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Sometimes, Clint thought their enemies really weren’t worthy of the title. But then, the Avengers had formed to fight Loki’s alien forces in a battle for the fate of the whole planet, so it made sense that after that, things were a bit of a letdown.

Nonetheless, even second-rate villains in old manufacturing plants in New Jersey could make robots that killed people, and that was enough reason for SHEILD to send in the big guns. The robots were making themselves, welding and assembling and programing new ‘bots almost as fast as Hulk could smash, so Cap had ordered Clint and Natasha to infiltrate the building and shut down the factory while he, Hulk and Iron Man kept destroying as many ‘bots as they could as a form of distraction.

“You found the main switch yet?” Clint was creating a smaller diversion to corral the robots on security detail away from where Natasha was creeping towards the master electrical board.

“Couldn’t Stark just shut down the grid?” Natasha grumbled on the comm.

“Where’s the fun in that?” Clint jumped out of the way as one robot reached out for him, grabbing a railing to launch himself up onto a higher walkway over the production line. The robots had leveraged every square foot of room inside the building, and it was more like a labyrinth of arc welding robots and large buckets of weird robot parts. They were, overall, fairly clumsy and reminded Clint of daleks, but they were converging on him efficiently so he kept jumping walkways to stay ahead of them.

“I’m there. Have one to take out, then shutting the place down,” Natasha whispered, then clicked the comm twice to request radio silence. Clint kept jumping, calling on his trapeze skills more than his marksmanship abilities to distract the robots. He ended up on a strange platform where some parts were being assembled by at least five robots working together. They all turned as one and pointed their welders rights at him. They were too far away to hit him but the combined flash whited out his world for a second before everything went dark and quiet. He blinked a few times, but it was just silence all around him.

“I think the master switch killed everybody,” Natasha said.

“Which is just stupid, I mean really, do our enemies get dumber by the week? Who puts all their robots on one kill switch? Really?” Stark sounded genuinely affronted. Clint figured he probably was.

Clint rubbed his eyes, the spots finally clearing away. The factory was dark but enough sunlight crept in from the grimy windows overhead to reveal all the dead robots surrounding him. “No arguments here, I was outnumbered. I’m pretty far inside the complex, but I can work my way out.”

“Injuries?” Coulson’s voice clipped in on the comm. Clint smiled as he started working his way out at a leisurely pace.

“No, sir. Just got some good exercise, could’ve been worse.”

“Glad to hear it, Barton. Rendezvous with Romanov, we’ll arrange pick up when you get outside.” Coulson’s voice sounded relieved, although most people would have missed it. Coulson had been Clint’s handler almost exclusively for nearly ten years, so Clint heard it, and it soothed him. He never allowed himself to think too much about what he had invested in hearing Coulson’s voice at the end of an op, telling Clint he had done a good job. It was more than a little pathetic, but Clint accepted that. He craved approval and he knew it; it was a weakness that could be held against him, and had been, by his brother first and others after him. Clint had become an expert at hiding that need deep inside, to the point that possibly only Nat knew it even existed. He was a brash, arrogant jackass by nature but it was also the best defense his insecurities ever found, and Clint took special care to knit that defense very tight when it came to Coulson.

It helped that Coulson was more than a little untouchable. He was not only Clint’s handler but the Avenger Initiative liaison and, as far as Clint could tell, completely uninterested.

Coulson had dated Leslie, a cellist, for several years. Clint met her once. She reminded him of a brunette Pepper Potts: crisp, beautiful, smart and leagues above Clint. She wore dark suits and Coulson had not seemed to mind that her sharp heels put her several inches up on him. They looked perfect together, and Clint had been happy for them despite himself. But Leslie moved to Portland right before Loki’s attack, and Clint actually felt bad for Coulson since it was pretty clear that they decided to call it off instead of doing the long distance thing.

Mostly, though, Clint was glad that Coulson had not transferred to the West coast to follow her. Clint needed the smooth, confident tones of Coulson’s voice in his ear during an op; after so many years, Clint was not sure how well he’d handle being in the field without that voice on the comm. He didn’t want to find out.

They met up with the others and SHEILD brought in a helicopter to evac Clint, Natasha, Coulson, Bruce and Steve back to Avengers’ Tower in NYC. Tony and Thor flew separately, of course, which Clint counted as a blessing because his nerves after an op were always strung tight, and Tony had a way of plucking at them. And his eyes were hurting.

They all got back, cleaned up, and met in the briefing room within an hour. Nat caught him rubbing his eyes but he shook his head. His eyes were burning a little but nothing serious, so he figured he would soldier on and then just crash. He had probably over taxed them, which had happened before, and he knew a good night’s sleep would fix that.

That was his plan, until the pain hit.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” He curled forward, his head nearly banging into the conference table, as the stabbing pain lanced through his eyes. It took his whole body under in the wash of agony. He thought he was going to puke, right there, but he didn’t give a damn. His hands covered his eyes although that did nothing. The white light was back and it felt like the welders were burning his eyeballs out of his skull. His body convulsed, fighting the pain. He felt large hands on him, pulling him out of the chair and setting him on the floor. He figured it was Steve or Thor.

“Clint, what’s wrong?” Steve’s voice broke into Clint’s screaming brain, his hands holding him down.

“Eyes…eyes!” Clint gasped, keeping his face covered.

“Barton, we’ve got medical en route,” Coulson said from somewhere above him. “Did you get sprayed with chemicals? Dosed with a drug? We need to know what we’re dealing with.” Part of Clint registered the tension in Coulson’s voice.

“No! No, fuck,” Clint curled up on his side, trying to push his head into the floor. “Welders!”

“Welders?” Coulson repeated, sounding confused. Clint nodded but that hurt too. It felt like his eyes were melting out of his head and he could not stop the whimper.

“The light? From the welding?” Steve’s voice broke in again.

“Maybe! Fuck, I don’t know! No chemicals, oh, oh, shit!”

There was a sudden clatter and lots of talking that Clint could not track through the pain. He wanted to die, the pain was worse than any torture he had ever been through, a deep and agonizing burn inside of his eyes that did not stop. He finally gave into the panic and vomited as several sets of hands moved him off the floor onto a gurney. He felt a prick in his arm and everything finally went mercifully, beautifully dark.

Chapter Text

They all watched Clint being rolled out with a sense of shock. Phil wanted to chase after him, but they were still in a debriefing and one of the medics was trying to talk to them. Phil forced himself to tune back in to the conversation.

“…arc eye, maybe. He mentioned light from welders,” Steve said to the remaining EMT. “It was a factory; there was a lot of welding going on, among other things. But he seemed fine right after our evac.”

Phil stepped closer. He had no idea what Steve was talking about, but the medic seemed to understand.

“That would explain the delayed reaction, but it could get worse if that’s the case. I’ll make sure the doctor knows.”

“He specifically said he had not been hit with chemicals, and we weren’t able to ask if he’d been drugged, but I’m sure he would have mentioned either before now.” Steve replied. The medic nodded.

“Okay, thank you Captain. We’ll inform you of his status as soon as we know something.” The medic turned and left. Steve looked over at Phil, who tried to school his features.

“What do you think it is?” Phil asked. Natasha shifted closer to him, the only cue she gave to her own worry, although Phil could see it in her eyes.

“Arc eye? It’s something welders get. I don’t know what causes it, medically speaking, but it happens if they look at the bright light of an electric arc. Causes blindness; a few factory workers in my neighborhood suffered from it.” Steve frowned.

Phil’s stomach dropped. “Permanent?”

Steve shook his head. “No, didn’t seem to be. I remember they got their vision back. I think.”

“Here.” Tony spoke behind all of them. They turned to look at a display he had pulled up, a Wikipedia entry on photokeraltitis. “Huh, so that’s snow blindness. Always wondered. Well, says here it’s temporary, heals fast.”

“Usually,” Natasha added cryptically. Phil frowned at her. She looked away. He was used to her being the pessimistic one, but he did not need to hear it right then.

“Phil.” Steve rubbed his neck. “I think we’re done with the debriefing. We’re all worried about Clint, and there is nothing needing doing that we can’t get to tomorrow. And the room needs cleaning,” he grimaced, pointed at where the remains of Barton’s watery vomit were staining the floor.

Phil nodded. “Agreed. Everyone, check your calendar, I’ll reschedule for tomorrow. Meantime, I’m going down to medical to find out if we can get an actual diagnosis on Barton. Romanov, get some food and some sleep, that’s an order.” Phil knew the others would do both without being told, but if he didn’t give Natasha a direct order, she would just follow him down to medical.

He walked out as Tony asked JARVIS to send up a biohazard crew to clean the floor.

The medical “wing” of Avengers Tower was floors 49 through 54. There were treatment suites, surgical suites, laboratories, and clinics for physical therapy, chiropractic, and gynecology. It was small hospital designed specifically for the Avengers Initiative, all of it: superheroes and support staff and significant others. And since it was funded by Stark, it was a research facility as well, because Stark did not live in a world where scientists of any stripe or PhD did not want time for research.

When Phil got off the elevator on the 50th floor, a nurse was standing there to greet him and give him a sit rep. Knocking Barton out had not been ideal, but the EMTs on the scene had thought that keeping him awake for the sake of the doctor’s exam would have ended in blood and tears for everyone involved, which Phil tacitly agreed with. Barton had been in too much pain to be reasonable.

