Sitting alone in an uncomfortable, SHIELD hospital bed was not how he'd planned to spend his birthday. Although, getting stabbed through the chest by Loki hadn't been on his wish list either, so the fact he was alive at all was good enough when you looked at it that way. His lung was healing up nicely. It would have been quicker if he was younger as the doctor had been kind enough to inform him when he'd asked for the twentieth time how much longer it would be until he got out of here. However, despite the fact he was up and about, doing breathing exercises and even allowed to look over some paperwork for Fury that needed doing, he was yet to be released from this sterile hell. He knew the reason. Fury had declared him KIA. The Avengers had been persuaded to save the world. Everything was great. Only now everyone thought he was dead. Therefore, he was alone on his birthday. Not that it would have bothered him too much if it had been self-imposed, it was just another day, but he wasn’t fond of not having the choice. Insistence that the Avengers needed just a little longer to bond completely apparently meant he couldn’t come out as alive. After all, what a waste it would be if the team didn’t follow through and stay together now. He need never have been dead.
Phil didn't mind. Of course he didn't. The fact that his "death" had been such a monumental factor in not only the Avengers assembling, but making sure the Chitauri were defeated was flattering. He hadn't known that he had affected people that much. Especially not Stark. Who'd have known that he actually had a heart? Only, despite telling himself this on a daily basis, Phil did mind. Quite a lot actually. Having Nick Fury be one of the only people to know of your continued existence was not a good thing. There were people he very much wished knew he was still alive. At least Clint would understand when this all came out. His parents wouldn't. He’d never wanted them to know the full extent of how dangerous his job was.
The handle of the door gave an ominous rattle and drew his attention. Maybe if he was lucky it would be someone deciding today was the day he could escape. He was starting to see why Clint skipped out of medical so often. Despite the movement, the door stopped short of opening. Phil heard muffled voices from the other side of it.
"Are you sure this is the right room?"
"Have you ever known me be wrong?"
"Well I haven't really known you that long, but last week you-"
"How about we save this little spat for home and do what we came here for?"
The door swung open and Phil's ears were met with a cacophony of "Agent Coulson", "Coulson", "Phil" and he was damn sure there was just "Agent" from Stark.
There was a moment where no one seemed sure how to proceed and then Bruce ushered them inside and out of the hallway. He was smiling at Phil, actually looking relieved that Phil was alive. Stark was just grinning like he'd known it all along and Captai- Steve looked shocked at what he was seeing as though he hadn't expected the lie to be proven false. Clint was hanging back, face closed off, Natasha's hand rested on his wrist and Phil wasn't sure if her eyes were trying to portray how much she wanted to kill him or how relieved she was that he was alive. It could have been both. He wasn't sure if she knew herself.
"I told you I was right!" Stark crowed, nudging Steve playfully in the stomach. "You had the gall to doubt me, Cap. You should be ashamed of yourself."
"Sorry to break up whatever this is," Phil said, voice a little hoarse from disuse, "but what are you all doing here?" He definitely would be having words with the director about getting out of this damn room. It definitely didn't look like they needed him dead to get along.
"We came to rescue you from Fury's evil clutches." Phil wasn’t sure the claw gesture was needed, but Stark did it anyway.
"He's not evil. He had a plan," Phil said with the long suffering sigh that came only from dealing with Stark.
"He lied to us," Steve pointed out. "Not only used your death to influence us, but kept you hidden even now. There's no excuse for it. We'd have fought together without him needing to stoop to such measures."
"Well it all worked out fine. You seem to be getting along just as we'd always hoped."
"That's not the point!" Natasha's arms were now folded across her chest, her face more stern than before, but it was Clint who had spoken. "You can't honestly think that it was okay for us to all be sent off thinking you were dead, to manipulate us like that and expect us to have nothing to say when it all came out in the light?"
"Of course I didn't! Do you think I had a choice in the matter?"
"Well you could have come back sooner!" The rawness in Clint's voice at least had the courtesy to cause pain in an area of Phil's chest that wasn't still flaring up.
"Clint, I'm alive." Phil held out his hand, Clint having stepped closer to the bed in his anger without noticing, yet he still wasn't as near as Phil desired. "I'm alive," he repeated, more softly this time as he grasped Clint's hand in his and determinedly dragged him forwards. Not giving a damn about the audience who were surely looking on like startled meerkats, because this was what he had been waiting for: to be around people who cared about him again, around Clint who made him feel safe and powerful all at once. Phil’s eyes met with Clint's for the first time since the Avengers had descended on him; fear, relief and anger swirled through them in a way that Clint never let himself be in front of anyone else. As though moving of its own accord, Phil’s other hand grasped at the base of Clint’s neck, fingers stroking at the short hairs at the nape as he pulled Clint down and pressed their lips together. Clint clutched at him, not using his full strength, but enough to anchor him.
"I know that now, don't I? Happy birthday, old man," Clint said pulling away with a nearly back to normal chuckle and a grin that did meet his eyes. He leant his forehead against Phil's. "Don’t you ever think of doing this to me again. At least when it's me going AWOL, you can handle it."
"No, he can't. He just does his worrying more discreetly." Natasha settled herself cross-legged at the base of Phil’s bed; her hand lay gently on his ankle.
Clint, not to be outdone, budged Phil over enough so that he was perched next to Phil against the headboard, holding him close. Phil was rather glad that SHIELD hospital beds weren't as flimsy as some of the ones he had seen in civilian hospitals. At this rate all of them would be climbing in.
"How did you even get in here? I know the security measures were upped after the third time I tried to leave." Clint's grip on his shoulder tightened. "Yes, I tried to leave. No, that doesn't mean you should when you end up in medical."
"Well," Stark said, who had crossed to the other side of the bed from where Clint was sitting and stolen the only chair in the room so he could lounge down with his feet propped up on the bed (Steve let out a sound of startled protest from behind Natasha where he had positioned himself at that, but it was resolutely ignored), "JARVIS may not have been as "removed"," he made the appropriate air quotes, "as I led Fury to believe from the SHIELD systems and I may have been tracking what he's been doing. I don't really trust people making weapons."
"They remind you too much of yourself," Natasha pointed out with a snort of derision.
"Exactly! I wouldn't trust me. I know you don't trust me. So I wanted to keep an eye out. Surveillance if you will. Some things struck me as a bit odd. Who would want a set of Captain America cards and then something even stranger, who would order a Captain America shield cake for after the fourth of July? I mean who would really want one at all? Apparently this meant something to your SHIELD buddies so I was set to doing a bit more digging over the past few days and well here we are. JARVIS hacked the security and we walked right in."
"You make it all sound so easy."
"Your boss made it rather simple. Well, easy when you know what to look for, of course."
The talking continued; Phil just let it all wash over him, content to just be in their presence and rather happy that Thor was still on Asgard and not in the room because there really were only so many Avengers a person could handle at one time.
In the hubbub, Phil didn't hear the door open again.
"Now I know I didn't authorize this."
Phil lifted his head from where at some point he had rested it on Clint's shoulder. Stark paused briefly in his latest monologue of the changes he'd implemented in Stark, soon to be Avenger, Tower. The other Avengers all turned to the doorway as well. Fury stood there, cake in one hand and the other braced against the door holding it open.
"However, since you could do with people to help you eat this, I don’t think it matters too much. Happy birthday, Phil."