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Some People Just Collect Stamps

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Phil Coulson wakes in medical, in a dark room with a beeping heart monitor.

Well, damn.

He lies in the room, keeping still, feeling his way around his injuries. His thoughts are slow and sluggish, that'll be the pain medication; his chest itches and burns, but in a distant, unimportant kind of way. Nothing else seems injured; his fingers twitch clumsily when he tries, his toes bend and flex, his eyes open and close. No paralysis, then.

They've put in a catheter. Unpleasant, but probably necessary.

He heard Fury say, as he drifted into unconsciousness (into death, he thought) that the medics were there and they'd called it, which means the Avengers believe he's dead. Hopefully his plan worked. If it did, none of them might be aware he's alive even now.

It's a temptation to keep it that way. Tell Fury he wants to be relocated, get a job somewhere far away from New York. Maybe in Portland. He's heard it's nice. He has a fake cellist girlfriend who lives there.

The fake cellist was a necessity, mostly because of Clint. Clint's very, very private and he doesn't like having vulnerable places, doesn't like anyone to know that there are people who could be targeted and hurt in order to hurt him. Phil doesn't honestly care much one way or another --


Didn't care much.

Because now he understands, lying here in the dark, thirsty and in foggy pain. Clint has always seemed invulnerable, even next to Tony Stark in his armor and Thor the actual god and Steve Rogers the supersoldier. Clint is someone Phil once saw take a bullet and shake it off until the mission was over, someone who has defied every single challenge thrown at him, and Phil has never once really thought that could be taken from him.

But Clint belongs to Loki now, Clint and his cloudy blue eyes and dead expressionless face. Not the sarcastic, surprisingly intelligent, surprisingly everything circus act that was Clint Barton.

He wonders if he pulls out the cannula that's helping him breathe, if he disengages the drugs and the IV that's nourishing him, if he shifts his weight in the right way he can reopen the wound and lend some truth to Fury's lie.

Tempting. Still, if Fury's keeping him alive it must be for a reason. If the blast that hit Loki didn't kill him, Phil still has a chance to hurt him back.

He drifts that way for a while, letting the drugs dull the grief as well as the pain, because even if Clint's still alive, Loki will kill him when he's done with him, or Natasha will kill him if she can. That's regs. Phil's spent the last few days telling himself Clint is dead, because that thing is not Clint.

Agents who are compromised to that extent get no mercy. SHIELD has been burned too many times.

Eventually there's a noise, and a door opens; light floods in from the hallway and he can see a shadow against it, the unmistakable shape of Clint's body, bow slung over his shoulder. Great, now he's hallucinating.

He can hear Clint say something -- Nick Fury's a fucking dead man -- and a reply, it sounds like Stark. Not yet. We need him.

The lights flick on, and he can see Clint's face, and yes, there's Stark behind him, and Steve Rogers behind them both. It's officially becoming a very weird drug trip, when suddenly Steve says, "His eyes are open."

And then Clint walks into the room and bends down so their faces are level, tilting his head sideways.

"Clint," Phil murmurs.

"Hey, sir," Clint says. This close, Phil can feel his body heat, smell sweat and blood on him. He curls his right hand into his palm and the sharp sting of fingernails against flesh convinces him this might, actually, be real.

"You were compromised," he tries.

"Didn't take," Clint says.

Phil can hear his heart monitor jump, can actually hear an alarm go off as he tries to sit up, but Clint puts a hand on his shoulder to hold him down, a real solid hand, and Phil leans into it, though it makes his chest hurt. Stark does something to the machines and they stop making noise.

"You're okay?" Phil asks, and hates how plaintive he sounds.

"He's fine," Steve says.

"Loki -- "

"Don't worry about it," Clint replies, and then starts to laugh. What's funny? "Hey, look, I brought Captain America to say hi."

"Apparently I'm only good for hacking the nineteen layers of security this room has in order to actually get to you," Stark says. "We would have brought flowers but it was hard to carry them while we were breaking in through a maintenance tunnel."

"He hummed the Mission Impossible theme the whole time," Clint whispers. Phil tries to raise a hand to touch him, to make absolutely sure this is real, but it hurts to move around the needles in his wrist and elbow. "Keep still," Clint adds, pressing their foreheads together. "Just keep still, okay?"

In the distance, he hears Steve say, "I thought you said he had a cellist."

"I thought he did," Stark answers. Then he laughs. "Oh. Like with a bow. That's not funny, Coulson."

"I'm never funny," Coulson replies.

"That was all me," Clint adds.

"Clint," Steve says, and Clint nods.

"We only had a short window," he says, and it takes longer for Phil to understand than he'd like. They're here in a camera blackout, no doubt caused by Stark. "But it's cool, okay, I was really here, and when Fury lets you out I'm going to act all surprised, okay?"

"Me too," Phil rasps. He feels Clint press something into his hand, cold and sharp.

"See you when you're alive again," Clint says, and the three men leave as stealthily as they'd arrived. He thinks he hears Stark humming the James Bond theme as he slips back into unconsciousness.

He dreams about New Mexico, the hot dust of it, the freezing nights. Clint's voice in his ear over the comms. What kinda people lived around here, you think? Hopi or Zuni or are we in Anasazi country?

Mescalero Apache, Phil replies, because it's his job to know that kind of thing. Zuni were up north, west of the Pueblos.

Clint sounds thoughtful. Metal arrowheads mostly, then. Huh. Might be good hunting. What say when this is done we take a few days and zoom around? Find some ruins, do some rock-kicking?

Some people just collect stamps, Phil says drily, because he will never not give Clint shit about collecting arrowheads.

Some people have dragged me to every creepy antique store everywhere we've ever been, looking for vintage Captain America cards, Clint answers because, admittedly, it's much easier to give Phil shit for his hobby.

He laughs down the comm line, glad it's a private connection, and

...that's when he wakes in the dark, in pain, with needles in his arm.

Just a dream, then. He's still injured, Clint's still compromised, still dead. It was just a dream.

But his hand clenches and there's something in it, warmed now by his skin. It's small, rough, dulled from age and corrosion. Shaped like an arrowhead. Metal, the kind you might pick up if you were hunting for them in southern New Mexico on a two-day vacation between jobs with your boyfriend.

Clint was here. That really happened. Clint is safe, alive, resurrected. He aches with the knowledge. Clint is alive and he found him again.

He holds tight to the arrowhead, almost so tight it cuts the skin, and waits.