As he was led to the waiting area while the nurse debriefed him with the very little they knew at that point, Phil relived the long, horrifying seconds when Barton had collapsed in screaming agony. On past missions, Phil had watched Barton being tortured, at least twice, and seen him react less to the pain then than he did during those moments in the completely secure, safe conference room. Phil was good in a crisis, it was probably his greatest talent if he was asked to rank them, but he had worked hard to stay calm while Rogers lifted the nearly hysterical agent out of his chair and laid him on the floor like a child, holding his wrists to keep him from gauging his eyes out.

Because Phil was invested, and he could lie to everyone but himself about that.

Barton was difficult, even more so than Romanov, who was just as much of a smart ass but at least tended to follow orders. Phil and Barton had butted heads when they first met, Barton’s overbearing aggressiveness rubbing against Phil’s dry wit and firm hand.

If there was one point that Phil could point to and say, “that was when I fell in love” he thought it was their third op together, in Gambia. It was an easy op and started out more like a vacation, gathering intel on “bad guys” who were almost too stupid to rank that high. Barton had been playing rich business tourist and Phil stayed out of sight, running things by radio and phone, until everything went ass over teakettle. Phil got nabbed and Barton was suddenly in charge, their roles effectively reversed, and Phil just assumed the hot headed marksman would get them both killed. Specialists were specialists for a reason, and that reason was rarely “good at being in charge and getting everyone out alive.”

Instead, Barton played handler to Phil’s asset and they took the whole organization down less than seven hours after Phil had been grabbed.

When it was over, Barton had thrown his beat-up, ripped-up suit jacket at Phil’s head and yelled that next time, Phil could seduce the rich guy. Phil had grabbed the jacket with his uninjured hand, inspected it, and told Barton that the replacement costs were coming out of his paycheck. Barton groaned, sat down across from him and preceded to hunt-and-peck the AAR that Phil narrated for him on Phil’s laptop because Phil was too doped up to type. Barton had freely translated Phil’s slightly groggy recap, and a copy of the resulting report had actually been framed by Sitwell and hung in the supervisory agents’ break room for posterity.

Phil had requested to be Barton’s full time handler afterward, and if that wasn’t love, Phil didn’t know what was.

But the fact was that they worked together, and Phil had been dating someone else for a long time, and Barton was very wrapped up in whatever it was he and Romanov shared. Phil ached, sometimes, when he saw his two best specialists exchanging intimate looks that spoke volumes of their time together, but he did not begrudge them for it. His philosophy was, “whatever port in a storm” and he knew better than most just how much a storm both Barton’s and Romanov’s lives resembled.

When Leslie had pursued Portland instead of Phil, he wasn’t surprised, because they had drifted apart over the years. He still loved her, but theirs was a friendly relationship based on a mutual appreciation of classical music and reality TV shows. The sex had become lackluster, and while mediocre sex was better than no sex in Phil’s opinion, it was hardly enough to inspire a long-distance relationship when the emotional investment in it had already faded. He had also grown tired of hiding so much of his world from her. At first it had been nice to have a part of his life that was completely removed from his job, but he learned over time that it was also extremely isolating. Some agents preferred that, a tall fence between their private lives and SHEILD, but Phil grew weary of the games he had to play on both sides of that fence to keep everything balanced.

When they officially called it quits, Phil humored the idea of making a move on Barton, but only for about 30 seconds. He knew he could seduce Barton, who had unconsciously telegraphed his interest in Phil on a few occasions. But Barton was used to being used, and used to using, and Phil did not want to be the asshole who rebounded by fucking over someone he truly cared for. He was thinking about giving things time, letting Barton get acclimated to the idea of Phil being interested, but then the Avengers happened. Loki speared him, and between the long painful recovery and trying to keep the Avengers working as a team Phil had let it slide. Barton had Romanov, and the three of them continued to work seamlessly together, and Phil figured it was best to let sleeping dogs lie. The Avengers were his priority, far and above his neglected libido or his unrequited love for someone who had made it clear that he did not actually need Phil.

Phil was invested, but he wasn’t a fool.

He sat down in the waiting area, planning to stay there until the ophthalmologist to come out with news.

Chapter Text

Clint woke up in pain, which was not particularly unusual, just particularly disappointing. He felt the groggy pull of confusion that marked his sleep as drug induced, but he remembered that the last place he had been awake was the conference room at the tower so he was not panicked. He tried to open his eyes to figure out if he was in the medical wing, or if they had transferred him to a hospital, but the effort drew all of his vague unease into a sharp, gritty pain.

His eyes hurt.

He was blindfolded.

And his hands were strapped down.

“Fuck!” Clint hissed, pushing the pain back. He squirmed at the bindings, reconfiguring his original assessment. If someone had grabbed him from the tower, while he was surrounded by fellow Avengers, then he was well and truly screwed. He bit down on his tongue to shut himself up, the drugs making him sloppy.

“Agent Barton, stop. Stop. You’re at the tower, the medical wing, 50th floor,” Coulson said, his calm voice almost literally pushing Clint back into the mattress. “You’ve been out for a little over two hours, it is now 16:47. I’m standing next to your bed, and I’m going to touch you.” Coulson placed his hand neutrally on Clint’s lower right arm, resting it there without holding him down. His skin was cool against Clint’s, but the feeling of Coulson’s hand on him was enough to calm him down. He took a few deep breaths. Coulson’s fingers flexed three times, something Clint would not have noticed if his entire world had not been dialed down to that one point of contact. He focused on it until he could talk through the pain.

“What the fuck?” Clint rattled the restraints. The pain of his eyes sparked, making him groan and retreat to stillness.

“The doctor was, reasonably, worried that you would try to touch your eyes when you woke up. Right now they are bandaged. You need to stay still and not panic.”

“I don’t panic, Sir.”

“Of course not.” Coulson's voice sounded amused, his hand flexing on Clint’s arm a little. Clint would have sold his soul to open his eyes and see Coulson next to him, but he knew his soul wasn’t worth that much, so he stayed still.

“What happened?”

“I’ll let the doctor give you the full report, but the short form is that you are suffering from arc eye.”

“What the hell is that?”

“You looked into the sun and burned your corneas. They are blistering, and that is why your eyes hurt.”

“My eyes.” The air left Clint’s body completely.

“Barton, listen to me. This is temporary. Industrial welders get this a lot, and they recover. It’s a burn, it will heal.”

“It will scar.” Clint snapped, his equilibrium faltering like sliding on ice off a bridge. Nothing but air.

“Slightly, maybe. I’ll let the doctor explain that.” Coulson's hand had not moved, so he must have felt Clint flinch. “Rate the pain, Agent.”

“Six,” Clint answered without thinking. Agents were trained early and often never to lie about their condition, and the macho hold-outs who tried found themselves benched pretty quickly. Clint never lied; he worked through the pain and ignored orders to break off (unless those orders were from Coulson) but he never lied.

Before Coulson answered, Clint heard the door opening with a thump-and-swoosh, and at least two people walked in.

“Dr. Sveda. Captain.” Coulson pulled his hand back as he announced who had entered the room under the guise of greeting them, and Clint’s heart wrenched a little. Coulson was already covering for him, making up for Clint’s shortcomings, the same way he always did in the field.

“Good afternoon, Phil. Clint, hi.” Steve’s voice moved to closer to where Clint thought Coulson was still standing.

“Hey, Cap. Welcome to the party.” Clint tried to smirk, but moving his face at all hurt like hell, spiking the pain through his eyes. He tried to clamp down on his wince.

“Agent Barton, I’m Dr. Sveda, ophthalmologist on staff.” Her voice was calm and precise, with almost no accent that Clint could place. “I’m here to go over your condition with you. Whether you allow Agent Coulson and Captain Rogers to stay is your decision, but you have the right to ask them to leave.”

“Nah, I’m good.” Clint grimaced. The pain was getting worse.

“Agent, report,” Coulson broke in, seeing something in Clint’s reaction.

“Pain increasing, Sir. Up to seven.”

“He reported a pain level of six just before you came in, on a ranking of one to ten,” Coulson said to the doctor. She hmmm’ed, then called for a nurse and ordered something complicated with multiple syllables. Clint focused on his breathing, willing the pain down. He had been through worse.

“The nurse just came in, and is administering a pain killer via your IV,” Coulson explained after a few moments, letting Clint know what the shuffling sounds from his left were.

“Thank you, sir,” Clint whispered, genuinely afraid of moving his face at all. It was weird how his jaw muscles hurt his eyes.

“Are you able to focus on what I say, Agent Barton? We can pick this up tomorrow, if you need,” Dr. Sveda asked politely.

“Just tell me. I need to know.”

“Right. You’ve been diagnosed with a very severe case of photokeraltitis, also known as arc eye or snow blindness. Captain Rogers said you mentioned welders on your last op; were you exposed to any welding arcs?”

“Yeah, a whole hell of a lot. Like, five at once, pointed right at me. Too far away to burn me, but the light blinded me for a second. Less than a second; I barely had time to blink and then the power was cut. I felt fine after that, walked out on my own power.” Clint talked while trying to keep his jaw still, the pain grinding into his eyes despite his best efforts.

