He feels terrible despite himself, blood drying and tacky between his fingers. The bodies are lying a couple of feet away, wrapped in plastic and tagged in a corner with their names. Clinical. Efficient.
Clint curls up, bow tucked in front of his chest. There’s a gash on his forehead that’s bleeding sluggishly and crimson up to his elbows from where he’d dragged their people out of the thick of the gunfire. He hasn’t had time or luxury to wipe it off, instead his mind is on Tasha, the last one he’d gotten out.
Two dead, three wounded. Tasha’s unconscious with massive blood loss and likely a few internal injuries. Clint was luckier, getting away with barely a scratch.
It’s not fair, he thinks, seconds before the adrenaline starts to fade and the exhaustion catches up. Clint dozes off, back against a crate and feet shoved up against another.
He wakes up in an infirmary bed, bandages wrapped around his wrist and gauze taped on his forehead with an IV in his arm.
There’s no-one beside him, an empty chair with a stack of files on top of it.
Clint slowly pulls out the IV, flinching at the slight sting. If he had to guess, it’d probably be acute exhaustion after the seventy-two hour long mission that had culminated in more deaths than he’d like.
His clothes are in a corner, blood half dried on the vest and his bow stacked on top.
Clint takes five minutes to get out of the hospital, appropriating a coat that had been draped over a chair. It’s longer than he usually takes. Clint blames it on the slight wooziness that grips him from time to time and his quick stop to check on his partner.
He makes it half a block before caving in and calling a cab.
Phil Coulson comes back to see the bed empty, sheets thrown back and an IV tube left swinging from the side of the bed.
Clint vanishes. He leaves a post it as a report on Phil’s desk and disappears to where most SHIELD agents can’t find.
Phil Coulson however, isn’t most agents. He’s known Clint for longer than most and he knows where the archer retreats to in the aftermath of missions like these. He knows better than to try to push the man.
So he waits.
There’s the quiet strum of a guitar echoing in SHIELD’s empty parking lot when Phil finally emerges. There aren’t many musicians in the Initiative, it’s not a boyband after all, but Phil knows several individuals with hidden talents.
He takes a few steps forward, long strides carrying him out of the shadow of the building.
Phil hears him before he sees him, the smooth, dulcet tones of a familiar voice, broken only by the sadness that it carries.
Clint is perched on top on Phil’s car, clad in a pair of old, faded jeans and a baggy t-shirt that looks as if it’s been filched from Phil’s closet. He’s sitting cross-legged and barefoot with a guitar in his lap. It doesn’t entirely surprise him since the archer has always preferred a place with a vantage point. There’s a bag sitting on the ground right beside the man’s boots that Phil suspects are the man’s bow and quiver; Clint has a tendency to never go without them when he’s agitated or upset.
“And I knew if I had my chance, that I could make those people dance,” It’s a familiar tune to Phil, one that takes a couple of seconds for him to recognize.
It seems as if Clint hasn’t seen Phil, but with the archer it’s hard to tell. The lack of the reaction from him means absolutely nothing; there’s a high chance that Clint has known about his presence the minute he’d stepped around the corner, but doesn’t mind Phil watching the impromptu performance.
“But February made me shiver, with every paper I’d deliver,” Clint’s fingers are agile and steady over the guitar strings, making Phil smile just a little. The archer has always had incredibly gifted fingers, so it’s no surprise that he makes strumming a guitar look like child’s play, but the singing, now that’s something that’s actually managed to completely evade Phil’s detection.
Phil tries to ignore the little surge of warmth that bubbles up in him at Clint’s trust.
“Bad news on the doorstep, I couldn’t take one more step-”
He recognizes the song now. Of course he does.
The archer doesn’t respond.
“Bye, bye Miss American Pie-” The grief and loss is so clear in Clint’s voice that Phil just knows that the archer blames himself for the situation that had killed two agents and wounded three, including Natasha. He knows because he had filled out the reports because Clint had refused to. He knows because Natasha had spent five minutes calling Clint an idiot in every form of the word in all the languages she knows.
Phil knows that it had been an accident, an unavoidable freak situation, but it’d put a crack into Clint’s armor, especially since his partner had gotten injured.
He strides across the parking lot, coming to a stop beside his car.
“Those good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye, singing this’ll be the day that I die,” it’s unnerving to see the usually cheerful, brash young man looking so defeated, expression unreadable and and exhaustion clear in unfocused blue eyes.
Clint looks as if he’s simply going to fall over despite the obvious tension in his shoulders and arms.
“Come down, Clint.” The agent holds out a hand that’s got an ink smear on it, an invitation for the archer to come down. It’s a cold night, and Clint’s only got one of Phil’s baggy shirts on. Phil finds himself mesmerized by the man’s voice, eyes drifting over the line of Clint’s jaw and down his throat.
“This will be the day that I die.”
The song trails off and the guitar finally slips from Clint’s fingers, lying there in his lap with the archer slumped over it. Phil swallows thickly, now worried about his archer.
Then the man looks up, a forced grin on his face. He still looks like crap, but at least better than a good five minutes ago. It draws a single, raised eyebrow from Phil, but the man still manages a wry look as he holds up Clint’s boots.
Clint slides off the SUV as Phil unlocks the car, putting his bag and guitar into the car. Clint shifts closer to Phil, shoulder nudging his as he tugs on his boots, hopping awkwardly on one foot.
Clint’s smile widens a little. “How about home?”