natasha try to decide if she wants to stand with them or pace. “I have no idea what’s going on.”
One of Steve’s hands is flat against the window. Clint glances down and wishes he hadn’t; there’s a lot of blood and something that looks a lot like a handheld saw is coming into play.
“You called him Bucky,” Clint presses.
“But he’s not... really Bucky?”
Steve nods again.
Holy shit. “Holy shit,” Clint breathes. “So today’s the day for ghosts, huh?”
For the first time, Steve manages to look more aware of his surroundings. He doesn’t take his eyes off Bucky fucking Barnes, but he’s definitely talking to Clint when he asks, “Are you okay?”
Clint laughs shakily. “Am I? Dude, I’m not the one who just had my boyfriend brought back from the dead.” Not technically, anyway.
Natasha makes a harsh sound, which is when Clint realises that he probably shouldn’t have said that. He doesn’t have secrets from Natasha, though, except possibly he should sometimes.
“James,” she says, stepping up next to Steve. “When I knew him his name was James.”
That gets Steve’s attention. “When you knew him?” he repeats.
She nods. “In Russia. I was... I was very young. He tried to help me.”
Clint feels his eyes go wide. He knows about Natasha’s James, the first man she ever loved; he never in a million years would have put that together with Steve’s Bucky Barnes.
“Do you love him?” Natasha asks softly.
Steve doesn’t twitch. “Yes.”
She looks as though she already knew that. “And he loves you?”
Steve’s fingers bend backwards from how hard he’s holding onto the windowsill. “He used to. A lifetime ago.”
Natasha nods slowly, to herself Clint thinks. “SHIELD has the best doctors money can’t buy. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
Then she turns around and leaves.
“Is she okay?” Steve asks Clint, attention drifting back to Bucky. Clint can hear the faint vibration of the saw getting to work. He hopes Steve can’t.
“I have no idea about anything right now,” Clint tells him honestly.
He turns to go, whether to give Steve space or track down Natasha or go sit in a dark room by himself for a while, he isn’t sure.
The door opens before he can get there, and then there’s Phil. Right in front of Clint. Being alive and relatively whole and Clint... can’t. He just can’t. He needs Phil’s face to not be there right now.
Clint draws his fist back and punches, not quite as hard as he can but nearly.
He stays long enough to see Phil rock back on his heels, to make sure he stays on his feet, and then he shoves his way past Steve, who reaches out for him, and past Phil, who doesn’t.
Phil’s cheekbone aches and his eye socket feels like it’s going to swell shut.
In the grand scheme of things, Phil doesn’t mind that too much. He aches everywhere; what’s one more.
“Well, I’ve had better welcomes,” Phil tells Rogers, since he has no idea where to start with him either.
“Coulson.” Rogers clears his throat. He looks shattered; Phil suspects that that’s not because of Phil’s apparent return from the grave. “Phil. You found him.”
Phil puts his hand on Rogers’ arm. He feels a hundred years older than the last time he saw Rogers; he’ll probably get back to babbling at him soon, but right now, he feels the overwhelming urge to mother him.
“I couldn’t save his arm,” Phil says. “I’m sorry.” They’ve let him wash his hands, but he knows he’s still wearing Barnes’s blood everywhere.
Rogers makes a strangled, startled laugh that sounds shockingly close to a sob from someone who’s normally so composed.
“You found him,” he repeats. “I didn’t even know he was - ” He shakes his head and turns away.
Phil glances down at the operating table. It looks as though Barnes is losing the rest of his bicep; Phil isn’t surprised, it was already crushed and that tourniquet was tight.
“What happened to him?” Rogers asks.
Phil hesitates. “He should tell you the details,” he hedges. “But he was found by the Russians and trained to work for them. They somehow put him in stasis between missions; that’s why he still looks the way he used to.”
“Does he remember me?” Rogers asks. “Does he remember him?”
“He remembers you,” Phil promises. “He told me that if he died, I wasn’t allowed to mention I’d ever seen him.”
Steve’s laugh is definitely a sob this time.
Phil pats him once on the back and steps away. “I’ll leave you alone,” he says and feels awkward when he adds, “I hope he’ll be fine. He’s a good man.”
He walks away before he can say anything else.
Natasha is waiting just outside the door. She grabs his arm, hand painfully tight around Phil’s wrist, and drags him into an empty examination room.
“You’re not dead,” she says, hands on hips, expression blindingly angry. “You went to Russia, you found the Winter Soldier, and you’re not dead.”
“Yes,” Phil agrees. He licks his lips. “I’m sorry?”
Natasha clenches her hands into fists. “I was going to punch you, but it looks like someone already did that.” She peers at his cheek. “Clint?”
“Who else?” It’s a solid punch, designed to bruise but not break; of course it was Clint.
“In that case,” Natasha says, and shocks the hell out of him by wrapping her arms around his neck and pressing her face into his chest.
She’s shaking. Phil can’t fault her for that; he’s exhausted and he never expected to be back here. He’s shaking too.
“You went to take down Department X?” she asks. “By yourself.”
“No, just to fact-find for the World Security Council. It wasn’t supposed to get that dramatic.” He laughs shakily and her fingernails bite into his back.
“But you went to Department X.”
Phil nods into her hair. “You were Fury’s first choice for the mission. The Council made the call not to put you back in that situation.” Honesty forces him to add, “I wouldn’t have let him send you, anyway.”
She tips her head back, looking up at him for a second before disengaging herself and stepping back. “You don’t trust me, Phil? Still?”