“It takes a while for the blisters to develop. The severity of your burn caused them to form pretty quickly, honestly. And that’s where the problems start.” She released him from the wrist restraints as she went on to describe the damage in detail, and the recovery process, but Clint noticed she did not give any time frame and refused to clarify how much vision loss he could expect once his eyes were healed. His freak genetic gift was 20/4 vision in both eyes, it was the source of everything he had accomplished in life for himself, and if there was anything worth putting on his tombstone Clint figured that would be it. Without his superior vision, he was just another dumb soldier with a sketchy past.

Without it, he was nothing.

The Avengers wouldn’t need him, SHEILD would trade him to the CIA, and Clint would never see Coulson again. Probably never see Nat again, except by chance. That was a best case scenario; he had no idea how far up shit creek he would be if he were permanently blind. He did not think he was handling it all too well so far, and that was with Coulson standing right next to the bed.

He kept breathing slowly as the painkillers seeped into this bloodstream.

“Hey, Clint, things’ll be fine, buddy.” Steve’s kind voice sliced through Clint’s nascent panic attack in the dark. “The doc’s taking care of you, and you’ll be back on the range before you know it.”

Clint nodded once then deliberately turned his bandaged face to where he approximated the doctor was standing, despite the scream of pain it caused. “Are there cases where the effects are permanent?”

There was a long, cold silence in the room before she finally answered. “Yes. In severe cases, the blindness does not reverse itself.”

Chapter Text

The sitting area in Barton’s private room—Stark was nothing if not concerned with comfort—had a revolving door for the following 24 hours. The main constant was Phil, who left only once around 21:00 to shower and eat, and only then because Stark had dropped by and would talk Barton into a coma. The rest of the team and Pepper dropped by casually through the night, but they figured out pretty quickly that Barton was not in a position to be very social, because when Doctor Sveda said “mild discomfort in the ocular region” what she really meant was that when he was awake, Barton was in near-constant agonizing pain.

Phil had experienced something close to third degree burns over part of his right thigh during one op gone bad in his 20s. He still had the scars and it still ranked as one of the most excruciating experiences in his life. He could not even imagine a similar injury inside of his eye. Everyone else seemed to feel the same way, and spent most of their time reading quietly while Barton faded in and out of coherence.

Barton’s eyes were kept wrapped so that the eyeballs would not to track movement or light. The nurses would unwrap the dressing, drop liquid painkillers into his unseeing, unfocused eyes, and re-bandage them. The doctor had explained, patiently, repeatedly, to the entire team one after another that there was nothing she could do except relieve the pain he was feeling, and she point blank refused to answer questions about recovery times or permanent damage.

Phil knew Barton was terrified of losing his sight, or even just a portion of it, but he figured they would cross that bridge when they came to it. Phil suspected that even completely blind, Clint would be one of their best agents although he’d probably be benched to desk jockey, becoming a handler by proxy. Between Stark and SHEILD there wasn’t much that couldn’t be overcome, and it wasn’t as if SHEILD didn’t already have a number of physically challenged agents on staff. Everyone had their talents—not everyone was meant for field work—and Phil was confident that if Clint decided to stay on he would become their top staff tactician within a year.

Although the “if” in that thought was a big one.

In the meantime Phil decided not to buy trouble until they knew exactly what the prognosis was going to be. He set himself up a mini-office in the sitting area with his tablet and a box of files and several legal-pads, because Phil always thought things out better in longhand. Everyone came and went around him, mostly quiet, although at one point he and Romanov and Barton had a short conversation about the last op, and what if anything could have been done to avoid Barton’s situation. They all came to the conclusion that there had been nothing for it, and that was what Phil wrote into his report at 05:00 in the morning, trying not to fall asleep on his keyboard.

Which was when Stark came in and gave Phil three sets of sport-style eyeglasses, clear and wrap around.

“Arc eye is caused by the UV rays in the light. This material, it’s plastic, sort of, but anyway…it blocks UV rays. We get caught in a factory again, you guys wear these bad babies.” Stark waved a hand around self-consciously, gave Phil a smug and patently forced smile, and walked out again.

“Tha’ Stark?” Barton slurred from the bed. He was still on the full dose of pain medication, although the doctor had said on her final visit at 01:00 that she would be cutting it back in the morning.

“Yes. He apparently stayed up all night inventing protective eyewear for us.”

“Not like I’ll need it,” Barton said, his voice uneven. Phil looked over at him, wondering about the sudden-onset pessimism. Not that Barton always looked for the silver lining, but he usually put up a fight whenever backed into a corner. This sounded too much like defeat for Coulson’s tastes.

He got up and walked over to the bed, putting his hand back on Barton’s forearm. Barton sighed, the tense lines around his mouth relaxing at the touch.

“Don’t count yourself out yet. We’re not even through the first 24 hours.”

“Yes, sir.”

Phil stood there silently for a moment, listening to the other man breathe, trying to find the words to comfort him. Barton was not one who took well to being coddled. “We’ll find a way to make it work.”

A small, shy smile appeared, and Barton moved his arm. Phil realized that he was trying to grab Phil’s hand, so he made it easy for Barton to find and hold it.

Barton sighed. “You mean us? Or this?”

Phil knew he was in trouble because he understood exactly what Barton was asking. “You’re drugged out of your mind, Agent.” He couldn’t help smiling, though, when Barton squeezed his hand.

“I could do us.”

Barton was severely injured and scared of being permanently disabled, and Phil knew better than to see Barton’s needy ramblings as anything more than the fear they represented. “There is no us. We’re a good team, and that’s good enough.” Phil tried to sound firm, but he did not think he was pulling it off, stress and worry and exhaustion knocking down his defenses.

“It’s not enough.” Barton’s voice was breathy and thin, and Phil realized it was because he was starting to fall asleep again.

“It is. It will be,” Phil said like the professional liar he was.

Chapter Text

Normally, Clint did not see much point in moping and feeling sorry for himself. When shit hit the fan, and it always did, he pulled up stakes and kept moving. He was a pragmatist, first and foremost. Idealism never suited him. He let other Avengers carry that shield; he was just there to do his job.

It wasn’t that he was always ready to run, just that he was always expecting that he would have to at some point. But despite what most people thought, it wasn’t Natasha who reined him in. She kept him sane and sober, and she was his lover and his sister and his partner in a million strange, creepy, important ways but if he bolted she would follow. Or, more likely, lead him away. People looked at them and saw a strong man with his arm thrown protectively over a smaller, feminine woman but the truth was that it was Natasha who looked out for him. She saved him, over and over, riding in like his knight in shining armor.

But she wasn’t the one who grounded the Hawk.

The person who clipped Clint’s wings was Coulson. The agent was Clint’s ground and sky, but Clint had nothing to offer Coulson except his skill as a specialist for SHEILD. He had intended to give that to Coulson until the day he died, which given his job was going to be sooner rather than later, but suddenly that was being ripped from him. Clint knew that Coulson liked him, and he would go so far as to say they were friends. They went out for beers sometimes, watched the few games they shared an interest in (Coulson was a basketball man while Clint loved baseball, but they both agreed that hockey rocked), and spent way too much time at the shooting range together. On missions they worked like a finely honed machine, fitting together smoothly no matter how fucked up an op got. Coulson kept his cool while Clint kept his aim and together they were an unstoppable force.

Without his aim, Clint was the weak link, and the machine would break.

He had plenty of time to think about his situation as he writhed in pain throughout the night. When he was awake, which was mercifully not often, his eyes felt like they were full of sharp grit, stabbing and grinding at the slightest movement. He wanted to rub his eyes with a desperation that bordered on pathological, because it was all he could think about when he wasn’t mired in depressing thoughts of being blind for life. His usual method of dealing with problems by simply holding his head up high and walking (or running) away was impossible to do while he was blind and in agony.

The doctor had said, repeatedly to everyone who asked, that most cases of arc eye cleared up within thirty-six hours, and that the pain would reduce fairly quickly after the first twelve. Clint wasn’t going to hold his breath on that, because he still remembered the shocking white light of the five arc welders pointed directly at his face. He was grateful he had been far enough back not to have his face melted off, but he knew that the combined effect of the welders was pretty potent.

During one short spell when Clint actually felt lucid, Coulson was out and Stark was in, so Clint had Tony read him everything they could find online about his condition. It seemed to run between “quick, full recovery” and “terrible, permanent injury” with little in between. Tony had finally just stopped reading and said that Clint was going to have to suck it up and be patient, because there was no way to know how it would go.

Clint really, really hated it when Tony was right.

The rest of the time, when he wasn’t sinking into unconsciousness under the pain meds the staff was too generous with (and Clint appreciated it), he listened to Coulson as much as he could. Coulson was not the kind to chatter or talk to himself. He was on the phone sometimes and occasionally talked to Clint about random work-related topics, but mostly made small humming noises as he did his paperwork. It was all familiar and soothing, and if Clint had to spend the time in pain and locked inside his head he at least had the soft, crisp sound of Coulson to ground him.

Coulson’s voice was not low pitched; Clint’s was a lower register, and sometimes so was Natasha’s, but Coulson had a steady, even tone of voice that spoke precisely and calmly in nearly every situation. To Clint it was as familiar as the circus cars rolling down the railroad tracks, or the feel of his brother’s arm around his shoulder. It was home. Trapped in the dark and in constant pain, Clint clung to every gentle noise Coulson made, and refused to allow shame or guilt to intrude into that small sense of peace because he was scared he would not have it for very long.

