Clint hates hospitals. He hates the smell, all antiseptic-clean to cover up the stale odor of sickness; he hates the neutral paint on the walls and the plain white tile floors; he hates the judgemental looks the nurses always shoot his way, like he’s about to make off with the entire contents of the pharmacy.
But most of all, he hates hospitals because it’s where people go to die.
He’s been sitting at Coulson’s bedside for hours, maybe days. He's not really sure anymore. Normally, he’s good at waiting out the target, sitting back and taking his time to line up the perfect shot. Patience is practically his middle name (along with trouble, obnoxious, and any number of other less-than-flattering terms Coulson’s called him over the years, usually in that exasperated tone) but tonight, there’s nothing for him to aim at. This enemy won’t go down with a well-placed arrow.
He sighs and rubs his eyes, gritty with lack of sleep. Later, he’ll blame exhaustion for the fact that it takes him a full minute to realize that Coulson’s eyes are open, that he’s finally awake and staring at Clint. He swallows hard, his mouth suddenly dry. “Sir,” he whispers, a question, a prayer.
Coulson tries to talk, his voice barely above a rasp, but he can’t quite form words. Finally Clint shakes himself out of his stupor and grabs the cup of water off the bedside table, holding the straw in place while Coulson drinks. He pulls back after a few swallows. “Talk to me, Barton,” he whispers, his voice wrecked but tone unmistakable.
Clint nearly cries in relief. “We won, sir. Thor took Loki back to Asgard, and Stark blew up the Chitauri planet or mothership, or whatever it was. A lot of the city is rubble, but civilian casualties were less extensive than expected, given the fact that goddamn aliens attacked New York City. Sir,” he adds, belatedly. He can feel the tears threatening to spill over, and he drops to his knees by the bed, clinging to Coulson’s hand. “The director said... We thought you were dead. I thought you were dead.”
Coulson’s fingers twitch under Clint’s, as much motion as he’s capable of right now, and Clint squeezes back gently. “I was,” he rasps. “I got better.”
Clint presses his lips to Coulson’s fingers and lets the tears come.