He shakes his head, then catches the edge of something which he thinks is meant to be a smile. “You know that’s not it.”
She straightens and tucks her hair back behind her ears. “Thank you,” she says. “I could have handled it, but thank you.”
He shrugs. “I’d say it was no big deal, but – ”
“Yes,” Natasha agrees. She folds her arms. “I’ll forgive you for lying to me eventually, but I’m not sure Clint will. You broke his heart.”
Phil doesn’t think that can be true. Or, he wants to believe that it can’t be. He isn’t stupid, though, and he isn’t blind; he’s never doubted that Clint felt the same way about him that he feels about Clint. And he knows what it would do to him if Clint were to be killed.
“I’ll work something out,” he promises her. He pauses, then has to ask, “Barnes remembers parts of his time with Department X. Do you plan to fill in the gaps for him?”
Slowly, Natasha shakes her head. “No,” she says, “that’s in the past, another lifetime ago.”
“I understand,” he says. Then he hesitates. It feels strange for him to feel protective of someone other than Natasha in this situation, but he can’t resist adding, “Although I think it would help him to know. You remember how tough it is to come back from something like that. If you can stand to talk to him, I think it might help you both.”
She looks at him for a second then nods very slightly. When she turns away, he figures that’s his cue to leave.
Clint leaves SHIELD by the front door for once. He doesn’t know what his face looks like, but no one tries to stop him.
He hotwires the first car he finds and peels out of the parking lot already doing sixty.
Phil’s face had felt solid and real under Clint’s fist. Phil’s real. He’s real and alive and Clint is so angry he can’t breathe.
It’s late afternoon and New York City isn’t a good place to try to drive off his rage, but Clint genuinely does not give a shit. Traffic had better fucking part for him; he’s got no plans to slow down for anyone.
Phil drops down in the visitor’s chair in Nick’s office. It feels the same; the room smells and looks the same. He can’t believe how little time has passed since he was last here.
“Welcome back,” Nick says dryly. “Have fun?”
Phil is too tired to banter. “No,” he says honestly. “I can honestly say that I didn’t.”
“You did your best, Coulson,” Nick tells him. Which is crap, Phil wants to say, he’s fucked up everything with Clint and he got compromised. That isn’t even close to his best.
“Permission to sleep for a week?” he asks.
Nick looks thoughtful. “Forty-eight hours,” he bargains. His hand shoots out before Phil can slump over right there. “Not here. Go home.”
Phil hesitates. “I still have a home?”
“Huh,” Nick says, like he’d forgotten that little wrinkle. “Stark has a lot of rooms. Ask nicely.”
Phil groans but stands up. “Sir, I’ve changed my mind. Permission to work myself into an early grave instead.”
Nick’s lip twitches. “Denied.” He looks up. “And Phil, put some ice on that eye. You can’t get out of Russia without a scratch and get a black eye on home turf, that’s just embarrassing.”
“Sir,” Phil agrees tiredly. He tosses Nick a tired salute that neither of them are properly dressed to give or receive and lets himself out of Nick’s office.
And walks straight into Maria Hill. Has SHIELD always been this crowded?
Maria freezes. She looks at him, then over his shoulder at Nick’s closing door, and back to him before breathing out very slightly, gaze turning warm.
“Hi.” Maria raises her eyebrows. “I’m pleased you aren’t dead.”
Phil smiles thinly. “That puts you in a category of two.” He thinks of Nick’s almost-smile. “Maybe two and a half. But thank you.”
She shrugs. “Want to get a drink sometime? You can tell me nothing about your mission and I can complain about your damn Initiative.”
“Sounds great,” Phil tells her, meaning it. “I’ll hold you to that.”
Clint’s cell phone rings.
He stays where he is, sun warm on his back and hood hard under his ass.
His cell stops ringing, starts again.
He ignores it.
Stark is delighted to offer Phil a bedroom. Creepily delighted. Phil really needs to get Pepper alone to find out if she’s been dropping something in his coffee.
“Room 10.2, tenth floor,” Stark tells him, throwing it casually over his shoulder. “JARVIS’ll show you where it is.”
Still suspicious, but deciding that Stark probably isn’t trying to kill him right now, Phil steps into the elevator and tells JARVIS where he’d like to go.
“Very good, sir,” JARVIS says and deposits him on the tenth floor in the blink of an eye. Or maybe Phil fell asleep in the elevator; he’s so tired that that is definitely possible.
Phil walks down the corridor and privately curses Stark for putting his bedrooms so far from his elevators. Every ache he’s picked up over the last few days is waking up and making itself known.
No one’s watching him now, but it’s hard to remember that he can let himself limp. It’s always hard to shake off an undercover assignment, even one where he wasn’t playing any specific role, and it’s harder than normal this time because there was no satisfying conclusion.
He’s ten feet away from where JARVIS has promised him there’s a bed waiting when something flings itself at the inside of the door he’s passing and lets out a loud – and very familiar – cry.
Half expecting a robot or a sabre-toothed tiger to jump out, Phil reaches out and turns the door handle.
A cat – his cat – comes racing out and leaps up at him, meowing at the top of her lungs and dancing around him like he’s the world’s tallest catnip tree.
“Indy?” Phil says, and kneels down next to her, letting her jump all over him. She’s definitely his cat, but what she’s doing here is another matter. “JARVIS? How did Stark steal my cat?”
“I believe Agent Barton asked Mr Stark and Miss Potts to look after her, since you were… indisposed.”
