The op is going well. Agents are spread throughout the square, blending in with the real tourists effortlessly. Natasha is sitting at a sidewalk café table with their informant, a nervous middle-aged woman, and they’re waiting for a man with the information SHIELD needs to take down a gun smuggling operation in the area. Clint is leaning against a building nearby, pretending to smoke an e-cig, and Phil is a few tables away, ready to call in the team if there’s trouble. Everything is right on schedule.
The target approaches. The nervous woman stands up and greets him with a brief kiss.
“Who’s this?” the man demands.
“This is my cousin. Natalie. Visiting unexpectedly.” The woman’s voice trembles, but the man takes no notice.
They sit and the man takes the pastry from the woman’s plate and bites into it.
“Why did you order this?” he asks after spitting his mouthful onto the pavement and tossing the pastry back on the plate. “You know I don’t like lemon.”
Clint raises the e-cig to his lips and blows forcefully through it. A tiny dart flies through the air, striking the man on the neck. The man scratches at the spot and his fingers come away with a drop of blood.
“Damn flies,” he mutters.
The drug is fast-acting and it isn’t too long before the man is slumping in his chair, blinking heavily. As soon as his head hits the table, Natasha and Phil start to move, playing the part of concerned bystanders. The unmarked SHIELD vehicle Natasha arrived in is parked close by, and Phil is very publicly soliciting help from some of the nearby undercover agents to move the man to said vehicle.
A group of armed men rush out of a building across the street, pointing their guns at Phil’s little group. Clint runs toward them, pulling his own gun.
“Everybody down!” Phil yells as the gunfire begins.
Everyone sees it coming, for all the good it does. Shouted warnings over the comms; hands reaching out helplessly, too far away, too late; it’s all useless. There’s a pained gasp, like a punch to the gut, and then the sound of a body hitting the ground.
Nick brought it up first.
He and Phil were having lunch together – something they tried to do at least once a week, even if it was just sandwiches in Nick’s office. They were doing a little better than that this time, though. Both of them had enough free time in their schedules that they had actually left HQ, and they were currently sitting at a table in their favorite diner, waiting for the server to bring their order.
“Things are gonna change, Cheese. You know that, right?” Nick wasn’t wearing what Phil privately referred to as his ‘Director face’. This was his old friend talking, not his boss.
“Change is a fact of life.” Phil shrugged. “This is about me and Clint?”
Nick leaned forward, his fingers laced together and his arms braced on the table. “I know this has been a long time coming, and frankly, I’m glad you two finally got your heads out of your asses. But that doesn’t mean everything’s going to be sunshine and rainbows.”
“So the brochures lied?” Phil tried to lighten the mood, but Nick ignored him.
“You’re a grown man; I’m not going to tell you how to handle your business. But what happens when one of you gets hurt in the middle of an op?” Nick’s voice was low and intent.
Phil had seen Clint get hurt many times. Too many times. He couldn’t imagine anything worse than those heart-stopping moments when he didn’t know if Clint was alive or dead. Would it be worse now that they were together? He didn’t see how it could be.
“I don’t think our relationship will negatively affect our work in the field, Nick.” He hurried to continue when Nick opened his mouth to say something else. “But I’ll talk to him about it.”
Nick looked skeptical, but their food arrived, so he let it drop.
As promised, Phil brought up the subject with Clint that night after dinner.
“Nick’s worried that our relationship will affect our judgment on missions, especially if one of us gets hurt,” Phil blurted out while washing the dishes.
“Yeah,” Clint replied warily as he dried a plate and put it away. “Natasha and I were talking about that earlier. And about medical proxies and stuff.”
Phil had thought about that, of course, but he hadn’t wanted to scare Clint off by bringing paperwork into their relationship so soon after it had begun. “What did she say?”
“She just wanted me to think about it. About how it could affect things in the heat of the moment.”
Phil rinsed the last pot and put it in the drain board. He took Clint’s dishcloth before he could grab another dish to dry, and dried off his hands before tossing it on the counter. Then he pulled Clint into a loose hug, giving him plenty of time to back away if he needed space; Clint still wasn’t always sure how to react to Phil’s affectionate gestures. “Our feelings for each other aren’t new, Clint, just the fact that we finally did something about them.”