Chapter Text

By the following afternoon, when it was past time for Clint to get the hell out of the hospital, everyone who visited made concerned noises at Coulson except (of course) Tony who came right out and said that Coulson looked like shit.

“Stark, shut up,” Coulson snapped and the room went quiet. Steve and Thor were there, but Banner and Natasha were at the door or just outside of the small room, waiting for Clint to be rolled out, and they had no doubt heard Coulson loud and clear.

Clint was sitting on the edge of his hospital bed, wondering how bad Coulson looked. The bandages on his eyes had been reduced to a thin roll of gauze, just too keep the lids closed, not that it mattered because Clint was in too much pain to try anything fancy and he could not see anything anyway. But what he heard in Coulson’s voice threw him.

“Coulson?” Clint tried to sound professionally concerned. “Maybe you should go take a nap or something.”

Someone—Natasha?—breathed out heavily, as if getting ready to say something, but Coulson talked over them.

“I’m your handler, Barton. It’s my responsibility to oversee your recovery.”

“Pretty sure I pay several doctors exorbitantly for that, Coulson,” Stark said from somewhere to Clint’s left. His voice was soft for a change, lacking the usual sarcastic bite, so Clint figured Coulson probably really did look like shit.

“Stark, you—”

“Gentlemen, let’s get Hawkeye upstairs to his room so everyone can get some real sleep,” Steve broke in, his voice full-on “I am Captain Fucking America and you will follow my goddamn order, soldiers!” mode, which worked surprisingly well whenever he bothered to roll it out. Clint was already standing and feeling for the wheelchair next to him before Steve had even finished. The nurse helped him get turned around to sit in it, and he felt Natasha’s calm, small hands as well, which was her way of letting him know he was safe. He was woozy and his balance was completely off, so he patted her hand in appreciation.

The doctor had given Clint—or rather, given someone—his medicine, which had been reduced down to extra-strength Tylenol and eye drops for the pain, but he was still supposed to keep the eyes wrapped to reduce stress and movement. The pain had gone down as the doctor promised, but it was still there, and that distracted Clint from focusing too much on how he was being fussed over.

He heard everyone start walking as he was rolled out towards the elevator. It felt like an honor guard, the entire Avengers team around him, mostly quiet. It unnerved Clint like nothing else had so far, so he felt compelled to break the tension.

“Did I actually puke yesterday?”

“On the high-end, custom designed executive carpet in the conference room? Yes, that would be you,” Stark said, and Clint could hear the smirk in the man’s voice.

“You know, I thought I’d get to that after one of your famous parties. You’re slacking, man.”

“Huh. True.” They all piled into the elevator, and someone bumped Clint’s legs. Because he was in the wheelchair, everyone was taller than he was, which was something he was marginally used from hanging out with Captain America and Thor to but not quite to that extent. “I’ll send up a case of liquor. Or is a keg more your style?”

Clint thought he heard Stark tapping on his phone, probably actually ordering a keg for delivery. Clint only kept from laughing by sheer willpower and the threat of extreme pain.

There was a muffled sound from Coulson, which made Clint think Nat had elbowed him hard to keep him quiet. It was weird and disturbing to know Coulson was so off his game, and that set off bells in Clint’s head. He wondered if Coulson knew more about the extent of Clint’s injury than he was saying, if maybe he knew that Clint’s days on the job were numbered.

The honor guard continued all the way to Clint’s room. Thor spoke up, his hand heavy on Clint’s shoulder, and Clint felt entirely pathetic for how emotional that made him. He blamed it on the drugs hangover, and the pain.

“Hawkeye, it always brings worry and recrimination when a warrior is cut down in battle. The healer says that you will likely recover fully if you rest, so I implore you to follow her orders and take your ease. Should you need anything please send for me, and I shall move all the Realms to aid you.”

Clint was totally not going to break down like a sobbing little kid at Thor’s earnest and concerned words, so he just nodded and gave him a quick “thank you.” After Thor everyone pretty much said the same thing, only less poetically, and then Clint found himself alone in his apartment.

Or, almost alone. He knew Natasha and Coulson were there.

“You are going to your suite and going to sleep,” Natasha said, sounding angry.

“I’m fine, Agent Romanoff, and when I need your advice I’ll ask for it.” Coulson snapped, walking off somewhere, possibly from the sound of it to Clint’s bedroom. Clint heard Natasha following.

“Coulson, I will knock you out. You’re running on fumes and you need to rest. This isn’t going to help Clint.”

“Still here!” Clint called out. He felt trapped in the middle of his own apartment, not really knowing which direction he faced or where the furniture was in relation to him. His sense of balance being off threw him more than he cared to admit—something else to checkmark in the “unable to perform his job” column—so he was not steady enough to walk, even if he wasn’t slightly worried (a hell of a lot) about walking into a wall. His eyes felt full of sand and gravel, achy and hurting.

“I will get Clint to bed and watch over him. You will leave and go to sleep.” Natasha was walking back into the room, trailing Coulson’s footsteps. Coulson stopped and there was a satisfied huff from Nat. “Don’t pretend you didn’t almost trip over the couch.”

“Damnit,” Coulson snarled. He sounded exhausted and defeated, something that usually took four days and a mission gone bad to accomplish. Clint was starting to understand why Nat was pushing for Coulson to leave.

“I’ll be fine. Nat’s seen me naked before, she can even hold my dick when I piss so I don’t miss the bowl, okay?”

“Ew,” Nat said, but Clint could tell she was laughing.

“So get out of here, Coulson. I’m just going to go to bed. I’ll be here when you wake up and check on me. Nat will be here. I’m fine.”

There was a long pause before Coulson answered. “It will probably be a little while before Stark gets that keg delivered anyway.”

Clint laughed, which hurt, and he ended up holding himself still and taking deep breaths.

“Sorry,” Coulson said, right into his ear, his voice gentle and soft and sexy as hell. He was probably crouching down next to the chair. Clint did not want that kind of attention in a weak moment, or ever, not if he couldn’t have what he wanted.

“Whatever. Stop torturing me with your pathetic attempts at a joke and get the hell out of here.” Clint put on a very small, only slightly painful smile directed at where he thought Coulson was.

Natasha bustled Coulson out faster than Clint could follow, and then rolled him to his bedroom. He was already bored of just sitting around, but it wasn’t as if he could watch TV or go for a jog, so he resigned himself to bed rest and let Nat tuck him in. She was secretly the worst mother hen ever, and if Coulson did not know that, he had not been paying attention.

“I am so bored,” he said as soon as she flipped the sheets over him. He had to stay slightly elevated, as laying down put too much pressure on his eyes, so he knew falling asleep was not going to be easy.

“That was a record. Not even five seconds in the bed and you’re complaining.”

“You could take my mind off the pain.” Clint tried to leer through the pain and the blindfold, at least aiming for a laugh if not a blowjob.

Nat was surprisingly quiet for a long time.

“Nat? It was a joke.”

“I know. I just think…Clint, you can’t see Coulson. He’s completely in pieces over this.”

It was a non sequitor that Clint could not process. “Huh?”

“We’re good, you and I. But I think we should keep things friendly for a while. Just to see.”

“Either I’m still on the heavy drugs or this conversation makes no sense.”

“Have you ever been in love?”

“Heavy drugs, then. Am I tripping?”

“Probably. Just answer the question.” Nat sat down on the edge of the bed, Clint could feel it dip under her weight.

“Yeah. Sure. Hasn’t everybody?”

“Are you pretending you aren’t in love with him?”

Clint tried not to ground his teeth, because his whole face ached from the pain that radiated from his eyeballs. “You know where that’s at. It’s not something I can do anything about.”

“Hm. I’m not so sure. Because when you are in love with someone, their health is more important than your own; their happiness is more important than your own.”

“I get that, Nat. Why do you think I’ve kept my distance? Phil is more important that what I want. Why are you lecturing me about this? What has this got to do with us?”

“Everything, once you stop being stupid. Now get some sleep.” She stood up and walked out, her footfall light but sure.

“Bored! I’m so bored!” Clint called out, knowing that she was going to ignore him.

Chapter Text

Phil fell face first onto his bed before he got his shirt off, and woke up six hours later confused and uncomfortable. Sighing, he got up, undressed properly and took a shower.

He didn’t bother with a suit. He considered it, if only to keep up an appearance of professionalism in regards to his behavior towards Barton, but he figured it was too late for that. The looks he had gotten in the hospital room from everyone pretty clearly let him know that he was fooling exactly no one in regards to his concern. Phil was okay with that, as long as everyone kept it off the table; he was used to managing unspoken, unacknowledged open secrets in a variety of circumstances, and this was not particularly different.

He dressed in jeans, a comfortable tee shirt and a pullover sweater. It was nearly 20:00 anyway, so he was hardly on the clock. He grabbed a protein bar out of his small kitchen and bottle of water, then set out for Barton’s room. He knocked but did not bother for an answer, opening the door to let himself in and then throwing himself to one side as Natasha made a bee line for the open door.

“You deal with him!” Natasha growled as she marched out, her face set in a scowl that promised pain for anyone unfortunate enough to get in the way of her retreat.

And yes, Phil was willing to call it for what it was: a full retreat from the battlefield.

He knew Barton was a difficult patient even in the best of times, easily bored by bed rest and far too willing to jump the gun on recovery times. Barton never lied about his physical condition, but that honesty had very little bearing on what he actually did.

