People like to say that time slows down when you think you're about to die.
As far as Clint's concerned, that's total bullshit. This isn't the first time he's looked down the barrel of a gun with nowhere to run, or watched through blood-tinged eyes as a man's hand swung back that final time, or strained against ropes cutting into his arms as he tried to hold his breath long enough to get free and swim back up. And none of those things has ever slowed time, not even for a second.
But this might just do it.
Because this time the gun's not pointed at him, and this time he's not the one who's gonna need to be saved, because this time someone else got in the way, and all Clint could do was stare, wide-eyed with horror, someone's voice yelling in his ear (and it sounds like him, but that can't be true), because Phil Coulson just took the bullet that was meant for him.
It takes a long time. It is agony with every second.
Clint doesn't quite know what happens next, because he can't see anything but Phil, lying motionless on the dirty pavement, red leaking slowly into the fibers of his suit, the charcoal grey that Clint had made special to hide the holster Coulson usually wears, the one he'd left in their bedroom when the thugs came bursting in, yelling about faggots and animals and abominations against God.
Speaking of the thugs, they don't seem to be doing Clint any harm, and that brings him up short. He blinks, looking around dazedly, and something is wrong with his head because there's blood on his hands and all three men are dead, but he doesn't remember doing it. No matter.
He kneels down beside Phil, shaking fingers brushing against his hair, and he barely manages to choke back a sob when Phil groans and rolls sideways, eyelids fluttering. A hand comes up to grip at Clint's wrist; the other goes to his shoulder and the bullet hole that Clint can now see. It's high, higher than Clint had feared, punching through muscle instead of Phil's heart the way it was meant to.
"Stupid fuckers," Phil murmurs, voice slurring, and it's so him, to be insulting the guys who'd tried to whack him, even before acknowledging his own injuries.
"Took care of 'em," Clint says, reaching into a pocket for his handkerchief and pressing it against the wound. "Dunno how, don' remember, but they're dead."
"Good man," Phil slurs, smiling. "Knew you would."
"You're a fuckin' idiot, pal," Clint says, and there's a hint of a sob hiding behind the words, but he knows Phil won't call him on it, not now, not after Phil had jumped in front of a bullet for him, because Phil knows how Clint feels about sacrifice, and how it's acceptable when it's him but never when it's Phil.
"Let's get you up," Clint says, swallowing back the hysteria he can feel building in his chest. Right now he wants nothing but to arm Phil up in his arms and never let anyone else near him. But Phil is still bleeding into dirty pavement and that bullet wound needs tending to, and CLint's not certain his hands are steady enough to do the job right now.
"We'll get you to Fury's," he says, carefully levering Phil up until Clint can wrap an arm around him on his good side, under his ribs, Phil's other arm stretched across his shoulders.
"He'll get you patched up," Clint says, maneuvering them slowly, one step at a time. "And then," he says, grinning at Phil, the grin that promises trouble and headaches, "then we'll have a little talk about you takin' bullets for me."
"Sorry," Phil says weakly, and he'd sound almost contrite except for how Clint knows he absolutely isn't. His hand finds Clint's shoulder and grips, less firm than usual, but enough for Clint to feel the ridge of the gold ring on his finger, the one that matches the ring on Clint's hand.
"S'why you love me," Phil says, and Clint can't help but smile fondly at him.
"I'd love you more without the extra hole," Clint says, and Phil just laughs quietly against his shoulder.
"You love me anyways."
"That I do," Clint nods. "That I do."