Indy’s mouth is wet as she rubs her jaw back and forward over Phil’s hands. It should be disgusting, but it’s so nice to be welcomed by someone that he doesn’t care. Besides, he spent an hour showering blood and shit and gristle off his body at SHIELD, so a bit of cat drool is nothing.
“You can say I was dead, JARVIS,” Phil says, smiling despite everything.
“I could,” JARVIS agrees, “but it would appear that that would be inaccurate.”
Is Phil getting sniped at by a computer? Phil honestly hopes he is. It makes him feel like he’s never been away.
Indy squeaks suddenly, a different pitch from before, and runs once around Phil before loping off down the corridor.
“Hey,” Phil calls after her, and then stops, eyes falling on a pair of sneakers, two very familiar legs. He stands up slowly, swiping cat fur off his pants compulsively. “Clint.”
Clint is staring at him, ignoring Indy even when she puts her paws on his thighs and noses at his hand. It’s bizarre to see them together. Phil always wanted to take Clint home, but he never got to do it.
“You gave Stark my cat?” Phil asks when Clint still doesn’t say anything.
Clint nods. Then shakes his head. “I told your neighbour you were dead.”
“That’s okay,” Phil tells him. “Probably for the best.”
“You were dead,” Clint repeats. “Fuck you. Fuck you, you were dead. Fuck.” His hands start shaking, and Phil watches him tuck them away behind his back.
Phil closes the gap between them, reaching out to put a hand on Clint’s shoulder. He can’t watch Clint stare at him, pale and lost, without trying to help.
Clint shudders and knocks his hand away. Then he steps up to Phil and grabs the collar of his shirt. “I’m so mad at you,” he says hoarsely.
“I’m sorry,” Phil tells him, trying to show how very much he means that. “Fury needed me and I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Clint’s hand slides from Phil’s collar to the back of his neck, squeezing too hard. The shock of his skin against Phil’s makes Phil shake too.
“I hate you. I thought we were going to... I thought we were on the same page and then you were gone and I couldn’t, I can’t – ”
“I’m sorry,” Phil says again, bringing his hands up and curling them in the front of Clint’s sweatshirt. He’s seen Clint upset before, but never at him; Phil’s always tried to be something Clint can rely on.
“Hate you,” Clint repeats and kisses him.
Phil stops thinking. Clint shoves him back into the nearest wall and every bruise on Phil’s back explodes into pain, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is Clint’s mouth on his, the way Clint’s biting his lips and his tongue and his jaw.
“Clint,” Phil groans, digging his hands hard into Clint’s back and dragging him in closer, tighter, furiously angry with every inch of space between them.
“No, shut up,” Clint tells him and pushes Phil back into the wall again.
“I have a room,” Phil says, sliding his hands up into Clint’s hair, tugging because he can.
Clint pulls back, glaring at him, and Phil knows this is serious, he does, but Clint’s here and Phil can’t help laughing, walking backwards and dragging Clint along until they reach what’s hopefully the right door.
Clint trips him as soon as they’re inside and Phil lets himself fall, pulling Clint down on top of him. He kicks the door shut, ignoring Indy’s mew of protest from outside, and gets both hands under Clint’s shirt, shoving it up under his armpits.
There’s a couple of frantic moments while Clint shrugs out of his t-shirt and then he’s back on Phil, sucking on his tongue, hands between them getting both their flies open.
Phil hasn’t had sex in a long – long – time but he won’t pretend that’s the only reason he moans when Clint rubs their erections together.
“Shut up,” Clint says again, dropping his head to Phil’s neck, biting the fleshy part of Phil’s shoulder, teeth nipping Phil’s skin in time with the uneven jerks of his hips against Phil’s.
“I’m not saying anything, Barton,” Phil reminds him and rolls them over. He meant to let Clint run this show but it’s too much, Phil’s been away for so long and wanted this even longer.
Clint’s back hits the floor with a louder smack than Phil intended, but Clint doesn’t look as though he cares, dragging his legs apart and Phil down between them, hands finding Phil’s ass and rocking up into him until they’re both making noises they can’t hide.
This was never going to last long; these last few weeks have been draining and Phil’s running on empty. He starts to feel the hot rush of his orgasm racing up from his toes; he just has time to thrust his dick up against Clint’s belly, the head dragging through Clint’s rough treasure trail, before he’s shaking through spasms that knock him off his knees, dropping his full weight down onto Clint.
Clint swears, and his arms come up, holding Phil tight and kissing Phil’s mouth, murmuring, “Shh, shut up, shut up,” like it’s all he can remember how to say.
Phil drops his head onto Clint’s neck and shifts just far enough to get his hand on Clint’s cock. It’s wet with some combination of Phil’s come and Clint’s pre-come; hot and solid in Phil’s hand.
“I can’t believe this is finally happening,” Phil says into Clint’s skin, drunk on orgasm and exhaustion and Clint. Most of all Clint.
Clint goes still, breath catching in his throat, and then he grabs Phil’s hand and jerks himself off with it, squeezing Phil’s fingers into a tighter and tighter fist until it has to hurt, but he doesn’t stop.
“Clint.” Phil kisses Clint’s throat, which doesn’t get any reaction, and bites it, which does.
“Fuck,” Clint chokes, sounding broken open, and turns his head away, gasping as he comes.
His hand falls away from Phil’s and Phil gives him one more squeeze before shifting, trying to catch Clint’s mouth in a kiss.
Clint shoves him away, hard enough that Phil loses his balance and falls back onto the carpet.
“I’m,” Clint starts, then shakes his head before he scrambles up and runs for the bathroom.
Phil flops over onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. At least he didn’t punch me again, he thinks wryly, and closes his eyes.
