Phil Coulson died. He was stabbed through the chest and bled out before SHIELD personnel could respond. He was declared dead by the medical team at 11:43 am; it was not any other day.
Phil Coulson died and four levels above him, Clint Barton became a widow or a widower, he honestly didn’t know which was more accurate, in the end they both meant the same thing. For the first time in six years, he was alone.
Clint didn’t know right away, they don’t tell him until later, after the interdimensional space portal had been closed and the city of New York saved, after they managed to drag their tired, battle-weary bodies through a silent dinner and back to Stark Tower. The top floor was completely uninhabitable thanks to glass and debris but the majority of residence spaces just below the penthouse were mostly intact.
Tony Stark, the Tony Stark, who Clint had not before that afternoon (the pleasure of Stark detail having been Natasha’s on all previous occasions), put them all up in what was left of his New York home, gesturing vaguely at a hallway of empty bedrooms and asking JARVIS where the kitchen was on their behalf (and despite the fact that they had possibly just eaten their collective weight in shawarma) before disappearing into his workshop. The rest of them, the rest of the Avengers because that’s what they were now, stared at each other for a long protracted moment before shuffling their separate ways. Clint headed for the first available room, conscious of Natasha dogging his footsteps silently. The door closed behind them, and that’s when she broke the news she hadn’t been willing to tell him earlier.
Clint Barton’s husband died at the hands of the enemy.
Agent Barton of SHIELD was given a cardboard box and a half dead potted plant. The box contained a dog eared first edition of Captain America No. 17 (strictly for reading), a stress ball, a copy of The Girl Who Played With Fire, a personal firearm (unloaded), a pair of dog tags (used to be his, bearing his name), a carefully folded up spare dress shirt and a simple gold wedding band. He was also handed a set of keys and a deck of ruined Captain America trading cards, missing one.
Agent Barton took these things-- not home-- but with him to the tower where he was still staying. He didn’t think too hard about the comfortable apartment across town. It was empty and dark and gathering dust.
Clint sat numbly on the edge of the ridiculous bed in his temporary quarters and very carefully did not think about going home.
A week passed, two. Thor and Loki departed Earth and it was in no way enough.
The rest of them never quite manage to leave the tower. Hawkeye takes to sleeping in the crawlspace above his bedroom. Natasha moves into the bed below him. Stark seems to think that they’re fucking. Hawkeye hasn’t actually spoken in twenty-three days, he doesn’t see a reason to disabuse his host of that notion.
Captain Rogers (Steve he offers) tries to talk to him once but there really isn’t a whole lot to say and he uses up the few words at his disposal dodging questions from the psych department. Rogers looks at him finally, mute, face hard but eyes full of a confused empathy.
At eight weeks, a man is delivered to the premises of Stark Tower. He exchanges words with JARVIS in the elevator and rides it all the way up to the niche they’ve all carved out below the renovations. He gets out on the Avengers floor (because this is what they still are, in the rubble and the rebuilding) and sits carefully down next to Natasha at the breakfast bar.
Clint is turning with a pan full of scrambled eggs he’s cooked for the both of them (they are both terrible but he’s less prone to setting the kitchen on fire accidentally). Clint drops the food, arms and hands and fingers hanging limply at his sides.
“Before you say it,” the man speaks, “Fury didn’t lie, exactly. I did die. It just took them awhile to make sure I’d come back.”
“How?” Natasha’s voice is hard and flat and cuts like a perfectly honed blade.
“Stasis and the really unpleasant smelling gel from Project Phoenix. Parts of my lung,” the man’s eyes flick up to Clint and stay, “and my heart had to be completely regrown. I only just got out of debriefings.”
She accepts this, slides off her stool and hugs him carefully (though not, unexpectedly). She leaves them. She’ll give them enough time before informing the others.
“Clint,” the man breathes softly. Like a puppet whose snapped half his strings, Clint Barton stumbles across the kitchen, stopping just short of Phil Coulson.
“I can’t believe you made me a widow.”
“Let me fix it?”
The first time they did this, it was a shotgun affair. They have exactly four days between flying home from separate ops and when Phil’s supposed to turn right around and get on a plane for California. Clint wants to ask him not to leave but he can’t and he won’t so he doesn’t, but Phil (being Phil) knows how he thinks better than he does sometimes.
So he puts them in a car and they drive across the state line into Massachusetts and get married at the first town hall they find. When they get back to HQ, he sequesters them in his office and Clint swears he breaks his hand signing an inch thick stack of papers but at the end of it, when everything has been filed with HR and cc’d to Fury and it’s official he takes Phil home and he kisses the ring on his finger and every fingertip, he undresses him for the hundredth time (and it feels as exciting as the first time, if less mind numbingly terrifying).
This time they are not alone. Banner conspires with Rogers until the Captain somehow ends up presiding over the whole thing (and Clint knows, even if he’s doing a really admirable job keeping a lid on it, Phil’s completely beside himself with childlike joy), freshly ordained and pressed into his dress uniform. Stark pays for everything and sits in the front row with a beatifically smiling Pepper, complaining about the sun in his eyes and loudly refusing to part with his dark sunglasses. Natasha stands up for Clint and Fury stands up at Phil’s right hand (secretly, he’s never quite forgiven Coulson for not telling him first the last time). Thor is absent, but he throws them a mighty feast upon his return to Earth.
Clint Barton repeats the words, quietly, after Steve and touches a hand to Phil’s heart, slips a scratched, simple gold ring onto his finger and is not alone.