Natasha slammed the door, a totally premeditated and calculated move, probably to let Barton know her opinion.

“Good riddance!” Barton called from the bedroom, his voice strained by the pain he was in.

Phil made sure to make noise as he walked into the bedroom, which went against all of his training. “Barton. Are you causing Agent Romanoff to go on a bender again?”

“No?” Barton looked like an invalid from a classic movie, sitting in his bed in old fashioned pajamas (probably Natasha’s idea, Phil decided) and his face lightly bandaged. His hands were balled into fists at his sides, though. “Maybe. Maybe she deserves it.” In total, Barton looked all of five years old, pouting about having to stay inside on the weekend because he was sick. Phil reprimanded himself for finding it adorable.

“Maybe you tried her patience with your continual, repeated complaining about being bored.”

Barton’s mouth was a straight line. “You don’t know that.”

“I know you, when you’re on bed rest. So, since we can’t watch television, what do you suggest?” He sat down in the small upholstered chair that was set near the bed. He took a moment to really look around, because aside from his barely-remembered visit that afternoon, he had never been in Barton’s quarters before. It was as Spartan and utilitarian as he suspected it would be, except for an old, framed circus poster on one wall and a small bookcase full of paperbacks. “What were you and Romanov doing?”

“Nothing. I can’t watch TV, listening to it annoys me, and we couldn’t agree on a book for her to read aloud. So mostly we argued.”

“Argued?” Phil stretched out his legs and clasped his hands on his stomach.

“It’s a thing.”

“Right.” Phil got that answer a lot from them about a wide variety of topics, and had learned not to ask for details. He glanced over at Barton, who was still vibrating with tension on the bed. Phil sighed. “Agent, report.”

“Fucking eleven out of ten, sir.”

Phil sat up. “Did you take the pain meds?”

“Nat gave me my dose two hours ago. But it’s just fucking Tylenol, and my eyes feel like they are on goddamn fire, sir.”

Phil reassessed the clinched fists. Barton was not just stressed, he was holding himself back from trying rub at his eyes. In a matter of mind over matter, Barton would win every time, but the battle itself would take a toll. Recovery required actual rest, whether Barton liked the idea or not, and at the moment Barton was a human trip wire set to blow.

“What can I do to help?”

“I asked Nat for a blowjob, but she turned me down,” Barton said, his smile fixed and tight.

Phil normally didn’t blush easily, he had seen too much of the world to pretend to be innocent or surprised, but something about sitting in Barton’s bedroom talking about blowjobs did the trick. He managed to keep his voice level, despite himself. “I’ll keep that in mind. How about I read to you?”

“We can argue over the choice of book, that would be distracting.”

“You choose.”

Barton sat quietly a moment. “Really? Yeah, okay, Lord of the Rings. Just don’t tell Stark, I’m tired of the damn Legolas jokes.”

“Not sure he means them as jokes.” Phil got up and inspected the book shelf until he found the first volume. “From the beginning?”

“Yeah.” Barton eased back a little in a parody of relaxing, his fists still held tight against his thighs.

Phil read for an hour, his voice finally giving out about the time Barton started gasping in pain, although he was trying to hide it.

“It’s another hour at least before you get pain meds,” Phil said gently, his voice scratchy. “Do you think you’ll be able to sleep at all?”

“No. No! I fucking hate this. I hate it. I’m in a lot of pain and I hate it.” Barton took a deep breath. “Sorry, sir, just…a lot of pain.”

“You can call me Phil.” Phil put the book aside and rubbed his eyes. He looked over to where Barton was sitting tight and confused.

“Phil? Okay. Sure. And I’m Clint, right?”

“Last I checked.”

Clint huffed. “Smart ass.”

“It’s a valid defense technique, as you know.” Phil spoke lightly but studied Clint’s expression and body clinically, seeing a man holding himself in agony. The doctor had made it clear that aside from the eye drops and the mild pain killers, there wasn’t anything she could do about the pain, and Clint was going to simply have to power through it. Phil had seen Clint in pain before, but this made him feel particularly helpless, and he could only imagine how frustrated Clint was on top of the pain. They had not talked about recovery one way or another, since it was something Clint had already brushed off the few times Phil referred to “later.”

Before he could second guess his motives, Phil got up and sat down on the edge of the bed, facing Clint, who frowned, his head tilting in Phil’s direction. “Let me help.” Phil reached out and gently took Clint’s right fist into his hands. The muscles were corded tightly, his hand frozen stiff. It had been a long time since Phil had done this particular massage but it was hardly complicated. He held Barton’s arm in both of his hands and pushed his thumbs into the muscles along the inside of his forearm, staggering the pressure as he massaged up from the wrist. He kept his motions fluid, sweeping his fingers over skin and muscle, applying pressure where he felt the muscles bunched up around tendons.

Clint gasped and arched into it, taken off guard. “Shit, shit, oh man!”

“If it’s too much, let me know.”

“Don’t stop,” Clint ground out, his voice deep and gravely and Phil did not think of porn.

Assets like Clint and Natasha and even Phil himself were on regular rotation for massages. They got hassled for it by the desk jockeys but Fury knew that staying in top physical condition was not just about how hard you can hit or far you can run so he made it mandatory. The massages by the SHEILD physical therapists were perfunctory, though; effective, but not intimate. They worked their way through the muscle groups and then dumped their clients into a sauna. The kind of work that Phil was doing on Clint’s arm was nothing of the sort, something he picked up from a girlfriend when he was in the Rangers. She was a new-agey masseuse with a uniform kink, so it worked well for both of them when he was in town. Nearly twenty years later, what he remembered most vividly was the way her hands would work him down during a massage, lighting him up in glorious pain as she just short of pulled muscle from bone.

Phil turned that intensity on Clint, kneading muscles and flexing tendons and pushing blood back and forth through his skin. He kept at it until he heard Clint sigh heavily, genuinely relaxing into the pillows, his head against the headboard and his mouth open, slackjawed from the sensations. There was a glistening trail of sweat along his hairline. His fist had uncurled and his whole arm was resting in Phil’s lap like a dead weight.

Phil gently lifted Clint’s arm and placed it on the bed. Clint groaned, but shut up quickly with a surprised intake of breath when Phil crawled over his legs. He sat down on the other side, cross-legged on the mattress, and picked up Clint’s left arm.

He knew he was crossing a line, but he had nothing else to give Clint to take the pain away, and it hurt Phil too much to see the man he loved in such ongoing agony. He would not let himself get too wrapped up in it, he promised himself as he dug his thumbs into Clint’s forearm and started all over again.

Chapter Text

Clint was pretty sure he had died and gone to heaven, despite evidence to the contrary. But it was Phil’s surprisingly soft, sure hands massaging Clint into a puddle of goo, and the pain in Clint’s eyes was still there but retreating fast under the endorphin rush of what was, literally, the best hand job of Clint’s life. He almost laughed at the double entendre but he was too busy being lifted onto a higher plane by Phil’s amazing hands.

His right arm was still noodley, splayed out on the mattress like a cheap whore while Phil worked his left arm into oblivion. Phil’s hands flowed softly over Clint’s skin, soothing and calm, before digging in to the crevices of his muscles. Then, when Clint was starting to sweat from the pain, Phil would back off and sweep Clint’s arm with long, firm strokes until Clint was breathing evenly again. About the time Clint thought he was going to cry, Phil gently placed his arm down onto the bed.

“Agent, report.”

Clint’s heart dived at the words. This was just Phil—Coulson—doing his job, handling Clint. He pulled back a little, but Phil was still sitting next to him, his knee resting against Clint’s thigh.

“Three, maybe. Gah.” Clint took in a long breath, trying to steady himself, burying himself in his pain to kill his emotions. Phil was motionless next him on the bed, probably assessing whether Clint was telling the truth or not, maybe checking the time. The massage had clearly not been quite the metaphysical experience for Phil that it had been for Clint, but that was okay, Clint decided, taking a deep breath to clear his mind. The personal touch was more than Clint had hoped for; he could fantasize about it for years, and that was enough.

Phil’s hand landing on his thigh, warm and solid. “Clint.” Phil’s voice was as unsteady as his hand was sure, a little higher pitched than usual, stressed in ways Clint wanted to see.

He tilted his bandaged head towards Phil. His heart was pounding but he knew he wasn’t wrong, that Phil wasn’t saying his name or touching him out of professional interest. Phil’s hand squeezed his thigh. Clint was not in the dark, his eyes were not seeing anything but it was more a blur of white, if he had to describe it. He felt his eyes searching around for something to focus on, despite not being able to focus at all, desperate to see what Phil looked like, to know if he was as wrecked as Clint felt.

“Clint,” Phil repeated, his voice gentle but solid, giving Clint the focus he needed. Phil’s voice, disembodied and yet everywhere, his one hand hot and needy on Clint’s leg—everything dialed down to Phil, and always had.

Clint took a deep breath again, drinking in the change of mood and the enormity of what was happening. The timing sucked but never in Clint’s life had timing been good to him; that was why he worked so hard on his aim. Like pulling the bow string back and releasing, Clint let loose his words between them. “Touch me. Phil, please.”

“Fuck,” Phil said, drawing the word out, and Clint rolled his body in reaction because Phil almost never cussed, and certainly not when both of his hands were suddenly on Clint, slowly pushing up his thighs. Phil moved cautiously (which Clint distantly understood as a concession to his blindness), shifting to straddle Clint’s knees, his ass just barely pressing down on his legs. Phil let out a long, soft moan. “Clint, Jesus, let me.”