Clint’s wearing Phil’s come on his skin.
You’d think that would be enough to finally make Clint’s brain believe that Phil’s real and here and alive but it’s not.
Clint just stands in the middle of the bathroom, the room filling up with steam from a shower he doesn’t want to get into, and watches his reflection disappear as the wall mirror steams up.
He definitely just had sex. He definitely just had sex with Phil.
He wishes he could make himself believe this is really happening.
Phil feels like he’s been sleeping for a year and no time at all when a crash wakes him from his doze on the floor.
Groaning, he drags himself up onto his knees and tucks his cock away. The shower’s still running in the bathroom, and he’s ninety percent sure that’s where the crash came from.
“Clint?” he calls, knocking softly. He should just back up and leave Clint alone, but the crash worried him and he’ll never stop being Clint’s handler just because Clint hates him right now.
He tries the door handle, surprised when it opens easily. Clint must have been really desperate to get away from Phil, if he forgot to lock the door.
“Clint,” Phil calls again, then pushes the door open. A wall of steam hits him, but he squints through it to see Clint sitting on the bathroom floor, barefoot and shirtless but still in his jeans, staring at nothing.
“Clint.” Phil crouches down in front of him. “What happened?”
Clint tips his head back, staring up at Phil. “You died,” he says. He doesn’t sound all there, but that’s okay, this isn’t the first time Clint has disappeared inside his own head. It’s the first time Phil’s been directly responsible though.
“I’m fine now,” Phil reminds him slowly, patiently. He shuffles closer and picks up Clint’s hands, puts them on Phil’s thighs. “See?”
Clint rolls up onto his knees and Phil rocks back in case he wants to escape. The noises Clint makes when Phil puts space between them has Phil crowding back close before he’s even thought about it.
Clint’s hands grip Phil’s thighs, fingers digging hard enough to leave bruises. Phil stays still.
“You died,” Clint says again. Phil’s horrified to hear his voice break.
“I’m sorry,” Phil says, honest, automatic, meaning it just as much as he did the other times he’s said it tonight. He reaches out cautiously, seeing if Clint will let himself be pulled into Phil’s arms.
Clint folds against him, face pressing into Phil’s chest, hands still holding on desperately tight. The angle is awkward but Phil works with it, holding Clint back just as hard, cheek against the top of Clint’s head, murmuring “Sorry, god, I’m sorry,” and other useless, helpless things.
Phil makes Clint take a shower eventually. Clint is torn between wishing he had the guts to ask Phil if he wanted to join him and contemplating drowning himself in the spray because – fuck – he hasn’t had a fucking breakdown in front of someone else since he was eight and Barney told him that Clint crying made Barney embarrassed to know him. Right now, Clint’s embarrassed to know himself.
When he gets out, clean t-shirt and boxers on, towel around his shoulders, Phil’s sitting on his bed, reading the same supernatural crime paperback that Clint remembers him reading during downtime at PEGASUS. He has no idea how or why Stark managed to find it and bring it here, and he isn’t asking.
“I’m pretty sure the boyfriend did it,” Phil tells him, putting the book back where it was, making sure the spine lines up straight with the edge of the nightstand.
“Yeah, sure,” Clint agrees. He’s not sure where to put himself. He might be hovering. There’s a bruise on Phil’s cheek that he only half remembers causing, and he can’t stop looking at it. “You want some ice for that?”
“What? Oh.” Phil touches the edge of the bruise then drops his hand. “No, it’s fine.”
Thwarted, Clint can’t think of anything else to do. He’s spent weeks beating himself up about letting Phil die without ever having told him how he feels about him, but now Phil’s here again and Clint fucked him while half out of his mind with shock, but Clint still hasn’t told him anything.
“Come here?” Phil asks, and then he catches Clint by the wrist, pulling him to stand between Phil’s legs. Clint’s not a big fan of being pulled around, but this is kind of where he’d like to be anyway.
Phil’s wearing pyjama pants, which is weird, and his hair is damp at the ends so he must have showered back at SHIELD. His knee is hard and warm through the thin cotton, pressing against Clint’s bare inner thigh. Clint can’t breathe.
“Clint,” Phil says, stroking his thumb over the inside of Clint’s wrist.
Clint isn’t much given to talking when he could be doing, but right now he feels like he has to say something or he’s going to burst. Hell, he might burst anyway.
“Sir?” he says, turning his hand in Phil’s and holding on.
“I wanted to – ” Phil starts.
Clint shakes his head. “No. Can I go first?”
Phil tips his head back to look up at him. His eyes are warm and soft and open. Shit, Clint loves him.
“I’m sorry.” Clint takes a deep breath. “I shouldn’t have hit you and I shouldn’t have…” He waves his hand, hoping that’ll tell Phil that he means fucked you on the floor without saying hi. “But you died, and I’ve, I haven’t been dealing well. Like, at all.”
Phil shakes his head helplessly. “I’m not denying that you deserve more than an apology for that,” he says. “But that’s all I’ve got. I can’t go back and make it never have happened.”
“Would you, if you could?” Clint asks, curious.
“Yes,” Phil says then, “No. No, I wouldn’t. It was a disaster and a good man got hurt, but it had the potential to be really important. I made the call that it was worth it to try; I have to stick by that.”
Clint nods. That’s fair. He likes when people are honest with him.