“It does make a difference, though,” Clint mumbled into his shoulder as he wrapped his arms around Phil.
“It’s not going to be easy watching you get hurt,” Phil said. “It never has been, and we’ve gotten through it. If-when it happens, we’ll deal with it, just like we always have.” Injury was almost a certainty in their line of work, of course; there was no point in telling themselves it wouldn’t happen.
“Yeah,” Clint said, barely above a whisper. “But you get hurt sometimes, too.”
“Phil!” For a moment, the world stands still. Phil is lying on the ground, blood staining his shirt and pooling on the ground underneath him. Clint has to get to him, he has to make sure he’s all right. Phil can’t be dead, he can’t-
The armed men grab the unconscious target and drag him away to a waiting vehicle. The other SHIELD agents have drawn their weapons, but there are panicking civilians everywhere, and injured people who need to be seen to. Only Clint and two others are in a position to go after the armed men.
Clint spares a look at Phil. He still doesn’t know how bad it is, but Natasha is checking on him, and if they don’t move now, the mission will be blown. He already knows what he has to do; Phil would do the same.
“Barton,” Natasha calls, and tosses him her keys. He’s already running toward her ride, and he catches them in midair. The other two agents scramble in while he starts the SUV, and then they’re off, not too far behind the bad guys.
One short but intense car chase later, the bad guys’ car is flipped on its side, two bad guys are dead and two others are in custody, along with their original target. Clint, as senior ranking agent on the scene, oversees the wrap up there. He gets some tidbits from the other scene over his comm unit, but none of it is what he needs to hear.
Natasha finds him before he’s finished. There’s blood all over her clothes and its staining her hands, but she’s calm in a way that has him breathing an internal sigh of relief. Phil’s not dead, he’s gonna be okay. He has to be.
“Coulson’s been taken to the hospital,” are the first words out of Natasha’s mouth when the last local official’s vehicle finally departs the scene. “I’ll drive.”
Clint zones out on the way, imagining in vivid detail every worst-case scenario his mind can cook up, and only comes back to himself when Natasha opens his door and pulls him out of the SUV. The ER is busy, full of victims from the attack, but Natasha leads him down quieter corridors, finally stopping at a door being guarded by one of their agents.
“They’ll be prepping him for surgery in a few minutes,” Agent Ojara tells them without prompting. Natasha nods, and settles into a chair someone had placed by the door.
“Thanks,” Clint says to Ojara and walks through the door.
There’s no doctor or nurse in the room with Phil, which strikes Clint as wrong. What if Phil crashes or something? Despite the number of times he’s been injured, Clint only has a vague idea of the medical side of things – he’s not usually conscious at this point.
Phil is, though. He turns his head and smiles muzzily at Clint. “Clin’,” he says, and tries again. “Clint.” He emphasizes the ‘t’ sound. “You ‘kay?”
Clint blinks. “I’m fine.”
“Good. Tha’s good.” Phil’s eyes drift shut, but he blinks them open again. “Yer here?”
Clint moves to the chair beside Phil’s bed. “Yeah. We got the guy.”
“’Course we did. Always get our man.” Phil starts to giggle. “Mounties.”
“Don’t let Fury hear you say that. He’ll change our uniforms just to make you regret it.”
“S’okay. Look good in red.” Phil closes his eyes again. Clint reaches out and takes his hand carefully.
“You know I like purple.”
Clint’s about to agree when a flash of memory hits him – Phil on the ground, bright red blood soaking his white shirt. He shudders and puts his head down on the side of Phil’s bed.
“Clint?” Phil pulls his hand out of Clint’s grasp and places it on Clint’s shoulder. It takes two tries. “I’m ‘kay. Y’know?”
“I know.” Clint’s voice is muffled. He isn’t sure Phil can hear him, so he turns his head and repeats, “I know. Promise me you won’t get hurt again?”
“Promise. You, too?”
“I promise.” It’s not a promise either of them will be able to keep, of course, but it makes Clint feel better.