“Yes, fuck, whatever you want, don’t let go, I can’t see goddamn it!” Clint remembered his blissed out arms and reached for Phil’s shoulders, desperate to touch in the void of his sight. He whined, realizing that Phil was wearing a damn sweater, and how many times had Clint actually seen Phil out of a suit? It was all unfair. He fisted the sweater, angry that he didn’t even know what fucking color it was.

“Shhh, baby, shhh.” Phil spoke softly, lifting a hand to gently trace over Clint’s lips. Clint bit at them, grabbing a finger and sucking it into his mouth, pushing his tongue up against it as he sucked. Phil groaned louder. Clint felt him flexing, his hips trying to press down despite Phil’s best efforts to hold himself up. His other hand was pulling down Clint’s pajama bottoms, and Phil was shaking with it, his hands vibrating. Clint pulled his mouth back, releasing Phil’s finger.

“I want it. Phil, goddamnit, I’ve wanted this for so long, don’t leave me hanging, I—UNF,” Clint finished on a grunt as Phil’s mouth closed around the head of his dick, soft and hot and perfect.

Clint knew this was going to be one for the history books before Phil even got a rhythm going. His mouth was all suction, his tongue flicking along the underside of Clint’s dick as he slowly took him into his mouth. Clint let out a long, low groan when he felt himself bottoming out in Phil’s throat. Clint knew he wasn’t a stallion but his dick was respectable, and taking it deep meant that Phil, as usual and as fucking always, knew what the hell he was doing. Clint scrabbled at Phil’s shoulders, tugging at the sweater, a deep groan pulled out from wherever his soul might be.

“Stop moving around, stay still,” Phil said, rising up a little to put on hand in the middle of Clint’s chest. It was weird to feel everything first, rather than having his eyes telegraph every touch before it landed. It stripped him of his defenses, literally, and with Phil’s hand on him like a brand Clint was reduced to obedient speechlessness. He nodded slowly.

“I’ll take care of you. Let me take care of you.” Phil’s voice was shockingly reverent. Clint nodded again, despite how wrong it was, how turned around everything was. He wanted to take care of Phil, he wanted to be everything Phil wanted or needed because Phil was always taking care of Clint. If they were going down this road Clint wanted to be what Phil needed, not another stone around his neck. Clint was furious that he wasn’t able to do anything more than hang on as Phil’s mouth wrapped around him again.

Phil started in with a rhythm at last, slow and steady. Clint’s dick slipped in and out of Phil’s mouth and Clint wanted to scream with frustration at finally getting this and not being able to see it. He traced Phil’s face with his fingers, memorizing the texture and the heat and feel of Phil on him. Phil kept going relentlessly until Clint was grabbing at Phil’s hair, his hips snapping up in anticipation of coming.

“Love you, fuck, I love you, I’m so sorry, I’m so goddamn sorry, oh, Phil!” Clint gasped when it hit. Phil’s hands were holding him down, keeping him from moving too much, but Clint could buck his hips up just enough, fucking into Phil’s mouth. Clint imagined that his come was dribbling out of Phil’s mouth and it kicked him over into a second convulsion as he finished out. He lay there, shaking and crying under the bandages, the pain forgotten for a blessed moment, Phil pressing him down by resting on his chest. Clint took a deep breath to say something, but fell asleep before he could.

Chapter Text

The damage was done, Phil thought as he pulled Clint’s pants up over him and crawled off the bed. Clint was out cold, as knocked out as any drug could make him, and for that much Phil was grateful because it meant that Clint was out of pain long enough to get some real rest.

Phil stood there by the bed, the taste of Clint Barton on his tongue, wiping his chin of drool and semen. He had done what he swore he wasn’t going to do. But in that moment, when he had asked Clint about his pain and Clint had visibly retreated into it as a defense, Phil had been undone. He had wanted and he had taken and Clint might have agreed to it but that did not make it the right choice.

They were in it, hell or high water.

He went into the bathroom, ripped open his jeans and jacked off perfunctorily into the sink, grinding his teeth as he came, the musky, male scent of Clint still strong around him. Afterwards he washed up, rinsed his face and went back to the bedroom.

Clint was mostly sitting up although he had listed a little. He looked more vulnerable than Phil had ever seen him, which he supposed had something to do with his head being wrapped in gauze as much as his post-coital condition. Phil cursed himself and went for a distraction.

He picked another book off the shelf, some popular fantasy tome that had been out for a few years but that he had not managed to find time to read, and settled into the chair. He figured, given the pain involved, Clint would not stay asleep for long.

“Hey,” Clint said, startling Phil out of his book. He looked at his watch; it had been nearly two hours, which was more than he hoped for. “Phil?”

“Sorry, yes, I’m here.”

“Okay. Good.” Clint sounded firm and certain, although is movements were small and stuttered, as if he would be running out the door if he could see.

“Time for you meds. Can you unwrap the bandaging yourself?”

Clint pulled himself up into a fully seated position carefully then nodded. He unwrapped the blindfold and placed the bandages on the table next to him without pausing or feeling around. Phil watched carefully, and it hit him that even blind, Clint remembered distances perfectly. His aim was completely unaffected. Shaking his head, wondering what it would be like to be that gifted at anything, Phil got up and grabbed the eye drops.

He stood next to the bed, trying to telegraph his moves with sound. Clint seemed to gravitate towards him naturally, scooting over to the edge of the bed. His eyes looked normal, completely unaffected, except for the way they were unfocussed and moving around without any context to Clint’s environment. He turned his head towards Phil but his eyes swayed off to one side, not in the manner of eyes seeing movement but because they had nothing to focus on. It was eerie and disturbing for Phil to see Clint as a blind man, but he reminded himself of Clint’s moves only seconds earlier, sure and aware as he put his bandages on the side table. Clint was the same person, with the same skills and talents he always had, and Phil admonished himself to remember that.

Phil used one hand to tip Clint’s head back. Clint was pliant, following Phil’s lead without question, putting himself completely into Phil’s hands literally and figuratively. He gently held one eyelid open and then the other as he applied the eye drops. Clint blinked a lot when Phil stepped back, releasing him.

“Are we doing this?” Clint asked, still blinking, his hands twitching with the obvious need to rub his eyes. Phil grabbed a tissue and dabbed at Clint’s eyes cautiously, catching the overflow as Clint’s eyes watered up.

“We don’t have to,” Phil said calmly, leaving Clint an easy opt-out.

“It’s…bad timing.” Clint hedged.

“Isn’t it always?” Phil moved closer, holding Clint’s face in his hands. “We can do this, Clint, but I’ve held back for a reason. You never showed much interest and we work together. I never judged it a good time to make a move.”

Clint laughed, his eyes dancing wildly around. “I’ve wanted you for so fucking long. You were dating someone else. I’m not the kind of dick who would make a move on a happy man, okay?”

“So do you want this?” Phil rubbed his thumbs over Clint’s cheeks.

Clint laughed again, although this time it was a caustic sound. “Fuck, I’m on my way out, okay? You want to take up a lame has-been assassin? Sure, why the hell not.”

Phil decided not to answer that, leaning over to kiss Clint instead, keeping his face in his hands. It was their first kiss and the whole thing was ill advised but Phil was not a coward and neither was he going to humor Clint’s insecurities. He put everything he had into the kiss, pressing their lips together hard but not violently, gently smoothing his tongue over Clint’s barely parted lips until Clint opened for him and let Phil ravish his mouth as best he could, given the awkward angle and his own concerns about the pain he knew Clint was still in. Which meant less ravishing and more questioning, nibbling softly with teeth and then giving Clint a long, wet kiss that promised more.

He pulled back and instinctively focused on Clint’s eyes, which were directed at nothing and dilated. It threw Phil off a little but he did not move back or make a sound. Clint was panting. Phil did not let go of his face, holding it as gently and firmly as he could to keep Clint from trying to bolt.

“Agent, report.”

“I love you.” Clint sounded panicked, reaching up to grab at Phil, pulling to drag him down. Phil let him, climbing into the bed next to him.

“I just want to know if you’re in pain.”

“I’m in pain. My eyes feel like they have been replaced with glass shards and sand, okay? I’m in pain. Just don’t…don’t do that. Not when were like this, don’t back off. Fuck.” Clint breathed heavily, rolling to push his whole body into Phil’s.

“I’m not. I won’t. Calm down.” Phil hugged him tightly to his chest.

Clint breathed into his ear, making him shudder. “Fuck me? I want you to fuck me. I want you. I need this.”

“I’m not letting you do any more damage to your eyes.”

“My eyes are fucked already. Who cares? Fuck me, damnit.”

Phil pushed him back. “We have plenty of time. We don’t have to do this now. We can wait.”

Clint stopped, tipping his head so his forehead rested on Phil’s shoulder. “So you say.”

“Stop predicting the future, Barton.” Phil took a deep breath. “Unless this is just your way of blowing off steam.”

Clint was quiet for a long time, but Phil was used to waiting him out.

“Sort of, yeah, I guess. I’m blowing off steam but I want…I want you. If you let me. If I don’t drag you down. Fuck. Sorry.” One hand made an aborted move for his eyes, then dropped and clutched at Phil’s sweater instead.