“I had this plan,” he admits. He lay awake wishing he’d said this to Phil and now he is. It’s almost enough to send him back to the crazy denial place. “I was gonna ask you out and like, date you properly and shit, but I never did and then you died and I realised I’d just been futzing around, putting shit off because I was scared. Only now you’re kind of.” He squeezes Phil’s fingers. “You’re kind of holding my hand and you really didn’t seem to mind… all that on the floor earlier, so maybe you won’t mind if I – ”
“Clint,” Phil says firmly, “come here.”
He tugs on Clint’s arm again and Clint bends down over him, stopping with his mouth an inch from Phil’s, just for a second, just long enough to really take in the view.
Then Clint’s kissing Phil or maybe Phil’s kissing him. Actually, judging by the way Clint’s being manhandled down to sit the bed, Phil’s arms firm and tight around his back, Phil’s definitely kissing him.
Clint breathes out hard, a shiver rolling from the back of his neck down to his toes. He pushes his hands up into Phil’s hair and opens his mouth, licking at Phil’s teeth until Phil makes a harsh noise and chases Clint’s tongue back into his own mouth.
Fingers dig into Clint’s hips, tight enough to really fucking hurt and it’s too much, except it’s not enough at all.
Phil’s laughing shakily when he breaks the kiss. He rests his forehead against Clint’s and trembles, still holding on too tight.
With an effort, Clint pulls his hands out of Phil’s hair and strokes them down his back instead. “So,” he tries, “this something you can maybe see working for you?”
Phil laughs again in answer, dropping his head onto Clint’s shoulder. Clint thinks about the god-awful few weeks that have just passed and then tries to imagine what they’ve been like for Phil. No mission that ends surrounded by guys with guns and having to saw a guy’s arm off is the kind that’s easily shaken off.
“Hey,” Clint murmurs into Phil’s ear, “you okay?”
“Exhausted,” Phil tells him after two beats.
Clint turns his head and kisses the corner of Phil’s mouth. Phil doesn’t disappear or suddenly change his mind and shove him away, and one more of the million broken pieces in Clint’s chest stitches itself back together.
“Want a rain check? I could leave, let you get some sleep?” Clint asks, even though it kind of hurts to offer. But because he is fucked up over Phil, the idea of Phil pushing himself to the brink over Clint hurts worse.
“No,” Phil says quickly and Clint refuses to feel relieved. Refuses. Phil’s hand cups the side of Clint’s face for a second and then slides up, pushing Clint’s damp hair off his forehead and smoothing his thumb across the skin he’s revealed.
“What are you doing?” Clint asks, holding still because Phil looks intent. Clint hopes he hasn’t spontaneously turned into a Cyclops or something; Scott Summers is not Clint’s role model.
Phil shrugs slightly. “The last time I saw you, you had a big red bruise right here.” Apparently wherever Phil puts his fingers is going to turn Clint on, good to know.
Clint frowns. “After Tasha hit me? When did you see that?”
Phil looks like he really doesn’t want to say, but he forces himself. Clint appreciates that. “I checked in on you via the CCTV. I wasn’t going anywhere if you weren’t okay.”
It’s stupid to get choked up over that; Clint knows it is. He still has to clear his throat. “That’s surprisingly romantic of you, sir,” he says and watches, fascinated, as Phil blushes.
“You know me, full of romance,” Phil says, and smiles that soft, heart-stoppingly sweet smile that Clint’s only seen a handful of times and kind of wants to keep in a jar forever.
It hits Clint all over again that Phil’s back. Clint has never been this lucky. He has to cover up a sudden wave of feelings by faking a yawn and flopping down beside Phil.
“We gonna sleep, then?” he asks, surprised when his fake yawn becomes a real one. Shit, he’s tired, and he hasn’t been through anything like the amount of crap Phil has.
Phil rolls onto his side and winces. “We are,” he agrees, “just as soon as I find a position that doesn’t hurt.”
Clint rolls up onto an elbow, frowning down at Phil. “You hurt, sir?” he asks and keeps glaring until Phil sighs and pushes up his t-shirt.
“Holy shit. Phil,” Clint swears, reaching out to touch Phil’s side and then letting his hand drop.
Phil is covered in bruises, an older, blackened one in the centre of his back that reminds Clint of the times he’s been shot through a vest, and scores of other, fresher ones that leave Clint wondering how he’s still moving around.
“It’s fine,” Phil tells him, “mostly. Unless I think about it. Or move.”
Clint reaches out and traces his finger around one bruise then another. He wants to kiss them but if they start that, they’ll never get to sleep. “I guess I shouldn’t have pushed you into so many walls, then?” he asks.
Phil laughs. “No, feel free to keep doing that,” he says, pointedly putting his t-shirt back in place and pulling Clint down beside him. “If you can,” he adds, mouth right against Clint’s ear.
Clint shivers. “You got yourself a deal,” he agrees, and lets Phil pin him to the bed.
Clint breathes in the shampoo scent of Phil’s hair and closes his eyes, Phil’s solid weight and the heat coming off him finally enough to let Clint relax.
Phil hasn’t been home long enough to be used to it yet, so he wakes up as soon as there’s a soft tap against his bedroom door.
He’s automatically reaching for his gun before he realises that it’s across the room, and the reason he can’t move his arm is because Clint’s sleeping on it.
The door swings open silently and Stark’s robot, Dummy, comes rolling in. He’s holding a tea tray with what looks like breakfast food laid out on it.
“Thank you?” Phil whispers, trying not to wake Clint.
It’s not quiet enough, though, and Clint sits up, blinking blearily. He chokes out a laugh when he sees Dummy and holds out his hand. “Oh hey, buddy,” he says.
