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I am ready, I am fine

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Phil, without much fuss, wakes up. It's quiet in his room but for the bleep of machinery, slow, rhythmic, in time with his heartbeat. There's an ache in his chest that's dull, altogether unsurprising. It's not the first morning he has woken up with it, and it won't be the last. He's got a long way to go, recovery-wise, a lot of muscle to knit back together, stitches to try and not pull. He struggles to even sit up at this point.

He blinks a few times, extends his senses. He's still weak, which is why it takes him a moment to realise that quiet does not equal alone, not amongst the people he works with. He turns his head to the side with some effort.

Clint is perched on the back of the hospital chair, feet on the seat, balancing precariously. He looks haggard, drawn, skin the colour of ash, complementing the bruises under his closed eyes. It's the first time Phil has seen him, since... well. For a while. Since that last evening when he'd kissed him goodnight in their small room under the New Mexico facility, tucked himself along his back, buried his nose in his hair and drifted off to sleep. He hadn't had the chance to see him in the morning, oversleeping, missing Clint's exit in the middle of the night for his turn at guard duty.

Everything that has happened since has sure taken its toll on Clint; he looks like he dropped some weight on top of the mess his head must have been. He's still asleep now, while before he would have snapped awake as soon as the pattern of Phil's breathing changed to wakefulness. Asleep, still balancing on the back of the chair. It makes something tight squeeze in Phil's chest that has nothing to do with stab wounds from divine weapons. It speaks of exhaustion, stubbornness, worry that Phil knows will take a lot of time to erase.

A small noise on his other side makes him turn his head again, and there she is, the other member of their triumvirate. He's seen her more recently, of course, but it was all mixed up with their churning fear for their one-third, alone, compromised, without them to watch his back. It's not like they had the chance to just hold each other, breathe through it.

Natasha's awake, unlike Clint, and Phil wonders why she let Clint stay if he was that close to passing out -- but then again, none of them ever let Clint do anything, he just forges ahead and does it. He probably refused to budge, and Natasha was too... concerned? to make him leave. Phil still doesn't quite know where he fits into this, the something that was there already between the two of them before he stumbled into it. They had opened up, welcomed him inside their little space; he still has no idea why they did that, what he'd done to merit the inclusion.

But they're both here now, battle-worn, a furrow in Natasha's brow, between her tired eyes that rest on him. He doesn't speak -- he can't, throat still raw from the breathing tube; but neither does she. She just reaches for his hand, strokes down it, over the wedding ring he wears out of some... He doesn't understand what exactly; loyalty? Sentiment? It just seemed pertinent that he show the world somehow that he was no longer just himself, unattached. Because he isn't, as far as he's concerned. They'd never asked him why he started wearing the thin gold band; they hadn't even mentioned it, though they'd both stared at it for a bit, that first night. It's not something he can explain, per se -- he'd been going through his father's things one rare day off, searching for -- he doesn't even remember what -- when he'd seen it, his father's wedding ring, the one he'd pressed into Phil's hand as he lay dying in the cancer ward. It was something he'd wanted Phil to have, and Phil hadn't asked any questions then, either.

Natasha's thumb is warm over the gold; her eyes are suspiciously bright. It's the first time Phil has seen her, after he'd thought he was dying. He tries to quirk his lips, just so she'd know he's glad to see her, glad he made it; it's painful, like there's a lump in his throat he can't quite swallow past. He must have managed something, though, because her lips twist and she leans in, graceful as always, presses them against his. He tastes salt, the peculiar sweetness of tears, and reels with it, because Natasha never cries. Ever. Her hand shakes ever so faintly on his, a fine tremor. He squeezes her fingers to try and reassure her that he's here. He's still with them.

There's a pained sound from Clint's direction, and both he and Natasha whip their heads around to look, concerned. Clint's awake, and he's staring down at Phil like he can't believe his eyes; like, for the first time in his life, he doesn't trust what he sees.

"You're awake," he croaks, and for once Phil isn't going to tease him about his well-honed ability to state the obvious. Clint slides down the chair, somehow manages not to tip it over, and then he's on his knees by the bed, taking Phil's other hand so very carefully, like it's made of fine china. It hurts, a little; it's the one with the IV in it, Phil realises when he looks down. He still squeezes it around Clint's hesitant fingers.

"I am," he whispers, knows both he and Natasha will hear it loud and clear. "Not too disappointed, I hope?"

Clint's laugh is more of a bark, pained rather than amused. "You fucking bastard," he says, and it's all there, all the words Clint will never let himself say out loud, the promises he wants to extract that Phil could never make, the recriminations he knows Phil doesn't deserve, the sheer blinding relief that Phil is still there to insult.

Phil lies there, holding hands with the most important people in his life, smiles softly when Clint kisses him, refrains from mentioning that Clint tastes exactly like Natasha, the same salty sweetness. He supposes that's his answer right there, to the question he can't bring himself to ask; this is what he means to them; this is what they mean to each other.

Clint curls forward, carefully, and lays his head on top of his shoulder, on the other side of the stab wound. His lips press to the base of Phil's neck, and he leans his forehead against the spot he just kissed, and breathes, and after a while it doesn't sound so strained, so ragged and helpless. On his other side Natasha remains sitting in the uncomfortable plastic chair, never letting go of his hand, fingers stroking gently along the side.

"Don't either of you have someplace to be?" Phil asks, more to break the strangely fragile silence than with any desire to be left alone.

"We do," Natasha tells him, no-nonsense, daring him to comment when she lifts an eyebrow at him, her own way of pointing out the obvious: they are where they need to be.

Phil tries not to smile at that; thinks he fails. It's dawning on him that he's got another chance. Maybe this time, he can knit them together, let them further in, make them a part of his life as they've made him a part of theirs. They have time, and that's the only gift Phil Coulson has ever prayed for.