“You said that before. Why are you sorry?” Phil adjusted himself so that were lounging together, Clint sprawled over him, curled up into Phil’s space, his head on Phil’s chest.

“Jesus, you have to ask? I’m just a sharp shooter. What the hell is SHEILD going to do with me if I can’t see? For fuck’s sake, what are you going to do with me? I’m on borrowed time, and we both know it. I’ll take what you give.” His voice was angry, his words hitting Phil’s chest like the arrows Clint shot so often.

Phil stalled, realizing for the first time how far down Clint’s fear ran. Phil ran his hands up and down Clint’s back. He took a deep breath, letting Clint feel his chest expanding and contracting, before talking.

“I need you to do something for me.”

Clint tensed up, his eyes still closed, but he nodded. “Sure.”

“This is important.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“I need you to tell me how you really feel about this. About us.”

If possible, Clint’s body tightened up even further, but he did not move or let go of Phil. “Not sure what you mean, Sir.”

Phil cringed inwardly at the retreat to honorifics. Sighing, he sifted his fingers through Clint’s hair. “I’m not blowing off steam. I’ve wanted this for a quite a while. I’m what they call a serial monogamist; it may not last forever but while it does, I give it everything I have. I won’t make that commitment to someone who isn’t willing to give that much back to me.”

Clint was shaking, but silent, pressing his face into Phil’s chest. He wasn’t crying, and Phil guessed the shaking was a result of Clint trying to stay in control.

“What you have to do for me is tell me how you feel about me. I need that from you, because I’m in love with you, and if you don’t feel that way then I need to know now. I have too much of myself invested in you to walk away from this easily, Clint, whether you’re blind or not. You might think fucking tonight will give you what you need, but I’d rather make love to you for the rest of my life, if I can—” Phil was cut short by a brutal kiss, Clint whimpering into his mouth. The kiss was searing and raw, pure need and hunger, Clint pushing Phil down into the mattress, his hands heavy as he ran them over Phil’s shoulders and arms. Phil gasped for air and in the break pushed Clint back. “I don’t know what that means.”

“Fuck, you’re serious.”

Phil closed his eyes, knowing that Clint could not see the reaction even if he was trying. “Yes. I am. It’s easy to say something in the heat of the moment but I have to know, Clint.”

Clint was still shuddering a little, coming back from the edge of where ever his emotional cliff dropped off. He nodded, his forehead touching Phil’s, then moved his head so his lips were lightly pressed to Phil’s ear. “I love you?”

“Is that a question?” Phil smiled anyway.

“I don’t know why you’d stay. Whether I can see or not, I’m just a problem for you. Blind…I’m useless. But I love you, okay?” Clint whispered earnestly, his breathing fast and humid.

“I’d stay because I love you.” Phil moved a little, figuring he had the information he needed, and kissed Clint softly, with all the care he had, gentling Clint down with long, slow caresses until they both dozed off on top of the sheets with the lights on.

Chapter Text

Once, Clint felt helpless. It was not the day his parents died, or the day he and Barney were placed in an orphanage, or when he totally screwed up his very first solo mission for SHIELD and thought he was going to get canned all the way back to the circus. Those were bad days, but Clint had never felt like his ‘personal agency’ (as Coulson called it) was compromised. Feeling sad or angry or scared was not the same as feeling helpless.

Clint felt helpless standing in the middle of a stark, anonymous room with the Black Widow sitting quietly, willingly in chains while Coulson calmly walked up to her with a knife in his hands.

Clint felt helpless, watching, while the consequences of his decision to give her chance—to beg Coulson to give her a chance—played out in front of him.

Coulson could slit her throat, or die trying. All three of them could end up dead in a parody of a tragic love story. Anything was possible, and none of it was something Clint had control over at that point. More importantly, he cared like he rarely had before about anyone, other than Barney or Coulson. That was where helplessness was born, he decided: the act of caring about someone or something you had no control over.

If you didn’t care, you would never feel helpless.

Clint cared.

He woke up to that thought, the world hazy and white like television static. He was still in Phil’s arms, and from what Clint could tell, Phil was still asleep. Clint lay there, forcing himself to blink to just make sure that he did. His eyes were watering fine, and he knew that from the outside they were okay. But even with the marked lessening of the pain and the suggestion of shadows or light infiltrating the static that hurt to look at, he didn’t trust them. That was a first, and it bothered him. Something else to put into “Clint’s Fucked Up” box of goodies.

There was no way to know what time it was. He could not see whether the sun was up, he couldn’t read a clock. That was its own form of helplessness, but something Clint knew he could conquer by asking JARVIS to tell him the time, or have Coulson—Phil—tell him.

No, his new particular brands of helplessness was the fear that Phil wouldn’t need him.

He tried not to cringe remembering how pathetic he must has sounded, begging Phil not to backtrack into being his handler by asking about his pain levels. It was helplessness, pure and desperate, that had sent Clint reaching out for the man he loved but could not see.

Because Clint cared about Phil, and he cared about what Phil thought of him, and that was a whole new level of helplessness that Clint was ill-prepared to combat.

Laying in Phil’s arms, he brought one hand up and carefully placed it over Phil’s heart, that fragile organ that had been stopped one too many times by Loki and which Clint never wanted to live without feeling against his palm.

Phil shifted under his hand, and Clint assumed he had woken up. Clint braced himself, ready for anything from Phil trying to go back to sleep to getting up and walking out, and instead felt Phil’s fingers gently combing through his hair.

“I meant what I said, Clint. Please stop believing the worst of me.”

Clint sighed. “I’m bracing myself for eventualities.”

Phil sighed but did not stop. Clint let his hand drift until he was rubbing Phil’s chest and belly in slow, sweeping motions. “Pain’s down. About a three or four, and I think I’m seeing shadows through the static.”

“The static?” Phil’s hand stopped.

“It’s what it looks like: television static or something. Lots of white. Doctor said that was normal.”

Phil hmmm’d and Clint felt him nod. After a few moments Phil got up and made Clint sit so he could take his medicine and get his eye drops. Then Clint scooted backwards in surprise when Phil crawled in between his legs, pushing forward until Clint’s thighs were propped up over his, splayed wide.

“What am I going to do with you?” Phil asked quietly, his hands holding Clint’s hips down. Clint felt himself getting hard, even through the slight pain. One of Phil’s hands ghosted over Clint’s erection, and Clint gasped embarrassingly loudly.

“I don’t know, but I’ve got some suggestions on tap.”

Phil ground his hand down into Clint’s erection, hard, but he knew what he was doing and it sent spikes of pleasure up Clint’s spin. “You do?”

“Fuck. Yeah. Do me. I want this…I want to give you this.” Clint grabbed his wrist to hold his hand still, to make Phil understand.

“Do you understand that you don’t need to give me anything?”

Clint tightened his hold, but Phil didn’t try to escape. “Do you understand that I want to give you every-fucking-thing I have to give?”

Phil fell on him, the kiss blisteringly hot, his free hand grabbing Clint’s hair and twisting it so that all of Clint’s nerves sparked with arousal. Clint got with the program. The kiss was epic and Clint wasn’t about to let Phil take the lead on that score, so he put his hands on Phil’s ass and hauled him in closer, grinding their erections together. Phil groaned into Clint’s mouth and Clint grinned in triumph.

Phil pushed off, grabbed Clint’s knees and shoved them apart as he shuffled up even closer until his hips—and his erection—were pushing into the cleft of Clint’s ass. He stopped there, his body still above him. Clint reached out and put both hands on Clint’s chest.

“Phil?”
“If your pain goes above a six, you tell me.”

Clint frowned, because no way was he going to say a damn thing. “You’ll stop?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. But you’ll tell me, Barton, or I’m stopping right now.”

“Fuck. Fuck you, fuck you so much, you annoying bastard.”

“Clint. Understand this: I will not hurt you. I could not live with myself if I did. So you have to do this, for me, not for yourself. This isn’t about you. It’s about me, and my concern with hurting you.”

No one that Clint could remember had ever said anything like that. Usually in relationships it was a war of wills, Clint doing what he thought was right for himself because no one else would. Phil was asking Clint to be honest with him, simply because it was important to Phil. Somehow, that seemed to be enough. “Okay. Okay! I’ll tell you.”

“And where is it at now?”

“About a four. It’s not going too far down, the meds only help so much. They’re working, I can feel the tension letting up. But I’m going to be in pain.” Clint stroked his hands over and down Phil’s flanks. “I can handle it.”

“I know you can handle it, I just don’t want to make a mistake and cost you your vision.”

“Too late for worrying, I think.” Clint grinned, closing his eyes in the hopes of not looking insane.

Phil’s hands tightened on Clint’s thighs until Clint winced. “Stop buying trouble. We can make love or you can sit around moping, but not both.”

Clint froze up under him, he breath caught in his chest. “Make love, huh?”

“That’s what I prefer to call it when I’m with someone I love, but you can refer to it as fucking if that makes you more comfortable.” Phil gently pushed his hips again, his erection even harder and stronger against Clint’s ass. Clint sucked in a breath through his teeth.

“Works for me, the love thing. Making love. We can do that.” Just saying the words caused Clint’s stomach to cramp with unexpected hope and fear.

Phil lowered Clint’s legs to wrap them around his waist. “Glad to hear it.”

There was a great deal of kissing before Phil started to remove their clothes, mostly at Clint’s insistence. Dragging Phil’s sweater off of him, he paused long enough that Phil sat back.