Dummy stops rolling forward when he sees Clint and whirs in alarm instead, rocking backwards. The two little pincer/finger/antennae things on top of his head wave frantically in the air and he races out of the room.
“Huh.” Clint flops back down onto the bed. “That was weird?”
Phil looks down at Clint, sleep-rumpled and warm-looking, and feels his mouth go dry. “Weird,” he agrees. He clears his throat. “I can’t imagine anything in Stark Tower, not being weird. What on earth possessed you to move in here?”
“Natasha,” Clint says with a shrug. “She made me. Well, Natasha and Steve.”
Phil raises his eyebrows. “Steve?” he asks.
Clint rolls his eyes and slaps him on the arm, managing to avoid every bruise and the still-painful knife wound. “Don’t look at me like that, I saw you after they found him, remember? And everyone told me what you were like when you finally got to meet him.”
Phil doesn’t blush. He doesn’t. He’s an adult and an agent of SHIELD; he doesn’t blush. “I’m not the one calling him Steve.”
He expects Clint to tease him straight back – that’s always how they communicate – so it’s a surprise when Clint bites his lip and glances away instead.
“Clint?” Phil prompts. “What have I missed?” Probably a million things; he doesn’t even know how Clint’s dealing with what Loki did to him or anything yet.
“So this is like, nine million shades of awkward,” Clint says in a rush, “but you should probably know that I, I kind of made out with Steve a bit? This one time?”
Phil blinks. “Made out with?” he asks.
Clint waves a hand at him. “Just kissing. We were talking about you and Bucky and he was fucked up and I was fucked up and, I don’t know. It just kind of happened.”
Phil tries to picture that. His brain is still too tired to do anything but turn to static. “How was it?” he asks.
It’s Clint’s turn to blink. “How was it?” he asks. He laughs, pressing his hand to his mouth as though to hide it, and ends up chuckling from between his fingers. “Of course that’s what you ask. Phil, fuck, I love you.”
He grabs Phil’s shoulder and pulls him down into a kiss before Phil can respond to that. Phil kisses back eagerly, trying to pour me too, god, me too into Clint’s mouth so he doesn’t have to pull back far enough to say it.
Things are just starting to get interesting when Phil hears the tapping at his door again.
“Ignore it,” Clint says into his mouth, “that robot’s got a screw loose.”
Phil laughs and willingly complies, sliding his hands up Clint’s chest and stroking his thumbs over Clint’s nipples.
The door opens.
“Look, I don’t know what you’ve done to my – Oh shit,” Phil hears and then he and Clint are both sitting up rapidly, although not really putting any space between themselves, Phil’s pleased to note.
For once, Stark looks honestly surprised. Phil savours this moment.
“Ohh,” Stark says slowly, looking from Clint to Phil and back. “Oh, of course, that’s why –” He trails off, looking down at Dummy instead. “Right, I understand now, two for breakfast.” He pats Dummy’s two still-waving fingers absently. “Let’s go ask Bruce nicely if he’ll cook up some more then. Come on.”
He drifts out, still talking to Dummy and completely ignoring Clint and Phil.
Phil laughs helplessly, turning to bump his shoulder against Clint’s. “This place is a madhouse,” he sighs.
“Yes, sir.” Clint nods. “But I think we might live here, now.”
Before Phil can reply, there’s a very disgruntled meow from the floor and Indy leaps up on them, padding across Phil’s legs to get to Clint and curling up in the crook of his knees.
“My cat loves you more than me,” Phil says sadly.
Clint reaches down and pets Indy between the ears, making her purr. “How come you have a cat?” he asks. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you don’t strike me as a pet person.”
“I’m not,” Phil agrees easily. He watches Indy lick her foot, then lick Clint’s fingers, then bend her head to bite between her toes. She looks like she’s settling in to stay, which puts paid to Phil’s plan for morning sex. “I found her on the side of the road one night; I didn’t plan to keep her but I never found the time to get her a new home.”
Clint’s eyes go soft. “You collect too many strays,” he says. “You and Stark have that in common.”
Phil makes his mouth go round and shocked. “Take that back, Agent Barton.”
Clint smiles at him. There’s still something wondering in his expression every time he looks at Phil. Phil hopes that goes away soon; he wants Clint to trust that he’s really here.
Careful of Indy, Phil leans in close, ghosting his lips over Clint’s. “Last night,” he says, and feels Clint stiffen. Phil has no intention of bringing up anything Clint doesn’t want to talk about right now, though, so he kisses Clint to tell him that.
“Last night, what?” Clint asks warily.
“You asked if I could see this working,” Phil reminds him. His hands are curved around Clint’s ribs, so he feels him relax. Phil goes to collect his courage for what he’s going to say next, and finds that it’s already waiting for him; he wants to say this. “I see this working permanently.”
Clint turns his face into Phil’s neck. “I like permanently,” he agrees. “But right now, it’s kind of hard for me to believe you’re really here.” It sounds like it’s also hard for him to say that. Phil hates that he did that to Clint.
“What can I do to convince you?” Phil asks him.
“Lots of sex,” Clint tells him, grinning, then turns serious. “Just be here?”
Phil lets his hand trail up the back of Clint’s spine, finding the one little cowlick he’s always wanted to play with. It curls around his finger and he tugs lightly. “I promise,” he says and means it more than he’s ever meant anything.
Sadly, they don’t get to stay in bed, making up for lost time, for nearly as long as Clint would like. Now that they’ve discovered Dummy will deliver takeout to any room in the Tower, Clint had kind of been hoping to move into Phil’s bed and stay there ‘til they run out of condoms.
SHIELD has other ideas.
SHIELD always has other ideas; it’s the bane of Clint’s life.
“In my wisdom,” Fury tells them, standing at the head of the conference room table and favouring everyone individually with a look that says don’t say a damn word, “I’ve decided to send you all back to Russia. Try not to blow it all up this time.”
“Back?” Stark asks innocently. “I’m sorry, I thought you only sent Phil last time?”
“I sent you after him, didn’t I?” Fury demands.
Next to Clint, Phil looks like he’s paying complete attention. He’s also bump-bumping his ankle against Clint’s, so looks are clearly kind of deceptive.
“What’s the plan, sir?” Natasha asks, tapping her stylus against her tablet.
Clint presses the toe of his shoe against Phil’s. Phil presses back. It’s ridiculous but Clint just doesn’t care.
“My plan is that I’m sick of these Department X leftovers, running around like the Cold War is still occurring. My plan is that you take your team in and wipe them out.”
“The World Security Council won’t like that,” Hill says from the back of the room. Clint would have thought she’d be relieved to pass them back over to Phil, but she’s stuck around some.
Fury gives her his ask me if I give a fuck look. Clint would like to be Fury when he grows up. “I’m aware,” he agrees. “I no longer give a good god damn what the Security Council want, okay?”
“Okay.” Stark claps his hands together. “Now, this sounds more fun than giant rats.”
“Tony,” Banner says quietly, “I think we might need to check your definition of fun.”
Stark winks at him. “I am the definition of fun, baby,” he says. Predictably.
“Wait.” Clint looks around the room. “Where’s Steve?” He knew someone was missing. When Thor comes back, it’ll presumably be even harder to keep track of everybody. He’s normally only had to worry about Phil and Natasha before.
“Captain Rogers is spending time in medical until you leave,” Fury tells them, raising his eyebrow pointedly.
Stark, obviously, ignores his point. “Wait, so, Cap gets to skip briefings so he can get in some quality time with his boyfriend, Barton gets to bring his boyfriend on missions; that’s it, I’m dragging Pepper to the next one of these shindigs. You guys won’t know what hit you.”
Fury’s eyebrow comes back down. “Ms Potts has already been fully briefed,” he says, and it’s at the point where Stark is approaching apoplectic that Fury dismisses them.
Phil hangs back to talk to Natasha, and Clint hangs back to wait for the both of them. He needs to check in on Natasha and make sure going back to Department X isn’t freaking her out too bad.
If he knows her, she’s itching to spill some creepy, child-napping scientist blood, but it doesn’t hurt to check.
She looks up from whatever Phil’s saying to her, and sees Clint waiting. She leans over and says something to Phil, who pointedly taps his watch at Clint, but lets her go to him.
“You look like you need to pee, so I guess you want to say something supportive?” she says. She sounds snappy, but Clint knows that if she really hadn’t wanted to talk to him, she just wouldn’t have talked to him.
“Just wanted to check you were okay with all this,” Clint says. “I don’t think anyone would blame you if you wanted to sit this one out.”
She laughs, short and loud. “Trust me, I’ve been looking forward to going back there for a long time.”
“Yeah, right, but.” Clint stops, rubs the back of his neck. She’s right; he hates talking about this shit. But he remembers the first time he met her, how tired and worn down she was. Department X did that to her. “I mean there are, you know, people in my past who I fantasise about getting to shoot in the face.” The list is pretty long, actually. “But I might feel different when it actually came to it.”
Natasha jerks her head, graceless for once. Then she breathes out and looks up at him. “Thank you,” she says. She tucks her hair back behind her ears and squares her shoulders. “But I don’t feel different.”
“Okay.” He’s not going to argue with her; she knows what’ll help her better than he does. She missed a strand of hair, so Clint tugs on it gently. “I’ll see you on the ‘jet.”
She smacks his hand away but squeezes it before letting it drop. “See you.”
Clint waves to her, then to Phil, and heads out to the corridor. He finds Steve there, chatting quietly with Bruce, and he smiles and waves when he sees Clint.
“Hey, man,” Clint says, leaning against the wall beside him. “Everything good?”
“Excuse me,” Banner says and slinks away. Clint decides they’re going to need to do something about that; he likes Banner, he should feel free to stay and chat with them.
“Yes,” Steve says, still smiling. It’s edged with a fuckload of stress and sadness, but it looks like the smile’s permanent, anyway. “Yes, everything’s good.”
Clint smiles at him. “I’m glad,” he says, bumping his elbow against Steve’s. He looks up and down the corridor then says quietly, “I’m good, too.”
Steve nods quickly. “I know. Tony’s not very discreet. Congratulations.”
Talking of permanent smiles, Clint really needs to do something about his. “Thanks, man,” he says. He nods his head toward the conference room. “You waiting for one of them?”
“Bucky - ” There’s the smile, getting brighter. “Bucky wants to see Phil before we leave.”
That makes sense. “Cool.” Clint nods. “I’ll leave you guys to it. See you on the plane?”
“See you,” Steve agrees. “And Clint?” he calls, once Clint’s started to leave.
Clint turns back, walking backwards. “Yep?”
“Thanks,” Steve says. He shrugs, like he hopes Clint knows what he’s thanking him for.
Clint does. Or, he knows what he wants to thank Steve for anyway. The last few weeks were hell, but they weren’t a hell that he couldn’t crawl back out of, and that’s largely thanks to Steve. “Right back at you,” he says, and heads for the armoury.