“What color?” Clint held up the sweater.

Phil’s hand closed over his. “Blue. Dark blue, I would call it indigo. My tee shirt is white. My jeans are worn but not very faded.” He paused. “It’s 4:47 am in the morning. Your bedside lamp is on, as is the floor lamp by the chair. Your eyes are unfocused, aimed up past my right shoulder. The chair is where Natasha left it. There is nothing blocking the path to the door, or to the bathroom. I’m barefoot.” Clint felt Phil’s hand on his face, gently running his fingers over his skin. “And if I have to describe every room you are in, every day, for the rest of our lives, then I will. Because I love you. Now let me make love to you.”

Clint nodded. “Phil, okay, I get it. I get it.” His hands were shaking as he let go of the sweater and reached for Phil again. They navigated undressing in place until they were both naked and Phil’s dick was resting, hard and full, next to Clint’s. It was hot against Clint’s skin, against his own dick, and he wanted to grab them both in hand and jack them off, simply because they felt so amazing together. He could not see how Phil looked naked, but he felt Phil’s hairy thighs against his own, and he could touch all of Phil’s chest and hips and arms, skin on skin.

“Do you have—”

Clint reached over to where he knew the drawer was, opened it and pulled out the lube and a couple of condoms. He held out his hand, and Phil plucked the items from him quietly.

“You are amazing, do you know that? How easy it is for you, to just do things like that. I don’t think I can even explain it to you, because it is so natural for you.”

Clint frowned. “You’re right, that didn’t make any sense.”

Phil sighed. “I know.”

Clint waved a hand impatiently, feeling vulnerable and stupid. Phil chuckled, and Clint growled because it was another thing to add to his list of stuff about Phil he had never seen. Phil popped open the lube and after a few quiet seconds gently stroked his fingers over Clint’s hole. Clint spasmed in surprise.

“Something wrong?” Phil stopped.

“No, just taken off guard. I can’t watch what you’re doing so I don’t know what you will do next. It’s no big deal.” Clint lied, because it was a huge deal, and it was disconcerting, and it was everything he was scared of: not seeing it coming, whatever “it” might be.

“Hm.” Phil began massaging him again. Then he started talking. “I’m breaching you now, with one finger. I’m leaning over you, my other hand braced against the bed. My cock is flushed and red at the head, and if I know myself, I’m probably blushing from my ears to my chest.” He pushed a finger in. “If you could see me you would see how uncomfortable I am naked; you would pick up on all my tells.”

Clint brought the images to mind as Phil spoke, gasping at Phil’s intrusion into his body and his mind. “You’re not shy.” He ground the words out, his hips thrusting up as he tried to fuck himself on Phil’s finger.

“No. Not about my body, particularly, but about…intimacy. You know I was in the Rangers; standing in a room full of naked soldiers is not a problem. On top of you, touching you like this, everything about me here for you to take—” He drew in a deep breath as his finger curled up and brushed at Clint’s prostate, making Clint’s hips snap while he groaned. “Like this, I have no defenses.”

There was a bare, brutal rasp to Phil’s voice, as if he was barely holding on, and Clint felt himself cracking. “Phil.”

“Second finger now. I’m moving back, sitting on my heels to put my other hand on your hip.” He sighed, as if it was a relief for him to insert another finger into Clint’s body. “You are so beautiful. So unique. So perfect for me.”

Clint’s throat closed up and he gasped for breath. “Shit, Phil, Phil!”

“I’m withdrawing now.” His fingers slid out. “Now I’m rolling on the condom, my other hand locked around the base so I don’t come too soon; you would know how close I am if you could see me. My hands are shaking. Fuck.” Phil’s voice gave out. Clint’s hands flew out, grabbing at Phil’s thighs and holding on tight. He heard Phil taking a few more deep breaths before shifting forward again.

Clint picked up the dialogue. “I know, I can feel you: you’re leaning over me, one hand slipping under my ass to push me up, your other hand holding yourself, lining up with my ass, get in me you fucking bastard, get in me.”

“Clint!” Phil cried out softly as he pushed in.

If there had been any plan for slow and steady, Clint knocked it out of the running by hauling himself closer so that Phil was fully seated inside him. They both gasped a little, and the race was on, Clint holding his shoulders tight so his head did not move too much but his torso and hips jerked up to meet Phil’s hard thrusts. After a few awkward strokes they fell together into a punishing, matched pace. Phil wrapped a slick, tight fist around Clint’s dick and it was over for him in just a few pulls. He gave it up with everything he had, arching his body into it and moaning Phil’s name as his cum stuttered over his stomach.

After a moment he moved his hands to grab at Phil’s arms, which were tight with tension as his hips slammed into Clint. “C’mon, Phil, I feel you, I feel all of you, goddamnit!”

Phil ground down with one long, hard shove as he came, the rumbling from his chest resonating through Clint’s hands on his arms. He stuttered down slowly, collapsing against Clint’s chest. After a moment he took a breath as if getting ready to speak, but Clint talked first.

“At a two, maybe. Endorphins still running high, so there really isn’t too much pain going on and nothing new to report.”

Phil laughed against Clint’s skin. “Thank you.”

“I’ll never understand you.”

“I’m just an international man of mystery,” Phil chuckled, although it was dangerously close to being a giggle.

“And that’s why I love you,” Clint whispered, wrapping his arms around Phil’s sweaty, shaking body. Phil moved lethargically against him until they could kiss, and that was the last Clint remembered as he fell hard into sleep.

Chapter Text

Phil stood in the waiting area, scanning email on his StarkTab. Around him, in varying states of pretending-not-to-worry, the Avengers tried to be inconspicuous. Even Tony was (for once) subdued as he leaned against a wall with his sunglasses on and talking in low tones to Pepper, who was (for once) a jittery bundle of nerves.

Steve paced. Natasha stood like stone a few feet from the doorway leading to the examination rooms, her expression blank, probably engaged in some form of biofeedback. Bruce had somehow distracted both Thor and Jane in a conversation about Asgardian magic and how it related to Midgard physics (as far as Phil could tell, it didn’t). It was all very normal in a completely stressful, anxiety ridden way. While Clint's eyesight had gradually returned over the past three weeks, it was the day of his official SHIELD eye exam which would determine if he remained on the Avengers' roster or not, and everyone was invested.

Phil was glad he had email to check, because otherwise he would have had to talk to one of them and that would have gone sideways.

The fact that Clint and Phil had become an “item” had not gone unnoticed, nor uncommented upon. While Phil saw no problem with that, he was very tired of their combined anxiety on his behalf. Everyone was treating him with gloves just as soft and worried as the concern they had for Clint, and it was annoying. It drove Clint further and further into his defensive shell, forcing Phil to dig deeper and deeper to get anywhere with Clint, which was somehow obvious enough to the team as a whole that their worries tripled. It was a vicious cycle and Phil was literally 24 hours away from sending them all to Xavier’s for psychic testing. As if that would make his job easier, he snorted to himself internally.

The door to the examination rooms burst open and Clint practically flew out, grabbing Natasha and lifting her up, twirling her around while he laughed like a lunatic. It was the signal everyone was waiting for and a very impressive group hug commenced, and if Phil wasn’t mistaken, he thought he saw Tony wiping at his eyes under his sunglasses. Steve was not quite as subtle, his eyes wet with happiness, and Natasha was smiling enough to scare Bruce.

There was an instant plan for a party, Tony yelling at JARVIS to warm up the grill on “the lido deck” (the common area facing the pool patio) and Steve slapping Phil hard enough on the back to send Phil stumbling a pace. Phil smiled, allowing himself to participate in the good will, but stayed back from the mass of (for lack of a better term) puppy piling. Eventually everyone peeled out to get into bathing suits and alcohol, and Phil was left alone in the waiting room with Clint still grinning like a madman.

“All good?”

Clint’s smile faded a little. “Very slight scarring, down to 20/6. You’ll get the report.”

“Still the best ever recorded for human eyesight.” Phil shrugged, packing away the StarkPad and trying to decide between his comfy swim trunks or something a little more incendiary for Clint’s benefit. It was, after all, his party.

The smile returned. “Yeah. I still got it.”

Phil nodded. “You do.”

Clint tipped his head, studying him. “You aren’t as relieved about this as I thought you’d be.”

Phil sighed. “Because you thought it actually mattered to me.”

“Huh?”

Phil shook his head, stepping close to run a hand through Clint’s short hair. “I don’t care about your eyesight. You vision is an amazing gift but it isn’t what I fell in love with. You could have remained blind or simply ended up with 20/20 vision, I wouldn’t care. I still have you.”

Clint’s jaw worked a few times, but he didn’t say anything for a minute. Phil let his hand drift along Clint’s shoulder, down his arm, to rest on Clint’s hip. Finally Clint took a deep breath, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment and surprise. “You meant it, that night. You really meant it. Fuck.”

“Later. Right now, Tony has promised me a porterhouse steak, and I intend to collect.”

Clint nabbed him, lifting him off the ground for a second before hauling him towards the elevator and pushing him in. “Maybe a quickie?”

Phil sighed heavily, trying to sound persecuted, but he knew from Clint’s grin that he was not pulling it off. “JARVIS, please disable the elevator cameras.”

Clint cackled, his eyes bright and focused on Phil’s face as he shoved him up against the wall.

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