Sergeant Barnes has a private and secluded room at the far end of the recovery ward. There are two guards on the door at all times, and a live security feed that Nick himself can tap into if he starts feeling twitchy.
All of that seems like complete overkill when Phil lets himself in and finds Barnes lying back against his pillows, practically as white as the sheets pooled down to his waist.
The absence of his arm is stark and obvious, as is the steady drone of the machines he’s taped up to.
“Hi,” Barnes croaks when he sees Phil. According to the doctors he’s fighting an infection, and it looks like it’s taking a lot out of him.
“Hello.” Phil comes in and stands by the bed. “How are you feeling?”
Barnes rolls his eyes. “I am seriously damn peachy, Coulson, how are you?”
“Excellent,” Phil tells him blandly.
Barnes laughs softly. “I thought there was no way you were as much of an asshole as I remembered, but you are. Hey. That’s cool.”
Phil smiles. “Thank you,” he says, which makes Barnes laugh louder.
“Listen, though,” Barnes says, turning serious. “You guys are going back in, now? Already?”
Phil shrugs. “The Director wants it done.”
Barnes pushes himself upright, with some difficulty. Phil waits, ready to help, but not unless Barnes asks him to. Barnes doesn’t.
“You’ll get it done easier and quicker with me there,” he says.
“Maybe,” Phil allows, “but we’ll have Natasha. Natalia.”
Barnes nods. “She hasn’t been there for years, though; I have. You need my help.”
“You just want to be the one to blow the Red Room to the ground,” Phil says shrewdly.
“Well, yeah.” Barnes shrugs one shoulder. “But I’m still right.”
He is, but, “Are you up to it?”
“Buddy, you have idea how much pain I can power through,” Barnes tells him, which isn’t an answer but still tells Phil all he needs to know.
“I’ll speak to the Director,” Phil promises. His watch beeps discreetly, which means he’s holding everybody up. There’s something more he needs to say before he can leave, though. “I’m sorry,” he says, looking Barnes in the eye, “that I couldn’t save your arm.”
Barnes glances away. When he looks back, his face is a mask of nonchalance. “Yeah, that’s gonna fuck up my career with the Giants, huh?”
Phil doesn’t react. Barnes sighs.
“Jeez, you’re more stubborn than Steve. It’s fine, we’re fine, you did your best, I know that, and you brought me home. I’d pay more than one arm for that. Besides.” He shrugs, and now he looks more genuine. “Howard’s kid’s been by, wants to build me some kind of robot arm. I don't know, man, but it could be cool.”
Privately, Phil agrees. Outwardly, he shakes his head. “Be very wary of anything Tony Stark brings you,” he warns. “It’s liable to explode.”
Barnes tips his head back against the pillow and smiles. “I am a big fan of explosions,” he says.
There are a lot more guards on the old Department X buildings than anyone was expecting. Luckily, they have a habit of over-preparing.
“Cap, you’ve got nine coming at you from the east. Someone want to get over there?” Clint asks, keeping an eye on Steve while shooting a guy he sees out the corner of his eye.
Bastard was stupid enough to try and sneak up on Natasha; Clint’s doing him a favour by shooting him quick.
“Barton?” Phil asks. “How am I looking?”
“Mighty fine, sir,” Clint says automatically, then actually scans the ground below for Phil. The one part of this mission that Clint’s not enjoying is that Phil’s taking an active part. “You’ve got hostiles on your two, but otherwise, clear run into the building.”
“Bet you wish you were down there,” says a new voice in Clint’s ear, and Clint frowns.
“Who’s that?” He shoots one of the two guys heading for Phil while he waits for an answer.
“I hear you’ve been getting up close and personal with my guy, Barton,” the voice says.
Clint grins. “Hey, Bucky Barnes,” he says. “Welcome to the party.”
Barnes laughs softly. “Go on, get down there,” he says, “I’ve got satellites on the whole area, I can see better than you can.”
“Fuck you,” Clint tells him, stowing his bow. “I’m the best in the world.”
“That’s only because you didn’t know I was in the world, darling,” Barnes says, with certainty.
Oh man, this is going to be fun. “Call me up when you’re out of bed, Sergeant, and we’ll see who’s best,” Clint says. He leans over the edge of the roof. There’s a fire escape three storeys down, and what’s life without a little adventure? He jumps.
“Crazy bastard,” Barnes tells him, “you’re all seriously insane.”
“You’re going to love us,” Clint promises, and makes a couple more jumps so he lands in the middle of the action. A quick arrow to someone’s throat really makes him feel like part of the team.
“Hawkeye?” Steve comes jogging over. “Who’s keeping watch?”
Clint points straight up at the sky at the same time that Barnes says, “Hi, Cap,” over the team frequency.
Steve startles. “Bucky?” he asks, smiling slow and uncertain. “What the heck? Where are you?”
“Tucked up safe and warm at HQ,” Bucky promises. His voice turns warmer when he speaks to Steve, but Clint would bet he’d deny it. “Fury gave me a laptop and I already know how to hack these assholes’ system so I have cameras everywhere. I can watch your backs. Speaking of, two hostiles at six o’clock.”
Clint glances across at Phil, who’s got a pistol in one hand and a really satisfied grin in place. “Shall we?” he asks, nodding toward the main building.
Steve steps up next to Clint and Natasha flanks Phil. Across the way, Hulk roars and Stark says something to him that Clint doesn’t catch. In their ears, Barnes keeps calling out plays.
Phil’s smile changes shape, taking them all in. “Together?”
Clint nods. “Together,” he agrees and plucks an arrow from his quiver.
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